Star Wars: The Force Awakens-A Fan’s Reaction

 

Nostalgic I am, yes.

Nostalgic I am, yes.

I love Star Wars.

My first experience was viewing the reissued special editions (you know, the Han didn’t shoot first kerfuffle) in theaters with my dad.  I became obsessed.  I cried for weeks when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite.  This was before the explosion of the internet and none of my friends cared so I was spoiler free until Jedi came into town a month later.  I started collecting figures and taking them out of the box to arrange scenes on my shelf.  It was one of the main things that brought my husband and I together.  I borrowed his character encyclopedia and left a note by Princes Leia’s profile.  I won us a limo ride to the premier of Episode 1 after entering an essay contest with our local paper.   (Talk about a perfect date.)

So when I say I was disappointed with Episode VII, you’ll know I’m not a hater and not just some casual critic.

I’m a writer.  Part of what has always drawn me to Star Wars is the story.  Steeped in mythic themes and the quintessential modern prototype of the hero’s journey, Lucas’s original space fantasy captivated my literary sensibilities.  It was also a perfect blend of humor, action, and romance.  I remember reading articles before the release of The Force Awakens talking about how director J.J. Abrams tossed around story ideas on long walks and thought “cool, that’s what I’d like to see.”  It made me nervous, but I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.  Unfortunately, that haphazard approach to storytelling shows in The Force Awakens.  The film is visually engaging, but it doesn’t hold up when you think about it from a storytelling perspective.

I agree with the general complaint of too much borrowed from A New Hope.  The movie became one long nostalgia trip with hyped up special effects.  But what bothered me the most was the lack of subtle and nuanced storytelling.  I didn’t feel invested in the characters and their conflicts because I wasn’t given a reason to care.  Who was the new hero Poe Dameron talking to by the fire when he put the plans into BB-8?  Who left this kid on a desert planet to collect scrap?  I had no idea what the Resistance was about and why the First Order was even around.  The last I saw a regime had toppled and the heart of the empire was destroyed.  If it all went to pot, fine.  I buy that.  But at least throw me a dialog bone as to why the galaxy is still in chaos.  Scrolling credits aren’t enough to justify an entire plot without any other questions answered.

The movie seemed to pitch forward at light speed, giving no ground to back story or character development.  The new Death Star, um, I mean Starkiller Base destroyed the Republic.  I’m sorry, what?  That’s about as much time as the film devoted to it.  But what does that even mean?  Was it a planet?  A system of planets?  Coruscant?   We reeled to the climactic death scene of ____ so fast that I couldn’t even react.  Normally I would have choked on popcorn wetted with tears.  Or maybe it was because I had seen the same thing happen before and the foreshadowing was so tangible, I could have hit it with a stick.

If Abrams wanted to go dark, maybe he could have waited until a bit later in the storytelling so that I was invested in the plot.  He took away Star Wars’ adventurous spark when he massacred a village thirty seconds into the movie and started to lose me from that point on.  If we’re going to borrow so much from Episode IV, then why not the homey scene of blue milk and Beru’s cooking?  Instead I got a slave girl overworked, underfed, and alone.  Yes, the Stormtroopers never hitting a mark got a bit old, but now they create carnage like a first person shooter video game.  Let’s face it, the film was a downer from beginning to end.  The lighthearted moments are gone.  It’s just one fire fight after another from a group of people with bleak lives.

One saving grace for the film was the addition of the new trio.  Poe, Finn, and Rey make for powerful and interesting characters if we just go by their words and actions.  Back story aside, Rey presents an intriguing raw force wielder.  Poe is just a cocksure as Han Solo but has no mercenary tendencies–he’s firmly committed to the Resistance.  Finn is all heart with a loveable lack of confidence but a strong conscience.  It’s clear this is where the film started and what anchors an otherwise piecemeal ship.  And the new baddies: very engaging and complex.  Maybe this is where the trouble started-grafting these new lives into an established galaxy where the previous head honchos still need their screen time.  Don’t throw tomatoes, but maybe it would have been better if the Princess and her scruffy nerf-herder hadn’t even shown up until later films.  On the other hand, we were given that outcome with another character and some clamor that was the awful part.  I didn’t mind that so much.

In some ways, J.J. Abrams could never win, and in most ways, he already has.  Ticket sales annihilated  records.  Merchandising is a machine that could rival a terminator.  I’m sure most people love the violence and dark storytelling-it’s what our modern culture demands, right?  Me, I’ll just have to look back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to find my escapist adventure and symbolic new hope.

An Ode to the Video Store or Why the Death of Blockbuster Has Left Me Nostalgic

Video Tape DeathWhen I think about my childhood, I can’t help but remember frequent trips to the video rental store.  Browsing through wire racks of thick plastic display cases, I would make my way to my favorite tape and grab it like the warm hand of an old friend.  The newest releases only took up a small portion of the shelves, and the classics stood sentinel in their rows, familiar in their positions from week to week.  Movies traveled at a glacial pace from the theater to the store.  Disney still made hand drawn films and Don Bluth animation was better than anything DreamWorks ever dreamt up.

I’m saddened when I think that my daughter will never know that movie rentals come from anywhere other than an outdoor kiosk or a computer system.  Can you even get movies through the mail anymore?  She will never have the pleasure of browsing the local rental shop with friends before a sleepover or spending a happy summer hour contemplating the kids section for the oldie but goody she’s rented five times or the one she’s only rented four.  Redbox doesn’t stock classics.  If it’s not new, it’s gone.  Netflix won’t offer the same homey setup every time you view it or the chatter of the in-house TV showing The Land Before Time again.

Yes, with the end of Blockbuster comes the end of an era.  Video rental stores have gone the way of full-service gas stations and the five and dime.  They will be a sad piece of nostalgia we carry from our collective past, we children of the eighties and nineties and our parents.  I think of making those trips in search of entertainment with my daughter.  What will be our bi-weekly outings?  Certainly driving to Walgreens to find the Redbox won’t hold the same romance.  Trips to the Target five dollar DVD section?  Maybe.  Heck, I can’t even take her to Borders and say “old mom used to work here.” Now that is a whole other nostalgic-angst blog post waiting to happen.  I’d better quit while I’m ahead.  Oh, and I just want to give a shout out to Barb’s Video.  Yeah.  Those were the good old days.

P.S. Here’s a repost of a movie review that may ease our sufferings.  If nothing else, you can read the intro and see how attached I am to my video store memories.

Ghostbusters Jack Black

Be Kind Rewind

Or

Ghostbusters Will Never be the Same

A Film Review by Christie Hudon

Remember the golden age of mom and pop video rental stores?  Before the Blockbuster explosion I used to rent my tapes from Barb’s Video.  I loved walking into the familiar racks of the kids section and picking up one of my favorites-always in the same spot near the big white plastic Disney cases.  Sorry for digressing, but after seeing a video store featured on the big screen I’m kind of sentimental.  Be Kind Rewind, the latest from quirky filmmaker Michel Gondry is a nostalgia piece with an independent flair and a delightfully straightforward story.

Afterwards, I chatted with a fellow moviegoer who called the film an “off-beat comedy.”   I thought this was a perfect description. Be Kind Rewind is at times slapstick and other times sophisticated.  One moment you shake your head at the obvious plot device and the next you ponder the ambiguous ending.  It seemed crystal clear to me though that this was Gondry’s treatise on moviemaking.  You don’t need a budget worthy of a congressional bill, you need ingenuity.  We go to the movies to see creativity and heart and we appreciate those films.  I read between the lines and see the idea that the majority of what Hollywood has to offer has failed because they’ve forgotten this.

Be Kind Rewind is the story of Mr. Fletcher’s video store in Passaic, New York.  When Fletcher (played by Danny Glover) leaves town for the week and entrusts his store to his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) a disaster happens.  Mike’s bizarre friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized (don’t ask, just watch) and erases all the tapes in Fletcher’s store.  In a desperate attempt to keep the customers happy, Mike decides to re-shoot the movies with the help of Jerry and a very old video camera.  What follows is a store full of strangely delighted customers and abridged homemade classics like The Lion King done with life-size paper cutouts and safari bed sheets.

One of several interesting aspects about Be Kind Rewind is the way the audience becomes involved in the making of the movie.  We see the remakes come to life with bad camera tricks, no sets or effects and minimal professional resources.  When we watch the creative process, the film becomes something more; a work that is compelling because of the efforts of those involved.

Along with all the camera gags, we also get a feel good story; in the middle of a poor neighborhood, people work together to make these films and save the store from being condemned and demolished.  Be Kind is a refreshingly enjoyable movie.  It makes you feel as if you could go out and shoot a film in your own garage and I think that’s just what Gondry intended. Be Kind Rewind Poster

A Super Remake: Man of Steel Movie Review

There are two things you need to know before you read this review from my perspective.  1. I am a Jesus lover. 2. I am not a huge Superman fan.  I’m not sure which one will offend some people more but there it is.  These were the lenses through which I watched a preview of Man of Steel this past Monday night.  The film surprised me in both perspectives.

Big budget geek movies are a hot ticket this summer.  After not visiting my local cinema for months, I’ve already chalked up three in a span of weeks thanks to a comic book and sci-fi smorgasbord.  But Superman?  The man in the red cape and matching tighty redies was never my thing.  Perhaps this is because it seemed too easy-a flawless, god-like alien who can do anything and especially enjoys flashing his abs and catching falling damsels.  What makes Man of Steel so compelling is that it brings out the weakness and humanity of Superman.  This is also what set my Jesus senses tingling.  In this weakness we see just how strong he is.

In the beginning, Man of Steel expends a lot of its script fleshing out the world of Krypton.  We see the race of “supermen” as they wreak havoc on each other and their planet.  Comic fans probably have mixed emotions about the portrayal of their world, but as an outsider, I appreciated the back story.   Flash forward and we’re following the life of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as he tries to lose himself and mask his abilities in the modern world.  Then we flash back to Clark’s childhood and witness his struggle of fitting in and hiding his powers with the help of his loving earthly parents.  The script superbly balances the flash back and real time storytelling so that viewers aren’t lost.  Man of Steel does what comic adaptations of late have mostly handled well-it tells a subtle story of a plausible superhero in our modern society.  David S. Goyer of Batman fame wrote the script along with some story help from Christopher Nolan, so it’s no wonder the plot and dialog were tighter than Superman’s…boots.

Next, we meet Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a cheeky reporter who has a soft spot for covert military correspondence.  This is when the story really picks up and the cape goes on.  Watching Superman learn to fly was a cinematic treat.  Special effects and sound mixing are often the stars of this film.  Certain prolonged fights tend to get achy on the ear drums but as my hubby pointed out, make the viewer experience a sort of Superman sensibility as we hear clearer and see with pinpoint accuracy how many panes of glass shatter in Metropolis.

As with the story, the acting is more subtle in this film adaptation.  We see more human moments thanks to Cavill’s introspection and Adams’s stable yet vulnerable Lois Lane.  Other headliners like Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane crowd the screen like a well-cast Shakespeare production.  Michael Shannon is a standout as the unrelenting villain General Zod.

Christ-imagery has always been a reference in the Superman mythos and this aspect is undeniable in the spiritual theming throughout the film.  How this film handles this side of the Man of Steel is laudable.  Clark never sees himself as a god but instead asks why God gave him his abilities.  When he weighs the responsibility of using his powers he has a Gethsemane moment, asking if he must indeed drink the cup that has been handed to him.  His Kryptonian father repeatedly tells him that he was born to bridge two worlds.  Superman isn’t Jesus, but his savior archetype helps us draw parallels between the spiritual and the human in a film world that isn’t always friendly to the Man of the Cross.

As a geeky summer movie season explodes, make this remake a priority.  Thanks to Zach Snyder’s crafty direction, a sophisticated script and just plain fun special effects, I’m a fan of Man of Steel.

"On my world, it stands for hope."

“On my world, it stands for hope.”

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2013

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Being the geek that I am, most of the movies that top my list are comic book, sci-fi or fantasy adaptations.  Here are the films of 2013 I am excited to see (not necessarily in order of anticipation except for perhaps the first on the list).

1. Monsters University (June 21st)
I love a Pixar movie (except Brave) and Monsters Inc. is my probably my favorite.  I’ve been so entertained by the marketing they’re doing for this film.  Have you seen the ads that look like a real college promo?  They also have a website complete with instructor bios and info for parents sending their little monsters off to school.  That’s the Pixar ingenuity I long for!  In this prequel, we find out how Mike and Sully became the monster bff’s they are later in life.

2.Iron Man 3 (May 3rd-see what they did there?)

Yes I am a sucker for comic book movies, especially since Marvel’s Avengers knocked my socks clear off.  I’m always in for some snarky Stark banter and devil may care heroics.  Guy Pearce plays the villain and he is oh so good at that so I’m stoked.

3. Oz The Great and Powerful (March 8th)

I’ve never been a huge Oz nut but this adaptation looks stunning, and since it’s not by Tim Burton it’s sure to be not just creepy weird but actually entertaining.  Hopefully.  James Franco sure has come a long way from his Spiderman days but I wonder how he’ll pull off the quirkyness of the wizard.  The story is something of a Dorothy-esque journey into the heart of what ails Oz.  The cast of femme fatale witches seems intriguing too with Rachel Wesiz, Michelle Williiams and Mila Kunis who I’m surprised is doing a movie where she keeps her pants on.  Bonus: Bruce Campbell has a role.

4. Oblivion (April 19th-Happy Birthday Hubby! We can go see this flick!)

If there’s something else I’m a sucker for, it’s a post-apocalyptic Tom Cruise action film.  It was Minority Report that got me the last time.  I really enjoy this type of speculative sci-fi and I’m intrigued by the twist alluded to in the trailers that somehow Cruise’s character is connected to the people still on the planet.  In the story, Earth is supposed to be devoid of people until Tom stumbles upon a horde of humans living underground.  The forces of current humanity seem intent on blasting these folks out of existence, but why?

5. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17th)

Even if I hadn’t been a Trek fan from Next Generation, I probably would have been willing to see this film simply because Benedict Cumberbatch is the villain.  I can’t wait to see my favorite Sherlock thwart the fiesty captain Kirk and his band of intergalactic academics.  With J.J. Abrams at the helm, this rebooted franchise has made me once again happy to be on the starship Enterprise.

6. Thor: The Dark World (November 8th-Happy Birthday Dad!  I think you’d rather go to a restaurant for your birthday but we’ll see)

Ah yes, another Avenger, another sequel.  Dark elves and Dr. Who number 9 (Christopher Eccleston for non-Whovians). What is it with American films casting polished English actors as the bad guys?  What’s next, Captain America up against David Tennant?  Oh, the mind races.

7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13th)

As an avid Tolkien reader I was well satisfied with An Unexpected Journey.  I am not thrilled that Jackson made this slimmest of the Tolkien epics into 3 films however, if anyone can convince me his trilogy isn’t bloated with unnecessary events it’s Jackson.  I absolutely cannot wait to see how they handle Beorn and his home.  I’m also looking forward to meeting Legolas’s pappa and seeing the elven kingdom of Mirkwood.  I’m planning on closing my eyes for the entire spider scene though so I hope Peter made it brief.  Somehow I think not so I should apologize now for the nail marks I’ll probably make in my hubby’s arm.

8. The Great Gatsby (May 10th)

The sumptuous trailers for this film make me nearly gasp at the spectacle.  Baz Lurhman never fails to make a film rich in pageantry and this one seems to be no exception.  The casting is exciting, the visuals thrilling and the source material intriguing.  I think Fitzgerald would be excited too.  I can’t wait to see Leo DiCaprio and real life friend Tobey Maguire work together on screen.  This film is also a breath of fresh air from a movie year packed with sequels, prequels and a severe lack of period films.

9. Much Ado About Nothing (June 7th)

I was about to skim over this one (I’ve seen so many adaptations of “Much Ado”) until I noticed who was directing.  Joss Whedon does Shakespeare?  Okay, I’m game.  I don’t know anyone in the cast but I’m sure he can do something interesting.  The story is set in modern times.

10. Ender’s Game (Nov. 1st)

I just couldn’t visualize this book so I’m actually looking forward to seeing a film adaptation.  Harrison Ford back in the saddle is a good thing too.  Reports indicate that everyone involved is nearly fanatical about keeping it loyal to the book.  I just think it will be darn good sci-fi.

11. Frozen (November 29th)

Apparently this film has no official trailer on the web but it sounds intriguing.  Disney’s digital animation studio has finally given Pixar some competition with films like Wreck-It-Ralph and Tangled.  Next up is an adaption of Hans Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” This fairy tale about two children trying to stop a perpetual winter will hopefully live up to it’s entertaining predecessors.  Broadway and Enchantment veteran Idina Menzel will most likely croon a little for the soundtrack since she lends her voice as the icy villain.

12. Jack Ryan (December 27th)

Remember those iconic Tom Clancy adventure thrillers from the 90’s?  Well, this seems to be a bit of a prequel treatment to the stalwart operative that paved the way for Bourne and the film reboot of Mission Impossible.  Kenneth Branagh is directing a stellar cast that includes Kevin Costner, Keira Knightly, Chris Pine and director Ken himself.  The first I’ve heard of this film was minutes ago looking at an IMDb list, but I’m already dreading a year-long wait.

Movie Review-Argo

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By Christie Hudon

The reality of strained relations with the Middle East is not new.  I wasn’t alive for the Iranian hostage crisis that lasted from 79-81 and it was something glossed over (if mentioned at all) in history classes.  It took a film to make life’s realities more poignant and relatable; and that’s exactly what Argo, an upcoming film directed and starring Ben Affleck did.  Set in chilling days of political unrest that parallel our current state of affairs, Argo is a gritty, edge of your seat, true story.

When CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) hatches a plan that is the “best bad idea” the combined intelligence agencies can muster, a Hollywood farce becomes a covert operation.  In order to spirit away hidden survivors before they become hostages, Mendez sets up shop with a past his prime director (Alan Arkin) and a rogue special effects artist (John Goodman).  Thus, Argo’s cryptic name comes from this film within a film.

As the movie begins, we are given a brief history lesson which paints an unsettling picture of Iran and US foreign relations on the eve of the 1980’s.  What follows is a heart-wrenching account of protestors surging over the gates of the US embassy as foreign workers look on helplessly.  I couldn’t help but shiver as I thought of what those in Libya must have witnessed just months ago.  The documentary-esque filming ends when we follow six US citizens who escape through a side door.  Now begins their sojourn as refugees in a hostile country.  It is their story that weaves into Mendez’s own and thrusts viewers back and forth between daily life in the US and Iran.

Tensions mount but are thankfully diffused by the irreverent Hollywood treatment Argo gets.  But even in lighthearted moments, the pain of the hostages and escapees is never gone.  This film hardly gives you time to breathe from the moment the vintage studio credits roll.  Argo is laden with violence and strong language that have a place in the story, not gratuitous but necessary at most moments to prove the helplessness and horror experienced by those living through the event.

This film is a perfect ensemble cast.  Affleck proves his directorial skills through powerful visual storytelling and understated characterization.  Choices like not using subtitles to make the audience feel as helpless as the escapees were subtle but effective.

A dramatic film dredging up a painful past was a risk in this climate.  I wonder if the filmmakers hoped to inspire with the cooperation between allied nations and the heroism of integrity.  I appreciated the reminder that even mired in governmental red tape, one person can have an effect on others.  The timing of Argo’s release isn’t accidental, but a welcome distraction that works as a reminder that there is always hope, and good stories to be told.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Film Review by Christie Hudon

Book adaptations don’t usually come from source material like how to guides-especially when it comes to a topic like pregnancy.  How the writers came up with the idea to create a romantic comedy sorta chick flick is beyond me.  Suffice to say it’s entertaining.  Especially if you’re, well, expecting (or at least thinking about becoming a parent).  The film feels a bit like a Love Actually or New Year’s Eve celebrity cramming misadventure, with headliners Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Elizabeth Banks all sporting babies.

Be forewarned-just because you read romantic comedy and see a jam-packed A-list cast, this is not a date movie.  Unless you’re way past the puppy dog stage there are things this film brings up that single people just don’t need to think about.  But if you’re like me and half your friends are swelling with pride, this flick is laugh out loud hilarious.

What to Expect weaves the stories of practicing and would be parents so seamlessly, you forget it isn’t based on a Nora Ephron novel.  The relationships are varied-only half the couples expecting are married and the circumstances of each pair allow you to see the realistic mess that every pregnancy is different.  Having never given birth, I can only imagine that those who’ve labored will want to smack the girl who births twins with a sneeze.  Slap-stick at times, What to Expect also has more than its fair share of farcical moments that can take away from the miracle of life and strangely add to it as well.

The guys in this movie often steal the show as they struggle to deal with their baby mama counterparts.  That’s where the dudes group becomes one of the best parts of the movie.  When we’re first introduced to the dad pack, the movie really starts picking up.  Guys getting together to chill with babies strapped to their chests and strollers as their hot rods makes for a not-so-average comedy moment-especially with Chris Rock as the lead.  Stereotyped?  Somewhat.  Funny?  Don’t drink until the scene is over.

Aside from the corny moments the filmmakers seemed to feel were necessary, What to Expect is one part drama, two parts raunchy and three parts comedy.  At times, the comedy and drama switch so fast you’re caught off guard.  A fair dousing of language and sexuality are present throughout the film but somehow it still manages to feel pretty clean.  After all, how racy can you get with five guys walking strollers and talking about minivans?

Overall, the movie succeeds with a heart-warming message of love and the importance of family.  Some tender moments may evoke a few tears, though the dudes will never admit it.  The movie will resonate more if you have been a part of the baby process or are at least around those who have.  This atypical romantic comedy brings humor to a unique topic in a story that is both irreverent and respectful to the miracle that is birth.

Christie Hudon is not sure what to expect or when to expect it but will keep writing film reviews if and when it happens.  She is a creative writing and reading teacher to hormonally challenged middle schoolers and works as a freelance writer and editor. 

Movie Review-The Lucky One

I don’t often see romantic movies. And even rarer do I see one that’s not a romantic comedy. Ergo, I was really out of my element when I walked into a screening of “The Lucky One.” Nicolas Sparks’ books turned movies, as a rule, are teary romances where somebody dies.  War-turned romance is no stranger to the Sparks pen either. In this film, the war factor brought a grittiness that lent depth to another boy meets girl tale.  “The Lucky One,” turned out to be just that—a winning mix of heart and reality that resonates where many other romantic films do not.

When Logan T (Zac Efron) returns from active duty in Iraq, it’s not an easy transition.  We learn in the first five minutes that one thing kept him going-a picture of a girl found in the wreckage of a raid.  This woman becomes his guardian angel and seems to keep Logan alive when others don’t make it.  Bent on thanking this mystery woman, Logan sets out to find her and when he does, the story really begins.  “The Lucky One” eases into a romance that grows among the Louisiana farmlands.

Forget the grown up teen heartthrob.  The real breath taker in this film is the scenery.  Part of the movie’s charm comes from the old home where much of the action takes place.  Complex character development also plays a part in warming the audience to this tale.  Logan is not your typical romantic hero.  He is both socially awkward and damaged mentally from the war.  Beth (Tyler Schilling), the woman in the photo, has her own demons to defy.   Throughout the story, these characters grow together naturally and nothing seems forced but the occasional cheesy romantic line.

Though rated PG13, there are quite a few sex scenes.  This is not a movie for teenage date night.  But more than the physical romance, there are a lot of deeper struggles both in the relationship and outside of it that can’t be appreciated by less mature audience members.  Adult viewers will understand better what choices the characters make and what holds them back from puppy love.

“The Lucky One” has the feeling of an older film where dialog takes precedence over action.  The authentic slowness of the story doesn’t drag it under, it organically grows the viewer’s attention.  I left with the feeling of a film refreshingly authentic in its simplicity.  Enjoy the pace and take it all in.

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