Movie Quote of the Week – 3/10/17

Answer to MWL 3/8/17: President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) – Air Force One

Get off my plane. – President James Marshall

Thanks for everyone’s submissions a one ticket for a ride on Air Force One to the following people for answering correctly:

Becky (Film Music Central)
Carl (Listening to Film)
Tom (Plain, Simple Tom Reviews)
Jackie
Rob (Movierob)

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie posterSynopsis
Thirty years after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, The First Order threatens the peace of the galaxy, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). One stormtrooper (John Boyega), defects from the First Order with the help of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and along with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join the resistance against the First Order, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Review
Star Wars is in my blood. That is as true as Han shoots first. I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Luke, Han, and Leia to the silver screen since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The last time I was remotely this excited for a film was The Lego Movie, and my excitement for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens exceeds my excitement for that (though not by much actually). Was it worth the hype? I would say yes, but not as much as everyone else seems to think so.

It is very clear that the writers wanted to return to what fans liked about the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, that meant recycling the plot of A New Hope. The move feels too safe; It leans too much on the nostalgia factor. This type of film should want to give fan service. There are all kinds of references that are inserted into the film without feeling intrusive, which is great. However, fan service also doesn’t mean repeating the story, but with different characters and slightly different settings. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy, but each one was different and, for better or worse, told a unique story. When it comes to The Force Awakens, it feels like I’ve seen this story before.

When I left the theater after watching this movie the first time, it felt like there was something off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then after my second viewing I was able to put words to what I was feeling. To me, this felt more like a middle entry of the trilogy instead of a beginning. This has more to do with Kylo Ren’s development. When we learn who he is, what he did, a certain scene over a certain bridge with a certain someone, they all felt like moments that should have been after spending time with the characters and in the new films. I want to expand on this more because but to do so would go into spoilers. If you want to discuss this more, shoot me an email.

The biggest issue I have with The Force Awakens is how many elements are introduced with very few resolutions. Again, as lauded as The Phantom Menace was, one of the things I thought it did very well was show the political state of the galaxy and exactly how different the Republic was from the Empire we met in A New Hope, although I will admit it dwelt on it too long. Regardless, we were introduced to the First Order, the Resistance, and the New Republic but not given much context how they are related. How big is the First Order? If they are a huge threat, why isn’t the New Republic fighting them directly? Or why did the Republic allow them to get so big if they came from the ashes of the Empire? Why does the resistance need to exist in the first place? I know it is meant to be only the first step in a larger journey and I expect (hope) these questions will be answered in due time but one of A New Hope‘s strong points was despite taking place across an entire galaxy, it kept its scope small and still easily set up a larger universe. The Force Awakens isn’t very self-contained and that bothers me.

I was worried that the returning cast wouldn’t be given the screen time necessary to pass the torch to the new cast. Thankfully, Han Solo has a huge, integral part to play that put those fears to bed. Harrison Ford doesn’t miss a beat returning to everyone’s favorite smuggler. Although, he does have a hard time carrying the film without his original costars, Mark Hamill and Carry Fisher, constantly by his side. This is easy to forgive because he has no problem bouncing off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. It’s not as satisfying as his chemistry with Hamill and Fisher, but it creates some pretty funny and heartwarming moments.

Within the first few minutes, I knew The Force Awakens was going to be an exhilarating ride. As soon as the first stormtroopers rush the sands of Jakku, it barely slows down to take a breath. Every new scene either begins or ends with a big action piece. JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew are obviously fans of the Original Trilogy because they take every great action sequence from those films, throw them in here, and crank them up to ten. There are space dog fights, land battles, lightsaber duels, and even wild escapes from terrifying creatures. It has some of the best action scenes in the entire saga.

With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the new characters had a lot to live up to. From the opening scene with Poe Dameron, I knew they weren’t going to have any trouble living up to the legacy left behind for them. Poe is an ace pilot for the Resistance who is criminally underused. Finn, a stromtrooper with a conscience, might be the most interesting. Any previous depictions of stormtroopers show them as mindless and heartless drones. Now we actually get a look under the helmet and realize that there might actually be some morality in there somewhere. Rey is hands down the best new character to come from this next generation of Star Wars. She’s strong, smart, and knows her way around a ship. Daisy Ridley does absolutely magnificent and may be the find of the century.

When it comes to Kylo Ren, I have mixed feelings. It is clear that he is a strong force user (some of his skills include stopping a blaster bolt midair and interrogation techniques that would make Darth Vader jealous), but it is also clear that he is still just a boy with incomplete training. He has temper tantrums and doesn’t have much self-control. He is a stark contrast to Darth Vader, who was always so calm and collected while force choking someone.

Poe’s first interaction with Kylo Ren gave a good idea on the tone for the rest of the film. It is so funny! It reminds me of The Avengers where the comedy was organic and sprang from great chemistry between the characters. Nothing ever felt forced. You could tell the cast was having a blast filming. Finn had his moments with everyone. He and Poe, he and Rey, he even had a moment or two with the adorable BB-8. There are play on words, visual gags, and everything in between. There is a little bit of humor for everybody.

2015 has been a great year for practical effects. First Mad Max: Fury Road, now The Force Awakens. It makes a huge difference when compared to CGI heavy movies. When a movie uses too much CGI, it can remove the audience. While I applaud George Lucas’ willingness to fully embrace CGI in the Original Trilogy special editions and prequels, he embraces it too much, further proving that too much of a good thing can become detrimental. Remember, the special editions and The Phantom Menace were released in the earlier days of CGI (I consider the start of CGI as it is today to be Jurassic Park), so it was good on Lucas to realize what the technology could bring to films. Now, film directors, like JJ Abrams, are moving back to primarily practical effects with CGI to fill in the gaps. It makes a huge difference and greatly enhances the experience.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is GOOD :-). There is so much more I want to talk about but then I would be moving into spoiler territory. This is the story Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1983. The return to practical effects and limited use of CGI makes it feel like I’m watching the original Original Trilogy again. Daisy Ridley is the standout performance but all of the newcomers have great chemistry together and easily fill the big shoes left for them. Great action and comedy is just icing on the cake. However, the recycled plot and introduction of so many elements with few resolutions hold this movie back from being as great as I know it could be.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Writer
Lawrence Kasdan – Writer
Michael Arndt – Writer
John Williams – Composer

Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Pip Torrens – Colonel Kaplan
Simon Pegg – Unkar Plutt
Max von Sydow – Lor San Tekka

Also read my reviews for the rest of the Star Wars saga: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Movie Quote of the Week – 5/8/15

Answer to MWL 5/6/15: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones: Wait… I don’t need any help.
Marion Ravenwood: You know you do. You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indiana Jones: It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

Thanks for everyone’s submissions and congratulations to the following people for answering correctly:

Mikey (Screenkicker)
Jackie
Marta (Ramblings of a Cinefile)
Natalia (The Movie Talk Blog)

Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Review

Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi movie posterSynopsis
The Rebel Alliance learns about the construction of a second Death Star. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) lead a strike force to destroy the Death Star’s shield generator. Meanwhile, Darth Vader (David Prowse / James Earl Jones (voice)) takes Luke to confront the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and attempt to turn him to the Dark Side.

Review
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi concludes everything the original Star Wars trilogy (and really the entire saga) has been building towards. I think this is a fairly unpopular opinion, but this is my favorite film of the franchise. It has everything that makes the previous Star Wars films great: lightsaber duels, space battles, character growth, and of course Darth Vader, but better. Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were both great, but Return of the Jedi steps it up a notch and concludes the saga on its strongest note.

I commonly find my self losing track of time while I’m watching this movie. It has a very quick pace, so it’s never sitting still for too long. I can’t help but get pulled into the story, mainly I think because I followed Luke throughout his journey from moisture farmer to a full fledged Jedi Knight and I am invested in finishing his quest along side him. Although it moves quick, every character gets their fair share of screen time. Other than some minor characters, like the Rebel leaders, I didn’t think, “I wish I saw more of them.” It was a good balance.

There isn’t as much character development as The Empire Strikes Back, but it is easy to see how the characters have changed since A New Hope. Han is no longer the “scruffy looking nerf herder” Luke met on Tatooine, Leia is a much more capable leader than when she was rescued on the Death Star, and Luke is fully inducted into the ways of the Force. After being with these characters for three movies, it is very satisfying to have watched them grow and develop.

Every Star Wars movie has its own lightsaber duel, but the duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is the best one yet (until the Obi-Wan / Anakin duel in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, but more on that when the time comes). It was much more energetic than the previous duels, keeping me on the edge of my seat. Towards the end of the fight, Luke fights with such a ferocity that it appears he may turn towards the Dark Side and become the Emperor’s new apprentice. Like the evolution of the characters, I like that the lightsaber duels grew and became better and better, too.

What makes this the best in the series for me, though, is the three simultaneous battles that occur at the end: one in space above the moon, one ground battle on the moon, and one lightsaber duel on the Death Star II. The movie bounces between these different fights perfectly and seamlessly. As soon as one begins to slow down, another picks up, so the viewer is always in the middle of some action or another. Kudos to the editing team.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoy Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The action is the best of the series, and even during the non-action scenes the movie is always moving, never becoming dull or slow. Three different battle that define the Star Wars Saga (space fights, lightsaber duels, and large-scale ground battles) occur simultaneously , blending together smoothly. The character development may not be as strong as the previous film but it is gratifying to see how the characters have grown across three movies. Return of the Jedi may not have been as influential as Star Wars: A New Hope, but it proves that with the right care, a franchise can get better with each entry.

Rating
5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Richard Marquand – Director
George Lucas – Story / Screenplay
Lawrence Kasdan – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Ian McDiarmid – The Emperor
Frank Oz – Yoda
Denis Lawson – Wedge
Warwick Davis – Wicket

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Review

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back movie posterSynopsis
After Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) destroyed the Death Star, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the rest of the Rebel Alliance go on the run from the Galactic Empire. When Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones (voice)) discovers the Rebel base to the planet Hoth, he sends his forces to destroy the base and the Rebels inside.

Review
Take everything great about Star Wars: A New Hope and improve on it and you have Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The relationship between Luke, Han and Leia is greatly developed and is actually the main focus of the movie. Whereas A New Hope introduced the characters and presented a lot of action, The Empire Strikes Back concerns itself more with character development. That’s not to say there still isn’t plenty of action. It opens with the Empire attacking the new Rebel base and there is a lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader that is much better and more exciting than the Obi-Wan / Vader duel of the previous movie. This film’s score, once again written by John Williams, is my all-time favorite movie soundtrack. The only knock I have against this movie is that it left too much open to be picked up in the following movie, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. This is a personal preference, but I don’t like when movies aren’t self-contained, which is common among middle entries of a trilogy (see The Matrix Reloaded or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a demonstration on how to correctly make a sequel, upping the stakes, expanding the characters, and building the universe established previously. If it had a more definitive conclusion, it would have been a perfect movie.

Rating
4.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Irvin Kershner – Director
George Lucas – Story
Leigh Brackett – Screenplay
Lawrence Kasdan – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia Organa
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Jeremy Bulloch – Boba Fett
John Hollis – Lando’s Aid
Kenneth Colley – Admiral Piett
Julian Glover – General Veers

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope Review

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope movie posterSynopsis
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) leaves his home planet of Tatooine, along with his Jedi mentor Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones (voice)). Together, they hope to stop the Empire and destroy the world-destroying Death Star, commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing).

Review
Star Wars is one of those things that has always been there for me. I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, I was too young to remember, but it has stuck with me all these years. When I was younger, I liked to watch it for the action and fantasy, but much like Jurassic Park, I have come to appreciate it for the story and for what it has done for the movie industry. It is also a rare film that manages to hold up today, over thirty-five years later.

Darth Vader has the best entrance of any villain on screen. Like, ever. The guy just waltzes in after a gun fight, then picks up someone a foot or two into the air like it is nothing and chokes him out. Then later, he is willing to kill one of his officers, simply because he was talking back (normal bad guy behavior, I know, but still). If that’s not bad-ass, I don’t know what is. Vader’s appeal for me is that you don’t know what’s under his mask; He show’s no expressions. You have no idea what he is thinking or planning until he does it. And his suit simply screams ‘menacing villain,’ just so there is no confusion who he is.

A New Hope introduces one of the best movie duos in cinema: C-3PO and R2-D2. R2 (Kenny Baker) can’t speak, so it is up to 3PO (Anthony Daniels) to help decipher what he said. However, most of the time he doesn’t directly translate. Instead he reacts to it, leaving the audience to infer what was said themselves. It makes for some great moments. Although the pair is used mostly for comedic relief, they never become too much or over the top. They strike the right balance between humor and seriousness.

At the time, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and (to a lesser extent) Harrison Ford were relatively unknown actors. It was a great casting call because it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the parts. Hamill captured the boyish wonder of Luke’s character spot-on. Fisher’s Princess Leia was snarky yet confident and strong. No one could have fit Han’s roguish charm and charisma like Ford. They were all perfect. And I haven’t even mentioned James Earl Jones’ awesome voicing as Darth Vader. That dude seriously has one of the best voices in film.

One thing I would have liked to see more is Biggs (Garrick Hagon) fleshed out more. Luke mentioned him several times in the beginning as his best friend. Then their reunion before their attack on the Death Star was one of old friends seeing each other again after a long time away (which it was). But that is all the exposure he gets. If he and Luke were as good of friends as he suggests, his character should have been explored more.

There is no questioning the influence Star Wars has had in cinema. Special effects, and what a movie was visually capable of, were revolutionized. It was one of the first films to incorporate computer generated images, kick-starting the larger-than-life effects seen on screen today. Star Wars and George Lucas are also indirectly responsible for creating computer animated movies, such as Toy Story and How to Train Your Dragon (Pixar started as a branch of Lucasfilm). Not to mention the cultural significance it has had. It is hard to come up with a movie that has impacted so many facets of film and culture the way Star Wars has.

Star Wars: A New Hope is great for so many reasons. It gave cinema one of its best villains in Darth Vader, as well as its best duo in C-3PO and R2-D2. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, mostly nameless actors at the time, were excellently cast and perfectly fit their parts. There were a few flaws with the film, but those are easy to overlook given what the rest of the film does well. The cultural and film impact of A New Hope is undeniable and I will never lose the wonder and awe I felt as a little boy, wishing I could be a Jedi in a galaxy far, far away.

Rating
4.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia Organa
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Peter Cushing – Grand Moff Tarkin
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Phil Brown – Uncle Owen
Shelagh Fraser – Aunt Beru
Denis Lawson – Red Two (Wedge)
Garrick Hagon – Red Three (Biggs)