Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Following the events of The Force Awakens, the resistance are still fighting against the First Order. Rey has been sent to find Luke Skywalker, while the others try to hold on as they wait for Luke to come to help them out.

As with The Force Awakens, I went to the 12.01am showing on the day of release in my Star Wars t-shirt, like the massive saddo I am. Compared to last time, however, it wasn’t all great and for every fantastic scene there was a bad scene of equal proportions.

Starting with the positives, Luke was awesome in this movie and single-handedly makes up for the bad bits. I’ve pretty much completely forgiven him for being a whiney teenager in A New Hope, and his story arc in this was convincing and added a lot of depth and grit to Luke’s character. Luke and Rey’s relationship was interesting to watch and had a lot of to-and-fro, making it unpredictable, and it added a lot to the general plot to explore a bit more of what happened between Luke and Kylo Ren. The final scenes of the movie are essentially centred around Luke and it really brings the whole thing in at the end. I’m not sure what Mark Hamill has been doing in the years since Star Wars acting-wise, but he has seriously stepped his game up and he was brilliant in this.

Rey was good in this and I liked seeing her interact more with Kylo Ren and the conflict between bad and good that all Jedis face. Poe Dameron was in this film way more than the last one, and since he’s a fan fave I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate that. It was good to see Carrie Fisher, apart from one totally ridiculous scene (probably the worst in the movie) that you’ll definitely agree with me on when you see it.

My main gripe with the film is that it’s quite bitty and feels disjointed a lot of the time. There are several storylines going on at the same time and it jumps around a fair bit. The worst part is that Finn’s storyline pretty much has no outcome on the conclusion of the film, so he’s basically irrelevant and I think his character is wasted. I would have liked to see him more with Poe Dameron, as The Force Awakens kind of sets up their friendship but then doesn’t build on it here. There are a lot of new characters introduced, most of which are kind of pointless and I’m not really sure what their purpose is.

Finally, without wanting to give too much away, there were several scenes in which I thought they could have brought back some old faces here and there, which totally would have satisfied the Star Wars nostalgia in me. There were actually two separate lines of plot in which it would have completely made sense to bring back Lando- but alas, we’ll just have to be satisfied with a young Lando in next year’s Han Solo spin-off.

So, would I recommend this? Yes, of course, because it’s Star Wars and I have a very biased view of the whole thing as a fan since early childhood. However, it’s certainly not the best Star Wars film as some reviews have stated and I would probably rank it fifth overall, after the original three and The Force Awakens. As I’ve said, there are good and bad moments but the good scenes are really really good so the stupid bits can just about be balanced out (if I’m feeling in a generous mood). I’ll certainly go back in a couple of weeks to watch it again as I really do think you pick up a lot more second time around, and there are already a couple of scenes to which I’m now wishing I had paid more attention. Hardcore fans will enjoy it but casual fans probably won’t do so as much.

3.5 stars

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Director: Henry Selick Cast: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, Ed Ivory, Ken Page, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix

The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, becomes tired of doing the same thing every year for Halloween. He stumbles across Christmas Town and is taken in my its magic, and decides to take Christmas into his own hands this year. However, it doesn’t go quite to plan and he needs Santa to save the day.

It’s one month until Christmas everybody!!! And that means I’m back onto my annual Christmas Crackers series- which in 2016 included a grand total of one whole review, so if I can beat that I’m doing a good job. Anyway, I thought I’d start with A Nightmare Before Christmas as, to be honest, it’s pretty early in the year to go full-scale Christmas so this Halloween/Christmas crossover is a good compromise.

As far as Christmas films go this one’s not really particularly Christmassy, which was a bit of a let down, but like I say it’s still early so I’m willing to let that slide. Plus, if you usually hate sickly-sweet Christmas films then maybe this one’s for you. I did enjoy it and it’s not too Tim Burton-esque compared to some of his other seriously weird stuff (he was the writer for this), in that it’s not hugely creepy or sinister, which does certainly make it for family appropriate for this time of year. The animations are very cool, and there are lots of little details with the characters and the sets which are fun to spot. Plot-wise it’s fairly predictable, but it’s not very long and it kind of makes a nice change to not have too much squashed into one film. The blossoming romance between Jack and Sally is a little forced towards the end and the plot would have worked without the romantic angle- but still, it’s a festive film to you kind of need something like that. But really the film is about the animation and design, which is top-notch.

I liked this more than I thought I would and it works as a family film as it’s not quite scary enough to put off kids. It’s worth a watch as it’s fun and a bit different from your usual Christmas film, but just don’t save it until Christmas Eve.

3 stars

The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn

In present-day 1980s, when a boy is sick in bed his grandfather tells him the story of The Princess Bride, a tale set in the distant country of Florin. Buttercup is separated from her true love, Westley, and is forced to wed the sneaky Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley won’t rest until he’s got Buttercup back.

Although I’ve read the original book of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, I’d just never got around to watching the film. I had heard mixed things about the film but as someone who has read the book, I think that definitely helped me to appreciate the film more as all the strange jokes and non-sensical moments make a lot more sense with the extra context that the book provides. My brother hates the film and hasn’t read the book, and I have a feeling he doesn’t like it because you can understand the jokes a bit more if you know the tone and style in which the book was originally written. It’s an obvious thing to say and this applies to most films, but I would certainly suggest reading the book first if you can.

The book and film are made to be a spoof of traditional romantic adventure stories, and I love the way all the sets and costumes look a bit crap because it adds to the fun in a very camp sort of way. If you don’t know it’s a spoof going in I think it would look like just a terribly made film, but with that in mind its general low-budgetness is all part of the joke. The script is very over-the-top but the actors get the delivery just right, in the sense that it’s not overtly comical but there’s a clear underlying sense that nothing is being taken very seriously.

The film is a cult classic from the golden-age of cinema, and I can see how a lot of people would have serious nostalgia for it. Although The Princess Bride pre-dates myself, it has a lot of actors in it that I recognise from other stuff I watched growing up and even now, so it does have that nostalgic value.

This is definitely a family film and is very easy to watch and chuckle at. Don’t expect anything ground-breaking or Oscar-worthy, but if you want a film that can guarantee satisfaction all round, The Princess Bride is a good shout.

4 stars

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits

A few years into the Clone Wars and Senator Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) is about to take over the galaxy. His final part of the plan involves luring Anakin to the Dark Side to take on as his new apprentice. Meanwhile, the rest of the Jedi continue to fight the separatists across the galaxy.

Last one of the prequels, and I’d say arguably the best (which by no way means it’s a great film, but it’s all relative). Most of the tedious Anakin whinging is out of the way and he finally gets around to some action- even if it does involve being duplicitous with the Jedi and killing children. By far, by far the best part of this film is the last half hour or so. We finally get around to seeing the ultimate events that lead to the creation of the best villain in movie history (a known fact), Darth Vader. There’s a bit at the end where they show infamous Darth Vader helmet finally being put onto Anakin, and he breathes through it for the first time with that legendary sound effect- absolute gold.

Throughout the prequels Obi-Wan has got increasingly more annoying, with a ton of stupid one-liners and generally not really doing much of note. However his character brings it back at the end as he starts taking things seriously and takes it upon himself to watch over Luke after being saddened not to be able to save Anakin from the Dark Side. The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is a little long, but it’s actually almost moving to see them part ways- far more so than Anakin and Padme. Speaking of which, Padme ends her character arc on a terrible low point, having been a pretty strong female character in The Phantom Menace. She pretty much spends the whole film crying and just “loses the will to live” at the end- that’s her actual cause of death, what an anticlimax… However, the whole Anakin/Padme relationship has been unconvincing right from the start, so to be honest at this point who cares. It’s all about Anakin and Obi-Wan by the end.

Much like with Rogue One, as a Star Wars fan some of the best parts of this film were the nods to the original trilogy and how it sets up the following films in the Star Wars timeline. Towards the end of the film everything falls in the place, and fans will find themselves saying “ahhh, so that’s how that happens”. Although generally speaking the prequel trilogy has a lot of pointless plot points, finally we get to the real substance of what is effectively a Darth Vader (and Darth Sidious, to a lesser extent) origins story.

It’ll never be a cinematic masterpiece and is by no means on a level with the original trilogy, but it contains all the elements you need to nicely lead you into Rogue One/A New Hope and is good for providing context. If you only watch one of the prequels, watch this one for sure (and save yourself from much pain and suffering by skipping the other two).

3 stars