Del and Mladen review ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Image courtesy of Disney Studios.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Harrison Ford. Directed by J.J. Abrams. 135 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it again.

My friend Sandy was feeling blue. Her husband was TDY in Korea and her teenaged kids were doing their thing. One day she decided to remedy her malaise by throwing a cookout for the kids. She took a pound of ground beef and shaped it into several thick patties. She toasted hamburger buns on the grill as the burgers sizzled. She gathered all the trimmings and condiments – tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, mustard, mayo, and ketchup.

When the kids looked at those fat, juicy, steaming burgers, they turned up their noses and sniffed, “We wanted REAL hamburgers, like McDonalds.”

Moviegoers have watched the cinematic equivalent of fast food for so long they have no idea what the real thing looks like. To them, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an actual movie, and a good movie at that. But those of us who know what a real hamburger looks and tastes like know this latest installment of the Star Wars canon is little more than a dime-sized beef-like patty sandwiched between two white-bread buns topped with a pickle and a miserly squirt of watered down mustard and ketchup.

And it’s not even CREATIVE fast food. Instead, it’s a brazen, in-your-face, do-something-about-it rip-off of the first movie. Call it “The Force Awakens a New Hope” because that’s precisely what it is … a splashy, high-resolution rehash.

Here’s the plot: A droid is carrying a map that will help the rebellion find Luke Skywalker, who holds the key to … something. I think it was the revival of the Jedi, but I’m not sure. I wish it were lower popcorn prices.

Special effects are light years superior to the first movie and John Boyega does a good job as Finn. Even Harrison Ford seems to enjoy his outing as Han Solo.

But some of the performances are terrible. Domhall Gleeson’s portrayal of General Hux is comically overwrought, and Carrie Fisher reads her lines as if she were sucking to keep dentures in her mouth. Through no fault of Adam Driver, the Kylo Ren character fails to equal the ominous and imposing Darth Vader; instead, he’s a damaged little boy with daddy issues.

The movie itself seems to lurch from one adventure to the next without much in the way of connective tissue, making it one vast, pointless coincidence.

I went into “The Force Awakens” with the expectation I would see a competent if not creative re-establishment of the Star Wars franchise, much like my experience last summer with “Jurassic World.” I came out offended that J.J. Abrams has no more respect for the moviegoer than to plagiarize “A New Hope.”

The fact that this movie will become the biggest grossing film of all time leads me to believe I am forever condemned to watching the cinematic equivalent of fast food burgers. Oh well, at least it isn’t Soylent Green. Or is it?

By all means, go see “The Force Awakens a New Hope” in a movie theater, because that is where all movies should be seen. Skip the popcorn; you’ll want fries with that.

And a year from now, don’t buy the DVD. You already own it.

Mladen’s take

I want my money back. The money I paid for my “Stars Wars: The Force Awakens” ticket and the money I paid for Del’s “The Force Awakens” movie ticket.

And, I want the money back for all my friends – and the rest of the globe – who have yet to realize that the film is 1) mediocre at best and 2) saved barely by Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey with assistance from John Boyega as Finn.

I’m also filing a claim with the Better Business Bureau against Disney for false advertising. “The Force Awakens” is not a continuation of the Star Wars saga. It is a remake of the first Star Wars movie released some four decades ago.

The more I think about the movie, the more I become frustrated.

TFA offer nothing compellingly original. A Death Planet, rather than a Death Star. Really, director JJ Abrams?

TFA is laced with weakling bad guys and improbable coincidences that keep the movie moving sideways. As Del noted during our conversation amid a round of disc golf, the movie has no plot, so it’s impossible for it to move forward. It’s worse than the least good of the three original films, “Return of the Jedi,” but better than the prequels. Of course, Jackass 4 is better than Sith tales I, II, and III.

Because I felt little for the characters, barring Rey, I paid attention to what TFA did have to offer, a solid soundtrack and terrific sound effects.

TFA is a distraction. By playing it safe and formulaic to bamboozle all the poor Star Wars fans out there hoping for something to break the disappointment of the franchise’s three most recent efforts, Disney committed a different error. The one called profit motive.

Now I understand the reason for Disney’s hyper hyperbolic marketing campaign, particular using dumbass social media. The Mickey Mouse company had to earn more box office than a heavily marketed, equally unsatisfying blockbuster of six years ago, “Avatar.” Moviegoers were used then and moviegoers have been used today. The lesson that was reinforced by the Star Wars juggernaut? Sell a movie hard enough, build expectations that touch Jakku in a galaxy far, far away, and no one will recognize the difference between a provocative, high-quality, and stimulating experience and cookiecutter entertainment packed with razzle dazzle empty calories.

I hope that this movie doesn’t sink Ridley’s and Boyega’s careers. If they’re forever typecast as Rey- and Finn-like characters, their solid acting skills will never see the light of a good film.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

“Cloverfield” Starring Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David. Directed by Matt Reeves; created by J.J. Abrams. 85 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

An amphibious monster, stories tall or a couple of blocks long, depending on the way you want to measure the beast, attacks Manhattan and it’s plausible.

That’s what makes “Cloverfield” work — the director takes the movie’s premise seriously.

Though “Cloverfield” sucks as a title, the movie becomes riveting after it finally cuts to explosions, toppled buildings, gunfire and missile and bomb attacks.

“Cloverfield” is realistic because it’s shot from the street-level point of view of a handful of people while the scaleless monster rampages through New York. The frenetic, jittery perspective you see on the big screen is captured by one of the survivors, who’s wielding a camcorder with the longest-lasting battery ever manufactured.

The CGI and the real blend flawlessly in this movie.

At any moment I expected cameraman Hud to focus on a still-functioning TV at an electronics story being looted as mayhem sweeps the island. President Bush comes on, the TV screen flickering.

“My fellow Americans, we are in a long war with monsters,” he would have said. “I don’t know when it will end, maybe never, but we will achieve victory. To protect you, I’m suspending all civil liberties and disbanding Congress. I can do that. It’s in the Constitution. Ask Dick Cheney. There’s no time for silliness like democracy while radical Islamic fundamentalist jihadist terrorists unleash such furry — ah, fury — on the good, holy people of America. God bless me, your savior.”

Like GM and Ford are finally starting to build cars that can compete with Japanese brands, Hollywood has finally released a movie that can compete with Japanese giant monsters such as Godzilla and Gamera.

See “Cloverfield” while it’s in theaters. Go to the bathroom and buy popcorn sometime during the movie’s first 20 minutes, which are spittle, and then prepare for a jolt.

Del’s take

“Scaleless monster”? Mladen. I never thought of you as a dermaphobe.

Still, “Cloverfield” is a romp ’em stomp ’em bad ass monster of a movie, and anybody who disagrees needs to have his aura adjusted by a Marine drill sergeant.

OK, so the first 20 minutes are more “Quarterlife” than “Die Hard.” So what? That’s the part where we learn the viewpoint characters are as insipid and selfish as we. How else could we know that Rob is a metrosexual wussie who believes “commitment” is a dish best served cold?

But once the infrastructure starts rolling down the streets it’s a cinema verite grudge match featuring the icons of order vs. the forces beyond our control in a mighty metaphor for what’s happening in the world around us. If the U.S. could have dropped the “Cloverfield” monster on Fallujah, Barack Obama would be running a distant third.

Yes, we can niggle. How could that monster jump at a helicopter? What happened to Marlena behind the curtain? And in the movie’s final scene, did you really see something fall into the water? Oooh.

I just wish people would stop Blair Bitching about the jiggly camera motion – take a dramamine and call me in the morning. Ever read “The Sound and the Fury”? William Faulkner thought of the idea decades ago. If you can live with it on YouTube you can live with it in “Cloverfield.”

I think J.J. Abrams has kicked some serious Godzilla booty. This is not narrative storytelling. It’s slice-of-death moviemaking for a generation of voyeurs and narcissists who measure their worth in terms of the body count on their Facebook friends list.

In the movie’s penultimate scene we hear two very loud noises. Those were the sounds of a genre cracking under the weight of its own inertia and crashing into a new and limitless ocean of creative expression.

Let’s hope “Cloverfield” sinks a few ships.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.