A Trip to the Moon (1902)

trip-to-the-moon

Director: Georges Méliès Cast: uncredited

A group of astronomers take a trip to the moon. (Who would have guessed from the title?)

Bit of a weird one this, but bear with me. In the numerous coffee-table books on films that I’ve collected, this is pretty much always the first one on the list of ones to watch. This 1902 short film (12 minutes, and it’s on YouTube) is generally credited as being one of the first popular films. It brought special effects into the mainstream, and despite its length manages a substantial plot and even some anti-imperialist satire.

It definitely helped to watch this film with my 1902 Edwardian-era hat on, in order to appreciate the film in the way that it would have been appreciated at the time. I was actually really surprised at how good the effects were for the time. For example, the aliens that live on the moon suddenly vanish in a flash of smoke, and it doesn’t look clunky by any means. The face on the moon (which admittedly is the stuff of nightmares) is cleverly superimposed- I didn’t even know they could do that as early as then. It’s also interesting to remember that no one had actually been to the moon at that time- so it really was just science fiction for people to travel there from Earth.

This, clearly, is a film you’d watch to study and appreciate the history of film, and not for settling into the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. Definitely recommended for discussing at dinner parties to make you seem sophisticated and erudite.

Hard to rate this one… 3 stars?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Ⓒ Lucasfilm
Ⓒ Lucasfilm

Director: J. J. Abrams Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill

The long-awaited seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise finally arrives, introducing a new generation of characters taking on a new threat (The First Order) with the help of a new Resistance. After seeing merciless killing carried out in the name of The First Order, a stormtrooper (Boyega) becomes disillusioned and escapes his position, and bumps into a lonely admirer of the old Rebel Alliance. Together they join up with the resistance, enocuntering some of the original characters on the way.

At 12.02 am on Thursday 17th December, I was nicely settled into my seat wearing my Star Wars t-shirt and my 3D glasses at the midnight showing of The Force Awakens. With all the hype surrounding it, I had tried to go in with no expectations, but having grown up with the series (A New Hope being the first film I ever remember watching) it was difficult to not get excited. Right from the outset, I was taken back to the world of my favourite franchise, and I was not disappointed. With so much pressure on him, Abrams has done so well to keep aspects of the original films as well as introducing the new characters without feeling like they’re intruding. The music, the sounds, the landscape shots, and pretty much every other detail was in keeping with the originals, which made me feel like I was seeing old friends again (I’m trying not to sound like a weirdo here). We don’t see any of the original cast for a while, which works well since we get to know the new generation first; we settle neatly into the new storylines rather than them being placed alongside characters that we already know so well, which I think would have made the new bunch seem like they shouldn’t be there. The new actors do very well and bring great touches of comedy, which the original series benefitted from too; they fit excellently into the style of the original series, which was probably a highly daunting task.

Of course however, seeing the original cast was probably a highlight for much of the audience. Not just the main characters like Han and Chewie, but also minor ones (and this isn’t really a spoiler) like cult figure Admiral Ackbar bring a welcoming sense of nostalgia. And what about the actual storyline itself, you say?! Well, I liked it- I suppose with all the hype around the film it’s hard to have a perspective of how good it actually was, but it made sense and leads clearly into a new phase of the Star Wars story. There were many parallels with the original trilogy, (and these may be spoilers) such as a disillusioned youth living on a sandy planet, a Death Star-type thing, a mysterious baddie leader who only appears by video link, and someone discovering they’re a jedi. And, like I say, the structure of introducing the new characters first was a good move.

So all in all I think this film was brilliant. It was full of risk to take on this task, but it is done very well and I wasn’t at all disappointed- in fact, I’m already planning to see it again, and going to the cinema twice for a movie is something I virtually never do. It’s not for everyone, of course: after all it is sci-fi, and people who haven’t seen any of the originals (do those people actually exist, though?) would miss a lot of the references to the old classics. But for any Star Wars fan, go and see it, you won’t be let down!

5 stars

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Ⓒ Solofilm
Ⓒ Solofilm

Director: Philip Kaufman Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams. Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy

Organisms come from outer space to San Francisco, and gradually copy the form of various locals and take their place. The result is a city of emotionless citizens, aiming to do away with the humans that still remain, including Matthew Bennell (Sutherland), who works for the health department.

Sci-fi is a genre that I find can be a bit hit and miss- some films of the genre have become among my favourites of all time (just over a month till The Force Awakens ahhhhh), while others can just be a bit weird. So for this one, I tried to go in with few expectations- and I really liked it. The film is creepy from the outset- it begins with showing the mysterious organisms floating around San Francisco while unsuspecting people are ignorant to the terror before them. I found it was made even creepier by the soundtrack- it’s very minimal, and sometimes there’s not background music at all, which means that the viewer can’t tell when something creepy is about to happen because the soundtrack gives no clues. There is tension throughout, and a lot of it takes place at night which always adds to the drama.

I would say however that there were some parts of the plot where it took quite a long time for something to happen; although the film is effective in building tension, sometimes it moved just a little too slowly. Another very minor issue was, and this was probably just in my own case, was that the film seemed to be a bit grainy in terms of quality of the picture- but like I say, this is probably just the particular version that I watched.

I wouldn’t say this film it totally appropriate for kids, since it does have a very creepy or eerie feel to it. I would say, however, that those who don’t usually like sci-fi films would still enjoy this because it’s effectively low-key rather than over-the-top.

3.5 stars