Sam Freeman

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Category: Film

Is Star Wars terrible?

Provocative isn’t it.

A month ago I would have clicked on this blog post with venom in my mind and one singular thought: this dickhead is wrong. I’d have insisted that not understanding Star Wars is like not understanding the concept of love, or hating cheesecake, essentially the domain of cold-hearted psychopaths.

But last week I saw The Last Jedi and it got me thinking about Star Wars, the films I have loved since I was 9 years old and whether that love affair might be finally fading. But first some thoughts on the latest films – of course including spoilers!

  1. Luke – I liked his fragility and his huge self doubt, the way that he’d isolated himself (that tantilising shot of the X-Wing underwater, sadly not followed up). But what had happened in the last 30 years, what had gone so very wrong? The problem was we didn’t have any of this answered – it felt like we walked in on a mentally ill man who’d had a breakdown and lost everything but without a proper explanation as to why? I wanted the origin story of that moment, of where he’d been, the things he’d seen – what motivated him to start a new Jedi order after the events at Endor? His character felt like a pencil sketch when I wanted an oil painting?
  2. Leia – Overlooking that moment in space where, with no prior warning, Leia develops a force-thruster in her hand, much like Luke I was hoping to find out more of the intervening years – also, and slightly awkwardly, it appeared that in the years since the second death star the rebellion had achieved… well, not much. Arguably if the baddies who built the planet destroying weapon are replaced by more zealoted baddies who built another planet destroying weapon you should really ask if the galaxy isn’t just a bit too fucked.
  3. Story – Essentially the story of a ship, very slowly, outrunning another ship until it ran out of fuel, yawn… It lacked imagination, the jeopardy felt almost artificial. Also if the First Order ships are a bit too slow to catch up with the rebellion ship then why don’t they try and jump ahead of it? Are they tactically inept?
  4. Rey – Her journey seems a little hollow. We set up the idea of her family being linked to Luke in the last film from her interaction with his lightsaber (we’re not sure why), they seem intrinsically connected, which is why it felt a waste for her to be from a family of “nobodies”. There’s also the tricky idea that she can develop all her force skills inside 10 days. In the earlier films it took decades to become a half decent Jedi, you’d even go to Jedi school – then Luke learnt over what felt like a few years (albeit with Yoda), and now Rey is a master in the space of what? 3 weeks?
  5. Lightsabers – So let’s chart the life of Luke’s blue lightsaber? It’s given to him by Obi Wan. He loses it on Bespin when his hand is chopped off. So where did Mas get it? What is its story? Also when Luke strides out to face Kylo on the planet surface he has a blue lightsaber, the same one that was destroyed moments earlier and the same one he’d lost and also not the green lightsaber he’d used from Return of the Jedi onwards and Kylo Ren doesn’t mention that at all (especially as it was a green lightsaber Kylo saw Luke with last…)? That’s not a clue?
  6. Snork – Great acting, clever character, actually an interesting and menacing evil character with tonnes of darkness and an almost slither. His death lost a brilliant character without ever explaining anything about him. He was powerful enough to easily beat Kylo and almost embarrass Rey in comparison, but he fails to notice the lightsaber next to him spinning?

I found myself writing this list and getting more pissed off, I could have written 40, 50 bullet points, until, in a moment of rare clarity, I thought why?

It is a family film after all, it’s science fiction, it doesn’t have to play by the rules, or explain itself, or how and why the rules of physics are routinely shattered. It’s also not aimed at me.

My main issue isn’t the film. The main issue is that it’s no longer for me.  I wanted a Star Wars film for me now, not the 9 year old me, but the 33 year old me, the one who can concentrate on plot and characterization, the one who loves True Detective and who has watched all of The West Wing four times and wants to watch it again to learn about the people. The necessity to open and close a character’s narrative arc within 2 hours 30 minutes, particularly in action films leaves me increasingly hollow.

I think that maybe the Star Wars I wanted wasn’t even a film at all? Maybe it was a 10 part TV series, made by HBO, with dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, something bleaker than ever before, something that rips apart the personalities of individuals and lays them bare. I wanted the new film to relate to the series in the same way that Jessica Jones relates to Marvel.

Is The Last Jedi a poor film? Yes I suspect, or maybe I’ve just grown out of it.

Film Review: Justice League

Life is about the choices we make, the friends we stand by and the moments where we courageously follow our hearts and take a leap of faith. Which is, I should say, a long way round to saying I decided to go to the cinema and not the gym tonight.

Let me answer your first question: the gym? No I have not been for almost three years, but I have the ambition to go, when I’m about to fall asleep, when I look in a mirror or, increasingly frequently when I ascend short flights of stairs. The problem is this ambition doesn’t readily translate into action, instead I search for distraction, and it was, with that firmly at the forefront of my mind, that I saw Justice League tonight.

Let me fill you in. It’s an epic battle between DC (comics) and Marvel (also comics) to produce films that have a strong residual essence of comics read by surprisingly few people and transform them into brands that can hit as large a demographic as possible. There are successes and there are failures – try and be too accessible and Batman and Robin excretes its way onto the screen – go the other way then you end up as The Dark Night Rises, where you crave a moment, a slither of joy or light.

So far Marvel have dominated this titanic battle with their successes from Iron Man through to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnorok with various highs and lows along the way. DC in the meantime have had a rougher ride, creating aesthetic-led films that have moments of genuine brilliance and then crumble away into excessively long, extreme CGI fight sequences. It’s been one of my huge frustrations – Man Of Steel used Kevin Costner and to a lesser extent Russell Crowe to build interesting father-son relationships with Clark Kent, similarly Wonderwoman created a conflicted, three-dimensional Diana at odds with the world – but they’ve been spoilt by a need to ramp up the action and to jump to a conclusion. Ben Affleck’s introduction as the latest Batman (a tall order after the particularly genre-defining portrayal by Christian Bale) in Dawn Of Justice was mishandled – Batman isn’t interesting, he hits people in a cape, Bruce Wayne isn’t interesting, he’s too rich for that – the fizz, that dynamism lies in the moment of conflict between those two selves – Affleck’s role has almost removed that, they feel increasingly like one person and it loses the heart of what makes superhero films hit the mark, that word I keep repeating: conflict.

Justice League is, like many of DC’s recent films, unbalanced but has moments which makes you ask if only.

The good: Gal Gadot is on good form as Wonderwoman without really sparkling – it feels like with an exception dramatic (rather than action) writer she could be incredible. Jason Mormoa as Aquaman has a rock ‘n’ roll presence that starts strongly and feels like an enigma wrapped inside a mystery, but the film never asks questions of the character – what maketh the man (or man-fish)? Ezra Miller (The Flash) takes the comic plaudits, gets the one-liners and physical moments that push him square and centre – he is the geeky audience encapsulated on screen. Ray Fisher as Cyborg gets a simmering glowering and glowing façade but seems to lack depth as a pale imitation of Ironman (to the purists, I’m sorry, I don’t know which came first).

What’s bad is, I think, three element: Depth, Affleck (or more specifically Batman) and conflict. Our direct comparison is Avengers Assemble in the Marvel universe. What worked incredibly well for that film (and series) was the way that it took time to reach Assembly point – we had to learn about all the components (and them about themselves) much more than in DC. That depth allows that number of characters to come into a single film and function, it even allows new players in (think Hawkeye) with minimal introduction because you can define them in relation to known quantities. That seems missing here – as if we’re so desperate to get to a fight that we forget people have to have a reason to fight (and be fought).

Ben Affleck as Batman doesn’t work. Sure it’s an older portrayal. Sure he’s seen and done a lot, but he’s built like a boxer not a street fighter, he’s almost arrogantly wealthy (something that predecessors never seemed to be), sponsored by Mercedes in what can only be the most glaringly obvious bit of product placement ever, for some obscure reason uses a horse to get to a Northern outpost rather than a helicopter and, and, well, he’s older okay, that’s what gets me. There’s moments when Bruce Wayne is casting admiring glances at Diana (Wonder Woman) and it feels uneasy, like the old bloke in a battered leather jacket in a nightclub buying twenty year olds drinks – it feels a little wrong – but hey, if she consents and he consents, if they both fully consent, if everyone consents, in writing, then they’re both grown adults – she is, after all, hundreds of years older than him and still not properly over the death of Captain Kirk (mk 2).

Most of all though it’s conflict – not enough emotional, too much physical. DC had opportunity to make the superhero films you get to think about, to get some true character actors, focus on purity of story, of removing CGI as much as possible – essentially following the model established by the Christopher Nolan brand of Batman films.

I guess it feels like DC made a choice, after life is about the choices we make, the friends we stand by and the moments where we courageously follow our hearts and take a leap of faith. Sometimes we nail it, sometimes we hit our fingers with a hammer, and sometimes we wonder if we should have gone to the gym instead.

Review: Avengers Age Of Ultron

Oh Joss what have you done. It all started so well this super hero lark, there were films where things happened other than piles upon piles of CGI’d fight scenes, where characters would develop, grow up, learn, adapt and blossom. Do you remember the days, the rose-tinted days of old, when men were men, when Iron Man was released and Tony Stark wasn’t a parody who was more, well, troubled, or Captain America, when he danced with chorus girls and had inner conflict, or even Thor, who was cast out and had to learn humility by falling in love with Natalie Portman. Oh boy, humility was a tough one for him.

Suffice to say I have mixed feeling about Age Of Ultron. Let’s start with positives. There’s some genuinely nice scenes in the film, the moment of “is anyone worthy of lifting the hammer” is clever and well-acted by Chris Helmsworth, there’s something lovely about finding that at least one of these superheroes has people who care about them who are, well, normal, and the lightness of touch and comic timing is funny. The problem is that these moments feel like bits added to break up the shooting and hypertense action sequences – at best they would be the easter egg in the closing credits of their predecessors.

Fundamentally it comes down to time – this is a film with 9 (arguably more) leading characters and it feels like we barely scratch the surface of character. Yes the fighting is what they do, but we watch films for the rites of passage that the characters go through, the development, the growing up. There are points, and I think specifically of the slow motion sequence at the end where I’m desperate for one of them to die, maybe more, so that at least it speeds up what’s going on and moves us to the next point of interest after the latest shootathon. There is clearly an upper limit to the number of characters a film can comfortably support, I was reminded of Guardians Of The Galaxy with 5 leads (of which 1 barely speaks).

The film lasts over two hours with a plot (and i use the term loosely) that revolves around something happening and then the whole event having to be explained for the audience members who are getting lost, quite possibly most of them. The ratio of action to drama (and they are different things I think) feels about 95:5 when you watch, is probably, in reality about 60:40 and needs to be, I think, 20:80.

Joss Whedon has made an admirable attempt in making this epic drama filled with loads of epic characters acceptable, to even make sense and get something half cohesive is, I think, a miracle. However the concept doesn’t work for a film literate audience, this is a film for 14 year olds who need constant action, and that’s just not me. Bring on the next solo superhero movie.

10 Things: To Watch On Netflix

I’ve been gradually working my way through Netflix to find the best programmes available. It’s an eclectic mix of comedy, drama and whimsy which I hope you enjoy.

ea_sng_safety-not-guaranteed-trustSafety Not Guaranteed
We live in an inherently cynical world. Magic, fairies, time travel, crazy ideas and perhaps even surprised wonder seem increasingly suppressed. This beautiful film takes that cynicism we have for the world and tells us that it is true, then, in a moment of blissful genius, brings back magic and dreams. Think of the moment where Sam Neil’s character in Jurrassic Park first sees a dinosaur, it’s that kind of moment.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
An old film I’d never quite got round to watching. It’s essentially a series of sketches about, as the title suggests, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But it’s more than that, it’s got an innocence about it, a coming of age resonance, it reminds us of a better time we all think we knew but none of us experienced.

Le Week-end
Why is love always about the young? It’s always about sex, lust, romance, shagging on bins or standing in the rain saying I love you to a bespectacled Hugh Grant. Le Week-end looks at older love, morphed by time, corrupted and reinforced by experience, perfect for those moments of introspection about love we all have.

Fargo1Fargo (TV Series)
I never saw the film. The series won me over in three ways. Firstly the soaring orchestral underscoring which perfectly captures the essence and tone. Secondly the script that makes Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman’s interactions electric and brimming with tension. Finally, Allison Tolman, the actress who plays the police detective, whose understated performance is utterly sublime.

Louis Theroux (All)
Naivety is a powerful tool, so shows Louis Theroux, in his brilliant series. The range available on Netflix is fantastic, you can start with the earlier series where, he is, eager to please, through to the more cynical older elder statesman of the documentary. His subjects never fail to evoke mixed feeling, creating an inability for the viewer to decide definitively on what you previously thought was a clear-cut issue.

The Other Guys
This film is bad. Terrible. Absurdly bad. But yet genius. It creates an incredible parody of the hero  cop movies, then blows it apart and leaves in its place a comedy in the Anchorman style. But unlike its new reporting companion, it’s more subtle, multi layered and, consequently, funnier.

Brendan Gleeson does grumpy,  wise and Irish incredibly well. Which is good really as he is Irish. He’s an actor who dominates the screen, but never seems to pull focus from the supporting cast, he’s always a notch above but never to the detriment of the scene. If you’ve seen the astonishingly good In Bruge, the fantastic, The Guard, then this is the next, if darker step that shows a great artist at work.

BRB-2Black Mirror
Charlie Brooker’s black comedy series takes a dystopian look at the future, but cleverly avoids the Orwellian version (communist Russia) for something more realistic and arguably scarier for it.  The cast includes Rory Kinnear,  Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson and Daniel Rigby.

Chasing Amy
One of those films you know the title of but have never really watched. It’s a love story with dodgy morals that explores sexuality, love and romance. It’s not deep, meaningful or artfully directed, it is a nice Saturday night film to enjoy with a Pizza and Beer while asking yourself, what would I do in this situation.

Secret State
Political thrillers are tough to get right. Often they’re incredibly dull and fail to build enough tension, bogged down in process rather than driving a story forward. It’s nice to have a really likeable politician as a central character, someone who you like and almost admire. You’re taken on a journey that pushes you around, a cat and mouse game – you want to believe good overcomes evil, but does it? Stars the brilliant Gabriel Byrne and the outstanding Charles Dance.

also check out….

john-simm-exileLife On Mars
If you missed it the first time round it’s well worth a look, if not for the fabulously repellent DCI Gene Hunt… A name you’d suspect his colleagues wouldn’t always pronounce properly. Stars John Simm & Philip Glenister.

Another John Simm series, but this time playing a investigative reporter. Worth it for the supporting cast of Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Timothy West and Claire Goose, all at their very best.

Review: True Detective

Everyone has one, a present DVD they’ve been given, Christmas or perhaps a birthday, accompanied by the words “I saw this and I think you’ll love it”. You’ll look at it and think, “maybe, at some point”, when the diary is clear, when Netflix has been completed, when I’ve reached my goals, I’m somewhere and someone and, possibly, when hell freezes over. Then you watch it, cynicism ready to pounce, to leap, rip their misguided opinions to shreds and come out, as you always expected, a maverick, a lone wolf, with eclectic tastes, unique tastes, minority tastes.

The problem is, however, that some, if not most of the time, people can be incredibly right and you can find yourself drawn into something, absorbed to a point where you think about it to the detriment of everything else. That is the position I found myself in after watching True Detective.

The first two, maybe three episodes are slow, and at an hour each it can be a sufficient barrier to prevent some from getting any further. But bare with it. Please. The format, part confession, part storytelling, is intense, tension laden, there is drama bubbling under the surface but, it never quite arrives, it’s a huge amount of foreplay, an epic, sore-inducing amount. HBO series have been incredible for a while, but whereas previous offerings had more traditional structures, building in each episodes to climaxes, True Detective, painstakingly builds characters, four characters in reality, two cops in the past and in their present. The contrast between these different lives and the snaking paths that took them their providing the perfect amount of dramatic tension and atmosphere to sustain interest. It pays off, as we reach episode three onwards, that ground work takes effect, locks you in, and starts driving the narrative towards the ending which is epic in vision, writing, sentiment and pathos.

Woody Harrelson plays Louisiana homicide detective Marty Hart alongside police partner Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. Harrelson’s performance is superb, underplayed nuance, subtly and moments where you find yourself holding your breath in anticipation. His character is bold, strong, forthright and traditional. I think it’s a sign of a true great when you watch something and you a) can’t imagine anyone else playing the role and b) can’t imagine the actor themselves playing anything else, such is the strength of performance. McConaughey however, is beyond superlatives. As Rust he creates a fire within the core of the show, a burning, sizzling, arrogance and disconnect which contrasts perfectly with his partner but also at odds with the world  and the role we recognise as that of a hero or lead. The physical transformation is astonishing, the delivery of a beautifully crafted script perfect.

When I think about the great series I’ve really enjoyed I think of The West Wing, House Of Cards, Fargo, Exile, and, I would argue that this is as good. It is, probably the most arresting series I’ve seen. As I sat in bed I could feel my heartbeat raise, hands grip, breathing slow, as if conducted by the writer (Nic Pizzolatto) and director (Cary Joji Fukunaga), I felt fear for the characters and anger at their transgressions. As I write this now, coming down from an adrenaline high,  a tension hangover, all I want to say is, I saw this and I think you’ll love it.

Film Review: Birdman

Jean Claude Van Damme doesn’t feature in Birdman, but after watching this superb piece of contemporary film making I found myself pondering the old karate veteran. My knowledge of Van Damme’s films was, I’ll admit, limited. There was Last Action HeroTimeCop and, the most influential film for me (thanks mostly to Kylie’s appearance) as a pubescent boy Street Fighter. For years I had a singular image of him, the range he could portray, the types of films he would be in (mostly bad) and the number of people on average he’d kick the ass of in each outing (approx 150, for reference only Segal and Norris kick more ass on a per outing basis). Then I chanced upon a film in 2010 called JCVD, a fictional account of Jean Claude’s life, he played himself as a failing, washed up film star, fed up of the roles he played, returning to Belgium desperate for cash. It completely changed my perceptions of him as an actor – he can act – there’s a scene where he transcends the film in, what I can only describe as one of the most pretentiously wonderful bits of film I’ve seen, and delivers a monologue that makes you think, “shit, he’s actually good”. Continue reading

Kitson and Kirk

This week has been pretty good so far. I say pretty good, I mean on the one hand I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had some great experiences and seen some great work, but at the same time and perhaps paradoxically as a direct result of those very same great experiences I have felt an overwhelming sense of underachievement and laziness. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing and seeing… Continue reading

Film Review: Lincoln

Sometimes films inspire you, compel  you to write about them. You exit the cinema, heart filled with joy, soul crying out for fulfillment and you know, you know from the deepest darkest place inside you, that you must tell as many people as possible about what you have just seen. Run to the top of the tallest steeple and proclaim, this is magnificent, it is the epitome of genius and of all we can hope to achieve in creativity. Lincoln, however, is not one of those films. Continue reading

Film Review: The Guard

Sometimes as you get to the end of a long week at work, mentally exhausted, desperate to leave the reality of working life behind as you head into the weekend, tired of tension and stress you need to relax, sit back and laugh. I found myself at the end of a very long week in this very position. I found myself impatiently checking the film listings searching out the usual suspects of entertainment at the multiplexes while hoping that there would be something worth watching at the local independent quirky cinema rather than the soul-less faceless misery inducing hell hole in which the masses seem to congregate. Why is it people insist on going to a cinema which takes the magic, warmth and art out of the movies? Continue reading

Film Review: JCVD

Some actors are born great, some acquire greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. However for some the road is less easily trodden, they glimpse greatness, come crashing down, appear in Streetfighter the movie (alongside Kylie) before being seemingly cast away on the scrapheap of actors who we laugh at for their previous errors.

One such case is Jean Claude Van Damme, the muscles from Brussels, who delivered hammy line after hammy line delivered with all the panache of a dry bread  roll, rivaled only by the pony tailed assassin of scripts Steven Seagal. How we laughed at him, clearly all muscles was not the way to Oscar glory. Continue reading

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