[#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.

April 2015 Preview

 

Happy April! Let’s look ahead to April’s film releases, starting with…

 

Furious 7

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In Paul Walker’s final film role, the seventh adventure in The Fast and the Furious franchise follows Dom and Brian are being hunted by Owen Shaw’s brother Deckard, played by Jason Statham. The last few films in this franchise have just gotten better and better as they embraced the auto theft story over the street race plots. It also features director James Wan diverting from his horror roots to take on an action pic, which I’m feeling good about.

 

 

Woman in Gold

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Woman in Gold features Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, a holocaust survivor who fought to retrieve a portrait taken from her during the Nazi invasion of Vienna. I enjoy Mirren’s work but I feel like this film has a supporting cast likely to fail, specifically the dreadful Katie Holmes. Ryan Reynolds too is hit or miss so I can’t guarantee anything.

 

 

The Longest Ride

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I am so sick of Nicholas Sparks movies. They are all pretty much the same and I intend for that to be a criticism in every possible way. The Notebook was pretty good, but everything since feels like a carbon copy.

 

 

Child 44

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Tom Hardy stars as an MGB agent investigating a series of child murders in the Soviet Union. I recall great things being said about the novel, and the cast here is filled with capable performers. I’m thinking yeah.

 

 

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

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Paul Blart doesn’t deserve to be captured on film. The original film didn’t and neither does this one. It’s a shame that quality films are going to be passed over for this dreck. Please, for the love of all things sacred, skip.

 

 

Unfriended

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I love a good stylistic horror film, but Unfriended, about six people connected to a high school girl’s suicide one year prior, are hunted during a Skype chat, seems like its suspension of disbelief will ask too much of me. I’m not feeling this one.

 

 

Little Boy

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Does anybody think this movie looks good? It is the story of a young boy who will do whatever it takes to bring his father back from WW2. No. No. No.

 

 

The Age of Adaline

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I’m liking the idea of a romance film with a hook. Most of these films don’t work out well, but for some reason, I think The Age of Adaline has a chance.

 

Final Tally:

Best Bets: Furious 7, Child 44

On the Bubble: Woman in Gold, Unfriended, The Age of Adaline

Likely Misses: The Longest Ride, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Little Boy

 

So there you have it. See you in May!

-Kyle A. Goethe

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