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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.)

When staying in a old house in the woods still seemed like a great idea…

This is one of those horror films that does a lot right – here it’s a superb slow set-up, with a mature and realistic depiction of a relationship between newly weds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) who are on their honeymoon in an old house in the woods. It’s clear they know each other intimately, and want to please each other. If one is upset the other immediately realises and will try to fix things.This means for a good part of the introduction this doesn’t feel like a horror film. It’s more like a relationship drama – and so all the better to shock you by suddenly introducing something horrifying.

One night Bea disappears into the woods, and Paul finds her cold and naked – without the night shirt she had on earlier – and with strange marks on her legs. From this moment on her behaviour seems different. She insists it’s just because she’s still a bit confused since the ‘sleep walking’ incident. But Paul starts to become more and more sure that something is wrong with Bea and that as strange as it may sound, that actually maybe Bea, is no longer Bea…

The closeness between Bea and Paul that I mentioned earlier is important, not just for the new marriage but also because it’s used to make it clear to the viewer that Bea is behaving oddly. At first Paul only picks up on subtle things that seem different. For example, when Bea would have laughed or cried previously – she no longer does. She also inexplicably uses the wrong terms for things or objects.

Predictably though, after such a good start, the horror aspect of the film when it does arrive – isn’t horrific enough. Usually in a horror film when you see the ‘creature’, the film becomes less frightening. However that’s because it’s usually already been presented in an immature and shallow way. There will often be a bunch of teens who you don’t care about and who you know are going to get killed. Here however, after a more realistic set-up, the film could have done with an actual genuinely scary creature or creatures to shock you – but sadly no visible creatures ever arrive. There’s a bit of body-shock horror, some implied ‘creatures’ and some nicely twisted manipulative logic used by these ‘creatures’. You’ll know what I mean when you see the wife of Bea’s friend Will, telling Paul that “Will is hiding”, and when you realise what this means at the end of the film.

For the most part this is a good film, it’s often compulsive viewing and the acting is of a high standard. It perhaps could have played on ambiguity a bit more – maybe have made the viewer worry more that Paul is losing it instead of Bea, but mostly it’s well done. Ultimately though it’s a disappointing movie because it’s a mature treatment of the genre and it could have been something special but instead it just ends up touting the same half-scary low-budget bullsh*t you see in every other ‘mature’ horror film at the moment. 6/10

“For the next 134 minutes let’s not say much to each other”. “Yep”

I have to be honest -while not (knowingly at least) homophobic, a film about two gay cowboys tending sheep on a mountain just didn’t appeal to me. So it was more with a sense of duty than anticipation that I started watching this. It is hard work at first – it starts slow. Yes beautiful scenery but still slow and I initially saw both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as actors pretending to be cowboys rather than real cowboys. However give it 20 minutes or so and it gets better, there’s more interaction (not just that sort) between the leads, and you begin to settle into the story. Somewhat ironically given the title, it only really gets going and becomes interesting as a film when the two come back down from Brokeback Mountain. 

Four years later and forced into ‘normal’ lives by the expectations and the always present threat of violence from society – both are now married with children. Deep down though neither is happy. Ledger tells Gyllenhaal during an rare meeting that they can never properly be together and have to keep living their sham lives – he recounts a horrific story from childhood about 2 men who lived together on a ranch and how one was “beaten by an iron bar, and dragged around by his d*ck until it came off and left to die”. You get a real sense of the tragic hopelessness that came with a homosexual relationship for a cowboy at this time. (the film begins in the 1960s)

Despite my initial misgivings both actors are actually very good in their roles and Ledger especially shines as the more masculine and monosyllabic of the two. He manages to convey an amazing amount with just a few facial gestures and words. The film is also a hell of a lot better than many movies about straight cowboys.

Interesting and touching but should have been heartbreaking too (things falls down a bit here with a far too detached portrayal of a very dramatic event late in the story) 7/10

Matt (Josh Whitehouse) is pumped for soul.

It’s 70’s Britain and in the North of England a new sub-culture is being born :  Northern Soul – where teenagers dance to the latest US Soul records. The basic dance step looks a bit like Bruce Lee’s fighting-stance, where he gracefully jigs from foot to the other. Flourishes include spins, kicks and semi-breakdance moves.

This is the era before the internet and where communcation with the US is both expensive and difficult. For this reason sometimes the kids don’t even know the names of the records they are dancing to. The DJ’s all have ‘cover-ups’ – vinyl records with their label covered up, so that other DJs can’t find out what they are.

John (Elliot James Langridge ) is an introverted school boy who secretly fancies a nurse (Antonia Thomas) he sees on the bus each day. An encounter with older Northern-Soul dancing Matt (Josh Whitehouse) starts to bring him out of himself and give him more confidence. He gets into the ‘scene’ and learns the dances. John and Matt’s dream is to start their own club-night and to earn enough money to go the States to buy all the latest records.

Thankfully this isn’t  “Step Up : Northern Soul”. It’s not a dance show-off film. John and Matt are both good but not spectacular dancers. It has a decent script and a story that takes in drug-abuse, fights, deaths of friends, euphoric highs and crushing disappointments. The soundtrack is superb and is packed full of soul dance classics. It’s probably true however that outside the context of the film many of the songs just won’t sound as good.

Negatives: Although impressively edgy for a dance film, the overall story arc is a still a little formulaic. It’s also fair to say that while good, the story does come second place to the music and authentic depiction of the Northern Soul ‘scene’.

An interesting and eventful (and privately funded) film about a subculture 70% of people will never have heard of. Worth a watch. 7/10

This film is “Scalpel-Sharp and Shocking” and “The Perfect Crime Drama” apparently. Not “Slow and Slightly Dull” then…

So what moves at night? Your bowels? Long-distance haulage? Well.. the answer here is a boat full of explosives.

This is the well-made but sloooow story of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Three environmental activists who want to make a statement by blowing up a hydroelectric dam. I know… what are they thinking?? It might be spoiling fish bio-diversity (or something) but this is clean electricity right? Surely a coal-fired power station would have been a more appropriate target? All that pollution belching out into the clean air…

Did I say this was slow? At the time though, you are always convinced something exciting is about to happen so you don’t mind, but nothing ever really does. They blow up the dam, there’s the predictable consequences of this and then one of the three does something that is too far out of character to be believable. Then the film just ends, leaving you to cogitate on what happened before, or if you are like me you immediately watch a more exciting film (Guardians of the Galaxy) to wake yourself up.

An interesting character study which starts off tense but soon succumbs to dullness. A great film to relax to though. 5/10

Things are about to get ugly…

This is one of the best films I’ve seen for a while. Gritty, uncompromising, with a strong emotional undercurrent. It’s compulsive viewing. It tells the story of Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) who is ‘Starred Up’ (English prison jargon for when a young offender is transferred early to an adult prison, usually because they are too violent to deal with).

You realise this will be a violent film when the first thing Eric does is melt a tooth brush into an improvised knife and then hide it in a ceiling light. Almost the next thing he does is beat a fellow inmate unconscious, who he mistakenly thinks is going to attack him. It’s not long after that, he has his teeth clamped down over a prison-officer’s ball-sack and is threatening to bite down harder. This film is that kind of violent.

Complicating matters for Eric – and also adding emotional depth to the story – is that his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is also an inmate at the new prison. Eric and Neville have a less than ideal relationship but Dennis (Peter Ferdinando) a high up prisioner is insisting Neville brings his son under control. Dennis is threatening to have Eric killed if he doesn’t make progress fast. 

This is an enjoyable and unpredictable film. The violence although strong isn’t shocking or strong enough to be repulsive and there’s a superb central performance from Jack O’Connell who nails both the physicality and emotional vulnerability of his character. Ben Mendelsohn as Eric’s father is also very good, alternating between authoritative and shambling father-figure depending on the situation. The corruption in the prison runs deep, maybe a little too deep to be realistic in this day and age but this is an intense, compelling and realistic story well told.

8/10