Category Archives: Movies

Review: The Last Jedi (no spoilers)

Just in case there’s anyone out there who has managed to avoid all the hype while simultaneously having the internet to read this blog, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest film in the Star Wars saga. In the previous episode, The Force Awakens, scavenger Rey and ex-stormtrooper Finn joined the Resistance against the First Order, met Han Solo and Chewbacca, and helped destroy Death Star 3.0, a planet converted into a massive space cannon capable of blowing up multiple planets in one go. Now Rey has gone in search of Luke Skywalker, and the Resistance have a vengeful First Order out for their blood.

The stunning promotional poster for Star War: The Last Jedi. All images used in this blog post are copyright Disney, used under fair use for review purposes.

I had a lot of fun watching The Last Jedi. It is tempting to compare it to The Empire Strikes Back, the second installment in the original trilogy, and while there are some parallels, I feel The Last Jedi has done a lot that’s new too. That said, it doesn’t quite live up to its illustrious predecessor, and there is a very specific reason for that I will explore in more detail in a separate spoiler-full post later.

Let’s start with the visuals, because they were stunning. The design of evry single part of this film was staggeringly brilliant, from the simple efficient spaceship interiors, to the wide open landscapes, the shining architecture and the brilliant CGI animals. Anyone who has seen the trailers will be familiar with the Porgs, a cute little bird critter, but there is other wildlife to be found in the galaxy, and it’s brilliantly inventive and rendered with gorgeous attention to detail.

Costuming is fantastic too, each outfit designed perfectly: the costumes reveal a lot about the characters wearing them and their roles within the universe, what is important to them and where they fit in.

Stepping up from costuming to the ships and other vehicles in the Star Wars universe, they too all feel well-chosen. The First Order’s vessels and vehicles are larger, more intimidating upgrades compared to those Darth Vader and the Emperor had in their fleet, with the same feel to the interiors – even the same lack of railings on the walkways. I’m particularly a fan of the new AT-AT walkers, which give a sense of being larger and sturdier than their predecessors, not to mention meaner.

The new AT-AT walkers are bigger, stronger and scarier than those Luke faced on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

The Last Jedi really accomplishes a sense of scale, both through the wide shots of ships and locations, and through the timescales involved in the story. The space battle sequences are spectacular, with all the things we love about Star Wars battles: lasers, zooming fighter ships and explosions, but with a greater sense of structure and strategy than I ever got from the original trilogy: it’s about more than sending fleets of fighters out for a dog-fight.

The plot seems to be very character-driven. It comes about because of the choices that Finn, Poe, Rey, Luke, new main character Rose and others make. The downfall in the plot, and the key problem I will discuss in my spoiler-full analysis, is that some decisions hinge on a lack of communication between characters rather than an actual conflict or obstruction. Another gripe I have is an over-reliance on time-critical and last-second actions – a transparent attempt to increase the tension. The film could have slowed things down and given some of the dramatic themes more time to play out in between the action sequences.

Rey was played by Daisy Ridley

But for all that, it is exciting to watch, with events leading naturally to an exciting climax, and a few funny moments that fit organically into the plot without feeling like the film is taking time out for comic relief.

There’s a definite feeling that there’s a big challenge ahead for our heroes: the situation is significantly changed compared to that at the end of The Force Awakens, not all of it in good ways. The final installment has a lot to achieve, but based on The Last Jedi, I am sure it will manage.

I rate The Last Jedi 7/10. It looked incredible, from the wideshots of hermit Luke’s island to the battles. It was fun, exciting and epic. But some serious problems with the writing prevent it from achieving full marks.

Advertisements

Fridge logic of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILER WARNING)

Today I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And while it was an enjoyable film, full of pretty much exactly the sorts of things a Star Wars film should have – space battles, lightsabre fights, and so on – there were some things that really stood out when I’d had a little time to think about it, which undermined the story quite significantly.

This post contains major spoilers, so if you don’t want the film spoiled, do not read.

Continue reading Fridge logic of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILER WARNING)

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers)

We’ve been waiting a while for this one. When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise a few years ago we knew there would be more films. I was never quite sure what to expect, though. Would they be better or worse than the prequels? Would they be Disneyfied? Which beloved elements would be kept true to form – and which exploited for cheap recognisability? Would the creators have learned lessons from the prequels?

Star Wars the force awakens

Continue reading Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers)

Movie review: Maleficent (spoilers)

I can’t do this review justice taking my usual no-spoilers stance, so this is a review of Maleficent with spoilers. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, it is a critique of Maleficent. I would imagine that the majority of people who planned to see Maleficent have by now done so (I was rather late to the game about seeing it) but if you haven’t and do plan to see it, be warned that this post is going to be full of spoilers.

On the face of it, Maleficent is exactly the right sort of film for now – a reimaining of a fairy tale, told from the villain’s perspective, while acknowledging that not everything is good vs evil – there are shades of grey in here. Starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, it sought to show a sympathetic side of Maleficent, whose actions in cursing Princess Aurora, though far from pure, were certainly motivated by very human emotions.

Maleficent

Continue reading Movie review: Maleficent (spoilers)

Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

Some of you may be aware that at university I studied Ancient History and Archaeology. I focused on Classical Greece and Herodotus’ Histories ranks amongst my favourite books ever. It’s a rich account of a number of legends and historical events centred around the events of the Second Greco-Persian War, when Xerxes invaded Greece in 480-479BCE.

300: Rise of an Empire, starring Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles, Eva Green as Artemisia and Lena Headey as Gorgo, is not based upon Herodotus’ Histories. It is based upon the comic Xerxes by Frank Miller – which in turn is presumably meant to be based on the events of the battles of Artemisium and Salamis in Herodotus’ Histories. With the threat of Persian invasion, Themistocles leads the Athenian navy to repel Xerxes’ fleet, led by Artemisia, and seeks assistance from the Spartans, now bereaved of their king Leonidas and led by Queen Gorgo.

300 rise of an empire

Continue reading Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Following on from An Unexpected Journey, the Desolation of Smaug follows our hero Bilbo, the dwarves and Gandalf as they continue in their quest to defeat Smaug the dragon and reclaim Erebor. This 2 hour 41 minute instalment sees them meet Beorn, a man who turns into a bear, and travel through Mirkwood and Laketown before entering the mountain.

Desolation of Smaug

As always, the visuals were stunning. New Zealand’s landscape offers a gorgeous and varied backdrop for chase scenes, and it’s clear that no expense was spared on the built sets and CGI either. Each location felt right for what it was and who built it and lived there; the Laketown set in particular had a very lived-in feel, and the scale of the interior of Erebor was breathtaking. At Dol Guldur, unusual and unsettling camera angles add to the sinister atmosphere.

Continue reading Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful hit cinema screens today. It tells the story of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a circus magician who, through events reminiscent of those in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, gets transported to the land of Oz where he is assumed to be the wizard and is tasked with defeating the Wicked Witch, before becoming the wizard of Oz later encountered by Dorothy Gale.

The movie is a fitting tribute to the 1939 film adaptation of L Frank Baum’s novel, the Wizard of Oz. It begins in black and white, mimicking the earlier movie starring Judy Garland, and upon reaching the land of Oz not only achieves full colour, but also widens from a 4:3 aspect to widescreen, a nice trick hinted at in the black and white segment by small, brief elements exceeding the 4:3 aspect frame. The colours thereafter have a brightness that similarly reflects those of the 1939 movie; indeed all the visuals make a very obvious nod to the famous predecessor.

Continue reading Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

How Not to Suck: three soulless vampire movies

Vampire movies have been quite popular recently. Well, they’ve always been quite popular. If you only count those with some link to Dracula, there are dozens. Vampires are a staple of horror movies, as well as, increasingly, fantasy action movies, abandoning audience fear in favour of a good villain for the protagonist to fight – or a cool supernatural being for the protagonist to team up with. (Oh, and this is not really a how to article, I just wanted to get as many puns in the title as possible and that’s what I could think of).

Some movies do vampires very well indeed. Some manage well enough. But as with all genres, there are some that are just terrible movies. Just really awful, mind-bogglingly so. And for some reason, I’ve deliberately gone and watched some of these.

Continue reading How Not to Suck: three soulless vampire movies

Adaptation Review: The Last Airbender

Introduction

The Last Airbender, directed by M Night Shyamalan, is a live-action adaptation of the western animated series Avatar: the Last Airbender. It tells the story of Aang, a young boy who was trapped in ice for a hundred years. Aang is the fabled Avatar – capable of learning to manipulate all four elements, air, water, earth and fire, in a world where other “benders” can manipulate one element each. It is his quest to correct the imbalance in the world created by the Fire Nation’s invasion of the EarthKingdom and Water Tribes and destruction of Aang’s people, the Air Nomads.

The movie covers the first series of the animation, in which Aang and his new friends, Katara and Sokka, travel from the Southern Water Tribe where Katara and Sokka live to the Northern Water Tribe so Aang can learn Waterbending, dodging Fire Nation forces including the exiled Prince Zuko who wants to capture Aang to restore his lost honour, and General Zhao, who seeks to destroy the moon spirit in the Northern Water Tribe’s city in order to destroy Waterbending, which draws its powers from the moon. The first series, and the movie, end with a battle in the Northern Water Tribe city between the Waterbending defenders and the Fire Nation fleet.

Time constraints and cuts

The film condenses a lot of story into a short period of time. The first TV series consists of 20 episodes of 22 minutes each – for a total run time of over 7 hours. The movie, by comparison, is 103 minutes, less than a quarter of the length. As such a lot was cut. With some episodes in the series that cutting is entirely welcome. But the harshness of the cuts meant that some of the character of the world – in particular the Earth Kingdom through which the characters travel – is lost.

Continue reading Adaptation Review: The Last Airbender

Some fantasy films worth avoiding

I have previously looked at some fantasy films which are well worth viewing. They are classics, films which, while not perfect, are full of good qualities – humour, good acting, compelling plot and so on. But there are plenty of fantasy films which are not quite up to snuff, films which lack those good qualities – films which you don’t want to watch. And in order to warn you about them and hopefully save you the time, money and pain it will cost you to watch them, three of them are presented below.

10,000BC

10,000BC tells the story of a young man from a mammoth-hunting, tundra-dwelling tribe of hunter gatherers who, after some bad guys attack his tribe’s settlement and carry off some pretty girl he likes, decides to chase after them to rescue said girl. He travels through a rainforest, makes friends with a sabre-tooth tiger whose life he saves, then eventually reaches what presumably is meant to be Egypt, since there’s pyramid building going on and an obsession with the constellation of Orion (a real Egyptian thing). Anyway, there’s some sneaking around, a bit of fighting, some mystical hoo-ha and the protagonist rescues his girlfriend and everything is happy again.

Continue reading Some fantasy films worth avoiding