Goodbye, Princess.

Film, Opinion

tumblr_inline_o06kj4px151tt6xsd_1280

This reflection, by virtue of it’s subject, cannot be original or unique in any way. Carrie Fisher was loved and adored by millions, if not billions around the globe, and not just for her legendary performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars Saga, but for her compassion, wit, and honesty.

Like many others, my first exposure to her work was George Lucas’s original Star Wars (1977) film. Princess Leia Organa was unlike any other heroine of her time – she was headstrong, fiery, and dominated the room whenever she talked. And underneath this thorny surface, lied a great compassion and love for her friends and family. Leia wasn’t an object that men battled for control over, and whilst the original film might’ve implied early on that the men needed to “rescue the Princess”, as soon as Leia met her cohorts it was clear that was never going to be the case.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the original trilogy now – in the hundreds, for sure. First on VHS, then on DVD, and now on blu-ray. I can’t even remember my life without Star Wars. And those original six heroes of the Rebellion – Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and of course Leia – fought for good and beat evil many times not only on the television screen,  but in my dreams too. And whilst I was happy to see Han and Chewbacca once more in 2016’s The Force Awakens, it was Fisher’s re-introduction in that film that made me weep. Luke may have been the guiding force of the trilogy, Han the wild-card, but Leia was it’s beating, emotive heart.

I recall Yoda’s thoughts on death in Return of the Jedi at this moment.

Yoda: Soon will I rest. Yes. Forever sleep. Earned it I have.

Luke: Master Yoda, you can’t die!

Yoda: Strong am I with the Force, but not that strong. Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall. That is the way of things. The way of the Force.

However cruel and unjust Carrie Fisher’s passing might be, I think we can derive some comfort from the fact that in some way, Princess Leia has returned to the Force. Even saying that, I am genuinely heartbroken and devastated. I think for the first time, I feel like part of my childhood has died; the band of heroes broken; that the light has indeed gone out. I won’t be able to watch those films in the same way again, for now they truly did happen a long time ago, and in a galaxy far, far away.

Goodbye, Princess. Thanks for everything.

Top 10 Films of 2015

Film

So it’s the end of the year and I thought it would be a good time to do a Top 10 of the films I’ve seen (so far) from this year. I haven’t been able to see all the films I’ve wanted to this year, so bear in mind that given another few months this list might look a bit different. As such, I’ll put a list at the bottom of this post of the films I missed that looked like they could’ve ended up in my Top 10. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this list and tell me in the comments what your favourites from this past year have been!

10. The Martian

The Martian Poster

Ridley Scott’s best film since Gladiator (2000) and one of Matt Damon’s very best performances makes The Martian the best of the recent space-faring hard science-fiction films we’ve seen. Mark Watney, an astronaut, is left stranded on Mars by his crew and has to survive the harsh environments whilst the best scientists on Earth collectively find a way to bring him back home as soon as possible. Whilst the film does get pulled down by the heavy-handed science talk at points, The Martian is a great testament to the human spirit and it’s quest for further knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Martian does spearhead a renewed interest in space.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road Poster

Australian director George Miller returns to the world of Mad Max in the brilliantly anarchic Fury Road. In what is essentially a remake of Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), we see Tom Hardy take up the role of Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa team up to escape Immortan Joe and his War Boys. Never before has the world of Mad Max been so fully realized. It is perhaps the best Mad Max film to date and easily the one with the best action sequences. It’s depiction of women has also lead to many critics calling Fury Road a feminist action film, and it’s certainly something I would agree with. A new action film for a new century.

8. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman Poster

Director Matthew Vaughn teams up with comic-book writer Mark Millar for another brilliantly irreverent tribute / parody to genre fiction, this time spy literature / film with Kingsman. Colin Firth stars as James-Bond-type spy Harry Hart, who recruits street-kid Eggsy to the Kingsman secret agency. Together they’ll combat dangerous threats and become good friends. As deliciously violent and hilarious as Vaughn / Millar’s Kick-Ass (2010), Kingsman ranks as one of the best comic-book adaptations of the new century and is just pure cinematic pleasure from start to finish.

7. Ant-Man

Ant Man Poster

Who would have thought that Marvel’s smallest hero would have made for a better film than an Avengers sequel? Paul Rudd’s effortlessly charming Scott Lang teams up with the original Ant Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) and his daughter, Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) to save the world from Pym’s ex-student Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s a film that is refreshingly simple, unlike the rest of the Marvel slate, and has a whole bunch of characters that you just can’t help but like immensely. Marvel’s best film this year for sure and definitely the best superhero film of 2015.

6. Slow West

Slow West Poster

Slow West is one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while because it abandons the modern, gritty, McCarthyesque aesthetic that so many modern westerns go for and instead returns to the romanticised, beautiful (but deadly) West that originated in the films of John Ford. Jay Cavendish, a Scottish teenager, has come to the American West to find the woman he is infatuated with / loves. He employs a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) to protect him on his journey, and as they traverse the wilderness and meet both friend and foe, their relationship will have ramifications for all of the characters they meet. It’s beautifully simple and ends in a climactic shoot out that must rank as one of the best action scenes of 2015. Heartbreaking and bittersweet, Slow West is a solid, great film.

5. Jurassic World

Jurassic World Poster

I did really enjoy Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park films as a kid, but even so, I was astonished at the financial success Jurassic World received. Jurassic World isn’t going to win any awards that praise the film as a piece of art. Rather, Jurassic World is just pure pulp fiction and escapism. 20 years after the original park fell apart, the new and improved Jurassic World is open to visitors. And guess what? It falls apart again! You can forgive Jurassic World it’s stock story because it is tied together by stunning set-piece after stunning set-piece, with a likeable cast that makes you care about their chances of survival. Those who liked the original films will love this newest entry. Pure nostalgia.

4. The Gift

The Gift Poster

Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is one of the best thrillers in years. It’s a genre that has been done to death, so it is truly wonderful when a new directorial voice comes along to shake things up. When a couple bump into a childhood friend of the husbands, they get involved in a friendship that gets more and more intense with each meeting and gift. To say much more would be to give away some great twists and turns. The Gift had me sitting on the edge of my seat throughout. It’s greatest mark of quality is that you can see yourself in all of the main characters – we have been all of these people at some point in our lives. Not to be missed.

3. It Follows

It Follows Poster

Whilst It Follows didn’t necessarily scare me, it’s creepy atmosphere, 80s Carpenter-esque aesthetic and skilful storytelling elevate it to be the best American horror film of the last decade, if not this century. Weaving a delightfully creepy story out of themes such as STDs, coming of age, childhood innocence, and suburbia, It Follows is a strange blend of horror film, coming-of-age film, and art film. It is taken to higher levels by the stunning electronic score by Disasterpeace. Stunning in its originality and intelligence.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

As you can tell from my glowing (and spoiler free!) review of The Force Awakens, this film not only reinvigorates a classic franchise but also kicks off a wonderful new story with some great new characters. Poe Dameron, Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren are some of the best characters that the cinema of 2015 has to offer. Full of emotional depth and genuinely thrilling action, The Force Awakens ranks as one of the best films in the franchise.

1. Macbeth

Macbeth Poster

Simply put, Macbeth is an absolute masterpiece. Director Justin Kurzel masterfully adapts the Shakespearean tragedy, exploding the world of the stage onto the moody landscapes of Scotland. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, Macbeth never forgets that it is a film first and not simply a filmed play. This is its greatest strength. Michael Fassbender also turns in a career defining performance in an original interpretation of the classic role. Jed Kurzel’s powerful score is also the best film score of 2015. Moody, bloody, and powerful, Macbeth is everything you could want in a Shakespeare film adaptation. It’s also, in my mind, the best film of 2015.

As I said in the intro, I missed a few films this year that I feel could have changed this list somewhat. Here they are below:

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
Bone Tomahawk
Brooklyn
Carol
Cobain: Montage of Heck
Creed
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The End of the Tour
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Listen to Me Marlon
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Revenant
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine
While We’re Young
The Witch
Youth

Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you’re all having some good time off work on holiday and enjoying it with your families. Please comment below with your picks for the best films of the year!

Film Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015) (Spoiler-Free)

Film

The Force Awakens Poster

So here we are. 32 years after the release of The Return of the Jedi (1983), we finally have the next vital chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens (2015). How does it measure up to the quality of the original films? Thankfully, both long-time fans and newcomers will find lots to love in this new thrilling episode of the Star Wars franchise.

Finn, a Stormtrooper, decides to flee the First Order and goes to the planet Jakku. There he meets Rey, and together they traverse the galaxy, meeting old heroes such as Han Solo, Chewbacca, and General Leia, and new ones such as ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. They will also have to face Kylo Ren, a villain who is powerful with the dark side and as mysterious as he is deadly.

Force Awakens 1

Finn, Rey, Poe, and the droid BB-8, the new heroes of the Star Wars franchise.

I can’t really give a specific review without going into spoiler zone so I’ll keep this as simple as possible. Rey and Finn are a great pair of lead heroes. Daisy Ridley’s Rey in particular proves to be versatile and more than capable of taking care of herself. Having such a great female character become the new face of the franchise is particularly compelling. Likewise, John Boyega’s Finn is a humorous and charismatic action hero. My particular favourite was Poe Dameron, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, who was everything I wanted him to be.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is perhaps the great discovery of this film. Gone are the two-dimensional villains of the prequel trilogy; we finally have a villain in Kylo Ren who can live up to the shadow that Darth Vader has cast across the series. He is so much more than a villain wearing a black mask and holding a lightsaber. He has genuine complexities and remains perhaps the film’s most interesting character.

Force Awakens 2

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the greatest of the new additions to the Star Wars mythos.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill all return in their signature roles. Ford picks up Han Solo’s character effortlessly. This isn’t Ford doing Ford on screen for two hours – this is legitimately Han Solo, with a complex history behind him that may have changed some aspects of his character but still leaves him as the rugged space-pirate come Rebellion general that we all know him for. Carrie Fisher’s General Leia commands the room whenever she is on screen. I genuinely choked up at her appearance. Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca gets his best scenes yet, as Chewbacca emerges from simply being Han Solo’s buddy to being his own character. And Mark Hamill… I wont say anything, but I’ll let you know that his first appearance is easily one of the best moments of the film. He has all the gravitas that you would expect the legendary Jedi to have.

Force Awakens 3

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford return to the franchise that launched them to superstardom as Chewbacca and Han Solo.

The greatest virtue of The Force Awakens is that it is a single story- unlike the prequel trilogy, this film stands well as it’s own adventure whilst having the connective tissue that will allow the story to bridge into the upcoming sequels. Many questions are answered about what has happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but there are so many more questions that will provide for lots of debate among fans until the debut of the next episode. The Force Awakens left me even more excited for what is to come next.

9/10

TV Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season Two (2009-2010)

Television

The second season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars improves on every aspect of the first. Most of my criticisms of the first season were dealt with throughout this second one. No more lacklustre stories. The show has a new confidence, its creators ready to contribute important stories to the Star Wars mythos. Not only that but the animation has grown in leaps and bounds, making the show even more beautiful than before. The first season is the show’s creators trying the boots on; the second is them running at full speed.

The aspect that is most notably improved from the first season is the disappearance of almost all of the major villains of the saga. Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress, and General Grievous are rarely, if ever, seen. This is a huge boon to the second season. The new villains that we get are more exciting, vicious, and well executed than these other characters. Not only that, but because these villains don’t appear in the films, there is a genuine sense of drama. You might be watching their final battle. Particular favourites for me continue to be Cad Bane, Pre Vizsla, and Hondo Ohnaka.

Cad Bane continues to thrill in season two.

Cad Bane continues to thrill in season two.

Ahsoka Tano continues to impress this season. The element I was most nervous about going into this show, the concept of Anakin’s own apprentice, continues to be one of my favourite elements of the show. She is a unique character among the Star Wars gallery, and whilst this season never delves too far into her inner psychology or past, she proves to be an adept and fascinating character.

The show's Anakin Skywalker has trumped Hayden Christiansen for me as the definitive version of the character.

The show’s Anakin Skywalker has trumped Hayden Christensen for me as the definitive version of the character.

It also impressed me just how much I like Anakin Skywalker in this show. For me, now, the Anakin of this show is the Anakin that I think about. For me he is the definitive version of this character. You truly see how likeable he is, his friendships with the other Jedi, and just legendary a hero he is in the ongoing war. You get no sense of this in the prequel trilogy, just that he’s a bit whiny and occasionally kills someone, showing the looming dark side. The series thus makes the prequel trilogy retroactively that much better, expanding on elements of the character that should have been in the prequel trilogy.

On the whole, the thing that I like most about this series is that it proves that the prequel trilogy era has some worthy stories and contributions to the overall canon. For years I hated the prequel era, based solely on the films. But after watching these first two seasons of The Clone Wars, I have nothing but love for this era. It truly is one of the most dynamic and exciting times in the Star Wars canon. The storytelling has the potential to be top-notch, and it often is in this show.

"Children of the Force" sees Cad Bane kidnapping force-sensitive children so Darth Sidious can train them as Sith Lords.

“Children of the Force” sees Cad Bane kidnapping force-sensitive children so Darth Sidious can train them as Sith Lords.

The opening trilogy of episodes, “Holocron Heist,” “Cargo of Doom,” and “Children of the Force” fulfil the season one finale’s promise of Cad Bane. In this trilogy he truly makes his presence known to the Jedi at large, and proves once again that he is one of the most exciting and promising original characters from the show. You see in these three thrilling episodes just how much of a match he is. I particularly liked the sequence in which Cad Bane and his droid army fight Anakin and his clones in zero gravity.

"Weapons Factory" and "Brain Invaders" gives Ahsoka Tano and Bariss Offee a chance to shine amidst the chaos of the Geonosian campaign.

“Weapons Factory” and “Brain Invaders” gives Ahsoka Tano and Bariss Offee a chance to shine amidst the chaos of the Geonosian campaign.

The season’s high point comes in the form of a four-episode story arc dealing with the Geonosian campaign. Like the Ryloth trilogy from the first season, it shows in minute detail the entirety of the campaign from several different perspectives, and each episode makes its own great story in the larger scheme of the plot. However, in animation, plotting, and design this trilogy completely blows Ryloth’s out of the water. “Landing at Point Rain” has become my favourite episode of the series. It’s basically the show’s take on Apocalypse Now (1979) and you can feel the imprint of Vietnam War cinema all over it. The battles in this episode outdo every other battle the show has detailed so far. There are moments that will take your breath away. Non-stop action! “Legacy of Terror” and “Brain Invaders,” the latter half of the story arc, is a mish-mash of Aliens (1986) and the zombie cinema of George A. Romero. They’re fun, scary, and intense. You can tell just how much fun the creators of the show had. The story arc also sees Jedi Luminara Unduli returning, and she’s well used here. Her apprentice Bariss Offee is in tow, another great character. However, the arc’s greatest strength is Ahsoka Tano – you really get to see how proficient she is as a Jedi here. Tano fans will find these few episodes among their favourites.

General Grievous returns in the great episode "Grievous Intrigue."

General Grievous returns in the great episode “Grievous Intrigue.”

The season also sees General Grievous return in a two-episode story arc. This story arc seems to realise the dramatic downfall of using the film’s villains. Because these characters appear in Revenge of the Sith (2005), it’s very clear they’ll survive the series. However, this two-parter doesn’t suffer from this problem, and it’s great seeing Grievous strike again. The second of the two episodes, “The Deserter,” is one of the better episodes focusing on the lives of clones as Captain Rex finds a deserter clone, and together they discuss the realities of war and the individuality and purpose of clones in general. It’s thought provoking and emotional, and makes for a great episode.

The Mandalore Trilogy sees the introduction of Pre Vizsla and the villainous Death Watch.

The Mandalore Trilogy sees the introduction of Pre Vizsla and the villainous Death Watch.

The Mandalore trilogy, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi is assigned to protect Duchess Satine from assassination on her home planet is a great story, and provides some rare character development for Obi-Wan as we delve into the pasts of these characters. The trilogy also introduces the powerful Death Watch, a great new set of villains lead by Pre Vizsla, voiced by Jon Favreau. These Mandalorian warriors are a great match for the Jedi, and whilst the trilogy doesn’t completely fulfil the potential of this idea, I am sure we will see the Death Watch return to trouble our heroes again.

Hondo Ohnaka returns in "Bounty Hunters," a remake of the classic film Seven Samurai (1954).

Hondo Ohnaka returns in “Bounty Hunters,” a remake of the classic film Seven Samurai (1954).

Season two also produces a great one-off in the episode “Bounty Hunters,” which is a remake of the classic Japanese film Seven Samurai (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa was a major influence on George Lucas and his film The Hidden Fortress (1958) provided inspiration for Star Wars (1977). The episode shares much of what made Seven Samurai such a brilliant film – great characterization and thrilling action. The episode also sees the return of villain Hondo Ohnaka, a charismatic and treacherous villain. It’s always fun seeing him at work.

Boba Fett returns to exact revenge on Mace Windu in the season finale.

Boba Fett returns to exact revenge on Mace Windu in the season finale.

The season finishes strongly with an excellent three-part storyline that sees the return of Boba Fett and his quest for revenge against Mace Windu, who killed his father Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones (2002). I was a bit weary about these episodes, as one of the things I love about Boba Fett is his mystery. It’s what makes him my favourite Star Wars character. Seeing his origins in Attack of the Clones really annoyed me, but once again this show makes the prequels retroactively that much better. Boba Fett and Aurra Sing make for some captivating villains, full of complexity and nuance. I hope we see more of Boba Fett in future seasons of The Clone Wars.

The Clone Wars sophomore season disregarded all of the problems of the first season and just provided home run after home run. Whilst the show still doesn’t develop an overall storyline that carries the season, the individual storylines are are always at least good and often great or outstanding. The show is progressing with a confidence that wasn’t there in the first season. Hopefully with the possible addition of an overall storyline to each season, The Clone Wars can continue it’s incredible success.

9/10