OK, so “Turkey” is putting it a bit strongly. These are my top movie disappointments in the cinema year. Some of these ARE truly awful, but the last one is just plain disappointing given my expectations of the director.
In no particular order then….
Turkey One: Table 19.
A film that is supposed to be a comedy but has very few laughs per hour. Most of these come from Stephen Merchant. Worse than that, the film is full of such vindictive and unlikeable characters that if a nuclear blast were to whip through the hotel unexpectedly, then the world would be a better place.
Turkey Two: Pitch Perfect 3.
Probably the last film I get to see in 2017 is further away than is imaginable from “A Monster Calls” which was about the first film I saw in 2017. Lazy, witless, plot-less and where even the song and dance numbers lack the verve of the first two films.
A complete waste of celluloid.
Turkey Three: Dunkirk.
A controversial entry I’m sure! I’ve seen some people name this as their “Film of the Year”. But for me, I just didn’t get it. What should have been an awesome war spectacular with thousands of troops being rescued by hundreds of English boats from the jaws of defeat, went off (for me at least) like a damp squib. “No CGI” was the boast; “no spectacle whatsover” I thought.
It wasn’t a TERRIBLE film. (Even Harry Styles, in his debut, equipped himself well). If this was some nobody director, I might give it FFf (as I did) and resign it to the forgotten masses of the year with “47 Metres Down”. The reason this makes my turkey list is that this was directed by the great Christopher Nolan – he of “Inception”, “Interstellar” and the great Batman trilogy. And this was supposed to be his opus magnum that he’d been working on for years.
OK… we may need to differ on this one!
Have a very Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2018 at the movies!
Hmm… well, the recent revelations about the alleged sexual shenanigans of Kevin Spacey have rather taken the edge off this film (the DVD distributors must be fuming) so I thought long and hard about including this in my list at all. But, despite the additional allegations of Spacey bullying his co-stars on set and generally not being a nice person, the movie remains as an excellent piece of escapist entertainment by Edgar Wright, set to a banging soundtrack of rock classics. Based on the proverb that we shouldn’t let one bad apple ruin the whole barrel, I’ve included it as my Number 10 film.
Having watched it again, as a crime-caper the plot is a bit lightweight and the characters a little two-dimensional, but the music-infused car chases, action and humour work to a ‘T’.
At Number 9, a truly bonkers story of monsters in Seoul and their link to Hathaway’s character in a small US town thousands of miles away. This is just such a surprising film, veering as it does from whimsy to pitch-black comedy/drama. Hathaway is great and Sudeikis shows his acting chops compared to the usual light comedy we are used to seeing him in.
I suspect this might be a real “Marmite” movie… but it certainly surprised and delighted me.
Cruise is not always to everyone’s taste, but here he is exceptional playing the real-life CIA helper (and self-helper) Barry Seal. Directed with great energy by Bourne-director Doug Liman, it’s a roller-coaster of comedic scenes that are both unbelievable AND based on the truth.
The stunning Sarah Wright also takes a special award for the best plane-sex scene of the year!
Manchester by the Sea is slow, superbly acted, gloriously photographed, funny, and utterly devastating. It’s undoubtedly one of the great films of the year, justly earning Casey Affleck his Best Actor Oscar and Kenneth Lonergan his Best Screenplay Oscar. It would perhaps be higher up in my top 10, but it’s one of those films that I think “do I want to see this again?” and then I invariably think of something less heavyweight I’d rather watch. Which is a shame: I must force myself soon.
In a year championing ‘girl-power’ in the movies (topped off by “The Last Jedi“, which didn’t make my list), this memorable US political thriller grabs my number 6 slot with Jessica Chastain (“The Martian“, “Interstellar“) playing the most aggressively self-assured woman in the movies in 2017. Chastain has a great supporting cast with John ‘very busy in 2017’ Lithgow, Mark Strong and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Directed by Englishman John Madden and with a whip-smart debut script by Jonathan Perera it’s an exciting rollercoaster of a plot where you don’t see the twists and turns coming.
WHAT?? A Marvel movie makes a One Mann’s Movies Film of the Year? Is the world about to end? I’ve not been a great fan of Marvel films, but they have rather got their act together this year at the lighter more-comic end of the spectrum, with “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” maintaining the standard of the first film and “Thor: Ragnarok” – one of the best comedy films of the year – nearly making my Top 10.
Here though we head to the other end of the Marvel spectrum with a superbly gritty, dark and ultra-violent X-Men film that just blew me away. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart ably demonstrate what happens when super-heroes age and start to lose control of their super-faculties. Jackman; Stewart; Eriq La Salle; Stephen Merchant: all deliver great ensemble performances with Dafne Keen (to appear in 2018 in the lead role of “Ana” with Andy Garcia) being particularly feral as the young girl with special powers.
A real summer blockbuster! I’ve been a big fan of the Apes reboot, and while number 2 of the series (“Dawn of…“) was a bit of a back-step from the original classic (“Rise of..”) here we came slap bang back into form for a fitting finale to Caesar’s story arc. Some of the scenes in this film… the desolate and abandoned “Holidays are Coming” Coke lorry in the woods for example – stick in the mind. Throw in awesome Andy Serkis mo-cap; an entertaining PoW escape sub-plot; a comic character called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who never quite crosses over into ‘Jar Jar’ annoyance-territory; Woody Harrelson as a bonkers bad guy; and with a surprise twist in the denouement, I found this to be 100% entertaining.
What a national treasure Judi Dench is! Here she reprises her role as Queen Victoria telling a bizarre true story of her shockingly inappropriate relationship with Indian manservant Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal). Tim Pigott Smith makes his last screen performance as the head of the royal household being prodded on towards dark deeds by the Queen’s concerned son, the Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard).
Director Stephen Frears and writer Lee Hall combine to deliver a film full of warmth, comedy, drama and pathos. A delight, especially for older viewers who are not into Marvel or DC action.
One of the first films I saw in 2017 and a memorable one. J. A. Bayona (whose “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” arrives next summer) delivers a fairy tale with edge about a young boy – Lewis MacDougall in a powerful performance – living in very trying times but visited each night at the same time by a tree monster (Liam Neeson, “Non-Stop“). The film also has a heart-breaking performance by Felicity Jones (“Rogue One“) and a supporting turn by Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”, “Ghostbusters”).
But it’s in some of the technical categories that the film excels, with outstanding sound design and superbly impressive “impressionist” animations, reminiscent of the “three brothers” animations from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. The film has won a host of European film awards, but I’d love to see it nominated in the mainstream Oscar and BAFTA awards coming up.
Highly recommended for older kids and adults – but don’t be fooled by the wrapping… it’s definitely not happy material for younger children! If you don’t have a weep at the end of this one you’re certifiably non-human!
Number 1 – La La Land.
While “Collosal” and “American Made” might have passed you by, there’s little chance that you are not aware of this one! There’s a phrase that applies here… “Familiarity breeds contempt”. The fact that this film got such Oscar hype (including the most comical Oscar award announcements in history) combined with the fact that my grandson insists on the soundtrack being played EVERY SINGLE TIME we take a car journey means that it has rather over-saturated my consciousness this year.
But notwithstanding this, if I were to come back to any of the films in this list in 20 years time, this is the one that would still stand out for me. Damien Chazelle delivers a gloriously nostalgic throwback to the heyday of screen musicals with an Oscar-winning Emma Stone and a charismatic Ryan Gosling in fine form together again. In the engine room is the marvellous score – also Oscar winning – by Justin Hurwitz.
This is a good film. The last eight minutes turns it into a great film and for that reason it grabs my top slot of “Film of the Year 2017”.
So that’s my pick for 2017. Agree or disagree? What should have been here? Please comment!
Also check out the companion post for my three ‘turkeys’ of the year… one might surprise you!
“The Trip to Spain” is the third in the series of ‘culinery travelogue’ TV programmes by Steve Coogan (“Philomena“) and Rob Brydon (“Gavin and Stacey”). The pair travel by car through Spain sampling the local delicacies while constantly trying to self-salve their fragile egos and trying to out-do each other with comedy spiel. This is of course not a “documentary” as such, since the pair are playing up to their extreme alter-egos (presumably!) of what people expect them to be like. Actors playing their family, agents, etc. call them at various points on the trip to either pour oil on troubled waters or (more often) add fuel to the fire.
The six original half hour TV episodes have been edited down into a feature length journey. And this is part of the problem. Repetition that can be forgiven and forgotten about when you see an episode every week, but can become tiresome when forced on you as a continuous stream.
In this case the repetitive content delivered by Coogan and Brydon are their (normally very good) impersonations of famous stars (most of which it has to be said are British so won’t resonate with a non-UK audience). Roger Moore in particular gets trotted out INTERMINABLY and while some of it is extremely funny – an exchange between Moore as Bond and Scaramanga had me snorting tea out of my nose – it all gets too much by the end.
Appearing to recognise this need for more variety, additional characters from Steve’s team join them for a part of their trip – Emma (Clare Keelan) and Yolanda (Marta Barrio). Unfortunately, the additions are just plain dull: they just sit alongside Coogan and Brydon and laugh at their impressions, adding nothing. Now if they had been a couple of good female impersonators, like Ronni Ancona and Jan Ravens, that could act as a foil to the male duo, THAT would have been entertaining.
The film also suffers from “Top Gear Challenge” disease. The problem with filming a car journey through Spain is that you know there are not twenty film crews deployed along the route to do the filming…. all of the cameras are carefully set up in advance with someone on a walkie-talkie saying “OK, Steve – coffee down, we’re ready for you to drive over the hill now”. So something that should feel natural and documentary-like feels 100% the opposite.
So… if you like Coogan and Brydon, and especially if you liked their Northern England and Italy “trips”, then you will get more laughs out of this one. But I think the concoction needs to be put through the blender and re-heated before it comes out for a fourth outing.
Mr Plot and Miss Tale were teenage sweethearts. They met at Storyville High School and inseparable, but were viciously cursed by a jealous school nurse, bitter from a recent split. Notwithstanding this setback, they realised that they were soul-mates, got engaged and were married in the following summer. Everyone wished them well, and spoke of the time when the sound of little Plots would ring out around their new house. Unfortunately, however hard they tried, no little Plot arrived. The ancient curse of the school nurse rang in their ears. They paid to see the most expensive doctors on Harley Street, but noone could help them. It turned out that not only was Mrs Plot infertile, but so was Mr Plot. It was hopeless, and because of an unfortunate conviction for marujiana possession in Mr Plot’s teenage years they couldn’t even adapt, sorry, adopt a little Plot from someone else. So they lived together with sadness and bitterness building up inside them. Would the curse ever be lifted? Would they work through their differences to find new purpose in life? Or would they part acromoniously with Mrs Plot joining a convent to sing mournful songs of grief and missed opportunities in the Swiss Alps? TO… BE…CONTINUED.
There. You were there, weren’t you? Living it. You want to know what happens next? Sure you do. You see, even I can come up with a story…. and I’m not a “professional Hollywood scriptwriter”.
Why then, I ask you. Why oh why oh why oh why oh why do the scriptwriters of Pitch Perfect 3 – Kay Cannon (the original PP screenwriter) and Mike White (“The Emoji Movie”) – think that this dreadfully lazy set of loosely connected scenes represent a viable basis for a movie? Is the view from the guys who green-lit this thing that the crowd that loved “Pitch Perfect” and the pretty dreadful sequel “Pitch Perfect 2” will pay their box office money regardless? Let’s advertise the hell out of it and cash in our chips before word of mouth gets out!?
In this ‘adventure’ the Bellas go on a US Forces overseas tour (though this is not really explained until they suddenly appear in Spain – what? how?). The really REALLY annoying commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks, “Love and Mercy“) tag along, filming some lame half-arsed documentary about them until even the scriptwriters get fed up of that tedious plot-line and it quietly withers on the vine.
Fat Amy (is this still an acceptable nickname in 2017?) also runs into her nefarious father again after many years (John Lithgow, “Interstellar“, “Daddy’s Home 2“). Lithgow – sporting a wonderful Australian accent – is about the best thing in the film. The “plot” (sorry, I can barely bring myself to use that word) revolves around Daddy trying to get something of Amy’s that he needs, for reasons – given the yacht he sails – that makes no sense whatsoever. Will he succeed? Will the Bellas get selected to headline with DJ Khaled (who is apparently a thing, but I’ve never heard him on BBC Radio 2)? Does anyone really care?
As my wife pointed out, it’s a bit unfortunate that the only Bellas who are not stick-thin size zeroes are the obese and annoyingly loud one, the black lesbian one and two that nobody knows why they are there. The message to the target female teen audience is clear: if you want to be “in” you’d better diet… hard. Nice.
What can I say that’s vaguely nice about this monstrosity?
Some of the acapella song and dance numbers are fun enough, particularly “Toxic” that opens the film;
The closing number by Anna Kendrick (“Table 19“) is quite appealing;
There are also about 5 funny lines that made me smile: not laugh… smile;
It’s also a relief that John and Gail, unlike in “Pitch Perfect 2“, only come out with one xenophobic/racist comment in the film (and that’s about the French, so that hardly counts 🙂 ).
And I’m out…
There will be no doubt die-hard teenage fans who will love this one too. But my wife was a great fan of the first film (as indeed was I); she tolerated the second one; but even she declared this to be “Aca-Awful”. It’s not as toxically dreadful as “Dirty Grandpa“… what could be? But, seriously, life is too short for this.
Comedy and tragedy have always gone together hand-in-hand. Every great comedy tends to have its bitter-sweet moments: Roberts Blossom as the “shovel-killer” grandad in “Home Alone” (who always reminds me of my late Dad… in appearance I might add, not that he was a shovel killer!); John Candy’s depressed shower-ring salesman in “Planes Trains and Automobiles”; Ron Burgundy bawling in a phone box in “Anchorman”. The balance between the two is the key thing and comedies can sometimes get it wrong (the Bird Woman in “Home Alone 2” for example!).
Here is another case in point: “Daddy’s Home 2”, which has some laugh-out-loud comedy moments, but is generally so utterly drenched in schmaltz and sentimentality that the film becomes far harder work than it should be. (By the way, I never saw “Daddy’s Home” (but read the IMDB synopsys): it was not a prerequisite for seeing this movie).
Will Ferrell (“Get Hard“, “Anchorman“) reprises his role as the somewhat incompetent Brad, ‘sharing’ his family of kids and stepkids with the much more streetwise Dusty (Mark Wahlberg, “Patriot’s Day“). After a poignant school recital, the pair realise the damage that a distributed Christmas is doing to their offspring and they determine to spend Christmas all together this year. In the process they vow to try to put aside their attempts at one-upmanship – “the harbour is closed” – in the interests of giving everyone the best Christmas ever.
But their plans are turned upside down when their fathers also turn up for Christmas: Mel Gibson (in a sublime piece of casting) plays Dusty’s dad, astronaut-hero Kurt, who is even more macho and extreme than Dusty, and John Lithgow (“Miss Sloane“; “The Accountant“) plays Brad’s airy-fairy father Don… the apple has not fallen far from the tree there.
Kurt forces the family to ‘fight’ Christmas on a neutral turf by renting a palatial AirBnB in a snowy wilderness. Tensions rise between the diverse individuals until a breaking point is inevitably reached.
There are some great farcical sight-gags in this movie. Quite a few of the funniest ones are spoiled by the trailer, but there are still a few standout routines that made me guffaw. A hi-tech shower is predictable but funny; and Brad’s use of a snowblower to apocalyptic ends is the funniest scene in the movie.
Wahlberg and Ferrell are a trustworthy double act (after their initial surprise pairing in “The Other Guys”). Gibson and Lithgow also inhabit their roles perfectly, although it was hard of me to relate to either of them. The scene on the airport escalator as they arrive is very well done.
The supporting cast all play their parts well: ER’s Linda Cardellini as Brad’s wife and Dusty’s ex-wife; Brazilian model and actress Alessandra Ambrosio, as Dusty’s (almost unbelievably good-looking) new wife Karen; and WWE star John Cena as Karen’s ex-husband. (Doesn’t ANYONE stay married in the US any more?). The kid stars – Didi Costine, Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro – are also good, with Estevez being particularly appealing.
Watch out for a funny cameo in the final scene as well, which I found very amusing (“You only have one story” … LoL).
What drowns out the comedy though is the sentimental storyline around a personal tragedy being lived out by one of the family. The angst and nasty back-biting that surrounds this I found neither funny nor pleasant. The story builds to a snow-bound cinema (showing “Missile Tow” starring Liam Neeson… a great “pointless answer” for the BBC’s “Pointless” quiz!) and a finale song that is just so over the top that it has both an “awww” factor and is bile-inducing all at the same time. The screenplay is by Sean Anders and John Morris, with Anders also directing.
Will Ferrell films can be like a game of Russian Roulette, and I fully expected this to be truly awful. It wasn’t, and as a Christmas comedy it is an OK watch… and thankfully significantly above “Jingle all the Way”!
Fad Rating: FFF.
The trailer gives away a lot of good sight-gags: if you haven’t already seen it; avoid!
The most fun you can have with Jack Black’s penis.
In 1995, Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) directed “Jumanji” – a quirky, fantastical and dark film starring the late, great Robin Williams that got a rough critical reception at the time of release, but was embraced by the public and has gone on to be a modern classic. So when it was announced that a sequel was in the works 22 years later, my first reaction was “Oh no… is nothing sacred?”. It’s fair to say that I went into this flick with extremely low expectations.
But I have to say that – given this low base – I was pleasantly surprised. It’s actually quite a fun fantasy film that I predict that older kids will adore.
Initially set (neatly) in 1995, a teen – Alex (Nick Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers) unearths the board game Jumanji where it ended up buried in beach-sand at the end of the last film. “Who plays board games any more?” he scoffs, which the game hears and morphs into a game cartridge. Cheesy? Yes, but no more crazy than the goings on of the first film. Back in 2017, four high-school teens – geeky Spencer (Alex Wolff, “Patriot’s Day“); sports-jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain); self-obsessed beauty Bethany (Madison Iseman); and self-conscious, nerdy and shy Martha (Morgan Turner) – find the game and are sucked into it, having to complete all the game levels before they can escape.
But they are not themselves in the game; they adopt the Avatars they chose to play: Dr Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, “San Andreas“); Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart, “Get Hard“); Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan, “Dr Who”, “The Circle“; “Guardians of the Galaxy“); and Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black, “Sex Tape“, “Kong”). Can they combine their respective game talents – and suppress the human mental baggage they brought with them – to escape the game?
There was a really dark time-travelling angle to the storyline of the original film – the traumatic start of Disney’s “Flight of the Navigator” was perhaps also borrowed from the concept in the book by Chris Van Allsburg. An attempt is made to recreate this in the sequel. I felt the first film rather pulled its punches though in favour of a Hollywood happy ending: will this be the case this time?
The film delivers laughs, but in a rather inconsistent fashion – it is mostly smile-worthy rather than laugh-out-loud funny. Much fun is had with the sex change of Bethany’s character, with Jack Black’s member featuring – erm – prominently. The characters all have strengths and weaknesses, like a game of Top Trumps, and this also entertains. But the most humour derives from the “three lives and it’s game over” device giving the opportunity for various grisly ends, often relating to the above referenced weaknesses.
Given the cast that’s been signed up, the acting is not exactly first rate although Karen Gillan shines as the brightest star. But “it’s not bloody Shakespeare” so ham-acting is not that much of a problem and the cast all have fun with their roles. Dwayne Johnson in particular gets to play out of character as the ‘nerd within the hunk’, and his “smouldering look” skill – arched eyebrow and all – is hilarious. Rhys Darby, looking so much like Hugh Jackman that I had to do several double takes, also turns up as an English game-guide in a Land Rover, and Bobby Cannavale (“Ant Man“) is Van Pelt, the villain of the piece.
There has been much controversy over Karen Gillan’s child-sized outfit. But she is clearly a parallel to the well-endowed Lara Croft, and young male teens didn’t play that game for the jungle scenery! She is meant to be a hot and sexy video game character, and man – does she deliver! Gillan is not just hot in the film: she is #lavahot. This makes her comic attempts at flirting lessons (as the internally conflicted Martha) especially funny. Hats off to her stunt doubles as well, for some awe-inspiring martial arts fight scenes.
Fans of “Lost” will delight in the Jumanji scenery, surely one of the most over-used film locations in Hawaii if not the world!
Where the film gets bogged down is in too much cod-faced philosophizing over the teenager’s “journeys”. This is laid on in such a clunky manner in the early (slow!) scenes that the script could have been significantly tightened up. And as I said above the script, written (rather obviously) by a raft of writers, could have been so much funnier. Most of the humour comes from visually seeing what’s happening: not from the dialogue.
Directed by Jake Kasdan (son of director and Star Wars/Raiders screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan) it’s really not half as bad as it could have been and certainly not as bad as I feared: I would gladly watch it again. For it’s target audience, which is probably kids aged 10 to 14, I think they will love it. And, unlike many holiday films, the parents won’t be totally bored either (especially the Dads, for the obvious misogynistic reasons outlined above!).
Fad Rating: FFFf.
The trailer gives some of the better gags away… so is not recommended before the film:
Here’s a good test of someone’s age…. ask the question “Billie-Jean?”. Millennials will probably come back with “Huh?”; those in their 30’s or 40’s might come back with “Michael Jackson!”; those older than that will probably reply “King!”.
“Battle of the Sexes” (which I just managed to catch before it left cinemas) tells the true-life story of US tennis star Billie-Jean King (Emma Stone, “La La Land“). The year is 1973 and Billie-Jean is riding high as the Number 1 female tennis player. She is a feminist; she is married (to hunk Larry – no not that one – King played by Austin Stowell (“Whiplash“, “Bridge of Spies“)); …. and she is also attracted to women, not something she has yet acted on. That all changes when her path crosses with LA-hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough, “Birdman“, “Oblivion”).
But this is a side story: the main event is a bet made by aging ex-star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher“); that – even at his age – as a man he could beat the leading female tennis player of the day.
The film is gloriously retro, starting with the old-school 20th Century Fox production logo. And it contains breathtakingly sexist dialogue by writer Simon Beaufoy (“Everest“, “The Full Monty”). Surely men couldn’t have been so crass and outrageous in the 70’s? Sorry ladies, but the answer is yes, and the film is testament to how far women’s rights have come in 50 years.
This is a tour de force in acting from both Emma Stone and Steve Carell, particularly the latter: a scene where Carell tries to re-engage with his estranged wife (Elisabeth Shue, “Leaving Las Vegas”) is both nuanced and heart-breaking. Stone’s performance is also praiseworthy, although it feels slightly less so as it is an impersonation of a (relatively) well-known figure: this is extremely well-studied though, right down to her strutting walk around the court which I had both forgotten and was immediately again reminded of.
One of my favourite movie awards are the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) “cast” awards that celebrate ensemble performances, and here is a film that should have been nominated (it unfortunately wasn’t). Andrea Riseborough; Natalie Morales (as fellow tennis player Rosie Casals); comedian Sarah Silverman (“A Million Ways to Die in the West“), almost unrecognisable as the brash publicist Gladys Heldman; Bill Pullman as LTA head Jack Kramer; the great Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”) as the team’s flamboyant, gay, costume designer; Lewis Pullman as Riggs’s son Larry; Jessica McNamee (magnetic eyes!) as King’s Australian tennis nemesis Margaret Court. All bounce off the leads, and each other, just beautifully.
Cinematography by Linus Sandgren (“La La Land“) and editing by Pamela Martin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) unite to deliver one of the most sexually charged haircuts you are ever likely to see on the screen. For those put off by this aspect of the storyline, the “girl-on-girl action” is pretty tastefully done and not overly graphic: it’s mostly “first-base” stuff rather than “third-base”!
Directed with panache by the co-directors of the 2006 smash “Little Miss Sunshine” – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – all in all it’s a delight, especially for older audiences who will get a blast of nostalgia from days when sports were still played at a slightly more leisurely pace… and definitely without the grunting.
(This review will be specifically spoiler-free: a spoiler section is included below the trailer video, but only read this AFTER you’ve seen the film).
Star Wars is a cinematic event. As one of the “main episodes”, with a two year wait, “The Last Jedi” is especially highly anticipated. After the inconsistent reception of “The Force Awakens” (which I greatly enjoyed) would this penultimate episode be any good?
The answer is a very qualified “Yes”. Directed by Rian Johnson (who directed 2012’s novel and sometimes brutal Sci-Fi epic “Looper”), “The Last Jedi” picks up just before where “The Force Awakens” finished with a dramatic and action-packed recreation of a WW2 bombing mission, featuring Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina“, “Inside Llewyn Davis“) in fighter-pilot mode. With perhaps the exception of “Rogue One“‘s finale, never has the heroism and loss of the plucky rebel band been better portrayed.
We then flip to that rocky (definitely not Irish!) island to see what happens when Rey (Daisy Ridley) gives the light sabre to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The answer may surprise you. Rey, haunted by her quest to understand her powers and her parental lineage, is there to persuade the hermit-like Skywalker to reclaim his hero-status and return to fight for the rebellion. But that help had better come soon, since the evil supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his henchman Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are tracking and pursuing a rapidly dwindling number of rebel fighters, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), in what could be the rebellion’s last stand.
First and foremost, there’s a lot of good things to like in this film.
For a genre that’s often eschewed strong female roles, here is a film where women use light sabres to smash through the Sci-Fi glass ceiling. Rey is an enormously strong role-model for young girls: intelligent, plucky and resourceful as well as being athletic, emotional and gorgeous. In the words of Whitney Houston, she IS every woman. But the XX chromosomes don’t stop there, with a new heroine in the form of the low-tech Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) breathing some fresh air into the younger-hero dynamic with Finn (John Boyega).
And notably, the key leaders of the rebel alliance – Leia and newcomer Vice Admimal Holdo (Jurassic Park’s Laura Dern) are, as older women, both strong and unquestioned leaders of men.
All the acting is above par, with Hamill in particular having enormous fun with his role and Serkis as Snoke oozing evil even through his Mo-Cap CGI. Benicio del Toro (“Sicario”) is also great value as a mercenary “darker Han Solo” character.
And acting is required, for there is some significant dramatic content delivered through the story. The conflict and animosity between the connected Rey and Ren – a sort of telepathic Facetime – has to be worked through and, with Carrie Fisher’s untimely death, you might possibly predict that there will be at least one high-profile exit from this episode. There are some very funny one-liners and sight gags that enliven the action significantly without (I felt) ever going over the top into “Kingsman” territory: a brush of dirt off the shoulder by Hamill is a high-point to watch out for.
Technically, the film excels. John Williams again delivers a rousing score, and at times has so many themes to play with from the eight main films that he hardly knows what to do with them all in the bars available! The film also delivers (from special effects coordinators Chris Corbould and Branko Repalust) some eye-widening CGI, with scenes set on “bloody salt flats” (there’s no other way to describe them) being particularly impressive. There are moments of sheer cinematic joy, with a dramatic and devestating jump to light speed being visually and aurally one of the most gasp-inducing bits of cinema I will see this year.
Rather disappointingly though there seems to be little novelty shown in the editing department. Star Wars was always known for its clever scene transitions, but here we jump from location to location in a notably choppy and clunky manner.
Where the wheels come off though is with the story, also by Rian Johnson. More on this in the spoiler section (since it’s difficult to make spoiler-free comments), but enough to say at this point that the film is (unnecessarily) over-long, has a very inconsistent pace, and (with retrospect) some key aspects of the story just don’t logically stand up to scrutiny. This leads to a bizarre situation where the film has (at the time of writing) an IMDB rating of 8.2 but a swathe of 1* reviews from “Star Wars fans” with comments filled with absolute bile sitting at the top of the “best” comments list.
So, did I enjoy this film? Yes I did. But did it fully meet my (high) expectations? No it didn’t. And curiously, the more I have dwelt on the plot, the less satisfied I have become with it. Whereas I left the theatre with a FFFF rating, with reflection this has dropped to…
Fad Rating: FFFf.
Spoiler Section (you have been warned!)
Let’s pick at this story shall we? It really makes very little sense in retrospect. The whole middle reel of the film sees the mighty imperial fleet edging ever closer to Leia’s fleeing rebel ship with its dwindling shields. Excuse me? This is space… there is no “Maginot Line”! Just why exactly couldn’t one or two of the Star Destroyers nip into light speed then nip back again to just IN FRONT OF the ship??? “No, let’s not do that. Let’s just pour ourselves another cup of coffee, put our feet up, get the cards out…. we can wait it out, no problem”. Nonsense.
It’s also extremely irritating to me that great swathes of the trilogy’s story line are blasted to oblivian without much rationale.
Who were Rey’s mother and father that she has such great powers…. Luke? Han/Leia? Snoke? This was one of the long-running mysteries built up through the last film. In the end (unless there is an Episode IX twist) the answer is ‘drifter nobodys’. (“Oh”).
Snoke, built up to be the new “Emporor” for the trilogy for surely a mighty dual-like ending at the end of Episode IX is dispatched a little too easily (albeit memorably) in mid-film. What was his back-story? We will never now know. (“Oh”).
After Episode VII gave the character of the shiny Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) little screen time, the makers said “Don’t worry, you’ll see a LOT more of her character in Episode VIII. (“Oh”).
Why exactly did we need Poe’s elaborate sub-plot about finding the code-breaker to hack into the light-speed tracker? Holdo had a perfectly good plan already (that Poe ultimately buggers up!) and if she had comforted Poe that a plan exists a whole third of the film would have been excised!
And why exactly is Luke so much of a recluse. There is a well understood (and overly repetitive…. “OK, we get it”) back story of his relationship with Ren, but why exactly would he turn his back so forcibly on the rebellian (led by his sister remember) that he once was happy to die for?
I’d better stop there, else I might need to revisit my rating again!
What’s irritating is that there is a really good film in here that could be edited down to. The whole of the “Gambling planet” sequence – ultimately just a good excuse to re-shoot the Episode IV Mos Eisley Cantina but with more money – could have been lost without making one iota of difference to the plot (and avoiding unfavourable comparisons to Episode I pod-racing in the process).
What I did think was well done was the finale with Luke and Ren, although Skywalker’s demise following that felt unnecessary and forced. Now the franchise will ultimately proceed into the final installment with NONE of the older protagonists, which feels like a waste and a snub to older viewers like me who saw the original films on release. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is that Leia stays to the end: how on earth are they going to square that circle in the next film? I mean it’s not as if they didn’t have enough footage in the can to re-edit a suitable scene!
I really hated this film. There. BOOM. Got it off my chest.
It all starts so promisingly, with a scene of Anna Kendrick (“The Accountant“, who can be a very good actress) rejecting a wedding invitation; then accepting it; then burning it; then blowing it out; then posting it. I laughed. This was a rarity. There are about five more smile-worthy moments in the movie, most of which are delivered by Stephen Merchant.
Anna plays Eloise who was SUPPOSED to be maid-of-honour at her best friend’s wedding, but then broke up – messily – with her brother (the best man). She stubbornly attends the wedding in a posh hotel and finds herself on “Table 19” – a socially unfavourable location, full of a bunch of misfits that everyone expected to say “no” but didn’t; a molly-coddled and awkward teen (Tony Revolori, “Spider-man: Homecoming“) with the single goal of getting laid; “The Kepps” – a bickering married couple (Lisa Kudrow (“The Girl on the Train“, “Friends”) and Craig Robinson (“Hot Tub Time Machine”)); a convicted fraudster serving his sentence in an open prison ( Stephen Merchant, “Logan“) and a druggie former nanny of the bride (June Squibb, “In and Out”).
The fundamental problem with the movie is that Jeffrey Blitz’s script (he also directs) is not only not very funny, but it is so fundamentally focused on the greedy and needy nature of the table’s American reprobates that at every turn it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Their motives are all utterly selfish and there’s an “if we get away with it, then that’s fine” attitude that pervades the plot.
The nadir for me happens when – after trashing (albeit accidently) a key part of the wedding they are attending, they cover their selfish backsides by (deliberately) trashing the same key part of another wedding going on in the same hotel.
This is kind of positioned as a “revenge” sort of thing, but (in analysis) no wrong seems to have actually been done: its just another misunderstanding of the self-obsessed Eloise.
The Kepp’s story is also sad and selfish rather than comedic, and the resolution of this (and in fact all of the other sub-stories) for a nicely gift-wrapped ending is just saccharine and vomit-inducing.
This is a wedding present that should have come with a label in big red writing: “DO NOT OPEN“.
I managed to miss this film when it was first shown at the end of 2016. And what a shame as it would have UNDOUBTEDLY made my “Films of the Year” list.
Directed by Amma Asante (“Belle”) this is the true tale of a real-life fairy story, featuring a handsome prince and his love, who can never be his princess thanks to the Machievellian schemings of court-do-gooders and bureaucrats.
The prince in this case is Seretse Kham (David Oyelowo, “Selma“) , heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who meets and falls in love with a lowly white Lloyd’s of London clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl“, “The World’s End“). The plot has many parallels with that of another film from earlier this year: “Loving” with Ruth Negga and Joel Egerton. As an inter-racial couple in 1947 this is taboo enough, but the fact that Kham is soon to be king in a country bordering the apartheid tinderkeg that is South Africa blows the affair up to be a diplomatic crisis.
Defying the officials he marries his true love, driving a wedge between both his own uncle (Vusi Kunene ) and sister (Terry Pheto) and making Ruth an outcast in both countries. As things turn from bad to worse, can true love conquer all their adversities?
Just everything about this film delights. Oyelowo and Pike – always a safe pair of hands – add real emotional depth to their roles. Their relationship feels natural and loving without either of them trying too hard. The estrangement of Ruth from her parents (particularly her father played by Nicholas Lyndhurst) is truly touching.
Another star turn is Harry Potter alumni Tom Felton, playing Rufus Lancaster – a weaselly and very unpleasant local official. I have a prediction…. that in 30 year’s time, the young Potter actor that will be the ‘Ian McKellen of his day’ (that is, a world recognized great actor… not necessarily gay!) will be Felton.
Sam McCurdy (“The Descent”) delivers cinematography of Africa that is vibrant (to be fair, for anyone lucky enough to visit Africa will know, cameras just love the place) and the John Barry-esque music by Patrick Doyle (“Murder on the Orient Express“) is pitch perfect for the mood.
A beautifully crafted film that older viewers will just love.