Light vs dark. Good vs evil. The Resistance vs the First Order. We have our first glimpse at Star Wars Episode VIII: The last Jedi, and as with the trailers for The Force Awakens, nothing is given away. The Last Jedi appears to pick up straight where The Force Awakens left off (something already hinted at), with Luke teaching Rey about the Force. As Luke speaks, we are given brief snippets of symbolic imagery – references to the Light Side invoke images of Leia, whilst Kylo Ren’s broken helmet is met with whispers about the Dark Side. Luke suggests something about moving away from concepts of Light and Dark, and we’re also treated to images of Poe and BB8 on a ship that’s under attack, a number of pod-racer type constructs racing across a barren surface, and lots more.

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It looks like we might get a space battle featuring Republic/Resistance ships, and we appear to get another vision of the destruction Ren and his knights brought to Luke’s Jedi academy. There’s a brief clip of Finn in some of medical or stasis pod, and a brief glance of Ren, pointing his saber menacingly at someone, which follows hot on the heels of Rey running whilst wielding her saber.

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The trailer ends with Luke telling Rey he knows the truth – that the Jedi need to end. Quite what is meant by this is unclear, but then, that was the point – this is a teaser trailer, that plays its cards close to its chest. We will get another trailer closer to the time, but until then, this is an intriguing look into what’s coming.

Mortality. Legacy. Two words which come to mind when thinking of Logan. This is the most raw, passionate take on the character, exposing his vulnerability and his pain as well as making him – and through him the audience – confront his past. Logan is Wolverine but he is also Logan – a man who has lived a long life, and a life full of struggle – here, he is tired, he is weakening, and he wishes to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. His last link to the world of optimistic heroes is Charles Xavier, by this point (in the year 2026) 90 years old and suffering from seizures that amplify his telepathic powers and have harmful – even lethal – effects on the people around him. Charles retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to help people. Logan retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to reject what the world wants of him, is outwardly surly, and bitter, yet deep down, retains a powerful sense of doing the right thing.

Charles is Logan’s conscience, and the two of them are moved to help a young girl called Laura, when she ends up involved in their lives through chance (or is it fate?). Laura is (to paraphrase Charles) very much like Logan, in more ways than one, and though part of Logan wants nothing more than to reject the image of himself and the time that represents, he cannot help but move forward, urged by Charles and by his own sense of honour to help this little girl.

I won’t divulge the main plot details, but both Logan and Charles are old, and facing sickness and death. They have both seen much death and their responsbilities weigh heavily on their minds. This film is about finding the means to move foward, even when they feel their strength is deserting them.

Hugh Jackman gives a powerful performance as a hurting, tired Logan, and Patrick Stewart reminds us all of his prowess as an aged Charles. Films of this nature tend to get overlooked for awards, especially major awards like the Oscars, but surely the performances of Jackman and Stewart are worth considering, for they are strong, brave performances, in a film that shows (like Deadpool before it) that 15-rated comic book movies can and do work.

9/10

It feels like we’ve been waiting for this film for a long time. The first trailer for Sing dropped late in 2015, and yet here in the UK, only saw release in early 2017. It’s quite unusual for such a long wait with a family film like this, but nonetheless, Sing is finally here – and it’s pretty good.

The setting is a city populated by various animals, and one of them, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) runs a theatre which is going through hard times. To address he organises a singing competition, there’s an error on the flyers regarding prize money, and each contestant has a few issues of their own to work out. Cue chaos.

One thing that surprised me are the strong singing voices of several members of the cast. Scarlett Johansson and Reese Witherspoon both have excellent voices, and so does Seth MacFarlane. Tori Kelly was rejected by American Idol, yet her own voice here is very powerful, and she is, in my humble view, the strongest singer in the film.

Overall, without giving too much away, this film has a strong feel-good factor. The message for kids is to follow your dreams, and to not give up, and that’s a good message. There are some lovely touches and the animation is very slick. 8/10.

A rather strange, complicated and intriguing tale this, but one I’m not sure I’m going to watch again. Arrival is a first contact tale, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, and it offers up an interesting new look at the nature of time.

Adams is Louise Banks, an expert in languages, and she is called in to try and help first contact with aliens when twelve ships land at various locations around the earth. Adams is by far and away the star of the show, with the other characters feeling quite incidental, and the story revolves around the strange language (and mode of thinking) of the aliens, that triggers new thought processes in Banks, in turn letting her understand the aliens and to predict things, as in one sense she’s already lived them.

The result is a film that does have a measure of poignancy, but I dare say the jumping about around time is quite confusing, and makes the film feel a little disjointed. There’s certainly a lot of interest here – in how an alien species might not think in a way we are remotely familiar with, and how strange life might be to us from that perspective. Adams is a powerful performer and this is very much clear from this movie. However, I can’t say I’d go out of my way to watch the film again. It’s not bad, but a little too jumbled for me. 7/10

The first of two sci-fi film reviews over the next few days, Passengers is the story of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and Jim Preston (Chris Prattle) as a pair of passengers on an interstellar transport who are supposed to be asleep for 120 years – but are awoken 90 years too soon.

Well ok, it isn’t that simple. Jim is awoken by accident, the result of a collision with an asteroid, which sets into motion the events of the film. At first, the film neatly encapsulates the thrill of having an entire ship as a plaything, though Jim’s status as a ‘standard’ passenger restricts a few of his options. As time goes by, Jim is slowly crushed by loneliness and even considers suicide by airlock. 

His only companion (to begin with) is Arthur (Martin Sheen), an android bartender. Sheen’s performance as a gentlemanly machine is very good, and you forget he’s supposed to be a machine. However, for the character of Jim, after a year Arthur is not enough, and he craves human companionship. At this point the film takes a darker turn. Jim could potentially wake up anyone on the ship (aside from the crew), but a chance encounter with the hibernation pod of Aurora leads to him becoming obsessed with her, and eventually taking the decision to open her pod. 

With no way back into hibernation this is tantamount to a death sentence. There are ethical questions here that the film touches on a little, but not to any meaningful degree. Jim doesn’t tell Aurora he opened her pod, letting her believe it to be an accident, with the aim of getting to know her and hoping she falls in love with him – which eventually she does. The question here is over the latent entitlement complex clearly bubbling away in Jim’s character. He knows it’s wrong to wake Aurora (as it would be to wake anyone), but because he’s read her writings and watched a few video recordings she’s made, and decides he’s got the right to ruin her future on the chance she might be interested in him. When Aurora learns the truth she is understandably pissed, and as Jim tries pitfully to explain, she screams that he has taken her life from her. From that point on, she avoids Jim until malfunctions that have been plaguing the ship awaken a member of the crew (Gus, played by Laurence Fishbourne), who sets about trying to repair the ship. Fishbourne is only in the film briefly but he’s a good actor who lends gravitas to proceedings and accelerates the film toward its conclusion. Gus dies from complications relating to his pod’s malfunction and Jim and Aurora work to find out the cause of the ship’s problems, during the course of which Aurora (a little easily) decides she can’t live without Jim, and even turns down the option to go back into stasis (once they discover the means to do so), so they can be together. There are reasons – the degree of loneliness is something I can’t even comprehend – but Aurora’s about-face and sudden willingness to want Jim back in her life (even to give up her dreams) is a little too neat and tidy. 

The film is entertaining. It is sleek and stylish and worth a watch. I do wish it had pushed the morality angle harder. 7.5/10

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes us beyond the realm of our reality and twists the very fabric of matter and space – but is it any good?

Firstly, we must address the elephant in the room. Take nothing away from Tilda Swinton in her role as The Ancient One, but there has been understandable concern that her portraying a traditionally Asian character represents white-washing that particular role. Marvel are on record as saying they wanted to avoid Asian stereotypes, but they have also acknowledged the reaction from fans. It remains to be seen how they will handle similar issues in the future.

That aside, there are one or two glaring faults with the film that I wish to address right away – well, ok, one glaring fault – Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent. No one can doubt his prowess as an actor – not only is he universally acclaimed for his portray of Sherlock Holmes, but he was also nominated for (among other awards) an Oscar for his role of tortured code cracker Alan Turing, and has received numerous other nominations and awards during his career. He is unlikely to receive any such nominations for his performance here, even though his performance isn’t bad per se. Maybe I am just being nitpicky, but his American accent wasn’t great, and felt very forced. Part of me wondered during the film if it would have been better for the character of Stephen Strange to be British this time around, in order to spare us the bad accent.

That said, the film, overall, works, though it feels a little flat. There isn’t really any moment that feels tense or dramatic (a growing theme with MCU films, as you know well in advance there will be a sequel or ensemble movie), but as is normal with these films, they are polished productions and the SFX is flawless. All in all though, Strange’s journey from high-flier, to desperate loner, to student, to master, all feels a little rushed. There might have been scope for this story to be broken down into two movies, but the demands of the MCU are such that they are rapidly gearing up for Infinity Wars, and unfortunately this doesn’t allow time for characters to develop in a more organic fashion.

It’s watchable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. Nor is it a great one. It is distinctly middle-of-the-road for me, and its main worth lies in that it continues to expand the MCU and build out their universe, rather than standing on its own merits. 7/10.

Originally I was going to review each Hobbit film separately, but having watched them all, I’ve decided to review the trilogy as a whole. It is after all, intended as one big movie right? Right?!

So, what can be said of Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth? How does it stack up to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and is it fair to compare the two sagas?)

The first thing of note is that if you have seen Lord of the Rings prior to The Hobbit, there are several nods to it throughout the new trilogy, that nonetheless don’t require prior viewing of Lord of the Rings for the films to work. As a standalone piece of work, it does work, in terms of setting up the characters, and telling their story.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. The principle cast of dwarfs numbers some 13-strong, plus Bilbo Baggins, plus Gandalf, plus other supporting characters that turn up over the course of the trilogy. As a result of this, some characters are inevitably caricatures and lack any meaningful backstory or narrative, even with three films in which to tell the story. The secondary storyline concerning the Necromancer (later revealed to be Sauron) seems completely disjointed with the main plot (though, this does tie in somewhat in The Battle of the Five Armies), but it does provide a little insight into the histories of the powers that reside in Middle Earth.

The weakest part of this trilogy is An Unexpected Journey, which seems to wane during the middle, picking up the pace as the film draws toward its conclusion. To me, the trilogy is at its best whenever Smaug is on the screen – Benedict Cumberbatch lends malice to this monstrous beast, which is impressively realised.

You cannot help but warm to Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, who sees the world very differently to his companions. He is driven to do what is right, even if his Dwarfish friends don’t share in his opinions, and puts himself in harm’s way for his friends, despite his small stature. Sir Ian Mckellen lends gravitas to his familiar role as Gandalf, and it’s clear that director Jackson has poured a lot of love into his craft. I cannot say that The Hobbit Trilogy is as good as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but it has been maligned in some quarters, unfairly so in my opinion. It is worth watching, and it will enhance viewing of Lord of the Rings as well.

 

The next installment of Star Wars saga has graced our screens, and I’d heard favourable comparisons to the most acclaimed film of the saga, The Empire Strikes Back. Is this comparison merited? And how does Disney’s second Star Wars effort measure up to 2015’s The Force Awakens? 

Rogue One is a very different film to The Force Awakens so it’s as simple as saying one film is better than the other. Rogue One is a dirty, gritty take on the fight between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, that paints the Rebels – some of them at least – as ruthless and cold as any agent of the Empire. The battles are brutal, depicting warfare in a manner never before seen in a Star Wars movie. The characters are less inclined to quip witty remarks and whilst there is a little comic relief, it’s not as prevalent as in other films. I dare say this is the most realistic of the Star Wars films so far, in terms of both the action and the behaviour of the characters. As is to be expected, the CGI work for the ships and battles is incredible, and there is the appearance of a classic character (not Vader) that definitely triggers nostalgia. There is poignancy too, given the connection to A New Hope and the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher.

Vader’s cameo is exactly that, a cameo, but it reaffirms his status as a badass. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. 9/10.

Well, I mentioned the other day that I hadn’t seen this dystopian sci-fi epic, and now I have. Is it everything it was made out to be? Read on and find out!

The version in question was ‘The Final Cut’, which is important to mention because there are several cuts of this film, just to confuse things.

Was it enjoyable? Yes. Was it the amazing film I’ve had people tell me it is? No.

You can’t say that! Think of the children!

Ah, but I can say it, and just did. It was a reasonably good film, and it entertained, but it wasn’t the in-depth exploration of what it means to be human, with serious questions raised about the characters, that I expected it to be. There was the question over who (or what) certain characters were, and for me, it was obvious. Maybe I need to see a different cut, but I can’t say Blade Runner is a classic.

7/10.