Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Rise of Skywalker, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after two years, the story finally comes to an end.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Actually, I’m not going to rehash the first six episodes plus the two continuations from four years ago and two years ago.  If you want the refresher, click here to read it from my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I did four years ago.

 

And after two years, the story ends.  Palpatine has spoken and has threatened revenge on the galaxy from a mysterious broadcast that he sent to it.  Kylo Ren is determined to find Palpatine’s whereabouts kill the one threat that stands in his way.  Rey is continuing her Jedi training while Poe is escaping danger on the Millennium Falcon with Finn, trying to deliver the shocking message of Palpatine’s return.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the next sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $60 billion,  with $7.72 billion coming from the eight main films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  J.J. Abrams returns as the director of the final Star Wars installment for the Skywalker Saga.  With the way that he handled The Force Awakens with the “mystery box” concept, I felt more reassured about his treatment of this movie.  But how does Abrams handle Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?  The very last movie in the Skywalker Saga that George Lucas put together 42 years ago?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has this third and final movie in the new trilogy turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) fighting Alazmec Colonists on Mustafar.  He was after a relic called the wayfinder.  This belonged to the long-deceased Darth Vader, and he was going to get this relic at all costs.

Once he had the wayfinder, it led him to the Exegol System.  He enters a giant cube and takes the elevator down to the bottom.  As he precedes downward, he hears Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) speaking to him.

When Kylo Ren meets Palpatine, he is determined to kill him, as he did with Snoke.  But Palapatine revealed that he created Snoke and that every voice in his head came from him.  He then promises to offer Kylo Ren with everything.  A new empire and a new fleet.  The First Order was only the beginning.  The new Final Order fleet would help Ren in his new campaign to rule the galaxy.  The only thing that Palatine needed to be annihilated was Rey, the very last Jedi in the galaxy.  With that order, he promised Ren that he would rule the galaxy.

Meanwhile, on the Millennium Falcon, ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance fighterpilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) engage the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in a rousing game of dejarik (a holo-chess game played on a round board).  The team gets a message from a Resistance informant with orders to deliver to Leia (Carrie Fisher).  They insert the message into R2-D2 (Hassan Taj and Lee Towersey) just in the nick of time before they were assaulted by TIE fighters.  Finn destroys most of the fighters and Poe lightspace skipped to escape the squadron.

On the jungle moon of Ajan Kloss,  Rey (Daisy Ridley) meditates, floating in the air with many rocks.  Unable to maintain her composure and balance, she falls to the ground.  Leia then tells her not to give up and that nothing is impossible.  She hands her the Skywalker lightsaber, which she grabs before she takes off running.  She continues her training, knocking away every bolt from her training droid.  A vision begins that was induced by Ren via Vader’s helmet.  This upsets Rey, which causes her to hit BB-8 (Dave Chapman and Brian Herring) by mistake.

Later on, Rey studies holocrons and wayfinders in one of the ancient Jedi books she found at the First Jedi Temple.  The Millennium Falcon returns on fire, due to Poe’s lightspeed skipping.  This angers Rey, since she knows that the Falcon cannot support that.  At a Resistance briefing, Poe delivers the shocking news.  Palpatina has returned, and in 16 hours, attacks on all free worlds would begin.  Palpatine was hiding on Exegol, which C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)  explains that it can’t found on star charts and is known as the Hidden Land of the Sith.  Rey, deep in thought, shows Leia from the Jedi book that she can get to Exegol.  From what she found from Luke, he had searched for and nearly found the mysterious planet.  From what Rey found, she considered a Sith wayfinder to be necessary to find Exegol.  Leia refuses, but Rey insists, arguing that Leia would do the same thing if she was in her place.  With that, the team is sent to the desert of Pasaana, to find her contact that would give her the wayfinder.

And so the mission begins.  Will Rey find the wayfinder?  And what about Kylo Ren, who is seeking Rey’s life?

And what about Palpatine and the Final Order that he has given to Kylo Ren to use at his disposal?  Are all the free planets doomed?  And what was so upsetting about Rey’s vision?  Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced and well-paced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that another story is going to continue beyond the Skywalker Saga.  Star Wars is going to take a hiatus for a few years while they figure out the direction for the new story.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety. A number of new characters made a return.  I loved seeing Rey and Chewy from the last movie.  Seeing Leia was again amazing, and RIP Carrie Fisher.  This movie was a tribute to you and you will be missed!  I loved Luke’s role and it was fun seeing more of him.  There was also Finn, Poe, and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) from the last movie as well.  Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) also made a cameo appearance.  And let’s not forget the phantom emperor Palpatine, the villain beyond every Star Wars movie in the Skywalker Saga. And how can we forget Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams)?  He was a wonderful surprise and I’m glad that they put him in the movie.

There were also a couple of new characters that were portrayed quite well.  We have Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), which was a wonderful addition to fill in Poe’s story on Kijimi.  There is also TZ-1719, or Jannah (Naomi Ackie), which was the perfect companion for Finn.  There is also the new droid named D-O (J.J. Abrams).  With the new characters, they’re a wonderful addition to this sequel and I liked the place that each one had in telling this wonderful story.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  The one thing that I wished was that we had a little more closure.  I felt like they crammed in everything pretty quickly and if they had any cut content, they should’ve kept it in as it would’ve done a better job at closing up the 42-year saga.  And while we’re closing up things, I would like to revise my criticism on The Last Jedi.  I felt that Johnson hurt the movie in the direction that he took it.  With today’s ratings, I would give it a 3 out of 5.  For this current installment, Abrams did a good job at patching things up but having two ruined films in a row should be a wake-up call for Disney.  If you’re going to make a Star Wars movie, take your time and don’t rush production.  Lucas never did and that’s why his films were a phenomenal success.  With those nitpicks aside, I thought that Episode IX was pretty solid overall.

How did Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s performing below the standards that I expect it to.  To put things into perspective, it’s performing worse than The Last Jedi! Two years ago, that movie grossed $104,684,491 on opening day.  The Rise of Skywalker, however, is falling short at $89,615,288.  The sixth highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $40 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the eleventh highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that it will get up there.  Maybe at least secure the number three spot behind The Last Jedi.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Last Jedi, the weekend domestic gross is a disappointing $177.3 million, behind The Last Jedi‘s $220 million and The Force Awakens $248 million from four years ago.  The current domestic gross is $177.3 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $198.7 million, the worldwide gross stands at $376 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s not even domestically.  It would need another $23 million to make back it’s budget domestically.  This movie has a long ways to go to even reach the top ten.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the way that it ended.  I only wish that they spend more time on making closure to such a wonderful story that George Lucas began 42 years ago.  The force with this movie is lukewarm, in very much the same way that it was with Rey during the new trilogy.  Her fear kept her moving between Jedi and Sith, and I feel that the performance of this movie at the box office is doing the same.  I still encourage many other others to see this movie, as we all need to see how this story ends.  I can say that there is a big shocking surprise in the movie, and that is enough to make this movie worth seeing.  I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to its total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. They just need to give it the respect that it deserves for a good ending.  And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started, with all the sagas continuing after the Skywalker Saga.  I graciously applaud the finale to the 42-year long saga of Star Wars and I give Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a 4 out of 5.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Last Jedi, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after two years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Actually, I’m not going to rehash the first six episodes plus the continuation from two years ago.  If you want the refresher, click here to read it from my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I did two years ago.

 

And after two years, the story continues.  Rey has found the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker and is looking for answers.  Hopefully Luke can provide her with them by training her to become a Jedi.  Maybe then the Jedi line would continue and would spell new hope for the galaxy.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the next sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $6.44 billion coming from the seven films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  Rian Johnson is the director of this next Star Wars installment.  How does Johnson handle Star Wars: The Last Jedi?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has this second movie in the new trilogy turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with the Resistance fighters evacuating their base.  This charge was led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).  Just after that, a First Order fleet arrives.  After a counterattack led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the vessels from the Resistance go into hyperspace to escape.  But their escape was cut short when the First Order pursues their whereabouts with a tracking device.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) destroys the support fighters from the Resistance, but stays his hand when he spotted the lead Resistance ship.  He hesitates to fire after sensing his mother’s presence.  TIE fighters destroy the bridge of the ship, killing several Resistance leaders and placing General Leia in critical condition.  Following this unfortunate event, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) was placed in command to lead in place of Leia.

Poe, Finn (John Boyega), BB-8, and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) expressed disapproval of Holdo’s passive strategy, and all began on a secret mission to disable the tracking device.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives on the remote planet Ahch-To with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon to recruit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to the Resistance.  But Luke refused, having experienced the failures of the Jedi.  Rey finally convinces Luke to train her.  He told her that it would only be three lessons.  While Rey is learning from Luke, she begins to hear Kylo Ren and they begin to have conversations with each other.

Will Rey listen to Kylo Ren or will she listen to Luke?  Having seen a similar incident with Anakin Skywalker, Rey is very vulnerable.

And what about Finn and Rose’s secret plan?  Will they succeed in carrying it out?  What will the Resistance do with no new place to hide? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that there’s going to be another Star Wars movie.  Episode IX is slated for release in 2019.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety. A number of new characters made a return.  I loved seeing Rey and Chewy from the last movie.  Seeing Leia was again amazing, and RIP Carrie Fisher.  This movie was a tribute to you and you will be missed!  I loved Luke’s role and it was fun seeing more of him.  There was also Finn and Poe from the last movie as well.  Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) also made a cameo appearance.  And the female stormtrooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christe) also made a return.  And let’s not forget Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the leader of the First Order.

There were also a couple of new characters that were portrayed quite well.  We have Rose Tico, which complemented Finn quite nice as her companion.  There is also DJ (Benicio del Toro) which had a very interesting role.  Is he friend or foe?  Or is he both?  Who knows?  The two words that come to mind is “Don’t Join”.  I’ll let you figure out what that means when you see the movie. With the new characters, they’re a wonderful addition to this sequel and I liked the place that each one had in telling this wonderful story.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  Perhaps the only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a little more closure with Luke Skywalker.  We get a brief scene at the end.  But maybe make it a little bit longer.  Besides these nitpicks, this movie was brilliant.  The next amazing new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

How did Star Wars: The Last Jedi do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  While it’s not performing as high as The Force Awakens, it’s still doing pretty well.  This movie grossed $104,684,491 on opening day.  The second highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $45 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the seventh highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that it will get up there.  Maybe at least secure the number two spot behind The Force Awakens.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Last Jedi, the weekend domestic gross is a staggering $220 million, just behind of The Force Awakens $248 million from two years ago.  The current domestic gross is $278.7 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $295 million, the worldwide gross stands at $573.7 million.  That pales in comparison to the $172.8 million that Revenge of the Sith made six days into its release.  That’s over a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals. With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie is well on it’s way to cracking the top ten, and could reach near the $1 billion mark by this weekend.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the continuation of the story and how it defied my expectations.  Johnson did pretty good with this movie.  He nailed it.  The force is strong with this movie, and it’s about to get stronger as many other others continue to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to its total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  I eagerly await the wonderful finale with Episode IX and I give Star Wars: The Last Jedi a 5 out of 5.

Me & My Muse – Day 1292: President Donald Trump

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Whether you voted for him or not, it is official.  As of noon today, President-elect Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president of the United States.

And with this still being a free country, I’m entitled to my own opinion.  While the protests are going on in the background, I will be celebrating this historical event in our nation’s history.

For eight long horrible years, Obama has been in power. Before he took office, the nation was $9 trillion in debt.  To date, that figure is more than $20 trillion. Furthermore, we have the following figures:

  • The lowest labor participation since the 1970’s (95 million Americans out of the labor force)
  • Lowest home ownership rate in 51 years
  • The weakest recovery since the 1940’s
  • 11 million more Americans on food stamps
  • 43 million Americans living in poverty

It’s time to make American great again.  It’s high time to get our jobs back and drain that wretched swamp in Washington DC.  Trump has 100% of my support and am ready to see positive change in this country.

 

Muse:  Go Trump!  USA! USA! USA!

Aren’t you excited?

Muse: Definitely!  This country is a wreck, and it’s good to have a leader that is very passionate about restoring it.

I am looking forward to seeing how this will turn out.  The one problem that we have to get past is the Democrats.  If they’re not going to stand with us, they need to.  After all, Clinton told her voters to do this.

Muse:  Did they even hear her concession speech?  This country needs to unite.  Being divided like this isn’t going to solve any problems.  It’s only going to create more of them.

And if those protesters are so angry, maybe Trump can give them real jobs.  Jobs that pay more than what Soros is giving them.  And with less taxes too!

Muse:  I agree.  How would they behave if they were given a job?  Holding a picket sign and screaming in the streets hardly qualifies as one.

They could get jobs in social media and marketing.  Or anything else.  If they have a dream, they can pursue it.  The sky is the limit.

Muse:  Time to watch more coverage!  I’ll talk to you later!

 

I’m with you.  I have to see Obama leaving the White House and Trump getting sworn in at noon.

I will bring this to an end, since I would like to watch more of Trump’s Inauguration.

Today’s high is going to be 37 degrees and the silver lining is Donald Trump getting sworn in as president.

To those of you are witnessing this historic event, I hope that you all have a fantastic day.

 

Muse:  Obama just left the White House!  It’s about time!  Good riddance!

 

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen Rogue One, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after 30 years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Okay.  It’s really not that brief.  For the actual review, skip down past the recap.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, a pregnant Shmi Skywalker gives birth to a boy named Anakin.  Having no father, Anakin was believed to be conceived by the will of the Force.  Years later, excessive taxation for the trade routes around the outlying star systems has the Galactic Republic in an uproar.  With this in mind, two Jedi knights were dispatched to settle the conflict. Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Darth Sidious, the Sith lord wanted them killed when they reached Naboo, but they escaped from his clutches.

After taking off, their attackers pursued them, and damaged their ship’s hyperdrive.  They landed on Tatooine, needing a replacement part before they could leave.  And…let’s cut to the chase.  They meet Anakin, they enter a pod race, Anakin wins and they get the money for their ship part and to buy Anakin’s freedom from being a Toydarian junkyard slave.  Anakin wants to go with the two Jedi knights and the Queen of Naboo’s assistant.  Later, we find that the assistant was the queen in hiding.  With Darth Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul tasked to capture the queen and kill the Jedi, he was hot on their tail.  They escape with the queen.

In the end, Anakin destroys the droid control ship and Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul.  Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

Episode II has more of this, with it mainly being a love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala.  Shmi is killed and it makes Anakin angry, slaughtering a whole Tusken community.  Men, women and children.  Anakin and Padme rescue their friends on Geonosis.  The droid army fights the Jedis, and the clone army cleans out the droids.  Count Dooku fights Yoda, but was unsuccessful in besting him. The Jedis hear the shocking news about Darth Sidious controlling the Senate.  Anakin and Padme have a secret wedding on Naboo, with C-3PO and R2-D2 as the only ones present.

Episode III takes a turn for the worse.  The Galactic Republic becomes the Galactic Empire.  With Anakin being enticed by Senator Palpatine, he begins the gradual turning away from his Jedi ways to the dark side, and becoming a Sith.  He kills all the Padawan learners in the Jedi temple and is given the title “Darth Vader”.  On Mustafar, Obi-Wan does battle with Darth Vader, his very pupil twisted by the dark side.  Vader is badly injured by the fire, burning up along the shore.  Padme dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins.  She names them both before she dies.  Luke was the first one and Leia was the second one.  Both of the children were separated.  Leia was taken to Alderaan and Luke was taken to Tatooine. Darth Vader was rescued by Darth Sidious and was placed in black armor, with a face mask and helmet to match.  The saga begins.

IV, V and VI are straightforward.  In IV, The rebel alliance find hope through Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trains Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi.  After fighting Darth Vader, Obi-Wan dies.  Luke uses a rebel X-Wing fighter to blast a proton torpedo into a small exhaust port leading to the Death Star’s reactor. In V, Luke trains under Master Yoda in the Dagobah system to become a Jedi.  He leaves without finishing his training, since he sensed that his friends were in danger.  Luke flies to Cloud City and Han Solo gets frozen in Carbonite.  Luke does battle with Darth Vader and discovers a chilling secret: Vader is his father.  Luke loses a hand and manages to escape, and is rescued by his friends on the Millennium Falcon, thanks to Leia being able to sense Luke being in danger.  In VI, Luke leads a rescue effort on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.  Han is unfrozen and they escape. Leia is also rescued in the process.  Luke returns to Dagobah with a dying Yoda telling him that no further training is needed and that “there is another Skywalker”.  With another Death Star under construction, they travel to the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to deactivate it.  The rebel group is captured by Ewoks and C-3PO shows off his divine powers, thanks to Luke’s use of the Force.  With C-3PO sharing the story, they agree to fight the empire.  Luke is apprehended by the Empire and enticed by Darth Sidious to join the dark side.  The rebels begin their fight against the stormtroopers and disabling the shield generator.  Luke resists the Emperor and Vader saves his son.  Just before the finishing bolts are delivered, Vader lifts up the Emperor and throws him into the Death Star’s power core/reactor shaft.  Luke has a nice father-son chat with Anakin before he dies. The Millennium Falcon destroys the Death Star’s main reactor and Luke escapes.  The Empire has fallen.  The entire Galaxy celebrates the victory.

So there’s the refresher.  And after 30 years, the story continues…or does it?  This is already been visited with The Force Awakens.  This time, we’re taking a trip back in time.  After the events of Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope.  Why are we traveling back in time?  An important plot element has to be explained.  The Rebels had access to the plans of the Death Star.  But where did they get those plans?  How did they acquire them?  This is the premise of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, another prequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $4.38 billion coming from the six films alone.  And an additional $2.07 billion made from The Force Awakens just a year ago.  With a combined film gross of nearly $6.5 billion, It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

With J.J Abrams treatment of The Force Awakens, we know that he was spot on in nailing all the key elements that everyone really loves about the Star Wars franchise.  Disney can make a Star Wars movie, and they more than proved it last year.  With Rogue One, however, we’re going in a totally different direction.  We have Gareth Edwards who is directing this project.  Known for directing the 2014 reboot of Godzilla, he has one good movie under his belt.  But for Star Wars, you want to be very careful.  With a rookie like him, how does Edwards manage with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?  Do we see a wonderful addition to the plot of the movie, or is this side story just a big waste of time and investment for Disney? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with imperial ships touching down on the planet of Lah’mu.  The ships are there to apprehend Galen Erso (Mad Mikkelsen), a research scientist.  He has stopped working on the unfinished Death Star project and imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) wants him to continue on it.

Galen refuses and is captured by Krennic and the imperials.  Galen’s wife Lyra Erso (Valene Kane) is killed and their daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) escapes.

Moments later, she is taken to safety by rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) defects from the Empire.  During this time, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is freed from Imperial captivity by the Rebels, who planned to use her to track down Galen Erso, her father. In spite of this, General Draven (Alitair Petrie) wants Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to kill Galen instead of capturing him.

Jyn, Andor, and his droid K-2SO travel to Jedha, where the Empire is mining Kyber crystals to power the Death Star.  While they’re doing this, Gerrera and his team are engaged in combat against them.  With the help of blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Jyn contacts Gerrera, who is holding Rook captive.  Gerrera shows Jyn the hologram, in which Galen explains that he covertly compromised the Death Star’s reactor design, directing them to find the plans at an Imperial high-security data bank on the planet Scarif.

With this knowledge, the Death Star plans are ripe for the taking.  Will Jyn be able to reach Scarif and recover the plans?  Or will the Empire shut down their plan before it even happens?  And what is Rogue One and how is this team formed?  Will there be a “New Hope” for the galaxy? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know how well it connects to Episode IV: A New Hope.  Episode VIII is slated for release in 2017.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the new characters and the old cameos.  The old characters were just cameos and we got enough screen time to get to know the new characters.  I loved the cameos for C-3PO and Princess Leia.  Darth Vader’s performance was killer and his cameo was executed well.

The new characters were portrayed quite well.  We have Jyn, which I really loved.  With her strong-willed attitude and personality, I liked her portrayal and where she fit in the Rogue One mission.  We also have Chirrut Imwe, Bodhi Rook, Baze Malbus, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), to name a few.  With the new characters, I feel like they all fulfilled their part of the Rogue One story well..

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  For one thing, I have a problem with the title.  For any Star Wars movie, you should have Star Wars in the main title.  To call it Rogue One: A Star Wars Story kind of makes Star Wars secondary.  Calling it Star Wars: Rogue One would’ve been a little better.  But with it being a side story, I would imagine that they didn’t want to confuse too many fans in thinking that this is the next chapter in the Star Wars saga.  Besides that, I can’t really find anything else that I can nitpick about the film.  The film was great and a great way to include some side story between Episode III and Episode IV.

How did Rogue One: A Star Wars Story do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  While it didn’t do as well as The Force Awakens’ opening day gross of $119,119,282, it managed to still gross around $71,094,394. With it currently being the eigth highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that this will at least reach three or four very soon.  At the very highest, it will probably rank behind The Force Awakens. In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy, Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Force Awakens, it grossed $248 million.  And what’s the opening weekend gross for Rogue One? Just $150.1 million.  Almost $100 million behind Episode VII a year ago.  The current domestic gross is $190.3 million. It’s not going to catch The Force Awakens, which made $288.1 million only six days into its release.  That’s almost a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals.  In adding the foreign gross of $166.8 million, the worldwide gross stands at $357.1 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has secured most of that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie might crack the top ten, but it will have to work to get there.  It will certainly reach $1 billion eventually.  Casting my nitpick aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the story behind the mission and how it was portrayed.  Yes, it was filler for Episode VIII, but I would rather them not rush the next movie if they are to get it right.  And the filler was quite satisfying.  Edwards was careful to not take the easy path with soundstages and actually film a lot of the movie on location, and using movable models for the ships, like they did in all the other ones.  Edwards has nailed it.  The story was a great edition,, and I encourage many others to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to it’s total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with two good Star Wars movies in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  The opening crawl and the breathtaking visuals create a truly unique Star Wars experience.  And with the new characters and a solid plot, I am certain that this will become a new favorite that will be admired by generations to come. I eagerly await Episode VIII and I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a 4.5 out of 5.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Force Awakens, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after 30 years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Okay.  It’s really not that brief.  For the actual review, skip down past the recap.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, a pregnant Shmi Skywalker gives birth to a boy named Anakin.  Having no father, Anakin was believed to be conceived by the will of the Force.  Years later, excessive taxation for the trade routes around the outlying star systems has the Galactic Republic in an uproar.  With this in mind, two Jedi knights were dispatched to settle the conflict. Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Darth Sidious, the Sith lord wanted them killed when they reached Naboo, but they escaped from his clutches.

After taking off, their attackers pursued them, and damaged their ship’s hyperdrive.  They landed on Tatooine, needing a replacement part before they could leave.  And…let’s cut to the chase.  They meet Anakin, they enter a pod race, Anakin wins and they get the money for their ship part and to buy Anakin’s freedom from being a Toydarian junkyard slave.  Anakin wants to go with the two Jedi knights and the Queen of Naboo’s assistant.  Later, we find that the assistant was the queen in hiding.  With Darth Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul tasked to capture the queen and kill the Jedi, he was hot on their tail.  They escape with the queen.

In the end, Anakin destroys the droid control ship and Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul.  Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

Episode II has more of this, with it mainly being a love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala.  Shmi is killed and it makes Anakin angry, slaughtering a whole Tusken community.  Men, women and children.  Anakin and Padme rescue their friends on Geonosis.  The droid army fights the Jedis, and the clone army cleans out the droids.  Count Dooku fights Yoda, but was unsuccessful in besting him. The Jedis hear the shocking news about Darth Sidious controlling the Senate.  Anakin and Padme have a secret wedding on Naboo, with C-3PO and R2-D2 as the only ones present.

Episode III takes a turn for the worse.  The Galactic Republic becomes the Galactic Empire.  With Anakin being enticed by Senator Palpatine, he begins the gradual turning away from his Jedi ways to the dark side, and becoming a Sith.  He kills all the Padawan learners in the Jedi temple and is given the title “Darth Vader”.  On Mustafar, Obi-Wan does battle with Darth Vader, his very pupil twisted by the dark side.  Vader is badly injured by the fire, burning up along the shore.  Padme dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins.  She names them both before she dies.  Luke was the first one and Leia was the second one.  Both of the children were separated.  Leia was taken to Alderaan and Luke was taken to Tatooine. Darth Vader was rescued by Darth Sidious and was placed in black armor, with a face mask and helmet to match.  The saga begins.

IV, V and VI are straightforward.  In IV, The rebel alliance find hope through Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trains Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi.  After fighting Darth Vader, Obi-Wan dies.  Luke uses a rebel X-Wing fighter to blast a proton torpedo into a small exhaust port leading to the Death Star’s reactor. In V, Luke trains under Master Yoda in the Dagobah system to become a Jedi.  He leaves without finishing his training, since he sensed that his friends were in danger.  Luke flies to Cloud City and Han Solo gets frozen in Carbonite.  Luke does battle with Darth Vader and discovers a chilling secret: Vader is his father.  Luke loses a hand and manages to escape, and is rescued by his friends on the Millennium Falcon, thanks to Leia being able to sense Luke being in danger.  In VI, Luke leads a rescue effort on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.  Han is unfrozen and they escape. Leia is also rescued in the process.  Luke returns to Dagobah with a dying Yoda telling him that no further training is needed and that “there is another Skywalker”.  With another Death Star under construction, they travel to the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to deactivate it.  The rebel group is captured by Ewoks and C-3PO shows off his divine powers, thanks to Luke’s use of the Force.  With C-3PO sharing the story, they agree to fight the empire.  Luke is apprehended by the Empire and enticed by Darth Sidious to join the dark side.  The rebels begin their fight against the stormtroopers and disabling the shield generator.  Luke resists the Emperor and Vader saves his son.  Just before the finishing bolts are delivered, Vader lifts up the Emperor and throws him into the Death Star’s power core/reactor shaft.  Luke has a nice father-son chat with Anakin before he dies. The Millennium Falcon destroys the Death Star’s main reactor and Luke escapes.  The Empire has fallen.  The entire Galaxy celebrates the victory.

So there’s the refresher.  And after 30 years, the story continues.  The Galactic Empire has dissolved, with the First Order rising from the remnants of the Galactic Empire.  Their mission is eliminate Luke Skywalker and the Republic.  With Luke in exile, nobody knows where he is.  Not even the Resistance. With that being the matter, the hunt begins for the very last Jedi in the galaxy.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long awaited sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $4.38 billion coming from the six films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  J. J. Abrams is the director of the new slate of Star Wars movies.  In his attempt to retell the Star Wars we all know and love, he has deconstructed everything in the past movies, and reassembled them, using his “Mystery Box” concept to add elements of surprise to shock and amaze fans both old and new.  How does Abrams manage to do this with Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has Disney and Abrams turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with a transport ship carrying a fleet of stormtroopers to Jakku, a desert planet.  It is darkly lit, with a suspicious looking stormtrooper aboard.  Could he be some kind of stowaway?  On Jakku, the exchange is made.  Resistance pilot Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac) talks with village elder Lor San Tekka to receive a map containing Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) whereabouts.  Poe obtains the data and they leave the tent.

Under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) the stormtroopers destroy the village and capture Poe.  Before Poe’s capture, he places the map data into the droid for safekeeping and tells the droid to escape far away from there.  The droid escapes and finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger at a junkyard settlement. Stormtrooper FN-2187 frees Poe and they escape in a stolen TIE fighter.  Poe names the stormtrooper “Finn” (John Boyega).  They crash on Jakku and Finn ends up as the only survivor.

Finn meets up with Rey and BB-8.  With the First Order tracking them, they launch an airstrike.  Rey, Finn and BB-8 escape on a stolen rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

After the ship breaks down, they are found by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).  Being pursued by criminal gangs, the five escape to Takodana.

Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) helps BB-8 to reach the Resistance, and provides a way there. Rey is drawn to a safe and finds a lightsaber that belonged to Luke and his father before him.  Maz gives the lightsaber to Finn for safekeeping.

With the group en route to the Resistance, troubles await them.  Will they reach the Resistance?  Or will the First Order stop them?  And what will the Resistance do to stop the First Order’s Starkiller Base?  Will Luke ever be found? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that there’s going to be another Star Wars movie.  Episode VIII is slated for release in 2017.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety of old and new.  The old characters were incorporated into the story in a way that we could become comfortable in getting to know the new characters.  It’s a delicate balance in phasing the old characters out while the new ones are brought in.  I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewy again.  Seeing Leia (Carrie Fisher) was amazing.  And yes.  Luke Skywalker is in the movie, and his appearance is epic.  I will not tell you where.  You’ll just have to find him by watching the movie…

The new characters were portrayed quite well.  We have Rey, which I really loved.  With her being strongly Force-sensitive, I feel like she will be a character that a lot of fans will love.  I liked seeing her growth throughout the movie and how she uses that growth to help her in the fight against Kylo Ren. We also have Finn, BB-8, Maz Kanata, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) and Snoke (Andy Serkis), so name a few.  With the new characters, I feel like we will also grow to love them like we did with the Star Wars characters in the first six movies.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  Perhaps the only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a little more longevity with Han’s character.  In this movie, Han, after confronting his son, gets killed off.  It would’ve been nice to see a little more of Harrison Ford instead having him in just one movie.  In George Lucas’s treatment of the Episode VII screenplay, this probably would’ve played out a little different.  I also would’ve wanted something a little more familiar with the Starkiller Base.  I understand that it’s supposed to be the “Death Star” of the movie, but it would’ve been nice to make it look a little more like the Death Star.  This creation is a fusion of both Hoth and the Death Star.  Besides these nitpicks, this movie was brilliant.  An amazing new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

How did Star Wars: The Force Awakens do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  To put things in perspective, my hope was for it to gross at least $100 million on opening day.  It actually did more than this.  This movie grossed $119,119,282 on opening day.  The highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $57 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the fifth highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that this will reach number one very soon.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Force Awakens, the weekend domestic gross is a staggering $248 million.  The current domestic gross is $288.1 million. That pales in comparison to the $172.8 million that Revenge of the Sith made six days into its release. That’s over a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals.  In adding the foreign gross of $322.7 million, the worldwide gross stands at $610.8 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie is well on it’s way to cracking the top ten, and could reach $1 billion by this weekend.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the familiar style of scenes that were portrayed in this film.  Abrams was careful to not take the easy path with soundstages and actually film a lot of the movie on location, and using movable models for the ships, like they did in all the other ones.  Abrams has nailed it.  The force is strong with this movie, and it’s about to get stronger as many other other continue to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to it’s total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  The opening crawl and the breathtaking visuals create a truly unique Star Wars experience.  And with the new characters and a solid plot, I am certain that this will become a new favorite that will be admired by generations to come. I eagerly await Episode VIII and I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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We are now approaching the end of the road.  And like all roads, it will either lead us to a dead end or a wonderfully vibrant end full of life.  An end that is known better to the rest of us as a “happy ending”.

With Smaug ravaging an entire town, jealously defending his mountain containing his golden treasure, Bilbo Baggins watched the desolation from atop the Lonely Mountain.  Watching Smaug burn the poor and defenseless town to a crisp.  Who among the citizens could best such a terrible beast? One brave man stepped forward while the other dwarves were being led out on boat by a she-elf.  At this point, Bilbo has gone very far in his journey.  There was no way that he could turn back, until he finished his errand.  There was a battle to fight. And after this battle, his journey would end.  Clad with his treasure and memories that would last a lifetime, he would then make his journey home.  To the end.  To his cozy Hobbit hole where this story began.

Getting back to the battle, a brave man slayed Smaug.  He is Bard, the one that brought the sly Smaug to his glorious end.  With Smaug dead, there was no one to defend the treasure back at the mountain.  At Erebor.  The ancient Dwarven Land of old.  With the news traveling fast, everyone wanted a piece of that gold.  The citizens of Laketown wanted it to rebuild their settlement.  Thorin (Richard Armitage), going back on his promise, is determined to defend the gold that is rightfully his.  The elves assemble to recover a lost relic located in the Lonely Mountain of Erebor.  The orcs hear about Smaug’s demise and like all the other parties want the gold to rebuild their kingdom.

With everyone after this gold, the armies begin to assemble, and a great battle is fought for it. This is the premise of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the long awaited third part in the trilogy released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios.

As we already know, Tolkien is the master behind this masterpiece, but Peter Jackson is the director that is bringing his vision to life.   But how does he deal with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies?  Is the movie a victorious masterpiece or a slaughtered corpse doomed to rot and decay without proper burial?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Laketown being under siege, with Smaug burning every building in sight. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves get a front row seat to seeing all this happen.  There is widespread panic, while Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the other dwarves escape in a boat.

After that, Bard (Luke Evans) breaks out of his prison cell and kills Smaug with a black arrow retrieved from his son Bain (John Bell).  With that, the Laketown survivors appoint Bard as their new leader.  As Bard’s first action, he leads the people of Laketown to the ruins of Dale for refuge.

After this, the dwarves all reunite at the Lonely Mountain.  The ones that escaped Laketown join with the ones that were with Bilbo.  During the reunion, Tauriel decides to investigate Mount Gundabad with Legolas (Orlando Bloom).

With Smaug fallen, the Battle of the Mountain begins.  The victor gets all the gold that is in the mountain.  And with Thorin back at Erebor, he is not about to give up the gold so easily.  Inflicted by Smaug’s “dragon sickness”, Thorin goes mad and begins a mad pursuit for the Arkenstone.  Little does he know that Bilbo has it.  Will Bilbo risk his life and confess to Thorin the truth?  Will the “dragon sickness” overtake Thorin, son of Thrain?  Which army will win the mountain and the gold inside it?  Will it be the Orcs?  And what about Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy)?  Do they ever escape Dol Goldur?  Watch the movie and find out.

The length of the movie was a little shorter than the last one, and I thought that the plot progressed pretty smoothly.  With almost two and a half hours to work with, that was plenty of time to have the Battle of the Mountain and Bilbo’s return to the Shire.  The music was pretty good, although there wasn’t really anything noteworthy like the first movie (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).  The ending was good, and it ties really well to The Lord of the Rings.

Getting to the characters, they were all portrayed faithfully as they were in the book.  There’s Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves from the last movie.  Thorin was the star of this one and is what made the movie for me.  Tauriel makes a return, which I will discuss a little bit later.  Legolas was once again oddly present.  Dain (Billy Connolly)  makes an odd new appearance in the movie. Odd inclusions aside, I thought that all the other characters were portrayed well.

The movie had a great number of nitpicks.  So many that I could write a book on them.  The first one is the one that I hated the most.  It was the inclusion of Tauriel in the movie.  Nowhere in The Hobbit OR Lord of the Rings universe is there a She-Elf named Tauriel!  Alongside Tauriel was Legolas, who had no place in the movie at all.  Furthermore, he made the plot useless.  He was not even in The Hobbit so he shouldn’t be in the movie.  To expand the plot from the last movie, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) helps Gandalf escape and gets possessed by Sauron.  Being tempted by him, she resists and casts him away to Mordor.  This does not happen in the book at all!  Kili never confesses his love to Tauriel with a special stone because there is no Tauriel!  Azog existing is a contradiction in itself.  He was in the Battle of Azannulbizar, which was 150 years before the events of The Hobbit! He was killed by Dain in that battle.  And for some reason, they decided to include him in the movie too!  Azog is already dead so he has no place in The Hobbit at all!   Then they has the audacity to make this big final battle scene with Azog!  Thorin kills Azog but is mortally wounded.  He does die in the book but not from Azog!  I could go on and on about this, but to be honest, this is all that I can stand.  These changes were made to make the movie more appealing to casual audiences, and I thought that it was unnecessary.  Why did they have that final battle with Azog?  This was an addition that I hated the most.  Even more than Gandalf going to Dol Goldur from the last movie.  Even more than Boromir taking Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath in the Two Towers.  This subplot was totally made up and only served to fill in the two and a half hours of time that Jackson had to work with.  If any of these nitpicks were not there and the adaptation was closer to the book,  the movie would’ve been way better.

How did The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies do? Looking at the box office results,  it’s doing okay.  The expectation was for it to gross $70 million during the opening weekend and it did just that.  In one weekend, it grossed $56.2 million during its opening weekend.  Its five-day opening was $90.6 million, placing it behind The Desolation of Smaug’s $100.2 million five-day opening.  Even with a modest opening, it is still the sixth highest grossing movie of the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit series.  Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million on its opening weekend.  The Two Towers grossed $62 million and Return of the King grossed $72.6 million.  Last year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug grossed $73.6 million during its opening weekend. Two years ago,  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey grossed  $84.6 million during its opening weekend.  The current domestic gross of this year’s movie is $90.6 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $265 million,  the worldwide gross stands at $355.6 million.  That’s $100 million more than the $258.3 million that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug grossed last year at this time.  With a production budget of $250 million, it easily made it back.  With all the nitpicks aside (and there were many this time), I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the visuals and I loved the battle scenes near Erebor and Bilbo’s trip home.  Jackson has done it again.  Although it is a masterpiece, he needs to stay true to the book more.  The unnecessary additions of out-of-place characters made the plot a little confusing for me.  With the differences aside,  the success continues.  The formula was implemented again.  The finale could have been better had he stayed true to the book.  As with every story that arrives at the end of the road, this story accomplished this, and has tied the story to The Lord of the Rings smoothly.  For this prologue to be better, I advise that Jackson abstains from making tweaks that are too out of place (like he did last time), as this alienates the fans of Tolkien’s masterpiece prologue.  Nobody should ruin a masterpiece.  Jackson really should’ve avoided doing this to part three of this story.  I give The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies a 4 out of 5.

Music Review: Mandatory Fun

 

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Are you all ready for “Mandatory Fun”? Even if you’re not, tough. You must have fun, and that includes reading this entire review from beginning to end. The Honorable Chairman Al Yankovic demands it, and we must all listen to him like the pathetic peons we are.

So what is Mandatory Fun? If you don’t know, where have you been? Under a rock or something? Mandatory Fun is Weird Al Yankovic’s 14th studio album, released on July 15, 2014, the same day he rose to power and took the nation by storm with his new policies on how everyone will forced to have fun, even if they don’t want to. It’s a splendid regime. A regime built on fun and accordions. Chairman Mao, eat your heart out.

Fascist jokes aside, this 14th album is quite bittersweet since this 14th album is his last album. And with it being the last album, it better be good. Does Mandatory Fun live up to its name, coercing everyone into a perpetual state of fun and happiness, or is this album nothing more than propaganda full of lackluster songs conveying fascist patriotism put out by Chairman Al himself? Let’s find out.

By looking at the cover art, the appearance is quite shocking. Mandatory Fun features Al dressed up as a communist dictator, bent on conquest, standing tall above his army. Has Al gone off his rocker? He outcommunists the communists by constructing a regime built on fun. Fun that you must have, even if you don’t want to. Are we having fun yet? You better. For all I know, he could be watching us right now. Upon seeing that cover art, it made me all the more excited to buy this album. Either that, or I was brainwashed by the magnificent Honorable Chairman Al. I believe it was the former.

Still not having fun? Let’s look at the album and see what it sounds like. The album kicks off with the rather strong track “Handy”, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. This song was recorded just a month before this album released. I liked the catchy beat and lyrics in this track, and it perfectly displays Azalea’s style in a humorous portrayal of a handyman that acts like a braggart. I love this track. Having listened to it recently, it still isn’t old. And with the funny music video to match, this track wins on so many levels.

After “Handy” is “Lame Claim to Fame” a Southern Culture on the Skids style parody that lists a bunch of name-dropping with the character bragging about having marginal associations with famous people. This song was pretty good, but not as good as the first one.

“Foil” is next in line, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde. While I liked the parody a lot, it was too short, as it omits the bridge and final chorus that was in the original song. I liked the contrast between the first and second verses, but the song could’ve been complete and true to the original. The song was good, but fell short due to the short length.

“Sports Song” takes the gridiron next, which I find odd since this is nowhere near the halftime of this album’s “game”. This track spoofs college fight songs, making the association that their team is “great” while the other team “sucks”. Not being a big fan of sports, I find this song slightly better than mediocre. Despite my opinion, I can definitely see it as a popular track to play during college sporting events in the fall by Weird Al fans everywhere.

“Word Crimes” is next, clearly evidenced by the crew touting their poor grammar. This is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” . Weird Al sets the record straight, giving the blockheads a crash course in Grammar 101. This song, along with the music video will be an effective teaching tool for English teachers everywhere this fall. It was written in a rather clever manner, and it keeps me on my toes for not making any grammatical mistakes. Another win for this album. So far, so good.

“My Own Eyes” greeted me next, leaving an impression on me that I can’t change. I can’t un-hear this song with “my own ears” This song is a style parody of the Foo Fighters, which I can clearly see (or hear) since I have heard a few of their songs before. Very catchy and very humorous. Another rather good track.

After “My Own Eyes” left, the final polka medley took the stage. “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” Now that’s what I call a clever stab at EMI’s endless series of compilation albums! This polka medley featured eleven artists, including Miley Cyrus, Psy, Carly Rae Jepson and Daft Punk, to name a few. This medley was really good, with only one song that I didn’t know (but for the sake of this review, I recently listened to it).

Some other songs that were included on this album consisted of “Mission Statement” (a style parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash), “Inactive” (a parody of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive”) and “First World Problems” (a style parody of Pixies). I liked the ambient tones of “Mission Statement” and the hilarious arrangement of “Inactive”. “First World Problems” is a hit, even though I have never heard of Pixies.

The last two songs were “Tacky” (a parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) and “Jackson Park Express” (a style parody of Cat Stevens). “Tacky” was awesome, and was the first song that I was spoiled about. I received the album the night before the release and I had to keep all TV’s off since I intended to hear the album the night of the release. I only knew the parody’s song, but not the name of it. Upon hearing it, it was pretty clever. I love all the tacky references that Al makes in the song. Listening to it makes me glad that I’m not “tacky”.

For the “Jackson Park Express”, it was an awesome finale. “Jackson Park Express” is a nine minute bus ride full of excitement, humor, romance and delusions of grandeur. The rider on this bus fabricates hilarious scenarios with the woman that he is sitting next to, all without saying a single word to her. His esteemed feelings for her take place inside his head, resulting in him making ridiculous guesses as to the words she’s implying when she carries out mundane tasks like looking at him, reading, smiling, sighing, crinkling her nose and so on. The song is warm, funny and satisfying. I enjoyed the song and it deserves a well earned spot in Al’s Extended Play Collection. It’s right up there, joining the ranks of “Albuquerque”, “Genius in France” and “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”.

So how was Mandatory Fun? In putting honesty first, I believe that this album achieved its purpose. Whether your intentions are to have fun or not, you will have fun listening to this, like it or not. With a lot of solid hits, Weird Al Yankovic finished well with his final album. While there were a couple of weaknesses, the strengths greatly outweigh them. With more than ten hits, the songs have grown on me, with each of them unique in their own right.

Mandatory Fun was indeed fun. So much so that I want every one of you to buy his album. With it debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart of best-selling albums, you can’t go wrong. Just click on this link to buy it. Or, if you are impatient, get it at the store or buy it on iTunes. What are you waiting for? This is 45 minutes of explicitly unrefined fun, and you would be crazy to miss it. And while Al is done with albums, he’s not done with music. He will release singles and EP’s in the future, so we can get his music on a more immediate basis. With this in mind, we can be confident that Weird Al will continue to reign as the king…or should I say communist leader of parodies. I give Mandatory Fun a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead

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In the modern world that we live in, a lot of atheists have dismissed the idea that there is a God that has created the universe.  Friedrich Nietzsche coined the phrase “God is dead”.  Move over, Nietzsche.  While science and technology have been continually advancing, the Bible still maintains its relevance today.  God could not be any more alive.  Regarding atheists, the Bible is right about them.  “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’ “. (Psalm 14:1)

So where am I getting with this argument?  It actually pertains to the movie God’s Not Dead, a film released by Pure Flix Entertainment and Red Entertainment Group.  The arguments that I made in the beginning are seen throughout the movie.  God’s Not Dead is an inspiring movie that deserves more respect than what it has been given from critics.  Upon reading this, you will not find a better rating for this movie anywhere else.

Why?  The evidence speaks for itself.  This movie has been panned by critics and the atheism community at large.  It is harshly criticized due to its negative portrayal of an atheist.  Due to the all the negative press from the rabble, this movie has not performed very well at the box office.  But performance doesn’t mean anything if the film is good at its core.  How well does this movie fare in a room full of blockbusters?  Is God’s Not Dead a movie that boldly stands up against its adversaries or does it cower away in a shameful failure?  Let’s find out.

As I said already, you will not find a better rating for this movie anywhere else.  God’s Not Dead is a good movie, but these words alone are not enough to prove my position.  To demonstrate why this movie is good,  I will provide evidence to support my opinion.  By the end of this review, you will see why the verdict is so clear on my part.

Exhibit A:  The introduction.  Right away, I am taken into the life of a freshman about to begin college.  The film begins with Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) getting his schedule for his freshman classes.  The guy registering him sees that he’s enrolled in Professor Radisson’s (Kevin Sorbo) Intro to Philosophy class.  Upon inspecting Wheaton’s cross necklace, he convinces him to get another instructor.  When asked why, he said “think Roman colosseum”.  Wheaton disagrees, as getting another instructor would cause a conflict in all of his other scheduled classes.  Upon Wheaton’s insistence, the guy gives him an expression like “it’s your funeral”.  Meanwhile,  Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache), a businesswoman and animal rights blogger is on her way to interview Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty.

When Wheaton attends his first philosophy class, Professor Radisson wastes no time in affirming his lesson plan.  All of the notable scholars listed on the whiteboard are all atheists.  To waste no time on what Radisson considers to be fairytales and superstitions, he has the whole class sign on a piece of paper that “God is Dead”.  This will ensure the 30% of the grade that they need to pass.  Wheaton refuses, to the surprise of Radisson and the whole class.  This upsets Radisson, having one student ruin the unanimous decision.  To have Wheaton keep his grade, he offers him a challenge.  Wheaten has to prove the opposite.  That God is not dead.  During the last 20 minutes of each class, Wheaton must present arguments to the entire class, proving that God is not dead.  Wheaton accepts, and the challenge begins.  A challenge that could put Wheaton’s faith, friendships and academic future in jeopardy.  So how does Josh Wheaton fare?  Can Wheaton successfully defend his position to the whole class or will he chicken out?  And what about the animal rights blogger?  What does she have to do with the plot?  I would love to tell you, but you will have to watch the movie and find out.

Exhibit B:  The plot.  If you were to look at the plot, there are actually six different plots going on at the same time.  Towards the end, they all converge into one.  We have the main plot with Wheaton vs. Radisson, the animal rights blogger plot, a plot with a Muslim girl named Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) who hides her Christian faith from her father, a plot with Mina (Cory Oliver), a girl who has to deal with her relationship and her mother with dementia, a plot with Martin Yip (Paul Kwo), a Chinese foreign exchange student who’s in the same class as Wheaton and a plot with Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) taking Reverend Jude (Benjamin Ochieng), an African missionary on a vacation where things go horribly wrong.  As ADD as the multiple plots seemed, it all seemed to work out at the end.  And I loved how it worked out.  Also, the plot gets really emotional towards the end.

Exhibit C:  The characters.  I loved the wide variety of characters, and what each did to add to the story.  We have Josh Wheaton, Professor Raddison, Amy Ryan, Ayisha, Mina, Mark (Dean Cain), Martin Yip, Pastor Dave, Reverend Jude and a few others.  There are celebrity cameos from Willie and Korie Robertson from Duck Dynasty and the Newsboys.  The characters accomplished what the film tried to achieve.  To tell a dramatic story of one student’s struggle, along with the struggles of others.

Exhibit D:  The nitpicks.  Okay.  This actually serves as a counterargument as to why I like this movie.  But for a balanced review, both sides of the story must be presented.  I thought that certain parts of the movie might have been exaggerated a little too much.  For the non-Christians  in the movie, they are severely punished or made terminally ill in some way.  While this sometimes plays out in reality, the opposite can also happen.  Just like the righteous, God allows the wicked to prosper.  The following quote from the mother with dementia nails it.  She says  “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God.   Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to leave. The door’s wide open. Till one day, time runs out, and the cell door slams shut, and suddenly it’s too late.”  While this is a good quote, the Non-Christians are the ones that end up in trouble.  While I understand what they are trying to do in the movie, this may be a major turn-off for a non-Christian.  Just remove the exaggerations and show more Non-Christians prospering.  This would make that mother with dementia’s quote more valid.  This could’ve even been done with (SPOILERS) Radisson on his death bed.  While some do come to faith during the last minutes of their life, some do not.  It is the sovereign act of God’s grace.  And if Radisson, was true to his character, he would’ve died an atheist.  While I do know that people like him can get saved, it’s all about finding a balance so that the movie can achieve a higher degree of realism.  My one other nitpick is a minor one, and it’s the overused gag of Pastor Dave’s rental car not starting.  The first one was funny.  The second one was okay.  The third was starting to get old.  I would’ve retired it after two rentals and use some other plot device to underscore something going wrong on Reverend Jude’s vacation.

Having presented my evidence, we will now move to the verdict.  How did God’s Not Dead do in the box office?  By Hollywood standards, this film was a total failure.  But I don’t use Hollywood’s standards.  I use my own for each review.  The movie grossed $48.3 million worldwide.  And by worldwide, I mean the United States, since it’s not playing anywhere else.  And with a production budget of $2 million, the movie made back almost 2500% of the original budget.  And if you look at Noah, the last movie that I reviewed, it only made back 232% of its budget.  This gives God’s Not Dead a return that’s over 10 times higher.  With petty nitpicks aside, this movie is a must see.  And for those who complain about Willie and the Newsboys being in the movie, get over it.  It’s called product positioning and it’s done with every movie in the business.  Even the films that you love to watch.  If you can get over the exaggerated characterization of the “enemies” in the movie, this film offers a solid multi-faceted plot about struggles culminating with an emotional roller coaster at the end.  It looks at the power of truth and how one student stands up for what he believes in.  A picture of what is going on in college classrooms every day.  Now you have heard me say that you will not find a better rating for this movie anywhere else.  And I don’t think you will.  Ignoring all the major critics, I give God’s Not Dead a 4 out of 5.

Movie Review: Noah

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A flood is upon us.  A destructive flood that will wipe out all of those who don’t carefully read their Bible.  While the Bible does tell of the global flood that happened in Genesis 6, there is a movie that has actually accomplished something.  A movie that has successfully distorted every aspect of the flood, fabricating different elements that never happened.  A movie that has turned a closely embraced narrowly accepted fact into a common myth.

What is this movie that I speak of? This can be none other than the movie Noah, a film released by Paramount Pictures, Regency Enterprises  and Protozoa Pictures.  Noah is a crucially flawed vessel, flooded with biblical inaccuracies and Jewish myths.  But I will get more into that later in the review.  For now, let’s continue.

Noah has received acclaim for its impressive special effects.  But how does it stand up against the blockbusters?  Is Noah a movie that’s capable of staying afloat, or is it a splintered boat that’s destined for the deeps?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins with a young Noah (Dakota Goyo) with his father Lamech (Marton Csokas).  All of a sudden, a raiding army invades Lamech’s land, and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) kills Lamech.

Many years later, Noah (Russell Crowe) is seen with his sons Shem (Gavin Casalegno) and Ham (Nolan Gross).  After seeing a flower instantly grow from the ground and being haunted by dreams of a flood, Noah travels with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his sons to visit his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).

On their way to Methuselah, they come across a group of people recently killed.  From this group, there is a survivor named Ila (Skylar Burke).  Noah adopts the barren survivor and are suddenly chased by Tubal-Cain’s men.  They seek refuge with some fallen angels called the Watchers.  The movie explains that the Watchers were forced by the Creator to remain on Earth as stone golems for disobeying him, and helping humans after being banished from the Garden of Eden. Instead of trying to kill the Watchers, Noah befriends them and helps them escape.

When Noah finally meets Methuselah, he is given a seed from Eden.  Noah plants this seed and it instantly creates an entire forest to build the ark.

About eight years later, with the help of the Watchers, the ark is nearly finished.  The rains are about to come and flood the earth.  Ham (Logan Lerman) runs away and tries to find a wife.  Tubal-Cain prepares his army to take the ark for themselves.  Does Ham make it back in time?  Can Noah and the Watchers fend off the ark long enough to escape Tubal-Cain’s army?  To answer those questions, Ham does make it back in time.  Tubal Cain’s army is wiped out by the flood, but there is something else that happens that I do not like.  You will hear it soon enough.

The plot was pretty steady for the course of the whole movie.  You have before the flood, the flood and after the flood.  The pacing was handled quite well.

While the usual characters were in the movie, there were some other characters that were not necessary.  We have Noah, Naameh, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham and Japheth (Leo McHugh).  There’s also Adam (Adam Griffith), Eve (Ariane Rinehart), Methuselah and Tubal-Cain.  However, there were some unwelcome additions like Ila (Emma Watson) and Na’el (Madison Davenport).  For the characterization, I was not pleased with it at all.  Especially with Noah. I will get to that shortly, when I address everything that is wrong with this movie.

Now while there was very little, if anything at all to like about the movie, brace yourself.  You are about to get flooded with a deluge of reasons why I don’t like the movie.  Without further ado,  let’s begin.  Let’s start with the scene in the beginning of the movie where Tubal-Cain kills Lamech.  In this Bible, this never happened.  It says, plain as day  “After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Lamech lived 777 years, and then he died.”  (Genesis 5:30-31)  Tubal-Cain is mentioned in the Bible, but as the son of Zillah, one of Lamech’s two wives.  (Genesis 4:22) Next inaccuracy.  Noah rescues a girl named Ila.  Nowhere in the Bible does it mention the name Ila.  Flowers that instantly sprout out of the ground is not the work of God, but witchcraft.  With the Watchers, they are portrayed as stone golems.  But in the book of Enoch, they are mentioned as the ones that have fathered the Nephilim.  Being entrapped in stone, how can they produce offspring?  And having seen the whole movie, I have not seen a single Nephilim anywhere. Where are the Nephilim?  They were excluded as a director’s decision to show off a computer rendered creature akin to Lord of the Rings. Next one.  Noah has a series of dreams about the flood.  While this may have been the case, God told Noah directly that he was going to destroy the earth.  (Genesis 6:13)  He also gave Noah the dimensions to build the ark.  And with everything regarding Ila, we will ignore everything regarding her for the rest of the movie since the Bible doesn’t mention her.  Her being barren.  Methuselah’s witchcraft in opening her womb. Her becoming Shem’s wife. Her bearing twin girls.  All of this nonsense will be ignored.  Moving on, we have the next mistake.  Tubal-Cain leads his army to take over the ark.  Nowhere in the Bible does it mention some big stand-down between Noah’s family and Tubal-Cain.  And even worse, after losing his army, Tubal-Cain stows away on the ark.  Last time I checked, he was not listed as any of those who entered the ark!  Next blunder.  Noah was criticized for not finding wives for his three sons.  Well, since the movie can’t tell you the truth, I will.  “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.” (Genesis 7:7)  That’s right.  Every single one of Noah’s sons had a wife!  But Darren Aronofsky’s Noah will tell you that Ila was aboard, pregnant with twin girls.  Noah’s character in the movie is crucially flawed, portraying him as a psychopathic murderer who is too weak to carry out what he believes to be his God-given task.  In the movie, God doesn’t speak to Noah but gives him a puzzle to solve through a few dreams and visions.  As I have stated above,  God DOES speak to Noah directly.  In the movie, Noah calls the animals the “innocents” and his goal is to save all of them and kill all the humans so that creation can be restored to “the way God intended it”.  This greatly undermines the Noah described in the Bible.  Noah is not a psychopath.  In fact, he is described as a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) and a faithful and just man (Genesis 6:9; Hebrews 11:7).  Next mistake.  Noah shares the creation story with his sons.  He begins the story with  “In the beginning, there was nothing.”  No.  That is completely wrong.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”  (Genesis 1:1)  If there was nothing, that would assume that there would be no Creator to make the creation.  Moreover,  the words and visuals that I saw during the creation scene are based on the Big Bang, nebular hypothesis and common descent from single-celled creatures to man.  All of these methods pertain to evolution, which would clearly be at odds with how a creator could be involved (unless they are suggesting theistic evolution)  But even if that were the case, the movie’s interpretation of creation would undermine the six days described in Genesis.  Looking at the next mistake, Methuselah is portrayed as a witchdoctor.  And need I say more?  This movie is littered with a bunch of mystical pagan elements.  And the biggest mistake of all is making the movie in the first place.  A movie replete with every mistake that I listed above.  And if you are still reading this, congratulations.  You survived the flood of nitpicks.  Now for some dry land.

How did the movie Noah do in the box office?  The movie is currently grossing $88.3 million domestically and if you were to double the movie’s $125 million production budget,  you would have the international gross of $250.3 million.  Yes, it’s grossing a lot, but it’s like I said in the beginning of this review.  A flood is upon us.  A flood that has taken the country and world by storm.  But you can still be saved from this flood.  How?  By doing yourself a favor and not seeing this movie.  I’ll say it again.  Do NOT see this movie!  Don’t be fooled by its impressive facade of special effects of a realistic ark crashing over the waves.  The seductive allure of stone golems that belong in a Peter Jackson movie.  Because beneath the special effects is a movie carrying a destructive flood of unbiblical ideas, Jewish mysticism, a swarm of inaccuracies and fabricated characters.  What this movie needs is another flood to wipe it off the face of the earth.  I give Noah a 1 out of 5.

Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted

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Well, it’s that time again.  Time for….wait!  Another Muppet Movie?  But the last one didn’t even gross $100 million domestically! And take it from me.  That last line was stolen from a couple of grumpy geezers that hurl insults from the theater balcony.

Time for that checklist again.  Introduction?  Oh.  Here it is.  After three years of hard work, the Muppets have finally created a sequel.  The title?  Muppets Most Wanted, of course!  A movie released by Walt Disney Pictures and Mandeville Films.

Now you know what a Muppet is by now.  If you haven’t, go watch the last movie.  It will give you a nice little crash course.  Now we all know how sequels are supposed to do in the box office.  They usually perform better than the last movie.  As for this next installment in the Muppets saga, we will see.  Does Muppets Most Wanted stand out as a spectacular sequel full of comedy gold or are they due for retirement?  Stay tuned, folks.  You are about to find out.

The movie begins literally where the last movie ended.  The Muppets are offered a sequel and they don’t waste any time in getting started on it.  It starts with a musical, albeit humorous montage with them singing about sequels, complete with celebrity cameos from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

When the number ends, we are shown the plot.  The tour manager Dominic (Ricky Gervais) is hired by the Muppets to take them on a world tour.  While this is taking place,  Constantine the Frog (Matt Vogel), the number one most dangerous criminal in the world, escapes from Gulag 38B, a Siberian Gulag.  The frog is mean, green and he bears an eerie resemblance to Kermit the Frog.

Meanwhile, the Muppets are ready to begin their world tour.  And their mode of travel is by map?  No.  That was the last movie.  They have upgraded to a train.  And not just any train.  A train that can cross the Atlantic Ocean.  So if you’re still traveling by map, you’re considered a peasant.

Once in Berlin,  the Muppets decide to perform their show in a shabby venue.  Dominic disagrees, and gets them a more prestigious location.  The Muppets have a bunch of crazy requests for the show.  Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) keeps hinting at her green crush about marriage.  All this drives Kermit (Steve Whitmire) crazy.  Taking Dominic’s advice, he leaves the train to go for a walk. While on the walk, he is assaulted by a disguised Constantine.  Constantine puts a fake mole on Kermit, making him look just like himself.  He escapes and Kermit is successfully framed.  With the authorities believing that he is Constantine, Kermit is arrested and taken to the Siberian Gulag.

Meanwhile, Constantine covers his tracks.  He covers his mole up with green paint, fooling everyone into believing that he’s Kermit.  Everyone except Animal (Eric Jacobson).  While the Muppets are performing, Constantine joins Dominic in stealing some paintings at a museum.

Wait!  Dominic is helping Constantine?  What’s going on here?  With Kermit out of the picture, things can only get worse.  How do the Muppets fare on their world tour?  What are Constantine and Dominic up to?  With Kermit at the Gulag, how will he escape?  Watch the movie and find out!

The movie was quite refreshing in that it actually had a plot this time!  The last movie didn’t really have a solid plot.  Get the gang together, save the studio, make the movie….wait!  The movie’s already over.  On to the sequel!  Unlike the last movie, this movie actually had a stronger sense of conflict throughout the movie.  There was action with musical numbers sprinkled throughout.

As for the characters, they were pretty much the same from the last movie, with a couple of new characters.  You have the usual Muppet Gang, along with the newcomers.  Dominic, Constantine, Nadya (Tina Fey) and more celebrity cameos than what you can shake a stick at.  While the new Muppet Walter (Peter Linz) wasn’t utilized that much in this movie, the focus was on Constantine, who pretty much stole the spotlight.  And with that, I forgive them for not spending a lot of time on Walter.  While he’s not used that much, he does play an important role later on in the movie.  And I think this was handled well.  The music, too was pretty good with Constantine’s track “I’ll Get You What You Want” standing out.  I especially liked the Kermit vs. Constantine dynamic at the end.

While this movie did do a few things well, we are unfortunately at the part of the review where I list all of my nitpicks.  A real big one is in Gulag 38B, where Kermit is prisoner.  For this one, I felt that there could’ve been more conflict.  After Kermit’s numerous attempts to escape the place,  Nadya forces Kermit to organize the Gulag’s annual prison talent show.  Really?!  With this kind of conflict, you might as well tell him to organize a kid’s birthday party.  To add more suspense to the movie, I would’ve had Nadya threaten Kermit’s life.  Even if a timetable of three days was allotted for his execution, I wouldn’t have any problem with that.  Most books and movies have a timetable that is just convenient enough for the heroes to come and save the day in the nick of time.  As contrived as that, there is at least something at stake.  And it saves Kermit the hassle of trying to create a prison version of The Muppet Show.  But fortunately, there is redemption.  There is a dynamic wedding scene that you do not want to miss.  With Miss Piggy’s wedding, this more than makes up for the major plot error in the Gulag.

So how did Muppets Most Wanted do compared to the last movie?  Did they upstage their last performance?  Sadly, not even close.  If you want the numbers from all the past Muppets movies, go here  (or wait until I repost my review of the first Muppets movie).  Looking at the previous movie, this installment of The Muppets fell short.  While The Muppets grossed $88.6 million domestically and $165.2 million internationally, Muppets Most Wanted only grossed $46.9 million domestically and $61.7 internationally.  That’s not even half of the first one’s international gross!  With the sequel’s dismal numbers, The Muppets are doomed to extinction.  While I still see them as an important staple of popular culture, the numbers show that they are past their prime for making movies.  But to put a positive spin on it, this is the third highest grossing Muppets movie of the eight that they have made.  And with a solid plot to boot, it is a great improvement from the last movie.  But I can’t overlook the mistake that they made in the Gulag scenes.  The wasted potential and lost opportunity to make this movie more dramatic.  And for that, I give this movie Waldorf and Statler’s seal of approval.  And to get a seal from them is never a good thing.  I give Muppets Most Wanted a 3 out of 5.

Movie Review: Frozen

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Do you want to build a snowman?  You may have been asked this question when you were a kid.  How about now?  If you dare, you could venture outside, bundled up  “A Christmas Story” style and build your very own Frosty, or Olaf.  But we’ll get to that soon enough, as I am already getting ahead of myself.

I will be totally honest.  This movie review should’ve been written a long time ago.  Taking a glance at my ticket stub, the date reads “01/08/2014”.  Why did I wait so long?

If you want the honest truth, I will tell you.  The review was….frozen.  It was as if someone took the very words that I was going to write and encased them in ice.  Every word.  Every scene.  Every anecdote, all laying stagnant in my mind, paralyzed by an icy cocoon.

In spite of the movie review’s state, I did it.  I grabbed an ice pick and I chipped away.  Whacking and hacking away until the ice cracked open.  This only resulted in the freedom of a few words.

Enraged at this, I rushed to the hearth and jabbed my sickle into a blazing log.  I then ran and flung it at the frozen mass.  This resulted in small puddles of water, with more droplets dripping down.  Back to the hearth, I grabbed another log with the sickle and returned to the icy mass, battling it like a mighty beast.  Again and again I did this, until the water started gushing out in streams.  The movie review was free.  All the words were there. Every word that I wanted to say, all perfectly arranged.  Having bested the icy menace, I now needed to know who was responsible for capturing my review in ice.  It had to have been her.  Elsa.  But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.  You’re not supposed to know that name yet!  Now if you saw the movie, that would be understandable.  But let’s be respectable for those who haven’t.  Okay?

What I am about to review is a story of love.  A story of adventure.  An adventure in the cold, so you better bundle up.  This is Disney’s Frozen, a movie released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.  This movie is loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen

But can a movie with such a cold name warm the hearts of so many?  The movie experienced a modest opening.  Is Frozen capable of freezing the box office grosses or is it an icicle destined to shatter?  Put on your winter coat and snow pants, everyone.  We are about to find out.

The movie opens with “Eatnemen Vuelie”.  It is a combination of Saami yoiking and the Danish Christmas hymn “Dejlig er jorden”/”Fairest Lord Jesus”. Composed by Frode Fjellheim.  This song is to Frozen as the Swahili chants that opened “The Circle of Life”  in The Lion King.  What we see are men hard at work, chipping away at ice and transporting it back to their camp.  The ice would then be transported from the mountain to the town of Arendelle below.

While the men were hard at work, a boy and his reindeer struggle to produce a fraction of the men’s work.  The boy loads a tiny block of ice onto a sled, which is pulled by the young reindeer.

Meanwhile, we are taken to the castle, where we see two young sisters.  One blond and one brunette.  The brunette one, named Anna wanted to build a snowman.  The blond one, named Elsa agreed, using her powers to create a winter wonderland in the castle.  After playing a little too roughly, Elsa accidentally harms Anna.  This results in Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers being removed by trolls, as the only means of breaking the spell and saving her life.

As the years pass, the girls grow apart.  Elsa (Idina Menzel), being determined to not to harm Anna again, shelters herself in her bedroom.  Anna (Kristen Bell), not having any memory of the incident regarding her sister’s powers is frustrated at her sister’s unwillingness to want to bond.  When the girls became teenagers, the parents die at sea.

When Elsa comes of age, it is finally time for her coronation.  The whole kingdom prepares for it, with dukes and princes coming from different kingdoms.

With Anna finally being allowed out of the castle, she falls in love with Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) of the Southern Isles.   After the coronation, Hans proposes to her.  Anna then asks for her sister’s blessing to marry Hans at the reception.  Elsa refuses, and the two of them get into a fight.  This fight results in Elsa’s powers being revealed.  Shocked and upset, Elsa leaves the castle, unleashing an eternal winter on the kingdom as she fled into the mountains.

With the truth exposed, Anna is determined to get her sister back, end the winter and mend their relationship.  As she was getting supplies, she meets a now grown-up Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven.  This was the same boy who was with his reindeer years ago.

Anna joins the two, heading up the mountain in search of her sister.  On their way up, they encounter Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman that Anna and Elsa made when they were children.  He came to life when Elsa made her ice palace hideaway.

Olaf leads the group to Elsa’s ice palace and the two sisters reunite. When Anna persuades Elsa to come back, she refuses, still being afraid of harming her sister again.  After much persisting, Elsa accidentally strikes her sister, hitting her in the heart.  This causes Anna’s hair to begin turning white.  After Kristoff heads to his adoptive family of trolls, he discovers that Anna’s heart has been frozen. Unless it’s thawed by an “act of true love”, she will become frozen solid forever.  Will Anna be saved?  Or will she become a frozen statue?  And what about the kingdom of Arendelle?  With the queen gone, who will rule the kingdom?  I could tell you, but I would rather not spoil it.  You will have to see the movie to find out.

The length of the movie was just right for an animated movie.  Considering the age group for this movie, it was just long enough to hold the attention span of a 5-12 year old.  The plot flowed well and the story was solid. Solid like ice.

The movie was also full of excellent characters.  Characters that served as a “shout out” to Hans Christian Andersen.  We have Prince Hans, which is an obvious one.  The second one is Kristoff (Christian).  The third piece of the puzzle is Anna (Ander).  The last piece is Sven (sen), Kristoff’s reindeer companion.

To dig deeper into the movie, Anna’s character is based off of Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.  Elsa’s character was the Snow Queen herself.  In characterizing these for Frozen, some things had to be changed.  The Snow Queen was evil, so they decided to make her into Elsa, with the ice powers being a constant and part of an ongoing inner struggle.  They also made her sisters with Anna to create a family dynamic.  I thought this balance was achieved well, especially after a couple of failed attempts at developing this movie (first attempt was in the late 1990’s; second attempt was in 2008).

There were a lot of things that I loved about Frozen.  I loved the realism of the snow physics and I thought the snow was perfect.  Thanks to our current CGI technology, every snowflake looks like a snowflake.  The ice was flawless and not fake.  Considering how hard it is to animate this, I think that they did a good job in pulling this off.  I also liked the memorable characters.  Especially Olaf.  He was so hilarious in the movie.  His Summer montage was hard not to laugh at.  I mean, when are you ever going to see a snowman sitting on the beach in the middle of summer?  I loved the music, even though it was very frequent in the movie.  Considering the audience and how this was typical of animated Disney movies, I thought this was fine.  The Lion King did the same thing, and, being almost 10 at the time of that movie’s release, I didn’t even notice.

In fact, the music was so popular in the movie that they actually released a “Sing Along” version of Frozen.  And that’s complete with the words to all the songs on the screen, accompanied by a bouncing snowflake.

Now comes the part where I provide my nitpicks for the movie.  And….I guess there aren’t any.  They were all frozen.  To compare this plot to Brave, it added one thing that the other one didn’t have.  Music, snow and a hilarious snowman with a hopeless dream of experiencing the summer heat.  He’ll experience it as a puddle if the laws of physics worked properly.  But in this case, magic supersedes those laws in this movie.

How did Frozen do in the box office?  Amazing or wonderful would be an understatement.  While it started with a modest limited opening weekend of $243,390 and a much better wide opening weekend of $67.4 million, the grosses have snowballed.  It may not be number one, but it’s pretty close.  With a current domestic gross of $384.8 million, it is one of the top 20 highest grossing movies of all time, both domestically and internationally.  On top of that, it’s the third highest grossing animated movie of all time.  Combining its $600.3 million foreign gross, it has a chilling $985.1 million.  The two movies that are higher are The Lion King, with $987.4 million and Toy Story 3, with $1.06 billion.  And with Frozen releasing March 14th in Japan, the movie is well on its way to reaching a billion.  What more can I say?  The numbers speak for themselves.  The popularity of this movie has frozen many hearts, warming them with a charming tale of love, family and adventure using an ingenious reworking of Andersen’s timeless classic.

So do you want to build a snowman?  Everyone who has seen this movie has done so already in their hearts.  A pure, fun and innocent caricature depicting our fond memories of childhood.  This movie evokes those memories, and establishes the importance of relationships in the family.  I give Frozen a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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And we are back.  You are tuned into TWE News.  All the news you need to know about The Walker Estate.  Kyle Walker reporting.  Good afternoon.

Today’s top story has to do with a legendary anchorman from the city of San Diego.  His fame has led to the creation of a second movie – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a movie released by Apatow Productions and Paramount pictures.

Who is this anchorman of legend?  If anyone has seen the last movie, you would know him as Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell).  Ron is known for his ego, arrogance, quirkiness and self-proclaimed charm.  But is Ron as good as he was in the last movie?  With Ron being in a new movie, he is on a fresh slate.  He needs to wow the Hollywood ratings with high grosses and exceptional reviews.  Only then can be reclaim the number one spot again.  Is Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues worthy of the number one title, or is it destined to fade into obscurity, like a a washed up has-been who will never see the light of day?  In this exclusive, we will find out.

Ron Burgundy is truly a man of legend.  His entrance in the opening scene had him fighting a shark.  But does the shark end up beating him?  We don’t know this.

The scene switches to New York, where we see the opening scenes of the movie.  Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are on top of the media broadcasting world, married and working for the World News Center in downtown Manhattan.  One day, a retiring Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford), New York’s most famous nightly news anchor gives the promotion to Veronica and fires Ron for his continually sloppy performance on the air.  Jealous of his wife’s success, he storms out of the house, leaving her with their six-year-old son Walter (Judah Nelson).

Six months later, Ron is back in San Diego, barely able to hold down a job, due to his depression.  After getting fired from Sea World, he attempts suicide but fails miserably.

Just after this, Ed Harken (Fred Willard) walks in during Ron’s failed suicide attempt.  Shocked at this, he offers Ron a job at GNN, the world’s first 24-hour news network.  Ron accepts the job and it’s off to New York.  But not without reassembling the most memorable news team from the previous movie.  He gets reunited with Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell).

With the team in New York, the action begins.  Ron wants to become number one again, but he is up against Jack Lime (James Marsden), who has a primetime slot.  Ron and his team, however, have a 2-5 a.m. slot.  If Ron can get higher ratings than Jack, then Jack gets his slot.  If not, Ron’s done for.  Does Ron and his crew have what it takes to beat Jack in the ratings?  And what about Ron’s wife?  Is she seeing another man?  And what about that shark scene at the beginning of the movie?  Does Ron win the battle against the shark?  Well, I have the answer, folks.  But unfortunately, you will have to see the movie yourselves if you want all the answers.

The length of this movie was nothing to complain about at all.  This was Ron’s story, and every minute was used in a resourceful manner.  The flow was there, and Ron didn’t lead me on in the plot.

While Ron did reunite with his old compadres, there were a few new people in his life.  There was Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), Ron’s “black” manager for GNN (which caught Ron by surprise at first),  Chani (Kristen Wiig), Brick’s love interest and Gary (Greg Kinnear), Veronica’s new love interest and a psychologist that, according to Ron, is a mind reader.  Besides these new appearances, there were several cameos, which all came at the appropriate time.

Ron’s story did not have anything that was an eyesore to me.  When Ron made his story into a movie, it must have been his goal.  No nitpicks.  Because he already picked all the nits out.  The only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a scene that was deleted from the final cut of the movie.  Whatever this was, it will definitely be found in the DVD and Blu Ray release.

Aside from that, there were plenty of things that I enjoyed about the movie.  There were a couple of funny scenes.  One with Linda Jackson and one with Chani.  Neither of them will be spoiled, but I will leave that up to you to find out what that are.  I liked the inclusion of the news team brawl, as no Anchorman movie is complete without it.  Again, I won’t say who all the teams are, but there were a lot of cameos that you will enjoy.

How did Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues do?  Is Ron’s story on the way to number one?  If you were to compare this movie to the first one overall, it did just that.  Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy grossed $28.4 million during its opening weekend.  This was a little higher than this year’s movie (from 2013), which only grossed $26.2 million during its opening weekend.  With the current domestic gross, this year’s movie grossed at $118.3 million to the first Anchorman‘s $85.2 million.  With the foreign grosses added in, the victory is even more clear.  Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy didn’t even gross $100 million, with a pathetic $90.6 million worldwide gross.  Anchorman 2, on the other hand,  is grossing $158.3 million.  If you were to compare its performance overall, it’s a far cry from Avatar‘s $2.78 billion.  But fortunately, Ron is not comparing himself to blue titans that can’t be touched.  His story stands alone, and is to be compared to the previous one.  And in using this definition, we have a winner.  I liked the movie and how Ron made me laugh.  I enjoyed the news team brawl and the element of drama that was placed in this movie.  With the comedy, story, and addition of new characters, there was much to enjoy in this installment.  Despite the ego, arrogance, quirkiness and self-proclaimed charm, Ron has become a legend once again, despite the deleted scenes that weren’t included.  I give Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues a 4 out of 5.

And that’s our news for this afternoon.  From all of us at TWE News, we bid you farewell.  This is Kyle Walker signing out.  To everyone in cyberspace, you stay classy.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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When we get to the middle of the road, there are two things that are for certain.  There is the road behind us that leads back to the beginning, and the road ahead of us that leads all the way to the end.

With Bilbo Baggins being one year into his unexpected journey,   he was right in the middle of it.  The road ahead led to the Lonely Mountain.  To Erebor, where the lost treasure lay.  The Arkenstone.  The heirloom from the ancestral line of Durin, great Dwarven king of Erebor.  The company consisted of twelve dwarves, with Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór leading the way.  Accompanying them was Gandalf the Grey (a wizard) and Bilbo Baggins (the burglar).  The treasure of Erebor was guarded by an old and crafty dragon named Smaug.  The road behind Bilbo led back to The Shire.  And this point, it was too late to go back.

And at this point, why would he?  Having found the Ring, Bilbo’s life was changed forever.  He also promised the dwarves that he would help them reclaim Erebor and get their home back.

But the countdown begins.  Being on the chase from a horde of  Orcs, Bilbo and company need to open the door to the Lonely Mountain before the end of Durin’s Day.  From there, Bilbo must infiltrate the mountain and steal back the Arkenstone from Smaug, who sleeps deep in the mountain, buried in piles of gold coins.  This is the premise of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the long awaited second part in the trilogy released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios.

As we already know, Tolkien is the master behind this masterpiece, but Peter Jackson is the director that is bringing his vision to life.   But how does he deal with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug?  Is the movie  a victorious masterpiece or a desolation doomed to decline in piles of burning rock and smog?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins in a dark and stormy backdrop, with Thorin (Richard Armitage) meeting Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) at the Prancing Pony in the town of Bree.  Gandalf tells him clearly.  There is a bounty on Thorin’s head and the orcs want him dead.  He then convinces him that a burglar would be needed to steal back the Arkenstone from Smaug.

After that, the plot shifts to one year later, where we are right after the end from the previous movie.  Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and company are on the run from a band of orcs, led by Azog (Manu Bennett), their leader.  Bilbo’s party seeks refuge in Beorn’s (Mikael Persbrandt) house.  Beorn, being a skin-changer, despises dwarves.  But he despises orcs even more.  For that reason, he helped them out and protected them with his giant bear form.

Using Beorn’s house, the party makes their way to Mirkwood.  At this point, Gandalf sees some Black Speech graffiti on an old ruin and receives a telepathic message from Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to go and check it out.  Gandalf leaves the party, and Bilbo and company get lost.   They encounter some giant spiders in Mirkwood and were rescued and imprisoned by Wood Elves.  All except for Bilbo, who was invisible because of the Ring that he had on.

With all the dwaves captured, how will Bilbo rescue them?  Will Thorin and the dwarves unlock the door to the Lonely Mountain before the end of Durin’s Day?  And what about Smaug?  Will Bilbo be able to steal the Arkenstone from him?  Watch the movie and find out.

The length of the movie was completely understandable, and I thought that the plot progressed pretty smoothly.  With almost three hours to work with, that was plenty of time to get to the Lonely Mountain and Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug.  The music was pretty good, although there wasn’t really anything noteworthy like the previous movie.  The cliffhanger was agonizing, making me want the next movie to release immediately, so that I know how it turns out.  (Really.  The cliffhanger was that sudden.)  I know how it ends.  I just don’t know how Jackson’s version is going to end.

Getting to the characters, they were all portrayed faithfully as they were in the book.  There’s Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves from the last movie.  Smaug is what made the movie for me.  There was the inclusion of a new character named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), which I will discuss a little bit later.  Legolas (Orlando Bloom) too, was oddly present.  Odd inclusions aside, I thought that all the other characters were portrayed well.

The movie had a great number of nitpicks.  So many that I could write a book on them.  The first one is the one that I hated the most.  It was the inclusion of Tauriel in the movie.  Nowhere in The Hobbit OR Lord of the Rings universe is there a She-Elf named Tauriel!  Alongside Tauriel was Legolas, who had no place in the movie at all.  He was not even in The Hobbit so he shouldn’t be in the movie.  Another thing that confused me was Gandalf going to Dol Guldur.  He never goes there in the book!  The dwarf Kili never gets injured and there is never a scene where he gets healed by a She-elf that doesn’t exist in Tolkien’s universe.  In Tolkien’s universe, there is no Ancient Elvish that I know of.  For Elvish languages, only Sindarin and Quenyan exist.  Some other changes were added in Jackson’s director’s cut that didn’t exist in the book.  This included no lids on the barrels when they were traversing the river (fish was added later on the boat),  Azog’s promotion, Smaug being buried in treasure, Smaug being 747-sized and an inter-species love triangle.  I could go on and on about this, but to be honest, this is all that I can stand.  These changes were made to make the movie more appealing to casual audiences, and I thought that it was unnecessary.  Why did they make Gandalf go to Dol Guldur?  This was an addition that I hated the most.  Even more than Boromir taking Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath in the Two Towers.  This subplot was totally made up and only served to fill in the three hours of time that Jackson had to work with.  If any of these nitpicks were not there and the adaptation was closer to the book,  the movie would’ve been way better.

How did The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug do? Looking at the box office results,  it’s doing okay.  The expectation was for it to gross $70 million and it did just that.  In one weekend, it grossed $73.7 million during its opening weekend.  Even with a modest opening, it is still the third highest grossing movie of the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit series.  Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million on its opening weekend.  The Two Towers grossed $62 million and Return of the King grossed $72.6 million.  Last year,  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey grossed  $84.6 million during its opening weekend.  The current domestic gross of this year’s movie is $73.7 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $131.2 million,  the worldwide gross stands at $204.9 million.  That’s a little shy of the $230.5 million that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey grossed last year at this time.  With a production budget of $225 million, it will surely make it back within the next weekend.  With all the nitpicks aside (and there were many this time), I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the visuals and I loved the Erebor scenes with Smaug.  Jackson has done it again.  Although it is a masterpiece, he needs to stay true to the book more.  The unnecessary additions of out-of-place characters made the plot a little confusing for me.  With the differences aside,  the success continues.  The formula was implemented again.  It just needs to be tweaked for the finale.  As with every story that arrives at the middle of the road, this story accomplished this, and has set the stage for the wonderful conclusion.  For this prologue to be better, I advise that Jackson abstains from making tweaks that are too out of place, as this alienates the fans of Tolkien’s masterpiece prologue.  Nobody gives the Mona Lisa a mustache.  Jackson really should’ve avoided doing this to part two of this story.  I give The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug a 4 out of 5.

Book Review – Quit Whining Start Writing: A Novelist’s Guide to Writing

So, are you ready to write that big novel?  I mean, REALLY – no excuses attached.

Now that you’re ready, have you written anything yet?  If the truth was known, you’re probably just staring at a blank screen.  You haven’t even written the first sentence!

The clock ticks and you get up from your seat.  “Oh, I’ll write something after I eat.”  You eat and then you look at the screen again.  “Oh, I’ll write after I do the laundry.”  You do the laundry and the blank screen is there once again, welcoming you.

Before you know it, it is now 10:30 p.m.  You have created a series of productive avoidances, one after another.  As you get into your sleepwear, you are filled with regret.  “Oh, I’ll just write something tomorrow.  Sure, you will.

The next day comes and you suddenly find out that your day is extremely busy.  The truth is, your day is no different than yesterday.  Another day for productive avoidances?  Maybe.

You sit down at the computer and wake it up from the screensaver.  That same blank screen is there from the night before.  “Oh, I don’t have time to write this.  Even if I did, it would be a horrible idea anyway.”

Does this describe you at all?  If it does in any way, then I need you to quit.  Whining won’t solve anything, but reading this book will.  Let me introduce you to Tricia McDonald’s Quit Whining Start Writing: A Novelist’s Guide to Writing.

Now before you say that this is just another writing book, I will advise you.  This is actually a good one.  On the Acknowledgments page, Tricia tells us a little bit about this book.  It is a collection of everything that she considers to be the best advice that she learned about writing novels.  This is research from many how-to books, a few writing classes, lectures from novelists and shared experiences from writers and non-writers all crammed into this book.  And considering how much it would cost in both time and money, this information is quite valuable.

Getting into the book, Tricia shares with us all of the essentials.  In beginning with an introduction of what a novel is and ending with what you need to sell your novel, Tricia provides a lot of good advice, and provides you the tools you need to make your literary journey a success.

Now we all know what a novel is and we all want to sell ours.  But what’s in the middle?  Tricia covers a variety of topics, including the supplies you need for your journey, finding time to write, productive avoidances, outlining, the three points of view, conflicts and what to do when you hit a wall, to name a few.

If you are looking for applications, there are plenty.  At the end of each chapter, there is an exercise associated with it.  So if you’re struggling with “that elusive writing time”, you can make a writing plan, setting a minimum time of ten minutes per day.  If you’re struggling with productive avoidances, you can make a list to resolve them.  If you’re working on dialogue, then you can write a page of it, using two different characters.  From there, you can fine tune it, reading it aloud to see if if the voices are true to who your characters are.

Considering that there are so many books on writing out there, why should you buy it?  I will begin by saying that this book has been quite helpful in my writing.  Before reading this, I was dead set on creating the perfect third chapter of my fantasy novel.  After reading this book, I realized that perfection can come later.  Make a crappy first draft, and revise when you’re done.  On my new book, I kept writing, refusing to revise anything.  Messes can be cleaned up, and being almost finished with the book, I look forward to cleaning up the messy first draft.

Another thing that sold me was the Character Outline in the “Characters with Character” chapter.  In the past, I have never really used a character profile for any of my characters.  I just always had a general idea of who they were, and what they were like in my head.  But I like the idea of the Character Outline.  It lists everything about the character.  Name and birth date, physical appearance, favorites, habits, family….everything.  I liked the Character Outline so much that I am now using it on my main characters and characters that I will develop in the future.

And how could I forget?  Tricia McDonald has published two other books already, so she has made the literary journey twice.  Thrice if you count this book.  All of her books are self-published, meaning that she doesn’t have to deal with a giant publishing company, where publishing your book is not always guaranteed.

So if you’re whining about anything regarding your book, or even have ideas about it, please stop.  Stop whining and get this book.  Click on the book above, buy it, and be cured of the dreaded writer’s block once and for all.  I give Stop Whining Start Writing: A Novelist’s Guide to Writing a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Every tale has its beginning.  For a couple of unsuspecting hobbits,  this was most certainly so.  Both hobbits began their tale and embarked on a long journey.  A journey that would change both of their lives forever.  First, with Bilbo Baggins.  And then, finally, with Frodo Baggins.  Nine years ago, we saw Frodo’s tale unfold.  He found the ring that was made and then made a long journey to the cracks of Mount Doom, where he was able to unmake it.  With that, Frodo’s tale came to an end, as he made his way back back to the Shire, with his other hobbit friends that accompanied him on his long journey.

But that was only Frodo’s tale.  What about Bilbo Baggins’ tale?  That clever old hobbit of Bag End returned from his journey with a rather big secret.  A secret that would require the telling of his tale to explain.  But this was not the only thing going on in this tale.  Some dwarfs needed to recover their treasure from an evil dragon.  This is the premise of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the long awaited prequel released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios.

To start things off, this movie is based off of The Hobbit, a masterpiece written by J.R.R. Tolkien.  He has also created timeless classic The Lord of the Rings.  A classic that is still loved to this day.

While Tolkien has created pure literary gold, acclaimed director Peter Jackson is the one who has brought his classics to life.  We have already seen his work with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The movie adaptations are the best that I have seen of any adaptation dealing with the Lord of the Rings franchise.  But how does Jackson fare with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?  Is the movie a dazzling gem of gold like the trilogy, or is it a smoldering pile of ruins?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) with Frodo (Elijah Wood), beginning to write the full story of his adventure that he went on 60 years ago.  We then see the prosperity of the dwarves, living in Erebor and their demise, when Smaug the Dragon arrives.  Having already destroyed the town of Dale, he drives all the dwarves out of Erebor.

After this, Bilbo officially begins his tale, with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) pulling a trick on him.  A large host of dwarves enter, leaving Bilbo to feed them all.  The true reason behind all this was that the dwarves needed a burglar for their journey.  Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the leader of the band of dwarves, is on a journey to find their “long forgotten gold”.  Bilbo wants no part in this journey.  The very next day, however, he changes his mind, almost getting left behind.

The journey begins, leaving Bilbo without the comforts of home.  The group encounters mountain trolls, which end up getting petrified by sunlight.

After this, they encounter Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy).  He mentions how a strange presence that he encountered at Dol Guldur is poisoning the forest.  The group is then chased by Orcs on Wargs.  They were able to escape with the help of a couple Elven riders.

The company then enters the Elven stronghold of Rivendell, where Elrond (Hugo Weaving) was able to interpret the moon runes on Thorin’s map.  He explains that there is a secret door that will only be visible on Durin’s Day.  Following this, Gandalf talks with Elrond, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman the White (Sir Christopher Lee), secretly sending Bilbo and the dwarves away towards the Misty Mountains.

After the Misty Mountains, Bilbo ends up in a cave with Gollum (Andy Serkis).  With Gollum losing the ring, Bilbo finds it and hides it in his pocket.  A game of riddles then begins between Bilbo and Gollum.  If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out.  If Gollum wins, then he will eat Bilbo.  Does he find the way out?  And what about the troubles that his dwarf-friends are facing?  When will this journey end?  Watch the movie and find out.

I completely understood the length of the movie, considering that nearly three hours was barely enough time to even get to Erebor, let alone the Battle of the Five Armies and the fight with Smaug.  They didn’t even come close to this.  But with two more movies on the way, it is clearly understandable why the plot cliffhanged at the end.  The plot advanced normally, with some other surprises along the way.  The music was amazing.  Especially all the versions of Misty Mountains Cold.

Getting to the characters, they were all portrayed faithfully as they were in the book.  We have Bilbo Baggins, with the Gandalf that we all know and love.  All the dwarves were portrayed well.  Gollum is another character that made the movie for me.  There was the inclusion of Radagast the Brown.  He was a rather interesting character, but in reality had no place in the movie.  Furthermore, while Elrond appeared in the movie as he should, Galadriel and Saruman the White were strangely present. Besides these odd inclusions, the characters were all executed quite well and were all unique in the manner that Tolkien would’ve intended them.

This movie did have a couple nitpicks, but they were not too many.  One of them dealt with the lines when Bilbo was with the trolls.  In the movie, Bilbo said “burglar….Hobbit”.  In the book,  he said “bur – a hobbit”.  I would rather have the trolls call him a “burrahobit” than a “burglar hobbit”.  Another nitpick was the inclusion of Radagast the Brown.  While he is an actual character in the Lord of the Rings universe, he is not anywhere to be found in the original book.  The last nitpick I have deals with the meeting at Rivendell.  During the meeting, Galadriel and Saruman the White were present.  There was no mention of them in the book!  I found this to be fan-servicey and a way to get more familiar characters back in the movie. If all these nitpicks were not there, the movie would’ve been a little better.

How did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey do?  Looking at the box office results, it’s doing amazing, but it could do better.  Falling short of its $100 million opening weekend goal, it grossed $84.6 million during its opening weekend.  Even with a modest opening, it is still the best opening of any of the past Lord of the Rings movies.  Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million on its opening weekend.  The Two Towers grossed $62 million and Return of the King grossed $72.6 million.  The current domestic gross of this movie is $92.3 million. In adding the foreign gross of $138.2 million, the worldwide gross stands at $230.5 million.  With a $270 million production budget, it will surely make it back within the next weekend.  With all nitpicks aside,  I really enjoyed the movie.  I loved seeing the breathtaking scenery of Middle Earth again and I loved the music.  Jackson has done it again.  It is a visual masterpiece, complete with breathtaking scenery and visuals.  The reprising of Gandalf’s and Gollum’s role was important to the success of the movie for me, and I felt that it really made the movie.  With all differences set aside from the book, I think that Jackson has the formula.  The formula that he used in the trilogy is used again in this movie.  As every tale has a beginning, I believe that this tale began well.  I look forward to how this tale continues with the next two parts of this amazing prologue.  I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a 5 out of 5.

 

Book Review – Life With Sally: Little White Dog Tails

To all you pet owners out there, I have a book for you that just might be worth your attention.  This book is Tricia McDonald’s Life With Sally: Little White Dog Tails.

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Before I get to the review,  I would like to be very honest with all of you.  Unfortunately, I am not a dog person.  My family’s history with dogs was ended in 1990.  It happened when Bo, our German Shepard got involved in a horrible incident with a neighbor kid.  Bo was provoked, which was the reason for his animosity.  Sadly, he was put to sleep shortly after.

Now, I may not be a dog person.  But I’m definitely a Sally person.  Why, you ask?

Sally is not your typical dog.  She is a silly miniature bull terrier with doggy OCD.  She has a fascination with lawn rakes and toads, enjoys eating June bugs and runs in circles whenever she is happy.  She’s definitely a dog that is full of surprises, and has won my heart over.

The book is laid out in a series of little white tales, which tells us a little more about Sally.  Whether Sally is getting a doggy massage, having ice cream, painting a picture or having fun with the garden hose, the mini-adventures are fun to read about, and kept the pages turning.

The tales are based off of the Life With Sally column, which is published monthly in Cats and Dogs magazine.  Published in 2009, it is a book that every dog owner must have.  While I don’t have a dog myself (I have one cat named Tigger), I still liked reading about the little white wonder.  As a pet owner, I can definitely relate to loving and caring for a pet.  Whether it’s feeding the pet or giving it attention, it is a labor of love.  A labor that’s well worth it.

As Tricia has expressed in her book, she has become a Sally person.  She is not alone.  After reading this book, I have become a Sally person myself, and I’m sure that you will be too when get the chance to read this.  Just click on the book above, buy it and let Sally capture your heart.  I give Life With Sally: Little White Dog Tails a 4 out of 5.

Movie Review – The Secret World of Arrietty

What was that?  Did you just see that go by?

If you didn’t see it, I did, and can tell you all about it.  What I saw was a little person, about four inches tall.  It was a Borrower, borrowing some of my food to bring back to his family so that his family can survive.

Okay.  I didn’t really see a Borrower.  I did, however, see The Secret World of Arrietty, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated masterpiece to reach America, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.  I say this because Japan got their first viewing of the movie back in July of 2010.

In Japan, the movie was released by Toho (a film distribution company) as “The Borrower Arrietty” (or 借りぐらしのアリエッティ, Kari-gurashi no Arietti if you’re a language buff).  I will get to the performance later.

In moving along, Miyazaki has created several animated masterpieces.  This automatically begs the question: Does The Secret World of Arrietty stand tall among his other works, or is it a miniscule work that is destined to be missed and forgotten?  Let’s find out.

Before I get to the review, I think that it is only fair that I offer you some background on Miyazaki.  For those who don’t know much about his work, Hayao Miyazaki is considered by some to be the Japanese version of Walt Disney.  The animated films that he makes are quite charming and the experience associated with it can only be described as pure magic.  A few of his notable works include Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the highly-acclaimed Spirited Away.  Studio Ghibli is the workshop where all these masterpieces are born.  With Walt Disney Pictures partnering with Studio Ghibli, these gems can be localized for the U.S., and can be enjoyed by a new audience.  Now, we will get to the review.

The movie begins with a 12-year old boy named Shawn (David Henrie) being driven to his mother’s childhood home.  Being gravely ill, he is dropped off there, since his parents are too busy to care for him.  He is left under the care of great aunt Jessica (Gracie Poletti), and Hara (Carol Burnett), the caretaker for Jessica’s house.

Meanwhile, a 14-year old “little” girl named Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) grabs a bay leaf and runs home.  On her way there, she was nearly attacked by a cat but escaped.

Unbeknownst to Arrietty, Shawn noticed her as he was getting out of the car.  He saw the cat trying to attack something, until it ran off after being attacked by a crow.  When he saw what the cat was trying to attack, he saw a very tiny girl.

Back at Arrietty’s house, her father Pod (Will Arnett) takes her on her first borrowing expedition.  The mission?  Get some sugar and tissue paper.  Arrietty’s mother Homily (Amy Poehler), being the worrywart that she is, told Arrietty to be careful.

And with that, the father and daughter borrowers were off.  Pod takes Arrietty above the floor boards and they carry out their mission.

All goes according to plan until they get to the tissue box in Shawn’s room.  As they were grabbing the tissue, Arrietty notices that Shawn is awake.  In a silent frenzy of panic, she drops the sugar cube that she got with her father.  Shawn, in wanting to get to know them better, tells them not to be afraid of him.

The mission was not a total failure.  Arrietty manages to borrow her very first item: a stray pin that she found on the floor.  In grabbing the pin, she holds it like a sword and holsters it into the side of her dress.

Upon going home, Arrietty has failed on one major count.  According to the Borrowers, a Borrower cannot be seen by a “Being”.  Since the young “Being” Shawn saw her, it has awoken his curiosity for them.  Arrietty is then faced with a dilemma.  Should she befriend Shawn and endanger her family?  Doing this could risk her being noticed by other “Beings”.  “Beings” that are not quite as friendly as Shawn is.  So is Arrietty in danger now?  I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that?  Watch the movie and find out.

In understanding the length of the movie, I really loved how the plot was executed.  Two different worlds were presented.  Our world and the Borrower’s world, which is a little bit more dangerous for them.  The music was amazing, and was integrated well with the scenery.

Getting to the characters, Miyazaki once again did this well.  We are given Shawn, a boy with an ongoing medical condition.  We have great aunt Jessica (based off of great aunt Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle) and Hara, the crazy housekeeper.  In the Borrower’s world, we have the somewhat loyal and tenacious Arrietty, with the father Pod being strong and reserved and the mother Homily being excitable with an eye for luxury.  I also liked Spiller (Moisés Arias), a tribal boy Borrower who yielded a bow and visited the Arrietty’s family.  I liked what they did with his voice, in making him speak like a native.  All in all, the variety of characters were all executed well and were each unique in their own way.

While The Secret World of Arrietty was close to perfect, there were a couple things that that I just couldn’t help but nitpick.  My major one was with the music during the credits of the movie.  While I loved the first song in the credits, the second one was total trash.  It’s the fluffy bubblegum pop that Disney calls music.  The song was reminiscent of the crappy Jonas Brothers remix that they did for Ponyo.  Word to Disney.  Don’t mess with the soundtrack!  Miyazaki gets it right, and you have to go and insert your bubblegum teeny-bop crap in the credits.  Besides that, the movie is gold.  All the other songs are fine.  My one other nitpick, albeit being much smaller has to do with the length of the movie.  I really thought that the movie should’ve been a little longer.  More could’ve been done with plot and character development.  Then we would have something akin to Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away.  However, with the G rating, I believe that only so much could be done here.  As it is, a child’s attention span is limited compared to an adult’s.  Being similar in length to Ponyo, they probably wanted to appeal to more children.  I am satisfied with the ending, but I still thought that they could’ve added a little more to the movie.

How did The Secret World of Arrietty do?  In Japan, it did pretty well, grossing 9.25 billion yen ($110 million).  In spite of that, it’s a far cry from Howl’s Moving Castle’s 23.2 billion yen ($231.7 million) and Spirited Away’s 27.5 billion yen ($275 million).  While the numbers for Arrietty were good in Japan, they were terrible here.  With a Borrower-sized $6.5 million weekend gross, this poor film doesn’t stand a chance to the “Being” films that are competing against it.  With numbers like this, I would give this film a month at the most.  Fortunately, this review is not about numbers.  Size doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether I liked the movie or not.  Spirited Away was Japan’s highest grossing movie and was the first Miyazaki movie I ever saw.  Since then, I have seen a handful of them, in eager anticipation for each new one that comes out.  In comparing this movie to other Miyazaki movies that I have seen in the past, I would have to say that I really enjoyed it.  It’s no Spirited Away, but a great movie in its own right.  For the most part, it was localized well, except for that one track that Disney included at the end.  I enjoyed the scenery and loved the story.  It was a heartfelt story filled with adventure, courage and hope.  I give The Secret World of Arrietty a 4 out of 5.

Wild Card Friday: Politics or Prevarications?

With my Platinum Trophy Finally obtained for Katamari Forever, all this free time has suddenly become available to me.

Since that time, I have been thinking about the fate of this web site.  Do I continue with the same “Politics as usual” or do I merely reduce this site as a den of solitude to record all my literary musings? As it is, my site attracts more spam than what the average Hawaiian could eat in a day.

No real bloggers, political and non political alike who visit here, traipsing around the political mire and ooze of our slowly decaying country.  For the record, I only have one real person who visits this blog on occasion.

Should I continue with the political route, I’m afraid it would be just a futile charade that would be updated on a semi-regular basis.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do care about politics, and what’s going on in this country.  I just don’t think my fascination is sufficient enough to reach “junkie” status.

I respect the experts that go out of their way to dig up this stuff for us to sort through.  It’s just that they get paid for it, and well….I don’t.

I hearby dub this blog the Blog of Literary Musings and Prevarications (meh….>_< I REALLY need to work on the title!).  I will talk about politics now and then, but just on a less frequent basis. Oh, and my last words to say about this topic?  A eulogy for our dear departed site.

Walker on Politics – January 27, 2009October 16, 2009

This has been a good experiment, while it lasted.   It’s now time to move on to my true passion: writing. In closing, I guess I can say the pen is mightier than the politician.