Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted on December 16, 2015 at 3:01 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scene in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive sci-fi action-style violence with guns and explosions and many characters injured and killed, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 27, 2016 ASIN: B018FK66TU
Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

The force is strong in this thrilling new chapter in the story set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fans will get goosebumps right from the start as the familiar logo and musical theme are followed by a scrolling summary to bring us up to date — without a single mention of a tariff or bureaucratic squabbling. Instead, it has words of near-incantatory power: Luke is missing. Leia is a General. An old ally has provided a clue to Luke’s whereabouts and the best pilot of the rebel forces has been sent to retrieve it.

That pilot is the irresistibly dashing Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who finally seems on the brink of the superstardom he has long deserved). Like Leia in “A New Hope,” he stashes the information in a droid, the adorable B-88, and then he is captured by stormtroopers representing the dark side of the force.  Now called First Order, it is a group that has risen from the ashes of the Empire and threatens to take over again. And we know they’re evil because they mostly have plummy British accents and when they give speeches they dress like they’re appearing in a Leni Riefenstahl recruiting video.

Stormtroopers are indistinguishable in their white armor and helmets, but in the attack on a civilian village one stands out. He seems dazed and disoriented. He shows compassion for a downed member of his battalion.  After returning to the ship, he is ordered to reprogramming to make sure he will never again fail to carry out an order to kill and destroy.  He decides to run away. He does not know how to fly, but there is a prisoner who happens to be the best pilot of the rebel forces, our new friend Poe.  “Why are you helping me?” Poe asks with understandable suspicion.  “Because it’s the right thing to do.” Our Poe is not fooled.  “You need a pilot,” he wisely responds.

Whatever. They both want to get the heck out of there, and that is good enough for the moment. Plus, the defecting stormtrooper speaks with an American accent (even though he is played by British actor John Boyega), so he must be okay.

Meanwhile, a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley, yes she has an English accent but is so obviously honorable and kick-ass great that it just sounds elegant, not evil) encounters B-88. And some old friends from the original trilogy show up for call-outs, tributes, and variations on beloved memories.

Co-writer/director J.J. Abrams has a deep understanding and respect for the original characters and themes going back to the very first episode, now chronologically chapter IV and retitled “A New Hope.” He co-wrote this film with Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter of Chapter V: “The Empire Strikes Back,” generally considered the strongest in the series.  They seamlessly bring the story forward with new characters who are vital and engaging. The special effects and mechanics are superbly designed and the action is brilliantly staged.

I wish I could tell you more but I can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, so just let me just say that this is the “Star Wars” you’ve been looking for. Be sure to check out the deleted scenes and other extras on the splendid DVD/Blu-Ray

Parents should know that this movie has extensive sci-fi peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and a very sad death. There are issues of totalitarianism, loss, and betrayal.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Finn have a name? How are Ren and Hux different? Who do you think Rey’s parents are?

If you like this, try: the original “Star Wars” trilogy

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3D Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

The Best Deleted Scenes: Total Film

Posted on December 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Total Film has a great list of the 50 best deleted scenes, and what kind of impact they would have on the storyline.  It’s a lot of fun to look at deleted scenes on DVDs, but it is usually easy to tell why the scene was left out.  One exception is a favorite of mine, “That Thing You Do.”  There is actually an alternate version available with some deleted scenes that include some more mature material added in and a slightly different end credit sequence, telling us what happened to the characters.  Cracked also has a funny piece about absurd deleted scenes — a lot of overlap, but some good commentary, plus the clips themselves.

There are extended versions of some films like “The Godfather” and “Lord of the Rings.”  And scenes deleted in order to get a particular rating from the MPAA are sometimes added back in so that the DVD can be issued “un-rated.”  Even if only a few seconds are added and it is almost impossible to notice the difference, some consumers will be attracted by the chance to see something that had to be cut.

I don’t really like the idea of many different versions of the same film unless, as was the case with “A Star is Born,” some lost footage was recovered and re-edited to let us see the film as the director originally intended.  If I could see any film re-cut to restore the director’s vision, I’d pick Orson Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

New Deleted Scenes from the Original “Karate Kid”

Posted on August 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

One of my favorite of the Slate “Spoiler Specials” (podcast discussions designed to be heard after you have seen the film, so they can discuss spoilers) was when Dana Stevens and John Swansburg discussed the remake of “The Karate Kid.”  Swansburg’s very, very detailed assessment of the original 1984 film, which he loved as a kid.  Now he has written a terrific assessment of the newly available deleted scenes posted on the YouTube channel of director John Alvidson.  It is a lot of fun to get this peek behind the scenes and I hope Alvidson inspires other directors to share their extra footage as well.  Here’s what he writes about this clip:

Here are the first ten minutes of “The Karate Kid” 1983 rehearsal movie.  That’s Jimmy Crabe, our cameraman, being knocked down when Ralph does a karate kick to the door of the apartment complex at the beginning of our story.



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Behind the Scenes
A Treat for ‘Say Anything’ Fans — Deleted Scenes!

A Treat for ‘Say Anything’ Fans — Deleted Scenes!

Posted on September 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

It’s the movie Entertainment Weekly called the greatest romance of the past 25 years.  Boom boxes have come and gone, but the iconic image of John Cusack holding his over his head so that Ione Skye can hear their song is all-but-universally recognizable.  “I used to think I had a crush on John Cusack,” a 20-something friend told me.  “But I really had a crush on , Lloyd Dobbler.”  A lot of the teen girls in the audience (and even the grown-up women) identified with Corey, DC, and Rebecca, who said, “If you were Diane Court, would you honestly fall for Lloyd?”  “Yeah.” “Yeah.”  “Yeah!”

Diane (Ione Skye), the high school valedictorian memorably described as “a brain…trapped in the body of a game show hostess,” does fall for Lloyd, then breaks up with him after pressure from her father (John Mahoney), then comes back to him when it turns out her father, the person she trusted most, was stealing from his nursing home residents to get money to give Diane lavish gifts.

Susannah Gora of Salon notes that writer-director Cameron Crowe (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Almost Famous,” and the upcoming “We Bought a Zoo” with Matt Damon) has been posting deleted scenes, just the screenplay, not footage, on his website.

Gora says:

Crowe had based the Lloyd character on a real-life man named Lowell Marchant, who was his neighbor in Santa Monica during the time he was working on this script. Marchant was an optimistic 19-year-old kickboxer from Alabama, who, as Crowe told me when I interviewed him for my book “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried,” “would knock on the doors of his neighbors to make friends. And you’d answer it, and he’d be like, ‘Good afternoon, I’m Lowell Marchant. And I would like to meet you. I’m your neighbor, and I’m a kickboxer. Do you know about kickboxing?’ And he would wipe off his palm on the side of his pant leg, and shake your hand. And it was just such a great thing.” Crowe told me that Marchant’s simple, thoughtful gesture of wiping his palm before going for the handshake “was the first little spark for the bonfire that would become getting the character right.”

But what struck me as perhaps the most interesting and most significant finding in all the newly released material was this: Originally, Lloyd had a line at the very beginning of the film in which he asks one of his friends, “Did ever say anything about me?” The line was ultimately scrapped, which may seem insignificant if not for one thing: That was the only time that Cusack’s character ever uttered the phrase that was the title of the film. As it stands, that phrase, “say anything,” is spoken many times — but only by Diane and her father.

It is a lot of fun to read over the script for the famous dinner scene and see the stage directions, and understand how much Mahoney, Skye, and Cusack brought to the film, and to see the portions that Crowe wrote but did not use.  And if it inspires you to watch the movie (again or for the first time), that’s good, too.

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Behind the Scenes Classic For Your Netflix Queue High School Romance Understanding Media and Pop Culture Writers
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