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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Big Short • Concussion

December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (***) PG:13

Many critical blurbs regarding Star Wars: The Force Awakens make a point of stating that it’s the best Star Wars film in 32 years. Any critical good will engendered by the film should not come as a surprise. Especially when one considers the lackluster and ill-advised prequels in the series that have come and gone since the release of Return of the Jedi, the final entry in the original film trilogy. For this reason it isn’t that difficult to see why fans might be apt to get excited about the latest installment in the ongoing Star Wars saga. The good news is that, for the most part, that fan enthusiasm is warranted, albeit with slight reservations. The newest film is a solid entry that definitely has the possibility of becoming an even better film in hindsight should the remaining two films in the trilogy take the series in new and interesting directions. It also earns the distinction of containing the best parting shot of any film in the series, which is no small feat.

By the time this review goes to print, most of you reading this will have already seen the film and formed your own opinion. Still, for those few who haven’t seen it, I promise to be as cryptic as possible with plot details, revealing no spoilers in the process.

Daisy Ridley helps R2D2 in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A basic summation of the plot is that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and a droid named BB-8 is storing a portion of a map to Luke’s whereabouts. The dark side naturally wants to get hold of the missing piece of the map and are dispatched to the desert planet where the young Rey (Daisy Ridley) lives out her life much in the same way the young Luke Skywalker did all those years ago. A defected Stormtrooper by the name of Finn (John Boyega) assists Rey when the imperial forces, now referred to as The First Order, invade the desert planet where Rey lives in their search for the missing droid. The original trilogy’s cast eventually shows up to aid Rey and Finn in their time of need.

If there’s a quibble to be made in regard to the film, and it’s a small one, it would be in the over similarity to the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. The story pretty much matches that earlier film, beat for beat, and the filmmakers even go so far as to insert a cantina sequence akin to the one in the original film, among other things.

The good news is that director J.J. Abrams and company have made an earnest attempt to give the fans what they want and are obviously aware of the complaints lodged against the prequel films. The filmmakers eschew CGI effects in favor of practical effects whenever possible and, as a result, they capture the look and the feel of Star Wars films of yesteryear. It may not be perfect but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a worthy new chapter in a beloved franchise. 
 
The Big Short (***) R

Anchorman, Talladega Nights and The Other Guys. These are a few films directed Adam McKay, a filmmaker usually noted for his long running association with comic actor Will Ferrell. With a resume containing those titles, you wouldn’t expect a biting film about the 2008 financial crisis from the director but McKay has shown that he’s got a few surprise tricks up his sleeve. His latest film The Big Short is bitter, funny and intelligent, qualities I don’t necessarily associate with most of McKay’s artistic output. It’s also one of the best breakdowns of what actually transpired during the financial meltdown as it relates the story in human terms, an approach that I really appreciated. You know you’re in good hands when a film features such stylistic touches as having actress Margot Robbie break down the banking system while lounging in a hot tub.

The Big Short is the kind of film that frequently has the main characters breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. It’s a conceit that works in the film’s favor, establishing a not so serious tone while effectively tackling a very serious subject.

Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short

I suppose that it’s about the only way that one could hope to interest modern audiences in a subject as dicey as the one that serves as the basis for this film.

The film’s script, co-written by the film’s director along with Michael Lewis and Charles Randolph, is based on the nonfiction book from 2010 authored by Lewis. To the writing team’s credit they relate the basic concepts of the financial crisis in layman’s terms anyone can understand. The way that the film explains things is that bankers simply bundled up a batch of bad home loans, sold them off as good investments and made off with a boatload of money before the eventual crash came to pass. The Big Short of the film’s title comes from the bets that bankers made against these risky loans.

Ryan Gosling, who plays Deutsche Banker Jared Vennett, narrates the opening section of the film, speaking directly to the camera. He introduces us to the myriad characters involved in the film’s scenario, the most notable of which is doctor turned investment speculator, Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale, incidentally the only character in the film based on a real person). Burry doesn’t relate well to people but is great at number crunching, a skill that serves him well when he discovers what’s really transpiring. The rest of the film’s cast is filled out by such familiar faces as Brad Pitt and Steve Carrell, to name a few, all exceptionally good.

The Big Short does, at times, bite off a little more than it can chew in some of the later sections of the film. Still, the ending, predictably, packs a wallop, reminding us of the outrage of the aftermath of the meltdown. It’s a tragedy whose ramifications continue to be felt.

Concussion (***) PG-13

In the best interests of this review I think I should preface things and make a full confession. Said confession being that I am in no way, shape or form a football fan. Or a fan of televised sports of any variety, for that matter. I have a litany of moral reasons why this is but I realize that this is no place to get into that. However, the fact that I don’t understand the fascination with this nationwide pastime has no bearing on my feelings for those who do. Live and let live, or as the great southern comedian Brother Dave Gardner said nearly sixty years ago, ‘Everybody to their own kick.’ I just mention this fact in passing because, truth be told, it may have had some bearing on my positive feelings regarding the recent, ‘based on true events’ dramatization, Concussion.

Will Smith takes the wheel here as Nigerian doctor Bennett Omalu. The kindly doc’s role is that of forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, PA. Omalu’s life offers no jolts or surprises until he chances upon some suspicious findings in the autopsy of a well-regarded Pittsburgh Steelers football player who committed suicide.

Will Smith as Dr. Omalu in Concussion

Things take another turn when Omalu finds some of the same circumstances present in other former football players who have died by their own hand. After being told that in order to fund a study he’ll have to pay out of his own pocket, Omalu, decides to take on the organization in true Davey and Goliath fashion. Along the way he receives support from a former NFL doctor (Alec Baldwin) and his boss (Albert Brooks, in another great turn in his new career phase as a character actor).

The film is written and directed by Peter Landesman in an interesting fashion, intercutting some of the most brutal scenes of football head trauma amongst the dramatic proceedings in order to illuminate the dangers inherent in the sport.

Concussion is an illuminating, sometimes powerful, take on the recent headline making scandal linking repetitive head trauma in professional football players to the rash of suicides of NFL retirees. When the film works, it works well, although it occasionally sinks into the melodramatic trappings that plague such well-meaning, big budget productions of this ilk. Still, it’s a tale that needs to be told and I’m glad that it’s seen the light of day. Whether audiences will show up is another question. This is a tale that most football fans will not want to hear. I’m just hoping there’s a level of open-mindedness that will allow Concussion to be seen.

The Big Short is playing in Charlotte, Concussion opens Christmas day in Hickory and area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

ARCHIVES:

Daddy’s Home • Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip

In The Heart Of The Sea • Krampus

Creed • Brooklyn

Spotlight

‘Mockingjay Part 2’ • All Things Must Pass • The Night Before

Trumbo

Spectre & The Peanuts Movie

Steve Jobs & Our Brand Is Crisis

Crimson Peak & Room

Bridge Of Spies & Goosebumps

99 Homes

The Martian • Sicario & The Walk

The Intern • The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials • Everest

The Visit & Black Mass

Mistress America

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl A Walk In The Woods

American Ultra • No Escape • Sinister 2

Straight Outta Compton, The End Of The Tour, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Irrational Man & Fantastic Four

Ricki And The Flash & The Gift

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation • Southpaw • Vacation

Ant-Man & Trainwreck

Self/Less

Amy • Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, Ted 2

Inside Out & Dope

Love and Mercy & Jurassic World

Insidious Chapter 3

San Andreas & Aloha

Poltergeist &
Tomorrowland

Mad Max: Fury Road

Hot Pursuit

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Ex Machina

While We’re Young & Unfriended

The Longest Ride

Fast & Furious 7

It Follows

Divergent

Cinderella

Chappie

Focus & The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Fifty Shades Of Grey

Jupiter Ascending

Still Alice

The Imitation Game A Most Violent Year

American Sniper Inherent Vice

Selma & Taken 3

Unbroken

Big Eyes • The Interview

Night At The Museum The Secret of the Tomb • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Top Five • Wild • Annie

Foxcatcher

Whiplash & The Theory Of Everything

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 • Horrible Bosses 2

Dumb And Dumber To

Birdman & Interstellar

Nightcrawler

Ouija

Fury

The Judge

Annabelle & Gone Girl

The Equalizer & Happy 75th, GWTW!

The Drop • A Walk Among & The Tombstones

No Good Deed

The Identical

As Above, So Below & November Man

If I Stay & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

The Giver • Code Black & The Expendables 3

Boyhood • Into The Storm & Magic In The Moonlight

Get On Up & Guardians Of The Galaxy

Lucy

Begin Again & The Purge: Anarchy

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Chef & Tammy

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Jersey Boys

22 Jump Street & How To Train Your Dragon 2

The Fault Is In Our Stars & Edge Of Tomorrow

A Million Ways To Die In The West

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Maleficent

Godzilla • Summer Preview

Neighbors • Godzilla

The Amazing Spiderman 2 & Belle

The Other Woman & Brick Mansions

A Haunted House 2 & Heaven Is For Real

Oculus & Rio 2

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Noah

Divergent

The Grand Budapest Hotel & Veronica Mars

300: Rise of the Empire

Non-Stop & Son Of God

Three Days To Kill

Robocop & The Past • About Last Night

The Monuments Men

Labor Day

I, Frankenstein

Inside Llewyn Davis & Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Lone Survivor & August: Osage County

Her • Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom & The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Anchorman 2

The Hobbit: The Desolation & Of Smaug • Nebraska

Dallas Buyers Club & Oldboy & Out Of The Furnace

Philomena & The Book Thief

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Delivery Man

About Time & All Is Lost

Thor: The Dark World & 12 Years A Slave

Ender’s Game & Last Vegas

Bad Grandpa &The Counselor

Carrie & The Fifth Estate

Captain Phillips, Enough Said & Machete Kills

Gravity & Runner Runner

Metallica: Through The Never , Rush & Don Jon

Prisoners & Rush

Insidious: Chapter 2 • The Family & The Spectacular Now

Riddick

Getaway

The World’s End You’re Next

Lee Daniels’ The Butler • Jobs • Blue Jasmine

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters & Elysium

2 Guns

Blue Jasmine • The Wolverine & Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring & The Way Way Back

Pacific Rim & Grown Ups 2

The Lone Ranger & Despicable Me 2

The Heat & White House Down

Monsters University, World War Z, Before Midnight & The East

Man of Steel & This Is The End

The Internship & The Purge

After Earth, Now You See Me & Frances Ha

The Hangover Part III Before Midnight

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6

The Great Gatsby & Frances Ha

Iron Man & Peeples

Pain and Gain & Mud

Oblivion & Lords of Salem

42 and Scary Movie 5

Evil Dead & Jurassic Park 3-D

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Tyler Perry’s Temptation

Spring Breakers Admission

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • The Call

Oz: The Great And Powerful West Of Memphis

Jack the Giant Slayer The Last Exorcism, Part II

Dark Skies & Snitch

A Good Day to Die Hard & Safe Haven

Side Effects & Identity Thief

Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies


 

 

 

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