Final Predictions For Star Wars: The Force Awakens 0 50

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Note: This is article was written not having seen the film so it’s SPOILER FREE UNLESS EXPLICITLY STATED.

Well, it’s finally… almost here.

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens premiered this week and will be widely released on Thursday in the UK and Friday in the U.S. Although there aren’t many early indications, the ones we’ve seen are positive. A host of prominent celebrities filed out of the premiere on Monday evening, and though they were generally wonderful about avoiding spoilers, the overall tone was hard to miss: they loved it. From Patton Oswalt to Rob Lowe, the lucky few who caught the early screening were positively gushing in vague tweets.

But enough about expectations and early impressions. Pretty much everyone who’s interested in Star Wars is hoping for (and in many cases expecting) a genuine triumph from J.J. Abrams. What many of us are more curious about isn’t whether or not this will be a good film, but rather who and what we’re about to see on screen. Who’s the main protagonist? Where is Luke Skywalker hiding in all the posters and trailers? Is there a new Sith lord? Will any older characters make surprise reappearances?

These are the questions that have been been keeping Star Wars fans up at night throughout most of 2015. And just for fun before the film finally reaches the cinema, here’s one last round of predictions to ponder.

Chewbacca Will Not Die

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Naturally there’s been a great deal of ridiculously detailed analysis of the trailers for The Force Awakens, and one of the most popular theories to come out of it all is that we’ve been shown hints that Chewbacca will die in the new film. The case is certainly compelling when you’re looking at things clip-by-clip with the theory in front of you… but then again, J.J. Abrams has gone out of his way to express that the trailers are hardly showing us anything of consequence. And rest assured, this is a director with enough attention to detail to know exactly what dedicated fans will make of footage. Thus, any rumour coming entirely out of trailer footage is hard to take too seriously. Plus, while Abrams likely wouldn’t be too shy to kill an old hero or two, offing Chewbacca just seems cruel.

Rey Will Be The Jedi Hero

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Be warned: there’s a very slight spoiler included in this theory, and it’s related to how much each of the main characters actually has to do with the film. More specifically, LA Times writer Steven Zeitchik saw fit to tweet out his own “list of cast prominence.” In that list (again, spoiler alert), Zeitchik listed Daisy Ridley (who plays Rey) as the most prominent cast member, which suggests she’s the main character we’re looking for. We do see Finn (John Boyega) wielding a lightsaber in the trailers, but there’s always a chance Rey takes the lead as the “main” Jedi, so to speak.

Yoda, Obi-Wan, & Anakin Will Appear

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A while back, before the cast of The Force Awakens was announced and we learned for sure that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher would be reprising their roles, odds were posted as to which characters would appear in Episode VII. The main focus was on Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, but at the time, odds were also offered for the likes of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin Skywalker. And now, on the eve of the film’s release, all three of them seem almost suspiciously forgotten. Abrams is considered something of a master of misdirection. With all the focus on the three main characters of the original trilogy returning, as well as all the exciting new elements, these three vital characters have been dismissed. Don’t be shocked if they show up in some sort of vision similar to what Luke witnessed at the end of Return Of The Jedi.

Han Will Kill Captain Phasma

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With all the focus on mysterious new villain Kylo Ren, the bizarre super-Stormtrooper Captain Phasma (portrayed by Gwendoline Christie, who famously plays Brienne of Tarth on Game Of Thrones) is flying under the radar. The character has been described as “Boba Fett-like,” however, which indicates she could become a fan favourite. She could also become a disposable sub-villain, though. We all know Han Solo had serious beef with Boba Fett, and frankly it’s more realistic for Han to take on someone like this than, say, a Sith warrior. Fans will be hoping for some kind of great Han triumph, and offing the character who’s expected to be similar to his old nemesis seems fitting.

Snoke Will Be A Sensation

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There are a ton of rumours floating around regarding Supreme Leader Snoke, a behind-the-scenes Sith lord who’s been lurking around the Star Wars saga from the beginning. One incredibly fun theory even suggests that Jar Jar Binks was Snoke all along, and frankly it’s so convincing that there’s the tiniest chance this is really the case. But it’s still extraordinarily unlikely. What we do know is that Andy Serkis (who jokingly confirmed the rumour) is depicting Supreme Leader Snoke through motion capture. And when Serkis jumps into a motion capture suit, majestic things tend to happen. This is the same guy who brought the likes of Smeagol (Lord of the Rings and Caesar (the newer Planet Of The Apes films) to life. Simply put, he doesn’t mess around. Even if he has only a minimal role in Episode VII, expect Snoke to steal any scene he’s in.

That about does it for a final round of theories. Oh, and Luke hasn’t gone to the dark side—it’s just too hard to believe. Right? Right!?

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 205

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 230

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10