There is perhaps no more iconic filmmaking duo than Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collaborating from the very late 30s all the way to the early 70s. Relatively early on in their partnership, they developed I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a class focussed romance that melds the pretty stuffy with the quite progressive, and some great location filmmaking.
The film focusses on Joan Webster, played by Wendy Hiller, as she travels from London to an island in the relative middle of nowhere, to marry her richass fiancée. Of course things don’t go smoothly and she finds herself stuck on the mainland, within viewing distance of her beloved’s island, but unable to get there. Here she spars repeatedly with the (apparent) everyman Torquil MacNeil, who is also aiming to get to the island. The setup is a pretty typical upper class person stranded with, and falling for, ‘regular folk’, kind of deal. And despite a few wrinkles, that’s more or less how it plays out. Though there are some pretty avant-garde sequences used early on, to suggest here marriage is to a company not a person, and focusing in on the idea of her selling out her identity for that. The character of Joan is a major positive too, adding something a little different, especially in the very contemporary way she interacts with the men around her. Which makes the general averageness of the plot even more disappointing. It’s quite stuffy, with various social visits being trudged through. You can see what Powell and Pressburger are doing, setting up a version of society to bore her and for her to rebel against. Straight into the arms of her new love interest obviously. But it’s all quite tiresome getting there. The schmaltzy romance stuff is similarly received, constant close-ups and longing looks. However the story does have some nice notes of how fate intervenes in our lives, often to very positive ends.
Toward the end, those themes of class do re-emerge, now with quite a sharp edge to them. Joan’s selfishness and impatience comes flooding out and she is very willing to exert her economic power over the lower classes to get what she wants when she wants it. A lot stronger an element than the love story guff, which is only bearable due to the performances. Overall the film is really about her embracing her ‘true class’ rather than another man. Though not in as negative a way as that suggests. The film looks really great. The location shooting, full of fog and moors is used to great effect. It really feels like these locations are bearing down on the characters and influencing their lives in a meaningful way. There is some beautiful framing, the use of light shadow and fog really helping to take advantage of the great locales. It’s an incredibly strong aesthetic. Some of the scenes at sea also really effectively use the location available. There is some great rear-projection work that turns them into quite intense action sequences. The visual effects never distance you from the action. The opposite in fact as it realistically almost induces sea sickness. Really effective. Plus there are whirlpools which are always rad.
Verdict: The strength of I Know Where I’m Going lies not in the plot, but in the way it is brought to life. The location shooting, sea-based sequences and above average acting help to elevate the film beyond the plodding details of the story. Stubby of Reschs
I have always been a wrestling fan. There has always been an allure to the over the top storytelling and athleticism that the ‘sport’ brings. A unique blend that when done well, is hard to match for pure entertainment. However something that myself and many other fans of wrestling often struggle with is the problematic portrayal of homosexuality (and basically all minorities actually) in the art form. This is based on my wrestling consumption which has been 99% American. Los Exoticos (2013) is a documentary glimpse into the tradition of drag wrestlers, or exoticos, in Mexico, a much more positive approach to the portrayal of minorities in wrestling.
Mexico, along with the USA and Japan, is one of the big three wrestling nations. Los Exoticos does an excellent job of outlining the integral place of the exotico tradition in Mexican wrestling culture. The makeup and character of an exotico is likened to a Luchador’s mask, which is a powerful symbol in Mexico (luchadors often square off in high stakes ‘mask vs mask’ matches, where the loser is never permitted to where a mask again). The film also contains a lot of great historical and stylistic analysis of the exoticos. Where they fit in to wrestling and the evolution of the form as societal attitudes changed, with more overt acknowledgements toward homosexuality. Though the open embrace of these performers, the fact that they compete not just amongst themselves but against masked luchadors and are respected as athletes, shows homosexuality is much more acknowledged in Mexican wrestling, the film does not shy away from the homophobia (both historical and contemporary) that these men suffer. We see that they are subjected to more sustained abuse from the crowds, specifically focused on their sexuality. However the telling of the film is a little workmanlike. It meanders along, going down on tangents that are not well integrated into the core themes of the film and there are long sequences of footage that are not explained or examined. It is not bad per se, just a little plain.
Los Exoticos is at its best when discussing the connection of the exotico tradition to gay identity. It seems that it is a rite of passage of sorts for gay Mexican wrestlers to perform as exoticos. Whilst previously, many exoticos were straight (and a number of older, straight wrestlers curmudgeonly complain about the current status of exoticos, with a fair bit of ‘back in my day’ style muttering) nowadays there is a strong connection between homosexuality and performing as an exotico. Much of their in-ring work relies on this, playing on notions of gay panic, with lots of kissing of opponents for example. As well as this, the film illustrates the importance of exoticos to the broader LGBTQ movement in Mexico. Their prominence, ability and general acceptance in a traditionally heterosexually dominated realm is a powerful piece of symbolism. Interviews at a gay rights rally show the inspiration these performers provide for a lot of members of the community. One of the great joys of good documentary filmmaking is having your worldview expanded. Even as a lifelong wrestling fan, I was not aware of exoticos and the role they played in Mexican wrestling, not to mention their courage and dynamic wrestling ability. To gain an appreciation for all of that through the film makes it easy to forgive some of the deficiencies in the filmmaking.
Verdict: This film is a must watch for anyone interested in wrestling or sexuality whatsoever. The filmmaking itself is perhaps average enough to mean that if you don’t have those particular interests you could give it a miss. However give it a shot and I doubt you will be disappointed or come away without a new appreciation for these wrestlers. Stubby of Reschs
More and more, I am finding that I am a sensibility guy. There are some directors whose sensibility and worldview I immediately connect to, or am enamoured with – Terrence Malick and Wes Craven being perhaps the two that most immediately spring to mind. This works both ways though, and there are certain beloved directors whose craft I can respect, but that fail to move me on an enjoyment or thematic level as much as most people. I spoke of this when reviewing Scorsese’s Casino (1995) recently, and in addition to Marty it is perhaps the Coen Brothers who connect with me the least.
Whilst Blood Simple (1984) was their first film, it was Fargo (1996) that really vaulted the duo onto the indie map and they have never looked back. Speaking of sensibilities, the Coens have a very unique one. So much so that it is disconcerting to the viewer in its unconventionality. We are used to certain structures and beats that are rarely delivered in the order or pacing that is expected. Of course, subverting expectation is certainly not a bad thing in and of itself. But it perhaps hurts the overall impact of this film, particularly on a purely narrative level. The first period of the film is focused on William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, a down on his luck car salesman looking to get rich quick through organising a kidnapping of his wife that will force her loaded dad to come up with the ransom payment that Jerry will share with his hired goons. There is a deep well of thematic complexity with this character, a normalish guy in way over his head, which forces him to forsake his family. It is not until the half hour mark that we meet Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson. A heavily pregnant police detective brought in to investigate the murders this scheme has wrought. The film is at its best when it ratchets up the action and violence. There’s a coldness to Peter Stormares’s hired goon that fits perfectly into the snowbound landscapes. Overall there is a weird mix to the tone. Drama and black comedy but laced with the occasional piece of heightened Tarantino style dialogue or a silly character.
Marge is a great character, immediately exceeding the somewhat dreary and languid setup of the film. Everything about the story thread with McDormand at the core elevates the film. The writing of the procedural elements offers an auteurist take on the genre tropes of crime fiction, as she runs down the various clues on the case. The character and performance are excellent examples of quirk without grating the audience. Pregnant, wide-eyed, diligent, brilliant and hilariously written and performed. The arrival of McDormand and Marge change the film totally, the character giving the film something to anchor on, settling it in a really good way. She makes the straight comedy scenes a lot funnier and the investigative angle gives the plot the purpose and conventionality it needs. Of course the focus on Jerry is not abandoned and that part of the film still feels flat. In large part that is because the character is such a weak one. The film is really ‘about’ this character if anyone. But he’s so unsympathetic, with vague motivations and that comes off as needlessly oblique rather than mysterious, and I do think the character makes the film weaker overall. The real Ned Flanders vibe coming from Macy’s performance at times didn’t exactly help bring me along either. After McDormand, Peter Stormare gives the best performance. He has this wonderful elemental presence of danger that looms over proceedings and is thankfully not overused.
Verdict: There are two ways to think about Fargo. About 30 minutes’ worth are a very good, very original lean police procedural. The rest is a dramatic black comedy let down by a weak main character in Jerry. However McDormand and the character of Maggie are so great that the film is worthwhile simply for her presence. Stubby of Reschs
With minimal changes, Network (1976) could easily apply directly to today’s media landscape. It is shocking just how ahead of its time the film is. Or perhaps it is shocking just how little mainstream news media has evolved over the past 40 years
Network is straight satire, which is a hard genre to pull off. This is true of the film early on. It is a little disjointed, consisting solely of jokes and neglecting to craft any narrative to go along with them. The employees of the network in question have their heads so far up their arse that they basically miss the profession from the protagonist Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) that he intends to kill himself on air. It’s a funny, but not exactly subtle setup, reminiscent of Wag the Dog (1997) in this and other ways. The jokes often feel too straightforward as does the satire that initially focuses mainly on examining the primacy of business over personal interests. You have to dig a little deeper for the clever satire, concerning the commercialisation of a revolutionary (or anything) that goes so far it eventually cannot be controlled. There are very occasional moments of personal warmth between the characters. However these mainly serve to highlight that the film is very cool and distant, lacking that personal connection or story. Overall it feels in a way that a first viewing of the film (which is what this was for me) is really just to familiarise yourself with the material. It is a truly weird film and I think further viewings will be required to absorb it properly.
Sidney Lumet is considered a master director, and he has a way of shooting films that captures the eye, even if what is being presented is mundane. Here he mixes things up, shooting conversations in a pretty standard way and letting the absurdity of the script grab the attention. But that is contrasted with some really creative cityscapes, canted angles and split screens in other moments. The acting is excellent throughout the film and helps to anchor a script that, whilst brilliant, is quite wild in its construction. Faye Dunaway is marvellous, impassioned and conveying the intelligence of her character. But it is Peter Finch who propels the film. His performance takes you on a surreal psychological journey from downtrodden browbeater to prophetic visionary. This character arc is simultaneously the strangest and most successful aspect of the film.
Verdict: Network is a much weirder film than its reputation would suggest. It is dark and cynical, feeling quite ahead of its time in that regard. Whilst it is a little hard to take it all in on first viewing, the film still works despite being devoid of drama. The work of Peter Finch as Howard Beale is probably worth checking this out for on its own. Also does anyone else feel like Anchorman 2 (2013) is essentially a remake of this film? Stubby of Reschs
The more I think about Quentin Tarantino, the more conflicted I feel. He’s perhaps one of only two directors in the history of cinema (Hitchcock being the other) to have made himself into a genre and he’s also responsible for some of the purest blasts of cinema seen over the past few decades. On the other hand, I seem to like his films less than most, a lot of them being just ok. I also have a strange propensity to like his sillier works such as Death Proof (2007) and Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) more than the more serious efforts that have garnered the director major acclaim.
That is all a longwinded background to where I was coming from when I sat down to watch Reservoir Dogs (1992) for the first time recently. This is the film that blasted Tarantino into stardom and it is a pretty perfect summation of where his career would go. On one front it is a little disappointing. All of his flaws (except for maybe the recently acquired tendency for his films to be vastly too long) are on display here, though it must be said, also are many elements of his filmmaking genius. This film is incredibly talky, with characters talking over each other about, well bullshit a lot of the time. The rapturous reception, to what is an admittedly pretty original conceit of having characters engage in lengthy side-conversations about movies and music, may have done Tarantino’s work a disservice in the long run. Almost in contrast to my feelings about Tarantino’s filmography broadly speaking, here he is best when being serious. The film is much better when painting something like Tim Roth’s desperation to live rather than the riffing on pop culture bulllshit. It’s all about story. If he is dicking about with the script, but it’s in service of the story, then I am in. But otherwise it is just tiresome. On a plot level, this is a mixed bag. Here we see Tarantino’s flair for mixing up narrative structures in a way that increases both the enjoyment and intrigue you will take out of it. But after you tease out what is going on, it is a pretty thin tale, with a twist that really falls flat.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Quentin Tarantino has a stratospheric ego. Here, in one of his interminable cameos (Hitchcock shows us how director cameos should be done – requiring no skill, playful and SHORT), Tarantino gives himself all the most attention seeking, motor mouthed lines in a display that shows off his woeful acting chops. It is interesting to see how actors deal with the script that really does have a lot of rubbish in it. Some flounder, whilst others are able to excel despite the weaknesses on display. Most notably among the latter in Reservoir Dogs is Harvey Keitel, and to a lesser extend Michael Madsen. Somehow those two cut through the weakness of the writing and deliver performances that actually service the plot. They make you believe the dialogue, rathe than feeling you should be sitting back and admiring it for its cleverness.
Verdict: Weirdly, I really don’t have all that much to say about this film. It didn’t move me any more than the fact it is a moderately interesting crime flick. An alright film and notable for being the start of a great career, but no more. Stubby of Reschs
The Wolfpack (2015) has a documentary pitch to make film buffs swoon – a group of brothers are essentially locked away by their father in a New York apartment, with only a massive movie collection to expose them to the outside world. Sounds like some whimsical documentary fun right… not exactly.
At its heart this is an absurd story, but also a very sad and confronting one. And director Crystal Moselle does not shy away from those confronting aspects. The film focuses on six brothers, who for a vast majority of their lives have been kept inside their New York apartment only allowed out a handful of times a year, if at all. There are moments that highlight the power of cinema, one brother remarks on cinema that “it makes me feel like I’m living… magical.” But the film refuses to be twee on that front. Rather than craft a trite narrative about the transformative power of the medium we all love so much, The Wolfpack shows that even that cannot overcome the brutal experience of being trapped in a controlling situation of domestic control. This is less real-life Be Kind Rewind (2008), more story of horrific domestic abuse and overwhelming control. The experience of these young men (and their barely mentioned special needs sister) is quite confronting, ruled by an iron-fisted, most likely mentally ill, patriarch. By the time the film is made, the boys have come to regard their father with contempt, repeatedly expressing their incisively negative viewpoint of him. Though their mother is still pretty enamoured with him and this contrasting of attitudes functions as a comment on domestic abuse to be pondered by the viewer. As does the impact this upbringing has had on the brothers, as they attempt to reach out into the world, but are hamstrung by their past. One of them eloquently expresses the universal fear of being so ignorant of aspects of the world that he will not be able to handle it. It’s universal, but obviously of much greater concern for him than most of us.
However for all its positive qualities in terms of theme, The Wolfpack is a bit of a mess really. There is a struggle to lay out the narrative of the film at all clearly. Perhaps caught in two minds between the crowd-pleasing positive impacts that a love of film has given these brothers, with the reality of their situation, it does not entirely succeed at delivering either coherently. Surprisingly I found the power of cinema focused aspects to be the least interesting, with the more troubling domestic aspects being much more interesting. It is a little frustrating to see interesting roads the film could have taken hinted out but then not taken – the mother’s story is the most interesting but not a focus and the connection between the movies the boys watch and the course of their life could have also been expanded upon.
Verdict: The Wolfpack is a different film to what the synopsis would suggest, both more confronting and less assured than anticipated. Unfortunately, though there is a lot of power captured in this film, it is not captured in a clean, clear way. Stubby of Reschs
If you’re on the internet, which you probably are, you are most likely aware of the storm brewing around Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). The film is being widely derided, whilst fanboys are making utter fools of themselves as they spread hilarious conspiracy theories that Marvel are paying off critics to trash the film. Frankly this is a movie which is neither good enough nor bad enough to be receiving that much attention.
It is worth noting that Batman and Superman don’t directly do battle til a long ways into the film. Until then the action is quite siloed with the Supes side of things (Clarke Kent, Lois, the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor) rarely interacting with the Batman side of things (Bruce Wayne and Alfred). That siloed construction certainly shows. The writing of these two large elements feels totally separate, and one of them (the Batman side) is realised a lot more successfully than the other (the Superman side). The film does a decent, if simplistic, job of establishing Bruce Wayne’s emotional involvement in the events of Man of Steel (2013), though this perhaps does not influence the story throughout as much as it could have. This new Batman is effective enough overall. Whilst there is nothing truly new about how the character is written or presented, I do like the mythical ‘caped crusader’ dimension to him as the film begins. And the dynamic between Affleck and Jeremy Irons, as Bruce/Batman and Alfred is better performed and written than anything on the Superman side.
On that front, the narrative for Superman and Lois just does not sit right. It feels like we are just joining at a random, arbitrary point, with no arc being created or explored. The attempts to bring a political/geopolitical aspect to the story through this narrative are also daft and really add no depth thematically, or interest story wise. On an emotional level, the dynamic of Clark being Superman and also being with Lois is really badly and flippantly written. There should have been some emotional weight to be explored. But instead there is one moment of tension and then Clark hops in the bath with all his clothes on to solve it or some shit. Tellingly, for me at least, the strongest period of the film is the last third when these silos break down. Aside from the parts involving Lex Luthor, the story builds nicely to the finale in an exciting way. The big eventual battle between the two leads features some cool imagery and the fight tells a good story through action, something that is not a strong suit of the film as a whole. Plus they commit for the most part to a ballsy conclusion, though one which is ever so-slightly undermined when you consider a particular story beat earlier in the film.
My major concern with the film going in was the Dawn of Justice subtitle, fearing this would be a half-baked pseudo Justice League film. Thankfully I think they get this right. Wonder Woman is the only character introduced in the film in any real detail and she is the best part of the entire flick. Gal Gadot slays in this movie. She looks the part and the character is written with the perfect amount of sass that thankfully never reaches the point of feeling over-contrived. Plus the simple hyping of the stand-alone film through a single photograph is a really clever way to do it and has me rather excited.
Along with the scattershot storytelling, another major letdown with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it does not look particularly good. The effects range from the passable to distractingly bad. Whilst there is little flair in the costuming or design of the piece. I have already forgotten what the Batmobile particularly looked like, whilst the suit Affleck wears for most of the film is similarly forgettable. Though the bulked up helmeted version he wears into the final battle is at least a little unique. The lack of design originality unfortunately extends to a late villain as well who looks exactly like an orc. On the score front, there could not be a more zeitgeisty crew on duty than Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, but they deliver a pretty disappointing effort. There are some good musical moments late on, but so much of the first half score is overbearing and annoyingly soaring.
The performances are solid throughout. Gal Gadot is the real standout as Wonder Woman, owning that role in a way that many may have not predicted. The other main leads are good too, Affleck succeeds in the thankless place of being a new Batman too close to an iconic one. Amy Adams is good too whilst Henry Cavill is decent, getting by on the fact that damn he looks so much like Superman aye. But oh lordy, Jesse Eisenberg is beyond terrible as Lex Luthor. Obviously that is not all on him. Someone told him to deliver the performance in that manner and the character is written as a wholly unsympathetic brattish, entitled Daddy’s boy. Not to mention the speeches about the nature of God etc that are just beyond tired. But part of the blame rests with the actor and his annoying riffing on Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Verdict: Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice is a case of the good, the bad and the Luthor. Some elements are excellent (everything Batman and especially Wonder Woman), some are bad (the Superman elements) and then there is the downright ugly (Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor mainly). Generally I would not delineate elements of a film so much. But they are that disparate in the film and it is when they cohere that the film is at its best. Stubby of Reschs
At the start of this year, I made myself some goals in terms of viewing for 2016. Just some directors and areas of film that I would like to work my through, including one studio. That studio was the iconic Studio Ghibli and I thought I’d start off at the end with When Marnie Was There (2014).
This is a film centred on notions of teen anxiety. Although the film wanders out from there on different paths, it always returns to that to remind you that’s what the film is revolving around. The emotional stakes are intense, as the teenage main character Anna struggles with realistically presented mental issues such as anxiety and self-worth. These are presented in a way that will strike close to home if yourself or those around you have fought with those. As a result of her illness, Anna goes to stay with her aunt and uncle, which also allows the film to delightfully contrast urban attitudes and stresses with rural sensibilities. The latter are encompassed by the aunt and uncle who are gentle, tender and patient people beautifully helping to nurse Anna back to fuller health. In addition to the portrayal of mental health, the emotional intensity is also increased through the themes of betrayal and familial mystery that run through the core of the film.
Every time I start up a Studio Ghibli film, I am immediately struck by the animation. It is not just that it is ‘hand-drawn’ in this world of computer animation, but also how the studio uses that. In this film it is more subtle than in some of their others, with the time spent straddling the real world and a fantastical one weighted heavily towards the latter. But even with that level of restraint, the visuals still provoke plenty of emotion, through their simple beauty but also how in how they help to tell the narrative. There is a quiet beauty in the imagery, think more about how your eye is drawn to a scene of a watermelon being chopped rather than any wild Princess Mononoke (1997) fantastical creatures or sword fighting.
One point of interest for me was that I picked up some real queer overtones to the film. The relationship between Anna and Marnie unfolds like a romance, specifically a lesbian one. Both characters refer to the other as their “secret”. They take things slowly and as it progresses so does the length and tenderness of their physical contact. A late plot reveal means that any overtones do not fit in with the film more broadly, but I still found them to be quite stark. Perhaps this is Ghibli’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). A film with very clear queer themes, but many involved in the production were unaware of those overtones.
Verdict: When Marnie Was There is not one of Ghibli’s absolute best films, but it is certainly one of their most emotionally intense. The simple, central arc of Anna’s mental illness is very satisfying, and the film finishes with a crushing and emotional kicker. Stubby of Reschs
Over the past few years, New Zealand has been churning out some really original genre films that have gained a major following on the festival and genre scenes. Think Turbo Kid (2015) and Housebound (2014) among others. One of the most recent and beloved examples is Deathgasm (2015), yet another film that comes from super-producer Ant Timpson, who had a hand in the two aforementioned films as well as producing both ABCs of Death anthology films.
Put simply Deathgasm is a heavy metal infused demon horror romp filtered through Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Though following the release of said demon, the action more or less follows a zombie film template. It’s a fast paced film, with the story racing along. Though story is not where the film’s focus is. Most of the attention is on the schlocky, intentionally cheap looking violence and the effects. Trust me, this is a super violent and super gross horror flick. Interestingly the best comedy bits, and indeed the best moments of the film in general, accompany this violence. There are silly moments of humour laced within the violence to help mediate its impact. It would all be a little full on really if the weapons themselves and the reactions of the characters involved were not so damn funny. In addition to the violence, the practical effects also focus heavily on foaming mouths and projectile vomits. These start off cute and funny before escalating to epically gross torrent levels.
The film does have its issues. There feels like there is a lot of imagery and fan service for metalheads in the film. Which is rad. But it doesn’t do a whole lot for me because it was never my scene. Also, despite being quite pithy and funny, the script is not quite strong enough to pull off the straight comedy bits. This is not helped by the actors not feeling like natural comedy performers in these scenes. Having said that though, the acting is really good overall. Lead Milo Cawthorne is immediately engaging and makes you care deeply about his character. Kimberly Crossman shifts from the most desirable girl in school to an axe-wielding wise-cracking badass as easy as you like. And James Blake broods well as the very funny bad boy. Here’s hoping all three of them continue to pop up in films like this. Even a sequel would be fine and dandy with me.
Verdict: This is a must see for any horror fan who doesn’t always want to take themselves too seriously. I suspect that for real metal fans it will huge amounts of fun. As it stands, it’s a very worthy addition to Timpson’s rather impressive run of getting excellent, unique horror stories out there. Stubby of Reschs
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