Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) (PG-13)

This review contains SPOILERS!
I was going to write this review as really vague and not include a SPOILERS warning, but then I decided I couldn't. It's still going to be vague and I really won't try to spoil anything; but you have been warned.

It's been an interesting journey for the "Star Wars" franchise. After it was announced that Lucas was selling the rights to Disney, with the intentions of making more movies, the internet exploded. Skepticism, loyalty, outrage, excitement—you name it, I'm sure we all read blogs about it. Needless to say, people were waiting for this.
George Lucas stepped back (thank the Lord) and "Star Trek" renovator J. J. Abrams (the lens flare is strong with this one) came in to fill the lack for the first of a new trilogy of "Star Wars" flicks. What immediately occurred was the obsessive secrecy around the film. Take a look at Twitter and tumblr and you'll find that no one...wants the new "Star Wars" spoiled for them.
With this consideration for how secretive the filming was and how the film has generated so much attention I find it kind of silly actually because nothing in the movie is remotely shocking.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is an easy success, relying on pleasing fans by making the safest of safe movies and not really doing anything. It could be condensed to a "good guys are fighting bad guys and we want the good guys to win" because it lacks all the innovation of the first movies.
Like him or not, George Lucas created a universe by not having to explain every last detail of the world the audience was introduced to in "A New Hope". In "The Force Awakens", there has been so much discussion on this world, that it feels compressed and small. This, and the fact that every character can magically get where they're going in a matter of seconds, makes the film feel very intimate and much less...cosmic.
"The Force Awakens" introduces us to many new characters, the origins of whom are kept very secretive and will not be named here. There's a girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a man named Finn (John Boyega) and then another Darth Vader like character with an ominous voice and a great deal of power that they call Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Other fun characters who serve no larger narrative purpose pop up and sing songs or dance for the camera, but essentially, nothing is terribly new.
"The Force Awakens" attempts to push all shocks and gasps from the original trilogy into one movie and by doing so, the audience really isn't given that much time to react or even be surprised. This is a movie that reveals many "plot twists" in its first forty minutes that Lucas took two and a half movies to do. Everything that needs explaining becomes quickly explained and I found myself not really shocked or surprised by anything...then again, this is a movie that is just set up for the next two. There is nothing particularly unique about it, nor should there's just the foundation for the next two films.
The acting here is adorable and fun (Ridley and Boyega are exciting new faces), even if the script gives clunky and harsh lines that feel out of place. Abrams is a fan of "Star Wars" and as such, probably makes the best movie anyone could have in his position, I don't envy him that.
"The Force Awakens" is a whole lot of fun. It's entertaining, funny, thrilling, and has just enough action. It's just a perfect blockbuster and its immediate success is proof of this. Unfortunately, I'm very skeptical of how the next two movies are going to pan out, seeing as the franchise is shifting hands with each movie so a different director will make each film.
There's not a whole lot to say about the movie without spoiling it besides: good heroine, okay villain, nice robot, fun flying, cool fighting, and nice ending. It's a very good movie; but considering the scrutiny it is going to go under for being a "Star Wars" movie, I'm disappointed that the movie wasn't more surprising. If you've seen "A New Hope", you won't be surprised. I am faulting the script writers (among whom is Lawrence Kasdan, who is usually brilliant) and the production team for not trying something just a little more original. "The Force Awakens" implies, even in its title, of new life, fresh air, and exciting chances...what we got was a remake. A really, really good remake; but still, it's nothing to lose your mind about.
I think subsequent movies will stray farther because there is enough unique story in the film to make it worth while to stick around. I'm sure you won't be disappointed to see it. My advice: watch "The Force Awakens" in theaters if not for the film itself (which really doesn't disappoint on entertainment value or female leads), but for the experience of including yourself in the newest iteration of what will most certainly be one of the biggest franchises of our lifetimes.

Score: ★★★

Twelve Monkeys (1995) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
I like Terry Gilliam. That being said, I really haven't seen that much of what he's done; but I like what I've seen. "Brazil" is incredible and "Monty Python" is always delightful. But I think with one of the quintessential sci-fi movies of the late twentieth century, "Twelve Monkeys", I can't help but be a little disappointed.
This is probably because even for all Gilliam's inventiveness, the movie will never compare to the original short film it was based on. "La Jetée" tells the same story, but it does it in such a way that is spellbinding and simply magical. Yet the short film is only half an hour long. Gilliam and screenwriters Chris Marker and David and Janet Peoples stretch the short film out far beyond its limits and in doing this, the audience can start to see the cracks.
Now I realize that I'm one of the only people who thinks this way; but I can't help but believe that "Brazil" is Giliam at the height of his powers and here, he seems like he is struggling. 
Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner on whom scientific experiments are conducted. James is sent through time in order to find the cause of a deadly virus that would eventually wipe out 5 million people before the population on Earth moved underground.'s pretty much exactly what happens in "La Jetée". As with the short French film, James keeps having dreams of a memory or a hallucination from his childhood in which he witnesses an act of violence. As the movie moves along, things are complicated when he starts to meet people from his dream. 
One of these people is a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who befriends James as he is put in a mental institution during the times of flux that he spends between time periods. This isn't an exact science, it's lightning in a bottle and a prayer.
So James becomes catapulted throughout time like a confused, drugged version of Doctor Who and in each iteration, the set pieces get more elaborate. As is Gilliam's tendency, everything reeks of a huge budgets. His mind seems to be the Petri dish for steampunk fantasies about big government. As with his previous movies, Big Brother is always staring down the shoulder of James as he tries to unravel his past/present/future. The dates become blurred and even the viewer has a hard time understanding everything that is going on. James seems to do things with no motivation and unfortunately, this is not Bruce Willis at his best.
Brad Pitt enters as the crazy son of a genius scientist (Christopher Plummer) and does the whole "I'm locked in an asylum, please help, I'm actually charming" thing quite well. All that said, he's nothing special and the movies gives him too much leeway for a character that is, in essence, just a large distraction for entertainment value (insert comment on what movies are at their core here, madness ensues). 
Still, the movie is enjoyable, even with all its bizarre camera angles and distracting soundtrack. It's really nothing compared to its predecessor. The invention of "La Jetée" was how it was filmed, shot almost entirely in still frame photographs; yet Gilliam seems to want to make something just as inventive, and he fails. There is a stylistic stark difference in the two that proves that all movies that you assume are inaccessible are actually inaccessible. Somethings just weren't made to be messed with.

Score: ★★½