Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015) review



    The Force Awakens is a film worth the hype built for it. The thrilling action keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, almost making up for the ambiguous backseat given to more specific detail of story. The film is in no way bad, but lacking, if not even separate from, the same spirit of the previous original Star Wars films. The Force Awakens feels more like its own film than an addition to the franchise, recapturing as much of the previous magic as it could through sly references and familiar faces.

PLOT: Without going into too much detail, the plot and story revolve around the First Order (a. k. a. The Empire) searching for BB-8, a droid with the map to the hiding place of legendary hero and Jedi Luke Skywalker. The Resistance (a. k. a. The Rebel Alliance) is the only group of opposition aside from the modern new hope, a scavenger named Ren (Daisy Ridley) and a rebel stormtrooper nicknamed Fin (John Boyega). However, with a new hope comes a new evil: a power-hungry Sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whose primarily in charge of the new First Order. This is as far as I'll go to prevent spoilers for the desperate fans. The plot's actual story was well intended, but not very well thought out. I was left with so many questions as so many aspects of background development were missing. The audience, like in most Hollywood action films, is dropped in a situation they know nothing about and are expected to pick out the main characters and guess their motives and backstories. The audience is delivered with little character development and explanation, even with the opening credits recapping past events. No one knows or seems to want to explain why things have become the way they are. However, if one neglects the finer details of the story-line and focuses more on the plot's execution (a. k. a. the action and comedy), one will have a more thrilling time indeed. The plot's execution is stellar, with nail-biting action keeping the audience awake and ready for anything and clever references to the previous films keeping the nostalgic viewers laughing. Though lacking in a developing story, the plot finds its saving grace in its enthralling action and well-spread references.

ACTING: The performances in this film are pretty stellar. One aspect where there is little room to be picky in is the casting and performances. The newer lead roles of Daisy Ridley as the intelligent scavenger, Rey, John Boyega as rebel stormtrooper, Fin, and Adam Driver as the evil Sith, Kylo Ren are excellent. Each puts a piece of his or her own self into the role, which is clearly evident by the real, quirky, natural, and serious dispositions of the film's characters. Other shining members of the new cast were Andy Serkis as First Order Supreme Leader Snoke, Oscar Isaac as rebel pilot, Po Dameron, and Domhnall Gleeson as the First Order's chief-in-command, General Hux. Each of these actors portrayed their new roles just as excellently as the main characters. Another positive thing about the cast is the cameos of some of the classic cast, including (SPOILER WARNING) Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and a very brief Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. The old cast feels like a sight for sore eyes, knitting themselves snug into the story just as if they never left, especially Ford and Fisher, who seem just as playful and loving as in the original trilogy.

SCORE: The score is just as memorable and classic as in the original films, done by none other that the great composer, John Williams. Williams, being a veteran of the Star Wars franchise, weaves a score so perfectly preserved and high-energy that even the most skeptic fans tilt their ear to the sound and smile.

EFFECTS: The special effects are definitely well done. One thing I appreciate about this film in relation to other action and sci-fi films of its time is not strictly using computer graphics for all its visual effects. Aside from the explosions, space fights, and wild creatures, most effects are done with make-up and costume design. The more intelligent aliens look real and just as tangible as they did in the days of the original trilogy. In attempting to preserve the classic film feeling, the directors did right with the special effects.

OTHER CONTENT: The Force Awakens is all a casual film-goer could ask for: nonstop action, clever references, and enough tragedy in the story to drive it. However, this film isn't a hundred percent what the true Star Wars fans could ask for. We have plenty of action, wit, and hype, but it falls not only in the story as I mentioned earlier, but in its structure and intent. The Force Awakens is so caught up in the Hollywood hype that it follows its typical formula: a thrill ride of action with little droplets of story leaking through so the watcher actually comprehends what's going on. The film tries so hard to reconnect with the past movie magic of the original trilogy that it almost falls flat in trying. In fact, the film feels like its own separate entity. In trying to reconnect with sentimentalists of the franchise's magic, the film's makers and writers distance the film so that it feels more different than even the prequels. There are many familiar faces and clever references in the film, but it almost feels self-satirizing, as if this weren't another chapter to the famous franchise but its own spin-off. Even in the film's imagery, showing the classic craft and characters old and dust-covered just symbolizes how this is an entirely new entity. Now don't judge me wrong, the film is nowhere near bad. To increase the emphasis on this point, I'm going to repeat again THE FILM IS NOWHERE NEAR BAD. The driving action, new additions, and clever references are still a breath of fresh air into a franchise once dead. The film isn't all the true Star Wars fan could want, but its just enough for us to be satisfied in our complex fandom. Who really knows though? This could just be the A New Hope to another Empire Strikes Back, which would clarify all we need to know in grave detail.

     Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is definitely worth the hype, but nothing too much more than that. If one goes for nail-biting action, clever references to the old films, and a simply nostalgic breath of life into the series, one would be greatly satisfied. However, for the picky Star Wars fan, this seems like a tad over subpar to the movie magic in the original trilogy. The character development and inner story is greatly lacking, leaving several questions of why and how and losing them in the monotonous formula for a blockbuster Hollywood film. The new Star Wars is not bad at all. In fact, it's super stellar. The force is with this one, though it is but a padawan, having much to learn.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) review


     More than just a charming holiday classic, It's A Wonderful Life teaches one of the most valuable lessons of life in a distinct, warm way, making it likable for everyone. There's enough feel-good moments to satisfy the casual moviegoer and enough dark moments of realism to satisfy the analytical critic. Perfectly-done performances and solid direction make the film as truly wonderful and effective as it wants to be. 

PLOT: George Bailey (James Stewart) has had a major impact in his friend's and family's lives though he doesn't realize it. From saving his little brother's life and a drugstore manager's job to managing the money and housing of several locals including his family, George has left a major impact on the town in which he lives. In fact, his family business, the Bailey Building and Loan is the only one with enough honor to run independently from greedy businessman, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). However, George has a a bad day on Christmas Eve when his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses his business' money for the bank examiner and gets the business in trouble with the law. George, after lashing out on his family and getting in a fight at the bar, debates throwing himself off a bridge, prompting his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to travel to Earth to save him. After the two begin talking, George says he wishes he would've never been born, which Clarence makes a reality to prove to George that he's had a major impact on his society. Now, George must navigate this alternate world and realize his worth under the guidance of his angel, Clarence, yearning to earn his wings through this task. The plot is very well done with just enough charm and with to balance out. There's an ample balance of everything in this film. There's enough moments of uplifting Christmas charm to match the moments of serious reality when George debates his existence. The film proves to be just as much a holiday film as a basic fundamental lesson for a good life. 

ACTING: The performances in this film are very excellent for their time. James Stewart steals the show as the main character, George Bailey. Stewart plays the role as natural as if he were living it, making it as iconic as it is fitting. Other great performances came from Lionel Barrymore as greedy Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as forgetful Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence the angel, and especially Donna Reed as George's wife, Mary. The two had a very visible chemistry in the film, setting the standard for cinematic romance with memorable dialogue and charm, as well. 

SCORE: The memorable score done by obscure, foreign composer Dimitri Tiomkin, is quite warm and elegant, like that of most cinema in its time. However, the film does bear a fairly memorable end scene with a simple rendition of "Auld Lang Syne". 

OTHER CONTENT: During this time, this film was probably peaceful message to everyone, giving off the Christmas spirit most had yearned for. It's A Wonderful Life is just what it wishes to be: wonderful. Even though it gets dark at times, it finishes with a feel-good feeling outdoing any other Christmas film to come. The film is its own Christmas Carol, molding the dark to make the light, which is what the holiday feeling is anyhow: being light in times of dark. 

     It's A Wonderful Life is a must-see holiday film for audiences of all ages. There's enough Christmas charm for the sentimentalists, enough dark seriousness for the more critical, and enough meaning for the skeptics. The film presents a perfect balance of all cinematic elements, letting it become just as effective a stand-alone film as a Christmas film, which is what is truly wonderful in the end.