Archive for December, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted: December 30, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.


Time has passed since the First Order almost wiped out the Resistance, and the galaxy has been intrigued by a series of messages claiming to be from the supposedly deceased Emperor Palpatine. Enraged, the new Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren (Driver) strives to find the source of these messages, vowing to destroy Palpatine if he should have risen from the dead.

Meanwhile the Resistance are struggling to build a base from which to take the fight to the First Order. Rey (Ridley) is struggling with her Jedi training under General Leia (Fisher). Meanwhile Finn (Boyega) and Poe (Isaac) risk their lives to bring a message back to the resistance. Palpatine is back, and has a huge fleet of super star destroyers that would be capable to subjugating the galaxy. Leia despatches Rey, Poe and Finn to locate the mysterious planet Exegol, supposed birthplace of the Sith.

Can our heroes succeed or will Rey fall victim to the dark side and join forces with Kylo Ren?


Ok so I’m going to avoid spoilers as far as able (Palapatine’s mentioned in the opening crawl so don’t get annoyed at that) There will be discussion of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but no spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker except where they’ve been public knowledge for ages (the return of another original trilogy character for example) Of course, if you’re paranoid why not see the film first, and then read this review!

Ok then, last chance to bug out…


So the first thing to say about The Rise of Skywalker is that it’s a bit of a mess, in part this seems unavoidable (using snippets of Carrie Fisher is a great idea but is obviously limited, requiring some creative writing to fit her into the script) whereas some of it is a conscious choice to reset some story elements after The Last Jedi. Now whatever you think of TLJ (and I admire a lot of what Rian Johnson tried to do whilst still have structural and pacing issues with the film) it seems a curious choice to backpedal, especially given Disney presumably signed off on everything Johnson did? As a result Abrams has to spend a lot of time early on setting up the return of Palpatine, and again this leads to a shaky opening, but thankfully things calm down and what’s surprising is that a film with so many story issues, a film constantly pulling new plot points seemingly out of thin air, manages to be as coherent, and as enjoyable as it is, and whilst it doesn’t hit the emotional highs of The Force Awakens, I had to admit that I walked out happier than I had after TLJ. I just wish more care had been taken with the trilogy, because whilst enjoyable, and way better than the prequels, it still feels somewhat disjointed.


Of course, one of the big narrative choices TLJ made was to split up the Poe/Finn bromance. Isaac and Boyega have tremendous chemistry, and while you can argue it was always going to happen in a middle film, it’s great that they’re back together and on an adventure, which is I think what most of us had wanted after TFA. Throwing Rey into the mix just adds to the enjoyment, and it’s interesting to note that, given they’re three of the four major new Star Wars characters, and all on the same side, this is really the first time they’ve been onscreen together for any length of time, which is another shame as the three work extremely well together .

As Rey, Ridley continues to excel, even as a Jedi warrior in training the character never quite shakes off her scavenger upbringing, and she retains the anger she’s been holding since Kylo Ren killed Han, or maybe the anger she’s been nursing since her parents abandoned her on Jakku. As well as Isaac and Boyega she also works well with Driver, just as well given they share many scenes, and the dynamic between the two is excellent.

Boyega thankfully gets more to do this time, and hints of cowardice or only being interested in Rey rather than the Resistance are thankfully somewhat muted, though you do wish they’d gone further with his former stormtrooper arc, especially given one of the new characters he meets. Still he proves yet again that he has charisma and comic timing in excess, and I really would love to see him do Bond one day.


After spending most of TLJ being an unlikable dick, Isaac thankfully is allowed to shine this time out and play the cocky flyboy/scoundrel that he does so well. You can argue he has an arc in TLJ, but it’s a clunky one, whereas here Poe seems more at ease, and we learn more about his background and how he wound up in the resistance.

Of course, for quite a lot of people Poe and Finn’s bromance bordered on romance, but I won’t give anything away on that score 😉

Of the big four this leaves Driver, who probably has the hardest job. Not only does he have to carry a lot of the plot, but for much of the time he doesn’t have the luxury of a Ridley/Boyega/Isaac to bounce off, and it says a lot about Driver as an actor that he makes Kylo Ren’s story here believable, and while many of the original casting choices were well made, in many respects Driver’s might be the shrewdest of all, and there’s a momentary Harrison Ford impression late on that’s practically worth the price of admission alone.


As mentioned Carrie returns, as does Mark Hamill as Luke in (obviously) Force ghost mode. There’s also a welcome return for Lando, and while Billy Dee Williams obviously can’t be running about with a blaster, he manages to remind us how cool the character is, and it’s glorious seeing him sitting in the Falcon with Chewie again. Oh and Anthony Daniels has a blast in his last outing as C-3PO, and I’m not sure everyone’s favourite protocol droid has been quite as funny (or quite as heroic) as he is here!

One of the big talking points is the side-lining of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose. A big part of TLJ she’s barely seen here (I think someone worked out she’d had less than two minutes of screen time). Some people are, understandably, seeing this as another poke in the eye for TLJ, especially given the (completely unwarranted) backlash the actress received over that film. Being honest I didn’t mind Rose, but by the same token it’s hard to see where she’d have fitted in here, other than to somewhat short circuit the chemistry between Finn/Rey/Poe. That doesn’t make what’s happened to her right by any stretch of the imagination, and surely she could have been given more to do than this, and I really hope the shit she took online wasn’t behind her side-lining.

There are some great set pieces here, especially a rain soaked lightsabre duel, a lot of humour, a lot of action and adventure of the kind one’s come to expect from a Star Wards film.  Yes it probably doesn’t surprise in the way The Last Jedi did, and it probably isn’t as taut and precision engineered the way The Force Awakens was, and sure it at times feels like a greatest hits of the franchise, but it’s still hugely enjoyable, at least on first viewing. It will be interesting to see what repeat viewings do to my opinion, will the plot holes and back of a fag packet plotting increasingly grate, or will it’s exuberance and top drawer cast being allowed to do what they do best continue to paper over the cracks?

Only time will tell, but at the moment I loved it!


Knives Out

Posted: December 15, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer.


When world famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) dies shortly after his 85th birthday, it seems a straightforward case of suicide, but then why has an anonymous patron hired renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) to solve his murder? When Blanc begins his investigation it soon becomes clear that many of Thrombey’s family had motives for wanting him dead, including daughter Linda(Curtis) along with her husband Richard (Johnson) and playboy son Ransom (Evans), but Thrombey’s son Walt (Shannon) also had reason to want the old man dead, as did Thrombey’s widowed daughter in law Joni (Collette).

Blanc has his work cut out, and co-opts Thrombey’s nurse Marta (de Armas) to be his Watson, given she has a medical condition that means she throws up if she tells a lie.

As time passes and the mystery deepens, Blanc has to accept that he may not be able to bring Thrombey’s killer to justice.


So, after The Last Jedi Rian Johnson comes down to earth with a modern spin on the whodunnit working from an idea he first had back after he made Brick, initially he planned to make it as an independent film after Looper in 2012 but Disney came a calling so it had to wait. At first glance this could be perceived as a by the numbers mystery, but an incredibly sharp and meticulously plotted script, and a top drawer cast, each of whom seems to be having the time of their lives, turn it into something quite special.

Knives Out is, at times, very funny, but it would be a mistake to treat it as a comedy, this is a serious film, albeit one with satirical edge. Johnson’s script is snarky and fine tooled to within an inch of its life and, at least on first viewing, everything hangs together perfectly, if not entirely satisfactorily, although that’s often the case with a whodunnit. It’s clear Johnson has used decades worth of Agatha Christie and numerous other inspirations, yet he still manages to create something a little different. There’s more than a hint of Columbo in here as well, and whilst I have no way of knowing it for sure, there’s more than a flavour of Jonathan Creek, yet this is also a Benoit Blanc mystery, and one hopes the first of many.

As polished as the script is, the film wouldn’t be half as good without a top cast, and the ensemble Johnson has pulled together is exceptional.

As, technically the lead Daniel Craig seems to be having fun playing slightly against type. Sure when we first see him, and before he opens his mouth, it could clearly be 007 sitting there, but then he does open his gob and we get that accent. Blanc is a laid back southern gentleman, a detective who doesn’t so much deduce, as shake the tree and waits for the solution to a mystery to fall from the skies. It says a lot about Craig that he creates such an engaging sleuth without the need for any tics or affectations, well aside from that accent of course!


I said Daniel Craig was technically the lead, because in reality the beating heart of the film is Ana de Armas’ Magda, she’s the one the entire film revolves around, and in a film where everyone else is turning it up to eleven, her grounded, nuanced portrayal of a woman who finds herself in deep water is ultimately what makes the whole dame film tick. I’ve liked her since Blade Runner 2049 and I think she’s got a heck of a career ahead of her and I’m looking forward to seeing her opposite Craig again in No Time To Die next year.

Much like Craig, Chris Evans is having fun playing against type. After years playing everyone’s favourite boy scout, Captain America, he too has a blast as smirking, foul mouthed playboy, Ransom.


As Ransom’s parents Curtis and Don Johnson are great, even if at times you struggle to believe Ransom is their son. As Walt, Shannon plays slightly against type but again is very good, and Toni Collete is always a joy and never more so here as the hippyish Joni. There’s a thematic holdover from The Last Jedi here, which is that rich people are awful, it’s almost a shame they’re so much fun while they’re being awful! Almost.

And special mention for Christopher Plummer, an actor still capable of turning in a fantastic performance, and for saying he’s dead when the film starts, he’s in it more than you might expect.

Knives Out is a film that’s a little too clever at times—or thinks it is—and whilst I give it kudos for misdirecting me, because I didn’t guess what had actually happened, the final reveal seemed a little flat given everything that had gone before, but like I say this is often the case in mysteries, the same way a horror can lose you at the last when the monster is finally revealed. This doesn’t distract from the fact that Rian Johnson is a talented writer and director, and that he and his cast have produced a hugely enjoyable film that’s a little bit different from the pack, only time and repeat viewings will tell if its anywhere near as enjoyable once you know the solution, but for now I’d be more than happy to see Benoit Blanc return!

knives out toni collette.jpg




Last Christmas.

Posted: December 3, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson.


Kate (Clarke) is a young woman adrift in the world. She’s something of a nomad, crashing with friends who soon throw her out because of her disruptive behaviour. She drinks heavily and flits between one night stands, and whilst she still dreams of being a professional singer, her auditions get her nowhere, leaving her working full time as an elf in an all year round Christmas shop run by snarky Santa (Yeoh) and avoiding her mother (Thompson).

Then one day she meets a handsome, yet odd man named Tom (Golding) who she’s attracted to. They begin a platonic romance, but why does he keep disappearing then reappearing when Kate needs him most? Will she reconnect with her family, will she stop her self -destructive behaviour and most of all, will she solve the mystery of Tom?


A film directed by the helmer of Bridesmaids, written by Emma Thompson, featuring an engaging cast and the music of the late, great George Michael. What could go wrong? Well going by many of the critics almost everything, and so I approached this with trepidation.

So what did I think? Well it’s cheesy, twee, and machine tooled within an inch of its life to tug on your heartstrings. It’s also not half as clever as it thinks it is. But you know what, I still liked it, and come the end I had a lump in my throat that wasn’t down to tonsillitis, because completely unexpectedly, and against my better (or should that be bitter?) judgement, this hit me right in the feels.

2518-fp-00067r-1573827710The film’s biggest asset is its cast. After years as the mirthless mother of dragons, everyone’s favourite Khaleesi is having fun with a role that could have so easily been telephoned in, yet Clarke invests herself totally in the part. She’s loveable and annoying in equal measure, yet also carries a hint of melancholy because she’s so clearly broken, it’s just that she doesn’t know how to fix herself, and it’s obvious that Clarke channels her own health issues into Kate, a woman who had her own brush with death. She’s onscreen for most of the film bouncing around like a pinball and has you rooting for her in that Bridget Jones kinda way.

As Tom, Golding plays the kind of handsome, wise, nice guy that even I could fall for, and he and Clarke have great chemistry. He doesn’t have a lot to work with but much like Clarke wrings all the pathos he can out of it.

As ‘Santa’ Yeoh is a hoot with limited screen time, sarcastic and dismissive of Kate, yet in a totally affectionate way, though it is amusing that someone so grumpy could love Christmas enough to run a year-round x-mas shop! If her romance seems a trifle forced this isn’t Yeoh’s fault, and from Bond girl and martial artist, to mirror universe Starfleet captain and now romantic comedy star she proves she can successfully turn her hand to anything.

“So you were in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I was the mother of Dragons. Small world.”

If there’s a weak link then oddly it’s Thompson, whose portrayal of Kate’s Yugoslavian mother has its moments—many of the film’s finniest—yet feels oddly broad compared to the slightly more nuanced performances around her, and one wonders if a less well known character actor might have played the part better.

The script leaves no romantic comedy trope out in the cold, and is a trifle too on the nose at times, and the Brexit subplot is well meaning but clunky as Marley’s chains, and talking of Marley its obvious too many critics treated this as a straight up romcom rather than what it really is, a Christmas redemption story in the style of things like A Christmas Carol or it’s a Wonderful life. Only time will tell if this film sinks from view or becomes a somewhat cheesy Christmas staple. I can see the latter.


The twist is something you may see coming, especially given the obvious clue hanging over the film, and your enjoyment may depend on how you view the plot turn when it arrives, but for me it worked in the context of the film, and if nothing else the film does stick to its own internal logic, which is where a lot of fantastical films fall down.

Outside of the titular song, the music of George Michael is scattered haphazardly throughout the film, and you can’t help feeling that a bit more effort should have been taken to truly honour his work, though there’s a nice cameo near the end.

It’s a bit clunky, a bit preposterous, a bit obvious and is trying way to hard to be a Richard Curtis film, but then again I probably enjoyed it more than this year’s actual Richard Curtis film, and it scores points for not quite being the film you think it is. There are a multitude of little cameos and it lives in that ever so slightly faux London inhabited by the likes of Bridget Jones and Paddington, but so what, I like Bridge and that Peruvian immigrant, and though this isn’t on the same level, I liked Last Christmas as well, for all it’s faults you can’t deny its heart is in the right place.