Tag Archives: the dark knight rises

Review – The Revenant (15) [2016]

The Revenant - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Iñárritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Carsten Nicolai
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Last Emperor, Snake Eyes

With the awards season under way and, in particular, with the OSCARs coming up, one invariably asks: what does it take to win the most prestigious award in the film industry? An exceptional performance is unquestionably a prerequisite. But what differentiates one exceptional performance from another? Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant gives a compelling answer.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

The Revenant is (loosely) inspired by the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). While on a hunting expedition in midwest America in the 1820s, Glass is mauled by a bear. Injured and, after having watched the murder of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass is left for dead by his fellow expeditioners. Thirsty for revenge, Glass treks through the wilderness to get back to his base to seek his vengeance.

The Revenant is an astonishing tale of survival. The film cuts no corners and shows mother-nature in all her brutal severity. From the grisly effects of an attack by a wild animal, to putting men in situations wherein their worst personality traits thrive, to fearsome wintry weather, to harsh and seemingly endless terrain, to hunting for food without strength, The Revenant makes one suffer and tests a one’s endurance to the limit.

Certainly, our central protagonist, Hugh Glass/Leonardo Dicaprio, is tested to the limit and made to suffer. He suffers unimaginable physical and emotional pain throughout the movie, and it is for this that DiCaprio is the front-runner to win the OSCAR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. If there is a formula to win an OSCAR, it is that an actor/actress must suffer. In 2011, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth and Christian Bale won their respective OSCARs by suffering; in 2013, Anne Hathaway won hers for suffering; and, in 2014, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won their OSCARs for the same reason in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Now that DiCaprio has (sufficiently) suffered, he will almost certainly win his first OSCAR; especially, as he has suffered years of being over-looked (Saving Gilbert Grapes, The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street to name but five), and because none of his rivals for the fabled prize (Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne) appear to have suffered much (if at all) in their respective roles, despite their respective performances.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

DiCaprio undoubtedly suffers considerably in his role in The Revenant and will deserve his OSCAR if he wins it. Ironically, though, he is outshone by his co-star Tom Hardy; yet, it is not a given that Hardy will win the OSCAR for the Best Supporting Actor. Hardy, as John Fitzgerald, has a much meatier role than DiCaprio. DiCaprio spends much of his screen-time grunting, walking, falling or crawling (oh, and surviving); while Hardy devours the screen with his (incomprehensible) southern accent and his amoral nature. Even if one disagrees with Fitzgerald’s sociopathy, one can understand why he behaves in the manner he does under the circumstances. This is testament to Hardy’s ability to convey Fitzgerald as a human being. Whether it will be enough for Hardy to win the OSCAR, though, is another matter.

DiCaprio and Hardy are not the only ones nominated for OSCARs for this film. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has been nominated in the Best Director category. No-one will argue if he wins that OSCAR for the second year running, following Birdman. The directing in The Revenant is spectacular. The opening melee is filmed so well, viewers feel part of the skirmish. Similarly, the way the bear attack is shot is so well (and raw) it induces tension into the audience; plus, the way the landscapes and the north American winter are captured, shows their beauty and brutality in equal measure (even if the filming was done in Canada and Argentina).

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Nevertheless, the fact that one spends much of The Revenant admiring the cinematography highlights one of its problems. One, the film is not particularly engaging. It lacks humour and a character to root for (or against). Two, at 156 minutes, it is a long movie. Maybe that is the film’s point: to make audiences feel as if they are trekking across the endless wilderness with Glass/DiCaprio. If so, it succeeds. But the movie also makes for tedious and repetitive viewing.

Over-all, The Revenant is a masterfully-designed examination of endurance. It may not be the most enjoyable film to sit through. Yet, the acting, the directing and the cinematography are outstanding and worth the watch in and of themselves. They give one a true appreciation for how tough it must be to survive the harshest of conditions, and hints at the types of characters required to survive them. Seeing actors/actresses go through such conditions and suffering is what sways OSCAR judges into handing out the much-coveted award. Leonardo DiCaprio: you have suffered; you have earned your OSCAR.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – The Drop (15) [2014]

The Drop - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Michael R. Roskam – Bullhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

The engine to every story/film is its characters. Without characters, viewers have no means of entering the story and so cannot enjoy the story. But do characters have to be likeable for viewers to enjoy the story? Rust And Bone and The Wolf Of Wall Street demonstrated that characters could be repugnant, yet the story/film could still be enjoyed. Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop adds further evidence to this theory.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv's, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv’s, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

The Drop is based on the short story Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane. The film is about two intertwining stories that take place in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender who works for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at the latter’s former bar. Cousin Marv, as the bar is called (even though Marv no longer owns it), is a drop box for local gangsters to put brown envelopes of cash into. However, one night, the bar is robbed by gunmen and Marv’s boss, a Chechen gangster called Chovka (Michael Aranov), wants to know where his money has gone. Or else.

At the same time, Bob walks home from the bar one night, only to overhear a dog whimpering in the dustbin of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob opens the bin to find a maltreated pit-bull puppy in it. Between him and Nadia, they take care of the puppy. Nevertheless, one day when Bob is playing with the dog in the park, the notorious Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) finds him and tells him that the dog belongs to him. Bob insists that he is not giving up the dog, and that is when Eric tells him that if he does not pay him $10,000 by the next day for the dog, he promises to kill him, maltreat the puppy again, and do worse to Nadia.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

The Drop is a slow-burning, increasingly tense thriller. The film feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a British one due to the gloomy mood throughout the movie’s 106-minute running time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the accents and the design of the houses, one might have mistaken it for a British production due to the constant grim, grey sky and the run down state of the homes in the area. Such features are typical of British productions like Harry Brown, Tyrannosaur and the Channel 4 TV series Top Boy, and enable viewers to feel the brooding atmosphere of a place in which something nasty is going to happen.

One senses that something nasty is going to happen because the area in which The Drop is located in is full of nasty people, ready to do (and cover up) their dirty work. The nasty people are all brought to life vividly by a cast with less than a handful of redemptive features between them. Tom Hardy commands a strong performance in the central role. He personifies the brooding atmosphere of the film with his perpetual frown, and few actors have Hardy’s rare ability to convey so much with just a bland stare.

Of the rest of the cast, Noomi Rapace does a good job with Nadia, even if she does not have a lot to work with other than being low on confidence and insecure. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts plays well (and with worrying realism) in his familiar role as a scum bug. At least in Rust And Bone, Schoenaerts’ character had one redemptive feature. In The Drop, his character has none! Yet, none of the characters are as ostensibly interesting as the one performed by James Gandolfini in his final role. Gandolfini’s character, Marv, may not be a nice person. But he is the most layered and complex character in the film and this makes viewers want to see more of him/Gandolfini as, arguably, it is Marv that makes the movie tick.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv's.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv’s.

The setting and the acting are top-notch in The Drop. However, other than those (very important) elements, the film does not have much else to ride on. The plot raises several questions that go unanswered, which is annoying because the questions do not seem especially difficult to answer. Additionally, some of the key moments in the movie take place off-screen, which is again annoying. There is a rule in art: show, don’t tell. That The Drop ignores this rule is its major hindrance as otherwise it is a very solid film.

Over-all, The Drop consists of most things that one could want from a slow-burning thriller. For certain, it has some plot holes that could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the dismal and threatening atmosphere of the film; the gradual rise in tension; and the fine acting of the cast all make the movie thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable. Thus, The Drop illustrates once more that a film with dislikeable characters can still be enjoyed.

PG’s Tips

Review – Lincoln (12a) [2013]

Lincoln - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan, War Horse, Indiana Jones I-V

Cast:

  • Daniel Day-Lewis – Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Nine
  • Sally Field – Mrs Doubtfire, ER, The Amazing Spider-Man I & II
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt – The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Sin City II
  • Tommy Lee Jones – No Country For Old Men, Captain America: The First Avenger, Emperor, Bourne V
  • Jackie Earle Haley – Watchmen, Shutter Island, Robocop
  • David Strathairn – LA Confidential, The Whistleblower, The Bourne Ultimatum & Legacy
  • James Spader – Boston Legal, The Office, By Virtue Fall
  • David Oyelowo – The Last King of Scotland, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The HelpInterstellar
  • Michael Stuhlberg – Steve Jobs

Music Composer:

  • John Williams – Star Wars I-VI, War Horse, Indiana Jones I-V

All democratically-elected state leaders, whether they are presidents or prime ministers, have an ambition for reaching their respective position. For some, it is about power and/or aggrandisement; for others, it is about putting their names down in the history books. But for an exceptional few, it is about being uniquely in the right place at the right time and enabling their ideologies and actions to make them stand out from among their peers. President Abraham Lincoln (1860-65) belongs to the last category, and Steven Spielberg’s admirable biopic, Lincoln, illustrates why this is the case.

President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) forcefully telling his cabinet that he intends to proceed with the amendment and that they must help him.

President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) forcefully telling his cabinet that he intends to proceed with the amendment and that they must help him.

Lincoln revolves round events in America during January 1865. At the time, no-one was certain as to how long the Civil War (1861- April 1865) would continue. The Unionists, led by President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the armies of the north, are in a strong position. But the rebel Confederacy, led by Jefferson Davis and the armies of the south, are not about to surrender either.

The latter’s resolve is further stiffened upon hearing that, despite the war raging on, President Lincoln intends to push through Congress the highly contentious Thirteenth Amendment (the abolition of slavery) before the legislature ends its session at the beginning of February. The Confederacy’s hatred of black people and their slavery-based economy cannot allow for it. But will their attempts to block the proposed amendment succeed?

Lincoln’s storyline is intelligent; yet, slightly lacking in depth and, at 150 minutes, drawn out. Despite being potentially confusing for someone who has no knowledge of the era, the political wranglings going on behind the scenes throughout the film are great to watch because they are amusing and appear realistic. They also indicate that there was more than an element of corruption in American politics in the 1860s. (Then again, does The Ides of March show us that American politics is significantly different today?)

Moreover, the debates on slavery and freedom throughout Lincoln are intellectually stimulating. In the present era, it defies belief to learn that President Lincoln was a ‘radical,’ even among his key allies, for wanting the abolition of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment was a measure that America (apparently) wasn’t yet ready for in 1865 (almost sixty years after Britain and France had abolished the Slave Trade, and four years after Tsar Alexander II had passed the emancipation of serfdom in Russia).

However, one only has to read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to realise that Lincoln fails to illustrate the inherent racism towards black people that existed even among abolitionists. Similarly, the movie says nothing of the four Union states that permitted slavery, which is strange as those four states could have been portrayed as a thorn in President Lincoln’s side.

Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) welcoming home her eldest son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) welcoming home her eldest son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Furthermore, the film only deals seriously with two issues: the amendment and the Civil War. While they understandably dominated Lincoln’s presidency, surely there were other matters for the president to consider, such as the annual budget and foreign relations? None of these are ever mentioned, which has the indirect effect of making President Lincoln appear almost two-dimensional.

But to say that the ex-president was anything less than a highly-complex and gifted man serves to undermine him, and Daniel Day-Lewis exemplifies this with a performance of remarkable consistency. He captures the former president’s quirkiness, social awkwardness and witty humour fantastically, as well as his indefatigable zeal and reason for his ideals.

Day-Lewis undoubtedly dominates Lincoln, but that does not mean that the supporting cast should be ignored. With the exception of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is average at best and whose role, as the ex-president’s son, Robert Lincoln, could easily have been shelved, Sally Field as the ex-president’s worrisome and frenzied wife, Mary Lincoln; Tommy Lee Jones as the savvy Republican Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens; David Strathairn as the cautious Secretary of State, William Seward; Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens, the racist Vice-President of the rebel Confederacy; and even James Spader, as the underhand Mr. Bilbo (no, not Baggins) are all superb.

President Lincoln exploring the aftermath of a battlefield, knowing that his decisions have cost many Americans their lives.

President Lincoln exploring the aftermath of a battlefield, knowing that his decisions have cost many Americans their lives.

Equally good are the costume and make-up designs, which truly bring the 1860s to life. Likewise, John Williams should be praised for writing a soundtrack that does not sound remotely like Star Wars, Home Alone or Indiana Jones. Indeed, Williams’ score here is more subtle in nature. It adds a touching element to Lincoln that makes the movie that bit more poignant when it matters most.

Over-all, Lincoln is a venerable film with clever dialogue, a beautiful set and enchanting acting. The movie might be a little long and simplifies some of the historical issues, but this should not negate that President Lincoln was one of the rare few leaders who have managed, almost single-handedly, to change the course of history. He understood the uniqueness of his epoch and acted upon his conscience, despite knowing the storm it would cause (as well as unknowingly making him pay the ultimate price for it). Lincoln demonstrates all of this wonderfully and shows us why President Abraham Lincoln is rightly regarded as the archetypal president that so many of his successors have tried (and often failed) to emulate.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Dark Knight Rises (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

Cinematographer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Once in a decade, perhaps, are audiences treated to a trilogy wherein the three films are not only worthy of five stars each, but also raise the bar over the movie that preceded it. Ten years ago, it was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, which culminated beautifully in the epic The Return of the King. Now, it is the turn of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Legend saga, which has climaxed spectacularly with The Dark Knight Rises.

The monstrous-looking, hulking Bane (Tom Hardy). Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor intends to finish off Gotham once and for all, forcing Batman to come out of his virtual retirement.

Eight years have passed since Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) defeated the Joker, killed the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and disappeared. Since then, Gotham has branded Batman an enemy, after he took responsibility for Dent’s crimes to uphold the reputation of the ‘White Knight.’ Whilst away from his former exploits, Bruce has been a recluse, investing some of his considerable wealth in peaceful nuclear energy and the Wayne Foundation, where he uses the expertise of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to good effect.

However, Gotham now faces a new threat. The League of Shadows has returned and is led by the masked, super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), who is out to destroy Gotham and Batman with it. After Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded trying to take out Bane, leaving the police almost solely in the hands of the young idealist officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Bruce feels that the time has come to don the bat-gear again. But how will Gotham take to his return? And what will Batman do with the criminal Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who has a mysterious interest in Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprise?

Rises’ plot might be slow-moving for the first hour and it certainly requires great levels of concentration for the entire 164 minutes; yet, the film is intellectually-stimulating, absorbing and multi-layered. It also builds up to a stunning, well-thought-through climax, ensuring that those who give the movie their full attention will be rewarded.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the storyline is that Nolan cleverly links Rises with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the two previous instalments in the series. He does this by making the caped crusader rise to a new mental and physical challenge, which is a direct result of his prior victory over the League of Shadows; and by illustrating the relevance of Batman and Harvey Dent as symbols of hope against injustice and corruption. (Not to mention demonstrating how susceptible the fabrics of society are to implosion when the symbols are smashed.)

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wearing her figure-revealing ‘cat’ outfit while she steals what she needs at night and fights her way out of trouble.

Furthermore, Nolan intelligently incorporated genuine, present-day issues and analogies into the previous two films to make them relatable to the epoch. He does it again in Rises. Like in The Dark Knight, he throws in moral and ethical dilemmas here to illustrate just how tough and messy decisions can be for our political leaders (in the war on terror). And, like in Batman Begins, Nolan underlines how sophisticated, scientific technology can be used as weapons. In the first film in the series, it was the dangers of microwave emitters. In the third, it’s the threat posed by ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (Iran) and what happens should they fall into the wrong hands.

Arguably, Rises lacks a character with the charisma of the Joker, especially as he is Batman’s traditional nemesis. Nevertheless, the astuteness of the plot and the excellence of the cast make up for this absence. Christian Bale superbly reveals the psychological torment and the multifaceted nature of Bruce Wayne that makes all other comic-book based protagonists, such as those in Fantastic Four, The Avengers Assemble and Spiderman appear immature and superficial by comparison; Anne Hathaway looks as eye-catching in tightly-fitted latex as she plays; Michael Caine again gives a touching performance as Alfred, Bruce’s wise fatherly butler, as does Morgan Freeman as the humorous Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprise; and, lastly, Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane.

Just as Nolan did with the villains Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face in the other movies, he’s turned Bane from a pantomime fool (as was seen in the unwatchable 1997 Batman & Robin) into a complex and sinister character, with a distressing backstory. It is not merely Bane’s brute strength and intelligence that’s scary, it’s also the glint of frightening fanaticism in his eyes which was probably last seen with Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Batman (Christian Bale), with renewed vigour, battling it out with Bane to save Gotham from destruction.

While the actors do their parts splendidly, so too do the special effects team and Hans Zimmer. The effects look so real, viewers have to remind themselves that CGI was used. Similarly, the score may not be as grand or uplifting as the one composed by Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings; nonetheless, the dark disposition of Rises entails that Zimmer’s gothic-style music is apt and augments the scenes exponentially.

Over-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an engrossing and special conclusion to an exceptional trilogy. Christopher Nolan has transformed the Batman story from a joke into a dark and very human tale that has relevance to the current era, making all other comic-book based movies seem light and casual in contrast. Once more, Nolan has used intelligence and a phenomenal cast to outdo himself in the same way that Peter Jackson did almost a decade ago. Heaven knows, it might be another ten years before we see a series of such brilliance again.

PG’s Tip

Review – This Means War (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Films like Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals take themselves preposterously seriously. Whilst watching such movies, one is entitled to think that the films would have been better if the actors had not taken their roles with such (laughable) sincerity. Thankfully, This Means War does not take itself remotely seriously. As a corollary, and for other reasons, the film is highly enjoyable and amusing.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) doing his bit to make sure that Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) chooses him as her man.

This Means War is about two CIA agents, FDR Foster (Chris Pine – Star Trek I & II, Unstoppable, Rise of the Guardians) and Tuck (Tom Hardy – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises). They are the best of friends, work opposite one another, and have fought alongside each other in dangerous operations for America’s secret services.

But then they discover that they’re both dating the same girl, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon – Cruel Intentions, Walk The Line, Mud), who cannot make up her mind on who she likes more. Neither FDR nor Tuck are willing to pass and let the other have Lauren, so they decide to compete against one another to see who will woo her, using all kinds of equipment and tricks to achieve their objective.

Meanwhile, a Russian agent, called Heinrich (Til Schweiger – Inglorious Basterds, New Year’s Eve, The Courier), is on his way to America. Heinrich wants revenge against FDR and Tuck for killing his brother in a mission in Hong Kong.

FDR (Chris Pine) on a date with Lauren to win over her heart and triumph over Tuck, his friend and colleague.

The plot for This Means War is entertaining and easy to follow. There might be fewer action scenes than one might think, and certainly in contrast to the Die Hard series, Black Hawk Down, and Iron Man I & II. But This Means War compensates for this with the hysterically absurd lengths that FDR and Tuck go to so as to win over Lauren’s heart.

Just like with The Expendables, Knight And Day and Mission: Impossible IV, none of the cast take themselves seriously in the slightest. The main difference between those films and This Means War is that the latter movie has much better dialogue; almost every other line is a joke, and the banter between the actors is extremely humorous.

In a similar vein, the acting is ideal for this type of film. It is most unlikely that any member of the cast will get prestigious award nominations come January-February 2013, but all of the actors revel in their disingenuous roles, from the cocky, smooth-talking and good-looking Chris Pine; to the confident, yet level-headed (English CIA agent) Tom Hardy; to the indecisive and cute (noticeably revamped) Reese Witherspoon; to Lauren’s know-it-all, contradictory-advice giving sister, Trish (Chelsea Handler – Cattle Call, Hop, Fun Size).

Trish (Chelsea Handler) advising Lauren, as ever, to make up her mind and choose one of the two men she is simultaneously dating.

Despite the heavy focus on the dialogue and the acting, director McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, Guilty) adopts conspicuously little by way of special effects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many action films, like Wanted, Captain America and Season of the Witch could have done with less CGIs and better dialogue and acting. The only problem for McG is that the few instances of special effects in his movie are done quite poorly; especially, when compared to the quality of those in Mission: Impossible IV.

Over-all, This Means War is a light, amusing and entertaining film. It has a cast that acts well for this type of film; that has great chemistry on screen; and that are easy on the eye. Perhaps directors in the future will learn a lesson from This Means War and inform their casts not to take their roles overly seriously when it is not necessary. Otherwise, audiences are destined to watch more movies where the actors appear unconvincing and hollow, like in Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals.

PG’s Tips

Review – Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D (U) [2012; originally released in 1999]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Star Wars, the saga that revolutionised special effects, has returned to the cinema. Thirteen years after it left the big screens, and now poorly adapted into 3D, Episode I: The Phantom Menace provides viewers with a convenient excuse to review the franchise from the beginning, and once more enjoy enlarged lightsaber v sith duels and mesmerising sci-fi-style battle scenes. (Warning, spoilers in this review.)

Young Anakin (Jake Lloyd). It is hard to see him as the masked villain of the saga at this point.

The Phantom Menace begins with turmoil engulfing the Galactic Republic. The Trade Federation has put up a blockade around the planet Nabu, due to a new taxation in trade routes. The Trade Federation wants to bring Nabu’s queen, Amidala (Natalie Portman – Black Swan, Thor, Lawless), to her knees and make her yield to their demands, using any means at their disposal.

Unknown to the Trade Federation, the Jedi Council have sent two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jin (Liam Neeson – The Next Three Days, Unknown, Wrath of the Titans) and his apprentice, Obi-Won Kenobi (Ewan McGregor – Star Wars I-III, Beginners, The Impossible), to rescue Amidala. That way she can bring her case to the Senate. Yet, as they fly past the blockade, their starship is damaged and they are forced to land on Tatooine to repair the ship.

On Tatooine, a planet outside of the republic’s orbit, Qui-Gon and Amidala come across a cute, little slave boy, called Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd – Jingle All The Way, The Pretender, Madison). Qui-Gon sees something in Anakin, believing him to be the one who will bring balance to the Force.

After buying Anakin’s freedom, via the young boy’s pod race success, Qui-Gon takes him to the Jedi Council, where he hopes the council will allow him to train Anakin as his second apprentice. But the council is wary of Anakin. Yoda (Frank Oz – Star Wars I-VI, Sesame Street, Monsters University) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson – Star Wars I-III, Coach Carter, The Avengers Assemble) sense ‘great fear’ in him. They’re not wrong because Anakin fears for his mother’s survival. But, still, fear can only lead one way: the dark side.

Simultaneously, the unknown (phantom-like) Sith Lord and future emperor, Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid – Star Wars I-III & VI, Crime & Punishment, Margaret), urges his stooges in the Trade Federation to find Qui-Gon and Obi-Won. When they fail, Darth Sidious orders his apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park – X-Men, Heroes, Avarice), to find and kill the Jedi knights.

Queen Amidala/Padmé (Natalie Portman) leading from the front in the fight for the freedom of her planet.

The plot for The Phantom Menace is enjoyable and surprisingly intelligent. The film has a thrilling pod race tournament and the second best lightsaber v sith battle of the franchise (second after the epic duel between Obi-Won and Anakin/Darth Vader in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith); yet, the disputes over the trade blockade also make for a fascinating insight into the political workings of the republic.

More than anything, the disagreements in the republic reveal the cunning of Senator Palpatine (also Ian McDiarmid), as he slowly lays down the foundations for his arrogation of power. Behind the scenes, Palpatine commands the Trade Foundation (which will become the Separatist movement later in the series) to declare war on Nabu. To Queen Amidala, though, his advice is to go to the Senate and urge Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp – Wanted, The Adjustment Bureau, Big Eyes) to take action against the Trade Foundation. But knowing that the chancellor is incapable of doing that, due to being hamstrung by ‘bureaucrats’ (most likely Palpatine’s cronies), Palpatine recommends Amidala to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum in the Senate to pave the way for a ‘stronger’ chancellor. (And guess who Palpatine might mean by that? Isn’t it a coincidence that he just happens to be voted in next?)

At the same time, Palpatine promises young Anakin that he will ‘watch over’ his Jedi training and be a father-like figure to him. The kindness of the gesture is unsettling to watch, knowing that Palpatine intends to exploit Anakin’s vulnerabilities to groom him as his long-term apprentice.

Ian McDiarmid plays well as the duplicitous Palpatine, despite the character’s crudeness. Yet, the star of the film is undoubtedly Liam Neeson. Even the most ridiculous of lines seem (almost) plausible when he speaks, and nothing looks (overly) contrived either. The same cannot be said for Natalie Portman or Ewan McGregor, who both give very poor and detached displays; whilst Jake Lloyd’s performance is passable at best. His enthusiasm and confidence (obnoxiousness) is refreshing at first, but becomes repetitive and annoying after a while.

The fantastic three-way fight scene between Qui-Gon, Obi-Won and Darth Maul. Who will not survive?

The acting and dialogue may not be noteworthy, but the special effects are enthralling (even if they’ve been touched up considerably since 1999). It is just a shame that the 3D is hardly visible. The three-way duel at the end would have been even more of a spectacle had it been properly adapted; especially, with the atmospheric theme ‘Duel of the Fates’ for accompaniment.

Although the 3D is inadequate, The Phantom Menace is an entertaining movie. Once more, audiences can enjoy the impressive battle scenes and pod races; be dazzled by the special effects and lightsabers; and be intrigued by the way Palpatine abuses his powers for his ultimate goals. But most importantly of all, The Phantom Menace starts to explain how and why Anakin becomes Darth Vedar.

PG’s Tips

Review – One Day (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Romantic comedies (better known as ‘chick flicks’), such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and He’s Just Not That Into You, tend to be sweet, sentimental (cringe-worthy) and predictable. One Day is nothing of the kind, and has a twist that few will see coming. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.)

Dexter and Emma, with those geeky 1980s-glasses, out on a countryside walk on that fateful day in 1989, when their bewildering relationship started.

One Day is based on the book by David Nichols. Set in grim and rainy England, the storyline revolves round the self-obsessed Dexter (Jim Sturgess – The Other Boleyn Girl, The Way Back, Ashes) and the innocent, geeky-looking Emma (Anne Hathaway – Bride Wars, Rio, The Dark Knight Rises), two individuals who are hopelessly (and, to some extent, tragically) in love with one another, but decide to be ‘friends’ rather than lovers. Dexter and Emma get with one another on the 15th July 1989, the day of their graduation from university, and decide to keep in contact. They write and call one another quite regularly, and meet up for their ‘anniversary’ every year on the same day for years, sustaining a varying relationship, despite moving on with their lives.

The film’s plot may not be entirely faithful to the book. Nevertheless, the movie is absorbing and not difficult to follow, even if one occasionally forgets which year he/she is in. One Day is captivating primarily because it does not have the feel of a predictable romantic comedy. One never knows what direction the (dismaying) relationship between Dexter and Emma will take. In addition, Emma’s intelligent, wry humour is very amusing, and distinctively unlike the standard slap-stick comedy that is habitual in ‘chick flicks’.

Dexter getting touchy with Emma, as he rubs suncream into her back on their ‘anniversary’.

Playing Dexter and Emma, Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, respectively, do themselves no harm. But Sturgess’s character, Dexter, is far from the most challenging of roles. The same can be said for Hathaway’s character, Emma. Additionally, Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent may fluctuate between a Leeds-based one, a Scottish one, and a posh-English one, but on the whole it is acceptable.

Yet, even though Sturgess and Hathaway perform decently enough throughout One Day, there is little character depth and almost no character development throughout the film. This means that Dexter and Emma hardly change or mature in twenty-odd years. (Then again, in reality nor do most people.) It is the same for the other members of the cast too, such as the goofy Ian (Rafe Spall – Kidulthood, Hot Fuzz, Anonymous) and the bimbo Tara (Amanda Fairbank-Hynes – An Education, Monte Carlo, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). This is a shame for the actors, as the script (despite already being laid out in a book) simply isn’t good enough and does not give them the adequate tools to make the movie unique.

As remarkable as it may seem that the characters remain virtually the same throughout One Day, the same can be said for Emma’s hairstyle and fashion sense. Both look like they’re locked in the era of Saved By The Bell. By the mid-2000s, she looks wholly anachronistic. The same can be said for Ian too. Surely the director, Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education), noticed this whilst making the film? Evidently not.

Dexter and Emma, both looking glamorous, catching up with one another years later.

Other noticeable faults with One Day are that it feels rushed and, in places, poorly put together. The film may have to cover two decades in the space of 107 minutes, but that is not an excuse for scenes not being stitched well together. Furthermore, some of the music adopted appears badly chosen and does not fit with the scenes at all.

One Day is far from the norm for a romantic comedy. The film has its flaws and could have been much more, but Sturgess and Hathaway perform well enough with what they are given to make it worthwhile viewing. For One Day is witty, entertaining and unpredictable. Wait for the twist.

PG’s Tips