Solo: A Star Wars Story

June 4, 2018 at 5:15 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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After Rogue One – a film squeezed in between the canon of nine – I wondered if Solo would be as good: it did not disappoint. Without the need to conform to the ‘history repeats’ story arc of the canon, Solo is free to tell its own story.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

There are four main characters:

  • Han: the young Han Solo is played by Alden Ehrenreich. The mnemonic of ‘Solo’ is given to him by a border official
  • Chewbacca: the younger ‘Chewy’ is played by Joonas Suotamo.
  • Qi’ra: Han’s childhood sweetheart is played by Emilia Clarke. Clarke she has a passing resemblance to Felicity Jones, so I kept thinking I was watching a prequel of Rogue one.
  • Beckett: the outlaw that takes Han under his wing, is played by Woody Harrelson.

and two significant characters:

  • Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany is, the villain.
  • Val, played by Thandie Newton, is part of Beckett’s crew.

The initial sequences that lead up to a quite young Han being separated from Qi’ra, as the two try to get off planet, acts like an overture. Han and Chewy are two-entity team, when we see them in Episode IV, so this film has to lead to that pairing. Though it would be no real surprise if the next Solo film, if there is one, still features Qi’ra – she just wont end up with him. And why should she? She has works harder than Han, thinks more than him, is much more successful, and has many obligations. Han just wants a fast ship and a star to steer her by.

Han literally gets Chewy out of a muddy hole. Han got off planet, got accepted into the Imperial Academy, washed out of same for disciple issues, and ended up as a storm trooper (slogging through some muddy battlefield), where he encounters Chewy.

Beckett and Val reluctantly rescue Han and Chewy from being cannon fodder – Han is much more suited to the free wheeling life style of an outlaw.

We also see how Han ends up with the Millennium Falcon.

A reasonable story line, and a well crafted film by Ron Howard. Worth seeing at the movie theatre.

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Red Sparrow

March 5, 2018 at 8:01 am | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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A tongue-in-cheek summary would say that Jennifer Lawrence is the body double for Isabella Boylston – a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater – who plays Boshoi prima ballerina Dominika Egorova.

After a spectacular ballet sequence, Egorova is forced to become a ‘sparrow’ – spies trained to physically and psychologically seduce their targets. Jennifer Lawrence gets most of the screen time :-).

The film is gritty: torture, beatings, assassinations, etc. Yet there is a plot with many twists and betrayals: who is telling the truth? The props and lighting is excellent – a very Gorky Park 80’s grey vibe. The sparrow training sequences are harrowing. Egorova’s operational scenes take us through parts of Europe and London.

Worth giving a go.

Black Panther

March 5, 2018 at 7:32 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see this the other day, not quite knowing what i was going to get – not having read the Black Panther comics.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Visually it is startling to see [almost] no white people in the film; it took me a few minutes to adjust. It shows how ‘white’ mainstream films are. Hopefully they make more films like this – without a science fiction setting to make a black world ‘normal’.

At its heart, the film tells a pretty classic story: cousins fighting over a throne – played/fought by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Florence Kasumba is the honourable general upholding the constitution structures of Wakanda. She leads the army – composed solely of women. Her lover leads the all male border guides. She provides the moral question; when should one do the right thing verses doing things by the rules?

The CGI makes the whole film possible – the amazing stealth planes, amazing body armour, and maglev trains; and much more.

Worth seeing at a cinema.

The Shape of Water

January 28, 2018 at 12:58 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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A well crafted Guillermo del Toro movie. It is not a mainstream movie – more of a indie one. The staging, lighting, framing – cinematography (?) – and the costumes created a comic feel to the film. The good guys are ‘bright’, the bad guys are ‘black and grey’.

The plot at its most basic is a love story, that manifests itself as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story. Romeo is a ‘fish-man’; his ‘adoptive’ family a secretive US government agency; his home a secret US government facility – that is a huge tilt to James Bond (Dr No & You Only Live Twice). Juliet is a mute woman; but she is not a teenager; she works as a cleaner in the Base; she lives above a movie theatre that shows B-grade movies.

The film is a wonderful character study – or rather of various characters:

  • Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, is the woman who falls in love with the prisoner, and breaks him out of custody;
  • Amphibian Man, played by Doug Jones, is the ‘asset’ ‘taken’ by the US government in the amazon; he is brave and noble, in the face of mistreatment and torture; he is curious and cultured; he has the mis-fortune to have lungs and gills – making him an object of interest as the space race heats up.
  • Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, is Elisa’s neighbour, down on his luck,  someone sidelined by changing world; but loyal; a reluctant accomplice to the ‘jail break’ – discovering a determination that he did not know he had.
  • Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, is the ‘man in black’; on the surface he is a loving family man, but underneath he is ruthless and remorseless – without a heart of gold.

Elisa sees the treatment handed out to the Amphibian, and sees that it is wrong. Both are unable to speak, so she teaches him sign language. Elisa and Giles represent humanity. Strickland embodies the dangers of focusing on ‘goals’ and ‘black and white’ thinking. He suppresses all emotions to get the ‘job done’. But the biggest betrayal is reserved for Strickland: when he finds that the system doesn’t recognise his years of faithful service.

Hawkins and Shannon turn in two outstanding performances. Jones, though encumbered by a full bodysuit is able to portray nobility and tenderness.

A film with an amphibian cannot be made without CGI and special effect, and there are plenty, but they don’t get in the way.

I enjoyed it. Worth a go, but not for children.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

January 3, 2018 at 1:55 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Having seen Karen Gillan while binge watching Dr Who, when I recognised her in a trailer for Jumanji 2, I thought that I give it a go.

I was not disappointed. Gillan plays Martha – a shy teenage girl – temporarily put into the body (and clothes) of a tomb-raider-like persona. The basis of the film is that four not quite high school friends are drawn into a video game. The students are cast as characters well out of their comfort zones – into personas and bodies very different to their own. I thought Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black gave two amazing performances. Johnson overcame his strong muscular build to completely sell ‘Spencer’ – a thin nerdy X-Box gamer. Black played ‘Bethany’ – a self absorbed wannabe It girl – perfectly.

The four must overcome their insecurities and work together to win the game. If they don’t win the game they are stuck in the game forever. A further impediment is that the characters only have three lives in the game.

Worth a go: Johnson channeling a thin nerdy who lacks confidence is a revelation; Black as a teenage girl is hilarious and his genitalia jokes had the whole theatre laughing; and Black/Bethany instructing Gillan/Martha on how to flirt also had the theatre laughing.

English Royal Ballet – Nutcracker (2017) – the film

December 24, 2017 at 4:25 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Concert Review, Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see the Royal Ballet’s annual production of the Nutcracker – captured on film and shown at the Light House Cuba cinema. Darcy Bussell was one of the commentators: one of the difference between a live production and a production designed to be webcast and filmed. Bussell and her co-commentator interviewed, some of the young dancers from the Company’s dance school, and Peter wright – the guest ballet master for this production. Most of the principal dancers were also interviewed – pictured as they worked with Wright. The interval was shown in its full length (the main curtain counting down the minutes).

This production has been performed every year since 1984, when Peter Wright first ‘put it together’. What I liked about this production is that the party is a substantial segment; in some productions, the party is much foreshortened, serving only to convey the nutcracker to Clara. I also liked that Drosselmeyer (Gary Avis) has such a substantive part – and played with a wonderful Rothbart-like feel at times.

Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell dance the parts of Clara and the Nutcracker respectively. Hayward was superb as a young girl growing into womanhood. Campbell is strong yet youthful. A lovely touch that the nutcracker is also Drosselmeyer’s son / nephew (?).

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae dance the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince. Lamb was beautiful; McRae soared. The various Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince pas des deuxs are often overshadowed by those from Swan Lake.

This production of Nutcracker really celebrates the Rose Fairy; ‘her’ dance is an extended piece of technical and dramatic substance. The Arabian dance was a very tidily choreography piece – technically demanding of the genie (?) and her three companions. the principle companion has to hold her aloft with straight arms, when he carries her on an off the stage.

The shrinking Clara – tree expanding – sequence was superb. Though, I did find the lighting and setting for the Snowflakes a little too bright; they looked to me like icicles.

I am pleased that I went to see this. It is unlikely that i will get to see such a show in person.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

December 23, 2017 at 4:58 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I  went to see The Last Jedi – in 2D. I am sure there are many reviews that talk about the film’s plot elements, so I will just jump into my lists.

What I liked:

  • The on-again-off-again thing between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), as to who would go to the dark-side and the light-side.
  • Finding out how Kylo Ren turned away from his uncle/Luke (Mark Hamill), and cleverly showing the event from both sides.
  • There wasn’t a death star.
  • Captain Phasma returned. Other than being a fan, and so will go to a movie entitled Star Wars – Paint Drying, I went to Episode Eight, because wanted to see more of Captain Phasma.
  • The film stayed faithful to the aesthetic of the earlier films.

What I didn’t like:

  • The opening sequence where the Rebels destroyed a First Order dreadnought (a wannabe death star). It made no sense: why did the Rebels use the equivalent of strategic bombers instead of dive bombers or torpedo bombers? Why didn’t the First Order have a standing Tie-Fighter screen. When the dreadnought lost its last close quarter guns, why no get the surround star destroyers to bombard the dreadnought with their secondary or tertiary weapons. This is what a troop of shermans did in Korea when they got swarmed by grenade welding infantry – they resorted to machine gunning each other. Or the dreadnought just rams the bombers!
  • The constant switching between the points of action. It broke up the flow of the movie.
  • Repeating the structure of past films; e.g. the movable mini death star, having to decouple yet another machine.
  • Captain Phasma being on screen for ‘2 seconds’. Many of the characters are 2 dimensional and serve as cogs in a karma driven plot machine. But Phasma is interesting: what sort of lives do middle managers lead in the First Order? How did she get her rank? What is the significance of the silver armour?
  • The length; 154 minutes is too much.
  • Was it necessary to have Luke milk an alien?

Still a movie that is worth seeing – fan or not 🙂

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

September 17, 2017 at 11:32 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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With some anticipation and trepidation, I went to this the other day: what would Luc Besson (director and screenplay) and the writers (Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières) do to characters from my ‘graphic novel’ days?

Warning: Plot discussed.

It is an action movie, built around a ‘road trip’ framework. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) go on a journey to solve a mystery and so rescue their superior Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen). Valerian and Laureline, jointly, and individually encounter a number of ‘physical challenges’ and ‘chase sequences’ to the inevitable climax and resolution. It is a bit ‘James Bond’ like: well choreographed hand-to-hand and gun fights; high speed chases; even an ending sequence that owes much to the end from  “The Spy Who Loved me”.

The CGI work is fantastic. The film could not have been made in its released form without it. Weta Digital has done another excellent piece of work. I deliberately watched the 2-D version.

I found Laureline much more heroic and responsible than Valerian. Cara Delevingue has a great screen presence, and carry’s off the passionately competent Laureline very well. I did not like the interplay between Valerian and Laureline – it felt dated.

Still some nice action sequences and great CGI; so worth seeing in a movie theater.

And was I disappointed? a little bit. The small print advertising is careful to say “based on the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline””. This gives the creative team licence to change things – and change they do. Even though, the original creators were given writting credit, it was Luc Besson who wrote the screenplay. The plot is closest to “Ambassador of the Shadows” (1975), with Luc Besson altering the originals of Central Point; the premise of the movie and the final sequence. In my graphic novels: Central Point was created in deep space – perhaps having it originate in earth orbit makes the film more attractive for people who have not read the comic; there is no cover up of a genocide; and Valerian and Laureline do not need to end up sleeping together. Why add a genocide? Why put the main characters in bed? This just renders the Laureline character into a companion rather than as an partner.

Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 at 9:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Wonder Woman in the weekend. Having seen tGal Gado in Keeping Up with the Jones, I knew it wasn’t going to be kitsch.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

The film presented the director and producers a number of challenges:

  • Telling the back story of Diana to people who were knew it and who did not – how much of the film’s running time to use? what formative events to show?
  • Keeping the character strong despite the amazons wearing ‘scanty’ amount of armour.
  • Telling a creditable main story.

The film is long, it has to be to satisfy the above. I did not notice the passing of time; I only realised the length of the film, when I looked at my watch afterwards.

Director, Patty Jenkins, and editor, Martin Walsh, opted to not tell Wonder Woman’s story in flashback. Wonder Woman’s early life is better told in one go – the audience is spared going backwards in time and holding the story line in their heads. It also sets the norm for what Amazons wear, and how it does not affect their combat effectiveness. No one complains too much when a male actor like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson appears in The Scorpion King wearing a leather apron / skirt.

The Amazon training sequences would have been at home in any action movie; after a while, that absence of men, stopped being noticeable.

No sooner has Diana finished her training, with a final gauntlet, than Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) turns up in German uniform. This was the biggest moment of confusion – in my universe Steve Trevor should appear in an American uniform – circa World War II; not be a German aviator – circa World War I. Diana is fascinated – finally a male specimen to examine, after second hand stories and book learning. For quite a while, Steve Trevor and his world are something to be examined, and it strange foibles to be commented on. at least, it is until, she can kill Ares – the god of war.

Somehow, Diana and Trevor take one night to sail from the Aegean Sea to London in one night. This caused me more confusion. But, I was soon distracted by a restrained comic commentary on women’s fashion – it lack if armour and contraining cut (“how do you fight in this’).

The main story is how Diana comes to connect with the people outside of he magically isolated island, and how she looses he per-conceived ideas. Despite Steve’s doubts, Ares is real, he is manipulating both sides to escalate and prolong the war. There is a dual climax – Steve must put pay to the attempted escalation, while Diana must deal with Ares – with many twists and surprise.

There are some great fight scenes: Wonder Woman’s classical arts of war training makes her unbeatable in the confined space of urban warfare. Just as the shield works for Captain America, Diana’s shield (supplemented by forearm guards, grieves, and armoured headband) works for her – proof against gun fire and small caliber shells.

One scene that I found improbable was the Amazons choosing to close with the german troopers. Their first flight of arrows showed that the troopers had no armour and no shields. Why not just keep it up? Instead, they charge and give up the advantage – the troopers’ rifles give them the advantage outside of sword range.

Once the Amazons were out of the picture, Diana is one of the few women in the story arc. Steve Trevor’s secretary is there almost there for historical contrast. The only other woman is Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) – the chemical genius making chemical weapons for the Germans. There is a glimpse of a Women PC in London – the Women PCs were sworn in during WWI to police the factories employing women, while the men were in the Army.

Marvel has created the beginning of a series of films set in the extended Marvel universe – if they (and Gadot) wish. Wonder Woman will be appearing in Justice League; the question is will she get anymore appearances? Perhaps they could team her up with the Black Widow?

Oh there is some restrained chemistry between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. At first Trevor is confused ans Diana is not like any woman he has meet before. Then there is a bit of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ ,until she warms to him. Trevor is the more demonstrative one; Diana is the aloof one; a nice reversal of the man focused on duty and the women attracted to him.

Anyway, a film worth seeing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 1, 2017 at 7:11 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the sequel of Guardians of the Galaxy – I wanted to know what was on the second Phillips cassette tape!

Warning: plot elements discussed.

This is both a light, and serious movie: at any moment there is wise cracking and humour; but overall there are some big issues examined. There is: nurture over nature; honour; family; and the meaning of life. All interleaved with some great music.

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt meets his father. Go see the movie to see how complex such an encounter can be. Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, is reunited with her sister – Nebula (played by Karen Gillan). Kurt Russell makes an appearance as a god named Ego.

There some great action sequences and even a giant pac man.

A must see; and stay to the end of the credits – there are all sorts of ‘easter eggs’. As every Rocket and Groot are the best characters.

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