Wow, another year has come and gone on this blog. I am dreading tomorrow though, for I do not have 2020 vision. Sorry, could not resist throwing in a bad pun. Anyway, it has been a great year for blogging and I have got a lot of content published on here. I fully intend to continue blogging here in 2020, while I continue to do my Doctoral Studies at Kingston University. While, like every year, the biggest percentage of content will be new film releases, I will try to get more published in the way of television, literature and video game reviews, as well as pre-2000 films. In terms of new releases, I did watch The Two Popes and I Lost My Body on Netflix in the last couple of days, so I will get reviews of those published soon.
As for new releases in January 2020, there are a number which I am planning to see, many of which have already been released in the USA (the biggest drawback of being a UK-based cinephile). The new releases that I am planning to see include Jojo Rabbit, The Gentlemen, The Grudge, 1917, Bombshell, Bad Boys for Life, Just Mercy, Waves, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Richard Jewell, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Queen & Slim. I will endeavour to get reviews for all of these published, but I will not get them all watched or reviewed in January, for the simple reason that Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Richard Jewell, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Queen & Slim are all released in the UK on January 31st (which idiot thought that that was a good idea?).
Keep an eye out for whatever content I am able to get published in the month ahead, but I can assure you that there will be a reasonable amount of it. You are also probably wondering when I am going to do a Top 10 Films of 2019 post. Well, the answer to that is in about three months time. My Top 10 Films of 2019 list is only for films which premiered in 2019, as opposed to UK cinema releases of 2019. For example, If Beale Street Could Talk was released in the UK in February 2019, but was included in my Top 10 Films of 2018 list as it is officially a 2018 film. Therefore, I will not be doing my Top 10 Films of 2019 list until the end of March, as by then I will have seen all of the award contenders and acclaimed films that are getting a later release in the UK – e.g. The Lighthouse, Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
So, to all of my readers, whether it is your first time here or your one-thousand-and-first time here, thank you for visiting my blog. I wish you all a very Happy New Year and, for the year ahead, I wish you Happy Reading!
Netflix original film Klaus is a festive animation, and tells an alternate version of the origins of Santa Clause. Jesper Johansson (Jason Schwartzman) is the lazy, entitled son of a Postmaster General. However, he is horrified when he learns that his father is sending his to run the Post Office in Smeerensburg, a town where the residents constantly fight amongst themselves and nobody writes letters. After failing to get the Post Office up and running, Jesper meets an old woodsman and toy maker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). The pair then begin working together, with Jesper delivering the toys to the town’s children. This leads to the children writing letters to Mr. Klaus asking for toys, in doing so rejuvenating the Post Office and the myth of Santa Clause begins to take shape.
In an era where most animated films are computer-animations, it is always charming to see a hand-drawn animation, and Klaus is no exception, thanks to its unique visual style and flare, quirky character designs and utilisation of a slapstick style which can only really be achieved with traditional animation.
A very fun and quite charming narrative with a lot of warmth and energy, while also taking the time to give Jesper a clearly defined character arc, Klaus an emotional backstory, and establish an endearing supporting character in the form of a young child named Márgu (Neda Magrethe Labba).
Good voice performances from Jason Schwartzman, who has good chemistry with his co-stars, while J.K. Simmons successfully plays against type by voicing Klaus with real warmth and compassion.
While the central characters get good arcs and backstories, the antagonists (voiced by Will Sasso and Joan Cusack) are very one-note characters and quite underwhelming antagonists, whose antics are predictable to say the least.
Some pretty lacklustre running gags in this narrative, particularly the ridiculous slapstick gags centred around two giant children (both voiced by director Sergio Pablos).
Coming-of-age period drama Little Women is adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, and distributed by Sony Pictures. Told in a non-linear narrative, the film follows the four March sisters – Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) – in the early years of their adulthood, as they seek to find themselves and come to understand their place in the world. Via flashbacks, we see their youth during the Civil War years, and how the events in that period of their lives impacted and shaped their early adulthood.
Greta Gerwig directs the film with real flare and passion, her love for her craft and for the narrative coming through in the warmth and energy which is prominent in the project, while the one major deviation from the source material is clearly a heartfelt tribute to Louisa May Alcott herself.
In adapting such an iconic source material, Greta Gerwig was bold in going for a non-linear narrative (which the source material is not), but manages to pull it off very well with her excellent screenwriting skills. Not only does she beautifully convey how familial bonds can endure even the toughest of challenges, developing and strengthening over time, but also how past events will always shape, impact and (in some cases) foreshadow present events in your lives. Furthermore, over the course of the narrative, Gerwig takes us on an emotional rollercoaster, filling our hearts with joy and sorrow by making us laugh and tugging at our heartstrings.
The entire cast clearly share Greta Gerwig’s passion for the project, which come through in performances which are rich in warmth and nuanced emotion. The major stand-outs are emotionally complex and raw turn from Saoirse Ronan, the warmth and passion of Florence Pugh, and Meryl Streep’s wonderful comic timing and sharp delivery as Aunt March.
This is a very handsomely designed film as well, with the production design and costume design teams putting oodles of detail into their work, which makes this depiction of the 1860s lovely to look at, with a real sense of authenticity.
Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux frames the film with real flare, using long takes and tracking shots very well in a number of scenes to aid their energy, and also uses a number of close-ups to excellent effect as they bring further warmth and intimacy to the sisters’ bonds.
Alexandre Desplat once again composes a magnificent score, the tempo of which aids the wonderful sense of passion and energy which the film has, and his score stylistically has nice shades of both Mozart and David Bowie (a weird and wonderful combination if ever there was one).
A little bit more time could be dedicated to both Beth’s character arc, and Amy’s relationship with Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), the former in order to give it more emotional weight, the latter in order to flesh it out a little bit more as some aspects of it feel somewhat rushed.
While he performs with warmth and passion, it feels like a bit of a waste that an actor of Bob Odenkirk’s talent that Father March does not get much in the way of screen time, even when one of the character’s daughters is in a life-threatening situation.
The latest of countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’s classic Christmas novella, A Christmas Carol is a three-part British miniseries which originally aired on BBC1. You all surely know the basic premise of A Christmas Carol – miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce) is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham), and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Andy Serkis), Present (Charlotte Riley) and Future (Jason Flemyng), who show him a plethora of visions to convince him to change his ways. The difference with this adaptation, however, is that Scrooge must repent, or else Marley’s ghost will be trapped in Purgatory for eternity.
This is a very handsomely designed miniseries, with the costume design and production design departments putting oodles of detail into their recreation of Victorian London. The fact that the majority of the costumes and sets predominantly use colours such as black, white and navy nicely evokes the gothic aesthetic of Victorian London, and aids the chilling tone of the narrative.
Cinematographer Si Bell handsomely frames this miniseries, making excellent use of shadows and natural lighting in order to evoke both the gothic aesthetic of Victorian London, and the chilling, dark undertones of Charles Dickens’s classic tale. In Scrooge’s trips to the past, Bell also fills the tight spaces of the frames with a lot in order to evoke a sense of claustrophobia, thereby making it more intense viewing.
There are some good performances in this miniseries, with Guy Pearce conveying well the sense that Scrooge is struggling with many an inner demon, Andy Serkis giving a wonderfully theatrical turn as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Charlotte Riley some real warmth as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Furthermore, Vinette Robinson brings raw emotion to the role of Mary Cratchit, and young Lenny Rush proves a natural talent as Tiny Tim.
Screenwriter Steven Knight’s decisions in what is depicted in past Christmases makes it impossible to invest in Scrooge’s arc, as here he has far more to atone for than being cold and tightfisted. Let’s just say that the only way he could truly atone for his misdeeds would be to give up his entire fortune, hand himself into the Police and pray for a judge who is lenient enough to give him a life sentence. As for the finale, it is underwhelming to say the least.
The subplot of Marley trying to get his eternity on the right path is frankly farcical, and makes the narrative’s tone more inconsistent, despite being technically proficient.
The poor characterisation choices go beyond Scrooge’s backstory, as Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) is depicted as a rude, cynical and sarcastic man, which makes it far harder to sympathise with him in his interactions with Scrooge, further robbing the miniseries of Christmas spirit, warmth and heart.
SUMMARY: I tend not to do this but, given how many A Christmas Carol adaptations are out there, a summary sentence seems fitting. This is a technically excellent miniseries with some good performances, but it does not have the warmth and Christmas Spirit of the iconic tale.
British sitcom Gavin & Stacey ran for 20 episodes on the BBC Network in its original run, before returning for a one-off special in 2019. Essex boy Gavin Shipman (Mathew Horne) has been speaking to Welsh girl Stacey West (Joanna Page) over the phone via work for several months. They eventually meet in person in London and a romance between them soon blossoms. However, their relationship proves to be far from an easy one, and matters are only further complicated when Gavin’s best friend Smithy (James Corden) and Stacey’s best friend Nessa (Ruth Jones) have a frenemies with benefits relationship that results in pregnancy, and the pair become a will they/won’t they couple for the series’ run.
Excellent screenwriting by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who pace the ongoing storylines very well, create genuinely funny running gags and one-liners, and also bringing real depth and emotion to the characters, their lives and relationships.
Gavin and Stacey’s romance is genuinely warm and heartfelt thanks to the excellent chemistry between Mathew Horne and Joanna Page, while James Corden and Ruth Jones realise Smithy and Nessa’s unique chemistry tremendously well.
An excellent supporting cast make up the family and friends of Gavin and Stacey, the stand-out of which comes from the comedic genius of Rob Brydon as Stacey’s very chirpy but somewhat socially awkward Uncle Bryn.
Ultimately James Corden and Ruth Jones showed further maturity as screenwriters with the original run, as they knew perfectly where to end the series, rather than risk letting it becoming stale and repetitive.
With the one-off return, it did not feel forced or untimely as almost a decade had passed, the screenwriting was consistent with and on a par with the series’ original run. Plus, it served as a lovely, nostalgic trip down Memory Lane.
When comments about the surnames that characters share with serial killers are made, it does come across as a bit smug on James Corden and Ruth Jones’s part, almost like somebody bragging about their answer in Cards Against Humanity.
Several minor characters who pop up here and there during the series have basically no purpose and serve as scarcely more than extras, while a certain unseen character from the first dozen episodes felt like a missed opportunity.
Despite the one-off return being a terrific episode and a trip down Memory Lane, it does end on a cliffhanger, indicating that James Corden and Ruth Jones may not truly be ready to put the series to bed.
NOTE: This review is of the second part of Little Women, which was published in the UK under the title of Good Wives (why so is beyond me, but I suppose that I just have to go with it).
Published as the second part of Little Women in the US, semi-autobiographical American novel Good Wives was originally published by Roberts Brothers. Beginning three years after the events of Little Women, the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – are now entering into adulthood, and begin to realise that their dreams of pursuing their creative talents may be just that. The novel follows them as they seek to find their place in the world, while also beginning to expand the family through marriage and starting families. However, the four sisters will also have to come to endure tragic events which will change their familial dynamic forever.
This novel was very timely, as it is set in the initial years following the American Civil War (which had ended only 4 years before the novel’s publication), and depicts how some families still felt the impacts of the conflict in its aftermath. This emphasises just how wide-reaching the conflict’s impact was, and was something which the majority of readers would have known only too well.
We remain invested in the four March sisters, as all four of them continue to have different personalities and passions, but they have all believably grown as individuals in a manner consistent with their characters as youth in Little Women. Louisa May Alcott takes the time to explore their characters and how they have changed over time, and also their relationships with each other, in doing so making them wholly engaging characters, who each have flaws, but are ultimately all kindhearted and loving individuals.
What also works so beautifully about the characterisation of the four sisters is the fact that they all visibly develop and grow up into more mature people who learn from their mistakes over the course of the novel (which covers a time-period of several years). This reflects just how much changes in circumstance and the impact of others in your life can change you at a young age, as well as how your early adulthood is a key time in coming to understand yourself and build your own confidence.
The personal nature of this novel to Louisa May Alcott comes through in the harrowing description of illness – in this case scarlet fever – and just how bleak and uncertain a time of ill health was for patient and loved ones alike, and here we see Alcott channel her own experiences of almost dying from typhoid while serving as a nurse during the Civil War.
Ultimately what moved me the most in this novel was the depiction of the women’s Christian faith. The March sisters and their mother make statements of faith and, as a Christian myself, I found them incredibly powerful and richly emotional to read, as they convey wonderfully just how much faith in God can be an anchor in a stormy sea, a rock solid foundation which may take a beating but will stand firm in the bleakest and most desperate of times, even giving people hope and comfort in the face of death.
There is a short chapter towards the end which focuses on two new characters which, while enjoyable and amusing, does feel somewhat shoehorned in.
There are a couple of statements about men which feel a bit generalising and stereotypical.
I have never made it a secret that I love The Apprentice. Whether it is an episode that is serious and therefore interesting, or whether it is an episode that is more guilty pleasure entertainment than anything else, I love watching a batch of ambitious, aspiring entrepreneurs battling it out to become Lord Sugar’s next business partner every year. Every Autumn since starting this blog back in April 2017 I had considered doing a weekly reflection on the latest episode of the new series of The Apprentice, which never came to fruition.
This year, however, I decided that I will do just that in honour of the fact that this year was Series 15 (a good milestone for any television series to reach). My weekly posts contained a brief summary of the task, my thoughts on the task, my thoughts on Lord Sugar’s decision on who gets fired, and my thoughts on all other candidates (both their performance in that task and in the process to date). Below is a list of the 12 weeks of this series, with each title containing a hyperlink to my thoughts on that episode. As ever, I wish you Happy Reading with these!
This year, my favourite task was the discount buying task in Week 5. The discount buying task is always a highlight of the series, as it tests teamwork, logistics, negotiation, analytical skills and communication. This year did not disappoint and gave us some of the best moments of the series, including Thomas shocking Lottie by bringing a coin toss into a negotiation, and Ryan-Mark not realising the innuendo in his complimenting a man on his “lovely pole”. Plus having the hunt happen in two of the most English cities in the world – Oxford and Cambridge – was a delightful surprise.
This series had great candidates (some were memorable characters, others brought passion to each task), and my favourite this year was Thomas Skinner. Thomas brought bags of passion and energy to every task, was a phenomenal salesman and worked very hard. He is a very big personality, and quite possibly the most Cockney person since Danny Dyer. However, what made him my favourite was not that, nor was it the fact that he never claimed to be perfect or amazing, but it was the fact that he is such a genuine and kind person, who clearly had a huge heart for his teammates. Thomas said it how it was and was not afraid to be himself, and he also did a truly gallant and selfless act in Week 8. No matter what the result of the series was, Thomas won the hearts of the nation that week, and to have a huge personality who is also a really kind person in this series was an absolute delight.
Twelve weeks ago, sixteen ambitious entrepreneurs entered The Apprentice process, each hoping to win a £250,000 investment and a 50-50 business partnership with Lord Sugar. Ten tough tasks and a series of gruelling interviews have wittled that number down to two finalists – artisan bakery owner Carina Lepore, and recruitment firm owner Scarlett Allen-Horton. Only one can win Lord Sugar’s investment, so let us take a look now to see what the final result is for The Apprentice Series 15!
Final Summary, avec My Thoughts
At the London Sky Garden, Lord Sugar told Carina and Scarlett that they each had three days in order to come up with a name for the company they were pitching (BBC regulations mean that they cannot use the existing name as that could be seen as free advertising for their business), branding, a digital billboard and a television advert and something niche for their business, before pitching it to 250 industry experts at City Hall. Like with every past series, Lord Sugar brought back eight past candidates so that both finalists could make a team. Carina won the coin toss so she went first, and she chose Pamela, Thomas, Jemelin and Ryan-Mark, while Scarlett chose Marianne, Lewis, Dean and Lottie. Lottie was chosen last, and ultimately this just reflects what has been prevalent throughout this series – that her ability to rub people up the wrong way is something which keeps coming to bite her on the backside. The two teams then headed off to discuss the business that the finalist wanted to put forward. Carina emphasised the family business aspect of her bakery, while her team sampled products that her father had freshly baked that day (just looking at them made my mouth water). Scarlett explained that the USP for her recruitment firm would be its target of women in the engineering and construction businesses.
Already things were looking good for both finalists, as a family business gave Carina’s a unique edge, while Scarlett’s was aiming for a niche market that differed from those of the two recruitment firms which Lord Sugar already co-owns with past winners. While Carina and Thomas went off to do the branding, she assigned Pamela, Jemelin and Ryan-Mark to make the digital billboard. Claude Littner’s expression said exactly what I was thinking. The last time that those three had made an advert together was in Week 7, and it ended up a disaster as Pamela was caught in the middle of a row between Jemelin and Ryan-Mark. Carina and Thomas did a very good job with the branding, with Carina settling on the name “Lepore’s”, although settling on a tagline was tougher. She wanted it to be clear that it was a family business without overemphasising it. She and Thomas worked very well together, with Thomas being the calmest he has been on any task (bar, arguably, Week 8), and reminding us just what a genuine fellow he is as he made it clear that he wanted them to get a tagline that was not only excellent but one that Carina liked.
Scarlett chose Marianne to do the branding with her, as Marianne has the most business experience of any of her team. Meanwhile, Lewis, Lottie and Dean headed off to create the digital billboard. A brave move on Scarlett’s part, as Lottie and Dean clashed a lot when working together on previous tasks, although Lottie had listened to Lewis and his marketing expertise in previous tasks. Scarlett and Marianne spent a long time trying to settle on a name, before eventually settling on “Stanton Lily”, after a female engineer and Scarlett’s middle name respectively. The logo they settled on was the shape of a human head with cogs inside it. For them, the engineering symbolism was obvious, but what they did not take into account is that cogs have become synonymous with mental health in the last few years, meaning that it could easily confuse somebody looking at it with fresh eyes.
For the digital billboard, Carina’s sub-team worked well together and used Ryan-Mark’s natural theatricality to create a digital billboard of somebody refusing to share Lepore’s bread, due to it being too good to share. It was a little cheesy, but it emphasised the notion of phenomenal food well enough. Meanwhile, Lottie took on Scarlett’s digital billboard, which depicted Dean (as a CEO of a manufacturing firm) showing Lottie (the newly appointed Director) the premises. It did not really say recruitment firm, but with Lottie being a woman and Dean being of Asian descent it did indicate workplace diversity. The next day, the sub-teams were tasked with creating television adverts, which had already been storyboarded. Thomas had storyboarded Carina’s advert himself, which depicted life for a prisoner being made a million times more bearable by the bread he was given for breakfast being Lepore’s. Scarlett, meanwhile, proposed a mime of two colleagues being in a car that was driven by their newly-appointed female boss, who would drive them in the right direction. Scarlett also chose to swap Dean and Marianne. Not a bad shout – Marianne knew how to handle Lottie far better than Dean did.
The two teams went off to do their filming. Carina’s sub-team went to a prison themed bar in London (I did not even know that there was one!), and they filmed an absolutely fantastic advert, with Ryan-Mark and Jemelin relishing their roles as the prisoner and guard respectively, and Pamela doing an excellent job of directing. Claude Littner, Karren Brady and Lord Sugar would later on in the task, and on social media in both the run-up to and aftermath of the episode’s airing say that it was the best advert that they had seen in The Apprentice, and they were right to! Meanwhile, Lottie, Lewis and Marianne all looked so awkward doing the whole driving mime…thingy…, which was made all the more cliche by the use of “Eye of the Tiger” as its track. Their advert was very visibly zero-budget and frankly poor. Karren described it in her classic harsh but fair manner, stating that it was just “three mates, four chairs and a garage.”
Meanwhile, Scarlett did a podcast with two women who work in construction and engineering, one of whom was Series 13 fan-favourite candidate Michaela Wain (a really nice surprise to see her return!). Carina and Thomas headed off to create a new bread, so that samples could be given out at City Hall (so much for the baker who cannot bake thing – it looked and tasted delicious!). The next day the two finalists saw the television adverts. Scarlett was not particularly happy with hers, but admitted that it more or less fitted her vision. Carina rightly loved hers, while Thomas actually cried at seeing his vision so well executed, and this served as another reminder of what a genuine and kind man Thomas is. While the finalists prepared for their pitches at City Hall that afternoon, their teams got feedback from the general public at Westfield on the billboard and advert, and (in Carina’s case) the new bread. Feedback for Carina’s team was overwhelmingly positive across the board, while some aspects of what Scarlett’s team had created raised some uncertainties, but there were also a number of positive points raised.
At last though, it was time for the pitches. Carina pitched first, and her nerves came through at first, reflecting the fact that (as she admits herself) she is not that comfortable in corporate settings. However, once she found her feet, she pitched very well and conveyed her passion for the business and love for the family, engaging her audience well and giving satisfying answers to the questions. Scarlett went next, and she did a more consistently good pitch, which she gave a more personal edge, reflecting the fact that she comes from a more corporate background, and engaged her audience well and gave good answers to questions. However, there were criticisms of her advertising materials, which she almost certainly saw coming. Lord Sugar then spoke to some experts. Feedback for both finalists as people were very good, and both were commended for their proposed new businesses. Lord Sugar was told that Carina’s could be scalable, but it would take a very close eye to ensure that the business’s core values would remain once it became a franchise, while he was told that Scarlett’s did have potential, but that specific target market was a bit of a gamble due to it being niche.
The Final Decision (plus My Thoughts)
The next day, Lord Sugar had both teams back in the boardroom to discuss everything, and it was a bit like a university reunion. There was a lot of banter, especially with Thomas (I knew he was Lord Sugar’s favourite!), and the two teams praised the finalists. Lewis reminded us all of what a nice chap he is by telling them that they were two very worthy finalists who had done a fantastic job, and that they were both deserving of the win. After the teams left, Lord Sugar chatted to Scarlett and Carina some more about their potential businesses, before asking them to step outside while he consulted with Karren and Claude. His aides praised the two finalists, but it began to swing in Carina’s direction as it was made clear to Lord Sugar that his guidance could grow a successful family business into a successful chain, although he was told that (despite the degree of a gamble involved) Scarlett’s business had potential as she was experienced in recruitment and she was aiming for a (growing) niche market which could yield a good return on investment.
The pair then came back into the room, where they gave one final impassioned pitch for why their business should be chosen. Scarlett talked about her target market well and emphasised how she had far more years of experience in recruitment than Carina had in bakeries. Carina, however, pointed out the fact that her business was well established already, while the point that coffee shops and bakeries are a big growth industry on the high streets came up, and Carina made one very good point that reflected her business acumen – that her business would yield better profit margins, while Scarlett’s business would take longer to yield Lord Sugar a return on his investment. It was clear that Lord Sugar was torn, as he had two very credible candidates sat before him, both of whom had pitched great potential business ventures in areas within which he already co-owned businesses. It really could have been either of them, but Lord Sugar declared that Carina would be his new business partner.
It was a tough one, but I think that Lord Sugar made the right call. While both candidates were equally worthy of the win, based on how well they had conducted themselves and performed during the process, and the business acumen which they brought to the table, Carina’s business is in a visible growth market, and baking can yield enormous profit margins on individual products. While there is a lot of money in recruitment, it would indeed have taken longer for Lord Sugar to see a return on his investment as they are expensive businesses to set up and, while ultimately there is a lot of gambling in business, Scarlett’s proposed business was a gamble due to its niche target market, whereas Carina’s was the safer bet.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker concludes the nine-part “Skywalker Saga”, and is the eleventh live-action film in the space-opera franchise. The Resistance learn that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) survived the events of over 30 years earlier and has secretly been the puppet master engineering the First Order all along, and has now engineered a fleet of planet-destroying ships. On mission for the Resistance, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) start looking for clues that will lead the Resistance to his location, where they can defeat him once and for all. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) continues to struggle with his demons and question where his loyalties truly lie.
NOTE: I am going to be vaguer than usual with this review as I do not want to risk spoiling anything Star Wars for anyone.
Like most Star Wars films, The Rise of Skywalker is a visually spectacular piece of filmmaking, with detailed production and costume design, as well as quirky designs for alien creatures and robots, thereby giving the characters and locations a sense of science-fiction authenticity. While predominantly CGI, there is also some very good use of practical effects, and both of these things are stunning to look at, and aid the blockbuster’s sense of grandeur. There are also some spectacular landscape shots of exterior locations that mean that full marks must go to the location scouts.
There are numerous battle sequences throughout this film, and they are all very exciting sequences to watch due to their fast pace, excellent editing and cinematography, solid visual effects and an ensemble cast who (credited or not) throw themselves into these sequences with real energy and enthusiasm.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are the true stars of this film, playing the main protagonist and main antagonist verging on antihero respectively with real passion and raw emotion, and the pair also realise the complicated bond between their characters very well. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are once again solid additions to the cast, while it is always a pleasure to hear Anthony Daniels’s wonderful voice coming from C-3PO. Meanwhile, Ian McDiarmid relishes his reprisal of the Palpatine role; while the screenwriters did a fitting job of concluding Leia’s story, handling the problems posed to them by the late Carrie Fisher’s tragic death with respect and dignity, giving her role in the franchise a worthy conclusion.
The narrative is quite convoluted and, at times, contrived as it tries to serve as follow-ups individually to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, while also trying to be its own film by bringing a barrel-load of new ideas to the table. Resultantly the film becomes quite messy, with an over-reliance on exposition, reflecting the fact that this Sequel Trilogy, as a whole, is a case of too many cooks in one kitchen.
Pretty patchy characterisation, with Palpatine’s return to the franchise feeling very contrived, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) barely being used, and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) being used for a very predictable twist. A number of new additions to the cast are utilised poorly, including Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde, Keri Russell as Zorri Bliss, and Dominic Monaghan as Beaumont Kin.
Musical-fantasy Cats is adapted from the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical of the same title, which is in turn based on the T.S. Eliot poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and is distributed by Universal. Following the stray cats of early 20th Century London over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, led by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) must make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” to decide which cat will ascend to the Heavenside Layer and come back to a new life. However, using his mystical powers, master criminal and enemy of the Jellicles Macavity (Idris Elba) starts to take them hostage, determined to force Old Deuteronomy into choosing him for the ascension.
I am going to address exactly what the trailers meant was on everybody’s mind – the visual effects. This entire film is actors in spandex being filmed against green screens. The CGI in this film is of an appalling standard, with interior set and external locations alike looking incredibly fake, and the characters standing out against them like sore thumbs. The CGI that takes the human actors and turns them into what can only be described as human-cat hybrids is also absolutely ghastly, but worst of all with the CGI as a whole is the fact that it is so, so garish. It is a frankly horrid film to have to look at.
The most simple, yet accurate way to describe the screenplay (aside from it being proof that not all plays are suited to film adaptations) is that it is a series of underwhelming musical numbers (most of the film is in song form) which are threaded together by a tonally incoherent, bare-bones narrative and flimsy, sometimes contrived characterisation, with the presence of a number of the characters also feeling quite contrived. The film then ends with an incredibly patronising number on how cats should basically be treated like royalty and they are different to dogs…no kidding! Oh, and there are a number of frankly appalling cat-related jokes which do not even raise a chuckle, let alone a laugh.
The film’s A-List cast are very underwhelming, with the majority of them giving pay cheque performances and the ones who do not giving wooden turns. This ultimately reflects the fact that they did not have any real passion or enthusiasm for the project, which is reflected in the musical numbers (bar two examples which will be found in the PROS). There is no real passion, energy or enthusiasm to be found in the musical numbers, and several feel rehearsed to the point of overkill. Furthermore, there is no consistency with the types of performance found in Cats – some are acting like they are in films, others like they are in a stage musical, others like they are in a ballet.
Tom Hooper’s direction comes across as uncertain and, I am very sad to say, lacking inspiration, as the film is unfocused and disjointed, lacking any real weight or clarity in its direction. This makes the musical sequences suffer further as there is an odd sense of uncertainty to their choreography, plus Tom Hooper chose not to have each song be one long take, which would have caused the cast to have more adrenaline and therefore more energy. Instead, the musical numbers are heavily edited, which gives them pacing issues and stops the cast from getting the adrenaline, and therefore the energy, going.
Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift both sing their solos with passion, reflecting that at least they got some good singers in the ensemble cast.
SEASONAL SUMMARY ANALOGY
I have never done this on the blog, but earlier I used a festive analogy to summarise this film and was told that it is a good analogy, so I thought that I would share it. It is this: Imagine if you got somebody a lump of coal for Christmas – a horrid gift. However, you decided to conceal its ugly nature by wrapping it in paper and putting a ribbon on it, but rather than put time and effort into making the wrapping and ribbon look pretty, you give it a rough wrapping with the most garish paper imaginable, and do a quick double-knot with the ribbon rather than a bow. As such, you have taken something horrid and ugly, and concealed that true nature of it by making it look like a complete eyesore.