Star Wars: the force awakens – a review

Warning: This post does contain spoilers from the movie.

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I have mixed feelings about this film. I loved, loved, loved the first half to three quarters. The Force Awakens is fast-paced but I could feel a connection to the characters. It has a very old-school feel; it is styled after the first trilogy which is pretty much universally recognized as better.

In some ways, it almost felt like a reboot of the original movies. Fiftyish years on, the story is the same but the costumes and special effects are incalculably better. In The Force Awakens, I didn’t come out of the movie-verse to think on the special effects as characters go hurtling through space because in the moment, I forgot that wasn’t real. That a camera-man wasn’t hanging out in a spacesuit picking it up. Those are some good special effects.

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The issues with the movie, in my opinion, were very small. Certainly The Force Awakens is a successful return to a series that is much beloved. It is awesome that whole new generations are being brought into this universe and Disney did a great job with a project that came along with so many expectations. So did the actors. Both new and known to Star Wars.

** Here is where the spoilers really start. **

My problem is that I knew who the new Dark Lord was the whole time. Pretty much. Okay, so I know that in the book/comic book world, Luke Skywalker struggles with the balance between the Light and the Dark. I also know that Leia and Luke’s son does cross over the Dark side. So the whole time, I was expecting it to be one of those two characters.

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Luke has a very dark intensity. I’d believe his turn to the Dark side

I have to admit, I was hoping for it to be Luke. And it made sense with the plot-line, because the bad guys were trying so hard to prevent the Rebel Alliance from getting the map that lead to Luke. There was no clear admittance that they needed the map to find him themselves, just that the rebels couldn’t get a hold of it. Clearly Luke could tell from the Force that bad things were happening, and several planet systems had been incinerated. But he didn’t return.

These circumstances made me hope that the new Dark One was Luke and that he was desperately trying to control the map so no one followed it to him, before he was ready to declare himself.

Alas, I was mistaken.

My second choice was accurate. But I didn’t love him as the bad guy. Throughout the movie, his loyalties waver as he struggles with the call of the Light. You see it in his prayers to his Grandfather, Darth Vader, and in his relatively gentle treatment towards Rey. He seems to have a crush on her and is trying to persuade her to join him, much as Anakin felt towards Padme in the end.

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*Minor interlude. In the end Darth Vader returned to the Light. He died saving his children and the universe from the Sith Lord. Surely Kylo Ren knows the true story of his Grandfather’s end. So it didn’t make any sense to me that he prayed to him to give him the strength of the Dark, no matter what else Vader had done.

 

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Ok, back to what I was saying.

The problem is, I just didn’t buy Kylo Ren as a such a major character. I would have preferred that he had rare shining moments of good intermittent in his overwhelmingly evil activities. But the only true evil he committed was killing his father, Han Solo. (I was temporarily inconsolable by the way). Instead he was written as more of a middle-ground character.

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If you are a regular reader of Mackenzie’s Mountain, then you know I love it when the writer takes a character who is seemingly past the point of redemption and then has him/her do something that stops the viewer from writing him/her off completely. Like a truly despicable Dark Lord who falls in love with an enemy aligned with the Alliance. But I didn’t get those goosebump-inducing feels.

I also expected him to be over-overwhelmingly handsome, when that mask was finally removed. Fantasy has largely moved past the trope that good guys are handsome and bad guys are not. Look at the Lannisters. However, Star Wars seems to have not, which disappointed.

Another problem I had with The Force Awakens was the power that Rey held. It felt too similar to the Anakin story that has already played out.

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I would have preferred that Rey lost her battles with Kylo Ren, that he let her live for his own purposes, much as he does in the forest when he uses the Force to knock her out and carry her onto the ship. The idea that a completely untrained person could go up and win against such a formidable opponent is a little too unbelievable. It is a one in a billion chance, and one that the Star Wars universe has already done. Not to mention her inauspicious beginnings replicate Anakin’s, right down to living on a desert planet, destitute and more or less a slave to scrappers. It made this movie seem more like a reboot. In less of a ‘yes this is an awesome return to the glory days’ way, and more like they were retelling the same story.

Overall, I loved the first half or so of the movie, as I said. I sat in my seat and giggled because I loved it so much. But all these little plot points and character reveals turned the tide in the second half, and unfortunately, that disappointment is the impression that I was left with when the film ended.

* * * (and a half)

xx

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North Pole: Open for Christmas – film review

Open for Christmas is the 2015 sequel to last year’s Christmas movie, North Pole. It stars Lori Laughlin (Aunt Becky from Full House) and the adorable Bailee Madison.

A successful businesswoman, Mackenzie, inherits her beloved aunt’s inn, and chooses to restore the hotel to its original grandeur only to sell it right before Christmas. Unbeknownst to Mackenzie, she receives some unexpected help from a team of elves headed by the cheerful Clementine, who help Mackenzie rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

—              —                  —

This is such a cute and entertaining Christmas movie! I really loved it and am so thankful I recorded it on television. I liked it much better than the first movie.

First-off, way better Santa. Why do producers keeps casting homeless looking Santas??? Santa is Santa people. It works for a reason. Don’t mess with my Santa.

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Secondly, Clementine’s positivity and laughter are just infectious. She raises my spirits and I really hope they make another movie in this series for next Christmas. I think Bailee Madison (who plays Clementine) and Candace Cameron Bure would make a great pairing.

Open for Christmas has a more unique plot than most Christmas movies have so I won’t ruin it by discussing in depth here. I loved the idea of the red ribbon game throughout the inn and the reminder to slow down and enjoy every moment.

It is important year round but especially this time of year, when we are so frantic, it can be easy to lose track of the real meaning behind the season.

I definitely recommend tuning into this film!

* * * * *

xx

This Means War

This Means War is a 2012 movie starring Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy. It’s a romantic comedy about two CIA agents (partners) who fall in love with the same girl and then – unbeknownst to her – compete for her love.

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I love how funny this movie is and light-hearted. It is pure entertainment. The extent to which (FDR) Pine and (Tuck) Hardy go to win their lady’s affections and undermine the other guy are wonderfully ridiculous and entertaining. And most certain in violation of the United States Constitution. Talk about expropriating Agency resources!

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Okay, from the photos, you can probably that I have a little bit of a crush on Tuck. As wonderful as FDR was, the decision would have been no problem for me! I mean, look at this guy …

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… Plus he has a British accent, an adorable personality and mad fighting skills.

* * * * *

xx

Allegiant: Parts I & II?

I could be way behind the curveball here, but I just heard that they are splitting Allegiant into two movies. So maddening. It is a huge turn-off for me when production companies do this, because it is purely for profit and always produces a sub-par product.

Of course, the only movie franchise that I think could have gotten away with splitting one book in to more than one movie was the one franchise that didn’t try. Until they did. But it was way past late by then.

I’m talking about the Lord of the Rings of course. Now, for those of you who have not read those giants books on which the long-ass movies are based, you have no idea that Peter Jackson took out so much quality literature, like Tom Bombadil and an entire freaking war. My goodness, that made me so mad, it actually ruined the third movie for me and I don’t think I have ever re-watched the series since. Tolkien published three huge tomes of work, plus appendices and others, and each book is incredibly dense. You could have easily produced five wonderful 2.5 hour films without breaking into the territory of the Hobbit. But instead they cut and cut and then produced such long movies that I’m not willing to sit down and watch them because it represents too much of a commitment in one evening.

Wait, what movie am I ranting about? Allegiant? Sorry, got side-tracked for a minute there.

My point is, that some studio person in Hollywood got the idea that turning the last book into two movies in every series is a fantastic idea because supposedly fans want it to postpone the ending at any cost and this way they can make double the money before letting an idea go and creating something new. All the series are doing it now: Divergent, Hunger Games, The Hobbit, Harry Potter…

But is that really the message you want to send, or the final impression you want an audience member to have of your series? That you, the creators, wanted to make a quick and easy buck by drawing something out, decreasing its impact by doing so?

I would hope not. I wouldn’t; I’d rather create something of quality. And I wish that there were more Hollywood stars who felt the same way and were willing to stick up and fight for their franchise fans, even at the risk of their role. Are they really willing to recast Katniss Everdeen for a fourth and final Hunger Games movie? I doubt it. I bet Jennifer Lawrence could have stopped it. So do these so-called artists really not care either? Or are they too afraid to stand up to their studios?

At the end of the day, a 225 page book that is meant for teens, or worse yet, those meant for pre-teens, were not meant to be turned into four and a half hours of feature film. They feel empty, and spaced out like there was not enough quality content to fill the time, because let’s face it, there wasn’t. Or you have someone like Peter Jackson add a whole lot of plot that wasn’t in the book and it doesn’t sit well with fans.

Here’s to hoping this is a fad that passes quickly.

xx

A third sisterhood of the travelling pants movie?!

Holy Moly, am I excited. America Fererra has confirmed that they are working on a third film in the sisterhood of the travelling pants series!

I have always loved these movies. They are about friendship, and love, and growing up and finding your way in the world. I grew up with those four girls, aging more or less as they did.  But after condensing four novels into two movies, they ended. And I kept growing.

I’m hoping that this announcement will eventually lead to two new movies. The first, as new graduates looking for their first “real” jobs and getting married, and the second, embracing motherhood. Hopefully then, not following the plot of the last book too closely.

Hollywood generally fills the minds of young girls with epic love sagas, or petty drama. The sisterhood chronicles the love between friends and the realistic trials of holding onto those friendships when distance and life try to pull you apart. As a twenty-something woman myself, and an Aunt to three nieces, I love the messages that they convey.

I can relate to each of the characters in some way and learn from their experiences. Lena’s reluctance to open her heart and her fear of doing so a second time after it has been broken so badly. Carmen’s frustration at feeling as if her friends are moving on to better things and forgetting all about her – my best friend lives on another continent and has for a few years.  I see her doing wonderful things and making a family of her own, and although I am ecstatic for her, I regret that she is so far away and her new life so removed from our friendship.  Like Bridget, I know how difficult it is to grow up with a parent who suffered from a mental illness and her struggles to overcome this legacy. And like Tibby, I shut myself off from the world when going through hard things, one of the reasons I started this blog.

The love between friends might be the strongest bond in this world, second only to that between a parent and child. It’s importance in our lives is incredibly understated. The sisterhood of the travelling pants celebrates these bonds, and the inclusiveness found in a circle of close friends that truly support one another, rather than pick favourites. It doesn’t perpetuate that Mean Girls style antagonist relationship of this group against that. It just celebrates something we all wish we had more of.

Links to the appropriate interviews:

http://ca.eonline.com/news/625224/8-things-we-want-to-see-in-the-next-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants-movie

http://www.people.com/article/sisterhood-traveling-pabts-3-in-works-america-ferrerra

Into the woods – a review

I watched Into the Woods a little while ago and have been meaning to review it ever since. Problem is, every time I go to start, I get that song stuck in my head! It’s almost annoyingly catchy.

Disney did a decent job of adapting a very adult musical into a movie for older children and adults to enjoy together.  The first half was excellent, catchy, fast-paced and Johnny Depp did a credible job as the Wolf.  I wasn’t thrilled with his appointment to the role, but it worked out in the end.

Where the trouble started, was the second act, which fell to pieces. This is an example of watering down great content to fit the length of a film, and most pointedly, to pacify all the parents bringing young kids to a movie that was never written for a PG audience.

From themes of pedophilia between the Wolf and Red, to cheating between spouses to murder, it would have been better for Disney to keep true to the musical and slap at 14A rating on that film.  Instead, it tried to make a PG version that would appeal to everyone and it didn’t quite work, despite the many accomplishments of the actors.

While I did enjoy Into the Woods, I noticed a lot of reviews online and social media, mainly from fans of the original musical who resented the adaptations in the second half (I concur), and parents of young kids who didn’t realize that this particular Disney movie was based on the darker Grimms’ fairy-tales, rather than the G-rated Disney version.  To the latter, I say do your research.  Maybe the trailer should have been a little darker, to convey that message more clearly, but I had never heard of the musical before the film came out and I knew it wasn’t meant for young children.  I wouldn’t take a child to something either, if I had no idea what it was about.  Disney has been moving away from the old school G-rated family films that it was synonymous with in the past.  Those are still their bread and butter, but Disney owns and produces the Lucasfilms (Star Wars) and Marvel productions too, which are clearly marketed towards adults, even if their ratings are not child-averse.

woods < Really, does that look it was meant for kids under 10?!

As to the failures of the adaptation, well, that is always hit and miss.  One of the most common sayings in the movie business, is that, the movie is never as good as the book. Well, in this case, we would have to change that to the movie is never as good as the musical.

Spoiler Alert

The weakest points in the film were due to Disney making the film more child-friendly. I didn’t like the portrayal of the witch (I’m shocked to say) or the changes to her story-line. In particular, re-writing Rapunzel’s ending, from a tragic death to a happily ever after with her Prince, effectively destroyed the entire meaning behind the story and necessitated the removal or alterations of several songs, which no longer made sense. Rapunzel and Prince disappear from the rest of the movie, as does Jack’s mother, because God forbid we see someone die on-screen.  The Baker’s Wife also falls behind a rock, insinuating she fell off a cliff.  I would have much preferred an Alice-style fall a la The Last of the Mohicans.

Up until the wedding scene, I was giving the film five golden stars.  Unfortunately, from that point on the movie lacked focus, meaning and depth, dropping it down to three and a half.  A good effort, and enjoyable … but still, I wish Disney had had more conviction to make a twenty-first century fairy-tale for grown-ups

* * *

xx

Furious 7 – a review

Furious 7 is the seventh movie in the fast and the furious franchise (I know, who could have guessed?) and seeing as this is one of my favourite series, I knew that I had to see it opening weekend.  Today being Good Friday, I invited along my oldest niece and made the 40 minute drive to a Cineplex big screen.

Since I don’t feel the need to recap something readers probably already know, and am too lazy to write it myself, here is a synopsis I *borrowed*.

From imdb…

Dominic Torretto and his crew thought they left the criminal mercenary life behind. They defeated an international terrorist named Owen Shaw and went their separate ways. But now, Shaw’s brother is out killing the crew one by one for revenge. Worse, a Somalian terrorist called Jakarde, and a shady government official called “Mr. Nobody” are both competing to steal a computer terrorism program called God’s Eye, that can turn any technological device into a weapon. Torretto must reconvene with his team to stop Shaw and retrieve the God’s Eye program while caught in a power struggle between terrorist and the United States government.

I was anxious going into this one.  I’m a passionate fan and between not loving Fast 6 and dreading having to say goodbye to Brian O’Connor, after the actor who played him died last year, ya, I was anxious.

I am pleased to say that I loved it!  This is a series that runs on high-octane fuel, and you can count on long car chases, crazy stunts and witty quips.  For me, the undercurrent holding this franchise together is the importance of family and the ‘believability’ of it.  That’s why the fifth movie dropped out for me. That looooong runway from the airplane scene? Ruined the movie.

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Someone smarter than me did the math. I love google.

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Thankfully the airplane scene in Furious 7 is completely realistic, from my point of view. These guys (and Letty) are the best drivers in the world, they could totally pull it off.

The rest of this post is more spoilery, so continue reading or bail, it’s your choice.

Weakest points in the movie:

Ronda Rousey’s performance as a cyborg-bodyguard. Ok, I love the UFC and she is so inspirational, but the girl needs to keep it to the octagon because she can’t act. At all.

The fact that Leon (from the original The Fast and the Furious, back in 2001) wasn’t in it. Now that the team is ‘all’ back together and living in their old L.A. home, I really hoped Leon would be back.  He is the only living OG except for the main characters, but he wasn’t, and isn’t signed on for Furious 8 either. I went searching for facts and the actor Johnny Strong, said in an interview that he doesn’t want to return to the role.  Well, that sucks! He just returned to acting in the last couple of years though, after nearly a decade long hiatus, so hopefully his tune will change and old Leon is back for the 8th installment.

Mia Torreto was barely in the movie.  Perhaps it is the actress’ preference, but she was barely in 6, and not in 2 or 3 at all.  In the first, fourth and fifth films, she has a solid supporting role, but you will see just as little Mia in this one as the last.  From the send-off given to Paul Walker, it sounds like actress Jordana Brewster might not be back again. Hopefully they work her back in somehow, because I love Mia, and after Giselle’s death, we need more women than just Letty.

The crew has ‘retired’ so many times now, they might as well be ready for nursing homes. Re-grouping the team for one last hijinks was behind Fast Five, Fast 6, Furious 7, and presumably Furious 8, which Vin Diesal has confirmed is in development. I fervently pray that Furious 8 puts a lot more work into plot development, and goes back to some of the original movies for its motivation, rather than contriving another Shaw brothers manhunt.

High points of the film?  There were a ton.  Mainly that the storyline was generally better and the stunts semi-believable in this film, especially compared to the previous one.

I also loved the send-off the cast and crew gave to the character of Brian O’Connor.  It made me really emotional to watch, and I was impressed with how much love and respect they showed in handling this tragedy on-screen.  It was intricately woven into the plot, and yet, you can tell that they are really saying goodbye to Paul.  The love they had for him was incredible, and I hope that somehow, he was able to feel that in the great beyond.

I was expecting Brian to be killed off in the action, probably taking a bullet or explosion meant for Dom, but “retiring” his character and sending him off with his family to bliss, that was so much sweeter.

* * * *

The fourth and fifth films remain my favourites, but 7 now ties the OG for 2nd place in my heart.

xx