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.

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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.

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.