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

Shutter Island (2010) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Zoe of The Sporadic Chronicles Of A Beginner Blogger. Thanks so much for all the reviews, Zoe! 🙂 Now let’s see what she thinks of Shutter Island, IMDB rank 235 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.

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Sanity’s not a choice, Marshall. You can’t just choose to get over it.” Dr John Crawley

SYNOPSIS: A U.S Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. – via IMDB

Yes! You better believe it! I am back again, I just cannot resist this IMDB Top 250 challenge at all, and I just want to thank the lovely Miss Mutant for allowing me to submit so many reviews to her site for it. Well, we all know what goes here, so now we will move on to the movie reviewing bit itself – I am talking Shutter Island today.

Now, I know there are a few people that are not overly enamoured with this endeavour by the dream team that is Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio (super cough directed at you, Eric). But you know what? I guess we will leave this at each to their own.

shutter island the island

I have read Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, and I loved that, too. Lehane is a gifted writer and I have enjoyed all his work so far. Granted, I read the book after the movie, but I would like to mention that it is one hell of a loyal and great adaption of the book. Shutter Island was a trip to take; it was just wonderful for me. It was suspenseful, very well acted and I loved the cast. The CGI may not have been perfect, but that was really peripheral for me in all honesty. I have always said that I can deal with crappy effects provided that the story is gripping and captivating. Now, these effects were by no long shot dreadful, but they were quite a way from being on the level of something like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The score for this was loud and in your face, building suspense, though at times I even thought that it was a little excessive (yes, defender of the film that I am and all). Most people complain about how heavy and loud it is in the beginning, but I thought that it served its purpose perfectly there – it was going out of its way to make you feel uncomfortable and jangle your nerves.

I did not see that plot twist coming really; I was more interested in experiencing what was going down as it was without thinking too far forward. That is usually unlike me, I call these things rather quickly, and I know a lot of other people did call it early for this movie, but still. Maybe it is because the first time I watched this I was distracted with other things I was doing at the time, either way, it was a really pleasant surprise for me. Now, let’s talk about the performances. We all know that I am extremely taken with the super-talented Leonardo DiCaprio, and what he did in Shutter Island was no exception to his wonderful repertoire of roles. He came in as US Marshal Teddy Daniels and just… worked that role. He was angry, upset, driven by his work though definitely had some undertow of grief due to the loss of his family and a side project he was working. Mark Ruffalo complemented him fantastically as Chuck Aule, the two working back and forth, engaging and entertaining. DiCaprio came in and lent credence to Teddy, giving us some intense flashbacks of the things that he has seen in the past, the places he has gone.

shutter island sick world

The flashbacks are broken apart by the main story, which is also broken by the flashbacks. They come together so well, and give the movie a cool way of storytelling. The partnership between Teddy and Chuck was something different. Suspect, trusting, devolving into the mad crusade that Teddy is so preoccupied with… it is presented as a locked box mystery, but that in itself is such a side measure to the real issue at hand: Teddy and Shutter Island.

shutter island which would be worse

Martin Scorsese might not have delivered his finest work with Shutter Island, but he did deliver a solid adaptation of Lehane’s novel as well as a highly entertaining and undervalued film exploring the lengths that the mind will go to in order to protect itself. I find it to be a extremely enjoyable watch and something I will always recommend to people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iaYLCiq5RM

The Seventh Seal (1957) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Chris of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Thanks for the review, Chris! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet), IMDB rank 117 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.

Plot: A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.

A 1957 Swedish film about the ubiquity of death and the struggle of life sounds a bit like something you’d watch in film school or that hipsters would discuss over their kale lattes. It probably is both of those things, actually, but The Seventh Seal really is an interesting piece of cinema that’s worth a couple of hours of your time.

However, that does depend on what you want out of your films. If you want something light and fluffy to switch off to after a hard day at work then The Seventh Seal probably isn’t your best option in all honesty. But if you want something that’s going to make you consider deep metaphysical questions about life, death, religion and such then this could well float your boat.

There’s an incredible amount going on in The Seventh Seal, and it’s one of those films that you can take as much or as little away from it as you like. If you want to just see a knight travelling to his castle and meeting people along the way then you can do that, but if you want to see a man questioning the purpose of life in the face of death (or whatever else you want to read into it) then you can do that too.

For me, it’s a much richer film if you read into it a little. Granted, you could drive yourself crazy trying to work out absolutely everything, but just thinking a little deeper into its meanings is hugely rewarding. Some people like to do that with their films, some don’t. But this film gives back what you put into it.

Some of the film’s themes are abstract and hidden, whilst others are in reasonably plain sight. For me, the main theme of the film is a man questioning the existence of God, something which is quite openly discussed throughout the film. How can God exist when people are at war with each other and the Black Death is sweeping the country killing people? These are questions as old as the idea of God itself and questions that are still talked about today. For that reason it’s a film that although may look a little dated, still feels like it has resonance today.

Then there are plenty of other themes that run throughout such as the importance of family and friendship during hard times, ensuring you do good in life and lots of other deep shit. It really is a film you could analyse for years and still get news things from it each time.

The imagery in the film is some of the most iconic in cinema, and no doubt many of you will be familiar with the image of Max Von Sydow’s Antonius Block playing a game of chess with Death. The image of the danse macabre as Death leads away his victims is also incredibly iconic and powerful and helps turn the films into something much more deep and meaningful in its messages and metaphors.

The Seventh Seal simply isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone. It can be very slow moving at times, covers some pretty heavy themes and is just downright surreal and odd in parts. Definitely the kind of film my girlfriend would comment something along the lines of ‘what the fuck are you watching?!’ Don’t watch it if you’re looking for something to unwind and switch off to.

But I quite enjoyed it. I enjoyed thinking a little more into it and some of the cinematography is fantastic, so even if you don’t want to get all philosophical about it, there’s still plenty to enjoy. It’s probably not one I’d watch again in all honesty, but a good one to tick off the watch-list.

The Exorcist (1973) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from C Taylor of Celluloid Junkie. A big thanks to her for taking part in this IMDB project! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about The Exorcist, IMDB rank 205 out of 250…

There are still a few 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.

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After the 12-year old daughter of a famous actress, Chris MacNeil, begins displaying signs of demonic possession, Chris turns to a Catholic priest in hopes that an exorcism will restore her daughter’s health.

Starring Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, Jason Miller as Father Karras, Max von Sydow as Father Merrin, Linda Blair as Regan, and Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of PazuzuThe Exorcist is directed by William Friedkin based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty.

The Exorcist is a once-in-a-generation film.  It’s the kind of film whose far reaching influence continues to touch and inspire creative endeavors all around the world.  It has been referenced in countless other films, television series, cartoons, and comedic stand-up routines.  This year, December 26th, will mark the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist‘s release.

The version of The Exorcist I screened for this review is the 2000 theatrical re-release entitled The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen.  I was lucky enough to get a copy of the film on DVD years earlier and am happy to use it now because it includes the restored “spider-walk” scene originally cut from the film by director Friedkin.  It is a scene so chilling, despite it’s short length (from start to finish, I believe it’s less than 30 seconds of screentime), it renewed the fear I felt upon watching The Exorcist for the first time decades earlier.

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Friedkin believed the spider-walk effect didn’t work technically in 1973 because the wires used to aid the contortionist (Linda R. Hager) in the scene could not be fully removed in post-production.  It’s unfortunate because of its importance to the plot.  This scene is arguably the moment when Regan’s mother, Chris (Burstyn), no longer believes her daughter (Blair) is just ill, but, instead, truly possessed by a demonic force.

The spider-walk scene is that “aha!” moment in the storyline that drives the character of Chris , who is an atheist, to seek the help of the Catholic church; specifically Father Karras (Miller).  And while it is a little bit more dramatic than the spider-walking in Blatty’s novel, it remains unnerving and powerful nonetheless. [1]

Much has been said and analyzed and theorized about the use of a young child in a story about demonic possession, particularly a young girl.  I think the crux of the arguments for and against ignore the truth; that Regan is a child or a girl has nothing to do with the demon Pazuzu’s true intent.  Pazuzu’s intent is to chip away at and eventually destroy those around Regan; her atheist mother, Father Karras’ faith, and Father Merrin’s health.  It is the sowing of the grief and despair that interests Pazuzu.

That Regan is a girl is irrelevant.  But not for the audience.

One of the key elements to The Exorcist‘s shock value is Regan.  A fresh-faced, otherwise relatively unknown Linda Blair, embodied a youthful innocence and curiosity.  She is shown as a sweet, horse-obsessed child who, in the wake of her parent’s separation, is just a little unsure of her surroundings.  Her one mistake, finding and playing with a Ouija board she finds in a downstairs closet, like Eve and the Apple, is also her downfall. Regan unwittingly opens a doorway to another realm, inviting in Captain Howdy (Pazuzu).

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As Regan is forced to endure the litany of defilements, violence, and abuse of Pazuzu’s possession, the audience is trapped as a passive observer;  powerless to help, unable to look away.  It’s a brilliant mechanism employed by screenwriter/author Blatty, who,in doing so, extends the reach of Pazuzu’s torments beyond the 4th wall, into the real world.

It is this extension of fiction into the realm of reality that aids the overall feeling of terror The Exorcist exudes.  For those particularly sensitive to religious or supernatural horror, there is possibly no greater film in the horror genre than The Exorcist.  For those of us who could take or leave religiously based horror, there is the psychological element behind Regan’s illness to consider.

That her mother had consulted 88 doctors in a relentless effort to discover what is ailing her, and that search yields nothing more than a final scene in which a doctor, in a room full of doctors, tells her to consider exorcism, is as powerful today as it was in the 1970s.  Potentially more so, as we begin to see cultural shifts in the way we view the dealings of the Catholic church in general.

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It’s this opening of loopholes, of possibilities, of causality, that makes the premise behind The Exorcist so horrifying for any viewer, not just those with religious inclinations.  For me, there is a serious body horror element to The Exorcist that will plague my thoughts as long as I live.

Most things are done right in the film adaptation of The Exorcist, despite the lengths to which the audience is required to go in order to see it through.  The pacing is deliberately slow allowing for a more complete development of the central characters (namely Chris and daughter Regan, and Father Karras).  In fact, this development is implicitly necessary in order for the events of the film to have any meaning and impact.  After all, it’s the connection between mother and daughter that ultimately creates the driving fear behind the girl’s losing battle with Pazuzu.

Although it goes without saying, I’ll say it.  The Exorcist is a horror film classic, suitable for fans of religious and secular horror alike.

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REFERENCES:

[1] ”The Exorcist (film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 Feb. 2013. Web.  22 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcist_(film)>

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-C Taylor (celluloidjunkie.me / @ctaylor on twitter)

about.me/c.taylor