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 firstname.lastname@example.org.