Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

150427-daisy-ridley-v3
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot to offer fans of the Star Wars series including new characters like BB-8 and Rey (played by Daisy Ridley).

It never fails with me. I have the habit of ‘waiting until the crowds die down’ to see a blockbuster movie. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do when it involves a Star Wars movie, especially not Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I saw it three weeks after its release. I’m glad I finally saw it.

I won’t explain the story line like I do in most reviews, especially since most of you have already seen it by now, unless of course you’ve been under a rock. One thing about this movie is that it wasn’t just simply bringing another volume of the Star Wars series to the screen. The film’s job was also to bring back the magic of Star Wars people have come to know and love. No kidding the first three Star Wars movies from 1977 to 1983, those that are now referred to as episodes 4 to 6, captivated the world. Watch any one of them nowadays and you’ll see why.

However when George Lucas did the three prequels from 1999 to 2005, many fans felt something was missing. No doubt The Phantom Menace had huge expectations but they missed them and disappointed a lot of fans. Attack Of The Clones tried to be better but still something was noticeably missing. The scene of the fighting Yoda added excitement but it was one small added element. Revenge Of The Sith was the best of the prequels but the feel of Star Wars was still not there. I think it was best summed up by my sister who’s a huge Star Wars fan: “George Lucas knows how to direct sci-fi but he doesn’t know how to direct actors.” Good point because it’s been proven in other action movies or sci-fi movies in the past that special effects no matter how dazzling cannot overtake a lousy story or lousy acting.

Now we should remember that The Force Awakens or Episode Seven was actually thought up by George Lucas way back in the 1970’s as he was dreaming out and writing out the whole Star Wars series. Lucas made it clear after Revenge Of The Sith he will no longer direct Star Wars movies. In fact he sold LucasFilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012. The first thing Disney did was bring The Force Awakens on screen. The director they hired was J.J. Abrams who has an extensive resume in writing and directing thrillers and sci-fi like Armageddon, Mission Impossible III (his directorial debut), Super 8 and the last two Star Trek movies. Hired to adapt the story to screenplay was Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote the scripts for Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi but didn’t help co-write any of the prequels, and rising writer Michael Arndt.

The mix turned out to be the right chemistry as it was able to bring the magic of the story back to life. The recreation of the two worlds also worked excellently. There was however one challenge I feel it didn’t overcome. That was when they brought back Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. There were a few times that I felt that instead of adding to the latest Star Wars story, it almost made it seem like a ‘Star Wars reunion.’ Even adding C3P0, Chew and R2D2 in there also added to that feeling this was like a ‘reunion” I don’t know if the huge following of Star Wars had a lot to do with why I felt that it seemed like a ‘Star Wars reunion’ but that’s how I felt.

One thing I have to say is the best thing about this Star Wars story are the new elements and the new characters of the story. One thing you hope to get with each Star Wars film are new characters that are able to charm us whether it be the philosopher Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back or even villains like Jabba The Hutt in Return Of The Jedi. Here was get appealing characters like Rey and Poe Dameron and even villains like Kylo Ren. I don’t know if they will deliver the same craze Luke, Leia and Han first did but moviegoers have welcomed them to the Star Wars saga. In addition we have a plot twist in this film as Storm Trooper Finn deserts his duty to fight against the Dark Side. That’s a key element leading into Episode Eight in anticipation in what will happen next.

In addition, adding BB-8 to the Star Wars saga was a plus. Usually adding in something cutesy to the Star Wars Saga is a risk. C3P0 and R2D2 had a big part in making the first Star Wars‘ greatness. The Ewoks of Return Of The Jedi helped make the story. However Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Menace was too irritating and had a lot to do with that episode’s constant panning. BB-8 was cute but he was more the cute one would welcome and be entertained by rather than easily get irritated with. BB-8 actually added to the quality of The Force Awakens. Even the scenes where R2D2 meets BB-8 for the first time come across as funny instead of ridiculous.

It’s not to say the older elements weren’t good. They may not have stood out like the newer elements but they still fit the movie excellently. I know I talked about bringing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back made it feel like a ‘Star wars reunion’ but they were intended to be in the story from the start and intended to age 30 years. I can’t think of anyone else who could play their characters. The Dark Side and its darkness still maintained its mystery and villainous feel. The battles were also excellent to watch. Oh yes, the light saber battles. You can’t have a Star Wars episode without light saber battles. There weren’t as many this time around but they still dazzled.

I will have to say J.J. Abrams succeeds with flying colors in directing and co-writing the latest in the Star Wars saga. He’s proven in the past he can direct sci-fi and direct actors and he was the right man to take over the Star Wars series right after George Lucas let it go. The acting was not stellar but it was very good. The best acting came from those performing the ‘new roles’ like Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs. Driver especially delivered an unpredictable villain. The set designs fit the movie perfectly and were able to replicate the ships, planets and lands of the story perfectly. The visual effects were top notch again and worked the movie excellently. And of course they had to bring back John Williams as the score’s composer. Even at 83, Williams is still at it. It seems as though there’s no other composer who can do it for Star Wars and he delivers again.

Without a doubt the biggest news about Star Wars 7 is all the box-office records it’s breaking. It already broke the opening weekend record with $247.9 million: almost breaking the quarter-billion barrier. It would go on to break the North American total box office record held by Avatar on January 5th: the very day I saw it! It now stands at $879.3 million and currently sits at #2 at the box office. Worldwide it sits at $1.94 billion currently and appears poised to break Avatar’s record of $2.788 billion. Only time will decide that.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very good addition to the Star Wars series. Not only that but it brings back a lot of the Star Wars magic that appeared missing from the prequels. What can I say? Star Wars mania is back and rightly so.

Movie Review: The Martian

Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars but determined to live in The Martian.
Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars but determined to live in The Martian.

Hard to believe I saw The Martian just two months after it hit theatres. What took me so long? What took me so long to write this review? Anyways I’m glad I finally had the chance.

I’m sure by now most of you have seen the story of how Mark Watney got left behind on Mars. The sandstorm on Mars and the debris that hit him left everyone escaping mistaking him for dead. Mark would then have to survive by growing his own food and creating his own habitat. It would work to his advantage but NASA would eventually get the message he needed to be brought back home. It would take a connection with a mission, sheer determination and camaraderie with his fellow astronauts to bring him back to earth successfully.

The movie is based off the book by Andy Weir. I can’t judge for myself on how the film compares to the book. However I will say this is a very good adaptation of a story of a man and his fight to survive on a strange planet. One thing I will have to say is that even though this is a sci-fi fantasy, the film would still have to be true to fact in a lot of areas. It would have to know Mars’ oxygen levels or lack thereof, temperature levels, climates and terrain and even know how long transportation and even communication between Mars and Earth would take. Today’s audiences aren’t as welcoming towards cheap hypotheses of space like they used to be decades ago. Not only would they need those facts but they would have to be incorporated into the script and made to work into a story that was suspenseful but also entertaining. The Martian succeeds in doing just that and doesn’t lose its comedic edge in the process.

The Martian is a reminder of why films about space travel still fascinate us today. They remind us of why we like to imagine trips to outer space including domains humans have never set foot on. They even capture our intrigue when a mission fails and the astronaut’s lives are at threat. They get us wondering “Do they make it or don’t they?” You may remember how Gravity caught our imaginations just a couple of years ago. Now it’s The Martian with its story of an astronaut trying to stay alive yet eventually return back to earth.

Some may question the mix of humor into the story if it was a smart choice, especially with the inclusion of disco songs Mark hates but keeps him alive.  No doubt it was an entertaining choice as it entertained crowds. Comedy is all hit and miss and I feel it made the right choices in terms of adding in the comedic elements. In terms of drama, it didn’t make the more tense moments of life-or-death too tense for the audience. It kept us wondering and brought our hopes up with each positive moment but the intensity was not all that thick and that’s what made it win with the crowds.

No doubt it took the direction of Ridley Scott and the writing of Drew Goddard to make this film work. Ridley knows how to bring out the best in unique stories and make them win with movie crowds. The story however rested on the shoulders of Matt Damon. His performance where he mixes humor with the will to survive helped the film achieve the charm it needed. Despite Damon owning the movie, it’s not to say supporting performances from Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels Michael Pena and Kate Mara didn’t have their importance. They helped too. Other top elements of the film included the music from Harry Gregson-Williams and the special effects team who were able to re-create life on Mars to a tee.

The Martian is a sci-fi comedy of the best caliber and has the best elements of a ‘popcorn movie.’ This is something only a director like Ridley Scott can pull off well. Very entertaining.

Movie Review: Prometheus

Prometheus is a movie many would compare to 1979 Alien, and tightly so. It’s intended to be a prequel to the Alien series despite being released 33 years after and directed by Alien director Ridley Scott. But does it succeed both on its own and as a prequel?

The movie begins with an alien disintegrating after drinking a liquid. A biogenetic reaction occurs as his remains fall into a waterfall. In the meantime a trip to a distant moon is planned after an archeological discovery in Scotland of a star map connecting several unconnected ancient cultures. The archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, interpret it as humanity’s ‘forerunners’ or ‘engineers’. The trip to that moon is a four-year trip via a spacecraft called ‘The Prometheus’ though Weyland Corporations monitored by a human-like android named David and instructed to find and study ‘the Engineers’.

Upon arriving on the moon they find many key artifacts as well as alien bodies and assume the alien Engineers are extinct. One of the artifacts, cylinders, leaks a dark liquid which David and Holloway later drink. Meanwhile a storm causes many to return to the stranded ship and Millburn and Fifield stranded in the structure the ship is resting by. Meanwhile in the structure, snake-like creatures start acting up, killing Millburn and melting Fifield’s helmet. After the others discover Fifield and Millburn’s body, David finds a control room with evidence of a surviving Engineer and a star map highlighting Earth. The black liquid Holloway drank now starts to attack his body badly enough for mission director Vickers to refuse him back on the ship and has his body burned. Shaw discovers she’s pregnant with an alien baby and attempts to abort it herself.

As the elder Weyland prepares to depart the planet on his craft, a mutated Fifield attacks and kills several crew members before he himself is killed. We learn the structure was part of a base that lost control because of the dark liquid. After learning the structure is part of a spacecraft, the crew run to an Engineer for help only for the Engineer to kill crew members, decapitate David and take control of the spaceship only to crash it. The crash prevents the Engineer from releasing any of the liquid on Earth. Even as Shaw gets away in a lifeboat, she learns that the Engineer survived the crash and her aborted alien baby is alive and grew to full-size. The departure of Shaw and David, whose head is still active after decapitation, won’t come without a fight and it leaves an ending that either sets up for a prequel or sets up for the actual Alien.

What should be noted is that Scott had planned as far back as 2002 in creating a prequel to Alien. However it was sidelined as Alien vs. Predator came up and would be released in 2004. Interest in this wouldn’t resume until 2009. One of the risks of prequels is that those who are familiar with the movie series will have expectations of it. Also there are those moviegoers who are unfamiliar with the series and just see the movie for what it is. Prometheus won’t answer all the big questions Alien fans will give but it will give some satisfaction to fans of Alien as well as thrill the unfamiliar moviegoers. Ridley Scott had a big task on his hand when he was to make a prequel to his famous Alien movie. He may not have succeeded completely but he did a respectable job of his own in this project.

Although the acting was mostly unspectacular as is to be expected in a SciFi movie, it was Michael Fassbender’s performance of android David that stood out as the best effort. Noomi Rapace may have given a good acting performance, if not great, but gave a good job at delivering a strong and determined, albeit vulnerable, heroine. The script was good but it still had a lot of predictable and unresolved plot elements and as I said before, it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered to fans of Alien. As expected in a SciFi movie, its best qualities were the visual effects and the set designs. It did an excellent job of recreating a fictional planet with excellent special effects, especially the alien effects. The score by Marc Streitenfeld also added to the drama of the movie.

Prometheus did have a lot of expectations put on it. Although it didn’t succeed at achieving them all, it still made for a good thriller of a movie. Whether there will be another prequel or not still remains in question.