LoganBookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Logan Movie Poster (Credit: www.traileraddict.com/logan-2017)
































 


  STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen,
Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez 
+ Richard E. Grant 

WITH: Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, Al Coronel,
   Frank Gallegos, Anthony Escobar, Reynaldo Gallegos,  Krzysztof Soszynski, Stephen Dunlevy,
Daniel Bernhardt, Ryan Sturz 

AND: Jason Genao, Hannah Westerfield, Bryant Tardy,
   Ashlyn Casalegno, Alison Fernandez + Parker Lovein
 



DIRECTED BY: James Mangold

STORY BY: James Mangold
 

SCREENPLAY BY: Scott Fran , James Mangold, Michael Green

Executive Producer: Joe Caracciolo Jr.

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner
    
Executive Producers: Stan Lee, James Mangold, Josh McLaglen

 Co-Producers: Dana Robin, Kurt Williams

Music: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography: John Mathieson

Film Editing: Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt

Released: March 2017

 

Note - Some Spoilers Feature (with specific details kept to a minimum).

This final official outing for the Wolverine character - as played by the charismatic Hugh Jackman - finds the ferocious mutant living in New Mexico in 2029. His former X-Men comrades are no more, and there have been no more mutants sighted in the populace, for many a year. Logan is now showing his age, and his scars, with his healing superpowers clearly rudimentary, at this point. He makes a basic living as a limo driver, and lives over in a junkyard refuge. His companions are an aged and mostly senile Charles Xavier, who needs strong doses of medication to hold back the potentially destructive psychic powers that once were so stable, as well as ex-mutant-hunter Caliban (Stephen Merchant).

Logan knows deep down that his body is failing, but refuses to admit it to anyone. But then something else appears that diverts his internal self-pity - a mission to look after someone 'special', but vulnerable. Despite early misgivings, the Canadian-born ex-super-soldier agrees to safeguard Laura (Dafne Keen) who seemingly speaks only Spanish in brief quantities. Before long, it becomes clear just how dangerous a fighter she is, and why she is being targeted by the sinister Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his Reavers - an army of cyborg killers. Eventually, Laura's origins under the dark aspirations of Dr Rice (Richard E Grant) make themselves known, but with the added optimism that there may be a safe haven for not just her, but a whole clutch of young mutants that no one knows about in 'proper' society.


Having had such a strong trailer, it is a relief that the film proper mostly lives up to such lofty expectations. Despite what seemed to be suggested, there is still plenty of civilisation left on planet Earth. However, mutantkind is near extinct, and with this being essentially another in the X-Men franchise, the film has a real sense of emptiness and loss for much of its duration.

Further, this is a truly cynical grim and pessimistic version of the Wolverine character. Jackman has had this edginess before, but usually combined with some humour and everyman qualities. But this is very much someone who has been devastated by cataclysmic events, and is always ready to pop his claws out at the first opportunity. His uneasy friendship with Caliban, and somewhat brutish nursing of Xavier, shows just how close he has become to the animal inside.

Patrick Stewart has also confirmed that this film is his last in the role of Professor Charles Xavier. Since the beginning of the new century, Stewart and Jackman have come to embody the roles of Charles and Logan, and in a way that will be hard to overshadow any time soon - if ever.

The Professor we see in large portions of this film is frail, needy and somewhat of a liability. He has lost a good amount of control over his remarkably strong telepathic/telekinetic powers, and at times this renders humans, but especially mutants, utterly powerless around him as he has one of his ‘seizures’. Some of the film’s (notably truncated) budget went into these set pieces where Charles loses control. It was a wise move to make X-Men: The Last Stand lose some or most of its place in official continuity, including Xavier’s perfunctory death. Whilst he meets with a rather grim fate here, there is something poetic about it, and the writers even manage to slip in a nice little nod to Stewart’s biggest genre role - Captain Jean Luc Picard - when he is later buried.

Although there is much serious emotion, with melancholy, regret and a sense of friendship damaged, there is also hope, and some jokes at times. I really liked how X23 suddenly was able to talk, and following this 'switch' many of her lines had a quick punch to them; perhaps reflecting her disconcertingly brutal fighting style. The various bickering moments between Logan and his former mentor from the 'School for Gifted Youngsters' never gets tiresome. Indeed it can be very funny, with an extra dimension of this being an 'uncle/nephew' dynamic for those who faithfully followed the different X-Men films over the years. And, as one would expect, Merchant has terrific comic timing, thus making the viewer quickly care for Caliban, even if the character as written is somewhat flat in comparison to the main three leads.                                                                                                    
The villains are quite good, when taking into account that they are not really intended to be the focus. Pierce – complete with Terminator-esque metal hand - never is given a definitive speech, or something truly memorable to do in the action scenes. And yet Holbrook breathes full life into this creepy stalker of our heroes, coming off as both deeply unpleasant and remarkably persistent. He also makes for a fine lieutenant barking orders, and barely bats an eyelid should most of his men get chopped down, or he himself faces a bomb about to explode in his face. That he is ultimately not bested by Logan but a group of untested children 'fighters', who are still far from mastering their ‘uncanny' powers is nicely ironic.

Logan And Charles (Credit: http://www.blastr.com/)I find Richard E Grant an actor who can sometimes grate, but the slimier or more self-serving a character he plays, the better he convinces me. Here he is cast well, as the deranged scientist who believes he can use mutation as a carefully controlled 'benefit' for 'normal' society. He is rather overconfident of his gravitas, and certainly lets his guard down near the end. Much of the film’s core plot rests on the influence of this character, and by having him kept to the background in the earlier exposition - glimpsed on video fragments - Grant is used just to the right degree to be fully effective.

However the most chilling and formidable foe is a bestial, superpowered version of Logan himself. This gives Jackson a chance to play something totally irredeemable, and there is seamless technology used to bring our lead actor into the same frame for prolonged patches of action in the film. The final showdown between X24 and Wolverine is a brutally visceral one. Also, in keeping with the core theme of the story - its outcome does not totally rest in the hands of the title character.

4DX is one of the ways to enjoy the film (with IMAX and 3D being others). The screening i went to was a first for me, where punters were firmly instructed to leave their heavy items at the front, just under the main screen. And with good reason. For a two-hours-plus film, this often felt like one of the family ‘experience’ rides that feature at a theme park - except stretched out to the maximum. Whilst a little gimmicky, it still added to a film that already was engaging audience’s intellect and feelings. In this case, emphasising the physicality side of the film was not such a bad idea.

Logan is a generally successful action movie and definitely up there with the best of Marvel's output. The simple story allows this to be a great character piece, but sometimes the film's pacing feels just a touch laboured. A lot of characters make strange decisions, and given how powerful the children in the final act prove to be, it almost could be argued that Logan's sacrifice was something of a waste. The final confrontation is truly adrenaline-rushed, and emotionally gripping, however. The key to this movie is the grizzled veteran finding a person in his life, who is as close to being his own child as he ever could have hoped. And their bonding is played in note-perfect fashion. When viewed through the lens of this strong familial emotion, this would be a much poorer film if the door was still left hanging for Jackman to return.


FINAL SCORE - Four Stars out of Five:

This is a rip-roaring tale of good versus evil, structured as part-Western, part-road-movie. It is essential viewing for Marvel fans, and especially for admirers of the X-Men's uncontested figurehead.





Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Poster) (Credit: Lucasfilm)

STARRING - Felicity Jones: 'Jyn Erso',
Diego Luna: 'Cassian Andor', Alan Tudyk: 'K-2SO',
Donnie Yen: 'Chirrut Imweƒ', Wen Jiang: 'Baze Malbus',
Riz Ahmed : 'Bodhi Rook', + Ben Mendelsohn : 'Orson Krennic'

WITH - Mads Mikkelsen: 'Galen Erso', Jimmy Smits: 'Bail Organa', Alistair Petrie : 'General Draven',
Genevieve O'Reilly: 'Mon Mothma', Guy Henry: 'Governor Tarkin'
+ Daniel Naprous/ James Earl Jones: Darth Vader

AND Forest Whitaker: 'Saw Gerrera'


 Music By: Michael Giacchino, 
       
                Screenplay: Chris Weitz  + Tony Gilroy,

     Story By: John Knoll + Gary Whitta,

  Based On Characters Created By: George Lucas,

         Directed By: Gareth Edwards 
 



Released: December 2016 by Disney/ Lucasfilms

 

Please Take Care As Significant Spoilers Are Featured:


This prequel to Episode IV of the saga centres on Jyn Erso (Jones). As a child, she lives with both her parents in a small rural residence, on the planet Lah'mu. Then Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), demand that her father Galen (Mikkelsen) resumes his duties as a top engineer. In the struggle, Jyn's mother is gunned down, but the little girl manages to escape. She eventually is rescued by Gerrera (Whitaker), an extremist militant. As she grows up, Jyn learns many combat skills, and develops a heavy edge of cynicism, in no small part due to being abandoned by Gerrera, when he has to make a choice for 'the greater good'.

In the meantime, Galen begrudgingly helps the Empire with work for the Death Star, overseen by both Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin, with powerful Sith Lord Vader lurking in the shadows.

As an adult Jyn is accosted by rebel agent Cassian Andor (Luna), and a struggle begins to take advantage of Galen's deliberate design of a small flaw, that can allow the lethal battle station to be destroyed. Along the way a tactless droid called K-2SO (Tudyk) lends his strength and skills, as do some human fighters, including a renegade imperial pilot (Ahmed), a blind monk with some Force powers (Yen) and a bearded strongman (Jiang).

Eventually a tumultuous struggle will occur on planet Scarif, where the forces of the Empire are amassed in great number. Yet, even with a Rebel fleet hovering in space above, this may turn out to be one gambit too far, and the Death Star plans may remain suppressed.


The second film under the helm of Disney interests, in that its climax is inevitable for anyone familiar with the classic original film that first introduced the world to Star Wars. Yet it is no less involving, as the sequence of events presented do ultimately tie in with the victory of the Rebellion, over the forces of the supremely confident (but fallible) Tarkin.

The main protagonists are a lot more flawed, and decidedly less charming than those from the various (completed and in-progress) trilogies. This is a brave move, and helps sell the darkest slice of cinematic Star Wars to date. The downside is there is a lack of charisma in general, and dialogue - often a hindrance in these movies - is particularly unmemorable. The back stories, apart from Jyn's, are also very rudimentary. Thus the film has a challenge in making cinema-goers care about the Rogue One team's fates.

The chief villain, Krennic, is despicable and we do very much wish his comeuppance. He however is - perhaps deliberately - far from scary, being more a creepy and grubby person, who is out for his own glory. There is that classic visual motif of an impeccable uniform, and a cape that swirls around him, as he marches onto his next agenda item.

Rather dramatically, Krennic dares to cross Tarkin, seeing him as someone in higher authority for the present moment. Later on he is rather more obsequious to Vader. In the end though he does  indeed "choke" on his "aspirations".

Director Orson Krennic (Credit: Lucasfilm; Starwars.com)

 It is good to have Vader in brief scenes spread across the narrative, and the classic movie villain has  great presence and the trademark sardonic wit. However it is also a little disconcerting to see yet  another face-mask reimagining, as well as a performance from James Earl Jones that feels strangely  off. The link between the suit/voice, and the Vader in A New Hope, is thus not quite what it should be.

 For me the key scene-stealer was K-2SO, (who vaguely resembles the creepy EV-9D9, from Jabba's  Palace, in Return Of The Jedi), but is programmed to aid the Rebellion. He does have perhaps rather  arch humour at times, but it usually works as light relief in such a generally grim story. (Despite its  intentions, Revenge Of The Sith did have both intentionally and unintentionally funny sections.)

 I did find the film a bit inconsistent in keeping my interest throughout the two hours-plus duration. This  was despite there being plenty of potential in the premise of the movie. Some of the plot threads do not  quite feel relevant enough, and the sense of both re-writes and re-shoots is inescapable.

Whilst more original in story terms than The Force Awakens, a lot of the highlights do feel deliberately included as crowd-pleasing moments, and for Star Wars fans in particular. Although I enjoyed the thread with Tarkin, it was rather unnecessary to give (an admittedly solid) CGI effect/actor quite so much screen time. Maybe another character linked to the Death Star, who was not quite as iconic as the one played by the late Peter Cushing, would have been a better choice.

Perhaps the difficulty securing John Williams hurts the film, somewhat too. However the legendary composer is rather elderly now, and cannot produce the amazing quantity of soundtracks that he once could. The actual music score was completed in a matter of weeks, but on its own terms is decent enough. Also jarring is the lack of an opening crawl, alongside a subdued appearance for the Rogue One title caption.


The human resistance fighters of 'Rogue One' (Credit: Photo by Jonathan Olley and Leah Evans - 2015 - Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)The very most accomplished actors - Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen - are somewhat underused. All the same, what little screen time they do have is certainly worthy material. Felicity Jones was a perfect casting choice in The Theory Of Everything, but perhaps any number of actors could have done an equal job, even a superior one, for this rather more venomous heroine. Luna is more than convincing as a morally grey and ruthless agent, but I never quite felt the inner turmoil that someone facing so many difficult choices would have to contend with. The supporting players, however, are great fun - in particular Tudyk, who provided a (now genre standard) motion-capture performance.

One thing is for certain, and that is how expensive-looking and polished the production comes across, with many stunning SFX shots. There is a plethora of detail, and this truly is a proper war film. Of course it is also less gory than some, so as to enable a huge turnout at the box office.

Almost every single battle, of which there are many, is utterly stunning. Both the close-up, hand-held shots of action, and the more traditional, vast space opera sections (ideal for big screens and IMAX) stand up as well as anything in the war or sci-fi film genres.

The final sequences, with Vader totally impervious to an onslaught of Rebel fighters' blaster fire, and slashing with his ruby-red lightsaber, are some of the best moments of any blockbuster film in recent memory. These fleeting seconds also help amp-up the tension over whether the Death Star plans will make it into Rebel hands.

At the time of writing, the tragic death of Carrie Fisher at age sixty in our home Earth dimension, means that the cameo digital recreation of Leia feels bittersweet, rather than the resounding counter to the downbeat final reel that Edwards and his team clearly intended.


This is a very enjoyable film on some levels. It ties in with the timeless 1977 film undeniably well. But something is missing and most of the main character's fates just do not resonate as they might do, when all the stars are in alignment. There is the disadvantage of this being a one-off, whereas the much-anticipated 'young' Han Solo movies will be able to take a bit more time. But ultimately this film was made to be seen on the big screen, and for some that includes 3D or IMAX variants, and it does enough good things to more than justify the massive amount of money Disney has put into it.

The force is strong enough with this one, but it sits firmly in the middle of the pack of (ever growing) entries in the saga.


Final Score: Three Lightsabers Out Of Five





Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force AwakensBookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Director: J.J Abrams
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk

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


Production Companies: Lucasfilm Ltd + Bad Robot Productions

 

Based on Characters by George Lucas

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures


Released: 18th December, 2015

 

Please Note - Spoilers Feature Throughout The Review.

 

One of the most hyped movies in recent times, The Force Awakens mostly justifies all the hoopla. It also goes to a long way to banish the feelings of aghast dejection that movie goers and sci-fi fans alike had when The Phantom Menace first manifested itself on the big screen.

My biggest concern in the preceding months was that handing over to Disney may not be enough to alleviate the problems that were so apparent with a George Lucas who had far too much creative control compared to the original trilogy. I had heard great things about J.J. Abrams, but had not managed to catch any of the films he helmed. I also was not yet a Star Trek aficionado, so had little idea of the skill Abrams possessed in taking a lot of well known tropes and breathy heady new life into them.

Of course, as anyone who has seen this blockbuster will attest, the plot has been done many times before, and not least in A New Hope. The basic concept of an evil force in the galaxy determined to crush any resistance they encounter, and who do not spare a second thought in destroying any number of planets to achieve the goal of ultimate power is  present and correct here. Having a vital piece of information hidden in a droid is also brought back, but crucially the difference this time is that information only sets up the very end of the film, and is distinct from the customary action climax. Instead, a turncoat in the shape of Stormtrooper FN-2187 - now renamed 'Finn' - is able to offer vital knowledge so as to help the destruction of the weapon.

However, there are many other reminders of the 1977 classic, with some being more solid than others. A beginning on a desert planet where a young person who has been estranged from family yearning for a better life. A hot shot pilot who plays their part in the final battle, and does so without batting an eyelid - even if he risks total destruction. A masked villain who harbours resentment for an old man who has played his part in countless battles. And that aged genial figure quickly becoming both respected and loved by the younger heroes we are introduced to.

 

The arc with Finn is definitely the freshest, and his romance with Rey is engaging. How they spark off one another ends up being rather coy, when compared to the one with Han and Leia from the original trilogy. The film even avoids a predictable pay-off for them, by leaving Finn in a coma-like state. The former warrior of the First Order does get the consolation (if one could call it that) of a peck on his forehead by the lady he so cares for.

Daisy Ridley does wonders with the stretches that introduce her, featuring almost no dialogue. It takes a chirpy, tiny droid to get her into the adventure, but from then on this athletic young woman never looks back. I found myself always engaged by Rey, and she is a very much a 21st century-type female, who just happens to be situated in this 'Galaxy.. Far Far Away'. The range of emotions shown by Ridley is strong, and she combines both the light-hearted banter and the material that verges on melodramatic with aplomb.

Finn is decent in terms of character and acting execution, if perhaps given more than a fair share of mundane material. I wish he had been in a battle or two proper in serving the First Order, and the consequences of those actions only now had caught up with him. Also it would make his handling of some Stormtroopers later on more believable. But all the same, John Boyega is a fine choice for a man who has a heap of emotions, and is trying to figure out his new direction in life.

Despite my age, and the demographic BB-8 is aimed at, I still found this new droid utterly spellbinding, and a crucial part of what made the film enjoyable across its two-hour-plus running time. I thought I would miss the iconic pair of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, but I accept they had a pretty reasonable quotient of material in all six of the prior Star Wars entries. It is still a delight to have them turn up briefly: the golden protocol droid irritated by his patchwork red arm; and the diminutive techno-wizard, (as well as co-pilot to Luke) suddenly whirring to life and completing the much-sought-after map.

 

Turning to the despicable villains now, I was quite impressed by the key antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is enjoyably caught in two minds. He clearly cannot banish the good in him and has some form of a conscience, but also is desperate to project an image and demeanour that is purely antagonistic and malicious. There is that tantalising hope for a good few seconds he will come back with Han, but ultimately he chooses the Dark Side. There is still however not the same ability to let the negativity and hatred infuse him with total power, and that may be one factor why he struggles in the fight with Rey - even accounting for his injury. The inferiority complex regarding how much he matches up to grandfather Darth Vader is also intriguing. The film just gets the balance right, in having a moody, tantrum-prone villain who still has menace and gravitas. I look forward to more screen time with Adam Driver in this pivotal role in later Episodes.

However I have issues with the secondary opposition. To my sensibility, General Hux was a very limp and forced villain. We have witnessed slimy, jobsworth types on the side of the Empire beforehand, and also there have been incompetents like the ill-fated Admiral Ozzell (Michael Sheard) from Episode V. But Domhnall Gleeson is mostly just bluster and glares, and not much else. Normally he is a rock solid dramatic actor, but perhaps he does not fit into this type of movie so well. The gripping build up to the destruction of the New Republic worlds still works, but would have been even more powerful with an actor that conveyed a cold-hearted and detached self, as was the case with Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin  in the very first film.  

For a big Game Of Thrones follower like myself, I was excited to have Gwendoline Christie now playing a similarly powerful, (but here now) clearly evil warrior. We do not see her Captain Phasma unmasked, however. If she is to indeed return I hope this is remedied. She has a great amplified voice, and we somewhat fear for Finn when she notes his disobedience. Perhaps one or two scenes cut for time with Phasma would have helped make her feel more relevant to the film, if retained after all.

Too little time is spent on Supreme Leader Snoke for me to have an opinion one way or the other. The mystery for now is whether he is indeed as colossal as he appears, or just using a hologram program to try and make up for some form of insecurity. How and why he turned Kylo to the Dark Side must also be expanded upon, as the dialogue given carries very little explanation.

On a clearly positive note though,  I did enjoy the use of the Stormtroopers throughout. Several brief moments were there to show how they were not just killer drones but had a bit of life and humour of their own. The Daniel Craig cameo may well pass over many viewers' heads, but it is still a winning moment, and also an important one as Rey first masters the renowned 'Jedi Mind Trick'.

The snow-covered fight in woods is a beautiful scene, and arguably overshadows all the frenetic action with the Resistance overcoming 'The Weapon' (which makes the previous Death Stars look like small-fry). Kylo Ren is injured, and so relies upon adrenaline as he faces a Rey who is developing Force powers every single passing moment. However, she should still be beatable. What transpires however, is Kylo desperately lashing out, and he is lucky not to perish. But then this first episode of a new trilogy has great plans for future clashes between the two. A convenient fissure that separates the two combatants by a sizeable  distance is perhaps contrived plotting, but also a nice way to add meaning to the usual 'Enemy Base exploding' cliché.

All three of the original trilogy ' triumvirate' are back in the form of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The latter two have significant parts to play in the actual plot, but get very limited screen time - particularly in Hamill's case. But this does not hold the film back, and actually works to the benefit of a saga taking on new direction and purpose now that a different crew and distributor is behind it.

I will focus mainly on Ford's Han Solo. He is the cream of the original trilogy ensemble crop for most viewers, but there was all sorts of speculation as to how big a role he would have this time round. The first act takes place in a dizzying rush, before the story gains focus with the arrival of Solo striding onto screen, and still with Chewie (Peter Mayhew) by his side. Though the on-off smuggler looks haggard and worn, he still oozes joi de vivre and has that classic sardonic wit. He quickly bonds with both Rey And Finn, and helps make their story take on another dimension or two. Some speculation has occurred since the film's release that Han and Leia are not only Kylo's parents, but Rey's too.

Certainly it would add more meaning to Han's conclusive death at the hands of the son, who was named 'Ben' after the late Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. The scene plays out well enough, if also perhaps quite telegraphed. The aforementioned battle in the snow needed a big loss to justify the raw emotion Finn and Rey show in taking their stands against Kylo. I still partly question if Han could have kept a safer distance and tried to persuade Kylo to disarm, but then that is easy to say from the outside. Clearly Han's heart ruled over his head for once and he pays dearly. 

I am totally convinced that this (most likely) final turn for Ford is one that is much better than Return Of Jedi once was. There at times it seemed Indiana Jones was having a guest role in the Star Wars universe. Ford clearly responds well to Abrams' direction, and shows the level of acting chops he acquired in the meantime; not least when he gained an Oscar nomination for Witness. To have the heart of the movie feature Ford is a great way to involve established fans, but also makes the journey for the new characters feel a lot more poignant. And although Han faces the full force of a lightsaber, and his body falls down a massive chasm, this ultimately is a good way to go out for such a swashbuckler. 

Carrie Fisher is in some respects unrecognisable as Princess Leia, as far as looks and voice are concerned. Of course, over three decades have taken their effect on her since Episode VI was released. Fisher has had a very up and down life, but always been a likable Hollywood star, and her presence is most welcome. She manages to infuse the emotions for Han equally well: one moment there is disdain, quickly followed by another moment of long-term love and warmth. She also does well to bond with Ridley with the most meagre of dialogue, and that makes the closing stages of the film stronger. There clearly will be more need for Fisher in Episode VIII on the evidence presented. 

As for Leia's brother, I am delighted to say that the final scene with Luke is a winner. John Williams' backing music fits perfectly as the camera pans round the island where the last of the Jedi has chosen to hide himself on. I half-suspected that the film's title indicated that there is little Luke, but he is still the MacGuffin and so drives the majority of events. His presence is strongly felt in the nightmarish vision Rey has when visiting a part of the temple, and that experience makes the final decision to locate the heroic son of Anakin Skywalker more significant as well.

 

This film is a true must-see for all Star Wars fans, and anyone who likes escapism with vigour, humour and romance. It should create a whole new generation of youngsters spellbound by the Force, the Good versus Evil faceoff,  and the various space battles involving TIE Fighters, X-Wings, and the legendary Millennium Falcon.

Final Score: Four Lightsabers Out Of Five





A Dozen SummersBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
A Dozen Summers (Credit: Monkey Basket Films)
Starring Scarlet and Hero Hall,
         With Kenton Hall, Sarah Warren, Colin Baker, 
Ewen MacIntosh, David Knight, Holly Jacobson, Quinton Nyrienda, And Tallulah Sheffield    
Written And Directed by Kenton Hall
Produced by Alexzandra Jackson and Kenton Hall, 
Music Composed by Andrew Stamp


     dozensummersmovie.com
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Right in the middle of the usual glut of mindless action blockbusters, remakes, reboots, and sequels, and forced comedy/relationship movies comes something a lot more modest in production glitz, glamour and capital. This is a good thing as it has much to offer in depth and is consequently the more memorable and significant for it. I was given the chance to see this film ahead of its UK release this Friday on the small screen, and may well be one of those that goes to support its (at least initially) limited run across a number of towns and cities. My connection to the film of course comes from working for this news and review website, and Colin Baker's involvement (and the man certainly makes his mark in typically resounding fashion). Yet ultimately the film is very much focused on the lives of a wonderfully engaging pair of twins who are just starting out in secondary school and who have quite a bit of creative spark to offer the world around them

The plot is very straightforward and this enables the film to throw up some quirky surprises in elegant fashion. Maisie and Daisy are two twins who live with their  divorced father Henry, and who infrequently catch up with their rather bohemian and young-hearted mother Jacqueline; seemingly never settling for one boyfriend for too long, such are her ever-changing needs. The girls are certainly bright enough, and have a bit of street smarts too, but that does not mean they can't be bothered by bullies or fall for the wrong person their age. They do not just go about their business in typical coming of age fashion, but instead have a keen awareness of the fourth wall of the actual movie they are featured in. Consequently they are able to make the film (especially in the opening half) have a few sidetracks and digressions which reflects their equally vivid imaginations. Thus the audience is treated to playful exploration of  thrillers, period dramas and rom-com genres, as well as the kind of behaviour of protagonists who feel reality tv self-consciousness

For simplicity's sake, in general one of the identical twins has hair bunched up, whilst the other has it resting down  but even if that weren't the case they are distinct from one another and have as much in common as not. The girls' self-awareness and quick wit is reflected in the film, and most of the supporting characters are shown to have flaws and strengths in equal measure. This even extends to giving some likeability to the school bullies, and overly paranoid shopkeeper (Ewen MacIntosh) who will not tolerate more than three kids in at a time, lest they succeed in stealing items. The film wants to reflect our British reality as much as show all sorts of dynamic imaginative flair.

As strong as the acting, music (Andrew Stamp puts in a lot of excellent work to make scenes breath) and editing all are, there are some signs of this project not having an endless well of finance to invest in. I also thought the plot could have easily allowed for a good ten to twenty more minutes screen time, and there were some elements such as Henry's new girlfriend being a different sort of challenge - but one he was more emotionally prepared for - feeling like a scene or two more would have really conveyed the emotions and personalities better. Also the decision not to do more with the Jane Austen parody was a bit unfortunate. If maybe understandable as that setting was likely up there in terms of cost, it still deserved a little bit more development so as not to feel like one component of a sketch show.

 Nonetheless, there are a lot of good intentions behind this little gem. Kenton Hall is the person with the most to do,  not only starring in a decent role as the twins' father but also directing, producing and including his own band  called Ist. Hall was mindful of producing something that serves to meet the high expectations children have, as  they are remarkably astute and critical thinkers. He placed trust in his own twin daughters carrying the movie,  knowing that by playing characters close to their real life selves, the audience could invest in real people with  wholly authentic and three dimensional personalities who are having to deal with all sorts of challenges. In review  material Hall was very clear in his objective to have child-like aspects without falling into the trap of being childish,  which any given film can be guilty of if not careful. And I commend him and his team for managing to produce  something organic and marching very much to its own tune. There is precious little material anyone reasonable  would just dismiss as 'puerile'.

 And what of Colin Baker, given that this review is primarily for Doctor Who fans? He certainly plays a memorable  role helping bookend the film with a combination of assertive narration and cantankerous indignation as he is  surprised by the combined might of the twins (and later some other people they know from school). Whether this  was meant as a clever reference to The Twin Dilemma (whose child actors were undoubtedly much weaker than  the  Hall girls) or not, the humour of the movie is rarely better than here. It feels contemporary, it feels satirical and  yet  also affectionate, as if the old-school narrator still has something to offer, but just needs to acquire a different  cast of  willing participants.. We are also teased with maybe seeing Colin on stage in the middle of the film, as his  harmonic  voice projects to a somewhat distracted audience, but ultimately the viewer must wait till the very end credits to see Mr Baker properly onscreen.

A very enjoyable effort from a talented cast and crew, this will hopefully capture enough of an audience on cinema release and also be popular on TVs, tablets and Smartphones. It certainly has enough potential to generate either a continuation of the story or a loose sequel using the same core cast.




The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), New Line Cinema, WingNut Films
Released: 12 December 2014


Seven years ago it was announced that Peter Jackson would oversee a revival of the Tolkien cinematic world as a two-part film series, with new director Guillermo del Toro on board. A drawn-out and difficult production path followed with Jackson eventually resuming director duties, and ultimately assembling three films instead of two. With this new film's release the journey through Middle Earth is again concluded. Perhaps what is first notable is just how short it is compared to the other Hobbit films, and indeed the original 'Rings' entries. This however seems appropriate as much of the early exposition and scene setting was done in 'An Unexpected Journey' and 'The Desolation of Smaug'. This film focuses a lot more on all-out action, choosing to embellish greatly on certain passages of the Hobbit novel and almost ignore others. The prior set-up and expansion of various subplots in the earlier films needed closure, with somewhat mixed results achieved here. Ultimately the key for viewers is one of expectation - do they want a strong challenger to multi-Oscar-winner 'Return of the King' or do they want something that works as a fun and mostly undemanding action epic?

One major aspect of 'Desolation' was its choice to have a huge unresolved ending. At the time I was rather unsure if this was wise of the creative team. With Smaug central to that film's plot, it felt logical for his story to be resolved. However the execution of his cruel attack on Lake-town, in which there is little chance of escape for the exposed citizens, is a wonderful set piece. I did wonder if the dragon would get anything to say, as he constitutes an overpowering source of visual terror - leaving the dramatic duties to the humans and elves threatened. Thankfully we do get reminded of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of supreme villainy. His hubris, arrogance and complete lack of fear manages to come across as rather impressive and menacing. This also ensures that his final fate works resoundingly well; the effect used to show he has been 'extinguished' is perfect. I did find the shoe-horning of Bard's son into the killer arrow climax a bit self-indulgent of the movie, but not jarringly so.

For those wondering if Stephen Fry's slimy Master of Lake-town will get some form of punishment for his lack of morals and flagrant disregard for his people, there is a very satisfying answer. It also serves as a strong modern-day retelling of a classic cautionary tale on greed. Less welcome however is the consequent focus on the Master's surviving servant Alfrid. Jackson has used comic relief well beforehand in his movies, with even some of the Orcs and Goblins being effective, as well as the fascinating Gollum. This annoyingly spineless character, who keeps surviving against the odds, instead provides one lead balloon joke after another. And this does indicate that like its predecessors, this Hobbit film has a somewhat uneven tone to it for much of its running time. Admittedly this is a problem quite common in action cinema, but one that never seemed noticeable with the classic original trilogy.

Thankfully the actual plot is decent. Although films' one and two had somewhat pedestrian middle acts, here I enjoyed the sections that preceded any of the battle sequences. Smaug is gone but trouble persists as the humans, dwarves and elves squabble over the many riches left in Erebor now that its giant custodian is vanquished. The way in which the dwarves virtually barricade themselves, just as Lake-town's refugees side with the Elves against Thorin's small company is really quite suspenseful. This development manages to later flow into the loud battle sequences such that emotional investment pays off and the film is comfortably coherent.

Those wondering if the White Council storyline from the first film ends up going anywhere should be satisfied enough with developments here. There is a rather terrifying moment where Sauron/ The Necromancer is unquestionably revealed to be back, and the reactions of the various elves and wizards is spellbinding. I did dislike the CGI overload of the Ringwraiths, who seem to exist in transitional form like their master. They were a great component of the original trilogy - in 'Fellowship' especially - but feel contrived here and lack their previous menace. It also is very distracting to see Saruman use some kickboxing skills, when his character always relied on sheer power of magical ability and persuasiveness.

I gained great satisfaction from the psychological themes presented by the dwarves being helpless to stop Thorin from falling victim to powerful vanity, narcissism and irrationality. Once again titular Hobbit Bilbo is underused, but at least he is crucial in making sure that the forces of good stop squabbling in time to face the fearsome hordes of the dread Necromancer. Gandalf also plays his mediator part to perfection, the viewer being able to trust in Ian McKellen's gravitas.

Acting from all the returning actors from the original trilogy is indeed strong and assured, and the cast introduced for this trilogy mostly is generally equally strong. Although it is disappointing that Bilbo is sidelined yet again, this does not stop Martin Freeman from being note-perfect, and at least the equal of Ian Holm in the role. Freeman is one actor who has an effortless dimension to his technique but somehow never appears to be lazy in the process. I have also enjoyed the charisma of Richard Armitage's Thorin; making the most of his disturbing character arc, which eventually focused on resounding bravery despite terrifying odds. Luke Evans and Lee Pace really excel in the roles of Bard and Thranduil, with markedly different styles of asserting authority over their respective forces..

I did find the final showdown between chief Orc Azog and Thorin to be a curate's egg. The contrast of a man-o-mano fight with the bewildering battle of five armies is welcome, but it feels rather a mismatch such is Azog's brutal power. Later on the viewer is confused over the extent of Orc biology, with no real foundation to set things up, as a contrived twist sees Thorin letting his guard down to devastating effect. Luckily the final moments - with Bilbo utterly helpless to save the Dwarf king, and their mutual re-affirmation that they are true friends in spite of all their obvious differences - are terrific and avoid the trap of being maudlin.

Less successful though are the final touches to the Legolas/ Tauriel/ Kili love triangle. I got involved more with this new storyline than quite a few Tolkien fans, but had hoped it would build on the bones presented in 'Desolation'. Instead we get a procession of clichés, including a predictable saving of one another's' lives. Kili recieves no kinder a fate in this movie than he did in the source material, and likewise his brother Fili - who surely deserved more of a story arc himself.
There is some glimmer of interest earlier on when Thranduil briefly seems to consider killing Tauriel and even his own son Legolas, but it gets overwhelmed by the multitude of battles and hand-to-hand combats raging on at the same time. Evangeline Lilly still engaged me as the graceful and empathic Tauriel, and Aidan Turner's Kili is serviceable enough. Orlando Bloom is not a bad actor in anyway, but in keeping with the original 'Rings' trilogy Legolas is far more impressive in the heat of battle than he is when stationary and speaking.

The various field battles that justify the film's title constitute entertainment that should stir the heartbeats of any reasonable audience member. There is no chance of really getting worn down as there is so much variety and good choreography distinguishing all the different participants involved in combat. I was waiting with bated breath for the emergence of Beorn in the battle - a character that registered firmly with me when I read the original book when young. Yet he is barely featured in this theatrical cut, which seems a waste. The concept of a shape shifting man/bear is as fascinating now as ever and a complement to the Warg element concept found in TV smash 'Game of Thrones'. More reassuringly, the use of the Eagles is once again magical, as they come in to help conclude the battle in the interests of the forces of good.

And by the time Bilbo and Gandalf do return to the Shire, the film has not taken too long to wrap matters up. It may still seem a bit excessive to some moviegoers, but anyone who recalls the twenty minute 'Rings' ending that broke new ground for all the wrong reasons back in 2003 need not worry about a repeat. A nice bit of continuity features as Bilbo has to deal with an auction of all his possessions left behind - his being assumed dead due to his long absence. There is also an excellent transition back to the older incarnation of Bilbo, and the opening of Fellowship is nostalgically revisited without feeling self-aggrandising.


Overall 'Battle' is a solid enough winter blockbuster, which should satisfy many fans of Middle Earth and the fantasy/action film genre. It may be weakened by being a prequel to a much more compelling and thematically rich story, and furthermore some characters fates are known already. But it is definitely worth seeing, if under the proviso that newcomers should make the effort to see parts one and two first, as there is no time spent on convenient flashbacks or verbal reminders. The biggest question left now is, will there be any new live action films based on JRR Tolkien's universe made in years or decades to come?




The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), New Line Cinema, WingNut Films
Released: 13 December 2013
With the release of this middle chapter, Peter Jackson's much anticipated revisit to Middle Earth gathers steam. Without any doubt this is a much more assured effort and should please a greater cross-section of faithful fans and casual moviegoers alike. The experiment of a different frame rate has been altered to something more traditional following enough of a negative response from viewers. Otherwise the presentation is of a rich and lively nature, which is reflected by a far superior sense of pace than was the case in Part One. Although songs sung by Thorin's company are pleasant enough in media like radio or stage, for the purposes of an action adventure film their absence this time round is arguably for the best.

There is some material however which probably is dispensable for the film to make sense and yet it is still enjoyable enough that the progression from opening to middle and finale is not hindered too much. I personally didn't have the temptation to keep checking the time such was my immersion in the story - the mark of a cinema experience which exceeded expectations.

I felt that the character development here was also much improved, even in the case of minor or completely new characters that did not feature in the original book. Smaug himself was worth the build-up and acts as a great central villain. The dragon who has commandeered the Lonely Mountain and was only teased as a presence in 'Unexpected Journey' is suitably portrayed as a beast of greediness and arrogance, but also wit and perceptiveness. One embellishment that I particularly liked from Walsh and Boyens' script was Stephen Fry's 'Master of Laketown' - he is in his own way as uncaring and selfish as the dragon, but knows when to ride with popular opinion. One of the very best scenes not involving wall to wall action involves Thorin's rousing speech as the dwarves confirm their intent to set off on their seemingly impossible mission of liberation and restitution.

However there are still teething problems. Martin Freeman's winning portrayal of Bilbo Baggins continues to come across as a supporting role, despite what one would expect from the title. With so much added to the original and comparatively simple story, there is a consequential element of various stars vying for the audience's attention. In the case of the minor roles and even the elves this is fine, but I still left the cinema struggling to discern hard-or-fast character traits for the majority of Thorin's dwarf company. This may simply be a knock-on effect from the source material - especially when it is compared to the 'Rings' trilogy. 'Fellowship' was nigh on perfect in its depiction of species and individual character for the nine companions. Given such high standards, I can partly forgive Jackson and his team for being a little lacklustre here.

Another issue is that, despite his striking presence on the poster, Gandalf is barely featured. He is almost a 'gate-keeper' - letting the dwarves know what he expects from them and trusting them to come through unscratched. On one hand it is a narrative necessity to demonstrate that the dwarves and Bilbo can deal with danger by themselves, but it does mean that the most iconic of Middle-Earth characters is not utilised to full capacity. 'The Two Towers' was very selective in its use of Gandalf, but very effective at the same time. 'Desolation' just does not quite pull off the same trick. Ian McKellen however does not let this situation affect his performance, and reliably builds upon all his good work of yesteryear. I am surely not alone in regarding the 'grey' wizard as a firm presence in contemporary pop culture.

Some viewers and critics believe Jackson continues to over-egg his Middle Earth pudding with endless fighting and bluster. And yes, there is still a sense at times that a fight scene could work better with a minute or two taken out. Yet the action's choreography, quick dialogue and variety of jeopardy is still impressive and would not even be attempted by a less ambitious and creative director. Few fans of the Lord of the Rings have forgotten Shelob - a particularly ugly and cruel arachnid. Depending on whether you want a worthy opponent to Bilbo and his comrades or just a sharp little jolt, then the set piece with the spiders in Mirkwood should satisfy accordingly. This action co-incidentally ends up in a plot development that focuses heavily on the Mirkwood elves, who played a very brief role in a middle chapter of the book.

One of these elves is rather familiar, in the form of Legolas, but the other two of note are perhaps more intriguing - namely Thranduil and Tauriel. Both of these respective newcomers held my attention and wanted me to know more about their world and their overall place in Middle Earth. Tauriel is every bit as beautiful as her fellow elf Arwen, but benefited from both more screen time for this particular film and a convincing range of emotions from actress Evangeline Lilly. Thranduil comes across as a stern figure, yet one who guards a well of compassion - much the same as his counterpart in Elrond. He clearly believes Tauriel should be involved with a valorous elf such as Legolas, but her interest in the maverick dwarf Kili serves to frustrate this conventional attitude. Lee Pace may be relatively young, especially in comparison to Hugo Weaving, yet has the appropriate gravitas for this performance.

Many seem to feel this romantic dynamic of dwarf has been incorporated for the sake of filmgoers who normally see rom-coms or dramas instead of fantasy. Whilst perhaps true, I did enjoy the work of the actors concerned, and it was a different change of pace from that employed in 'An Unexpected Journey' last winter. This somewhat controversial love triangle is kick-started at the same time that Bilbo is given a chance to use his cunning and stealth to help his comrades - and the most memorable outdoor action scene is unleashed upon the viewer.

The much talked about barrel scene is verging on the ludicrous at times - showing some bold ignorance of physics and making the dwarves and elves' anticipation of imminent danger rather convenient. Yet I didn't mind this bit of light-heartedness as the film's story was being progressed efficiently at the same time. It is somewhat interesting that the dwarves' audacious escape from their elfish captors is combined with the renewed hunt by the orcs and that the elves play more than their part in aiding the dwarves' survival. Later action scenes such as Gandalf's clash with the Necromancer and the Mirkwood elves' showdown against orcs in Laketown are perhaps more disposable, but are still watchable enough at the time.

For those coming to the first Hobbit film without seeing the earlier films or reading Tolkien's books, some of the returning characters would have been some what baffling and lacking in context - such as Galadriel and Saruman. There is a bit less of that in this film, although Legolas' sudden addition to the story may upset some purists. It is obvious why Jackson chose to re-employ Orlando Bloom as the near invincible and lightning-fast archer - he has been in several big franchises and is a household name. Of course some suspension of disbelief over his appearance contradicting the chronology of events is inevitable. This could have been a similar issue as well in the first Hobbit film with Bilbo and Frodo, but their limited screen time allowed for convincing enough de-aging to be featured.

Perhaps more disappointing is the re-appearance of Radagast, as played by Sylvester McCoy. This good wizard took up a portion of 'Unexpected Journey', but here is almost a-blink-and-miss element. I appreciate Jackson's love for Doctor Who, and McCoy is certainly the most wizard like of all the Doctors, but he just isn't relevant to the story even with all the extra sub-plots employed to make this story a trilogy.

So having briefly praised Smaug the character earlier on, what more can I add? Well this is a triumphant example of source material, script, voice acting and digital effects flowing together beautifully. Benedict Cumberbatch could easily have taken a live action role and been a great asset but he is still more than effective as this gigantic adversary for the film's heroes. Perhaps the dynamic of Steven Moffat's Dr Watson and Sherlock squaring off in another genre provided an extra intangible that makes these scenes work so well. Or perhaps Jackson's casting team are just very solid. There is a rather noticeable change to the original Smaug passages as the dwarves that venture to Erebor are much more proactive in doing all they can to make life uncomfortable for their enemy. This is such a mismatch that the viewer is almost feeling the dragon's glee at his multitude of options to snuff out the 'threat' at hand. However readers of the book will know just how relevant is the saying - 'pride comes before a fall'. There are echoes of the 'Fellowship' Moria sequence in this finale which are quite effective. Likewise the closing few minutes are full of suspense as an audacious plan which could only be pulled off by skilled dwarves ends up with a somewhat different outcome.

So I will finish where I started. This is a fine film to tide one over during a bleak mid-winter. As all the obligatory introductions and exposition have been done, Part Two dives straight in with a real sense of pace - much like 'The Two Towers' did over ten years before. The open ending is perhaps a little cruel on the viewer but it will hopefully lead to a finale which continues to improve on the story so far, and surprise both the hardened fantasy aficionado and the more easygoing movie lover.







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