Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Image is property of Lucasfilm and Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams

Director: J.J Abrams

Synopsis: The First Order, under the leadership of Kylo Ren, seeks to consolidate its power following the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leader Snoke. Meanwhile Rey leads the rest of the Resistance in a bid to restore peace in the Galaxy…

This review will be 100% spoiler free

Review: For over four decades, ever since a little film called Star Wars was unleashed on the world, it became this massive pop culture phenomenon, with an immeasurable, ever-lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Several times over the last few decades, we have seen this franchise take its supposed final bow. First came 1983, then in 2005, closing out the prequel trilogy after two lacklustre preceding films. Following Disney’s overtaking of the franchise, a new trilogy came into being. Four years since this trilogy blasted its way into existence, the time has come for it, and The Skywalker Saga, to take its proper final bow, in rather disappointing fashion.

Having lost instrumental figures following the events of The Last Jedi, both The Resistance and the First Order are seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Galaxy and vanquish the other side once and for all. This galactic power struggle is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious entity, of a terrible foe long since thought to be dead, is threatening to unleash a new terror upon the Galaxy to ensure that the Dark Side will triumph once and for all.

It is not exactly news to anyone who has followed this franchise over the years that after The Force Awkakens chose to play things safe for the reintroduction to this franchise, The Last Jedi made some bold choices in a bid to try and take the franchise forward. In so doing, it caused an enormous divide among fans upon its release. Therefore having retaken the reins from Johnson, the onus was on JJ Abrams to steer this ship home, but it definitely hasn’t come home in one piece. The screenplay from Abrams and Chris Terrio feels very haphazardly put together, giving the impression that a slew of ideas were thrown at the wall and  meshed together, which produced decidedly mixed results. Having managed to craft a pretty airtight script for The Force Awakens, it’s extremely perplexing how the script this time around is full of what feels like unnecessary side quests, consequently feeling rather unfocused.

What’s worse is that some of the dialogue borders on prequel level of how cringe-inducing it is. To add further insult to injury, the directions that some of the characters go in are just completely baffling, and in some cases, are borderline insulting. In the wake of the backlash that was directed at TLJ, all the promising potential that TLJ offered is firmly discarded. All the intriguing plot points put forward are retconned in favour of a script that just for want of a better word, was nothing more than pandering to try and get the fans back onside following The Last Jedi. Favouring appeasement of the fans over bold and creative storytelling feels like an enormous cop-out, and could set a worrying precedent.

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a complete waste of time, as Abrams brings his usual visual panache to the direction and the lightsabre battles that are present are exhilarating to watch, and for all of the story’s faults, there was potential there. Yet, for all that technical marvel, nothing shown here remotely represents an improvement on what came before it, and everything feels completely inconsequential. Therefore credit where credit’s due as all of the principal cast do excellent jobs reprising their roles, in spite of the less than stellar material they were given to work with, all. The leading lights are once again, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who by far and away are giving the best performances in the film.

It’s fantastic to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian but he is frustratingly given sparse to do, and same goes for the rest of the new crop of supporting characters, none of whom are remotely memorable in the slightest, apart from Richard E Grant’s brilliant turn as a First Order officer. Completing the arc of General Leia cannot have been easy considering Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing. However, through the use of archived footage, which surprisingly fits into the story fairly seamlessly, credit can be taken for giving this beloved character a satisfying concluding arc, one that is not a slap in the face to the fans.

No matter what you feel about the preceding two films in in this franchise, they represented the opportunity for the franchise to go in some bold new directions. Thus, to see that all ultimately get thrown away in favour of the direction they did go in is extremely disappointing. For a franchise that has meant so much to so many people throughout the decades, everything was in place for Abrams to wrap up this trilogy in triumphant fashion, but unfortunately, stick the landing, it does not.

While offering some exciting moments, the Skywalker saga ultimately wraps up with what is, comfortably, the weakest film in the trilogy. A disappointment not felt in the galaxy since the days of the Prequel trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Report (2019)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

The Report – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a United States Senate staffer is tasked with leading an enquiry into the use of torture by the CIA with some shocking discoveries…

Review: September 11, 2001 is one of those days that if you were alive, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on that terrible day. In the wake of such unimaginable devastation and loss of life, any government would be under pressure to bring the perpetrators of such a callous attack to justice. But as we know, the war that was waged in response to 9/11 had long lasting consequences, and not all of it has been widely available public knowledge.

Daniel Jones (Driver) is a Senate Staffer who’s recruited to work for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Benning). Tasked with investigating the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used by the CIA to try and extract information from Al-Qaeda terrorists to give them intelligence. Spending many years of his life, trawling through thousands upon thousands of pages of rather chilling evidence, the details that are uncovered are startling. To further complicate matters, politicians clamour to prevent the full details of his report from being made public.

In this inescapable partisan nature of politics in this day and age, to craft a compelling balanced narrative out of such heavy and hard-hitting material is a tall order, but writer/director Scott Z. Burns does exactly that. In a drama that relies on people spending most of their time on screen either sitting at their desks researching on computers, or having conversations with politicians. It’s imperative that the script be well-written and on point to carry the film’s narrative throughout. Furthermore, to avoid getting bogged down in partisan politics, the film clearly illustrates that no side of the political spectrum is absolved of blame when it came to the attempts to block the report from being made public.

Given his status as one of the most prolific actors currently in the business, it should come as no surprise that Adam Driver once again gives an excellent performance. In the same vein that Official Secrets was resting on Keira Knightley’s shoulders, the onus is on Driver’s Daniel Jones to navigate the audience through this important period in modern US history and leave no stone unturned in what went on, and who was responsible for allowing this to happen. By his side through all of this is Annette Bening’s excellent turn as Dianne Feinstein. A politician who is resolute in her belief to do the right thing, whilst ensuring she is not too overtly biased towards her side of the political spectrum.

The torture scenes in the film make for, as you might expect, uncomfortable viewing. However, they are necessary to put the events, and the work that is carried out by Jones and his team, into context. The editing is a little uneven in the first act as the film between the investigative work being carried out, and the torture scenes. While these do serve their purpose, they can get a bit tiresome very quickly. Thankfully these are not focused on for too long. The report itself and the efforts to bring it to the attention of the public become the sole attention. There’s nothing remarkable about Burns’s direction, but the gripping subject matter and some excellent performances maintain the investment in the story.

The world, in particular the world of politics is a scary place right now. In a time when politics, and by consequence politicians are becoming increasingly fraught, bitterly divided on allegiances to an individual and or a particular party. Rather than be beholden to blind allegiances, it pays to be open-minded and to not let party politics cloud your judgement, especially when it comes to examples of blatant wrongdoing that should not be buried behind mountains of legal paperwork.

Hard-hitting and timely, The Report speaks volumes about this extremely divisive political era, reminding us value of integrity, and the importance of holding those in power to account.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Marriage Story (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

Marriage Story  – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta

Director: Noah Baumbach

Synopsis: As their marriage starts to fall apart, a couple living at opposite coasts of the United States go through a difficult divorce, that threatens to push the pair of them to breaking point…

Review: The day that two people tie the knot and agree to spend the rest of their lives together is usually a joyful, momentous occasion. However, through a plethora of circumstances, that romance and joy can regrettably diminish. Consequently, a couple begin to break apart and regrettably there comes a time when their marriage comes to an end, and they make the painful decision to divorce. Such circumstances would undoubtedly be extremely difficult. So it is to director Noah Baumbach’s immense credit, that he captures the pain and heartbreak of that process in such an emotionally powerful manner.

Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) have spent many years happily married, and have a son together. Yet, their relationship has deteriorated and they have made the difficult decision to divorce. The matter is significantly complicated as Charlie is a theatre director, who has his theatre commitments in New York.  Meanwhile Nicole has moved to the West Coast of the USA to pursue her career in acting, leaving their son Henry in a far from ideal predicament. Though both Charlie and Nicole strive to ensure that the process be as amicable, and as complication free as possible, things start to go sour and the situation threatens to push them both to breaking point.

As the main couple in the film, both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are nothing short of phenomenal in their performances. As a couple, they have strong chemistry, their romance feels so raw and authentic that you no longer see the actors, but rather the characters that they are portraying.  The script firmly takes a neutral stance, in that it doesn’t paint one as the hero, and the other a villain. Like anything in life, there are two sides to every personal struggle, and Baumbach’s strong script and expert direction shifts perspectives to allow the audience to see where both of them are coming from.

Despite the divorce, it’s clear that both Charlie and Nicole have strong feelings for one another, and want to do what is best for their child. However, as the divorce process goes on, it threatens to turn them completely against each other. With sublime leading performances from Driver and Johansson, Laura Dern threatens to steal the show, with a scintillating performance as a lawyer who has been recruited to help deal with the proceedings. She’s a consummate professional, but when push comes to shove, is not afraid to be ruthless, especially when it comes to defending her clients.

The strength of Baumbach’s script lies in its ability to make you laugh one minute, and feel immense sorrow the next. There’s something so raw and powerful in, not just everyone of the performances, but how he handles the devastating drama beating at the heart of this story.  Irrespective of whether you’ve been through a divorce, or seen your parents go through a divorce, or you haven’t been in this situation at all, it will be next to impossible to not be emotionally impacted by the film in some capacity. But if you have, you’ll certainly be able to appreciate the film that much more. The mix between comedy and drama is for the most part well handled. There may be a happy and joyful scene, but at any given moment, it will flick that switch in a heartbeat.

Though occasionally, the shifts in tone don’t entirely work. With one moment in particular, the drama is offset by an out-of-the-blue musical performance. While this is undeniably touching, it does feel completely out of place in the context of the scene. Having said that, it doesn’t negate the emotional gravity of the story, and its ability to tear your heart into a million pieces by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Emotionally raw, with sublime leading performances, Marriage Story presents a sincere and heart-breaking look at the humanity of the people going through a divorce, and the devastating impact that this heavy situation can have on people’s lives.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

91st Academy Awards Predictions: Lead and Supporting Actor

Hollywood’s biggest night is upon us once again, and I have teamed up with a group of awesome fellow film bloggers as we try and foresee the future by predicting who will be triumphant by the time the 91st Academy Awards have come to a close. I will be discussing the ten gentlemen who are up for both Actor in a Leading Role and Actor in a Supporting Role. As always, there are some magnificent performances, but there can only be one winner in each category. Let’s get started with:

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale – Vice

Last year’s winner of this award Gary Oldman totally transformed himself via a great heap of make-up into Winston Churchill, and it paid dividends. This year we have fellow Brit Christian Bale disappearing under a lot of make up to transform him into the most powerful Vice President the US has ever had. It helps to add authenticity to Bale’s performance, it’s just a pity then that the film around him is very vulgar and put together in a way that will piss people off. The Academy does love a good transformation though, so Bale might yet take home his second Oscar *shudders at thought*.

Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born

This is Bradley Cooper’s fourth acting Oscar nomination (seven if you count the other awards he’s up for), and honestly he is the man who should be winning that statue. For a film in which he does just about every job going (acting, singing, writing and directing) it’s honestly Cooper’s best performance of his career so far. He clearly is a guy who is battling some fierce personal demons, but watching him connect with Lady Gaga’s upcoming musician is just so touching and heart-warming, which all comes to a crescendo when the duo first perform “Shallow” together. It is just beautiful and so deserving of an award.

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

Regrettably since this film has not arrived on UK shores, I cannot comment on this performance. While I have no doubt that an actor of Dafoe’s talents gave a great performance, the Academy really should have nominated John David Washington for his performance in BlacKkKlansman.

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

While my heart wills it to be a triumph for Cooper, it seems almost certain that the next recipient of this award will be Rami Malek for his remarkable performance as the iconic frontman of the legendary Queen, the one and only Freddie Mercury. It is quite the transformative performance as Malek practically becomes Freddie Mercury. His performance is one of the factors that really elevates the movie, given that as far as biopics go, it is pretty by the numbers. What stands out by far, is the final 20 minutes or so which brings to life Queen’s Live Aid show, and though the rest of the film is fine, this is by far and away, the highlight.

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

A far cry from his work in Lord of the Rings, but it shows the incredible versatility of Viggo Mortensen that he can go from the badass Aragorn, to the brass and vulgar Tony Lip, and do such a sterling job with both of them. He is very much the opposite of Mahershala Ali’s Dr Shirley but through spending a lot of time together, the two men develop a solid friendship that really drives the film forward. Though it was a bit simplistic in how it handled some of the subject matter, it was heart-warming to watch him connect with Mahershala Ali’s Dr Shirley and stick up for him during their travels in the hostile Deep South.

Will win: Rami Malek

Should win: Bradley Cooper

 

Here’s what everyone else had to say:

Maddy: @madelexne:

“The big fight this awards season seems to have been between Rami Malek and Christian Bale, but I would love for it to go to Bradley Cooper. Though I maintain the fact that Malek’s performance was the one good thing in the mess that was Bohemian Rhapsody and wouldn’t feel it was a wrongful win; I just can’t stop thinking back to Cooper’s performance in A Star is Born. There are at least five stand out scenes from the film I can remember from him, and it only gets more impressive with time.”

Nathan: @__Nathan

“When you consider that the best leading actor performance – Ryan Gosling in First Man – was snubbed, it only seeks to emphasise what a lacklustre line-up this really is. Of those nominated, Bradley Cooper should have walked this thing but two *ahem* shallow, vapid and flashy imitations turns are duping it out instead: Rami Malek will take it over Christian Bale, because the Academy can’t resist a transformation – and the man knows how to work a room.”

Plain, Simple Tom: @PlainSimpleTom

“A strong year for the leading men, Rami Malek looks to be the favourite to win this year for his powerful and memorable performance in the otherwise average “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And he deserves it, in spite of the harsh treatment that he seems to be enduring on Twitter. I’d say that Bradley Cooper is the most deserving nominee – for giving us a truly compelling and flawed character as well as singing and playing music like a pro, all the while directing the whole shebang. Christian Bale could also be in with a chance for his transformative turn in “Vice”, Viggo Mortensen sure was entertaining in “Green Book” but he won’t win, and Willem Dafoe is the least likely to win the big prize – I mean, had anyone even heard of “At Eternity’s Gate” before the nominations were announced?”

Ryan @morris_movies:

“In what can only be described as the category’s weakest lineup in years, the Best Actor race has staggered its way to a frustrating, underwhelming finale. Rami Malek looks poised to take the statue home with him for his middling, impressionistic performance in Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody despite Bradley Cooper giving a soulful, career best performance in his own A Star Is Born. It’s an anger-inducing category for a number of reasons this year, but perhaps in no way more so than Ryan Gosling’s lack of inclusion. His performance in First Man is blunt and subdued, sure, but filled with quiet heart and pent up emotion. He should be winning the statue, but instead he isn’t even in contention for it.”

——————————————————————

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Having won this award for Moonlight a couple of years ago, Ali is in contention once again and very much the front runner to scoop his second statue in three years. His performance in Green Book was certainly one of the highlights of the film. He plays a very refined gentleman who is accompanied in a journey across the Deep South by Viggo Mortensen’s Tony Lip. Watching these two men, very much polar opposites form a friendship in the very harsh Deep South was heart-warming and Ali showed why he’s likely to become a two time Oscar winner with this emotional performance.

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman 

My personal choice for the winner of this award. It’s honestly about damn time an actor of Driver’s immense talents was recognised with an Oscar nomination. Aside from crushing it in the new Star Wars franchise, he’s been superb and has worked with such directors as Martin Scorsese and now Spike Lee. His performance as a cop who becomes part of this mission to infiltrate the KKK gave Driver the chance to demonstrate his serious acting chops, whilst also showing off his comedic ones, and he pulls off both aspects of this role brilliantly.

Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born

Much like Driver, this is also Elliott’s first Oscar nomination, which is crazy when you think about how long he has been working in the business, but better late than never I suppose. As the brother to Bradley Cooper’s fading rock star, though he is a tad hard to understand in places at least to my ears, there are one or two moments in particular that just hit you like a ton of bricks (case in point, the driveway scene). You really feel the love he has for his brother and it just makes it all the more tragic given what happens in the end.

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If you haven’t fallen in love with this guy’s infectious joy across this Oscar campaign, I must ask you, do you not like joy or something? Another first time nominee, and I think many people would love to see this guy triumph. As Sam Hock, he plays a misfit like Melissa McCarthy’s Lee Israel, and watching these two get up to all sorts of mischief, and have a bundle of fun whilst doing so is just uproariously entertaining. Being a fellow Brit I would love to see him win, but I sadly just don’t see it happening.

Sam Rockwell – Vice

The recipient of this award last year, but Sam Rockwell is unlikely to make it two consecutive wins on the bounce. He’s without question, a good actor as he demonstrated last year, but his inclusion here is just baffling to be honest. He wasn’t in the film all that much from what I can recall (to be honest my brain has pushed out 75% of this film) but there were other performances that were far more worthy of recognition that should have been nominated in Rockwell’s place in all honesty, gentlemen such as Daniel Kaluuya (Widows) or Brian Tyree Henry (Widows/If Beale Street Could Talk) gave, in my opinion, far more award worthy performances.

Will win: Mahershala Ali

Should win: Adam Driver or Richard E Grant

Here’s what everyone else had to say:

Maddy:

“I desperately want Richard E. Grant to win for Can You Ever Forgiver Me? Yes, Mahershala Ali is the coolest person to walk this Earth, we have all established that; but Grant was electric in his role as Jack and poured so much charisma and simultaneous awfulness into the character that I really would punch the air if he won.”

Nathan: 

“Despite some category fraud at hand, Mahershala Ali seems nailed on to take Supporting Actor. It’s no doubt a good performance and arguably the film’s strongest element, yet Richard E. Grant’s extraordinary performance as Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an exemplary masterclass on what it takes to give a SUPPORTING performance. He impressively blends humour with pathos with incredible results, enhancing the work of others while standing out in his own right. He deserves every award for his work in this film (and for being the most joyous thing about this tumultuous award season).”

Ryan:

“It’s a stronger lineup than its Leading Role counterpart, but Supporting Actor still comes with its own quibbles and frustrations this year. Mahershala Ali is probably walking home victorious with his second Oscar in a matter of years, and despite his performance being the highlight of Green Book, it’s difficult not to look for a stronger winner elsewhere. Richard E. Grant is probably most deserving, for his funny, moving performance in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Adam Driver made a big impression in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Still, at least when Ali wins it’ll be for a genuinely good performance. That’s more than we can say for Lead Actor this year, unfortunately.”

Please find the links below to the other pieces written by these awesome film bloggers:

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Image is property of Legendary and Focus Features

BlacKkKlansman – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Suspecting that the Klu Klux Klan is planning an attack, black undercover police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates the KKK and establishes contact, whilst another officer (Driver) poses as Stallworth when they meet face-to-face…

Review: It is scary to think that a film set in the 1960s could be a reflection of 21st century USA. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was exactly that, as it spoke volumes about the horrendous treatment of black people at the hands of police officers, something that is still horrifyingly relevant in 21st century USA. It is therefore all the more shocking that another filmmaker has come along, with another film (also based on true events) that also starkly reminds us just how racism and bigotry is startlingly prevalent in modern US society. Enter director Spike Lee, a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

The setting this time is 1979, as Ron Stallworth (Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police and is soon appointed to become an undercover officer. When he finds a leaflet for the local KKK organisation, he bravely establishes contact over the phone and almost instantaneously strikes up a connection. To maintain the ruse another officer, Flip Zimmerman, assumes Stallworth’s identity whenever the organisation meets up whilst the actual Ron works behind the scenes, looking for any indication as to what the organisation could be planning.

To think that this is based on real life events is just completely astonishing for one thing. But also, to think that such acts of blatant racism and bigotry are still prevalent is equally nauseating, given that the very idea of one race being superior to the other, is to put it bluntly, absolute bullshit. Washington is superb in this lead role, clearly showing the talent that runs in his family. He portrays Stallworth as a guy who is intelligent and immediately likeable and you watch in anxiety as he goes about this extremely risky endeavour. As after a few exchanges, it comes across pretty quickly that, the members of the KKK are deeply unpleasant people and the risk of this operation going sour is very high right from the very first meeting.

Though having said that, there are moments of humour throughout which in such a heavy film, could be a huge risk, yet it all flows pretty seamlessly.  Lee chooses to tell this story in a manner that emphatically pulls no punches whatsoever, though there are some moments in which the pacing does suffer. Subtlety in such a heavy hitting story like this would not have been a wise decision, and thankfully Lee doesn’t choose to go down this route. There are of course two sides to this story as the story focuses on the Black Panther Party, and there are some intriguing moments in which the two movements are essentially shown side by side. While some stylistic choices are inspired, others are a little bit perplexing.

Spike Lee is a man who has not been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the current White House incumbent and his inability to make a stand in the face of hate and division. And with this movie, and in particular the closing credits scene that utilises real life footage of the horrific events in Charlottesville last year. It is extremely thought-provoking and deeply moving imagery that will stir up the emotions. This bigotry and hate is something that should have been long since consigned to the history books. Yet unfortunately the famous saying “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” rings true now more than ever. Lee’s message is furious, it is loud, and it is crystal clear.

To think how relevant a film like this is, is frightening but the well balanced script, combined with excellent performances from Washington and Driver, make this an essential piece of cinema for this day and age.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Image is property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domnhall Gleeson,

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Following on from the events of The Force AwakensThe First Order is hot on the trails of the Resistance, while Rey seeks out the guidance of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.

This review will be 100% spoiler free.

Review: Very few films manage to become such events that build anticipation and excitement among audiences quite like Star Wars does. Though for a long time (a decade to be exact) no new films were made in the Star Wars universe, it never lost that magic and majesty that it carries for so many people. Though that was unlikely to ever diminish, as 2015’s The Force Awakens came along, it was the film the franchise needed to revitalise itself and get the force flowing through it once more.

Picking up almost immediately after the events of Force Awakens, without divulging too much information, the First Order is now aggressively hunting The Resistance, which is to be expected after you blow up a significant asset, namely Starkiller Base. Meanwhile over on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker has chosen to hide himself away, due to a horrible event that took place in the past, which doesn’t bode well for Rey, who is seeking Luke out to return a significant possession of his, and for help in honing her Jedi powers.

For many a big criticism of Abrams’s efforts was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope, and while it is not a shot for shot remake, it does undeniably heavily borrow elements of that film. The reception of the prequels and how different they were to the original trilogy meant that the decision to make the first chapter of the new trilogy feel like the film that started all this was a sound decision. However, taking over from Abrams, Rian Johnson continues on what Abrams built so successfully and gives another strong addition to the franchise that continues at the themes that almost every film before it has touched upon.

For many the greatest film in this celebrated franchise is The Empire Strikes Back, and justifiably so too. It took the characters and developed them in extremely unique ways, and it’s clear Johnson is going for a similar vibe, but this is not just a rehash of Empire, it crafts a story that needs to be told, taking the characters and taking them in certainly very intriguing directions. Conflicts are occurring both between the First Order and the Resistance and intense personal conflicts are raging inside some of the characters. Of the familiar faces, Daisy Ridley is once again superb as Rey, adding real intensity into her performance as she goes on a journey to discover the answers to the questions that we had about her last time out. John Boyega likewise as Finn, is certainly a very likeable presence, as is the roguish charm of Poe Dameron. Of the newcomers, Laura Dern has an authoritative presence alongside the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia.

On the flip side, there’s a lot going on with Kylo Ren too, which given the heinous crime he committed against his father is understandable. But even then, his character has a lot on his plate, just like many of the characters here. Though once again, the Skywalker siblings are key pieces in this puzzle. Having had a mere cameo last time around, Luke has a lot more to do this time around and given that so much has happened to him since he decided to adopt the hermit lifestyle, there’s much to be explored and Hamill is once again terrific in the role. Though there is an obvious element of sadness surrounding Leia and the passing of Carrie Fisher, in what will be her final turn in the role, she bows out tremendously. That being said there are some new characters who could have really done with more fleshing out, and some characters who were so frustratingly underutilised previously are still not given the time to shine.

last jedi

Though the story does move along at a steady pace, there are moments in particular around the second act that really slow the film down, and in some cases seem almost completely out of place and for some it might take them completely out of the film. That being said, that does not take away from the brilliant direction that Johnson puts into this. Sometimes a film can have the feel that it was almost directed by a committee, absolutely not the case here. The film looks immaculate and the action scenes are superbly well handled. There are some scenes that could have been omitted but there’s plenty of scenes that will get the adrenaline flowing.

A key task of any chapter two in a trilogy is to leave the audience desperately wanting more by the time the credits start to role, that criteria has been met. What Johnson crafts here is so well done it’s easy to see why Disney has given him the green light to make a new Star Wars trilogy unrelated to the current events of the saga, or so we are led to believe at this moment in time. The task of completing this story for these characters now reverts back to the man who introduced the world to them, and given that excitement and interest in this franchise is now likely to continue to the end of time, can we somehow make the jump into lightspeed to December 2019 already?

Continuing on the foundations laid by Force Awakens, The Last Jedi packs plenty of emotional punch, taking the characters in exciting directions and setting the stage for what should be an enthralling conclusion to this new trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Silence (2016)

silence
Image is property of Paramount Pictures and IM Global

Silence – Film Review

Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: In seventeenth century Japan, two Jesuit priests set out on a mission to seek out their mentor, all the while trying to teach their faith, in a country that vehemently opposes Christianity.

Review: Religion is a subject that even to this day remains quite controversial. In certain areas of the world, people who practice other religions are frowned upon, and some even face extreme violence and persecution for their beliefs, with certain events in history demonstrating how people who are of certain faiths received brutal and fatal treatment because of their religion. It is then quite remarkable that a tale set in the seventeenth century, has certain elements that ring true in the 21st century. Therefore for Martin Scorsese, a man born and raised in a Catholic environment, it certainly takes a fair bit of courage to make a film that tackles such difficult subjects and religious persecution, and for that he certainly deserves plaudits.

Adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō, the story focuses on Fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) who travel to Japan seeking to find Father Ferreira (Neeson) who they believed might have renounced their religion, due to the extreme hostilities that Christians faced at that time. Undeterred by the daunting mission facing them, they travel to the country and try to locate their lost mentor, and to teach their religion. Scorsese is a man who is arguably most well known for his gangster flicks, but this is his passion project, nearly 25 years in the making, and he tells the story in brutal and unflinching manner. With a screenplay co-written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, there is no shying away from the horrific and painful treatment that Christians received for their beliefs, and if they didn’t renounce their religion, it usually would not end well. The film is very dialogue driven, but the writing is of a very high standard, and certainly poses questions that will certainly leave the audience with plenty to ponder as they watch.

sielnce

The performances are riveting to watch, particularly from the three main men, but the spotlight focuses primarily on Garfield. and he certainly gives one of the performances of his career. His belief in his faith is unwavering, even in the face of great suffering and pain, and the attempts made by the locals to renounce his religion. After shooting to stardom thanks to his work with Star Wars, Driver is also equally terrific in his work, giving a harrowing performance, and both men could certainly get award nominations for their performances.

The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It is crystal clear that with each frame of this film, that great care and precision has gone into their creation. Nothing is rushed, as such the slow pace might jar with some, whilst also explaining the film’s 161 minute running time. There are plenty of visual images to get the minds of the audience deep in thought, and while some will almost certainly have viewers numb with the brutality that these Hidden Christians faced. “A picture tells a thousand words” is quite a popular phrase, and in this instance, that certainly rings true. Having spent so long on this story, Scorsese’s passion for the story absolutely comes to the fore, and makes it all the more gripping to watch, so much so that even if you’re not religious,or practise a religion that is not Christianity, you’ll find it difficult not to be moved by some of the events on screen.

Indeed, the title of “Silence” is quite appropriate, given that for the Jesuit priests and all those in Japan at the time who practised Christianity, they had to practise their faith in silence, and despite their suffering, their prayers were met with silence. And there will be moments of silent reflection for the audience once the credits begin to roll, as it’s pretty inescapable that although these are ficitonalised events of the past, they will still carry a significant weight to them given how in different corners of the globe, people of certain religions continue to endure strong hostility, to this day.

Quite a long time in the making, but certainly worth the wait. Scorsese’s passion for the story shines through, and it helps to deliver a tense emotional journey for all, with themes that continue to have great significance to this day

a