Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

Contains some spoilers…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the second film in Disney & Lucasfilm’s sequel trilogy of the Star Wars franchise. Since purchasing Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion in 2012, Disney has released The Force Awakens in 2015 and the standalone movie Rogue One in 2016. Taking place almost 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens introduced new characters such as Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Supreme Leader Snoke. As with many Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens ended with a cliffhanger (and as Mark Hamill would say, it’s a literal cliffhanger on an actual cliff!).

As many would suspect, The Last Jedi begins where we left off. Right off the bat, I believe this movie improved where many had issues in The Force Awakens. Plus, you’re already invested in these characters and the story’s pulled you in even more since last time. I’m convinced! So let’s see what you can look forward to.

Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) is a complex character. While some fans expressed frustration with her proficiency in “everything”, you’ll see the growth of her character all throughout The Last Jedi… it isn’t a walk in the park! Trained by Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), the two train and go deeper into the Force. Meanwhile at the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke (played by Andy Serkis) is up to no good with his apprentice Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver). The balance between these duos is an epic battle you won’t want to miss!

On the Resistance side, General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) are all fighting the good fight. As debuting characters, Holdo and Rose bring something new to the table. And it’s refreshing to see the dynamic between Finn and Rose. We get to see new vehicles and new weapons – including a long awaited fight between Finn & Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie)!

As expected, The Last Jedi reveals some clues to the overall story of this sequel trilogy, but many mysteries are left in place to be (hopefully) solved by Episode IX (releasing in December 2019).

I really enjoyed watching Luke Skywalker’s return. Wait until you hear his first words!It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for since December 2015. And after hearing how director Rian Johnson threw off Mark Hamill with a couple character adjustments, I was pleasantly surprised. I think you will be too! And, of course, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without the droids. Every Episode (and even Rogue One) has shown C-3PO and R2-D2, and now the legacy continues with BB-8 and newbie BB-9E.

Everyone jumped on the bandwagon for some BB-8 lovin’ in 2015, without even knowing for sure what role he’d play. It didn’t seem to matter! Now to seal the deal we have an “evil” BB-8… BB-9E. While cool, I’m not sure it was completely necessary – but I totally understand why they added him. BB-8 may be Poe’s “one of a kind” droid, but surely the First Order had to have something cool of their own… Remember the mouse droids?

And the Porgs… Yes, the Porgs! They’re not 2017’s Ewoks. They’re definitely not Gungans/Jar Jar Binks. They are this year’s equivalent of the hyped BB-8, and justly so! These guys were the sprinkles on top of an already amazing movie. Yes, we have new destinations (Crait & Canto Bight) and other new creatures (Vulptex/Crystal Foxes), and they’re all unique and significant in their own ways… but Porgs! They’ll make you laugh and smile with joy!

SCORE

Story: 9 – Rian Johnson is not only responsible for the directing but also the writing in The Last Jedi (so yes, that means he’s also responsible for Porgs). There’s a lot of weight to carry for a middle Episode, but the story was really captivating, well-paced, and wasn’t a rehash of Empire.
Acting: 9 – Everybody’s performances were amazing. In terms of the legacy characters, I’d be surprised if Mark Hamill doesn’t walk away with some sort of nomination. Carrie Fisher’s last performance was heartfelt and so good. The sequel trilogy cast delivered some great acting as well. Specifically, the transformations that Rey and Kylo go through are epic.
Soundtrack: 10 – I’ll admit, it took me a while to get used to the score in The Force Awakens. It was John Williams but it took me a second to admit that there was new Star Wars music coming! But this time around, I was ready for it. My special edition soundtrack is nearly delivered and I can’t wait because John Williams does it again! After what I found to be lackluster music for Rogue One last year, The Last Jedi is a breath of fresh air! Be prepared for some great homages to his other compositions.
Production: 9 – The use of digital animation and practical effects on the big screen was great. ILM knocks it out of the park every time for Star Wars. There weren’t too many locations in The Force Awakens but we got to explore SO many places in The Last Jedi, which were all done so beautifully. And lightsabers… so many lightsabers…
X-Factor: 9.5 – X-Factor is always the aspect of the movie that stands out that normally wouldn’t. In this case, it’s the humor. There were several “haha” moments in The Force Awakens (which some die-hard fans hated, but I welcome with open arms) and even more in The Last Jedi. Comedy is always evolving and there are things you can laugh at in the Original Trilogy – so of course the style of jokes will change in the sequels. I still enjoyed them!

Overall: 9.3

Remember, there’s still a cloud covering everything (as Master Yoda would say). Not everything has resolved but you definitely feel the momentum in The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson did an amazing job with the story and directing, easily making this one of the best Star Wars films yet! It’ll take me a couple more viewings (starting with a 4D showing in a couple days) to determine how it rates with the rest of the saga, but it’s definitely worth watching over and over again in the theater! But now… it’s time for this review… to end.

P.S. I watched Episode VII seven times in theaters…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is rated PG-13 with a running time of 152 minutes and hits theaters December 15, 2017.

Directed by Rian Johnson.

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, and Laura Dern.

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The Lego Ninjago Movie Review

The battle for NINJAGO City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja, along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu, as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad.

Contains some spoilers…

The Lego Ninjago Movie is the third animated theatrical film from the Lego Group and features characters previously introduced in Lego sets and TV shows. And like The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie tackles real-life issues while still approaching them in a lighthearted way which, in this case, include high school social life and even single parenthood.

Initially appearing to be aimed for children, Lego fans will be pleased to discover that the movie appeals to all ages and not just kids, thanks to quick jokes and references. It even brings back the “human” element that’s combined with the digitally animated bricks (which was missing from The Lego Batman Movie) which merges the real world with the Lego world, making the universe seem cohesive again.

In the movie, the main protagonist Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) is your average high school kid with your average high school kid problems – except that his dad is the “Worst Guy Ever”, Evil Lord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) who terrorizes Ninjago City. The banter is clever & witty, and is only rivaled by the hilarious dialogue between the cast and Master Wu (voiced by Jackie Chan). It was a pleasure to see Chan bring some of that “human” element into the introduction of the movie by also playing Mr. Liu, the shop owner telling the legendary story of Ninjago.

Other “human” elements I enjoyed were the Six-Toed Beast and the Ultimate Weapon. I think you’ll like them too! These were some of the best parts of the movie.

I haven’t seen any of the TV show so I don’t know what kind of background information you need prior to the movie but the beginning of the film does a great job giving you a quick overview of the main characters through “Good Morning Ninjago”, a Lego take on Good Morning America. Once you’re up to speed, the rest of the movie is pretty self-explanatory.

The Secret Ninja Force’s colorful mechs, which sort of gave off a Power Rangers vibe, were fun to watch even though they never combine to transform something bigger. The action was enjoyable but nothing out of the ordinary, and there wasn’t anything that really stood out about the animation this time around, but kids will enjoy all of these aspects regardless. But as an adult viewer, what I think makes this movie charming is the camaraderie and the deeper meaning of why the legend of Ninjago was being told in the first place. What does it mean to be ordinary? It’s the kind of thing that Emmet struggled with in The Lego Movie – fitting in and one’s purpose, which isn’t just a young person’s struggle but something that occurs to everyone at some point or another.

After a couple twists and turns in the story, the movie finishes and you’re left with a trademark Lego feel-good ending along with another buoyant musical number. You’ll want to stay a little longer during the credits to see a brief blooper reel from the opening scene, a la Jackie Chan Stunt Team.

SCORE

Story: 8 – The movie was well-written and though the pacing was at times a little slow, I found that the story was original & entertaining enough to hold its own.
Acting: 8.5 – I really enjoyed the performances of the voice actors. The tone wasn’t monotonous and the back-and-forths were done really well. Some of the lines were a little garbled though.
Soundtrack: 7 – For the most part, the music/score fit really well with the film. Some non-instrumental tracks were used but were pretty forgettable. Though they used Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood in all the trailers, it was nowhere to be heard (which isn’t uncommon for movies to do).
Production: 9 – Digital animation was on par with the other Lego Movies. The martial arts scenes were fun to watch in Lego form, but for some reason I was expecting more. Special effects were executed nicely and the set designs were well done.
X-Factor: 7 – In this case, I’m referring to the humor. Sometimes it felt like it was trying too hard. And I laughed the least in this movie out of the 3 so far… But when I did laugh, it was pretty loud!

Overall: 8.1

There are some good laughs and it’s generally solid family fun. If you’re a fan of the other Lego Movies, chances are you’ll enjoy this one too. If you haven’t seen any of them yet, this is actually a good introduction as well! Even though I didn’t find this installment as funny, don’t take yourself so seriously and just sit back & enjoy… but warning: this movie made me want to go to the nearest Lego Store and pick up a few Lego Ninjago mystery minifigures so if that’s the case, keep a tight eye on your kids!

The Lego Ninjago Movie is rated PG with a running time of 101 minutes and hits theaters September 22, 2017.

Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan.

Starring Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Olivia Munn, and Jackie Chan.

All New AMC “Ultra Lux” Dine-In Theatre (Shops at Riverside, Hackensack, NJ)

The first Ultra Lux AMC Theatre opened today at the Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, NJ. AMC’s latest movie theater offers the feature Delivery to Seat with guest-favorite movie-going amenities in an upscale environment.

With renovations currently going on at the mall, this new AMC is a great addition as a luxury entertainment experience. Walking into this theater is already different from other AMC’s with beautifully tiled floors, upscale decor, elegant lighting, and a lobby rivaled only by posh hotels.

Arrived early? No worries! The lobby is very spacious and if you’re not ordering from the concession stand, sit back and enjoy one of the carpeted seating areas accompanied by a flat screen television.

Standing on lines to order tickets is a thing of the past, and that couldn’t be truer here at AMC DINE-IN Shops at Riverside 9. Not only can you buy & reserve seats on your phone, you can do the same at their ticketing kiosks inside or outside the theater.

Tickets are very reasonable considering the experience you’ll get inside: plush AMC Signature recliners and a comfortable “eat-at-seat” service!

And when you’re ready to order, stop by the food & beverage area to choose from a menu full of amazing handcrafted entrees, appetizers and desserts. And once your order is ready, it’ll be delivered straight to your seat!

Have some time? Grab a drink at the concession stand or the AMC MacGuffins bar (21+) which offers beer, wine, and cocktails that can be enjoyed before, during, or after the movie.

On your way in, don’t worry about those stubs! This Ultra Lux Theatre features ticketless entry. Head on over to one of the 9 state-of-the-art theaters for your show and make your way to your assigned seat.

I’ve been to other AMC DINE-IN Theatres and this one differs most obviously by the aesthetics but also the theater size. Other locations I’ve tried will seat less viewers to accommodate bulkier chairs or more leg room. While AMC DINE-IN Shops at Riverside 9 also has plenty of personal space, it also fits a large crowd inside. Just take a look at this stunning interior:

It’s by no means small and the rows & seats are clearly marked. Every seat is optimized for a clear view of the screen and makes sure your viewing is as comfortable as possible. Here is an example of the recliners, one fully reclined and one fully upright:

Snack on some AMC signature items like the Ultimate Nachos (starting at $10.99) or Poutine Fries ($10.29). Or if you’ve got a larger appetite, aim big with the Asian Steak & Shrimp Bowl ($16.49), Royal Burger ($12.99) or Chipotle Chicken Melt ($12.79)!

Then satisfy your sweet tooth with a Ghiradelli Chocolate Milkshake or OREO Milkshake, but don’t forget to check out the wall of iconic movie quotes before you leave (if you didn’t already on the way in).

“I’ll have what she’s having”

“You had me at hello”

“To infinity and beyond”

But I’ll leave you with my favorite from the photo above: “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU”

My Favorite Christmas Movies

Although Christmas movies are playing non-stop on TV, no need to force yourself to watch ABC Family’s 25 Days Of Christmas or original Hallmark specials on repeat. There are tons of Christmas/holiday movies these days for your binge watching pleasure. And while some may enjoy older choices like Miracle On 34th Street or even Love Actually, others enjoy newer ones like Arthur Christmas or Rise Of The Guardians. But here are my personal classic favorites and why (who knows, maybe there’ll be a new one for you to try out this year!):

5. A Christmas Story

Yes, I know, it’s that time of year where it’s playing on TBS 24-hours at a time. But last year I finally bought my own copy on Blu-ray because it’s such a timeless classic. Even though it looks dated (taking place in the 1940s), it’s actually a 1983 film. Who could resist little Ralphie, his Ovaltine, and “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”… It’s a story where kids might get lost and disinterested because it doesn’t seem noticeably funny at first, but one that adults will totally relate to and love.

4. Fred Claus

If you’re a fan of Vince Vaughn’s signature fast-talking then you’re in luck! It’s him vs. his brother Paul Giamatti (Santa) and Kevin Spacey (the perfect Grinch). Plus, I love the soundtrack. It’s on my annual Christmas playlist on repeat!

3. Elf

What?! You’ve never heard of Elf?! Billy On The Street cracks me up… sometimes. But Elf has become such a classic already, after only (only??) 13 years. It was such an original idea at the time (spaghetti & maple syrup, anyone?) and look at what’s become of all of these actors now! And once you’ve seen it, you’ll be quoting it all throughout the season… maybe even longer: “You sit on a throne of lies!”

2. Santa Clause Trilogy

Ok, I’m cheating a little by bunching all 3 Santa Clause movies together but if you watch one, you just have to watch all of them. Tim Allen’s charm is undeniable. His comedy is all about timing, and it couldn’t be more perfect than when he’s Santa. Sure, there might be some cringe-worthy scenes but that all comes with the Christmas movie territory! If you were a fan of his show Home Improvement or his current series Last Man Standing, you won’t be disappointed. Add a little holiday magic, and this trilogy will “sleigh” you!

1. Jingle All The Way

“It’s Turbo Time!” Just forget for a second that they somehow released a “sequel” and enjoy Arnold Schwarzenegger running around on Christmas Eve to get a Turbo Man action figure for young Anakin Skywalker. I don’t know what it is about this movie, but I watch it every year without fail. Arnold is a domestic hero and saves the day by pulling off an amazing Christmas miracle for his family. And in case you were looking for a nostalgic memento of your childhood by getting your own Turbo Man… forget about it. Sold. Out.

I mean, Arnold, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Jim Belushi as Santa, and even a young Chris Parnell in the clip above (SNL). You can’t go wrong!

Merry Christmas! Grab a friend or a loved one and watch some movies! Santa’s coming!!