[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2017

 

Hey folks, another year has come and gone and here we sit, at the end of it, looking back on what was. 2017 had some truly great films and I’m going to count down my top ten today.

Just a couple notes before we get into all this:

  • These are my personal top ten films of the year from the many I have seen. I judge the films from my list in their success as a film in what they are trying to accomplish.
  • I haven’t seen all the movies released in 2017. If you read this list and find that something is missing, let me know, drop a comment, and start the conversation. Everyone loves a good recommendation.
  • Due to some of the heavy-hitters of Oscar season still on the way, this is a tentative list and it will change as more limited release films open up.

There, with all that out of the way, my Top Ten Films of 2017.

 

  1. Wind River

-I was not entirely excited about Wind River. That’s not to say anything wrong about the marketing, but I didn’t know anything about it and, living in an area with intense cold several months of the year, I wasn’t all that interested to see it in the summer. Thankfully, my other plans fell through and I ended up at the theater. Wind River is the powerful tale of a murder on an Native American Reservation and the unlikely duo who team up to solve the mystery. It’s been said a lot but this is Jeremy Renner’s best performance of his entire career. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario) jumps into the director’s chair this time around and crafts a tightly-paced and shocking look at these characters and their world. It’s emotional, exciting and thought-provoking in every stroke.

 

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is an incredible new addition to the Star Wars lore for the simple fact that it surprised me. I haven’t been genuinely surprised in a Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Writer/Director Rian Johnson created a follow-up that subverts expectations while simultaneously honoring what has come before and driving forward on a new path. Not everyone loved it (someone once said that the people who hate Star Wars the most are the fans) but I enjoyed it for all the reasons that others didn’t love it. It’s exciting, emotional, and funny, and I cannot wait to see it again.

 

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

-With Thor: Ragnarok, Director Taika Waititi and Marvel Studios have given the public the closest thing to a new Flash Gordon that we are likely to get. A rollicking 80s road-trip style space movie with everyone’s favorite god of thunder and his pal the Incredible Hulk,  Ragnarok embodies the best of what the MCU has to offer, an incredibly fun and riveting blast of a film that stands on its own while contributing to a larger narrative. In Hela, we get an interesting villain with ties to Thor, and new characters like The Grandmaster, the Valkyrie, and Korg keep the thrills light and fluffy.

 

  1. Okja

Okja is one of the best films that Netflix has ever released. It is a strange tale, a unique tale, a funny-at-times tale, and a heartfelt tale. It’s the story of a girl and her superpig Okja. The company that created Okja , Mirando, has invested a lot of money in crafting a creature that is environmentally conscious with a minimal carbon footprint that tastes great, and now they plan on harvesting Okja to make billions for themselves, but Mija is not about to let the company take her friend. The film is one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time, but thanks to top-notch directing from Writer/Director Bong Joon-Ho from a great screenplay by him and Jon Ronson, Okja is a powerful ride from beginning to end.

 

  1. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a film made for the theater experience. I was lucky that a colleague of mine got tickets to the 70mm/IMAX presentation and I was floored by the majesty of it all. The scenes in the air were breathtaking. The sequences on the beach were thrilling. The scenes on the boat were emotional. The whole film experience was astounding. Then, I watched it again when it hit home video. The film is still exhilarating. Even with the loss of the massive screen, this is a tightly-packed narrative that has so much going on but still feels so focused.

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049

-Who would’ve guessed that a sequel to a cult classic sci-fi thriller would be good? Blade Runner 2049 is even better than the original! How the hell did that happen? Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) takes what works about the original film and crafts a companion piece that stands on its own and connects really nicely to the original film. Blade Runner and its sequel become two sides of the same coin, a breathtaking double-feature that is well worth the lengthy runtime. Harrison Ford returns as Deckard and joins Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, providing some of the best work in either of their careers.

 

  1. Lady Bird

-Greta Gerwig directs Lady Bird with such realism that it brought me back to a time in my youth when I was very much like Saoirse Ronan’s Christine. This incredible coming-of-age story feels like it’s the first of its kind in a world where dozens of similar films are released each year. The terrific chemistry between Christine and her mother is palpable and real. The film wanders through Lady Bird’s life as she encounters situations that many of us have been through in this interesting semi-autobiographical look at adolescence from a fantastic up-and-coming director.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes

-How the hell did Planet of the Apes craft one of the best trilogies of all time? How does that happen? Matt Reeves takes on his second film in this franchise following Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and after having seen a few times, I can honestly say that War tops it. Andy Serkis is an actor who deserves performance credit for his role as the immensely complex Caesar, and he is matched on the battlefield by the chameleon that is Woody Harrelson, a man that can be joyful in one instant and terrifying in the next. Matt Reeves should be considered one of the hottest acts in Hollywood right now for his recent track record, and I look forward to his take on The Batman (if it ever does happen).

 

  1. The Big Sick

The Big Sick has been a critical darling since it was released in early 2017. The story, based on true events, is a dramedy based on the relationship of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily. The movie mixes emotion and comedy to present one of the best and truest representations of love I’ve ever seen. The performances in it are all fantastic, especially Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. The Big Sick has a lot of award consideration and I’d be more than happy to see it take away some Oscars when the time comes as it hasn’t had a wide viewing outside of the general film community, and a few statues may help with that.

 

  1. The Shape of Water

-I hadn’t even heard of The Shape of Water at the beginning of 2017. In fact, it was only during an interview for The Bye Bye Man that Doug Jones even dropped he was working on a fish romance film with Guillermo del Toro that I even knew of the film’s existence but little else. Thankfully, late last year I was able to catch a screening for the film, and I just fell in love with it. I had always said that Pan’s Labyrinth would likely be del Toro’s masterpiece, but The Shape of Water is just so personal and lovely and strange and beautiful that I couldn’t get it out of my mind long after my initial viewing. Doug Jones, like Andy Serkis, won’t garner awards recognition for his work here and that’s a shame. Thankfully, Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon turn in career-topping work here and the film is getting a lot of talk now. See this movie. It’s the best film of 2017.

 

Well, there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I look forward to #2018oscardeathrace to begin, and I may see a few favorites get knocked off as I continue catching up on what I missed in 2017, but overall, it was another great year for films. We’ll see you in 2018 (which is like, right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Incredible Blade Runner 2049 Trailer Likely to Capture Fans and Newcomers

So we have our official Blade Runner 2049 trailer. After the interesting for short teaser a few months back, the first theatrical trailer is here and it is glorious.

The trailer gives us our first look at Jared Leto as replicant manufacturer Wallace in a conversation with Ryan Gosling’s Officer K. There are also a few moments showing off Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Ana de Armas, but the trailer focuses heavily on the world of 2049 as well as revealing a bit more of the meeting of K and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

And what a world this is. Set three decades from the original film, the trailer shows not so much a different world but one that has advanced even more since Ridley Scott’s film, and Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t look to disappoint in the awe factor.

So what do you think? Will you be seeing Blade Runner 2049? What’s your favorite Denis Villeneuve-directed film? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017

 

Okay, folks, I’m a little late on this one, as I’ve already seen a few of 2017’s early films. But don’t worry, I made this list almost a month ago and am just now getting the chance to write it up for you. So, let’s start off with a point.

  • This list is most anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to at the beginning of the year, so there will be a lot of bigger blockbustery films because that’s Sundance is just now happening and the other big Oscary films haven’t premiered yet. So with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

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Star Wars Episode VIII

  • Whatever the title may be, I’m so excited to pick up with the further adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Luke, and Leia in Star Wars Episode VIII. It’s also a bittersweet film for me personally as it is the last time fans will see Carrie Fisher as their general. It means so much for fans to have that connection, one that many have felt since 1977. But there are many things to be excited for in Episode VIII. More revelations about Snoke, seeing Luke back in action, and new characters played by Benicio del Toro and Laura Dern. What’s not to love? Have I even mentioned director Rian Johnson? So excited!

 

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Alien: Covenant

  • I may find myself in the minority here, but I really enjoyed Prometheus. I had issues with some of the plot points, but the film made me yearn for more from this universe, and this year, we get it in full force with Alien: Covenant. I reported years ago about the then-titled Prometheus 2 having no Xenomorphs. I’m glad that director Ridley Scott changed his mind on that are we are getting Alien proper. Add in Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, James Franco, and a return from Michael Fassbender as android David and you have a recipe for one hell of a film. At least…I hope.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

  • I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but I absolutely loved Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Talk about a film that services fans both big and small. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of the best films of 2014 and remains a powerful work of art. Director Matt Reeves returns to helm War for the Planet of the Apes, and after Dawn, Cloverfield, and his remake Let Me In, I’m overjoyed to see what he does with this franchise next. Add in the extremely underrated Woody Harrelson to match the mo-cap performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. This is an opening night kind of movie.

 

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Kong: Skull Island

  • The fact that Skull Island is actually happening is pretty impressive. The fact that the trailers look amazing is even more so. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts adds some lovely flair to this story of 1970s-set Kong tale with John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, and Tom Hiddleston. I only hope that the focus is on Kong and not set-up for the eventual match between the King of Skull Island and the King of Monsters, Godzilla in a few years. I’m thankful this one is coming out around my birthday so I have an excuse to drag everyone I know to this movie with me.

 

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It

  • As sad as I am to be missing Will Poulter as the titular creature and Cary Fukunaga behind the camera, I’m still very excited to see this new R-rated take on Stephen King’s classic story. It is a fascinating look at fear itself as a beast targeting children. Splitting it into two films scares me only for the concern that we may not get the conclusion we want if the first isn’t successful. Thanks to Stranger Things from last year, I do not believe that to be the case, but hopefully a trailer drops soon to help convince film-goers to spend their money.

 

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The Dark Tower

  • While we are on the subject of Stephen King, the long-gestating adaptation of his behemoth series The Dark Tower is almost upon us. Starring Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, there has been a lot of confusing information being thrown around about what the film is actually going to concern itself with. With producer Ron Howard helping shepherd the film, I trust that it will be a hell of an experience, but I hope it will also bring in casual moviegoers with its marketing campaign. I’ll be there opening night, and I hope you join me.

 

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The Mummy

  • Cinematic universes are such a big thing right now that many fail to realize the first universe created was the Universal Monsters universe with films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula. Universal hopes to ignite a new fire in their monsters with The Mummy, the first in a series of monster movies aimed at bringing these creatures out from the darkness. After the first attempted failure of Dracula Untold, write Alex Kurtzman took directing duties with powerhouse producer and star Tom Cruise set to introduce the female mummy played by Sofia Boutella to the world. Aided by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll, Cruise’s Nick Morton must save the world from an ancient and malevolent princess recently awakened. Count me in.

 

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Thor: Ragnarok

  • I’m only picking one Marvel film this year and that’s because I really love Thor. I love Chris Hemsworth. I love the Hulk. I love Mark Ruffalo. I love director Taika Waititi. I just love everything I’ve heard coming out of this film. I cannot wait until November to see how this all plays out. Yes, I get it. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 will be pretty great. Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot riding on it. But Thor…Thor is my favorite film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I’m just dying to see him suited up, especially after that [SPOILER ALERT] post-credits scene in Doctor Strange.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

  • I’m pretty late to the Blade Runner game, having only recently falling in love with the original film from Ridley Scott (Final Cut for the win!), but with Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival, need I say more?) behind the camera and original scribe Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 looks to be serving up some excitement heading towards its October release. It’ll be exciting to see original star Harrison Ford back in the fold with Ryan Gosling joining him. Another situation here of what’s not to love about this movie? Much in the way of The Force Awakens, there’s just so much to be excited about after being absent from these characters for over 30 years.

 

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God Particle

  • Lastly, we get to the strangest entry in this list. God Particle is apparently the third installment of the Cloverfield series, and after only last year discovering that there is a Cloverfield series, its safe to say that something interesting is happening here. Now, the film was pushed back to October for reasons, and the IMDb page has updated with the title Untitled Cloverfield Anthology Movie (2017), I can only wonder when news will come of this tale featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, and David Oyelowo. One thing I can say: J.J. Abrams is insane.

 

SO there you have it. What film are you most excited for in 2017? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Star Wars Days] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Director: Richard Marquand

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

131 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #72 (as of 4/21/2016)

 

Another year, another excuse to celebrate Star Wars. Hey everyone. Today we are taking a look back on the only Star Wars film we haven’t talked about yet, Return of the Jedi.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) is still in the clutches of the vile Jabba the Hutt. As Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness) and company hatch their plan to rescue him, the Empire is slowly working on the creation of a weapon more powerful than the original Death Star. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, The Lion King, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) and his master, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) oversee the final touches on the weapon and a final confrontation is set into motion uniting father and son in an epic battle as the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance in this final film of the original Star Wars trilogy from director Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Eye of the Needle).

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Originally titled Revenge of the Jedi (but then later renamed as Jedi do not take revenge), Return of the Jedi is solid conclusion to the original trilogy. By tying up the remaining plot threads very expertly set up in the previous two films, Return of the Jedi makes an argument for being one of the best installments of the series. The performances from our main three stars are great, the confrontation with Palpatine is filled with excitement and dread, and the redemption of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, The Lego Movie) doesn’t feel overtly forced. The creature effects ranging from Yoda to Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb (yeah, look it up) are pretty amazing for the time period.

That being said, a true Star Wars fan knows his faults, and I have few…

The use of cutsie-ing the series with Ewoks seemed like an odd choice. Not really bad, but definitely odd.

The film spends a bit too much time on Endor. Just saying.

And it contains the one frustration I truly have with the Special Editions (the removal of Yub Nub, I didn’t mind the added scene in its place, but could we not get one freakin’ Yub Nub???)

Now, back to the positives. The entirety of the opening act on Tattooine? Amazing! Perhaps the best piece of storytelling in the film!

The sound, effects, and score? Cannot say enough greatness, especially about John Williams and his ability to craft new pieces with every film that add to the mythology and create a richer musical vocabulary. Just incredible.

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So, all in all, as I continue on my Star Wars Marathon, I was happy to take a pit stop on Return of the Jedi. The film is often thought of as the weakest of the original trilogy, but I think that is more of a testament to how terrific this series is. Were we not destined to have more films, I would have been more than content at this final chapter (I’m not against more, though, so please continue to deliver, Lucasfilm).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #74 (as of 1/24/2016)

 

I’m still a little shocked that I’m sitting in my chair writing a review for a NEW Star Wars film, here in 2015. It’s a strange feeling knowing that the stories that inspired me to tell stories are back and big and (hopefully) glorious. Well, I won’t waste time covering all that I love about this franchise, and I’ll leave that to the previous reviews that you can check out below. Instead, let’s just focus on the elephant in the room: Is The Force Awakens any good?

Happily, yes.

It’s been thirty years since the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the villainous Emperor and his disciple Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness, Kingsman: The Secret Service), the face of the rebellion, is missing. In his absence, the Empire has reformed into the First Order, and new evils Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Age of Ultron), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time, The Revenant), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) have brought their special form of tyranny to the galaxy. Leia (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, Sorority Row) has dispatched rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) to find her missing brother. As Poe finds new allies in ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), they begin to uncover the mystery of Luke Skywalker’s location.

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I’m going to leave the plot details to this, which is probably too much already, but you probably should’ve seen the film by now. Where have you been?

So let’s look to our director, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness). While the film has been criticized as being too similar to parts of the Original Trilogy, I found it to be more of an homage of where we’ve come in this franchise and where we are going. The Force Awakens is a transitionary film, and a lot of that can be credited to Abrams, plus most people forget about all the new elements to this film.

The film relies a lot less on the seasoned performers than I’d thought. Instead, we meet so many colorful characters to liven up the franchise and move it forward. Daisy Ridley is the most impressive to me as Jakku scavenger Rey, who finds herself in a much lonelier place that Luke Skywalker did at the beginning of A New Hope. She lives a solitary life on the planet of Jakku, where she steals from the relics of the previous Empire and uses it to survive on the desolate desert planet. Her emotional resonance as a forced heroine is astounding and impactful and her character is the strongest female we’ve seen in this franchise so far.

Also throw in John Boyega, who provides a nice amount of true terror and comic relief without becoming a stock character. Finn has to deal with a life he learns he doesn’t want, and while I feel like the start of the film doesn’t do him justice, he grows to be lovable by the film’s climax.

Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver aren’t novice performers even if they aren’t exactly household names, and both turn out incredible performances as Poe and Kylo, two opposite ends of a spectrum. Poe could be a repeat of Luke but becomes something entirely different. Kylo Ren could just be Darth Vader 2.0, but the film is as much his origin story as it is Rey’s, and Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is angry, spiteful, emotionally unstable, and mentally broken, which makes his character’s evolution something very interesting to see in the film.

Now, our returning actors are top notch as well, and of them, this is Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) film. It’s nice to see Ford really giving it all to this franchise again, and even his relationship with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, Killer Ink, Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Journey) has grown and changed in the past three decades. On that note, Chewie gets a lot more development in this film than I expected.

Abrams isn’t afraid to bring something new to this franchise (and I don’t mean lens flares, though there are a few), and that can be seen from his choice in cinematography and editing. Though this feels like a Star Wars movie, it has a lot of updated choices to its camera movement and pacing that add to the excitement.

John Williams returns to the franchise, too, and his score, which has been nominated for an Oscar, is astounding. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of new music Williams created for the film, which has its cues in the themes we’ve had before, but so much more, and it makes him deserving of the gold statue.

From a production standpoint, it’s easy to see the attention and care given here by the use of practical effects, which also elevate the visual effects and style of the movie throughout.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an awakening to the entire franchise, bringing us back to that childhood wonder of the original film while scoring a path to future adventures. It angers me that I find myself more excited for the next installment because of how much I enjoyed this one. Now, the film is imperfect in a few ways. I didn’t feel like every new character landed the way they were intended to, and some of the film’s most climactic moments (in the spoilery territory) faltered and their impact lessened. That being said, I found myself nitpicking Episode VII because of how much fun the movie was. Why haven’t you seen it yet? If you have, why haven’t you seen it again? Go. Go now!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

[Top 250 Friday] 12) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

124 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award (for visual effects)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

iMDB Top 250: #12 (as of 6/3/2015)

 

On the very short list of the Best Sequels of All Time, The Empire Strikes Back is pretty darn close to the top. Director Irvin Kershner (RoboCop 2, Never Say Never Again) brought not just the best installment in the Star Wars franchise, but also an amazing science fiction epic.

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It has been three years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and the Rebels destroyed the Death Star. While Luke heads to the Dagobah System to train with the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz, TV’s The Muppet Show, Zathura), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally, Maps to the Stars) evade the malicious Empire while trying to find somewhere to hide out when they come across Cloud City and Han’s old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, Barry Munday).

Kershner presents Empire as a dark continuation of the Star Wars Saga. Luke is challenged in his furthering of his Jedi abilities with Frank Oz puppeting the creature Yoda in a great performance of the little green Jedi Master (there was even a campaign to win Oz the coveted Oscar for an acting role), while Han and Leia are tested in their abilities to trust, both one another and those close to them as they carefully avoid detection by the enemy. New to the series, Billy Dee Williams handles his role capably and intermingles into the cast with ease.

The film is beautifully shot and looks just as nice now as it did 35 years ago. Ben Burtt displayed some great new sound effects for this film, setting a new standard for sci-fi while setting itself above the rest. The film is also perfectly paced. I could watch it ten times in a row and it would still flow well.

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Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series (and also the only one not written by George Lucas). It proves that some films can best their predecessor. The film, now 35, is still an amazing piece of cinema.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

 

[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley

Screenplay: Adam Cozad, David Koepp

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

 

Jack Ryan has lived a lot of lives. First, there was The Hunt for Red October, where Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin. This was the first in a series of films based on Tom Clancy’s popular character. The chronology continued into Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, where Harrison Ford took on the Jack Ryan role. Years later, the character was revived in a reboot called The Sum of All Fears, starring Ben Affleck. Apparently, that reboot didn’t go over too well, and now Director Kenneth Branagh (1994’s Frankenstein, Thor) has revived him yet again in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a generic and somewhat cliché reboot that is sure to be rebooted yet again in a decade or so.

Chris Pine (Star Trek, Rise of the Guardians) is Jack Ryan this time around, and this reboot focuses heavily on his first mission and inciting character moments. Jack is recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves, Draft Day) to work for the CIA, complicating matters with girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Laggies). The relationship dynamic is completely void here, and Knightley comes off like a wasted draw. I’m far more convinced by the connection between Cathy and Viktor Cheverin, the film’s central villain, played by Director Brannagh.

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The plot here is more suited for an hour-long spy television show from the 1960’s, and has few scenes even worthy of remembrance. Brannagh gets some nice cinematography which compliments the action set pieces nicely enough, but there just isn’t much here to go on. A beginning to a franchise this film is not, the screenplay is more like several stories weaved together, with dialogue and random character development scenes thrown in. For your money, see something with more Oomph! This just isn’t it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) on IMDb

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