Tag Archives: film review

Film Review- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story



Warning: Spoilers

I’ve hesitated in talking about ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been a bit withdrawn from the geeky world of the internet of late. I talked about this in my essay ‘My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan’. I’ve been talking about the MCU since January, but because I’m a bit ‘meh’ about Marvel at the minute it hasn’t been as badly affected because of who I have become as a fan in recent months.

Star Wars, however has been, because I am a massive fan, and withdrawing quite a bit from social media pushed ‘Rogue One’ off my radar in-between seeing it at the cinema and waiting for the DVD release. I had originally delayed my review of the film, for the same reason I did The Force Awakens last year; I didn’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’ve come to terms with this personal change in my approach to being a fan, but there was another reason for the delay.

I had a rather strange reaction to Rogue One that I didn’t think would make it difficult to talk about. In truth it should make it easier, but I wasn’t sure how to approach this admission. Let’s just go with head on, shall we?

Rogue One is my favourite Star Wars film.

I’m not going to duck for cover. At first, I was feeling a bit ashamed that the amazing seven episodes of the Star Wars saga so far have been upstaged by a one-off anthology film, whose intent was to tell a story where we already knew the ending in order to make Disney a bit of money. I can remember thinking that when it was announced the film was about stealing the plans for the original Death Star. It was a money making venture; like Titanic, we knew the ship would sink and we knew they would get the plans.

Except it is bloody brilliant. I mean it is a film that cannot work without the existence of the rest of the Star Wars franchise; it wouldn’t make any sense what so ever. I never thought it was a story that needed to be told.

Until I saw it that is, and in truth of all the Star Wars stories (by which I mean the films) that have been told, it is the most important. It is the one that anyone can relate to and for the most shocking reason of all (at least for me to internally process); it is the story most grounded in reality.

I am a fantasy writer and I write about magic. It is one of my favourite fantasy themes, and one of the reasons I love Star Wars so much is because The Force, which is essentially magic, is found within a science fiction setting. Yes, The Force still exists in Rogue One, and having faith in it is certainly one of the most important and prominent themes in the film, but that is all it really is; it is faith in its existence. Proof of it is only seen in the film twice, and never in relation to the main characters. Like Darth Vader, The Force only makes a cameo appearance.

Everything that happens in the main plot can in theory be explained by human ability. And what they are doing is using that ability to fight an oppressive empire bend on destroying freedom in the galaxy. There are so many examples in history of humans having done this for real, which are still inspiring us. Rogue One is a fictional version of fights real humans have made. It is a story of characters sacrificing themselves for the greater good. For hope.

It is the characters that make it the best film. Don’t get me wrong, the Star Wars Universe has many great characters. Very few of them have left me feeling that perhaps the writers and creators could have done a better job. My review of Force Awakens is really just a long talk about how great the new characters are, and when I talked about The Phantom Menace, I even defended Jar Jar Binks.

Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, Bodhi Rook and K-2SO are just in a different league. They are some of the most conflicted and complex characters that have ever been created in the Star Wars films. They aren’t black or white; good or evil. They are grey, they have made questionable choices and they are fighting to make those choices mean something when threatened by defeat and destruction.

From the moment I first saw Cassian shoot his informant in the back in order to spare him from falling into the hands of the Empire I fell in love with the film. Strange moment I know, but it is the first indication the film isn’t just going to be a simple fight of good versus evil.

This isn’t just the story where we know the ending and know they succeeded. This is the story where all of their complexities, their choices, and their faith in the universe is laid out and bared to the audience. It is the story of how they did it, why they did it and what price they paid in order to do it.

It is a human story, grounded in the reality of what it is to be a human facing a seemingly unstoppable oppressive force. It isn’t about the Jedi versus the Sith; it is about everyone else who lives in that universe.

It is about a father sacrificing his life and risking everything to seek revenge for the destruction of his family.

It is about the daughter coming to terms with that and all the pain she has suffered in her life. Facing it again is one of the best character developments I’ve seen, because being brave about what’s going on inside rather than outside is something that needs to be seen more often.

It is about a rebel spy, a man with ethics, giving his life to fight for his beliefs, a fight that costs him the chance to live his life in line with his ethics. A man who carries his prison within wherever he goes.

It is about a pilot, who seeks to redeem himself after being a clog in the oppressive machine.

It is about a blind man maintaining his faith in the Force, despite his life being destroyed and having been every reason to think it has abandoned him.

It is about an enraged warrior, who finds faith again, after the world broke it, when his friend dies and faith is the only way he can find him again.

It is about a reprogrammed droid facing the reality that he has to overpower other droids and even kill living people (seriously with K-2SO the fact Asimov’s Laws of Robotics don’t apply is what makes him intriguing), while he also tells the truth. The sarcasm he does it with is a happy bi-product.

And they all die.

This film is about hope, and for the audience the hope isn’t that they will succeed, but who will survive the attempt. That is one of the most heart-wrenching truths; heroes don’t always survive. They don’t get to see their success; in fact they only have faith in their success. They don’t have proof in it.

Faith in hope carries on right to the last moment; faith in the fight even when Darth Vader brings the one of the few moments of ‘magic’ into the film in that corridor scene, where again everyone dies, and not even everyone who wasn’t trapped behind the door gets onto the escaping ship alive. They all had every reason to think it wasn’t worth it, but they fought on even when they knew it was hopeless for them as individuals. The greater good was what made it worthwhile for them.

No wonder this is my favourite Star Wars film.


Film Review – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2



I have ignored the hype about this film; I watched the trailers only a couple of times, and just generally avoided getting excited about the film. I’ve been using my tried and tested method of going into the cinema with low expectations (it worked remarkably well for Assassin’s Creed), and given I’ve not been impressed of late with the MCU, I wanted to try and leave the cinema without having been disappointed.

Well I sort of succeeded, but I have had it confirmed for me that the MCU has indeed lost its power over me, because not even a Guardians of the Galaxy film could get me excited. I still absolutely love the first film; I think after the awful Civil War film, the Guardians of the Galaxy have supplanted Captain America and become my favourites from within the MCU, but the second film is just not as good as the first.

Sadly though I knew this was going to be the case before I saw it. The first film was a fresh slap in the face, and of all the protagonists within the MCU I feel like Peter Quill is the most relatable. However, because it was so fresh and new, I knew the second film could never be as good.

The thing is I don’t think it is a bad film, I’m just not in any rush to go and see it again. Gone are the days when I would be leaving the cinema and buying tickets for a showing the next evening so I could see it again as soon as possible. Genuinely I don’t think I’ll see this film again until the dvd release.

It is certainly spectacular, and the settings wonderfully created. The plot of the film was even paced, though I would argue it doesn’t really have a defining moment where your heart ends up in your throat. That might be because I’m not easily stirred when emotional moments are a bit predictable (and seriously they seeded the final scenes right at the beginning of the film, so if you know what you are looking for when it comes to foreshadowing, then you know where its going to end up).

The characters as well all reacted as expected to the plot of the film, and they all have a lovely development within the film. Baby Groot completely steals the show; hands down the best thing about the film. Completely adorable.

It is a brilliant film, and I’ve sure over time I will grow to love it, but if you’ve sensed a distinct lack of enthusiasm from this review, then you’d be right. By all means go and watch it; I strongly suspect you will love it a lot more than I do. But now having seen it, it has confirmed for me that my love affair with the MCU is well and truly over.


Letters from Baghdad


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Whenever I read a book or watch a film, my ideal reaction is to be left speechless but also so full of profound afterthoughts that I struggle to then coherently explain myself. It doesn’t happen often, but I absolutely adore it when it does. There are many reasons why I want to recommend this documentary, not least because I got the rare joy of reacting to the film in this way, but for the sake of being concise I stick to just three.

‘Letters from Baghdad’ is a documentary by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl about the true story of Gertrude Bell. The film is made up visually of about 75% contemporary and previously unseen archive footage depicting mostly the Middle East where Gertrude Bell worked and lived in the early 20th Century. It is shown alongside stills of her own photographs from the archive at Newcastle University. The rest of the footage was created for the film, and mostly consists of interviews representing her friends, family and colleagues. The audio overlaying this stunning visual encapsulation of history is Tilda Swinton reading the letters written by Gertrude Bell to her friends and family in England.

The documentary is utterly stunning to watch and listen to, and my congratulations to both Oelbaum and Krayenbühl for their masterful creation. The first reason I have to recommend this film to people is because it has been so carefully researched and skilfully created. I had the good fortune of being able to be part of the question and answer session with the filmmakers, held after a viewing at the Tyneside Cinema here in Newcastle. The passion, hard work and dedication that these two filmmakers and their team put into the making of this film is to be commended. This is not just because of how wonderful the film about Gertrude Bell turned out, but also because her story is incredibly important to tell.

Being from the North East where Gertrude Bell came from, and a former history student at Newcastle University where the archive of her photographs and letters is held, I’ve been fortunate enough to gain awareness of her via public lectures and exhibitions. While I have never studied her in depth because I ended up specialising in earlier historical periods, it has never been lost on me that Gertrude Bell should be a great deal better known. She has seemingly been forgotten by history in the West, though as the filmmakers did point out, she very fondly remembered in places such as Iraq, where she is known as ‘Miss Bell’.

The documentary charts her life, highlighting at first her travels in the Middle East, in what was then the Ottoman Empire, before moving on to her being recruited by the British Government as a consultant in the establishment of the modern State of Iraq in the aftermath of the First World War. For a woman who achieved so much, at a time when it wasn’t something a lady would do, for her to have been seemingly forgotten by history is something I still struggle to understand.

I’m not an expert either historically or politically in commenting on her legacy or on the events that have happened in the Middle East since she carried out her work. However, her relevancy given the turmoil in current times is something that needs to be highlighted, and is the second reason I recommend this film. The events that she witnessed have remarkable parallels to the modern day, especially the importance placed by Western Governments of establishing ‘their’ control over oil over keeping their promises to help build administrations for the peoples of the Middle East to govern themselves. If anyone wants to understand better the historical reasons behind why this region is so troubled now, this documentary about a time when these troubles mirror the present day is very good place to start.

However, this film is not just a starting point for anyone wanting to understand the history of the region better. As wonderful as the archive footage used throughout the documentary is, this is a film about a remarkably complex woman. That is something that cannot be buried under other reasons to see the film. For me the most important reason why anyone should see this film is because of Gertrude Bell herself.

Women do tend to be forgotten by history, and this documentary is a vital demonstration that women of the past can be just as interesting, talented, important and as complex as their male counterparts. It was even suggested in the question and answer session that it is because she is a woman that this story of her life is all the more remarkable because of what she managed to achieve in a male dominated world. The interpretation of her life that I found most intriguing about this film was the idea of what defined her as a person.

She came across as a very intelligent and adventurous woman, who found travelling and exploring the world one of the only ways in which she felt like a ‘person’, by which I took that to mean, she felt valued in the same way a man would be simply by fact of his gender rather than through his accomplishments. Hearing her words and her viewpoint of the events of the world, via Tilda Swinton’s masterful readings of her letters, not only proves her historical importance as a first-hand witness to events, but is also a remarkable testimony to how complex a person is capable of being.

From the interviews scattered throughout the documentary, which were based on accounts from her contemporaries, her complexity becomes apparent. She was viewed as an arrogant woman, who was disinterested in the ‘normal’ activities of women, but nevertheless was also seen as incredibly capable, even if at times her place was questioned simply because of her sex. Even within her own correspondence, she had become to believe herself to be a sexless entity, and in that way had become acceptable. However, later in her life she acknowledged, with a heavy heart I felt, that the matter of her gender became unacceptable when the likes of Sir Percy Cox who valued her work, were replaced by men that did not view her as important.

The greatest insight into the woman that I got from the documentary was a remark she made about why she worked as hard as she did. Naturally of course her romantic relationships were discussed, and from her correspondence I was very much left with the impression that while all of her inner feelings weren’t necessarily seen by her contemporaries, based on what she wrote I would suspect that she felt very deeply indeed.

She was a romantic, struck by tragedy. Her work was to her a narcotic, because she wanted a distraction from other thoughts that she did not wish to dwell on. Because of those words alone I struggle to see the arrogant woman her colleagues saw. I don’t doubt she probably was arrogant, but she was also deeply fraught; a woman conflicted by the events she saw around her and by the events of her own life. This is why for me, Gertrude Bell is the most important reason to see this documentary, because she is portrayed as complex.

In a world where women are still fighting to be fully represented by the media, whether in fact or fiction, this documentary demonstrates that it is possible show to show the depth and complications of a woman’s life. More than that it can be done using our own words, our accomplishments and with an intricacy that cannot simply be summarised by whether we are wholly good or bad; feminine or not; or seen as successful or arrogant in our pursuits. We can be all of these, all at once, just like Gertrude Bell.

Also if we don’t fight for women like her was to be remembered, who’s to say that in a hundred years’ time, the women of our time will be remembered for their achievements?

Film and Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


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I never review both a film and book in the same post. Trust me though I never thought I would watch the film or read the book. When I’d heard about the book I was utterly horrified at the thought of what had been done. I let the movie roll pass me when it got released in the cinema.

Two reasons for this, the first being that I absolutely love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, and also the adaption by the BBC, which has nothing at all to do with Colin Firth diving into a lake, none whatsoever. Alright maybe a little, and the cute reference to it in the Zombie film delighted me. However, the thought that someone had tinkered with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was repulsive to me especially because of the second reason.

Generally I’m more receptive to horror than I give myself credit for, zombies however are an absolute no-no. I cannot stand them. The only zombie film I’ve ever been able to watch before is ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and that is because it has the delightful mix of being a comedy as well as a horror film. Plus you know Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and cornettos.

So much to my surprise, for some reason, the other week I found myself watching a film called ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’. I still don’t know why. Pass, but I made it to the end, and there were no nightmares, which is generally the case when I accidentally walk in on my husband watching ‘The Walking Dead’.

Even stranger was the fact that after I had seen the film, I immediately started reading the book, which we had a copy of because said husband had expressed interest in it so I’d picked it up for him.

I will hold my hands up and admit that the book by Seth Grahame-Smith isn’t actually a bad book. It’s categorized as a parody, but I read it more like a counterfactual history of the novel (yeah ‘Man in the High Castle’ is still swirling around my head given what I’ve just defined is what most normal people would just call a ‘parody’. Normal is not an adjective frequently used to describe me though). It is very respectful of the original story, but has a lovely comical, tongue in cheek addition to the story: zombies. I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought.

The reason I wanted to read the book so soon after watching the film though, is because the film is so terrible, I honestly wanted to know whether the novel had ripped apart the original story or whether it had just been the film that had only done a vague adaptation of Austen’s original. 

The only saving grace in the film was Matt Smith as Mr Collins: given the likes of Charles Dance and Lena Headley are also in it and even they weren’t good, it pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

It is just awful. As I learned, the film of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ not only bears little resemblance to Austen’s story, it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the parody novel it was based on either.

The main reason I have written this review is simple – if you want to learn how not to adapt a book into a film, read the parody novel and then brace yourself for the film. And then you are ever a writer in the position to adapt a novel into a film, remember to at least refer to your source material beyond just the title and the characters.

Film Review – Doctor Strange



Anyone who has read my review of Civil War and also my post on Marvel Revisited will know that I’m no longer the biggest fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – I’ve always been pretty honest about my opinion on Tony Stark, but now I’m more than willing to just be opening critical and rather bored.

I properly slammed Marvel for being so blatant about the reveal of the infinity stone in this film on revisiting my thoughts on the MCU. Also given that this film and its protagonist is remarkably similar to Tony Stark, you might be rather surprised to learn that despite the fact I’ve been rather apathetic in getting around to blogging a review of this film, I do actually like it.

Doctor Strange has a few things going for it that made me want to see the film again recently when it got released on DVD. It is has magic, time travel and a great cast.

I’ll start on the most controversial of those:the cast. I’ll start by saying I don’t know the comics, nor was I expecting an Asian male actor to be cast as the Ancient One. I fully support the controversy surrounding the whitewashing that took place in ‘Ghost in the Shell’, a film I have no intention seeing for the very reason that there is literally no excuse for why an Asian actress couldn’t be cast. If the industry wants Scarlett Johansson in an action film, then three words: Black Widow film.

I will admit though I had no clue about the controversy about the casting of Tilda Swinton until after I’d already been to the cinema. I knew she had been cast and after falling in love with her as an actress in ‘Only Lovers Left Alive‘, I will hold my hands up and admit she was one of the reasons I went to see the film.

Whitewashing in Hollywood is definitely an issue that needs to be stopped: the only defense Doctor Strange has for having done it is because in the film they redefined the characters origins as Celtic, and they did have a strong female role, instead of just another male character, in industry equally as guilty of sexism. Not a great reason, but there are worse ones out there.

That aside, the rest of the cast was utterly brilliant, even if the Marvel formula doesn’t really stretch actors too much, I really loved the ensemble. I mean Benedict Cumberbatch had a bit of a dodgy accent, but it was consistently dodgy rather than a one that went all over the place.

The real reason though that I like the film is pretty simple – magic and time travel, specifically time loops. I am a fantasy geek, and I write about magic. I am also a science fiction nerd, and I’m particularly fond of time loops.

Honestly, this is a pretty basic reason to like a film, but I have found of late that if I think too much about Marvel films I end up being critical, perhaps overly so, as I tend to be like that when I get bored and there is no doubting that as a franchise overall, I’m bored.

However I love magic and time loops, and how they visualised that is pretty stunning in an slight rip off of Inception but trapped in a kaleidoscope sort of way, but I left the cinema buzzing and I would recommend the film as it is good fun.

Film Review – Free Fire



I absolutely loved this film. I went in knowing very little, only that it was directed by Ben Wheatley and that it was about what happens after an already tense arms deal goes wrong. Being a fan of High Rise and a fan of action films generally, I had an inkling that I was at least going to enjoy the film.

I wasn’t wrong.  I would say that a lot of people might expect a lot more from an action film than what is delivered. If what you expect is a fast paced plot of ever changing exotic locations, with a glamorous hero, involved in mostly unrealistic fight scenes, then I highly recommend you just wait for the next Bond film.

Free Fire is a stripped back action film, constrained to mostly one location, with no specific protagonist for you to get behind and root for, involving a cast of distinctive characters in a shootout, who all react fairly realistically to getting shot. It is a fun film of well developed characters shooting a lot of bullets at each other, but Wheatley has captured the nitty-gritty intimate moments of human beings trying to kill each other in a pressured environment that none of them had expected.

The brilliance of the film comes from the intimate dialogue between some  of the characters who obviously care for the well-being of those they are with, which contrasts fantastically well with characters who have an alliance based on the fact they are there with their employer.

The dialogue is sharp and human driven, with humour scattered, almost with a nervous adrenaline fueled energy, here or there, appropriate for the moments when characters are trying to decrease the intensity of the situation in order to survive. Kudos to Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley for such a brilliant script.

Generally approaching books and films from the perspective of a writer I do like seeing decent character development, an interesting plot, and in addition with an action film a bit of action. With Free Fire I got all of this, and it delivered very much because the ‘less is more’ approach produced a fantastic film.

I never thought I would enjoy a stripped back action film. I am very much a fan of action films akin to franchises like Bond, but Free Fire is a refreshing approach to the the much loved genre that now makes traditional action films look a bit silly really.

Film Review – Captain America: Civil War


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I will admit this review is more than a little bit overdue. The main reason being is that I had been so excited about this film when it came out in the cinema, that when I left disappointed that I had been so bored, annoyed and angry about the film, I didn’t feel like writing a review. I didn’t want to think about, so I just moved on.

Naturally of course when it came to doing a Marvel Movie marathon over the festive holidays, I couldn’t just ignore the film, so I watched it again, and I desperately tried to be objective. I really just can’t be. I hate this film, for a singular reason.

It is not a Captain America film – it is an Avenger’s film marketed as a Captain America film, where Captain America doesn’t even get to be his own protagonist – he has to share the role with Tony Stark, who is my least favourite Marvel character to start with, and also be the launch platform for Spiderman and Black Panther. Seriously, I’m surprised a kitchen sink wasn’t thrown in the battle in the airport, because Marvel literally threw everything else into this film. I half expected Mjolnir to shoot past the battle scene at one point.

Fine the plot made sense, the characters didn’t really do anything that was out of character, and you can’t deny that it is a decent film. It has its highlights when Bucky and Falcon snipe at each other, but other than, nah, not for me.

None of that stops me from being bored while I watch it; frustrated while the heroes fight each other but don’t actually mean it the majority of the time (unlike Superman and Batman who were at least having a proper go at each other for all of two minutes); and angry that the sequel to The Winter Soldier (which got me hooked onto the films in the first place) is actually a sequel to Age of Ultron. UGH!!!!

If you’re a fan of the MCU then yes it is a must see film, however literally the only consequences of the film is that Captain America and Tony Stark now only talk via voice over letters (vast improvement on the bickering really, and you only hear Steve’s voice), and the Black Panther is actually a decent character, whose film has potential. Other than that, despite having a bit of a scrap the characters didn’t really have a Civil War, and its proved that Accords or not, you can’t imprison those that step out of line because even without his shield Captain America’s able to break them out.

Pointless film.