Star Wars anyone?

The force is strong with the first teaser for J.J Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

If you haven’t seen it already then stop what you’re doing right now. Scroll down, click play and go completely fucking nuts.

Also, where the hell have you been since Friday when the trailer swarmed the internet like a pack of rampaging Ewoks at a Stormtrooper team building weekend?

88 seconds of pure fanboy bliss, these are the first images from next December’s now Disney powered continuation of George Lucas’ epic space saga. And boy they don’t disappoint.

The trailer introduces four new characters, and actors, to the galaxy far far away. Although actual plot details are at this point still as secret as C-3PO’s sexuality, we do know that John Boyega’s (Attack the Block) character, pictured at the beginning of the trailer sweating like a Jedi in a whorehouse, will play a major role.

As will relative newcomer Daisy Ridley’s heroine, shot in the trailer riding a rather hefty speeder.

Golden Globe nominee and man of the moment Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis and soon to be playing the title role in X-Men: Apocalypse) is also featured doing what every Star Wars fan has ever dreamed of. No, not taking a blow torch to Jar Jar Binks, but piloting a god damn X-Wing!

Then there’s that menacing voiceover, recently revealed to be the work of Andy Serkis. You know, Andy Serkis, that guy from The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Planet of the Apes and now bloody Star Wars. Man’s living the dream.

And what about that lightsaber?! And who’s wielding it?! And how good does the Falcon look?!

If you’ve watched the trailer countless times already like myself, you will have no doubt noticed what, or more specifically who, is missing.

Our heroes from the original trilogy of course! Although we didn’t get a glimpse of them in the trailer, they’re all back for another round of space hoo-ha. Recent rumours suggest that Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker will play a major role in proceedings.

Carrie Fisher is confirmed but there’s no word on Leia’s story yet, though I do hope she brings out those snail curls.

Of course everybody’s favourite stuck up, half-witted, scruffy lookin’ nerf herding smuggler Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, is back.

And who’s that in the back there? Oh it’s Chewie! The walking wookie carpet, played by 7″3 Peter Mayhew, is of course, returning.

Also making a comeback is Kenny Baker as Lord of the Droids R2-D2, still telling Han the odds will be Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and, last but not least, legendary composer John Williams will be turning out a brand new score! JOY.

The rest of the cast is also very promising. Joining the aforementioned batch of Star Wars newbies will be Adam Driver, who also featured in Inside Llewyn Davis, the About Time and Frank star Domhnall Gleeson, 12 Years a Slave newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, Game of Thrones’ warrior woman Gwendoline Christie and legend of cinema Max von Sydow.

Whatever happens between now and December 2015, the next chapter in the Star Wars saga is done and dusted and in post-production. We can expect more trailers, more images and more story info than a Tusken Raider can shake his stick at in the coming months. All we have to do is wait.

But, in the words of Yoda – “Bloody wait I can’t.”

“I’m just a mathematician…” The Imitation Game review.

World War II is won with maths and not machine guns in thrilling period bio-pic The Imitation Game.

With an incredible performance from lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, is a riveting, albeit rather conventional, historical drama that sheds light on the triumphs of forgotten war-hero Alan Turing.

About the British government’s attempts to break the secret Nazi code ‘Enigma’ during WWII, the film documents the tragic life of mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), from his early years at boarding school to his imprisonment after the war for being a homosexual.

The film begins in 1952 after Alan’s home has been burglarised. Believing him to be a suspicious character, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) looks into Alan’s ‘classified’ military history.

Cut to 1941, Bletchley Park and the British Government’s secret radio headquarters. Charles Dance’s rigid Commander Denniston and Mark Strong’s shady MI6 chief Stewart Menzies, explain to Alan and a small group of Britain’s finest maths minds why they’re here – to crack the German’s uncrackable Enigma code, saving countless lives and giving the Allies a slim chance at winning the war.

Intelligent as he is socially awkward, Alan’s disdain towards his fellow codebreakers is curbed by new recruit Joan Clark, played by Keira Knightley, and the two form a close relationship as well as bringing the rest of the group together.

What makes The Imitation Game such a success is that up until very recently most people hadn’t even heard of Alan Turing.

Kept a secret for decades after the war by the government, Turing’s story is a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most important figures in British military history. It has a poignancy that resonates as much today as it should have done in 1954 – the year of his tragic suicide.

Cumberbatch plays Turing as a brilliant mastermind bordering on arrogant, yet immensely emotional, markedly autistic and, most importantly, deeply human.

It’s certainly the Sherlock and Star Trek: Into Darkness star’s finest on screen performance and is worth seeing for the ticket price alone.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well. Keira Knightley’s Joan is rather interesting as the only woman to help break the code. Her quasi-romance with Alan, necessary to keep Joan at Bletchley Park, is fated to fail from the start.

Also worth a mention is fellow mathematician Hugh, played by the charismatic Watchmen baddy Matthew Goode. The Brit should certainly feature more often.

But what lets The Imitation Game down slightly is its by the numbers narrative. We hear of Alan’s ‘indecent’ homosexual acts but we’re never allowed to venture into this part of his life. Plus, a rather unrealistic (bearing in mind the film’s very realistic representation) Hollywood “Eureka!” moment skews its climax a touch.

An Oscar nomination undoubtedly awaits for man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch. Without him The Imitation Game is only half is good. With him, it makes for a damn fine game indeed.

7/10

“If it bleeds, it leads.” Nightcrawler review

There’s no news like bad news for Jake Gylenhaal’s stylishly slimy anti-hero in Dan Gilroy’s noir thriller Nightcrawler.

Set during the after dark hours of LA’s criminal and concrete jungle, Nightcrawler is the story of sociopathic misfit Lou Bloom (Gylenhaal).

Turning in a career best performance as the film’s chilling protagonist, Gylenhaal, who actually chose to lose weight for the film, is almost unrecognisable as the gaunt and greasy Lou.

Happening upon a severe car accident late at night, Lou discovers the world of freelance videography.

“If it bleeds, it leads” says Bill Paxton’s seasoned cameraman Joe Loder, who’s first on the scene to capture the action.

Lou is instantly hooked.

Getting his hands on a basic camcorder and police scanner, Lou begins to venture into the LA night, lurking behind policeman and ambulance crews filming several violent crimes, car crashes and fires.

Selling his work to the highest bidder, Lou befriends ratings-thirsty news editor Nina (Rene Russo), who appreciates his graphic work and pays him well. He also employs intern Rick (Riz Ahmed), whom Lou exploits at every opportunity.

As the ratings increase so does Lou’s appetite, fuelling his insatiable need to make it to the top with no regards to who gets hurt in the process.

Debut director Dan Gilroy produces a dark and thrilling picture, using the backdrop of the eerie LA night time to create a sense of mysteriousness around every corner.

But of course, Nightcrawler’s centrepiece is the soulless Lou.

With his greased back hair and accidentally fashionable wardrobe, Gylenhaal’s eccentric Lou can be added to the list of infamous movie anti-heroes such as Fight Club’s Tyler Durden and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman.

Although thrilling and suspenseful, Nightcrawler is dark comedy. Our psycho Lou finds finds his calling in life feeding explicit images of blood and guts news into TV sets. And we want it, apparently.

Shot in stunning noir-ish tones and gripping from beginning to end, Nightcrawler is fascinating, disturbing and executed to damn near perfection.

8/10

“Do not go gentle into that good night.” Interstellar review

Christopher Nolan is a big deal.

The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception director is probably the most celebrated filmmaker of recent times.

His steady rise to near immortality began in 2000 with the influential thriller Memento.

12 years later, The Dark Knight Rises brought to an end one of the greatest trilogies in modern cinema, grossing well over $1 billion worldwide.

Some have compared him to Spielberg; both producing smart blockbusters with box office smashing turnovers.

However, this comparison is more about their status as filmmakers – in that they can both pretty much do whatever the hell they like.

Enter Interstellar – Nolan’s latest and most ambitious film to date.

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, Interstellar explores the ideas of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and his theories on wormholes and time travel.

If Inception’s dreams within dreams within dreams had your brain baffled then Interstellar will fry it, as there’s no hiding from its intellectual and sometimes overbearingly complex narrative.

Set in the near future, Earth’s food resources have been ravaged by disease and its climate has become harsh leading to frequent dust storms and a scarcity of food.

When corn farmer and ex-NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon NASA’s secret headquarters, he is told that unless humanity leaves Earth the human race will become extinct.

Discovering a wormhole orbiting Saturn, which is believed to be the work of extra-dimensional beings, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), reveal that potentially habitable worlds in a different galaxy can be reached by travelling through said wormhole thus, saving the human race from extinction.

Still with me?

Agreeing to pilot the Endurance Cooper leaves his family – and daughter Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) behind, promising to return to her once the mission is complete.

At its foremost, Interstellar is awe-inspiring and almost overwhelming at times.

Its scale is incredible. As we follow the crew of the Endurance across the vastness of space it’s hard not to feel insignificant, sat in a multiplex theatre in your small town on our tiny planet.

Its pace is relentless and rather annoyingly (and on more than one occasion), the dialogue is difficult to follow. Concentration is crucial, as one lapse is enough to leave you scratching your head and wishing you were somewhere else… watching Batman, maybe.

Accompanied by the perfectly evocative tones of Hans Zimmer’s beautifully constructed soundtrack, Nolan produces some of the most stunning imagery seen in science fiction since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Black holes, alien landscapes and space paradoxes are a wonder to behold, all but enhanced in Nolan’s preferred IMAX format.

Acting wise, McConaughey’s rise to stratospheric stardom has been clear for all to see of late. Here the Dallas Buyers Club and Mud actor turns in yet another emotionally-hinged performance as pilot/father/leader Cooper. One scene in particular springs to mind, as he watches back years of video messages after landing on a planet that for every hour costs decades for those back on earth.

Hathaway adds another weighty performance in her role as Cooper’s sidekick Brand, and Nolan returnee Michael Caine plays scientific genius Professor Brand well enough.

Some noteworthy plot holes aside, Interstellar is a work of art.

There’s a feeling now that perhaps every new Nolan film will arrive with an expectation to outdo his previous.

If so, this will be hard to top.

Interstellar is many things; head-spinning, jaw-dropping and passionate, but above all else it’s an experience.

Go see it.

9/10

You can also read my review here – http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/what-s-on/film/film-review-interstellar-1-6421954

“Wars aren’t going anywhere, Sir.” Fury review

In this gritty and brutal action drama from End of Watch director David Ayer, Fury follows the exploits of a battle weary Sherman tank crew during the Allies’ final push for the European Theatre in 1945.

In its starring role is Brad Pitt, who last had Hitler quaking in his boots in Quentin Tarantino’s absurdly enjoyable Inglorious Basterds.

Not too dissimilar from his previous incarnation, Pitt plays the battle-scarred and bullish tank commander Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ who, along with his four-man crew, have been fighting since their campaign began in North Africa some time ago.

Outgunned and outmatched with the war nearing its end, Wardaddy and his men are forced to question their commitment when given a series of dangerous missions deep into enemy territory.

Fury is good at what it does; its loud, it looks good (though green and grey can take its toll before too long) and delivers some satisfying tank on tank action.

With the majority of screen time dedicated to the claustrophobic underbelly of the rumbling Sherman, writer/director David Ayer uses numerous close-ups and point of view shots to effectively portray both the complexities of tank warfare and the raw emotions of soldiers in combat.

But, it’s what Fury doesn’t do well that ultimately sends this slug of a war movie into disrepair.

It is overtly macho from the beginning – leaping through the air, Wardaddy unseats a German officer on horseback before plunging a knife deep into the soldier’s eye socket.

The macho mentality continues when Wardaddy takes it upon himself to turn group newcomer Norman (Logan Lerman), a boy who hasn’t fired his weapon since basic training and is literally repulsed by all things war-y, into a fearless war machine.

We’re meant to relate to Norman and experience the war through his eyes as he undergoes several rites of passage, including a scene where Wardaddy procures him a charming German girl.

And we do to some extent, even though Norman’s war is full of macho pretence and Hollywood romanticism.

In an attempt to be deep and meaningful, Fury’s narrative ends up being riddled with clichés and full of stereotypes.

The rest of Wardaddy’s unit are a bunch of all too familiar war movie types; the religious fanatic, ‘Bible’ played by the estranged Shia LeBeouf, the soldier of ethnicity, ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena), and the obnoxious military grunt ‘Coon-Ass’ (John Bernthal).

The film’s climax is also off putting, feeling like the last level of a first-person shooter game.

Although well-acted and visually impressive, Fury’s all killer and no filler storyline burn a colossal hole in its rather ambitious shell.

Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers it ain’t, yet there’s just enough on show here to please war enthusiasts and popcorn eaters alike.

5/10

You can also read my review here – http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/what-s-on/film/film-review-fury-1-6404324

“You two are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met.” Gone Girl review

David Fincher really doesn’t do nice.

With Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999) Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) in his back catalogue, Fincher’s latest feature, Gone Girl, is just as dark and equally as twisted as his previous works.

Heavily based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling page-turner, Gone Girl is the tale of a modern marriage turned sour, the obsession with our perceived sense of self, and the perverse circus of our celebrity-obsessed, media-saturated culture.

On the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), has vanished.

Soon becoming embroiled in a murder investigation, Affleck’s brilliantly nonchalant Nick parades around police stations and press conferences with pomp, as well as swigging beer at his sister Margo’s (Carrie Coon), and excelling at being both a monumental arsehole and average nice guy all at the same time.

Following Affleck’s steady comeback and in his finest role since Argo (2012), Nick is effortlessly effortless, or in other words, he doesn’t give a shit.

But why doesn’t he? After all, his “Amazing Amy” is missing and presumed dead.

The answer lies in Gone Girl’s absorbingly clever narrative.

Fincher skilfully deploys two story threads.

The first follows the linear aftermath of Amy’s vanishing; the police procedure, the media circus, the pseudo-celebrity status of a missing person. At times it almost feels like a parody. But, this is Fincher’s style – playfully inhumane.

The second thread however, tells the (true?) story of Amy and Nick’s relationship from the carefree and lovey-dovey beginning.

“We’re so cute, I could punch us in the face” says Rosamund Pike’s strikingly blonde Amy, as she monologues from a series of diary entries.

We’re given her side of the story, Amy’s take on things, the voice of a victim. We want to believe her – but should we?

It’s a real star turn from the British-born actress who, like Affleck, has perhaps suffered in her career due to a mixed bag of previous films.

But, Pike grabs this one by the scruff of the neck and her performance is truly magnificent.

What keeps Gone Girl so fresh in terms of its label as a thriller is the way it progressively becomes less of a “whodunit” and more about the how and why.

Though the how is left for an unconventional but re-energising middle of the film plot twist, the why is as hugely apparent as Ben Affleck’s dimpled chin.

“That’s marriage” replies Amy (receiving biggest laugh of the film) after Nick explains that all they do is “cause each other pain.”

And being the “most fucked up people [defence attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) has] ever met,” perhaps the institution of marriage, it seems, is only for the mentally insane?

No, perhaps not.

But you’d certainly think twice about it after seeing Gone Girl, and see it you should.

8/10

You can also read my review here – http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/what-s-on/film/film-review-gone-girl-1-6349212

“War has begun” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review.

Andy Serkis’ Caesar is king as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rules this summer’s box office in this intelligent yet, stunningly action-packed sequel.

With an already confirmed third instalment to this Planet of the Apes origin, things are looking good for Twentieth Century Fox and director Matt Reeves, as this emotionally charged chapter in the Apes canon delivers everything from more marvellous ‘Mocapping’, to crazed gun wielding chimpanzees on horseback.

Set 10 years after their rebellion in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar’s growing group of super-smart primates have settled in the Red Woods, San Francisco, where things drew to a close last time out.

Unlike the thriving apes however, most of the world’s humans have been wiped out by the deadly simian flu teased at the end of Rise and elaborated on during the opening of Dawn.

From the start this sequel to the prequel of the reboot (confused?) is strikingly different in tone.
Where there was joy in Caesar’s triumphant and heroic rise in the first movie, despair looms large this time round and everything seems rather bleak.

Well, for the humans anyway.

Away from Caesar’s utopia, ‘genitically immune’ human survivors, living in the abandoned and overgrown streets of San Francisco, have almost run out of power and dare to cross his territory in order to fix the dam generator.

There’s no monkey business here, as Reeves immediately sharpens his focus to two significant power struggles.

This first tussle is expected.

The delicate relationship between human and ape threatens to implode more than once throughout Dawn, before breaking into all-out war, allowing the franchises’ much applauded CGI and stunt work to come to the fore.

Yet, it’s the struggle between two apes that dominate proceedings.

Toby Kebbell’s brilliant work as the ferocious and disturbingly violent Koba is hard to ignore, as he tangles with the might of a learned Caesar, putting the latter’s motto of “ape shall not kill ape” to the test.

Serkis’ alpha ape is once again sensational, as we marvel at the brilliance of motion capture as well as his undeniable acting prowess.

As emotionally hinged as the first movie was, Dawn takes things up a notch, leaving us hanging on every expression and word spoken (yes, spoken!) by the ever endearing apes.

The human characters however certainly take a back seat, with the most prominent of performances coming from Jason Clarke’s well-meaning Malcolm.

Gary Oldman’s confused role as the human leader Dreyfus is neither here nor there and, rather disappointingly, is shunned to very little screen time at all.

In this cluttered and clogged era of modern filmmaking sequels can often be wide of the mark but, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is absolutely spot on.

Expanding on the success of its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ exciting mix of intelligent storytelling, stunning special effects and relentless action, bodes well for whatever the apes have in store for us next.

8/10