Tag Archives: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

May The LGBT With You

I’m Christian, I’m straight and I want more gay characters put on film.

After the horrible shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a petition was recently created to put more gay characters on film in honor of those whose lives were lost. More specifically, they’re petitioning that gay characters be introduced in the upcoming sequel to the 2016 science-fiction epic Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

This idea might seem too radical or progressive for most of conservative America, especially when you look at the overwhelming majority of heterosexual protagonists in today’s films. Yet, I think now is the right time to introduce gay characters into mainstream film culture, and Star Wars is the perfect franchise to do it in.

According to a 2015 Gallup survey, 63 percent of Americans think homosexuality is morally acceptable. 60 percent are also in favor of same-sex marriage. Both numbers are a massive increase from the respective 38 and 35 percent numbers in the 2002 survey.

In other words, not only is homosexuality growing in America: its support is growing just as fast.

This provides an opportunity for Hollywood, an opportunity that means much more than just cultural impact. Earlier this year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed over two billion dollars, a rare achievement that it shares with Titanic and Avatar. That’s significant for more than just the number. Out of all of the films that grossed over a billion dollars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the few to have a female protagonist, and one of the even fewer to have a black protagonist. Finally, the Hollywood myth of the tall, muscular white protagonist selling more tickets is debunked through a female jedi and an African-American stormtrooper taking on the galaxy.

We’re moving in to a day and age where diversity is not only supported- it sells. For Hollywood to stop the train now while at the peak of its popularity is only selling itself short.

Why do I care about all this? I’m not an active supporter of gay rights, nor am I socially inclined towards the LGBTQA agenda. What stake do I have in the sexual orientation of our favorite movie characters?

Simply put, I want something different. For years, I’ve had to stomach the same images of a white, heterosexual actor running from explosions, driving cool sports cars, shooting firearms, kung-fu fighting bad guys and making out with hot supermodels. I’m sick of the pretentiousness. I’m sick of the same moldy, tired, regurgitated images, and I’m sick of seeing the same Tom Cruises, Mark Wahlbergs, Ben Afflecks, Bruce Willises, Matt Damons and Liam Neesons doing the same crap over and over again. 2015 was a diversity revelation not just with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but also with Mad Max: Fury RoadStraight Outta ComptonThe Hunger Games and many others.

While I’m personally not a supporter of gay rights, I am a supporter of human rights. That means representing the human race in its entirety, with all of its diversity and uniqueness intact.

I love movies. I love Star Wars. But more important than either of these, I love period. So does the homosexual community. We love all of these things, regardless of our sexual orientation. Why can’t we share our love of these things together?

– David Dunn

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A White, Not Golden, Statuette

The Academy Awards are not racially prejudiced. Hollywood is racially prejudiced.

After the Academy named 20 white actors for the best acting categories, controversy erupted as movie lovers felt the Academy wasn’t being inclusive enough. The hastag #OscarsSoWhite was started. Filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith announced their plans to boycott the awards ceremony. Even the Academy’s own president Cheryl Boone Isaacs voiced her own disappointment, saying it’s “time for big changes.”

What these dissenters fail to realize is that the Academy is only a mirror to a whitewashed movie industry. It’s only recently that people have begun to open their eyes to see the bigger issue going on here.

Just look at some of the individual categories for the Oscars. Say, best director. From 1929 to 2015, 87 awards were given to filmmakers who aimed to fulfill their visions to the fullest capacity. Yet, out of all of these winners, only five Oscars were awarded to someone other than an older white male. They are Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu for Birdman, Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, and Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.

The nominations themselves are even more sparse than that. Out of the 400 plus best director nominees in Oscar history, only 17 were either female or of another ethnicity. Three of them are black. Another three are Asian. Only one of them is Indian. The fact that you can count those numbers is just plain sad.

This pattern of a white-emphasized nomination list is spread across every major category at the Academy Awards. Here’s a challenge for you: how many black Oscar winners can you name? How many Mexican? Asian? And the clincher: how many can you name that are white?

But it isn’t just the Academy Awards that’s lacking in diversity: it’s the industry itself. Repeat the same challenge above with all working actors in the industry to see my point. I look at this year’s nominations, wondering how the Oscars could have expand upon its nominations to be more inclusive. My honest answer is that they can’t. Not beyond nominating Sicario or Straight Outta Compton, at least. They’re picking nominees from a whitewashed industry, so it’s not unusual that their nominations resemble the same thing. If you stick your hand in a can of white paint, you don’t expect to pull it out and see purple, do you?

There are three things that need to be done in order to fix this. The first is to stop pointing fingers and accusing mass organizations of racism. It’s not the Academy’s fault that the industry is so messed up. They’re a by-product of a flawed industry, and accusing their individual members of prejudice is not going to help settle tensions at all. Secondly, the Academy needs to increase diversity in their own membership, which is something they’re already doing, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Third, executive movie studios need to increase representation on both their production teams and cast lists. That last one is going to be more difficult, considering the flawed Hollywood myth that diversity doesn’t sell. I point to the year’s biggest box office breaker, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to dispose of that theory. A female protagonist, a British black actor, and a spherical robot took home over $1.8 billion dollars at the box office.

Hollywood needs to expand upon its representation in movies and television alike. Too much diversified talent fades away because they don’t get recognized, and in today’s age where diversity is growing, that’s a loss we cannot afford.  This is a white guy telling you I do not want a white Hollywood, and I especially do not want a white Oscar.

– David Dunn

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Oscar Nominations Turn To The Dark Side

Another year, another time to gripe about the Academy Awards.

Nominations came out today, and while most of them are well-earned, there are obviously a few movies, actors, and filmmakers who were clearly snubbed for reasons we’ll never know. In previous years where I’ve written about the Oscars, I would build up to an infuriating rage about the Academy for not recognizing deserving filmmakers in either one category or another. Perhaps the biggest snub as far as nominations I’ve ever experienced is when The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for best picture in 2009. Or when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for best director for Argo in 2013. Or when The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for best animated feature just last year. I don’t know. Roll the dice and tell me which is the worst. There’s lots to pick from.

This year, I’m a little more relaxed in my frustration. No, I don’t care less. The anger has just exhausted me, and in venting my emotions towards the Academy and their repeated negligence year after year, I’ve become so tired about it that it took away from my energy towards appreciating the year’s best films. So this year, I’m going to calmly state my perceptions towards this year’s Academy Award nominations. I will keep my cool for most of these, but there are a few nominees where it will be just impossible to keep my self-control in check.

For best picture, we have the hot-blooded true-story/comedy The Big Short, the British period-drama Brooklyn, the Steven Spielberg-directed Bridge of Spies, the ridiculously overblown Mad Max: Fury Road, the intelligent and funny sci-fi survival film The Martian, the brilliant and ambitious The Revenant, the indie dark horse Room, and the journalism drama Spotlight. Most of these pics are among the year’s best and deserve to be up here, though I haven’t met many people who have seen Room or Brooklyn. The biggest snub here is not one individual picture, but rather, the Academy’s capacity for potential.

Ever since the Academy announced its proposal for a max of 10 best picture nominations in 2010, they’ve never fulfilled that maximum capacity, minus the year where The King’s Speech won best picture. Every year since then has strayed slightly shy of nine best picture nominees, up until last year when they dropped it down to eight. It is unfair to do this to the movies. There are plenty of other films that are more worthy of a nomination than some of the other nominees on this list, especially including Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, I didn’t expect to see these movies on the list, but that’s not the point. These were movies that had a clear and visible reaction from the public. To not notice them by snubbing them of a nomination is absurd and unnecessary.

For best director, we have Lenny Abrahamson for Room, Alejando Gonzalez-Inarritu for The Revenant, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, Adam McKay for The Big Short, and George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road. Again, these are well-deserved nominees, although I’m surprised to see that Ridley Scott was skipped over for directing The Martian. Then again, however, so was Dennis Villanueve and J.J. Abrams skipped over for Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so maybe it’s not so surprising to see great directors get snubbed at the Oscars.

For best actor, we have Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Matt Damon for The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs, and Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl. This is the category that by far pisses me off the most. Great actors get snubbed for great performances every year, but there is absolutely no reason why Johnny Depp should be forgotten for his mesmerizingly evil performance in Black Mass. His performance was not just the best of the year: it’s a competitor for best of the decade, with every ounce of his appearance erasing into this sick and wicked man who doesn’t have a shred of decency in him. With all of the other nominees, you can at least see the actors’ resemblances behind the characters they portray (Yes, DiCaprio purists: that includes good ol’ Leo too). With Black Mass, there was absolutely no indication that Johnny Depp and Whitey Bulger were the same person. The only way this category could be even more ransacked is if DiCaprio doesn’t win the Oscar come awards night. Cross your fingers that doesn’t happen.

For best actress, we have Cate Blanchett for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. Okay, call me out here for lack of gender equality guys: I have not seen any of the films in this category. Yes, I know, I’m a horrible person, critic, writer, throw anything at me what you will. However, it certainly doesn’t help that three out of the five nominees were limited releases, so cut me some slack. I will say that with her recent Golden Globe win, Larson is currently the leading contender for this category. We’ll have to see how the rest of awards season plays out first, though.

For best supporting actor, we have Christian Bale for The Big Short, Tom Hardy for The Revenant (which is very well deserved), Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight, Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies, and Sylvester Stallone for Creed. One complaint people have had with this category is the lack of diversity, with all of the nominees being tall, handsome white guys. However, I have to ask the dissenters: have you seen all of these performances? The biggest misses are the inclusions of Jason Mitchell from Straight Outta Compton, Will Smith from Concussion, or Idris Elba from Beasts of No Nation, and you could probably have switched one of those out for Rylance considering he was pretty one-note throughout Bridge of Spies. The rest of the nominees, however, are rock solid. No complaints from me as far as this selection goes.

For best supporting actress, we have Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, and Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs. Again, there’s a lack of diversity here from tall white women, but what other actresses would you put in their place? Can you name another ethnic actresses from this year that put on performances as unique and memorable as the ones here? If you can, please reply with those performances below, because I honestly can’t remember any.

And finally, we end on the screenplay categories. For best original screenplay, we have Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, and Straight Outta Compton. For best adapted screenplay, we have The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, and Room. Both categories are guilty of snubbing not one, but two great screenplays. Those scripts are The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, albeit for very different reasons. For the horrible year that Quentin Tarantino had to go through to bring The Hateful Eight into film, he delivered a very funny, witty, and memorably grotesque experience that can only be brought to life through his writing. Do I even need to explain why Star Wars belongs here? J.J. Abrams succeeded doing in one movie what series creator George Lucas couldn’t do in three: he breathed new life and energy into the science-fiction epic, providing noteworthy original content while at the same time paying homage to the classic characters and mythology that we came to love from Star Wars. Abrams continued Lucas’ epic story with seamlessness and creativity, and to not reward him and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt is disrespectful to them and their vast accomplishment.

You can click here to see the full list of nominees. In the meantime, I’m going to be staring blankly at the nominations sheet until I can decide who the Academy is going to snub next on awards night.

– David Dunn

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Top Ten Films of 2015

2015 was the year of change.

As I sit here, thinking about how this year ends and the next one begins, that’s the thought that keeps coming to my mind. I’ve changed this year. Not just me, but everyone else this year. People changed after terrorists attacked the city of Paris twice in both January and November, killing more than 140 people in total. People changed when business mogul Donald Trump announced his campaign for presidency in June, and as voters continued to debate the upcoming elections and how important it is to elect the right leader for the future of the U.S. People changed when war raged on in Syria, consuming over 200,000 lives as they died trying to escape their reality and come into Europe or the United States.

People all around the world changed as tragedy struck it again and again. It is years like these that remind me that we need the movies now more than ever. Not just to comment and bring exposure to the different realities we don’t know about, but also to escape from them when we need to.

It is times like these where I am overjoyed that the movies decide to change with us. To not only bring us stories that we don’t know about, but also to give us emotions of insight, joy, angst, tragedy, anger, sadness, and hope as we see these characters growing and changing, just like we are.

A few notes I want to point out before going into this year’s top 10 list. First of all, this is my top 10 list, meaning not every critically acclaimed movie from the year will be on this list. Movies such as Steve Jobs and The Martian, for instance, were highly regarded by critics and audiences everywhere. Neither of those are in my top 10. If you want to see movies like those in your top 10 list, go to RottenTomatoes or iMDB. Or better yet, make your own and comment below. Either case does not affect me. Top 10 lists are supposed to be celebrations of your most cherished movies of the year. Not everyone will share your views, and indeed, you might disagree with one or two entries on this list.

And as another disclaimer, I have not seen every movie released this year. The biggest I have missed, perhaps, is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant, which is NOT a 2015 release despite claiming it is on Wikipedia. It’s doesn’t get a wide release until Jan. 9, and as such, I will not be able to review it in time for this year, which sucks, but it’s Inarritu’s own fault. So sorry if a movie deserved to be on this list but couldn’t be. I’m only human.

Before we get into my top 10, I want to start by announcing my special prize for the year. For those of you that don’t know, the special prize is a honorary recognition I give to a limited-release film that was not heard about or seen by many moviegoers, but deserves just as much recognition, if not more so, than most of the movies on my list. Last year, that honor went to the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself. This year, it goes to Bill Pohlad’s music biopic Love and Mercy, which tells the wonderful yet heartbreaking story about Beach Boy’s singer Brian Wilson, his battle with mental illness, and his overcoming of drug abuse and childhood trauma. Pohlad, who also served as a producer for The Tree of Life and 12 Years A Slave, debuts as a strong filmmaker all his own, not only understanding and implementing the visual art of storytelling, but also accurately appealing to the aesthetics of this complicated and personal biography. Actors Paul Dano and John Cusack are exemplary at portraying Wilson at different points of his life, and do well at showing how much this talented musician struggled with himself at any time period of his life. A small-budget summer release that squeaked by unnoticed by most, but is just as deserving to be seen as any wide-release blockbuster out there. Four stars.

10) Creed

Creed lives and exists in the shadows of its predecessors, but just like it’s main hero, it breaks away from the mold and builds a legacy all of its own. Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) rival, Apollo Creed. When he decides to step into the ring himself, he enlists in the help of the Italian stallion to train him and become a fighter all his own. Writer-director Ryan Coogler, who is most known for 2013’s Fruitvale Station, approached this not as a sequel to a popular franchise, but rather as an intimate, personal story about one fighter’s deep aspirations. Jordan and Stallone demonstrate great chemistry with each other, even challenging the dynamic between Rocky and Mick in the original film. A hot-blooded sports drama through and through, let alone one of the best Rocky films, if you can call it that. Three and a half stars.

9) Avengers: Age of Ultron

A summer blockbuster that aims to outdo the original and misses it only by a hair, which is not a bad thing. The Avengers team up this time to take on the wickedly manipulative artificial intelligence Ultron (James Spader), who was created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from super human threats. When Ultron goes rogue and become obsessed with human extinction, it’s up to the Avengers to stop him. Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. He doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He is fluid and life-like, chaotic and radical in his thinking, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logically driven A.I. Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had from the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered and intelligent, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other in perfect dynamics. The people over at Marvel continue to surprise me and make me believe in its cinematic universe. Let’s hope they can keep this up for the next 11 movies. Three and a half stars.

8) Concussion

A provocative sports drama that refuses everything we love about sports. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a brilliant pathologist who, after performing an autopsy on a notable football player, discovers a lethal disease that is caused by repetitive physical trauma to the brain. Now teaming up with doctors and scientists to defend his findings, he prepares to take on the NFL and reveal the problems the league has been hiding for a long time. There are many people who will not want to see this movie due to their love and commitment for the sport. Yet, it is these same people that need to see this movie the most. Writer-director Peter Landesman, who was previously criticized for his 2013 political thriller Parkland, finds his niche here in a story that not many people knew about, or maybe didn’t want to know about. Smith is exemplary as Omalu, and from the movie’s most bravura scenes to its most tender, he hits every emotional note spot-on, all while not breaking his Nigerian accent. An unconventional, nail-biting thriller that demands to be seen and heard. Three and a half stars.

7) Mad Max: Fury Road

Never before has a movie broken so many many rules and get away with it. On a desolate and deprived planet Earth, former patrol officer Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is on the run from the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When he gets caught up in a conflict involving Joe, road warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and all of Joe’s wives, he needs to team up with them to escape the desert and free the women from Joe’s cruelty and control. There is no plot in this movie, only the resemblance of one. The plot, however, is not what matters. What matters is the spectacular, eye-popping action and explosions, and even a few moments of softly implied feminism in the picture. Hardy replaces Mel Gibson’s role well with hardened machismo and stiffness to his gesture and voice. Theron demonstrates great versatility, being firm and uncompromising in one moment, and emotionally exhausted and stricken in another. A film that’s politically driven and female empowering, all while being ridiculous and absurd in the most gleeful of ways. Three and a half stars. 

6) Paper Towns

The second of John Green’s novels to be adapted to film, with the first being last year’s The Fault In Our Stars. Quintin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) is a regular high school student with regular friends, regular parents, regular life, and regular post-graduation plans. The one thing that isn’t regular in Q’s life is Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the girl on his block that he’s been in love with since they were kids. One day, after Margo completely vanishes, Q discovers clues Margo left behind for him to discover. Now convinced that Margo wants him to find her, Q starts piecing all of the clues together to find out where she has gone to convince her to come home.

It’s hard to look at this movie and not relate it to our own experiences in high school, in first love, in friendship, and in self-discovery. Wolff plays his role convincingly without overdoing it, portraying all of the joy, excitement, angst, ambition, and confusion a teenager has during his high school years. The supporting cast is just as essential in making John Green’s ordinary characters extraordinary. A genuine, funny, and passionate film that delves into both the truths and fantasies of growing up. Three and a half stars. 

5) Straight Outta Compton

One of the most compelling films I’ve seen this year. Straight Outta Compton follows the story of Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and how these five men grew up in the streets and eventually formed the iconic hip-hop group N.W.A. The parallels this movie draws on is ingenious, and director F. Gary Gray is exemplary in realizing the African-American struggle in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. What’s most captivating is the fact that the movie isn’t pro-police or anti-police or pro-gangs or anti-gangs. It shows the ugliness of every side of Compton, whether it exists on a badge or on a bandana. A great film that sets out not to show who’s right or wrong, but simply what is. Four stars.

Note: While among the year’s best, it’s important to note that ‘Straight Outta Compton’ deserves every syllable of its R rating and then some. F-words fly out like bullets from an uzi. Nude and scantily-clad women flock to rappers in herds, and in some cases engage in explicit sexual acts in public. Police and gang members also equally engage in very violent confrontations. This is your warning. If you hate hip-hop, you will hate ‘Straight Outta Compton.’ 

4) Sicario

A permanent, chilling, and disturbing portrait that remains with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is recruited for a special op with CIA officer Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), who tells Kate they’re going to bring down the Mexican cartel. As Kate digs deeper into the pursuit of its leader, she soon discovers secrets darker than any drug lord or government official can hide from her. This is a nearly perfect film in which all of the elements form together into an excellent scope of filmmaking. The cast is brilliant and could catch your attention just by reading their lines. Director Dennis Villeneuve evokes a sense of hopelessness and desperation from its setting. The cinematography by Roger Deakins captures the aesthetic perfectly, while editor Joe Walker cuts skillfully in between angles and shots to help construct coherent ideas in the viewer’s minds. Sicario is Spanish for hitman. I don’t know what disturbs me more: knowing who the Sicario is, or who are the people that he’s hunting. Four stars.

3) Spotlight 

A necessary film that makes you think about the people that you don’t normally think about, the problems that you don’t think exist, and the secrets that you don’t think are being hidden behind prayers and confession booths. Based on the Boston Globe story on the 1990 Church abuse scandal, Spotlight follows the investigative reporting team that discovered that the Catholic church was covering up for priests that had sexually abused children at their parishes. When they find out how big the problem really is, they work to get to the bottom of the story and hold the people accountable for the grave sins they’ve committed. Featuring an all star cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, Spotlight is a movie that uses its actors not as the foundation for its story, but as the catalysts to show how urgent this epidemic really is. Writer-director Tom McCarthy, who was raised Catholic, juggles this behind-the-scenes story with real people’s traumas and emotions in mind, resulting in a portrait that is genuine, astounding, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking all at once. Not the best film of the year, but easily the most important. Four stars.

2) Inside Out

Another colorful Pixar masterpiece that uses reality as its springboard for creation and fantasy. The emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black) make up 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), who just recently moved with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. As Riley goes through the changes in her life, her emotions go through a roller coaster of an adventure to make Riley’s life a happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry one. The animation reaches out to you in vivid detail through its vibrant colors and ambitious landscapes, creating a beautiful universe in Riley’s expansive mind. What’s most meaningful, however, is its story. Writer-director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) uses the human psyche as his narrative playground, telling a thoughtful story on the emotions we experience and how they all make up who were are. Like the wacky emotions in Riley’s curious little head, Inside Out is a uniquely original force to be reckoned with. Four stars.

1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Are you really that surprised? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. Taking place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows a new group of misfits as they suddenly get tangled into this intergalactic conflict involving heroes and villains both old and new. J.J. Abrams revitalizes George Lucas’ cherished sci-fi series for a new age, updating it with creative and interesting characters that makes this a strong story on its own, not just a strong Star Wars story. The cast is exemplary, with newcomer Daisy Ridley shining the most out of the whole group. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original. Four stars.

Honorable mentions go to the smirkingly funny and genuine Trainwreck, the thought-provoking sci-fi drama Ex Machina, the intelligent and maddening The Big Short, and the disgusting yet wickedly genius western The Hateful Eight. All of those deserved a placement on this list, but unfortunately, did not deserve it as much as others. They are still among the year’s best.

Thank you to my readers for experiencing 2015 for me. I look forward to the changes we will go through in 2016, as I do with the movies.

– David Dunn

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“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

J.J. Abrams: the spiritual successor to George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original.

It’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A new sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has arisen and is bent on taking over the galaxy. His pursuits lead him towards a troup of misfits who have become acquainted almost by sheer chance. A scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) lived on the desolate planet of Jakku before she got entangled into this conflict. Finn (John Boyega) was a Stormtrooper who defected for reasons unbeknown to us. BB-8 is a spherical droid who wants to get away from Kylo Ren for reasons also unknown. What is known is that these three figures have something that Kylo Ren wants, and he won’t stop at nothing until he has fulfilled his destiny.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers. One thing I will say without giving too much away is that the story is exemplary, and is reminiscent of the adventure and intrigue that made Star Wars iconic in the first place. The screenplay, written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Ardnt and polished up by Star Trek director J.J. Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan, is an active synergy of the old and new, incorporating elements that we are familiar with while at the same time introducing original content all their own. This is not just a strong Star Wars story. It’s a strong story, period.

For me, that was my biggest concern going into the theater, and the biggest relief coming out of it. This was the first Star Wars movie where its key subjects would not be featured. Yes, we have references to the older films, but we don’t have Darth Vader. We don’t have Yoda. We don’t have Obi-Wan. We don’t have any of the key figures that linked the whole series together, minus R2 and C-3PO. How would the movie hold up on its own?

Very well, as it turns out, and the new cast members do a great job servicing their roles and making them memorable on their own. Driver is menacing and malicious as Kylo Ren, an egotistical and maniacal presence that reflects both the chilling imposition of Darth Vader and the deepening paranoia of Episode III’s Anakin Skywalker. Boyega is both humorous and likable as Finn, a reformed spirit who is just trying to find new meaning and purpose in his life. Out of the entire cast, however, I am most impressed with newcomer Daisy Ridley. This is the first time she has acted in a feature film, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that based off of her performance. She is both heartbreaking and intriguing as Rey, equal parts fascinating, sympathetic, and compelling as this character whom is a complete mystery to us. Even by the end of the film, we still don’t understand everything about her, and that’s the point. We’re not supposed to understand her history; we’re supposed to understand her. Ridley did an amazing job at bringing this character to life, and out of anyone else from the cast, she made me most excited for her journey in the future installments.

Do I need to go into the film’s visual and sound effects? They were the groundbreaking features of the very first movies, and they’re stronger than ever in this motion picture. Part of that is because Abrams takes a note out of George Lucas’ old playbook, reverting to practical effects and detailed costuming to bring authenticity to this universe. He still uses CGI, but he doesn’t rely on it. He only uses it when he absolutely has to, when X-wings are firing at TIE Fighters or when lightsabers are clashing against each other. Everything else is created through elaborate art direction and set design, while the CGI is used to compliment the visuals rather than serve as them. The result is the most visually authentic out of any of the films yet.

I have one gripe, and one gripe alone, and that is that there are plot elements that eerily mimic the storyline of one of the original films. I won’t spoil it by saying which one. I will say that even in the face of that criticism, The Force Awakens still manages to make itself unique and special in a series that is already unique and special by itself. We said goodbye to this universe a long time ago. Rejoice as we are once again reunited with the galaxy from far, far away.

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