REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

20 12 2015

J.J. Abrams is perhaps the chief nostalgist of our time, and he often executes this fascination with such panache that we might as well call him a classicist. The reverence he pays to the films that inspired his own work serves to elevate those movies to a higher cultural plateau. And, as if anyone had not noticed the influence of “Star Wars” on a generation of moviegoers, they have definitive proof in the second relaunch of the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Abrams, working with original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan, finds that sweet spot between paying homage to the old and forging ahead with the new. The film’s action is primarily driven by two new heroes – the orphan girl Rey (Daisy Ridley) soon to discover extraordinary powers and ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) who gains a conscience after witnessing the slaughter of innocence. They go up against a new sinister antagonist in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who works in tandem with the eerily fascist politician General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

Yet for all these new characters, there are also the old ones there in supporting roles – Han Solo, Luke and Leia Skywalker, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2 are all back. John Williams’ score livens up the film. The Millennium Falcon is back. Heck, Abrams even maintains the distinctive wipes and editing transitions from the original Lucas films. Anyone who feared drastic change in the series with the passing of the reins ought to be more than reassured by “The Force Awakens.”

The coexistence of the old and the new provides every bit as much tension as the plot, which I will continue to avoid discussing in any depth lest I reveal a spoiler. (I kept my head in the sand as much as possible regarding “Star Wars” news in order to experience the film with as fresh of eyes as possible, and it paid off.) Yet even with Rey and Finn as the primary engines of action in “The Force Awakens,” the film feels practically like a mirror image of the original 1977 “Star Wars.” This was no doubt intentional, I assume, but the amount of bowing Abrams performs before the mythology of the franchise keeps his film from standing as tall as it could.

Certainly future installments in the new “Star Wars” will go deeper and bolder, making an even greater case for the series’ relevance and importance. For now, though, this served its purpose to reawaken the vanguard of longtime fans and excite a new generation. I must say, I am on board for what comes next. B+3stars

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REVIEW: Cowboys & Aliens

27 07 2011

From the very beginning of Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens,” a very uneasy unevenness settles on the screen.  The movie feels torn between whether to be an alien invasion movie that happens to be set in 1870s New Mexico or a Western movie where the villains happen to be aliens.  Rather than make an executive decision and splice the genres, Favreau settles for an unhappy medium, vacillating back and forth between which of the two he’d rather use for the particular scene.  The resultant jumble is just that, a movie that haphazardly joins various elements from both genres to create a bitter hodgepodge that barely satisfies on basic entertainment levels.

The film basically glides by plotlessly for nearly two hours, floating on the very thin premise that feels like an infantile idea to begin.  Combining cowboys and aliens sounds like a game played by a five-year-old when his mom throws the “Star Wars” toys in the Lincoln Logs bin.  It might be fun for a little while as the two clash, but we eventually come to the realization that the novelty can’t sustain, much like that child probably would as well.

The kids-at-heart writing this story, otherwise known as the guys who gave you such wide-ranging projects as “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” the television show “Lost,” “Children of Men,” “Iron Man,” and the unforgettable classic “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist,” have the attention span of that five-year-old child.  They fail to take the movie anywhere worthwhile past the original jolt of imagination that inspired them to combine the two worlds in the first place.  Once they get the whole thing assembled and need to get the plot rolling, they abandon it to play with Legos and leave the movie going on autopilot.

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REVIEW: Morning Glory

11 11 2010

Morning Glory” centers around the fictional morning talk show Daybreak, which is in fourth place in the ratings behind The Today Show, Good Morning America, and “whatever CBS has in the morning.”  In the realm of movies centered around talk shows, this Rachel McAdams vehicle falls among the ranks of Good Morning America in that spectrum.  It has heart and makes for some undeniable fun, but the familiarity of the story and premise make it difficult for the movie to have the resounding emotional impact it so greatly desires.

It’s less a story about the newsroom as it is about the woman running it, Becky Fuller (McAdams), a career girl who is so focused on her job that she bumbles through every other aspect of her life.  It’s just as easy to be inspired by her drive to return Daybreak to glory as it is to be off-put by McAdams’ phoned-in performance.  She is so overly kinetic and frantic that it feels awkward.  I’m a huge fan of her work, so I was surprised to find myself reacting so aversely to her charms.

Without McAdams in full force, the rest of the movie has to pick up the slack, and, for the most part, it does.  What the script lacks in originality it makes up for in humor, through both great lines and on-air moments that recall some of the most YouTube-worthy news anchors of our time (I’m talking to you, Grape Lady).  The diva aspect is totally nailed as well, particularly shining through Diane Keaton’s prima donna anchor Colleen Peck.  We rarely get to see the aging actress anymore, and she spins every line into gold.

It’s particularly great to see her quarreling with Harrison Ford’s Mike Pomeroy, an aging Dan Rather-type anchor with no time for anything but what he deems “serious” news.  Ford plays him as a sort of gruff Walt Kowalski from “Gran Torino” with the intimidating deep voice and booming temper, which sometimes borders on excessive.  Yet Ford is far from bad, still managing to find ways to make his interpretation work.  He delivers the emotional climax of the movie, which the script bungles, and saves it from being a total disaster, quite a feat in itself.

There’s a lot to enjoy about “Morning Glory,” and while that doesn’t include great thematic depth, this isn’t the kind of movie that requires it to be successful.  It’s a great ball of fun, warm and fluffy, that will hold up very well on repeat Sunday afternoon viewings on TBS.  And as far as unoriginal movies go, this is about as good as they get.  B