So this is it, the wait is over. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is finally here.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Excitement has been steadily building throughout the year as the film’s unstoppable march has become unavoidable. Not that you would want to avoid it. With the return of old favorites Han, Leia and Luke and the promise of the adventure fans have been waiting for since the original trilogy ended, the cinematic event of the decade is upon us. And Star Wars isn’t the only mega-franchise opening this month. Secret agent extraordinaire James Bond is back for another mission as a classic foe returns. With two cinematic titans going head to head, and a host of other great movies on release, it seems that this year the best has been saved until last.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – December 18
You’ve watched the trailers, rejoiced at the return of Han and Chewie, and worn out your remote control BB-8, but at long last it’s here. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It’s been ten years since “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of The Sith” drew a line under what was universally seen as, to put it mildly, a disappointing set of George Lucas helmed prequels. Now with the rights passed to Disney and Lucas out of the picture it’s up to J.J. Abrams to deliver the movie fans have been longing for. Hopes are high; Abrams scored a critical and commercial success with his resurrection of the Star Trek brand. Mixing fast-paced action spectacle with a respect for the source material proved a winning formula for fans and mainstream audiences alike, and a similar blend should prove successful here. Abrams has pulled in a crop of fresh talent to move the series forward, while old faces provide a warming dose of nostalgia. Bringing the Force to a new generation are Daisy Ridley, John Boyega (“Attack The Block”), Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and little round droid BB-8, who already seems to have secured fan-favorite status. They’re joined for the ride by original trilogy favorites Han, Luke, Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca. Story details have been kept well under wraps so all that’s left to do is to book your ticket and wait for the words; A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Spectre – December 4
“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Kingsman” – it’s been a good year for movie spies and the best has been saved for last. James Bond, 007, is back for his twenty-fourth outing. Daniel Craig dons the tux once again, making a serious challenge to Sean Connery’s position as Best-Bond-Ever, while Sam Mendes is back in the director’s chair after helming the most successful film in the franchise’s history, 2012’s “Skyfall.” Returning to the fray are regular accomplices Ralph Fiennes as MI6 leader M, Ben Whishaw as gadgets-man Q and Naomie Harris as spiky secretary Miss Moneypenny. “Skyfall” acted as a bridge uniting Craig’s hardedge Bond with some of the series’ classic characters and motifs and this trend continues in “Spectre” as 007’s greatest foe is revived. Oscar-winner and Tarantino-favorite Christoph Waltz takes up the mantle of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of sinister organization Spectre, to do battle with Bond in the secret agent’s latest adventure. With Bond girls Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci completing the cast, expect the fast cars, cool quips and spectacular action that have come to define the series.
Straight Outta Compton – December 19
Dr. Dre. Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella came “Straight Outta Compton” to become one of the most influential rap groups of all time: N.W.A. Born into a world of street-gangs, drugs and violence these five young men incorporated the world around them into their music to achieve staggering critical acclaim and commercial success. Despite the fame, violence was never far away from the authority-baiting rap artists. This biopic charts the rise and fall of a group that challenged racial politics and changed the musical landscape forever. Already a success overseas, F. Gary Gray has earned himself a director’s job on the next installment in the hit “Fast and Furious” franchise thanks to his confident, stylish work here. The cast is comprised of talented newcomers headed by Ice Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., taking the role of his father’s younger self. Corey Hawkins joins him as Dre with Jason Mitchell playing Eazy-E and screen veteran Paul Giamatti as controversial manager Jerry Heller. Witness the untold story of the group behind rap standards “F*ck the Police,” “Express Yourself” and of course, “Straight Outta Compton.”
Creed – December 23
Battered boxer Rocky has shown an ever-diminishing return in his films since winning the Best Picture Oscar in his 1976 debut and so it came as some surprise when 2006 revival “Rocky Balboa” turned out to be a solidly entertaining effort. Having proven time and again he can’t be knocked out for the count the Philly pugilist is back for another round in “Creed.” Thankfully, it won’t be Sylvester Stallone’s aging fighter stepping into the ring but Adonis Johnson, son of Rocky’s toughest opponent turned closest friend, Apollo Creed. Charismatic young actor Michael B. Jordan is the man preparing for greatness under the tutelage of our heavyweight hero. While Rocky’s last effort in the role of trainer, the disastrous “Rocky V,” didn’t turn out so well, the mix of Jordan’s charisma and the heart Stallone brings to his most famous character ensures a feel-good appeal to this tried and tested formula.
Life – December 19
Anton Corbjin made a name for himself as a brilliant photographer and music video director before turning his hand to feature films with stylish Joy Division biopic “Control.” The director returns to the biopic genre for his latest, a look at the life and times of screen legend and eternal symbol of teen rebellion, James Dean. “Life” stars two of Hollywood’s most in demand young actors – Dane DeHaan as the doomed star and Robert Pattinson as the Life photographer sent to cover him. The film looks at the friendship that grows between the pair as they travel across the country together, offering a snapshot of time in the life of a legend.
My Father, Her Lover – December 19
Tokyo International Film Festival’s Japanese Splash section shined a spotlight on a number of films from Japan’s independent scene with “Her Father, My Lover” being one of the most talked about. The story follows a series of complicated relationships and their impact on the breakdown of a family. Taeko’s highschool friend Maya has a thing for older men and one in particular has caught her eye: Taeko’s father. Leaving behind a heartbroken former lover, who was also her high school teacher, Maya pursues her desire without thought for the consequences. Featuring a broad spectrum of well-drawn characters including a cheating father, a pregnant mistress, a disaffected daughter and a cancer-stricken mother, the film twists and turns up until its unexpected climax.
Best of the Rest:
Pawn Sacrifice – Tobey Maguire stars as American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer in this Cold War era biopic. (Dec. 25)
Heaven Knows What – Following a couple of madly in love young heroin addicts on the streets of New York this film is based on the memoir of its star, Arielle Holmes. (Dec. 26)
She’s Funny That Way – Imogen Poots and Owen Wilson star in a screwball comedy centered on the relationships between the cast and crew of a Broadway musical in director Peter Bogdanovich’s latest. (Dec. 19)
Liza The Fox-Fairy – Hungarian black comedy with a Japanese twist as a lonely nurse finds all her suitors killed off by her only friend, the ghost of a Japanese pop singer. (Hungarian only, Japanese subs, Dec. 19)