Movie review: “Joy”

Here is a partial list of the things you will see in “Joy”, that you won’t see in a lot of other movies:

K-Mart parking lots full of slush.
Styrofoam, used the way Styrofoam was used in the 80’s–liberally and everywhere.
Brown velvet upholstery.
Thickly carpeted staircases, like the way all your friends’ houses used to be when you were growing up.
Ubiquitously cheap cars.
Stained clothing.
Home Shopping Network jewelry.
The Home Shopping Network, period.
Soap operas.
Sparse and unprofessional home decor.
Thick, powdery 90’s foundation makeup.
Telephone bills.

Getting the picture? Do you remember this stuff? Because David O. Russell does, and increasingly he is making this world–the world of two-to-three-decade-old consumer goods, used in middle-to-lower class houses everywhere between the coasts–his home court. To watch “American Hustle”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, and now “Joy”, is to watch Russell carving out a directorial turf–Woody Allen gets Manhattan and Paris, Michael Bay gets Los Angeles, but David O. Russell gets *everything in between*. And holy shit, does he get it: no other current screenwriter has such a strong homing instinct for the precise details of American middle-class family dynamics.

Consider the opening of the movie: Joy is surprised by her dad’s unexpected return to her house. She lets him move in–of course, he’s her dad–but he has to take space in the basement, because Joy’s grandmother has the guest room. The side room is out, because that’s where Joy’s mother, who never leaves the house, mainlines her soap operas 24/7. Unfortunately, the basement is very crowded. Because Joy’s ex-husband lives down there, too. None of this is presented as “cute” or “quirky”; Joy is stressed, already late, and trying her best to manage her father; on his way in, he dumps a pile of laundry in her arms, kisses her on the cheek and tells her she has the “magic touch” for whitening clothes, then picks a screaming fight with her mother and starts to pick one with her ex-husband until Joy must literally separate them with a boundary ribbon of toilet paper. As she climbs the stairs from the basement, already resigned to being late for work, you can hear their inevitable argument ramping back up.

Does any of this sound familiar? Just off the top of my head, I can think of about eight women whose family lives are minefields rivaling Joy’s: I bet you can, too. This round-the clock  balancing act is what’s meant, in feminist discourse, by “emotional labor”; in five exhausting minutes, we see Joy caring for a mother whose clear mental illness she can’t afford to treat, accommodating a father whose emotional age hovers around 19, taking a scolding from her half-sister for allowing their grandmother to leave the house in winter to drive Joy’s two children to an event. When she has the epiphany that leads to her invention, her family offers begrudging support, larded heavily with jealousy, passive-aggression, and bad legal advice. Watching Joy try to keep her head above water would be compelling enough viewing, but Joy doesn’t want to just tread water–she wants to succeed at the American Dream. Tall order.

Luckily for her, she is in a David O. Russell movie. And all these note-perfect details should not distract you from the fact that David O. Russell writes fairy tales, fantasies in which scrappy underdogs yank themselves, by their bootstraps, into the stratosphere. The nostalgia impelling us into this world is driven by real details–we who lived through the 80s and 90s recognize the currency of brown velvet sofas and black elastic hair ties and QVC. We can smell Joy’s living room. But the American Dream that Joy is chasing died well before she was born, if indeed it ever was true. The real engine driving this train–driving Joy–is our shared wish that somehow, if we work hard enough, if we spin enough plates, if we have the Next Big Idea, if we never give up, it might come true again.

Merry Christmas.

Movie review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

So “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.







I’ve written before about a litmus test I have for movies called the “bound-ahead” test; if a movie inspires me to take several stutter-steps ahead of my companion on the way out of the theater, so that I can turn around and excitedly chatter at them while walking backwards, waving my hands and saying Astute Critical Things (“Did you see THAT?!!?!?”) the movie was good. The bound-ahead test is simple and instinctive and I trust it quite a bit.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did not pass the bound-ahead test. Because instead of bounding ahead, I waited until I got out of the theater before jumping about three feet in the air, letting out a earpiercing screech, then running in tight circles with my arms extended like an over-sugared child pretending to be an airplane. Then I ran in wide, looping spirals around my companion the whole way out to the end of the parking lot, screaming things like, “I TOLD YOU JJ COULD DO IT!” and “DIDN’T I TELL YOU JJ COULD DO IT!?!!!??” and ” HOLY SHIT, I CAN’T BELIEVE JJ DID IT!!!” back at my unfortunate companion.

What can I call a movie that so thoroughly broke my most reliable litmus test? How about: faith, rewarded. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a triumph, not just of storytelling and script and cinematography and score, but of single-entendre art, art not wrapped in defensive layers of snark and in-jokes and cynicism. It is a genuine, balls-to-the-wall adventure story, told with sincerity and a palpable desire to Do Things The Right Way: with script, not CGI; with a story honed to near perfection on the front end, not sliced into acceptable shape with editor’s shears on the back end. You can see that commitment everywhere: in the casting of infectiously enthusiastic, near-unknown John Boyega in the main role; in the tiny physical details, like the unappetizing bread Daisy Ridley cooks by stirring a fizzing dry mixture into a bowl of water with her finger; in the way that planets and sunrises and spaceships are treated as objects of awe, not just backdrops for expensive explosions. Gone are the rich man’s concerns that pervaded the atrocious prequels: trade routes, galactic parliaments, geneology, taxation. Here, characters are motivated by simple, human drives: Hunger. Thirst. A wish to do the right thing. A longing to regain your lost family or to rescue a friend in trouble. The desire to drive a spaceship really, really fast.

Speaking of that last one, how cool do you think you’d be able to be about driving the Millennium Falcon? Do you think you’d be able to play it down? Keep a straight face? Act like it was all old hat? Me neither. And neither can these characters—after narrowly escaping a pursuing horde of TIE Fighters by swerving through the wreckage of an abandoned Super Star Destroyer, Finn and Rey nearly collide in the center of the Falcon in their excitement to confirm to each other that yes, they really did just do that.
“Did you SEE that?!!?” Finn shrieks, neatly mimicking the question that we in the audience, delirious with adrenaline, are asking ourselves. Finn and Rey are true audience stand-ins; like us, they are genuinely excited by exciting events, and scared by scary ones. This is not the Star Wars of Acting Cool. In the prequels (which after this I swear I’ll stop mentioning them, because this movie has effectively negated their existence) bored celebrities mentally updated their resumes while telegraphing their profound contempt for this nerdy lightsaber-and-Jedi-cloak nonsense that we, the commoners, were paying to see. (And who could blame them? If you were Ewan McGregor, hair in a rattail, sharing a green screen with a squealing, simpering Jar-Jar Binks, you’d lie back and think of England, too.)

But in Abrams’s chapter, ironic distance is verboten; Boyega’s extraordinary, Golden-Retriever-like enthusiasm gives us permission to drop our guard as jaded moviegoers and admit that yes, we would like to fly the Millennium Falcon really fast, please. It would be cool if we could get our hands on one of those lightsabers, too. Maybe we could hang with Chewie? And slowly, over the course of the movie, all our wishes are granted, sometimes in surprisingly painful ways. Here are Han and Leia, grown into an achingly felt détente across the gulf of years spent fighting and fucking and disappointing each other in various ways. Their reunion feels at once tender and incredibly sad—in a single glance, they communicate decades of water under the bridge. We, sitting in the audience, can’t help but reflect on the decades of distance between the Younger Us who watched Han and Leia embark on their ticklish, sparky romance, and the Older Us who know, through painful experience, that time ends up subtracting as much as it adds, and eventually takes it all. This movie, while it gives us permission to access the giddy excitement of our youth, also gives us license to grieve what’s permanently lost in that river of time. When Leia advises Rey to accept the fact of her family’s death and give up hope of their return, we sense the weight and presence of lived experience, a stream of biography that we’ve just happened to catch four glimpses of as it flowed past. This is truly character-driven storytelling; Abrams, Kasdan, et al have allowed their characters to develop honestly, to age, to make mistakes and reflect real frailties.

The world of the movie, too, is damaged and dented, a scratched and windblasted world of spare parts and battered surfaces. The tantalizing promise made by the previews has come true: here, space is a dangerous frontier, a place where you can truly get hurt, not a gleaming CGI amusement park full of artificial thrills. “The Force Awakens” opens with a civilian massacre: suddenly, I’m reminded of the scene in “A New Hope” where Aunt Beru was reduced to a flayed, smoking skeleton; of the casual deaths and dismemberments available right alongside the booze in the cantina on Mos Eisley. Star Wars, at its very best, offered a world where loss and pain and death were real and terrifying, with the added twist of the Force, weaving the living and the dead together in a seamless braid of energy. The Force was hope; it was an afterlife without the requirement of a God; it was a beautiful and Zen-like philosophy of life that offered meaning without flinching away from the ugly realities of death and loss. The prequels broke the promise of the Force. “The Force Awakens” brings it back. If you made it all the way to this weekend in one piece, or even a few battered pieces held together with string and spit and hope, your faith is about to be rewarded.

Hold on tight.

Movie review: “Love the Coopers”

OK so “Love The Coopers”.

This movie was marketed as the inheritor to “The Family Stone”–a modest, well-rehearsed actor’s piece centering on a mildly dysfunctional family, with faint overtones of “Love Actually”‘s spiderweb-like structure (where we meet all the characters first and discover their intersections later). And when you dig into the IMDb listings, you’ll find a lot of complimentary DNA for those claims: this movie is one writer, director, or producer away from “P.S. I Love You”, “Stepmom”, and “Sideways”, all of which were solid, character-driven movies. Unfortunately, it’s also one degree of separation away from “Safe Haven”, “The Story of Us”, “Kate and Leopold”, and “The Ugly Truth”–some of the worst, most misguided “romantic” movies made in the last twenty years. (Interestingly, it’s also one degree away from “August: Osage County”, which manages to be both.) With so much chaos in the family tree, and thirteen producers at the helm (you heard me. Thirteen. There were thirteen cooks in this kitchen), “Love the Coopers” is neither disaster nor triumph: it’s a festively wrapped box of hazard chocolates. Overall, there’s plenty to enjoy, as long as you don’t accidentally grab one of the truffles with toothpaste filling.

Good chocolates include: Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy, whose chemistry is so immediate and delightful that they should be indentured by law, like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, to star in romantic comedies at eight-year intervals for the rest of time. Watching these two flirt is like shaking up a soda can to explosive levels before hiding to watch your victim open it–an exercise in fizzy, giddy anticipation. The nation needs you to take one for the team, Olivia and Jake. SAVE US FROM KATHERINE HEIGL AND GERARD BUTLER.

A smallish role by Anthony Mackie, nearly unrecognizable as a repressed, stone-faced cop. For other actors, this role would be a literal straight-jacket–for Mackie, it’s just another opportunity to wow us with his apparently endless reserve of understated emotion.

A stellar performance by the city of Pittsburgh, refreshingly photographed as an actual location with recognizable geography, architecture, and culture–not a badly disguised stand-in for New York, or (even worse) a vaguely American EveryTown.

Bad chocolates include:

A face-clutching voiceover track allegedly delivered by the dog and almost certainly added in post by a nervous producer who holds the American audience in such deep disdain that he actually thought we needed a fucking dog to spell out the plot for us with such helpful reassurances as: “How do all these people fit together? That’s my story.” and “Time was kind to Bucky at that moment.” Excruciating.

Weirdly, John Goodman and Diane Keaton, who (hamstrung by a script that keeps them yo-yoing between opposite emotional poles in an exhausting will-they-won’t-they-get-divorced dance centering on a trip to Africa they might or might not take) both turn in the first bad performances of their lives. It’s not really their fault. Olivia and Jake took all the chemistry at the outset of the movie and are even now using it to fuel the first manned mission to Mars.

A strange, queasy-making almost-romance between Amanda Seyfried and Alan Arkin, who is, at 81, for those counting, 2.7 times Amanda Seyfried’s age. It is supposed to be “gentle” and “innocent”. I submit to you that “gentle” and “innocent” stops at tongue-kissing on a hospital stretcher.

Okay chocolates include: a soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, but also Sting. We can’t have everything.

Which turns out, rather refreshingly, to be the message of the movie. We can’t have everything in life, and some of the things we will lose, fritter away, or miss out on entirely will really sting. But there is comfort to be found in the imperfect leftovers, so make yourself a sandwich and enjoy.

Try to ignore the moralizing dog.

Movie review: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II”

OK, so “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II”. If you can hear me teeing up on the basis of that ludicrous title alone, then you know me well. If you have protective feelings about the books, you may want to seek minimum safe distance now, because it’s about to get ugly.

I have a minimal standard for movies, and it’s this: if a film cannot distract me from my aggravation over having gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the theater, the movie has failed in its purpose. (If you’re a careful driver, you can swap out the speeding ticket for any sufficiently irritating condition: a headache, an uncomfortable seat, an annoying moviegoer.) This movie not only failed the test as a film, but if boiled down to its essence, might not pass the test as a commercial. I’m told millions were spent making this movie, but I submit to you that millions were spent promoting this movie, which is different. If millions were spent on those drab and featureless sets, those uninspired and plastic-y looking costumes, and those intensely artificial, computer-glossy CGI terrors, then perhaps someone should have lit them with more than a guttering glowstick, because we can’t see any of it. During the approximately sixteen hours spent in underground tunnels, I had to guess which character had died in each battle by who was sobbing afterwards—mid-melee, it was impossible to distinguish one leading actor from another, which, given that one of the leading actors is Jennifer Lawrence and another is a lesser Hemsworth, should not be a point of confusion.

Aboveground, the news isn’t any better. In a deeply dubious CGI landscape of copy-pasted buildings, as repetitive as the cactus-mountain-cactus background of a Wile E. Coyote film, the last surviving rebels infiltrate the Capitol, where, we are repetitively told, the sadistic gamemakers have laid thousands of elaborate deathtraps in “pods” throughout the city, creating the ultimate Hunger Games—an urban maze of mines. Finally, we’re getting somewhere—the Hunger Games series was always at its best when it was exploiting the tension between the reader/viewer’s desire to see Katniss and her friends survive the Games, and the uneasy knowledge that this desire makes them (the reader/viewer) little better than the hordes of shallow and bloodthirsty aristocrats for whose entertainment the Games were designed. This movie seeks an escape hatch from the uneasy double-bind—unfortunately for us, the escape hatch it chooses is, “Promise the Games, then make them unutterably dull.” In what felt like three hours of wasteland wandering, I counted not thousands of boobytraps, but three. One which shoots fire, one which shoots bullets, and one which releases a menacing “oil” of surprising physical properties—it alternately rushes forward like an avalanche, stops short of a main character’s boot, speeds forward again to engulf a tertiary character whole and screaming, then laps gently at another main character’s boot. Interesting oil. I wonder if we could use it to clear up some of the draggier bits of Game of Thrones.

To fill in the spaces and stretch this movie into two parts (because every trilogy must now be a quadrilogy), characters are given portentous monologues, somber orchestral send-offs, and endless amounts of time to sit in poorly-lit foxholes emoting at each other over banalities. One such stultifying conversation between Jennifer Lawrence and her love interest, a charmless Josh Hutcherson, centers on favorite colors. His is “orange. Not bright orange, but soft, like the sunset.” I’ve always been told that the boredom of war is one of its most insidious unpleasantries, but had never really grasped why until that conversation. When Donald Sutherland, as a gloating old-school villain, pops up on every screen in the country to twirl his mustache and gloat over Katniss’s supposed death, I can’t have been the only audience member who was relieved that someone, somewhere, far away from this deathless movie, was having fun.

Movie review: “Spectre”

(Note: many spoilers ahead, if you care.)

The end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond is here, and we have four movies to show for it. Two outstanding films bookending an abysmal one, and now “Spectre”: a big, shiny Greatest Hits album that includes all the chart-toppers but somehow misses the actual soul of the band. It’s breathtakingly beautiful to look at, just heart-clenchingly lovely: most of this is due to Sam Mendes, who is physically incapable of making ugly things, but I’d also like to buy a drink for everyone involved with lighting this joint; each frame looks like a Vermeer. A simple shot of a newspaper on a desk manages to evoke the cloudy day outside the window, without ever showing the sky. No franchise captures cloud, smoke, heat, humidity, fog better—every room has an atmosphere, visible vapor in the air, a palpable texture and temperature. The fights, chases, and action sequences are also good news—during an initial fistfight inside a barrel-rolling helicopter, I actually gasped out loud. I, an American moviegoer in 2015, gasped. That is not easy to make American action fans do, and this movie did it within the first ten minutes.

After those first ten minutes, however, the news is not so good. A creakingly ancient Trojan plot is wheeled onto the scene—MI6 will be disbanded! New technology and ideas threaten the supremacy of white men with carte blanche to kill people they dislike! This is bad! Clearly! We should absolutely be rooting, in 2015, for the idea that a “license to kill” is something which should exist, because a Hard Man Making Hard Decisions (say, whom he will execute without trial, and whom he will loftily spare) is totally not an obsolete model for heroism, and definitely not creepily colonialist when embodied by a guy like James Bond. The first three movies worked fairly well despite these inherent structural flaws by having Bond face uncomplicated villains: arms dealers, bomb makers, psychotic louts who threaten Judi Dench (How. Dare. They.) It was easy to overlook due process for these baddies, because they were clearly terrible and immediate threats. Unfortunately, this movie aims to make a sort of One Ring to rule them all by inventing from thin air an international supervillain organization that nebulously controls all crime and also terrorism and also intelligence (because you need to diversify, obvs) and who somehow has maintained absolute secrecy, despite the fact that its members… wear identical rings. Oh, how I wish I were kidding.

And the news gets worse when we discover that the Biggest Baddest Boss Of All Time, EVER, GUYS, is Bond’s estranged quasi-adoptive brother. Funny how we never heard about an estranged, quasi-adoptive brother before: oh, how convenient. He was presumed dead in a skiing accident. Interesting how little we care, given that we learn that he was supposed to be dead after we already know him to be alive. And furthermore, estranged quasi-adoptive brother—oh God let’s just call him Christoph Waltz and be done with it, it’s Christoph Waltz, doing a bad impression of his role in Inglourious Basterds—anyway, Christoph is claiming responsibility for everything bad that has happened to Bond over the last three movies! Everything. The death of Vesper Lynd, the only woman Bond’s ever loved, was supposedly Christoph’s doing (even though we saw her drown herself in an elevator). All the bad guys who kept attacking Bond were, somehow, sort of, working for Christoph. Judi Dench—that was Christoph, too! Never mind that Javier Bardem put a lot of hard work into becoming the kind of monster who would stab Judi Dench in a church, and did, an act of scummy brutality which we all saw with our own eyes. Never mind all of that, because Christoph needs to be a credible villain, and his villainy must be made personal to Bond! Bond is sprouting family connections faster than his backstory can be retrofitted to accommodate them, and the result is a thoroughly milquetoast villain. We know perfectly well this guy isn’t a threat. He’s a plagiarist, cribbing off everyone else’s tests. Bond could take him armed only with a snap bracelet.

Or, in this case, an exploding wristwatch. (Still not kidding.) This movie bills itself as a return to the Bond franchise’s roots, “roots” being here defined as:

Car chases
Wristwatch hijinks
Ejector seats
Q’s new gadget
M’s latest headache
Monologuing villains, eye injuries, white cats, bad puns, elaborate deathtraps, women in peril, martinistuxedosOmegaAstonMartinSonyBondJamesBond.

The makers are so busy genuflecting towards these obligatory Stations Of The Franchise that they seem not to have realized that the best parts of the Craig Bond tenure were the moments when he undercut the routines: think of “Casino Royale”, when a waiter asks him how he wants his martini and he snaps, “Does it look like I give a damn?” Think of “Skyfall”, when Q hands him a radio and a handgun and he grumps, “It’s Christmas come early.” Craig’s Bond felt fresh and dynamic precisely because he didn’t seem beholden, as a character, to the trappings of Bond-ness: he wore the tuxedo, not the other way round. His Bond could fall in love, quit and wander off to Figi, show a little vulnerability, because he was an actual character, not a checklist of trademarks and mannerisms. Now, in the last gasps of his reign, the writers are beating a hasty retreat back to the safe ground of the franchise’s most hallowed rhythms and routines—but that ground isn’t safe any more. “Austin Powers” killed the Bond franchise over a decade ago, and we don’t genuflect to the martini anymore, regardless of whether it’s shaken or stirred. Do we look like we give a damn?

Movie review: “Crimson Peak”

Here are some things that other people have said about “Crimson Peak”, Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic horror/romance that’s out right now:

“But you don’t go to a del Toro movie for the story […] or even the characters.” — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

“Like a theme park attraction, it’s a giant, intricate contraption that’s utterly amazing to look at. But ultimately it’s rather a dull ride.” — Steve Tilley, Toronto Sun

“Del Toro builds a tight plot but never develops it […].” –Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Here’s what I have to say about “Crimson Peak”: It’s really a shame that some of the top movie critics in the country are so bamboozled by the artistic use of color that they cannot see a perfectly decent forest/movie for the beautiful, spooky trees within it.

Yes: every frame Guillermo del Toro shoots is a master class in dramatic framing; interior design; costuming. He makes beautiful movies, haunting visual feasts that communicate not just plot but texture, scent, temperature–and yet when faced with all this artistry, the predominant critical reaction seems to be a sulky insistence that he must be doing something wrong. The scales must be balanced! A movie is only great in one area if it’s lacking in another, and Guillermo del Toro’s movies excel in all the feminine-coded arts of decoration, costuming, and set-building, so of course he must not be able to cobble together a decent, manly plot. And so a critical consensus is built: “Crimson Peak” is a pretty, slight bit of visual fluff. Nice to take the little lady to on Halloween. She’ll enjoy the pretty dresses and Tom Hiddleston’s pretty face, but there’s no “there” there.

The only problem with this critical consensus is that it is wrong. Wrong on every single level. Crimson Peak is a lovely ghost story that works just as ghost stories do: you watch with mounting dread as the protagonist nears a peril that you can see, but they cannot. You hope that they will escape, but thrill at the possibility that they won’t. And (spoilers ahead if you care), how is “Precocious innocent seduced into a fraudulent marriage and then trapped in a nightmarish haunted house by a psychopathic dyad of incestuous, murderous siblings who are slowly poisoning her” NOT A PLOT??? Is that an average Tuesday for you? Is that just par for the course for the nation’s critics? Do they discover familial murders caught on wax cylinder every time they clean out the bathroom cabinet? More to the point: did they even watch this movie?

Listen: “Crimson Peak” isn’t a life-changer. It’s not going to give you terrible nightmares or stun you into staggering personal epiphany. I’m not going to set up a false dichotomy where if the movie’s one thing, it absolutely can’t be another (would that the critics had extended it the same courtesy). But what it is, is not what is being written about it. It is a cautionary tale about taking people at face value, whispered by a terrifying, skeletal ghoul who may, in fact, have your best interests at heart. It is a house that is speaking to you in symbols and color and wallpaper and light, being projected at an American critical audience who thinks none of those languages are worth listening to. It is a tree falling in a forest. Try listening.

Movie trailer review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

OK. Let’s talk this new Star Wars trailer. io9’s already done a terrific shot-by-shot breakdown of the potential character interactions and plot structure hinted at within the trailer, and I honestly can’t add anything on that front, so I’m going to talk a little instead about how this trailer wants to make you feel.

First, I’m going to assume that the vast majority of movie-going Americans aren’t like the fine people over at io9, and don’t already know the names of all the new characters and planets being shown here, especially not when those characters are shown swaddled in rags or are heard only in voiceover. To them, the tiny figure rappelling down a rope in the opening shots isn’t Rey on Jakku: it’s just a tiny, disguised figure rappelling down a rope into the strange, dusty wreckage of something very big and very old, something that came before her. And let’s also acknowledge that, for a lot of people who are coming to this trailer, the original Star Wars trilogy came before them, too. For nearly everyone who’ll be sitting in the theater come December, Star Wars is that echoey cavern of childhood that we rappel down into on memory’s line, wiping away the dust and hunting around in the corners for something that makes us feel, once again, like children. And the next shot shows us that Abrams is keenly aware of that interplay, too—here’s Daisy Ridley, who is an adult, walking through a desert landscape with a huge stick and a droid that looks like a child’s toy ball, both items so outsized to her proportions that she appears childlike. This movie (unlike the Phantom Menace) isn’t about children, Abrams is telling us, but adults who still feel like children, lost and lonely, not just dwarfed by a hostile world but nearly erased by it: “I’m no one,” we hear Rey say as she watches the upward trajectory, far away, of a ship escaping the bonds of her world (io9 astutely points out here that the ship represents her wish of escape). But Rey’s not just passively watching—she’s sitting up and taking notice, the way Abrams wants us to, and moreover is going to make a case, over the next two minutes, for us to do. Rey is us, the alienated audience, jaded by decades of bad Star Wars movies than wanted nothing more from us than an open wallet and a slack mind, movies that left us as alienated as Rey is here. We—and she—need a friend.

And, right on cue, here comes another lost adult, spinning down from the sky in a shot that mirrors and responds to Rey’s wish with an equal and opposite reaction—a crash landing into her world. Finn is a soldier without a cause, a toy without a purpose: “I was raised to do one thing,” he laments, “And now I have nothing to fight for.” So both characters (which Abrams has sketched out for us in the space of about thirteen seconds—holy shit he’s good) have this neat parallel; they feel erased, insignificant, like non-entities. They are self-described nothings and nobodies.

Which makes Finn and Rey exactly who Kylo Ren is talking about when he says “Nothing will stand in our way.” In any other trailer, this would register as an eye-rolling bit of villain doggerel; here, however, the cliché is undercut. We already know two pieces of personified Nothing who will obviously stand in Kylo Ren’s way, and we’re primed for his comeuppance.

That said, we’re also pretty primed to hear more about Kylo Ren’s whole deal, because “I will finish what you started”, while ostensibly a line of Ren’s to Vader’s mutilated death-mask, is actually a line for us. It is a promise being made to the audience, who did not give one fat damn about Vader’s journey from childhood trauma through moody adolescence to the Dark Side, and who continued not to give one fat damn as Lucas dragged us through three interminable examinations of that journey. Abrams is promising us that he will finish what the original trilogy started, which was quite simply: a good story.

Speaking of which…. let’s hear one from Grandpa Solo!
“Those stories about what happened,” prompts Rey, approaching the bench slowly, hesitantly. Both she and Finn look like kids hoping to be allowed to stay up past their bedtime, a mood enhanced by a holographic projection of stars in ethereal blue; slowly, the magic is starting to descend. “It’s true,” he assures them/us, going through a Christmas wish-list of the things we all want to see in the movie: the Jedi, the Dark Side. (Well-trained audience members, primed from several months of watching and re-watching the first trailer, will automatically mentally fill in “…and the Light.”) This wish list is as significant for the things it’s NOT including as the things it is—story elements notably absent here include trade negotiations, galactic parliaments, science, and midichlorians. (Such were the delights of the prequels. You know I’ve never gone back and re-watched a single one of those movies? Once was enough. And fuck the midichlorians, anyway! What a bunch of bullshit! Way to reduce magic and Zen and something resonant and real-feeling to a blood marker! I still get mad thinking about that shit! Where was I?)

Oh right. Grandpa Solo’s story, accompanied by that gorgeous shot of Finn being literally turned around by the friendly camaraderie of a fellow resistance fighter. God, that’s an elegant way to symbolize his character arc. Two seconds, max. Have I mentioned how goddamn good Abrams is at trailers? And now we’re into the meat of the story. We’ve set up our heroes, our villain, and above all our reason for being here: we want to be convinced that everything we used to feel about Star Wars is real. It’s all of it real. And oh man are we ready for some story now: in quick succession, we get explosions, blasters, stormtroopers, X-wings, CHEWIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!, a modified-looking R2, more blasts, a pissed-*off* looking Rey with a bigass blaster, more explosions, LEIA!!!!!!!!!!!!, and finally Finn, firing up his lightsaber against a beautiful background of glowing blue snow, looking absolutely terrified. No sooner has Abrams assured us that “It’s all real” then shit gets extremely real. People are going to get blown up in this movie. It is not Star Parliament. It is not Star Trade Negotiations. It is not Star Regrout George Lucas’s Pool. It is STAR FUCKING WARS, and there is going to be some war here.

And all we have to do, in Abrams’ final call to action, is simple:

“The Force. It’s calling you. Let it in.”

God, I am ready for this movie.