Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Review

***SPOILER-FREE REVIEW***

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Directed by J. J. Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie

Music by John Williams

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas and set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

A Note Before I Start The Review:

I saw this movie at midnight last night and I don’t normally like to review movies so soon after seeing them since I like to give things some thought first and to search my feelings. Naturally, I’m going to be on a massive high immediately after seeing a new STAR WARS movie! But when I think back to The Phantom Menace, it’s likely that I would have given that a good review if I’d written one 30 minutes after it finished. Can you imagine?! So bear with me as I try to be rational while I write this.

I may actually re-visit this movie again in a week and do another post about it and see if my opinion has changed but, for now, these are the initial thoughts of a fairly big Star Wars fan. I’ll also give you my husband’s initial thoughts (he’s been a HUGE Star Wars fan his whole life) and my six-year-old daughter’s initial thoughts (she’s quite possibly the biggest six-year-old female Star Wars fan on the entire planet).

My Opinion:

My Star Wars fandom on a scale of 1-10: 7.5

(AGAIN, NO SPOILERS. PROMISE.)

I still can’t believe I’ve finally seen it! The Force Awakens. The movie my husband and daughter have been talking about (and slightly annoying me with) for what feels like YEARS. As with any huge movie like this, especially for myself and my husband and anyone else our age who grew up with the original trilogy, no Star Wars movie will ever live up to our high expectations. I personally don’t think it will ever be possible to again capture the magic of the original trilogy but I do know that a big part of that will also be my age talking. Can an adult really love a movie in the same way a kid can? When I think of all my favorite movies, the vast majority are from my childhood & teen years. 

Will my daughter feel the same way about The Force Awakens & the movies to follow as my husband & I feel about the original trilogy? I think that’s a definite yes. She already loves the Star Wars universe (she’s seen all but Revenge Of The Sith – she’s still too young) and she’s now the perfect age to grow up with the new movies. And I couldn’t be more happy that she’s the perfect age for these as they’ll be “her” Star Wars movies while the original trilogy will be “mommy’s & daddy’s” Star Wars movies. More importantly, she’ll see these as hers more than the prequels. Because…. Yes! I can confirm that The Force Awakens is much better than the prequels! Thank goodness. 

I’ve really avoided all reviews of this so far as I wanted to know as little as possible so the only thing I’ve read a few times now is that The Force Awakens “captures the spirit” of the original trilogy. I’d say that’s a pretty accurate statement. I won’t pretend that it didn’t take a little getting used to or that it wasn’t a little odd seeing characters like Han Solo & Princess Leia all these years later. It’ll probably be easier for a new generation to immediately buy into this film as they won’t have quite as much of an attachment to these older characters but I have to say that they’ve done an absolutely fantastic job bringing a whole new set of characters to life. 

I already love Rey. I love that my daughter already loves Rey. Just like Leia, she’s a very strong female character. I’m loving the strong female characters in movies these past couple of years! About damn time. Sorry to regulars here who have heard me go on about this before but if you have a daughter, you’ll understand. Positive female role models have become very important to me since she came along. 

After the prequels, I can’t say I personally really had any “favorite new Star Wars characters”. After The Force Awakens, I have lots of new favorites. Besides Rey, there was… Finn! I loved Finn! I wasn’t quite sure how his character would fit in but he’s great as were his relationships with the other characters. BB-8!!!! As I’ve said here before, R2-D2 is my favorite Star Wars character so I’m clearly partial to loveable droids. BB-8 is almost as cool as R2! (And that’s saying a lot because R2-D2 is the coolest robot ever). Poe Dameron! I’d not exactly loved Oscar Isaac in anything before this but I liked his character a lot – he very much feels like someone out of the original trilogy. Kylo Ren! Hmm. Yeah. Good. Yes. Still making my mind up on him… Sorry – I’ve only just finished the movie – my mind is still racing! I know people love a good baddie. Is he a good baddie? Yes, I’d say they’ve created a great character here (better than any baddies in the prequels for sure).

There are some other new characters I also liked but they weren’t really in the trailers much so I’ll leave those out to remain spoiler-free. Then, of course, there were the original trilogy characters! Naturally, seeing them put a huge smile on my face but I really am impressed with how well they did with the new characters and making us care just as much about them as we did about our old favorites. The characters, in my opinion, really are the absolute best thing about The Force Awakens.

What else? Oh my god I need to sleep. I still have to work in the morning! 😉 Not only were the characters great but so was the dialogue and the banter and the way they interacted with each other. We got some funny, lighthearted moments. We didn’t get any of the horrible, cheesy dialogue like in the prequels (and, dare I say, the original trilogy a little bit?). 

The look of the film was good – it felt like it was still a part of the same universe as the original trilogy in a way that the prequels didn’t quite manage. The story, which I can obviously say nothing about, was good. Was it the best story possible of the myriad of stories they could’ve done? Hmm. I don’t know. But I did enjoy it and am happy with the end result. 

I need to wrap this up soon so I can sleep for a couple of hours but, clearly, I’m initially quite happy with The Force Awakens. It’s not a “perfect” film but I’d have a hard time picking out many flaws. Let me mull it over a little more while I give you some very brief initial thoughts from my daughter & husband…

My Daughter’s Opinion:

Her Star Wars fandom on a scale of 1-10: 8

She liked the film a lot but it was pretty much a given that she would. I’m very happy that Rey lived up to her expectations and can tell you that Rey was definitely her favorite thing about the film (followed closely, I think, by adorable BB-8). She got upset a couple of times and the film is a bit dark but it’s still nowhere near as dark as Revenge Of The Sith, which I won’t be letting her watch until she’s much older. She declared the movie was a “9 out of 10!” as we left the cinema but then in the car said “I thought The Force Awakens would be better than it was” so figure that one out. Kids! So indecisive. 😉 I think the “dark bits” made her say that but I think she’ll end up loving the movie just fine once she gets more used to it. And I’d say that it’s Rey who very much made the film for her. Yay Rey! 

My Husband’s Opinion: (as written by him)

His Star Wars fandom on a scale of 1-10: 9

Where do I start? Well, it’s not “MY Star Wars” (and let’s face it, it truly never COULD be).. but it’s not far off.

In one of the TV spots, you hear a character say they see the same eyes in different people if you live long enough.

This episode HAS the eyes of the Star Wars that I grew up with. The magic, the soul, the used universe, the spirit, the humour, the dirt, the wonder, the hero’s journey, the oddities, the surprises AND the familiar are all there in droves.

The best thing for me was to see a new Star Wars through the new eyes of our daughter, for whom THIS Star Wars will hold just as much magic as the original trilogy and better yet, will give her an important cinematic icon to relate to in Rey. She and her generation will ensure Star Wars lives on without looking “so old to young eyes” thanks to JJ, KK and company and their careful balance of reverential echoes and imaginative new ideas.

The balance between pleasing the OT generation and each new generation since has been achieved as much as it can be, given Hollywood marketing forces these days.

Despite some flaws in editing & soundtrack, The Force Awakens shows us even more clearly where the prequels got it wrong. Occasionally I wondered if too many ideas from A New Hope were being echoed here. (Which if you are any degree of Star Wars fan you would know is all part of the will of The Force anyway?)

But I will take that over the prequels’ fart jokes and Jar Jar in a heartbeat.

Without making excuses for anyone, this DOES truly rekindle the magic for a new generation – and for most of the old. Star Wars is back. But of course, in our household Star Wars never went away… Star Wars is forever!

My Summary:

**This updated summary is being written after a second viewing four days later**

I knew that my initial reaction to The Force Awakens was probably due to me needing more time to accept the film into the Star Wars universe that I love and know so well. I figured it would just be a case of me needing to see the new film a few more times but a second viewing was all that I needed: The Force Awakens IS Star Wars.

I care about new characters such as Rey & Finn as much as I did about Leia, Luke & Han. BB-8 is amazing and fits in perfectly with my most beloved and iconic pair of droids. I still think the “baddies” are a little weak in this (Snoke and especially Hux) but my opinion on Kylo Ren has gone up slightly on a second viewing. I’ve always liked the good guys more anyway and they’re perfect in The Force Awakens.

More than anything, though, Rey really makes this film. I’m not saying that because I’m a girl – I just think Daisy Ridley is fantastic and, let’s be honest, out-acts everyone in all seven films. Oh, and I really like her theme within the score (which I wish I could say I noticed throughout the film much more than I did but her theme was the only new part of the score that really stood out for me).

Any flaws this film has are really quite minor and more than made up for by just how strong the new characters are. I can now firmly say that I love this film and that it’s helped even further to make the prequels, which I rarely even gave a second thought when I thought of Star Wars anyway, a distant memory in my mind.

The Force Awakens is fantastic. I love it. To those who think the movie with go down in people’s estimations once the excitement has died down, I have to say that the opposite has occurred with me. I think some initial reactions have actually been overly critical. It will be interesting to see where it ranks in everyone’s mind once all the films have come out. As great as it is, though, it will never be higher than fourth place for me as I’ll always love the original trilogy the most. But it’s a very close fourth place! Far closer than I had thought possible.

My Rating: 9/10

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The Lord Of The Rings (Full Trilogy) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from James of Slate The Silver Screen. Thanks for the review, James! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about The Entire Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, IMDB ranks 9, 13 & 21 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

WARNING: SPOILERS

Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkein’s incredible books. These films take you on an epic journey through the detailed and beautiful cinematic universe of Middle Earth and the arduous battle between good and evil., The films are widely regarded as one of the most critically and financially successful franchises of all time, spawning a highly divisive prequel trilogy (The Hobbit) that could never live up to the success of the original.

Wait…this is an exact description of Star Wars…You sure?…alright fine. Anyway!

So without further a do, here is a trailer for the LOTR trilogy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnf4h5HT4dc

FUN FACT: The word Frodo is said 116 times in the trilogy. This is a rate of 0.208 Frodo’s per minute.

BEFORE I START THIS, TRILOGY IS A DEFINITE MUST SEE!

The LOTR franchise is split into The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Towers and Return Of The King. I will not go into too much plot detail, as this is a review, not a PhD thesis.

Frodo (Elijah Wood), a young, inquisitive hobbit, comes into possession of a mysterious ring following the disappearance of his uncle, Bilbo (Tom Holms). Gandalf (Ian McKellan), an aging, powerful wizard discovers this is ‘’The One Ring’’ of power that belonged to the Dark Lord Sauron. Thus begins a chain reaction which sees Frodo on a quest to destroy the one true ring and save middle Earth…COME ON…THIS IS JUST STAR WARS SET IN THE MIDDLE AGES…THERE IS DEFINITELY SOME COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT GOING ON HERE…FINE…I’LL DROP IT

[SIGH]

Frodo, accompanied by Sam, his closest friend and gardener, sets off to meet Gandalf in the village of Bree so that he can get the ring somewhere safe. En route they bump into Merry and Pippin, while they’re stealing crops, who join them on their journey. Incidentally, Merry and Pip are the least qualified saviours in the history of everything…during the course of the trilogy they make blunders of such utter stupidity that I wonder how they made it this far in life. When they reach Bree Gandalf is not there and instead they find Stryder, a mysterious ranger, who helps them evade Sauron’s Black riders. Something they only had to do because Pip blew Frodo’s cover.

The group reach the Elven stronghold of Rivendell where they are reunited with Gandalf. Here a Fellowship is formed to aide Frodo in his quest. The Hobbits, Gandalf, Stryder (now called Aragorn), a bitter man called Boromir. And finally Legolas and Gimli, an elf and dwarf who are constantly bickering.

Plot wise that is about all you need to know. What follows in a 558-minute epic that takes you through highs, lows, battles, betrayal, love, immortality, obsession, mental illness and emotional connection. (By the way there is a 683 minute extended cut, which is also worth a watch).

The first instalment, The Fellowship, serves as an introduction to Middle Earth, its inhabitants, its history, the horrors of the previous war and the malevolence that once again threatens Middle Earth. At its core is the journey of our Hobbits and the bonds of the fellowship. The violence and hardships are personal, the losses are intimate and the battle is for the life of you and your friends. The film never drags and is a great first entry and, although not small by any stretch of the imagination, it is on a smaller scale than its sequels.


The second film, Two Towers, shifts away from Frodo and Sam and more towards the realms of men and Saruman’s fall from grace, the white wizard who Gandalf initially considered a friend. This film is really about redemption; the bonds of the fellowship following their breakdown, the waning strength of men and of those lost to evil. There are a myriad of new characters, however, the standout is Gollum, played by Andy Serkis using motion capture CGI. Gollum was once a hobbit who was corrupted by the ring and is obsessed with it. His ‘’precious’’ fills his every waking thought since he lost it to Bilbo Baggins (see prequel trilogy for clarification). He exhibits serious symptoms of a nearly dozen mental illnesses and disorders that I would not wish on my worst enemy. But grudgingly he develops a fragile relationship with Frodo and agrees to help him find his way into Mordor. Serkis is exceptional in every scene, he is nuanced, he is over the top and he is captivating. It truly is a remarkable performance!

Everything is bigger this time around. The battles, the castles, the enemies, the stakes. Sauron grows more powerful each day, and as such the second film should feel more charged and deadly. It all serves to increase the tension and completely draw you in.

The final instalment, Return Of The King, is the big finish. Everything is stepped up to another level. This time we are not fighting for our home or friends. This could be the end of everything and you can feel it through every second of the final confrontation with Sauron’s army.


You cannot discuss LOTR without discussing the visuals, it is basically a giant tourism piece for New Zealand, where it was filmed. The beautiful landscapes are combined with CGI and set pieces and in doing so become the most important character in the trilogy. The Shire is green and tranquil and captures the innocent, simple life of Hobbits. The grandiose pomposity of the Elves is captured by Rivendell. The realms of men are impressive and foreboding but have been neglected and miss repaired, much like the fading strength of men maligned at the beginning of the series. Then there is Mordor, explored deeply in the final film, a putrid landscape so foul and toxic that it could only breed pure evil. These backdrops are all encompassing, detailed and beautiful and draw you in. You become part of Middle Earth, this is a fight for your home and your people! Without this the series would have not been the success it is!

Furthermore, they provide the huge scale that makes the series so impressive. Even the first film, with its much smaller set pieces and action, takes you on a journey across half a world: the Shire, Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell, mines of Moria, Woods of Lothlorien, the woods of Parth Galen (the final action sequence is here)… This is a complete world of such magnitude and detail that it paved the way for modern cinematic franchises. Before this film no one even attempted something of this scale. The Marvel cinematic universe wouldn’t have been possible without LOTR blazing a trail.

But a series of pretty pictures do not a film make. The film needs heart, you need to care about the characters and believe their relationships. And you are not let down. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, Frodo and Sam, provide the emotional core of the film as they go through hell and back. Their relationship is heart-warming and it is difficult to watch their burdens way heavy on it. Interestingly they haven’t delivered performances anywhere near this level since. Ian McKellan’s Gandalf is fantastic, his stage background was perfect to produce the gravitas and presence needed. He received the trilogy’s only acting Oscar nomination. Viggo Mortensen delivers a strong turn as Aragorn. And I’ve already mentioned Gollum.

However it is not all sunshine and rainbows; the rest of the cast do a great job but for the most part they are replaceable and not memorable of their own accord. The screenwriting and dialogue is generally great, but there are some scenes that come across as quite cliché. There also seems to be an undercurrent of sexual tension between Sam and Frodo, although I could be reading too much into this. There are lots of longing glances, intimate dialogue and a slow-mo scene towards the end where Frodo’s laughing turns into a deep, sensual stare as Sam enters the room.

Alas, with praise also comes criticism:

  • The female characters are strong, powerful and interesting but underused. Most of the time the women serve to propel their male counterparts forward in the plot. And they do not once interact with each other, although with this being a book adaptation maybe this wasn’t possible within the confines of the story. The exception maybe Eowyn but even she falls for Aragorn who cannot return her love.
  • The entire cast is white. I know this is a fictional place so we don’t have anything to base racial proportions on but that’s sort of my point. Would it have really mattered if some of the characters were played by non-white actors? No. This is less of a problem with the film itself than the industry as a whole but it is still worth mentioning.

The relationship between Legolas and Gimli is interesting as they overcome, generations of tension and animosity between their races to become close friends. This obviously has some current relevancy as we have a long way to go with racial equality. But again they are both white…so see above.

  • Even Nazgul, Sauron’s minions, whose only drive is their primal need to find the ring still fall victim to, ‘’Bad Guy Monologue-ing’’. We’ve all seen it. The good guy is done for all the bad guy has to do now is just get on with it. Instead he wastes just enough time explaining his plans that the good guy can escape. And while the Nazgul do not monologue they do waste time and get distracted. Or, more frustratingly, just aren’t very good at finding things. This happens at least 7 times during the trilogy.
  • Multiple endings! This has been the films biggest criticism. The final film takes about 40 minutes to end including: eagles, two weddings, book writing, narration, a whitewash reunion and a boat trip. There are at least five different places where the film could have feasibly ended without causing any problems.

There is no denying Tolkein’s genius but here are some of my issues!

  • THE FUCKING EAGLES. Whenever Tolkein ran out of ideas on how to solve a problem he just called in the eagles. Gandalf’s trapped. Eagles. Outnumbered in battle. Eagles. Frodo’s trapped. Eagles. The entire prequel Hobbit trilogy. Eagles. Why not just give them the bloody ring and let them fly to Mordor? It’d certainly be much quicker.

  • This one is more of a niggle. Dwarfes and Elves hate each other. SO why, in the name of all that is holy, is the password to get into Moria an Elvish word?
  • This series is black and white. Good vs Evil. The characters are either one or the other. I suppose it makes sense in this story but it does leave some of the characters a bit flat. I suppose everyone has the same enemy so maybe they put all other duplicitous plans on the back burner for now? I mean if you exclude Sauron the biggest dicks in the series are men. But even then that’s only because there are two evil men and the rest are good. The only character with any level of grey is Boromir, but his grey is negated by the fact that his actions are part of a misguided plan to do the right thing for his people by fighting the enemy with his own weapon.

All that being said, this series is not just an exceptional cinematic achievement but is an all-encompassing, engrossing and enjoyable watch. Do yourself a favour, set aside 9 hours and watch it!

VERDICT:

PS/ If you want to make a good movie, cast Sean Bean and then kill him. It just works…Patriot Games, Golden Eye, The Field, Game Of Thrones. It’s not worth the risk of letting him live, just ask Jupiter Ascending or The Silent Hill franchise! Although he does still die in some bad movies…trust Michael Bay to ruin a good thing!

PPS/ As a reward for reading all that here are some fun facts.

Number of times Legolas stands and stares at something : 7

Number of moments of intense sexual tension between Frodo and Sam: 9

Number of times you hear the ‘’Shire’’ music: 32 fucking times!

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014) Review

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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Directed by Matt Reeves

Starring:
Andy Serkis
Jason Clarke
Gary Oldman
Keri Russell
Toby Kebbell
Kodi Smit-McPhee

Running time: 131 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.

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My Opinion:

I’m sure everyone has reviewed this by now so I’ll just say this: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is pretty damn spectacular. It isn’t perfect but any issues I have with it are pretty insignificant compared to the amazing special effects. WOW! Hey you WordPress whippersnappers – remember that I’m old. You’re all used to movies looking like this now & just expect it all the time. You’re spoiled!!! 😉 I mean, I’m actually still impressed by 1968’s Planet Of The Apes so, you know, maybe I’m more easy to please than some of you. But this film is REALLY freaking impressive.

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The apes!!! I’d happily watch a movie with just the apes & no human actors on screen. There was so much depth to their characters. The only downside is that they did such an excellent job with the look and the character development of the apes that the humans in the film really do pale by comparison. It was actually easier to feel for the apes and their struggle than it was for the humans and all that they’ve gone through. However, (and this is something I loved about this film), there’s no black & white “humans are evil and the apes are innocent” (or vice versa). We see both sides and I thought the story worked really well & that the way things progressed was very believable. I was completely immersed in this film and that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like considering how many movies I go to.

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Summary:

I don’t know what else to say that hasn’t been said by others. I thought Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was pretty great and I love that Dawn manages to improve on it. Also, I’ll fully admit that I love that this movie turns into a full-on blockbuster at the end. This movie is proof that you CAN have an exciting, heart-pounding blockbuster as well as an intelligent script and well developed characters that you actually care about. I do wish the human characters had had as much time spent on making us care about them as the apes had but it’s really a minor complaint. This movie is very very good.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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I STILL haven’t made my mind up on if Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is my 2nd or 3rd favorite movie of 2014. It’s between this & Her. See my full list HERE if you’re bothered. 🙂