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Tag: Star Wars

Editorials

Was It Really That Bad? Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

October 25, 2019
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars, the franchise that conquered the world. The troubles making the first film are now legendary. But George Lucas and his team created something truly special with Star Wars and its direct sequels Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Popularly considered three of the greatest sci-fi films ever.

After Return of the Jedi satisfyingly closed the trilogy in 1983, the franchise lay dormant, until 1999 when Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. This was the first part of the prequel trilogy which told the story about the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the empire from the original trilogy (retroactively renamed episodes 4, 5 and 6). But it wasn’t the glorious homecoming fans hoped for.

Episode 1 currently sits at a 6.5 on IMDb and a 53% on rotten tomatoes. Quite a dip in quality compared to the first three movies (Star Wars- 8.6 IMDb, 93% RT, Empire Strikes Back- 8.7 IMDb, 95% RT and Return of the Jedi- 8.3 IMDb, 81% RT). But 20 years later, is the Phantom Menace really that bad?

The most hated character in the whole Star Wars Saga, Jar Jar Binks (Source: Mickeyblog.com)

“Be gone with him”

After years of anticipation, initial reviews for The Phantom Menace were resoundingly negative.

Nothing has the right to bore and disappoint us this much.”

-The Guardian

Everything about the movie has been criticized over the years. Whether it’s uninteresting characters, flat performances, the dialogue, the boring story, a lack of understanding of is audience or the use of CG effects. Everyone has a bone to pick with the Phantom Menace.

So, I find myself in a difficult position when I say, Phantom Menace doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.

The looks you get when trying to defend the Phantom Menace (Source: Den of Geek)

“I have a bad feeling about this”

That’s not to say Phantom Menace isn’t flawed. The film suffers from a lack of compelling characterisation. Many characters are mythic archetypes who aren’t relatable on a human level. Though they are still entertaining.

The script is full of ham-fisted dialogue that explains things rather than adding personality to the universe. Some of the performances are lacklustre (Jake Lloyd’s Anakin) or grating (Ahmed Best’s Jar Jar Binks).

And the film has a very confused tone, mixing adult political drama with kid friendly wish fulfilment and blazing action. Which just don’t gel together.

“Weren’t you supposed to be defending Phantom Menace?” (Source: Geektyrant)

“Defiance I sense in you”

But personally, I appreciate Phantom Menace trying to grow with its audience. After 16 years the kids who grew up on Star Wars were becoming adults, so Lucas tried to take an adult look at how the problems of the original trilogy came about.

Granted it wasn’t successful, and it needed the guiding hands of others to help iron things out, rather than George doing everything himself, seemingly unchallenged. But I will always take something different but flawed over safe and boring.

“Agree with you the council does”

And there are many positives to appreciate about Phantom Menace. There are some fine performances from Ewan McGregor as the charming, younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, Liam Neeson as calm, rebellious Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn and Ian McDiarmid is endearing and menacing as both sides of Chancellor Palpatine.

While the film drags in some parts, there are plenty of incredibly enjoyable action beats to make up for that. Like the Naboo escape scene, the pod race on Tatooine and even the overstuffed but enjoyable four-pronged finale.

The movie also has a great design and look. It’s colourful, inventive with a large variety of creature designs, sets, and costumes and it mixes early CG and practical effects in great ways to make its worlds feel bigger than the original trilogy.

And this film features some of composer John Williams’ best work. Will anyone argue that Duel of the fates isn’t one of the best songs of the entire saga?

The best part of the Phantom Menace, underscored by some of the best music of John Williams’ career (Source: Moddb.com)

Was It Really That Bad? …. No

The Phantom Menace is flawed, certainly. It would’ve benefited from having others around to iron out Lucas’ vision rather than giving him complete control.

But at its worst Episode 1 is an entertaining popcorn sci-fi film. Packed with a lot of creative ideas and it features some genuinely good work behind and in front of the camera that deserves appreciation rather than simple hate. Because as Yoda said, “hate leads to suffering.”

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad? Robin Hood (2018)

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Editorials

Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

September 3, 2019
Harrison Ford

When I was a child my favourite actor was Harrison Ford. I mean, how could he not be? This was before I knew of Blade Runner, Frantic or any number of great Ford performances. My opinion was based on two sets of films: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Star Wars was the huge monolith of space opera sci-fi perfection and Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero from the past – fighting Nazis, battling evil cults and outsmarting his enemies. It is rare than an actor gets such an iconic role, Harrison Ford has two (let’s leave Rick Deckard for another article). Such was the cultural might of these characters both were brought back for more adventures but which is the more iconic character?

SPOILER WARNING – It’s hard to imagine someone reading this who isn’t fully up to date but there will be spoilers for Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Han Solo

Harrison Ford as Han Solo (source: comicbook.com)

Han Solo is the lovable rogue of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker may have been the lead character but Han Solo was cooler, funnier and far more handsome. Introduced as little more than a dodgy freighter captain with a bad-ass best friend he becomes one of the heroes of a rebellion and wins the love of a princess (and senator, general and many other awesome things). I think for a lot of people Solo is the most identifiable character in Star Wars – he doesn’t have magic powers, he’s not a princess or emperor and he’s not an alien. He was an ordinary guy trying to make the best of living through a bad time but couldn’t just do nothing when confronted with evil.

Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (source: thewrap.com)

Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones is a prominent archaeologist and professor known to be popular amongst his students. He is also a ravine-jumping, Nazi-punching, evil-defeating hero. I always loved the combination of intellectual and action-hero and while it has been done before and since nobody did it better than Indiana.

Iconic Moments

Both have a plethora of iconic moments, ranging from the funny to the brave to the romantic. Han Solo’s frantic conversation on the Death Star intercom trying to explain away a gun battle is hilarious but does it beat Indiana posing as a ticket inspector who promptly throws a Nazi off of a zeppelin?

Han Solo dressed as a Storm Trooper (source: youtube.com)

The moment where Han shows up to save Luke at the end of A New Hope is the defining image of the hero riding in at the last minute to save the day. For romance, Han wins easily – he has a moment that is arguably the most well-known in all of Star Wars: Leia- “I love you”, Han- “I know.”

Indiana Jones has at least two of the greatest action sequences of all time – the first is in Raiders of the Lost Ark where he races after the truck carrying the Ark and takes it over. He jumped on vehicles, fought soldiers and at one point was hanging onto the front of the truck while the metal he was desperately holding onto snapped off. The second being Indiana rescuing his father from a tank in The Last Crusade which is another all-round amazing sequence.

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc (source: youtube.com)

Han Solo also has something Indiana doesn’t have (not yet anyway) – an iconic death. Being murdered by your own son while you try to reach any goodness still within him is brutal and heartbreaking. Han already seemed to feel like he had failed his son and there was no way he was going to try and fight him (I do love that just after Kylo Ren kills Han, Chewbacca shoots him, as he had no qualms about fighting him).

The Look

(movieweb.com)

Both characters are instantly recognisable and have surely been used millions of times as cosplay and fancy dress. Han Solo’s simple black trousers, white shirt, black waistcoat is so good that when everyone else wore full camouflage on Endor he chose to wear his normal stuff with a camouflage coat. As for Indiana, again simple but it’s the hat that makes it and because of Indiana Jones, the fedora is officially the world’s coolest hat. What’s amazing about Indiana is not only the default treasure seeker outfit, he also has the default old-fashioned professor look too.

Harrison Ford in his iconic Indiana Jones attire (source: bbc.co.uk)

The Character

There are a lot of similarities between the two – both are charming risk-takers who like doing things their own way. Both started out as mainly being concerned for themselves but their innate goodness takes over. Both are people who fight the bad guys, even when they outnumbered and almost certain to lose. They differ in background – Indiana’s parents were both academics and had a better life than young Han Solo, who even before his past was filled in a bit more in Solo was safely assumed to be fairly tough. Indiana has a respectable side – as well as an adventurer he is an esteemed academic, while Han does become a general this is part of a rebellion and as The Force Awakens showed he fell back into his old and more questionable life.

The Winner Is…

Which is the more iconic role? And which did more for Ford’s career? It’s an incredibly tough choice but I’d have to go for Indiana Jones, the clinching argument is the film isn’t called Han Solo and the Return of the Jedi. In acting terms, the success of the Indiana Jones films rests entirely on Harrison Ford.

Also Read: Star Wars: Course Correction

Editorials

Androids And The Actors That Play Them

August 23, 2019
Love-Death-Robots

A staple of the science fiction genre, robots and androids can sometimes be interchangeable, (although there is a difference). They are often some of the most iconic characters in a science fiction story, whether that be because of their unique design or their personality, there are many memorable machines in films brought to life by talented actors, this list takes a look at a wide variety of the spectrum, including robots, androids, cyborgs and everything in between.

“C-3P0” played by Anthony Daniels (Star Wars)

Daniels has portrayed Threepio in several projects outside of the live-action films

C-3P0, along with his companion R2-D2 are the first characters we are introduced to in “Star Wars”, and have appeared in every chapter of the saga since, including a cameo in spin-off “Rogue One”. Daniels has played the droid in over 20 different projects since the original film. He is also the only actor to appear in all nine films in the main Star Wars saga, all the more impressive when the first film was released in 1977, and that he wasn’t a science fiction fan. Despite their numerous adventures together in space, Daniels reportedly did not always get along with his costar.

“Ava” played by Alica Vikander (Ex Machina)

Promo image for Ex Machina, featuring Ava (Universal Pictures, 2014)

Ava is an android designed with artificial intelligence, so advanced that she is capable of independent thought and consciousness. The android challenges the traditional “Turing Test”, a common method used to determine if a machine has consciousness used in tons of science fiction by her body clearly being mechanical. Vikander was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award for her role as Ava. She later went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in “The Danish Girl” the following year. While she had some success in her native Sweden, “Ex Machina” was a role that made her a name in other countries.

“Alita” played by Roza Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel)

Rosa Salazar as Alita (20th Century Fox 2019)

Alita is based on the Japanese manga of the similar name. Originally James Cameron’s passion project Robert Rodriguez eventually took over. Alita is based in a near-future where most people have cybernetic enhancements. Alita herself is a highly advanced combat unit, rescued and rebuilt who slowly gains her memories over the course of the film. Salazar plays the character via a mix of motion capture and CGI, with the cyborgs look inspired by the original manga and anime, with the medium’s traditionally large eyes transferring into live-action as a tribute, as well as reinforcing the idea the Alita isn’t human.

“T-800” played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator)

The Terminator is a metal endoskeleton, that disguises itself as a human in order to carry out its mission (Tristar pictures, 1991)

Arguably the most iconic character on this list, the T-800 is a killing machine from the year 2025 (or whatever year the updated timeline moved things to), it disguises itself as a human and is incredibly durable. Although it is his most famous role, Schwarzenegger was originally approached for the role Kyle Reese, despite the fact that the Terminator is designed as an infiltration unit and Arnie sticks out in a crowd.

“Chappie” played by Sharlto Copley (Chappie)

Chappie is a police robot given intelligence and taken in by gangsters

Chappie was created as part of the new police department, but when his creator imbues him with artificial intelligence, Chappie is forced into hiding and is taken in by gangsters, as his consciousness is new, he is childlike, with the gang members taking advantage of his naivety. Unusually for a film like it, the title character was actually not created with motion capture, but Copley performed as the robot on set which was used for reference, before being created both digitally and physically for some shots.

Honourable Mention- Rick Deckard? – Harrison Ford (Blade Runner)

Deckard spends his life hunting replicants, but is he one of them?

In a list about androids, it wouldn’t seem fair to not include a character from “Blade Runner”. While Pris and Batty or even characters from the sequel are all memorable, the debate about whether Deckard himself is a replicant is one of the reasons the film is so iconic. Even the sequel deliberately avoided answering the question definitively, offering clues to sway audiences on both sides of the debate. Ford himself thinks that the character is human, while director Ridley Scott, thinks he’s a replicant, leaving it up to viewers to decide who to believe.

Also Read: 5 Horror Films And The Real Events Behind Them

Editorials

Star Wars: Course Correction

May 10, 2019
Star Wars Episode 9

Spoiler Warning – this article will contain massive spoilers about The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi divided opinion while still being a tremendously successful film, but you would assume in an ideal world Disney would want both the money and the fan approval. I had mixed feelings on the film – parts of it were undeniably great with some amazing ideas, first-rate fight scenes and stunning visuals. But I was also annoyed by a lot of it. An article about the criticism of The Last Jedi has to deal with the issue that some (but not all) of the criticism was awfully misogynistic. I liked the addition of Rose, she was a character that to me represented the grass-roots of the organisation, she wasn’t a Jedi, a general or a cool fighter pilot but she believed in the cause. Kelly Marie Tran was subject to such abuse she abandoned social media. This was absolutely appalling but I have never understood anyone’s specific problems with her (of course, no one should have to go through that). The first trailer for the concluding part of this trilogy has just been released so should be different in The Rise of Skywalker?

Rules Exist For A Reason

The controversial light speed collision tactic (medium.com)

The Last Jedi seemingly broke the accepted rules of the Star Wars universe in a couple of ways. First, General Hux announced they were able to track ships once they jumped to light speed. Second, Admiral Holdo light speed jumping into another ship to destroy it. These might seem like minor points but they are potentially hugely important. Regarding the first point, this effectively means no one can ever get away. At the end of The Empire Strikes back the Millenium Falcon jumps to light speed and escapes – if they had had the technology Hux has Darth Vader would have found them easily. Of course, that’s in the past, but it is still true, how could anyone ever escape again?

Using light speed to jump into another ship raises the question that why had no one ever done this before? Why didn’t the Rebels do that to the Death Star? In any good science-fiction or fantasy, there need to be rules to how things work otherwise it’s just nonsense and you can get out of any situation just by saying there is a new bit of technology. It might seem – and probably is – a bit pedantic to dwell on how made up technology works but it suggests it hasn’t been thought through by the writer.

No more “Casinos”

The much maligned Casino Planet (bizjournals.com)

I don’t literally mean casinos, I mean no more weird side-plots that take up a lot of time but don’t really serve much purpose. The side-plot in which Rose and Finn looked for an expert hacker on a casino-planet to help the Resistance fleet escape is universally unloved. The only purpose I can see for in the film is to provide a visually pleasing spectacular of aliens, droids and people in fancy outfits to contrast with most of the rest of the film taking place on spaceships. And look, each and every one of us would, given the opportunity, write in a part for Benicio Del Toro but he could have been used so much better.

No More Rehashing Scenarios From The Original Trilogy

This is a hard one as they get criticised either way – if they try and forge their own path and come up with new ideas people are upset – or absolutely furious in the case of The Phantom Menace. If they rely on setups from the original trilogy they are criticised for bringing nothing new. The Force Awakens had a huge world-destroying superweapon. The Last Jedi saw an assault by the bad-guys on a remote base. We’ve seen this before and I want something new even if it’s just drawing from films other than Star Wars. I thought it was a such a missed opportunity that we ended up with the exact same dynamic of the First Order (which is virtually identical to the Empire) fighting a handful of Resistance/Rebels.

There Better Be Something About Snoke

Supreme Leader Snoke (pinterest.com)

Who was Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he become so powerful? To introduce him as the mastermind behind the First Order but be eliminated so easily seems odd and I really want answers, as it stands he just seems like a lazy Palpatine rip-off.

Stay The Course – Things The Last Jedi Got Right

  • Rey’s parentage – the obvious and easy route would be to tie Rey to someone already mentioned in the saga, make her a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, maybe even a Palpatine. I know for many fans this was the biggest issue but I really liked it and Kylo Ren explicitly stated that she wasn’t part of the story. Well, you know what? The fate of the galaxy shouldn’t just be the concern of the extended Skywalker family.
  • The End of the Jedi – well, maybe not the end, but I loved how it was pointed out by more than one character that the Jedi weren’t all they were cracked up to be. They never saw who Palpatine really was, they let themselves be manipulated into fighting a huge war and were then so easily eliminated. Maybe the Jedi Order as it was had run its course.
  • Luke Isn’t Perfect – Luke was essentially the main character of the original trilogy. He was good, noble and had amazing superhuman powers but The Last Jedi showed he was still a flawed human. He made a terrible mistake with Ben/Kylo Ren and essentially drove him to the Dark Side. I’d also say his confrontation with Kylo Ren at the end of the film was genius – Luke had already confronted Kylo Ren with violence once and made things worse, his solution seemed a very Jedi thing to do.

The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect but it was a very enjoyable film. The problem is when it comes to Star Wars films it seems the fans want something amazing or nothing at all.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those That Didn’t) – Part 4 [Star Wars]

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Four [Star Wars]

April 21, 2019
Supreme Leader Snoke

Back by popular demand but better than the fourth Indiana Jones film is the next instalment in our ‘Villains’ series, where I share my thoughts on which movie bad guys have been worth the wait, and which have been a big ol’ let down.

So far, I’ve put villains from the Harry Potter, James Bond and Marvel series under the microscope – this time around, I’ll turn my attention to the glorious and often polarising space opera saga that is Star Wars (and I’ll do my level best not to geek out too much in the process).

Before I get into it, though, here’s an important disclaimer: there are a TON of heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe and while it would be fun to compare a baddie from the prequel trilogy with someone in Rogue One, it may not be entirely fair, especially if their character spans more than one trilogy and we have more time to love or hate them. So I’m going to stick with the new trilogy on this occasion. 

Also, the new trailer for The Rise of Skywalker dropped as I was writing this and almost made me go in a completely different direction on this one (that laugh…!), but I decided to stick with my original choice in the end.

Part four: Star Wars Villains (Sequel Trilogy)

Kylo Ren – heir apparent to Lord Vader indeed

Kylo Ren

I love Kylo Ren. I love Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. I love J.J. Abrams for making Kylo Ren such a badass in The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson for developing his character in the right way in The Last Jedi. He was probably the best thing about both movies.

Remember the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens? Andy Serkis snarling “There has been an awakening…have you felt it? The Dark Side, and the Light.”

There’s a shot in that teaser that hit the cutting room floor of Kylo Ren igniting his crossguard lightsabre in the snowy woods on Starkiller Base. That was the beginning of the Kylo Ren hype that never really let up at all, even after he took off his mask to reveal the wavy dark locks of Adam Driver (I know a few people who hated that). Here was a villain deliberately modelled on Darth Vader, complete with his own distorted voice and hidden visage.

What I love about Kylo is the fact that we never really know just how good or bad he actually is, or whether or not he’s truly as powerful as other characters in the films keep telling us. At the end of The Force Awakens, he screams “TRAITOR!” at John Boyega’s Finn (something akin to Anakin’s “I HATE YOU!” shriek at Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith), reminding us that he’s still quite young and lacking in self-control – he’s also just murdered his own father at this point, so the capacity for evil is definitely there. And yet in The Last Jedi, he often seems just as conflicted as Rey, even veering tantalisingly towards the Light at times.

Ultimately, it’s all a mirroring of Vader, making Kylo Ren the first truly worthy successor to the heavy-breathing Dark Lord of the Sith. And like Vader, as The Rise of Skywalker approaches, we still have no real idea which way this particular Force-wielding villain is going to go in the end. As it should be.

Supreme Leader Snoke – just a red herring?

Supreme Leader Snoke
Supreme Leader Snoke

I thought Rian Johnson did a fantastic job with Snoke. Abrams hadn’t given us much to go on other than a gloomy-looking hologram with a booming voice, but Johnson wasted no time in revealing the First Order’s Big Bad shortly after the opening scene of The Last Jedi. Snoke’s fairly hideous appearance, given life by the brilliant Andy Serkis, was pretty much what I’d been hoping for. I also loved the fact that his throne room was mostly bright and red, and Snoke himself wore gold-coloured clothing instead of the usual black ensemble.

And I genuinely loved the moment when Kylo Ren sliced his master in two – it was totally unexpected and completely threw the audience at the time.

However, I was gutted that we never discovered who the heck the Supreme Leader actually was. Like many fans, I’d spent months trying to work out who he was: Palpatine? Darth Plagueis? Mace Windu (yes, someone actually suggested that!).

So when the credits finally rolled and we were no closer to finding out who he was or why he wanted to take over the galaxy, I felt a little cheated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the positive end of Star Wars fans regarding The Last Jedi, but I’d wanted some answers and hadn’t gotten anyway. Maybe we’ll find out in the final instalment who Snoke was, but I fear that ship has sailed.

The bottom line

I don’t think many Star Wars fans would argue that Kylo Ren isn’t a great villain. He has all the makings of a classic cinematic figure on the cusp of a satisfying character arc completion (I hope!), and the trailer shots of his mask being repaired got me even more excited for The Rise of Skywalker than I already had been (he’s cooler with the mask on, right?). On Snoke, I wanted some answers and Rian Johnson didn’t throw any my way, so I can never really feel at peace with that one.

Here’s to a satisfying end to the greatest movie saga of all time!

Read the rest of “The Movie Villains Who Nailed It” series:

Part 1: Harry Potter

Part 2: James Bond

Part 3: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Editorials

Five Sci-Fi Films To Watch Right Now On Netflix

April 15, 2019

Netflix has hundreds of films from blockbusters to indie gems to cult classics and it has no shortage of great science-fiction.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (comicbook.com)

The Plot – The film follows Jyn Erso a woman who has been on the run from the Empire since her childhood because her father is the man who designed the Death Star. Forced by the Rebel Alliance into a mission to extract her father from the Empire’s clutches and so disrupt their plans, Jyn becomes more and more involved in the civil war that is only just beginning.

Why It’s Great – In my opinion this has been the best of the new crop of Star Wars films. A self-contained story (more or less) that fixed perhaps the biggest plot-hole in all of Star Wars – namely, who builds a priceless weapon of mass destruction with such an easy Achilles’ Heel. The cast is sensational with Felicity Jones and Diego Luna as great leads, Ben Mendelsohn doing his Evil Scumbag routine in space and with great actors like Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker taking on small roles.

Verdict – A wonderful addition to the Star Wars Saga.

Inception (2010)

Inception (hit.com)

The Plot – Leonardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, a very special kind of criminal who enters peoples’ dreams to steal information. Challenged to the seemingly impossible act of “inception” – implanting a new idea in a dream that the dreamer will believe to be their own Cobb puts together a crack team to accomplish his goal.

Why It’s Great – Christopher Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Or at least he hasn’t yet. Inception was the first film Nolan directed after Nolan makes blockbusters like no one else, making them as intelligent and original as they are a spectacle. There is a lot of the “one last job for a criminal” motif going on but that is just a great jumping off point. The special effects are truly stunning with the city landscape being twisted and folded as the high point and even if the writing and acting were terrible – which they aren’t – it would be worth watching for the effects alone. As frustrating as the ambiguous ending might be, I like a film that is brave enough not to give you all the answers.

Verdict – A dazzling and smart sci-fi blockbuster.

The World’s End (2013)

The World’s End (kino&co)

The Plot – Gary King wants to reassemble his school friends to complete the “Golden Mile” a pub crawl along twelve pubs in their home town. Sadly for Gary much has changed since school, the group is estranged and he is no longer – if he ever really was – their leader. As the friends reunite and start their pub crawl things in the town become increasingly odd leading to a sensational fight in a pub toilet that reveals what is going on in the town.

Why It’s Great – All of the Cornetto Trilogy are more than what a simple category can describe – all of them are excellent examples of their genre but excel in being films about people. The World’s End is a film about aliens slowly taking over the planet but it’s also about friendship, betrayal, dealing with disappointment in life, youth (and losing your youth), what is life about and more. I would say this is my least favourite of the trilogy but that still could put it in my top twenty films of all time. It has another feature of the Cornetto Trilogy in combining huge, over the top scenarios, in small unlikely places. Few films pack the emotional punch of The World’s End let alone comparing it to other sci-fi comedies.

Verdict – A triumphant end to the Cornetto Trilogy.

Back To The Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

Back To The Future (npr.org)

The Plot – After accidentally travelling backwards in time teenager Marty McFly interrupts the meet-cute between his parents and thus will never be born. Recruiting the younger version of the scientist who sent him back in time, Doc, Marty seeks to set the timeline right and save himself. In Part 2 Marty and Doc travel to the future to avert a disaster for Marty’s son only to make things much worse everyone – well, nearly everyone. And Part 3…well Part 3 is set in the Old West for some reason ( just go with it, it’s fun).

Why It’s Great – I suppose it’s cheating to put a whole trilogy into one slot but it’s surely a crime to break up these wonderful films when they make such a satisfying collection. It’s hard to overstate the impact these films had on science-fiction and pop culture in general. For many these are the films that made time-travel (and all the paradoxes, dangers and opportunities that come with it) vaguely possible to understand, partly through literally drawing it on a blackboard in Part 2.

Verdict – If for any reason you have not seen these films prepare to watch three of the most enjoyable films ever made.

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (midwestfilmjournal.com)

The Plot – Lena’s soldier husband returns mysteriously to their home but something is very wrong with him and it isn’t long before the government swoops in and takes control of the situation. It turns out her husband was sent on a secret mission into The Shimmer – a mysterious area of land where normal rules do not apply and her husband is the only person to return from numerous missions. Lena, a scientist and former soldier joins the next team determined to find out what happened.

Why It’s Great – While it does feel somewhat fitting to include a Netflix original film on this list doesn’t mean Annihilation doesn’t got a free pass – it’s a great sci-fi film, and in a way that few sci-fi films are. It has gunfights and monsters and all those things going on it has also has unusual ideas that make you think about the world and the universe. Science-fiction gets a lot of criticism but to me it’s always been the genre of big ideas – whether that’s time travel or space flight or what it means to be human. Written and directed by filmmaking genius Alex Garland and adapted from the successful Southern Reach book trilogy this film comes with exemplary sci-fi credentials.

Verdict – Bizarre mind-bending sci-fi epic.

Editorials

Ten Movies Turning Twenty In 2019

March 8, 2019

1999 was a good year for films but really, most years are a good year for films. Some years you may have to look a little harder for them but they’re always being made – here are ten films that are turning twenty this year.

Fight Club

Fight Club (moviemet.com)

This film became a cult classic almost instantly. A fierce and brutal movie about feeling detached from the modern world, feeling like the consumerist culture offered nothing and wanting something simpler and more violent. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s characters start having fights in public and amazingly more people join, seemingly made up almost entirely of people who don’t look like the sort of people who get in fights. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) turns them into something far more sinister; along the way giving the legendary rules of the club.

In my opinion Fight Club is both Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s best film, both giving amazing performances with Pitt’s Tyler Durden becoming a film icon. It is a film that feels as relevant today as it did then – watch it.

Office Space

Office Space (20th Century Fox)

This little known Mike Judge film should come with a warning that after watching it you will probably want to quit your job. A hilarious work-based comedy about someone stuck in a job they don’t see the point of and him wondering why he should even care. After a derailed session with a hypnotherapist, the lead character acts on his impulses, turning up late, telling his manager what he really thinks and knocking down a wall of his cubicle. Where does this fearlessness lead? Crime.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (Gramercy Pictures)

The film that launched a thousand bad British gangster films into production. One of the most damning things I can think to say about this film is that I liked it when I was a teenager and no longer see the appeal. Perhaps I am being too harsh – the film was certainly of its time and made a huge impact. Historically it’s been hard for British gangster films to compete with their American cousins – they were cooler, they had more money (the gangsters and the studios) and everything was on a bigger scale. Lock Stock showed that you could make a successful and popular British gangster film that still felt British.

10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You (freepressjournal.in)

Quite simply 10 Things… is one of the best teen movies ever made. Using Shakespeare’s Taming of a Shrew as a blueprint it told a story of teenage life and love wonderfully. The central four actors are all perfect in their roles and at least two have gone on to become major film stars. The film reolves around the father setting a rule that for the younger sister to date, the older sister must be dating as well, leading to man 1 who wants to date younger sister to recruit man 2 to date older sister – got it? For all of the deviousness going on with the plot, there is a niceness to the film. The two male leads aren’t awful selfish misogynists, the female leads are intelligent women while being completely different characters.

Election

Election (Letterboxd.com)

Alexander Payne’s whipsmart Election is a high-school film like no other. Centred around the election for class president, an almost meaningless office, teacher Matthew Broderick conspires to stop seemingly unstoppable, manipulative and overachiever Reese Witherspoon’s Tracey Flick winning the election. Witherspoon is sensational as Flick, sometimes almost seeming like a sociopath but never quite reaching it. Broderick is at his best as the teacher’s life falls apart – only partly connected to his class president plan.

The Mummy

The Mummy (TheAgonyBooth.com)

The Mummy, likes Jaws, is a film whose reputation has suffered because of the sequels. I forgot that Jaws is a masterclass of tension and acting and I forgot that The Mummy is a hugely enjoyable action adventure romp that rarely got made even back in the nineties. Starring quintessential 90s leading man Brendan Fraser and too-good-an-actor-for-this-film Rachel Weisz the filmmakers were clearly going for a new Indiana Jones style film and while not reaching those heights it is a lot of fun.

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (DenofGeek.com)

I had never been more excited for a film release in all my life. A new Star Wars film seemed like an impossible event. I remember my dad shouting for me to come downstairs because a tv show was going to play the trailer (which I watched over and over again online, or as much as you could with pre-broadband internet). I managed to convince myself I liked it, focusing on the good bits like Darth Maul and the excellent John Williams score. As time passed though I realised it wasn’t a very good film. After the ferocious maelstrom of criticism that accompanied The Last Jedi I am actively trying to tone down negative feedback – The Phantom Menace was disappointing. It’s albatross hung heavily around the neck of The Force Awakens which against all expectations – including my own – was great.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (IMDb)

This is surely one of the cultural touchstones of the year – a film that seemingly everyone saw. This, like another film on this list, has a “twist” and is probably the default example of a “twist film”. A great horror/ghost story of a boy who sees dead people and the psychiatrist trying to help him, who naturally enough starts from the position that ghosts aren’t real, and that’s how he’ll help him. The slow realisation that the child might actually be right is played very well. Of course, this is the film that launched M. Night Shyamalan’s career and that has been, at best, a mixed bag. If somehow you still haven’t seen this film go and find it.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 (pixartalk.com)

The Toy Story trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy) is held up by some as the best trilogy in cinema history and quite frankly it’s hard to argue. Each film is brilliant yet different from the others. Following the practically perfect Toy Story was always going to be a challenge but the filmmakers succeeded. Toy collector Al, surely one of the greatest villains in cinema history, steals the incredibly valuable Woody causing the rest of the Toy Story gang to band together to get him back. Featuring incredibly fun new characters like Stinky Pete, Tour Guide Barbie and Evil Emperor Zurg – Buzz Lightyear’s archnemesis. The film is a triumph.

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich (beyondtheboxset.com)

When I first saw this film I didn’t know what to make of it. I liked it but couldn’t quite explain why. It’s one of those films where if someone asked you to explain why it’s good it was a struggle. It still is. A bizarre story of love, jealousy and a portal into the head of John Malkovich, and not a character played by Malkovich, the actor John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, both known for making weird films this is probably their weirdest.

Editorials

Disney Strikes Back: Disney+ Breaks The Internet

January 29, 2019

It truly is an exciting time to be a film viewer with so many streaming sites vying for our attention. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and so many others are competing to be your go-to entertainment streaming service. And soon another company will join the streaming wars. Disney announced last year that at some point in 2019 it will launch its own streaming service, Disney+. Many have prophesized that the entertainment behemoth could give Netflix a run for its money. So, today we are going to ask, what effect Disney+ could have on the streaming landscape. Will Netflix be able to compete with a company as giant as the house of mouse? And what could this mean for the future of film distribution?

What is Disney+ offering?

Disney+ is stated to be a child-friendly streaming hub for all of Disney’s owned films and TV shows. These include properties like Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic. Hulu will broadcast the more adult-oriented content owned by the company. So far, the service has not set a price, but has promised that it will be cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney+ also plans to host exclusive content. These include Star Wars: The Mandalorian and a series based on Marvel’s Loki. It will also be the first place where all the latest Disney films become available.

How will this effect the industry?

Disney+ could herald the beginning of the next generation of streaming. With the studio’s pedigree and the exclusive big names they have, including Star Wars and Marvel, it seems likely that the production value of their exclusives will be high, with both properties usually focusing a lot on spectacle. And if the service becomes successful with a cheaper price, other streaming companies will have to step up their game. Perhaps lowering their price, offering new selling points or allotting higher budgets for their new projects. Competition breeds creativity and Disney+ seems poised to encourage that.

It is also interesting that Disney does not intend to dismiss cinema distribution. Allowing films to run their course in theatres rather than exclusively releasing it on Disney+. It is interesting that despite the rise of streaming, cinema exhibition continues to generate over £1 billion in revenue each year. And this display from Disney reinforces the importance of cinematic distribution. Therefore, cinemas will still benefit from the income that big releases bring to them. As well as allowing a broad audience to see the films before it becomes exclusive and potentially allowing platforms for smaller films to be seen by a larger audience.

However, if Disney+ is successful it’s not hard to see other big studios forming their own streaming companies to retain distribution rights. Meaning that a movie will run its course in cinemas and then become exclusive to that studio’s website. Customers will thus lose the variety of current streaming sites. Instead, they’ll have to sign up to multiple companies, with different prices to find what they want. This isn’t a particularly consumer-friendly environment to encourage. Plus with the four highest grossing movies of 2017 being produced by them, it’s not hard to see why Disney wants to keep using the cinema box office.

Netflix Vs Disney+

And with Disney+’s announcement, many saw it as a direct challenge to Netflix’s hold on the market. With a cheaper price, a large back catalog as well as original programming and exclusive retention of its latest cinema releases, many predict that Disney+ will be a great Netflix competitor. However, this judgment seems rash. It is exciting to see what Disney will bring to the table. And the more family-focused content of Disney+ makes it unique amongst current streaming companies. Which mainly focus on offering content for different age ranges. But ultimately it is hard to see Disney+ felling Netflix completely for one simple reason, a lack of variety.

The reason platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have succeeded is because they provide a vast range of content for all ages and interests. Genre cinema, documentaries, critically acclaimed work, schlocky trash, foreign language cinema from all over the world, kids films and the latest blockbusters are all available on those platforms. And not everyone wants to watch a Disney show or movie when they get home. Some people want to watch an adult-oriented comedy or violent action films, not exclusively family-orientated films.

Just look at the domestic box office figures for Disney’s releases last year. Their box office takings are incredibly sporadic. With some projects earning hundreds of millions while others never reach the hundred mark. Fatigue can set in easily when there is little room to breathe between brand projects (comparatively speaking). Even big-name brands don’t guarantee success, see Solo: A Star Wars Story for proof of that. Disney+ will undoubtedly have a big fan base to rely on. But the limited audience range and content makes it seems more like an Amazon Prime add on than something you would exclusively pay for. 

Disney at the 2018 Box Office

What does the future hold?

Ultimately these judgements are merely speculation and we will find out what happens when Disney+ launches later this year.

It will be interesting to see how established companies will deal with the challenge posed by Disney. A healthy dose of competition is sure to produce a good amount of change. Both in business and in the products produced. And the retention of cinema distribution will give faith to cinemagoers and smaller filmmakers looking for potential platforms to reach a wide audience.

But it is also hard to not be pessimistic about what this could do to the industry by promoting insular distribution rather than reaching the widest possible audience. Overall this feels like something being done for business rather than art. And even devoted fan culture can get burnt out when given too much to chew.

Editorials

Three franchises ending soon: my hopes and fears for each

January 13, 2019
Avengers, Star Wars & Jurassic World

Good things come in threes (unless you’re an only child like me, in which case the BEST things come in ones), so this week I’ve picked out three film series that are coming to an end in the near future – one of which will wrap up in the very near future, I might add – and have laid out some of my hopes and fears for each.

Full disclosure: these are three film franchises that I adore, so apologies in advance if this gets emotional.

Let’s do them chronologically, just to keep things simple.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame (Teaser)

The Endgame title was revealed just last month, along with a decidedly threadbare teaser trailer. We saw Tony Stark saying his goodbyes to his beloved, a clean-shaven Captain America concocting a plan, and the reappearance of some faces notably absent from Infinity War. This next (and very much not final) entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be the 21st in the series since Iron Man kicked it all off in 2008, which is in itself a remarkable achievement.

Hopes and fears:

The Avengers find themselves in a sticky situation, with a significant portion of their team (along with half of all beings in existence) wiped out by the jolly purple giant Thanos at the end of Infinity War. Plenty have speculated, but no-one really knows exactly how everything’s going to work out fine in the end for our superheroes, though Ant-Man and his quantum tunnel machine thing surely have something to do with it…right?

Personally, I’m excited to see how Captain Marvel fits into this increasingly-complex puzzle – is she the key to defeating Thanos? More importantly, just where did everyone go after The Snap? I hope the Russo brothers can deliver another perfectly-balanced visual spectacle to follow on from the first film, with solid performances from a very talented cast and plenty more breath-taking MCU action. My only fear is that Endgame won’t live up to expectations, and that the weight of eleven years-worth of interwoven narratives and characterisation finally collapses in on itself.

Fingers crossed we can make it beyond April without that happening…

Star Wars Episode IX

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer)

The as-yet-untitled final episode in the new trilogy is perfectly poised to surprise, I believe. The Resistance has been reduced to a handful of rebels stuffed into the Millennium Falcon, with the ever-angry Kylo Ren now the Supreme Leader of the First Order hell-bent on wiping them out. Han’s gone, Luke’s gone, and, as a result of tragic real-life circumstances, Leia probably won’t feature for long in the new movie. That leaves us solely with the new cast, as well as Lando Calrissian, who is due to make another appearance in that galaxy far, far away.

Hopes and fears:

I’m pretty hopeful for the final act in the Skywalker saga since J.J.Abrams retook the reins. The Force Awakens was excellent, while The Last Jedi was marmite (I loved it, for what it’s worth). Abrams is one of the best currently in the business, and with the story right on the brink of something truly special, I’m already getting excited about seeing how the inevitable Kylo-Rey-Finn love triangle pans out (don’t lie, you were thinking it too).

My fears for Star Wars always stem from Disney’s control over the final product. The worst part of The Last Jedi (ie. the middle bit at the casino) had clearly come about based on the advice of executives who wanted to retain a fun, child-friendly element in what was otherwise a darker and more interesting storyline. If Abrams and his writing team can keep the pesky Mickey Mouse meddlers out of production, we could have an epic space opera on our hands that’s worthy of George Lucas’s original vision, before pod-racing and Jar Jar Binks.

Jurassic World 3

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Trailer)

I know a lot of people didn’t like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and I understand why. I also know that, as a long-time fan with rose-tinted glasses fused to my face, I will always find a silver lining in every velociraptor-shaped cloud that floats my way, so I’ll do my best to be objective here.

The Jurassic World movies, though clearly not as expertly-crafted as the original movie, are fun to watch, and have introduced a whole new generation of movie-goers to the classic cloned reptiles. And I think that’s great.

Hopes and fears:

My hope for the final movie in the new trilogy, which hits the big screen in 2021, is that all of the potential that’s been simmering under the surface throughout the first two instalments comes together in the way I’ve always hoped it would. No more weak writing, no more ‘filler’ characters, and no more sauropods left behind on lava-soaked docks as I try not to die inside.

Colin Trevorrow, who did a fine job of resurrecting the series back in 2015, has returned to the director’s chair after being let go by Disney (“creative differences”, and all that jazz), and I think that might be enough to get the trilogy over the line in a satisfactory way – while Fallen Kingdom was often preoccupied with trying to either scare or sadden us, Trevorrow leans more towards giving JP fans what they always wanted to see.

The bottom line

Of the three series in question, Jurassic World 3 has the most potential to crash and burn, which I desperately hope it doesn’t. I think Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars Episode IX are both in great hands and stand a much better chance of delivering, especially since both franchises are guaranteed to carry on beyond 2019 with plenty more Marvel movies in the works and an entirely new Star Wars trilogy reportedly under development.

Fingers crossed for satisfying conclusions featuring copious amounts of Hulk smashing, lightsabre clashing, and T-rex jaws gnashing.

Editorials

May The Fan Film Be With You

December 23, 2018

I am a huge Star Wars fan. So obviously I’ve seen all the films and tv shows many times (even the prequels). I’ve also read fiction set in that universe, as well as non-fiction, I’ve read graphic novels, played computer games and literally bought the t-shirts. However, compared to some people I am not very committed at all. Some people love Star Wars so much they have devoted time, money and resources to create their own fan films, original stories set in the Star Wars universe. They do this without hope of profit or reward and I always admire people who work hard on something simply because they love it. In writing this article I watched a lot of Star Wars fan films and was shocked by just how good they were, so here’s a list of five great fan films that showcase the different types of film being made.

Troops

Troops was one of the first fan films and dates back to 1997. Troops create the format and style of infamous reality tv show Cops and applies it to stormtroopers on Tatooine. A Star Wars comedy parody fan film could easily annoy me but they pitch it perfectly, mixing the almost polite and reasonable behaviour police demonstrate on Cops – for example trying to calm down an arguing couple,  to more typical stormtrooper behaviour like shooting Jawas in cold blood.

There a lot of cute details for Star Wars fans and when we learn that these particular storm troopers are searching for stolen droids we kind of know where this is going. 

The special effects aren’t great but considering when this was made this is not surprising and the grainy appearance could even be intentional. The costumes are dead on and they certainly look like stormtroopers. Overall this a funny and cool film that everyone from casual fans to complete Star Wars nerds will enjoy.

Darth Maul: Apprentice 

This fan film focuses on everyone’s favourite bisected sith apprentice- Darth Maul, to many people he was one of the few good things in The Phantom Menace. In this film, Darth Maul takes on a number of Jedi sent to fight him. There is limited plot and is essentially one long fight scene but it has the best fighting of any fan film I’ve watched.

The stunt work and fighting are very well done, the fights moving quickly and smoothly and while occasionally some of the special effects remind you that you are not watching a Hollywood blockbuster that is a minor gripe as usually they are very well done.

The acting isn’t always top notch but this is a film about getting to watch Darth Maul fight Jedi and in that sense it is a complete success. That said, the actor playing Darth Maul has captured that character wonderfully.

Jakku: First Wave

A lot of fan films focus on fighting. Light sabre-duels, blaster fights and dogfights are all cool but often they lack story and interesting characters. Personally I really need these things and can put up with bad special effects if it makes me think and feel something.

This film has essentially abandoned many of the special effects and set pieces fan films rely on. The film lasts three and a bit minutes and is of several stormtroopers waiting to go into battle talking about why they are fighting. It was an interesting idea as it takes the normally anonymous stormtroopers who follow a clearly evil emperor and shows things from their point of view. The costumes and sound effects are great and I genuinely wanted to know more about their story and what happened to these characters and that’s high praise indeed.

TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story

Star Wars fan films are such a longstanding phenomenon there are awards – which this film won. Like Jakku: First Wave this is taken from the point of view of a person who signs up as a stormtrooper because he believes in the cause of the Empire, he’s clearly not evil but sees the Empire as the legitimate authority and propaganda broadcasts frame the Rebel Alliance wanting a return to the lawless days of the Republic. This is an epic of fan films capturing the chaotic and dirty business of war. Most of the film is focused on a single battlefield, soldiers fire at each other and dogfights go on above them and they even come up with some nifty stormtrooper weapons.

Perhaps most interestingly this film focuses on the fact that in a civil war your enemies can be your friends, your family, your neighbours. How will you feel fighting these people? Why did you choose different sides? Of all the fan films I watched this one felt most like a complete film.

Hoshino

This is a very interesting film that I enjoyed a lot, it is the story of Hoshino who we see both as an apprentice and as a Jedi Master with shots going back and forth from the present to the past. We see in the present that Jedi Master Hoshino is blind, a vicious scar running across both her eyes and when an apprentice this scar is not present. We will learn what happened to her.

The film has great special effects including a very cool sequence of Hoshino assembling her light sabre just by using the Force to combine all the pieces.  There is also some cool Jedi philosophising between Hoshino and the Jedi training her which fits in nicely with the Jedi religion that Lucas created. 

There is a familiar plot of arrogant apprentice rushing into something they’re not properly prepared for but this is handled well and has some interesting features. There is, of course, the question of how a blind Jedi perceives the world and while I don’t know of any such characters in the wider Star Wars universe I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed.