Movie Review ~ Peter Rabbit


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.

Stars: James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie

Director: Will Gluck

Rated: PG

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: As I hunkered down on a chilly Saturday for an early morning screening of Peter Rabbit there were a few thoughts going through my head. The first was a silent prayer that Hollywood didn’t take Beatrix Potter’s beloved characters and turn them into grating kooky animations. The second musing I found myself pondering was what took so long for Potter’s creations to make their way to the screen in the first place? Plenty of small screen animation adaptions featuring Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Squirrel Nutkin, and more have popped up throughout the decades and a fond memory of my youth was going to see Beatrix Potter’s Christmas (think The Avengers, just with Potter’s most famous critters) over several years at MN’s Children’s Theater Company. Yet aside from a Potter biopic (the largely forgotten Mrs. Potter), there’s been little love for the woodland creatures themselves.

What a pleasure it was, then, to find that Peter Rabbit is a real delight, a rare family film that’s truly something the whole family can get something out of. For kids there’s plenty of slapstick comedy that doesn’t involve farts or other rude nonsense and for adults there are a bevy of laughs that will easily sail over the heads of tykes too young to get the humor.

In the English countryside, Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden, Into the Woods) is fond of making his way into the garden of Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) and filling up on his plump vegetables. Pulling his cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) in on his schemes and being cheered on by rabbit triplets Flopsy (Margot Robbie, I, Tonya), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby), and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express), days are just a series of adventures that usually end with Peter being chased by the annoyed farmer into the loving arms of his caretaker Bea (Rose Byrne, Insidious). One day, the antics go too far and Old Mr. McGregor has himself a heart attack leaving his garden and home to be overrun by animals.

In London, tightly-wound Thomas McGregor’s (Domhnall Gleeson, Goodbye Christopher Robin) OCD ways have gotten him the heave-ho from his job at Harrod’s department store. Informed of his inheritance of a house from an uncle he’s never met and without much to keep him in the city, he treks out to see his new property in the country. Once he arrives and cleans up the place, he sets his sights on ridding himself of the vermin problem…but also starts to fall in love with Bea. The latter half of the film focuses on Thomas and Peter’s escalating war, fighting for their territory and over the lovely woman that cares for both of them.

Director and co-screenwriter Will Gluck (Annie) has crafted a film that’s quite charming from the get-go. There’s sentiment for the origin of the stories (Bea is a painter that creates bizarre modern art but sketches her forest friends in intricate details, ala Beatrix Potter) but keeps enough pep in its step to not feel like a staid transfer of the books to the screen. The humor is broad and fast-paced but with a sly wink to always let the audience in on the joke. Sure, there’s a few questionable bits of mayhem (such as one moment where Peter briefly considers sticking a carrot into Old Mr. McGregor’s plumber butt crack) but the overall joy the film brings outweighs a few of these catering to the masses missteps.

Sprinkled with a soundtrack of familiar songs reimagined not to mention a few tunes Gluck penned himself and using Australia’s picturesque countryside as a stand-in for the English village of Windermere, this is a valuable film for parents to keep in their back pocket.  I found the 90 minute run time flew by and there are some nice touches from Gluck and company, such as having the live-action leads also provide voices for a few of the animals.  Along with Paddington 2, it represents a step above the usual family fare that blends live-action with animation (the result is dazzlingly seamless) and offers sure-fire matinee potential for the whole gang.

Movie Review ~ Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Having taken her first steps into a larger world in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey continues her epic journey with Finn, Poe and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the saga.

Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran

Director: Rian Johnson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 152 minutes

First Trailer Review: Here
Second Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: If there’s one feeling that governed 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was nostalgia. Fans had toiled through the dark despair of the Star Wars prequels and were holding out hope that director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) would bring them salvation in the continuing story of the sci-fi fantasy epic. So when The Force Awakens opened and was actually good, if not wholly great, most audiences that received the film well left the theater floating on a cosmic wave of good feelings of the old school charm that kept the original trilogy preserved so well over the years.

I count myself as one of those fans and gobbled up the film hook, line, and sinker. However, in hindsight it’s best to admit in the spirit of friendship that I fully recognize The Force Awakens was largely a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. Sure, it wasn’t a paint-by-numbers carbon copy but the familiar themes of the original didn’t go unnoticed. I wasn’t as big a fan of 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as many were, that film didn’t have anywhere to go so it remained flatter than a pancake to this viewer. Now, with the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi the producers and filmmakers would really be put to the test. Would they continue to pull from the past to create something to please the fans, or would they dare to try something different?

Well, The Last Jedi is a little bit like walking forward while cinematically rubbernecking to spot where you were coming from. It’s immensely entertaining when it wants to be (which is most of the time) and a little lackluster in laying the groundwork for future installments and whenever it gets too cerebral. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) ably picks up the reins from his predecessor and does more than just keep his seat warm before Abrams returns for Episode 9. There’s a forward thrust but it does take time to reach warp speed.

It’s always a special thrill to hear John Williams score announce the start of the film and a bit of excitement reading the opening crawl. The first fifteen minutes are classic Star Wars, with a group of rebel fighters including Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) protecting their cavalcade and fearless leader (the late, great, Carrie Fisher, This is My Life) from an attack waged by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Goodbye Christopher Robin). It’s here were a strange comedic chord is first heard, one that made me wonder if Johnson had decided to inject his film with more Spaceballs (Mel Brooks’ brilliant send up of the Star Wars films) than was appropriate.

We last saw young orphan Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) traveling with Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service) who was in a self-imposed exile. While Poe and Leia continue to evade the monstrous Hux, Rey tries to sway Luke to return and help the resistance defeat The First Order and their leader, General Snoke (a CGI creation that looks better here than in The Force Awakens, once-again voiced by Andy Serkis, Breathe). There’s also the matter of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Frances Ha), Leia and Han Solo’s son who turned to the Dark Side and is still smarting from the butt-whooping he received from Rey and Finn (John Boyega) at the end of the previous film. He’s out for revenge…but does he have more secrets up his well-armored sleeve that will change the course of The First Order and the resistance?

Juggling several storylines at once, Johnson keeps the 2.5 hour film moving a good clip. A race against the clock rescue mission involving Finn and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran, an excellent addition to this male-heavy world) manages to remain engaging even when it’s broken up and interspersed with the goings-on of other characters. The movie has a few endings but manages to justify them with ease.

Aside from Benicio Del Toro (Inherent Vice) as a code-breaking thief and Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) showing up with purple hair as Leia’s second in command, it’s largely the same old gang we first sparked to in previous installments. While certain players take more of a backseat in glorified cameos (12 Years as Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o is a mere hologram here), Johnson has introduced a few memorable creatures like the cute Porg’s, Crystal Foxes, and Luke’s island-dwelling servants that one critic hilariously dubbed “the fish nuns”. They’re not going to replace Chewie or R2D2 in your heart but they do rally a convincing bid for you to make some room.

The second movie in a planned trilogy can often feel a bit flimsy as a bridge between the first and final chapters but The Last Jedi avoids those pitfalls. Depending on your knowledge of the Star Wars universe, it could easily stand on its own. It makes you look forward to the next installment rather than feel desperate for answers that you might not get by the time the credits roll. The effects are top notch, the score from Williams sounds as glorious as ever, and try not to get a little choked up every time Fisher’s on screen.

Movie Review ~ Goodbye Christopher Robin

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther, Richard McCabe, Nico Mirallegro, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Lord, do I love Winnie the Pooh. A longtime fan of that honey-loving bear, I admit that I first came to the Hundred-Acre wood via the now-frightening live-action television series that first aired on the Disney Channel. Remember that one? The one with the puppets that rarely blinked and sometimes talked without moving their mouths? I watched a few minutes of an episode recently and was aghast at how scary it was to me as an adult, obviously I was much less critical (and less easily terrified) when I was six or seven. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that it was only as I became an adult that I went back to the works of A.A. Milne and read the source material that served as a jumping off point for Disney animators and Imagineers.

So that’s all a preface to say that I had high hopes for Goodbye Christopher Robin, a look into the life of the famous author and his family and how he created the world of a hungry bear and his forest dwelling friends. While the early previews promised a heart-tugging drama (don’t worry, hearts are tugged are tears are shed) it didn’t hint that the film winds up to be pretty boring in its heavy first half before finally finding its footing nearly an hour into its runtime.

Coming back from the first World War, playwright Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time) struggles to adjust back to civilian life. His socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) not so much longs for a child but thinks that it will do her marriage good. The arrival of Christopher Robin Milne (first played by Will Tilston, then by Alex Lawther) is a rough one, mostly because it’s hinted that Daphne wasn’t aware exactly where babies come from…literally. Quickly hiring a nanny nicknamed Nou (Kelly MacDonald, Brave), the parents resume their showbiz lifestyle, often leaving their son for weeks on end as they travel.

It’s only when Milne grows tired of “making people life” and after he moves his family to a beautiful estate in the English countryside that the father is forced to get to know his son. With his wife flying the coop back to London after becoming exasperated at his sluggish ways and Nou off to care for her ailing mother, Milne starts to explore the woods and that’s when the stories are born. First as a play-game and then put to paper and illustrated, the tales of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends become a sensation, blurring the lines between the real boy and the boy featured in his father’s books. This creates a growing resentment from Christopher Robin that permeates his entire childhood, a childhood that may have been stolen away by a limelight he didn’t ask for.

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) along with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan front load the movie with too much Milne moping. A.A. and Daphne are painted as such neglectful ninnies that your heart goes out to their son that can’t find a way into their social circle. Raised to be caring and compassionate by his adored nanny, his life is ultimately sheltered which makes the instant celebrity he achieves so difficult to deal with. Excellently played by young Tilston, the movie takes off when he’s center stage and the same goes for anytime MacDonald is onscreen (why people aren’t mentioning her for an Oscar nom is beyond me) as the sole voice of reason.

I’m not sure if it’s because Robbie is so painfully miscast that her character comes off so horribly but it’s got to factor into the equation. Robbie is a bit of a puzzle actress, she’s never great but seems to be given the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood more often than she should. She’s certainly terrible here, botching her accent and aging too gracefully as the years pass by. When Gleeson ditches his eternal scowl he becomes a tolerable presence but both A.A. and Daphne were so clueless to the pain they were causing their son that it’s a hard thing for an actor to overcome without some blowback.

Goodbye Christopher Robin’s middle section that explains how these fondly remembered characters were created is the best part while it’s poor opening and rushed closing provide an imbalance that the movie can’t recover from. Truth be told it has some emotional heft as it nears the conclusion, but it doesn’t feel totally earned and the tears are delivered via a fairly manipulative plot device that might put some audience members off. I for one was a little miffed at the game that was being played, I just wanted to know more about why the characters were playing it to begin with.

The Silver Bullet ~ Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer #2)

Synopsis: Having taken her first steps into a larger world, Rey continues her epic journey with Finn, Poe and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the saga.

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Thoughts:

Movie Review ~ mother!


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I truly wanted to like mother!…I did.  In the weeks leading up to the screening I literally counted the days until it arrived, and if I’m honest it was more for the chance to see Michelle Pfeiffer up on the big screen again.  Still…maybe I set a bar so high that no final product that Darren Aronofsky (Noah) could have delivered would have made the grade.  Then again, the movie winds up being so vile, so grossly arrogant, and with its head so far up its own backside that it’s hard to believe anyone could leave a showing of mother! better off than when they arrived.

No sooner do the lights go down than the image of a woman bathed in flames appears.  A single tear rolls down her cheek and by the end we’ll want to cry too as Aronofsky lays everything on thick for Act 1 of this nightmare.  Not much can be revealed about mother! without leaking several key twists but if you’ve seen the trailer for the movie you’ll get a pretty good taste for what the first half of the movie has to offer.

A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy) is fixing up her older husband’s childhood home years after it was gutted by a fire.  Without asking her, the husband (Javier Bardem, Skyfall), a famous poet with writers block, welcomes a stranger (Ed Harris, The Abyss) and his wife (Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows) into their house and that opens the door for a bevy of visitors with their own inexplicable agendas.  Even before Harris arrives, the relationship between Lawrence and Bardem is so awkward you’re already curious what kind of power he has over her.  She allows him to make all the decisions, rarely challenges him, and barely raises an eyebrow when he doesn’t seem to notice that the visitors are odd with a capital O.

For a while, mother! hums along with a decent amount of atmosphere and head scratching developments that Aronofsky somehow manages to stay one step ahead of.  Lawrence plays the role with such wide-eyed growing dread that I half wonder if she was fed her scenes one at a time and didn’t know where it was all heading.  Bardem sure seems to know, though, and he starts to gnaw on the scenery in no time flat which puts him in a plum position as the film reaches its zenith about 75 minutes in.  From there it quickly descends into a delirious mess and while it gets advanced brownie points for its boldness it loses them in the same breath for going to such an abysmally rank place in its finale.  I was a bit appalled to tell you the truth, not so much for one seriously gory stomach churning curveball but for extended scenes of violence toward Lawrence that just felt so wrong.

Aronofksy and Lawrence are a well-publicized power couple in Hollywood and if this is the kind of movie Aronofsky writes and directs for someone he loves, I can’t even imagine what he’d do for someone he can’t stand.  A snuff film, maybe?  His previous works are just as divisive as mother! is sure to be but, save for Requiem for a Dream which even he couldn’t top for sheer Grand Guignol chutzpah, at the end of the day the final message he’s delivering doesn’t seem wholly original or meaningful.  In past movies, he’s tackled drug abuse, man’s inhumanity to man, and paralyzing ambition…here he’s trying to speak to everyone on the planet and the reach is too much.

Like Natalie Portman in Aronofksy’s brilliant Black Swan, Lawrence is in nearly every frame of the movie and she’s well cast in a terrible role.  Why she doesn’t just pack her bag and head out the door each time her husband does something looney tunes is maybe the biggest mystery of the entire film.  When she does decide to head for the hills, she’s pregnant and her house is being invaded by hordes of people (including Kristin Wiig, The Martian, who pops up in the briefest and strangest of cameos billed as ‘the herald’) who are there for her husband.

You’ll be surprised to find out just how little Harris and Pfeiffer are in the movie…and more’s the pity because what the final half of the movie needed is the spark Pfeiffer brings to each of her scenes that are front-loaded into the first hour of the film.  Always a favorite of mine, Pfeiffer is gleefully loosey-goosey as a gin-soaked annoyance who pushes Lawrence’s buttons with delight.  She’s rarely been this relaxed in the last decade of her career and while it isn’t the Oscar-winning performance the studio is gunning for, she’s the best thing about the movie by a longshot.

With dizzying camerawork by Iron Man’s Matthew Libatique (seriously, bring a barf bag) and a purposefully irritating sound design, the technical elements are sharp as a tack in true Aronofsky style.  The sound is so specific by making sure you hear each floorboard creak and droplet of water falling in a copper sink that there are times when I swear you can hear the actors blink.  A little of that goes a long way and by the finale when all hell is breaking loose (literally) it becomes an overwhelming cacophony of visuals and sound that you’ll be desperate to break free of.

While I just can’t bring myself in good faith to endorse this one, if anything, mother! will be a fun movie to dissect over drinks after…but take my advice and steer clear of food before, during, and after.  While there was potential for something interesting to take shape with the strong elements Aronofsky has assembled, at the end of it all I just wanted my mother…to give the director a good whack upside the head.

The Silver Bullet ~ mother!

Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Release Date: September 15, 2017

Thoughts: Oh let’s just face facts, they had me at Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s always a special joy to see Pfeiffer (Grease 2) onscreen at any time and we’re fortunate that she’s popping up in so many places in 2017.  Before she boards Murder on the Orient Express in November, she’s going to be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s strange little thriller mother! (no capital letters for this guy!) this September.  This looks like it’s either going to be a nasty little nightmare that Aronofsky is so good at or a total mess which would be pretty unfortunate considering the stellar cast assembled.  I wince a bit at 27 year old Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) married to 48 year old Javier Bardem (Skyfall) but let’s hope Aronofsky offers an explanation within the first reel.  Ed Harris (The Abyss) also stars but it’s Pfeiffer looking snazzy and sinister that seals this deal for me.

The Silver Bullet ~ Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Synopsis: Having taken her first steps into a larger world, Rey continues her epic journey with Finn, Poe and Luke Skywalker in the next chapter of the saga.

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Thoughts: Star Wars, Luke Skywalker, OMG, Amazing, Laura Dern, December Get Here Soon!, Why are you still reading my thoughts…watch the first teaser trailer now!

Movie Review ~ Brooklyn

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a new romance. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Director: John Crowley

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: Here’s something you don’t get every day, a sweetly innocent romance that doesn’t oversell its charm and doesn’t make anyone a villain along the way.  Brooklyn was an unexpected delight, anchored by strong performances, a sensitive script adapted from a heartfelt novel, and tender direction that underplays without ever resting on its heels.

A wallflower working for a shrewish shop owner in 1950s Ireland, Eilis (a ravishing Saoirse Ronan, How I Live Now) is given the chance for a new life in America when her sister makes arrangements for her to travel to a new country with new opportunities.  Her sister stays back to care for their aging mother and invests her dreams with her sister as she sends her on her way.  The journey is hard and the adjustment difficult but soon Eilis has created a place and purpose for herself where previously it never existed.

Living in an all-female boarding house run by Mrs. Keogh (a splendid Julie Walters, Paddington), Eilis works in a department store and attends Friday night dances put on by the parish that sponsored her trip.  Expecting to meet another Irish immigrant, she’s instead romanced by a shy but persistent New York native (Emory Cohen, The Gambler) who courts her in a most old-fashioned way.  She meets his family, considers a future with him and then…plans change.

What makes Brooklyn so special is that it presents choices for our leading lady in a time when women didn’t always have a say in what their lives had in store for them.  And it goes further than that, making clear that either decision that Eilis contemplates holds promise of a full life.  No one is colored as malicious (at least none of the main characters are) and there is no “bad guy” to be found.  To introduce that factor would mean that there was a “right” choice to make.  As audience members we know what we want her to do, but there’s trust established that lets us know she has her head on straight.

Ronan was one of the younger actresses ever to be nominated for an Oscar for her brilliant work in 20074’s Atonement and she’s likely making her way into the Best Actress nominees this year for her beautifully realized performance.  Cohen, too, has charm to spare and I found myself smiling at his sincerity as the would-be tough New Yorker expresses his feelings for his Irish lass.  Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) hits the right notes as an Irish suitor for Eilis as does Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas) as a priest that provides support for Eilis while in America.

More than anything, I wished for Brooklyn to go on longer…I wanted to know more about these people, their lives, their hopes, and their dreams.  It wouldn’t be hard to imagine another movie (or TV series…hint hint hint) fashioned around the boarding house run by Julie Walters.  There’s rich material there and from the various women we meet during our brief visits there’s more than enough laughs and tears to fuel new story ideas.

Directed by John Crowley (Closed Circuit) and adapted by Nick Hornby (Wild) from the novel by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is surely one of the best films you’re likely to see in 2015 (or 2016, now that you’re reading this).  Make the journey, it’s worth the trip.

Movie Review ~ Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas and set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Crystal Clarke, Pip Anderson, Christina Chong, Miltos Yerolemou

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 135 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Hey all you spoiler-phobic Star Wars fans…you’ve come to the right place!  Have no fear, I’m not going to reveal any major plot points or ruin any of the surprises that director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) has in store for you.  So I’m going to give you two reviews…one that is as spoiler-free as can be and another that will be slightly more descriptive (but still without any key points you aren’t already aware of).  Are you ready?  OK!

Totally spoiler-free review:

The wait was worth it and Star Wars fans finally have the sequel they’ve been waiting for since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.  The effects are marvelous, the script tight, and the score by John Williams returns the sound of the series back to its grandly epic origins.  In short, it’s a film that knows where it came from and has a vision for the future.

Now…for some more descriptive musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

There’s a moment in the silent moments before Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins when my heart started to beat a little faster, my breath started catching a bit.  After all this time, a direct sequel to the original trilogy of the operatic space odyssey created by George Lucas was waiting mere frames away.  The time to hold grudges against the weak prequels vanished when those familiar words came up on screen… “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” and then…the logo, the music, the opening crawl that lays out what’s been going on since we last saw Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and other creatures great, small, or mechanical.  I gotta admit, I had goosebumps from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

With the Sith destroyed and the Empire fallen, a new enemy has surfaced that threatens the peace the Resistance has tried to bring to the galaxy.  The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire with a new leader (Supreme Leader Snoke, Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), a new General (Hux, Domhnall Gleeson, About Time), and a new commander (Kylo Ren, Adam Driver, Frances Ha) strong with the force with ties to Darth Vader.  The First Order is searching for a warrior gone missing, tracking an ace pilot for the Resistance (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) to a planet where he’s meeting with an elder (Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredible Close) who holds a key to the warrior’s whereabouts.

In a nice tip of the hat to the original Star Wars, this important piece of information is hidden within a droid and soon finds itself in the hands of Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley), an otherwise ordinary civilian that must travel from her planet via a familiar ship long since left for junk.  Accompanied by defecting Storm Trooper Finn (John Boyega) before being joined by Han Solo (Harrison Ford, The Expendables 3) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), all are thrust into an adventure that hops planets and light years.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm Ltd (thereby acquiring the rights to the Star Wars franchise) for a cool $4 billion there was a general discomfort that the House of Mouse wouldn’t do right by the characters.  But Disney has delivered, and delivered in a big way.  The $200-million-dollar film looks amazing with top-notch special effects seamlessly blending with live action to create 135 minutes of thrilling sequence after thrilling sequence.  Not all thrills come from special effects though; just try to stave off the chills of hearing John Williams stirring score or deflect the rousing excitement of Han Solo reuniting with Princess (now General) Leia (a marvelously sanguine Carrie Fisher).  When Ford and Fisher are on screen together the decades absolutely melt away and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and J.J. Abrams have wisely kept their banter appropriately campy and fun.  Ford in particular looks like he’s having more fun on screen then he’s had in years, reminding us why he’s a movie star.

Speaking of stars, Abrams has impeccably cast the film’s two leads with Ridley being the clear stand-out.  Reminding me of a younger Keira Knightly, Ridley ably handles the range of her arc which puts her in numerous precarious situations.  Boyega, too, is a welcome presence and while early on the actor tries a bit too hard, he’s redeemed by the end once he relaxes into the role.  Both actors bring an energetic vibrancy to the screen, we’ve just met them yet we’re on their side from the beginning.  They mesh nicely with the returning cast members and other new faces (including 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o as a kind of next-gen Yoda), making this an easily accessible film for longtime fans or those new to the franchise.

If I had one gripe, it’s a small-ish one and it has to do with the Serkis’ realization of Snoke.  The one effect that comes off as too CGI, I wished that the larger than life baddie was introduced on a more practical level instead of being motion-captured to the high heavens into a shadowy evil from the Dark Side.  Still, it’s a small complaint for a film that’s overwhelmingly enjoyable.

Before seeing this seventh episode of the Star Wars saga, I was planning on re-watching all of the films (which I hadn’t seen in, gulp, nearly a decade) to bone up on the story up until this point.  Time constraints made that impossible and in a way I’m glad that I hadn’t inundated myself with previous installments because it helped me take in The Force Awakens for what it was, the beginning of the next chapter of Star Wars.  And what an impressive beginning it is.

The Silver Bullet ~ Brooklyn

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Synopsis: In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: After making an impressive (and Oscar-nominated) debut in 2007’s Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has found herself in a diverse line-up of roles/films that have shown she’s not a one-trick pony.  From the post-Twilight teen romance The Host to Wes Anderson’s zany masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel to the bold (and woefully underseen) How I Live Now, Ronan seems to favor keeping her options and not being pigeon-holed in any one genre.

Tackling another period piece in Brooklyn (based on the novel by Colm Tóibín), Ronan looks like she has another small winner on her hands.  Then again, I’m a sucker for films set in this era so it’s not a shocker that I’m looking forward to this tale of an Irish immigrant making a go of it in 1950s New York City. Director John Crowley last helmed the so-so Closed Circuit in 2013 but his screenwriter is Nick Hornby (About a Boy, Wild) who knows a thing or two about what it takes to bring a novel to life.  Arriving after the summer din and before the holiday rush, here’s hoping it’s as good as it looks.