Star Wars: Episode IX


Viewed – 23 December 2019 Cinema

The Rise Of Skywalker

If this wasn’t my most anticipated movie of the year, I don’t know what was. I struggled with the last entry, The Last Jedi a movie that with subsequent viewings has gone up in my appreciation but remains highly uneven. This final movie though and the conclusion of the Skywalker saga brings forth the return of a long suspected dead enemy … The Emperor! With a new threat to the galaxy, Rey and her friends intend to seek out and destroy him once and for all, whilst conflicted Kylo Ren intends to turn to him for guidance as the new supreme leader of the First Order.

I’ll admit this storyline comes a little out of nowhere and is a blatant attempt to steady the ship following some of Rian Johnson’s ill-conceived plot twists in Last Jedi … but the return of Ian McDiarmid‘s Emperor Palpetine was welcome and the ageing actor nails the necessary maniacal menace. The immediacy of the threat propelled the action from the off as we’re treated to some great battle sequences, mixed with solid character moments that showcase the chemistry this new cast still has. The psychic bond between Daisy Ridley‘s Rey and Adam Driver‘s Kylo-Ren turns out to be the big focus and is further explored and the movie used it in several creative ways. It proves the best aspect and is surrounded by many highly entertaining scenes including a plot thread involving C3P0 losing his memory and some (thankfully) well-timed humour as well as a perfect tone that took me right back to how it felt seeing Star Wars as a kid.

If I had to nitpick it would be the obviously forced Emperor plot, and the first act overly frantic. And like all Star Wars movies it has some silly bits, and there’s a couple of jarring character moments (General Hux!?!). Yet in the grand scheme of things it’s so damn enjoyable, such gripes can be forgiven. As a story that has spanned over 40 years, this felt like a fitting conclusion and ticked many of my boxes. There was a lot riding on this final movie and the conclusion of such a long running saga. There’s not a great deal here that makes this trilogy a story that had to be told other than to reintroduce Star Wars to a new generation and make up for the failings of the prequel trilogy. Yet with highly memorable characters, some great moments (and some questionable ones) I feel this has still been a worthwhile endeavour for the filmmakers and as a fan I am overall satisfied with what they achieved.

Verdict: 4 /5

Blackkklansman


Viewed – 05 February 2019 online rental

An African-American cop in the 70’s infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan in a bid to expose them and prove himself at the same time.

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This movie had a really strange vibe. Lead actor John David Washington stood out like a comedy actor in a straight movie who still thinks he’s in a comedy. The subject of racism and the KKK is clearly being satirised but sits uneasy with such a serious, sickening subject. This is not helped by the movie eventually throwing in shocking real-life footage to hammer home its point. Director Spike Lee has always been one of the strongest voices for black culture and black cinema but here his intentions feel misguided. The story based on a book isn’t as compelling either and I came away wondering just what had the main character achieved? Star Wars’ Adam Driver is decent as a fellow detective and performances overall are fine. Lee has delivered a stylish, authentic looking movie yet also fills it with some odd music cues with an overall 70’s blaxploitation feel.

As a different take on the subject of racism and as a movie that certainly has some fun and intriguing moments it’s worth a watch … I just think it would have been more impactful played either entirely comedic or entirely straight.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Midnight Special


Viewed – 20 March 2018  Netflix

I certainly love me some science fiction, especially if it’s offering something different or unusual than I’ve seen before, not just alien invasions or space exploration.  Here we’re presented with what appears to me a rather X-Files-like scenario of a young boy who has been taken from a religious group and reported abducted.  Police and shady government officials, along with members of the religious group are hot on his trail and that of his kidnappers, one of which turns out to be his father.

Midnight Special

A cast headed by an actor increasingly becoming a favourite, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) also see’s Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride..  The mystery surrounding the child and just why everyone seems out to nab him is intriguing and what transpires certainly kept me hooked.  However with somewhat subdued performances, especially from a rather sleepy Shannon who normally delivers such intense characters, I was left a little frustrated.  Nobody seems all that affected by the increasingly bizarre or life and death situation they find themselves in … bar perhaps Edgerton who isn’t evenly emotionally connected to the situation other than being an old friend of Shannon’s.  Add to this an under-explored backstory (just how did the boy become a part of the religious group, what happened to the mother…and who was she?) this is a movie that leaves a little too much unanswered to be satisfying.

Jeff Nichols’ direction however is solid, at times eerie and atmospheric, decorated with some impressive visuals. Along occasional heart-in-mouth moments (the motel), I still had a good time with this, despite it not being the complete package.

Verdict:  3 /5

Star Wars: Episode VIII


Viewed – 20 December 2017  Cinema

The Last Jedi

After what I’d call the triumphant success of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for re-establishing a much loved franchise and resurrecting it from the ashes of George Lucas’ mostly misguided prequels – I awaited this follow up in the proposed trilogy with no small degree of anticipation.  What would Luke Skywalker say to Rey on top of that mountain?  What would Kylo Ren do in wake of what he did to his own father Han Solo?  I was about to find out…

Following the destruction of star-killer base, Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an assault against the resistance to restore rule over the galaxy. Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over directing duties and has delivered what largely looks like a Star Wars movie, has the action and confrontations you’ll expect from a Star Wars movie, but offers up a decidedly different feel than expected following Force Awakens and Rogue One.  This is a much more lighter in tone movie with what appears to be a stronger focus on a somewhat child-friendly audience with as a result, a surprising lack of menace.  Almost every serious situation is sprinkled with humour, sometimes well judged, sometimes out of place.  When two of the main bad guys end up coming off like a squabbling comedy double act, something seemed a little off.

Kylo RenThankfully we do get what we came for, especially Rey (a more mature Daisy Ridley, settling into her role) finding herself getting reluctantly trained by a world-weary and cynical Luke (Mark Hamill), and discovering a telepathic link with Kylo Ren (a still slightly bratty yet complex Adam Driver).  This as expected turns out to be the movie’s beating heart, with the myriad of space battles and daring missions onto enemy starships proving less enthralling (especially that casino sequence).  Finn (John Boyega) again sits awkwardly between hero and bumbling buffoon, with Po (Oscar Isaac) taking a (much appreciated) larger role at the forefront of the dogfights and fancy X-Wing piloting.  However the late Carrie Fisher seems to get put on a pedestal (be it intentionally or following reshoots after the iconic star’s passing) and is bizarrely given a rather God-like stature with one scene in particular just coming out of nowhere, leaving me baffled. She’s great, but her character doesn’t seem to fit in with what we’ve previously known.

That’s ultimately where Episode VIII falls a part.  Characters that we’ve grown to know and love, are poorly handled (Luke included), add to this a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to action, performances and situations, and although I still gasped at certain moments and got the feels where it counted … I also didn’t get all that invested – and I really should have.  For it’s pluses and minuses, this is still a fun, visually spectacular and at times exciting sequel.  Yet as a long time Star Wars fan, it leans closer to those prequels than either the earlier movies or the recent ones … and that’s slightly worrying.

Verdict:  3 /5