Tag Archives: Kathleen Kennedy

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

There are three types of people. Those who have an undying love for anything and everything Star Wars, those who have a legitimate beef with the unintentional ramifications that Star Wars brought to the fertile era of 70s cinema, and then there are the overly pompous people who parade around “liking” the original trilogy yet scoffing at minute aspects of THE FORCE AWAKENS. The third type of person is a fictitious amalgam of what people loathe about other people.

What JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Kathleen Kennedy did with the seventh entry into the Star Wars saga was establish a whole new world of Star Wars films. Some arguments against TFA are understandable, but after decades Abrams was able to construct, shoot, and assemble a film that looks and feels like it belongs, wholeheartedly, in the saga canon. Ultimately the job of directing a Star Wars film isn’t that sexy, their artistic freedom is monitored, but it’s up to that person to hit the marks that George Lucas set with the first film, and JJ Abrams achieves that in a way makes it hard to think anyone else could do a better job.

THE FORCE AWAKENS follows a template, just like THE PHANTOM MENACE before it. It’s A NEW HOPE but in a different era with some of the same characters. Anyone who walked into the film expecting something other than a Star Wars Saga film would be better off searching the deep web for some obscure Russian film from the 1970s that they can discuss in a vapid and obtuse way. Star Wars is Star Wars is Star Wars. There’s the light side. There is the dark side. There are TIE fighters and X-Wings, and there are space aliens that make witty zingers. Oh yeah, and there’s a Death Star.

Abrams assembles a diverse cast that is inspired organically. There wasn’t a mission to check boxes of ethnicity or gender. He found the right people that were born to play that part. The new cast is simpatico with returning cast members of Mark Hamill in his ultra brief turn, Carrie Fisher in what is now a very bittersweet performance, and of course Harrison Ford as the ultimate space cowboy.

Ford brings everything as he has to his final turn as his seminal character in a career stocked to the brim with so many memorable characters and franchises. With help from Abrams and Kasdan’s script, Ford takes on the Obi-Wan esque role. Ford is perfect. He’s funny, he’s smarmy, he’s hopeful, and he’s everything you’d want Han Solo to be all these years later and more. For those who fall into the first group of people, watching Han Solo die is one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema history. Ford’s build up; his gruffness wrapped in his sentiment and nostalgia completely sells his demise in the most beautifully tragic way possible. It’s near maddening that Ford wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

There is a mixture of practical effects and CGI, much like the prequels. And then there’s BB-8. The new fan favorite that is an encompassment of R2-D2’s sassy personality and an ultra cute design and color scheme. It’s rather impressive how instantly beloved and welcomed BB-8 was, and after seeing the film, it’s incredibly hard not to fall hard for that little whirling dervish of love.

The picture excels on nearly every level, and if it weren’t so quickly followed up by the excellent ROGUE ONE, there wouldn’t be as much shelf wear on the film. The film is vibrant as it is dreary. Abrams not only acknowledges the prequels, he embraces the aesthetic. He mixes the original trilogy with the prequel trilogy to create his own, and predominantly new world of Star Wars. The film isn’t without some minor hiccups and narrative issues, but this isn’t the new film by Martin Scorsese. It’s Star Wars.

Star Wars saga films are built on nostalgia. Star Wars is nostalgia for many. And while Lucas isn’t part of the Star Wars universe moving forward, Abrams has more than proved himself as a worthy supplement. He’s inherited the mantle of Lucas, and he’s helped construct the joy of Star Wars for generations to come. What’s so ironic are those who hold such an obnoxious contempt for Lucas, yet are rabid for the new dawn of Star Wars. Those who consistently beat the drum of talking in circles to those who are as like(narrow)minded as them, that will bend over backwards to suck any joy they can out of anyone who praises Lucas. You know, the guy who created everything in the first place. Leave George Lucas alone, without him you’d have nothing to complain about and would have saved a lot of money.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Ben Cahlamer

War.  Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive.  In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek.  For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful.  Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.

Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces.  Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion.  Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.

The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series)  is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.

It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads:  the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed.  The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care.  The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.

The characters service the script effectively.  However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative.  Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.  Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path.  It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader.  Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic:  their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear.  Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined.  Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters.  Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.

Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters.  Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.

From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe.  In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.

Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie.  From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task.  Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.

Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.

As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat.  It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form.  In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further.  Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.

“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way.  Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down.  Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous.  It is Recommended.

Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly.  Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films.  He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

ROGUE ONE is the most surreal theatre experience of my life. Yes, it is a STAR WARS movie that’s very much akin to the seven previous films, yet it is completely different than anything we’ve seen before. In a very odd and perplexing way, ROGUE ONE may just be the best STAR WARS film ever made.

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Set months prior to the events in A NEW HOPE, we’re shown a world that we’ve never seen. The Rebellion is split in fractions, they aren’t painted with heroism, a lot of them are killers without morals all doing this for the greater good of the galaxy.

The call backs not only from the original trilogy but particularly the prequels perfectly thread the needle of anchoring this film in a familiar galaxy but with unfamiliar worlds and characters. The CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin is a flawless effects achievement, and brings a weight of establishment and riches to the film.

The new characters are a perfect addition to the STAR WARS’ cinematic canon. Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker are all wonderful, with Ben Mendelsohn stealing every scene he’s even. Even if he’s matched up against the CGI’d Cushing or Darth Vader, he is the standout.

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Bravo to Disney for making a very dark and dreary film. They haven’t done this before. They simultaneously made a film about the horrific personal repercussions of war while organically sliding it into George Lucas’ cinematic timeline. Disney had everything riding on this picture; THE FORCE AWAKENS was easy. They had the original cast, a continuation of the saga story on their side, but with ROGUE ONE they created someone new and fresh inside of a franchise that honestly didn’t need it to continue forward in public consciousness.

The new score from Michael Giacchino is absolutely wonderful. He does complete justice staying true to John Williams, yet he takes major liberties with some tracks we are already familiar with. Gregg Fraser’s cinematography is perfection. This is the best looking STAR WARS film to date, without a doubt. The aesthetic will please diehard original trilogy fans because we’re back to the utter dilapidation of the Galactic Empire.

Gareth Edwards, Kathleen Kennedy, and Tony Gilroy all deserve acclaim and recognition for the film that they have created. But without the brilliant mind of George Lucas, we would never have gotten this film. For all the undo and faux outrage Lucas constantly receives, none of this would have been made possible without him.

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What makes ROGUE ONE so very special isn’t just the Easter Egg’s, the callbacks, references to BLUE VELVET and APOCALYPSE NOW, and the cameos, it’s a film that is about hope in its purist form. It is about heroes. It is about championing what you believe in regardless of the odds and sacrifices made. And for a lot of us, this is the exact film we needed at this particular moment.