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Hammerle On... 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' 'Concussion'

January 13, 2016

bob hammerle movie reviews“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

There are times when a highly acclaimed film exceeds its praise and that is exactly the case with director J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Unlike the recent James Bond film “Spectre,” it reintroduces previous characters without drowning under its own weight.

This is a film that can be simply classified as spectacular entertainment from beginning to end. Filled with excitement and suspense, there is not a dull moment in the entire movie.

hammerle-rating-forceawakens.gifSure, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher reappear as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. However, only Ford makes any type of significant contribution, and the movie belongs to new heroes who are wonderful to watch at every turn.

This starts with Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, a scavenger who reluctantly joins the rebel forces. Rey becomes a force of nature, and her performance drowns out anything offered by Jennifer Lawrence in the last two “Hunger Games” movies or Shailene Woodley in the “Divergent” series. Ridley joins Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation” as women who don’t need to be rescued by men.

While the central focus of this film at all times remains Rey, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac rise to the occasion in memorable supporting roles. Boyega plays Finn, an ex-member of the Dark Side whose desire to seek peace and isolation is thwarted by his commitment to Rey. Isaac plays Poe Dameron, a rebel pilot who smirks at danger. Hard to believe he was the twisted scientist in 2015’s “Ex Machina.”

The only mild weakness in the film comes from Adam Driver’s role as Kylo Ren, a successor to Darth Vader. Though his ties to Han Solo will grab your attention, he is a villain who is far easier to hate than fear.

However, the strength of this film does not rest with the actors but the story. It is once again a glorious adventure where decent people seek to survive, and the superb score from John Williams continually adds a dimension to the film that enlivens your senses.

Additionally, while the visual effects are outstanding, the heart and soul of the film is found with the reappearance of Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. But it is the appearance of a new droid called BB-8 that will capture your heart. He has the head of a bowling ball on top of a body resembling a beach ball, and every scene where he appears on screen adds glorious new meaning to the phrase “cute.”

In closing, please do not think that this film is little more than a lightweight trip through space. Danger threatens our heroes around every turn, and there is a real question concerning who will survive. This is a film that deserves its blockbuster label, so do your best to hunt it down once the massive crowds begin to disappear.

“Concussion”

hammerle-rating-concussion.gifDirector Peter Landesman’s “Concussion” is a searing indictment of the National Football League. For all its beauty, grace and power, it is a sport where the owners intentionally hid from the players and fans the damaging consequences flowing from the brutality of the game.

In his best performance in years, Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, an immigrant physician from Nigeria working as a coroner in Pittsburgh in 2002. Accidently called upon to examine the remains of legendary Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster (memorably played by David Morse), Omalu was the first to recognize the damage caused to the human brain from repeated football concussions. Initially ridiculed by the league and its many wealthy supporters, the death of multiple former players at a young age finally led to the acknowledgment of the brain trauma known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

As noted in the film, the popularity of the NFL has led to its domination of Sunday, replacing the position previously held by churches throughout our land. Helped by cities that donate taxpayer money to build massive stadiums, owners make a fortune as millions of Americans become entranced with the game. You can’t help but be reminded of cheering crowds packing the old Roman Colosseum thousands of years ago as gladiators fought to the death.

The film is immensely helped by supporting performances from Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin. Brooks appears as Dr. Cyril Wecht, Smith’s immediate supervisor who endures a federal indictment largely because of his support of Dr. Omalu’s efforts. Baldwin is also magnificent, here playing Dr. Julian Bailes, a former employee of the NFL who has the courage to support Dr. Omalu when no one else would.

However, what makes the film so emotionally rewarding is another compelling performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Here, she also is a Nigerian immigrant who becomes our beleaguered coroner’s wife, and in the process enables him to find the courage and strength to fight a powerful organization’s denial of the simple truth. Gorgeous and talented, you should take the time to see her in “Belle” (2013) and “Beyond the Lights” (2014).

Smith’s performance captures both Dr. Omalu’s wonderful accent and his refusal to buckle before the tidal wave of opposition financed by the NFL. Facing a possible federal investigation combined with questions surrounding his immigration status, Dr. Omalu remained dedicated to one overriding medical purpose, namely the truth.

Regardless of your enthusiasm for the NFL, the bottom line is that they have intentionally buried the dangers associated with their game in the same fashion that the tobacco industry did for decades. Let me put it this way. Knowing the connection between the traumatic effect of brain injuries suffered by close to 28 percent of those playing professional football, would you let your child play the game? If your opinion is wavering, make sure you see “Concussion.”•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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