Movie Review: “Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope” (George Lucas, USA 1977)

Introduction

Just as a fun project, I’m going to watch all previous Star Wars films except for Episode I and write reviews. I’ve seen the original trilogy before but I’ve never seen Episodes II and III. However, even the original trilogy I have not watched for a very long time, so this is definitely my first look at them with adult eyes.

I do not own the films, so I will not be watching the despecialized editions, though I would certainly prefer to do so. I really hope that Disney doesn’t continue Lucas’s refusal to release the original theatrical versions, because the corny digital additions really stand out as awful. I hated them in the mid ’90s and I’m not feeling any better about them 20 years later. Since they really stand out, I’m essentially going to ignore them in the reviews and just say here that they’re terrible, cartoonish, and unnecessary. And yes, I feel safe saying that even before I’ve finished re-watching them all. The prequels obviously do not have this issue–Lucas got to fill them with digital ugliness on first release. Continue reading

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Movie Review: “Concussion” (Peter Landesman, UK/Australia/USA 2015)

This is the basic premise of Concussion: an immigrant doctor uncovers a terrible brain injury being caused by football and works to bring it to light. That premise could be used to make films about a number of things.

It could be a film about how terrible Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is, by using Omalu’s discovery as merely a means of entry into the story of Dave Duerson, Mike Webster, or any of a hundred other players. If what you want people to get from the film is the horror of CTE, showing us how Mike Webster decides to distract himself from the pain by pulling out his own teeth and then supergluing them back in is far more powerful than just having Omalu say that he’s been doing so. Duerson’s change from vicious defender of “the Shield” to broken man who commits suicide and leaves behind a note asking for his brain to be studied for the very effects he had denied just a few years before is powerful even in the abbreviated form presented in the final film where we see nothing of what he has experienced, so imagine how it would work in an entire film. Continue reading

Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (J.J. Abrams, USA 2015)

When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars. I would correct people at even the slightest misquoting because I had memorized every scene of the films. I probably watched Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, USA 1983) 20 times, and it was my least favorite of the series. Then, Star Wars: Episode 1–The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, USA 1999) happened. I was excited to see the first addition to the series of my lifetime and went to the theater to watch (dragging my parents, my brother, and my sister with me, and I doubt anyone other than my father actually wanted to see it). And within an hour, I never wanted to see another Star Wars film. And I cannot be 100% certain, but I don’t think I’ve even re-watched any of the original trilogy since. George Lucas turned me off of the series at age 14 and it took me until age 30 to give it another chance.

J.J. Abrams has never been one to tread in the type of films I watch. Of his previous four films, the only one I ever watched was Star Trek (USA 2009). Obviously, a lot of people have commented on his presence in both of these series, but what a lot of people have missed is the role his film has played in both franchises. His Star Trek is a reboot of the franchise. It’s saying, “We want to keep making similar things but we need to introduce younger actors, so here!” It’s a film that’s all about keeping fans happy for future films and establishing a new cast–it doesn’t care about inviting new people into the Star Trek tent or telling any interesting stories. For Star Wars, Abrams had a far more difficult task. Not only did he need to keep current fans happy, but he needed to mend fences with them. I wasn’t the only one turned off by The Phantom Menace, and the other two prequels and Lucas’s tinkering with the original films in the “special editions” made matters worse. He had to try to get all of those fans: the ones who say, “Han shot first!” at every opportunity and the ones who embark on long expanses of prose to say, “It’s George Lucas’s vision and we can’t criticize it!” together. And he had to do it with a film set later in the same timeline as what came before. He couldn’t just cast Scott Caan to play Han Solo, make up a minimal story, and be done with it–he had to do something with the earlier characters and situations. It’s a far more difficult task. Continue reading