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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh

THE LAST JEDI

Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson, George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson

Well it has to be said, its been two extremely quick years following the release of ‘The Force Awakens’ and now Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga is out in theatres. It would be fair to say that not everyone is a overly enamoured with his vision. There has been a very vocal minority of Star Wars fandom that have taken to aggressively bashing it; even going as far as creating bots to negatively impact the Rotten Tomatoes viewer score.

This doesn’t mean that every detractor of the film is doing this or is wrong to be airing their grievances. They aren’t. Films are a highly subjective matter at the best of times. Now, combine that with a much beloved franchise and characters that have been a part of pop culture for nigh on 40 years and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some heated disagreements.

But enough of that hysteria. What did I make of it all? Well, if you’ve been listening to our podcasts then we did actually do a review last week but laying out your thoughts mere hours after leaving the cinema can make for tricky business. Things can be missed. Hence why I’m doing a written version after another viewing in an attempt to do a more ‘in depth’ review.

First of all, I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I recall playing with a Sand People figure when I was about four or five years of age and being absolutely fascinated with that galaxy far, far away. My credentials in that department are undeniable, and as a complete nobody, I can’t be accused of being a Disney shill. I absolutely loved this film. It’s not good enough to trouble the original three but it’s a damn good film and I’m genuinely perplexed at the vitriol coming from some quarters.

It begs the question. Just what were people expecting? A three and half hour long film that answered every single theory just as they’d painstakingly thought out?

Rian Johnson has a reputation for going dark, for his excellent writing ability and for just being a great director period. He’s also been a Star Wars fan from the age of four. What better credentials could you ask for? And what he’s given us is a fabulously entertaining film, that develops the newer characters well, offers a satisfying progression for the older characters, but more importantly expands and shakes up a mythology and galaxy that quite frankly had become static and in danger of repeating itself ad infinitum.

He tied up the two major loose ends JJ left from ‘The Force Awakens’ and did it well. Was it exactly what I wanted? Nope. Did I enjoy the direction he took? Yup. Rey’s parents? Yeah, they were unimportant nobodies. She wasn’t a Skywalker but instead a naturally gifted random. Fair enough. Snoke? He wasn’t Darth Plagueis. He was just some bushy eyed, deformed looking weirdo with a frankly incredible connection to the force, that had a fetish for gold and was cut down in spectacular fashion.

Luke Skywalker is by far my favourite Star Wars character. His arc seems to be causing the biggest amount of anguish amongst the films detractors. Again, Rian Johnson did not go down the path I personally would have liked to have seen come to fruition. He didn’t cut down the Knights of Ren in an epic lightsaber battle, didn’t slap down Kylo and he didn’t even leave that bloody island. But man, did I enjoy Luke in this film. The way he takes his nephew to school at the end, playing on his clear penchant for impulsiveness was a joy to behold.

The sight of him walking out to face the might of the First Order was a standout moment. Everything about it was perfect. From ‘The Spark’ theme (Williams best in this film) to the visuals, it had my personal favourite wide shot in the film too.

Mark Hamill is utterly brilliant in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s arguably his best performance in the character of Luke. Hell, it’s arguably one of his best live action performances period. He’s been through some shit and it’s changed his character in the thirty year gap. He’s experienced unimaginable hardship, loss and learned some incredibly cool force abilities. He’s a tad grouchy and he’s taken to drinking green milk from the udder of a hideous alien. He also lost some weight and looks fantastic for it.

Princess Leia is handled very well too. The late Carrie Fisher was much improved here, giving a very good showing, following her practically mute role in ‘The Force Awakens’. The infamous space scene wasn’t as bad as some have made out. I thought the scoring and visuals were on point during it and it finally showed us Leia using the force. What’s not to like? I was also incredibly pleased to see her have a moment with Luke. It would have been criminal for either of those two to go out without sharing a scene together. It was a genuine lump in the throat moment.

Visually, I thought the film was stunning. It’s the most stylish to date and some of the action, aided by lovely wide shots, was jaw dropping. The opening shot where the camera rushes down was exhilarating, the Canto Bight stuff popped despite being superfluous, the scene when General Holdo (Laura Dern) sends the Resistance cruiser zooming through Snoke’s Supremacy was ridiculously cool and that lightsaber battle in the throne room is up there for me. There was a plethora of visually incredible moments in this film and sadly I can’t possibly list them all which is annoying.

Speaking of Canto Bight. Finn and Rose’s side plot was unnecessary, disrupted the pacing, was off in terms of tone and felt like a rather convoluted way to setup the showdown on Crait. Benicio Del Toro’s character was poor and don’t even get me started on the druggy stutter. It felt superfluous to the main plot and conjured up memories of the prequels whilst also featuring some real corny dialogue. That along with some poorly worked comedic moments and the slightly underwhelming walkers at the end was the only real let down for me.

In terms of Rey and Kylo. I actually loved the whole dynamic of their relationship in this one. The force ‘FaceTiming’ as I called it wasn’t that off putting, was explained well and again opened up new possibilities. Rey is obviously struggling to find her role in things, trying to coax Luke into training her whilst Kylo is really on the end of a prolonged bout of bullying at the hands of Snoke and equally questioning his role. Which is why I was delighted when he ended him. It was deserved and Kylo is fast becoming my favourite of the newer characters.

Adam Driver is a brilliant actor and he’s really showing up Hayden Christiansen in the how to play a conflicted character stakes. I see now why JJ hand picked him for this role. By the end, it’s pretty clear that he’s went full big bad however which is a shame because even now I want him redeemed. He’s clearly the last thread of Skywalker heritage in this saga that can realistically continue and for that reason alone I want him to survive. It’ll be very interesting to see where he goes from this.

Daisy Ridley has been criticised in some circles for her so called wooden delivery of certain lines. I must have been watching a different film though because I missed these completely. Perhaps I was too busy just enjoying the story and action instead of looking for reasons to throw the toys out the pram. She was absolutely fine for me and I felt they reigned in her ‘overpowered’ abilities, making her more vulnerable, particularly during the throne room sequences to appease the ‘Mary Sue’ brigade.

I can’t discuss this film without mentioning Poe and General Hux. Oscar Isaac is a talented actor and I’m delighted he was given a chunkier role. He learnt a valuable lesson in this and it looks like he’s taking control of the Resistance going forward. Hux was often used as comedic levity and for the most part it worked. His little smirk at Kylo upon leaving the throne room and general slyness was oddly enjoyable. Domhnall Gleeson owns the character.

Musically, John Williams returns to score this and it’s brilliance from the man as ever. There’s not many new themes in there but that’s probably because there’s not many new characters worthy of them. What he does do is reintroduce many classics to delightful effect. The Leia theme has a delicate moment in the space scene whilst Yoda’s adds an emotional edge to the return of that particular character. It just isn’t Star Wars without the great mans involvement.

Incidentally, the Yoda scene was absolutely fantastic. The puppet looked great and they nailed the mannerisms and the eccentric personality we all loved from the Original trilogy.

This is a divisive film and much of the hate appears to stem from two main issues. Firstly, predetermined fan theories not coming true, and secondly, the apparent callous way in which established mythology and characters have been dealt with. As I said earlier, I’m delighted that the mythology has been freshened up. This misconception that you must be from famous lineage to be a Jedi is just that. I think the older characters were handled competently. It’s all subjective though.

Overall. I think the positives more than outweigh the negatives in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a brilliant addition to the Star Wars saga and opens up so many possibilities going forward. It’s added freshness to the franchise, Luke still very much has a role to play and the fate of the Resistance hangs on a knife edge. I look forward to Episode 9 now and Rian Johnson’s trilogy and I highly recommend this one to the majority of fans. Most will already have seen it mind, but if you haven’t, then what the hell are you waiting for?

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Circle (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

THE CIRCLE

Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: James Ponsoldt (screenplay), Dave Eggers (screenplay)
Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane

Having watched “The Circle” on Netflix I have mixed feelings about this film in so many levels. The main character portrayed by Emma Watson “Mae” is in a dead end job and portrays a young lady with an unfulfilled life. Receiving a life changing call from her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) that she has been accepted into the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company “The Circle”

“The Circle” facility isn’t much different from working environments that major companies such as Apple or Microsoft create in blending working life with social life and an informal office space. Mae rises through the ranks and is encouraged by the founder of “The Circle” Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) to engage in groundbreaking experiments that push the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately her personal freedom. Her personal life and in particular her family are affected by the environment that she becomes involved in.

Staying on this side of the characters it was one of the plus points of the movie and if they had shown us more of the effect on her family I think the movie would have been better balanced and added more Drama. Sadly portraying her parents Vinnie and Bonnie were the late great actors Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly who only passed away this year and tragically only 4 months apart. Both Paxton and Headly are fine in this movie and the characters give the movie some humanity and roundedness that is necessary in this story.

John Boyega (Ty) and Karen Gillan (Annie) sadly with their acting credentials they are supporting characters at best and don’t offer much to the storyline other than a link to normality for Mae as does the character of Mercer played by Ellar Coltrane who could have been potential boyfriend material for Mae at the beginning of the movie but dissipates as the story unfolds and only serves as a moral compass at the movies climax.

I mentioned earlier that I have mixed feelings about this movie and that is because of the acting line up for this movie offered so much talent but disappointingly come off a little wooden at times and I’ll even go as far as saying a little cringey at times with their delivery and dialogue. That’s not a direct dig at James Ponsoldt who Directed the movie and wrote the screen play. I just felt that some scenes felt over explained and dragged on and felt the Director was overemphasising the need to assume his audience would require a lot of the script to be dumbed down to understand the “techy speak”

I’ve been a fan of Tom Hanks for over 30 years now and he rarely disappoints and although the character of Eamon Bailey the founder of “The Circle” comes off as a Steve Jobs / Mark Zuckerberg hybrid pioneer I didn’t hate the character as much as the filmmaker was intending Bailey to be as the “Villain” of the movie. Just like the Jobs and Zuckerbergs of this world they pushed the technology envelope as far as they could and were always looking for the next “What Next?” in their companies. That doesn’t make them the bad guy in any sense. I have to admit I hated the staff at “The Circle” more.

“The Circle” if I am comparing similar tones is a blend of “The Social Network” and “The Truman Show” where it attempts to test the audiences feelings on privacy and morals but just falls flat as another flaw I felt in the movie was when this story takes place. If it’s in the near future then I can accept some of the processes and ideas the company are trying to project as they appear flawed and a little far fetched but “could” be possible one day (I’m thinking George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four predictions)

In Summary “The Circle” is a not bad film. Yes it has it flaws like most films and the potential is always greater than the end result. I would recommend giving it a watch as the subject matter is interesting enough although the drama is a bit run of the mill, it does make you think (however crass at times) I would give it a go.

Imperial Dreams (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

IMPERIAL DREAMS

Director: Malik Vitthal
Writers: Ismet Prcic, Malik Vitthal
Stars: John Boyega, Rotimi, Glenn Plummer

John Boyega is Bambi who is a reformed gangster’s devoted to his family and his future which is put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in, Los Angeles.

Bambi tries to choose the honest way to an honest future, but all circumstances work against his intentions. Bambi’s Uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) offers him jobs to get him back in the game and earn money. Trying to look after his son and living in his car, you would think Bambi would choose the easy way to survive but resists the temptation as best as he can.

Bambi’s dream of becoming a writer keeps the character grounded and offers hope to him when everything appears to be lost.

Imperial Dreams reminded me of a lower budget version of “The Pursuit of Happiness” and at the point of the movies release John Boyega had yet to become a household name in the form of Finn in Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens which cam out one month after this movie.

John Boyega in Imperial Dreams carries the film as the story is told from his perspective throughout and all the scenes feature the actor. Boyega is convincing as a reformed convict trying to do what’s best for him and his family. You really feel his struggle and sense the temptation in the character to just give up the honest route with his uncle tempting him at every opportunity and Detective Hernandez (Maximiliano Hernández) on his case 24/7.

Glenn Plummer (The Day After Tomorrow) is the hard hitting Uncle Shrimp who lays down his law in his house and early on makes under no circumstance does anyone live under his roof without paying their way in the form of “Jobs that need done” Shrimp to me was a little inconsistent at times with his character. At one point he could be cold and in the very next scene offering to help Bambi with a few bucks to get a wash etc. Overall Plummer did a decent enough effort on the character and perhaps the writing let him down in parts.

Director Malik Vitthal’s low budget movie really isn’t all thrills and great action sequences. The movie is drama based and I felt most scenes he nailed in getting to the point. The movie had a gritty enough feels to it and all the landmarks in the film where either run down or depressing to look at which added to the story and hope.

Flying Lotus composes the music to Imperial Dreams and adds a very sombre mood to the movie. Previously worked on soundtracks for Grand Theft Auto V and TV Series Gossip Girl and True Blood I have to say the composition in the movie really works well in this movie and I have to say does a very good job for someone who has mostly composed for documentaries, Shorts and TV Series.

Overall Imperial Dreams is satisfying enough as long as you don’t expect some hollywood ending with Bambi becoming a sought after top writer and moves into a big mansion. The movie goes along at a relatively slow pace and really doesnt have a climatic scene. It is what it is, real life with hard knocks and I think if you haven’t seen Imperial Dreams I would give it a viewing.