There are plenty of good spoiler-free reviews for the film doing the rounds including from Drew McWeeney at Hitfix, Matt Singer at Screencrush, Jen Yamato at The Daily Beast and Eric Vespe at Aint it Cool news among many others. This is not one of them though. I didn’t really feel I could write a substantial review without going into details. So just in case the title did not make this clear, this review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Do not read until after you have seen the film, or unless you don’t really care about having it spoiled. Feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments below now I’ve given the warning for those who need it.
One more warning. Spoilers coming your way after this poster.
Headline statement: I quite liked it and I think major Star Wars fans will love it. So don’t let anything take I say take away from that. And whilst I had an absolute blast watching it in my early morning session at the cinema, the further away I get from the film, the more its issues dominate in my mind. Basically for this mild fan of the franchise, it was a good but definitely not great experience. There are plenty scripting issues. It’s exposition heavy and the story totally plods along, taking far too much time. And frankly it feels like a remake at times so often have we seen a lot of these story moments. This is perhaps my major issue. The story, despite some different dressing, is the Death Star take 3. Nothing about the plot feels new with one or two exceptions. I have heard a number of people liken this to Creed (2015). I get the comparison, but for me it’s off the mark. Sure Creed has a similar structure to the earlier Rocky films. But it puts much more of a new spin on them, rather than rehashing large tracts of them wholesale. On the plus side for the script, I did think that the humour was a real strong suit. BB-8 will be a marketer’s dream and Abrams keeps the kiddiness in check. Abrams is also much better at characters than Lucas and it is the new characters that stick with you. Not such a bad thing for a continuing franchise. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a hero I hope to see in more films, whilst John Boyega’s Finn has a really fresh arc that I don’t think we have seen before. A defecting Stormtrooper adds depth to his part and is something genuinely new. The performances overall are good. I thought both Oscar Isaac and Carrie Fisher were excellent, though much under-used. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is the real lead from the old guard, and he is having fun here and not phoning it in at all.
This brings us to the elephant in the room. Luke Skywalker is not in this film. Well he is, but for legitimately less than a minute. That feels a little cheap given the marketing push around the stars of the original trilogy return. I will be utterly intrigued as to how this is received amongst Star Wars fandom. Feels like we were promised something that was not delivered. Even for me, this was a major negative as the continued wish to have him injected into the action failed to materialise. This is all coming off a bit negative, and there were lots of things I did enjoy. John Williams does his Star Wars thing and it a really impressive accompaniment to the action. It’s comfortably the best looking film of the series, as it should be. The ships are great, though I could have used more dogfighting action. The action that is there was perhaps not integrated into the stakes of the story as good as it could have been. Definitely on the plus side was the establishment of the villainous First Order. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a bit of a dud. Well he looks cool and it’s a good performance. But again, this feels like a total rehash. He’s Han and Leia’s son, and all the same family issues from the original trilogy come to the fore. But I like the fact that there are three main villains and that there are factions and ruptures amongst them. It will be interesting to see how Ren and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux interact in the next couple of entries.
Verdict: In the end the story for The Force Awakens was lacking for me, as was the freshness. You know, caught up in the moment, I had a blast. As I reflect back on it, I think it’s a little underwhelming. But the film does leave the series in a good place for Episodes 8 and 9 to launch from, especially with the new characters and the First Order well established. Stubby of Reschs
George A. Romero’s ‘Dead’ series of zombie films with a side of social commentary are about as beloved as classic horror gets. Perhaps none more so than the second in the series Dawn of the Dead (1978) which arrived a round decade after the decidedly more lo-fi Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Unfortunately for me, a little something got lost in that decade. There is much to admire in the ideas and devices of the film, but not all that much to truly enjoy. The environment is chaotic from the start. Initially that chaos is restricted to a TV studio and then, for the majority of the film, a mall. In theory there should be a nice flow of the chaos being restricted, then spiralling out, then being restricted again. But in reality, it’s a little boring, which a zombie apocalypse in the mall outing has no excuse for. The plot is high concept in that it really is just a small band of folk trying to turn back the zombie hordes in a confined space. In execution though, Dawn of the Dead lacks storytelling clarity. In addition to the lack of a clear destination for the characters to be working toward, the aims and stakes of individual sequences are never well articulated. There is a big long set piece involving a bunch of trucks at one point. But it is never explained exactly what the characters are trying to achieve with this daring operation and why they are making the decisions they do. These elements are all the more frustrating because the best moments of the film are the characters carrying out well articulated pieces of minutiae such as body disposals or building walls to barricade themselves. Neither is the film able to give a sense of the scale of the outbreak in a worldwide or even USA-wide way. It is very much operating on the micro level with no attention paid to the status of the macro struggle. This leads to the trajectory of the plot being ultimately far too flat.
So sure aspects of it look cool, but to what end. Early on there are some nice moments toying with the idea of how since the events of the first film, the zombie horde has very much become a part of daily human life. Blokes hang around drinking and taking pot-shots at their undead brethren. Romero really does not seem to have an eye for shooting or constructing action. The film is nothing particularly creative to look at in these sequences and just lumbers along. Perhaps in part that can be blamed on the fact that the lack of speed in the zombies is really apparent, muting the fear they should inspire. The main positive of the gnarly gore is in the end not enough to overcome the unshakeable sense that this is an aimless and plotless venture. Italian Giallo maestro Dario Argento had some level of involvement with the film. Goblin provide the soundtrack and initially there is a definite influence of Giallo in the stylistic approach of the film. That had me very excited for something left of centre, but the arthouse chops faded quite quickly. The soundtrack endures a little better though, and I am a big fan of it. This is kinda understated Goblin, vibey but not overly intrusive. The effects of the film are a mixed bag. The bloodiness and gore elicit most of the reaction that the film brings. But the dull greyness of the makeup is not much chop at all to look at. There is a continuation of a number of themes from the first film, with social commentary on racial tolerance and classism popping up. The setting also influences the themes, with commentary on capitalism, on greed and the inability to share a bounty. The destruction of a department store standing in for the breakdown of capitalism, zombie consumers being mindlessly drawn back to this shopping palace. But whilst these work ok in isolation, they do not feed into the main plotline of the film or vice versa.
Verdict: There is a reasonable amount to like in the sheer violence and social commentary of Dawn of the Dead. But it underwhelms on most storytelling fronts, remaining aimless to the very end, to such an extent that this horror classic is a major disappointment. Schooner of Carlton Draught
I’m continuing to try and get a little more up to date with these Worth Watching posts. And continuing to fail. This was a pretty mixed month. Plenty of stuff I liked, though not really anything I would say are totally unmissable. But plenty of real rubbish amongst the not worth watchings. Let me know your thoughts on any of these in the comments below. I’m also trying to do a lot better at engaging with people on here.
- The Wolverine Director’s Cut (2013), James Mangold – I missed the theatrical release of this one, but heard this director’s cut is superior in any case. Boldest possible start for a comic book film – atomic bombing of Japan from the Japanese side. Overall it’s an interesting choice of Wolverine story to adapt. Him being mortal an interesting spin on the superhero losing their powers trope. At its strongest when the Japanese setting & culture permeate the film. Jackman is perfect in this antihero role. Film features some very cool action sequences, not CG focused, just long physical back and forth. Even the CG moments are nicely drawn. A very different comic book film.
- A Most Violent Year (2014), J.C. Chandor – Real sense of place. Soundtrack and Oscar Isaac running the NY streets. I liked this a lot. Machinations of business on the street, Isaac attempting to rise above that. Chastain a total badass. Right from the start, she is the one who seems to have the power, control of the situation. An interesting dynamic. These two give such great performances and their to-and-fro is the reason to watch. It’s quiet, but builds the tension and menace, ably assisted by a great score and excellent supporting performances.
- The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013), Jean-Pierre Jeanet – A sorta family film about the intersection of imagination/idealism with science. Stark and creative visually, which I understand matches the approach of the book. The eccentricity is grounded in a realistic family dynamic. Thankfully doesn’t slip into over the top try-hardiness where everything is totally eccentric and unbelievable. A jauntiness overall, along with a balance of eccentricity and a generic family heart that is the film’s greatest asset.
- Utopia Season 1 (2014), Rob Stich, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner – Had this on in the background for a few days on paternity leave and smashed through it. As an Aussie public servant, this is just too frightening. Workplace language is hilariously spot on. Has that mixture of sharp satire and silliness that all the best Working Dog stuff has. Well acted, especially from Rob Stich in the lead role who is in essentially every scene.
- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), Scott Glosserman – Generally a fan of meta-horror and this is a top addition to the sub-genre. Adore how they reference other slasher villains in the world of the film. Digs wonderfully into horror film mythos. Funny too, though the surreal aspects do work against the film a little in the end. Makes it feel too light. A slow burn that would have potentially been better as a short form thing. Features a nicely layered dynamic between the villain (hero?) Leslie and the doco crew following him. Despite a heavily forecast twist and the low budget trimmings showing through on occasion, this is an ace flick.
- San Andreas (2015), Brad Peyton – How you feel about this film depends on how you feel about a The Rock saving his family from natural disaster plotline. Earthquakes are fuckin frightening aye. There’s some pretty good big screen destruction to go along with your Rock. Hoover Dam getting mashed is a particular highlight. Paul Giamatti’s character is essentially just a scientific exposition spouting machine. Deeply silly popcorn fluff that makes no attempt to deal with the weight of death and destruction it depicts.
- Digging up the Marrow (2014), Adam Green – There’s a certain innocence to this film. Essentially involves around a childlike search to prove monsters are real. Employs very straight doco stylings. It’s pretty clever and really quite scary. The practical monsters are a very cool throwback. Nicely constructed, with Green appearing onscreen and showing raw footage to others around the production office. There is a reasonable amount of charm to his onscreen persona. A good dramatic dynamic to his relationship with his co-workers, their doubts of him.
- The Martian (2015), Ridley Scott – Would not have picked ’15 Ridley Scott to deliver popcorn sci-fi this fun. It’s so light with nary a weighty theme in sight that it barely qualifies as an entry in the genre. Damon’s wise-cracking character that jarred so heavily in the trailers, is a sassy and frequently funny anchor for the film. Stakes never feel very high, the writing eliciting minimal tension from the situations at hand. But this is a different kind of film. A damn pretty one for sure, with both the Martian landscapes and spaceship sets looking great. Performances are uniformly good, Ejiofer gets the best of the supporting roles. But it’s Damon’s film and he handles tones both dramatic and more comedic with aplomb.
- The Good Wife Season 5 (2013), Robert King & Michelle King – Starts off literally the moment the last one ended which I like. The whole series is populated with excellent supporting performers – Jeffrey Tambor being symptomatic of that. Not sure about some of the characterisation, Alicia gets very smug for a while which takes away her likeability. But the relationship between Will and Alicia remains the best thing in the show. It should have been focused on more because there’s a complexity there that is rare. There are some tonally missteps when things get too silly and there is a big overreliance on flashbacks. Performances are excellent, especially from Alan Cumming and Josh Charles. But everything in this season is totally overshadowed by a death in the middle of the season of a massive character that totally comes out of nowhere story wise. It promises to totally change the direction of the show, and I’m not sure that is necessary.
Not Worth Watching:
- Everly (2014), Joe Lynch – A high concept action flick starring an ass-kickin Selma Hayek raises expectations. It starts promisingly, dripping in style, with simple & unobtrusive exposition setting the scene. But the action looks cheap in a way that detracts from the story. The cast is nicely diverse, though performances are patchy to the extent some of them disrupt the flow of the film. I like the simplicity of the story but it’s a little underdeveloped. Its funny moments are mainly just awkward. It’s all a shame really, because the creative moments such as a wide-shot elevator fight are great. All just a little melodramatic and shit, not to mention unnecessarily sadistic at times.
- While We’re Young (2014), Noah Baumbach – After this one, I have decided that Baumbach is just not for me. He seemingly has such derision for so many people. A lot of the runtime is spent ridiculing various folks. There’s a sheen of hipster insincerity and self-awareness that is utterly overwhelming. Especially on the script front. The message of this film boils down to basically duh some people are old, some people are young. And the exploration of the professed themes of artistic integrity and documentary authenticity is totally shallow. Another insufferable effort from a director who excels at them.
- Arbitrage (2012), Nicholas Jarecki – Totally nothin start and it never really improves from there. Bland and underwhelming. A film will have to be a lot better to make me care about a rich, fraudulent, adulterous prick who I’m supposedly meant to be empathising with. Ill advised in the extreme to expect an audience to give a shit about him. An even bigger issue is there’s just nothing bloody happening in this film. There’s some moderately interesting stuff about power. But it’s barely there. Also, there’s basic gaps in logic throughout.
- Into the Woods (2014), Rob Marshall – I have a natural aversion to musicals and the early going here backs that up. There is nothing interesting or entertaining about people just singing what they are doing. But then the combination of fairytales idea and excellent performances shine through for a fair while. Corden, Blunt, Pine, Streep and especially Lilla Crawford are all really great. The film looks relatively good too in terms of costuming, effects, design and sets, though it is all a little uncreative. All in all it’s a decent enough jaunt… until a monumentally awful 50 minute coda to finish the film. The storytelling just falls off a cliff and it’s so overwhelmingly crap that it effects the whole film, going as far as not bothering to wrap up the arcs of important characters.
If you only have time to watch one A Most Violent Year
Avoid at all costs While We’re Young