Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Future of Pro Wrestling is Still Bright


Pro wrestling, to those who know it, is a life bending phenomenon. No matter how good or bad it is, we tune in for the monthly pay per views, every Monday night for Raw and find the shows our favorite indie or foreign wrestlers are on, like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. We stay up late, we watch too long, we invest in the characters, but most importantly, we invest in the wrestler themselves. This is my first time writing a formal-ish piece on professional wrestling, but this is my blog and I tend to review the things I watch on here. In 2015, I've really expanded my wrestling habits to more than it even was a few years ago. WWE Raw every week still (no matter how dreadful). NXT is now a must watch show that it wasn't a few years ago. ROH PPVs can be fun, while NJPW has some of the best matches you'll ever see. We also now have the superb Lucha Unerground, with the best combination, I think, of action, drama and overall storytelling. But like with any other sport, that's right sport, fight me, you have to look at the younger generation of stars that we will continue to watch for years to come. Like Le'Veon Bell, Dez Bryant, Mike Trout or Anthony Davis, pro wrestling has lager than life figures that equate to the young talent of these traditional sports' mega stars. So instead of me giving you a big list of "Best Shows" or "Best Matches" or the like, I want to run down four of the younger stars, below 30 years of age and why they're keeping the future of professional wrestling looking bright. The New Day (as well as Seth Rollins, just missed my top four, but I can assure you, that New Day does indeed rock.

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Bayley
26 years old
NXT
Active since April of 2008
NXT Women's Champion (current)

Pamela Martinez, or as you probably know her, Bayley, has taken NXT by storm. NXT is WWE's minor leagues, so to speak, and it has exploded in popularity over the past two years. But even with big name stars like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens setting up shop there for periods of time, I always go back to Bayley. You'd never know Bayley is a wrestler with her bubbly and infectious personality. But take a look at her life and you'll know she was born to do this. Growing up she wrote essays and poems in school, musing that one day she would hit the big stage. She worked her way through indie promotions, including Big Time Wrestling and Shimmer, from 2008 to 2012, before catching her big break with WWE.

In late 2012 she was signed by the WWE and then debuted in January of 2013 on the NXT roster. A far cry from the headband wearing woman we know now, she was trying to cultivate a luchador persona that never panned out. Later that year, in her television debut, she adopted the name Bayley and fought in a losing effort to current WWE main roster Diva (and first ever NXT Women's Championship), Paige. She evolved he character further in a first round tournament loss to Alicia Foxx, where her fandom cost her the match. It wasn't until that September that she won her first match, a tag team match, alongside Charlotte (another current main roster Diva and daughter of Ric Flair).

From there on out we can trace Bayley's journey to being one of the best young wrestlers trough a feud with Sasha Banks, who was with Summer Rae as the BFFs (Beautiful Fierce Females), Emma and Dana Brooke as well as bouts with Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Coming full circle, we're at present day. Two months removed from Bayley winning the NXT Women's Championship, from Banks, at NXT TakeOver Brookyln. We're also two weeks removed from Bayley defending said title against Banks in a 30 minute Iron(wo)man match at TakeOver Respect. Arguably the two most memorable and emotion filled women's matches of all time. TakeOver Brooklyn proved that WWE "divas" are indeed capable of main eventing shows. While TakeOver Respect proved that if you give them the main event spotlight, they will deliver a match of the year worthy bout. 

Bayley and Banks are the polar opposite of each other. Bright and cherry vs boss and chastising. Bayley character has endeared and engrossed us all over he past year. We've watched her become a legitimate threat in the division she is now the queen of. Instead of just being the fan-girl, she's now the one throwing Bayley to Belly hug-plexes. She'll hug you, but she'll also pin you. Her wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men, her bracelets and now her championship belt. Bayley has proven to be an endearing force in and out of the ring.

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Ricochet / Prince Puma
27 years old
NJPW / Lucha Underground
Active since 2004
Lucha Underground Champion, Lucha Underground Aztec Warfare, NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2014

Sadly, for the most part, I did not know about Ricochet, real name Trevor Mann, until I started watching Lucha Underground last winter and was introduced to Prince Puma. In the first month of --me watching-- Lucha Underground season one, Puma had great matches with Johnny Mudo (as most people know him, John Morrison or Johnny Nitro). Impressive, I decided to look into the back log of his career.

Ricochet has wrestled everywhere. You name the indie promotion, he's been there. Pro Wrestling Guerrllia, Chikara, Dragon Gate (though that's technically not indie), Evolve, etc. He amassed championships and titles wherever he went, but it wasn't until NJPW in 2013 that people began to really notice him. By the time 2014 rolled around, he had won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and was ready to be one of the biggest stars of El Ray's Lucha Underground.

From the start, you could tell that Prince Puma was going to be a fixture at the top of Dario Cueto's Lucha Underground promotion for the whole season. He won Aztec Warfare to become the inaugural champion and continued to hold and defend the title throughout the rest of season one. Having stellar title matches with Johnny Mundo, Mil Muertes, Hernandez and Drago throughout season one, Puma proved that despite his size, he was there to compete. Mundo and Puma had a match of the year contender with their Iron Man match for the title. While during Ultima Lucha, Muertes and Puma put on a show stealing match that left us all patiently waiting for season two of Lucha Underground.

Ricochet or Prince Puma, however you know him, has the great combination of speed, athleticism and ring knowledge to be at the top of wherever he's at. His 630 senton stands out as a finish to a match as well. It was reported that before Lucha Unerground season two was announced, WWE was interested in signing him. So that speaks to how highly he is regarded, since WWE has been scooping up a ton of the top indie talent in the past year. Luckily for us, we will get to see the conclusion of his feud with Mil Muertes next season and then who knows, maybe Ricochet will end up on the big stage at some point.

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Kazuchika Okada
27 years old
NJPW
Active since August 29, 2004
3x IWGP Heavyweight Champion (current), 2x G1 Climax (2012, 2014) and New Japan Cup 2013

Much like Ricochet, I've only begun to take notice of Kazuchika Okada (and a lot of other non-WWE wrestlers) this past year or so. The Rainmaker as they call him in NJPW has been tearing it up for years now in Japan and we're finally getting to see the beginning of the best of his talent. He was trained by Ultimo Dragon and spend his first year in NJPW, before leaving for a year to Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in 2010 for a year. In 2011 he returned to NJPW to begin working his way toward his first major event wins. 

Anyone who's kept up with NJPW these past two years has seen him grown, even just over the course of these past 10 months. If you're like me, you took notice of NJPW this year on January 4th when Wrestle Kingdom 9 aired. Live commentated by Jim Ross and Matt Striker, the show, from top to bottom, set the standards for the PPVs in 2015.

In a losing effort to obtain the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the event, Okada and then champion Hiroshi Tanahashi delivered a main event that has stood up as one of NJPW best main events of the year. After the loss to Tanahashi, Okada began to breakdown and throughout the spring battled Bad Luck Fale. After vanquishing him, he began to challenge the new IWGP champion, AJ Styles. The two have had a terminus series of matches ever since. Both singles matches, tag matches and matches for the IWGP title. Over the summer at NJPW's Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall, Okada finally put Styles down for the one, two, three and began his third IWGP Heavyweight title reign.

With his unmistakable charisma, his hard hitting style in the ring and a look that really does set him apart, Kazuchika Okada is going to be a major player in NJPW for years to some. His dropkick, if you have not seen it, please look it up, is a thing of beauty. The Rainmaker reminds me a lot of a young Randy Orton. Dripping with talent and eager to rise to, and stay at, the top. We'll all be lucky to watch him continue to reign as a champion in Japan for a long time to come.

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Sasha Banks
23 years old
WWE / NXT
Active sine August 8, 2010
Chatoic Women's Wrestling Champ, IWE Women's Champion, NXT Women's Championship

I have been watching Sasha Banks, real name Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, ever since she first debuted on NXT in late 2012. She grew up a pro wrestling fan, idolized Eddie Guerrero and as soon as she could, began her training to become a wrestler. While she didn't have the prototypical look of a WWE "diva," she seemed like she had what it took to break the mold. She was good on the mic, good in the ring and even just an inkling of talent can go a long way, especially when you factor in that she was a month shy of turning 21 when she debuted. I went back to look at some of her pre-WWE stuff, it showed that she had the raw talent of someone destined to be the best at where ever she ended up.

Much like Bayley above, Sasha lost in the first round of he inaugural NXT Women's Championship tournament and essentially never looked back. She started off by being beaten by Paige in a NXT Women's Championship match, mostly due to the behest of Summer Rae to prove herself. A few weeks later, Banks beat Bayley with Summer Rae at ring side. After the match, Sasha anointed herself "The Boss" and soon formed the BFFs with Summer Rae. Throughout the year, the BFFs took down Bayley, Emma and Paige. That November, after the BFFs defeated Charlotte and Bayley in a tag match. Afterward, Charlotte turned on Bayley and aligned herself with the BFFs.

2014 rolled around an Banks and Charlotte (without Summer Rae) began a feud with Bayley. Eventually Banks and Charlotte split up. The two, alongside Paige, Becky Lynch and Bayley begin to have matches with each other. Eventually Charlotte and Banks began a feud for Charlotte's NXT Women's Championship. Banks lost two straight NXT TakeOver matches to Charlotte, to close 2014.

Finally, we come to this year, 2015, the year of The Boss. At the first NXT TakeOver event of the year, Rival, Sasha defeated Becky Lynch, Bayley and Charlotte to finally claim the NXT Women's Championship. Over the course of the year she successfully defended the title against Charlotte, Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch. Heading into NXT TakeOver Brooklyn, after a stellar set of promos and lead up to her title defense against Bayley, the fruit of Banks' hard work came to fruition. In losing effort to Bayley, the two put on a show stealing match in front of the largest NXT crowd ever for the NXT Women's title. Then a few weeks ago, the duo topped themselves, and quite possibly had match of the year at NXT TakeOver Respect, the aforementioned Iron(wo)Man match.

Dare I say, but Sasha Banks may be the best overall wrestler currently in the WWE. Yes this is a roster with Rusev, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe on it. Banks oozes the charisma and venom it takes to be a top heel. She also backs it up with some of, if not the best, wrestling among the divas. Though you could argue Becky Lynch or Bayley are close. Sasha Banks is only 23 years old, she's recently been called to the main roster and is still undefeated in singles matches since being called up. It's only a matter of time before The Boss is giving everyone Bank Statements from the top of the main roster.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


Superhero films, especially ones that are going on in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, can be put into to tiers in my eyes. The upper tier has The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America films. While the lower tier has Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor and now 'Ant-Man!' I'll admit I was pretty skeptical of this film and thought it would be just be an okay film much like the two Thor films. Paul Rudd is great and Michael Douglas is a legend, but it was hard not to think that this could be the first of the MCU films to be underwhelming. Ant-Man, despite being an original Avenger in the comics, he's only now getting time to shine in the MCU. The wait was worth it as this pseudo origins story hearkens back to the fun of the first Iron man film, but on a much smaller scale.

'Ant-Man' follows the story of Scott Lang (Rudd), a thief who means well, as he is released from prison after serving a three year sentence. He begins to live with his old cellmate Luis (Michael Pena) and is genuinely interested in turning his life around. Flashback to 1989 and scientist Hank Pym (Douglas) is infuriated when he finds out S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. He believes that it is dangerous and needs to be suppressed. Back to present day and Lang is having trouble finding work, Luis gets a tip that there's a millionaire that will be gone from his home for a week. Lang caves and he and his crew begin to rob the house, which turns out to be Pym's. After cracking the safe in the basement, Lang only finds the Ant-Man suit and takes it. The next day he puts it on and shrinks himself and --with Pym in his ear-- takes a tumble from his apartment all the way to the street. That night, while putting the suit back in Pym's house, the cops are called and he is arrested. Knowing that if he goes back to prison, he'll never see his daughter again, Lang is in a bad place, until Pym visits him and gives him one more chance and the suit. When Lang escapes he is informed that Pym's protegee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has weaponized the Ant-Man formula (now Yellowjacket). Pym's estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is his right hand man. Now Lang and Pym must team up to get the YellowJacket suit and keep Cross from giving it to the wrong people.

This film may not be on par with some of Marvel's best superhero films of the past couple years, but it's also easily one of the most fun films in all of the MCU. Ant-Man is an absurd concept when you look at it. The ability to shrink down and have the comparable strength of ant is awesome. But, that's not where things end. Not only does Lang have the strength of an ant, he also has the power to communicate and control ants. This is demonstrated all throughout the film in some of the most fun sequences in the film. From Lang learning about all the different types of ants, running underground with them and then eventually using them in this heist, we get to see it all. Flying around on 'Antony,' using fire ants as a raft or ladder or flying in a swarm like an attack squadron are only some of the ways we see Ant-Man's abilities. These are some of the most fun and innovative points in 'Ant-Man' and we're just scratching the surface. The CGI overall is pretty good, I opted not to see this in 3D, but I can't help but think the 3D is probably pretty solid in this. The shrinking is seamless and looks good. When small the world around looks fantastic, everything doesn't just look "big" and you feel like you're running through a field or in an ant colony or inside of a computer. The combat while small is a high point as well. Lang jumping around slamming thugs, the fight with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the final fight with Yellowjacket are done superbly. Not to mention the trippiness that came with Lang going subatomic later in the film. Full of action blended with great humor, Ant-Man's comedy is on par with any of the other Marvel films, but less reliant on "one-liners and out of place puns. Thomas the Tank engine's cameo is hilarious.

I'm still not quite sure how much of Edgar Wright's original script, before he left, made it into the film, but there are a lot of parts, especially the humor, that you could tell was crafted with some care. With the amount of different writers going into this final script Wright, Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd, I was skeptical of how everything would flow and how the overall story would end up. Luckily, the heist angle, the origins of Lang becoming Ant-Man and the father daughter story lines between Lang and Cassie and Pym and Hope all came across pretty well. The overall heist angle comes across as an 'Oceans 11' type story, which is pretty fun. As I mentioned above, Lang becoming Ant-Man and learning how to use the suit is some of the best parts of the film. While the father/daughter story lines aren't fully fleshed out between everyone, the heart was there and watching the progression throughout the film is pretty good. The acting is a big reason everything worked so well. Paul Rudd is perfect for this role and fits the style of Scott Lang well. His subordinates, who include Michael Pena and T.I., are pretty great comedic relief throughout the film. I'm looking forward to more Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne (aka Wasp) as they play their roles expertly. Even Corey Stoll plays a solid, albeit one note, performance as David Cross. The writing and effort by the cast make this a film that will surprise a lot of people. The ending, mid and post scenes left me giddy for 'Captain America: Civil War' as well.

'Ant-Man' is a film that doesn't break new ground in the superhero genre, but does everything so well it's hard to find any glaring problem. The film is slow starting, but once it kicks in, it's a fun ride. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are a team that works so well together. Alongside Evangeline Lilly these three keep the films story rolling at a good pace. The story itself is fun, fast paced and everything you could want out of a Marvel film, all packed into just under two hours. Like with most of Marvel's films at this point, it's probably not going to win over any new fans. But, if you're into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are hyped for 'Captain America: Civil War' next year, and want a fun film to tide you over, then 'Ant-Man' is perfect for you. Oh, and don't forget, Baskin Robbins always finds out.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Jurassic World [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


Let's face it. If you were a kid growing up, which I think we all were, you went through a dinosaur phase. You drew pictures of them, you had your favorites -- velociraptors and ankylosaurus for me -- watched 'The Land Before Time' and pretended to be T-Rex's (walking around with your arms tucked in roaring). Unfortunately, when you get older it's harder to be as enthusiastic about dinosaurs. This is why we have the Jurassic Park series. Even though "The Lost World" and "Jurassic Park III" exist. 'Jurassic World' is the fourth installment in this series and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and The Kingpin, err, I mean, Vincent D'Onofrio. While lacking the pure wonder that the original film gave us, it more than makes up for its one-note characters with dazzling dinosaurs that are more than just the backdrop to the story.

'Jurassic World' is set 22 years after the events of 'Jurassic Park.' InGen, the company that cloned the first dinosaurs, has successfully opened a theme park called "Jurassic World." One day, operations manager Clare Mitchell (Dallas Howard), has two of her nephews, brothers, Zach and Grey Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), visiting the park. Though she is too busy to be with them during the day, they plan to meet up later in the evening. In order to drum up attendance, InGen created a genetically modified dinosaur with the genes of a bunch of different predatory dinosaurs as well as present day animals, Indominus. Meanwhile, at a different part of the park, Owen Grady (Pratt), a former Marine, has just finished a successful training session with his velociraptors. After the session, InGen's head of security, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), tries to convince Owen that the raptors would be perfect for military use. The park owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) orders Owens to go check out the Indominus' enclosure, to make sure it's ready for visitors. Clare and Owen head to the exhibit, only to find that they weren't getting a heat signature from Indominus and that there are giant claw marks on one of the walls. While Owen and two guards are checking out the claw marks, it is discovered that Indominus is still in the enclosure and that she is masking her heat signature. Owen and one of the guards escape, but in doing so, so does Indominus. Now the park must find a way to stop Indominus, because it's putting not only the lives of the other dinosaurs in danger, but the people in the theme park as well.

I'm going to start right out and say it, I wasn't a fan of the first 20 minutes or so of this film. I understand you have to set up characters, but almost nothing of values happens during this time frame. I don't need to see a family take their kids to the airport or them riding on a boat across the ocean to the island. This could've been plausible if there was any meaningful dialogue, but there's not. Once they get to the island, Claire is introduced and finally Owens and Hoskins start getting screen time, the film sets into a good, albeit one note, pace. The characters are almost lifeless and that's not a good thing. Chris Pratt is a charismatic and hilarious actor (see 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Parks and Recreation'). Bryce Dallas Howard has shown she has acting chops ('The Help' and '50/50'). Vincent D'Onofrio has a stupendous role in 'Marvel's Daredevil.' Even Ty Simpkins has had great roles in the 'Insidious' series and 'Iron Man 3.' So the lack of good writing really hurts this pretty well rounded cast. Even so, the characters, though dull, do serve a purpose throughout the film. The brothers get into jungle hi-jinx, causing their aunt to enlist her "will he, won't he" boy toy to go save them (and the rest of the park, I guess). All this is while the evil corporation is plotting a take over, well, more preservation, of the dinosaur's DNA when all the poo hits the whirling fan blades. The story is tired, but you didn't come to this for story, I didn't come to this for story -- but at least it wasn't completely terrible -- we came for dinosaurs, and boy did we get dinosaurs. Side note, Claire was running around through a jungle all day and a theme park all night, all while wearing high heels. Like full on sprinting, running, ducking, hiding, etc. Come on man. Come on.

The CGI in this film, the action and the use of dinosaurs themselves in the film really did save it for me. I love theme parks and the idea of one revolving around actual dinosaurs is an awesome idea, vision, dream, whatever you wanna call it. 'Jurassic Park' did this, but not to the kind of "theme park" I always picture, like Six Flags or Universal Studios. So seeing it actually come to life in this film is freaking awesome! I want a Jurassic Park or World t-shirt that I paid $40 for, while I walk around in my triceratops hat, personalized with my name on it. I want to go see Free Willy aka The Mosasaurus pop out of the water to engulf a shark. I want to be a kid again (somehow) and go into a petting zoo and ride a baby triceratops or pet a baby apatosaurus. The idea an execution of the theme park side of this film is actually awesome. I was entranced once the brothers reached the island and actually started going around the park. The flip side of things is the awesome CGI that was used for the dinosaurs. I recently re-watched 'Jurassic Park' and the CGI and models used in 1993 weren't half bad. But the CGI in this film is done pretty well. It felt like Chris Pratt was besties with his raptors. It felt like a fight when Indominus was tearing through the jungle killing it's prey. You even got a little sad when one of the apatosaurus dies in Owen and Claire's hands. On the flip side, the brutality is in full force. For a PG-13 film, I wasn't expecting to see as much dino on human violence. Humans were being picked up by pterodactyl, eaten whole and stomped on by the Indominus and torn to shreds by raptors. Boy, did I love every second of it too! I'm glad they didn't shy away from the fact that these are dinosaurs whose first instinct is to kill and hunt prey. Not to mention the final act of 'Jurassic World' is a pleasure to watch and is well worth sitting through the first half hour of so. I was enthralled.

'Jurassic World' isn't going to win over any fans. Unless you're there for Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt isn't going to make any new 'Jurassic World' fans, but this is a great effort for what is a reboot, sequel, a requel! The story is only okay, the acting, despite the awesome cast, is one-dimensional. But the dinosaurs, kicking ass and taking names is a beauty to watch. It's a pretty long film, at just over two hours, but if you can get past the first part of the film, everything gets better. The music is on point throughout, and I had to hold back yelling "Dododododo-Dododododo!" when they first panned to the island. If they can get the writing better, I have high hopes for the next 'Jurassic' film. As long as it's not some weird romantic comedy involving Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and talking dinosaurs. 'Jurassic World' is still, I think, well worth the watch.


Inside Out [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


When I saw the first teaser trailer for 'Inside Out' I was already in love with the film. Pixar, the voice actors, the premise, everything screamed "Pixar is back!" The more trailers that came out, the more I was intrigued how Pixar would actually pull off this concept of watching a girl's emotions grow with her. How Pixar would replicate the feeling you or I had as a child effectively. Finally how a story, set inside of a mind and the real world, would come across to an audience. Pixar is at it's finest with 'Inside Out.' Bottom line. So when I popped on my 3D glasses (Hey, they upgraded us for free so I went with it), I embraced the joy of sadness, anger, fear and disgust. 

'Inside Out' follows the story of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) and her emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling). Riley's emotions control her memories and are charged with reacting to her circumstances. Her memories are housed in spheres, with her most important ones, "core memories," running the five biggest aspects of Riley's personality. Riley and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) have just moved to San Francisco from Minnesota, where Riley had lived her whole life. Joy tries to keep Riley happy and positive, but one day Sadness touches an orb and turns a happy memory into a sad one. Later, on the first day at her new school, Sadness makes a core memory of Riley crying. When Joy tries to dispose of it, the other five cores get knocked out of their container. Before Joy can put them back in, Joy, Sadness and the memory cores are sucked up into a memory tube and they land in the vastness of Riley's mind. It's now up to Joy and Sadness to return the memory cores, while Anger, Fear and Disgust try to hold down the fort, as Riley is going through one of the toughest times in her life.

It's hard to review a film like this because we're all going to interpret everything going on in a different way. Much like memories, there's always bigger picture than just an isolated moment of joy, sadness or anger. That's what I think the real appeal to Pixar's 'Inside Out' is, the wide range of everything we feel while we're watching it. The story is one of Pixar's best, and proves once again, that an animated film, targeted at kids can be enjoyed and related to by people of all ages. Yes, this film's target audience in kids, but its story and message is for everyone. We all have these emotions, we all struggle, or have struggled, with getting them under control in our lives, whether we're 10 or we're 40. This is the story of Riley truly getting her emotions in order for the first time after a hard move and an even rougher settling in. While the story of a little girl moving from Minnesota to San Francisco may sound dull, we are given a joy-ride, so to speak, as we watch her emotions try to keep her going. Emotions are a hard thing to nail down in a story, especially in a "kid's film," but Pixar does well. Chalk full of moments of genuine laughter, happiness and sadness, 'Inside Out' will hit you in all the right places, while making you smile or tear up at a moment's notice.

Don't give all the credit to the incredible story, the voice acting and animation are the two other points that help 'Inside Out' stand out from other animated features. This film is beautiful, I set out to see it in 2D, but the theater upgraded our tickets to 3D for free. The 3D is done well and doesn't detract from anything and is quite fine if you're into that sort of thing. The real world is animated in a way that really reflects how Riley sees the world. During the more happy parts, the world outside is bright and full of life. During the more emotional scenes, the world around her is more grey and dreary. I love this touch, because we get to see how emotions can affect how we feel about the world (as a whole) around us. When we get inside of Riley's head, the brain is made up of memory spheres, where everything from Riley's life stored. Her dominant personalities have five pronounced area that are controlled by core memories. At the center is the control room of Riley's brain, where Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust live and work. There is also a large pit below all this, where memories deemed "obsolete" are thrown to disappear. As well as places that regulate her imagination, dreams, subconscious, etc. I love that not only are her emotions in a tangible place, but all the things we deem as thought process (like dreams or forgetfulness) are made into a seemingly giant theme park that all resides in out minds. It makes everything more accessible for children, while giving older people a glimpse into how a younger person may actually see their minds working. I loved the design of everything, from the french fry trees in Imagination Land, to the awesome absurdness of traveling through your own Abstract Thoughts. 'Inside Out' is a wonder to behold. The character design is also flawless. Right from the get go you get the fire out of Anger's head, the jitters constantly coming off of Fear and the glow that radiates from Joy at all times. It really does help overall that the character design (for everyone) had that personal, genuine feel to it. 

Not only does the look and story mesh well, the voice acting is top notch from start to finish. It helps an animated film to have a set of voices people know. This is one of those films where the lead is someone we're probably all familiar with in Amy Poehler ('Parks and Recreation') with great support from people who aren't big name stars, but stars nonetheless. Phyllis Smith, from 'The Office,' is one of the biggest surprises, not only character-wise, but on the voice acting end as well. Poehler and Smith mesh so well as Joy and Sadness. The exuberance that Poehler brings as Joy is counter-measured, during almost every exchange of dialogue, with Smith's Sadness. The two begin to work together as a team to save Riley. They get some help from Bing-Bong, Riley's old imaginary friend who is a cotton candy, cat, elephant, dolphin who happens to cry tears made of candy (voiced by Richard Kind). Poehler, Smith and Kind form a trio out in the far reaches of Riley's mind and make for a great sounding trio that conveys each of their personalities well. Anger, Fear and Disgust are hardly the focal point of the emotions, but have their share of the film as they struggle to help Riley get through the days with Joy and Sadness gone. Bill Hader is pretty good as Fear. He really does make Riley fear things, albeit it in a highly exaggerated way that some might find over-done. Mindy Kaling is okay as Disgust, but her character is really the fifth wheel of the five. Kaling, also of 'The Office' and 'The Mindy Project' fame, doesn't get to show off how funny she can really be. Finally, the last of the emotions left to try and keep Riley afloat, Anger. Anger is voiced beautifully by one of the loudest and angriest comedians of the last decade, Lewis Black. Black was made for this role and his angrily delivered lines, one liners and motivation -- for one of the bigger points of the final act -- and is a really great fit for this film.

This is one of the best films of the year and I'm positive it will stay in my top five of 2015 come the end of the year. 'Inside Out' is a wonderfully designed Pixar film that you could argue is as good, if not better, than the likes of 'Up' and 'Toy Story 3.' The film runs about a hour and thirty-five minutes, but you're not going to be checking the time if you watch this film. The music is wonderfully Pixar, hitting all the right notes to make you laugh or cry in a given moment. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith headline this group or tremendous voice actors in a story we've seen elements of before, but never in this context. Kids will see it as a great film, with lots of laughs and fun, colorful characters in a vibrant world. Adults will see this and it will make them nostalgic and misty eyed toward the memories in their own lives. 'Inside Out' is a highly emotional ride with Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, that will make you laugh as much as it makes you feel.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


Having just watched the original three 'Mad Max' films this week, I was kind-of unsure what to expect going to see 'Mad Max: Fury Road.' I loved the original trilogy, even though 'Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome' was kinda wonky to me. All I did know, is that for the last six months or so, I have been really hyped to see it. Reviews from fans and critics alike, started pouring in over the last week and he overwhelming positivity towards this film was well beyond anything I could have expected. Still, I kept myself in-check, because we all know, critics (like me) are often wrong about a ton of things, so I should always form my own opinions instead of following the leader. I walked in to the theater, found my seat (mid-way down and in the middle of the row) leaned back for the trailers and proceeded not to use the back of my seat for two hours thereafter. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is now the template of how all pure action films need to be model after. It is truly a non-stop ride from beginning to end, barely giving you time to breath in the middle.

'Mad Max: Fury Road' is set some years after the events of 'Mad Mad: Beyond the Thunderdome' as Australia continues to deteriorate in it's post-apocalyptic wasteland. We join Max (Tom Hardy) as he is captured by the War Boys and is forced to become a "blood bag" for the ill, War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). The War Boys are an army led by a dictator-like king, King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls everyone's water and food. While all this is happening, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of Immortan Joe's best drivers, begins an excursion to go get gas in her armored War Rig. It soon becomes evident that Furiosa isn't going to collect gas as she is spotted diverging from the the path to the town. An all out chase begins as Immortan Joe, War Boy Nux and by-proxy, Max, alongside the rest of the War Boys begin to chase down Furiosa, as she has smuggled out Joe's prized "possessions," his Five Wives.

Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW! I thought the chase scenes in 'Furious 7' were amazing (they still are). I also thought the overall action in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' was great as well (and it still is). Meanwhile, 'Mad Max: Fury Road' completely obliterates what you think you know about modern action and forges a new path. A path lined with bodies of War Boys and smoldering metal wreckage on either side of you, as you pray you're not attacked by Max, Imperator Furiosa, Immortan Joe, The Bullet Farmer or The People Eater. Just by the names alone, aside from Max, you know you're in a new level of creativity, or depravity, when your characters are what you envision naming your gamer-tag on X-Box or PS4. Not only are they creative sounding, they are amazingly designed. With George Miller back at the helm -- he's the man behind the first three films -- you know that in this new modern era, you have to up the ante to grab peoples attention, and boy did he. The menacing, crude, revolting nature of some of these characters are disgustingly satisfying, while perfectly balancing it out with an ample amount of ass kicking eye-candy as well. The design doesn't stop with the character, the amount of time put into the film -- which could almost be considered a two hour long chase scene -- must have been enormous. Sure, there are parts of this film where there's some CGI, but after seeing 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' so recently, the joy of knowing that every car, bike, truck, and even mountain that was destroy, was real, makes everything so much more fulfilling. Combine all this with the great score and music from Junkie XL and the (once again for this series) amazing cinematography, this time from John Seale, everything looks and sounds on point.

This cascades into the action portion of the film, which is the whole portion of the film. I can only imagine drinking some form of energy drink before a viewing of this, because you would probably need 9-1-1 on stand-by if you did. There are momentary lulls in the film that give us a surprising amount of narrative. We learn about that state of the world and why Furiosa is doing what she's doing, among other things. This, of course, is never without the threat of something big lurking in the background ready to crash, shoot or explode all over the screen. The fight scenes are done fantastically and this is where Tom Hardy shines. Whether it's the opening scene of him fighting off War Boys or tangling with a suspended man playing a double headed guitar on a mobile rock concert (did I really just write that?), Hardy brings the essence of Max's survival instinct to the screen. This film doesn't have a ton of dialogue, much like 'Mad Max: The Road Warrior,' and it relies on the action and momentary breathers to convey a lot of the stuff going on. When there is talking though, Charlize Theron shines. The Five Wives can be muddled and frankly, annoying, at times but Furiosa takes everything one step at a time, is prepared for everything and knows what needs to be done. This is what makes the pairing, from a character standpoint, so good. Two people, waiting to survive, with the necessary tools to do so. One with hope, one without, showing that even within all the madness, there a moments of sincerity. This doesn't work without the chemistry of Hardy and Theron, and they play it beautifully.

Side note: 36 years later, the bad guy from 'Mad Max,' Toecutter, is now the bad guy from this film, Immortan Joe. Props to George Miller for getting Hugh Keays-Byrne back, because he was splendid once again.

'Mad Max: Fury Road' is hands down my favorite film of the year so far. This two hour long explosion of action, style and carnage is enough to get anyone into this film if they give it a chance. You don't need to see the first three films to watch and enjoy this, as so far, each film has its own story that it set up within each film. The story, while simple, is merely a back-drop to the action as you'll be mesmerized by every spectacle at a given moment on screen. Car chases defined the first three films and 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is no different. The creativity behind each stunt and set-piece comes across like a train jumping through a traffic jam. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron shine while Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne and the Five Wives support tremendously. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' may have set a new bar for the action genre, and doing it with limited CGI, just makes everything all the better.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mad Max Trilogy [A Fat Jesus Trilogy Review]


The Mad Max series has been one I've heard about all my life. My mom and dad saw the second two in theaters, it was Mel Gibson's launching point and that 'Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior' is one of the best action and sci-fi films of the 1980s. With 'Mad Max: Fury Road' hitting theaters tomorrow, and it receiving a ton of positive acclaim already, I figured I'd go through the series and do a little catch up before seeing the new film myself. It's a series, that if you know anything about video games, really remind me of the 'Borderlands' games. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian as all hell, the 'Mad Max' trilogy has an outstanding lore and narrative, character style that is entirely unique and vehicle chases that still hold up to this day. 'Mad Max' is a sci-fi and action series that at times, feels more like pure action and adrenaline.

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'Mad Max' is set entirely in a future dystopian Australia. Everything is beginning to break down due to a massive energy crisis. The Outback has been reduced to small communities, while bigger cities still function. All while motorcycle gangs roam and terrorize the people. The Main Force Patrol was created to patrol and uphold some semblance of law and order. A gang member, Nightrider (Vincent Gil), killed a MFP rookie and is on the run. He is eventually chased down by the MFP's top pursuit man, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), crashes and is killed in a fiery explosion. The Acolytes, Nightrider's former gang, lead by Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti (Hugh Keays-Byrne and Geoff Perry), terrorize a town and end up raping a girl, to which the court somehow throws the case out. This angers Goose (Steve Bisley) and he hunts down the gang, only to be severely injured, resulting in Max having to take some time off. Max, his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and their infant son, Sprog, travel to the coast to vacation. Things take a horrid turn once The Acolytes begin to stalk them.

'Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior' is set two years after the events of the first film. Law and order have completely vanished from  society and with the MFP disbanded, Max (Gibson) is left to roam the desert in his V-8 Pursuit Special, scavenging for food, water and supplies. His companion is an Australian cattle dog and his sawed off shotgun, one of few working firearms left. Max runs into a man named Wez's (Vernon Wells), a crazed motorcycle rider. After taking out two of his members and injuring him, Max finds a rare bit of fuel. He then stumbles across an autogyro and its owner, Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who ambushes him. The two eventually pair up when he tells Max of an oil refinery, when the two arrive, it is under siege by a motorcycle gang. It's leader, who goes by The Humongous (Kjell Nilsson), threatens the colony in exchange for safe passage. Now Max, Gyro Cpatain, a young boy Max befriends, Feral Kid (Emil Minty), and the rest of this community, must come up with a plan to escape the gang with their gas and their lives.

'Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome' is set 15 years after the events of the second film. Max (Gibson) has been wandering the deserts of Australia and has amassed a herd of camels. One day, he is attacked by a pilot, Jedediah (Bruce Spence) and his son as they steal his camel drawn wagon. Max follows them to an outlaw town by the name of Bartertown. Max forces his way into town and is brought before their leader, Auntie Entity (Tina Turner). She enlists him to defeat the owner of a pig refinery, "Master Blaster" (Master being a small man that rides on the back of Blaster) who provides energy for the town and has been a thorn in her side. Eventually, Max faces Blaster in what is called, The Thunderdome. It is structure that allows the entry of two men, but the exit of only one, "two men enter, one man leaves," in a fight to the death with no rules at all. After the fight with Blaster, in which Max refuses to kill him, Max is exiled to the desert. He is found by a desert dweller named Savannah Nix (Helen Buday), who takes him back to her village of kids, who are the survivors of a Boeing 747 crash. They are under the impression that Max is some sort of God, because he looks like a pilot. Max tells them the world they think is out there no longer exists, but Savannah refuses to believe him. Despite his warning Savannah sets off with a group to find "Tomorrow-morrow Land" forcing Max to save them from perhaps more than the unforgiving desert.

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'Mad Max' is a film that is one of the most unique looking and visually pleasing films of its time. Released in 1979, it set up a lore for the rest of the 'Mad Max' trilogy gloriously. All of this done through the mind of George Miller, the acting of Mel Gibson and car chase scenes that are truly adrenaline pumping. The film's story and characters are a huge plus, as nothing like this film (quality-wise), as ever been achieved. The story is highly original and captivating and the characters, Max, Toecutter, Joeanne, etc, all have a tremendous role and presence throughout the entire film. This is aided greatly by the acting chops of Mel Gibson, who plays the family man, the officer and finally the vengeful executioner beautifully. Never off, Mel Gibson is the heart of this film and doesn't feel forced or out of place. George Miller's eye for style is not lost in any of this, as the characters are crafted beautifully and are entirely unique. The hero is the bad-ass draped in leather carrying a sawed of shotgun, the bad guys are motorcycle riding Legion of Doom impersonators, while Max's family is quite literally the embodiment of  "home" and "safe" to him. The action is outstanding throughout as are the vehicle chase scenes. The opening scene with the MFP chasing Nightrider and one of the closing chases between Max and Toecutter are phenomenal. These scenes make up the bulk of the film and are never boring. They keep you glued to the screen and the action is pulse pounding. Shout-out to the cinematographer and composer, David Eggby and Brian May. The sweeping shots of the Australian coast and grasslands are beautiful look at during chases and transitional scenes. While the music really did a great job of accenting everything going on at a given time.
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'Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior' is awesome! Paired with a viewing of the first film, you get everything in an action-filled thrill ride from start to finish. We know Max from the first film, and we get a synopsis to start, so there's not much introduction needed to the character. We're brought back to an even more ravaged Australia, where all laws a basically gone, and groups of people roam free doing whatever they please. The story is simple, save the town and the gas from the bad guys, but done in a way that makes you want to keep watching. The minimal dialogue is done quite well in this film, people only talk when they absolutely have to, letting the action spell out the story. Mel Gibson has really settled into the role of Max. In this film he does a great job of of being the silent man, who doesn't have the trust of everyone, but does the dirty work that no one else is doing. The style and look that George Miller brought to the first film is still here in full force. Dean Semler is at the helm for cinematography in this film and does an outstanding job. The widescreen, sweeping shots of the barren Australian deserts are awesome and  really adds to the immersion into this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Combine this with the music of Brian May again and we have yet anther fantastic looking and awesome sounding film. But let's not stop here, as the action in this film is ever better than in the first. We get the vehicle chases, but ramped up to extreme levels, especially the final chase scene between the town and the motorcycle gang. It runs over the final 20 minutes of the film and showcases to amount of creativity that went into making these types of chase scenes worth it throughout the first two films. Cars exploded, people were massacred and most of all, it looks phenomenal (there was even a twist at the end of it). I love the lore, character development, for Max, and the style and action that the second 'Mad Max' brings to the table. It's definitely worthy of being one of the best sequels of all time.
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'Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome' is what I like to call "a tale of two halves," even though there's three distinct parts, the first two make of the majority of the film. We'll go into more detail in a moment, but the first half felt like the rest of the Mad Max series, whereas the second half traversed the fantasy world aspect more, think 'The Lost Boys.' Yet again, the action is this movie is fantastic, although now it's much more of the hand to hand combat variety. "The Thunderdome" itself is an awesome entity and the first part of the story revolving around it, leading to the eventual fight is awesome. When we finally get to the fight between Blaster and Max, it's one of the most inventive and unique fights of all time, and certainly for the time it was released, 1985. I love everything about the first half of the film, because it is Mad Max to the core. Awesome visuals, a cool story, great action. Once we get to the middle part, for a long portion of the film everything slows down.  We get the introduction of the desert dwellers, Max is forced to be a sort of father figure, which is a nice callback, but hardly who Max has been shown to be over the last film and a half. This middle portion feels so out of place, but it's hardly bad in the lightest, it just wasn't for this film. The final act comes full circle and we end with an epic chase scene, while not as good as the second film, shows that vehicle chases were still a top priority and it was done well. Mel Gibson continued to kill it as Max, while the introduction of Tina Turner and Auntie, Helen Buday as Savannah Nix really helped the character development in this film, and made the dialogue flow much better. The story overall was fine, as with the rest of the films, but it's the style, score, cinematography and action that will keep you into this film.

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While I just touched on the bare bones of everything, the Mad Max Trilogy is a gritty look at a post apocalyptic, dystopian world, that has descended completely into madness. From the first film the the third, we watch as the Australian landscape go from luscious and green to a barren desert wasteland. We go from seeing people that are friendly and nice, to a world where everyone is crazed, out for themselves and completely devoid of morals. We even see this in our hero, or anti-hero if you will, Max. In the first film, he's a bright-eyed father, with a loving wife. By the end of the second film he is been hardened to the land. By the final film, he is cursed forever to live alone in the deserts of this barren world. The action, cinematography, score and overall lore created by this trilogy is amazing. With everything firing on all cylinders. The acting and character work, runs through Max. Who is played superbly throughout by Mel Gibson. All of the supporting roles by bad guy bikers and evil town leaders, really just there to further Max. I'm really into this series now and I look forward to what 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is going to add to this lore, because all I'm hearing, is that it's awesome.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Star Wars [The Original Trilogy Review]


Since I'm basically done with my spring semester of college now, I only have two classes tomorrow and one test on Thursday, I'll have more time to delve back into doing more reviews. Today, May 4th, fell at good time because I'd been thinking about doing another trilogy review. Since I had watched the entire series earlier in the year and only touched on the prequels, now is probably the best time. I was a wee little tyke in the 1990s, but I can still vividly remember watching 'A New Hope' at my Aunt's house when I was really young, maybe 6-7, and being enthralled. I had a three VHS set of the trilogy in this golden Darth Vader helmet box that I would watch all the time as well. Let's be honest, who else didn't pretend that they can use The Force to move objects for funzies? The Original Star Wars Trilogy, 'A New Hope,' 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi' are some of the best sci-fi films of all times, but not only that, but one of the best trilogies ever produced.

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'Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope' takes place 19 years after 'Episode III' and follows the story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) as the biggest part of the civil war that is happening in the galaxy is about to take place. The Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia, who has stolen the plans for Galactic Empire's Death Star. The Empire is led by the evil lord Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), and captures Princess Leia. Leia hides the plans inside of an R2-D2 unit (Kenny Baker), who along side a C-3PO unit (Anthony Daniels) escape to Tatooine. The two droids are found by Jawa traders and are eventually bought by Owen Lars, uncle of Luke Skywalker. One night, Luke accidentally finds Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) that was stored into the R2 unit. After tracking down and enlisting Obi-Wan, they hire Han Solo, and his first mate Wookie, Chewbacca (Peter Mayew), to smuggle them to Alderaan. They get there only to find out that the Death Star has destroyed the entire planet. They get captured themselves by the Death Star and begin the mission to escape, rescue Princess Leia and find a way to destroy the Death Star for good.

'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' takes place three years after the destruction of the Death Star in 'Episode IV.' The Rebel Alliance has been forced from Yavin IV by The Empire. Princess Leia leads a group that includes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, to the ice planet Hoth, to a new base. Luke goes out in search of a possible meteor impact, which turns out to be a droid Vader  was tracking him with, and gets attacked by a Wampa. Han eventually goes out to find him after he doesn't return. In the sheer cold, Luke sees the spirit of Obi-Wan who instructs him to go to the Dagobah system and find Jedi Master Yoda. After a massive battle with Imperial AT-ATs, Han and Leia flee, from the mercenary Boba Fett (Jermey Bulloch) and hide in an asteroid field, while Luke heads towards the Dagobah system and crash lands in a swamp on Dagobah, where he meets Yoda (Frank Oz). Luke begins to undergo Jedi training and sees a vision of Leia and Han in pain and leaves, against Yoda's wishes, to save them. Leia and Han head to Cloud City to meet up with Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who betrays them and hands them over to Boba Fett and Vader. Fett will take Han to Jabba the Hutt where he'll get a big bounty, an agreement Lando doesn't agree with. He also doesn't agree with luring Luke in so he can be captured. Han is then encased in Carbonite. While all this is going on Luke arrives at Cloud City, leading to the first face to face meeting and lightsaber duel, between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

'Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi' takes place one year after the events of 'Episode IV' and follows the story of our three heroes, Luke Skywaker, Princess Leia and Han Solo once again. Luke and Leia have devised a plan to save Han from Jabba the Hutt. Luke, Leia, Calrissian, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, are in on the plan. Leia, disgusted as a bounty hunter, takes Chewbacca as her prisoner to infiltrate, with Calrissian disguised as a guard. They both get captured, but not until after Leia frees Han. When Luke arrives he is also found out and is forced to fight the Rancor and survives. Jabba sentences Luke and Han to death by way of the Sarlacc. Not going without a fight, Luke and Han begin to fight their way out. In the chaos, Boba Fett is knocked down into the pit, Jabba is strangled to death by Leia, and Luke destroys Jabba's ship as they all escape. Meanwhile, The Alliance has learned that The Empire is constructing another, even bigger, Death Star. Darth Vader is still being instructed by Emperor Palpatine (Ian Mcdiarmid). The plan to destroy the new Death Star consists of two parts. Leia and Han lead a team that will take down the shield generators for the Death Star, these are located on the forest moon Endor. Luke takes Vader's bait and infiltrates the Death Star and confronts him face to face, perhaps for the final time, as one of the biggest battles to save the universe is about to ensue. 

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I really do love each one of these films and each one has a distinct style behind them. I could talk about the lightsaber duels and score in each film, and I will, but these films are much more than awesome fights, using the force and awesome music. 'Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope' for me is the weakest of the trilogy, but that by no means makes it a "bad film" in the slightest (I still give it a 9/10). Mark Hamill and Harrsion Ford are on point from the start and bring a great presnese, even in the early going of this series. Mark Hamill plays the young Skywalker expertly, as he's still in awe of everything happening around him, yet has the air of being capable of handling things. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, as Han Solo is the spark plug of the film. He brings a huge amount of presence to the film. Not only that his comedic and action timing is stupendous, you're drawn to every scene he appears in. Carrie Fisher (Leia) is, for a bit of the film a follower, but starts to come into her own by the time the end credits roll. The story and universe are highly original and it's a pleasure to learn all the ins and out of the Star Wars universe. The two factions, The Rebel Alliance and The Galactic Empire, are awesome opposing forces that are more than just feuding groups and have their own thoughts, ways and customs for everything. Being led by arguably one of the greatest villains ever in Darth Vader, makes both sides extremely entertaining to watch over the course of a film. The lightsaber usage in this film is light, but introduces it well. The space battles are where the meat of the action is and the final push in the trenches of the Death Star is iconic. The score, by John Williams, is also iconic and you know all know at least one Star Wars song if you were to hear it. Everything about this film sets up everything in the following two films in such a perfect way, not to mention, everything holds up really well.
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The second film of the original trilogy, 'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' is probably the best of the three when it comes to character development and overall storytelling. The action is bigger when it happens, the AT-AT battle to start and the Luke vs Vader lightsaber duel to close is awesome. But everything in between feels more like we're really learning about everyone (and the Universe itself), and the is where Carrie Fisher as Leia really comes into her own as well and Mark Hamill as Luke. Harrison Ford as Han really doesn't change much as he's still the snarky, funny, wildcard with charisma out of the butt. Leia, while still thrust into the action, is shown as the diplomatic force that she is, as she's really shown to be a Princess more than a fighter. Luke on the other hand is brought to a whole 'nother level. From the moment the best character -- writing-wise -- Yoda, is introduced, Luke becomes a better person and character. Yoda is a fun but honest teacher and brings the inner Skywalker that Luke would need going forward. Darth Vader is also still written well and somehow becomes even more awesomely evil and builds upon the great villainous lore he was created upon. The lightsaber scenes in this film are awesome as we get to see Luke honing his skills with Yoda in the swamp and the epic first face to face confrontation between Luke and Vader in the Cloud City. The music, again by Williams, is iconic and perfectly accents a quieter or action filled scene. While the first film is more well rounded with character introduction and action, I feel that more story and learning about the characters and this universe really sets up the fantastic finale greatly.
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The final film of the original trilogy of Star Wars, 'The Return of the Jedi,' is (film-wise) a perfect blend of the first two films. Full of character development, great action and one of the best endings to a trilogy you can ever expect. Something I haven't touched on yet is the CGI for these films. This is very early in the use of everything CGI, but Star Wars does a good job of not over doing it. While it sometimes looked off, there wasn't an over abundance of it, and when used it was good. The story ends awesomely with almost everything wrapped up nicely, but that doesn't keep it from being an overall great film. The rescue mission, the invasion of Endor to stop the shield generators and the infiltration and destruction of the new Death Star were awesome story lines. The acting was as good as ever in this film and all three leads, and Darth Vader, had really settled into their rols at this point. Carrie Fisher as Leia was strong, yet level headed. Mark Hamill as Luke was smarter and well rounded and possessed the qualities needed to lead (and be a Jedi). Harrison Ford still plays Han Solo perfectly and is probably, alongside Chewie, the most entertaining people in the film. All while Darth Vader has the evil layers (built upon him throughout the entire series) stripped off as he fights off the corruption of Emperor Palpatine. The fight scenes were awesome, especially The Rancor, the Ewok scenes were fun and the final lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader/Palpatine was just plain awesome. Score, John Williams, nailed it, again. I just loved everything they did with 'Return of the Jedi' and it's probably my favorite film of the original trilogy. The character, acting writing, action and lore are as good, if not better. The amount of detail put into not only this, but each of the films really is an outstanding feat.

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The Star Wars Original Trilogy is one that if you get into it, is one that you're going to continue coming back to for your whole life. I was a kid at my aunt's house and now almost 20 years later, I'm still watching and enjoying the hell out of the universe that's been created. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader have all been pop culture staples for as long as I've been alive, and with all the new Star Wars films coming out in the future (later this year we get 'Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens') the trend isn't likely to just fade away. Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrsion Ford were awesome and I love seeing them pop up in other films, purely cause I get to see them on my screen again. The lore and story these first films told, stand tall and will lead into this modern age of Star Wars films. I really do hope that they do these films justice, because as a kid I'd be pretty sad if the Star Wars films that I first watched, weren't as good as Episodes IV-VI. These films, while not the best at times, do what a lot of films fail to do be creative, have fun and immerse the viewer into an awesome world.



Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


Superhero films seemingly come out every month, but over the past seven years none have built an empire as big as that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is now the eleventh film in this series. It's starting to seem like with age, the films get better, or, at the very least, keep the same level of quality that Marvel has enjoyed over this ride. Even the weaker films in the series, such as 'Iron Man 2' and 'Thor: The Dark World' are well worth at least one go around. Then you have films like 'Iron Man' and 'Captain America: The Winter Solider' which are a under shadowed because they'll be compared to the two Avengers films we now have. Finally, we get to those Avengers films I just mentioned. 'The Avengers' was a blast and I saw it a few times in theaters opening weekend in 2012. With the universe expanding ever since, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' was looking to be another capable sequel. It's a good follow-up to last years Captain America sequel and the smash hit that 'Guardians of the Galaxy' turned into. It's also a good way to (basically) close out Phase Two of Marvel's superhero film plan. 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' isn't going to be received as well as the first film, but it does show that Marvel is starting to at least get a little more serious with it's films, and that's a good thing. 

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' takes place after the events of 'The Avengers,' 'Iron Man 3,' 'Thor: The Dark World' and 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier.' The Avengers -- Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Rinner) -- raid a Hydra outpost under the control of Wolfgang von Strucker, where they have Loki's scepter and also twins, Pierto and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) aka Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch. Pierto has superhuman speed, while Wanda can manipulate minds and control energy blasts. The team captures Strucker, while Stark gets the scepter. Stark and Banner discover that the stone in Loki's scepter has artificial intelligence and the two use it to make Stark's "Ultron" defense program. Out of nowhere, Ultron (James Spader) becomes sentient, believes it must destroy the world, to cleanse it, and kills J.A.R.V.I.S. Ultron proceeds to attack The Avengers during a party at Avengers Tower, while they celebrating the successful mission. The team begins to then search for Ultron, while Ultron is building an army of robot drones. This leads to one of many confrontations between The Avengers and earth's latest threat, Ultron. The group must band together, despite the hopeless looking scenario and personal inner turmoil, in order to save earth from destruction once again.

This film was two hours and twenty minutes and to me, it flew by. Nonetheless, this is a daunting film for those not "into" the superhero genre or question the quality of the films being put out as of late. I really did enjoy the film and want to give it another watch, because I know I probably missed things. I'm going to try to avoid comparing it to the first film as much as possible, because it really is quite a different feel to it after all the events of Phase Two that have happened. I liked the story overall and it really felt more real, though in the same vein as all of Marvel's previous films. The structure is largely the same, but the content is vastly improving. The humor is there, bur a lot more limited and when used works well. The emotion, especially a few moments during the final act, are unexpected and done well too. Ultron felt like a much bigger threat than the Mandrin, the Winter Soldier or Malekith and that adds a lot to the film. While a lot of the time it seems like Ultron is figuring the whole "villain" thing out, there's no doubt his powers are formidable and his overall plan is maniacal. We also have the first bit of adversity that The Avengers, as a whole, experience. Getting to see them work though some adversity, in what would otherwise be a "normal day going to fight Ultron," is another reason why the overall story and writing has improved. 

We get more good performances out of the main cast. Spader was tremendous as the voice of Ultron and it really lent to the overall feel that he was a legitimate bad guy. I liked Hemsworth's Thor in a film like this, because a feature film of Thor is hard to pull off without the aid of Hiddleston as Loki. In The Avengers, Thor doesn't have to have the burden of being the main guy and can become better suited for his "time to shine" moments. Renner as Hawkeye was another good role to me. He was really a sixth man to the team in the first film, whereas now he's an unsung hero, with a frankly, surprising element to his life that added depth to his one-note character. Evans is fitting into his role as Captain America better and better each film, Johansson as Black Widow is still pretty good, Ruffalo's Hulk film (he'd better get one) can't come fast enough and Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is still a blast. The two newcomers, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the Maximoff Twins are really good as well. Johnson, while not having the eye-popping Quicksliver scene Evan Peters had in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past,' had a much better role in the film as a whole. On the flip side, Olsen as Scarlet Witch was awesome and I really loved the way they took her powers and translated them to the screen. The Vision is also introduced, I liked him, but I don't want to talk much about him, cause I went in not even knowing he was going to be in the film. Cameos of Don Cheadle as War Machine, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Cobie Smudlers as Maria Hill and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury were awesome and they all even had major moments in the film. There's a litany of other cameos, characters and references to previous films, but I really don't want to spoil all the surprises in this.

The action is a huge part of any superhero film and 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' has some of the best bits of it to date. Now don't get me wrong, the hand to hand combat of the 'Captain America' films and the technology wars in the 'Iron Man' films are awesome, but The Avengers films always take it all to the next level. This is because in battles we get to see The Avengers combining their powers in unique ways to tear through the hordes of bad guys and robots..or each other. Whether it's Thor smashing his hammer against Captain America's shield or the wicked awesome fight between Stark's "Hulkbuster" suit and a rampaging Hulk, the fights just seem bigger. The CGI to go along with the majority of these fights is spot on. If there's green-screen being used, and let's be honest, there is, at this point I'm barely noticing it. Iron Man flies effortlessly across the screen, Hulk's skin looks about as rough as the side of a mountain and Scarlet Witch's energy blasts are amazing. I also like the fact that the fights in cities mean something, it's not just the destruction of a city, a bunch of people's deaths are implied and we move on. Iron Man and Hulk's fight levels part of a city and we're shown hurt people and people effected by what was going on. In the final act, the team needs to evacuate a whole city, in the process we are shown people in fear, escaping and genuinely concerned for their well being. I like that everyone is affected by what's happening, not just the people fighting to stop more bad from happening. (Looking at you 'Man of Steel.') 

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is the "start" of the summer film season and once again Marvel has put out a really good and fun film. While it might not have all the charm and impact 'The Avengers' had, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' improves in a quite a few ways. The characters have grown, the action is bigger, the story is nice, the villain is good and like all Marvel films, it keeps setting up for more action down the line. We even get our annual Stan Lee cameo. We he ever have a bad Marvel cameo? If you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you're gonna go see this film. If you're new to the genre, I'd suggest seeing at least 'The Avengers,' 'Iron Man 3' and 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' before this one. Because at this point, with the MCU, you'll need to start seeing most of whole picture, not just bits and pieces of it. Nevertheless, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is quite worth the watch and is probably the best big budget film of the year so far.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Furious 7 [A Fat Jesus Film Review]


Boy, it's been quite awhile since I've done a review. Sorry about all that. Been big time busy with school and haven't had much time for "new" films. The only two I've seen, that would be worth my time writing about, have been 'Cinderella' and what I'm writing now, 'Furious 7.' (Or 'Fast 7' or 'Furious Seven' or 'Fast & Furious 7' or '7ast & 7urious.') Ever since I was a teenager I've been aware of these souped up car racing films. The first film is still a pretty campy, but fun, watch. The series took a nosedive, at least until 'Fast Five' came out in 2011. The series was turned into the most over the top action films, that included the most flying cars we'll ever see in our lives, barring the creation of hover-cars from 'Back to the Future.' 'Furious 7' is a star driven powerhouse where Vin Diesel isn't (as) robotic anymore, Paul Walker is wholly memorable, Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock brings a humorous bad-ass attitude while newcomer Jason Statham brings just plain badassery. Round out these four with Kurt Russell, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Jordanna Brewster. Combining these actors and you have a star studded cast and crew that will bring the action while charming the hell out of you.

'Furious 7' follows the story of Dominic Toretto, Brian O'Connor, Letty Ortiz, Roman Pearce and Tej Parker (Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez, Ludacris and Gibson) as they seemingly embark on their last ride as a crew. In the previous film, Owen Shaw is taken down and we open with his older brother, Deckard Shaw (Statham), swearing vengeance on Dom. One night, Deckard breaks into Luke Hobbs' (Johnson) DDS office. A fight ensues between the two culminating in Deckard setting off a bomb, destroying the office and leaving Hobbs in the need of a hospital. Later on, Dom learns that Mia (Brewster) is pregnant and is worried that Brian is having a tough time staying away from this old life. While they're having this conversation, a box from Tokyo, disguised as a bomb, is detonated and destroys the Toretto's house right after Han (Sung Kang) is killed by Deckhard, who is in Tokyo. Dom talks to Hobbs at the hospital, where Hobbs tells him to go after him and to "not miss." After travelling to Toyko to get Han's things, Dom comes back to a funeral for him. During the funeral he spots a car lurking and gives chase. It turns out to be Deckhard and the two have a stare down before Deckhard is chased off by a covert-ops team. Their leader, informs Dom that he is Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and asks him to come with him. Mr. Nobody, who we know now is Frank Petty, offers Dom the chance to be able to track Deckhard wherever he is on the globe, with a device called "God's Eye." All he needs him (and his crew) to do, is rescue a mysterious hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), from a mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) and Dom will be well on his way to exacting revenge on everything that Deckhard is doing.

This film is bonkers from start to finish and I loved every minute of it. I loved the look of this film more than anything, because it, yet again, didn't feel like a car film, it felt like an action film with cars. The same feeling the last two films have oozed. We get a callback to the opening of the series as a whole, with a race in the desert. Then everything kicks in as we're thrown into actual character development, between Dom and Letty and a fantastic tone-setting fist-fight between The Transporter and The Rock. The funeral scene is good and from there on the action never slows down. Car chases through LA, Eurasia and the middle east, are combined with thrilling hand to hand combat, surprisingly funny and heartfelt dialogue, beautiful backdrops and scenery, while giving us a well written story taking us all around the globe. The music is filled with current hits, but they never really seem annoying. Even if the songs are pretty bad overall. The use of Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" is astounding, though it's the chorus by Charlie Puth that hits home. The rolling camera during the hand to hand fight scenes was awesome, for the record, and provided some of my favorite shots in the film. Never fear though, because the destruction was immeasurable (actually there was over 230 cars destroyed making this), the fighting brutal and the acting as good as ever in the series.  

No longer is this series about petty love triangles and fast neon hatchbacks and muscle cars. The issues with each character are more relatable, growing up and having a family, hoping the person you love remember memories after a horrible accident and yes, even being the "double alpha." The cast handles this well and this may be the best film in the series, by a long shot. Vin Diesel doesn't seem like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker is given a heartwarming send-off, The Rock is just pure entertainment, stealing each scene he's in, while Jason Statham proves he can still be awesome in an action role. Where this film falters for me, at times, is the flashbacks regarding Letty. I understand why, but multiple times in the film was too much for me. Despite this, Michelle Rodriguez is great as Letty and the supporting cast as a whole is great as well. The thing is though, I don't really have any other problems with this film, despite me knowing there's a litany of them. The 'Fast & Furious' series has turned into the ultimate popcorn films and ones that work about a millions times better than 'Transformers' or 'The Expendables.' What other film, could there ever possibly be, that combines the talents of The Rock, Vin Diesel, Ronda Rousey, Jason Statham, Paul Walker and  freaking Kurt Russell! All while still coming out with a competent overall story, scintillating action and genuine emotional connections? That's right 'Furious 7' is that film.

'Furious 7' is, so far, by far, my favorite film of 2015. Granted the year is still getting going, but it honestly hasn't been too outstanding. James Wan, one of the best under the radar directors of the past decade, has pushed this series, with this film, to the best it's ever been. The two hours this film runs flies by and you're never thinking about anything but the action going on. The action is mesmerizing, the acting is good, the writing, while campy at times, is really solid and the overall product presented is ultimately feelgood all around. Not to mention the ending, and the handling of Paul Walker's untimely death, is impeccable and almost tear-jerking. There's no reason, if you're a fan over the top, "turn your brain off," action flicks, to miss this. 'Furious 7' could be the best action film of the year, only time will tell.