Movie reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens with breathtaking action
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Cert: 12A
Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30
Reviewed this week are Star Wars: The Force Awakens, In the Heart of the Sea , Daddy's Home, The Peanuts Movie and Forbidden Room.
A long time ago, in a studio far, far away, a bunch of yes-men let George Lucas desecrate the vastly adored space opera that he once created. Luckily, The Phantom Menace (1999) and its two turgid, soulless fellow prequels failed to fatally wound the legacy of Star Wars, a trilogy that had defined an entire generation 40-odd years ago.
Fans thus rejoiced when it emerged JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) was to direct a new chapter following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. Golden oldies like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford would return alongside young guns such as Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Domhnall Gleeson as nostalgia and fresh-faced pep intertwined. Trailers were pored over and experts predicted a box office to match Avatar or Titanic.
I'm happy to report that The Force Awakens is not only a sigh of relief to all who hold the brand dear but also a whoop of celebration for lovers of smart, multi-coloured sci-fi with an epic sweep.
The spoiler police are circling, but know this: The First Order has replaced the Empire, with Gleeson's nasty general and Adam Driver's Sith lord at the helm. General Leia's Resistance are out to stop them with help from a defected storm trooper (Boyega) and a granite-strength heroine (Ridley). Abrams and original screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan pay homage - stooping aerial battles, blood revelations, Jedi mysticism, tangible set design, a John Williams score - but add real substance. Humour and heart are prominent amid the breathtaking action. 4 Stars
Editor's choice: In the Heart of the Sea
Big movies are what the cinema is for in many respects and Ron Howard delivers a big movie about a big whale for your Christmas holiday delectation. It's not perfect, it's not all it intended to be, but it is a spectacular and usually engaging telling of a good ole yarn.
Writer Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) has heard a story on which he thinks he can base a novel and tracks down one of the protagonists, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a 14-year-old (Tom Holland) aboard the doomed whaling ship the Essex in 1820. Through a series of flashbacks Nickerson recounts the story of a ship, owned by big business, whale oil made the world go round before crude oil was discovered, and manned by minions who undertook missions that took years to hunt increasingly elusive whales. Then, as now, people, animals, hunting methods, mere cogs in a money machine.
The Essex has an inexperienced but well-connected captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who has something to prove to his experienced next-in-command, first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and second mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy). The rivalry leads to an encounter that damages the ship and makes the need for a good whale oil haul all the sharper so they undertake a risky journey that will pitch them against a very large, angry whale. The story, largely true, is mostly engaging. The performances are good but the characters are one dimensional. 3 Stars
Opens Dec 26th
You really shouldn't judge a book by its cover but sometimes its unavoidable, not to mention downright convenient.
You look at the promotional poster for Daddy's Home, a new comedy from Sean Anders (Sex Drive, Horrible Bosses 2), and you make certain assumptions.
You see Will Ferrell, the comedic darling of the US who has made a bafflingly lucrative career out of playing buffoonish man-children.
Opposite him, there's Mark Wahlberg, all ripped physique and puffy-chested willingness to play any character as long as they're a bit tough. He is, in many ways, the "Anti-Ferrell".
Lo and behold, Daddy's Home turns out to be exactly and unconditionally as you'd expect from such a veneer. Ferrell is Brad, a wussy radio station employee who is a doting stepfather to the two children of gorgeous wife Sarah (Linda Cardellini). A dentistry accident rules Brad out from fathering his own children and this gives his brand of parenting a weepy, over-protective edge.
His emotional state isn't helped when the little ones squeal with joy at the prospect of their rakish but largely absent biological father Dusty (Wahlberg) paying a visit. Dusty is wild, buff, adept at all kinds of manly pursuits and a hit with Brad's heinous boss (Thomas Haden Church). Basically, Dusty's everything Brad is not and proceeds to emasculate the perceived interloper with predatory relish. A rivalry ensues that brings with it childish carry-on, dastardly one-upmanship and plenty of eye-rolling from the fair Sarah.
All of this is entirely predictable, as is the cheesy reconciliation made by the two men when the good of the children wins out over any petty squabbles.
Things work best when it ditches the family corn and mines less tasteful regions such as during those scenes involving Bobby Cannavale's boorish fertility doctor. Many of the laughs rely on being dragged over the line by the contrast of Ferrell's wimpishness and Wahlberg's muscle-bound swagger, while one gag involving a freeloading handyman is flogged to the point of tedium. 2 Stars
The Peanuts Movie
My 14-year-old has heard of Snoopy but not his human cohorts. My six- and four-year-old nephew and niece claimed not even to have heard of Snoopy, so whilst seeing the Peanuts gang onscreen would be a trip down memory lane for me, I wasn't entirely sure what the young uns - so used to fabulously fabulous animation and effects - would make of this cartoon throwback, albeit in 3D. It also screens in 2D, and I can't imagine much is lost.
Early in the film a phone rings, a landline with a cord and a dialler, and the tone is set. No-one has mobiles or ipads, games are simple and physical, adults a blur who speak blah blah blah.
Charlie (Noah Schnapp) is still sporting the yellow jumper with the black design, still half at the mercy of his little sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) and entirely at the mercy of Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller). Who knew that Lucy and Linus' surname was Van Pelt? Not I.
Charlie is both delighted and terrified when a new girl (Francesca Capaldi) moves in across the road and joins his class. Desperate to impress her and convinced that the self he is day-to-day will not cut the mustard, Charlie, inspired by an unexpected academic success, embarks on a set of feats to make himself seem extra alluring. And for a while it works. Meanwhile in the background Snoopy and Woodstock (Bill Melendez) have their own entirely separate invented adventures in romance.
Director Steve Martino, working from a story written by two Schulz relatives, does a nice job keeping it simple, appealing and true to the spirit of the original.
The message is sweet, arguably too upbeat for Peanuts purists but the young uns enjoyed it and the 14-year-old was especially interested in the typewriter, "Was that how those things really worked?" 3 Stars
Opens Dec 21
Canadian film maker Guy Maddin's love of vintage cinema informs his latest ouevre, The Forbidden Room. From the beginning, a public service film about how, and why to bathe, the tone is set with camera work, it's filmed in two-strip technicolour, as favoured in 1930s and 40s cinema, and black and white, the dialogue is dramatic, the acting hammy, expressions exaggerated and there is subtle simple sexual innuendo and dramatic music.
In a series of separate storylines that occasionally overlap but didn't cohere into one theme, there are more black and white movie staples, a fabulous hero Cesare (Roy Dupuis) and a damsel in distress, Margot, (Clara Furey). There are uncivilised natives with strange practices, infeasible train routes, the Berlin Bogota express and unscientific solutions, the men in the dying submarine eat flapjacks every day so that they can survive on the air pockets they contain.
Lovers of avant-garde cinema could really enjoy this and it has a high critic consensus rating. There are great cameos, including from Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin, Mathieu Amalric and Udo Kier, and this lovingly crafted homage is clever in ways, visually engaging, the cast is very committed and it is sometimes funny. However, whilst I would have enjoyed it as a short film, I proffer that two hours of it is a challenge to even the most devoted arthouse fan. Not that they're likely to confess to such. 2 Stars
Now Showing IFI
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