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Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo: A Star Wars Story

And so the saga continues, although this time it's Han Solo's story. One could feel that they are squeezing the pips out of the franchise, but in fact it's not a bad yarn, and it has the look of the original trilogy, which also can't be bad. Although with an estimated budget of $250 million, it ought to be good.

We begin on Corellia, a ship-building planet where the young Han is a scrumrat, surviving on his wits in a world of criminality. His love is Qi'ra, also a scrumrat, and Han has a plan to get them off Corellia. He has stolen a phial of extremely valuable hyperfuel, which he uses as a bribe to get them on an outgoing transport. But as the gate closes Qi'ra is grabbed by their pursuers, and Han has to leave without her. He vows to return.

Volunteering for the Imperial Flight Academy, he is accepted, somewhat easily I thought. But he is expelled from there and ends up an infantryman, which as we know isn't the the safest ticket in town. In an attempt to escape he tries to blackmail a group of criminals by threatening to expose them, but all this achieves is him being fed to the 'beast'. The beast, however, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and Han's ability to speak a bit of Shyriiwook enables him to 'make a deal' and both of them break free. At this point the leader of the criminal group, Beckett, decides that the two of them might be an asset on a 'job' they have planned, and he takes them on board.

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Black Panther


Black Panther

After the tranquility and true-to-life realism of the last couple of French films I've reviewed, a quantum leap into the world of the Black Panther. I've previously expressed my opinion regarding the saturation of the Marvel franchise, with the film studios appearing to offer up one film after another for what they obviously see as an inexhaustible appetite for this type of adventure. I fear, however, that we may be getting to the point where it's too much of a good thing. Peak Marvel!

Black Panther, however, does offer something different, in that the majority of the cast is Black, which is a refreshing milestone for a big-budget superhero film such as this. They snuck in Martin Freeman as a white CIA agent, but this was hardly to satisfy the need for a 'big' star, since there is plenty of talent and star quality on show from the rest of the cast. I didn't see Captain America: Civil War, so this was my first introduction to King T'Challa, or as the title says, the Black Panther. We're introduced to the reclusive African Nation of Wakanda, where an ancient meteor strike deposited huge quantities of vibranium, a mineral that has allowed the inhabitants to develop advanced technology and keep it and themselves largely hidden from the rest of the world. The vibranium affected the plant life, and one particular plant is used to bestow upon King T'Challa super powers, which he employs in the guise of the Black Panther.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We didn't quite make it to see this latest Star Wars film on its first day, but were there the day after.

In fairness to the effort that has gone into making this film, I am going to refrain from saying too much, although if you want to be totally surprised, then don't read on! This film works as a stand-alone piece, but of course for those of us that have watched the odyssey unfold there is so much more.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) returns, still trying to understand what it is within her that makes her different, and still trying to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her in the ways of the Force.

The Resistance is in full retreat, with Domhnall Green playing General Hux, the evil if somewhat accident prone commander of the First Order's battle fleet. The ultimate bad guy, however, is Supreme Leader Snoke, who puts up with Hux despite his failings. Snoke is also displeased with Kylo Ren (born Ben Solo), which leads to an interesting apparent meeting of minds between Kylo Ren and Rey, all done telepathically through the Force, of course. At this point we are not sure whether Kylo Ren is turning away from the Dark Side. Subsequent events tend to support this possibility. But this is Star Wars, where plot twists and the power of the Dark Side are always going to shape events.

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Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner 2049

After setting the scene by viewing the original Blade Runner last Monday, yesterday we went to see the long overdue sequel. I normally give a fairly detailed review of a film's plot, but in fairness to the director of this latest offering I'm not going to do that on this occasion. You need to be surprised by this film and telling too much would ruin it.

So what can I say? Ryan Gosling plays a blade runner, officer K, continuing the theme of the original film, where these special police officers track down replicants and 'retire' them. K is a newer type of replicant that is programmed to obey. His job is to hunt down the older less disciplined models. But he turns out to be somewhat more complicated. Los Angles doesn't seem to have moved on much from the earlier film. It still presents a mixture of futuristic hi-tech and metropolitan dilapidation; it's still constantly misty and there is still a lot of rain. It's a future-noir.

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Blade Runner - 1982 Original


Blade Runner 1982


We hope to see the new Blade Runner film later this week so yesterday evening we watched the original 1982 movie. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the original film is that the setting is 2019. The Sci Fi imagination clearly saw a lot more technical progress being achieved in respect of flying cars, while portraying Los Angeles as decayed and dystopian. And it never seems to stop raining.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a retired blade runner, a specialist police officer who hunts down replicants. These are bioengineered androids that are confined to off-world colonies, but are unwelcome back on Earth, thus the need for blade runners. Deckard is forced out of retirement to track down four such replicants, these being highly advanced and difficult to distinguish from humans. There is a test that will reveal a replicant, but these advanced models have embedded memories and can be quite difficult to identify. An attempt to do so with one of this group, Leon, ends rather badly for another blade runner.

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Passengers


Passengers

Helen had seen Passengers at the cinema when it was released and thought I would enjoy it. So today we picked up the DVD.

After the success of Gravity I had become a bit wary of copy-cat films, but I must say that Passengers occupies an entirely different space - excuse the pun! However, like Gravity, for most of the time there are really only two people in it, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Aurora Lane, and Chris Pratt as Jim Preston. Michael Sheen is also present as the android barkeeper, Arthur, while Laurence Fishburne makes a fairly brief appearance as the chief deck officer, Gus Mancuso.

The scenario is a futuristic space craft that is travelling to a remote colony carrying 5000 colonists and 258 crew members in suspended animation. The journey time is 120 years but 30 years into the trip a large asteroid isn't completely deflected by the ship's forward shield, causing a glitch in the systems that results in Jim's hibernation pod waking early. Confused he meanders around the ship looking for the other travellers, while the onboard support systems react with him as if the full journey has been completed. The truth quickly dawns on him and after a frantic search to find a way of re-entering hibernation, he becomes resigned to the fact that he will die on the way to Homestead II. He lets himself go and even contemplates suicide, but after seeing Aurora in her pod, and finding out about her, he becomes enamoured and starts to contemplate the idea of waking her. This he discusses with Arthur, who politely replies that the questions posed by Preston are not ones that you ask a computer.

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Arrival


Arrival

I missed Arrival when it was released at the cinema and took the opportunity to view it this week as it had been added to Amazon Prime's offerings. Other than the basic fact that it featured the arrival of aliens to Earth I knew very little about it. The first relief was that it wasn't one of these films where the aliens destroy large swathes of the world's major cities. In fact it is the exact opposite of that. These aliens have come to help us, because in 3000 years time they will need humanity's help in return.

The story explores the power of language and plays with time in a way that requires you to think quite hard about what's going on, and even then come away perhaps not fully understanding what you've just watched. As I've said, the complete opposite of the 'annihilation' movies.

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist who has previously helped the government, and who is therefore the natural choice when alien vessels appear at twelve locations around the globe. They are large pods that hover above the ground, and when we are given the chance to see inside we observe that the natural laws of gravity seem not to apply. But that's jumping ahead. Of course, the appearance of alien vessels immediately puts the military of the countries involved on red alert, although initially they are all working together to try to understand the threat, if there is one. This accord eventually breaks down with China in particular seemingly gearing up to take military action.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I remember seeing the trailer for the first instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy and concluding that it looked too daft to bother with. However, I watched it on TV a little while ago, and while my opinion of its daftness proved to be spot on, I found it extremely enjoyable. The humour and the background music carried it along and the fact that the plot lines and antics verged on the ridiculous hardly mattered.

And so to Vol.2. Well, it's a fairly seamless continuation from the first film. All the team are in place, although in place of Groot, the walking-talking tree whose self sacrifice saved the rest of the team in the first film, we have a Baby Groot who was planted as a sapling from an offshoot of the dying Groot. Now it has to be said that Baby Groot is adorable, getting into all sorts of trouble as any devil-may-care youngster might. Like Groot senior, his only vocabularly is "I am Groot". If you're not familiar with the Guardians, the rest of the team are almost as bizarre as Groot. Peter Quill, or Star-Lord as he likes to be known, is the leader. He's human of the Earthling type, although not entirely so, as we find out. Gamora is the green-skinned woman who's the sensible one. She has a sister, Nebula, who's not on the team. In fact Nebula wants to kill Gamora. Drax the Destroyer is all muscle but with a softer side. And finally Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon, who's a master of weapons and military tactics. I did say it may seem daft.

In this sequel the team is first seen protecting some valuable batteries in the service of, Ayesha, the High Priestess of the Sovereign people, a gold race that is genetically engineered to be both physically and mentally perfect. This involves a battle with an inter-dimensional monster and they are doing this to secure the release of Nebula, who was caught trying to steal the batteries. Task complete they leave, only to be pursued by the Sovereign's drones because, it transpires, Rocket has pocketed some of the batteries.

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Get Out


Get Out

Get Out is obviously a film that divides opinion. Mark Kermode at the Guardian, a reviewer I respect, gave it four stars and made it his film of the week. Meanwhile, a reviewer at IMDB was scathing, saying that he wished he had seen Lego Batman instead. It's fair to say this film couldn't be any further removed from a Lego movie.

The opening sequence sees a young black man trying to find an address in an area in which he clearly feels uncomfortable. A leafy white suburb to put it bluntly. He has been on the phone to whoever he's trying to find, the who in that sentence becoming clear much later in the film. A car starts to shadow him and next we see him overpowered and dumped in the boot, the car screeching off.

We now cut to Chris and Rose, a seemingly happy couple. He is a successful photographer, and as he prepares to accompany her to meet her parents, he enquires "Do they know I'm black?" She hasn't, but doesn't seem to think that it matters. Her dad is fine, after all he would have voted for Obama for a third term. Chris isn't too sure, and his mate Rod, who works for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is definitely not for it. But they go. On the way a collision with a deer, although nothing more than an accident, turns out to be a premonition of what's to come.

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Assassin's Creed

Yesterday's cinema film was Assassin's Creed. I'm not a video games player and wouldn't normally bother with a film based on the genre, but I read a review that suggested that after a succession of video game-to-movie turkeys, this one could break through the mediocrity. Well, I'm afraid it didn't do so for me. The promise was of real locations and stunts that weren't CGI enhanced in front of blue screens. That may well be true, but it still seemed like a video game to me. The story line was also a bit contrived, a sort of Matrix rip-off whereby the body stays put but the spirit, or whatever you like to call it, occupies another body, this time a body in 15th century Spain during the Inquisition.

Assassin's Creed

Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a murderer somehow rescued from his lethal injection to next appear at Abstergo Industries, a futuristic research facility where he is about to embark on his transportation to medieval Spain under the supervision of Sofia (Marion Coutillard), the daughter of the facilities director. Lynch is hooked up to the Animus. Inspired no doubt by The Matrix, it is attached to Lynch whereupon his brain and genetic code are synchronised with those of his forebear in the 15th century. We are then transported back to that time with Lynch's former self and there's some impressive action, albeit of the video game variety.

The objective is for Lynch to reveal where the Apple of Eden can be found, a mythical orb that contains the seeds of man's first disobedience, the possession of which will allow the Templars to eliminate personal free will and thus remove disobedience from society. A number of return visits to medieval Spain treat us to some spectacular parkour and martial arts, for me the high spots of the film.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No golf today as the course is waterlogged, and closed. So we went to see Star Wars. By waiting a bit we benefitted from the cinema not being packed to the gunnels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've tried to avoid seeing spoilers but it's been difficult. I already knew, for example, that the director had returned to the formula that took the first three Star Wars films into cult status. I wasn't surprised, therefore, when the familiar scrolling text appeared at the beginning, nor was I surprised by all the nods, some subtle and some less so, to the originals.

I was a bit worried by the fact that they were bringing Han and Leia back, but in the event they fitted the story line while adding to the nostalgia. The meeting up in the vastness of space of Han and his beloved Millennium Falcon seemed a tad too coincidental, but it was of course necessary.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were relative unknowns when the first Star Wars film launched, and this has been repeated with Daisy Ridley, as Rey, and John Boyega, as Finn, both of whom are great finds. Rey is shaping up to be a worthy bearer of The Force as we inevitably go into the next productions. Perfect casting in fact. The mystery, of course, is why she can summon The Force, and there is already much speculation over this. But I think we all know that she's related to somebody from the earlier films, even if we don't know who at this stage. Again this mimics the original stories.

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Self/Less

We saw Self/Less this week. Helen had described the plot to me beforehand and I must admit that it didn't sound very inviting. The Rotten Tomatoes scores reflect my initial feelings.

Self/Less

However, as is often the case I found the film better than I had expected, and certainly wouldn't be as dismissive as the Rotten Tomatoes' crowd.

OK, the storyline is preposterous, but it's marketed as a sci-fi movie so one shouldn't expect reality. Although I must admit that I prefer sci-fi films that at least take the kernel of an established scientific theory as their basis.

An ageing corporate magnate, Damian, who is dying from cancer has his consciousness transferred into the body of a healthy young man. A body that is said to have been biologically 'grown'. I'm not sure which of those two propositions is the most far-fetched, but as we later find out only one of them is in fact true.

From the beginning the now young Damian experiences some unexpected flashbacks, which are not from his own life, and which are suppressed by taking drugs that he is told are akin to anti-rejection medication. This is when he starts to unravel the fact that his biologically grown body isn't quite perhaps how it was described. You can probably guess why, but I won't completely spoil things for you.

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Under the Skin

I think the word that comes to mind when describing this film is 'different'! Scarlett Johansson is an alien called Laura, prowling the streets of Glasgow looking for unattached and interested males to take back to her place, where they appear to become entranced (who wouldn't with Ms Johansson giving you the come on?) and are 'absorbed' - literally. You need to make up your own mind what's actually going on, but one assumes that they are feeding some form of alien appetite.

Under the Skin

The filming is fascinating, comprising what must be real life street scenes in the city viewed from the alien's white van. It certainly adds a whole new dimension to the cult of the white van. It almost has a documentary feel to it, as the demure Laura chats up the blokes, her rather good soft English accent contrasting with that of the Glaswegians.

At a certain point, however, our alien obviously starts to develop some human feelings, or at the very least becomes a bit confused, and this culminates in a somewhat bizarre relationship (I love the bit with the table lamp!) before things start to go decidedly downhill for her.

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Gravity

As it was tipping down with rain all day yesterday we went the cinema and saw Gravity, a film I was keen to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

Every so often a film redefines cinema and I think Gravity fits this genre. One review said that it is less of a movie and more of an experience, and that describes it nicely. The whole thing is, of course, a computer simulation, but it's so real that if you didn't know better you would surely assume that it was actual filmed footage. I'm not a great fan of 3D cinema but this film is an exception. There are no 3D gimmicks, just a fantastic 3D simulation of what it must be like floating in orbit around Earth. Ethereal and very hazardous, as it turned out.

The plot isn't anything special and probably a bit far-fetched in parts, although it doesn't stretch the imagination too far. There are in reality only two actors, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, playing respectively Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut, and Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. The other 'actors' are just voices.

Disaster strikes in the form of a chain reaction of space debris, initiated by the Russian's decision to destroy one of their satellites. The shuttle is badly damaged and only Kowalsky and Stone survive the debris storm, but are left floating in space. The ensuing story of their struggle for survival forms the plot, and I won't say any more at the risk of spoiling it for anybody who is planning to see the film.


Elysium

Today we saw Elysium. Helen now has a monthly CineWorld pass so I have to choose what film we see on Orange (EE) Wednesday while she can see anything else she fancies on other days.

I chose Elysium on the basis that I'm quite happy to see sci-fi and the fact that Jodie Foster is usually very discerning about what films she choses to make. Unfortunately I didn't warm to Foster's character, which I suppose wasn't surprising as the woman she plays isn't particularly nice. But it was more than just the nasty role. I found that there was something not quite convincing about her characterisation, and it pains me to say this as I think she is an exceptionally fine actor. Matt Damon, on the other hand, was for me far more convincing.

The plot assumes a massive leap in technology between now and 2154 but that's what one would expect from sci-fi. It also assumes that we will have wrecked the Earth, which is less hard to believe. The 'have-nots' live on the overpopulated planet suffering disease and deprivation while the 'haves' live on an orbiting space colony, Elysium, with every luxury you could imagine and advanced medical technology that it would seem can cure anything and re-grow any form of body damage. Just a futuristic projection of where we are at the moment if you think about it, and there is certainly a political message in this film. To emphasise this point the poverty that is displayed is real, having been filmed in the world's second largest garbage dump - on the Bordo Poniente landfill site in Mexico City. Whereas the luxury of Elysium, full of pristine lawns, swimming pools and sun loungers, was shot in Vancouver. Showing that the gulf between rich and poor is in no way a futuristic projection but an existing reality.

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