Knee-jerk review: "Spectre"

1. It's way, way too long.  And there's about three endings.  But this is common practice nowadays for Hollywood tentpole franchise movies.  Guess they want audiences to feel like they got their money's worth so they won't stay home with Netflix.
2. We liked it.  
3. In fact, we may have even loved it.  The last Bond movie - Skyfall - had perhaps a more emotional undercurrent, but we hated the ending.  The one before that - Quantum of Solace - was decent, but suffered from the WGA strike that forced filmmakers to proceed with a half-baked script.  So you'd probably have to go all the way back to the stripped-down, slam-bang Casino Royale in 2006 to find a more enjoyable Daniel Craig Bond movie.
4. Fantastic fight scene in the train.
5. Who knew Ralph Fiennes could be an action hero?
6. The tradition of music stars recording the theme songs continues its slow slide into irrelevant, unmemorable oblivion, Adele's "Skyfall" being the only recent exception.  Has there been a truly catchy one since Duran Duran's silly "View to a Kill" earworm in 1985?
7. Daniel Craig cuts an imposing figure.  Despite his reported disinterest in continuing as Bond, he owns this role in a way no one's owned it since Sean Connery.  Stout, suave, unflappable.
8. Fantastic fight scene in the helicopter.
9. Does the white cat make an appearance?  We don't understand this new trend in which filmmakers play coy with audiences regarding a main character's identity.  Everyone knew Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and no one's going to be shocked when Christoph Waltz announces that his name is Blofeld.  It's a cool twist, but not one that need to be preserved at all costs.
10. We are now fans of Lea Seydoux, just as an FYI.
11. Have you ever actually gone to a bar and asked for a vodka martini shaken, not stirred?  Probably should be on our bucket list.
12. What's most fascinating about the movie is the way (even as the series continues to pursue Bourne Identity-style gristle and grit) it's harkening back to the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan era of 007 excess.  Spectre offers more old-school Bond fun than previous Craig titles.  Most notably, you get a villain with endless army of henchmen in a secret lair - bonus points for the secret evil board room meeting - and proof that Bond is simply (and somewhat illogically in one instance) irresistible to women within moments of meeting him.
13. How can audiences resist the exotic, affluent travelogue nature of these movies?  Bond globehops from Mexico to London to Austria to Africa, all of it while driving the fastest cars, wearing the finest bespoke fashion, and staying at the best hotels.  Here's a free pitch to the Travel Channel: a tie-in with MGM and Eon to make a series about where Bond has visited on his adventures.
14. Somewhere someone's surely written a critical studies paper on the need to kill villains with freefalls from high places.  Why is that so satisfying (because it most definitely is)?  Is it the fact that it takes so long to fall, thereby drawing out the punishment?  Or is it the gruesome, presumably painful nature of splatting on the hard ground that delivers catharsis in a way a knife or bullet can't?
15. Plane sliding down a snow-covered mountain.  Awesome.
16. Worth your while.


Knee-jerk review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

1. Now that's what we call a Star Wars movie.
2. It's not flawless, but it's got way more passion and emotion than those horribly sterile and labored prequels George Lucas foisted on us.
3. There's no way to describe the giddiness, is there, we all feel when that fanfare strikes up and up pops the yellow Star Wars logo on the starfield? That's what dreams are made of, right?
4. We all just got to watch Daisy Ridley become a star.
5. Who wouldn't want to steal a TIE fighter?
6. The most interesting characters were all of the new characters, which surprised us.
7. We certainly didn't miss C-3P0, who's barely in the movie but still overstays his welcome.
8. The villain Kylo Ren is particularly fascinating to us, especially the way he's prone to preschool-style temper tantrums.
9. That is one bad-ass name you got there, Poe Dameron.
10. Who wouldn't want to steal the Millennium Falcon, sit in that pilot chair, and reach around flipping all those mysterious switches?
11. Nice rapport between Ridley and costar John Boyega.
12. BB-8 is amusing and cute, but not in a cloying, cheesy way like the Ewoks.  Or in a transparent attempt to appeal to kids, like the international waking nightmare that was Jar Jar Binks.
13. There are surely other ways intergalactic bad guys can prove their bona-fides besides blowing up planets.  This is the third Death Star in seven movies.  Not very imaginative (but we do give begrudging points for pulling power from a star).  Ditto the way the good guys try to destroy the weapon.  But then again, if it ain't broke... 
14. And as much as we like Ridley's character, sticking her on a desert planet is just too much of a callback to Tattooine.  Why not keep her scenes all as is, but just make Jakku a grassland planet or a mountain planet?  But then writer Lawrence Kasdan didn't ask us for script notes.
15. It's those kinds of retreads of previous Star Wars elements (like Ren's silly Vader mask -  he's just as scary when he takes it off) that make this movie a kind of fanboy mashup.  As a friend put it - it's part remake, part sequel.
16. But it moves with energy and purpose and leanness.  There's no denying that.  It's exciting and offers good surprises and twists.  Two developments in particular made our jaded, seen-it-all mouth drop open. 
17. That stands in stark contrast to the loud, chaotic mess that was the Star Trek Beyond trailer that preceded the movie.  Yuck.  That reboot franchise makes money, we suppose, but what a disappointment overall.  Sci-fi as tent-pole action.  But we digress.
18. Han Solo has a bigger role in the plot than we expected.  By the way, "Chewie, we're home" isn't even his best line.
19. There's something odd going on with Carrie Fisher's voice.  You can discuss the hows and whys amongst yourselves.
20. The final two minutes are undeniably goosebump-worthy.  Epic and sweeping and mythic in a Lord of the Rings sort of way.  We're excited to see what the next two movies bring.  
21. And what they'll look and feel like without J.J. Abrams.  He's okay, but not what we'd call a visionary.
22. We went in wanting to like it very badly, but worried we would be very disappointed.  We weren't.  We liked it.