Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

                          May The Force Be With You Once Again 

                                                            Review by Ken Burke
 If you read my last posting you know that I should be in warm, sunny Cuba by now instead of at home in winter-gripped-Hayward, CA pounding out my last review of 2015.  However, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley [Oft go awry](Robert Burns, from “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough,” 1785; whole thing here if you like), so while the hearts, minds, and most of the bodies of myself and my wonderful wife, Nina, were ready to board our first link to the Caribbean via Miami last Sunday one component of Nina’s body—her right hip and the adjoining leg—decided it would rather stay in Hayward and visit an orthopedic doctor so that’s what we did, as the pain and mobility problems that she’s been experiencing lately just weren’t going away, even with the help of a cortisone shot; thus, I’m back to work in my well-paid-career (?) with Two Guys in the Dark.  However, thanks to the help of a wheelchair we did get to travel around in the Mission District in San Francisco recently where we had a marvelous meal of Cuban food (no rum, alas!) at El Nuevo Frutilandia (as usual, no compensation to me for this plug, just the desire to encourage business where it’s well-deserved) so at least we got a “taste” of the trip that we’ll actually take someday.  Meanwhile, I guess I should give a little business as well to an obscure movie that you’ve probably never heard of that takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away …
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
            Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi the New Republic is unstable as evil beings from the Dark Side of the Force manifest themselves as the First Order, opposed by the Resistance led by Gen. Leia Organa while her Jedi brother, Luke Skywalker, has disappeared for years, allowing new heroes to arise in an attempt to find him while fighting these fierce new villains.
What Happens: As we enter the Stars Wars galaxy again we find ourselves thrown into the turbulent events of Episode IV: A New Hope Episode VII: The Force Awakens (forgive me for my mistake there, but you’ll have to admit that there are numerous [intentional] similarities between the 2 plot lines of these movies including: a reluctant hero from a desert planet comes forth to channel the power of The Force to thwart a deadly evil; critical decisions involving Han Solo are made in a rowdy cantina; a devastating weapon is used to destroy entire planets of the Republic’s federation, forcing death-defying-heroes to shut down some of the assault-force-technology so that it can be forced to explode; and, most, importantly, a crucial character dies at the hand [well, light saber, actually] of a fierce villain [there are many more references to the previous Star Wars movies in Episode VII—although that’s not part of its official title, just a well-known-number in the series along with that reminder being used in the opening on-screen-graphics-crawl]; if you’d like a great accounting of other connections to the earlier episodes, go here for a 9 min. 11 sec. video [although you may have to watch it more than once to catch everything because the revelations are delivered at close-to-hyperdrive-speed], but if you haven’t seen … The Force Awakens yet you’d better think twice about my Spoiler Alert before you read any further because you're in for some surprises), where roughly 30 years after the fall of the Empire in … Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983) the New Republic finds itself in trouble once again because remnants of the Empire, calling themselves the First Order, aided by the Dark Side of The Force have once again amassed an army of stormtroopers (this time they’re not clones, they’re soldiers captured as children then raised with brainwashing to hate the Republic and the legacy of the Jedi) intent on regaining control of the galaxy after they locate, then exterminate, the long-missing-Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) so that no further Jedi will interfere with their plans (Luke’s been in self-imposed-isolation after a tragic Dark turn by an apprentice, resulting in the deaths of a new Jedi legion).

 The face—or mask, much of the time—of evil now belongs to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who yearns to finish the galaxy-subversion-task so ably kept in place years ago by Darth Vader (he even has Vader’s old mask, warped by the funeral pyre that consumed his body after his death in Episode VI; Kylo [Ren seems to be a group name, just like the Sith in Vader’s time, as Kylo is the leader of the Knights of Ren] also wears a mask much of the time but seemingly in honor of Vader, not because he needs it to breathe), which we find out as the movie slowly reveals its various plot surprises is because he’s Vader’s grandson, from the union of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess/Senator/now General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)—we quickly find out when father and son confront each other on a metal bridge over a deep chasm toward the end of … Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) Episode VII that there’s to be no better rapprochement between Han and Kylo (real name apparently was Ben Solo) than there was between Luke and Vader (former name Anakin Skywalker, the focal character of Episodes I-III [George Lucas: 1999, 2002, 2005], in case you followed popular opinion and avoided those entries, although many didn’t as they each made a pile of moolah) in their non-recruitment-to-the-Dark Side-encounter at the end of Episode V (Although Luke just lost a hand in that battle whereas Han is lost completely as Kylo cuts through him with a light saber in the current story; does this shocker help you believe my Spoiler Alerts?  OK, y’all remember that for future warnings, ya hear?.  Now you know why Ford was paid so much more than any of his co-stars, even Hamill and Fisher [he reportedly made $10-20 million while their salaries were in the “low-seven-figure range”; Driver and Oscar Isaac were supposedly paid in the “mid-to high-six figures,” while emerging-stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are in “the low-six-figure range,” with all of these sure to shoot up in the coming sequels] for this appearance because, sadly, we likely won’t be seeing rogue-master-Solo again in this series—damn it!—except maybe in flashbacks or in ghostly-fashion as we witnessed the deceased Obi-Wan Kenobi's [Alec Guinness] apparitional "return" in Episodes V and VI.)

 Yet—as is always the case with these Dark Side villains—there is another, even-more-totally-evil-character (Kylo’s still struggling to turn away any attraction from the bright side of The Force; thus, killing his father helps him in that endeavor, just as Vader himself still retained a strain of decency that allowed him to save son Luke at the end of Episode VI, killing the full-blown-evil-Emperor even at the cost of his own life, a decision that Kylo seems to have forgotten about) in the person of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis—whom we see again mostly as a computer-animated-overlay as was the case with him as Gollum in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings adaptations [Peter Jackson; 2012, 2001-2003] and Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes movies [Rupert Wyatt, 2011; Matt Reeves, 2014]), a seemingly-gigantic-Dark Side-crusader (Or is that just his holographic image size?), intent on destroying Luke then conquering the galaxy once again, just like the despicable Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious/Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) of the first 6 episodes of the Star Wars saga.  (Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of Snoke so here’s another one, just above, of Kylo Ren in deadly action with his unique light saber.)

 Now, in a more chronological recap of … The Force Awakens’ plot, we have the Resistance, led by General Organa (looking distressed under the weight of her mission to once again destroy the manifestations of The Force’s Dark Side, but also personally stressed as Fisher was required to lose a good bit of weight in order to look more like her old self instead of a distant female relative of Jabba the Hutt, as she’d enlarged her off-screen-presence a bit in the intervening years since Return of the Jedi)—why they’re talked about as a separate entity from the New Republic, just supported by this political organization rather than being their standing army I don’t know yet—trying to find Luke, so she sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Isaac), to the desert planet of Tatoonie Jakku to retrieve a map that supposedly leads to Luke’s location; Poe gets it from elderly Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), but the First Order’s already on his tail so Poe hides the info in robot R2-D2 BB-8 (voiced by Brian Herring and Dave Chapman, aural consultation by Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz), then tries to escape but is captured and tortured by Darth Vader Kylo Ren.  However, stormtrooper FN-2187 (Boyega)—later renamed Finn by Poe—somehow has resisted his conditioning, wants no part of the First Order’s intentions, so he helps Poe escape in a stolen TIE fighter, although it’s mostly to get Finn's own hide off of their Star Destroyer; they crash-land back on Jakku, where Poe seemingly dies, leaving Finn to continue running from pursuing First Order troops as he encounters BB-8 who’s already been taken in by local scavenger Rey (Ridley)—she frequently sells chunks of old Empire ships that litter her planet to a junk dealer, Watto (Andy Secombe, from … Episode I: The Phantom Menace [Lucas, 1999]), Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg).  Rey, Finn, and BB-8 manage to leave Jakku in what Rey considers a hunk of discarded junk but what we recognize as the fabled Millennium Falcon (Han and Rey briefly explain later how this happened but I couldn’t repeat it for you).  Well, sure enough, soon the Falcon’s overtaken by a huge freighter but instead of being manned by First Order troops we find that it’s piloted by Han and his long-time-buddy-Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, from the earlier episodes, when he could move around properly despite a leg injury, Joonas Suotamo when a more mobile actor was needed in some scenes).

 All 5 of them escape in the Falcon after some various gang members show up demanding huge compensation from Solo.  We don’t get many details but, apparently, after things went bad with son Ben/Kylo he and Leia went their separate ways, him back to smuggling; it’s not clear if they were married—we assume so because this is a PG-13 series, after all—unlike in many of the novels that continued the Star Wars series after Return of the Jedi where Leia and Han have 3 kids, all on the right side of The Force, he continues to have great respect in the Republic, while she attains the Supreme Chancellor role rather than following her twin brother into the training needed for a Jedi knight (at least in the novels that I’ve read of this huge print extension of the foundational story).

 As for our heroes in this movie—with Rey suddenly showing great skills as a pilot—they head for a cantina at Mos Eisley on Tatooine on the forest planet, Takodana, run by 1,000-year-old-Maz Kanata (a Yoda-sized-gal voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) to formulate their next actions, but Rey wanders into an underground room where she finds a light saber that gives her disturbing visions; Maz explains it once belonged to Luke and his father before him (which means it must be the one that fell into the abyss of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back [Irvin Kershner, 1980] when Vader cut off Luke’s hand but we get no explanations here about how the weapon ended up in this secret vault); shaken, Rey runs off into the nearby forest while Finn keeps the light saber, but he’ll need more than that soon because Supreme Leader Snoke (clearly modeled on Adolph Hitler’s Nazi self-delusions of ultimate power) orders the use of the monstrous Starkiller device, a planet-sized-weapon using the power of its nearby sun, to unleash enough energy to destroy 5 planets at once, the system that contains the Republic's capital (Coruscant, I presume, but I don’t recall hearing that name mentioned); Kylo and his crew arrive but are pushed back by Resistance fighters led by Poe (not dead, of course; he ejected from the crash-landed-stolen-TIE fighter that Finn also survived on Jakku), although Rey is captured.  However, when interrogated by Kylo she discovers that she also can also command The Force, allowing her to block his mind-reading-attempts (just as Leia did, unknowing of her powers, against Vader in ... Episode IV: A New Hope [Lucas, 1977]), eventually escaping to hide in the Death Star Starkiller Base until she meets up again with Han, Chewbacca, and Finn who’ve come to destroy a protective shield so that Rebel Resistance fighters can attack the Starkiller weapon, causing it to explode the entire planet that it occupies before it can terminate the Rebel base Resistance’s home world.

 As noted above, a confrontation between Han and Kylo results in the elder Solo’s death (falling off the catwalk where he tried to appeal to his son’s conflicted nature [similar to how the Emperor was thrown into the reactor core of the 2nd Death Star in Episode VI], so that his body couldn’t even be recovered for a proper burial); Chewbacca’s rage gets a wounding shot into Kylo just before his further blasts explode parts of the massive weapon so that the Resistance pilots can destroy the rest of it (much like what happens in Episodes IV and VI), then Finn and Rey confront Kylo for a light saber duel which results in Finn also being wounded but Rey on course to kill Kylo just as the planet splits beneath them saving him (ultimately he’ll escape with Snoke and fierce human First Order General Hux [Domhnail Gleeson] to continue these battles in the next 2 sequels, just as happened in Episodes IV-VI concerning the Skywalker family), with our remaining heroes returning to the Resistance base to not only mourn Solo (even as Rey and Finn have become committed warriors instead of the former originally wanting to return to Jakku in hopes that her family who abandoned her there will someday return, just as Finn earlier wanted to disappear into the nether galactic regions of the Outer Rim to leave all of this chaos behind) but also finally connect BB-8’s partial map with the remaining pieces from R2-D2’s (Kenny Baker as some sort of a consultant) internal archives (we also get a brief appearance by C-3PO [Anthony Daniels]—with an as-yet-unexplained red left arm—but we’ll have to assume he matters more in future episodes) which allows Rey to finally locate Luke so that she can offer him the return of his light saber, which he's thoughtfully considering as we fade out until Episode VIII appears far, far away in May 2017.

So What? Every time I open my media-related-email-account I find new stories on box-office-records being broken by … The Force Awakens, so whatever I include here will likely be erased by the time that you read it (maybe even before I get this review posted). Audience response worldwide has been absolutely phenomenal so far, with ticket sales of $1.16 billion (in just 13 days; although Box Office Mojo now shows it at $1.23 billion, with the big New Years Day weekend on the horizon), making it the 5th-biggest-domestic (U.S. and Canada)-grosser, 9th-biggest-worldwide, after taking in 248 million domestic dollars, $529 million global total on its opening weekend (topping the previous records in those categories set in summer 2015 by Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow; review in our June 17, 2015 posting]), when it played on 30,000 international screens, coming in #1 in every market in which it opened (except South Korea and Vietnam), with massive new revenue anticipated when … The Force Awakens in China, starting January 9, 2016, so its estimated $200 million production costs have been well covered already, even if you push that to about $600 million to account for worldwide distribution and advertising expenses—I should also note that this massive surge of sales at year’s end pushed overall domestic movie-ticket-sales for all U.S. studios over the $11 billion mark for the first time.  The Walt Disney Studio is deliriously-happy with these results, already justifying their $4.06 billion purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012, along with all of the Star Wars rights, in that … The Force Awakens has helped raise their 2015 movie income to over $5 billion worldwide (1st time for them) on the strength of this new Star Wars episode along with big successes from Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon; review in our May 7, 2015 posting—don’t forget that Disney also bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009), Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh; review in our March 19, 2015 posting), Ant-Man (Peyton Reed; review in our September 3, 2015 posting), with The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn; review in our December 10, 2015 posting) bringing in about $190 million of that but surprisingly not making back its $200 million budget (same production costs as … The Force Awakens, oddly enough, although Abrams probably kept his expenses down by using a lot of old-school-photographic-effects [in an effort to recapture the visual look of the earliest-made Star Wars movies, Episodes IV-VI] rather than the extensive level of Computer Generated Imagery that so overwhelmed Lucas’ later-released-Episodes I-III).

 The leading studio, though, for 2015 was Universal with $6.8 billion globally (sorry, I've lost my reference for this figure when I got overwhelmed with too much research, but I know it's accurate; the above link verifies the domestic income noted just below) due mainly to Jurassic World and Furious 7 (James Wan; review in our April 15, 2015 posting); they also led domestically with $2.4 billion in movie income vs. Disney’s $2.1 billion (curiously, though, even with all that movie-related-income Disney's stock price has dropped a bit over concerns about upcoming losses connected to their TV sports network ESPN as consumers leave cable in favor of streaming).  Additional box-office-records for … The Force Awakens include biggest-domestic-Christmas Day-ticket-sales ($49.3 million), fastest to $100 million on global IMAX screens (12 days, topping Jurassic World’s 18) and a good number of others (still evolving as we move into 2016) too numerous to list (please note that, since this last linked article came out, final 1st –weekend-figures give the largest global opening ever to the new Star Wars episode—as noted in the paragraph above—rather than the earlier-reported Jurassic World) except that it hit $1 billion worldwide in the fastest time ever, 12 days, once again beating Jurassic World's 13 days to reach that mark.

 All of this financial impact and audience enthusiasm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (with more to come, as the current momentum could easily push it into the worldwide top ranks, with the #1 and #2 spots currently held by James Cameron’s Avatar [2009; $2.79 billion—with 3 sequels of its own in production, anticipated-release-dates beginning in late 2017, well after Star Wars: Episode VIII planned for May of that year, followed by Star Wars: Episode IX in May, 2019] and Titanic [1997; $2.17 billion]) has been matched by critical embrace (Rotten Tomatoes with 94% positive reviews, 81% at Metacritic [more details in the links far below]), with several critics in my own San Francisco area putting it on their Top 10 lists for 2015 (although you can find negative responses, such as a scathing one from Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times), but this popularity has now led to some concerns over concessions being made to consider … The Force Awakens for year-end-honors because it was screened for critics just a few days before it opened in mid-December, compromising normal deadlines for awards considerations (by the time it was released the San Francisco Film Critics Circle had already chosen Spotlight [Tom McCarthy; review in our November 19, 2015 posting and still my choice for best of 2015 so far but with some heavy contenders I still need to see]).  The Broadcast Film Critics Association created quite a stir when its leaders voted to allow this new Star Wars story to be added to their existing 10 contenders for Best Film, with complaints that its inclusion was intended simply as a ratings ploy when this group presents its awards in early 2016 via TV broadcast as they try to establish more thunder for themselves as better predictors of Oscar winners than the better-known Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes, also due for early 2016 broadcast (not a bad argument: BFCA has predicted 7 of the past 11 Best Picture Oscar winners vs. 3 for the Globes, 15 of the last 20 Best Director winners vs. 10 for the Globes, and over the last 10 years a 70% match of Oscar’s acting nominations vs. 40% for the Globes—at the end of this linked article from industry-Bible Variety [although you’d get arguments about that from the fine folks at the Hollywood Reporter] you’ll find that publication’s early predictions for the Oscar nominees in 21 of the standard 24 categories).

 How … The Force Awakens shapes up for Oscar consideration regarding nominations/awards will just have to wait to be seen because even in the technical areas where it shines brightly (just as the original release, then just called Star Wars now subtitled as A New Hope, won 6 Oscars in such categories, plus a Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing and a Scientific and Engineering Award) there’s already fierce competition from Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller; review in our May 20, 2015 posting), another critical favorite that’s gaining a lot of momentum even for Best Director (not from me; but if you want to keep up with critics’ and nominations scorecards see the running totals in a couple of the Related Links area that round out this posting farther below)

Bottom Line Final Comments: I must acknowledge that with so much already having been written, even in such a short time since its debut, about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a title which you could easily believe is really referring to the sound of Disney’s cash register ringing up massive sales of tickets and various merchandise, with even the original Disneyland theme park undergoing a major renovation to remove certain low-impact areas [Big Thunder Ranch primarily] in order to build a new Star Wars Land, due for completion maybe by late 2016) there’s not a lot left for me to say (just as the pre-release-reviews had to be very quiet and coy about how much the beloved-middle-trilogy-characters would play into this new story, taking care especially not to blow the secrets of Han’s estrangement from Leia, Han’s death, and the almost-nonexistence of Luke), yet I can steer you to articles that discuss 21 reasons why this new movie deserves your respect, along with additional reasons why Abrams is successful in recapturing the magic of the first-released-trilogy including not being bound further to ideas that George Lucas suggested for the current cluster (although, with all of the disparagement heaped upon the later-released-prequels I still think that the naysayers about the Anakin-dominated-stories need to realize that the involved story arc was always destined for a tragic outcome while being populated with characters [such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and even the lovable droids] who, unlike Yoda, the true heart of the early episodes, were still evolving into the personalities that were more solid by the time the focus turned to Luke).  Further, if somehow you’re not that clear—either from foggy memory or (gasp!) lack of exposure—about all 6 of the previous episodes and need some further context to help in your full appreciation of … The Force Awakens then you might be interested in this extremely-well-done-7-minute-summary of the story up to this point or at least this silly, roughly 1-minute-wrap-up of Episodes IV-VI from Steven Colbert (thanks to long-time-colleague/contributor Richard Parker for suggesting this one).  These are just resources that have emerged for me in the last few days as I reset my sights from Cuba to Jakku and points beyond; you’ll find acres more of Star Wars material with just a few Internet searches so let me know if you encounter some other references that cry out to be added to the ones I’ve already compiled.

 What viewers of … The Force Awakens are likely crying out about (at least if you’re like me with just the foundational knowledge of the 6 previous movies plus maybe some of the many post-Empire novels that have come out in the last few decades rather than reading all of those, keeping up with The Clone Wars animated TV series [2003-2005, 2008-2014, plus related video games], etc. to know every last tidbit of Star Wars trivia, some of which I’m sure is connected to what we haven’t yet learned about those “lost” years between movie Episodes VI and VII), though, is to know: (1) what happened with Luke and his renegade apprentice (Was it Ben Solo before he converted to his assassin’s role with the Knights of Ren? What’s become of General Leia Organa after she and Han split up because of their son’s treachery and how long has the First Order been in business?), (2) how Supreme Leader Snoke got to be so powerful with the Dark Side (and is he really that gigantic?), (3) how Luke’s lost light saber come to be in Maz Kanata’s cellar, and (4)—for me, at least—what was going on with the visions that Rey had when she first touched Luke’s original weapon (but, strangely, not when she was wielding it in combat against Kylo) which provided (according to that just-above-linked-article; I’ll have to see … The Force Awakens again, which I’m sure I will, to try to better concentrate on these flashpoints) which gave us glimpses of Rey in Cloud City, a cloaked Luke mourning something with R2-D2, the aftermath of a massacre by Kylo and his Knights, young Rey being left on Jakku by her family, as well as quick voiceovers from Yoda (Frank Oz) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (a mix of words from Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness).  I’m sure that answers to these questions will be forthcoming in Episodes VIII and IX, but for now they’re highly-intriguing-mysteries that just have to serve as incentive for making the coming years go by faster (although at my age you’re not so anxious to deal with such motivations) as we understand better the full transition from the middle-trilogy-Rebel-warriors to the new breed of Rey and Finn (although George Lucas now admits he’s not that sold on the nostalgia-peddling that the new movie’s intended to evoke, preferring instead that the new episodes would explore new ideas entirely, but he also admits the franchise isn’t his anymore so he seems mostly content to not intrude on the directions Abrams has taken, even though they’re not what he’d envisioned for this continuation of his long-ago-creation).

 As for me, I’m quite elated to return to that long ago and far, far away galaxy; reinvest myself in a mythologically-based-plot (Rey and Finn’s call to adventure, descent into the underworld, etc., all from Joseph Campbell’s chronicles of the hero’s journey, just as we saw years ago with Luke) where the new crew of the Millennium Falcon races through the fallen hulk of a Star Destroyer while being chased by “forces” of the First Order (and their scary resemblance to the rhetoric and iconography of our 20th-century-Fascists); then wait patiently to see what comes of it all as I glide gracefully along with these stories toward the next decade of this century, into the next decade of my life.  But if all of that sounds a bit esoterically-lofty (or cringeworthy-corny)—especially built upon the base of a “mere” pop-culture-movie-phenomenon—then I’ll leave you with a Musical Metaphor for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that’s more in line with the foundational-entertainment-purposes of this movie franchise (which has again picked up on some of the humor that occasionally broke the serious tone of those middle-trilogy-episodes) by giving you Bill Murray doing his Nick Ocean-lounge singer-version of the “Star Wars Theme” at AVkHA, with accompanying visuals from the current movie, then take that to a nicely-ironic-level at where Oscar Isaac (quite a fine musician as well as an actor, as he demonstrated in Inside Llewyn Davis [Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting]) sings and accompanies himself on guitar, making a transition from “On Broadway” (you could certainly say that the “neon lights” have shined on these Star Wars stories) to his rendition of Murray’s silly song, adding some lyrics of his own that reflect the content of this new, rejuvenating episode.  It's all self-conscious but entertaining, just like these movies.

 Finally, I’ll provide one additional Musical Metaphor, not about anything to do with Star Wars but instead a tribute to Nina’s aching body part by offering her (my most loyal reader, even more so than the talented Mr. Parker) the acoustical-question of “What Is Hip?” from a live performance by Tower of Power in 1977 at VaM (their song’s from the 1973 Tower of Power album, a longtime favorite of Nina’s; the video also has a "Click here for better quality!" button you can engage that gets you an extra 5:00 of music if you like, “Oakland Stroke” [also on the 1973 album] and “You Ought To Be Having Fun” [on their 1976 Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now album] as prelude to that performance of “What Is Hip?”) because the answer for her in a few months may be “a mechanical leg joint” as she joins Darth Vader in reconstituting herself for the coming years (and trips to destinations far, far away that won’t need to be cancelled at the last minute).  Happy New Year to her and all of you (especially my resurgent followers in Russia who cap off the year with triple the readership from the U.S. in Google’s latest tally; I’d love to say “Thank You” in Cyrillic but my word processer program doesn’t seem to offer that option, at least not that I can find, but maybe “Spasibo,” “Bal’shoye spaseeba” or “Pasib” will be acceptable [I hope so, based on what advice I got from the Internet; no offense intended if none of these are appropriate]).  I’ll be back soon in 2016 with more reviews of heavy-hitter-2015-year-end-releases.
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2015’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 28, 2016 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2015 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success that you might want to monitor here and the actual award-winners)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2015. 

Here’s more information about Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens: (8:55 explorations of 10 questions that have been raised about explanations of so-far-unanswered aspects of this movie) and (13:41 15 background-info-facts [esoteric as some of them may be] about the movie from a British perspective, although some is more pre-release-speculation than fact)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Happy New Year. Nice wrapup of the Star Wars reboot. Most people I have talked to are somewhat disappointed that little new exists in this galaxy. Certainly Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are good in their roles and hopefully will achieve more than their predecessors. The exceptional impact of a young Harrison Ford in the original was missing this time. Lucas has said the studios rejected the original and he was not expecting much from his scifi space opera. The timing was right then and the marketing was exceptional now. How the next two sequels pick up the slack in the narrative and fill Harrison Ford's role may dictate how well Disney does with the franchise in the long run. Personnally, I see few big awards for this one other than possibly an exceptional Marketing award and an easy People's Choice win.

    1. Hi rj, I've now seen it twice and continue to think highly of it despite the clear repetitions of the earlier middle trilogy (but for that matter, "Return of the Jedi" is repetitious in many ways of "A New Hope," but I still like it). I think the newly-established characters will develop into more substantial presences in the next two episodes or at least I hope they do. Agree with you on probable lack of awards, but the one they most wanted--box-office dominance--is certainly happening big time.

      Thanks as always for your comments and Happy New Year to you. Ken

  2. Wow, Ken, brutal review. Not that the movie didn't deserve the blasting. But, you were harsh. I was, too, but I think mine was funnier, at least from a conservative view!

    1. (For those of you not familiar with The Right Critic, please scroll back up to the right top of this page for Movie Sites You Might Like and click on Outtakes with Fiore--as I note above we often don't agree [although of his current reviews we're most alike in our acceptance of "Spectre" and rejection of "Mad Max: Fury Road," but for different reasons with the latter).

      Hi Fiore, Thanks for reading and replying. However ... "Brutal"? I was "harsh"? You gave it a D while I gave it 4 of 5 stars, and you don't understand why I have a hard time making sense of conservative logic. Anyway, I did find your review a lot of fun to read, agree with you on the inexplicable abilities of novices to suddenly wield light sabers with accurate ability, and do find a lot of humor in your writing, well worth the price of admission (so to speak).

      Thanks again for your comments; Happy New Year to you. Ken