Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

star wars the force awakens movie poster

star wars

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Review
By Rob Jefchak

When I was a kid; growing up watching the classic “Star Wars” movies, if you had told me then that “Episode 7” would be coming out over 3 decades later, I would have thought you were either crazy or a time traveler. After many groans of disappointment consumed George Lucas much mangled prequels, J.J. Abrams has taken on the most impossible task conceivable for any director: continue the story of “Star Wars.” With the beloved franchise in Disney’s gloved hands, it was only a matter of time before the Mouse House made progress with its latest acquisition. Has the “Star Wars” name finally returned to its former, nostalgia fueled glory? Grab your light sabers and step aboard the Milleniun Falcon as we find out.

Taking place 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been missing for years and both the Resistance, and leftover remnants of the Galactic Empire (now called the First Order) are hunting for him everywhere. A single droid contains the clues to finding the last Jedi knight, and it winds up in the hands of a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) and an ex-storm trooper (John Boyega). Now the pair must enlist the help of old friends to get the droid to the Resistance and stop the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from expanding the Order’s destructive reach. Sometimes avoiding hype is impossible, and with an announcement of a new “Star Wars” film continuing the story along with original stars Ford, Fisher and Hamill, even non-Star Wars fans would have astronomically high expectations.

Thankfully, Abrams apparently was the right man for the job because this film is a truly wonderful breath of fresh, fantastic life into a series that was already beloved and iconic. “The Force Awakens” is, in many ways, a freshened up flash back to the look, feel (and even some of the more memorable moments/elements) of the original trilogy. This advances the story with the best parts and feels from its predecessors, while also presenting brand new characters and visuals that advance the story in its own unique way. It’s amazing how powerful the feelings of nostalgia were in this film. You could almost way it’s a part of the film’s narrative; merging the story and characters into a brand new story that feels and sounds just like the original films in a lifetime, far, far away. Ford truly becomes Han Solo once more. You don’t see him as an aging Harrison Ford, you see Han Solo aged and withered; exactly like you think he would be after all this time.

What really sold me on this film was its leading dynamic duo: Ridley and Boyega. Two relatively unknown/fresh faces who were absolutely perfect leading characters. Their chemistry was natural and inescapably charming. I cared about these characters, I wanted to see them go on and continue their adventures, just as I did when Luke and Han worked together to rescue Princess Leia. The action sequences went above and beyond what I was hoping for. From the daring escape in the Millennium Falcon through a downed Star Destroyer, to the searing intensity of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber duel with both Ridley and Boyega. The humor was clever, on point and felt natural; especially when Ford makes his grand entrance (Hell, every line Ford has is sharp and snicker inducing.)

I honestly can’t think of any criticism I could point out without forcing it. Abrams has reinvigorated the “Star Wars” name with a worthy entry in its legacy. This respects the original films, honors them and makes excellent use of its returning cast. The new characters and cast are instantly etched into our hearts and minds as new lovable additions to the “Wars” universe, and the script and scope of the film balances fans of every size, shape, age and status: from the die-hards to the newbs. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did not disappoint a single element, actor, expectation, visual effect, musical score or nostalgic connection. This is everything I love about “Star Wars” original trilogy and more and I expect to see this multiple times; each time ending the same way my first screening did: with thunderous applause.

I give “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” 4 stars out of 4.

Krampus Movie Review

krampus

krampus
 

Krampus Review

By Rob Jefchak

Christmas time means a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it means I get to crank out the time old tradition of watching my collection of beloved Christmas movies to get into the Christmas spirit via cinema. However, Christmas has also been oddly paired up with the horror genre on more than one occasion (Gremlins, Silent Night Deadly Night). Now Michael Dougherty, who brought us the excellent Holiday horror film Trick R’ Treat, is back to give a proper big screen delivery of his latest season scare fest with Krampus. Young Max (Emjay Anthony) is the only member in his family who still cares and believes in the spirit of Christmas. But when his obnoxious extended family comes and sours the season for him, he abandons the Christmas spirit and joins his dysfunctional family’s cynical views.

However, his disillusionment inadvertently summons a dark, ancient Christmas spirit known as Krampus: the demonic shadow of Santa Claus. Now Krampus has sealed off Max’s family and the town with a blizzard, and is now unleashing monsters and minions to punish Max and his family; forcing them to work together in order to survive Krampus and his creatures. The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was Gremlins, if you liked Gremlins or remember what kind of horror/humor it dished out, then you got a pretty good idea of what Krampus has in store for you. This is an interesting mixed bag of a film; capable of making you feel humor, horror and legitimate warmth for this kid and his family’s plight. Krampus touches on all of the worst things we dread dealing with around Christmas: rude relatives, lousy weather, and most importantly: the capitalistic monopolization and desecration of the true meaning of Christmas.

The monster and family are presented in a way that makes them simultaneously likeable and unlikeable. There are a lot of painfully similar situations and people in this movie that parallel our families, or at the very least a family we know of. Krampus is a punishing, comedic monster romp that keeps things from getting too dark (especially with a PG-13 rating). But for the way in which Krampus and his legend are represented, morally, it actually makes a lot of sense. Having the likes of comedic actors like Adam Scott, David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell makes it easier to understand what kind of tone this movie is going for. Those expecting a truly bone chilling Christmas flick will be quite surprised when you see evil Gingerbread men climbing down the chimney.

What I adored best about this movie, besides the witty script and daringly unusual ending, was the use of practical effects with the variety of monsters. Far too many films (horror or otherwise) utilize CGI and continue to create the most lifeless life like characters again and again. Dougherty wisely used puppets and animatronic creatures, proving that a physical prop or puppet of a monster or alien will always look a thousand times more real than a computer generated one. From sharp toothed teddy bears to man eating Jack-in-the-box snakes, Krampus offers a unique visual feast of Holiday horrors and enough intensity to keep you from getting too laugh happy. My primary criticism is that the film’s structure doesn’t leave any room for any real surprises or development. Once the Krampus’s hooves hit the ground, it’s a pretty basic by the numbers horror film that leads you down a very predictable path (until the ending that is.)

Overall, Krampus is another warped Christmas classic in the making; just like Gremlins. The humorous look at our own jaded Holiday-isms and the magnificent monster effects provide a uniquely entertaining Holiday horror film, the likes of which we need more of. The cast is solid, the humor and horror blends surprisingly well, and even with the bizarrely ambiguous ending and limited elbow room for the story, Krampus is a Christmas monster miracle I want wrapped and left under my tree this year.

I give Krampus 3 stars out of 4.

Mockingjay- Part 2 Movie Review

mockingay part two

mockingay part two

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” Review
By Rob Jefchak

The fantasy book-turned-movie series that launched dozens of copycats and Jennifer Lawrence’s career has finally come to an end. The name Katniss Everdeen has become cemented as one of pop culture’s strongest female characters; inspiring kids and hooking adults and teens with its gritty, dystopian future about children being force to kill each other in arenas for the perverse amusement of an oppressive regime. “The Hunger Games” books as well as the films never came close to reaching the staggering numbers set by Harry Potter, but none the less, “Mockingjay part 2” has been called one of the most highly anticipated films of this year. Did it live up to its hype? Has the series been given a proper send off with this 4th and final film? Let’s find out.

As President Snow (Donald Sutherland) continues to wage war with the districts, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to lead a rebellion against the Capitol, while still trying to deal with Peeta Mallark’s (Josh Hutcherson) brainwashing from Snow. Everything Katniss holds dear is threatened with annihilation, and she must rally together all of her forces to invade the Capitol and end Snow’s life before everything and everyone she knows becomes lost in the blood and bullets of war. Any good finale to a story must culminate everything that has been established prior and tie up all remaining loose ends so that once the final credits roll; you feel that everything you witnessed was worth waiting for, and in that regard, “Mockingjay part 2” definitely succeeds. The escalation to war, the losses, the struggle to survive, the price of victory; Katniss goes through it all and we experience the raw emotion and pain just as intensely as she.

“Mockingjay part 1” was mostly a buildup, a cinematic foundation of what was to come in its missing half; a fact strongly evidenced by the focus of making propaganda films for the rebellion rather than battling it out in a futuristic free-for-all, like we got here. On some levels things didn’t seem quite as grand scale as I thought it’d be, Katniss and her team go through a great deal and they’re not even on the front lines. This gives us a powerful sense of what kind of Hell awaits even the most reluctant and distant soldier, but it also keeps the brunt of the battle off screen and makes their progress seem ambiguous at best. This is represented perfectly when the battle finally does end, and the viewer is initially left wondering who actually won. However, this movie was crystal clear in its depiction of war and just how ruthless and savage it can make its combatants.

Beloved characters die right before your eyes; other characters you expect to die meet their end in shocking fashions; all promoting a strong sense of frantic panic and a lack of control, which is exactly what being in a war feels like. There was actually a moment in the film where something horrible happens involving a scene at the Capitol gates, it brought me to tears; something that very few movies have accomplished. The cast delivers a marvelous barrage of performances all around; especially Sutherland, Hutcherson, Sam Clafin and Julianne Moore. I mention the copycats (Divergent, Maze Runner, The Host) because they all seem to be breathing heavily over “Hunger Games” neck; wanting the same rampant success about reluctant female leads in dystopian worlds featuring massive oppressive governments. None of them however have captured the drama, the darkness and the raw intensity of these characters struggles like “Hunger Games” have.

Maybe it’s because of Suzanne Collin’s excellent characters or writing, or maybe its director Francis Lawrence’s incredible ability to adapt these books beautifully for the big screen. Whatever it is that works, it’s worked amazingly well and this was a powerful story that ends on a note just as strong and fierce as its female lead. “Mockingjay Part 2” properly brings this epic story to a close and it did it with enough style and supremacy that even the most stubborn of purist fans will be satisfied.

I give “Mockingjay Part 2” 3 stars out of 4.

Marvel’s Avengers: The Age of Ultron Review

Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review
By Rob Jefchak 

A few years ago, Joss Whedon delivered a cinematic crossover of epic fan/film proportions by collecting Marvel’s finest superhero stars and making a spectacular experience that many directors and fans would have originally thought to be impossible: that experience was “The Avengers.” Now, Whedon returns to helm the heroes one last time in a sequel that’s bigger, longer, and more stuffed with special effects and super stars then you can possibly imagine in “Age of Ultron.” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) resurrects an old program he created years ago: an artificially intelligent armor/android that was capable of serving as a 24/7 super hero force so he and fellow avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) could retire from being Earth’s mightiest heroes.

Unfortunately, Ultron (James Spader) views “saving the world” in a different light and plans to annihilate humanity and the Avengers with the help of 2 super powered allies: Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). When it comes to making a sequel to any kind of franchise, escalation is usually the most common way to make the second outing more memorable (or in this case intense). Superhero films tend to self-destruct as they escalate by overcrowding their sequels with too many villains, too many plots or too much romance (I’m glaring at YOU “Amazing Spider-man 2.”) “Age of Ultron” however, doesn’t feel to suffer from those same flaws even though they are utilizing the same large quantity of new characters and sub-plots etc.

There’s so much epic talent and tremendously powerful performances and visuals that you won’t even realize 141 minutes has passed since you started watching. Once I started I never wanted it to stop, I was completely engrossed from start to finish and THAT is the sign of a good movie if you ask me. Admittedly, it is noticeably difficult to introduce new characters like the Maximoff twins with still trying to make sure Thor, Widow and every other big name hero/actor is getting their fair share. However, whenever we got knee deep into the emotional nitty gritty of the characters; no matter how brief, you always felt satisfied and truly connected to these characters and their increasing number of problems (ranging from renegade robots to psychic nightmare fuel.)

If there’s one new “face” that simply cannot be avoided discussing, it’s Ultron. Spader’s take on the psychotic rogue robot perfectly mixes his dark gravitas with his snarky sense of humor. He’s a villain’s villain; a powerhouse threat that even puts “Avengers” first film foe, fan favorite Loki (Tom Hiddleston); to shame. I loved seeing Hawkeye finally get some screen time outside of being mentally side lined like in the first film. In a way, Hawkeye’s connection with his family and concerns about missing out on them due to his mission obligations; have made the heroes more human. The pairing of Widow and Hulk/Banner was not a relationship I saw coming but once it was acknowledged; it was warmly welcomed and a great improvement on two already great characters.

I know I’m biased being a super hero lover and a super hero movie lover, but unless you genuinely dislike these characters or have no interest in high quality action, acting and film making; I’m going to be hard pressed to see any mud being slung at this blockbuster. “Age of Ultron” is supremely impressive and satisfying on every level established by the original “Avengers” and created new levels of excellence that will be near impossible to be topped. But if anyone can do it, Marvel can. “Batman vs. Superman” has NOTHING on this one.

I give “Age of Ultron” 4 stars out of 4 stars.