Longtime readers of Taking The Short View will know that I don’t get to go to the cinema very often these days, but that solid exceptions to the rule are the latest entries in the James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The latest of the latter series – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – opened just before Christmas but it’s taken until now for me to actually get to see it. Miraculously I had managed to avoid any major detailed spoilers, and it’s in that same spirit that I offer this review although those seeking an entirely spoiler-free review may care to look elsewhere – just a gentle advance warning.
I confess, I’d been a little trepidatious about this movie. Partly that’s due to all the expectations riding on it as the climax of a series that has captivated me and millions (billions?) of other fans who have been on this journey since 1977. But it’s also because the few comments I did hear about the film in advance of seeing it suggested that the studio had given into agitated fans who had been vicious about the previous instalment. They suggested that Star Wars: The Last Jedi had been effectively erased from canon existence and retroactively rewritten to placate that section of fandom unable to deal with anything new and challenging and only want something warm, cosy and familiar. That really annoyed me, as I had genuinely loved and respected the previous film for trying something new and different. Now I feared that the ninth episode would capitalate and retreat back into the safety of being yet another tame refurb of the original movie, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens had largely been.
My viewing of the film this week did not start well. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some mild/implied spoilers
I’m a huge fan of writer-director Alex Garland, whose Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of 2014. So I was a bit irked to find that I’d missed his follow-up offering Annihilation which for the life of me I couldn’t remember doing the rounds at the local cinema.
I was somewhat mollified to find out that in fact the film apparently bypassed a theatrical release in the UK and was offered here instead exclusively via Netflix. Since I’m not a subscriber to that particular streaming service, I would have had to wait for its release on old fashioned DVD and Blu-ray home media in any case, which it turned out happened to be earlier this month.
The film, based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, features Natalie Portman as Lena, a former US Army soldier who is now a leading cellular-biology professor. She’s in mourning for her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who left on a top secret covert military mission a year ago and hasn’t been heard of again since. Except now he turns up, a shell of the man she remembers and also seriously ill. Lena sets out to find out what happened to him in the hope that she can find a cure, and her search takes her into a strangely warped area of Florida land in which the natural laws of reality no longer apply after a meteorite impacted the shoreline three years previously. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a while since I’ve been to the cinema to see a fim on the big screen, and I was shocked by how much ticket prices had risen. They’re now the same as a new-release Blu-ray, which at least has re-watch and re-sale value. Small wonder then that these days I limit my theatrical outings to three specific categories of films – new James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars instalments – which I’ve been faithful to ever since the Seventies.
Somewhat to my surprise I duly made it to see Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi before Christmas, and without having suffered any spoilers. I’d even kept away from official trailers in the build-up to the film’s release. I had seen the reviews, and noted that they’d started with euphoric raptures before curdling somewhat with criticism from fans who weren’t happy with the direction the series was going, but I made sure to avoid any details of either praise or gripes until I’d seen the film for myself. Which I now have.
Before I go on, a word about spoilers. I don’t intend to reveal any here – I’d rather everyone saw it in the unsullied state that I managed for myself – but inevitably there will be comments and hints in this review that betray more than a given reader might like. So if you are staying clean and pure from all spoilers, then perhaps it’s better to look away now just to be sure. And just to add, some elements of The Force Awakens are also discussed here since the statute of limitations on spoilers from that film has now expired. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers, although hopefully not the really big ones.
With the Christmas and New Year revels behind us, this week I finally managed to haul myself to the cinema and see the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga. Miracle of miracles, despite the fact that Episode VII: The Force Awakens has been on release for three weeks now, I had somehow successfully managed to avoid even a whisper of any significant spoilers in the meantime – a feat that might well end up ranking as my most successful accomplishment of the year! – and I was duly rewarded with a completely unsullied viewing experience despite my tardiness.
Rather than play games and withhold my verdict to the end of this review, let’s start with the conclusion: this is a really enjoyable film. Exciting, emotional, funny and thoroughly entertaining, it barely pauses to draw breath even once during its 135 minute running time. The Force Awakens manages to recapture almost all the magic of the original trilogy while purging all that went wrong in the prequels.
I’m confident in saying that it’s almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015. Many congratulations to director JJ Abrams for managing to both keep the same feel of the 1977 original film while at the same time bringing a thoroughly 21st century updating to the pacing, look and feel, stunts and FX. That is one incredibly tough balancing act to accomplish – actually almost impossible, I would have thought – and he’s achieved it with aplomb.
So all these things considered therefore, I have no hesitation in proclaiming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens to be a very robust … four star movie. Read the rest of this entry »
In Ex Machina, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young worker drone at Bluebook (think: fictional version of a naughty Google without the threat of reprisal lawsuits) who wins the opportunity to spend a week with his reclusive boss, billionaire eccentric genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his remote hi-tech home. But when Caleb gets there he finds he’s actually been selected for a completely different purpose – to help Nathan test a revolutionary new prototype artificial intelligence.
The standard way of determining whether an AI has truly achieved sentience is to administer the Turing Test, in essence a lengthy conversation with a human at the end of which the AI is deemed to have passed if the human cannot say with any degree of certainty whether they have been interacting with another real life person or a machine. That’s easier said than done however, and it’s soon clear that the test is in any case far too simplistic for Nathan’s requirements. What, then, can the two men come up with to determine whether or not Ava (Alicia Vikander) has genuine self-awareness or is just very good at mimicking and faking certain characteristics? Read the rest of this entry »