Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SPOILER ALERT

While care has been taken to not give away major plot points, if you desire an untainted viewing experience you may wish not to read this until after you have seen the film.

Director: JJ Abrams (2015)

Strap yourself in for a light speed blast of fun in this epic seventh episode in the long running sci-fi saga.

Visually spectacular, fast, funny and very, very familiar, it’s a huge relief this is a vast improvement on the last three thunderingly dull films.

Director Abrams is such a super Star Wars (1977) fan and loves the original film so much he’s gathered all his favourite bits together.

Then he’s mixed them about, souped them up and sent them roaring back into the cinema.

There’s lightsabers, lasers, robots, aliens, stormtroopers and a bigger, badder Death Star called the Star Killer.

It’s the original surname given to hero Luke Skywalker in the early drafts of the first film, another of the geek orientated references littering the galaxy far far away.

Yes it’s the series’ third space travelling super weapon which contains enough fire power to destroy whole planets.

This one is controlled by the First Order, the new identity of the old evil Empire whose resurgence is threatening to destroy the peaceful New Republic.

Harrison Ford makes an emotional return as the swashbuckling space pilot Han Solo. Alongside Peter Mayhew as hairy first mate Chewbacca, he is once more in debt and on the run.

The first appearance of his battered spaceship the Millennium Falcon is brilliantly handled but as with many jokes in the film, it’s a moment which mainly plays to the fans.

Another persistent problem is using the film’s ferociously paced planet hopping to glide over the minor plot holes scattered about the universe.

As anyone who’s seen Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) will be aware, Abrams has never been particularly punctilious about plotting and simply uses his ample momentum to rocket across them.

Solo falls in with a scavenger, a renegade stormtrooper and a small orange beach ball style of a robot called BB8.

They’re trying to return the droid to it’s master as it contains information vital to the future of the galaxy.

Brit actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are brilliantly refreshing as Rey and Finn, bringing humour and energy to enthuse the old stagers.

2016 has been a great year for kick ass action heroines and in Rey it’s snuck another one in under the wire. She’s a physical, feisty and frequently surprised at her own abilities.

Stalwarts of the first trilogy Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels appear briefly as General Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and C-3PO.

Cinematography Daniel Mindel is experienced with working on big budget CGI heavy sci-fi movies such as Abrams’ two Star Trek movies.

Though equally fabulous looking this is a less glossy, more dynamic affair. Following the Millennium Falcon in flight, his camera arcs, dips and spins in breathtaking manoeuvres.

Plus his camera is careful to capture the excellent production design by Rick Carter and Darren Gildford.

Their work gives the bashed, bruised and broken worlds the weight of history, anchoring the fantastical elements in their own mythology.

As the third best Star Wars film, the force is strong with this one.

 

 

The Age Of Adaline

Director: Lee Toland Krieger (2015)

A woman who never grows old falls for a much younger man in this weird fantasy romance.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) lives alone, is kind to her dog, speaks in a breathy register and laughs at her own jokes.

Although really 107 years old, a mysterious event when she was 29 has prevented her from ageing.

Ever since the FBI tried to arrest her for being a suspected threat to the US, she’s been dodging the authorities and running away from love and commitment.

She changes addresses and identities every ten years, allowing the Costume and Make-up deptartments (Angus Strathie, Monica Huppert) to make Lively look lovely in all the major fashions of the twentieth century.

Plus it usefully acts as a visual shorthand for whatever decade we find ourselves in during one of the many flashbacks.

Her only friend is piano player Regan (Lynda Boyd) which suggests Adaline has been seeking out blind people to hang with as they don’t recognise her lack of ageing.

At a New Year’s Eve party she meets the hunky, needy, pushy yet altruistic internet millionaire Ellis (Michiel Huisman).

He’s not as endearing as the film imagines him to be and Adaline tries to reject his advances due to their secret age difference.

There are several dates, shooting stars, snow storms, two car accidents and a drive-in movie.

Despite Adaline’s reservations she agrees to visit Ellis’s parents where someone kindly explains the rules of Trivial Pursuit for those watching who haven’t played it.

It leads to a big surprise for his dad Bill (Harrison Ford) on the eve of his fortieth wedding anniversary to Kathy (Kathy Baker).

Ford seems energised for the first time in years and is allowed a door-smashing moment. Perhaps being back home on the Falcon is therapeutic.

However it’s at this point the heavy air of sentimental nostalgia curdles and becomes creepily uncomfortable.

A gravelly voice over by Hugh Ross offers the only grit available as well as the illusion of a patina of science.

San Francisco looks fabulous and the true romance on show is between the city and cinematographer David Lanzenberg.

Scriptwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz are also enamoured of the city, highlighting it’s history as a leader of technological innovation.

Somebody ought to point out to the writers gifting first editions of famous novels only counts as romantic if there is a financial, emotional or other cost to the donor.

A millionaire dishing out rare works to relative strangers they wish to bed smacks not of romance but thoughtless opportunism.

The Age Of Adaline suggests grey hair and wrinkles are the gateway to true love; a sly commentary on women who can’t accept growing old and resort to going under the knife.

But if you want to send this sort of message then it’s important to create an effective and engaging delivery system first.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Cert 15 117mins Stars 5

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982, 2007) 

Ridley ScottBlade Runner: The Final Cut is the definitive version of director Ridley Scott‘s 1982’s sci-fi noir masterpiece.

Uniquely it stands on a pedestal with 1927’s Metropolis, and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the sci-fi canon, and alongside 1944’s Double Indemnity as a doom laden noir.

AndroidsDreamBased on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is a combination of extraordinary visuals, superlative sound, Blade Runner’s superb cast includes Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh and Daryl Hannah.

With various cuts of the film existing and offering very different endings, Scott trims The Final Cut to its noir roots and in doing so unequivocally resolves a long running debate concerning the nature of the central character, the ‘Blade Runner’, Rick Deckard.

Digitally remastered in 2007 for the 25th anniversary of the original 1982 release, Scott removed Deckard’s voice-over and a happy ending which the studio imposed on the original theatrical release, as well as reinserting a unicorn dream sequence.

Blade Runner scroll

The film takes place in Los Angeles of the year 2019. Six genetically engineered humans called replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and made their way to Earth, where their presence is outlawed.

BR fordIn Los Angeles two replicants are killed after trying to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. This prompts M. Emmet Walsh‘s seedy police captain to strong-arm Harrison Ford‘s reluctant former detective, Rick Deckard, back into harness.

Though insisting he is twice as quit as when he walked in, Deckard accepts the order to find the remaining four replicants and destroy them, and an origami-modelling cop called Gaff is assigned to monitor Deckard’s progress.

While on the case Deckard first interviews then starts an affair with Sean Young‘s Rachael. She’s the glamorous niece of the head of the Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the chess-playing creator of the replicants.

DeckardThe euphemistic use of the word ‘retire’, reminds us Dick’s paranoid fear of the inevitable decay of our mortal bodies, reinforced by Scott scattering his sets with mannequin parts.

The screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples is a loose adaption of the source novel but is faithful to Dick’s obsessions of decay, transformation, paranoia and identity, and in The Final Cut at least, is respectful of noir’s hard-boiled cynicism.

It can also be read as a twisted riff on John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, with the replicants representing fallen angels rejecting their godlike creator.

Incorporating tolling bells, the magnificent score by Greek composer Vangelis, announces key themes as the film opens and veers between the apocalyptic and the heavenly.

The Tyrell Corporation’s HQ is a pyramidal mausoleum, a suitable resting place for a god before an ascension to a higher level of existence. The replicants can be interpreted as angels or demons who have descended to Earth from the chaotic off-world to challenge the Earth’s divine order, and possibly raise humanity to a higher plane of existence.

Br sebastian

The subjugated and animal nature of Earthbound humanity is explored through the use of rats, those harbingers of disease, decay and death. Tyrell talks of deserting rats when discussing the altering of the replicant’s DNA. There are pet rats among J.F. Sebastian’s engineered toys. Deckard is herded like a lab rat through the decaying prison of a mansion block.

Filmed in the ironwork interior of LA’s Bradbury building, the dreamlike apartment of genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian is a repository of childhood toys which Deckard must escape before he can be enlightened as to his real identity.

Br BattyThe relationship between the replicants provides the emotional core of the film. Daryl Hannah wraps herself affectionately around Rutger Hauer, who plays her partner and the replicant’s leader, Roy Batty.

And though the a homicidal Batty is set up as the villain, Hauer’s poetic and physical performance aches with life, love and loss. His powerful closing monologue which always bring s me to tears is all the more astonishing for being self-penned.

BRrachaelFor those who think Scott is a stylist indifferent to his actors labours, they should consider the performance he elicits from Sean Young, who is perfectly in tune with the demands of the role.

In a brilliantly tense conclusion we see Rachael asleep in her apartment and Deckard approaching her, gun in hand. We don’t know whether he will kill her or kiss her.

There’s a declaration of love and a big sigh of relief from the audience. But as Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment, they find an origami unicorn left by Gaff. This changes the entire thrust of the story and our understanding of it.

UnicornGaff’s origami is evidence he knows Deckard’s dreams are memory implants, causing Deckard and the audience to belatedly realise he is also a replicant. His entire life is a lie and he has unwittingly killed his own replicant family members at the behest of the police, his enemies, who he realises he now has to escape from.

This bleak revelation is perfect film noir.

But the power of Blade Runner has been diluted by the studio edit prompting a discussion over Deckard’s replicant status. This drags our focus from a brilliant noir ending to a non-debate over the nature of Deckard’s humanity.

Instead of the audience being overwhelmed by the force of this drama, for nearly forty years everyone has chuntered over the ‘is he a replicant’ debate, a controversy this definitive version retires.

Harrison Ford was strategically picked to play Deckard in a casting masterstroke of cinematic deception. The audience is fooled by their own presumption the star is playing a hero.

A huge star from his swashbuckling roles in 1977’s Star Wars, and 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Han Solo, and Indiana Jones, the audience expected more of the same. Ford’s status as heroic Hollywood leading man leads us to believe Deckard is the hero until we and Deckard realise he isn’t. We don’t expect a character played by Ford to be the fall guy.

The Big SleepAs a hard drinking detective with a laconic delivery and ready attitude in the face of authority, Ford is presented as a futuristic Humphrey Bogart, rebooted, updated and teleported in from Hollywood’s Golden Age of noir.

Ford is happy to riff on Bogart’s goofy undercover book lover in  1946’s The Big Sleep to emphasise the connection. There’s even a reference to Sydney Greenstreet in Bogart’s classic wartime melodrama, Casablanca as Deckard interrogates a fez-wearing gangster, The Egyptian.

Plus the story is told through Deckard’s eyes. So Deckard’s the hero, right? He’s an updated and rebooted sci-fi Philip Marlowe, right? Wrong.

To watch The Final Cut is to realise, and this is despite what Bryant tells him, Deckard is not especially good at his job.

He’s beaten up in turn by each of the four replicants. While failing to dispatch either of the males, he shoots the unarmed females, and he only manages to kill one of them by shooting her in the back as she’s running away. And as Batty mockingly points out, Deckard is not very sporting. Ordered to retire Rachael, Deckard has sex with her instead.

indemnityFar from being Bogart 2.0, Deckard is far more of an upgrade of Fred MacMurray’s hapless insurance salesman Walter Neff from 1944 noir masterpiece. Double Indemnity. In classic noir fashion, Deckard is too dim to realise he’s always behind the game. it’s not until the end he understands how little he knows. He’s a prize chump.

Blade Runner is rightly celebrated for its superlative sci-fi styling, but I love The Final Cut for revelling in the noir at the heart of this rain-soaked LA story.

@ChrisHunneysett