A ‘La La Land’ Review From a Person Who Hates Musicals

First things first.  As the title suggests, I absolutely hate musicals.  I know hate is a strong word but I never use it lightly.  Sure I can appreciate the great musicals and I even sang along to Disney movies as a young lad, but over the last 20 years whenever a character begins to break into song and dance my heart sinks.  “Why can’t this character just say what they’re thinking?”  “Why is this happening?”  “Why am I watching this?”  To put it simply “Why?”  I always had a lot of questions regarding musicals and their necessity in popular culture.  That is, until I saw La La Land.  The second directorial effort by the talented filmmaker Damien Chazelle.  Coming off the success of 2014’s Whiplash, expectations for his sophomore film were expectedly high.  La La Land delivers in every way and is a visually and emotionally a unique experience.

La La Land stars Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress who currently works at a coffee shop on the studio lot.  Co-staring with Stone (for the third time) is Ryan Gosling who portrays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who’s inspired by the greats who came before him.  Ultimately Sebastian’s dream is to own his own jazz club to keep the rich history of jazz alive, while Mia seeks stardom and fame.  After a couple chance encounters, Mia and Sebastian begin a relationship, knowing that their desires completely juxtapose each others.  What ensues is a classic romantic comedy steeped with rich vibrant musical numbers that will leave viewers feeling a wide array of emotions, which ultimately consume the heart with joy.

As a person who wants a career in creative endeavors, this movie spoke to me on a level that most will also find solace.  It’s funny, beautiful, engaging, thought provoking, yet heartbreaking in many ways.  Again, I can’t underestimate my distain for musicals, and as soon as the opening number began I thought “Why did I see this”?  I was quickly brought down off my cynical horse and engaged in a somewhat cliched but timeless tale of two people coming together at a time when their lives aren’t YET where they want them to be, but together they both change the course of each others journey in life.  La La Land is a film clearly influenced by other musicals, but rather than ripping them off, Chazelle show his appreciation for these influences and brings them together for a whole new audience, much like a Tarantino flick.

The visuals are the major element (or the only element I could notice) in La La Land where you can really see the influences come to fruition.  It really doesn’t matter if his influences are transparent, Chazelle is trying to hide them.  La La Land is as much a celebration of musicals as it is a love story.  I needed to attend this celebration to turn my cynical mindset of musicals forever, and I am forever grateful I actually gave this film a chance, because looking back on 2016, La La Land is one of my favorite films of the year.  That’s a statement I never thought I’d say, but the talent involved in this film made it possible for an a**hole like myself to be lifted into the magical dream-filled world La La Land represents.  The film shows a story desired by anyone who wants a career in the arts or who has had love creep up in their lives in the most unexpected ways possible.

La La Land is a film to be seen and not talked about.  I could go on for hours about the film, but go see it for yourself.  It doesn’t matter if you love or hate musicals, La La Land has something for everyone.  I couldn’t recommend it more.  It’s a beautiful film and shows the career progression of director Damien Chazelle, who’s next film will have even crazier expectations.  I for one can’t wait to see what this dude will do next.  Oh yeah, Gosling and Stone are absolutely unreliable, and their chemistry is infectious.

La La Land stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt and is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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Interview With A Monster Calls Author Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls Author Patrick Ness Evokes Great EmotionWhen Patrick Ness wrote his children’s book ‘A Monster Calls,” he had no idea the impact his fantastical world of monsters and fairytales would have on his readers.

The 2012 book about a troubled 12-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), who is dealing with the pain of mother Lizzie’s dire illness, bullying at school, and spending time with his unsympathetic grandmother.

When Ness was chosen to adapt his best-selling book into a screenplay, he says he knew there would be some changes, but was thrilled he would be the one to make them.

“A Monster Calls,” from Focus Features opens nationwide on Friday, Jan.6, and also stars Felicity Jones as the boy’s mom, and Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother.

At the heart of the book, and the stunning film, is a rare relationship that gives way to many life lessons for Conor, his family members, as well as the rest of us.

Amid the anger, frustration and despair that this young boy is feeling, he unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it: a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature performed in motion capture and voice over by the irrepressible Liam Neeson.

The Monster has stories to tell, and he insists that the boy hear them and powerfully visualize them. Conor’s fear gives way to feistiness and then to looking within because the Monster demands that once the tales are told, it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.

The books of Patrick Ness have been translated into 37 languages. His novel for adults, “The Crane Wife,” was inspired by a Japanese fairy tale, was selected for Oprah’s Book Club and won several major awards in 2013. His novels for young adults include, “More Than This,” and “The Rest of Us Just Live Here,” which was published in the fall in the U.S. A native of Virginia, with family in Seattle, he now makes his home in London.

PCM had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive chat with Ness, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter for a behind-the-scenes look at ‘A Monster Calls,’ his brilliant career and advice that he has for aspiring young writers who he meets at events.

PCM: When I went to see your movie, several friends of mine said that’s really not the genre that I normally enjoy, so they were kind of surprised that I came back and raved about it.

Patrick Ness: Excellent. No, we’ve just got to get people to see it.

PCM: Since you wrote the book, was it very important to you that you also wrote the screenplay for this film? Would you have let somebody else take over?

PN: It didn’t come quite as mercenary as that. I had written the book based on the original idea of the late novelist Siobhan Dowd. I feel protective of all my books but because she passed away, I’m particularly protective of this one. I had early meetings with producers and so on. This is not a story about how Hollywood gets everything wrong because I don’t believe that. I think most people want to make good stuff it’s just really hard. So lots of people engaged with the book.

 PCM: How was that experience for you?

PN: A few people suggested some softening, which I sort of blanched at a little. I thought, ‘okay, I don’t know the right answer here but maybe if I write the screenplay, I can at least begin the conversation, and say here’s what I feel is important.’ It might not work. It might not be a good screenplay but I can at least say, ‘this is why I think it works and this is what I feel is important to make it work.’ I thought that maybe somebody will respond to that and I was extremely lucky that somebody did.

 PCM: As somebody who has dealt with grave personal loss, you really struck a chord with me. Also, I found that the boy being able to let go obviously was so emotional, that it was difficult to watch at times, but I believe that you helped a little bit cathartically.

PN: That’s a good point. Kids have a really easy time with it because they see themselves as Connor and they see themselves as my concerns are being taken seriously. I feel it’s being taken seriously. So kids see it on that level, but I know that adults bring a history to it. Though, I think it ends hopefully.

 PCM: Yes, I felt that way. Are you happy with how everything turned out? Is it how you envisioned it?

PN: It’s funny making something like a movie because it’s something that everybody has opinion on. With a book, it’s almost like raising a kid. You know all their flaws, but you know all the things you love about them, and you know what’s awesome about them, and so you send them out into the world and you love them whatever people say about them. I just wanted to make something I was really proud of,  and I feel really proud of this movie, so I feel really lucky about it.

 PCM: How important do you feel some of the leading characters like Liam Neeson… could there have been a movie without him?

PN: Probably, but he’s so exactly right. I mean he’s so perfect for the role that I thought we were never going to get him. That’s the fantasy one that you pick at the top of your list, but he really responded to the book and the movie. It’s not just his voice. He does motion capture so it’s also special expressions. It’s his body movements, which just so humanizes the monster and that marvelous voice. Now, I can’t imagine anybody else.

PCM: Did you have nightmares while you were writing this? What were your own dreams like?

PN: My own dreams are incomprehensible. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and so my nightmare monster is always Big Foot until Jurassic Park, and then those first CGI dinosaurs were so primal that they had taken over Big Foot. So whenever I dream about monsters it’s always a dinosaur. I’m 45, but my dreams are much more disordered than that. I think the dreams of most writers are because their heads are just stews of ideas that smoosh together so they make no sense. I just wake up going ‘What the hell is that?’ and then turnover and go back to bed.

 PCM: I wonder, when you were growing up did you ever dream of being able to do any of this?

PN: The dream that I had was to be an author, and so the only thing I really wanted was to hold a book of mine in my hand that had been published, and. that happened. So everything else since has been kind of like a birthday cake party. I mean I’m so afraid of complacency. I’m so afraid of getting too comfortable that I keep wanting to push myself.

PCM: Please tell me more…

PN: I keep wanting to learn stuff, and so I didn’t really imagine this career. But looking back I can  see the path that I set myself on. Whenever I talk to young writers I always say my philosophy is real writers don’t write solely to be published, they write for the love of writing. Early on, I didn’t think anybody would publish a book of mine. I wrote one anyway. I didn’t think anybody would film a screenplay of mine, but I wrote one anyway. There’s a kind of stubbornness on my part of wanting to grow, to stretch and to risk.

 PCM: When you write something so transformative and so deep, does it change you emotionally? I mean that when I see a movie like ‘A Monster Calls,” I feel that I have to go home and hug my child.

PN: Yes, because I feel if I’m not feeling it then it’s arrogance to ask a reader to feel it. It’s the same principle of comedy. If you’re writing a comedy and you’re not laughing, it’s not funny. That seems like a simple thing. But whenever it felt too easy, or whenever it felt like something we’d seen before, I really wanted to push farther. I thought I could go back and do it again, and keep pushing until I hit that purity, and then I can feel the emotion of it. If I don’t feel it, then I cannot ask you to feel it. It’s false.

 PCM: Did you spend time on the set?

PN: Yes. I went there probably 12 or 13 times, and was writing all along the way. Actors come up with ideas, and you get good ideas when you get a shot at working with them.

PCM: Was it a heavy emotional set or was everybody kind of chilling?

PN: I would say more delicate than heavy. The director J.A. Bayona plays music before the scene just to create a feeling. It was a really professional Spanish crew because everybody knew they had a job to do so we could relax. We were outside Barcelona so you would finish a scene, take a deep breath and you go into the sunshine.

 PCM: What happened during the down time?

PN: We’d have delicious Spanish catering. That’s the best Spanish food I’ve ever had. We would have more than one course, and the prosciutto was so delicious my mouth is still watering.

 PCM: When you meet children, teenagers and young adults at a book signing or author event what is that like? What are they asking you? What are they saying to you? What is that experience like for you?

PN: It’s great. I get to meet teenagers when I’m not their parent nor their teachers, so I get to see them relaxed and themselves, which is lovely, because I think teenagers are really quite lovely people. They volunteer more than most any other demographic does. They really care about things. They’re really curious about things. When it comes to books, they don’t have a ton of questions. They just want to tell you they loved it and they saw themselves in it and then take a selfie and off they run.

 PCM: Do you enjoy these experiences?

PN: I think that’s great. I mean I never got the chance to meet a writer when I was growing up, so I’m very happy to meet young people and tell them, ‘if you write, don’t give up on your writing dream. After all, I was just a guy from a tiny town from a poor background. Nobody in my family and nobody in my town did anything like write a book, so if I can, why not you?’

 PCM: Talk about sharing this experience with your family?

PN:  Wonderful. My sister is sort of my number one cheerleader on Facebook. She taped Sigourney [Weaver] on “The Steven Colbert Show,” and put it on Facebook so that’s really nice. I get along with my sister extremely well. I brought her out to the screening in New York, and enjoyed sharing this with her.

 PCM: What’s next for you?

PN: I just finished a spinoff series of Dr. Who set in a high school called “Class.” It just finished airing last week on the BBC in the UK and it’s coming to BBC America in the spring. I have a new book coming out in May in the UK and September in the US, called “Release.” I will be back in the US a few times for book tours.

 PCM: I am curious, how many times have you seen the completed film, ‘A Monster Calls?’

PN: Probably 10 or 15.

 PCM: Did you cry like the rest of us during the highly emotional parts?

PN: The last time I saw it was the first time I didn’t get teary-eyed, but I still got moved. When Conor asks the monster if he will stay, that to me is the whole thing. That’s the real moment that I feel because I think that’s all he wants. He knows what’s going to happen. He just wants someone to acknowledge that yes, he knows what’s going to happen, and that it’s going to be hard, but he doesn’t have to do it by himself. To me, that’s still the part that gets to me, thankfully.

 PCM: Thank you for sharing your story.

PN: My pleasure. Thank you very much, indeed.

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‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ SPOILER Review

*THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE* If you have not seen the film, what are you waiting for?  If you don’t want to read spoilers, the obvious advice is to not read this review.

Check out our spoiler free review HERE.

First, I would like to say a couple of things right out of the gate.

  1. I love the tone of the film.  I have no problem with the darker direction the DC Universe is heading
  2. I love Batman and Wonder Woman in this film and the entire cast for that matter
  3. I love the fight, all 7 minutes of it
  4. I love the visuals

Things I did not love, which will be the focus of my review (they outweigh any of the aforementioned goodness).

  1. Character motivations make very little sense
  2. Atrocious editing
  3. Convoluted story and plot
  4. Give us more Superman (after two movies, we still have no idea who this character is)
  5. The marketing ruining every surprise

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Lets begin…

It’s been almost two weeks since the release of the incredibly divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was unleashed into theaters, and I’ve had some time to come to terms with the fact that, it’s not very good.  Have I lost faith? Sure.  Do I still believe in God?  No.  Am I still excited with the future of the DC Universe and the direction they are taking?  Yes.  Am I worried?  Absolutely.  Having said all of that and despite what I say in this review, there are parts of this film I enjoyed, but am completely dumbfounded by just how messy Dawn of Justice was.  This is an unfortunate truth with all the terrible and great superhero movies the producers and studio could have used as what and what-not to do, especially since the release of Marvel’s 2008 world-building Iron Man.

I’ll start by talking about the elements that I enjoyed.  Batman was awesome.  Sure he was a bit of a jerk, but I’m excited to see more Affleck’s beaten-down older disillusioned Batman.  He was the highlight of the film, along with Wonder Woman and seeing the cast take on their superhero roles in general was exciting.  Dawn of Justice is perfectly cast.  I even enjoyed Jessie Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor.  While the superheroes in the film seem to be having no fun, I’m okay with that.  I still had fun and in no way need my superheroes as quippy as their Marvel counterparts.  This leads me into the overall tone of the film.

I love the dark and bleak tone of this film, and likely the tone of the entire extended universe.  Some critics and fans have been complaining about this tone, but I enjoy it.  Maybe I’m a dark, moody, miserable person myself, or maybe I just want to see my superheroes done differently.  I have the Marvel films when I want to watch something more lighthearted, and appreciate the darker nature the DC films seem to be taking.  I’m all good with this.  Say what you want about the direction Zack Snyder is taking this world, the guy knows how to shoot a beautiful film.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is gorgeous to look at.  Break it down, and there are problems.  On a purely visual level, the film is perfect.  The fight choreography is what Batman fans have seen only in the comics, and now can enjoy on the big-screen.  Snyder shot potentially the best Batman sequence to date, when Batman saves MARTHA Kent in the warehouse.  It’s the highlight of the film for me personally.  The fight between our two headliners was brilliant, but lasted 6-7 minutes.  Years of build-up, and an hour-and-a-half built-up in the film lead to a seven minute fight that was over in a disappointing amount of time.  There wasn’t enough time to fully feel the weight of this fight.  Which leads me into the great many problems I had with Dawn of Justice.

The world we live in has a great deal of problems, but for some reason, the problems of Dawn of Justice hurt a bit more.  Maybe not, but I wanted to like this film SO bad having been a lifelong Batman fan and movie fan in general.  We’ve gone through the good (Nolan, Burton, the bad (Schumacher), but I didn’t think we’d get the ugly (Snyder).  I was hoping WB or the creative team, learned from past mistakes.  Even as recently as The Amazing Spiderman 2, which has many of the same problems as Snyder’s new film, I thought would teach everyone a lesson in not cramming in too much, without properly introducing and developing characters.  But, WB and DC didn’t learn from past movie mistakes.

They shoved so much into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they forgot to explore more of the title heroes.  We still have no idea who Superman is, despite Man of Steel and this supposed sequel.  Unfortunately, WB decided it needed to catch up to Marvel and bring out the big guns right away.  Sounds fun, but the problem is, we still don’t know the characters.  Dawn of Justice is a setup for the upcoming Justice League film, and it feels like it.  We need to be with the characters more for the true weight of what we were “supposed” to feel during this film, but couldn’t, due to lack of screen time for all characters involved.  Which is a shame because this film brought in some of the best story lines form both Batman and Superman, but failed to deliver a cohesive and impactful story.

Instead of focusing on the fight between the heroes, the film brings tons of stories that don’t need be be in THIS film and could have been saved for future entries.  These unnecessary plot points include but are not limited to- the death of Superman, Doomsday, Wonder Woman (although she was awesome), and the amount of screen time Lex Luthor ate up.  After all the hype and build up, fans were given a seven minute fight, albeit a great fight, an hour and a half into the two and a half hour movie.  The filmmakers should have focused on the differences between the heroes ideologies and what motivates them internally.  This would have made their fight so much more impactful, instead of brushing along on the surface to get to the next world-building plot.  The movie moves from one thing to the next, without letting it sink in and impact the audience.  When Superman dies for instance, we feel nothing because it happens so quick, and before we know it, Batman’s building the Justice league.  Let’s focus on our characters instead of jumping from one different plot to the next.

This brings me to the plot, or in this films case, plots.  It’s a mess and it’s as if they picked five of their favorite comic book stories and tried to shove it into one film.  It’s hard to follow, not for us nerds, but your average movie goer.  The plot is extremely convoluted and could have used a good edit to trim some of the unneeded fat.  Much like this review, any elements are not needed as a more concise and focused film could have equally impacted audiences and still gotten them prepared for the future DC Universe films to come.

I could go on, but it pains me to do so, so for now, I’m signing off.  I’ve said nothing in this review that likely hasn’t already been said a million times before on the internet.  I personally needed to write something as I move through the many stages of Loss and grief.  I’m past denial and isolation, on from anger, over bargaining, and have moved on to depression.  My hopes of writing this is to hit the last stage of eventual acceptance as I start to realize a few things.  First, it’s just a movie and secondly, they are not real people.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in theaters nationwide (And despite all the negatives you here about this film, go see it.  Or if you’ve already seen it, which I assume is all of you reading this, go see it again.  Maybe its better than we originally thought- probably not though).

 

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A Night with Neil Young Review

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I had the honor of attending a special one night only double feature of Neil Young movies hosted by Fathom Events. I had such a great time. I have always considered myself a huge Neil Young fan. I love his music and the stories he tells in his songs, sometimes with an acoustic guitar and other times to the rhythm of a blistering electric guitar. After going to the double feature I found out there is a lot I didn’t know. Including the fact that he made, starred in and directed an actual movie!

The movie I’m referring to is called Human Highway. It was filmed over many years and finally released in 1982. The movie stars Neil Young as Lionel and Russ Tamblyn as Fred. They play two friends who work as gas-station attendants outside of a diner. They face disaster day to day with the threat from a local nuclear power plant. The movie also stars Dennis Hopper, and members of the band Devo, Charlotte Stewart, and Dean Stockwell, who also helped direct. The movie is a trippy end of the world experience. I recommend this to any Neil Young fan who wants to actually see the visual side of this amazing artist. On a personal note, if you really want to enjoy this film in all its’ glory call your friend, you know, that friend your mom doesn’t like that has those special brownies. Trust me, it will all make sense!

After the movie was over we are sent to a theater where Neil Young is sitting on a stage with acclaimed director Cameron Crowe. The Q & A is being broadcast live to all the theaters taking part in the double feature thanks to Fathom Events. A couple of the cast members from Human Highway are on stage with Young and Crowe. They mainly talk about the filming experience of Human Highway. The band Devo are featured as angry Nuclear Power plant workers in the movie. Devo co-founder Jerry Casale is one of the cast members that appears on stage during the Q & A and he explains it best when asked about the filming of the movie. “ The plan today is no plan.” Young also talked about almost completing his next album which will be a sophomore album with the band Promise of the Real.

After the Q & A was done the second feature Rust Never Sleeps began and this movie, as fan, is certainly one in which I was more familiar. The movie features Neil Young and the band Crazy Horse in a great glossy looking concert. The concert was filmed at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on October 22, 1978. The concert runs one hour and forty three minutes and documents Neil and Crazy horse in their prime. I really liked the little creepy looking guys that looked like they were dressed up as droids, and appear between songs. The concert opens with Young playing many of his early classics on acoustic guitar. He is then joined on stage by Crazy Horse, and they rock the house. I was really happy as a fan to be able to be a part of this. I learned things I never knew about a man I greatly appreciate.

Human Highway and Rust Never Sleeps are both going released on DVD this coming April, and are definitely worth checking out. You can pre-order both these movies on NeilYoung.com and Amazon.com.

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The Revenant Is Chock Full Of Raw Emotion And Intensity

the-revenant-DF-05287R_rgbPhoto credit: Kimberly French /Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

(PCM) There is already strong buzz that The Revenant will be a strong contender as we head into awards season, as it has already been nominated for four Golden Globe awards including Best Drama and a well-deserved Best Actor nod for star Leonardo DiCaprio. The film, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, did an absolutely brilliant job of showcasing the raw emotion and intensity that main character Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) must endure to survive the horrific ordeal splayed out before him in the film.

The film is based off the true story of Hugh Glass and set in an 1820’s American West. Glass was a trapper who, after his hunting party is viciously attacked by Native Americans, takes off with a group of survivors in search of a remote military outpost. During the search, Glass is savagely attacked by a bear and left fighting for his life, which is one of the most intense and brutal scenes in the film. He is discovered by the other members of his hunting party who make an attempt to rescue him, however they need to leave him behind when nature conditions become too intense to continue.

Three men, including Glass’s son Hawk, agree to stay behind the group for a few days to care for Glass, who they feel is very near death at this point. One of the other men that agree to stay behind is John Fitzgerald played by actor Tom Hardy, who villainously has his own agenda when it comes to ensuring Glass’s safety and ultimately commits the ultimate act of betrayal. Glass, however is blessed with the will to live and guided by the spirit of his dead wife, a Pawnee Indian woman whose life was taken in a raid by white men, who reminds him to never stop breathing.

Director Iñárritu has a way of being able to showcase the art of beauty in both chaos and death and did so with great finesse throughout the course of this film. From a strictly visual standpoint the film is stunning, showcasing the epic filming locations in both the Canadian Rockies and the Argentinian wilderness. While it may be beautiful to behold, nature becomes yet another grueling obstacle that Glass must overcome during his quest for both survival and revenge and becomes a very cruel and unforgiving character in this film.

Iñárritu made sure that viewers were able to truly feel at one with Glass and we felt as if we were truly suffering right alongside him as he made his journey across the icy rivers and snowy mountains facing as seemingly unending number of horrors along the way. Due in large part to the terrific performance from DiCaprio many of these scenes were able to play out with very little dialogue forcing the viewer even further into Glass’s intense internal struggle and the many often gruesome lengths he was forced to go in order to survive.

The moments on-screen between Glass and Fitzgerald are gripping and Hardy deserves his own nod for taking on this incredibly heartless and self-serving character, a type we have seen him portray in several other films, and breathe in new life for this particular villain. Their final confrontation is fantastic and bloody spectacle and the balance between these two characters is spot-on.

Overall, The Revenant is an incredibly visceral and gut-wrenching experience not only for the characters, but for the audience as well and we are left to form our own conclusions when all is said and done.

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review (Spoiler-Free!)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that should have been doomed to fail. Having the nearly impossible task of living up to the gargantuian expectations set on it by the fans, as well as the legacy of the original trilogy, the film should by all rights should fall flat on it’s feet. Luckily, Star Wars: The Force Awakens  has the confidence to surpass these problems, but garner a whole set of new ones. The film holds it’s weight with the original trilogy, and by most standards is very good. Some may say that it’s even as good as A New Hope (it’s not, but ill get to that later). Put simply, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that is pretty damn good, but suffers from several fundamental flaws that hold it back from from being truly great.

Star Wars The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot going for it. Besides the top notch technical aspects to this film, the use of anything practical whenever possible, and a heavy dose of nostalgia, Director J.J. Abrams has been able to re-capture the magic of the original films. By bringing a diverse ensemble of new characters, along with a return from the holy trinity from the original films (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer) along to support them, Abrams finds a nice balance between new and old. For what each actor is given, the performances are top notch. From the returning members of the original cast to all of the newcomers, everyone seems to be relishing the opportunity they’ve been given. None more so than Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. While I won’t delve into spoilers, I will say that Driver has created a villain that is wholly three-dimensional. Flawed, quiet, and broken, Kylo Ren proves to be more nuanced than we’ve seen before from any characters in the past.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The greatest thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the feeling that it gives you when you watch it. It reminds you why you fell in love with the series to begin with. It restores the sense of fun to these movies that the prequels sorely missed. But most importantly, it reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place– to be transported from our mundane lives, into a special world of the unknown. J.J Abrams has always been good at achieving this. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams has successfully brought us something new, while at the same time presenting a story that feels wholly familiar. Unfortunately, by focusing on the things that made the original film so endearing, Abrams has inadvertently kept himself from making something better than the very thing he’s trying to live up to.

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This is perhaps my biggest problem with the film, the fact that it wants to be too much like A New Hope, and not enough like The Force Awakens. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t offer new elements to the universe, it does plenty of that, actually. The problem is that the story almost feels like a beat-for-beat remake of A New Hope. Seriously though, when you see the film, think about it. Almost all of the major beats are nearly identical, although details between those major events have been altered. There are plenty of references to the original film throughout The Force Awakens, but this sense of heavy nostalgia that Abrams brings to the table begins to overshadow the telling of the story towards the second half of the film.

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It’s funny, because I don’t quite know what this movie would be like without Abrams’ involvement. He’s always been the type of filmmaker that ends up holding himself back, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is no exception to this. Don’t get me wrong – I think that The Force Awakens is is a great return to form, but it is by no means better than the original film. A few years down the line, the hype will have worn down, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will largely be remembered as the film that opened the floodgates to a larger universe. A film that sacrifices it’s own interest at crucial points to create something larger. A film that believes it will be worth the sacrifice now, to create something unforgettable down the line. But in the grand scheme of things, is that so bad?.

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