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Spoiler Heavy Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spoiler Heavy Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WARNING! You will only get to see the new Star Wars movie for the first time once. So go see it. And if you want spoiler free reviews than you can find a bunch on the internet here, here, and here.

Once you’ve done that come back here for a spoiler heavy review and analysis. You’ve been warned.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. When Disney bought Star Wars three years ago and announced that an Episode VII was being fast tracked into development fans around the world freaked out. One year ago the first trailer dropped and kicked anticipation into lightspeed. The hype and positive buzz surrounding the film only grew from there as the film inched closer to release.

So how does the first Star Wars film in ten years hold up against the biggest hype train we’ll all never see the likes of again?

In many aspects it holds up quite well. Exceptionally well actually considering the impossibly high expectations and circumstances surrounding it.

But in others it falls as hard as Darth Vader did to the dark side.

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Before we start, I will say this. Given the immense hype and the smattering of trailers and TV commercials that’s bombarded the public in the recent weeks, J.J. Abrams and Disney did an amazing job dangling the movie in front of the public without ruining it. The film has some really great moments and surprises for everybody that the trailers never hinted at or showed. Even if you’ve seen them all a hundred times by now, you know who you are, the film still entertains.

And the Force Awakens does this on the strength of it’s characters. The new main characters are all spectacular, well developed and fun to watch. They were my favorite part of the film by far and will be for most viewers as you can tell the writers put a lot of thought and care into their development.

John Boyega’s Finn is one hundred times funnier than Jar Jar Binks ever wished he was. By the end of the film, he was really nothing more than a dense stormtrooper with a big heart and a conscious who got himself in way over his head. Finn’s best qualities come out when he puts himself into the greatest danger like escaping from the First Order, or on the Millennium Falcon, or in his two great lightsaber duels.

The Rebels, now the Resistance’s, hotshot pilot Poe Dameron had the smallest part of the new cast but always seemed exuberant and eager. I would have liked to see more of him  in the cockpit of his slick black X-wing, but then again I would have liked to have seen more X-wings in the film as well.

BB-8 is a scene stealer throughout the entire movie. Maybe it’s wise R2-D2 was shut down through most of the film as there’s no way he can compete with that adorable soccer ball of a droid.

Kylo Ren Force Awakens Trailer

Kylo Ren was also quite a surprise, but not for the reasons that are the most apparent. As much as he strives not to be, his character is the anti-Vader in almost every way. Emotional, witty and surprisingly funny he is also full of doubt as he finds himself pulled to the light side, something which he struggles to find the strength to combat. What a great way to flip not only Darth Vader comparisons but also the whole dichotomy of the Force and how it’s perceived in general. It’s not just the dark side that can pulls and seduce anymore, the light side is just as tempting it seems. What a great twist that takes what’s come before makes it new and interesting again. I also got quite a kick of his synthesized voice which sounded a lot like Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and his lightsaber temper tantrums. What better way to show Kylo as the spoiled brat he is than to have him slash everything with his lightsaber. It was also a nice touch I thought that under his mask he is quite the pretty boy which made for a nice visual contrast with Vader’s scared and ruined face.

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The last great revelation was Daisy Ridley in her role as Rey. Like Luke, she begins the movie as a lost youth stuck trying to make ends meet on a backwards desert planet. Adventurous and resourceful, she braves the derelict ruins of Star Destroyers spelunking  for scrap she can sell for food. She waits patiently on her seemingly adopted homeworld of Jakku for the family she can’t remember to one day return to her. It’s very endearing and gives Rey some vulnerability while also keeping her tough as she needs no one to protect or rescue her in a welcome change of pace. She is also quite plucky and scrappy when she needs to be and develops a great father daughter chemistry with Han Solo that the film never quite wants to awkwardly acknowledge. She has a lot in common with Luke on the surface but I was reminded more of the good qualities she shares with Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. What does that mean, if anything? I have no idea as the film seems dead set on revealing Rey’s backstory in a “I am your father” moment in Episode VIII. Seeing her escape on her own in the Starkiller base instead of being rescued was a great  touch, and it was about time we finally see a girl kick ass with a lightsaber in a Star Wars film.

Han Solo The Force Awakens

The other main character that’s worth mentioning is Han Solo and his huge role in the film. I was worried that age would have caught up to Han Solo as it had Harrison Ford but those fears all flew out the window quickly. The Han Solo in the Force Awakens is still the lovable scoundrel he was in the original trilogy. He’s still down on his luck and constantly facing long odds with only Chewie, his blaster, and his quick wit by his side.

It sucks he had to die.

Part of the fun of watching The Force Awakens is to identify all the callbacks to the previous movies, there are many, and how director J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kashdan play with them. The Force Awakens does stay awfully close to the main story structure of A New Hope. Secret plans are hidden in a droid that must be returned safely to the good guys before he falls into enemy hands. Before the plans are delireved a cantina is visited, a new planet destroying super weapon is tested and some talk about the Force’s role in all this is explained. Eventually the plans are delivered but not before our female lead is captured and rescued while a small fleet of X-wings launches a desperate attack on a looming threat.

By the time Han Solo walks out to confront his son who he’s failed to raise on the straight and narrow in front of Rey and Finn on the Death Star 3.0 you know he’ll soon be following in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s footsteps. It’s a powerful scene that hits hard because it’s so connected to A New Hope.

But it could have been amazing if the film had done anymore than wink about Han’s and Kylo’s father-son relationship. As far as the films go, (I know in the Expanded Universe this is all old hat) it’s a lot for audiences to take in that not only did Han and Leia have a child named Ben, but that he was trained to be a Jedi and eventually turned to the dark side. If we were never told these events took place we’d be hard pressed to believe them as the film never really develops their relationship to a point that’s believable.  Even cold hearted Leia treats the loss of her son to the dark side in the same stoic way as when she lost her home planet. The whole father son reveal falls flat as it seems rushed and loses any of the poignancy required for a death of this magnitude to truly resonate.

Which is another problem the film has in that the second half comes off as too rushed. Too much is happening with the X-wing attack, Rey’s rescue, the destruction of the shield generators, Kylo Ren, Han’s death, and a great lightsaber duel for any of it to stand out.

Compare that to the film’s first half which though brisk, was expertly paced and kept things interesting and moving forward. The first half is pure joy and Star Wars nostalgia as The Force Awakens fills in the gaps of the last thirty years since Return of the Jedi. Seeing Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters back on the big screen is a thrill as is reintroducing the Millennium Falcon and learning what Han and Chewie have been up to in the years since. It also helps having BB-8 around as he’s a much bigger player in the first half than the second. Actually whenever BB-8 was around the movie seemed stronger. He’s that good.

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A major complaint I have with the film is that it seems too interested in leaving a trail of story related bread crumbs into Episodes VIII and IX. There is a lot of blatant mystery the film sets up but flat out chooses to ignore, at least until further sequels. For instance, how did Luke’s lighstaber get into that wooden box? Who was the old man at the beginning? Who are Rey’s parents? Han and Leia? Luke perhaps? How was she able to become so proficient in the Force in such a short matter of time? What was the relationship between Luke and Ben Solo? How exactly did the Force Awaken?

There were a few small things that really bugged me. Captain Phasma got the true Boba Fett treatment in that she looks cool but doesn’t really do anything and gets taken out like a punk just the same. I didn’t like Supreme Leader Snoke though I am getting a Wizard of Oz vibe from him and his huge holographic projection. The new Death Star was taken out waaaay too easily with only a handful of X-wings and despite the hope of some kick ass space battles, my favorite, the dogfights here were over much to quickly for my liking. And Luke. It would have been nice if he would have said something or if not then at the very least end the movie right after his reveal instead of holding on his straggly beard for what seemed like an entirety in the wind.

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Don’t get me wrong, The Force Awakens was still a good film and I really enjoyed it. It’s the funniest Star Wars film by far and had great action pieces. Seeing the scale of everything filmed with actual actors and props was so effective in making the film seem as real as the originals were. I liked the final duel in the snowy woods where the trees replaced the bamboo groves of old samurai movies. Watching Rey climb the long and winding stairs towards Luke at the end for some good old fashioned Kung Fu training was fun, and seeing her wear the pistol Han Solo gave her, slung low on her hip like Han made me smile.

The acting was top notch all around and it’s clear the franchise is in good hands with this new core group of actors firmly established to take the franchise into the future for many many more years to come.

I can’t wait to see it again. The Force is strong with it.

Malice: A Good Early 90’s Mystery Movie

Malice: A Good Early 90’s Mystery Movie

What I Remembered: Malice was a movie that I missed when it came out and because of that it took me a long time to see it. The main cast of Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman, and Nicole Kidman had roused my curiosity since all were very good actors. Still, I put off watching it figuring that there must have been something wrong with it if I had avoided it for such a long period of time. But, a few years ago when I was desperate to see something new, I decided to give it a shot. Viewing it again recently, what I found was a good movie with an interesting story and a more than adequate plot twist.

 

The Story: Malice is centered around its main character Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) the dean of a prestigious all female college in Massachusetts. Andy is happily married to his wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman) with whom he is desperate to have a child. At the beginning of the picture, Andy rushes to the local hospital because one of his students has been attacked and sexually assaulted in her home. The attack follows the same pattern as those of two other students of the college who have suffered the same fate from a serial rapist that the local police have been unable to catch. It appears that the young woman is so badly injured the she may not survive, but after some near miracle work by Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin) the highly talented new hot shot surgeon at the hospital, she survives. Andy goes to speak with Jed after the surgery is complete to thank him for his work and they discover that they went to high school together. Jed is very cool and charming much like he was in high school and the best way to describe it is that Andy has a non-sexual man crash on him. As Andy is about to leave the hospital he runs into to Tracy who volunteers there, and he briefly introduces her to Jed.

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Andy and Jed then develop a fast friendship. When Jed tells Andy that he can’t find a place to live in town Andy who is strapped for cash, and in need of a renter in the spacious Old Victorian home that he shares with Tracy, offers to let Jed rent his down stairs bedroom. Jed accepts and after some slight resistance from Tracy, he moves in. The latter soon comes to find the living arrangement to be slightly annoying particularly one evening when Jed spends hours in bed with a nurse from the hospital which keeps Tracy and Andy from falling asleep. Tracy is also struggling with terrible stomach pains which are preventing her from getting pregnant and is resentful of the fact that Jed knows about her condition.

Later one evening when Tracy takes a serious turn for the worse and she is in need of surgery her, Andy and Jed’s path collide in a way that was not anticipated. What happens after this, will alter Andy’s life forever.

Technical Details: Malice was not an extraordinary piece of work, but it was good. Harold Becker did a satisfactory job directing especially with the film’s pacing as it moves along quite well. Another facet. of his direction was his ability to create the environment that all of the characters inhabit in an interesting and fairly realistic way. In addition to this, Aaron Sorkin, Jonas McCord, and Scott Frank delivered a very good screenplay. I think that one of the attributes of the script was that it contained all of the exemplary elements of a Sorkin penned work, but because there were other writers involved with it, the aspects of his writing that I find boring and slightly annoying were not present. His often overly sophisticated , staccato, vocabulary laden dialogue was barely there, which made the screenplay more enjoyable than I usually find his work. By the same token the subplot of the serial rapist further augmented the plot and flow of the story.

Finally, the acting was almost excellent, but there are unfortunately a few moments where it feels a bit contrived. Kidman and Pullman were very convincing and had good chemistry as a couple. Along with this, Josef Sommer, Bebe Neuwirth, and George C. Scott were great in supporting parts and Gwyneth Paltow and Anne Bancroft made two memorable, but brief appearances in their respective roles. However, in my humble opinion, Alec Baldwin was the star. He played the role of the cocky Jed Hill wonderfully. Seeing him in his heyday was a reminder that despite his vast personal problems he can be a great actor.

End Credits: Malice was not a great movie, but it was a good movie. It has an intriguing, original story and good performances. It is interesting and entertaining and it leaves you curious to see how it will end. You can’t ask for much more from a film in its genre. So, if you’re seeing it for the nearly two hours that it takes to do so, it will be time well spent.

Truth Review

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The Truth about CBS 60 Minutes drama, Truth

There’s a always a fine line to walk when it comes to adapting any true story into a fictional medium. The further back in the past the story takes place the easier it is to fudge on some details. Dramatizations of modern events are always trickier. Portraying events that many in the audience lived through, saw and experienced makes for an uphill battle, even more so when the subject matter is divisively political. Truth, directed by Zodiac scribe James Vanderbilt, tells the allegedly true story of the 60 Minutes Team at CBS News’ investigation into former President George W Bush’s time in the Air National Guard and the fallout that came with the investigation.

The movie begins with a very agitated and tense Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchette) being asked some tough questions by a lawyer. She’s asked if she has a substance abuse problem, or considers herself a radical feminist. The opening minutes set the tone of the film. There are going to be tough questions ahead for Mary, both asked by and asked of. The movie then flashes back to Mary and her team airing their eventual Peabody award winning report on the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal. Her team is plucky, close knit and described by Mapes as “crack.”

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Shortly after the airing of the Abu Ghraib report she receives a tip about a damning memo that would reveal President Bush went AWOL during his time in the Air National Guard and lied about his military service during Vietnam. This comes during the Presidential Election cycle and could very well sway the election. With veteran reporter Dan Rather at her side Mary sprints ahead with the story, despite some very suspicious and cloudy circumstances regarding the memos.

In the end it seems as though the memos were faked and in Mary’s headstrong pursuit of the truth she fumbled along the way. She’s fired, her team asked to resign and Dan Rather retires shortly thereafter. It’s not a happy ending for our truth seeking heroes, but honestly I walked away feeling as though it was a deserved outcome.

Whether the team at CBS was right or wrong never really enters into the equation. At the end of the day you look at what they did and wonder what they could have possibly been thinking. It was sloppy journalism. We’re supposed to root for a character that steadfastly pursues a flimsy story. When told that the evidence doesn’t hold water they ignored it and kept marching. They took people at their word, believing that was all the evidence needed. It didn’t matter if Bush did or did not go AWOL. What mattered was this team really didn’t do a great job investigating it.

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As a film I enjoyed it. Removing what I know of the actual events surrounding I was able to have a good time watching. Cate Blanchett is superb, as per usual. I believe she’s one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the silver screen. Robert Redford disappears into his role as Dan Rather. Its inspired casting. Denis Quad and Topher Grace fill the supporting roles with plenty of charisma as well.

James Vanderbilt has not directed much, though he’s written some great films. It’s surprising that this script feels kind of clunky at times. There’s a few too many overly melodramatic and downright cheesy moments. Most of these happen during some kind of exposition, and are usually accompanied by a swell of over dramatic music. It’s unfortunate because we rarely need such sloppy storytelling. We don’t need to be told a characters motivation, we can understand it through their actions. What’s worse is most of these moments are centered around Cate Blanchett’s character, and she’s such an amazing actress that we don’t need this extra info on her character. She’s giving us everything we need in spades through her performance. Why tell us that she views Dan Rather as a father figure, when the performance between Redford and Blanchett makes that clear as day. A tighter script would have certainly elevated the film to greater heights, there’s no denying that.

At the end of the day this probably won’t be an award winner. It’s a serviceable film, but the actions of the heroes are largely unsympathetic and it makes it hard to root for them. Couple that with the knowledge of actual events that most audience members bring with them makes for a middle-of-the-road kind of drama. Neither great nor bad, it simply is.

Sicario Review

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Sicario Review:  An action movie worth the price of admission.

It’s rare that a day goes by without the news reporting trouble at the United States southern border. Between illegal immigration, and the infamous drug cartels, the border is a hot button issue no matter how you look at it. Our election cycles in the US inevitably revolve around what to do about those problems, and our government agencies burn through millions of tax payer dollars trying to combat the cartels. It’s a dangerous game, and an important issue. These topics are explored in director Denis Villeneuve’s latest movie Sicario. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Bencicio Del Toro, it tackles the brutality of the Mexican drug cartels and those in law enforcement who stand in their way. The pedigree of talent both in front of and behind the camera left me salivating for more from the very first trailer I saw. Unfortunately this film just barely misses greatness. It comes close, but a few nagging issues hold it back.

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The movie begins with a drug bust in Chandler, Arizona. Emily Blunt’s character Kate leads an FBI SWAT force inside a dilapidated home. What they find inside is far more heinous than mounds of cocaine and illicit cash deposits. Hidden behind the dry wall, covering nearly every square inch of the home, are bodies. Corpses, heads wrapped in plastic, line the walls. It’s a gruesome, visceral sight to behold. This scene helps set the tone of the entire story and shows us the gravity of the situations we’ll be witnessing. From there Kate volunteers to join another task force who’s gunning for the head honchos that run the entire cartel. She meets Brolin’s character Matt, and Del Toro’s mysterious Alejandro. Both men seem to be more than they claim, though both occupy different ends of the character spectrum. Brolin is witty and a little more light hearted in all he does. When we first meet him he’s in a government briefing wearing flip flops. If a picture is worth a thousand words that one must be worth a million. To contrast Del Toro plays a more stoic, dangerous, but disciplined kind of man. He’s the titular Sicario, which means hitman in Spanish. Kate is told he’s just a government liaison, but it doesn’t take a genius to see he’s no pencil pusher.

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I won’t bother diving too much further into regurgitating the plot. There’s a great deal that needs to be seen and experienced first hand to retain it’s impact, and a great deal more that is very obvious and doesn’t need explained. As I mentioned previously this movie misses the greatness mark by just a hair. It lacks a concrete focus. Early on Emily Blunt’s character is our focal point. She’s our window to this nasty world. There’s some inconsistencies in the character, however. She’s both a seasoned agency veteran, and a wet behind the ears rookie. I felt like she was a completely capable agent, but she was never treated as such by her fellow characters. It’s possible that was the point of it all, but the way it was delivered didn’t work. It seemed more that they just didn’t know exactly what they wanted from that character. There was also an uneven emphasis on Del Toro’s character. Halfway through the film the focus seemed to switch to him, with Blunt disappearing for a little longer than she should have were this her film. Del Toro’s Alejandro story is a revenge tale, and an interesting one to boot. The cartel’s murdered his family and now he’s a gun for hire type of character brought in by various governments to take out problem players. Had the film picked one of these stories and stuck to it completely the film would have played so much better. Go all in on either side, rather than giving us a taste of both. If they wanted to have both stories, perhaps adding a third focus like Brolin’s character would have given more perspective. By making the film more of an ensemble than it was it could have smoothed out the jarring focus switching. A more polished script would have launched this film into greatness, as it has a whole lot going for it, but without it just ends up somewhat lukewarm.

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When this film works, it really works. The score is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, and I left the theater with a piece of that music stuck in my head. The performances were all fantastic, Blunt especially. She takes what she’s given to work with and runs with it. Benicio Del Toro gives an amazing performance as well, though I’ve never seen him not do an absolute fabulous job. Josh Brolin holds his own as well, but I wished we got a little more screen time. The highlight of the movie, for me, was how it was shot. The cinematography was absolutely stellar. There’s a shot towards the end of the government task force walking towards a sun set and dipping into the inky black of shadow leaving only the breathtaking ambers and blues of the sky on screen. The music, actors, and cinematography make for a very good film, but the script keeps it from a great film. Close, but no dice.

I do recommend this movie. it’s got enough going for it that it makes for an entertaining film. Like I said, it’s a very good film, just not great. It raises some important points on some sensitive issues, and shines a light on a segment of the world population that would rather remain in the shadows. Catch it in a matinee and have a good time. It’s worth that much.

Mistress America – Review

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I won’t lie to you. Noah Baumbach is climbing rapidly to the top of my most admired directors list. Last years While We’re Young was a sensational film (you can read my review here). Prior to that he made Frances Ha, starring his real life lady love Greta Gerwig, which didn’t excite me near as much as While We’re Young, though it was still a solid, well made indie comedy. Mistress America has Baumbach reuniting with Gerwig once again as he examines the lives of young folk living in America. As you might have guessed by my gushing over the director, I did like Mistress America very much, but there’s more to this film, and my admiration of it, than a simple thumbs up.

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The film takes place, as with Baumbach’s prior films, in the hustle and bustle of New York City. The Big Apple is an instantly recognizable, uncannily cinematic and irresistibly exciting locale for shooting a film and Baumbach wisely matches the vibe of the city with the energy of Gerwig’s character Brooke. Before we’re introduced to Brooke, however, we meet young Tracy. Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, is a plucky, though naive, college freshman. She aspires to be a writer and we witness her in various campus activities, be it study groups or discussing a super exclusive literary club at the school. Tracy’s mother is due to marry a new beau and encourages young Tracy to reach out to her fiancé’s daughter Brooke, who’s also living in the big Apple, as the two are soon to be step-sisters. Brooke gladly takes Tracy under her wing and Lola is soon after swept away in the tornado of Brooke’s life.

What’s interesting about Mistress America is it’s a film that examines the mind, and life, of a constant dreamer. Brooke is a wide eyed, powder keg of anxious energy. She’s a T-shirt designer, an interior decorator, an entrepreneur, and most recently a restaurateur. The restaurant she hopes to open is as idealistic as can be. She wants to open a place where people can come eat, relax, have fun, throw parties and everything in between. A lofty goal, no doubt, but we’re pulling for Brooke, who’s charismatic charm makes us believe she can do anything she puts her mind to. Tracy is equally smitten with the idea, though she see’s that Brooke is the constant dreamer who may not be able to pull it off in the end. Being a writer, Tracy puts her adventures with Brooke into a short story which grants her entry into the aforementioned exclusive literary society. Naturally Brooke finds out that Tracy’s story puts her in a bad light and the two have a falling out. Of course this is short lived as the two have grown to really love each other as genuine siblings. It’s a sappy, touching end to the film, but it feels natural and welcome.

Much like While We’re Young before it Mistress America examines the lifestyles, mind sets, and struggles of those in their mid to late twenties and the generational differences that come with age. Brooke is older than Tracy in the film, I believe by ten years give or take. It’s curious that Tracy, the youth, is the one that see’s the world a little more for what it is rather than Brooke, the consummate starry eyed dreamer. Both actresses knock it out of the park. Greta Gerwig is instantly believable, to the point that you could imagine this being a little more documentary than fictional narrative. Lola Kirke, who I’ve never seen in anything prior, has a smoky allure that perfectly contrasts her characters naiveté. She’s vulnerable, but not to the point of being breakable. She’s confident, smart, witty, but still craves the big sister mentorship of someone like Brooke. This is some of the best casting I’ve seen in a film in a long time, with each supporting cast member holding their own, breathing life into every frame of the film’s modest run time.

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I will say I didn’t enjoy this as much as While We’re Young. I’d dare to say that film was one of my favorite’s from last year, and it could very well be that I saw more of myself and related to the characters in that film more so than in Mistress America. That’s not to say Mistress America is not worth watching. It absolutely is. It’s a funny, touching, entertaining ride that makes you wish you could spend more time with these people. They’re the sort of people you want to get to know and be around, warts and all. Noah Baumbach is absolutely on a roll and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Irrational Man – Review

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Woody Allen is one of, if not the, most prolific writer/directors to ever live. His output has been steady, nearly annual, since the 1970’s and though he’s a much older man now he’s showing no signs of slowing. Beginning with Midnight in Paris many, myself included, believed we were seeing a new golden age of Woody Allen films. Indeed, his film Blue Jasmine scored Cate Blanchett a Best Actress Oscar and his last 3 or 4 films have been highly regarded. His latest film, aptly titled Irrational Man, seeks to continue this tradition of yearly, well made comedy drama’s from a true auteur. Does it succeed? Let’s take a look:

Irrational Man is the story of Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), a middle aged philosophy professor who’s just taken a new job at a Rhode Island University. Abe’s reputation precedes him as revealed to the audience via voiceovers from other characters and hushed whispers from students around campus. Abe is a sort of a rockstar professor with a penchant for alcohol and sleeping with his students. Clearly a winning character, but nonetheless Abe’s flaw’s are perhaps intended to be his strengths. His drinking makes him feel like a more open and somewhat avant garde philosophy instructor. Still, all his apathetic bravura aside Abe is a very depressed individual. He has two separate romantic flings happening with young student Jill (Emma Stone) and his fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey), though neither fill him with the spark for life he claims to be missing. He later overhears an anonymous woman’s troubles in a custody hearing involving a corrupt and awful Judge. Abe takes it upon himself to eliminate this Judge and in doing so his life perks up and he’s filled with meaning again. Even the planning of the murder brings him a new light and purpose. After the deed is done Abe doesn’t feel guilt, instead his happy spree continues unabated. Once Jill finds out, however, things take a nasty turn for poor Abe.

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This isn’t the first time Woody Allen has played in the field of crime, murder and the consequence behind the act. Films such as Crime and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Match Point all dabble in similar subject matter. Irrational Man seems most influenced, however, by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment, with the book even being referenced by the characters at one point. The film asks the question “is a murder justified if it’s for the greater good?” That’s the question, at least I think, the film wants to ask. The problem for me, however, is that the real theme at play is “is a murder justified if it makes one feel better?” Abe rationalizes the murder, irrationally, in order to bring a lightness into his own life. He presents the idea to himself, to others, and to the audience as him taking care of one of society’s ills, but his so called selfless act is the most selfish act he could do. Perhaps this is Woody Allen’s comment on the nature of charity? Do people do good things for others because of others, or do they do good things because it makes them feel better? The trouble here is that murder is murder and in a just society murder is wrong.

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Woody Allen’s films have both the blessing and curse of being able to feel the directors hands at work. You’re very aware you’re watching a Woody Allen film, and many of his usual flourishes, such as the voiceover, actually pulled me out of the film. The information given in these voiceovers didn’t add anything we would not have gotten otherwise through images or character interactions. Ultimately, given the subject matter, this story needed a director more capable at handling heavier material. There’s a inappropriate whimsy at play in this film. The skip in his step Abe gets after his murder sets the tone of the film. The weight of what he’s done is never there, with a backdoor plan to run away to Spain to escape justice presented to us as laughable, easy way out. I’d truly love to see a film like this told by a director such as David Fincher. The audience should be appalled by what Abe did, rather than being made to feel like he did the right thing, or that is act is justifiable. The character can feel that, absolutely, but I don’t think the audience should be in on those feelings.

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I’m torn by this film. I am a huge Woody Allen fan. He’s made some of my favorite films and I’m certain he’ll continue to make new classics as he goes. Irrational Man, however, is not one of these classics. It’s not poorly made, per se, but the tone and subject matter never match. The acting is fabulous with Emma Stone’s performance cementing my opinion that she’s one our greatest actors in the business today. Phoenix is spot on again, though there was never any doubt. He’s a great actor. It’s delightful to see Parker Posey pop up in this film. The so called “queen of the indies” gets her chance to shine and shine she does. Ultimately though the stellar cast and performances just can’t shake how uncomfortable the playful tone and grave subject matter made me.

 

Interstellar: Great For Sci-Fi Fans, But Maybe Not So Much For Others

Previews: Interstellar is director Christopher Nolan’s new science fiction drama that was written by his brother Jonathan and was originally meant to be directed by Stephen Spielberg. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain.
Feature: The film begins in a dystopian not too distant future where the world has been ravaged by years of environmental decline and overpopulation. Dust storms are frequent, education and careers are minimal, (Children are taught in school that the United States faked the moon landings as a brilliant propaganda ploy to cause the Soviet Union to over spend and go bankrupt.) there are no armies, and the food available comes from the farmers who can only grow corn. Thus, enter the hero. He is a farmer and former astronaut named Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey.

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Cooper is a widower who is raising his son and daughter with his father-in-law. He shares a close bond with his daughter Murph, (She is named for Murphy’s Law.) who often accompanies him, when he goes to transform the occasional surviving military drones into practical machines that can do farm work and to examine through science, the unusual phenomena that originates in Murph’s bedroom and that continues to plague their farm. Through his investigations with Murph, Cooper discovers a hidden, old NORAD space station. He is subject to interrogation there first by a highly intelligent robot and then by a scientist named Brand (Anne Hathaway) who is the daughter of his former mentor at NASA, Professor Brand (Michael Caine). After being reunited with his daughter who was taken from him when he arrived at the gate of NORAD, Cooper is informed by Brand, her father who is still alive, and several other scientists that sit around a table in a conference room, that they all the remains of NASA and have been conducting research in secret about flying the last spaceship left into the reaches of space beyond the Earth’s solar system, to find another planet where the remnants of humanity can live or where the human race can be recolonized through frozen eggs Brand has been saving for years. He is also informed that many years before, several astronauts volunteered on a mission codenamed Lazarus to travel via spacecraft to an area beyond our solar system to find a habitable planet. They were able to do this through a wormhole left by someone, no one is certain whom; but nearly all of the astronauts either appeared to have died or found unwelcoming worlds to live on except for three. Cooper is enlisted by Professor Brand to be the pilot of the spaceship and informed by him that he is working on a new theory of gravity that will be proved by the time Cooper’s journey is finished. This will enable the human race to leave by allowing the space station to liftoff from Earth and humanity will be able to begin again on whichever new world Cooper and his team uncover. Cooper agrees over the objections of his family particularly Murph, who do not want him to undertake the journey since he may die or at the very least his family members will have aged significantly by the time he returns. Cooper bids them good-bye and his great space adventure begins.


The astronauts venture past the solar system, find the worm whole and descend onto one of the planets unearthed by one of their predecessors knowing that every hour they spend there will be the equivalent of seven years on Earth. The world they find is that has no land only water and they realize too late they have landed right in front of many large waves. They try to evade the large waves, but are unable to and as a result, one of the astronauts Doyle, (Wes Bentley) dies, the ship is damaged, and Cooper and Brand return to find that twenty-three years have passed since they landed on the planet and that that Romily (David Graysi) the astronaut that they left behind to look after the ship, is nearly an old man due to his not setting foot on the planet or engaging in the hibernation method they use not to age. Furthermore, Cooper receives messages from home (The astronauts cannot contact home nor do those who send them messages know if they can actually see them, but they are sent anyway.) showing his son Tom (Casey Affleck) aging, farming and starting a family. He hears nothing from Murph, but the audience learns through cutaway shots to the present that she (Jessica Chastain) is a grown up scientist herself who is working with Professor Brand on his gravity theory in order to try to save the people that are dying rapidly as the world continues to decay. After working through it, Cooper, Brand and Romily (David Graysi) conclude that they can make it to only one more planet that was reached by one of the astronauts from the Lazarus mission. Cooper and Romily elect to go to a planet that was discovered by one of the Lazarus astronauts named Dr. Mann over Brand’s strenuous protestations, (She was in love with the other astronaut who located the other planet before he began the Lazarus mission.) because his scientific findings seem to support the possibility that the human race could live there. They then make the journey towards the planet.

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Much happens in this part of the film and I hesitate to share too much for those that have not seen it yet, and don’t want to hear spoilers. All that I will reveal are these facts: A significant death occurs, the mission is revealed to be different from what the astronauts thought it was, there is an enormous deception that transpires, and Murph becomes the central player in determining whether humanity will be saved. There are also meditations on the meaning of love and how it transcends space and time.
Closing Credits: There is much to like about Interstellar. The cinematography and score are fantastic as Nolan, is able to make the viewer feel, as close to being in space with the astronauts as possible. Additionally, praise should be heaped on it for seeking to impart a deeper message about love beyond being just another space travel drama. Finally, McConaughey and Chastain deliver strong performances especially the reactions of the former when he sees his family messages from Earth.
However, it does have its flaws. It is a very long piece of cinema that is slowly paced. (You may have to take off a few days off from my work to finish it.) Scientists’ might find many of the theoretical physics concepts put forth in it easy to comprehend, but for laymen all of the scientific theories and facts presented can be difficult to follow. This means one has to concentrate a great deal to keep the story straight which is a little frustrating.
In conclusion, if you love science fiction this is the film for you. It has all the hallmarks of a good space quest and all the science you could want. But, if you are only the occasional sci-fi viewer, don’t have a great love for Matthew McConaughey, are not a Christopher Nolan devotee, or can’t stand to watch a movie beyond two and a half hours, you should pass.

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