Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens[1]Directed by:       J. J. Abrams

Written by:  Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt.

Based on:   Characters by George Lucas

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher.

John Williams returns as composer of the score.

The 7th installment with George Lucas as the creative consultant.

A classic using the same formula as the original series but with a different story – genius in its simplicity.

I can’t imagine the pressure on the writers in getting this one right: the beginning of a sequel of a sequel.  Yes, the writing of this Star Wars episode could easily have become over complicated, but, thankfully, the reins were held tight and yet the story still felt new and exciting.

With 3D glasses on, I was immediately absorbed in this re-visit to desert landscapes, androids and light sabers – all I could think was: yeah, cool.

Rey (Daisy Ridley), scavenging for survival, becomes in possession of an android holding a secret map of the location of the last Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker. Luke has gone missing after his favourite student, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), goes to the dark side.

Sound familiar? But then, as a twist, we have a defector from the First Order joining forces with the Resistance and teaming up with our old favourites: Hans Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia.

The story was engaging with humour and action without the usual blood and guts. PG goodness at its finest.  I’m not usually one for these PG films; but I have to say I didn’t miss the mature themes with this one.  Star Wars (7) brought a smile to the face even with the excited kid kicking the back of my chair.  I was excited too!

It was a pleasure to see Harrison Ford back as Han Solo, even if he was a bit stiff with age. Chewbacca will always be a favourite.  I was surprised at how good Carrie Fisher looked after the taint of sitcoms such as, Big Bang and Family Guy.  She was well cast as a military leader.  Yes, some good acting here – Adam Driver a surprising dark character.  But I think it’s the writers who deserve the congratulations.

I’ll be back to see the rest of the series.


By the Sea

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By The SeaDirected by: Angelina Jolie Pitt

Written by: Angelina Jolie Pitt

Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup, Richard Bohringer

The drinking, the smoking, the difficult relationship and the seaside… If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was about to watch a film based on a Hemingway novel.

There were definite echoes of the novel, The Garden of Eden (published in 1986, posthumously).  But without the amazing dialogue Hemingway is so famous for, By the Sea, was, listless.

Set in a French, beachside resort in the 1970’s, By the Sea, could have been a 1930’s film, bar the public nudity. And there are some soft porn moments here. But this film is definitely about the strained relationship between Vanessa (Angelina) and Roland (Brad).

It’s not an easy feat depicting depression. Watching a relationship disintegrate can be a boring business. I was left wondering how it was possible for people to have so much time to do nothing.

The silence of what is left unsaid between Vanessa and Roland is juxtaposed with the loud and happy love of Lea, (Mélanie Laurent – she was fantastic in Inglourious Basterds (2009), also cast alongside Brad Pitt) and François (Melvil Poupaud) on their honeymoon. Nothing highlights an unhappy couple more than a happy one.

The beauty of the setting, the turquoise water, the rocky landscape of the French seaside gives the audience a break from the sad-faced Vanessa.   The old French café owner, Michel (Niels Aretrup) and hotel owner, Patrice (Richard Bohringer), gives warmth to the story. But the dominance of Vanessa makes it a somewhat boring film because the character is so incredibly lifeless.

There are moments of interesting dialogue, mostly between Roland and the other characters, and more thought into what was spoken, or perhaps framing the silence better would have made a more compelling film.

I didn’t mind being lulled by the silence because I don’t mind the feeling of listlessness. But you’ve got to be in the right mood for this one.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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The Hunger Games MockingJay Part 2Director: Francis Lawrence

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

Based on ‘Mockingjay’ by Suzanne Collins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrleson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore.

I had to play catch up with this one, having missed the last two releases.

Catching Fire was a pleasant surprise. I love the characters going back into The Games. And what a pleasure to see Philip Seymour Hoffman on the screen again (sob, sob). What an amazing actor (Capote (2005), Doubt (2008), The Ides of March (2011), A Most Wanted Man (2014), to name a few). It was a nice touch to dedicate the Mockingjay Part 1 to him in the credits. The reworking of the script to include a letter written by Hoffman’s character, Heavensbee, for the final instalment was well done by director, Francis Lawrence (director of the final three instalments). The letter read by Woody Harrelson’s character, Haymmitch Abernathy. See article in The Los Angeles Times here…

There was potential for Mockingjay to become saccharine, with the propaganda, and emotive speeches that became the focus of Part 1. Thankfully, the character Johanna Mason (Jena Malone, well cast, I say), had the hard authentic nasty to bring the film back from too much cheese.

Mockingjay 2 takes us to the final battle against the Capitol and tyranny of President Snow. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), has become the symbol of the rebellion and under the direction of Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13, the Districts are aligning behind the symbol of the Mockingjay.

Facing battles from all sides, including her once trusted ally, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss must stay strong to overthrow Snow. But Snow won’t go quietly, and hence the battle for the Capitol becomes the final Hunger Games.

I haven’t read the books so the story with its twists and turns was a welcome surprise for me. The characters were becoming a little flat, the story a bit too: bad guys versus good guys in Part 1; Part 2 has enough twists to keep the story interesting.

The inclusion of Katniss singing The Hanging Tree in Part 1 as the rebels’ anthem was genius. Jennifer Lawrence has a lovely, simple warm voice that was a nice finishing touch in Part 2.

I liked this film. It was a well thought-out conclusion to the saga, and I left with a satisfied, warm feeling.



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SpectreDirector:              Sam Mendes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade; Jez Butterworth

Story: John Logan, Neal Purvis; Robert Wade.

Starring:  Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci;  Naomie Harris.

An entertaining Bond classic with great acting, brilliant cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema) and a neat story.

This is the second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, Skyfall being the first.  Who can forget the terrible oversight of casting Kincade, the groundsman of Skyfall, up in the Scottish Highlands, with an American accent?! Myself and the attending audience heaved a huge sigh of disappointment, tainting the rest of an otherwise good film.   Besides this oversight, I found SPECTRE to be the more entertaining.

Bond’s childhood is once again the subject of this movie, his upbringing drawing Bond into the world of SPECTRE and its world domination through Orwell’s nightmare – Big Brother watching us all. Information is power, and being the classic Bond, M wasn’t having any of it – indeed! Yes, a classic – Bond battling the hi-tech villain, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the Bond girls, with Monica Bellucci still such an elegant, beautiful woman. And I just loved the car, an Aston Martin DB10, yum, yum.

There was a quiet section where I then noticed the young teen kicking the back of my seat, and then the young guy next to me chewing his fingers off… It’s a long movie for some (2 hours 30 mins), as are all the Bond films. But then it was back to the action and I was absorbed again.  ‘You’re like a Kite dancing in a hurricane’, is one piece of dialogue that stuck in mind.

There’s certainly a formula to the Bond films, and yes, there was a bit going on here… But I found SPECTRE to be an entertaining movie, shown with a wry sense of humour.

And you’ve just gotta love the sincere look of Daniel Craig as Bond.


The Last Witch Hunter

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The Last Witch HunterDirected by: Breck Eisner

Written by: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless

Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine.

I don’t mind a bit of trash as long as it’s good trash. If it’s just trash, well, then it’s just a waste of time. The Last Witch Hunter fell somewhere in between, so, not so good trash?

At first I noticed how lovely Vin Diesel’s eyes are, so surprisingly warm. And then I noticed how clichéd the portrayal of witches was becoming. I mean, witches drinking Absinthe and being cat lovers? Come on! I was expecting more than some bullshit Goth flick. Then the story got a bit better.

Kaulder (Vin Diesel) becomes immortal after being cursed by the Witch Queen, to live forever with his memories of loss. The Witch Queen’s belief that humans hide in fear behind walls of stone and destroy the earth being her reason for her reign of terror. And yes, I can see something in that.

The movie was visually entertaining with giant burning trees and swarms of flesh eating insects and surprisingly pretty butterflies. Yes, a fair few bugs in this one. The story did take a few unexpected turns, but, I admit, I was a little disappointed. I could see the actors trying to make the dialogue work, Chloe, played by Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) was particularly forced. So it was painful to watch at times, realising the actors themselves didn’t believe what they were saying.

Look, if you’re into this supernatural-type movie, you’ll go and watch it no matter what the review. Just don’t expect greatness.


Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

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Paranormal Activity The Ghost DimensionDirected by: Gregory Plotkin

Written by: Jason Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutsehman, Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan

Starring: Chris J Murray, Brit Shaw, Dan Gillas, Ivy George and Olivia Taylor Dudley.

What a well-timed pre-Halloween release. And finally, a movie well suited to watch in 3D. Well, more like 4D with the vibrating floorboards of the thumping bass in the eerily empty Monday matinee cinema I was in. Love it!

So, the final piece of the puzzle: another family, another chosen child and Toby back and now more visible and real than ever.

The premise of using (yet another) camera, was cleverly written into the story. Finding excuses to always be filming the family life in the house must be getting thin on the ground after the 6th in the series, but I think this spiritual camera business was a smart idea. This time, the audience can actually see the daemonic being that is Toby.

The acting of the dad, Ryan Fleege (Chris J Murray), was a bit strained at times. His brother, Mike Fleege, and uncle to young Leila (Ivy George) was a good edition, releasing the tension with a bit of humour. Not really sure of the role, Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley), with the short denim shorts and tight white singlet top, the friend, if only for a bit of eye candy. But I guess with both the uncle and friend, the audience was given space in between the scary bits.

Even though I knew what was coming, it was nice to have the series tied off. I was scared but still smiling because I love a good horror thriller, and I found The Ghost Dimension to be entertaining.

The paranormal series doesn’t get as much kudos as they deserve. Horror thrillers seem to rate poorly against dramas, and I think this is unfair. This is a different movie experience and I enjoyed it.



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SicarioDirector: Denis Villeneuve

Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin

I can’t fault this film.

This is a story of Kate (Emily Blunt) an FBI agent, thrown into the world of a Mexican drug cartel and the CIA’s fight to control the violence. And like Kate, we, the audience don’t know where it’s all going to lead.

This was a very well thought-out film: story, characters, soundtrack, cinematography and editing all combined to create tension and to keep the audience guessing. Sicario is more about the tension then violence. If the violence didn’t add to the story, then it wasn’t included. Clever devises and the imagination of the audience was left to piece the action together.

The cinematography (Roger Deakins) was a stand out for me: skies of rain, grainy black and green, infra-red; the silhouette of figures in army fatigue against an apricot sunset. The change in the visual imagery was used to create different moods and to keep the eye interested. With the ominous (there really is no other word) soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson adding to the darkness and intensity.

There are some great characters here. Particularly Alejandro, played by Benicio del Toro (fans of The Usual Suspects will recognise) – likable yet terrifying. And I have to say I enjoyed the added texture of Spanish throughout the film. Matt, played by Josh Brolin (think, No Country for Old Men, also cinematography by Roger Deakins and another favourite of mine) was also a very interesting, well-rounded character who could make you laugh, but then turn you cold with a smile. I will be on the lookout for any upcoming films featuring Josh Brolin.

But it really comes down to the directing in the end. Denis Villeneuve has been around for a while: Incendies, (2010), Maelström (2000), Prisoners (2013). He is also set to direct the sequel to Blade Runner – very exciting stuff!

If you haven’t watched Sicario yet, you’re in for a treat.

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