Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Lucasfilm

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo

Director: Ron Howard

Synopsis: Charting the origins of a young Han Solo as he escapes a desolate planet and finds a calling as a pilot and a smuggler, which sends him on an adventure where he meets a few familiar faces…

Review: Whenever a discussion regarding the greatest characters to have graced the big screen get discussed, one name that is very likely to crop up is everyone’s favourite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder, AKA Han Solo. Right from his very first appearance in the franchise, he just charmed his way into the affection of legions of fans across the galaxy.  So in the wake of the extremely successful Rogue One, comes the latest chapter in the Anthology franchise, taking a look at a much younger Han, and how he came to be the cocky smuggler we know and love

It is no secret that the production of this film ran into a few problems somewhat when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were given their marching orders, perhaps they made the mistake in shooting first? With the duo ejected off the project, Ron Howard was handed the keys to the ship. It is not known how much Lord and Miller had filmed before their exit, nor to what extent their efforts are what we see in the finished product. Given those well documented production problems, there were some concerns about how the film would turn out. Though Rogue One also had some well document production problems of its own, the finished product stayed on target to deliver the goods. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Solo.

The start of a beautiful furry friendship…

The adventure that Star Wars veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan take us on explores the early stages of Han’s life, how he forged a friendship with a certain Wookie and the beginnings of his life as a smuggler as he gets dragged into a mission alongside said Wookie, and a group of fellow smugglers. However the film severely suffers with its pacing as the initial stages really drag. Furthermore, once the plot finally goes into lightspeed, it is just extremely bland and not memorable in the slightest.

Though it might take some time to adjust to him, Alden Ehrenreich does a solid job as the young Han. Though it has to be said, there are plenty of actors who could have assumed that role and done an equally splendid job. In spite of that, and the enormous shoes that he had to fill, he does do his best to capture that roguish streak that made him such a memorable presence in the original trilogy. There is certainly enjoyment to be had in looking at how this unlikely pair became the duo we know they come to be, as is exploring the early relationship between Han and Lando, who is perfectly portrayed by Donald Glover. Certain characters get introduced and the audience is barely given a chance to get to know them before the plot moves forward.

Apart from Han and Lando, there is severe lack of development on many of these characters. And for the ones that do get some development, like Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, it is flimsy at best. One thing that has so often been a staple of Star Wars films of the past was the presence of a strong compelling villain. There is a villain here, but due to a severe lack of development, he does not get the chance to leave a solid impression. Ultimately, this is also applicable for much of the rest of the cast, which is a shame when you consider the real talent of the actors involved. On that note, some of the cinematography on show here is really murky and just looks awful, which is baffling when you realise that the DP is Bradford Young, the man who was behind the lenses to the superb Arrival. And while everything is competently made, the direction from Howard is solid if unspectacular.

Usually with every SW film, there is at least one shot or scene that sticks in the mind, but with Solo these are few and far between. Furthermore, the the generic nature of the plot and its by-the-numbers execution leaves a lot to be desired, particularly when it is compared to the recent Star Wars films, both of the main new trilogy and the first Anthology film. With Han Solo, a character who never likes to be told the odds, the odds were stacked against this film, and sadly despite a super talented cast and production crew, it fell short of those lofty expectations that many perhaps expect from a Star Wars adventure. Don’t punch it Chewie, where’s that escape pod?

There is fun to be had, but the presence of the Star Wars name cannot disguise the very bland and forgettable nature of the story, even with a super talented cast and director.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Director: Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: After a young woman’s murder goes unsolved, her mother rents out the use of three billboards just outside her town to try and force the authorities into action…

Review: As human beings, it would certainly be fair to say that we can be at our lowest ebbs whenever someone we love has passed away. Whether it be from natural causes, or if they’re cruelly and sometimes callously taken away from us. But what could anyone do in the case of the latter? Well there’s not a lot you could do except hope that killer was caught and swiftly faces justice for their actions. However, what if that doesn’t come to pass?  Do you have any other options?

Yes is the answer for one bereaved mother, as she chooses to take matters into her own hands. After her daughter Angela was brutally raped and murdered seven months prior, Mildred Hayes makes use of three large billboards just outside of her town, with  messages that are directed at the police whose investigation hasn’t yielded any clues. Though by doing this, it causes a stir among the population of the town (and not in a good way) that creates some problems on top of the problems that Mildred is already having in her life.

You would think that such a bleak scenario does not allow for comedy, but that’s exactly what writer/director Martin McDonagh provides. His superb screenplay manages fuses both the comedy and the tragedy of this family drama so effortlessly that one never negates the other. One scene can shift from a wonderfully humorous moment to a gut-wrenchingly sad moment in an instant. Furthermore, in a country that is facing some deeply testing times, the screenplay also goes beyond the personal grief of one family and examines some important issues facing American society today. It’s extremely powerful and hard-hitting.

Being the centrepiece of this story Mildred Hayes is a character who it is clear has had a lot of shit going on in her life besides the tragic fate that befell her daughter. Even though she isn’t exactly going things in the most acceptable or indeed correct manner, you understand her rage that she has for certain people and as such you do sympathise with her. Frances McDormand gives a terrific performance that has already won her a Golden Globe, with more nominations and potentially awards to follow, all of which would be well deserved. Equally terrific are Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who’s encountering his own difficult personal problems and a bigoted policeman (Rockwell) who is absolutely not a friendly chap whatsoever. Yet there is a hint of a man who is a little bit vulnerable, though the same could be said for perhaps almost everyone in the town, with these events having clearly taken their toll on the town as a whole.

With each of the story-lines that these characters have and the ensuing journey that these three in particular go on makes for some hilarious, and in some cases, harrowing viewing. Yet  it handles its subject matter in such a delicate manner that the comedy and the tragedy do not cancel each other out. With McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay and direction, combined with the electric performances from the ensemble cast ensures that the film is extremely thought-provoking. It packs so much more emotional weight that ensures it will leave a lasting impression, on both the viewer and indeed on this current awards season race.

 Funny, shocking and depressing, sometimes all in the same scene, but McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay ensures it is all meshed together supremely well. This is bold, but quite brilliant film-making in equal measure.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment

War for the Planet of the Apes – Film Review 

Cast:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller

Director: Matt Reeves

Synopsis: After the devastation caused by the skirmish between Apes and Humans, Caesar and his apes now face a new threat in the form of a vicious Colonel who’s intent on eradicating the Apes once and for all

Review: “Apes, together, strong!” These were some of the words that we saw written on one of the walls of what was once the stronghold of the colony of super-smart Apes led by Caesar. The Ape that kick-started the rise of the Ape revolution that we saw in the first chapter of this reboot. We watched in awe as he became the leader of that colony. Then came the second chapter, where Caesar saw his leadership and his ideals challenged. It was the dawn of the Ape uprising, as one ape went rogue, and things went a bit awry for mankind and ape-kind both, and the war that was triggered as a result of that conflict, is now upon us, and it ain’t pretty.

Continuing in the same vein as both Rise and Dawn, this is a very personal story for Caesar, once again voiced and mo-capped tremendously by Andy Serkis. After the events of Dawn, the actions of the mutinous Koba and the utter contempt for humanity  he had have had a lasting effect on Caesar. And when the humans and the apes clash once again, it proves to be the final straw for Caesar, and he sets out on the hunt for the vicious colonel (Harrelson) who is determined to eradicate Caesar and all of his apes, once and for all. Thus, this sets the wheels motion for another deeply personal and brilliantly told personal clash. Back once again after directing Dawn, Reeves has really showed himself to at the top of his craft, both as a writer and as a director, so it’s no wonder that he’s been handed the keys to the Batmobile.

The screenplay, co-written by Reeves and Matt Bomback, once again makes the smart decision to focus on Caesar and his apes, and their motivations for doing what they’re doing. Caesar stands out by far, but Maurice (Konoval) has a much greater role as Caesar’s most trusted adviser, and Rocket (Notary) likewise. A new addition to the Ape clan is Steve Zahn’s self named “Bad Ape” who certainly adds the humour this time around, but it’s gratefully kept to a minimum and thus it doesn’t become annoying. Dawn certainly offered plenty of exhilarating action sequences and once again Reeves delivers equally enthralling action sequences, whilst also delivering an intense psychological battle that pits Caesar against, by far the most compelling human antagonist of the franchise to date, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, a man who is determined to ensure that humanity retains its place as the dominant species of the planet.

The CGI is once again, particularly for the Apes, is absolutely faultless. It’s so life like that once again you forget that they’re portrayed by actual actors in rather unusual suits. Though Serkis has often been overlooked for his work in these films in terms of awards recognition, he absolutely demonstrates his talents in bringing such emotional depth to a character, one who really makes the audience root for him, and want to see the obliteration of their own species. His performance is truly awards worthy, but award or not, his sterling work has ensured Caesar’s place as one of the most iconic film characters of the decade without a doubt. Michael Giacchino’s score is as you would expect, absolutely flawless.

Though there will almost certainly be more to come for this franchise, with Rise, Dawn and now War, we we have a trilogy that improves on what came before, and thus giving us one of one of the best trilogies of modern times. Apes, together, strong indeed.

The third chapter in trilogies so often disappoints, but no so here. With a thrilling personal story, combined with another excellent turn from Serkis as Caesar, to ensure that this trilogy is completed in great style, with the best film in the trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)

Mockingjay
Image rights belong to Lionsgate and Color Force

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Film Review 

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields.

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis:  Following her rescue from the Hunger Games arena, Katniss finds herself in the unknown District 13, where she has to decide if she wants to take a stand against the Capitol, and become the Mockingjay and the symbol of hope…

Review: One inevitable fact of life is that when movies adapted from a series of books are adapted for the big screen, the last book is going to be split up into two movies. Harry Potter and Twilight did it, and Divergent will also follow suit. While it may be hard to look at this decision as anything more than a money related one, if the movies themselves deliver enough content to leave the viewer satisfied, then all is right with the world. With this first part, it feels like an elongated starter before we reach the excitement of the main course.

With Katniss being rescued from the 75th Hunger Games and arriving in the unknown District 13,  the initial focus is on her dealing with the events of the last movie. Her home has been destroyed, her best friend captured, and having to decide whether or not to become the Mockingjay, the leader who will take down the evil Capitol and the cold President Snow (no pun intended.) The film focuses on her psychological struggles, dealing with everything she’s been through and at the same time see the two sides using propaganda to try and rally people to their cause with her being the key piece in the puzzle for the rebellion. The propaganda does provide some compelling viewing with a particularly emotive and powerful scene at a lake, but there is a desire to get to the action scenes that you know are brewing.

The film is not devoid of action, and there are some great scenes to get the heart pumping, but they are over before they have had a chance to really get going. The main focus of the film is on the propaganda and the political speeches and in that we get a new angle on the story that we have not seen before. The Games themselves are now old news,  the brewing war between the Capitol and the Districts is the bigger picture of the story, and those who have read the books know what is coming. This part could have very easily fallen flat due to the surplus in action but it is held up by the scheming and the propaganda which is riveting to see. On top of this, it provides a beautiful piece of cinema with a song performed by Katniss herself, which is a nice companion piece to the film’s excellent soundtrack.

Jennifer Lawrence, is once again the driving force of the film. The Oscar winner shows the horrible Katniss struggles and her determination to save her family in the face of sheer horror and desolation make for some gripping moments. The audience has grown with her over these last two movies and she’s the one you really care about. With the majority of the rest of the characters, there is not the same level of connection and in that some of the characters do feel expendable. The one new character that stands out is Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin. As the charismatic leader of District 13, it is her task to rally the rebels and prepare for war, and she does this with great aplomb.  Of course the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman remains on form as former Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, as he did throughout his illustrious career. The acting on the whole remains solid from everyone else, but with all the build up and the political subtext we have, there is just not enough action to leave the viewer satisfied.

A step down from the highs of Catching Fire but there is enough in this instalment of this popular franchise to keep your attention. With Lawrence remaining as solid as ever in her role as Katniss, the odds are definitely in our favour for an action packed conclusion to this franchise.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

All image rights belong to Lionsgate
Image is property of Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Film Review 

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence,  Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: Katniss has sparked rebellion in the twelve districts of Panem and she has become the target by the ruthless Capitol. As rebellion is brewing, the Capitol prepares for the 75th Hunger Games, also known as the Third Quarter Quell, and one that will change Katniss’s life forever…

Review: A bigger and better adventure than the first film of what already has the makings of a very successful franchise.  A franchise that is quite simply not a plain rip off of Battle Royale as some people would have you believe.

The opening begins with the consequences of Katniss and Peeta’s open defiance against the Capitol following their victory in the previous film. Katniss in particular feels the full wrath of the cold President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who threatens Katniss with the deaths of all those she holds dear unless she cools the brewing rebellion that is gaining momentum throughout the nation’s twelve districts. Katniss is seen as the symbol of rebellion and Snow desperately wants to kill her to crush the rebellion. Yet Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) suggests that she be brought down to the level of the Capitol and the symbol of hope that she has become will be eradicated. Sutherland takes his performance form the first film up a gear and he definitely comes into his own as the cold and cruel leader of Panem.

Jennifer Lawrence rose to super stardom following her performance as the film’s star heroine in last year’s film. Following on from this, the 23 year old has got bigger and now has on Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. The only way is up for her and her performance as the film’s lead character was again fantastic. A strong and powerful female heroine is rare in films these days but with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, she gives us the strong female lead that has helped define this franchise and dare I say, helps bring a positive image of women in action movies and not the sulking and needy women that has come from franchises of the past (*cough* Twilight *cough) The returning cast are also on form again with Stanley Tucci as the bubbly Casear Flickman and Elizabeth Banks as the ever colourful and this time much more emotional Effie Trinket.  Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson also reprise their roles to great effect. Among the new members of the cast, Sam Claflin is the most noteworthy as Finnick Odair. Yet the likes of Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Wiress (Amanda Plummer), Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Johanna (Jena Malone) also make strong impressions.

Under a new director, Francis Lawrence who is not a relation of Jennifer, the film’s action scenes definitely improve and the frustrating shaky cam has been done away with. This film does focus a lot more on some of the crucial elements that are within the books and as the content of this film is considerably darker than its predecessor. A notable example of this is the significance of the Mockingjay pin that went completely amiss in the first film. The director does a great job in bringing those elements from Collins’ novel to the big screen and all in all it is pulled off really well with some exciting and pulsating  scenes especially when we get to the arena which again is done extremely well.

Under Lawrence’s direction, this franchise is in good hands and the final two parts of the franchise have got the potential to be even better than the first two. With the third biggest opening in the UK for 2013, it seems the UK public continue to want the odds to be in their favour. This film definitely delivers what the hordes of passionate Hunger Games fans wanted to see.  It was exciting, dark and was all round perfectly executed. It was  much more loyal to the book  than the first film. While it was not completely loyal, it was still very enjoyable and I eagerly await the next instalment of this franchise.

Upping the stakes as a sequel should, Catching Fire  delivers much more compelling action with a really solid story that ensures the odds are very much in this franchise’s favour.

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Posted in Film Review

The Hunger Games (2012)

All image rights belong to Lionsgate and Color Force
Image is property of Lionsgate and Color Force

The Hunger Games – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Director: Gary Ross

Synopsis: In the aftermath of a rebellion, a nation forces, known as “tributes”. The tributes are then trained and forced to fight to the death in a tournament known as the Hunger Games until there is only one person standing.

Review: A solid film that sets the benchmark for what could be an exciting quartet of films. Prior to its release, this film had garnered a massive amount of buzz and excitement in the wake of the best-selling novels from Collins. The first film of the series was always going to be crucial to the future success of the franchise, and while the film does have its problems; it is nevertheless an exciting first chapter that hits the ground running and will leave the viewers wanting more. With Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the film offers a likeable, confident and strong female protagonist, a rare feature for a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. She is a character that the audience immediately sympathise with due to the horrific poverty that she and her family have to endure as their district; district twelve is one of the poorest districts. She takes the place of her sister Prim (Willow Shields) by volunteering in the Hunger Games, alongside Peeta Mellark, a baker’s boy who Katniss has some history with. Along with the two tributes from district twelve, all the tributes train for several days before being sent into battle in the Hunger Games until only one victor remains.

Lawrence, on the back of her Oscar nominated success from Winter’s Bone, delivers a very strong lead performance. She is brave, strong willed, determined and a powerful warrior. At the same time she shows compassion and emotion when she needs to. While the film does breeze over some important elements of the story from Collins’ work, in particular the Mockingjay pin, it does offer up some exciting moments. Before the action in the arena kicks off, Katniss gives some memorable moments including the Tributes Parade and the showing of her “Girl on Fire” dress while during her pre-Games interview by Caesar Flickerman. (Stanley Tucci) However, this is all a prelude to the Hunger Games itself.

Right from the beginning of the tournament the action is exciting stuff. Yet it does slow down at various points which does enable some important character development, namely between Katniss and Peeta as they grow closer together and begin to form a strong relationship. Despite this, the action soon begins to flow again with the tributes steadily falling down one by one. When the climax of the film happens, it is one of, if not the best action scene of the film. The film does a superb score that accompanies many of these action scenes and it greatly adds to the drama and excitement of the scenes in question. Along with a strong lead performance from Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson is a solid lead character alongside Katniss. It is fascinating to see Katniss’s initial dislike of him turn into some strong feelings.

The supporting cast are also on form. In particular, Woody Harrelson is perfect in the role of Haymitch, the almost always drunk mentor for the district twelve tributes. Stanley Tucci is as charismatic as he always tends to be as the TV personality Caesar Flickerman. Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland also deliver strong performances as the colourful and bubbly Effie Trinket and the dark and mysterious President Snow respectively. The latter of which is a character that remains a mystery and he will no doubt come into his own in the later films. A couple of criticisms of the film is that, as previously mentioned, some key elements of Collins’ work are missing from final cut. Another criticism of the film is that the camera work in the film is shaky in numerous parts which made watching the film a little frustrating at times.

In spite of this, The Hunger Games is the solid start to the franchise that many of the passionate fans wanted. It had some strong performances especially from Lawrence who was the heroine that fans Katniss wanted to be and has proved to be the launching platform into mega stardom for Jennifer Lawrence, and deservedly so. The odds are definitely in favour of the Hunger Games franchise.

Young adult novel adaptations in the wake of Harry Potter have been plentiful, but this might just be the start of a special franchise to rival the Boy Who Lived.

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