Black Panther


King T’Challa surveys the kingdom of Wakanda that the world sees.

(2018) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, David S. Lee, Nayibah Be, Isaach De Bankolé, Connie Chiume, Dorothy Steele, Danny Sapani, Sydelle Noel. Directed by Ryan Coogler

 

It is not accidental that Black Panther was released during Black History Month. It is a movie that has gone on to make history and brought huge crossover appeal to the segment of African-American audiences who aren’t necessarily going out to see superhero movies – although obviously a large chunk of them are. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is Shaft in spandex though – this is a superhero movie that is going to set the bar for superhero films that follow it.

T’Challa (Boseman), King of the African nation of Wakanda, also carries the mantle of the Black Panther, the protector of his country who is mystically endowed with superpowers. He inherits a country that is technologically advanced but has chosen to hide its true nature so that they don’t become targets. Their isolationism is a sticking point with Erik Killmonger (Jordan), nephew of the recently deceased King, who was raised in America after the murder of his father. He sees things from a much more global point of view and thinks Wakanda should be sharing their technology – particularly their weapons – to help oppressed people of color to rise up and throw off the yoke of colonialism.

There’s a lot more to the film than that but this is a short review. Sure, it’s got the eye candy and jaw-dropping action sequences we come to expect in a superhero film – and they are well done here, make no mistake about it – but also, they are not the be-all and end-all of Black Panther. Rather, they are a jumping off point to discuss more weighty matters – racial relations, colonialism, turning a blind eye to suffering, sexism – things not normally a part of the superhero film equation. It should also be mentioned that the Dora Milaje – the King’s army – are all women and  are the most badass fighting force to turn up in a superhero film ever, even more so than the Amazons of Wonder Woman.

It should also be mentioned that this might be the most talented ensemble ever in a superhero film. The crème de la crème of African-American actors do their thing on this film and none of them turn in anything less than their best. Gurira from The Walking Dead brings the badassery of Michonne and bringing onto the big screen and giving it an African twist. Nyong’o plays a spy and the ex of T’Challa and she plays a fine love interest. Whitaker lends gravitas to his role as T’Challa’s mentor. Best of all though is Wright as the king’s kid sister – a scientific genius responsible for many of the gadgets used in the film. She steals nearly every scene she’s in.

All in all, this is a movie that lives up to the hype and re-confirms that the superhero genre is not just for fanboys but for fans of all sorts. Just for the record, Black Panther isn’t a great superhero film because it has an African-American hero – it would be a great superhero film no matter who the lead was. Come to think of it, Black Panther isn’t just a great superhero film – it’s a great film period.

REASONS TO GO: This is a benchmark for all superhero films. Jordan and Boseman are both terrific in their roles. Coogler hits the director’s A list with his big and bold vision.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the CGI doesn’t quite work.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence, superhero and otherwise, as well as a rude gesture.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jordan has appeared in all three of the feature films directed by Coogler to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Lear
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Workshop

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New Releases for the Week of February 16, 2018


BLACK PANTHER

(Disney/Marvel) Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis. Directed by Ryan Coogler

After the assassination of the King of the high-tech but isolationist African nation of Wakanda, his son T’Challa is set to inherit not only the throne but the mantle of the Black Panther, a super-powered protector of Wakanda. However enemies from both within and without want to see him lose both crown and claw. At stake is nothing less but the fate of the world.

See the trailer, a clip, an interview and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, XD
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture)

Aiyaary

(Yash Raj) Anupam Kher, Sidharth Malhotra, Naseeruddin Shah, Rakul Preet Singh. Two police officers, close friends and in a mentor/protégé relationship, have a falling out. One has complete faith in the judicial and civic system of India; the other has lost that faith following a stint doing surveillance.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Detective Chinatown 2

(Warner Brothers/Wanda) Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran, Michael Pitt, Rachel McPhee.  The investigation of the missing son of a Chinatown godfather turns into a murder investigation that threatens the peace in New York. Two bumbling detectives who have had some inexplicable success are put on the case.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for brief language)

Early Man

(Summit/Aardman) Starring the voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall. It is the dawn of the Bronze Age and the Stone Age cavemen are certainly going to go the way of the Cro-Magnon. Still, a group of hunter-gatherers – who have had a spectacular lack of success on anything bigger than a rabbit – are determined to fight back against their more advanced cousins. It is the ultimate showdown of city versus country.

See the trailer and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor and some action} 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

(Sony Classics) Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame was in the twilight of her career when she took up a relationship with Peter Turner, a young Brit twenty years her junior. Not long afterwards she would also be fighting for her life against a particularly devastating strain of cancer.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief nudity)

Samson

(Pure Flix) Taylor James, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Rutger Hauer. The story of the legendary Hebrew strongman is told in greater detail here than the 1949 Victor Mature version.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and battle sequences)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Awe!
The Music of Silence

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
Awe!
Double Lover
The Female Brain
First We Take Brooklyn
Have a Nice Day
Honor Up
Manasuku Nachindi
Monkey King 3
Monster Hunt 2
Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Awe!
Golden Exits
Idhi Naa Love Story
Manasuku Nachindi
Monster Hunt 2
Naachiyaar

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Awe!
Manasuku Nachindi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Black Panther
Early Man
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


In any Star Wars film sparks will fly and stuff will burn.

(2017) Science Fiction (Disney) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz, Benicio Del Toro, Justin Theroux, Billie Lourd, Joonas Suotomo, Amanda Lawrence, Jimmy Vee, Veronica Ngo. Directed by Rian Johnson

In the annals of all things cinematic, no film franchise has ever elicited as much anticipation as the Star Wars franchise has with every film that’s come out since the first one. Say what you want about their fandom, they are among the most loyal of any fanbase for just about anything anywhere; many of its fans go back to the first 1977 film forty years before the latest one came out.

And there are no signs of the franchise slowing down anytime soon. Not only is there a standalone Han Solo film coming out this summer, but earlier this year it was announced that another trilogy has been approved by Disney (to nobody’s surprise) after the current trilogy concludes next year. Rian Johnson, director of this episode, will be overseeing it although whether that means he will be directing all three of the films, writing them or acting more like a kind of Yoda for the filmmakers who will be involved with the fourth trilogy remains to be seen.

While this is the longest of the films to date, for the most part it doesn’t seem that way thanks to incredible special effects which have become and remained the norm for the series. Like The Force Awakens there seems like a lot of story lines that were cobbled from other films in the series (a last stand on an ice planet? C’mon, guys) and elsewhere. On top of that there are all sorts of threads going on here and while they seem to reach a conclusion, it still feels like we’re slogging through story more than we should be.

But there is a whole lot to like about the movie as well. One of the main things is Mark Hamill. He has delivered one of his best performances ever and certainly his best Luke Skywalker ever. I worried early on that he would be curmudgeonly “get off my lawn” Luke for the whole movie but thankfully he shows some growth, particularly in the final act. The film ends on a grace note that is as magical a moment as you’ll find in the entire series.

There are other fine performances and storylines here but Ridley as Rey was not as compelling as she was previously. Boyega also seems to be written as kind of a one-note character. Laura Dern is a welcome addition to the Star Wars Universe, giving a performance that matches some of the veteran cast members note for note. Oscar Isaac seems to be developing into a very interesting character and the storyline with Rose (Tran) was one of the best in the film. However, I think the movie will be long-remembered for being Carrie Fisher’s last appearance as Princess Lea (Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has stated that Fisher won’t be appearing in any form in that movie).

On the other hand, there’s Snoke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order who is played via motion capture by the great Andy Serkis. When you have maybe the best motion capture performer of all time to utilize it seems a bloody shame to use so little of him. He is almost casually dispatched early in the movie which may end up being a tactical error or not. The Emperor surrogate role now falls to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren who may not be wholly evil after all as Anakin Skywalker was. But can anyone be both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine at once? That remains to be seen.

This is superior entertainment and helped 2017 end on a record-breaking note. While many fans sniped over some of the story points (even Hamill reportedly wasn’t happy about the direction his charcter was taking) there’s no doubt that the franchise is as healthy as it ever was. Most people reading this have likely already seen the film multiple times in the theaters and await with varying degrees of eagerness for it to become available for their home collections. Well, so is this critic.

REASONS TO GO: As always, the special effects are as breathtaking as any in the movies. The action sequences are also top of the line. Hamill delivers his best performance of the series.
REASONS TO STAY: The buildup for Snoke led to somewhat of a letdown. The story is unnecessarily convoluted and once again feels like it was borrowed from other episodes..
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect from a film of this franchise there is all sorts of action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to playing Luke Skywalker, Hamill also played a CGI character who can be seen putting money into BB-8 during the casino scene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Scorched Earth

War for the Planet of the Apes


Caesar can be a little grumpy sometimes.

(2017) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Alessandro Juliani, Max Lloyd-Jones, Timothy Webber, Lauro Chartrand, Shaun Omaid, Roger Cross, Mercedes de la Zerda. Directed by Matt Reeves

 

This past summer was largely disappointing when it came to quality blockbusters. Sure, there were the usual suspects; loud sci-fi action, crude comedies, big superhero epics and so on. Mostly all of the high expectations for some of these wannabe billion dollar franchises fizzled out of the gate with only a few exceptions.

War for the Planet of the Apes however was one of the best-reviewed films of the entire summer. That rarely translates to big box office bucks – it didn’t recoup its $150 million production budget at the domestic box office and it finished with under $500 million at the worldwide box office, a decent enough number but surely not to the expectations of the suits at Fox.

The movie was curiously light on action despite the title; what it turned out to be was an ape character study of Caesar (Serkis), leader of the intelligent apes and the Colonel (Harrelson), the militaristic dictator of the remnants of humankind. You see the virus that made the apes smart is making humans dumb as rocks. Few thinking, rational human beings remain. The Colonel thinks all of the apes should be wiped off the face of the Earth so that humans can survive; in his mind, Homo sapiens won’t go gently into that good night.

Serkis delivers the best performance of his diverse career. Caesar is extremely conflicted; he wants peace but there is no reasoning with a fanatic. When struck by a personal tragedy, Caesar feels despair and fury but he is still tempered by the basically decent simian that he is. Of course, he’s an inspiring leader of his tribe who look to him as their savior while to the Colonel he’s a different kind of symbol. Zahn provides comic relief (and pathos) as Bad Ape.

There is a subplot involving a mute human child that ties into the ape movies of the 60s and 70s which aficionados of those films will appreciate; I surely did. There aren’t a ton of action sequences but the ones there are Reeves pretty much nails.

The CGI is surprisingly substandard for a film of this importance; there are some sequences in which it is painfully obviously computer-generated. Good CGI is seamless and fits into “reality” like a glove. That doesn’t happen here and it takes the viewer right out of the film from time to time.

I wasn’t among the critics singing the praises of this film. To my eye, it isn’t as good as the first two films in the series. I’m not sure the studio initially had faith in it either as  the movie could easily end the franchise right here; however with a fourth film already approved by Fox and a strong overseas box office chances are the franchise will continue, hopefully with films better than this one. However it is still a better than average summer movie and despite its flaws one of the best to come out this past summer which isn’t saying much.

REASONS TO GO: Serkis does some of his best work ever here. The Nova subplot is truly captivating.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is sadly uneven and isn’t up to the high standards of the franchise. Some of the CGI looked too much like CGI.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few disturbing images, plenty of sci-fi violence and battle scenes as well as adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Serkis in interviews promoting the film indicated that this won’t be the conclusion of the series which may come in the fourth or fifth film of the series; in fact, Fox has already greenlit a fourth film in the franchise.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/16/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starship Troopers
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Mother, I Love You

New Releases for the Week of December 15, 2017


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis.  Directed by Rian Johnson

Rey, having utilized some of her nascent Jedi powers, has found Luke Skywalker but he is unwilling to teach any more disciples the secrets of the Force. At last, begrudgingly, he is convinced but the more Rey discovers about the Force the more she discovers about her mysterious past.

See the trailer and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D, RPX, D-Box, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of sci-fi action and violence)

Ferdinand

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson. A big-hearted bull is mistaken for a wild beast and brought to the arena to be a fighting bull. Knowing that he won’t come out of the arena alive, he attempts an escape to get back home where he belongs along with his misfit friends.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard 
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor, action and some thematic elements)

Wonder Wheel

(Focus) Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justine Timberlake. Four lives intersect in the Coney Island of the 1950s; an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam joint; her rough and tumble carousel operator husband; a lifeguard with dreams of becoming a playwright and the estranged daughter of the waitress and her husband who is hiding out from gangsters in her father’s apartment.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Love Ni Bhavi
The Tribes of Palos Verdes

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Dealt
Love Ni Bhavi
Oro
The Shape of Water
The Tribes of Palos Verdes
Youth

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hedgehogs
Love Ni Bhavi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Unrest

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ferdinand
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Unrest

New Releases for the Week of July 14, 2017


WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

(20th Century Fox) Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Gabriel Chavarria, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller. Directed by Matt Reeves

There can be no peace between apes and humans as Caesar, the aging leader of the Apes, goes head to head with a Colonel who sees the war as no less than a war for human survival. With Caesar seeing this as an opportunity to avenge his people and the Colonel hell-bent on wiping out the Apes if the human race is to survive, this will be an epic all-out conflict for dominance.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence and action, thematic elements and some disturbing images)

Jagga Jasoos

(UTV) Katrina Kaif, Sanjay Dutt, Ranbir Kapoor, Sayani Gupta. A teen boy, aided by a girl he’s sweet on, decides to go out and find his missing father himself when the police prove inadequate. This was distributed in India by Disney.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

The Little Hours

(Gunpowder & Sky) Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza. A servant in the middle ages, fleeing from his vindictive master, hides in a convent of emotionally unstable nuns. This is loosely based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century novel The Decameron.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for graphic nudity, sexual content and language)

Maudie

(Sony Classics) Ethan Hawke, Sally Hawkins, Kari Matchett, Zachary Bennett. A woman with crippled hands wants to be independent of her overprotective family and yet yearns to create art of her own. She answers an ad for a housekeeper for a reclusive fishmonger and the two end up falling into an unlikely but passionate romantic relationship. This inspires her to create and as she becomes a renowned folk artist, it brings the two of them closer in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic content and brief sexuality)

Wish Upon

(Broad Green) Joey King, Ryan Philippe, Elizabeth Röhm, Sherilyn Fenn. A gift of a strange music box with a cryptic inscription to a bullied high school girl leads her to discover that the box can make any wish she imagines come true. Soon she has it all – wealthy, popularity, the boy she has a huge crush on. However there is a price to be paid for such gifts and she must soon find a way to rid herself of the box before everything she loves is taken away from her.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language)

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Falsettos
Shamantakamani

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:
Blind
The Confessions
Falsettos
Lost in Paris
Pop Aye
Shamantakamani

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Blind
Falsettos
The Journey
Swallows and Amazons
Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

All Men are the Same
Falsettos
The Magicians
Shamantakamani
Wakefield

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Home at last!

Home at last!

(2015) Science Fiction (Disney) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Pip Torrens, Greg Grunberg, Kiran Shah, Andrew Jack, Warwick Davis, Sasha Frost. Directed by JJ Abrams

So, no joke, this is the cinematic event of the year – and one of the biggest event movies ever. Certainly it’s box office explosion, mowing down box office records like so many innocent civilians at the hands of Stormtroopers, gives credence to that. People weren’t just excited to see it – they were absolutely insane to see it. Many have gone back and seen it three or four or more times since it opened. But is it worth all the hype?

As the iconic opening crawl informs us, thirty years has passed since the Empire has fallen and the Republic was re-established. From the ashes of the Empire has risen the First Order, run by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) who appears via hologram as kind of a gigantic mummified cross between Abe Lincoln and C3PO (Daniels). Who appears later on in the film. C3PO, not Abe Lincoln.

I digress. Everyone is looking for Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last Jedi Knight who has disappeared after some sort of catastrophe involving training new Jedi Knights that went horribly wrong. The First Order wants to stop him from doing what the Resistance (tacitly supported by the Republic) want him to do – to lead them to victory against the First Order. To that end, they have sent cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the desert world Jakku to retrieve a map which leads to Skywalker. However, the First Order led by their Sith-like leader Kylo Ren (Driver) show up and Dameron is forced to give the chip containing the map to his trusty droid BB8 (kind of like a Beach Ball with the top of a droid on it – perhaps that’s what BB stands for) and sends him rolling off to the nearest settlement. He’s captured and interrogated but eventually rescued by Fin (Boyega), a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience.

BB8 discovers Rey (Ridley), a metal scavenger who has been on her own since her parents left her on Jakku to fend for herself. In the meantime, Fin and Dameron get separated and Fin finds Rey and BB8 but with the Emp…er, First Order hot on their heels, they escape in what turns out to be a familiar spaceship.

Once away they run into familiar faces and new ones, and discover that an all-new and improved solar-powered Death Star is getting ready to do its worst. The new Resistance heroes must go to this new weapon and destroy it, but that is no easy task, even with the old Rebellion heroes on their side.

After the prequel trilogy left the Star Wars fandom and moviegoers in general underwhelmed, I can safely say that this had a pretty high bar to meet, but it has done so in spades. Frankly put, this is one of the best movies of the year and I never thought I’d say that about a Star Wars film. As you’d expect, the special effects are marvelous and mostly achieved through practical means. However, there’s more to the film than that.

Let’s talk about the story a little bit. Some have complained that there are too many similar elements to the very first film, which is now titled Episode IV: A New Hope in canon. That’s a pretty fair complaint and it is occasionally distracting, but the storylines aren’t terribly identical. I do wish they’d used something other than a desert planet to open the movie with although I suspect that the universe has more desert planets than those with greenery. But one can have a fairly barren terrain without having the same sand dunes that characterized Tatooine. However, the important thing is that the story has retained that epic quality that characterized the first trilogy (not the prequels so much).

That said, the acting here is marvelous. Ford in particular brings Han Solo back to life, giving him the same gruff, roguish qualities in the first trilogy but tempering it with melancholy – there have been events in his life since the fall of the Empire that have been bitter and some even tragic. Not all of those are gone into with much detail, but let’s just say that as a father and a husband he makes a good smuggler.

Ridley and Boyega, who share the heroic role, both show a good deal of screen charisma and promise as the new kids on the block. They both realize they don’t have to carry the film, but something tells me either one or both could if they had to. Boyega, particularly, has an incredible amount of potential, not just here but in all of the films he’s been in. His character is the most interesting one of the new ones, although Kylo Ren has some definite Daddy issues that no doubt are going to develop into something else.

The movie moves along at breakneck speed; even the pauses are well-placed and well-paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels long. Considering all the expectations that were heaped on this property that Disney paid $4 billion for, it’s good to see that for once not only were those expectations met but exceeded. Looks like Disney has gotten an excellent return on their investment.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular! Recaptures everything about the first trilogy that made it great. Will appeal to kids and adults as well. Surprisingly good performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Story a little too much like the very first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sci-fi violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abrams preferred to use actual locations and practical effects over green screen and CGI in order to be more aesthetically similar to the first trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Hitchcock/Truffaut