The Force is Strong in this One

The Force is Strong in this One
Note: While care has been taken to not divulge the entirety of the plot or giveaway exciting twists and reveals, as always in The Kinswah Reflective, the regular tone applies which includes examining certain aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, then it’s recommended you skip this review for now.
Finally, the anticipation is over and the most hyped film ever has been released. Under the weight of its own expectation there was a danger Star Wars: The Force Awakens would end up being a crushing disappointment. Fans of the Star Wars saga had been there before after the release of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. Thankfully J.J. Abrams has alleviated those fears and surpassed the hopes laid down by a new generation.
From the opening scene, it’s clear Abrams is aware of the universe he’s helping resurrect. It was a franchise he grew up with and hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, like George Lucas did with the prequels, instead his job has been getting the old familiar to spin once again. With the use of goggles to scan the distance, using the same graphic from Empire Strikes Back‘s ice planet of Hoth scene, a sense of reassurance settles in.
The nods to the past merely tease nostalgia, as opposed to making a vulgar grab for it. After a few more scenes it is clear we are in an authentic Star Wars universe. The prequels felt disconnected, both visually and from a storyboard point of view, from the original films. Here J.J. manages to immerse the viewer back into the world first seen in A New Hope.
This is no doubt helped by the use of actual sets, allowing for the imperfections and grime of a real world. Just like the original 1977 movie, the characters are easy to connect with too. Daisy Ridley’s Rey, plays the role of lonely scavenger on a dusty planet. She soon gets a droid that’s on a secret mission. Sound familiar? It should and it doesn’t matter. This formula works in Star Wars for a reason.
Rey is soon teamed up with Stormtrooper defector Finn, played by John Boyega. Unlike Luke from the original movie, Rey is already driven and headstrong, so Finn doesn’t need to play the role of Han Solo or Obi Wan. He provides the everyman role we can all relate to. He wants to do good but is aware of the dangers.
Plus, we get given Han – and Chewbacca – so it allows Boyega to provide comic relief. The laughs are littered throughout the story without ever being cheesy. J.J. has managed to balance drama and fun perfectly.
It’s not just the very first film that sets the ambiance for all that follows. Acknowledgements and inclusions referring to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are placed throughout the movie. Each one accentuates the feel of connection rather than labours it. The Force Awakens isn’t a spectacle that requires a prop-up from the past, it just absorbs those used because they fit the scenario so freely.
Unlike J.J.’s interpretation of Star Trek which also required him to juggle history and move the brand forward, he doesn’t recolour the old palette. Star Trek needed an overhaul, Star Wars just needed to be put back on its original footing.
The main focus of the saga, the drive from prequels until Darth Vader’s redemption, is the balance between the light and the dark side. Adam Driver is the actor asked to carry that load this time around. He plays the villainous Kylo Ren. As a nod to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren has chosen to wear a dark mask and matching attire. He’s aware of Vader’s history and feels obliged to continue his goals. If you’re reading this after the warning note at the top, then you can’t blame me for mentioning, this sense of duty comes from a family connection.
It isn’t a burden he bears lightly. Driver excellently displays anger, inner struggle, fear and retribution. Mid-film he unmasks; this could have killed the mystic the imposing figure had created. But it was a genius move. It allowed Driver to fully express all his uncertainties, sadness and rage. Having all the contradictions works for the subject matter.
J.J. has managed in one film to show the descent to the dark side more effectively than George Lucas did with his entire prequel trilogy. For everything that was contrived and poorly acted in in those films, there is an organically produced alternative in The Force Awakens performed by actors excelling in emotional roles usually reserved for the theatre.
The greatest testament to the payoff in all this is how Kylo Ren, for all the vulnerability he shows, is hated by the end of the story. There’s no creation of the cool anti-hero here. He’s a bad guy you want to see lose, making Rey’s character easier to get behind.
Running alongside the force is the story of political power. It has always been present in the Star Warsuniverse. The original trilogy simply had an overbearing empire fighting the voices of freedom. The prequels described a more complex system that amounted to the same thing. Here the remnants of the former empire have become the First Order. They take their cue from Nazi Germany, in both styling and use of military might.
It’s easy to see the force used directly, like with Kylo, but Leia has been a political player from day one. Perhaps her use of the force enabled her to be a key royal figure and helps her thrive in her latest incarnation as a general.
It’s the absence of her brother, Luke, that caused a pre-release debate. And he proves to be the contradiction to the former statement about seeing the use of the force directly. Without much screen time, his existence and lack of appearance, helps drive a key plot point. He proves that less is more.
To find faults with the film would be nit-picking. It may mirror some of the original trilogy in terms of storytelling too closely for some but it updates it in a way everything feels fresh rather than redone.
For this writer The Empire Strike Back is the Star Wars benchmark and it’s with a small degree of hesitancy it can be confirmed that The Force Awakens surpasses it.
With the new cast, set in motion by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars has finally found a new hope.

Bond is back with more than just a Spectre

Bond is back with more than just a Spectre

Daniel Craig returns for his fourth outing as secret agent James Bond in Spectre. After garnering public and critical praise for Skyfall, the returning leading man and director Sam Mendes had made the task of impressing the audiences more difficult. The way they have succeeded in moving Bond forward is by taking a leap back.The overall story arc in Spectre is one of the past shaping the future. From an artistic stance this is what the writers and director have done for the movie. 2006’s Casino Royale‘s narrative and techniques didn’t tell a classic James Bond story.

He was stripped down to a raw double-O recruit, facing realistic fight scenes and more believability in plot. There were no secret underground lairs or futuristic technology aiding Bond. It was a Jason Bourne style action movie with a hint of that British Secret Service that defines Bond from other heroes.

Following Casino Royale was Quantum of Solace which demonstrated that for the first time in his history, Bond would be episodic. There was a larger story at play and the two films continued plot points laid out in the reboot. Skyfalldidn’t collect these directly but it was another act in what was clearly a saga.

Enter Spectre, both as movie title and secret organisation. With it we get the inevitable end game of all reboots. They can tease and hint for as long as they want. They can drop the gimmicks and add realism. But no amount of intelligent modernisation can delay the end to foreplay.

Christopher Nolan placed his version of Batman in the real world but he still had to give us a cape and cowl before adding a face-painted Joker. With Bond it’s exotic locations, improbable survival after deliberately getting caught, tough voiceless henchmen he shouldn’t be able to out-muscle, love interests and gadgets. Yes, the nostalgic toys have returned, albeit on a subtle scale.

Eventually you have to apply the first rule of show business: Give the people what they want.

After three movies of hinting it can be Bond, Sam Mendes, in his second stint at the helm, decided to tick-off a check-list from the pre-Craig era. We see a train scene, an alp sequence, multiple car chases, gratuitous sex scenes, a real baddie’s secret liar, Q in the field, a gadget to help Bond in a time of peril, a car with an ejector seat. It feels like a classic Bond shot with current actors.

The story isn’t without fault. How 007 gets the initial lead can be described best as: a plot hole. But when it becomes apparent we’re heading into retro-Bond territory it becomes less of an issue. In another life he ended up space, so we can ignore small errors here.

The idea of governments having too much surveillance and how organisations can be infiltrated is a hot-topic. It could be cruelly said that it borrows some ideas from Captain America: Winter Soldier, but it does so with a more sophisticated edge. Although Skyfall can’t be forgiven for stealing ideas from The Dark Knight and Home Alone.

The film is aided by a strong supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes once again proves what a solid actor he is and gives the Secret Service a soul. Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny provide the perfect support, quite literally, it feels like Bond’s team is his family. Léa Seydoux is more than just a simple love interest; she adds genuine emotion to a film that could have easily turned out cold. Those that saw Andrew Scott in the BBC’s Sherlock already know his talent and Christoph Waltz is . . . well, you won’t be disappointed.

The new Bond has now become the fully-formed agent we saw in his previous incarnations. In doing so the universe he occupies has stepped away from reality and rests somewhere between the old and new versions. This isn’t a bad thing. Without embracing Bond’s past he would have just become a Bourne imitator. Now all bets are off. The stakes can be set as high as any writer’s imagination, any famous villain reborn.

In order to continue the episodic nature there’s also another certainty: there’s a painful future ahead for Her Majesty’s finest.

 

Buzzing

Buzzing
Laline Paull’s debut novel is set inside a hive of bees. The protagonist, and heroine of the tale, is lowly sanitation worker Flora 717. Straight from the start it’s obvious Flora is a special case. Bright, sharp, inquisitive and strong. The backdrop of the hive is seen from her perspective, as she evolves from naïve outsider to determined veteran.

In relative terms her switch is rather fast. Such is the life of an insect. However, in the early chapters there is a slight lag. It isn’t immediately dealt with in a smooth fashion. Paull has to present certain cases and events to build up Flora’s – and the reader’s – understanding of hive life. Information that serves 717 later on in the tale.

As Flora absorbs this we take in the world that Paull creates. From cold insect perspectives (they have no qualms about acts of genocide for the greater good of the Queen) to the rigid structure of the society they occupy. All done for “devotion,” an addictive chemical release from the Queen that brings about glee. Always with the mantra: “Accept, obey, serve.”

Throughout the tale Paull interchanges bee physiology with anthropomorphism. This serves to keep Flora’s tale flowing, and after the first third it never lets up. The author also leaves much of the metaphors that apply to human society to the reader’s interpretation. How we perceive their individual messages will say much about our own personal views.

At the heart it is a tale of supressed love, the control of many by the elite few, how faith can be controlled by those that are faithless. It isn’t the political allegory Animal Farm was for its generation but it doesn’t attempt to simplify an ever increasingly complex world.

In the end The Bees is a sweet tale with a sting in its tale.