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

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Only Yesterday


Viewed – 13 August 2016  Blu-ray

I love the movies of famed Japanese animation house ‘Studio Ghibli’, which I have made no secret of and collect pretty much anything they have done.  So it was sad to hear about the studio closing and greatly anticipate their final feature ‘When Marnie Was There’ which releases on Blu-ray in the UK in October.  For now I have stumbled upon this much older release which has been given a long-awaited western release outside of it’s native Japan with a brand new English dub for those who don’t favour the original language.

only-yesterday

This tells the story of Taeko, a young woman who whilst travelling to the countryside, finds herself reminiscing about her childhood and at the same time trying to figure out her place in the world.  A gentle, whimsical tale not unlike more recent Ghibli movie ‘From Upon Poppie Hill’.  So you’ll find no sorceresses or magic castles in this one folks, as it’s more of a drama about life, love, growing up etc.  It’s all done in an utterly charming way with great voice work from it’s cast most notably The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley.  However despite interesting flashbacks and keen observations of puberty, childhood, friendship etc. I did find my mind wondering, and once Taeko reaches the countryside the story does start to plod quite noticeably to the point that watching flower picking, cooking and family meals got a bit boring.

Thankfully the art style, all hand-drawn traditional animation is beautiful – the flashbacks are done in soft-focus almost water-colour and modern day is all vibrant and brimming with detail.  Also the character of Taeko was well realised and I did find myself relating to her, causing me to reminisce over my own schooldays.  Yet it’s a movie that takes a long time to get to it’s point, focusing on the mundane a bit too much (as some Japanese animation has a tendency of doing) and is a story that’s simply ‘nice’ rather than all that engaging.  If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli it’s still worth a look, but for me, the studio has done better.

The Blu-ray looks lush…very sharp and colourful and only slightly soft I guess when the movie requires it.  The English dub although only in Dolby 2.0 is clear and works well.  This isn’t a particularly atmospheric movie so don’t expect it to wow in that department – although that closing theme song was quite lovely.  The extras are slightly above average for a Studio Ghibli release – storyboards, behind the scenes of the voice casting, a detailed (subtitled) making of and some trailers.  So decent treatment for an enjoyable if not exactly essential movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Star Wars: Episode VII


Viewed – 22 December 2015  Cinema

The Force Awakens

So much will already have been said, written and tweeted regarding this much hyped and highly anticipated seventh episode in the once beloved saga, that my opinion will matter little … but hear me out because to say I have been looking forward to this movie all year, is an understatement.  It’s one of those movies that surely can’t meet the giddy expectations I and many others have bestowed upon it or recapture that wonder and magic I felt on seeing the classic trilogy as a child.  Or can it?

StarWarsTFA

The story follows primarily two characters, that of storm trooper Fin (John Boyega) who has a moment of uncertainty that causes him to flee the first order (the new evil villains in place of the empire), and that of scavenger farm girl Rey (Daisy Ridley – a fantastic find).  The two unwittingly get thrown together and stumble upon wonderfully cute and attitude-filled droid, bb-8 who has a map that could lead to an in-hiding Luke Skywalker’s location.  New bad guy Kylo Ren is searching for him to prevent any possibility of the Jedi’s turning up and wrecking his plans for galactic domination.  Along the way the two would-be heroes find help from two familiar faces, namely Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

StarWarsTFA2Now let it be said this movie plays heavy homage to the original three movies, especially the first 1977 classic, with clever in-jokes, subtle nods and a few plot similarities.  However it also manages to sprinkle the old with many fresh ideas of it’s own and with a script that has clearly been written with genuine care for it’s characters whilst ensuring it all feels like a Star Wars movie, I came away from this very impressed indeed.  New faces Fin & Rey do a perfect job of giving us someone new and interesting to invest our time in whilst leaving them mysterious enough to build on in later sequels.  Han Solo, Chewbacca and (formerly Princess now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher) all feel vital to the plot also, with Han especially helping drive the story alongside his younger co-stars.  Add to this a villain with real depth in the shape of Darth Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren and all the ingredients are in place.  Director J J Abrams has done a stellar job, capturing the correct feel and tone and also filling the movie with spectacular action, yet making sure there was all the depth and believable characterisation that had been (for the most part) missing from the prequels.

StarWarsTFA1

I’ll add a few nit picks that are simply that, as this is a movie that does nearly everything right and fixes many issues the prequels (and to an extent) even the original trilogy had – but Supreme Leader Snoke just wasn’t very scary or intimidating and just looked like an out-dated CGI effect (made all the more jarring considering the movie’s otherwise reliance on practical effects).  Also, considering the hype surrounding Kylo Ren’s bad-ass three-pronged light sabre in the trailers; this guy is wielding it every chance he gets (even during a couple of tantrums) and so the build up to him actually using it in a duel is watered down due to over-exposure.  Also the many nods to A New Hope are a bit too blatant at times (and did we really need another death star?).

But … like I said small things in what is easily the best movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back.   The Force truly has awakened.

Verdict:  5 /5