THE SEVEN AGES OF HARRISON FORD

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare

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Hello and welcome to the second edition of The Seven Ages of.

A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.

Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.

  1. Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
  2. Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
  3. Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
  4. The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
  5. The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
  6. Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often see them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
  7. Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?

This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Stewart, Gable, Davis, Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, and actresses who often struggle to find relevant work post 40. It is proving difficult to track down all classic films of bygone eras even from my community’s libraries so some will have to wait. Baby boomers are proving easier but the scope will hopefully expand to a Jack Lemmon or a Deborah Kerr in time. Harrison Ford is chosen this month because I’ve seen most of his films. When I was a teenager Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were my two favourite movie stars and their movies informed me on the standard of being a man onscreen even if I rarely set the ambition of living up to it. The hope is I pick the film that represents the age and not a personal favourite but take a look and see if you have to keep me honest. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Harrison Ford has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.

SPOILER ALERT – There will be spoilers in this post!!!!!!

Image result for harrison ford AMERICAN GRAFFITI

1. Infant – American Graffiti (1973)

Harrison Ford first film appearance was as a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966. That could be arguably be the infant age but if we’re talking about the first film where he made an impact it was American Graffiti. A teen film, the perpetually always younger looking Ford played a drag racer at the age of 31. He only has two scenes, talking smack with racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and then actually racing. He serves as an antagonist to be defeated but Ford already adds layers. He seems all business with a female passenger at the start of the race but is that because he’s hiding fear that he’s about to lose or something else? Either way it’s that shit eating grin and good looking face under that cowboy hat in his first scene that made the impression and what an impression it was. For a more matured and nuanced performance you can’t go past his role in The Conversation a year later. Effectively a well-dressed polite heavy, Ford decided he would make the character gay and at no point does he telegraph it because the script does not require it. It was an early example of Ford being his own man and adding layers to a performance so that nothing was lazy or by the numbers. Still I think Bob Falfa got everybody’s attention before Martin Stett.

Runner Ups: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, The Conversation.

Image result for harrison ford STAR WARS

2. Schoolboy – Star Wars (1977)

The Conversation could fit here as an actor starting to get good work but still learning a lot from a talented director in the form of Francis Ford Coppola. As a man his career didn’t take off until he was nearing middle age and as an actor he has always shown an independence of thought and maturity in his choices. Yet if there is one final moment where Ford was not yet a movie star and still naturally brought the charisma of such a being it is in his first go around as Han Solo. Every little boy wanted to be Luke Skywalker, then they grew up and they wanted to be Han Solo. George Lucas with script polishes from Gloria Katz and Wilard Huyck can take some credit but it is Ford who made Solo the rogue so lovable. Effortlessly cool slouched in a seat at gunpoint, slyly grinning as boys act tough and Princesses remain uninterested. Those who think Ford can’t act should compare Solo to Jack Ryan and think again. Ford apparently doesn’t like to watch his old acting performances – with Solo he’s got no idea what he’s missing out on.

Runner Ups: Heroes, Force 10 from Navarone, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Art, Blade Runner

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3. Lover – Presumed Innocent (1990)

Cheating once again with the rules of the seven ages, instead of covering a character full of hot air and enthusiasm or a part of an actor’s career where he resembles this we’re going to refer to the sexiest role Ford ever did. There’s a few to choose from, World War II love story Hanover Street, his great chemistry with Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his born again husband in Regarding Henry, his cuckolded cop in Random Hearts getting it on with Kristen Scott Thomas, his socially awkward Linus swept off his feet from Julia Ormond’s Sabrina. His most successful romantic comedy remains the 80s yuppie career film Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. Wasn’t even sci-fi Blade Runner at heart all about love and what one can truly feel explored in some part by Ford and Sean Penn? Yet they all pale next to Kelly McGillis and Ford’s stare downs in Witness. Scenes that were made for the term “tension you can cut with a knife” but Witness is to feature somewhere else so that leaves Presumed Innocent. This is not a romantic role, Ford plays a husband who cheats on his wife with a power hungry woman but lawyer Rusty Sabich is haunted by his former colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi in fine form) in the way only a lover can be. Drawn into investigating her murder and then potentially seen as guilty of it the one thing that is never in doubt is that Ford is obsessed with her. In one scene his wife is seen off-screen asking why she matters so much and Ford breaks down in tears. It may not be love but it is certainly the passion of a lover and it remains one of Ford’s most unique and brilliant performances.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Random Hearts, Sabrina, Regarding Henry, Six Day, Seven Nights, Working Girl, Hanover Street.

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4. Soldier – Witness (1985)

The 1980s is a rich era for Harrison Ford, it begins with the greatest sequel of all time in The Empire Strikes Back, Ford’s first turn as a cop in Blade Runner, gives us the classic Indiana Jones trilogy, his tortured performance in The Mosquito Coast, Frantic hints at the Ryan persona of the 1990s with a middle aged doctor caught up in a thriller but dares to show Ford get beat up and pretend to be naked with girls half his age (Jack Ryan thrillers wouldn’t dare). These are real characters each with their own tics and foibles, they play like something more authentic and complicated than the mainstream hits from the 90s. Smack bang in the middle of the decade though is the closest thing to a prototype of the 90s star persona of them all in Detective John Book with important distinctions. Ryan is a family man, Kimble a widow, Book is a bachelor and hard edged cop where the others are historians and doctors. Book is dangerous in a way the others aren’t, he’s not a good man driven to violence, he’s a violent man driven to goodness. Which makes it all the more powerful when he is reluctant to fight, or tenderly sits with a boy or he shrinks from the gaze of a topless woman he is falling for hard. The only time Harrison Ford was ever nominated for an Academy Award it remains arguably his greatest performance. Solo and Indy endure, Blade Runner is so much richer because of his Deckard and Presumed Innocent and Working Girl were the successful changes of pace but Witness’s John Book is the Harrison Ford performance to see. John Book fits as a soldier personality too but more importantly this is essentially where Ford in his career established his reputation, proved he didn’t need to do genre work for the rest of his career and created the blueprint for what he would ultimately make a lot of money doing in the 1990s.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Frantic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games

5. The Justice – Clear and Present Danger (1994)

There is a wealth of choices for this age from Harrison Ford, the age of the justice was the age that Ford played best and he became in a way the Jimmy Stewart for a new generation. After Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the 80s, Ford gave us the American hero for the 90s. Smart, urban if not urbane and a family man – just don’t fuckin attack him or his country. As a cop in The Devil’s Own he came face to face with Brad Pitt as a terrorist even if the film didn’t play it so cut and dry. Playing the President in Die Hard on Air Force One in… Air Force One almost seems inevitable in retrospect but Ford showed his boredom even before the decade closed pursuing a romcom in Six Days, Seven Nights with Anne Heche. Hey I liked it. With dwindling box office he returned to this type of film in Firewall (2006) but sadly that film was not as good as the 90s output. The Fugitive was the biggest hit and a damn fine film but Dr Jack Ryan has it over Dr Richard Kimble. In Patriot Games, Ford has his best moments when he sees his wife Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer) and child Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital. His line delivery of the word spleen will cause any parent to tear up. His famous finger point is greatly satisfying in the next scene but Clear and Present Danger puts Ryan in a better film and features an equally good performance. Jack Ryan plays many notes here, a middle aged man fearing the death of his father figure (James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer), an analyst out of his depth in the field, and an arc that takes him from nervously advising his President to telling him where to go. For the kids who don’t know Ford was the master of awkward fight scenes, his facial expressions always moving from fear to rage with every punch and he would physically throw his body around. They’re not streamlined like a martial arts fight but they’re spectacular in a regular guy kind of way and probably owe a great deal to Ford doing a lot of work himself. You feel the fights. Conflicting reports range about how involved he was in his stunts but he sure seems to be close to some pyrotechnics in the lauded ambush scene of Clear and Present Danger.

Runner Ups: Patriot Games, The Fugitive, The Devil’s Own, Sabrina, Air Force One, Six Days, Seven Nights, What Lies BeneathK-19: The Widowmaker, Presumed Innocent, Regarding Henry, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Frantic.

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6. The Pantalone – Morning Glory (2010)

Ford came to stardom later in life and he was still box office king in his mid-fifties but sooner or later you’ve got to slide into supporting roles and pair yourself up with a younger kid. Ford proved game but as the 21st century dragged on the films he made just weren’t that good or just weren’t successful. After pulling out the old fedora again in 2008 he followed up with two films, the 2009 ensemble piece Crossing Over and the 2010 comedy Morning Glory hoping to capitalise on that momentum. Neither hit gold but he has enjoyed more success with the interesting premise of Ender’s Game and mentoring Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in 42, both in 2013. Morning Glory was made by some of the same team that only a couple of years earlier had major success with The Devil Wears Prada the film belongs to Rachel McAdams who here didn’t play a love interest but an actual career woman. As a TV producer Becky Fuller she hires Ford’s revered but benched anchor-man Mike Pomeroy. The film belongs to Becky who does have a boyfriend played by Patrick Wilson and interacts with a cast of individuals at their morning program Daybreak. The heart of the film though is her relationship with Pomeroy. The elder newsman doesn’t want to do morning television but is running out of options and coming to terms that after a lifetime of putting career first over family he now has neither. Ford plays proud, stubborn, hurt, funny and most importantly capable of supplying a bran doughnut or perhaps even a frittata for someone special. For years Harrison Ford struggled to get a great role for this age – in 2010 he got one and you should see it.

Runner Ups: Hollywood Homicide, Cowboys & Aliens, Ender’s Game, 42, The Devil’s Own.

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7. Old Age – The Force Awakens (2015)

I watched The Age of Adaline recently to see if it was Ford’s best work in years as some have said……. I think I’ll leave it there. Ford may not have a great performance for this age just yet. There’s time, we’ve got Blade Runner 2049 coming out later this year which is bound to deal with mortality and then most likely a final Indiana Jones performance. For now though it is Ford returning to a galaxy far, far away from a long time ago in The Force Awakens. It is not great acting; Han Solo has no big lessons to pass on in this story. What Ford does though is show that old men can still be young at heart, that Solo didn’t really grow up but he did become wiser. He passes on some advice to both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) about life and in the third act he does exactly what Han Solo did all those years before near Yavin IV and the first Death Star. He goes into the danger to rescue someone, to do the right thing and that is why we always loved the scoundrel smuggler. When he confronts his son his last act is to show that he still does and always will love him. Maybe he does have one big lesson left to impart.

Runner Ups: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Well that’s the list; can you believe Indiana Jones isn’t in there? It’s arguably the greatest role he ever played! What’s going on?! Where’s Deckard?! Well let’s discuss and feel free to put forward your own picks in the comments below.

-Lloyd Marken

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ROGUE ONE CONFORMS TOO MUCH

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Rogue One comes billed as a standalone entry in the Star Wars saga eagerly spoken about as a team on a mission war film during development and early production. It’s only fair that a franchise film would promise to give you something different while being obligated to feel familiar. If MacDonald’s didn’t broaden their menu it would stagnate but you don’t go there to get Chinese take-away do you? So it is with film franchises too. The fact that this film is set so closely to the events of the original Star Wars released in 1977 tells you everything about the corporate need to bank on established content but it provided creative opportunities and challenges. Rogue One actually works best with connecting dots to the rest of the franchise and showing us new ways to remember the past. In light of The Force Awakens timeline this feels like a story about heroes long ago forgotten in the darkest times of a past war. There is something refreshingly melancholic about that for the saga. Visually it is great looking with half a dozen unique worlds visited and all the best of modern filmmaking used to honour the past but break new ground. However the strongest element of the $2Billion grossing The Force Awakens is the weakest one in Rogue One and that is of characters. The film has found defenders for this with the moodiness of this piece arguably making it difficult for these characters to pop but ultimately their plight should be affective and it isn’t. Look to The Guns of Navaronne and The Dirty Dozen for what was promised and has failed to be delivered. That is not to say that the film is without merit.

star wars trailer teaser rogue one felicity jones

We open with Jyn Erso as a child living on a farm with her parents. The Empire comes in the form of Orson Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn who wants Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso to come back and complete work on the Death Star. Little Jyn’s mother is killed, her father taken and Jyn survives to be raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) a Rebellion Commander. That must have been a fascinating story but you’ll see none of it here. Still so far so good on the standard hero origin story, a mentor teaches her self-reliance and she has a tragic backstory that will give her personal drive in quest that is ultimately about the fate of the galaxy. Jyn is tough, laconic with a dry sense of humour. Felicity Jones one of the most talented and beautiful of a new breed of actresses here does her scenes well. Harrison Ford once famously said to George Lucas “You can type this shit but sure as hell can’t say it.” Well it turns out Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher could but Felicity Jones, Diego Luna and Donnie Yen cannot.

Image result for rogue one castThe rest of the cast includes Diego Luna a Rebellion intelligence officer Cassian Andor prepared to do bad things for a good cause, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe a faithful believer in the Force who draws strength from his father but no mystical powers and his cynical but loyal friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a defecting Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) out of his depth and afraid but clearly to do the right thing and a smart arse Droid for comic relief K-2SO (voiced by the delightfully talented Alan Tudyk) round out the cast. These are not characters; I had to look up Wikipedia to remind myself of half their names, they’re types and while these backgrounds are effectively conveyed by the actors and dialogue true performances that make you feel for them never occur. We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is huge misgiving for this type of film.

Wicked the musical for example is a fantastic example of doing a prequel and sidequel which effectively flips long established truths about The Wizard of Oz. But you don’t expect Judy Garland to step on stage with Idina Menzel. How to tell a Star Wars story from this time frame and not include Darth Vader? To their credit the filmmakers have stepped up to the plate with ambition and courage.

SPOILER ALERTS!!!!!!!!

Grand Moff Tarkin originally played by Peter Cushing (who passed away in 1994) returns in this film along with a few others played mostly by now sadly deceased actors. Rather than cut around the actor Tarkin is present throughout played by Guy Henry with Cushing’s likeness added by CGI. It is not quite perfect as an effect (personally I feel sad knowing a day is coming when this is possible) but it is effective as a performance and something that after a while you do not give much thought to. Links to Star Wars perhaps come across sometimes as more fan service than necessary but a new explanation for the Death Star’s long maligned design flaw wrapped up in a personal story is ingenious. Yet for fans of the mythology the links to the past are far more affecting. A family living in comfort with the grand lights Coruscant in the background, an older and grayer Senator linking to the prequels and what was lost with the Republic. The Rebel Alliance here is more complex than previously known with breakaway leadership, having fought a secret war for close to 20 years with no progress, combatants prepared to not just die but kill and slowly asking what is it all for? Rogue One shows them at a make or break moment in their history and this world building is so effectively done it enriches other chapters in the saga.

Talk of a troubled production with extensive re-shoots only crop up in the sense that we feel short changed with Saw Gerrera and Jyn Erso’s relationship and some of the most dynamic shots in the original teaser trailer do not appear here. star wars trailer rogue one at atThe debut of director Gareth Edward’s Monsters was a wonderful film. A little film that still had impressive effects, a heartfelt but not heavy handed message and two dynamic central performances. The relationships and characters were the weakest element of his follow up Godzilla which was okay because he got the character of Godzilla right. That film was spectacularly epic in scope and action and Rogue One continues that achievement. Action scenes are done well, for a series that has excelled in space battles (Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith…yes Revenge of the Sith damn it) they may have made the best one yet in Rogue One. There is a seamless mix of location shooting, practical effects and cutting edge computer animation. Characters walk down muddy mountains in the rain, storm beaches towards AT-AT walkers and everything is has a modern dynamic whether it be hand held shots or close range pyrotechnics. Dangers and physical risk feels real in this film and the battle scenes are shot with war like tropes even if the blood and gore remains absent. The stakes are real in this Star Wars film just not the emotional pay offs.

 -Lloyd Marken

 

SOME STATS FROM 2016

This is just a quick stocktake for the second quarter of the year to see where we stand heading into the last third of the year. Think of it as less a self-congratulatory pat on the back and more a shameless plug for previous posts.

Image result for united kingdomConsistently most of my views come from the USA ( who overtook the top spot from Australian readers early this year and don’t look like handing it back anytime soon), Australia, the UK, Canada and then Spain. Early this year Brazil powered ahead to No.5 but Spain has shot back in the past couple of weeks. Near the end of August Great Britain had the most views for the month but then the world turned, the East Coast woke up and America took out the No.1 spot just like they did in the Olympics. I wonder if the U.K. could take out a month though in the future.

Top 5 Most Views by Country 2016

  1. United States 1,209 Views
  2. Australia 922 Views
  3. United Kingdom 811 Views
  4. Canada 220 Views
  5. Spain 122 Views

Top 10 Most Viewed Posts 2016

  1. Captain Reg Saunders of the Australian Army 129 Views
  2. Eye in the Sky is Pure Perfection 77 Views
  3. The Heroes of Kibeho 76 Views
  4. 10 Pics from the Sticks Part IV: Flaxton Mill Road to Mapleton Falls and Back Again 66 Views
  5. South Vietnamese General Ngo Quang Truong’s War 56 Views
  6. 10 Pics from the Sticks Part V: Lake Baroon to Kondalilla Falls 55 Likes
  7. Youth is Wasted on the Old 54 Views
  8. Suicide Squad Will Test Your Will to Live 52 Views
  9. Deadpool: Finally a Happy Ending for Ryan Reynolds 45 Views
  10. Stars Wars Has Return to our Screen and Our Hearts 45 Views

Top 15 Most Liked Posts

15. A Couple of Nice Guys to Spend Time and A Brave New World with New Ghostbusters

Rounding out the Top 15 are the last two film reviews with 10 Likes equally. On paper one is a old school masculine driven film and the other a revived franchise that re-casts women as the central heroes. Both have similarities though, in The Nice Guys a young daughter is usually the most sensible and smartest person in the room despite the guys loudly throwing punches and shooting guns, she maybe the one who makes the biggest difference. Both are also about people having to face overwhelming challenges to find out who they really are and take up that mantle. In one two damaged but good men discover they can do the right thing and in the other women surrounded by naysayers prove they maybe the only ones who can save us from Ghosts. Sadly I found The Nice Guys a delight despite a third act finale that didn’t quite take off for me but Ghostbusters was another example of a tired old regular reboot blockbuster. Not bad by any stretch but lacking the laughs and confident subversion of Paul Feig’s previous films.

14. Hail, Caesar! A Lovely Film For Those Who Loves Films 10 Likes

As a film buff, Hail, Caesar! may speak to me more than the average cinema goer. There’s the usual clever Coen dialogue to be found here and even a lot of depth underneath the surface. I doubt it will go down as one of their classics, it feels very much like an inbetweener (yes I know this isn’t a real word) for them but I liked it quite a bit and you can’t deny what the heart wants – the heart wants.

13. Lance Corporal Michelle Norris MC 11 Likes

Those who may say women can’t serve in combat may want to look up Cpl Norris. A 19 year old medic when deployed to Iraq she became the first female soldier ever to be awarded the Military Cross. Subsequently 3 other female soldiers have earned the Gallantry Award.

 

 

 

 

 

12. 10 Pics form the Sticks Part V: Lake Baroon to Kondalilla Falls 11 Likes

1711Part of an ongoing series of blogs about hikes I’ve been on, I gained confidence from the excellent Cindy Bruchman’s series Five Shots to post these and they seem to have gone down well. When my sister came over from England with her Canadian partner I decided they would enjoy the spectacular views of The Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. That day was even  more enjoyable for the opportunity to get acquainted with them. A wonderful memory.

11. South Vietnam General Ngo Quang Truong’s War 11 Likes

It may surprise some to find out that the South Vietnamese military had one particularly good leader who was respected by all sides and would eventually turn back a North Vietnamese invasion in 1962 when mass American ground troops had left South East Asia. He lost the war he fought and his country but he never stopped rising to every occasion including re-settling in America with his family and making a new life.

 

10. The Year of Blogging Dangerously 11 Likes

Well this is awkward, this was a similarly themed post from April and includes shouts outs to reviews from previous years like my love for About Time, Craig Ferguson and David Letterman.

 

 

9. Birth Days 11 Likes

A little short story I wrote for university that played with narrative structure. Essentially relating birth moments throughout a lifetime with certain patterns emerging again and again over the years. It means a great deal to me all the positive feedback I’ve received for it.

8. Alice Going Through the Looking Glass and the Sequel Motions 12 Likes

Not a particularly good film or good review but it’s nice to have fans.

 

 

 

 

7. Love and Friendship: Too Sorely Needed Attributes 13 Likes

Image result for love and friendship movieWhat I like to call a clean review. Fairly concise, not too boring to read hopefully and sums up what is good about a pretty decent movie. The number of likes probably reflects an interest in the film itself which has been getting good notices.

 

 

6. Central Intelligence – There’s Worse Films Out There 13 Likes

I felt inspired writing this review to touch upon this guy I knew in high school who became a bit of a success story. The film itself didn’t bowl me over but there were funny moments to be had and The Rock and Kevin Hart are two very likeable star personalities who played well off each other.

5. Suicide Squad Will Test Your Will To Live 14 Likes

Image result for amy adams vanity fairThe film depicts the character of Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller and Deadshot very well. I’m intrigued to see a better film with these performers playing off the dynamics of their core relationships. That unfortunately is not what this film was and a rant and Amy Adams Vanity Fairs photo shoots ensured. People seemed to enjoy reading which is a relief because it was one of my longer rants of late.

4. Star Trek: Beyond Covers Familiar Ground 14 Likes

star trek star review trek beyondStar Trek: Beyond has been well received by most critics and fans so pay to attention to my opinion but here it is for those that are interested and it seems to have intrigued some.

3. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople Turns up a New Zealand Gem 20 Likes

Out of the 2016 films I’ve reviewed so far the best ones have been Eye in the Sky and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Those that have seen the film seem to have been enchanted by it and that good will meant people were just happy to share their joy of the film here on this post as well. It really is a gem, be sure to check it out.

2. 10 Pics from the Sticks Part IV: Flaxton Mill Road to Mapleton Falls and Back Again 20 Likes

1619Karen and I went hiking one day up at the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walks and came across an echidna in the wild which was a real treat. I also touch upon a trip we took with her grandfather to the same area not long before he passed away.

1. Captain Reg Saunders of the Australian Army 51 Likes

Blame GP Cox and his amazing blog which started about retelling the experiences of his father as a Paratrooper in the Pacific during World War II and now is just a fine source of history from that period. When GP posts something within 24 hours he receives 100 Likes, goodness knows how many views. He’s built this following up over time with fine consistent work and consistent supportive interest in the blogs of his followers. As soon as he reblogged on his site my post about the first known Aboriginal to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army – the stats on that post shot up. Captain Reg Saunders was a war hero who endured much upon his return home and always overcame the racial indignities of his time with humour and resilience. We could learn a lot from his example.

 

For Your Consideration

I don’t think of myself as a particularly good writer but nonetheless sometimes I’m excited by what I come up with. Other times I can’t help but feel it is a bit messy and has nothing of interest to add. My review for Captain America: Civil War for example lacks any real hook. I list a few things I like and what narrative threads may have consequences throughout the franchise but it’s a joyless review for a film that was quite joyful. Suicide Squad an imperfect frustrating film on the other hand led to a funny review (an attempt at being funny anyway) and one that was relatively painless to write. Here are the posts that I’ve enjoyed compiling and seeing reactions to that you may have missed.

Cpl Bryan Budd VC

Published March 29 3 Likes

article-1216591-025CB87C000004B0-562_470x423[1]The closing paragraph I’m particularly proud of but at the end of the day this soldier’s story tells of extraordinary courage and sacrifice and should never be forgotten.

 

 

 

 

Eye in the Sky Is Pure Perfection

Published March 29 8 Likes

The first great film of 2016 has a lot to say without clamping down on one agenda either way. It will spark debate, discussion and thoughts about many aspects of modern warfare but in the end it is a poignant tale about one girl selling bread on a street corner and whether she will survive to see tomorrow.

 

Brooklyn: An Old Irish Tale for Our Times

Published March 21 6 Likes

Brooklyn maybe my favourite film of last year, maybe not the best I’m quite happy Spotlight won the Oscar, but my heart literally swells right now thinking about Brooklyn. I felt like I went to three different funerals while watching it. It’s about falling in love, chasing dreams and planting your feet about who you and where you’re headed in life. It made me think a great deal about my little sister and how much I love her.

Deadpool: Finally a Happy Ending for Ryan Reynolds

Published March 17 6 Likes 

I went for broke trying to be funny here and I’m quite happy with the results. It’s the first time I got to write about Jennifer Garner and I hold no shame in that. People have gone cold on the film already saying it’s not that original and the marketing sold it. Fuck them. Any idiot could say the filmmakers edited around a standard origin story but there’s wit here that you just don’t get in many blockbusters anymore and it punches above its weight in terms of budget and action sequences. In a summer of disappointments Deadpool stands tall against all odds as the little blockbuster that could AND DID.

Youth Is Wasted on the Old

Published January 10 3 Likes

Youth didn’t light up the box office or feature much in the end of year award shows. For me though Youth stays in the mind for a long time after. Michael Caine gives another stellar performance as an ageing composer facing up to what he’ll do with the time he has left and what he has lost along the way.

Thanks again to all those reading and have a great weekend.

-Lloyd Marken

The Year of Blogging Dangerously

002I studied in the Creative Industries and like a lot who do it is not now where I work. A few years ago my sister who blogs suggested I should too. I guess to have a creative outlet and maybe to practice my craft and build a portfolio. Sadly I don’t think I’ve really become a better writer but I have become a happier person. I popped my blogging cherry in November 2013 writing about my favourite film of that year – About Time.

Nighy is an actor so beloved that when he shows up in a movie you can’t help but smile. His first line had me grinning even though he wasn’t saying anything funny. I was just so happy to see and hear him. Such an effect from an actor makes him perfect casting for the role of the father. The world loves Nighy and that love will give the film absolute weight later on when he tells Tim what he used the gift of time travel to do with his life. Because if you’re a father and you can travel through time that is exactly what you would do. This is one of the year’s best.

There were no pictures and I didn’t check stats, there were errors galore and it all went on a bit too long but I had expressed something inside myself and enjoyed the process. It was only a matter of time but eventually I blogged again when Craig Ferguson and David Letterman left their late night programs.

When Craig Ferguson’s last show aired in the middle of the night I stood up alone in my living room in my boxers as Craig finished singing and the audience applauded. I smiled sheepishly knowing how stupid I was behaving but wanting to feel connected in some way.
No doubt I’ll be on my feet again this Thursday. Because that’s what you do when legends retire. You stand up and you applaud.

At that point I headed back to university for a short course and had more time on my hands. Being back around creative people with creative pursuits was terribly rejuvenating even if I regret not making the most of my time in the course. My fifth post was about The Martian and within 24 hours I saw these little cubes pop up on my post. busyk AntVicino cinetactic

 

A film about a stranded astronaut rife with 70s tracks demands a track from Bowie to be used and The Martian answers the call better than I could have hoped. The choice of Major Tom would have been welcome if too on the nose. Instead Starman begins right where it needs to in arguably the best moments of the film. The crew who left Watney behind circle around Earth to pick up supplies and sling shot back towards him. This enables the crew to communicate with families hundreds of miles away from them but as close as they have been in months before returning to rescue their stranded crew member. It is a heroic gesture full of sacrifice but the film plays the scene as one of unbridled joy. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

I had a couple of followers before and my sister always shared my posts on Facebook but this was something new. Somebody was communicating with me specifically, 3 people in fact from AntVicino from Oakland, Cinetactic from the Philippines and Busy K from New York City. Another milestone. Next I wrote about the James Bond series and little boxes appeared again. I started to wonder if it was possible to always get one like when I posted. I also checked out the likers and followers and started following people myself which made the reader take on a new importance. Views and visitors though always fascinated me proving no matter how small the response people were seeing my work. I don’t particularly need validation, I’m still at heart just somebody writing About Time because I love it so much and have to express it, but it is very enjoyable to have feedback and to have interest in your blog.

As the year closed I wondered if a lot of views were garnered by me reading my posts when I was logged out. In any event it’s been a year since I started seriously blogging and in that time my followers, likes and comments have grown. In March when Cindy Bruchman announced I would be co-hosting her Lucky 13 Film Club in April it doubled my interaction with the blogging community. I was very lucky to be involved in something so well liked and with a blogger so well respected that my likes, comments and followers probably doubled in that time but so did the blogs I follow and the blogs I comment on or like. It’s been a very enjoyable experience to feel more a sense of community than ever. Having branched out from film reviews to posts about hikes I’ve taken and military biographies I wrote for an old newsletter, I finally bit the bullet and put forward a short story to read for that community. When you write a film review, the focus tends to be on your opinion and whether it’s shared by others. When you write a story though it becomes a bit more personal. People are focusing on you now. I’m touched to say that my fellow bloggers have been kind and it is a huge relief that they seemed to enjoy the story. So as I celebrate one year of regularly blogging I thought I’d reflect on some interesting stats and which posts seem to have struck a nerve from 2016 so far. Think of it as a shamelessly greatest hits plug if you will and less so a chest thumping celebration from someone who really has a very small blog. May I just say to my regular viewers, followers, likers and commenters. Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart and keep it coming.

 

You know I’m big in Brazil.

Last year the vast majority of my views came from Australia (over 1,500 which I assume includes mostly from me) with 51 from the U.K. and 39 from the U.S., 8 from Spain, 6 from Canada, 3 from Switzerland, 2 from Denmark, and 1 from France. Interestingly none from the Phillippines?

In 2016 so far it’s 516 Australian views (I don’t think those are mine), 366 American, 314 British, 78 Canadian, 59 Spanish and chomping at the bit to get into the Top 5 Brazil has 52 views.

Most Likes

  1. Birth Days                                                                                                                   9 Likes
  2. A Reblog of Jeff Bridges: The Lucky 13 Film Club April 13                            8 Likes
  3. Hail Caesar! A Lovely Film for those Who Love Films                                  8 Likes
  4. Ex Machina                                                                                                                  7 Likes
  5. 10 Pics from the Sticks Part III: Lake Baroon to Delicia Road                     7 Likes
  6. Eddie the Eagles Soars Enough to Qualify                                                         7 Likes
  7. Eye in the Sky is Pure Perfection                                                                          6 Likes
  8. Batman Vs. (What the Hell was the V all about?!) Superman Rant           6 Likes
  9. The Huntsman: An Unnecessary Sequel That Is Not Necessarily Bad      6 Likes
  10. Captain Reg Saunders of the Australian Army                                                 6 Likes

Most Viewed in 2016 So Far

 

10. Batman Vs. (What the Hell was the V all about?!) Superman Rant

Published April 1 – 30 Views                                                                                                                                                            Less a film review than a full blooded rant. “Kicking off where that film ended with Bruce Wayne on the ground during the Metropolis battle trying desperately to reach his people in a Wayne Enterprises building in the best sequence of the whole film. The music and sound pounding in an Extreme Screen cinema has to be experienced as Bruce a highly capable mortal man commutes by helicopter then car then foot through the mayhem. His skills keep him alive getting out of the way of destruction repeatedly at the last second but his figure remains powerless in the face of such super beings. Bruce Wayne is also with the victims that we never really saw with Superman in the finale of the last film. It’s an inspired way to address criticism of the last film and set up the central beef Wayne has with Superman in this movie. It also well and truly proves that audiences can now see movies that fully evoke the horror and helplessness of September 11, 2001. Take that Al Qaeda!

9. Birth Days

Published April 24  – 30 Views

The Short Story I wrote, it is trying to communicate something about the randomness, cyclical nature and inevitability of life with spare sporadic writing. There’s a lot of jumping in and out of moments where you have to pick up hints of resolutions along the way. Once again I am very grateful for its reception. A week old and the only post I haven’t shared on Facebook, the number of views, likes and comments is really encouraging.

8. The Big Short: A Comedy to Get Angry About                                                                         

Published January 19 – 31 Views  

Arguably the funniest of the award season darlings last year. ” This is the film’s greatest conceit; it’s inversion of what happened. The majority of Americans got ripped off and screwed over by the Global Financial Crisis! Then it spread to the rest of the world too! The Big Short doesn’t follow suckers or losers though, it follows winners, people smart and brave enough to see what was going down and the film makes us feel included in their wisdom and plight when we weren’t. I don’t say this cynically, I think this is the best movie ever made about the Global Financial Crisis and it will reach the broadest audience and make them feel the most about it as a result of this approach. The film is never preachy but there are few lines sprinkled throughout that hit home not just about the financial sector but maybe even our society at large. There are montages of photos to remind us of current events and major pop culture distractions at the time. One great sequence shows many characters leaving a hotel and their current wealth defined by the car they leave in.

7. Ex Machina: A Small Film with Big Ideas 

Published January 27 – 31 Views 

My first post to get over five likes which I means I have to click on the word bloggers to have them all appear. Sadly such things give me a thrill. A real gem of a movie that not everybody has seen yet. “How each audience member reacts to each character may say as much about themselves as it does about the characters and certainly one of the pleasures of the film is seeing these very different creatures bounce off each other. The movie enjoys playing with the ideas of who is being tested, is anybody else maybe a robot, who is sympathetic or being dishonest and just where this all may lead? I wouldn’t dare spoil it, it is nice to not be sure of a film’s outcome and yet also at the end be satisfied with it.

6. Deadpool: Finally A Happy Ending for Ryan Reynolds

Published March 17 – 31 Views

Since the film revelled in meta humour I had a go at trying something different with this review. It was a lot of fun.” A few years ago Deadpool would have been subverting a genre the average movie goer didn’t know inside and out. It turns out my ex-wife was right, timing is everything although I think she was talking about foreplay rather than motion picture releases and box office success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Brooklyn: An Old Irish Tale for Our Times

Published March 21 – 32 Views

It’s always  nice when a piece of your writing that you particularly like seems to go down well with others. Of the film reviews that have done particularly well there often seems to be a correlation to how much I put my own personal thoughts, opinions and experiences into it. Not always but often. 🙂 I was thinking about my little sister when I wrote this. ” That seat at the table never stops feeling empty but the person missing is sitting at another table across the seas and they are loved.. and they are home there too. This is a great movie.

4. Star Wars Has Returned to Cinemas and Our Hearts                                                            

Published January 13 – 42 Views

Again more a spoiler filled rant than a review to the biggest film of last year. The film’s popularity may have something to do with this. ” Han Solo to me is still roguish in this one but with age and a son has come vulnerability and real stakes for the smuggler. I’ve seen the film four times and every time Leia says “Luke is a Jedi…you’re his father.” I tear up. There has been a lot of talk about how Han Solo should have died in an epic way taking on many bad guys or sacrificing himself to save someone’s life. That’s the thing though he does die in an epic way to save someone’s life…to save Ben…to save his son’s.

3. Eye in the Sky is Pure Perfection 

Published March 29 – 43 Views

The first great film of 2016 is certainly garnering a lot of attention. “Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.

2. Youth Is Wasted on the Old                                                                                                 

Published January 10 – 48 Views

 

Again another film that I really enjoyed and a review that I really enjoyed writing. It is a pleasure to have it be one of the most viewed posts. “ The whole cast is uniformly exemplary but Sir Michael Caine is here once again taking on the lead role and giving one of his best performances ever-worthy of an Oscar as anything else I’ve seen this year. Even at this stage of life Fred Ballinger has a character arc and grows. He learns there are things to be done, there is still strength in these arms and there is not a moment to lose. The firemen are coming. This is one of the year’s best.

1. The Heroes of Kibeho                                                                                                                

Published January 10 – 51 Views

Originally one of those pieces I wrote for my newsletter and then revamped for uni last year. There are no words to do justice to what was endured by all those who were there at Kibeho in April 1995. All I can say is I acknowledge them, I am proud of them and I wish them peace. If there is a highlight of doing this blog, it may just be to have had Terry Pickard comment on this post. When I told my Mum that Terry Pickard had commented on my Kibeho post she enquired “Is he a blogger?”. I replied “No Mum…he was there.”

-Lloyd Marken

MY BUDDY ROG

Pulitzer Prize Winning Film Critic Roger Ebert passed away April 4, 2013 aged 70 years old. When I started dating my wife I referred to him as ‘My Buddy Rog’ whose review of Australia would ensure Karen would not refer to him as ‘Her Buddy Rog’. That’s how much his writing meant and make no mistake I do not truly consider him a friend. We never met and I never knew the man. You should leave the word friend for people truly close to you. Yet the expression ‘My Buddy Rog’ reflects something. Roger Ebert was a great writer but he wrote for everyone. He was not a snob who didn’t appreciate blockbusters but he was mercilessly witty when putting down films with poor writing or bad intentions. You really have to discover him for yourself so I will try to keep this short.

When I was 9, I was handed a copy of his 1989 Four Star Movie Guide and I quickly leafed through to find reviews on movies I knew. I was already aware of the making of movies and was interested in reading films being judged for their components. Star Wars, Superman and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were all dutifully there. As the years went by I came to read other reviews and seek out those films too. There are still many to see but this is how I came to know Roger. Through his words. I did not hear his voice when I read those reviews and having not seen most of the films what I enjoyed about the reviews was his own writing. The review for Claire’s Knee and Lucas were mesmerising. Runaway Train promised amazing visceral stunts. One review related an alcoholic smashing a battle of booze and then trying to soak it up and drink some drops from a towel. This would become more poignant with his own later revelations. I would argue some of his reviews were a work of art themselves and I direct you to his American Graffiti review for an example of why I fell in love with Ebert the writer. Here is but a taste from the master,

When I went to see George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” that whole world — a world that now seems incomparably distant and innocent — was brought back with a rush of feeling that wasn’t so much nostalgia as culture shock. Remembering my high school generation, I can only wonder at how unprepared we were for the loss of innocence that took place in America with the series of hammer blows beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy.

The great divide was November 22, 1963,and nothing was ever the same again.”

In the mid-1990s my family got a copy of Cinemania ’95 CD and I could suddenly read his reviews of films that he didn’t give 4 stars to. Then the internet came into being and I found his reviews posted on the Chicago Sun Times website with all his current reviews and one’s going back to 1985. I was going to university and studying film and often would look to see how Ebert had judged the works of these auteurs. As an American critic he was a man of his time, Pauline Kael and the like were changing the nature of film criticism as the French New Wave hit in the 1960s with Fellini doing his thing in Italy and then the great American Film Renaissance began with Altman, Coppola, De Palma, Lucas, Mazurky, Peckinpah, Scorcese, Spielberg. Film reviews used to be allocated to a journalist every week to be quickly done up for opening day but this changed as the position of films in pop culture developed and Ebert became the face of this.

In America he is probably best known for Siskel and Ebert where he and Gene Siskel sparred over their opinions of new releases. I never read Siskel’s writings but with the help of YouTube I have been able to newly discover such an indelible part of Ebert’s success. Now I know Ebert’s voice but more importantly how great the two were as a double act. What a pair.       

Ebert blogged on his website and some of his writings were part of informing my opinions as a young man. We didn’t always agree but I appreciated how well he considered this world and how much empathy he felt for his fellow humans. You didn’t have to agree with him, he welcomed discussion of the things that were important. When salivary gland cancer robbed him of his voice and transformed his appearance Ebert’s blog became a vital form of communicating to the world without relying on software to give his words a voice. His blog took on a new life those last few years when he refused to go quietly into the light. My favourite piece of his and one of my favourite pieces of writing is the following about his father http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/my-old-man

 Sometimes he poignantly referred to mortality in such late great reviews for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Amour. After his death, My Life was released which is a wonderful documentary that details his life story and showed the deep bond he had with his beautiful wife Chaz. Karen watched and enjoyed My Life and liked Roger too after viewing his story. I marvel at an interview Ebert had with Howard Stern where he holds himself quite well against the shock jock. That is the man we all lost with his jaw and yet for me those last 8 years he remained as full an entity as he ever had been. It all came back to the words he wrote because they were the most important thing and he still had that. Yet the words stopped too, 3 years ago. I’ve found good critics out there since. I love some of Vulture’s and The A.V. Club’s writers on television series and I enjoy some of my fellow bloggers insights. But there is only one Roger Ebert and I miss having his opinion to read. Still there are films he reviewed I have not yet seen and reviews I have not yet read. That is the legacy of his work. I care to imagine the legacy of him is his family and friends. If that is the case, my buddy Rog gave a lot in this life for us to enjoy.

-Lloyd Marken

THE FORCE AWAKENS IN STAR WARS FANDOM

Quite possibly the most heavily hyped film of all time Star Wars: The Force Awakens has hit cinemas. After being burned by the prequels long term fans just want to know one thing-is it any good? And the quick answer is yes! With expectations being raised so much by the nostalgic laden marketing we have overlooked that the new movie The Force Awakens would buy an awful lot of goodwill just by being better than the prequels. However it didn’t beat the North American Box Office records in 16 days just by failing to be bad. Yes The Force Awakens is good yet more importantly it is fun.

Picking up the story 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, different forces throughout the galaxy are in search of the long absent Luke Skywalker. Poe Dameron a pilot with The Resistance is dispatched to pick up plans which may lead to Skywalker’s location but is unfortunately captured by the First Order led by Kylo Ren. The map remains with his trusty droid the seriously cute BB-8 who makes his way marooned on the desert planet Jakku where he comes across the scavenger Rey. star wars the force awakens haters rolling bb8Meanwhile a Stormtrooper having witnessed his first battle in the capture of Poe sees the Resistance pilot as a way for them to both escape the First Order.

The three new leads of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are inherently good people who make you laugh and like them almost immediately. Rey has come under criticism in some circles for being good at everything. Not a complaint without merit but Ridley makes Rey very believable and likeable that it seems churlish not to enjoy the character’s success for the most part. Kylo Ren as played by Adam Driver, like Vader before him starts off as a forbidding threat and becomes more complicated and fascinating as the story goes along albeit also far less intimidating. Out of all the returning ‘legacy’ characters Han Solo and Chewbacca are given the most screen time. Chewbacca has never been used better but Han Solo still roguish is now older and more vulnerable and Ford revels in playing the same character at a different stage in his life with very real new stakes.

J.J. Abrams is a story teller noted for great set-ups of premises and reinvigorating old franchises anew. Yet he is also known for jumping ship to work on new projects. He also specialises in pacing that carries the audience along at a zippy intoxicating rate that upon reflection appears to have helped gloss over coincidences and plot holes. The Force Awakens still suffers from this but it is arguably Abrams best film. It is not a bad thing he is stepping aside for Episode 8 and how that film answers some of the questions left hanging from this one will determine how fondly we remember both. star wars explosion crash the force awakens desert

Yet J.J. has pursued practical effects and location shooting to help match the aesthetics of the first trilogy, he’s referenced the past with the original cast and tons of Easter eggs but established a new mythology with lots of open-ends to speculate on for the next two years. Crucially he’s given us new characters to root for and sprinkled solid character based humour throughout. The highest compliment you can give this film is it makes you excited about Episode 8. Who would have thought?

-Lloyd Marken

Author’s Note: This review has been republished from my other site where I publish shortened film reviews of mine https://hottipsfromlloydmarken.wordpress.com/ I don’t generally get a lot of traffic on that with WordPress but it is a hit with my friends on Facebook so I’ve kept putting posts there semi-regularly. I found my longer review for The Force Awakens on lloydmarken.wordpress.com became more of a spoiler heavy dissection of the film and would like to therefore include my short piece on this site too since it is more akin to a review.

STAR WARS HAS RETURNED TO CINEMAS AND OUR HEARTS

First be warned this is a spoiler heavy musing of the new Star Wars movie. For a spoiler free review from me please check out my link here. Also a much more succinct discussion of spoiler topics can be found here from a much wiser man than me.

Quite possibly the most heavily hyped film of all time Star Wars: The Force Awakens has hit cinemas. After being burned by the prequels, long term fans just want to know one thing-is it any good? And the quick answer is yes! With expectations being raised so much by the marketing riffing on nostalgia for the original trilogy we perhaps overlooked that the new movie The Force Awakens would buy an awful lot of goodwill just by being better than the prequels. Yet it didn’t beat the North American Box Office box office records in 16 days by just failing to be bad. The Force Awakens is good but more importantly it is fun.

Picking up the story 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, different forces throughout the galaxy are in search of the long absent Luke Skywalker. Poe Dameron a pilot with The Rebellion-sorry Resistance is dispatched to pick up plans-sorry a map which may lead to Skywalker’s location but is unfortunately captured by the Empire-sorry the First Order led by Kylo Ren. The map remains with his trusty droid the seriously cute R2-sorry BB-8 who makes his way marooned on the desert planet Tatooi-sorry Jakku where he comes across the farm-sorry scavenger Rey. Meanwhile a Stormtrooper Finn having witnessed his first battle in the capture of Poe sees the Resistance pilot as a way for them to both escape the First Order. I may be mocking the repetition of plot elements from Star Wars but the first scene lands with a bang. It features smart dialogue, quickly establishes villains as people to fear and hate and despite being studio based feels very much like a real tactile world. Such a clear and concise set up makes you want to see this movie again before it has even really begun.

We are introduced to Rey in a fantastic sequence of economic storytelling which tells us what an average day of scavenging is like for her. She has to be tough to protect herself from others and she lives in small humble quarters where she is tallying how long she has been waiting for her family to return to her on Jakku and building toy dolls of Rebellion pilots reflecting her own dreams for a different future. Then she rescues BB-8 and we see how inherently good she is. It is a masterful sequence, quiet with minimal fuss and dialogue but wonderfully effective. We are with her from that moment on. The character Rey has come under criticism in some circles for being good at everything. Not a complaint without merit, when I think of impossibly capable heroes from earlier blockbusters I note they usually had some frailty even if it was emotional rather than physical. Rey is physically tough, morally strong and emotionally well balanced considering her backstory but Daisy Ridley gives shadings to explore later on. She is visibly in awe of the larger world that the Resistance and Han Solo represent and she loses her composure clearly during an encounter with her past. I enjoyed her defeating Kylo Ren’s attempts to mind interrogate her using the Force and that being the catalyst for her discovering her own powers. Her winning their duel at the end did despite his wounds and her natural ability with the Force and physical prowess with the staff I thought was a poor choice narratively. This has been debated on the internet a lot so I don’t know if I have anything definitive to add. You could argue it gives us a cathartic victory to see someone put Kylo Ren on his ass at the end of the movie and if somebody was going to do that it should be Rey but I feel that Kylo Ren should become more terrifying after killing Han Solo and that people should have him to fear being on the side of The First Order after the threat of the Starkiller Base has been removed. I can’t quite get over Kylo Ren having enough training to stop a blaster bolt but not enough to take down someone who has discovered they are strong in the Force in the past 24 hours. Suggestions that he hasn’t had to sword fight much with a lack of Jedi don’t fly with me. You have a lightsaber you should know how to use it. For that matter I don’t like Stormtroopers having weapons that can clash with lightsabers either. Oh okay. I’ll shut up now.

I will say this though, when Rey summoned that lightsaber and the score kicked in I smiled for every little girl out there who has ever wondered why a girl doesn’t get to fight with a lightsaber. When I was growing up Princess Leia was so cool and in charge that I never really questioned that she wasn’t really at the centre of the story and became mostly a love interest in the sequels.

Rey and Finn are undeniably cute in this movie and I do hope they get more than a hug by the end of the trilogy but Rey is going to be the central hero of this story and Finn ain’t going to be far behind. The biggest movie of all time has these two as their leads. That’s a good thing in my book. Finn at first may appear to be used an awful lot for comic relief but he at various times reveals a worldliness to his character due to the knowledge he has of the First Order and he has the best arc in the film. The last thing he says to Rey is we need to get as far away from The First Order as we can and he goes to the heart of their organisation to rescue her. When Maz Kanata sees right into his soul instead of acting guilty about his deception he fixes his own gaze and warns them all about the First Order. He’s more than comic relief and these are fantastic layers there to explore further in the sequels. We have here a male lead that in some ways is not as capable as the female lead but becomes devoted to her and as a result they both draw great strength from each other. It’s a good point when Rey points out to Finn that she doesn’t need him holding her hand to help her run but shortly after he drags her out of a tent before it blows up. In a later scene after he pushes her away he is taken by a monster and she rescues him with some quick thinking. I love these two; it’s just so cute how their faces light up around the other one.

Poe Dameron does not get a lot to do here as much as Finn and Rey but Oscar Isaac does not need much to make an impact. When Finn appears sad about Poe’s passing to BB-8 you believe it is genuine. At that point Boyega and Isaac had shared a sum total of five minutes of screen time to sell that. Kylo Ren as a design works fantastic in the movies way more than he did in the trailers. The voice under the mask sounds great and the sparks of his lightsaber reflect his unstable personality although his footsteps sound like he’s wearing solid metal platform shoes. The first real reveal about Kylo’s character comes at least 40 minutes into the film so I actually felt for once that J.J.’s typical coyness was justified in this movie. It was fun to discover the answer to these questions for myself albeit in retrospect it all seems so obvious. A villain close to the hearts of our legacy characters would be the only way to explain how Luke went into hiding and everything kind of went bad. We’re introduced to Kylo Ren long after his birth and fall to the dark side years earlier. He comes presented to us as a villain rather than a tragic figure and we see him do bad things quite early. Yet there is some inner turmoil there and we come to care about his fate a little even if that is all due to our history and feelings for his parents rather than him. Rey’s defeat of him also brings into sharper focus his inabilities. Seeing him stop the blaster makes it comical when he loses his temper and trashes things. Rey’s defeat makes you realise that beyond that all we’ve really seen him do is kill two old men, torture a tied up prisoner and get his ass handed him to by a girl. Suddenly the inability to control his temper is just another symptom of a big baby who can’t do much when really challenged. I didn’t want that for Kylo Ren but he’s still a fascinating character and his desire to measure up to Darth Vader appropriate for a new Star Wars film looking to hit with a new generation. Rey and Finn share similar sentiments when they first hop into the Millennium Falcon or discuss intently stories about the Rebellion. Can Kylo Ren be redeemed? Does the audience want that after he killed Han Solo and will it feel too much like a repeat of Anakin’s arc? “All of this has happened before and will happen again.” Other franchises have intoned. I would actually like to avoid that kind of cyclical doomed to repeat storytelling in this franchise but it was inevitable that the happy ending of 1983 would have to be ruined somewhat to create conflict in this several years later sequel.

Out of all the returning ‘legacy’ characters Han Solo and Chewbacca are given the most screen time. Chewbacca has never been used better, he gets the best lines out of the whole film and we don’t even understand what he is saying and when that already famous death scene comes Chewie justifiably lights up on the First Order. Han Solo to me is still roguish in this one but with age and a son has come vulnerability and real stakes for the smuggler. I’ve seen the film four times and every time Leia says “Luke is a Jedi…you’re his father.” I tear up. There has been a lot of talk about how Han Solo should have died in an epic way taking on many bad guys or sacrificing himself to save someone’s life. That’s the thing though he does die in an epic way to save someone’s life…to save Ben…to save his son’s. They’re about to blow up the base and Han sacrifices himself to save his son. When he walks out on that bridge he knows the odds but he does it for the woman he loves and the child they had together. His last act is one of kindness to let his son know that the light always wins, that he still loves him. I had a range of emotions the first time I saw The Force Awakens. Killing an older character has been done before with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and there were certainly a lot of rumours going into this movie. When Obi-Wan died in Star Wars it was sad because we’d spent an hour with him and his character was likeable. Most fans have a lifetime of memories with Han Solo going back to their childhood predominantly and by association with Harrison Ford in general. There were a lot of us worried when we heard about the plane crash earlier in 2015 because this was our hero Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Richard Kimble, Jack Ryan, the coolest President ever and we didn’t want somebody so important to our developing years to be hurt or worse. I kept hoping they were going to find Han at the bottom of that shaft and take him home but no they don’t cheat out of this and I’ve come to feel that is only right. It seems popular to say that Harrison seems to be more engaged with his performance here but I always believe Mr Ford shows up to work. I will say though that he is as enjoyable as he has ever been and seems to be revelling in the emotional aspects of the role in this film.

The last shot near the Ewok camp in Return of the Jedi shows young heroes having weathered a war now ready to live the rest of their lives and make something out of it. Find some peace and joy maybe, raise families, restore democracy. I guess it was not to be and now Han is dead but Han died how he lived, hesitant but in the end doing the right thing. Rey now has his ship and co-pilot and is setting off on a new adventure. Maybe the good guys will restore peace to the galaxy eventually. It might be a neat idea in Episode VIII to show how successful the Rebellion was in restoring the Republic and peace to the Galaxy at least for a while. “Not all of it was bad.” as Han noted even if he was mostly talking about his sex life there.

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I can’t say enough about how much I liked the new characters in this film. It was a relief not to be sitting around waiting for Han Solo and Chewie to appear. None of the trailers had really revealed if the dialogue was going to be good but there are so many lines that I find endlessly quotable mostly for their humour. I enjoyed the film as it zipped along never paying attention to any plot holes or conveniences-I was having too much fun. Then around about the time it became obvious they were going to blow up the Death Star-sorry the Starkiller Base I became a little tired. I actually thought to myself in a moment where an X-Wing was flying down a trench. Gee this is a good Star Wars movie but it might be a good idea if they don’t make any more after 2019? Han Solo’s death lends some emotional investment and turmoil to the third act. I’ve heard one fellow blogger even comment that it is when The Force Awakens really steps it up a notch. What can I tell you? I could have gone with a different third act threat than the Starkiller Base and I still feel Rey should’ve been desperately fighting a losing battle to hold Ren off before being saved by the planet’s surface splitting apart. Plus there must be some significance in General Leia walking past Chewbacca to Rey (whom she has never met?) to offer comfort after Han has died. As for the ending you have got to wonder why Mark Hamill was at that table read. Actually you don’t, he was at that table read to let you know Luke Skywalker was back. Personally I’ve always had problems with unanswered questions being left as sequel baits for originals that couldn’t tell a good story by themselves. Prometheus (which I liked) left too much hanging for a follow up and the makers of Terminator Genieshit keep saying their film is good because all of the plot inconsistencies are explained in sequels I pray we never get. Here it works. They’ve still told a complete story and while we don’t know everything about Rey or Finn we know that we like them, we know we care about them and we know we want to see them again and not just because it will answer our questions.

trailer the force awakens star wars bb8John Williams score seems well received but no theme seems to have caught people’s imagination like say Duel of the Fates did in The Phantom Menace. It seems to be growing on me though. The production values are top notch throughout, they’ve taken the time and expense to shoot on real locations and even CGI effects echo the look of the model work from the previous films. The Falcon now freed from the limitations of those models seems to bounce around on the ground and crash too much for my liking but again minor quibbles. As a side note how many shoot-outs has Han and Chewie been in? He’s never noticed before how powerful Chewie’s crossbow is and why does he think he can keep taking it off him. Doesn’t Chewie need it?

J.J. Abrams is a story teller noted for great set-ups of premises and reinvigorating old franchises anew. It felt like he stepped away from Alias and Lost long before they finished and he only produced Mission Impossible IV, Super 8 arguably his best film still feels like the third act is weaker than the rest of the story and he famously jumped from Star Trek to do this. With that in mind he is maybe as a Star Wars fan boy the perfect director to have made this movie and also at the same time it is a good thing he won’t be the only one responsible for tying up loose ends in the sequel. If there is one common point about this film it is that it echoes too heavily certain plot elements from the original trilogy (although let it be known that The Phantom Menace saw the death of a mentor character in the third act, a young poor child without a parent discovered on a desert planet and taken away for a greater destiny and the destruction of a large space station) then as a return to the series after an absence we will forgive this since we have such wildly likeable new characters and good humour. Fans will not be so forgiving next time. If some of the answers to these questions land with a thud in the next film both it and The Force Awakens will suffer as a result. the force awakens star wars trailer star wars the force awakensFor now though, there was a scene where X-Wings came flying in over a river seen first off in the distance as Stormtroopers radioed each other to get into position. Williams made trumpets blare, Oscar Isaac smiled; some pilot said excitedly “We got your back Poe.” And I wanted to fist pump the air. It was the fourth time I’d seen it. The biggest compliment you can give The Force Awakens is…it makes you excited about seeing Episode VIII next year and it can’t come soon enough. May the Force be with you Rian Johnson. Star Wars is back!!!

-Lloyd Marken

P.S. If anybody would like to offer their opinion or thoughts, please feel free to comment below.