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Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Retrospective Review

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Time: 141 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Adam Driver as Ben Solo/Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley as Rey
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Naomi Ackie as Jannah
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde
Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata
Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico
Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
Director: J.J. Abrams

When it’s discovered that the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) did not die at the hands of Darth Vader, the rebels must race against the clock to find out his whereabouts. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) lead the Resistance to put a stop to the First Order’s plans to form a new Empire, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) anticipates her inevitable confrontation with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

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Star Wars Episode 9 The Rise of Skywalker had quite the mixed reaction upon its release. I watched the movie twice in the cinemas and still loved it despite all its faults. However as time passed I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and so the worse it really gets. Whereas The Last Jedi had a range of reactions from people who love it and people who hate it, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t seem to have many fans, most of the reactions are middling to negative. Even now as one of the people who liked it, I think saying that this movie is a bit of a mess is an understatement.

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There’s a lot that has been said about what could’ve been and what has been changed in this movie. Here’s what we know: Colin Trevorrow was hired to write and direct the movie but after a while on the project, he left following creative differences. So, JJ Abrams was brought in to direct as well as co-write along with Chris Terrio, which included a lot of rewriting and reshaping of the story and direction. Whether or not Trevorrow’s version would’ve been better or worse, it’s pretty clear that Abrams and Terrio were brought in and rushed into making a movie replacing someone else, and this movie certainly feels very rushed. This movie goes by so fast, on one hand it’s got quite a speedy pace that doesn’t allow for you to get bored at all. On the other hand, the story feels rushed, like it wants to sweep things aside to get to the meaty parts. It goes from one plot point to another too fast, and never allows itself to settle. There’s rarely a moment for the story or characters to breathe or develop. A lot of things happen, and the emotional moments are rushed. As a result, the emotional weight is not there for even the major moments of the film. The only scene that really worked like this was when Ben Solo imagines seeing Han, probably the best scene in the movie. The movie is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and you’d think that with this wrapping up a decades long running saga that Disney would in fact encourage a much longer runtime, given that they were willing for Avengers: Endgame to be 3 hours long. Even pacing aside, the story itself plays everything way too safe, and that’s what hinders it. The plot feels so by the numbers that I never really felt any real stakes, and it was so predictable beat for beat. The film feels kind of dull too, especially when compared to the previous two movies. There’s a lot of things happening but you aren’t actually interested in the story. The film is essentially a fetch quest with multiple locations, characters and cutscenes to highlight the main story arc. It felt rather lazy and generic. There was no sense of threat despite this film claiming that this is the ultimate battle, probably because it never slows down enough to allow the level of threat to set in. The Rise of Skywalker really does try to lean into nostalgia, and indeed there is so much fanservice. It wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so reliant on it, and also didn’t feel so meaningless and tacky. One of those that is more than a mere cameo is Palpatine being brought up as the main villain. Him being alive and pulling the strings all this time was never interesting to me, but worst of all his usage was rather boring. There’s also plenty of other wasted potential, from some of the newer characters, to the Knights of Ren who are basically just there to stand around and look cool, to Finn’s force sensitive abilities which aren’t explored enough. Storywise, much of the movie does feel like it was trying to appease those who disliked The Last Jedi, retconning a lot of decisions made in that film and reducing the character of Rose Tico to nothing more than a background character.

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This movie does give some reveals to some mysteries that have been floating around since The Force Awakens, they either ranged to being okay, to reveals I wasn’t on board with. One of the main things to talk about is the reveal that Rey is a Palpatine, which you learn about in the halfway point of the movie. Ever since The Force Awakens, there had been a mystery as to who Rey’s parents are. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren said that Rey’s parents were nobodies, and while not everyone liked that idea, I thought that was a much better concept. This time they decided to go with this, and I have mixed feelings. I will say that it’s at least better than her being a Skywalker or even a Kenobi, a little more interesting perhaps. However it’s a little disappointing to see this retcon. The worst part of that reveal however was the actual reveal in the movie. Kylo Ren just says “You’re his granddaughter, you’re a Palpatine” and that’s it. Like it was pretty obvious at that point that she was a Palpatine given the scene of Rey and the force lightning when Chewbacca is taken, but I would’ve thought that they would’ve at least tried to treat that scene with some weight. Rey didn’t even have much of a reaction to this really, pretty mild considering that she just found out that she’s the descendant of The Emperor. It was just lazily handled. There are some bits of information that aren’t given to us in the plot. One of the most prominent was an explanation on how Palpatine even survived. The novel apparently states that at the end of Return of the Jedi, he cloned himself somewhere else, which doesn’t even make sense. I was expecting even a throwaway piece of dialogue at least but that didn’t even happen. Even the reveal that new character Jannah is the daughter of Lando wasn’t explicitly made clear in the movie. The ending is rather exciting with the big battles but when it comes to an end, it really does feel like something is missing. The battle finishes, the main trio reunite, Rey goes to Tatooine and it just ends there. I did like Rey adopting the name Skywalker at the end, but it just didn’t feel conclusive or satisfying like the end of the previous two trilogies.

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Although some of the work on the characters is a bit mixed, the cast generally do well in their roles. It’s great we finally see Rey, Finn and Poe (played by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) working as a trio together. Adam Driver still puts a lot into Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, though something about him in this movie felt off, probably the writing. As many know, Carrie Fisher died after the filming of The Last Jedi, and so for episode 9 they had to use unused footage from The Force Awakens in this movie for Leia. They did well finding a way to use that footage to give her something to do and for all my complaints with what they do with Leia, I’m not as harsh given the circumstances. A surprise standout was Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, who actually got to do some stuff in his storyline with the main trio. It was also great to see Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian. The lack of Kelly Marie Tran’s character of Rose was noticed amongst many people. In The Last Jedi she was one of the main characters, but here she’s relegated to a background character. I’m not asking for her to be a primary focus, but it would’ve been so easy to place her among the rebels going on the mission. As said previously, it’s possible that her change in roles was because some people didn’t like her in the last movie. There were also a few additions to the cast in this movie. Naomi Ackie plays Jannah, who is a rebel who used to be a stormtrooper. Unfortunately that potential with this aspect is not expanded on beyond one scene with Finn. With Richard E. Grant, there’s not really much to his character as a First Order general, but he was effective in this kind of role. As said previously, Ian McDiarmid returns as Palpatine, and the use of the character was a mixed bag. There’s so much problems with the character, he plays like a greatest hits of Palpatine from Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi and feels forced into the movie. McDiarmid however at least looks like he’s committing to the part and he’s fun.

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JJ Abrams returns to direct after The Force Awakens, and I generally liked the direction. The visuals were great, I loved the blending of practical effects with CGI, and I liked the designs of the new planets, with each of them having a distinct atmosphere and feel. I also liked a lot of the creature designs. The action is quite good too, the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren with the water was a standout. The score from John Williams is much like the previous Star Wars movies, had some great and memorable themes for Rey and Kylo Ren, but on the whole is rather familiar.

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Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker is a very mixed bag. Generally, it’s entertaining to watch but it gets worse the more you think about the plot. As a conclusion it’s sort of how I feel about the Game of Thrones finale, there are parts of it I’m fine with, parts of it I’m against, but ultimately I feel nothing about it, just a resounding “well I guess that’s it”. I ultimately just accepted how they choose to end it, but I don’t really feel satisfied with it. The worst thing I can say is that it is “just another Star Wars movie”, not exactly the feeling you want for the end of your trilogy. It’s not my least favourite Star Wars movie, I at least like it more than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, but I think just about every other movie in the series is better. No doubt in another decade or so there will be another Star Wars trilogy to continue the story, but as for now, as the latest movie and the current conclusion of the saga, it is rather disappointing.

Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi (2017) Retrospective Review

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Time: 152 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley as Rey
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke
Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
Benicio del Toro as DJ
Director: Rian Johnson

Jedi Master-in-hiding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) unwillingly attempts to guide young hopefully Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the ways of the force, while Leia (Carrie Fisher), former princess turned general, attempts to lead what is left of the Resistance away from the ruthless tyrannical grip of the First Order.

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In my original review of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi, I indicated that some people were probably going to take issues with certain moments in the movie. But I had no idea that this movie would be as divisive as it turned out to be. As it is, I still consider The Last Jedi to be one of the best movies in the series, even if there’s a few parts I don’t love.

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The Last Jedi is very likely the most thematically rich film of the entire series, it touches on themes of failure and how great of a teacher it is (which is even said by Yoda during his scene). Every character fails in some way, but they learn and grow from that failure. It shows how inspirational hope can be, and that there are really no good sides in a war. Also its a Star Wars movie which actually has the most amount of shades of grey as opposed to just black and white, it’s a study of both the light and dark sides of the force, really taking a deep dive into the mythos. Sure it could’ve gone deeper and done more, but it’s more than the past Star Wars movies. With all that being said, as far as blockbusters that subvert expectations and causes a divide go, The Last Jedi isn’t all that special. With The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams gave a starting point for the next director to continue. So with The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson really didn’t ‘destroy’ anything from Abrams with the decisions he went with. As it was, I liked it quite a lot. There are certainly some aspects that were better than others, I was more invested in Kylo Ren, Luke and Rey then say Finn and Rose’s storyline. However, Johnson generally takes some directions that are interesting for the Star Wars series.

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I liked the storyline focusing on Rey and Luke and their interactions. Much has been said about the portrayal of Luke in this movie (such as how he almost killed Ben Solo), I’m in the “this is a natural continuation for the character” camp. It really does seem like a lot of the divisiveness around this movie came from this one plotline and portrayal oddly enough, but I’m glad that Johnson was willing to go in this direction. This is also where it does go into some of the shades of grey I mentioned earlier, and it was interesting seeing how it played out. I also liked Kylo Ren in his storyline. Even though he doesn’t do a whole lot throughout in the plot until the end, it’s clear he is very conflicted throughout, and it was interesting to watch what he did next. The Resistance storyline was also solid. It was mostly just them having to run away from The First Order and it was rather simplistic, but it worked and you felt the stakes. Although it wasn’t one of my favourite parts of the movie, I also liked Finn and Rose’s plotline fine enough. When people talk negatives of the movie, usually the first thing they bring up is the Canto Bight segment involving them. It is fine, it’s not like this section had no purpose at all, and I can sort of see why Rian put it in. Though it’s definitely the weakest section of the movie, at least when compared to the rest of the movie. The third act I thought was put together well, especially with how everything was resolved. It tied up the plotlines and characters well, and it was also probably the most heroic way for Luke Skywalker to go out while avoiding just playing as fanservice.

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Actingwise, the standout of the movie for me was Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. His portrayal of an initially weary and broken down Luke is impressive and probably one of the best performances in the Star Wars series as a whole. Daisy Ridley was also once again good in the role of Rey, although I feel like of the major characters, she goes through the least development. One idea I liked that they introduced was how she’s a nobody. While I and many people beforehand were previously thinking about her being a Kenobi or even a Palpatine, when Kylo said that her parents are nobodies, I liked that idea so much more. Adam Driver once again was great as Kylo Ren, continuing to show himself as one of the best characters in the series. As I said earlier, throughout this movie he’s conflicted and he greatly conveyed his struggles. John Boyega does well as Finn, going through a character arc, starting off wanting to run from the Empire, and by the end was willing enough to sacrifice himself to try to save the rebellion. Oscar Isaac gets to do more as Poe Dameron this time compared to back in The Force Awakens, in which he appeared in just the first and the third acts, and he’s natural solid. He’s got quite a good character arc here too, and it definitely plays much better on a second viewing once you know what’s going on in that particular storyline.

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Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico received quite a lot of hate in this movie, but I thought she was pretty good here. There are some problems I had with her and Finn’s storyline, but that’s it. If we are talking about the weakest major character in this movie, it would be Benicio del Toro as DJ, a codebreaker that Finn and Rose find, even though I do like Del Toro as an actor. He seems really out of place, and not in a good way. With all that being said, I do get the point of his character, showing some of the morally grey aspects between The First Order and the Resistance. Laura Dern is also great as Holdo, and she even gets one of the best scenes of the movie where she light speeds through the First Order fleet. Andy Serkis got a little more screentime and things to do as Supreme Leader Snoke compared to The Force Awakens, and while the character doesn’t have much to him, Serkis played him excellently (not to mention the visual effects and motion capture is fantastic). Hux played by Domhnall Gleeson was pretty much used as a joke character to be tossed around by Kylo Ren and Snoke, but he did work well as that. Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was pretty pointless, she shows up, looks cool, and then gets axed quickly like in The Force Awakens. I sort of wished that she somehow appeared in The Rise of Skywalker, because then there’d be a running joke of her somehow surviving from the previous movie to appear in the sequel to only then get bumped off again. At least she got to have a fight scene here.

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Rian Johnson directed this movie very well, and he added something fresh to the series with the way everything is shot, the action itself, and more. He really gives the film a sense of urgency and dread, filling it with heavy emotion but at the same time a spark of optimism. It’s one of the best looking movies of the series too, from the throne room fight, to the final ice planet, it all looks beautiful and the worlds are presented greatly. John Williams’s score does the job, once again with the themes for Rey and Kylo Ren really being the standouts.

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Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi remains the most divisive movie of the series, which is saying a lot, but I’m glad to be one of the people who loved it. It’s entertaining, very well made and makes some bold choices. The Empire Strikes Back is still my favourite Star Wars movie, but The Last Jedi comes pretty close afterwards. If it still ends up happening, I’m very much looking forward to what Rian Johnson has in store with his new Star Wars trilogy.

Small Axe: Lovers Rock (2020) Review

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Lovers Rock

Time: 70 Minutes
Cast:
Micheal Ward as Franklyn Cooper
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as Martha Trenton
Kedar Williams-Stirling as Clifton
Director: Steve McQueen

A single evening at a house party in 1980s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.

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After watching Mangrove, I was interested in checking out the rest of the movies in director Steve McQueen’s film anthology Small Axe. While each of the films don’t tie into each other, I decided to watch the next movie which was released, that being Lovers Rock. I had heard some high praise for the movie, being called one of the best of the anthology. The best thing I can say about Lovers Rock is that it’s distinctly different from Mangrove, making the entry special within the anthology. It’s a reasonably decent movie and I’m glad that I watched it, however I just couldn’t get into it as much as other people did.

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The plot of Lovers Rock depicts the events of one night at a 1980s West London house party. Everything happens at this party from chaos, budding relationships, music, and everything in between. It really is such a different movie from what Steve McQueen has made, and I’m not just talking about Mangrove. It’s comparatively lighthearted for the most part and isn’t as intense. Unlike Mangrove, it focuses less on the plot and characters, instead mainly focusing on the atmosphere and setting. The movie is fairly plotless, and you spend most of the time among the small community and watch their little dramas, relationships and traumas that happen over this one night. Lovers Rock is what many people call a hangout or vibe movie, and unfortunately I’ve found that hangout movies aren’t really my thing, and this film is not really an exception. I do wish there was a little more happening character wise, the characters don’t have much depth outside of a few basic traits. Generally, I found the narrative to be quite confusing and didn’t know what was happening, especially during the party, which is most of the movie. One could say that this could potentially be done to get the vibe or headspace of being at a party, but I’m not sure I should be feeling exactly this confused. The actual party, which takes up the majority of the movie, gets repetitive and overstays its welcome. I liked the atmosphere but after a while I got over it and started wishing for more from the actual movie. But for many, the atmosphere might be enough. I do understand that I might be in a minority of people. Again, I’m not really big on ‘hangout’ or vibe movies generally. Nonetheless, I still think that it’s a good entry in this anthology and does feel like it actually fits in it. Like with Mangrove and other McQueen movies there are some strong themes on display. The topics of racial discrimination and sexual harassment are highlighted multiple times in the film. Lovers Rock has a lighter tone from Mangrove, but still feels real and honest, and the characters are still surrounded by dark forces outside and you are aware of them. The movie clocks in at about 70 minutes, and while I’m definitely not going to say I was invested throughout, that was an okay length for the type of movie it is.

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I don’t have a huge amount to say about the acting, but everyone played their parts well, the standouts being Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Micheal Ward and Daniel Francis-Swaby. While I don’t think the characterisation was great, I have no issue with the acting at all.

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Steve McQueen directs this movie, and his work here is the best part of Lovers Rock. The stylistic elements are on point here. Much of the movie is just the house party and there is some great filmmaking and editing on display. Mangrove was shot well, but visually wasn’t anything special. Lovers Rock on the other hand is gorgeously shot and top notch from beginning to end. The camerawork has a naturalistic feel to it which further emphasises the free-flowing nature of the party. The soundtrack is great, with classic R&B, jazz, blues, reggae and rock, and overall is very catchy and captivating. I’ve not really been to parties so I can’t say this for sure, but I imagine that it captures the energy of a night out.

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Lovers Rock is atmospheric, visually stunning, and excellently directed by Steve McQueen. However, this plotless hangout/vibe movie didn’t quite work for me. I wasn’t really that invested, and I couldn’t really connect with it despite its strengths. With that said, it’s still a great addition to the Small Axe anthology. This movie will work for some people more than others. As it is, I liked the movie and I do think that it’s worth watching for sure.

Pusher (1996) Review

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Pusher (1996)

Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Kim Bodnia as Frank
Zlatko Burić as Milo
Laura Drasbæk as Vic
Slavko Labović as Radovan
Mads Mikkelsen as Tonny
Vanja Bajičić as Branko
Peter Andersson as Hasse
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

As a heroin dealer in Copenhagen, Frank (Kim Bodnia) is far from the top but earns good money pushing with a friend (Mads Mikkelsen). When he decides to up the ante, Frank goes to Milo (Zlatko Buric), a drug lord — except he doesn’t have enough money for the heroin. Instead, Milo fronts him the goods upon the condition of immediate repayment. But when Frank goes to make the deal, and the police arrive, he has to ditch the drugs. Now Frank has to find a way to repay Milo if he wants to live.

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Nicolas Winding Refn is one of my favourite directors, especially with his more recent movies with Drive, The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives. One of his earliest works is the Pusher trilogy, the first of the movies being his directorial debut, and I wanted to watch them to see how he started out. Pusher is a decent movie and I liked watching it despite some of its shortcomings.

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The plot isn’t spectacular. On paper it’s about a drug dealer caught in a bad situation who is trying to get himself out of it, and that is the case. The genre tropes have been done better in other movies for sure. The plot starts off a little dull but gets better as the movie goes along. It becomes chaotic (in a good way), and by the time it reaches the third act, it’s incredibly tense and nerve wrecking. Refn does well at portraying the criminal underworld too, it’s very dark and bleak yet realistic. There’s no character to root for, not even for the protagonist who is caught in the desperate situation at the centre of the film. He’s very much not a likable person and as bad as every other criminal in the movie. Yet the plot remains riveting throughout, especially in the second half.

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The acting is relatively decent overall, but the main actors do very well in their parts. Kim Bodina is the lead character as Frank and he’s great. As previously said, his character is not a person you like but to Bodina’s credit he manages to keep him watchable with an impressive performance. Mads Mikkelsen is also good in this movie in a small but memorable supporting role, and he would even get a lead role in the second Pusher movie. Mikkelsen makes the most of his screentime in all of his performances and this is no exception, he and Bodina share some convincing chemistry as best friends in their scenes together. Another performance worth praise is that of Zlatko Buric as a drug lord who Frank owes money to, he was a scene stealer and had quite a great screen presence, yet was surprisingly naturalistic considering his role in the story.

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction isn’t at the level of his latest movies but it’s good. In contrast to say Drive and Only God Forgives, the filmmaking is less smooth and a little rough. To be fair, the state of the movie is actually impressive given the budget constraints that Refn was under, not to mention that the roughness added a lot to the movie. It is shot handheld in a guerrilla documentary style, and with all that it makes it have this gritty and grimy yet naturalistic feel to it. It’s quite tense too, the darkest sides of crime are on display here, and that extends to the violence, which is raw, graphic and bleakly real. The soundtrack by Peter Peter and Povl Kristian was great and really added a lot to the movie.

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On its own, Pusher is not that special of a movie, especially as far as crime thrillers go. It’s got some problems, and it is rough around the edges for sure. However it’s pretty good, it’s a dark, gritty and tense thriller, the acting is good, and it’s directed very well. If you like Nicolas Winding Refn’s other movies, I’d say that it’s worth checking out for sure. I’m very interested in watching the rest of the Pusher trilogy.

Beast (2018) Review

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Beast

Time: 99 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
Jessie Buckley as Moll
Johnny Flynn as Pascal Renouf
Emily Taaffe as Tamara
Geraldine James as Hilary Huntingdon
Director: Michael Pearce

In a small island community, a troubled young woman (Jessie Buckley) falls for a mysterious outsider (Johnny Flynn), who empowers her to escape her oppressive family. When he comes under suspicion for a series of murders, she defends him at all costs.

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Beast is a movie that had sort of flown under the radar. I went into the movie fairly blind, I just knew that it was a thriller that was well received and that Jessie Buckley was great in the lead role. It is quite good and well worth the watch.

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It is worth going into Beast relatively blind so that you are surprised by the twists and turns. The movie is a psychological thriller that is dark and unsettling throughout. It is a slow burn for sure, but it is greatly helped by some interesting characters and a nice plot set up. The first half is great and starts off well. Although for a while it doesn’t seem very plot driven, the focus is on the main two characters and their chemistry helped keep the movie engaging and interesting. In the second half, it’s still good but some parts of the pacing could get a little slow and I’m not entirely sold on how it ended. As a psychological thriller Beast often treads familiar ground and isn’t anything too unique within the genre, but there’s such an emotional punch underscoring the drama that’s really effective. There are themes of family oppression and class present throughout, and the movie is also an examination of toxicity. Jessie Buckley’s complicated character of Moll is absorbing and the director placing somebody like her at the centre of the film made the narrative more interesting. Without getting into it too much, it is very clear that the protagonist has issues. The movie definitely hints at parental abuse, but it’s left to the audience whether her issues were caused by an abusive childhood or whether they are just a part of her. The ambiguity with the plot and especially the main character made things more interesting. I liked how the film handled Moll’s psychological and moral descent, it doesn’t play out like a traditional downward spiral. It’s constantly questionable what she is going to do, and even if the plot becomes predictable in one area, it manages becomes unpredictable in another. Suspense is well built throughout the film, with some anxiety inducing and uncomfortable moments which only raises the tension, and it’s quite subtle about it too. At an hour and 46 minutes long it kept my interest generally, outside of some moments in the second half.

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The acting is great, mainly being the leads in Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn, who are convincing as young lovers. Between the two however, it’s Jessie Buckley who shines the most. This is her first film appearance and she was spectacular. As Moll, she was a complicated and absorbing character to watch and conveys her character incredibly well. The rest of the acting is great too, including Moll’s mother played by Geraldine James. However this is really Jessie Buckley’s movie.

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This movie is directed by Michael Pearce, and his work is quite good here, I’d like to see more movies from him. This film is beautifully shot, and really sets you at The British Isle of Jersey, and this ends up being a good location for this story. There are some anxiety filled scenes with the way some moments are shot and edited, and the score contributed to this so well.

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Beast is a solid psychological thriller. The acting is great, it’s directed well, and I was invested throughout. I do think that it’s overlooked and deserves a lot more attention. There are some aspects that aren’t as great and could’ve improved, especially towards the second half of the movie. With that said, Jessie Buckley’s excellent performance alone makes it worth watching.

Hard Eight (1996) Review

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Hard Eight

Time: 102 minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] 
Cast:
Phillip Baker Hall as Sydney
John C. Reilly as John Finnegan
Gwyneth Paltrow as Clementine
Samuel L. Jackson as Jimmy
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), a veteran gambler, teaches John (John C. Reilly), a broke youngster, the ropes of gambling in Reno. In two years, John becomes Sydney’s protege. But things begin to regress after John falls for Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow).

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Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favourite filmmakers, he’s such a fantastic director and his movies are great. The only movie of his I had not checked out yet (until now) was his debut film, Hard Eight. I knew very little about it except that it is generally known one of the lesser movies in his filmography, and having seen it I can definitely confirm that it is weaker compared to just about everything else he has made. Nonetheless it is still a really good movie, and I’d say that it is worth watching.

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Hard Eight at its core is a lowkey crime noir drama, with a particular focus on characters over plot. The writing by PTA was pretty good with some well written dialogue, though it was still a bit rough and was lacking in some areas. After the first half it loses some steam and it becomes predictable, the second half is definitely weaker. The story is pretty simplistic, and by the end, the main story arc is a little generic and nothing we haven’t seen before, but it does enough to keep your attention throughout. The pacing can be a bit slow at times, even for a movie under 100 minutes in length, but for most of it I was interested in what was happening.

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The acting from everyone is really good. Phillip Baker Hall is really great in the lead role as Sydney, he is truly the star of the show here. From his first scene onwards, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds him and you can never tell what he is up to. Despite not knowing too much about him, he really makes the character believable, intriguing and great to watch, a real screen presence. One of the strongest parts of the movie for sure. John C. Reilly is gives a really solid performance in one of his dramatic roles, and Gwyneth Paltrow also did very well on her part. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t in the movie a ton, but he’s effective in his scene chewing screentime. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who would go on to be a frequent collaborator with PTA, also has a brief yet very memorable scene in the movie.

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Even for his first movie, Paul Thomas Anderson showed that he was a great filmmaker. You can see early signs of his style here, even if he hadn’t perfected it just yet. There’s nothing flashy with the editing or anything (and is certainly not on the level of like There Will Be Blood), but it is very well put together and shot. Standout sequences involving the casinos, particularly one early in the movie involving Phillip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly at a hotel, were really well made particularly. The direction doesn’t feel rough around the edges, it feels confident, like it would be at least someone’s second film instead of their first.

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Hard Eight is a solid crime thriller, very much influenced by films from the likes of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino in both writing and direction. It’s not great, the pacing can be a bit too slow, the writing isn’t always the best, and it gets weaker towards the latter portion of the movie. With that said there are some really good performances (particularly from Phillip Baker Hall), and it is directed quite well. Overall I’d say that it is for sure worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s other movies.

Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020) Review

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Bill & Ted Face the Music

Time: 91 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]  Violence & coarse language
Cast:
Keanu Reeves as Theodore “Ted” Logan
Alex Winter as William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq.
Kristen Schaal as Kelly
Samara Weaving as Theadora “Thea” Preston
Brigette Lundy-Paine as Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan
William Sadler as the Grim Reaper
Anthony Carrigan as Dennis Caleb McCoy
Erinn Hayes as Princess Elizabeth Logan
Jayma Mays as Princess Joanna Preston
Hal Landon Jr. as Captain Jonathan Logan
Beck Bennett as Officer Deacon Logan
Kid Cudi as himself
Amy Stoch as Missy
Holland Taylor as The Great Leader
Jillian Bell as Dr. Taylor Wood
Director: Dean Parisot

The ruler of the future tells best friends Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) they must compose a new song to save life as we know it. But instead of writing it, they decide to travel through time to steal it from their older selves. Meanwhile, their young daughters devise their own musical scheme to help their fathers bring harmony to the universe.

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I watched the first two Bill and Ted movies (and rewatched in the case of Excellent Adventure) recently, they were quite enjoyable if flawed movies from the 80s and 90s. With the third instalment released in 2020, I was wondering about how it would be. With an almost 30 year gap since the previous movie, I had no idea how it would turn out, especially as those movies felt like they were very much of their time. Bill & Ted Face of the Music actually turned out to be pretty good, and better than I was expecting.

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There is a worry about reboots (even though it’s the third instalment here), especially with franchises where the last movies came out a long time ago. You’d expect that it would just retread familiar territory and be a cash grab ultimately. However it captures the charm of Bill & Ted, while providing enough stuff to make it fresh and unique on it’s own right instead of just rehashing the first two movies. It not only delivers on the original’s heart and spirit, it also pushes the story further, more than I expected it. It keeps the DNA of the original two movies intact but have an incredibly heartfelt story to go with it. Like with the past movies, they are at the right length at 90 minutes, is very fast paced, and it just really works well. It’s also got quite a lot of good humour that works quite well.

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Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprise their iconic roles of Bill & Ted, and even after nearly 30 years later, they still have the charisma and chemistry which made the characters so great in the first place. They aren’t the only main characters in this movie, there’s also Samara Weaving and Bridgette Lundy-Paine who play Bill & Ted’s daughters. Their dynamic was also great and they embody that same spirit of their fathers, and it’s great when they are all together onscreen. William Sadler return as Death from Bogus Journey, once again he stole every scene he was in. The rest of the cast are good too, Anthony Carrigan was also a standout among the supporting cast.

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Bill & Ted Face the Music is directed by Dean Parisot, the direction is serviceable and is good enough for the movie to work. The visual effects in the first two movies weren’t that good, and that’s mostly because of it being the 80s and 90s so they can still be enjoyable in a cheesy sort of way. While the effects here are a little better, they are a bit average, and the colour palette overall is rather drab and boring at times. The composed music is also rather standard blockbuster music, which pales in contrast to the previous soundtracks.

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Bill & Ted Face the Music was quite enjoyable for me, capturing the charm and fun of the first two movies while feeling updated for today in all the right ways. If you didn’t like any of the other Bill & Ted movies, it’s not worth checking out. However as someone who does like the movies, I was pleasantly surprised by it, it really was a fitting conclusion to this trilogy. If you haven’t watched any of the Bill & Ted movies, I at least recommend giving Excellent Adventure a viewing, it’s a classic for a reason.

The Host (2006) Review

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The Host (2006)

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] contains violence, horror scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Gang-du
Byun Hee-bong as Park Hee-bong
Park Hae-il as Park Nam-il
Bae Doo-na as Park Nam-joo
Go Ah-sung as Park Hyun-seo
Director: Bong Joon-ho

An unidentified monster appears from the Han River in Seoul, kills hundreds and also carries off Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). When her family learns that she is being held captive, they resolve to save her.

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After watching Parasite, I wanted to watch more of Bong Joon ho’s movies. The Host (not to be confused with the 2013 movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s book of the same name) had been on my long list of movies to watch for a while, I just knew of it as a monster movie, and it certainly was that, but having seen it I can say that it turned out to be a little more than just that. A greatly well made and original movie, The Host was quite an enjoyable monster flick, and had quite a lot of surprises in store that I wasn’t expecting.

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There’s plenty of monster movies, and if you’ve watched many of them, they can feel rather samey, and ultimately follow the same beats as other movies in the genre. However, Bong’s take on this worn out genre manages to be fresh and original. There’s also some deeper subtext and thematic elements at play, it’s actually more politically charged than you’d think it would be. The opening scene indicates that there’s much more to the movie, with scientists pushing chemicals into the pipe, which would eventually cause the monster to be created. While the plot beats aren’t exactly unpredictable, the story felt fresh enough that it didn’t matter too much. On top of that, the plot is quite captivating, and you’re invested from beginning to end. It’s tense and surprisingly emotionally involving, especially with the characters. At the same time, The Host is surprisingly darkly comedic and entertaining throughout, having some funny moments while not sacrificing the overall tone, it’s all balanced quite well.

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The cast are all good with Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, and Go Ah-sung playing the family at the centre of the story. The dynamic between all of them is great, which is good because it’s sort of a family drama on top of being a monster movie. The standout was long time Bong collaborator Song Kang-Ho, he’s great in everything and his performance as the father of the girl who was taken by the monster is no exception. Most monster movies have characters that are just there to be the main characters because every movie in that genre needs to have then, while the destruction and/or the monster is really the focus. The Host however is actually driven by these characters, and they are all acted and handled in the movie quite well.

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Bong Joon ho’s direction is great as expected, it’s so incredibly well shot and filmed. If you’ve seen any of his movies Memories of Murder onwards, you know how great he is, and that extends to the monster movie genre too. There are many thrilling sequences that ranks among the best of the genre. Now the only overt flaw is some of the dated visual effects on the monster and… it definitely hasn’t held up well. But it’s a testament to its design and the direction of the whole movie that this monster manages to be so effective, memorable and threatening whenever it’s on screen.

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The Host is a great monster movie, and it’s a great movie in itself. The acting is really good, Bong Joon-ho’s direction was top notch, and I liked everything that Bong brought to the movie with his writing. All of these elements come together to form a mixture of styles that work effectively. Even if you might think the monster movies are a little samey, The Host is definitely one to seek out.

Enola Holmes (2020) Review

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Enola Holmes

Time: 123 Minutes
Cast:
Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes
Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes
Sam Claflin as Mycroft Holmes
Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria Holmes
Director: Harry Bradbeer

While searching for her missing mother, intrepid teen Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) uses her sleuthing skills to outsmart big brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and help a runaway lord (Louis Partridge).

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I heard of Enola Holmes, I knew it would have Millie Bobby Brown in the lead role, Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes, and also star Sam Claflin and Helena Bonham Carter. Despite the cast involved I wasn’t really expecting much from it, especially after watching the trailer. It just looked like it could so easily be a cheap rip off and mediocre movie, though I was still interested in checking it out for myself. The movie turned out to be quite surprisingly good for what it was, and I was entertained throughout.

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Enola Holmes is light hearted, quite funny and was entertaining. The story isn’t anything special but it’s good enough for this movie. With that said, there are some things with the writing that could’ve been a bit stronger. It does meander story-wise a bit (especially towards the middle), and it can be a bit repetitive at times. The pacing can suffer sometimes, after the first 45 minutes it starts to lose some steam, even though I was still interested. The mystery also isn’t quite as intriguing or as interesting as it could’ve been, and it’s a bit predictable, especially towards the latter portion of the story. Thankfully there’s quite a lot of energy in the writing that made up for much of the shortcomings. Despite the flaws I still enjoyed watching it.

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Millie Bobby Brown plays the titular character and she was the standout from this movie. She has been in an ensemble in other movies/shows with like Stranger Things and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but this is her first real lead performance, and she has shown that she can certainly lead and carry a movie. She has the charm, likability and presence for this role. Millie really sells the fourth wall breaking moments very well too, they could’ve easily come across as being obnoxious and forced but she makes them work. Henry Cavill also plays Sherlock Holmes, this is a very different version of Sherlock than we are used to, a more human and empathetic version in contrast to other recent live action versions of the character (e.g. Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr.). He’s definitely a supporting character in this story, but Cavill does very well on his part in his screentime. Sam Claflin really works well as Mycroft Holmes, and Helena Bonham Carter fitted the role of the Holmes’ mother perfectly, and was a presence throughout. Another actor who does well is Louis Partridge as the character of Lord Tewksbury, he shares great chemistry with MBB in their scenes together.

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The direction by Harry Bradbeer on the whole I thought was pretty good, I liked a lot of the decisions that were made. It had a distinct style and the editing was really effective. There’s the fourth wall breaks as mentioned before, but again it is more MBB who makes it work as well as it does. With that said, there were probably some moments where they didn’t have to have as many fourth wall breaking moments as they did, they did get unnecessary at some points.

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Enola Holmes isn’t great or special and some aspects of the writing could’ve been a little better, but it nonetheless was quite an enjoyable surprise as it was. It was entertaining, well directed, and the cast are solid, led by a great Millie Bobby Brown. There’s potential for some follow up movies for sure, and I’d be interested to see them.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) Review

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Ghost in the Shell 1995

Time: 83 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence and offensive language
Cast:
Atsuko Tanaka as Motoko Kusanagi (voice)
Akio Ōtsuka as Batou (voice)
Iemasa Kayumi as The Puppet Master (voice)
Director: Mamoru Oshii

In this Japanese animation, cyborg federal agent Maj. Motoko Kusanagi trails “The Puppet Master”, who illegally hacks into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Her pursuit of a man who can modify the identity of strangers leaves Motoko pondering her own makeup and what life might be like if she had more human traits. With her partner, she corners the hacker, but her curiosity about her identity sends the case in an unforeseen direction.

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Years ago I had watched the live action Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, a movie that I actually liked even though I knew most people were a little mixed on it. However, I had been meaning to watch the original anime for some time, it’s widely acclaimed, it was incredibly influential, and it inspired filmmakers like The Wachowski Sisters and James Cameron. I’m glad I finally saw it, Ghost in the Shell is a great, immersive and revolutionary movie, exceptionally made on all fronts.

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With so many anime movies out there, I decided to choose Ghost in the Shell as my first venture into them, and for me at least it worked out well. For those who’ve only seen the live action movie, although you can see some similarities in the plot, I can say it’s quite different from the original overall. The anime is a lot more complex and is less action based at the very least. We don’t really learn about Motoko as a character, in a conventional sense at the very least, like with her past and all that. The movie is only like an hour and 20 minutes long (and I actually do wish that it was considerably longer), but you really need to focus and absorb all of what was going on, because there’s a lot happening. As complicated as the plot can get, I was quite invested with everything that was going on. The only aspect of the plot I wasn’t really on board with was the bureaucratic and political side of the story, which was honestly rather hard to follow (maybe that part will improve on a rewatch). However, I was on board with the rest of the plot, with an intriguing central mystery. There are a lot of themes present in Ghost in the Shell, from what makes someone human, identity and belonging, and all of that is conveyed in both the story and visuals excellently. There was just so much to process in this one movie that I’m pretty sure that I’ll get even more out of it next time I watch it.

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Mamoru Oshii directed Ghost in the Shell so greatly, the animation is fantastic with some great visuals and a lot of attention to detail (especially when it comes to the symbolism). He created a believable futuristic setting, you can get quite invested with it, and the movie takes the opportunity to showcase the cityscape quite often. It’s actually mesmerising and hypnotizing to watch. I wouldn’t call it an action filled movie, but the action scenes when present are fast paced, entertaining and absolutely stunning to watch. The score by Kenji Kawai is also excellent, and fits the rest of the movie really well.

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Ghost in the Shell is a great movie for sure, beautifully animated, complex and thematic, and with an engaging story. You can see how it was an influence on many cyberpunk, futuristic and sci-fi fiction and film in general, from the animation and visuals to the story and setting. It holds up quite well to this day, and I do want to revisit it sometime. If you haven’t seen it already, it is worth watching for sure.