Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Starring
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis
Director
J.J. Abrams

Resurrect a beloved name and attempt to relaunch a franchise? No sweat. Extreme pressure was riding on co-writer/director J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Expectations are more than high for the film, and while this sequel doesn’t quite recapture the glory of the old days, if often comes very close.

“The Force Awakens” is both a retread and a callback to “A New Hope.” Rey (Daisey Ridley) follows in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): she’s an orphaned scavenger on a desert planet, Jakku, and she’s torn between her home and exploring the galaxy. Her life changes when she meets the adorable BB-8, a droid hiding a secret for the best damn Resistance pilot in the sky, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). A conflicted Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) crosses paths with both Poe and Rey, but most of “The Force Awakens” is about those two, as well as the pair of recognizable faces they team up with along the way: Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Even before Han and Chewie appear – and what a wonderful reveal it is – “The Force Awakens” is undeniably a “Star Wars” movie. The film recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy, as it should. The tangible environments, practical creatures and stakes are “Star Wars” through and through, but more than that, it’s the sense of joy, pain and adventure that Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, bring to this sequel that makes it “Star Wars.” This series has always been about friendship and family, and “The Force Awakens” doesn’t forget that, even if some of the relationships aren’t very well defined.

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Movie Review: “Ender’s Game”

Starring
Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis
Director
Gavin Hood

Much like the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic book miniseries “Watchmen,” Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi military novel “Ender’s Game” was deemed unfilmable by the author for years. But just as Zack Snyder found a way to bring “Watchmen” to the big screen, so too has Gavin Hood with “Ender’s Game.” Despite having never read the novel myself, it’s easy to see why Hollywood had so much trouble adapting the source material, because although Hood has succeeded in some respects, it feels like a more streamlined version that’s missing a lot of the complexity that made the novel so revered in the first place. It’s like “Harry Potter” meets “Full Metal Jacket,” and while that’s certainly an intriguing mash-up, the movie doesn’t quite live up to the book’s reputation.

Following an attack on Earth by an alien species known as the Formics – in which millions of people were killed before a brave fighter pilot single-handedly defeated the enemy fleet – the planet’s military leaders have begun planning for their return. At the forefront of the defense effort is Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who runs a program training gifted youngsters with the best tactical minds in the hope that they can lead Earth to victory should the insect-like Formics return again. One of the program’s newest recruits is 12-year-old outsider Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a brilliant strategist whom Graff believes has the potential to save their entire species. Sent to an orbiting space station for a boot camp called Battle School to train with the other top recruits in a series of physical and mental challenges, Ender is pushed to his limits by Graff to prepare him in time for the next attack.

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Movie Review: “42”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Andre Holland
Director
Brian Helgeland

Every time Hollywood releases another civil rights sports movie, it calls to mind comedian Bill Burr’s funny bit about white guilt, because audiences have been inundated with so many of these films recently that they’ve begun to lose the potency of their message. Of course, if you are going to make another civil rights sports movie, the story of Jackie Robinson is pretty much the definitive version, so it’s surprising that only one other film (“The Jackie Robinson Story”) has been made on the subject, and that movie starred the famous baseball player as himself. It’s probably because no matter how inspiring Robinson’s tale may be, he’s not a particularly interesting figure apart from his contribution to history, and that’s something that director Brian Helgeland constantly wrestles with in “42.”

Unlike most biopics, the film only covers three years of Robinson’s life, beginning in 1945 when he was still playing in the Negro league after serving in World War II. Spring training has just begun and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) has decided to make the bold move to break the color line and bring the first black player into the National League. Initially assigned to the Dodgers’ minor league team in Montreal, Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) must overcome immense racism from both the fans and his teammates, much to the concern of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) and black sports journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), who’s aware that there’s much more at stake than Jackie realizes. But instead of lashing out against his detractors like everyone is expecting, Robinson lets his talent do the talking on the baseball field, eventually earning a spot with the Dodgers and leading them to the pennant in his first year.

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