Tag Archives: John Williams

THE POST

Four Star Rating

“Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense” – Wayward Wolf.

“The press is for the benefit not of the governors, but of the governed…”

Never a truer word spoken, though a hugely debatable sentiment within today’s rather one-eyed, less than transparent media, I’d suggest.

I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming the return of the master of popular story telling, Steven Spielberg.

His latest piece, The Post, chronicles the uber-tense set of circumstances leading up to the enormously brave decision by the ‘Free Press’ to publish a huge number of leaked documents revealing successive U.S Governments’ cover up of the truth behind the Vietnam War.

Daniel Ellsberg, an American military journalist stationed in the thick of the combat, returns to his homeland determined that the U.S Government’s on-going thirty year deception of its public should no longer be allowed to continue, and makes the bold decision to make available reams of classified national defence information to The New York Times, who in turn proceed to publish many of the files.

This is indeed a courageous move for both Ellsberg and The New York Times, but one which will soon be closed down by way of a court injunction.

Meanwhile, the new Editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee (a slightly darker role for the usually squeaky clean Tom Hanks), is determined to make a splash for his paper, and despite the injunction hanging over all of the country’s press, when opportunity presents itself, he is undeterred and decides, against much legal advice, that The Washington Post will show no reluctance in publishing more of this classified content.

This is all well and good, but Bradlee’s decisions must be approved by not only a board of directors, but more importantly, by the paper’s slightly reluctant owner, Kay Graham (a top drawer performance from the ever reliable Meryl Streep).

Such a predicament will inevitably lead to much hand-wringing and soul searching.

Set to the backdrop of civil unrest and a rapidly swelling anti-war sentiment amongst the people, Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense. Not only is this a race against the clock, but a test of nerve and one big collective wrestle with morality. Very much a case of the people versus the State.

We only have to look at the more recent actions of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for their ‘so-called-treachery’ against their respective Governements, to know that anarchy, the distrust of authority and the quest for justice are very much alive and well in modern society, but the revelation of The Pentagon Papers (as the leaked Vietnam files were to become known), was, in 1970, a somewhat unprecedented action, and one that raised the moral dilemma: To whom must one be more dutiful? To the people, or to one’s own Government?

This painfully awkward scenario is quite brilliantly captured by the cast, but in particular through the performances of Hanks, and especially Meryl Streep.

Streep’s portrayal of Kay Graham is one of a woman who initially, despite being the Paper’s owner – albeit by default – seems to lack authority amongst her peers, and the courage of her own convictions in such a male-dominated environment. However, over the course of the film, she gradually grows into the role and the responsibility that it entails, and in the face of huge opposition by much of her paper’s board of directors, she wrestles gamely with her own conscience, all too aware of the potential implications, to ultimately come to what she feels to be the right decision.

It’s a superb, nuanced portrayal of a gradually empowered woman who never sacrifices principles to gain authority.

Spielberg once again teams up with legendary composer John Williams, whose score is bold and influential, yet never overpowering. Just another example of the pair’s perfectly complimentary partnership in film.

The Post is a piece that examines morality and just what it means to uphold the Constitution of the U.S.A in the face of potential severe national threat, and it’s all done with Spielberg’s trademark energy, heart and quite brilliant characterisation.

A must see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

Storm Troopers being bowled over, cannon-fodder style like skittles, an array of rather deformed characters from a variety of backgrounds and gene pools co-existing in arid lands, and a bewilderment of flying craft, weaving in and out of multi-coloured laser fire. This may well be a spin-off story slightly removed from the main franchise, but when it comes to all things Star Wars, some things never change.

Welcome to Rogue One, a tale of rebellion uprisings in the face of impending imperial iniquitousness, directed by Gareth Edwards – he of Godzilla and Monsters fame.

Felicity Jones plays wide-eyed Jyn Erso, the daughter of reluctant Imperial Death Star scientist and engineer, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Amongst those joining her in her quest to usurp the Empire’s dastardly plans are Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and blind, one-man martial art whirlwind and general force of nature, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen).

It’s a film packed full of well crafted stunts and set pieces. It’s predictably visually impressive and as far as is possible within the tight constraints of all things Star Wars, it approaches this particular story – to some extent at least – from a slightly alternative point of view, which is to be applauded.

But then again, there are a certain number of ever-present, indispensable criteria which a Star Wars director would ignore at his own peril, and from that point of view, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One chooses to remain firmly within its safety net.

Perhaps most notable of all, Rogue One feels cluttered, messy and overly busy. There’s loads going on and lots of characters competing for central billing. To be honest, I lost count of the number of times that I found myself disengaged from events on the screen, staring at the cinema wall contemplating more important issues.

I intend to finally run that marathon, in case you were wondering.

There are fleeting glimpses of historic Star Wars characters to keep the die-hard fan base happy, a John Williams-esque score from Michael Giacchino providing that authentic Star Wars sound, and without giving too much away, a welcome, surprisingly downbeat conclusion to the story, (if you ignore the rather convenient, tagged-on, forced epilogue).

All in all, it’s a reasonable outing for this age-old franchise which, despite never having truly produced a genuinely outstanding stand-alone film (and yes, I include The Empire Strikes Back in that assessment – speak to my lawyer), still has that hold upon people, managing to create a buzz of excitement, luring the masses to the big screen, something which continues to impress me, all these years on.

There’s nothing really new to see here. No doubt some will see this as proof positive that the franchise is not only alive and well, but totally re-born. Others will lament the fact that they don’t make ’em like they used to.

The truth is that Star Wars chapters come and go, and grave threat of oblivion emanating from the Death Star, or not, the world somehow keeps turning.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The BFG

Roald Dahl’s childrens’ (and adults’ for that matter) favourite, The BFG, has made it to the big screen, and Disney have certainly pulled out the big guns. Not only do we have the magic of Roald Dahl’s imagination to work with, but Steven Spielberg is in the director’s chair, with his trusty sidekick and master of the soundtrack, John Williams, on board once again to provide that crucial sonic sparkle.

It’s not the first time that The BFG has been turned into a film. Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 TV movie / animation, complete with David Jason’s voiceover, paved the way, but 2016’s big budget extravaganza is an altogether different beast.

A big fan of Roald Dahl’s darkly devious stories, myself, and being from that generation when Anglia Television – they of the rotating knight on a horse – adapted many of Dahl’s short stories for television in the unforgettable series, Tales of the unexpected, my own experience of Dahl’s childrens’ stories, whilst relatively comprehensive, somehow didn’t include The BFG.

Nevertheless, as with any film, a prior lack of knowledge of the storyline can so often be beneficial, dispensing with the need to constantly compare and contrast with the inevitably much better book.

Not having read it, I went in fresh for Spielberg’s vision of the Roald Dahl classic.

For those of you in a similar boat, The BFG tells the tale of a little orphaned girl, Sophie (the excellent Ruby Barnhill). Strong of mind and with a wise old head on rather young shoulders, she’s a proper vivacious little madam, living at an orphanage in her own little world of make believe.

One night, on hearing a commotion outside her window, she gingerly peeks out and spots a giant ‘going about his business’ in the shadows of the street; the only problem being that he spots her too. Taking no chances, he whisks her away with him, for fear that she might speak about what she’s seen.

Deaf to her protestations and promises of silence, he carries Sophie off, and trekking through wild and rugged terrain, they finally find themselves in the giant’s rather rustic cave-like dwelling where The BFG insists Sophie must remain for the rest of her days.

For a feisty little thing like Sophie, this is no proposition whatsoever, and so she sets about plotting her escape.

It’s only once she realises who The BFG really is, that he is in fact nothing like the ogre she had imagined him to be, and that he is actually the victim of systematic bullying by a group of other much taller and stronger giants that inhabit the same valley, that Sophie decides to remain with The BFG and give him the help that he clearly needs.

Spielberg has opted to use motion capture animation to bring The BFG to life. It’s an inspired move and Mark Rylance’s softly spoken, cuddly portrayal of the big fella with the West Country accent is nothing short of the perfect fit for the part.

A special mention too for young Ruby Barnhill, that rarest of rarities, a British child actress that is not only wholly believable in her role, but absolutely excels within it. A big future awaits there, no doubt.

Whether The BFG is a faithful rendition of Dahl’s book or not, there is no denying that it certainly works very well as a film in its own right.

It’s a film that, much like so many of Dahl’s marvellous, imaginative and magical books, champions the child, giving them the power and belief that they really can be Kings and Queens of the world, whilst cleverly teaching them the value of love, respect, tolerance and friendship at the same time.

Awash with genuinely funny jokes to bring out the giggling child in you, and just the right level of sentimentality so as not to overdo things, you’ll come away from The BFG with the very warmest of warm glows. If you don’t, let’s face it, you probably have a twitch-tickling problem understanding words, babblements and such.

Don’t worry – it happens.

Far and away the best children’s film I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hats off to one and all for The BFG. A hugely charming piece.