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Movie: Star Wars Ep. VII - The Force Awakens
Rating: **** out of *****
Notes: It's not perfect in every way, but it's very good. After contemplation, it's only natural to conclude that it's simply not possible to revive the same old glory because the original actors are almost 40 years older and we aren't accustomed to their replacements. Harrison Ford in particular, while giving it a good college try, is barely able to field the ol' role. As such, "The Force Awakens" is a really excellent piece of Star Wars fan-fiction.
Of the two heroes, Daisy Ridley (Rey) is the more classically styled and respectable while John Boyega's (Finn) attempts to replicate Han Solo's occasional comic relief stylings have him coming off more Tracy Morgan than Ford. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) comes off as an unmenacing, petulant, delinquent reprobate - a vast and unlikable chasm away from the confident and accomplished threat that Vader posed. The Empire, now referred to as the First Order, seems to have back-burnered their more interesting new characters in trying to revive source material, and the character-oriented talent gap stands in inexplicable contrast to the organization's demonstrable power.
Much of this is overwhelmed by where the excellent choices made by director J. J. Abrams have revived the look and feel with marvelous precision. The industrial/mechanical design of the transportation, the old school buttons/knobs/blinky-lights technology, the familiar architecture, the memorable ships - these all construct a whole that truly takes place in the same universe as the originals instead of a remake/reimagining/reboot (see Ep. 1-3). Add to this the frequent use of real locations, miniatures, and brilliant live-action creature FX which again recall the immersive reality of the classics. The primary CG characters tend to be jarringly different and, while well-executed, neither mesh well with the actors or the effects. Humor is well-balanced throughout and a welcome preservation, serving to fluff up what would otherwise be a dry, straightforward affair, even though the tone is a tad more wacky than remembered. Action sequences, while sticking to the familiar basics, are nevertheless out of this world. There are valid points being made in mainstream reviews about the heavy-handed plot parallels to Episode IV, tho.
Where is this new trilogy taking us next? Will Kylo Ren evolve (read: grow up) into a more formidable opponent? Did they really make Rey's origins that obvious? Can the First Order come up with any new offensive ideas or battlestation designs? What are they going to do with that intriguing silver stormtrooper boss? Will we get as much Chewbacca in the next one as we did in this one? Can BB-8 be any more like Wall-E? Is Supreme Leader Snoke really just going to be Gollum? Can new director Rian Johnson retain the magic Disney fairy dust in episode VIII that made episode VII so successful? That I'm jonesing to find out about the mysteries that have yet to unfold strongly implies that, in adhering to the source material, the force is strong with these filmmakers.

Movie: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014)
Rating: ***1/2 out of ****
Notes: Like "Army of Darkness" was to "Evil Dead 2", the second entry in this gory winter pairing swaps horror/comedy for comedy/horror. Picking up exactly where the original's final jump-scare ended, the sole survivor of the nazi zombie attack on a group of winter cabin vacationers continues to fight off their relentless attack. Having recovered their lost treasure, their historical-based true purpose comes to light, and only our badly-injured hero and a cadre of nerdy zombie hunters from America can stop them. The scares are almost entirely gone, replaced by gore-based laughs, the early ones of which are most hysterical. If you couldn't manage the ick from the first film, the standard fare continues to apply here, although most is oddly just intestine-based, a tool they reuse with frequency. The latter two-thirds of the movie occur in broad daylight, which kills whatever scare possibly remains as everything deteriorates into a mock civil war reenactment. More generally appealing, but also striving a bit too hard to capture the "Shaun Of The Dead" vibe, this is a lesser, but still enjoyable sequel for those who like funny with their offensive, preposterous splatter.

Movie: Kink (2013)
Rating: *1/2 out of *****
Notes: A "documentary" on BDSM which comes across as anything but. Told via scenes from the production offices of pornographic website kink.com, it consists of behind-the-scenes footage of raw, uncensored BDSM cinema in the making, interspersed with amateurish interviews with executives, directors, and stars that unconvincingly try to elevate their craft out of questionability. If anything, the movie opened my eyes to the more broad interpretation of BDSM that the Internet has helped promulgate, now including simulated torture, gang bangs, and rape. The interviewees attempts to excuse the distribution of these scenes by saying that they make them for the people who want to see them but not enact them, casually overlooking the fact that their audience inevitably includes people who do want to enact them without simulation. This produces troubling moral problems and introduces some very fine lines that are never examined, but clearly crossed. The content includes so many clearly-depicted sex acts such that the film could be mistaken for a bonus extra on a porn video. Some of the employees come across as one pink slip away from turning serial killer, only inhibited by the steady paycheck and structured work environment. The actors themselves do a poor job of reframing their actions as anything other than exploitation. Disturbingly outside the bounds of standard definition, and the public distribution of which is potentially dangerous to the public at large.

Next: Frank, Ragnarok, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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