STAR WARS-THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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This is NOT a film review.

“Nothing will stand in our way. I will finish……..what you started.”

To begin, there will be NO mention of plot points or scenes, if you want spoilers, jog on. Remember, this is not a film review.

Wow. What an emotional experience.
As the deadline approached, I found myself getting more and more excited, the force was truly awakening and JJ had seemingly, possibly, maybe, hopefully pulled off a coup; to make a sequel that honoured the originals yet managed to remain in the present (as far as film-making goes). Could this be true?

Everybody is feeling The Force at the moment.

Sat in the foyer on Thursday 17th December, 2015 in Sydney, Australia, the tension was palpable. We took our seats and waited, sat through some god-awful adverts and trailers and then It began (yes, I capitalized the I in it). No Fox fanfare as Lucasfilm is now owned by Disney, simply the Lucasfilm logo and then the opening crawl accompanied by THE music. Shit, it’s been a long time since I felt this. As excited as I may have been in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out, this far superseded that feeling. I remember leaving the cinema back then sort of making excuses for it in my mind but a second viewing cemented my feelings about it, it was shit. Not so, here.

Could JJ Abrams really pull it off, after the travesty that was Eps 1,2 and 3, they shall, for me, remain in the depths of unneccessary along with the tv movies: Caravan of Courage-The Ewok adventure (which I never saw) and The Star Wars Holiday Special (2.5 on IMDB), mere distractions that came nowhere near close to the greatness of Star Wars, Empire and Jedi.
In my mind, I have erased the inclusion of 1,2 and 3. They are appendices, written badly, at best.

I can say, with confidence that JJ with The Force Awakens has done what Lucas (maybe/hopefully) wishes he could have achieved with 1,2 and 3.

And then some.

By selling the company and passing it along George Lucas has allowed the Star Wars universe to grow and become more relevant to today’s audiences as opposed to some outdated idea of what passes for entertainment these days.

That’s what it needed, a fresh approach from a skilled director who loved the originals as much as we did.

I never expected to have tears in my eyes at various moments during the watching of TFA, but they happened, I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m proud to say it. JJ hooks the audience emotionally by playing on the narrative themes of A New Hope and twisting them in a way that doesn’t seem plagiaristic (is that a word? Just looked it up, it is…..yes). The simpler, the better; gone are the overblown CGI that manages, like most 3d films, to distance you from the film and back are the creatures built by hand, the human touch. There are CGI characters in the film but never do you feel they are not real and a grounded part of this world (stand up and bow-the creators of Maz Kanata, brilliantly played by Lupita Nyong’o). Gone are the overblown, confusing messy politics and gone is Jar Jar Binks (mesa says thank goodness). What is left is the real essential elements of the originals, mythology, a bad-ass bad guy, an Empire that is stronger than it ever was, new characters that belong in the universe and a narrative that follows the rules add a pinch of seasoning and we may have an award winner, ladies and gentlemen.

Pause.

I’m currently listening to John Williams’ incredible score and still reeling from the experience of what I have just seen, it hit me emotionally. It is brilliant.

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JJ has done the seemingly impossible and made a film that is both current and manages to directly link to the originals. All I know is I’m looking to see it again and soon, like in the next day or so. I never thought after all these years that the magic could be revived, let me tell you, it can.

I could just go on and on and on (I KNOW I already have), I just can’t help it. I’ve written a lot and said little but my enjoyment of the film is like MANY others’; an emotional one. Mark Kermode said recently how easy and how much of a joy it is to write about great films. He’s not wrong at least on an emotional level.

Shit, what can I say without spoiling anything?

The cast are all great, the set pieces are tight, exciting and tense, there are quotes, the appearances of old characters get the tingles going, new characters surprise and entertain, there are laughs, tears, heart in mouth moments and more than a touch of humanity.
Excitement, adventure, drama, emotion; this has it all.

Hats off Mr Abrams, you rock.

For me, the film of the year.

Go see it.

5/5

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THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014)

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Gareth Huw Edwards has done it again, only this time bigger.

Sequels are always tricky usually a pale imitation of the original but what Edwards has done here is raised the stakes and upped the scope of the first one.

The film begins almost immediately after the end of The Raid:Redemption and finds our hero being thrust into the more complex world of gangsters and corruption at the highest level. Here, he has to infiltrate one of the major crime syndicates in order to take them down.

Beranthal retains all the best of Redemption and expands on it making it a crime thriller as well as keeping the ultra violence of the fights, of which there are many incredible set pieces. The music, like the first one, brings to mind the music of John Carpenter’s films, moody synths and it fits into the composition of the film beautifully. We get an insight into the world of gangsters in Indonesia and the corruption that is behind it much more extensively than the first one.

Poor Rama (Iko Uwais), it seems like the skills he has have forced him into situations of which there are no escape, short of fighting his way through them to the very end. What is painful for him is an adventure for us.

At 2 and a half hours this is a roller-coaster ride that delivers on all counts bar a slight confusion of who some of the characters are, but that may be down to me.
I got there in the end.

It was with joy that Yayan Ruhian returns as a different character. He was brilliant as Mad Dog in Redemption and he also choreographed the fight sequences with Iko Uwais as he did for the first one. An incredible martial artist whose skills in Pencak Silat and other forms of martial arts are plentiful.
Special mentions go to Julie Estelle as Alicia ‘Hammer Girl’ and Vey Tri Yulisman as Baseball Bat Man who deliver some fantastic action sequences.

Edwards retains the extreme violence and comic book style of the first one and firmly places himself in the top end of action film directors. I wonder if, and when, he will make an English language film and how it will be. Time will tell.

This is definitely a film not for the faint of heart but if you are interested in martial arts and the action genre you should definitely check it out.

4/5

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