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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War for the Planet of the Apes


Viewed – 14 July 2017  Cinema

Following an invasion of their home by a military force, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) vows revenge and sets off to hunt down Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel with a small group of fellow apes.  Along the way they stumble upon a young mute girl who may be evidence of a mutated strain of the disease that has already killed off most of mankind.

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A decidedly strange experience.  I went into this with very high expectations and have to say what I got was a different movie than I was anticipating.  It has the word ‘war’ in the title but it’s not the humans vs. apes smack down the last movie set us up for.  Instead it explores an on-going conflict set at ‘war time’ between said apposing military force and the still attempting to live in peace apes.  However what we do have is once again a movie with a great deal of heart, some very touching character moments, themes of loyalty, family and friendship as well as a little comic relief in the form of an ageing lone ape who turns up half way through.  We get a lengthy prisoner-of-war sequence that is brilliantly played out with echoes of The Great Escape, and some decent action although nothing on par with the last two movies.  This one’s less about explosions and spectacle and more about the search for a safe haven and a potential future, even if that future is hopeless for humans.  As a conclusion (?) to the trilogy, it feels a tad uneventful and drags in places, and that ending was rather a damp squib.

Yet for fans like myself this is still solid entertainment.  It’s superbly acted with again top marks going to Serkis, whilst Harrelson delivers a fine villain.  It’s also absolutely stunning to look at (can these apes get any more real?) aided by plenty of personality and bags of emotion.  I just suppose by a third movie, I was expecting more not … less.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two


Viewed – 26 March 2016  Blu-ray

(Review updated 02/04/2016)

The previous entry in this popular and heavily hyped saga woke itself up out of the doldrums with a shock twist.  Now stop reading if you’re worried about spoilers for the previous movies as this can’t be helped.  Peeta had been brainwashed by President Snow and sent to kill our hero, the reluctant face of the rebellion, Katnis Everdeen.  Thankfully he didn’t succeed or we’d have no movie.  However this set up the final entry in this series perfectly, even if I mostly came away feeling deflated by a saga that had never quite reached its potential – until now.  This is without a doubt the best entry in the series and is skilfully, confidently directed as the rebels rage war against the capital.  Moving away from some of the more camp aspects of the story and instead focusing on a near-suicidal assault on a totalitarian government, this time around the stakes are higher and the tension cranked up to boiling point.

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Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Everdeen and this time around her troubled relationship with Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta is much more convincing and surprisingly really makes this movie.  You also get the feeling that after the surely expected backlash to the third unnecessarily cash-cow where the final book was predictably split in half, all involved had to finally take their meal ticket seriously for fear it being laughed at like Twilight.  Almost everyone here looks like they really mean it (but Luke Hemsworth remains bland).  Donald Sutherland who had previously been a rather limp villain, actually gets to do some acting.  Add to this some excellently realised action (with a claustrophobic, Aliens-esque sewer sequence) and gorgeous cinematography of often war-Mockinjay snowtorn vistas aided by superb effects – and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed this, considering my expectations had been dialled back considerably.  Julianne Moore gets a much more meaty roll this time around, but I’d have liked a bit more from Woody Harrelson, even if Philip Seymour Hoffman’s subdued appearance is understandable (he died during filming).

It suffers a little predictability, and that final scene is a bit too saccharine sweet.  Yet The Hunger Games as a saga always held promise, although each movie seemed to lack that something special.  With well-timed twists, strong performances, quality action and a perfectly judged epic tone – this finally proves the series (almost) worthy of such massive hype.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One


Viewed – 21 March 2015  Blu-ray

So we reach the third entry in the heavily hyped franchise adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ popular novels.  Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has defied the capital and angered President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and has had to go into hiding along with a group of rebels in the hope of gathering the population of Pan Am against it’s totalitarian government.  An uprising of monstrous proportions is on the horizon.  And so ended the last movie, Catching Fire, in the hope that now things were really going to kick off.

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Well, that’s not quite the case here in the first part of the final book, as Katnis is given the task of becoming the Mocking Jay, the iconic face of the rebellion. This of course means she is an enemy of the capital and anyone who joins her cause are immediate targets.  What you get is over an hour of propaganda creating interviews, visiting districts, doing publicity videos, and not much action … until the final act that is.  It suffers the same slow, drawn-out build up of the last movie but without the exhilarating pay-off of an actual Hunger Games this time around to get all worked up about.  And don’t get me started about how many people die for no good reason in this movie (i.e. the hospital being bombed…).

Sound design and production values are both top notch but this doesn’t make up for such lacklustre plotting.  Lawrence does her best in a role that gives her very little to do other than look earnestly at destroyed landscapes and well, act a bit out of her depth.  Supporting turns from Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman don’t add a great deal to proceedings, and Woody Harrelson is woefully under-used.  Donald Sutherland is ok but again doesn’t get much time to really chew the scenery – the script clearly too interested in dragging out every little moment for as long as possible, just so there’s enough material left to make another movie.

A serious example of cash-in over quality this time, sadly.

Verdict:  2 /5

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Viewed – 22 March 2014  Blu-ray

I enjoyed the first movie in this hyped adaption of the popular novels by Suzanne Collins.  Although inspired clearly by Japanese thriller Battle Royal, it retained it’s own personality and proved a star making turn for Jennifer Lawrence.  We catch up with her character, Katniss Everdeen following her victory at the last Hunger Games, and due to embark on a tour of the various impoverished districts.  Yet the threat of civil unrest has got the capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) nervous following Katniss and fellow tribute Peeta’s defiance of the game’s rules.

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Clearly on a bigger budget than the last movie, this is an attractive experience, and is shot in a very eye-catching manner throughout.  Lawrence again is perfect as Katniss and the emotional, moral centre of the story.  The plot is more fleshed out this time also and with better turns from Donald Sutherland and various supporting characters (even the constipated-looking Josh Hutcherson).  The movie takes quite a bit of time to get going however with far too much exposition following the fallout from the last games and Katniss’ troubles hiding the fact she’s not really in love with Peeta.  Although her actual boyfriend is poorly represented and basically pointless.  I was happy to see the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman make an effective appearance, and once the action presented itself … this was quite exciting.  Yet like the last movie it’s also a story that struggles to involve a viewer who hasn’t already got an encyclopedic knowledge of the books (with vague referrences to characters and events), and beyond Lawrence delivering such a well-rounded performance, this could almost be straight–to-dvd forgettable.

As the first movie on my new sound system, this was impressive to say the least.  A fully immersive sound stage with very clear dialogue and great use of all speakers, with some fun effects like announcers and animals in the rears.  Overall it greatly enhanced what was still a fun, if over-hyped (and over-long) entry in this continually interesting franchise.  Looking forward to the next instalment.

Verdict:  3.5 /5