App Review: Angry Birds Star Wars (iOS)

Apple has a lot of great apps to offer in their very popular App Store. I have played a wide range of games, and have really narrowed my favorites down to a select few in each app category. In the case of games, “Angry Birds” is right at the top. Rovio’s newest Birds release brings us into the world of Star Wars, which we are all very familiar with. What I loved about “Angry Birds” from the beginning was that it is a very fun, and very simple game to navigate. That being said, there are a lot of very challenging levels. It’s one of those games like “Super Mario Bros.” that looks innocent, and then as you make your way deeper into the game, you want to throw your iPhone (or console) across the room because the game is so tough. So, the challenge factor definitely exists, even for hardcore gamers.

They do a very good job on bringing the world of Star Wars to iOS. I appreciate how creative they got in assigning the Birds and Pigs we are used to playing with, to different Star Wars characters. Above, we see Luke Skywalker as the bird that we start out with in the game. Aside from Luke, we have really every character that should be in the game. We have Luke, Han, Leia, Chewy, C-3PO, R2-D2, and then on the dark side we have Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Tie Fighters, X-Wings, and we get to play in various locations such as Tatooine, the Death Star, and soon they will be updating the app to bring us the ice planet of Hoth.

 

One aspect that I find challenging that we do also find in the Space version of “Angry Birds” is where you are slinging the birds into different bubbles that carry their own gravity. You really have to aim just right to get the job done. It can get frustrating, but that is part of the challenge of the game that users enjoy.

I have always enjoyed the design of the characters as well. These are what I would call “time waster” games, but they are very addicting. So, user beware! It is also a big battery drainer. I have taken my battery down from full charge to 50% in one sitting of playing this game. Ya, it is that fun. And this latest installment is not exception.

 

It’s fun to see all the different ways Star Wars manifests itself in the retail market. It seems that Star Wars products are available in every direction we look. This game is a great addition to the vast collection of Star Wars related material, and should be downloaded without hesitation, even for the most casual of gamer.

 

-David B. Harrington

Skyfall

We have now enjoyed 50 years of James Bond, and I have to say, they celebrated in the right way! There are a lot of reasons I go to see movies. And the fact is that James Bond films (this one included) are just plain fun! I remember when I first started collecting films almost 15 years ago, I watched “Thunderball” with Sean Connery. I was really taken in, and started watching other Bond films. To be honest, I really stuck with the Connery films, and have only broken outside of that to see the Daniel Craig films, and one or two with Pierce Brosnon.

“Skyfall” finds James Bond tracking down ¬†Raoul Silva ¬†(Javier Bardem) who wants revenge against M for betraying him years earlier. Raoul plots his revenge by attempting to take down M-16, where M’s office is located. After an explosion occurs at the building, and it is identified as an act of terrorism, Bond does all he can to keep M safe, including taking her to Skyfall, which is a location that is owned by the Bond family. They are attacked by Raoul and those employed by him, and M must face him face to face. Bardem plays his character really well. He has a creepy air about him that follows him from role to role. “No Country For Old Men”, one of my favorites flaunts a very creepy Javier Bardem, who is a lot more quiet and ruthless than this film, but he still brings a lot to the plate here.

I will keep from spoilers in this review, and just say that the film is worth watching, even if it is just to see the ending. This does also bring an end to Judi Dench as a part of the cast. She has been in several Bond films now, and will be missed. She is a character we have gotten used to, and has that certain quality to her that offers a lot to the Bond films. Bond is ready for more at the end of the film, as he reports ready for duty, which is great in the sense that we have more Bond films coming, which probably anyone could have guessed. I hope it continues with Daniel Craig, as he is a great fit for the character.

This might be the best movie in the long-running tradition of the Bond series, or at least it gives any other entry a run for its money. My personal favorite is “Goldfinger” which was a lot of fun to watch, and really pulled me in to want to watch more Bond Films, which I definitely look forward to even past “Skyfall”.

-David B. Harrington

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2

 

The wildly popular “Twilight” series by Stephanie Meyer really ignited the visibility of vampires in pop culture. We see them in film and TV more than we have in a long time. Abraham Lincoln is even slaying some Vampires of his own. I can’t say that I am sad to see this particular series coming to an end, because I’m not. That being said, this series is what it is. There is some good story, but that is coupled with some really horrible acting at more than a few points. This series would never win any awards, and you will never find its synopsis in a film history class textbook years down the road. But, with some popcorn and a drink, and maybe a box of Sour Patch Kids, these movies aren’t a complete waste of a couple hours.

In the final installment of the series we find Edward and Bella with their daughter Renesmee (I know…weird name, right?) with the rest of the Cullen family, and of course Jacob. The main plot point in this film is the Volturi pursuing the Cullen family for the birth of Renesmee, as she is thought to be immortal, when in fact she is not, because Bella was pregnant and gave birth to her when she was still human. For Edward and Bella to have had their child when they were both Vampires would have been a sin punishable by death of their child. So, the Voluturi are notified of this child, and come to deliver justice.

The Cullen family go all over the world to gather together some of their greatest Vampire friends. Jacob also gets the wolf pack together to help defend them. Now, before I get into what happens after this, there is a really strange plot point that left me shaking my head. Jacob imprints on Renesmee, meaning that he has chosen her as a mate. So, Jacob couldn’t make it with Bella, so he pairs up with her daughter. Creepy. Now, back to the story. After the Cullens gather together the troops, they go to the meeting place where they are to confront the Volturi.

**Spoiler Alert**

There is a battle that ensues even after the Volturi discover that Renesmee is not immortal. People are killed, including Carlisle and Jasper. And then, we come back to before the battle happened, because what was actually happening was Alice was showing Aro his future if he were to pursue battle with them. In that vision he is one that dies. So, they leave, and all is well.

Again, I am not a huge fan of the series, but it does have its elements, and its moments that I find enjoyable. That being said, this was not the ending to the series that I was expecting. I should mention I did read all of the books except for “Breaking Dawn”. So, I didn’t know what was coming. Die hard fans of the series might find the ending enjoyable which is a flashback montage of Edward and Bella, and all they have been through together, and then the end credits show all of the characters from the full series over music. For me, the cheese is too heavy, but for fans of the series, I would check this film out.

 

-David B. Harrington

Flight

 

Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) and Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”) team up in bringing a really interesting story to the big screen. The previews for this film had a different feel than what was actually delivered. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a pilot who is piloting a commercial aircraft from Orlando to Atlanta. What ensues is a mechanical failure of the plane. Whip has to think on the fly (no pun intended) and land the plane. There are over 100 people on board, and through some kind of miracle, he lands the plane in a field, although the plane splits in half, and one of the wings snaps. Only 6 people on board (2 crew and 4 passengers) die. Whip is looked at as a hero, but what follows is a long road for Whip. He is brought to trial for his condition when flying the plane. He has a long history of alcoholism, and is found to have been drunk when flying the plane. The film looks in depth on the impact that Whip’s alcoholism has had on his life, and the impact it could have on his future, and in the context of the plane crash, whether his issues had an impact on the lives lost on the plane.

I most certainly saw this film going a different direction than it ended up going. That being said, I think Denzel Washington delivered a great performance as a human struggling to get past his addictions. What he did on the aircraft was most definitely miraculous. At one point, he had the plane upside down to buy himself some more time to land. But that really is beside the point here. He was drunk when he boarded the aircraft he would be piloting, and that was the bottom line. But the real focus here is how Whip struggles to own up to the mistakes he has made, and the true impact that his alcoholism has had on his life. He is divorced, with a son who acknowledges him as a drunk, and wants nothing to do with him.

**Spoiler Alert**

I really enjoyed the evolution of Whip’s character, and the realization that he comes to that he does need to own up to his actions. He sees the impact he is having on the most important people around him. And as he says, he feels like he hit his limit of lies in his life, and he simply couldn’t lie any more. So, he tells the board that is questioning him that he was drunk when he flew the plane, and that he is an alcoholic. For this, he goes to prison. His son visits him and brings a recorder, because he is completing college entrance essays. He asks his dad who he is, and proceeds to record him. This is where the film ends.

This film brings to question the conduct of human beings and what we see as acceptable and unacceptable. The tricky thing in this situation is that Whip did save a lot of lives, but there was also the issue of his condition upon entering the plane. I feel like everybody has their dark secrets, their secret addictions or issues that they suppress. To own up to those things is sometimes the hardest thing. In this case, we have a person who took a step back in the heat of the moment (being questioned) and saw where he fell short. And he knew what he needed to do. He had to clear his conscience, because he could no longer live under the dark cloud of his addictions.

I like what Robert Zemeckis did here. He really does well with human stories. I think back to “Cast Away” and the profound impact that film had on me, that tomorrow is another day, and that “the sun will rise”. The end of this film had the same impact on me. We all have the ability to own up to who we are and how we conduct ourselves, and that that conduct does not only impact us, but those closest to us as well.

 

-David B. Harrington

Reboot vs Remake

We can always look at our calendars on Friday, and know that there are movies that will be hitting theaters. The question I have is regarding those movies that are reboots and remakes. Now, let me differentiate here. A reboot is taking a movie and redesigning the characters and the story, and the overall world that they exist in. It is a Director taking a project, and saying “I can make this better” or, “I can give more back story to the original film, and make it my own”. A remake is more of a lateral move with little change to the original film. The question is, do you prefer a reboot or a remake?

I am one who appreciates originality, but there are some instances where a reboot or a remake work out quite well. I personally prefer a Director who can make a film their own. I don’t have as much interest in the remakes. Christopher Nolan is a great example of a Director who has intense originality (“Inception”) but who can also take a very well known character and world and make it his own, and do a damn good job of it (Batman)!

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer reboots or remakes? Or, do you prefer complete originality all the way through?

 

-David B. Harrington

The Man With the Iron Fists

 

I went into this film not knowing what to expect. This isn’t typically my genre, but I wanted to give it a shot, and broaden my scope a little bit. I can’t say it paid off. “The Man With the Iron Fists” is a strange film. The bottom line here is that there is a treasure that is being sought after in China. There are a few different groups of bandits and warriors and a soldier (played by Russell Crowe) who want to get their hands on it.

Jack Knife (Crowe), the Blacksmith (played by RZA, the Director) and Zen-Yi, the X-Blade (played by Rick Yune) all join together to stop the bandit forces from taking the treasure. The Blacksmith is our man with the iron fists. He is brutally handled by the group of bandits knows as “The Lions” by having his arms chopped off. So, being the extraordinary Blacksmith that he is, he enlists the aid of Jack Knife to make a new pair of arms made out of iron. By centering himself and his inner chi, he is able to control the iron arms/hands as normal. The X-Blade’s father was killed, and so he is pursuing the bandits as well. One by one, the three take out the bandits.

This film really hailed back to the old Kung Fu films with the cheesy dialogue and the excessive violence. We definitely get all of that here. For someone who enjoys this genre, which requires a very specific taste, then maybe this film is worth it for you, but for me, it was a miss all the way around. The dialogue was very hard to handle for an hour and a half, and even when they were trying to be funny, I just gritted my teeth. The violence was definitely over-the-top, with arms and heads being cut off, and blood spraying farther than most can throw a baseball. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but it was bad.

I can’t offer a recommendation here, even for a Redbox rental. As a Directorial debut for RZA, I can’t say that I am anxiously awaiting his next film. Sorry dude!

 

-David B. Harrington

Halloween (1978)

 

In 1978, independent filmmaker John Carpenter, in companionship with Debra Hill wrote what would become one of the most iconic horror films ever made. Produced on a very modest budget, compared to current or even past standards, the production team really had to work hard with what they had. The product was a film that has lasted 34 years and counting. The haunting score which Carpenter also produced is a tune any fan of horror films is certain to know, and have stuck in their head after watching the film.

Newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis, who had really only seen bit roles in some TV shows such as “Charlie’s Angels”, “Columbo” and “Operation Petticoat” was given the role as Laurie Strode, a character that would be seen throughout the whole “Halloween” franchise. Donald Pleasence (“The Great Escape”) plays Dr. Sam Loomis, who looks after Michael Myers, the killer in the franchise (played in this film by Tony Moran), also known as “The Shape”.

The story starts in 1963 at the Myers residence in Haddonfield, IL. Michael’s sister is messing around in the house with a boy while her parents are away for the night. After the boy leaves, Michael makes his way into the house after being outside. He proceeds to the kitchen where he grabs a knife. He finds a clown mask and puts that on, and proceeds up the stairs to his sister’s room. Here, he stabs her to death. He goes back down the stairs and out the front door, bloody knife in hand. His parents are making their way into the house and stop him, and take off his mask. They can’t believe what they see. The scene cuts.

The story picks up in 1978, 15 years after the original incident. Dr. Loomis is going to pick up Michael from the mental hospital with another hospital attendant. What they find is some of the patients loose on the grounds. Michael Myers has broken out and takes the car from Loomis and the attendant, and drives off. He knows that Michael is making his way back to Haddonfield. This plays into the tag line of the film, “The night he came home”.

Laurie and her friends are planning their night. The friends want to bring over some boyfriends to the houses they are babysitting at, and mess around. Laurie, a lot more reserved is simply going to carve Jack-O-Lanterns with the kids and make some popcorn, making it an easy night. But that was the last thing it would be. Michael makes his way back to the neighborhood where he lived and stalks the babysitters, picking them off one by one. However, Laurie survives, as well as Dr. Loomis, but the film ends with Michael being shot off the top balcony of a house by Dr. Loomis. He makes his way to the balcony to look at Michael, and finds that he is gone. The film ends.

Halloween” is a very important film in a lot of ways, namely in that it was the film that really kick started the slasher genre. Franchises such as “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” would follow.

There were many things that Carpenter did really well with the original film. The way he directed Tony Moran in his role as Michael Myers was one of those high points. Moran wasn’t sure how he should even walk across the street when pursuing the babysitters. Carpenter directed him to “just walk”. This is part of the character that is so frightening, is that he isn’t in a dead run after these people. He simply locks on his target, and makes his way to them. It looks natural, and carries a lot scarier feel to it.

The theme song to the film is another important aspect to consider. It is a simple few notes that are played in such a way that it sends chills down your spine, especially when Michael is making his pursuit. A lot of the films that are made these days that carry the high budgets and the complex scores just don’t live up to this. It goes to show that creativity goes a long ways, and can have a great impact. The interesting thing to note is how this simple film created a series that has lasted over three decades, and still carries the same classic, scary feel with it that it always has.

“Halloween II” also written by Carpenter and Hill but Directed by Rick Rosenthal continues straight off of the end of the first film. So, the first two really feel like one complete film. The second film is great and has also lasted the test of time, although the first of the two films is where the real recognition is due. The several other additions to the franchise don’t pack as much of a punch, but are fun Halloween popcorn movies. While there are some great scary movies that are made in the modern age of film, “Halloween” will always hold its place in history as one of the pioneering forces in the genre.

 

-David B. Harrington