Solo – a Star Wars Story


Viewed – 20 November 2018. Online rental

I was disappointed and somewhat annoyed by The Last Jedi, so like many others I suddenly felt cautious about a Star Wars movie the same way I’d felt cautious going to see Revenge of the Sith. This spin-off gives us an ‘early years’ snapshot of none other than Han Solo, which I’ll admit was an intriguing idea. Solo (a perfect Alden Ehrenreich) is from the off a likeable rogue who unwittingly gets signed up for the imperial infantry after getting separated from his love interest in the shape of Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke. However once amongst a rag tag group of soldiers he teams up with Woody Harrelson’s smuggler and also makes a new, hairy friend.

Directed by Ron Howard this is immediately entertaining and slickly made. It starts off energetically and barely lets up, with a sharp script that throws in several nods to the classic franchise as well as introducing us to a fun, twist filled caper. The banter between the characters is great, and I especially enjoyed the new droid L3, and how she’s a sort-of girlfriend to notorious womaniser Lando Calrissian! That train sequence is first rate also. However with a focus on smugglers and thieves and not so much the empire or any sort of rebellion, this has a different vibe than what we’ve seen before. The plot for what it is is simple though and the transporting of a valuable item from one group of people to another is only their to bring certain characters together. Yet the origins of the Millennium Falcon and some of Han’s boasted escapades (the kessel run?) was certainly fun to see play out.

A final twist proves overly confusing (unless you have indulged in any of the expanded universe), and Emilia Clarke is surprisingly bland. Thankfully then, this still nails it where it counts … adding its own flavour whilst managing to retain the feel of what a Star Wars movie should be.

Verdict: 4 /5

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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

Top Ten Movies 2016


I watched a lot of movies this year.  I watched a lot of very good movies.  I also watched a few bad ones and several disappointing ones.  But the list below, in descending order compiles the movies that had the greatest impact on me during 2016.  A few may have actually been theatrically released prior to 2016 but I didn’t get to see them until this year.

10.

Zootropolis

Zootropolis

‘Disney does it again with very likeable characters, gorgeous animation and a fun, exciting story with plenty of great moments’

9.

The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

Shane Black writes and directs the spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and the result is every bit as good as that sounds’

8.

The Witch

The Witch

‘One of the more original and genuinely disturbing horror movies of the year’

7.

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

‘It shouldn’t work but oh boy … does it.  Disney deliver a remake that really impresses’

6.

X-Men Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse

‘Underrated comic book entertainment and for me, the best X-Men movie since X2’

5.

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton

‘The biopic of the controversial rap pioneers proves more emotional than I expected’

4.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One

‘A spin off movie every bit as good as the famed saga?  Oh yes and then some!’

3.

The Revenant

The Revenant

Alejandro G. Iñárritu delivers a powerhouse man vs nature survival epic that breaks as many hearts as it does DiCaprio’s bones’

2.

Sing Street

Sing Street

‘Feel good coming-of-age drama with great music, great characters and great performances’

1.

The Martian

The Martian

‘Ridley Scott proves without a doubt that he’s still got it and delivers a powerful, funny, breath-taking sci-fi drama with genuine heart’

A few almost as deserving ‘honourable mentions’ include:

When Marnie Was There

Arrival

Captain America: Civil War

It’s been another great year for movies and I am already looking forward to what 2017 has in store.  Happy New Year everyone and hoping next year is good to you all.

Craig.

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 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