David O. Russell wrote (or rather, rewrote) Joy (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD) for Jennifer Lawrence, who he directed to an Academy Award in Silver Linings Playbook(2012) and an Oscar nomination in American Hustle. Lawrence score another nomination for Joy, based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the divorced single mother turned entrepreneur who invented the Miracle Mop, the first of more than 100 patents in her name. It’s an inspiring true life story and a great showcase for Lawrence, who evolves from overwhelmed mother and unappreciated foundation holding up a dysfunctional extended family to ferocious businesswoman and beloved on-air pitchwoman on the shopping network QVC to self-made mogul over the course of the film.
Also reuniting with Russell and Lawrence are Robert De Niro, who plays Joy’s blue collar father, and Bradley Cooper in a smaller role as a QVC executive with sparkling blues eyes suggests romance even as the script makes him strictly a mentor. This businessman is one of the few allies in Joy’s life. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) dropped out after being abandoned by husband De Niro to lay in bed all day watching soap operas (the same show seems to play 24-7) and her dad moves back into the family basement, where Joy’s ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) is also camping out between gigs as an underemployed singer. They demand more attention than Joy’s own school-age children, and she juggles it all with a full-time job at an airline counter. When she comes up with the design for the Miracle Mop, which she engineers herself and has produced on a small scale, every step is beset with obstacles, from bad advice to crooked manufacturers to a disinterested QVC pitchman, which sends Joy in front of the camera to sell it herself: the working class everywoman selling the American Dream directly into homes across the country.
Woody Allen’s Café Society makes its North American premiere as the opening night film of the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday, May 19—a mere eight days after making its world premiere as the Cannes opening night.
24 days later, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker takes the closing night gala spot at Cinerama on Sunday, June 12.
In between, 268 features (including 75 documentaries) and 153 short films from 85 countries will screen across 12 venues in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland, and Shoreline.
That’s about the size of it at SIFF 2016, still the biggest and the longest film festival in the United States.
My films tell a little bit of the history of Italy.
More than a decade before the French New Wave, a generation of Italian film critics and cinephiles challenged the high gloss and low ambitions of the Italian film industry under Mussolini with a wave of films that addressed social and political life during and after World War II, movies shot in the streets with a rough immediacy dictated as much by threadbare production resources as by stylistic choice.
Carlo Lizzani was not simply shaped by Italian neorealism. He helped create it. As a film critic and an active leftist, he wrote manifestos promoting neorealism and wrote a respected history of Italian cinema in 1952. He co-wrote and assisted on the productions of Roberto Rossellini‘s Germany Year Zero (1948), Giuseppe De Santis’ Bitter Rice (1949), which earned him an Academy Award nomination and Alberto Lattuada‘s The Mill on the Po(1949). He made documentaries before making his feature directing debut with the resistance drama Attention! Bandits! (1951), a film he got made by organizing the workers of Genoa into a filmmaking cooperative, and he returned to documentaries at the end of his career, making films about the great Italian directors he knew and admired: Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Giuseppe De Santis. His love of cinema and his passion for politics and history came together in his 1996 feature Celluloid, which dramatizes the making of the pioneering neorealist masterpiece Rome Open City.
Between these poles, Lizzano had a thriving career making genre films—westerns, crime thrillers, war dramas—in the 1960s and 1970s. It was more than simply a matter of necessity. He loved genre pictures. They were also a superb vehicle for smuggling political commentary into popular cinema. It was a good fit for a filmmaker with an affinity for rebels and outlaws.
‘Tis the season, apparently, for new issues of film journals, which are arriving at a fast clip. The new issue of Alphaville, focused on women and media in the twenty-first century, Gina Marchetti considers the portrait of Hong Kong prostitution in a pair of collaborations between director Herman Yau and writer Elsa Chan (“Chan and Yau, in fact, gravitate toward the salacious with an eye toward social change and political critique”); Fiona Handyside finds unacknowledged trilogies on the themes of girls coming of age in the first three films apiece by Sofia Coppola and Mia Hansen-Løve (“Coppola and Hansen-Løve’s respective decisions to envisage their explorations of girls growing up as trilogies enable the films to take their time exploring the subtleties of girlhood, as the directors have the luxury of cinematic duration”); and Amy Heckerling’s two most recent, neglected films get sympathetic readings from Frances Smith (“Both I Could Never Be Your Woman and Vamps retain a playful ambivalence towards the two primary attitudes to the ageing process, namely acceptance and manipulation”). Among other highlights in the issue, Fiona Clancy analyses Sylvia Martel’s use of sound and image to portray a “crisis [that] is less one of biological motherhood than of its spirit—of motherliness”) and Beti Ellerson reports on the various options African women have before them to make themselves presences on screens that have heretofore failed to represent them (“the digital age is indeed a turning point for African women working in film and screen media”).
The new Offscreen is devoted to Theo Angelopoulos, with fittingly long articles analyzing the director’s tracking shots as moral choices from Elie Castiel (“The Angelopoulosian long take, then, encompasses the idea of integration, logical assembly of many visual and narrative elements in a single shot; a unity of thought. Is this choice not ideological?”) and as time machines opening up history for Olivier Bélanger (“The long take allows him to extract “pure time” from his film, and to return the past to the present”). Alain Chouinard considers howUlysses’ Gaze avoids the pitfalls of stereotypical attitudes usually imposed upon its Balkan subjects (“the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity”); Donato Totaro has more measured praise for Angelopoulos while considering The Suspended Step of the Stork (“In any case, Angelopolous belongs to a once rare breed of film stylists that has grown considerably over the last thirty or so years: directors whose pacing and sense of movement is appreciably slower than most (and in some cases, slower than life as we feel it)”); and Betty Kaklamanidou dusts off an interview conducted with Willem Dafoe after working with Angelopoulos on The Dust of Time (“I love this thing about the little story next to the big story. When I watch his movies I experience things in a profound way. People walking through mud, people in the most simple chaste embrace, people running for a train, things like that… boats coming to you very slowly. You experience those in a way that you take it on personally because you get in the context and you identify with how these people are dealing with the big history and how they’re influenced by it. And that’s exhilarating to me. It philosophically engages me in a kind of dialogue about how strange and beautiful life is.”)
Finally, desistfilm’s latest contains Victor Bruno on Demme’sThe Silence of the Lambs, which he finds masterpiece enough to justify an uneven career (“But The Silence of the Lambs has something that neither Stop Making Sense, or Citizens Band, nor Married to the Mob nor any of his previous films had: the first is a very cohesive narrative development, something that will explode on the disturbing last act of the film and will justify the nerve-wrecking sequence of Buffalo Bill’s death. The second thing—and this is way more important—that none other of his previous films has is the touch of Grace”); Lauren Bliss on the restoration of propaganda cinema by Indonesian film co-operative Spider Lab (“In this way perspective is returned to the people who should possess it”); and Luke Scerri on the powerful use of one track, “Fake Ophelia,” from Barbieri’s soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris (“Perhaps one can’t deny that it still sounds like some evening in some dimly lit city, and therein lies the expected romantic atmosphere, which is then so powerfully and aggressively tackled by Bertolucci’s take on the themes of sexuality and human expression”).
“As a marriage reconstruction drama, Phoenix is stingingly ironic: we hope that Nelly and Johnny can truthfully reconnect with each other only so that she can ultimately punish him.” Michael Koresky looks at how Christian Petzold’s unique use of melodrama—and literally his use of song, namely the Weill/Nash “Speak Low” that becomes a refrain—grounds what should be a ridiculous story.
“Private Property’s ability to shock has come and gone; there’s no gore, zero nudity, and no profanity either. (At one point Duke exclaims “What the flop?” in one of the more hilarious f-word euphemisms I’ve encountered.) But the slow, simmering dread remains.” Farran Smith Nehme looks back at Leslie Stevens’s 1960 thriller Private Property, once thought lost, recently rediscovered in all its sweaty, hypersexualized glory.
“The overused term DIY doesn’t capture the eccentric craftsmanship of a filmmaker who starts from the most basic features of cinematic material: film stock, perforations, light. Everything else, even the frame, can be treated as an add-on. These films are hand-made with a vengeance.” David Bordwell offers an introduction of sorts to the experimental filmmaker Paolo Gioli, whose barrage of imagery embraces everything the most primitive means of exposing film to light and some cutting-edge theories on eyesight and color perception.
“We played chess now and then. He’d slaughter me. Some people were scared of him because he could make or break a career. Not Jack [Nicholson], though. Jack called him Stan to wind him up. You could call him Stanley, Mr Kubrick or Guv, just not Stan. But they liked each other.” Bob Tanswell, an electrician on the set of The Shining, offers this week’s perspective on working with Stanley Kubrick—obsessive, eccentric, but “a fair guvnor”—to Candice Pires.
“The clock ticking, I flew to Hong Kong in August 2014 to start interviewing him. I had failed to reckon with one thing: Wong is the Usain Bolt of delay. His films are notorious for their seemingly endless shooting schedules and their constantly postponed release dates. Wong himself freely admits that he finds it hard to get cracking on a project until he feels under the gun. Only then can he truly concentrate; only then will his best self emerge. Until that point, well . . . “ If you’ve ever wondered in your idle moments what it would be like to collaborate with Wong Kar-wai, wonder no more; John Powers, who co-wrote a book on the director’s life, tells the tale, from the innumerable procrastinations to the final, generous devotion of time and self. Plus, what the director really thinks of Quentin Tarantino’s real-life monologuing.
“‘There’s this phrase, she can really handle a close-up,’ Gerwig says when we talk about the physicality of her work as an actor. She’s frequently seen dancing, running, or pacing in films, with a loose flexibility that belies the precision of her movements; her physical comedy owes more to Pina Bausch than it does Lucille Ball. ‘I feel like for me, it’s she can really handle a wide. I get scared when the camera is too close, not out of vanity, but out of feeling like I don’t have’—she gestures downwards—‘my whole tool kit.’” Haley Mlotek talks with Greta Gerwig, one of the best current examples of the invaluable sense of physical control dance training can give an actor. Via David Hudson.
“Dazed and Confused was about the rebellion against oppressive forces in your life as a teenager, when you’re a high school student: the institution of school, of family. Then you cut loose from that, and you’re voluntarily in college. And then if you want to get a job, you quit. You don’t have to do it. I remember being exhilarated by that freedom, but also anxious too, because every decision you make, everything you do, every class you take…you’re making these choices that might affect who you become or who you are. Maybe you don’t know who you are yet. It’s a transitional time of self-exploration and self-discovery and it seemed very poignant. It never ends, by the way.” Richard Linklater discusses the overlaps and distances between Daze and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, and the importance of Megan Ellison picking up a level of filmmaking the studios have abandoned, with Adam Nayman. Via Criterion.
“[Altman] said ‘Give me a logo that we can use for the movie, the ads, and everything else.’ I studied graphic design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. It was very sophisticated international design that I learned, so I just thought I’d design all these really elegant, handsome, beautiful type treatments to use. They were all really nice, but when Bob looked at them he hated them all. He said, ‘These pieces are all wrong! You should just go to Nashville to see what a junk hole it is. Everyone’s just fighting and backstabbing to get ahead in the music business!’ And I said, ‘Well, just let me see the movie!’” Art of the Title’s Will Perkins talks with title designer Dan Perri and illustrator J. William Myers about the faux-commercial opening credits to Nashville, and clears up the little mystery of why the Paramount logo used in the film is so worn and distressed.
Canadian-born actress Madeleine Sherwood made her name on Broadway, where she appeared in 18 original productions, including Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. She made her film debut in Baby Doll (1956), reprised the roles she created on Broadway in the screen versions of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), and appeared in Hurry Sundown (1967), The Changeling (1980), and Teachers (1984). But to most American audiences, she’s best known as the Mother Superior in the sixties sitcom The Flying Nun. She passed away at age 93. Sam Roberts for The New York Times.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.
SIFF announces the line-up for SIFF 2016 on May 3. SIFF members can buy advance tickets beginning May 4, non-members on May 5.
The Chantal Akerman retrospective continues at NWFF with the West Coast premieres of the documentary Chantal Akerman, From Here (2012), featuring a length interview with the director, and Akerman’s final film Down There (2016), plus her 1993 film From the East. Dates and showtimes here.
Max et les Ferrailleurs (1970), directed by Claude Sautet and starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, plays on Thursday, May 5 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.
Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter are the adult children of high-ranking Nazi officers. As we learn in My Nazi Legacy, their fathers sent tens of thousands of people to their deaths, and Niklas and Horst spent decades dealing with the legacy of that birthright, though not in the same way. While both men speak out against the Nazi atrocities, Niklas holds his father responsible for his complicity while Horst insists that the “good character” of his loving father fought against the Nazi machine, all evidence to the contrary. He’s not a Holocaust denier, mind you. He merely denies his father’s part in the Third Reich’s heinous crimes.
The intersection of the personal and political gets complicated when faced with the crimes of a loved one, a colleague, even a culture. Evidence can be overcome by emotion. How can a doting father be responsible for barbarous crimes? How can a government have lied to those who followed its every command? Is it possible for true believers to acknowledge the crimes they committed in the name of a corrupt ideal, or simply to survive a brutal culture? Here are a few documentaries and feature films that explore how some people come to terms with such actions — their own and others — while others simply cannot or do not.
The Holocaust and the Legacy of Nazism
Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988): Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie was branded the “Butcher of Lyon” for the atrocities committed under his command, yet he escaped prosecution and lived free for almost three decades in Bolivia before he was extradited to France to stand trial for war crimes. Filmmaker Marcel Ophuls’ profile of the man and his crimes reveals a culture uneasy about dredging up the past and people trying to hide their complicity in shielding one of the most notorious war criminals of the 20th Century. Their justification? He was such a warm, likable man. How could he be guilty?
Son of Saul (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) drops the viewer into the horror of the Holocaust with its first images. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Sonderkommando, chosen from the prisoners of a concentration camp to work in the gas chambers, and we are plunged into his crushing routine: moving the prisoners through the dressing rooms, sifting and sorting the belongings after they are locked in the gas chamber, then dragging the bodies out and clearing way for the next group. Serving as a Sonderkommando didn’t save the men from death, it only postponed it, and Saul knows he hasn’t long.
But Son of Saul doesn’t linger on the horror. Rather Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes shoots it entirely in close-up, with a handheld camera uncomfortably close and constantly in motion as it follows Saul through the grind of his routine. We remain locked on Saul throughout the film. Nemes shoots in a squarish format, similar to the pre-widescreen era of movies, with a short lens that keeps only Saul’s face and his immediate orbit in focus. Everything else is blurred and indistinct if not completely out of frame, suggested more than seen. It’s not just to keep us from seeing it clearly, but it suggests his own state of mind: detached out necessity, numb and exhausted, going through the motions of living, focused only on the activity.
The new issue of Comparative Cinema explores the engagement of cinematic auteurs with television, wondering whether the results work as cinema, TV, or some new beast. A selection of historical documents and interview excerpts sets the scene, with figures such as Rossellini plugging for the pedagogical advantages of the younger medium, Chris Marker tracing the spiritual origins of television back to Medvedkin (“shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed”), Fassbinder admitting that Berlin Alexanderplatz would have been completely different as a movie, where its audience would be more primed for a challenge, and Peter Watkins complaining the medium’s industrial structure automatically forecloses any dissenting voice.
Past the historical material, Jordi Balló and Xavier Pérez run through ten key artists who tackled serial television production in their varied ways (“The hidden objective is to use the small screen as a platform to radicalize one of the central strategies of Hitchcockian art: the control of the audience”); Surveying the television work of Renoir, Pialat, Lynch, and Welles, Fran Benavente and Glòria Salvadó argue for a serialized utopia that was never realized, where the “filmmaker as a television author sees a possible experimentation space and rehearses a way of adapting his writing on the basis of the specific strengths of the medium”; Carolina Sourdis looks at Godard and Miéville’s Sonimage TV productions, finding in them Godard’s use of the medium as a “vehicle and a base to question aspects of cinema from its margins: of cinema transformed into the audiovisual”; and the unique pop energy of Spanish director Iván Zulueta—perfectly suited to television, exported to cinema when his series were cancelled—are explored by Miguel Fernández Labayen (“Zulueta used television in his films during the 70’s in two main ways: as a social and aesthetic escape mechanism, but also as an object capable of abducting the mind and the boy [sic] of anyone watching in front of the screen”). Then much of the preceding theorizing gets scuttled by the optimistic pragmatism of Lodge Kerrigan, interviewed by Gerard Casau and Manuel Garin on making the transition from film to television directing (“And I think the trick is: can you structure something that works in the thirty-minute or the hour but then can also point to one continuous piece? So I think of it just more like another dimension to the problem or to the puzzle. If you can solve that, which is slightly more complicated than just writing a feature, or just writing a TV show, if you can actually solve that so it can play as an episode but also play all together, then I think it’s completely free”).
NFFTY 2016 marks the 10th anniversary for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. It launches on Thursday, April 28 with an event at the Cinerama, which is already sold out, but the festival continues with screenings and events at SIFF Uptown through Sunday, May 1. Complete schedule his here.
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) screens on Tuesday, April 26 at NWFF to mark the 17th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre and the 9th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting with a pre-screening discussion with Professor Frederick P. Rivara, MD.
SIFF Uptown presents encore screenings of four films from the Wim Wenders retrospective—The American Friend (1977), Paris, Texas (1984), Wings of Desire (1988), and Until the End of the World: Director’s Cut (1988)—playing through Wednesday, April 27. Schedule here.
Fathom Events presents On the Waterfront (1954) on the big screen in select theaters across the country for two nights this week: Sunday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 27. You can find participating theaters in your area here.
The Things of Life (1969), directed by Claude Sautet and starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, plays on Thursday, April 28 at SAM’s Plestcheeff Auditorium. It’s the first of five films by Sautet featured in the series. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis.
The Revenant (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K, Digital HD) has been called a revenge movie, which is true enough. Leonardo DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, a real-life 19th century mountain man and guide whose story inspired legends, books, and at least one previous film (Man in the Wilderness with Richard Harris). Left for dead by a particularly mercenary member (Tom Hardy) of the hunting party he guides through the mountain wilds, against all odds he literally rises from his grave to pull himself from certain death and claws his way back to what passes for civilization for revenge against the man who murdered his son and buried him alive. Vengeance makes for a primal motivation but The Revenant is really a tale of survival: the settling of America as an odyssey of mythic dimensions in an untamed wilderness determined to kill all who fail to respect it.
It’s 1823 in the still unexplored (by white men at least) frontier and an expedition of fur trappers are on the run after being attacked by a local Indian tribe searching for a maiden abducted by white explorers. The assault is swift and brutal and filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu sends his camera gliding through it in a rush of fluid long takes, a mix of mesmerized observer and panicked victim. Losing their canoes and most of their supplies in their escape, the few survivors have to hike out through the frozen mountains, where Glass is attacked by a mother grizzly bear protecting her cubs. It’s one of the few digital effects in a film that prides itself on its physical realism but it feels disturbingly authentic thanks to DiCaprio’s intense performance and the naturalism of the CGI bear, clearly based on behavioral observations of wild creatures. It’s like a natural history study let loose in a wilderness drama.
Only Angels Have Wings (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – If you love movies, I mean really love the glory of Hollywood moviemaking and star power and the joys of wondrous stories, then you love Howard Hawks. And if you love Howard Hawks, then you must love Only Angels Have Wings (1939), the quintessential Hawks adventure of male bonding and tough love in a world where there may be no tomorrow. If you haven’t fallen for it yet, it may be that you simply have yet to discover it.
Cary Grant is Geoff Carter, the charismatic, uncompromising leader of a fledgling air mail service in a South American port town, a business run on rickety planes and the nerves of its pilots. They call him Papa. He lives out of a bar, never lays in a supply of anything, and never sends a man on a job he wouldn’t do himself. Jean Arthur is Bonnie, the spunky American showgirl with a “specialty act” who gets a crash course in flyboy philosophy when a pair of pilots (Allyn Joslyn and Noah Beery Jr.) swoop in as she steps off a ship docking for supplies. Her first contact with Geoff creates sparks, the kind you get when a runaway car scrapes the wall of an alley. He’s all arrogance and lust when he sends Beery off on a mail run and moves in on Bonnie with a smile like a fox finding a hole in the henhouse. She’s outraged and appalled. Of course they are meant for each other, which is news to Geoff, who’s only interested in the moment and has no use for romantic commitment.
The 70mm roadshow version of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is back for a limited run at the Cinerama starting Friday, April 15. If you’ve been waiting for the ideal conditions for the full experience, you won’t get much better than this. Showtimes and tickets here.
SIFF’s interactive Cinema Dissection event this weekend presents Dog Day Afternoon with the discussion hosted and moderated by Robert Horton, filling in for the previously announced Sandy Ciofi. The discussion begins at 11am at SIFF Film Center on Saturday, April 16. Details here.
Elvis, Evergreens, and Umbrellas: 50 Years of Seattle on the Big Screen is a three-hour tour of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest on film hosted by location scout Dave Drummond at SIFF Film Center on Sunday, April 17. Details here.
The Seijun Suzuki retrospective continues with screenings of Gate of Flesh (Saturday, April 16) and Fighting Elegy (Sunday, April 17) at Grand Illusion.
ByDesign 2016 film series continues at NWFF through Sunday. Schedule here.
François Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968), starring Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine Doinel, plays on Thursday, April 21 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.
Losing Ground (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD) – If you’ve never heard of American playwright and filmmaker Kathleen Collins, don’t feel bad. At least not for yourself. Collins succumbed to cancer in 1988 at the age of 46 after completing just one feature. The independently-made Losing Ground (1982) was produced before the American Indie film culture established itself with the successes of Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Wayne Wang, the Coen Bros. and others. It played a few screenings but never received any real distribution or a theatrical run and remained unknown outside of scholarly circles for decades. You can feel bad that the film never received the recognition it deserved in Collins’ lifetime but better to celebrate its revival and rediscovery.
Losing Ground is one of the first features directed by an African-American woman. That alone makes it worthy of attention but Collins proves to be an intelligent, insightful, and nuanced filmmaker. She tells the story of Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a professor of philosophy at a New York City college, and her husband Victor (Bill Gunn, director of Ganja & Hess), a painter who is suddenly compelled to reconnect with his art on a more immediate, passionate level. When he decides to move out of the city to get in touch with his muse with a summer sublet of a gorgeous rural home, Sara’s objections mean little. She has no say in the matter, a sign that things are not well in their marriage. So while he searches for his ecstasy (and finds it in a young Latina he finds dancing in the streets), she decides to find hers by acting in a student film.
Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) – Somewhere between Dawson’s Creek and Welcome to the Doll House is this sharp, funny, and surprisingly poignant high school dram-edy (for lack of a better word), which premiered in 1999 and lasted for a single season.
Junior Linda Cardellini (of the Scooby-Doo movies and Mad Men) grounds the series as the former class brain who, in the first episode, is in the midst of a startling identity crisis. Rejecting everything she once took for granted, including her place in the school hierarchy, she gravitates toward the “freaks,” a group of stoners, under-achievers, and minor key rebels, sort of led by rebel without a clue Daniel (James Franco, looking perpetually stoned). Meanwhile her Freshman brother (John Francis Daley) is a Steve Martin-quoting, Dungeons and Dragon-playing, skinny little “geek,” hanging with his friends, pining for a pretty cheerleader, and trying to avoid the mean-spirited pranks and hazing that he seems to be the perpetual butt of.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Walt Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) – J.J. Abrams takes over the reins of the Star Wars franchise with what is technically a sequel (“Chapter VII: The Force Awakens”) but is just as much a course correction, a reboot, and a return to the source. It’s been called a shameless remake of the original Star Wars and refreshing return to the innocence and energy and pulpy fun that first entranced a generation of fans. I lean toward the latter, but even for those who find it rehash, I would point out that The Force Awakens is not aimed at the adult fans who grew up on the original trilogy all those decades ago. I’m one of those who saw the film on its first run and was thrilled by it. I think that Abrams is trying to recreate that experience for a whole new generation eager to be captured by the charge and action and exotic Amazing Stories covers come to life in a fairy tale space fantasy that takes place long ago and a galaxy far, far away…
To that end, this installment (set 30 years after Return of the Jedi) picks up with another scrappy kid from a desert planet who finds a runaway robot with secret plans and escapes from the resurgence of the Republic with a hunk of junk ship that just happens to be the Millennium Falcon, teams up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who are still smuggling and scamming through way through the galaxy well past retirement age, and joins the resistance under the command of Leia (Carrie Fisher). This time, however, the kid with the essence of the force within is a spunky, inventive young woman named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her running buddy is a former Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) who goes AWOL after his first mission, which turns into a pitiless massacre of innocents.