Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Directed by: J.J. Abrams Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt (screenplay), George Lucas (characters) Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford and Adam Driver
The seventh episode of Star Wars is a clear-eyed, contagious nostalgia trip that also manages the difficult task of setting the stage for a promising batch of new characters. For better and worse, director J.J. Abrams lays the groundwork for that new era of a galaxy far, far away by relishing in the familiarity of George Lucas’ original film.
The Force Awakens is a seemingly impossible balancing act that Abrams mostly pulls off; even as the movie retraces Lucas’ footsteps, it doesn’t feel like an insincere cash grab (ahem, Jurassic World). The old characters– among them Han Solo, Chewbacca and General (the woman formerly known as Princess) Leia– don’t feel like they’re being crossed off a cameo checklist. Though they’re introduced with applause-ready entrances, they’re still mixed organically into the story, which is set roughly 30 years after the events of the 1983 installment The Return of the Jedi. (This movie all but ignores Lucas’ prequel trilogy).
While We’re Young Directed by: Noah Baumbach Written by: Noah Baumbach Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
“Enough about ethics, what about me?”
This line in Noah Baumbach’s latest movie comes toward the end, when the middle-aged documentary filmmaker played by Ben Stiller, reaches the end of an annoyingly grandiose diatribe against every other character in the movie and their perceived moral betrayals. It’s delivered, as much of the rest of the movie is, somewhere between satire and sincerity. That’s to say, While We’re Young is much more of a return to form for Baumbach than the joyous outburst of his last film, 2013’s Frances Ha.
While We’re Young is Baumbach’s sometimes sharp, sometimes eye-roll-inducing look at generational gaps and overlaps. Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their 40s, have no kids and are very defensive about it. They’re losing their friends to parenthood, so when Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried, a young couple in one of his film classes, they go on a double date and he and his wife quickly latch onto them.
Frances Ha Directed by: Noah Baumbach Written by: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig (screenplay) Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper and Adam Driver
Frances Ha may be the most uplifting film that Noah Baumbach has made, but with a filmography mostly defined by feuding families and the psychologically destructive aftermath, that doesn’t seem like a very difficult feat to overcome. It is, though. What makes Frances Ha brilliant is that, despite the relentless, elliptical French New Wave editing and structure, it feels effortlessly modern and also retains a distinct sense of melancholy.
Baumbach’s decision to shoot in black and white (and a detour to France midway through) makes the influence of Godard and Truffaut even more confrontational. It is still very much a movie of its time, though, with its frank if jittery examinations of female sexuality and friendship and its pleasingly liberated conclusion.