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Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) is about to say those famous words…

I watched this at the ideal time – I saw the start just before the new Star Wars film (review coming soon!) and the end a day or so later. So perfect to compare. This has always been my favourite Star Wars film. But how does it stand up in 2016?

Well the iconic AT-AT attack on the rebel base still looks impressive but I found the actual attack a bit boring this time round. I enjoyed the build up to it though. Action sequences do feel like they have moved in both drama and spectacle in the 30 or so years since this came out.

The acting compared to modern standards now feels a bit Saturday-afternoon-matinee and is clunky at times. If I was being uncharitable, a parallel could easily be drawn between Mark Hamill’s doe-eyed Jedi novice (Luke Skywalker) and his ability as an actor. Where this film shines though, is it’s story. It’s not predictable and it doesn’t have the traditional happy ending. Luke starts his Jedi training properly with Yoda, but then makes a heartfelt yet unwise decision to abandon it which means that by the end of the film he has 1. Been given the crushing news that one of the most evil men in the galaxy is his father 2. Had his hand painfully cut off. 3. Is slowly falling in love with a woman who he doesn’t yet realise is his sister. That’s not even factoring in his best friend being frozen in carbonite and the Empire gaining the upper hand. There’s also the memory of that first night on Hoth – which he spent unconscious inside a Tauntaun’s rancid gut cavity….

Where this film has the advantage over the others is in the much deeper exploration and explanation of the Force during Yoda’s training and in the moral choices Luke has to make. Luke has to decide whether to commit fully to the way of the Jedi, and later try to resist Vader’s attempted ‘seduction’ to the Dark Side. Of course it’s not shocking now but the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene made this an even greater film at the time

Which Order Would You Rate the Star Wars Films in Rich?

1. The Empire Strikes Back 2. Star Wars 3. The Phantom Menace 4. Return of the Jedi,  the other 2 prequels were both terrible but maybe Revenge of the Sith was slightly better.

And with the latest film?

It’s too soon to say but on one viewing I’d put The Force Awakens at number 3. However overall better acting, jokes that are actually funny, and superior special effects means it has a more instant and enjoyable appeal than any of the films except perhaps the original Star Wars.

Anyway… back to The Empire Strikes Back. While I enjoyed it, it feels dated overall and can be annoying at times. I actually found the whole Millennium Falcon hyperdrive-not-working-and-C3PO-or-another-character-being-ignored-when-they-try-to-tell-Solo-or-Leia irritating *at the time*. Now it’s even more so and while all three original Star Wars films have a jokey and upbeat atmosphere, the truth is they were never actually funny. The special effects are still surprising good, some of which is down to the 90s remastering. However this turns out to be a double-edged sword because while some of the 90s effects improve on the originals some now look dated themselves.

Interesting and enjoyable and easily the best Star Wars film in terms of both story and depth but dated acting and action sequences hurt it a little today.

7/10

Maze runner Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the other ‘Gladers’ must find a way out of their prison.

Well this was a lot better than I expected. For a film aimed at a teenage audience it’s surprisingly mature. There is still the slight dilution and warping of real life that comes with a film aimed at this demographic (think Twilight, Harry Potter etc) but it’s still pretty good, and fairly strong stuff considering.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a cargo lift, and is immediately violently sick. He has no memory of how he got there, of anything in fact – not even his name at this point. When the lift reaches its destination he finds himself in ‘The Glade’, an idyllic woody and grassy plain with a group of around 80 other teenage boys. None of them know why they are there and it emerges that all of them reached The Glade in exactly the same way and in the same amnesiac state as Thomas. The Glade is surrounded by ‘The Maze’, a stone and mechanical construction that is seemingly the boys’ only way out of The Glade – except in 3 years no one has yet found the exit.

The boys are able to make shelters from trees in The Glade and grow crops to survive but violence is ever-present there too. Anyone trapped in the maze at night will become prey to the murderous Grievers (huge bio-mechanical spider-like enemies with blades for legs). The Grievers aren’t the only danger – there are comparisons to be made with Lord Of The Flies, and the name George crossed off form a roster of the boys names coupled with a grave found in the woods, hints at serious infighting in the past. With Peter’s curiosity and intelligence making him stand out, he soon begins to attract the hostile attentions of Gally (Will Poulter) a much bigger boy who sees him as a threat.

Generally the story is well-told but there are annoyances including just a bit too much hinting and not enough explanation in the early part of the film. Peter : “What happens to boys who get trapped in the maze at night?”. *Enigmatic look*, “Take my word for it – you just don’t want to be there ok”. Peter : “What’s this for?” *Amused look*,  “You’ll find out soon enough..” Yes, this kind of thing – a lot. At first it’s tolerable but soon it starts to grate – and you’ll just want Peter to shout for a straight answer.

Acting among the young cast is generally good, although it is variable with accents slipping at times. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) – the only female in the group – seems to have a very minor role, considering her dramatic entrance. But her character will no doubt be expanded on in future films.

I thought the ending was terrible initially (Hint : it’s a worse version of what you were expecting) but I did like the later twist on it and also it’s duplicity. This also leaves room for a Maze Runner 2. (Out now, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) I haven’t read the book(s) but I’d like to find out what is really going on. My personal theory is that the whole thing, everything, is just a simulation and they are all still stuck in those liquid filled tubes in the laboratory. But what do I know?

Surprisingly good. The sort of film I would have loved when I was a teenager. 7/10  (definitely add a point if you *are* a teenager.)

“That’s Raphael on the right – they made him look so tough!”.

“Cowabunga Dudes!!” I’m Michelangelo and I’ll be reviewing this film about me and my friends.

This is the fifth film made about us. Awesome! It features lots of pizza. Woah! I like how using CGI and real people for the movements, they have made us look darker and meaner in this film. Yeah!

Shredder and his Foot Clan minions sure make life a misery for us and our friend Megan Fox… I mean ‘April’! I really think this version of April is better than the original. She’s totally hot.

This movie would be completely bodacious if they had put some work into the story. But it’s just embarrassing. Shredder looks like a robot and the plot is like that time Donatello puked up pizza – all over the place!!

My final scores:

Us (The Turtles) : 8/10
Beginning of Film = Good!
Rest of film = Some bogus sh*t.

Overall : 4/10

A rare moment showing Optimus Prime actually winning a fight against the human-made Galvatron. It doesn’t last for long…

First of all this is the worst Transformers film I have seen, and given the low standards of the other 3 films, that means it’s pretty bad. There’s no Shia LaBeouf this time, Megan Fox was of course booted out long ago after making disparaging comments about the first and second film (She had a point given the snore-fest that was Transformers 2) and finding yet another hot girlfriend (after Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in the 3rd film) for a guy who hangs around with toy robots would have probably pushed the boundaries of credibility a little too far.

This time Mark Wahlberg takes the lead role as inventor dad Cade Yeager. His daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) fill the other 2 protagonist slots. Strangely – for a family film – his 17 year old daughter’s relationship with Shane.. a 21 year old Irish rally driver is actually illegal in most states. Making you wonder what exactly the reason for its inclusion is? I suspect it’s just so they could have a ‘hot’ teen girl (the primary audience for these films are teenage boys ) and a boyfriend who can drive everyone about at high speed. In fact this is what is interesting about Transformers 4. Everything happens for a reason – the reason usually being found in our world. So the film is set in the US (the biggest film market in the world), but then halfway through relocates wholesale to China (conveniently the second biggest film market in the world). Chinese actors also come to the fore at this point and it’s amusing to hear such propaganda as “We must ask the CENTRAL GOVERNMENT for help” as a huge alien spaceship enters Hong Kong and then later this response from Shanghai: “The CENTRAL GOVERNMENT will not leave Hong Kong to stand alone”. Yes China – you are great!

There’s some shockingly blatant product placement, which you get the idea was done obviously on purpose to be funny. Especially since two of the products  – Bud Light and a Chinese drink are spat out by the people drinking them. By far the best product placement though is when arrogant scientist Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is showing off the newly discovered element ‘Transformium’ (the worst named element since Unobtanium in Avatar) and he transformers a chunk of it into a spiral and then into a gun and finally into a Beats Pill speaker – “..even a BEATS PILL WIRELESS SPEAKER if you want to listen to some music”.

I haven’t talked much about the story because its the dullest part of the film. It starts off ok but then after a while it’s just action sequence after action sequence. Michael Bay again forgets the rule that you need quiet meaningful bits in-between to make the exciting action parts actually seem exciting. While this may be the worst Transformers film so far, you can still get some enjoyment from watching the giant robots kick the crap out of each other. Bumblebee is still great. Optimus Prime still annoying (that voice), and still bizarrely loses almost every fight he is in.The final fight in which humans and transformers coordinate to bring Lockdown down *is* pretty good, and did I mention… I really feel like a BUD LIGHT right now… That’s right – it would be really great to drink a BUD LIGHT right now..

4 for the film  + 1 for the giant robots = 5/10

Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) get ready to repel the zombie horde.

(Obviously) I’ve seen this before but I wanted to watch it again. It’s clever because it knows that you know it’s going to be a zombie film and it teases you. Is that a zombie or just Shaun (Simon Pegg) stumbling and moaning because it’s early in the morning? Wait that is a zombie! oh.. no it’s just a supermarket worker. Definitely a crowd of zomb…  no just teenagers shuffling along with headphones on. At the same time as making you smile it’s also a clever social commentary on the detached nature of modern life.

Eventually when the zombie epidemic does begin. There’s lots of laughs, tension and action as Shaun assembles a group of survivors – which include his mum (Penelope Wilton), his friend Ed (Nick Frost), his long suffering girlfriend Lizzy (Kate Ashfield), and in Shaun’s words “failed actress” Dianne (Lucy Davies) and her “twat” boyfriend David (Dylan Moran) – and attempts to lead them to safety. Shaun’s idea of safety however is pretty much the same as his idea of a good night out – hiding out at the Winchester tavern. Where beer is freely available and bar snacks are plentiful.

Watching this for the 2nd time now I noticed that many lines of dialogue gain new meaning. For example pre-zombie epidemic, Ed says to Pete after an argument  “Next time I see you, you’re dead”, and he is of course. Pete also says to Ed: “You want to behave like an animal. Go live in the shed”. By the end of the film – Ed is living in the shed. There also movie references to spot. For example “Kill the Queen” (Aliens or Resident Evil) in reference to the zombie-attracting jukebox starting to play Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” at the same time as a horde of zombies are lurking outside the pub.

One of the best zombie films out there and funny as well. Even if you’ve seen it before you’ll enjoy it. 8/10

“Don’t move or my friend executes the bread”. De Niro and Statham do their best to seem tough.

“Life is like sucking honey from a thorn”. It’s a great quote spoken by the character of Hunter (Robert De Niro) in the film. Unfortunately there’s more spiky thorn than honey in this offering. Put simply this film really isn’t very good. It’s near dreadful for the most part and only picks up towards the end. So what’s wrong with it? Well for a start Jason Statham is the lead character. I always think of him as a B-list action hero, he can play “silent and enigmatic” very well but anything else (charismatic for example) severely stretches his abilities.

On this occasion Statham plays Danny Bryce, a contract killer. The film is set in the 80s to the soundtrack of the Clash and The Sex Pistols, there are no mobile phones and the characters drive thin-shelled (they didn’t worry about safety then) angular 80’s cars. Bryce’s friend and fellow assassin Hunter (De Niro) is taken hostage and Bryce is forced to take an assignment which involves killing 3 members of the elite British special forces – the SAS. Not an easy mission but made harder because ex-SAS Officer Spike Logan (Clive Owen) is on to him. Will Stratham complete his task or will Logan get to him first?

Robert De Niro really only plays a bit part as Hunter – Bryce’s mentor and friend – and you get the impression he’s only here for the money. The film isn’t very exciting and the first hour seems to be filled with ugly exaggerated caricatures of SAS men (the only accurate point seems to be that they have a lot of facial hair). The film improves for the last half hour but it’s still a largely dull turgid mess of a film, and appropriately, considering Statham is in it, feels like a B-movie action-flick and not one that is worth watching either. 4/10

Two of the best things about the film: The Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba) and The Silver Surfer (Laurence Fishburn).

It’s easy to say that this film isn’t great but it’s much harder to work out exactly what’s wrong with it. It’s not terrible. I think it’s just that nothing is taken seriously enough to allow you to become fully immersed in the story and as a result you don’t feel much emotion or tension. It’s stuck between a comedy and an action film but is not funny enough to be the former or serious enough to be the latter. So you smile weakly and are only slightly invested in the action sequences.

There’s not doubt however that as in the first film, Chris Evans is great as Johnny Storm – his ego-driven, narcissistic personality here a mile away from his more subdued and honourable, but just as impressive performance as Captain America. Jessica Alba definitely acts and looks the part as The Invisible Girl. In the film she is frequently described as “The Hottest Girl on Earth” and it’s hard to argue with that description. Ioan Gruffudd is merely ok as Mister Fantastic. The role would have better been filled by an actor who has more weight and charisma. He is the FF’s leader after all. The the less said about The Thing’s cheap lumpy polystyrene-looking make-up the better – it’s just as well his girlfriend is blind.

One of the better things about the film is the Silver Surfer – an alien who er.. flies about on a surfboard scouting out planets suitable for his master Galactus to consume. He is both earnest and enigmatic. He has chosen the Earth as Galactus’s next target. In doing so had made himself an enemy of The Fantastic Four and at the same time become of great interest to their usual enemy Dr Doom (Julian McMahon).  Galactus – I have no opinion on although I know it annoyed comic fanatics that he is represented here as a galaxy eating cloud. But you know… maybe an alien on a surfboard is ridiculous enough? without adding a huge purple guy who can eat planets to the mix?

I struggle to say whether this is better or worse than the first film but it felt to me a little worse – it certainly seemed to end the franchise. There is however a reboot with new cast coming very soon.

A very average pre-Thor, pre-Avengers superhero film. 5/10

It’s a good thing Thermistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) remembered to shave his chest and legs before going into battle…

The Persians led by the “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) have invaded Greece with a huge army. The defending Athenian and Spartan warriors have spent a worrying amount of time shaving their body hair. Yes it’s the sequel to 300, there are more greased hairless gym-pumped chests but where 300 could be described as homoerotic this is just cheesy gay porn.

The original film was an enjoyable mish-mash of testosterone, slow-motion action sequences and set pieces that became internet memes (“This is Sparta, Hear me roar!” etc). It even spawned the the spoof film Meet The Spartans (2008). Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a a prequel or a sequel though. It’s more an ‘equal’ – since events take place both before, after and at the same time as the original 300. Instead of Spartans however, this time the focus is on the Athenians and instead of land battles, all the battles are at sea.

By their nature boats aren’t very manoeuvrable, so things have to be spiced up with them ramming each other with precision strikes, suicide bomber attacks and the much larger Persian navy being led into obvious traps by the Greeks. The leader of the Athenians, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) even somehow manages to ride a horse into battle while at sea – which is impressive.

The chief enemy this time is not Xerxes but the Persian naval commander and master swordswoman Artemisia (Eva Green): “Her beauty is only matched by her devotion to her king” according to the very cheesy voiceover. There is a strange, aggressive and almost at-a-distance sex scene between her and Themistocles which presumably is to provide counterbalance to all the man-on-man action going on elsewhere. There are Spartans are in this film but they are now led by the annoyingly over-earnest Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).  Equally annoying are the over-the-top blood spurts that seem to issue forth every time a sword even partially strikes home. I presume these were added for the 3D effect in movie theaters but they often give the impression that you are watching a video game.

Hopefully the next film will be back with (non-irritating) Spartans and set on land. Over the top, historically dubious, cheesy, often over-earnest and not as fun or enjoyable as 300. 5/10

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and Call (Winona Ryder) are about to find out that aliens can swim…

I haven’t seen this for a long time, but I felt like watching an Aliens film and this happened to be on. If you ignore the franchise-extending way Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – she died at the end of Alien 3 – has been brought back. It’s actually pretty good for the first 25 minutes – it’s just the rest of the film that’s the problem.

It’s now 200 years since the events of Alien 3 and Ellen Ripley has been genetically re-engineered – complete with alien queen gestating in her chest. This is purely so research scientists can extract the alien and breed more. They want to experiment with training the Aliens for military purposes. Predictably this doesn’t end well with the aliens escaping and trying to kill everyone…

The main problem with the film is that once the aliens escape, it’s not even a good Alien film. It feels like a B-movie sci-fi complete with a low standard of acting and unrealistic tension-destroying moments. Like when an alien quickly moves it’s head from side to side to dodge incoming gunfire.

The protagonists – a crew of smugglers, who include Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) and originally brought fresh alien-hosts (live humans) for the experiment – don’t even have that much contact with the Aliens overall. Ripley, now a human/alien hybrid is largely relegated to muttering over-dramatic soundbytes and doesn’t have a huge role here. Then there’s the step too far of the alien queen growing a human womb and giving birth to an alien with human qualities. This alien thinks Ripley is it’s mother. You can’t say that the film isn’t ambitious at least…

A mish-mash of crazy ideas mostly poorly implemented which result in a B-Movie action sci-fi 4/10

Salt in Russian-spy persona. Working for the CIA she’s blonde and more fragile looking. All part of her plan?

Salt or to give her her full name – Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA agent/spy with a distinguished service record – including a year spent being tortured in a North Korean jail after being caught spying for the US. Back home in the States many months later it’s a normal day in the office and she’s looking forward to going home early for a romantic meal with her husband. It’s at this point however that a defecting Russian spy walks into the CIA building, gives himself up and claims that there is a sleeper Russian spy working within the CIA who will soon assassinate the visiting Russian President. The name of the spy – Evelyn Salt. Is she being framed as seems most likely? or is she really a Russian spy? and why assassinate the Russian president?

Lots of questions then and it’s a hard film to talk about without giving the answers away, but I will do my best. Although the director tries hard to make it seem otherwise – it’s actually always clear which side Salt is *really* on. The director doesn’t really have the guts to properly deceive the viewer which is a shame – so he does it in a lame half-hearted way. However even so there is still some doubt as to Salt’s exact role and motivations which does keeps you interested.

Perhaps more worrying for Salt’s CIA bosses than her allegiances, the Russian spy speaks of many others like her – all ready to be activated and all currently buried deep within US society and institutions. In a way this film has more resonance now than it did on release – back then it seemed that Russia was integrating nicely into the world. However it’s still a slightly dated Cold-War paranoia scenario and isn’t particularly realistic either.

This is tense film – there’s action scene piled on action scene after Salt’s apparent initial ‘outing’. One clever aspect of the film are the different ways Salt is portrayed depending on whether she is being shown as a CIA agent or Russian spy. For the CIA she looks a little fragile, and more feminine and the action scenes featuring her are closer to real life. As a (possible) Russian spy : she is closer to Jolie’s Lara Croft persona, powerful, kickass, and akin to an invulnerable super heroine. What’s interesting though is that even though Salt may be a Russian spy – you still route for her.

A ridiculous and often predictable story but it’s still fun, watchable and above all entertaining. 6/10