Cinema or Cine-meh?

Sorting out the cine-junk so you don't have to!

‘Training Day': Good cop/Bad cop routine perfected

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Training Day (2001)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

8.5/10  R

Denzel Washington has a reputation for playing heroic, morally pure characters. From “Philadelphia” to “John Q” to “Unstoppable,” so many of Washington’s characters are wholly good. But it was in 2001’s “Training Day,” playing vulgar, corrupt detective Alonzo photo-Training-Day-2001-1Harris, that Washington hit his career peak.

Harris has been in narcotics for nearly two decades, and he has a reputation for making respected detectives out of newbie cops. Now it’s training day for Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a young family man hoping to make detective. As Harris spends the day training Hoyt on what it means to be a narcotics officer, Hoyt discovers the real meaning of street justice and learns that, sometimes, it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

Harris is fifty shades of messed up, and good ol’ boy Denzel has a ball cracking vulgar jokes and playing this twisted, crooked cop. But he nails it. He does bad so, so good. In fact, he earned his second Oscar (his only for Best Actor) for the role. Screenwriter David Ayer (“Fury”) makes Harris into more than a corrupt cop stereotype. Even though the story takes place in the span of a day, Harris becomes a well-rounded character with a distinct arc. And Hawke is his perfect opposite. He’s always been the everyman type, but here you buy into his normality more than1459-3 ever. You can read Hoyt’s inner-struggles on Hawke’s face. “Training Day” also gets solid support from several key players in small roles. Eva Mendes, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray all bring their A-game, even with only a few minutes of screen-time.

“Training Day” brings you into downtown L.A. with gritty, intimate cinematography (Mauro Fiore, “Avatar”) and a concrete jungle soundtrack. You can practically feel the heat rise from the asphalt. Without that, you might not stay interested in the slow-burning crime drama unfolding. And no movie gets my full recommendation without a solid ending. Thankfully, “Training Day” has an earth-shatteringly good finale, full of excitement and closure that wraps up the story better than anything else could have.

“Training Day” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

A few movie and TV reviews under 100 words!

Let’s Be Cops

Let’s not. Toward the end of “Let’s Be Cops,” I heard a sound that I hadn’t heard in a while. It was me laughing. And even then, I think I was laughing out of pity. It’s the classic case of a movie wasting any and all of its entertaining material in the trailers. When you get to the movie, you get nothing new. Nothing funny. Nothing good at all. 5.5/10

Admission

I thought that this 2012 comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd might be cute. Nope. Instead, it became one of the worst movies I have seen in a long, long time. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Bad chemistry killed this one. Chemistry between lovers, between friends, between family. It just wasn’t there. It was awkward to watch them all try to act. 4/10

Chaplin

Finally, something I don’t regret watching. This 1992 film by the now late director Richard Attenborough (“Gandhi”) shares with us the tumultuous life story of Charlie Chaplin (played by Robert Downey Jr., who received Best Actor nominations on most major award circuits). RDJ is incredible, the script is as dramatic as it is informative, and a slew of supporting actors (Kevin Kline, Anthony Hopkins, Marisa Tomei, Diane Lane, Dan Akroyd, and Milla Jovovich to name a few) give tremendous support. 8/10

“True Detective: Season 1″

This slow-burning and suspenseful thriller is written by a novice psychology professor. You can tell. “True Detective” takes you on a wild ride as two Louisiana detectives (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, both nominated for Primetime Emmys) investigate a complicated and twisted serial killer. If “Law & Order: SVU” had sophisticated and intelligent dialogue, it would look something like this. McConaughey deserved a Best Actor win in the TV Drama category. Really. 8.5/10

R.I.P.D.

Ouch. This one got dumb quick. It’s a silly story about two dead cops in a police force to stop dead people who still remain on Earth. Not worth the time to explain why it’s so bad. 5/10

“The Newsroom: Season 1″

I’m not sure who to praise first. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) fills “The Newsroom” with incredible witty dialogue, dramatic tension, and sentimentality. But the cast (including Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston) takes his lines and works magic with them. Sorkin doesn’t let us off easy by giving us a foil character. No real antagonist. We see the good and the bad in every character, just like it should be. And the romances that would fall together in 2 episodes in a lesser series take their dear old time. Brilliance. 9.5/10

‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and ‘White House Down': The movie so good they made it twice?

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Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

5.5/10  R

In late March, 2013, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters. All the heat of a summer blockbuster, two months early. The plot isn’t too complicated. It spells everything out for you in agonizing detail. It panders. It’s just unintelligent, low-brow, thoughtless eye candy about a North Korean plot to take over America. How? They storm the White House, taking the President (Aaron Eckhart) and Olympus Has Fallen 5other top officials hostage. They keep them in the underground bunker while the helpless acting President (Secretary of State Morgan Freeman) looks on in horror and talks to the only American man inside the White House who has any control: a former Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who happened to be working in the area and thought he could be of use. As the suave Mr. Butler kills North Koreans and makes his way toward the President’s bunker, he begins to face increasingly determined opposition.

There are a couple of things that “Olympus Has Fallen” has going for it. First, its R-rating helps a little. It allows the takeover to turn into a blood bath, a dizzying array of shoot-outs and fist fights that lead to gruesome deaths. Unfortunately, the battles seem a little Tarantino-esque in their excessive and inconsistent blood splatter. Oh well. It’s difficult to recreate a large-scale attack on Washington D.C., and especially the White House. The digital restoration of D.C. monuments isn’t a total failure, but at times the CGI that necessarily plasters the screen does seem a little out of place. Not enough to ruin the escapist thrills, though.

I believe in Harvey Dent. I’m just not sure if I believe in Aaron Eckhart. When his character has everything to lose, his aaron-eckhart-olympus-has-fallen-6118performance seems forced and melodramatic. STOP SHOUTING ALREADY! The now-commonplace Morgan Freeman takes another filler role. Other than Olympus, the most obvious thing that has fallen is Freeman’s career. Ouch. Thank goodness for B-list action superstar Gerard Butler, who does what he does best – say terrible one-liners and kick butt. He does what we want him to do.

Misguided social commentary is a thorn in the side of so many political action movies. Thankfully, “Olympus Has Fallen” only spends a couple minutes on it. North Korea and South Korea and American interference and blah, blah, blah…who cares? The plot is going to suck. It’s an action movie. Just give us the guns and the suspense and we’ll forget the rest anyway. Well, “Olympus Has Fallen” does that. Just not very well.

“Olympus Has Fallen” is now on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix.

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White House Down (2013)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

6.5/10  PG-13

Here we go again. Now it’s June, 2013. Another disaster epic involving the White House is in theaters. So how does this one differ from the last? Which one appears from the ashes the victor? “White House Down” can claim the master of disaster, Roland Emmerich, as its director. It also has more of a blockbuster feel, with bigger and better CGI air attacks, more consistent acting, and some clever comedy. But as the second of the two, did it do enough to set itself apart?

This time, we have Cale (Channing Tatum), a man who doesn’t have what it takes to be on the President’s Secret Service team. In order to still appear like a hero to his teenage daughter Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with the President (Jamie Foxx), Cale 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNgets them both tickets for an official White House tour. Bad timing. A group of radical racists and veterans fed up with the black President’s new bill to end conflict in the Middle East decides to take it out on the administration by killing anyone they can find with any power. Thankfully, Cale is able to find the President and attempt to lead him through the enemy-filled White House to safety. USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig understandably likened it to “Die Hard” in that way. Anyway, Cale is separated from his daughter, which leaves his heroic actions in limbo. Can he save the President without getting his daughter killed? What are the real motives behind the attack?

Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spiderman 2”) gives us a good dose of political humor, including a reference to director Emmerich’s epic “Independence Day.” Nice. There’s the Shyamalan plot twist at the end that doesn’t really matter. Thankfully, they keep the motivations of the right-wing extremists to a minimum, not clouding exciting action with meaningless commentary. “White House Down” lets the guns do the talking, I’m happy to report.

WHITE-HOUSE-DOWNBut when the actors need to talk, I like what I see and hear. Jamie Foxx isn’t necessarily Presidential, but he’s better than Aaron Eckhart. He is able to stay alternately funny and somber when he needs to, without letting his A-list personality get in the way of his sort-of-genuine performance. Tatum is a great choice for Cale, a character who uses a mix of humor and butt-kicking to win the hearts of audiences. As the head of the Secret Service, Maggie Gyllenhaal reaches a “Dark Knight” level of seriousness. Take that as you will. Plus, there’s a crotchety Richard Jenkins (“Step Brothers”) as Secretary of State and Jimmi Simpson preceding his role as a hacker in “House of Cards” with his role as a hacker here.

Even though it came second, “White House Downs” bests the efforts of the lackluster action epic “Olympus Has Fallen” by keeping the action loud, relevant, and realistic. Roland Emmerich has done it again!

“White House Down” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a delightful surprise

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Directed by Ben Stiller

8/10  PG

I’ve always been leery of those sappy, PG, Christmas Day movie releases that are often billed under “family” or “adventure.” You always know that just means it’s not funny enough to be a “comedy” or exciting enough to be “action.” I don’t feel the same way anymore. Not after seeing “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”…on DVD, because I didn’t believe my friends when they saw it in theaters and told me it was actually good…I should have listened, but instead I saw “Grudge Match.”

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreamer. He often finds himself zoning out, wishing his life would go as planned. At work, he develops photograph negatives for Life magazine. But Life is about to transfer entirely to digital, so Walter is about to lose his job. The the_secret_life_of_walter_mitty2cover of the last issue will be a photograph so incredible, famed Life photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) calls it “the quintessence of life” (or is it “of Life”? I don’t remember). The problem is, the negative that O’Connell sent Walter has gone missing. And so has the ever-travelling nature photographer O’Connell. With the help of a co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), and a big boost of confidence, Walter will travel to find O’Connell and the missing negative.

Would you be surprised if I told you he finds himself instead? Of course not. But “Walter Mitty” knows it’s somewhat of a cliche, so it works hard to change that and becomes a unique, hilarious, yet still awe-inspiring version of those yuppy Christmas Day films I so dread. O’Connell and his poignant dialogue has even been the subject of philosophical discussions I’ve had since watching “Walter Mitty.” Screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) filled his brilliant script to the brim with relevant life wisdom. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” worked so well it became a candidate for my next permanent movie purchase, something I want to re-watch again and again. Isn’t that about the best recommendation I can bestow?

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Expendables 3′ breathes new life into aging franchise

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The Expendables 3 (2014)

Directed by Patrick Hughes

7/10  PG-13

The old has-beens that crowd the cast of The Expendables 3” have nothing to lose. Most are in their 50s and 60s (the oldest, Harrison Ford, is 72), and they’ve probably found that action movies aren’t as easy as they used to be. Action makes their arthritis act up. But DSC_9578.jpgas monotonous and careless as their line delivery is (I’m looking at you, Mr. Stallone), these geezers still have what it takes to make one hell of an explosive summer blockbuster.

Barney (Stallone) has disbanded his team of Expendables (Couture, Snipes, Lundgren, and Statham), saying they’re too old for his next suicide mission. In their place, he finds (with the help of Kelsey Grammar) some new bloods (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Rhonda Rousey, and Glen Powell) to help him take out his oldest foe, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who helped Barney start the Expendables program all those years ago. But when the new kids on the block get napped by the ever-scheming arms dealer Stonebanks, Barney brings back his old crew, plus some old pals (Schwarzenegger and Li) and a new face (Antonio Banderas) to help him fight what could be their last battle.

When it comes to the star-studded cast of “The Expendables 3,” the A in A-list stands for action. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Ford. Gibson. Banderas. Snipes. Li. Lundgren. Statham. The list goes on. But as the old-timers drone on monotonously (with the exception23293.dng of Banderas, who’s actually a hilarious and eccentric addition), the new guys (and girl) breathe new life into this franchise. Their quick wit even livens up some of the vets. Mel Gibson does what he can with an expendable script from the writing team of “Olympus Has
Fallen.” He’s better than his lines. Same can be said for Wesley Snipes, another new addition, who has a lot of fun in his limited screen time. Real-life fighters Couture, Rousey, and Ortiz have the fighting down, but they’re a sight for sore ears when they have dialogue to suffer through. They’re better off talking with their fists. As for the others, you get what you expect.

“The Expendables 3” also learned from “2” when it comes to what we like to see and hear. Where the original gave us a lot of story we didn’t care about, the second spoon-fed us enough action to last for a lifetime. Perfect. But also, “2” embraced its cheesy action flick personality by giving us references to tons of other action movies. “3” follows suit. An awesome one-liner from Stallone reminds us of Judge Dredd, Ford harkens back to his pilot The Expendables 3 Stallone 2014days as Han Solo, and a fist fight between a former fictional boxing great and a former fictional hothead cop looks all-too-comfortable.

I dread the day the Expendables are permanently disbanded, but why do they have to be? What isn’t to love about a franchise which stars teams of celebrities shooting guns and throwing punches? These guys might get too old soon, but the idea can never die. Long live the Expendables.

“The Expendables 3” is in theaters now.

‘Lethal Weapon’ 1-4 (because they’re too similar to review individually)

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Lethal Weapon 1-4 (1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998)

Directed by Richard Donner

7.5/10 (collectively)  R

The buddy cop standard as we know it might have gotten its start in 1987, when “Lethal Weapon” paired young, suicidal, white, womanizing newbie Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) with stable, black, family-oriented veteran Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). Their polar opposition made for witty banter and exciting police action, but cliches can only get you so far.lethalweaponbdcap1_original

In “Lethal Weapon,” pre-crazy Gary Busey leads a ring of drug smugglers with a military background. Riggs and Murtaugh must overcome their differences to stop this seemingly unstoppable group of mercenaries. Gibson and Glover are a comical pairing, and both have just enough action gusto to pull off their roles without overshadowing the intended comedy of the movie. That said, the plot is thin and barely explained. Action is at times exciting, but sometimes non-existent. And the well-choreographed fight at the end is just unnecessary.

Two years later, in “Lethal Weapon 2,” Joe Pesci’s character Leo Getz is introduced as a witness with a lot of information and even more enemies. Riggs and Murtaugh will tote him around as the three of them pursue a group of dangerous South African diplomats. Pesci is hysterical, a surprising addition to the already-entertaining cast. Here, the action is really hitting its stride. Without the need LETHAL-WEAPON-PESCIto introduce Riggs and Murtaugh, we get to see them in action from the very first scene. But here’s also where the franchise begins to coast on its own success. It gets lazy. The films begin to blend together in a kaleidoscope of cliches. Where one ends and another begins, I couldn’t really tell you. Watching them all in a matter of a few days, as I did, makes them even less distinct. But I’ll press on.

“Lethal Weapon 3″ thankfully brings back Pesci as Getz, in a smaller but maybe even funnier role than before. This time, Riggs and Murtaugh have to track down a former LAPD cop who has turned into a murderous arms dealer with “cop killer” ammunition. This might be their toughest fight yet. But again, “Lethal Weapon” fails to provide a convincing motive for the perps’ actions, leaving audiences simply to buy into the plot. Though the characters become more well-rounded, and the chemistry between Glover and Gibson and Glover is even stronger, the script becomes even weaker than before.9ryAKT0ixpZkifphOeGJWw6bGPD

Things wrap up beautifully in “Lethal Weapon 4.” A Chinese slave trade plot is just as flimsy as the others, but Jet Li’s villainous presence helps give the final installment (Gibson is 42 years old at this point, Glover 52) a bit of excitement.

Like the “Die Hard” franchise, “Lethal Weapon” progressively continued to increase the action while decreasing the quality of the script. It’s a trade-off, but at some level you just say “f*ck it” and grab some popcorn and enjoy the cheap entertainment unfolding in front of you.

“Lethal Weapon” 1-4 are on Blu-ray and DVD.

Expectations are key if you’re going ‘Into the Storm’

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Into the Storm (2014)

Directed by Steven Quale

6.5/10  PG-13

In rural Ohio, especially in August, even the lousiest tornado flick is a chilling horror story. So despite failing on multiple levels, “Into the Storm” was able to unnerve this moviegoer with terrifying thrills to spare.

Silverton High School in Oklahoma is preparing to graduate its class of 2014. Rain might spoil the ceremony, they fear. But nobody Into_the_Storm_5expects what’s really coming. The assistant principal (Richard Armitage, “The Hobbit” trilogy) has told his two sons (Nathan Kress and Max Deacon) to record the ceremony, but when a freak storm breaks out, their handheld cameras will capture something much more momentous. The historic storm brings chasers (Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies, Arlen Escarpeta, and Jeremy Sumpter) to the small town, but even their tank wasn’t built to handle something like this.

I’m a huge sucker for a disaster epic. If the special effects are right and the destruction is beyond imagination, I’m going to enjoy myself. And “Into the Storm” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to explosive and deadly disaster. But, like you’d expect, 89 minutes and a deadly tornado plot doesn’t leave much space for character development. Each and every one of the film’s characters remain flat the entire time. Selfless acts intended to be indications of character development miss into-the-storm-2014-07
their mark. Cheap emotional ploys involving family relationships don’t work. We neither know nor care about the family dynamics enough to get emotionally invested. I wish the acting was good enough or the script original enough for me to care about the faux sentimentality. It’s just a big storm of clichés. “Sharknado” without the sharks. The throwaway script, using phrases like “really big storm,” does nothing to build suspense. (I mean, the only other feature John Swetnam has on his resume is “Step Up: All In”). So “Into the Storm” relies on its real star, the CGI twister itself. And, at least for this cinematic adrenaline junkie, that part didn’t let me down. The found-footage genre, which usually irritates me beyond belief, finds a fitting partner in the disaster flick. The POV shots amp up the natural tension of the situation. You 1395682362000-1SNEAKPEEK-INTO-STORM-MOV-62983740see what you come to see (assuming you didn’t expect Matt Walsh to suddenly pull an Oscar-worthy  dramatic performance out of his ass). Richard Armitage, the only actor whose performance may be worth salvaging, is far better than his script allows. He’s doing his best. Nathan Kress returns to making snarky remarks behind the camera, a la “iCarly.” I get the homage, guys. It’s only fun for a few minutes. Aside from Armitage, these performances can just get swept up in the next storm that comes along. I won’t miss them.

At some point, though, even cheap thrills are thrills. Lower your expectations and you’re in for a block-blustery storm of summer entertainment.

“Into the Storm” is in theaters.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ brings Marvel back to life

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Directed by James Gunn

7.5/10  PG-13

For the way it defies the norms set forth by “Avengers” feeder franchises like “Thor,” “Captain America,” and “Iron Man,” I’d deem 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” something like Marvel’s pet project. Or its step-child. But that’s why it’s so refreshingly entertaining.

Two decades after being abducted from Earth, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, “Parks and Recreation”) works as a bounty hunter for his star-lord-guardians-of-the-galaxy-2014-movie-1920x1080captor/savior Yondu (Michael Rooker, Daryl’s brother on “The Walking Dead”). But when he comes across a powerful weapon wanted by thugs from all walks of life—an assassin (Zoe Saldana), a vengeful brute (Dave Bautista), a mutant raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and his humanoid tree friend Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)—Quill will have to team up with his competitors to keep the powerful weapon out of the hands of an all-powerful, villainous ruler (Lee Pace)…for the good of the galaxy.

So much hype had already been built up for “Guardians” that I came away somewhat disappointed. But while it’s not quite the best Marvel movie of all time, it’s certainly its most enjoyable of the past few years. It got a lot right. First, it made use of an eclectic mix of acting talents. Pratt steps out of his shell and becomes a charismatic leading man. No more supporting roles for him. Saldana’s graceful fighting style, showcased before in movies like “Colombiana,” is a marvel to watch, especially beside Bautista’s pro wrestling groot-guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-hd-1920x1080muscle. Two totally different fighting techniques, both endlessly entertaining to watch in action. Saldana also shows a little of the intense emotion she perfected in “Avatar.” But the real stars are the CGI masterpieces Rocket and Groot. Bradley Cooper’s attitude is the perfect match for the feisty rodent, and though Groot is a tree that only says four different words the whole movie, he may just be Vin Diesel’s most well-rounded character ever. Like Han Solo and Chewbacca, Rocket and Groot are an applaudable pair.

Where “Guardians” loses focus is its overly complicated plot. With multiple villains antagonizing several different protagonists, you begin to lose track of who’s fighting whom. And, like many Marvel movies recently (unfortunately), you don’t see much characterization in the villains—they remain flat, all-bad, bland. Not like, say, the Green Goblin, who gets almost as much characterization as Peter Parker.

But superhero excitement rarely comes as hilarious and seriously sentimental as “Guardians.” Unlike most Marvel movies, which tend to recycle their generally non-specific jokes, “Guardians” brings out some real comedic gusto. Quill is an ‘80s Earthling Guardians Of The Galaxy Movie 2014 HD Wallpapertransplanted to space, so we get some hilarious cultural references and a pitch perfect soundtrack of pop hits. I never thought “Hooked on a Feeling” would make for good accompaniment for space fights, but “Guardians” proved me wrong. But as funny as it is, “Guardians” is also full of emotion. Even without learning much about their characters, you feel emotionally invested in this good vs. evil story. You’ll be reeling when it seems that hope is lost.

It’s not perfect, but if “Guardians” is what new Marvel looks like, you can count me in.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is in theaters.

‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi': Furry fun for all

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Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Directed by Richard Marquand

8/10  PG

Every trilogy, even the “Star Wars” prequels, has the equivalent of a “Return of the Jedi.” It’s not the best movie of the trilogy, but it’s the most entertaining, enjoyable, re-watchable. “Die Hard: With a Vengeance.” “The Dark Knight.” “Shrek 2.” “The Phantom Menace.”

Star_Wars_Episode_VI_Return_of_the_Jedi-3Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid, who later reprises his role in the original trilogy) have set to rebuild the Death Star in a last-ditch attempt to stifle the rebellion and kill Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher) are en route to Tatooine to save the carbon-frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. Once that’s done, they’ll lead their own attack on the new Death Star via the Ewok-filled planet nearby. But Vader isn’t easily tricked, and the Emperor even less so.

Ewoks are like giant, adorably feisty Furbies. They’re creepy, but also incredible loving. It’d be like if Jar-Jar didn’t talk. You couldn’t hate him so much, right? Kinda cute. Anyway, they define the mood of the second half of “Return of the Jedi.” A childish, slapstick appeal. The Ewoks are like the 300 Stooges. It’s a lot of fun, though it strays from the sci-fi action and deadly shootouts. It’s what “The Hobbit” did to “Lord of the Rings.” Enjoyable, fun to watch, just a little more PG. The first half is wildly different, with the dank atmosphere of Jabba the Hutt’s palace thick enough to smell through the screen. Here, we see half-naked female human-line creatures dancing to pop music, some experimentation with ‘80s-like animation (think ewoks“Beetlejuice”), and a slave-drab Leia being licked by a two-ton slug. It’s not very appealing. But, nevertheless, still exciting.

For the most part, we see the same cast giving the same commendable performances. Ford can be annoying when in full cocky-‘80s-rebel mode, especially when he’s trying to impress his lady friend. But you forgive him. It’s the ‘80s.

You have fun when you watch “Return of the Jedi.” It sets itself apart from the others in the same way that “The Phantom Menace” is the odd man out in the prequel trilogy. They both give you entertaining (if sometimes childish) excitement without apologies. Escapism at its finest. What more do you expect from the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time?

“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” is on Blu-ray and DVD, and “Star Wars: Episode VII” releases on December 18, 2015! May the force be with you always.

‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back': Out-of-this-world or overrated?

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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Directed by George Lucas

8/10  PG

Sometimes, a movie considered the best of the franchise is compared to “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s always a striking comparison. But, in my opinion, “Empire” isn’t the franchise’s best offering.

The Death Star has been destroyed, but Lord Vader (James Earl Jones) is still in control of the galaxy, sending out drones to find the new Rebel hideout…and especially Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Skywalker, as well as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han star_wars_episode_v_the_empire_strikes_back_1980_1024x768_486249Solo (Harrison Ford) are hiding on a remote ice planet, but they can’t hide forever. While Luke searches out the Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), Vader sets a trap that uses his friends as bait. Will Luke be ready to take on the greatest force in the galaxy, or will Vader have the last laugh?

For the early-‘80s, “The Empire” strikes back with some inventive, revolutionary, SFX. But the daring feats of movie magic haven’t held up so well over the years. The introduction of Yoda is a particularly low point, since he looks like a creepy, booger-green Muppet (voiced by the man who brought us Grover, Fozzie Bear, and Miss Piggy…what else would you expect?). In “A New Hope,” a lower budget and fear of scaring off viewers stayed away from the uber-fantastical in favor of more realistic sets and characters. “The Empire Strikes Back” introduces a slew of new species, most of which look abominable compared to the CGI monsters of today. I’ve said it before: If you don’t have anything nice to show, don’t show anything at all. I can respect the appeal it had back then, but there’s no doubt “A New Hope” has aged a bit more starwarstheempirestrikesback2gracefully.

But “The Empire Strikes Back” does provide the same thrills, plot twists, and action-packed excitement of “A New Hope,” with the much-anticipated face-to-face meeting of Luke and Lord Vader. One of the nice things about “The Phantom Menace” (yes, the major throwback) was that it had no major romantic plot. Even “A New Hope” only flirted with romance. “The Empire Strikes Back,” however, throws us into the thick of a complicated love triangle that Luke hardly seems interested in anyway. Romance is an unnecessary distraction when it’s not done right, and in this case it just isn’t.

Still, “The Empire Strikes Back” remains, fairly, one of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time (on IMDb, it’s tied for the greatest). You can’t really argue with that.

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” is on Blu-ray and DVD.