Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

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The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

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The grand ideal of hope is positively put to the test in this bleak and amazingly creative take on the zombie genre. Sure there’s things we’ve seen before, but overall it feels tonally different and has issues about life and survival that never felt more engaging, thanks to seeing them from the side of this young girl.

Dystopian England is where we meet a base of soldiers and wheelchair bound children locked up at night. During the day, they are taught by Helen (Gemma Arteton) who is liked by Melanie (Sennia Nanua), one of the children and definitely the smartest and most special of the bunch. As the army location is put under threat, a small core group leave to find human contact elsewhere but with fungi-infected crowds everywhere, their journey is tough.

What I liked most about this film was the huge feeling of tension/unease in the landscape presented. The majority of the movie is very intense and it’s almost as if you’re there with this small party of 5 trekking through a dangerously different London. It’s true to say that movie monster movies get tiresome, vampires and zombies have been done a lot so thankfully this story gives a grand spin on the latter and makes the walking dead a collective you want to find out more about.

Both the screenplay and the novel it’s based on were penned at the same time by M.R. Carey who injects a sense of fear but also wonder in having us focus on infected children and their possible cure for us. In a great way, this film has made me want to buy the book to read it and see what differs and what is similar and just to immerse myself into the world all over again. What is unique and good about the plot is that we stay with Melanie and see her discovery of humans and the city, she’s confident, inquisitive and likable and in fact, though people at times have villainous streaks, they’re not baddies, it’s just them trying to understand the mess.

I couldn’t leave this review without praising the efforts of Cristobal Tapia de Veer, his score/music effects for this British apocalyptic drama has such a reverb around the speakers, the opening scene with his work over the top is fantastically rich, intense and sets the mood just right. I already loved his sounds from the great TV series ‘Utopia’ and that chorus sound of electronica is felt again with this film.

Nanua is a blistering break-through in her debut role as Melanie. She quite literally eats up the screen and ensures her dramatic eagerness to learn is felt which keeps us on her side throughout. Arteton brings emotional depth to what could have been a bland jolly teacher. She’s interested in Melanie and wants her to thrive which is truly felt by the time we rest upon the ending. Paddy Considine starts with a rough exterior but gladly brings dimensions to his sergeant character, as does Glenn Close playing Dr. Caldwell, who is more than just the needle-happy doctor.

It’s a brilliant British film with plenty of frightening imagery to explore directed with imagination and realism by Colm McCarthy. Zombies have never felt more alive.

7.5/10

The BFG (2016)

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The language of the film harks to the marvellous-ness of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author and his charming writing but apart from that, the visuals and a few fun moments this big screen adaptation lags and is too vanilla.

Based on the book from Roald Dahl, this fantasy flick follows young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan who glimpses a giant on the streets of London. She’s swiftly grabbed and taken to the wonky home of the lumbering man, known as the BFG – Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). He collects and gives out dreams but has a tough time due to the meaner giants who can smell Sophie’s presence and make things difficult.

I remember quite fondly, the times I watched the David Jason cartoon adaptation of this story. It’s a 1989 feature and it looks like a Quentin Blake sketch come to life, it’s also fun, dark and a joyous watch. Skip forward 27 years later and we get this take on the story of being brave. This isn’t as enjoyable as the animated offering, perhaps that’s my nostalgia speaking but more likely that it’s this movie attempting a huge amount of motion capture, CGI of the worlds and keeping a British sweetness yet murkiness to the plot…it succeeds in the first two.

Steven Spielberg can certainly make great films and he has a knack for presenting dramas revolving children and the lack of parental figures in their lives. This narrative then should be perfect for his directorial style? Well yes, in a way it suits him greatly and he ensures Sophie is a confident lass even in the cold abandoned state of orphanage upbringing. What stunned me is that Spielberg seems to loosen his grip on the drama of storytelling, as this movie feels sorely missing of tension and engagement.

From start to nearly finish, this film seems catered for the little ones watching. It’s a shame because Dahl was an exquisite master of creating characters, language and worlds with a twisted dark take, which isn’t felt in this release at all. The introduction of the beastly Bloodbottler or Fleshlumpeater should have been way more frightening than it was. It all comes across rather tame, this safe presentation of a giant filled Earth never picking up motivation.

I only sat up and woke up from the sleep I actually nearly nodded off into, once Sophie and her new friend mention that they need to visit the Queen. From that moment onward the movie shifts a gear and becomes driven and amusing, thanks to the scaling of seeing the BFG in a palace tackling tables, hallways and food. The dream ideas just paled in comparison which is a real travesty because it could have been a fun colourful ride into the madness of what happens when we sleep.

The motion capture is fantastic though, I was worried upon seeing the second trailer as more of the giant was shown. I thought it looked naff but the eyes were stunning and creases in the skin, fingernails, quivers of the face all add up to a further convincing demonstration that mo-cap is a way forward in movie-making.

Barnhill plays Sophie confidently and gets a couple of smart, funny lines. There are times when this newcomer feels a little stagey and you can imagine Spielberg feeding her tips before calling action, as the enunciation becomes pronounced quite a lot. Rylance has his face well transferred to the giant, it’s like he has shot up to 24 feet high and learnt how to blow dreams into peoples rooms. It’s a bit of a slow take on the giant at times but he’s fine. Penelope Wilton lands in the more energetic part of the film by playing Queen Elizabeth II and seems to have a good time discovering the truth of what Sophie has known for a while.

At almost 2 hours, this film feels less of a jolly escapade and more like a long trek you wish you hadn’t started, but once you get near the end and you see the finish line, things pick up and a positive feeling washes through you. The BFG – a Bearable Fine Gait.

6/10