Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Viewed – 29 December 2016  Cinema

George Lucas’ shock sale of his beloved Star Wars to Disney seemed like a concern at one stage.  Yet considering the work he’d done delivering three prequels that seemed to focus more on CGI than gripping narratives with fully fleshed out characters … perhaps it was time for another company to try their hand?  The result?  Well we got The Force Awakens and the rest as they say, is history.  Or is it?  The proposed continuation of the saga was also going to have a series of spin-off movies focusing on plots away from but connected to the main saga.  So despite that last movie’s un-argued success in bringing back a once treasured franchise … it could still all go tits up.

Rogue One

Jyn is the daughter of a scientist who at the beginning of this movie gets taken away to work on the Empire’s latest weapon.  Yes Daddy is helping build the death star.  Cue fifteen years after and Jyn is all grown up and seeking out the rebellion and the man who rescued her after her father was taken.  However along the way she befriends a reluctant assassin (Diego Luna) and his sarcastic droid and also a defected imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed).  Turns out there’s a mission to steel the plans to the death star in hope of finding a weak point, and so sets forth a sort of inter-galactic dirty dozen and boy, was I along for the ride.

droidA different beast to The Force Awakens but every bit as polished and entertaining, this boasts several stunning battle sequences that possibly eclipse that movie and strong performances, especially from newcomer Felicity Jones and her band of brothers, including a blind monk played by martial arts supremo Donnie Yen.  The movie plays itself rather serious for the most part but still finds time for gentle in-jokes and plenty of ‘was that…?’ and ‘hey that’s…!’ visual nods to Star Wars of yester-year.  Effects work is some of the best I’ve seen this year, even down to a shockingly real (sorry…spoilers) recreation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin from the very first movie (apart from those eyes…).  Add to this perfect set design, costumes and some gorgeous cinematography and well, this had my jaw hitting my lap on a regular basis.  That much loved mysticism of Star Wars, especially the force, Jedi’s etc. seemed pushed aside however in favor of a more gritty ‘mission’ structure.  It also has to be said, some of the support characters were under-developed.

This could have been just a simple cash-in.  Yet director Gareth Edwards has made an inspired ‘alternative take’ on a familiar franchise and delivers a loving celebration at the same time.  So if you hadn’t figured it out already – I loved this.

Verdict:  5 /5

Star Trek Beyond


Viewed – 13 December 2016  Blu-ray

During an on-going expedition into deep space, the crew of the Starship Enterprise arrive on a colonized ‘city planet’ where they stumble upon the plight of a female alien who requests help to journey to an uncharted planet to rescue her stranded crew mates.  However once there Captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew discover a powerful enemy.

STAR TREK BEYOND

The creators of this newly rebooted franchise in the Star Trek universe have indeed done a great deal right … the casting alone is excellent with actors not only doing fine impressions of the earlier incarnations, but also bringing their own personality to the characters.  I got a serious kick out of the last two movies, so it’s with a (slight) heavy heart that I found this one left me wanting.  That’s not to say it isn’t good – at times very good, with some spectacular action and again great chemistry between the main actors, something that made those old movies so watchable in the first place.  However three movies into this new era, we find the writing getting a little lazy with a generic villain once again going all megalomaniac after being wronged by the federation (er…we get it, the federation are assholes).  All that stuff with the artefact got a tad confusing at times also.  Heavily advertised bad-ass female warrior ‘Jaylah‘ who despite looking cool, also has very little depth and really, pluck her out of the movie, would the experience be any worse off?  Someone like that should have been pivotal, not disposable to the plot.

Yet what remains is a couple of hours of fast-paced, action packed, fun entertainment.  Justin Lin’s direction perhaps lacks the ‘class’ of J J Abrams … but doesn’t detract from great casting and some fun nods to yesteryear and nice in-jokes.  Chris Pine is the perfect new Kirk and suitably supported by Zackary Quinto’s Spock and Simon Pegg’s Scotty is also excellent, not that there’s a bum note amongst the ‘crew’.  However Idris Elba’s bitter ‘Krall’ is one-note and doesn’t get all that interesting until the end and even then its a bit deja-vu.  With that said, as a Trek fan I still enjoyed this, but it’s clear to me the franchise should be taking a few risks by now, especially if it wants that ‘Beyond’ in the title to be anything more that a good name for a sequel.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Jason Bourne


Viewed – 29 November 2016  Blu-ray

By this stage in the supposedly dead Bourne franchise, following the commercial and critical failure of ‘Legacy’ (which I actually liked) you wouldn’t think we’d see Matt Damon play the eponymous rogue agent again.  However most likely a big pay cheque and some fan anticipation lured him back and here we have Jason, formerly presumed dead after ‘Ultimatum’ getting back in touch with Julia Styles’ ex-CIA agent.  She’s uncovered info on Jason’s deceased father and that he may have been involved in the government programme that Jason was in before Jason lost his memory.  Wanting to uncover more and quickly learning that CIA chief Tommy Lee Jones may have the answers, soon Jason is back hiding from cameras and a particularly deadly assassin (Vincent Cassel).

Jason Bourne

I liked how this mixed the usual Bourne formula with some relevant and topical themes, such as a side plot involving a social media guru clearly modelled on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.  Damon as always is brilliant and nails Bourne’s character again; deadly but vulnerable and well, he kicks ass like nobody else (I’m looking at you Mr Bond).  Cassel was a nice surprise too, one of my favourite French actors and here he’s particularly ruthless.  Jones, whilst looking old still chews up the screen and is perfectly cast and although Julia Stiles is a bit under-used she helps bridge the gap between the third movie and this fifth entry.  For a Bourne movie it’s a tad formulaic, ticking all the boxes (ooh look a female agent takes pity on him…again) and well we get the expected car chase.  Helps though it’s probably the best chase in the franchise through the neon glitz of the Las Vegas strip.

For fans of the franchise, this is a strong, highly-entertaining entry full of tension and style, even if it does little to truly warrant it’s existence beyond ‘let’s do another one’.  Regardless I had a ball with this and you might too.  Recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

X-Men Apocalypse


Viewed – 08 November 2016 Online-rental

An ancient Egyptian mutant, said to be the very first mutant finds himself resurrected in the eighties after thousands of years and is hell-bent on rising up against humanity. However when Dr Xavier stumbles upon his plot, a somewhat disbanded collection of X-Men must unite to save the world.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

I wasn’t expecting much from this and wasn’t the biggest fan of the previous movie, Days of Future Past which everyone seemed to love (?). However presented with a rather formidable villain from the off and with plenty of colourful and recognizable characters I soon found myself enjoying an X-Men movie again.  Director Brian Singer seems to have swapped that rather convoluted time travel plot-device this time around in place of a more coherent good versus evil battle with a threat of global genocide thrown in for good measure.  It works much better having a simpler narrative in such a complicated universe with so many characters and their various back stories.  Yet the movie cleverly weaves in nods and often funny references to past movies and the comics without beating the viewer over the head.  It made for an experience that was more comfortable and easier to simply enjoy.

Cyclops and Jean GrayThe story took time to build tension, focus on key characters, explore individual motives and convincingly bring them together when required.  Standout performances came from Jennifer Lawrence who this time is more character driven and less kick-ass as Mystique and James McAvoy as the always fascinating Xavier.  I also enjoyed Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, perhaps his first bad guy role and he nails it – sinister, powerful and visually bad-ass.  It was also fun to see an origin story of Cyclops and to an extent Jean Gray (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner – still not much of an actor, sadly).  However Michael Fassbender’s Magneto whilst good has a character ark that purely services the plot and doesn’t entirely ring true, and well the whole end of the world stuff is particularly clichéd. Yet with often stunning action, some excellent CGI and plenty of energy this 2hr 20min+ movie still zipped along.  For me it’s the best in the franchise since X2 … and probably the most satisfying blockbuster of the year.

Verdict: 5 /5

31


Viewed – 30 October 2016  Online-rental

I like Rob Zombie, at least as far as his intentions are concerned.  The execution, not so much but for me he has still delivered some effective movies with a grindhouse, video-nasty feel many horrors ignore in place of glossy production values and pretty actors.   As fairly typical for a Rob Zombie movie a group of travelling carnival-types (included Mrs Zombie herself, Sheri Moon Zombie as well as a few other Zombie regulars), find themselves kidnapped by a mysterious organization and thrown into a deadly game, involving an increasingly psychotic bunch of killers and a cat and mouse night of survival.

Doom-Head

The poster art and the trailer promised so much, with some freaky, stand-out images and what appeared to be Rob Zombie back on gruesome form after a poorly realised Halloween sequel and a diversion into the supernatural with the (rather good) Lords of Salem.  So let the red stuff flow!   Yes we get some inspired creations, from a Nazi midget, a Harlequin knock-off and well, Zombie’s version of The Joker in the shape of Doom Head (Richard Brake) – easily the star of the show.  Acting is passable and how things play out fairly predictable, but still fun if you’re into unlikable idiots getting bumped off one by one in increasingly gory ways.  Zombie doesn’t hold back in such regard and we get beheadings, a graphic throat slit and some fun with chainsaws!  However, the editing is so crazy at times that it’s occasionally difficult to tell what’s going on  … but with a good feeling of unease and tension throughout … I was still glued.

Sad then that the movie lacks anything resembling a new idea … even for Zombie (we saw very similar fair in House of 1000 Corpses).  Yet it all looks good, Zombie certainly proving he has an eye for iconic imagery and can shoot a scene with genuine skill – but when what’s happening is simply rinse and repeat violence with little creativity, it all starts to get a bit boring.  That ending also was begging for a twist – but no, we don’t even get that, finishing everything on a whimper rather than a scream.

Verdict:  2.5 /5