Musings on Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

So here we are… forty two years after the first ever Star Wars film opened in 1977, the final chapter of the Skywalker saga is released. There was a huge anticipation for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, naturally, given its place in the franchise history as the final conclusion. In preparation for this, my hubby and I saw Return of The Jedi the night before (and we actually saw Empire Strikes Back in October as part of MN Orchestra LIVE in concert series).

When I finished watching the movie, I turned to my hubby and whispered, they might as well call this franchise SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) ‘evil space grandpas’ If you’ve seen this movie, I think you know why. Just like what I did on The Force Awakens, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of the same quibbles with this one as the 2015 movie that JJ Abrams also directed… mainly the excessive amount of nostalgia, as some critics have rightly called ‘fan pandering,’ and lack of suspense throughout. Yes there are some fun moments, but the big moments are pretty much predictable. The key phrase ‘no one’s ever really gone’ uttered by Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi came up again in this movie. Beloved Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia Organa (via the use of repurposed unreleased footage), but she’s not the only one.

In fact, the entire movie is basically a road trip of sort to find a supposedly dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who now resides on the planet Exegol. Apparently he’s so NOT dead after all, in fact he’s been a puppet master to Snoke, Supreme Leader of The First Order. But before Rey, Poe and Fin could get to Exegol, they had to find a device called Sith Wayfinder. I feel like that plot is basically a way to reunite Rey & co. with yet another returning character Lando Calrissian. The crew looked practically giddy to be meeting Billy Dee Williams in that scene, and vice versa, that it took me out of the movie a bit. That’s what nostalgia does… while I enjoy seeing certain actors back in a certain franchise, it distracts me from the actual story that unfolds before me.

Speaking of the story… there’s a lot of ‘more of the same’ in The Rise of the Skywalker. Interesting that there were some rumbles on the interweb that JJ Abrams was subtly dissing Rian Johnson‘s The Last Jedi, saying that it was “a story that I think needed a pendulum swing in one direction in order to swing in the other.” Now, whether Abrams was throwing shade at Johnson or not, the fact of the matter is, the two filmmakers didn’t seem to see eye to eye. As a more casual fan of Star Wars, I actually like the fact that Rian had the guts to do something different and subverting the franchise. Unfortunately I’m in the minority and because many die-hard fans hated what Rian did, so naturally he’s not invited back to helm this one.

The biggest ‘twist’ of this movie is in regards to Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) identity. “People keep telling me they know me. No one does,” She quipped in frustration. But her reluctant ‘nemesis’ Kylo Ren claims he does, then he just said it blatantly who her parents really are. It’s supposed to be a gasp-inducing moment, but for some reason it was just ‘meh’… in fact, Rey’s similar lineage situation that bears such resemblance to Luke’s and Kylo’s feels like convenient (read: lazy) writing to me. The part I like most about Rey when she’s first introduced in The Force Awakens is that she’s just a scavenger with no Jedi blood in her, and that her parents are just ordinary people.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo himself told her ‘You come from nothing. You’re nothing’ which undeniably made him even more furious that she could wield as much power as he does. Then the ending that film (the scene with the young boy) also hinted that there are other ‘ordinary’ people with no prominent lineage who could use the Force. I love that message that people are more than who they’re born to be and where they come from, that we do have the power to become more than what’s been imagined for us. So by making Rey as a Palpatine obviously undermined the storyline that’s been set before and render many other plot points meaningless. I don’t know in what other cinematic franchise is that ever a good thing??

I have to say that the nostalgic moments have different degrees of impact. I said I enjoyed seeing Leia and Lando, and the final arc of General Leia Organa is a memorable moment. But the now decrepit Palpatine is mostly eye-roll inducing (especially since the scene of Vader throwing him down the space abyss is still fresh in my mind). Not only would it seem impossible that he survived that fall, but just when did he have time to have a son who later becomes Rey’s dad?? On top of that, he’s also mighty enough to build an entire armada and hides ALL of them from every single creature until the opportune time dictated by the script to reveal it.

I barely have time to ponder on that as there’s a ton of stuff going on in this movie… the crew frenetically jumped from place to place in search of that Wayfinder thing-y, which eventually leads to the main battle between Rey and Kylo. No doubt the lightsaber duel of two crucial characters, on top of the remains of the second Death Star no less, looks epic. With the waves and torrential rain, it’s an atmospheric scene to be sure.  It’s got some wow moments, but overall the scene just didn’t have as big an emotional impact as I thought it would.

SPOILER ALERT (proceed with caution as I’ll mention key plot details below)
Since Force Awakens, I’ve grown to appreciate Adam Driver more and more (you could even say he’s my current cinematic crush), but I gotta say Kylo’s got the short end of the stick here in terms of his character. Yes he’s a Darth wannabe from the start, longing to be a powerful Sith leader like his grandpa, but this final movie just renders him into nothing more than a conflicted man-child. It pains me to see Driver, who’s so excellent in Marriage Story which I saw just two months prior, barely given much to do here than looking mostly dazed and discombobulated.

Now, given how powerful Rey’s become, the outcome of the duel and what she did afterwards didn’t really surprise me. In a key moment in the movie, suddenly Han Solo turned up again… Was it a dream? A hallucination? Was Kylo delirious? Does it matter?? In another nostalgic scene, Harrison Ford revisited his most famous ad-lib in Empire Strikes Back as his prodigal son struggled to find the words to say … that part made me smile, but I find this dramatic scene more schmaltzy than genuinely moving.

Still, Driver at least still has a compelling arc and a dignified resolution… gone is Kylo Ren’s toxic power-hungry machismo, in the end he’s Ben Solo after all, and he’s got an honorary ‘death’ as a Jedi. But where is Rose Tico?? The spunky mechanic with a big heart had a big role in The Last Jedi… Kelly Marie Tran was a great addition to the Resistance crew. But here she’s hugely sidelined for most of the movie while Fin is off doing his heroic duty with a new compatriot, Jannah, a Resistance sympathizer. Now, Naomi Ackie is fine in the role, but I can’t help missing Rose in the journey with the Resistance fighters.

Now, after teasing us for four years whether Rey will finally turn to the dark side… well, the final answer is something so utterly predictable. Once again our heroine, just like the original hero of the saga, is facing a family member [yawn]. Rey matters because she’s part of an important, all-powerful family. It’s treading familiar [and familial] grounds the fact that bloodline and lineage is the key to achieving real power, that is the ability to use the Force. Perhaps the fact that we’ve seen all before, the action-packed battle of ‘all of the Sith’ VS ‘all of the Jedi’ barely holds a candle of the original battle between Luke vs Vader/Palpatine. It’s what follows that would likely be the talking points about Rise of Skywalker… yep, it’s all about Reylo.

Not satisfied with just an epic battle of good vs evil, we’ve got to have some controversial romance thrown in. I wonder how the convo goes in the Writers Room… ‘hey wouldn’t it be surreal to have Vader’s grandson making out w/ Palpatine’s granddaughter?’ I supposed Kylo’s longing look every time he sees and ‘feels’ Rey from a distance (boy that came out SO creepy) has suggested he has feelings for her from the start. And who could forget that shirtless scene during a Force-bond in The Last Jedi that bothered Rey so much she asked him to put something on? But yet, I still wasn’t prepared for the kiss… it feels like it came out of nowhere. I mean all the mutual pull between the light and dark side that haunts both these poor souls is SO massive… it took so much out of them with huge stakes on both sides that you would think romance is the last thing on their minds. Naturally plenty of fans have always wanted to ship the two of them, as Reylo has been the subject of a plethora of fan-fiction, which makes the kiss feels obligatory. There’s been a lot of shared motifs in Star Wars and Shakespeare–we’ve seen the Romeo and Juliet plot between Anakin and Padmé before, so I guess their grandson is bound to share similar fate.

All in all, The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but also frustrating film. I was caught up in the rousing nostalgic moments and even felt emotionally moved by some of them, but as soon as the movie’s over, I was left with an overwhelming sense of meh. It’s not a bad movie per se… I mean the actors did a good job in their roles, production design & special effects are top notch, John Williams‘ music is obviously still iconic, even Abrams’ direction is enjoyable… but at the end of the day, Chris Terrio and Abrams’ script is serviceable at best.

It proves that no film, no matter how beloved the franchise it, can simply ride on nostalgia alone. At the end of the day, as a film fan, we crave innovative storytelling that sparks one’s imagination… I don’t think JJ Abrams gave us that with this one. Honestly, after nine films, I’d be hard pressed to know just what the Force is supposed to be about since the franchise’s overall narrative is so discordant and inconsistent. Perhaps it’s a good thing this is the final installment of the cinematic Skywalker saga, but of course, with Disney+, no franchise is ever really gone. Especially one as lucrative as this one.


So for those who’ve seen this one, what did you think of The Rise of Skywalker?

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049 review

I’ve seen the original Blade Runner countless times, I’ve bought the movie on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Bluray and recently 4K Bluray Disc. So yes, I’m obsessed with it and to say that this sequel is my most anticipated movie of the year is an understatement. Back in the early 90s, Ridley Scott was rumored to have pitched a sequel idea to the studio folks but he couldn’t get it off the ground mostly because he’s been churning out box office duds at the time. Now finally we get to see a sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time.

Set 30 years after the event of the first film, LA is still a hellhole with constant rain and cloud looming over the city. Many of its citizens are now filled with new breeds of replicants and Blade Runners are still active and hunts down the older models of replicants who are considered illegals. As the movie opens, one of the Blade Runners K (Ryan Gosling) has found his target, a replicant by the name of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Morton is living outside of the city and wants to be left alone but since he’s illegal, K was forced to retire him. After surveying Morton’s place, K found out about something that could put society into chaos. He informed his boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) and she ordered him to find out everything he can and get rid of any evident so no one can know about what he’d found.

Unfortunately for K and his boss, the city’s new replicant creator Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) knew what K has discovered and he order his right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to shadow K’s every move. As K digs deeper, it leads him to an old Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) who’s now living in an isolated location way out of the city. I think that’s all I can say about the story of this film, it’s got some good surprises and fans of the original film will be very pleased with the final results.

Dennis Villeneuve has created a world that’s similar to Scott’s vision but he enhanced it with his own style. Clocking in at around 2 hours and 40 minutes long, it’s a bit too long but Villeneuve did an amazing job of setting the mood and reveal the surprises as the story progresses. Roger Deakins should finally win an Oscar for this film, it’s one of the best-looking films ever made, you need to see it on the biggest screen you can find. His lighting and shot of each sequence is drop dead gorgeous. The script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green is pretty good, they introduced some new ideas and I thought the story is much better than the original film. Although, I’m not exactly sure what kind of “message” they’re trying to say in this film. The score my Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is excellent, they incorporated Vangelis’ score from the first film and then introduced some new one for this film.

I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and was a bit skeptical when he’s cast as the lead in this film but I thought he’s pretty good here. His character is kind of mystery and we audience follow his quest to find out who he really is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. I don’t want to give out any information about his character but Gosling’s one note performance fits this character. Even though he’s only in the film for less than an hour, Ford gave a pretty emotional performance as Deckard, let’s just say he finally got some closure.

Leto didn’t really stand out that much, he’s hardly in the film and whenever he appears, he seems to be doing the typical villain who thinks of himself as some kind of God. Hoeks gave a pretty intense performance as the ruthless killer who’ll do anything to please her boss. Robin Wright who seems to be in a lot big movies these days, kind of gave an over-the-top performance as the tough police boss, again her role’s very small and didn’t make much impression on me. The only person who was on the screen as much as Gosling was Ana de Armas, she’s his “girlfriend” and I thought she did a decent job of playing the worried girlfriend/supporter of the hero.

This is a film that would probably divide some audiences, just like the first one did. It’s not action-packed as it’s advertised, pretty much all of the action scenes were shown in the trailers. I do recommend that you see the original film before going to see this one and if you’ve seen it but don’t remember much about the first film then you might get confused a little bit. My recommendation is to watch the original again before seeing this one.

With jaw dropping visual effects, tight direction and some good performances, this is one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year. I’m not going to call it a masterpiece like some critics did but it’s a great film and I’m planning to see it again a couple of more times. If there’s an IMAX or Dolby Cinema theater near you, go see it there.

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So have you seen BLADE RUNNER 2049? Well, what did you think?

JULY 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

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I can’t believe I’m doing yet another monthly roundup. I swear I just did this not that long ago.

The last day of July also marks a milestone for me as I finally got to type those elusive two words at the bottom of my script!!!

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Now I’m going to lock it away for a month (an advice I took from a screenwriting site) before I tinker with it again… so no, I haven’t got to that coveted FINAL draft yet. But still, it took me nearly a year to finally get to this point so it’s quite exciting!

Well it turns out I did watch quite a bit of movies in July, both new-to-me and re-watches. August screenings include Suicide Squad, Florence Foster Jenkins, Pete’s Dragon, Anthropoid and The Light Between Oceans. Still hoping to get a screener link of Equals, the romance sci-fi by Drake Doremus w/ Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult, so hopefully I get that soon.

So anyway, here are movies I saw this month:

New-to-me Movies

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13 (2011)

CaptFantasticCaptain Fantastic (2016) – review upcoming

AdventurerMidasBox

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2013)

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The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (2016)

STB

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

AbFabMovie

Absolutely Fabulous (2016)

JasonBourne

Jason Bourne (2016) – review upcoming

Laura

Laura (1944)

LifeMovie

Life (2015)


Look for my review of Jason Bourne and a guest review of Café Society sometime next week!


Blindspot Pick

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 Rewatches

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Gladiator (2000) | Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (2016) | BBC’s Sense & Sensibility (2008)  | Superman Returns (2006) | Toy Story 3 (2010) | The Dark Valley (2014) | Becoming Jane (2007) | Working Girl (1988) | The Age of Adaline (2015)

I ended up re-watching a ton of movies this past month. Most of these are on Netflix and Amazon Prime, so I might as well watch them when they’re still available. Some of them I own the Blu-ray (PPZ, Toy Story 3, Superman Returns and BBC’s Sense & Sensibility) and you know my penchant for period dramas, naturally I have to watch a few every month 😉

I hadn’t watched Working Girl for at least a decade and I have to say it’s definitely shown its age but it’s still pretty enjoyable. Boy whatever happened to Melanie Griffith? I mean Harrison Ford is definitely still relevant and so is Sigourney Weaver, heck even David Duchovny who’s only credited as a guy at a birthday party still has a pretty good career now.

I’m participating in Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur and the this month’s topic is Foreign Language so of course I’m picking one featuring Sam RileyDas Finstere Tal (The Dark Valley), so watch for my comprehensive review of that in the next few weeks.


 TV Series
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I’ve only gotten to two episodes of Season 1 but I enjoyed it so far. Julia Louis Dreyfuss is a hoot as the Veep herself Selina Meyer. I didn’t realize there are 5 seasons already but the good thing is it’s only a half-hour sit-com so it’s easier to catch up on.


MOVIE(S) OF THE MONTH

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It wasn’t as easy to select my movie of the month of July. But out of the contemporary films I saw last month, Captain Fantastic is one I still think about the most. I’m hoping to review it soon, but it’s certainly one of the most unique films ever and Viggo Mortensen is well, fantastic.

I’ve been wanting to watch Laura for a long time. My friend Vince reviewed it for me back in 2011 and he highly recommended it. It’s one of the most acclaimed classic noir mystery and was nominated for five Oscars. Well, it certainly lived up to the hype. I was quite mesmerized by the beautiful Gene Tierney.


Well that’s my viewing recap of July. What’s YOUR favorite film of the month?

Musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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I wasn’t going to blog about Star Wars as I didn’t think I’d have time before my East Coast trip on Tuesday. But you know what, I can’t help it. Hubby and I actually watched the original trilogy a few weeks ago, just to refresh my memory as I barely remember any of the story. We even watched the last half hour of episode III around the time the final duel between Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin becoming Darth Vader.

Well, naturally there’s a feverish anticipation to The Force Awakens, a decade after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005. I’m glad the film is finally here so I can actually talk about it and not worry about spoilers. Given the behemoth box office take of $238+mil, surely most of you have seen it by now? I pretty much avoided reading a lot of reviews and articles before this weekend and I’m glad I did. Well, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet.

A balance of homage & re-imagining

After refreshing the sci-fi classic Star Trek, it’s incredible that JJ Abrams ended up getting the torch to refresh yet another beloved franchise. In a way he’s the right man for the job, and he’s dealt with audience’s passion AND wrath for some of his own creation, i.e. LOST. It’s crazy to think that this is only his fifth feature film as he mostly serve as producers in a plethora of film and TV series.
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Abram’s revealed that it’s nerve-wracking to be helming such a massively popular franchise with such ardent fans who are quite tough to please. So I can see why he sort of played it safe with Episode VII and the plot was a nice continuation from where Return of the Jedi left off three decades earlier. The trio of writers, Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, were respectful to the original story whilst making it current in terms of tone and narrative for the new generation of fans.

The one major update seems to deal with the Force itself. In The Phantom Menace, the Force was measured by Midi-chlorian counts found in the cells of a human being. Anakin had a high amount of that and that’s why Qui-Gon Jinn deemed him to be the Chosen One. But he had to be trained to be able to use the force optimally, but now it seems that the Force-sensitivity is more of a mythical thing that isn’t quantifiable, as the case with Rey who doesn’t require much training to use it (more of that later).

After the Galactic Empire was defeated, a new threat emerged in the galaxy, this time it’s called the First Order. Its similarities to the Third Reich is palpable once again, down to the army formation, uniform, etc., led by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s clear from the start who the good and evil parties are, which kind of takes away the suspense.

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What I like about it

There’s plenty of familiar faces that’s thankfully more than just for nostalgia sake, as the major players Luke & Leia Skywalker and Han Solo’s are integral to the plot. But the fresh faces add a dose of new energy to the story, and the female-driven plot is a welcome but not-surprising move coming from Abrams.

The adventure pretty much began the moment we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger in the desert planet Jakku and Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who found his conscience and escaped from the First Order headquarter. I love both Ridley and Boyega as the two young fresh faces, that’s inspired casting there to cast two unknowns who have a nice chemistry together. Ridley’s given the most to do here as the Chosen One character, both in terms of physicality and emotionally. I think overall she pulled it off. Boyega is an effortlessly likable lead who’s got a pretty strong screen presence, too. They’ve signed on to multiple Star Wars movies and I certainly welcome seeing more of them.

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Both of them have some funny and even sweet moments with the original cast, especially Harrison Ford who have the most screen time compared to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, the latter had no speaking part at all. Like an old shoe, Ford filled his role of Han Solo effortlessly, complete with his curmudgeon attitude and dry wit. His loyal companion Chewie was right there beside him up until the end and perhaps the only moment I choked up a bit was when Chewie witnessed his BFF being murdered right in front of him.

Lupita Nyong’O, whose face was never seen, added gravitas as the wise Maz Kanata, a petite pirate of some kind who’s lived a thousand years. It’s a memorable motion-capture performance and her character is a pretty important one as she seems to know the whereabouts of Luke and also has his lightsaber.

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Like in Abram’s Star Trek films, there’s an underlying humor throughout. The banter between Rey, Finn and Solo are a hoot when they’re trying to operate (and fix) the archaic Millennium Falcon. I also find Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hilarious when he’s angry. The dude has major anger management issues as he’d blast an entire control panel with his lightsaber upon hearing some bad news, ahah. He does have great hair though and what’s the secret to him NOT having helmet hair? Now that‘s a secret worth knowing about 😉 I think between him and resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), they can practically do a Pantene commercial!

My new fave characters are definitely Rey, Finn AND the spherical droid BB 8. It’s the most adorable droid yet and he’s an absolute blast to watch! Just like Baymax in Big Hero 6, I had a big smile in my face every time the droid appeared on screen and it even knew how to give a thumbs up!! So yeah, thanks Abrams for introducing such a fun new character that made me forget about that super annoying amphibious whose name rhymes with jinx.

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When I learned that the film is 2 hrs and 15 minutes long, I was worried I’d be bored stiff but I’m glad that’s not the case at all. In fact, the film felt like a breeze thanks to the dynamic pacing and fun action scenes, especially the flying sequences. That said, I didn’t think the special effects were THAT spectacular as some people have been saying. I mean, it’s to be expected from a modern movie with a humongous budget of $200 mil. It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Mad Max: Fury Road which was made with $50 mil less and it didn’t feel so CGI-heavy as this one.

Lastly, I have to mention about John Williams‘ score which was still as awesome as the first time I heard it. The new score is wonderful and rousing as well, which mixes the old and the new, just like the film itself.

What I’m not crazy about

I mentioned the lack of suspense, well that’s how I feel throughout the movie. I can’t tell you a moment where I was genuinely surprised, let alone shocked by it. It’s also very predictable, which takes away the impact of some of the big moments of the film. I could see the death of a major character from a mile away, and I didn’t shed a single tear when it happened (and I’m a cryer!). So you could say that the film wasn’t as emotionally gratifying as I had expected.

Now, my main *quibble* that I discussed on my way home with my hubby was the fact that there are more questions than answers after seeing it. I read this article on Tech Insider on 11 biggest questions after seeing the movie and I agree with all of them. The main one is about the protagonist Rey, who we knew nothing about when the film started and she remained a mystery up until the end. Why is she force sensitive? How does the force work within her without ANY kind of training? Yes of course given that Disney is going to milk this franchise for all its worth, I said to my hubby that we probably won’t know much about her until Episode XII! Heh.

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The other main issue I had was that it was never explained why Kylo Ren had such a major beef with his parents? I’d think they’d mention a bit of that when Han and Leia talked about him, but no, we only learned that he had been trained by Luke but then got seduced by the dark side like his granddad. I kept thinking how this seems akin to those parents who learned that their sons had secretly joined ISIS. Ren himself is far from the great villain Vader was (which is obviously the point I guess, hence his constant self doubts), and he’s far too emo and prone to tantrum-throwing to be effective as an evil leader. It made me wonder how he got to be in such a high position to begin with, is it because Snode saw a potential in him given that he’s Vader’s grandson? As much as I enjoy seeing his gorgeous hair though, I think Ren should’ve worn his mask more often as he’s not at all menacing when he takes it off.

“A soap opera about family, not spaceships”

That’s a quote from George Lucas himself I read in this article. “People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems — it’s not about spaceships.” Well, that is fine and dandy because even stories that take place in space have to be somewhat relatable for it to resonate with audiences. But do they need to have familial link for every single character though?? I think if Kylo had been someone NOT blood-related to any of Star Wars’ major character, but that he somehow received training from a Jedi (Luke), I doubt that it’d make that much of a difference in the story. Yes obviously having Han being killed off by his own son, instead of some stranger baddie who happens to be a Vader groupie, has a bigger shock value (though I wasn’t all that shocked, to be honest).

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In any case, I do think the Star Wars saga is NOT just about spaceships. It’s got some Biblical values of good and evil, generational sins, and a good message about self-control, self-sacrifice and what it means to be a hero. It’s also a story about loyalty and friendship, as with Han and Chewie, as well as those droids being so loyal to their masters. The Force Awakens introduce new best friends too, Rey and Finn, Finn and Poe, and even Rey and Chewie?

So is it a perfect film?

Well, the short answer to that is NO. As I mentioned above, Abrams took a pretty safe path and made it more of an homage with a few new things added and so I feel that it’s a bit derivative and even predictable. Just as the original trilogy were best appreciated as a whole, as a stand-alone film, The Force Awakens is good but not spectacular, but it works as a continuation of a larger story. The finale hints that Luke would have a larger role in Episode VIII alongside Rey, so it’ll be interesting where the story goes from here.

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Yes it is indeed better than the prequels, and the dialog has more zing and not cringe-inducing, thank goodness. I’m glad I saw it and I think having just seen the original trilogy helped with my enthusiasm for this new film. Having said that, my hubby and I didn’t absolutely LOVE this enough to see it again on the big screen though. We might rent it again later once it’s on Blu-ray. Thus, as entertaining as The Force Awakens was, I’m actually looking forward to talking about other movies other than Star Wars in the new year.


Well, what did YOU think? Did you share my thoughts about Episode VII?

FlixChatter Review: The Age of Adaline (2015)

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A lot of the times, I anticipate films based on its director or cast, but in this case, it’s the premise that intrigued me. I wish there are more fantasy romance like this made. It seems that a lot of romantic films are either rom-coms or something utterly tragic. Then there’s the Nicholas Sparks variety which I tend to avoid.

The fact that it’s a fantasy romance, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy this film. But hey, we don’t have issues with a plethora of superhero movies requiring that, so why not a romantic film?

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Right from the start, I was intrigued by the protagonist, who basically becomes immortal after a car accident so she always looks 29 throughout the movie. We meet Adaline when she’s around 107 years old, who’s settled into her eternal existence, having to move every decade with a series of fake identities to prevent people from knowing who she is. The only person who knows about her condition is her only daughter (Ellen Burstyn) who looks like she could be Adaline’s grandma. Burstyn adds a lot of depth in her brief role here, but Lively holds her own against the experienced Oscar winner.

The way the story unfolds is pretty straightforward but it’s so beautifully-told with a series of flashbacks that are done pretty seamlessly. The use of VO narration can be irksome, but I don’t mind it so much here, even though it’s a bit overdone in the end.

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The first meet-up at a New Year’s Eve party is breathtakingly perfect. Two good looking strangers lock eyes from across the room that’s followed by a sweet flirtation in an elevator. Michiel Huisman‘s Ellis has all the qualities of a romantic hero – handsome, smart, successful and an old-school romantic, what more could you ask for? Surely Game of Thrones‘ fans are familiar with his um, work. Huisman is Dutch but his American accent is very convincing, but most importantly, he has a great chemistry with Blake Lively and you actually root for them to be together.

I haven’t seen anything Lively is in, apart from her brief role in The Town, but I think she did a fine job carrying this film. She’s beautiful and has a phenomenal figure that make those vintage clothes look amazing. She also has that classic look about her that fit the role. Some actresses might look too modern here, but Lively also has that quiet grace about her that is so elegant and bewitching. They initially wanted Natalie Portman in the role and she would’ve been good, but I think the fact that Lively is a bit of an unlikely casting actually works well for the film. That said, I feel that she might not have the dramatic chops to pull off some of the heavy emotional moments that a more skilled actress could bring to the role.

The supporting cast are particularly notable, especially Harrison Ford as Ellis’ father and his younger self, played by Anthony Ingruber whose physical resemblance is uncanny. Even their voice sound similar. I LOVE Ford’s performance here, he doesn’t do romantic roles often but he’s got that lovelorn look down pat here.

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Now, with a romance like this one, a certain degree of schmaltzy-ness is to be expected. Yet there’s a genuine sweetness and charm in this one that swept me off my feet. Yes there are moments where the dialog comes off corny and the plot is rather predictable, but nothing that would derail the film for me.

I was convinced this film was based on a novel, as so many films like this are, but it turns out it wasn’t. It’s written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz and I love the idea of lost love interwoven here in Adaline’s enchanting long life. I hadn’t heard of the director, Lee Toland Krieger, but he’s certainly got style as this film looks positively gorgeous. The costume and cinematography are so beautiful to behold, and the set pieces fit each era perfectly. The various San Francisco locations, such as the library where Adaline works, look so charming here, especially in the night scenes.

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I also like the use of music, featuring vintage and contemporary songs over the course of Adaline’s life. It just sets the mood nicely and gives you that swoony quality the film aims for. I went into this film with neutral expectations, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. In fact I love it enough where I certainly don’t mind watching it again.

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Have you seen Age of Adaline? Well, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Musings on the Han Solo spinoff & who we’d like to see as young Solo

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So a couple of days ago when Twitter was all abuzz with news of the upcoming Han Solo spinoff movie, I was rather ho-hum about it. I’m not exactly clamoring to see this, nor the throng of other spin-offs as Disney’s milking the Star Wars franchise for all its worth. $4 Bil is really chump change considering the potential it could rake from it.

ChrisMillerPhilLordI suppose out of all the inevitable spin-offs, the Han Solo movie could be a fun action/adventure movie, that is if they get the casting right. Before I get to that, at least on paper they seem to get the directing pick right. The LEGO Movie directors Chris Miller & Phil Lord are going to be helming this, and it seems that directing duos seem to have worked well for the company [i.e. Anthony & Joe Russo w/ the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier]. The also have a father/son duo Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan to pen the script, the former has written Star Wars Episode V and VI, as well as Raiders of the Lost Arc. According to THR, Miller was apparently an intern at Lucasfilm, and he was once asked to step into a Stormtrooper costume for one of George Lucas’ Special Edition Star Wars movies. How cool that life seems to have come full circle for him!

Now on to casting!

There have been a bazillion posts in the past couple of days and frankly, some of the choices they listed on some major sites are so preposterous. I mean Shia LaBeouf? Dave Franco? Zac Efron?? [smh] EW even suggested Ted and my worst nemesis, Jai Courtney, who’s more wooden than the Pechanga Oak Tree!

Now, I texted my pal Ted what his thoughts are on this whole project, so let’s start with that…

Ted’s thoughts

Like many Star Wars fans, Han Solo is my favorite character from the original trilogy. Personally I don’t really have the urge to see a film about Solo, even though he’s my favorite character from the franchise, I don’t know if his back story would be that interesting since he wasn’t involved with saving the universe until he met Obi-Wan and Luke years later. I’ll have an open mind and hope that the writers can come up with some good story about Solo’s past but till then count me as one of the people who don’t really have that much interest about this potential franchise for Disney.TaronEgerton2

Of course people have already about which actor should be playing young Solo, I’ve read somewhere that Aaron Paul is the favorite? Well I’m in the minority here and say that he would be an awful choice if he was cast in the role. Nothing against Aaron, he’s great in Breaking Bad and I can never see him as any character but Jesse.

I think they should go with an unknown for the role and my choice would be Taron Egerton. He’s not that well known yet and I thought he’s great in Kingsman: The Secret Service. If Disney decides to go with a better known actor then my choice would be the current golden boy Chris Pratt.


Ruth’s Thoughts

Funny that as I was driving home, I was exactly thinking that they should cast an unknown. I mean, Ford was still a carpenter when Lucas hired him to read lines for actors auditioning for parts in Star Wars! [per Wiki] Now, I’m not suggesting they cast some dolly grip or something, after all Ford did have supporting roles already by the time he was cast.

Well, the first person that came to mind was the same one that Ted suggested. We thought Taron Egerton has that mischievous, rebellious quality that fit the role of the space scoundrel. Solo is one of the great leaders of the Rebel Alliance so he should have that commanding presence but doesn’t take himself so seriously. The 26-year-old Taron is Welsh, but hey, it never stops Hollywood from casting UK actors in quintessentially American roles.

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Now, my second choice is an even more obscure actor who’s actually been in a film with Ford himself. Anthony Ingruber played the younger version of Ford’s character in The Age of Adaline and his resemblance to Ford is uncanny! I literally yelped when I first saw him in the trailer, I thought they did a ‘digital facelift’ technique or something like they did with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in X-Men 3.

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He’s also done amazing impressions of Solo in this video he posted back in 2008, but now seven years has passed so he’s more mature looking and hopefully has more acting experience as well. Anthony is 25 and 6-feet tall (a mere inch shorter than Ford) and if you watch the video, even his voice is so similar to Ford’s.

I hope they’d at least consider inviting this guy for an audition. I realize that good acting takes more than just the ability to do impressions of the original actor, but hey it’s a good start.

Another young actor that might fit the part is Ansel Elgort whom I’ve met when he was promoting Divergent. He’s only 21 though, so a little on the young side, but he’s got quite a swagger and ‘old soul’ quality about him even when two years ago. He’s a NYC native, VERY tall (6’4″) with a rather deep voice. He’s quite popular with the teen crowd I reckon, thanks to The Fault in Our Stars, and I think he’s a decent actor.

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Another name that keep getting a mention every time there’s a reboot of one of Ford’s many lucrative franchises is Chris Pratt. Now, I think he’s practically already playing a Han-Solo type role in The Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d rather see him as Indiana Jones.

The project is now set for a May 25, 2018 release, so we’ll probably be hearing casting news in the next few months.

 


So let the casting discussion commence… who would YOU like to see cast as Han Solo?

Thursday Movie Picks #42: All in the Family Edition – Father-Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today the theme is… 

Father/Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

I actually don’t really have much experience or memories of father/daughter relationship, as my dad was never really part of my life after my parents split when I was three. I was raised by my late mom and strong-willed grandma, the latter was a successful businesswoman revered by her family and peers. So in a way she’s as close to a father to me given her strict rules and occasional anger outbursts that used to petrify me but now that I look back, I find it kind of endearing.

Despite not having a biological father present in my life, I certainly appreciate father/daughter relationships in movies, here are three that left a big impression to me:

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

ToKillAMockingbirdI didn’t get to see this film until my intense Gregory Peck obsession days, but it’s truly the moment when the actor became the character. Talk about a dream dad. No matter how busy he is, town attorney Atticus Finch always have time for his kids and he genuinely enjoys their company — he doesn’t see time for family as a chore.

I remember tearing up a few times as I watched Atticus interacting with his vivacious young daughter Scout (Mary Badham), displaying his affection and sharing his wisdom in the most natural way. It’s obvious that Scout needs her dad just like any young kid needs their father, but I think those moments are crucial for Atticus too, beyond just the familial bond. Being with his young daughter must’ve reminded Atticus of the purity and goodness of life amidst the darkness and brutality he faces every day in his job. I live vicariously through Scout in her moments with her beloved dad, and I certainly take his wise words to heart…

“…you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them…”

Apparently the father/daughter bond between Peck and Badham carried over beyond the film set. The two became close in real life and kept in contact for the rest of their lives, Peck always called her Scout.

Regarding Henry (1991)

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People remember Harrison Ford mostly for his iconic action roles as Han Solo or Indiana Jones and granted he’s fantastic in those roles. But I absolutely love his performance in Regarding Henry, which is a wonderful story about second chances. One of my favorite moments in the film are the ones Henry spend with his young daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen).

In his *old* life prior to the event that transformed him, Henry barely had time for his family. Suffice to say he didn’t really know his one and only daughter, he’s too busy being a hot shot lawyer and having affairs with his secretary. Interesting that Henry’s also a lawyer like Atticus but clearly he’s got his priorities out of whack. But he’s given a second chance to make it right and his daughter helps him do that. I LOVE all the scenes where she teaches him the most basic things like reading, as he’s back to being a kid again, literally. Ford and Allen have a wonderful chemistry, their scenes together are endearingly funny and so full of heart.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)
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Whenever one hears Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, naturally we think of Elizabeth & Darcy’s relationship. But in Joe Wright’s film adaptation, I love the depiction of Lizzie (Keira Knightley) and her dad Mr. Bennett (Donald Sutherland). Clearly she’s her father’s favorite and he understood her much better than her mother ever did.

I LOVE this quote when Lizzie’s mother insisted that she married Mr. Collins…

Mr. Bennet: Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins… And I will never see you again if you do.

The scene towards the end when Lizzy asked her father’s permission to marry Darcy is also wonderful…

Lizzy: He and I are so similar.. we’ve been so stubborn

Mr. Bennett: You really do love him don’t you?

Lizzy: Very much

Mr. Bennett: I can’t believe that anyone can deserve you.  It seems I am overruled.  So, I hardly give my consent. I could have not parted with you my Lizzy to anyone less worthy.

Veteran actor Sutherland portrayed Mr. Bennett so perfectly, with such calming wisdom and compassion. The scene of him crying is so utterly moving, once again the chemistry of the cast work beautifully here.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?