[Oscar Madness Monday] Straight Outta Compton (2015)

straightouttacompton2015a

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff

147 mins. Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

Who would’ve thought that Straight Outta Compton would be an Oscar contender? 2015 was great.

straightouttacompton2015b

Straight Outta Compton is the story of NWA, specifically Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, Keanu, Broken City), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins, Non-Stop, Romeo and Juliet), and the effect that they made on the music industry in the 1980s and 90s. It also tells of NWA’s involvement with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, Sideways, Ratchet & Clank), the manager of the group.

Straight Outta Compton seemingly came out of nowhere. I didn’t think it would be very good. I was wrong. This was more than just a fun movie. This was excellent film making. To be honest, my immediate dismissal of this film came from F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen). I enjoyed The Italian Job somewhat, but I absolutely hated Law Abiding Citizen. So I wasn’t too keen. I was, as I said, wrong.

The best elements of the film, though, come from the leads. Jackson, Hawkins, and Mitchell were all amazing, and their performances were aided by Paul Giamatti and his pitch-perfect portrayal of Jerry Heller.

straightouttacompton2015c

Straight Outta Compton chooses to cover every side of the beginnings and ends of NWA and everything in between. This movie is a lot of film. It runs a bit lengthy, so spend some time to watch this behemoth. It is worth it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

secretintheireyes2015a

Director: Billy Ray

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina

Screenplay: Billy Ray

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.

 

Secret in Their Eyes is an American remake of a 2009 Oscar-winning foreign language film. The original 2009 film is a celebrated masterpiece (honestly, this writer has not seen the original film, but hey, I just watched the remake), and the remake stars three big players in the acting world. What could go wrong?

secretintheireyes2015b

Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) and fellow investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts, Notting Hill, The Normal Heart) respond to a report of a body found near a mosque they are monitoring back in 2002, three months after 9/11. When the body found is Cobb’s daughter, their lives are forever strained and torn as Ray finds his allegiance to a counter-terrorism task force pulling him away from uncovering the truth about the murder. He is further tormented by the love he has for superior Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, Before I Go to Sleep). Years later, Ray’s lust for answers brings him back to the case and a shocking realization he isn’t quite ready for.

Secret in Their Eyes starts out interestingly enough. I really wanted to uncover the truth after a fantastic scene where Julia Roberts becomes hysterical at the sight of her daughter’s body. After that powerful sequences, the film comes to a crashing halt as the film seemingly goes nowhere for the next ninety minutes. Damn, it got boring real fast.

Ejiofor and Kidman are barely awake in their roles, and Roberts bounds between incredible performance and out-of-tune dialogue that she cannot latch onto. It would seem that Secret in Their Eyes has everything going for it, and yet nothing here works. Writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) has a poor screenplay and cannot seem to handle his actors, even while maintaining moments of sheer beauty in the cinematography and the occasional gripping sequence.

secretintheireyes2015c

Overall, Secret in Their Eyes struggles to find a purpose, even after having tailored itself to a tragic period in recent American history. The film scours for reason and just cannot find it. Everything that it tries to accomplish is outdone by a similar film Prisoners, which came out back in 2013. The performances are bland and the story goes nowhere. A true disappointment.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Green Room (2015)

 greenroom2015a

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier

94 mins. Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content.

 

I’m hardly the first person to see Green Room. It premiered last year at Cannes to solid reviews. But, I was lucky enough to be a part of an advance screening last night, and let me tell you, it was worth it.

greenroom2015b

Green Room is the story of a band called “The Ain’t Rights” as they, desperate for income, pick up a quick gig near Portland, which they quickly discover is a skinhead Neo-Nazi bar. When Pat (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) goes back to the green room to collect a cell phone, he unknowingly stumbles upon a horrific scene, and now, he and his bandmates are in for the fight of their life, holed up in the green room as the skinheads, led by Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart, TV’s American Dad, Ted 2) attempt to tear them apart in order to cover their tracks.

Green Room is absolutely intense during the entirety of its 94-minute runtime. I found my hands shaking and sweating as I reeled in my seat. Anton Yelchin is a great lead as the de facto brave leader of the band. His guttural performance left me with chilled to the bone. On the other side, Patrick Stewart plays a monster in a man’s body as the ruthless villain Darcy. He gives such a creepy and nuanced performance without falling into cliché.

Imogen Poots (Need for Speed, Knight of Cups), who also appeared with Yelchin in the Fright Night remake a few years back, plays Amber, another witness to the murder in the green room, and she finds herself joined up with The Ain’t Rights for survival. Poots gives great work as Amber and provides an uneasiness to her unhinged character.

I saw director Jeremy Saulnier’s early film Murder Party, and while it has been some time, I recall enjoying that one quite a lot, though in tone the two films find themselves somewhat distanced. Saulnier’s screenplay gives out some awkward chuckles that relieved me in between the moments of sheer animosity. Even with the comedic elements, the shock and horror felt unrelenting. The faults with the film line up with a simple setup made somewhat more confusing at the beginning. It took me a bit longer than it should have to put the pieces of this film in place, but it didn’t detract from my viewing.

GREEN ROOM

I’m happy to say that Green Room is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a theater in some time. I really enjoyed myself and cannot wait to see what this filmmaker has next. His use of top notch performances with a terrifying environment in a film I’m not sure I can even compare to another. It was a great time at the movies and an exhilarating experience overall.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Daddy’s Home (2015)

daddyshome2015a

Director: Sean Anders

Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini

Screenplay: Brian Burns, Sean Anders

96 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language.

 

Will Ferrell (Step Brothers, Zoolander 2) is a polarizing comic actor. To most, he creates comedy gold, but his comedy makes no apologies and doesn’t try to win over his detractors. I, personally, enjoy Ferrell more than chastise him, so what did I think of his newest flick with Mark Wahlberg (Boogies Nights, Entourage)?

daddyshome2015b

Brad Whitaker (Ferrell) is happy to be a father. Well, er, stepfather. His beautiful wife Sara (Linda Cardellini, TV’s ER, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has two children, and since Brad can’t father his own, he is more than happy to be a surrogate parent to them, but just as Brad is beginning to win them over, the family receives a call from actual father Dusty (Wahlberg), who is coming to town. Afraid to lose his family, Brad attempts to stand his ground with Dusty, but can Brad be the tough guy that Dusty? Can he be the real daddy?

Daddy’s Home is a simple premise, one that is fairly relatable. The problem is that it can’t decide what type of comedy it wants to be. When a film runs on for some time before making me laugh, I had a tendency to count the number of times I actually chuckle. Four. Four times. The movie just isn’t funny. I admire the comedic elements of the script, but they just don’t work for Ferrell’s comedy chops, and Wahlberg falls flat on every joke. There isn’t a ton to like here.

Linda Cardellini is a funny actress, but she has nowhere to play here, and the cast is joined by Thomas Haden Church who appears to pick up his cell and is actually phoning in a performance (okay, not really, but did he even learn his scenes?).

daddyshome2015c

Daddy’s Home has elements that work; there are just too many other elements that don’t. I want to like it, but the sad truth: director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, That’s My Boy) just can’t seem to find a funny bone, and the film suffers from it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Brooklyn (2015)

 brooklyn2015a

Director: John Crowley

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Saoirse Ronan]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

It seems that every Oscar season, a film comes along, usually with a Best Picture nomination, that I just don’t think will be any good. Some years, I get pleasantly surprised (thinking Philomena here) and other years, I get The Grand Budapest Hotel (which, I get it, many of you enjoyed, but I most certainly did not). This year, that film was Brooklyn. But do I have a winner here or more of the dreckish variety?

brooklyn2015b

Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Lost River) as Eilis, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The film follows her leaving of Ireland and learning to adapt to the American lifestyle. It also shows her finding love in Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Gambler), a nice young Italian man she meets, and how their relationship is tested by her family, her situation, and her past. In comes Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a more comfortable alternative to Tony and Eilis finds herself in a painful position where one heart is destined to be broken.

Brooklyn feels from the surface like a film we’ve seen before, and in fact, from the very beginning, I was doubting its ability to keep me interested. Indeed, it did take me about 10 minutes to be absolutely sucked in, and I was. The film’s pacing picked up almost immediately and didn’t drop off.

Saoirse Ronan commands the screen in her portrayal of Eilis, a young woman torn between the promises and duties she has been tasked in life. Eilis is a woman who doesn’t not own her life at the beginning, but she learns to take charge in order to survive.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson play two perfectly opposite sides of the coin, each presenting Eilis with an entirely different complete with pros on cons. Both actors seek to aid Nick Hornby’s (An Education, Wild) excellent screenplay.

brooklyn2015c

Lastly, the musical score is a beautiful bow to place on this film, which pollinates multiple genres without truly sticking with just one. Brooklyn is a wonderfully nuanced and performed film with a terrific script backing it up. Saoirse Ronan may not walk away with the trophy for her work here, but Brooklyn is another great showcase of the young actress’s multi-layered skills.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

 cinderella2015a

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

cinderella2015c.png

The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

cinderella2015b.png

Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

 whathappenedmisssimone2015a

Director: Liz Garbus

Cast: Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite, Lisa Simone Kelly

101 mins. Not Rated

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

whathappenedmisssimone2015c

Netflix certainly has their documentary game down. This is the third consecutive year where Netflix has a doc in the Academy Award race.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the 2015 look at the life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone and lifelong journey she takes. The film is packed with performances and interviews with Nina and her family/friends/acquaintances alongside previously unseen footage from the entertainer’s life. It paints a mixed portrait, sometimes uplifting, often tragic, of Miss Simone’s world.

I’ve known about Nina Simone’s music for some time, and I’ve often found her to be a terrific musician. I did not know much about her from a personal standpoint. Much of the documentary is interesting but I did find it to drag at times trying to get the most out of its runtime. The pacing is off, and the film does suffer because of it. The look at Simone’s career and activism does remain unbiased, though, in areas where it would be all too easy to drag in one direction.

whathappenedmisssimone2015b

Looking back on it now, it seems an all-too-fitting film to be a part of the Oscar race. In an Oscar race where people look to the #OscarsStillSoWhite actors but fail to see the powerful documentary about the African-American activist and the ethnicity of the people behind the cameras of some of the best films of the year, and while I didn’t exactly love this picture, I agree that it is an important film for our time and very fitting for such a world that we live in.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Spectre (2015)

 spectre2015a

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth

148 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Writing’s on the Wall”)

 

Well, let me assure you by saying that Spectre is the third best Bond film…featuring Daniel Craig (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin). Okay, I’m playing now.

Spectre opens with one of the single most impressive shots and sequences of the entire Bond franchise, due in large part to the masterful directing of Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Away We Go). Sadly, it is the film’s best moment, and while the rest of Bond 24 is exciting, it is missing something.

spectre2015b

James Bond has lost someone very close to him. In her place, he now has M (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Invisible Woman), who has bigger fish to fry when MI6 comes under political scrutiny. While M and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later…, Southpaw) try to protect the organization, Bond is off to discover the mysterious plans of the criminal syndicate known as SPECTRE, and his connection to its apparent leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Big Eyes). There are a lot of spoilers to stay away from, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Sam Mendes described Bond’s dedication to uncovering SPECTRE as a more focused passion, and if that is the intention, I did not see it. Daniel Craig feels bored in this entry.

Christoph Waltz brings a healthy dose of fear to the villainous Oberhauser, and his henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) feels nicely reminiscent of Oddjob from the glory days of Goldfinger, a much better version of homage than the way Die Another Day beats you over the head with it.

Fiennes, Harris, and Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, In the Heart of the Sea) as Q do their collective day’s work nicely, but the film rests far too much on a personal story for James, and Craig’s best work is when he is being tortured.

Director Mendes gives us a gorgeous Bond film, even after losing the incredible Roger Deakins to other projects. In his place, we get Hoyte van Hoytema, who does some better than expected work but fails to properly convey his visual medium to the story correctly. It isn’t easy, and he certainly tries.

In Bond girls, we get some of the most well-crafted Bond girling from Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and some of the most underutilized work from Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Revolutions, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).

spectre2015c

Maybe that’s the problem with Spectre. It’s just so uneven. There are some truly incredible sequences, and there are some snoozy moments. It just didn’t keep me the way previous entries have. Not a bad Bond film, but a step down for the franchise, its director, and Craig (who gave us better work this year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; oh, you didn’t know that?).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Spectre? What’s your favorite James Bond movie? Let me know!

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

 starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015e

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.

starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015c

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.

starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015d

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.