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.

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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.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

X Men: Apocalypse (2016)

xmen apocalypse
All image rights belong to 20th Century Fox, Kinberg Genre, Marvel Entertainment and Bad Hat Harry Productions

X Men: Apocalypse – Film Review

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Oscar Isaac, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn

Director: Bryan Singer

Synopsis: After awakening from a multiple millennium long sleep, the world’s first mutant En Sabur Nur otherwise known as Apocalypse finds himself in the 1980s and seeks to bring about human extinction, and Charles Xavier and the X Men must stop him.

Review: Despite the nine films we have now had in this franchise, the events of 2014’s Days of Future Past scrambled those timelines for good and effectively erasing all the X Men films from existence, with the exception of 2011’s First Class. The reboot that set the wheels in motion for this new trilogy and the new direction that the franchise is heading. The first X Men trilogy certainly had after two great instalments, an ignominious third chapter is probably the reason the whole franchise got rebooted to get to where we are now. After two spectacular entries to the new trilogy, one could have hoped for that brilliant third chapter, yet sadly, the latest instalment once again falls short of matching the great quality of the films that came before it.

This isn’t to say that Bryan Singer’s latest venture into the world of mutants is anything like the car crash that was The Last Stand, it certainly has its moments, but there are problems too. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender having firmly established themselves in their roles as Professor X and Magneto bring very credible and powerful performances to the mix. For Magneto in particular when it looks as things are looking up for him in a new life, it isn’t long before it all goes very badly wrong. While she doesn’t give her strongest performance as Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence, also brings some solid acting to the mix.  Without doubt one of the highlights of Days of Future Past was Quicksilver’s moment of brilliance. He has a similar scene here, and it is fun to watch him in action, but it’s nowhere near as glorious as his moment in Days of Future Past.

Of the newcomers, by far the biggest stand-out is that of Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey, a perfect casting choice as she gives off that vulnerability but extraordinary power that we saw from Famke Jensen in the first two X Men films, with her love interest Cyclops now played by Tye Sheridan. The two of them share a connection over their powers and it is exciting to see where this could go. Similarly Kodi Smit-McPhee gives an excellent performance as a young Nightcrawler. The script by Simon Kinberg does give each of these characters to flesh out their characters, but this isn’t applicable to every mutant.

Yet when it comes to the villains, this is where the film REALLY loses its way. Oscar Isaac may have been an inspired choice to play the titular villain as he’s fast becoming a very prolific and great actor. Yet frustratingly, his performance while having its menacing moments, does feel somewhat underwhelming in a similar vein to Ultron in last years’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is supposedly the most powerful mutant to have ever existed and he is nowhere near as menacing as he could and perhaps should be. This frustration extends to his horseman, Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. With the exception of Magneto, their motivations are not entirely made clear and they are also given very little material to work with and flesh out their characters, unlike the younger mutants who are fighting for the X Men.

The plot is a little bit disjointed and messy in terms of its pacing at times, and there is one side arc that arguably could have just been cut out of the film altogether, although it is quite possible that it was there to help set up a future X Men film down the line. The CGI remains of a decent standard and the action scenes in particular the final throw down are enjoying to watch, but they are nowhere near as enthralling as those that were helmed by Vaughn in First Class and by Singer himself in Days of Future Past. Thus ultimately this was a real missed opportunity for Singer to make a film worthy to its two predecessors and to cement itself as a great X Men trilogy. The film’s extensive cast all certainly give their all, but with so many characters all vying for screen time, some do get left in the shadows of the great Egyptian pyramid that Apocalypse emerged from.

McAvoy and Fassbender bring the best performances, and a handful of new performances shine, but the underwhelming villain mean this doesn’t match the quality of Days of Future Past.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens (2015)

Image rights belong to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Bad Robot Productions
Image rights belong to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Bad Robot Productions

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens -Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Director: J.J. Abrams

This review is 100% spoiler free

Synopsis: Three decades have passed since the events of Return of the Jedi, from the ashes of the old Empire rises a new threat in the form of the First Order who threaten to unleash more tyranny on the galaxy. The key is the location of someone important who’s disappeared, with the Resistance, headed up by Leia Organa, also on the hunt for this vital information.

Review: It kind of goes without saying, that Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises the world of movies has ever seen, and when the announcement of three more films were coming to a galaxy near us, it was glorious news, and music to the ears of every fan of this franchise. With each little bit of information that was revealed, from the cast, to the director, to the trailers. Excitement and anticipation for this new Star Wars  film has been massive. So much so that some fans were afraid it would disappoint. Well fear not young padawans, because JJ Abrams and his writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, stayed on target to ensure this franchise has a much needed return to form.

The prequels, while they had some good points were ultimately a missed opportunity. The effects were there to make 3 more brilliant films in the wake of the original trilogy, but this opportunity was squandered. From the outset JJ Abrams wanted to return to practical effects, whilst obviously using CGI where necessary. What’s more the prequels suffered from a lack of an absorbing and engaging story.

ForceAwakens

With JJ being such a fan of the original, it is very apparent that he knew what the audience wanted, and the story, without straying into spoilers is very engaging and gripping to watch. There’s no nonsensical talks about treaties or whatever, it’s the sort of exciting driven plot that was so successful to create this beloved universe. From the off, it’s pulsating action that keeps the audience engaged from the first scene to the last scene. It’s everything we wanted from the prequels, which on the whole, the prequels failed to give us.

With the original trilogy, we got a great ensemble of characters that we liked and wanted to root for. Which somehow frittered away with the prequels, but once again there is a great batch of very interesting and developed characters. First of all we have Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger on Jakku who through circumstances ends up being pursued by the villainous First Order along with John Boyega’s Finn, a stormtrooper gone rogue. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s best pilot. Flying the flag for the dark side is Adam Driver’s ominous Kylo Ren, and the sinister General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Andy Serkis’s mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke.

All of the principle cast are electric in their roles but special mentions must go to Boyega and Ridley, especially Ridley. Almost an unknown prior to her casting, she gives such a powerful and real performance that her name will be remembered for a very long time to come. John Boyega, another relative unknown is another name that will reach into the stratosphere and beyond. Kylo Ren is an antagonist that definitely ranks as among the best the saga has seen, he’s very menacing and frightening, and his back story is very intriguing and dark in equal measure, with his motivations being very crystal clear.

The chemistry between new and old characters is also magnetic. You’d think that a newcomer like Ridley couldn’t stand up to someone like Harrison Ford, but she does and then some. Ford as Han Solo is his usual charming, arrogant self and even after all this time, he still absolutely owns the role, as does Carrie Fisher in her role as General Leia Organa, as she now calls herself. Throughout the film there are definite homages to the original trilogy, but they don’t come off as just downright rip offs at all. It’s all very well executed, from the direction to the effective use of practical effects. It’s no secret that the prequels were effects driven movies and the notion that these could drive the plot was one of their biggest mistakes, as such there were none of those mistakes repeated here. The effects help the story on but the core element of the story is very much driven by the characters and their journey.

With all that said, there is only really one major nitpick. For all the great characters that we got that were not downright infuriating to watch, some characters did not feel fully utilised and some were left somewhat underdeveloped. However, the mistakes of the past were not repeated, and Abrams has ensured that this new trilogy has got itself off to a near perfect start with an excellent cast, great screenplay, exciting action, solid use of practical and special effects where necessary. And of course Mr John Williams’s music is as brilliant as it always has been. The franchise is full light speed ahead now,  and all eyes will now be on Episode VIII, so it’s over to you Rian Johnson!

A return to form for Star Wars after the mishap of those prequelsexciting characters,  a terrific story with some truly compelling villains and a solid combination of practical and special effects. The new trilogy, off to a perfect start, it got!  Hmmmmmm.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ex Machina (2015)

ex machina
Image is property of DNA Films, Film4, Scott Rudin Productions and Universal Studios

Ex Machina – Film Review

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Director: Alex Garland

Synopsis: A young man is selected to take part in a unique programme that develops and evaluates the world’s first artificial intelligence.

Review: As humans, we all go through life wondering what does it feel like to be alive? We all go through different stages, birth, childhood, teenage years, graduation, jobs and of course ultimately death. In these big moments, we are overcome by emotion and feel what it is like to be alive. But what if you’d been brought into the world by some technical genius who sought to create the world’s first proper artificial intelligence? How do you express how you feel? How do you convey emotions? Are you truly alive? This is the enthralling premise of the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who primarily is known for his screen-writing credentials on the likes of Dredd and 28 Weeks Later. However, his first foray into directing is a dazzling, beautiful piece of work.

In recent years, we have seen science fiction films go from apes with incredible intelligence, to time travel, and to interstellar voyages and back on a crazy big budget scale. Yet there is none of that crazy grand scale adventure here. At the heart of the story here, is a simple tale of humanity, emotions, feelings. Yet also at its core, its dark, dangerous and somewhat eerie. We have seen forays into beings of artificial intelligence, with the likes of Kubrick’s 2001 and The Matrix, yet nothing on quite the personal, intimate level that we see here in Garland’s sharp screenplay. The interaction between the AI being, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander and the lucky (or is he?) programmer Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson. As they interact, you feel the tension building. Does he have feelings for her? Does she have feelings for him? Is she really that different from a human being? There’s no guns blazing, high intense action here, but the dialogue between the two is extremely riveting to watch, as their chemistry grows, it definitely provides some of the most intense dialogue so far this year.

By stark contrast, Oscar Isaac playing the eccentric playboy billionaire Nathan, gives off contrasting signals. Sometimes he’s very warm and friendly, other times he feels cold and detached, which one might suspect if you lived in a vast complex with a considerable amount of money at your disposal to build an AI. The relationship between the three characters is thoroughly compelling as you wonder if any of them have any ulterior motives. All three are electric together which should be encouraging for this December’s Star Wars. Yet by far the biggest shining performance is that of Alicia Vikander’s work as Ava. She maybe an AI but with every action she takes, she feels like a real human being. Sexiness and remarkable intelligence combined, every man’s dream.

For a directorial debut picture, the film looks immaculate, with wonderful shots of breathtaking scenery. The look of Ava in her full mode is also immaculately well realised. Sometimes in film, it can be painfully apparent that what you are looking at is CGI but not in this instance. She may look like a robot, but Vikander’s grounded and sublime performance will make you think again. Likewise, this film will have you thinking about its content and characters long after you finish watching.  This is a landmark achievement in CGI films, and will have a great impact on the genre going forward as it feels remarkably real and personal. Also this is not the last we will hear of Alex Garland as a director or Alicia Vikander.

A thought provoking, imaginative and original sci-fi flick with tremendous performances from the three leading actors and a wonderful directorial debut from Garland. 

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