Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Domnhall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Mark Hammill
Twenty-nineteen was a big year for pop culture climaxes. In April, Avengers: Endgame drew Marvel’s 22 film ‘Infinity Saga,’ if not the the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, to a close. May saw the culmination of Game of Thrones’ eight season run. Popular consensus suggests that one stuck the landing better than the other. Neither, however, carried quite the same level of pressure as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and, we are told, final film in the central series which we are apparently now calling ‘the Skywalker Saga.’ Since its debut in 1977, Star Wars has in many ways defined contemporary blockbuster filmmaking as both a narrative and a franchise. Unfortunately, while a perfectly adequate piece of blockbuster filmmaking, watching The Rise of Skywalker confirms what has been suggested by the previous two instalments: that this has been a trilogy without a clear, overarching plan. Continue reading
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie
When The Force Awakens was released in 2015 to relaunch the Star Wars saga it had three specific functions: nostalgia, preparation, and reassurance. It had to remind audiences why they loved Star Wars, it had to establish the new generation of characters who were going to take on the franchise from our old favourites moving forward, and, after the prequel trilogy, it had to leave us confident that they weren’t going to screw this up. The result was a film that was a lot of fun, but was fairly criticised for playing it a bit safe. It set a platform and Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the storied saga, has built on that platform. Nowhere near as dependent on nostalgia as The Force Awakens or even Rogue One, The Last Jedi is liberated to be more adventurous with its narrative. Continue reading
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill
Black screen. Blue lettering. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and then BANG! With the blast of that iconic fanfare and the crawling text, we are once again away. 32 years after we saw Luke, Han and Leia finally defeat Darth Vader and the Empire in Return of the Jedi these iconic characters return to the big screen in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This most revered of franchises, now under the control of Disney, has been handed on from its creator, George Lucas, to writer-director J.J. Abrams. Abrams showed with Star Trek in 2009 that he has a gift for rebooting storied science-fiction franchises, but this is another level entirely. But faced with the near impossible burden of audience and industry expectations – this is, after all, a movie which anything less than becoming the highest grossing film of all time will seemingly be an underperformance – Abrams and his team have delivered.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi knight, has vanished. In his absence a new dark power, the First Order, has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Continue reading
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
When we think science fiction films we tend to think big – space travel to distant worlds, scope and spectacle. But quite often the best science fiction films are small. Ex Machina, from the Latin phrase meaning “from the machine,” is such a film and marks the directorial debut of British screenwriter Alex Garland, best known for his screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine, and his novel The Beach.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a low level programmer working for tech giant, Blue Book. Through an in-company lottery he wins the chance to spend a week with the company’s enigmatic CEO and programming legend, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his remote Alaskan mansion and research facility. Upon arrival Caleb discovers that he is not there for a week of hanging out with the boss but to assist Nathan in his latest research endeavour, artificial intelligence. Nathan has produced a humanoid robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), and he wants Caleb to put her through a Turing test. The Turing test (named for the British computer scientist Alan Turing, subject of Oscar winner The Imitation Game) tests a machine’s ability to exhibit human behaviour. Continue reading
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel
A Most Violent Year is the third film from writer-director J.C. Chandor, after Margin Call and All is Lost. While he doesn’t enjoy a high profile, Chandor has built himself an impressive body of work as one of those rare beasts: a filmmaker who makes movies for grownups.
Abel Morales and his wife Anna run an up-and-coming heating oil company, but find themselves in a crisis. Someone is hijacking their trucks. Drivers are being beaten, trucks taken and dumped with their contents stolen. The loss in revenue is building and the drivers are scared to go to work. The teamsters union is demanding Abel arm his drivers, but he fears escalation. Simultaneously, after a two year investigating into corruption in the heating oil industry the District Attorney is ready to start laying charges, including 14 against Abel’s company. All of this could not be happening at a worse time, as Abel has committed to an important property deal. He has put down a 40% deposit, everything he has, on a waterfront oil holding facility which will give them direct access to the oil tankers and the potential for dramatic growth. Continue reading