Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (A Second Look)

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We finally made it to the end of Star Wars Week! Day Seven means Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the most recent Star Wars film that brought us back from a time when Star Wars films weren’t a sure thing, and restored our hope for the future of Star Wars. When I reviewed it when it came out, I loved it, but a year on from release, is it still as good?

Thirty years after the Battle of Endor, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and is tightening their grip on the galaxy, led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Sith Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). With Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hiding, scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) must team up with a droid and two familiar smugglers, Han and Chewbacca, to help the Resistance destroy the First Order’s new weapon and complete a map which will lead them to Luke.

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With the rose-coloured glasses of hype behind us, The Force Awakens is still good – but its faults are more obvious. Its story is far from perfect, rehashing a lot of plot points from A New Hope: the orphan (or is she?) on a sand planet, a Cantina-esque scene, a new Death Star. Even the death of Rey’s would-be mentor by an old friend (did I forget to say spoiler alert?) harks back to the very first film, with Kylo Ren’s slaughtering of Han very reminiscent of Darth Vader killing Obi-Wan. These familiar plot points don’t make the film bad – after all, Return of the Jedi borrowed much from A New Hope as well, and was a solid film – but hopefully we’ll see more of what the galaxy has to offer in Episode VIII. And where the film isn’t familiar, some scenes are just unnecessary; the rathtar sequence is a complete deviation from the rest of the film, with no real repercussion for the rest of the story, and doesn’t hold up with further viewing of the film.

Yet I have always argued that the most important part of Star Wars is the characters: it is not the situations that they get themselves into, but how they deal with them, that we are connected to, and that’s what makes Star Wars such a great space opera. Old and new, the characters in the Force Awakens take what is sometimes a familiar setting and make it engaging and fresh again: Rey’s life on Jakku is far different from Luke’s on Tatooine, as she must scavenge and work hard to merely stay alive. Why was she left there? Who is she waiting for? Daisy Ridley’s intriguing and lovable performance as Rey was one of the highlights of the film, and though her character seems to succeed at almost everything so far, it’s wonderful to see yet another strong, determined female Star Wars character, and I have no doubt we’ll watch her struggle more in the films to come.

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Her chemistry with John Boyega’s Finn is sweet and fun, as Finn offers something new to the franchise: an ex-stormtrooper on the run from the First Order. With Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron every bit as charismatic and cocky as Han once was, and his adorable, scene-stealing droid BB-8, Abrams has assembled a solid rag-tag team for the rest of the trilogy, and an even more menacing villain. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the best part of The Force Awakens, from his lightsaber (which is not as clean-cut as ones we’ve seen before) to his mask, his uncontrollable anger, piercing gaze and intriguing family history. More than just the emo-kid meme that has sprouted on the internet, Kylo Ren’s dedication to finishing what Darth Vader started is possibly the most intriguing part of his arc: after all, Darth Vader turned good in the final moments of his life.

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From the new to the older, catching up with the Skywalkers thirty years later was both a blessing and a curse in the right ways, as, with Luke having disappeared and with the loss of their son, Han and Leia are further apart than ever, which, considering the end of the film, will never be the same again. In saying that, seeing Han and Chewie back in the Millennium Falcon after all these years was a beautiful moment, and Harrison Ford never lost that roguish charm, as he is, once again, one of the funniest parts of the film, especially his trash-compactor joke. Speaking of which, the references to the older films this time around weren’t all perfect: most stick their landing, but there were one or two too many that, combined with the similar storylines to the first, made the film a little bit too similar.

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Yet, sometimes, feeling similar and being similar to the originals are two different things: the prequels were missing that magic feeling that didn’t allow them to feel as special as the originals, but the Force Awakens has magic in spades. JJ Abrams use of practical effects and his exciting direction made the film thrilling and spectacular, with many of the film’s fight scenes, such as the battle around Maz Kanata’s Cantina on Takodana and the beautiful lightsaber battle in the snow at the end, up there as some of the series’ best. The Force once again felt mystical and all-powerful, and definitely had an air of mystery to it, during Rey’s dream sequence on Takodana, that creates some questions in need of answers.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Force Awakens just feels like a Star Wars film. In a time when films are being brought back from the dead and, more often than not, being tarnished by soulless remakes, reboots and sequels, the Force Awakens is both a love letter and a new beginning for the Star Wars franchise. Despite it’s familiarity to the first film, it’s still a great film, as it captures the wonder and heart of the stories that first fascinated us by focusing on its strong characters, and building a beautiful world around them, full of danger and magic. It’s not perfect, but not all the Star Wars movies are. It’s a nice welcome home.

8/10.

And that means it’s time for Rogue One soon!!!

Talk soon,

Jessica x

Photos taken from IMDb.com:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm3686004224
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm1139269632
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm3333682688
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm2045239296
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm3719558656
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496/mediaviewer/rm3719558656

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2015 – A Year In Film

Going to the movies is often seen as something of a special occasion, to go out and see something that you’ve been excited to see for a while. But at the beginning of the year, I thought, with so many amazing movies slated to come out in 2015, why make it something so rarely done? If I like going to the movies so much, why not do it more often? So, at the beginning of the year, I set myself a challenge to see as many movies as I could, and review as many of those as possible. And I am very proud to say that I have seen 31 movies this year (some repeats, but they count). Some were great, some were bad, and some were really fantastic, and it’s hard to pick a favourite. So, like always, here is my top five favourite movies of 2015 (and why):

  1. Kingsman: the Secret Service

When it came out in February, Kingsman blew everyone’s minds – both onscreen and in the theatres. Matthew Vaughn’s latest action spy flick packed a serious punch, but was overall really fun and fantastic, with a killer story and a stellar cast. Colin Firth stepped out and played a total badass, which was great to see, and newcomer Taron Egerton quickly rose to fame after playing the lead, Eggsy Unwin. I’ve seen Kingsman about five times this year, and every time is just as awesome and kick-ass.

  1. Inside Out

Pixar films are some of my all-time favourites, and Inside Out is probably one of the best Pixar films I’ve seen. It’s full of heart, and love, and because it’s about growing up, it’s utterly relatable, with things like imaginary friends and Dreams Productions sure to bring back memories from everyone’s childhoods. Bringing up a multitude of emotions within all of, Inside out was definitely one of my favourites this year.

  1. Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Another one of the many spy movies that came out this year (Spectre, MI:5 and Spy), Man From U.N.C.L.E. kind of got lost in the pack, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. On the contrary, Man From U.N.C.L.E. was some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year, with a good storyline, awesome cast, great script, and some seriously cool action. Guy Ritchie’s experience behind the camera really shined through with some top direction, and the occasional twist and turn in the story really suited the 1960s setting. But my favourite scene? Napoleon Solo, sitting in a truck eating a sandwich and drinking wine, as his partner’s boat slowly sinks behind him.

  1. The Martian

Was anyone else surprised by the Martian? I mean, I figured it was going to be good, but I never expected it to be as human, and hopeful, as it was. Mark Watney’s struggle to survive, and everyone else’s determination to bring him home, was such great, inspiring drama to watch, but the funny thing is – The Martian is kind of a comedy, most of it driven by Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney, who is quite enjoyable to watch as he struggles to make his way back to Earth. From great visuals to enjoyable dialogue and a spot-on cast, the Martian delivered a surprisingly well-rounded blockbuster, and one of the best films of the year.

  1. Star Wars: the Force Awakens

It’s not the greatest film of the year, but it’s one of the films that made the biggest impact on film in 2015, and by far one of the most enjoyable to watch. JJ Abrams returned the magic from a galaxy far, far away in the latest instalment, which saw our old favourite Star Wars characters team up with some new, and rather exciting, characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn, in order to save the galaxy from the empirical First Order. It gave us a heavy serving of feels and excitement all in one go, and was not only the most anticipated film of the year, but also hold the record for the highest grossing box office weekend. Plus, it gave us all a lot more hope for the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Another year! With all the exciting films that have come out over the last year, I can’t help but be excited to see what awesome films 2016 holds! But, for now, Happy New Year!

Talk soon,

Jessica x

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When the Lucasfilm logo fades onto the screen, the tension is palpable, excitement building up inside me like air in a balloon. Then, it explodes – the main title appears, followed by the signature crawl, the opening theme blasting towards me, and all I can think is, “I can’t believe I’m seeing a Star Wars film in theatres!” It’s something that I never thought would happen in my lifetime; a continuation of my – and most people’s – childhood, a film that could possibly bring back the magic of the original trilogy many people hold so dear. As one of the most anticipated films of the decade, Star Wars: the Force Awakens had a lot to live up to, especially following the disappointment of the prequel trilogy.

It’s a good thing it succeeded.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens picks up in our favourite galaxy thirty years after the Battle of Endor, where the First Order, a regime akin to the Empire, has risen to power and a new Resistance is being led by General Leia Organa. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker is missing, and an ex-Stormtrooper and a scavenger team up with a droid to get a map of his whereabouts to Leia.

It’s a similar formula to the first film, but with much more detail, as not only are we caught up on what the Skywalkers have been up to over the last 30 years, but are also introduced to new characters, with their own rich pasts and lives. Luke’s disappearance is hindering the Resistance’s attempts to bring peace to the galaxy, and Han and Leia’s past has caused a rift between them. And new characters Rey and Finn (Daisy Ridley and John Boyega) create an incredible mix of new with the old; as we see them learn more about the Force and the original wars, we learn more about Rey’s traumatic family history and Finn’s Stormtrooper upbringing, whilst still leaving plenty of mystery for the rest of the trilogy. There’s plenty happening in the film, and barely a moment wasted.

Although it’s not totally original, with a similar structure to the original film, Star Wars is arguably at its best when there is a struggle between an empirical power and a resistance, something which the prequels didn’t contain as much of and suffered accordingly. The Force Awakens takes what worked for the original trilogy and rolls with it; there is less boring politics and more war strategy and fighting, which was complimented very well by JJ Abrams’ use of practical effects and his brilliant directing. It also treated the Force as more spiritual and mystical (goodbye, midi-chlorians), it has a dirtier feel and look, like the originals, and it’s actually quite funny (and not in a Gungan way). That was always one of my favourite things about Star Wars as a kid, how witty it was, and this is quite a return to form, especially now that this new film can reference the old films. Oh, the references. From the reappearance of Admiral Ackbar to jokes about trash compactors, there’s more than enough little in-jokes to satisfy long-time Star Wars fans, yet not so many that it feels like an old joke. As well as humour, it’s also full of friendship, family and love, much like the ones before it, with touching reunions and devastating heartbreak, giving every Star Wars fan in the audience an enormous dose of feels.

More than just a brilliant premise, a major part of the Star Wars success story has always been its strong, affective characters and their relationships, portrayed by a wonderfully talented cast. Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker was much speculated over, but did not disappoint (I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible, so that’s all I’ll say), and Carrie Fisher as his sister General Leia gave a wonderful performance full of heart. As an integral part of the story, Harrison Ford welcomed in the new additions to the Star Wars cast as Han Solo, and had great chemistry not only with Leia (hearing Han and Leia’s theme made my heart explode), but also Rey, as more of a mentor figure for this young character. As a character, Rey feels very human and real; she is cautious and sometimes afraid, but also strong, with a great sense of loyalty and adventure, and Daisy Ridley portrays this very well. She and John Boyega have great chemistry, too, and his character Finn is something new to the series, a runaway Stormtrooper trying to leave his evil past behind him. Adam Driver is also a magnificent villain as Kylo Ren; he’s terrifying and fanatical, with such an interesting backstory (again, no spoilers), and his angry, torturous brooding is played to perfection by Driver. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is witty, cocky and strong, hopefully a character we’ll see more of in the future films, and then, of course, there’s BB8, a new droid who is instantly loveable from the second he rolls onscreen. Though the cast is big, no character is really overshadowed by another; they all have such interesting pasts and relationships, and it will be interesting to learn more about them, and see their relationships develop.

More than anything, the one expectation from Star Wars fans about The Force Awakens was for Disney to make something that does the series justice. A perfect combination of old and new with characters and story, with effects that impress and gripping characters, there’s meaning in every second if you look hard enough. Though it’s not perfect, Star Wars: the Force Awakens is definitely a film worth getting excited over, and it seems that there is plenty more excitement and mystery to come in the next Star Wars films. But the best part? It felt like a Star Wars film. As I sat there, I was recalled to my childhood, sitting in front of the TV watching The Empire Strikes Back on VCR, and because of that, JJ Abrams has made a Star Wars film that we can all be proud of.

8/10.

And this is my top five list of my favourite films starring the cast of the Force Awakens:

  1. Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade (Harrison Ford)
  2. Kingsman: the Secret Service (Mark Hamill)
  3. About Time (Domnhall Gleeson)
  4. Blade Runner (Harrison Ford)
  5. And, of course, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (literally half the cast).

Talk soon, and may the Force be with you,

Jessica x

Spectre

Here’s the kind of secret that you only admit to strangers on the internet – I’ve never seen a James Bond movie. It’s one of the great franchises that I missed out on as a child, but it’s one that I recently started to do something about.

So I went along and saw Spectre – which, admittedly, wasn’t the greatest introductory Bond film, since it references the previous ones a lot – and, in seeing it, I learnt three things about the Bond franchise:
One – James Bond kills a lot of people, and doesn’t seem to care, which is badass. It’s also not glorified, which makes it classier.
Two – James Bond loves three things: cars, guns, and women. All three are readily available to Bond in the film, and I can’t believe it took me this long to realise the huge role they play in the film.
And three – The James Bond franchise is heavy with tradition and class, and even through just watching the film you get a sense that it is part of something bigger, and that it is a piece of history.

In Spectre, James Bond goes on a mission to uncover a secret organisation that is mysteriously linked to his past, whilst M must deal with an MI6 in turmoil. In this latest instalment, you can tell that Bond has been through a great deal, and that his past is catching up with him. Amidst the rumours that this is Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, Spectre ends quite snugly, leaving many (even me, with my short Bond experience) curious as to what is next for the series.

It’s a long film, but the action in most of it doesn’t compare to the first ten minutes – the opening scene, set at a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City, is enthralling, beautiful and thrilling and larger than life. It is here that Sam Mendes’ direction shines the most. However, after this the action becomes more predictable and familiar, with less suspense and spectacle. Instead the film becomes more of an interesting character study on James Bond and where he is in his life, and it is interesting to see Daniel Craig’s steely Bond grow older and wearier over the life he leads. If this is Craig’s last Bond film, then he has done the character justice. Ralph Fiennes has also done well in taking over the helm as M (yes, I do know what happened to the last M *sob*), though Andrew Scott as C wasn’t quite as threatening or fearsome as he could have been.

Though I am new to the Bond scene, the significance of the films is not lost on me. From the signature song to the creative villains, James Bond has an important place in the history of fine filmmaking, one which Spectre has positively contributed to. It may not be the best, but it brought me into the world of James Bond, and it will certainly not be my last.

8/10. 

And, since I clearly need to watch more James Bond movies, here’s my list of the ones I’d like to watch next:

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Dr. No
  3. Goldeneye
  4. Octopussy
  5. Skyfall.

Talk soon,

Jessica x

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

It’s the dramatic end of another franchise. In the new Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) continues to spearhead the revolution and takes the battle to the Capitol, where she must kill President Snow.

After a considerably slower part 1 (they always are), Mockingjay Part 2 brings the action. Despite there not actually being a Hunger Games in the film (though Finnick subtly calls one battle the ’76th annual Hunger Games’), there’s still tension, and stakes, and the feeling that one of your favorite characters is going to die. However, it does struggle to marry the action with much engaging plot, and the actual story arc is surprisingly small for a long movie, with much of the final instalment’s political story being told in the previous film. But what is there is good; loose ends are tied up, whether we like it or not, and the whole franchise feels worth it when we finally get to see (spoilers, but not really) Katniss happy in the end.

In a genre often defamed for being superficial (the dreaded young adult genre), the Hunger Games has always felt like and been a level above the Twilights, Divergents and Maze Runners. This is because of the high calibre of the cast, the films’ ability to interest a wider audience than just teenagers, and also because of the political nature of the films. Mockingjay Part 2 is no exception; although it seems like the big reveal of the film is whether or not she will choose Peeta or Gale, the Hunger Games films have always been more than that, instead highlighting the corrupt and intrusive nature of governments in a dystopian world that is sometimes eerily similar to our own. Something that young adult films don’t always get credit for is their ability to convey important messages to the younger generations; it might not be the most intricate or deep political film ever made, or even the best of the series, but Mockingjay Part 2 (and the Hunger Games series in general) is a good example of the way a film can affect change in young people and spark their interest in the truth of the world.

Though it has problems with timing and plot, the Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is a great film to finish off a great franchise. Full of action and injected with political relevance, Mockingjay Part 2 proves that the young adult audience is interested in more than just sloppily written love triangles, and that the young adult genre can be engaging and cater to a wider audience.

7/10.

Here’s my list of my top 5 favorite films starring the cast of Mockingjay Part 2:

  1. X Men: Days of Future Past – Jennifer Lawrence
  2. Capote – Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  3. Now You See Me – Woody Harrelson
  4. Pitch Perfect – Elizabeth Banks
  5. Bridge to Terabithia – Josh Hutcherson.

Talk soon,

Jessica x

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker is an Australian revenge drama based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. Starring Kate Winslet as the titular Tilly Dunnage, The Dressmaker is about a woman who moves back to her rural hometown after travelling the world as a designer, and her struggle against the drama and mystery that surrounds the town and her departure from it as a child.

The revenge drama structure of the film hinges on the idea that gossip spreads quickly in a small town. Tilly’s return to Dungatar sparks controversy as she was blamed for the murder of a schoolmate when she was a child, and throughout the film she exacts revenge on those who blamed her. The film is jam packed with different subplots, which occasionally fight against each other for attention and make the film drag, but when things started to fall apart, Kate Winslet’s performance pulled them back together. As Tilly, she is a sharp, fearsome femme fatale, but also quite affective and human, giving the character depth. Her background as a dressmaker added an unusual, yet enjoyable aspect to the film, and resulted in quite good costuming for the movie too. The progression of Tilly’s complicated mother – daughter relationship with Judy Davis’ Molly was also quite interesting to watch, and Judy Davis gave quite a compelling performance.

Tonally, this movie is quite hard to describe. Going from fluffy to intense, it shifted often, trying to fit in too many genres at once. Full of murder and very dramatic, the film dealt with some heavy themes, and dealt with them quite well, but it was the comic relief from some of these themes that wasn’t always effective, and felt out of place. These tonal shifts work better in a novel form, fitting better into the dark dramedy genre, but on film they didn’t always translate as well. What did succeed as comic relief, however, was the character of Sergeant Farrat; played excellently by Hugo Weaving, he was camp, full of heart, and very loyal to Tilly, bringing us back up in some of the more deep, dark moments. For a very full film, the ending was very satisfying, with all of the loose ends tied, giving us a bit more hope for Tilly.

For such an English lead actress, The Dressmaker is a very Australian film. I am not always very positive on the subject of Australian cinema, and though The Dressmaker hasn’t totally changed my mind, I did enjoy it, and it didn’t even always feel like an Australian film. Though its tone was sloppy, the great cast compensated for this, and the heavy drama coupled with the lighter, designer element made for a solid Australian film.

6/10.

Here is my list of my top 5 favourite films starring the cast of The Dressmaker:

  1. The Holiday – Kate Winslet
  2. Kenny – Shane Jacobson
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger – Hugo Weaving
  4. The Hunger Games – Liam Hemsworth
  5. The Matrix – Hugo Weaving

Talk soon,

Jessica x

The Intern

From Nancy Meyers comes the new heartfelt comedy The Intern. In this film, senior citizen Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is hired as an intern for the head and founder of an online business, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).

Nancy Meyers has once again shown her talent of taking an unlikely situation and making it feel real; the characters in The Intern have such palpable lives, and backstories, and you feel as if you know and can relate to them. Ben’s opening voice-over is heart-wrenching, and quickly and efficiently sets him up; his positivity and life force is something that we all aspire to have when we are 70. And Anne Hathaway’s Jules is everything else that we want out of life; she is successful, and a working mum, with loving friends and family, yet not perfect, but lovable. Nancy Meyers has crafted characters that are not only who we are, but who we want to be.

The film has a great message about how much we can learn from the elderly, and an even better one that life doesn’t have to slow down as we get older. It doesn’t take the easy route of criticising the modern in favour of the past; rather, it shows us how well the two can work together, and how they’re not so different after all. De Niro and Hathaway have such great chemistry, and watching Ben and Jules’ friendship develop onscreen affirmed to me that they young and the old can both learn things from each other, and work together.

Meyer’s script is well-paced, funny and beautiful; there are so many things that the audience can relate to, like growing old and having a too-busy life. Though the ending left me a little unsatisfied, the plot doesn’t have many lulls. Instead, it has quite a few lovely, funny, and heart-warming moments, that are occasionally larger than life, yet still feel real.

Meyers is good at making the unlikely feel real, and does so with humour and charm. The Intern is a great look at growing old, living life and being happy, and its touching script and top-notch cast make it a quality romantic comedy for both the young and the old.

7/10.

Here’s my list of five of the best films starring the cast of the Intern (at least, in my opinion):

  1. The Holiday (Nancy Meyers)
  2. The Princess Diaries (Anne Hathaway)
  3. Taxi Driver (Robert De Niro)
  4. Pitch Perfect (Adam De Vine)
  5. The Fault In Our Stars (Nat Wolff)

Talk soon,

Jessica x