3 stars

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

While Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to learn the way of the Force with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) leads the Resistance as the First Order threatens them all.

All the characters we met before in The Force Awakens (2015) have returned, plus some new ones. Two of the key new characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who befriends Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes with.

A lot of the film focusses on Rey’s training as she learns more about the Force and what made Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turn to the Dark Side. Rey and Kylo are often portrayed as equals or two sides of the same coin and their interactions are often tense and fascinating. These two are the main focus of the film, which then means characters like Finn and Poe are side-lined which is unfortunate. That being said, all of the cast give excellent performances and Hamill and Fisher add so much more to their iconic characters.

The Last Jedi is an action-packed sequel with a lot of humour, some of which doesn’t always hit the mark. There’s a lot going on in this film with characters splitting off and going on their own missions, but at the same time, all of this stuff doesn’t do much in terms of progressing the overarching plot. This film seems to focus more of character development, which is not a bad thing at all, though it is sometimes heavy handed and by focusing on this there doesn’t seem to be any form of resolution in the battle of good vs evil. Naturally this is the second film in a trilogy, so there’s time for things to be resolved in a satisfactory way.

The action is well shot, and the blend of CGI and practical affect is once again to the highest quality. The Last Jedi is also a good-looking film, with some stunning locations and interesting new worlds and creatures to meet.

The Last Jedi combines the family fun with dark themes, to varied affect. Sometimes these opposites are too extreme while in other cases it allows for a moments rest before these characters we know and love are in peril once more. There’s a lot of twists and turns in The Last Jedi, taking the franchise to places it may not have gone to before and it’s an unsettling thing. This makes The Last Jedi a fun ride but it’s not a flawless one. 3/5.

*Side note* I will be seeing this film again next week so I’m interested to see what I make of it after I’ve had time to think about it – will the flaws be more noticeable, or will I find more things I like? Who knows?

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READ THE WORLD – Iceland: The Blue Fox by Sjón

The Blue Fox follows two storylines; one follows a hunter, Reverend Baldur Skuggason, who’s tracking a rare blue fox, and the other follows Fridrik, a man who cares for Abba, a young woman with Down syndrome who he rescued from a shipwreck. It’s not obvious to begin with how they are all connected but as the story progresses, everything becomes clearer in this snowy landscape.

The Blue Fox is set in 1983 in Iceland and the writing is quite beautiful, though sometimes it’s just as harsh as the Icelandic winter the story takes place in. One such harsh moment is how it talks about people with Downs syndrome. Yes, it may be period-typical but it was still a shock, especially when there was writings from a medical journal, theorising how and why someone is born with Down syndrome.

The snowy mountains of Iceland where Skuggason hunts the fox are just as much a character as any of the humans. The atmosphere is chilling, and the writing puts you right there next to the hunter in the snow. The fox is a character as well, as there are some pages devoted to its point of view, making it not just this prize to be won, but a creature that you manage to care about in a few short pages.

The Blue Fox is a short book at just over 100 pages long. I enjoyed the portion about the hunter and the fox more, especially when things go a bit weird and you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not, but when you finally see what the connection is between Fridrik, Abba and Skuggason it makes Fridrik and Abba’s story more interesting. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Samoa: Freelove by Sia Figiel

It is 1985 in Western Samoa and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” rules the airwaves. Seventeen and a half-year-old Star Trek fanatic Inosia Alofafua Afatasi is sent to the capital, Apia, to buy three giant white threads. As she waits at the bus stop, Mr Ioane Viliamu, her science and maths teacher and the son of the pastor, and in turn, her spiritual brother, stops to offer her a ride in his red pickup truck. Inosia is faced with choice, does she take the ride or wait for the bus?

Freelove is a story of forbidden romance and a young woman who is smart and capable but still has a lot to learn. Inosia is very academically smart and loves science and space, in part thanks to her obsession with Star Trek. I think having a character who is repeatedly told to be beautiful, also be smart and has a nerdy obsession is quite different.

It took a little while to get used to how Freelove is written. There’s no speech marks when characters talk, instead there’s a new paragraph when someone is speaking and there’s no real signifier when it’s back to being Inosia’s thoughts. You definitely have to pay attention and when there are conversations they flow very quickly. I liked how the book features Samoan though. Sometimes when characters talked it would first be in Samoan and then have the English translation next to it.

There is sexual content in Freelove and I appreciated that any sex was consensual, and the characters were constantly talking about how they were feeling, if anything hurt or they wanted to stop, and they listened to one another. The romance between Inosia and Ioane was interesting because both of them knew what they were doing was “wrong” or wouldn’t be accepted in their village. This was because of the age difference, the fact they are spiritually related to one another and the fact that they weren’t traditionally married. They go into things with their eyes open but as you read you can’t help but wonder when or how everything is going to go wrong for them. It gives you a sense of foreboding that’s never really satisfied.

Freelove is a quick and relatively easy read once you get used to the writing style. The descriptions of Idosia’s day to day life and her family are vivid and while the romance felt a bit rushed to begin with, it’s clear that these two care about one another deeply. 3/5.

REVIEW: Justice League (2017)

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) team up to bring together a group of heroes to stand against a threat like none of them have seen before.

There are many things that are not great in Justice League, but the characters and their interactions are what makes this film a lot more fun and enjoyable that Batman v Superman.

The main problem with Justice League is it spends the first third of the film having to set up three new heroes we’ve not met before, Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), along with a villain in Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has a whole backstory as well. There’s a lot of exposition to get through, some of which is heavy-handed, and it slows down the pace of the film as it makes you to wait for any of the action scenes and the main plot to start proper.

When the heroes are together it’s nice to see them getting to know one another as they work together, but unless you know these characters from comics or TV shows, you don’t know enough about them to really care about them or become attached. Still, there’s some funny moments between the team of heroes as you start to see their personalities come through.

Justice League features an end-of-the-world-plot, but you don’t really feel those stakes due to this world seemingly not be populated by anyone but the heroes and people they know. Even when clashes between heroes and villains happen in a major city, there’s no one but the heroes around – it’s quite jarring and makes the threat not feel threatening.

Justice League is watchable, the characters are fun and the action (when it happens) is mostly exciting and engaging. However, the editing in fight scenes don’t always make everything clear and the plot itself has neither high stakes nor is always coherent. It’s the step in the right direction for the DCEU but it is a step down from Wonder Woman. 3/5.

REVIEW: 6 Days (2017)

In April 1980, a group of gunmen stormed the Iranian Embassy in London, taking hostage all those inside. Over six days there’s a tense standoff between the police and the hostage takers with the threat of the SAS being sent in to take back the embassy hanging overhead.

The action follows three main characters and their experiences. There’s police negotiator Max Vernon (Mark Strong) who must keep the gunmen’s leader Salim (Ben Turner) on the phone and try to keep the hostages alive while the politicians, army and police try to come up with a plan of action, SAS Lance Corporal Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell) who is one of the team leaders of the squadron preparing for the assault and journalist Kate Adle (Abbie Cornish) who reports from the police cordon outside the Iranian Embassy. You’re introduced to these characters on the first day of the siege and get very little background information about them upfront. This means you are really relying on the actor’s performances to pull you in and they succeed in doing this.

There are many false starts for the SAS team as they get ready to attack before something happens and they’re told to stand down. You can feel the rise and fall of the tension and for a film with little action till the end, it does a good job of building the suspense and keeping you right there with these characters. When you see the SAS finally storm the Embassy it is a set piece that really pays off.

Even though 6 Days does little to change the formula of these real story thrillers, it works with the usual tropes and makes a solid, enjoyable film. It’s snappy 90 minutes runtime certainly helps as there feels to be little filler, instead focussing on the characters, their preparations and the rollercoaster of emotions they experience in such a short space of time. It might be generic, but 6 Days is an immersive and satisfying film. 3/5.

REVIEW: October Kiss (2015)

Free-spirited Poppy (Ashley Williams) never sticks at a job for long but when she is hired as a temporary nanny by workaholic Ryan (Sam Jaeger) to look after his young children Zoe (Hannah Cheramy) and Zach (Kiefer O’Reilly) she finds something she’s good at and maybe even loves.

October Kiss is a Hallmark original movie and it’s a very cheesy seasonal movie but I couldn’t help but find it somewhat endearing. October Kiss is Halloween overload. There’s so many decorations, pumpkin carving and costumes (some of which look really rather good) that it’s sometimes a little overwhelming for a Brit who’s never had a “proper” Halloween.

The cast is good and I was pleasantly surprised by the child actors – they never really feel like they’re over-acting. The chemistry between Williams and Jaeger isn’t always there but when they are with the kids it does feel like a real family as everyone slots into place.

There’s a lot of the usual tropes here but it somehow doesn’t manage to be grating. There’s the absent father, the miscommunication and the perceived threat of a new girlfriend/mother for the children in the form of Ryan’s work colleague Abigail (Miranda Frigon). It’s all rather predictable but it’s still a pleasant watch.

That just about sums October Kiss up. Nothing ground-breaking, an easy-watch and one of the better seasonal films I’ve seen. 3/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Fun Home, Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1 and Filmish

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel memoir from Alison Bechdel (yes, she’s the woman who the Bechdel test is named after) about her childhood and adolescence living in her family’s Victorian home with her rather eccentric family. The memoir is mostly about Bechdel and her relationship with her father, which was both very distant and unusual, neither of them understanding one another until she came out as a lesbian, and learning from her mother that her father was a closeted homosexual.

Fun Home isn’t a linear story, with scenes being revisited when you have been given new information. It’s also both funny and farcical at types when Bechdel recounts her dysfunctional family life. I liked the moments when Bechdel looked back on different events with hindsight, you got to see what the teenage her thought at the time and her own ideas of what really happened now she’s older.

Fun Home features a lot of themes including sexuality, gender roles (Alison preferred to wear “men’s clothes” from a young age) suicide and emotional abuse. It’s an interesting and quick read but I never really felled compelled to keep reading. 3/5.

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