Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 for violence
Eagerly-Anticipated Sequel Proves Well Worth The Wait
The Force Awakens is a splendid sequel to Return Of The Jedi, the 1983 finale of the original Star Wars trilogy. This offering follows the uneven prequel trilogy released over the intervening years, the low point being the introduction of a jive Jamaican character named Jar Jar Binks.
Episode VII, which also marks the launch of another trilogy, just might be the best Star Wars installment yet. This is no surprise when you consider that it was directed by Spielberg protégé J.J. Abrams (Super 8), who’d proved himself worthy of being entrusted with the storied sci-fi series by virtue of his prior success with the tent pole franchises Star Trek and Mission Impossible.
The Force Awakens represents an ingenious mix of the old and the new, as it features familiar faces like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, as well as fresh ones in John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver. The same can be said of the adventure’s robotic cast members, with anthropomorphic android BB-8 joining in the fun with much beloved R2-D2 and C-3PO.
An engaging plot interweaves all of the above in a way which never feels forced. Credit in this regard goes to Abrams for collaborating with three-time Academy Award-nominee Lawrence Kasdan (for The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon) and Oscar-winner Michael Arndt (for Little Miss Sunshine) in crafting an engaging script frankly imbued with a little more depth than expected. Betwixt the hi-tech battles between good and evil, the tale exploits breaks in the action to serve up a fair amount of nostalgia and sentimentality.
It all unfolds a few decades after the events in Return Of The Jedi, opening with the trademark conceit “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by a crawl explaining what’s transpired since we’ve last met. At the point of departure, we learn that the New Republic is joining forces with the Resistance to fight the Stormtroopers of the First Order, an intergalactic dictatorship led by the diabolical Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Soon thereafter, intrepid protagonists emerge in rebel fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), renegade Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and reliable veteran Admiral Han Solo (Ford). The good guys have a seemingly inexhaustible army of adversaries to vanquish en route to making the universe safe again for freedom and democracy.
The hostilities inexorably build to a spectacular, light saber battle best appreciated in 3-D and on an IMAX screen. Nevertheless, for my money, the movie’s most inspired moments are the ones designed to tug at the heartstrings, like the touching reunion of Solo and Princess Leia (Fisher).
A thrilling outer space epic breathing new life into a once flagging franchise!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, suggestive material and mature themes
Wahlberg And Ferrell Compete For Kids’ Affections In Dysfunctional Family Comedy
Brad’s (Will Ferrell) been a model stepfather, ever since he married Sarah (Linda Cardellini) eight months ago. He’s always lavishing attention on her children, whether picking them up from school, coaching their Little League team, offering a shoulder to cry on about bullying, or tucking them in at bedtime. In that respect, he’s the polar opposite of their biological dad, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), an unreliable narcissist who was rarely around to attend a school function or help with homework.
For that reason, you might think that little Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) would appreciate all the TLC now being lavished on them by Brad. Think again. He’s been having a heck of a time winning them over, despite doting on them 24/7 since Dusty’s been out of the picture.
The kind of thanks Brad gets is being referred to as “Mr. Fletcher” by Megan. And to add insult to injury, she doodles drawings of him with poop on his head and being stabbed in the eye with a knife. The problem is that she and brother miss their real dad, his flaws notwithstanding.
So, you can just imagine the effect it has on the household when he shows up unannounced. For, he soon decides to compete with his replacement not only for the affection of his children but for that of his ex to boot. It doesn’t help matters any that Dusty is a virile hunk while Brad is flabby, sterile and unable to get Sarah pregnant.
Directed by Sean Anders (Sex Drive), Daddy’s Home is a dysfunctional family comedy which basically pits a nerdy nice guy versus a bad boy alpha male. The movie reunites Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg who generated tremendous chemistry as ill-matched police partners in the action comedy The Other Guys (2010).
This collaboration as adversaries proves equally-inspired, as it allows for both actors to play to their strengths. The film seizes on as many excuses for a shirtless Wahlberg to flex his beefcake as it does to showcase Ferrell in silly slapstick sequences.
Perhaps the picture’s funniest bit, already spoiled in the trailer, finds Brad losing control of Dusty’s motorcycle, riding into the house and up the stairs before becoming wedged in a bedroom wall. When asked by his worried wife, whether he’s okay, he responds with, “No, I’m in the wall (Duh!)… and I’m scared!” Priceless!
Disposable, dopey humor designed to make you laugh out loud in the theater but to leave no lasting effect once the closing credits have rolled.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening January 1, 2016
The Hateful Eight (R for profanity, frontal nudity, graphic gore and a scene of eroticized violence) Quentin Tarantino directed this post-Civil War saga set in Wyoming revolving around a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) whose stagecoach runs into trouble while bringing an apprehended fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice. Featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Channing Tatum, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth and Zoe Bell.
Anomalisa (R for profanity, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity) Adult-oriented animated adventure about an author (David Thewlis) who is unable to connect with other people until he hits it off with a stranger (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he meets on a business trip. Additional voices supplied by Tom Noonan.
The Himalayas (Unrated) Fact-based drama about Korea’s top mountain climber (Jeong-min Hwang) who comes out of retirement to search for the body of the protege (Woo Jung) who disappeared during an expedition on Everest. With Sung-ha Jo, Mi-Ran Ra and In-kwon Kim.
Other People’s Children (Unrated) Romance drama about a filmmaker (Diane Marshall-Green) who falls for the homeless subject (Chad Michael Murray) of her latest documentary while grieving the death of her father. Support cast includes Harrison Thomas, Michael Mosley and Alexandra Breckenridge.
Yosemite (R for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Coming-of-age tale, set in Palo Alto in 1985, revolving around the partially-overlapping misadventures of a trio of fifth graders (Everett Meckler, Alec Mansky and Calum John) living in a suburban community with a mountain lion on the loose. Based on the James Franco short story of the same name, and featuring Franco, Henry Hopper, Steven Wiig and Barry Del Sherman.