*NEW* STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI REVIEW *NEW*

The last hurrah?

Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the First Order.

After repressing the belly laughs from spotting Vivien from The Young Ones as a First Order officer, I was thrown into the chaos as the Resistance unleashed the mayhem.

The special effects were brilliant. The action was intense. I loved the cockpit panoramic camera work as Dameron maneuvered the X-Wing.

Speaking of which; someone must have read my Force Awakens review. The one new face writer/director Rian Johnson made sure to have plenty of screen time was Poe Dameron. Oscar Isaac was brilliant. Highly comical and entertaining. His hazing of Hux in the opening sequence was cheesy but well played. Reminded me of a young Solo.

After commending Domnhall Gleeson for his stand out performance as Hux in Episode VII, I felt his delivery this time around was almost pantomime. He was dreadfully OTT and annoying. Whether they realised Emo-Ren was lacking that sinister edge, I’ll never know.

Adam Driver was very good as Kylo. A much more sombre turn that worked a lot better for the character and he got rid of that ridiculous helmet!

Ren’s conflicted conscience continued to tease throughout. Had he truly turned to the Dark Side? Was there any hope left for him?

I loved how the old faces mixed with the new ones. Andy Serkis got to feature a lot more as the creepy Snoke. The CGI and detail on the super Sith (Seriously how tall was that guy? Was he even a guy?) was impeccable.

Carrie Fisher delivered a sterling turn as Leia. There were a couple of question marks about her character that surprised but also annoyed me. BUT don’t FORCE me to spoil anything. I respect the team for keeping the finished scenes after her tragic passing BUT I can’t help but feel that it might cause problems for the next installment.

However, her appearance allowed for a wonderful reunion that (I’m not going to lie) plucked at the old heart strings.

BB8 stole the show yet again. Delivering the laughs in this super serious saga.

BUT there was one face I was happy to see return and that was the man himself. Luke “Robo-Hand” Skywalker.

Hardly a spoiler as we left Rey presenting the miserable Jedi with his old lightsabre. I was surprised at how comical Hamill was BUT it added an extra humanity to this flawed veteran. A man defeated and desperate to avoid the call to action once more.

I loved the bitterness. Ridley and Hamill were a fantastic duo, which made the dynamic work that much more, as Luke reluctantly helped the stubborn Rey channel the Jedi within.

Ridley still carried the film where it counted. Her Force telepathy conversations with Ren were intriguing.

I loved how Johnson and co. brought so many new creatures and wonderful set designs to life. The nun toads and the PORGS (My God. Those PORGs are going to be the next craze fo’ sure) being particular highlights.

There were a few surprises and twists along the way. Plenty of fitting nods and references to keep the new SW and (the long suffering) old fans happy.

The only problem with focusing on particular characters and bringing in new faces was that some had to face the cut. Chewbacca, C-3PO and ol’ R2 were pushed into the background far too much.

Well, maybe C-3PO was the right decision. Don’t get me wrong, they stole the show whenever they had the opportunity BUT I wanted more.

At the same time, that showed confidence in the new faces that it wasn’t too much of a concern. I was a little worried at how Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Trico was going to fare. Her initial irritating introduction had me wincing BUT the loveable rogue soon grew on me and I was actually rooting for her by the closing act.

She worked well with Boyega and allowed an increasingly absent Finn back into the fold.

I have to say I enjoyed TLJ a lot more than FA (Force Awakens). FA had a stronger first half but withered out with a retread of A New Hope while TLJ got better and better and made the story its own.

I expected so much worse after the Twitter hate BUT was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t perfect. The pacing was a little testing in places and some scenes were a little hokey. The casino sequences at Canto Bight were a little . . . strange.

And there were a few plot holes. *Cough* Light speed chase *Cough* BUT there was enough fun, adventure and drama to keep things gripping, riveting and entertaining. I would have no qualms watching this again.

I can’t wait for Episode XI and any other spin-offs (that we already know are on the way) if they can continue to maintain this standard.

3.5/5

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*NEW* AMERICAN MADE REVIEW *NEW*

Poorly made? Or silly fun?

A pilot (Tom Cruise) lands work for the CIA and the cartel as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.

Imagine if Pablo Escobar hired Top Gun’s Maverick to export his drugs and you’re pretty much there.

Cruise does just enough to make this mad biopic entertaining.

I know his latest efforts have been mixed (to say the least) BUT it was true what the movie said, “He’s the gringo that always delivers”.

The opening quickly set up the monotonous daily routine of the unfulfilled Barry Seal (Cruise). Frustration reaching breaking point as the airline pilot playfully switched off the auto pilot just to take control of something in his life.

Thankfully it wasn’t long before the mysterious ‘Monty’ (Domnhall Gleeson) made his introduction.

Domnhall Gleeson has got to be one of the best supporting actors going at the moment. He almost stole the limelight from Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. BUT I digress . . .

He played ‘Monty’ brilliantly. Slick and cocky. Playing up to Seal’s desires and offering him the job of a lifetime. A new plane. A new life. BUT, of course, at a price. Always at a price.

The only problem was that once Cruise was set on his way, Gleeson was pushed into the background. A missed opportunity as ‘Monty’ was a lot shadier than we were led to believe.

Cruise’s Dukes of Hazzard story telling was a little too silly for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, it was very watchable and had an easygoing comical feel to the piece. Very much like Charlie Wilson’s War. BUT I like my crime biopics a little more gritty and hard hitting.

If these events (Accepting “Hollywood”‘s retelling) actually happened, I’d be smirking like the protagonist!

The pace was patchy and dipped in and out of places BUT I wasn’t bored. If anything, I was engrossed into seeing how far this madness went as Seal crossed enemy lines to initially to do some air reconnaissance.

Accepting all the risks with no assistance or recognition if captured or killed. Ridiculous.

The thrill-seeking pilot inevitably becoming the CIA’s golden goose for information. The gringo that always delivers. However, despite providing Grade A intel, it wasn’t long before Seal’s financial woes piled up. The CIA scrimping on providing an adequate salary. Shocking.

BUT ‘Monty’ has a solution as Seal’s aerial skills are required for a bigger and more dangerous mission. Smuggling drugs for the Colombian cartel!

This is the second Escobar influenced biopic I’ve seen in the last year (The Infiltrator). Now, I know he was only a passing figure in Seal’s mishaps BUT why did they make the big guy so weak and lifeless?

Clearly the film is riding on the Narcos hype; so why didn’t they watch the show and take some pointers?

There were still tense moments as Seal attempted to take off a mock jungle runway with a top heavy plane full to the brim with cocaine. The PoV shots had me wincing as the plane wrestled with the tree tops.

BUT the characters could have been fleshed out a lot more.

The stunning Sarah Wright (21 & Over) didn’t do too bad a job as Barry’s long suffering wife. BUT her character was still tragically weak. Even if she wasn’t just accepting Barry’s answers and decisions as their family were reallocated across the country.

Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out) played the airhead brother in law JB well. A walking disaster if ever there was one. Alarm bells ringing early on that the dimwit will be a problem for Barry’s operation.

I was expecting Fargo’s Jesse Plemons to do more as Sheriff Downing. He was completely irrelevant as the events unfolded. I’m sure that was supposed to be a lazy statement on Seal’s ever-growing power BUT that could have been done without the Chief Wiggum-esque antics.

Lucy: “Honey, there’s money flying around in the back yard”

Barry: “I’ll rake it up in the morning”

More money than sense as Seal’s operation continued to expand. His smuggling became so lucrative that the hay in the stables was embedded with cash!

The silly humour and quips didn’t really work as well as they should have. It breezed over a lot of facts and picked the “sexier” bits of the story.

I actually got a little bored as Seal lapped up the high life. That was until his dealings took a murkier turn. Cutting through all sorts of crazy political red tape as he used the Iran-Contra affair to his gain.

Instead of supplying guns to the Contras, Seal sold them onto the Colombians while they smuggled Escobar’s drugs shipments back to Miami! I know, crazy!

Seal wasn’t just portrayed as as a money grabbing adrenaline junkie. Especially as the noose inevitably grew tighter around his neck as pressure continued to mount from Escobar and the CIA.

The final act was surprisingly dark and tense as Seal was inadvertently “made”. The error in itself was a joke.

The dark ending felt completely disjointed from the rest of the film as Seal went into hiding, fearing the wrath of the Colombians.

I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. BUT just like Gold and The Infiltrator, the producers have had to rely on a big leading performance to drudge through a patchy and mediocre affair.

Although it lacked depth, American Made still highlighted the hypocrisy of the CIA’s antics during the 80s and Cruise still delivered a watchable popcorn movie. Seriously, the Missouri plane chase was hilarious and action packed.

BUT the tone, mismatched humour and weak characters spoiled something that could have been so much more.

Narcos, it ain’t. A fun time filler worth a gander.

3/5

*NEW* STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS REVIEW *NEW*

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Was the force strong with this one? Was this the sequel I was looking for?

In a nutshell, hype help it did NOT.

It was always going to be tough to follow on from such an iconic trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) BUT it was still an enthralling and promising effort from J.J. Abrams. After the successful Star Trek reboot, I had full confidence in the director to continue George Lucas’ legacy.

As soon as those infamous credits came up, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” and that iconic John Williams score boomed through the surround sound speaker system, this film nerd bellowed a Wookie cry in rejoice.

It was hard NOT to get that buzz and excitement as the plot scrolled up the screen into nothingness. Thankfully, there was no dense mumbo jumbo about taxation. *Cough* Phantom Menace *Cough*

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Don’t worry. I will do my utmost NOT to spoil anything. Promise.

I always went out of my way to avoid getting into the Star Wars films. BUT the force was too strong. I couldn’t resist the score, the characters, the very world that Lucas capitulated.

The humour, the action, the corny exchanges. Thankfully they were all still there. It probably helped that Abrams teamed up with Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back/The Return of the Jedi. Ugh. Those Ewoks. Man oh man).

The first hour I was hooked. Engrossed. Fantastic special effects. Frenetic energy. Great characters. SOLD.

The introduction of several new faces spiced up the mix. John Boyega (Attack the Block) and Daisy Ridley (Mr Selfridge) were worthy additions and certainly held their own.

Oscar Isaac’s (Ex Machina) Poe wasn’t in this enough. His quick witted one liners reminded me of a young Han Solo. BUT after making an impressionable introduction, he was largely absent. Shame.

Ridley was superb. It was a breath of fresh air to see a female heroine after following Luke and Anakin. She carried the film and was a likeable protagonist. Boyega was very good as troubled trooper Finn. Come a long way from Attack The Block.

We also had a new villain in the form of the mysterious Kylo Ren. Channelling his inner Vader. I was transfixed. That was until the chap took off his helmet. Sorry, Adam Driver (This is Where I Leave You). I can see why that Emo Kylo Ren Twitter account exists. His isolated conversation with Vader’s broken helmet was haunting.

Domnhall Gleeson (About Time) also delivered an underrated performance as General Hux. By the end, I was more entranced with him than Ren. Rivalling Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin as the creepy underling. His unsettling Hitler-esque speech made the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

However, the biggest scene stealer was the adorable android BB-8. Hilarious. I’m sure a lot of people will be wanting to buy one of these little bots. I know I want one.

 

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Of course, the heavily flogged trailers revealed the return of some old faces. It was great to see Han Solo and ol’ Chewie. They were fantastic and haven’t changed a bit. Perfect. Harrison Ford was on fine form. Showing the newbies how it’s done.

Believe it or not, this really will be down to how much of a Star Wars fan you are. Go figure. If you’re anything like me, you would have already had your Star Wars marathon. The Good (Episode V), The Bad (Episode II) and the Ugly (Episode I).

If you haven’t then I would highly recommend that you don’t. As much as Abrams and Kasdan changed a few things, introduced new faces and brought back the old ones, there was only so much you could do with the story arc.

The closing act felt like one enormous retread of Episode IV: A New Hope. Different characters doing the exact same thing with the same end result. Predictable and frankly a little disappointing.

It didn’t help that the pace got increasingly patchy as the film carried on. A drawn out bar sequence with Maz Kanata (voiced brilliantly by Lupita Nyong’o) certainly didn’t help matters. The force waffle went on too long and I couldn’t help but think of Madge from Benidorm while Kanata spoke. Anybody else see it? Nope?

 

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I knew that Episode VII was going to be a continuation BUT I was still expecting more. Maybe it was a case of hype being a hindrance after setting the bar so high. Don’t get me wrong, it was a vast improvement from Episodes I and II. I know some of you will say, “Well, that wouldn’t take much”.

BUT as much as Abrams and Kasdan tried to create a little mystery around the old faces as we wondered what had happened in 30 years, it was pretty easy to piece together.

Carrie Fisher was wasted in her role as Leia. Gutted. I couldn’t make head or tail of what Andy Serkis’ (The Lord of the Rings) Supreme Leader Snoke was supposed to be.

The pace tested. The plot was disappointing. BUT I was still happy to be taken back to that crazy universe and once I saw a particular piece of space junk take flight, I was beaming from ear to ear.

An enjoyable enough romp and a welcome return for a franchise. BUT if there is to be more, retread old ground we must NOT.

3.5/5 (Just)

EX MACHINA

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It may be a little mechanical in parts but it’s certainly not one for the scrap heap.

A ha . . . Anyway. Finally a film that didn’t make me question the purpose of my cinema pass.

A brooding, atmospheric and suspenseful thriller that ponders the existence of artificial intelligence and the very essence of life.

So what’s it all about? A young programmer (Domnhall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander)

Brought to you by the guy who penned 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now to me, I instantly had high hopes. I loved both. To some, there may be doubts.

The premise is hardly original but it’s take is certainly a breath of fresh air.

It does sound a little pretentious. And in parts it can be but it’s all helped by an original script and a small (No seriously. Four actors) but talented up and coming cast.

Domnhall Gleeson has been on the radar for some time featuring in such hits as About Time and Unbroken. He proves once again why he is one to watch. He plays the geeky programmer with aplomb and delivers his lines with an impeccable accent.

What I loved about the opening was how quick cut it was. It didn’t mess around or linger unnecessarily. Just straight to business. It set the tone, the pace and got the story going. Main character. Situation. Bang, bang, bang.

The cinematography by Rob Hardy was outstanding. Especially with the breathtaking panoramic landscape shots as Gleeson’s Caleb descends upon the Jurassic Park-esque compound of the reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac).

Oscar Isaac was brilliant as the eccentric inventor. A scene stealer at every chance. A chameleon with a tough poker face. Isaac is certainly banging on the door with his performances; Inside Llewyn Davis, Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year.

As soon as “Day One” flashed across the screen, the game begins. A suspenseful, haunting voyeuristic journey into madness.

When Caleb is first introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), it makes for slow burning but engaging viewing. The pair sharing pleasantries and sussing each other out. There is great chemistry between Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

She will certainly be one whose face you will have to get used to. Appearing in several future releases and one current (Testament of Youth); Seventh Son, Son of a Gun, Man from UNCLE.

However, if her performances are anything like this then I won’t be complaining. And no! That is not because she is a naked Swedish robot who has stolen my heart (What?)

The tension begins to bubble as the days count down. Strange things happen around the enormous techno compound. Unexplained power cuts that automatically lock every room. CCTV footage on every TV channel of Ava.

An air of unease and suspicion shrouds the house (and the film). The paranoia beginning to rear its ugly head.

Loyalties soon divided, perceptions blurred. The eccentric Nathan watching the couple’s conversation under a microscope. Ava desperate to escape. Warning Caleb not to trust Nathan.

This certainly kept my attention for the majority of the film as I tried to suss out what was really going on here.

The debates between Caleb and Ava made interesting points and certainly pondered the question of what is real? Can a robot feel? Judge what is right and wrong. Their chemistry igniting more and more.

The only issue is that with all the conversations, the slow burning pace and the beautiful landscapes, it does go on a little bit.

I could feel myself kind of wanting Day 7 (it occurs over a week) to reach it’s finale a little quicker.

It’s almost Kubrickian. The long sweeping shots, the hallways. God, the endless hallways. No creepy twins in this one. Only a sultry Japanese robot servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). Alluring one moment, unsettling the next.

Garland even goes for a bizarre encounter involving a choreographed disco routine that really showed Nathan’s eccentricity (and that Isaac can dance). He also delivered the best retort I’ve heard in some time.

An angry Caleb storms in and asks why Nathan tore up something. His response? “I’m going to tear up the dance floor, dude.” Brilliant.

The finale was a little predictable but how it come about still surprised me and left me nodding my head in approval. That can’t be said for a lot of films these days.

I don’t want to divulge too much as I would like you to give this a gander.

The special effects were very good. The detail on Ava and Kyoto was remarkable. No over-indulgence on the CGI which made them look a lot less cartoony and more realistic.

I mean that could be down to the fact this had a much smaller budget but always a plus in my book in this day and age of relentless, OTT animation.

It’s certainly a dark broody affair. If you’re expecting fast action and bang for your buck with sexy robots, then watch I, Robot or Transformers but if you want a little bit of philosophical sci-fi then give it a go.

It’s not perfect. A little long at the tooth but engaging enough.

A step in the right direction.

3.5 (just)/5