Tag Archives: Adam Driver

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

“It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise.”

Wayward Wolf.

From informative wording rising up shakily over a star-speckled screen (you’d have thought they might have sorted all such text-related jitters by now considering today’s super slick digital technology), to the triumphant opening fanfare of John Williams’ seminal theme, it can only mean one thing, folks. That’s right, it’s time for another thinly-veiled religiously over-toned lesson in good and evil by way of everybody’s favourite intergalactic science fiction box-ticking franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW:TLJ from hereon in), is upon us, and receiving a considerable amount of thumbs-up activity it would appear.

But is this Rian Johnson-directed two-and-a-half-hour epic fully deserving of all such lavish praise being bestowed upon it?

First and foremost, it’s important to establish one simple truth: directing any Star Wars film is akin to wearing a strait jacket, such are the restrictions under which any director must surely operate. There is a certain level of expectancy amongst your typical Star Wars-viewing public, a formula away from which one can not veer significantly, and a check list containing  any number of core requirements that must be met before any level of personal influence and input can be injected into or stamped upon proceedings.

I’d imagine.

In fairness to Rian Johnson, his Star Wars directorial debut probably ticks enough boxes and sufficiently grooms enough executive egos to keep those that matter sufficiently happy.

There are return outings for the franchise’s two newest stars, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and  Finn (John Boyega), along with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who, in spite of his undoubtedly wonderful abilities as an actor, remains the worst piece of villainous casting in living memory. Just what were the Star Wars powers-that-be thinking?

We are also treated to a reclusive, grizzlier and somewhat wiser Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and an inexplicably large amount of computer generated Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) imagery, including an amusing incident in which, following an attack on her ship – in scenes reminiscent of the opening credit sequence of the 1960’s science fiction classic, Lost In Space – she tumbles arse-over-tit out of a spaceship into the great black beyond before being fished back in once again like some sort of cosmic carp.

Whilst it’s a nice homage to the late Carrie Fisher’s memory, quite what such an excessive amount of this CGi wizardry actually adds to the film as a whole, is debatable to say the least.

There are very limited and fairly forgettable roles for Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, and a predictable smattering of bizarre mechanical and other worldly entities and critters – both new and old, including an unexpected cameo from Yoda himself – to keep everyone happy.

Certainly no expense has been spared in fully furnishing this latest instalment with a wide variety and excellent quality of characters, yet once again I arrive at the conclusion that there is still yet to be a Star Wars movie that succeeds in creating and developing characters of any sufficient depth or substance, and certainly none that one can fully engage or empathise with – perhaps with the exception of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character. Talking of which, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of pilot Poe Dameron evokes welcome memories of Solo, and it’s no surprise therefore that Poe is easily the most convincing character in SW:TLJ.

As for the plot, it’s a fairly simple affair. Aren’t they all? Essentially it’s a tale of rebels on the run. “Tom & Jerry in Space” is one particularly harsh summary that I’ve heard, which, give or take a side story or two, is actually probably a fair assessment.

It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise, and if the blue light sabre-wielding fella sat behind me – hyper-ventilating with joy like an over excited spaniel on glimpsing its favourite squeaky toy – is the measuring stick here, then it’s fair to say that SW:TLJ is nothing short of a triumph. Then again, listening to the opinions of those attending a screening on Star Wars opening night probably doesn’t guarantee the most impartial of reviews.

Balance this against my own predictable apathy towards all things Star Wars and subsequent conservative assessment of them, and the true measure of Rian Johnson’s big budget blockbuster almost certainly lies somewhere in-between.

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Silence

Towards the end of Martin Scorcese’s pious dedication to the apostate Catholic priests of seventeenth century Japan, Liam Neeson’s character, Ferreira, is called upon by the Japanese inquisitors to engage in dialogue with Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), the very last of the Catholic representatives – now captured – to attempt to track down and ‘rescue’ Ferreira from his Japanese subjugators. Only, Father Ferreira has long since renounced his faith and has by now fully integrated himself into traditional Japanese beliefs and culture.

Ferreira uses the fact that nothing is able to take root in Japan – owing to the country’s aqueous environment, and the tendency for plants to simply rot away – as a metaphor for the country’s people being unable to fully grasp and appreciate the ‘truth’ of the Catholic religion. Pointing to the sun, he explains to Rodrigues that no matter how good and holy had been the intentions of the missionaries, those that had been ‘converted’ by their religious teachings had never really understood fully the true meaning of the scriptures. Theirs was a very literal translation. For them, the sun of God, was not one that rose miraculously after three days to absolve their sins, but one that did so every morning, in the very sky above them.

In effect, the missionaries had been wasting their time, and the thousands of Japan’s ‘saved’ souls were not in fact ‘saved’ at all.

Or so he insinuated.

Whether these were the words of a brow-beaten slave of an intolerant Japanese society, fearful of aggravating his masters, or the knowledgable insight of a now more enlightened soul who had been party to both sides of the reasoning, only he would have known. Regardless, his conclusions shine a light on perhaps the true historic origins of rigid religious dogma, and threaten to undermine their staunch, unalterable, fiercely-guarded ideals and values by reducing them to one simple premise; a premise that man perhaps hijacked for his own gain and controlling purposes, somewhere down the line.

Scorcese was allegedly himself set for the priesthood until the film-making life proved too alluring, and it’s clear that Silence, whilst maybe a little self-indulgent, is the work of a man with great respect for the church and its core values, and at two hours and forty minutes long, he is able to explore the subject matter in some depth in this considered and thoughtful piece.

But what of the film itself? The narrative of Silence contains many parallels with the story of Jesus, with Rodrigues (and to a lesser extent, his colleague, Garupe – Adam Driver), tested considerably by the Japanese as to the true strength of their own unwavering faith, whilst the potential treachery of the weak and confused ‘Judas’ character, Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka), is omnipresent throughout.

Of course, whether one is empathetic with the plight of Rodrigues and Garupe depends greatly upon how the somewhat arrogant, invasive exploits of the Catholic church are perceived. Certainly, from Scorcese’s tale, there can be no doubting that Rodrigues and Garupe’s intentions are wholly heart-felt and honourable, but Silence is not a conventional story of good against bad, but asks far deeper questions pertaining to whether it is right to impose another’s will upon others, and at what point it becomes morally wrong to do so, when to do so is to endanger the lives of others.

Silence’s pace is slow but not laboured, leaving ample space in which the viewer has time to reflect upon the many moral conundrums that Scorcese poses throughout the piece. Garfield puts in a weighty, sincere performance, whilst Adam Driver, and his atypical facial anatomy, is appropriately well cast – if rather underused – as his priestly-colleague, Garupe.

Harrowing, yet understated scenes of torture are occasional reminders of the consequences of following forbidden religious practices in a fiercely anti-Catholic land, and these combined with the atmospheric, evocative overcast scenes of wild and misty Japanese coast lines, lend Silence an eery yet visually beautiful quality.

Silence is a well-crafted piece of cinema without doubt, and clearly a piece close to Scorcese’s heart. Thankfully it’s also a film not making any obvious, cheap attempts to scoop accolades or vying for mass attention (excuse the pun), during this year’s Oscars season.

Watching it brought to mind Tim Robbins’ 1995 piece, Dead Man Walking, in which a convicted murderer on death row finds salvation through befriending a nun, whilst awaiting his execution. I recall being suitably moved by his plight and relieved at the peace and faith that he ultimately found through God.

Silence evoked no such emotions in me.

I suspect that a twenty-two year period having elapsed since then in which my own personal ‘truth’ has veered considerably from any such vague religious leanings, may well have played a large part in that, rather than it being any sort of slight on Scorcese’s film, which may be one of subjective content, but is nonetheless impressive and thought-provoking.

Devout though never ‘preachy,’ Silence will, unsurprisingly, split its audience into those that want to and those that are simply unable to fully engage with it, no matter how they try.

FILM REVIEW: Paterson

Circles, brush strokes and squiggles. From curtains to cupboards, cupcakes to walls, even her own clothing – nothing is safe from Laura’s flamboyant black and white painting flourish.
Paterson (Adam Driver), lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), in a modest house on the outskirts of town, along with their pet bulldog, Marvin.
Laura’s warm, sightly eccentric personality and artistic expression seems to stem from deep within her. Perhaps it’s inherent from her Persian roots, but it’s certainly in contrast to Paterson’s quiet, unassuming nature that sees him quietly go about his daily business of driving the number 73 bus around – of all places – Paterson, New Jersey.
Paterson, like laura, is also a creative. A modern poet, inspired greatly by the works of fellow New Jersey poet, Willam Carlos Williams, and by the conversations of his passengers, he carefully captures his daily varied thoughts and musings in a ‘secret notebook’ that he brings with him to work each day.
Unlike Laura, who openly shares with Paterson her dreams of being the Cupcake Queen of Paterson, or of becoming a Country music star, Paterson’s poetry never sees the light of day despite Laura, his number one fan and support base, nagging him to share it with a wider audience.
Despite his writing often being dedicated to Laura, there is something innately private and personal about Paterson’s poetry, which in some ways seems to be more about the process and the moment of creation, than attaching any significant value to the end product.
Jim Jarmusch’s film is built upon a simple premise; a relatively unremarkable week in the couple’s life, based, as so many are, around the familiarity of routine, and notable only for the subtle, minor variants that occur within it.
At approximately 6.15 every morning Paterson awakens without recourse to an alarm clock, clips on his wrist watch, shares a brief intimate moment with Laura, eats an unremarkable breakfast, and walks to his job at the bus terminal.
Then follows a working shift, followed by an evening walk back to the house, which invariably will have taken on some new black and white-themed embellishment during the course of the day thanks to Laura and her relentless paintbrush. This is followed as always by a rather one-sided, enthusiastic conversation, with Laura regaling Paterson of whatever today’s creative progress has been and whatever constitutes the latest fad and focus of her dreams.
Paterson seems passive by nature. Happy? It’s actually hard to say. Perhaps a little emotionally detached, he is happy to allow Laura to take the lead in making the couple’s plans and to steer their overall direction.
Indeed, Paterson rarely takes the lead in much, unless we’re talking literally, when he takes ‘his’ sullen-faced pooch for an evening walk. Even then, more often than not it’s Marvin that ends up dictating both direction and pace. At least Paterson finally has the chance to redress some semblance of balance when he leaves the cantankerous canine outside and steps into the familiar low-key ambience of Shades bar for a solitary beer and maybe a chat with the owner and clientele.
It’s something that he’s ensured to implement into his nightly dog-walking routine, and really the only occasion in which Paterson seems to exert any sort of control over his daily life, or indeed seems truly at ease or happy with himself and his surroundings.
Jarmusch’s film is subtle. Very subtle.
A character-driven, observational piece in which occasional fluctuations in Paterson and Laura’s established routine are magnified somewhat, despite them amounting to very little in the grand scheme of things.
Even moments of actual drama, such as one of Shades Bar’s lovelorn regulars, Levitt, being driven to gun-wielding theatrics – are in many ways as much to do with routine and the every day, as any sort of contrived dramatic plot twist.
The ease with which Paterson disarms this potentially incendiary situation reminds us of a military past that is only hinted at, a past that may account for why he seems so disengaged from civilian life. Or is that to read too much into nothing?
The way in which Jarmusch’s film gently weaves its way through these apparently uninspiring days, helped along by a dreamlike almost meditative soundscape of synthesised pads and spoken poetry, allows us to fall deeper and deeper into Paterson, seduced by its somewhat bewitching spell.
A gently humorous slice-of-life drama and an ode to some of New Jersey’s favourite sons –  comedian Lou Costello and the aforementioned William Carlos Williams – it will not be to the taste of those who lack patience or the attention-deficit-afflicted, but for those who value subtle, thoughtful cinema, I’d be surprised if Paterson doesn’t softly work its considerable charms upon you.

FILM REVIEW: Midnight Special

In many ways Midnight Special is a film about fear. Fear of losing what we have. Fear of living without something or someone that we hold in great reverence, and perhaps above all, fear of the unknown.

Then again, to label Jeff Nicholl’s engaging science fiction thriller soley in such a way is to only tell a part of the story.

Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a young, gifted boy with special abilities way beyond the comprehension of human beings. He is introduced, head under a sheet, reading a comic book by torchlight whilst wearing a pair of protective darkened goggles. He is in the company of two men that have apparently kidnapped him with assorted television news bulletins reinforcing this story. The three of them make a hasty exit from the motel room in which they’ve been holed up in the wee small hours. It’s clear that they’re on the run; but from whom and to what ends?

The truth is that Alton’s special powers are a wholly misunderstood phenomenon, and have been spooking the living daylights out of everyone and everything that he encounters. Comparable to some vampire-like entity he cannot be exposed to direct sunlight lest some truly bewildering supernatural upheaval occurs.

Aware of such powers, the FBI, and separately, representatives from the ‘cult’ from which he and his father have run, are hot on his trail. Both parties realise the value of the boy and, through their ignorance, the potential danger that they believe he may represent to them and the world at large. It is unthinkable therefore that he may ultimately evade their clutches.

Alton however, guided by his father, Roy, and his state trooper friend, Lucas, is moving ever closer to his own personal date with destiny, and he has a father that’s hell-bent on getting him there.

It’s a relief to see Adam Driver not portraying unconvincing villainous super-beings on this occasion and instead, he’s well cast as mild-mannered, Sevier, the man tasked with tracking the boy down. It’s the excellent Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton that play Alton’s father and friend, whilst Kirsten Dunst convinces as warm, caring and maternal, Sarah Tomlin.

For a film of 12 A certification it’s surprisingly intense and at times even a little disturbing as was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms by my co-viewing partner on the day whose view was erratically framed by the gaps between her own fingers. The overriding sentiment though is one of beautiful mystery, questioning just exactly what it is that lies beyond our own limited sensory perceptions and the importance of embracing the unknown.

It’s a slow-cooked science fiction yarn that gradually reveals itself, taking the wise option to focus more upon its characters’ interactions and relationships than the simple thrill of the pursuit. That said, writer and director Jeff Nichols strikes a good balance here and still succeeds in sustaining an ominous sense of threat throughout that the ‘powers that be’ are surely closing in.

There are certainly significant nods of the head to ET, tips of the hat to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and perhaps even a passing influence taken from Spielberg’s masterpiece, A.I, but credit to Nichols, Midnight Special still convinces sufficiently on its own terms.

A film not quite of such significance as the aforementioned classics, but, along with the likes of Ex-Machina, an important place-marker for the science fiction genre in the twenty-first century, nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

 

 

Wallowing in a sea of four and five star reviews more or less right across the board, The Force Awakens certainly appears to have caught the imagination of critics and the film going public alike.

In fairness, it didn’t have much of an act to live up to when you consider the three most recent outings of this long running franchise.

My particular screening was ‘enhanced’ somewhat – if indeed that is the correct term – by a three year old kid sat behind me along with his Dad, inquiring every couple of minutes as to what everything and everyone was and what it all meant.

Irritating? Surprisingly not.

How much of his Dad’s impressive Star Wars knowledge actually stuck with the kid is hard to say, but it’s also fairly irrelevant, for this little lad’s excited innocence reminded me that The Force Awakens‘ director J.J. Abrams here had the potentially precarious job of making a much loved film concept tick enough boxes to not only appeal to its traditional core fan base, but simultaneously appeal to a whole new audience, and in fairness, Abrams has made a decent fist of it.

The introduction of new characters that don’t physically enrage the general public is always a good sign and in Rey (the excellent Daisy Ridley), Finn (the equally excellent John Boyega) and BB-8 (a bleeping R2-D2 for a new generation), Abrams has got it spot on. Rey is clearly going to develop into the next great hope for the resistance and the concept of Finn’s storm trooper character developing a conscience, reneging upon his dark duties in favour of joining the good guys, is a particularly nice touch. It’s also good to see Oscar Isaac landing a plum role as ace pilot Poe Dameron; just desserts for what has been an exceptional recent past for this most adaptable of actors following excellent work in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year.

Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3-PO, R2-D2 and latterly Luke Skywalker all also join the party, as do a number of familiar looking ‘creatures’ that if I was a more committed anorak, I could probably name for you, but I’m not, so I can’t – and I’m actually quite relieved about that.

The effects are predictably dazzling but whereas previous Star Wars outings were rather too reliant upon these at the expense of proper character development and narrative, The Force Awakens feels like an altogether different beast; a film that’s altogether more in touch with its human side. It’s grittier and far more engaging than any of its three most recent predecessors, combining a strong sense of characterisation with its obligatory CGi elements reassuringly well.

If there is a criticism, the portrayal of the ‘dark side’ is on balance a little underwhelming, jumping from the convincing: Significant Third Reich-inspired imagery and Storm Trooper death squads, to the less so: the rather pale and unconvincing Darth Vader-lite – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who, as far as I could tell, possessed little of the ominous presence and intimidating nature of his be-masked predecessor.

Perhaps that’s the point though? Kylo Ren’s an emotionally torn character, wrestling with his conscience and his heart’s not properly in it? But then again, wasn’t Vader similarly conflicted?

I’m probably reading too much into all of this. We’ll move on…

Much like the original Star Wars – and I could well be hunted down and dispatched accordingly for suggesting this – The Force Awakens is not perfect, but far from considering this as just a  bit of throw-away sci-fi nonsense, it’s actually left me looking forward to watching the new trilogy develop, and with a little luck that will be with Abrams at the helm for its entirety.

He deserves that chance and the opportunity, like George Lucas before him, to build his own Star Wars dynasty.

The building blocks with which to do so, certainly appear to be in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review: While We’re Young

I’ve long suspected that there’s more to Ben Stiller’s game than is often apparent or he is ever called upon to reveal, but here in this, Noah Baumbach’s follow up to his quirky predecessor, Frances Ha, a more mature and diverse Stiller performance is in evidence.

Yes, it’s still a comic turn of an occasionally slapstick nature and yes, Stiller still plays his stock role as the hard done by fool that life delights in bashing down and perhaps it’s down to the witty, observational script, but this comes across as one of the most diverse and accomplished performances of Stiller’s career to date.

While We’re Young is a familiar tale of middle age gone wrong. Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) play a childless, forty-something couple, tired of the baby obsessed, preachy circle of strangers that their close friends seem to have now morphed into.

A chance encounter with twenty-somethings Jamie (the Keanu Reeves-alike Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a couple whose infectious ‘live in the moment’ attitude to everything suddenly seems incredibly appealing, convinces Josh and his wife to defy their years and dabble once again in their seemingly long lost youth.

Predictably, toe curling Tom-foolery ensues, lessons are learnt and in that way, While We’re Young is a fairly formulaic offering, but in director Baumbach’s capable hands there’s a refreshing depth to the characters and the film benefits enormously from this, not to mention a subtle handling of the humour.

This could all very easily have descended into a succession of tired and predictable set pieces, shoe horned into a production house’s template, and whilst admittedly, While We’re Young ultimately arrives at the same sort of preordained destination we might have expected from the aforementioned template, this piece has a real feel of natural development to it and crucially, doesn’t come across as just another Ben Stiller comedy vehicle.

Yes, this is indeed a surprisingly pleasing offering and one in which Stiller proves that there are more strings to his bow than perhaps we give him credit for. Time will tell whether he attempts to head full on down the Tom Hanks transformational road to ‘serious acting’ in ‘serious films’ but this is certainly a small step in that direction.

Another very watchable and likeable Noah Baumbach effort.

Recommended.

FILM REVIEW: TRACKS

A 1,700 mile trek across some of Western Australia’s deserts may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but ‘Tracks’ is the true story of one lady, Robyn Davidson and her attempt to do just that, with an entourage of four camels and Diggity the dog in tow.

Whilst Mia Wasikowska seems excellently cast as Robyn, the film’s success is every bit as much due to our emotional investment in and  attachment to the five animals that make the journey with her. It soon becomes apparent as the terrain becomes more inhospitable  and unforgiving that it’s the animals’ reactions and instinctive behaviour under such conditions that are just as important to the adventure as the physiological and psychological issues that unfold for Robyn herself.

It’s not so much a story of wanderlust, but of the need to get away from everything and more importantly everyone, but there’s a gradual realisation for Robyn that although her journey is indeed about removing herself from the company of other people and the many negatives that they represent in her mind, it’s this intense, extended period of relative isolation, as well as chance encounters with both native Aboriginals and well meaning folk along the way, that ultimately reaffirms her need for people too.

‘Tracks’ is a beautiful film in many ways, not least for the majestic cinematography and the engaging animal scenes throughout; a visually exquisite, life-affirming, beautiful film.