Out on Friday 18 December
Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't the only film out. (Although your cinema listings may say otherwise.) Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sherpa and Sparks & Embers. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Blue letters on black: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away And then: STAR WARS. And if that doesnt elicit goosebumps, the receding crawl that follows straightforward, enticing, with not a jot of gobbledegook about trade tariffs thrillingly echoes the openers of the original trilogy. This is old-school stuff, pitched just right, and so it is with most of the film that follows. Forget the overstuffed, over-polished, over-pixelated, underwhelming prequels by George Lucas. The look and feel of J.J. Abrams seventh episode in the beloved space saga is just what fans have been waiting for since 1983s Return Of The Jedi. Its time to party like an Ewok: the Force is strong with this one. But back to that crawl. The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire; and the Resistances (nee Rebellion) General Leia Organa has sent her most daring pilot to the planet of Jakku on a desperate mission (were paraphrasing here). That pilot is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Hell team up with Finn (John Boyega), an AWOL Stormtrooper, and the pair will go in search of Damerons BB-8 droid, conveyor of a vital piece of a vital map... On Jakku, scavenging to survive, resides Rey (Daisy Ridley), the at-first-dubious-but-increasingly-proud owner of (you guessed it) a BB-8 droid. But no sooner have Rey and BB-8 started to roll together than they find themselves targeted by a death squad. Stop holding my hand! Rey yells at Finn, whos turned up in the nick of time to drag her to safety. Pointedly, thrillingly, she then grabs his hand to haul him into a rusting ship, their only hope of escape If any of this sounds convoluted and we havent even mentioned the First Orders Big Bads General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and its even Bigger Bad Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, mo-capping once more) its not. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) bring clarity and purity to the storytelling, returning to the part-mythological, part-Saturday-serial vibe of A New Hope. The images, too, are uncomplicated and unfussy. Just as Abrams jettisons the antiseptic sheen of the prequels in favour of the clunky, lived-in world of the originals, and uses CGI more to take away than to add (opting for practical effects and props wherever possible), so he refrains from the kamikaze camera and ADD-cutting of so many modern blockbusters. Yes, theres a mobility and immediacy to the battles that wasnt possible 30 years ago, but it never jars, always serves story. The use of irises and wipe-edits, meanwhile, is adopted for house style. Of the new triangle of characters, Boyega brings intensity and a surprisingly honed comic timing (I love the Resistance, he gabbles when Rey asks him if thats who hes with); Isaac is amiable and handsome and a welcome throwback in his effortless derring-do; and Ridley, always likeable, overcomes some initial woodenness to handle the heavy lifting of later emotional scenes. Of the old triangle, here making fan-pleasing returns, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) set bottom lips a-trembling whenever they share the screen, while Luke (Mark Hamill) well, that would be telling. Lets just say theres good reason J.J. has guarded this aspect of the plot with the tightness of a Force choke, and instead focus on Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), still rocking the greatest backcomb in movies. The hairy guy has also sharpened his sense of humour over the last 32 years his bickering double-act with Han will have you choking laughter like youre bringing up a fur ball. But its Drivers Kylo Ren who steals the show, a match for Darth Maul when sporting his car-grill mask, and something else entirely when he removes it. Star Wars, in many ways, is all about clearly defined lines and black and white, but this is the kind of anguish and soul-searching youd expect in an Ingmar Bergman movie. Albeit with a really cool lightsaber. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not perfect nor could it ever be. But for every niggle (Snoke is pure Voldemort, one tentacular beast better belongs in Men In Black 3) there are 10 things that are exactly right, and it says much that no one will leave disappointed despite going in with hysterical levels of expectation. There are images here that brand the brain: Rey dwarfed by a crashed Star Destroyer as she toboggans down a huge hill of sand; Hux addressing thousands of Stormtroopers like its some Nazi propaganda rally filmed by Leni Riefenstahl; Starkiller Base, boasting firepower to make the Death Star(s) look like a Zippo lighter, destroying multiple planets. And if Episode VII is almost too slavishly reverential, its every sub-plot mirroring or reversing those that have gone before, and its nods and winks so plentiful as to border on the distracting, it is better this than to repeat Lucas prequel mistakes. This, undoubtedly, is the movie that fans wanted, the movie that fans deserve. And its only fitting that it is, beneath the scintillating action and striking world-building, a film about parents and children, about the effects of one generation on the next, about legacy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be viewed and passed down for many years to come. THE VERDICT: No need to have a bad feeling about this. J.J. Abrams movie will thrill youngsters and transport millions more back to their childhoods far, far away. Director: J.J. Abrams Starring: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill Theatrical release: 17 December 2015 Jamie Graham
Jennifer Peedoms documentary explores Everest from the point of view of local Sherpas, for whom undertaking the dangerous ascent in assistance of travelling westerners is simply part of the day job. Theres a damning political undercurrent here, highlighting how the now-huge Everest industry mistreats and takes advantage of the Sherpas. Peedom does a great job of building tension to subtly demonstrate how low-paid, non-white workers are expected to be submissive and, via candid footage, exposes the shockingly self-centred and entitled attitudes of some of the western climbers. Director: Jennifer Peedom Starring: Phurba Tashi Sherpa, Russell Brice, Ed Douglas Theatrical release: 18 December 2015 Stephen Puddicombe
SPARKS & EMBERS
A lack of charms the harm in Gavin Boyters seasonal romcom, despite its nifty two-timeframe plot. When sacked record-label schlub Tom (Kris Marshall) gets stuck in a lift with corporate downsizer Eloise (Annelise Hesme), he ogles her bra, she huffs and love ignites. Five years on, they meet post-relationship as shes about to leave town. A classic will she/wont she scenario emerges, with game leads and Richard Curtis-esque draws (London landmarks, comedy carol singers, bantz): but we dont care because hes a regressive dork, shes an out-of-touch cipher and the chemistry never sparks. Director: Gavin Boyter Starring: Kris Marshall, Annelise Hesme Theatrical release: 18 December 2015 Kevin Harley