Dad’s Army

Year: 2016

Director: Oliver Parker

Stars: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson

Dangerous ground, this.

When you get a show that is so well loved, and has such iconic characters played by properly good actors who became the role, remaking it is always going to be a risk. You will always come up against that hard-core set of fans who are going to hate you for even trying, no matter how good the film is. You’ll get (perhaps unfair) comparisons with the high quality of the earlier stories, and you’ll get criticisms whether you try to channel the original actors or put your own take on the characters.

This is doubly so when the source material is Dad’s Army. A more iconic British comedy you’ll struggle to find, with characters that are still loved by so many, played by actors whose lives and careers became one with their role.

Given all this, how did they pull off the movie?

Well, the story was fairly simple: the Home Guard unit at Warmington On Sea are tipped off that there’s a German spy somewhere in the town. However, they are all too engrossed in their attempts to impress the beautiful reporter that lands in their midst to realise that there may just be a connection. And with D-Day fast approaching, it’s important that they find out just who is sending messages across the channel.

dads-army-trailer

When I first saw this movie, I admit to being pleasantly surprised. My expectations for a dire mockery of the tv show were quickly dispelled by some of the performances. Toby Jones was very good as the bumbling Captain Mainwaring, and Michael Gambon was simply superb as the doddery pacifist Private Godfrey. And whilst the others were not up to par with the past, only Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones really let the side down.

The script has plenty of laughs, there’s some great slapstick that would not have been amiss back in the day, and it was great to see Ian Lavender and Frank Williams back on screen.

So – what did I think overall?

Was it an unqualified success? Well, no. That would have been nearly impossible.

Was it the unmitigated disaster that so many feared? Most definitely not. It treated the characters, the legacy, and the fans with respect, and delivered a good, funny film that paid tribute to the original in a way that many remakes just don’t.

Star Wars : The Force Awakens

Not that long ago, in a movie theatre not too far away…

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Year: 2015

Director: J J Abrams

Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

The plot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is pretty simple. Let’s set the scene: Luke Skywalker has buggered off somewhere to be alone. The Rebellion are now called the Resistance, and the Empire is now The First Order. Both sides are trying to locate Luke, because they see him as the only real hope against / threat to* (delete as appropriate) the First Order, which is set on re-establishing the old Empire grip over the entire galaxy.

The First Order have a new dark-Jedi, in Kylo Ren. The Resistance have former Princess, now General Leia, in charge (seemingly above Admiral Ackbar, even though they both effectively hold the same rank). And out in the field, there’s a crop of new Resistance fighters.

Rey is a scavenger, living on Jakku and scratching out a living trading salvage for food.  Her rough existence is changed when a small droid, BB-8, sort of adopts her, and soon she’s facing the First Order alongside Finn, a self-described Resistance fighter who’s actually an escaped Stormtrooper. They escape the planet in an old, rusty ship from a junkyard – yep, it’s the Falcon… It turns out that BB-8 is carrying a star map with the location of a certain Mr Skywalker…

Cue various scenes of space battles, incredibly coincidental meetings, the return of Han and Chewie, captures, escapes, etc., all leading to the big confrontation on the First Order’s new mega-weapon, Starkiller Base: a cannon housed inside a planet that draws power from its sun and that can destroy entire systems across vast distances.

Before the weapon can be used on the Resistance base, fleets of X-Wing fighters and a handful of ground troops must destroy the base by blowing up the shield generator. Having got inside, Han comes face to face with Kylo Ren, who – we all know by now – is actually Han and Leia’s son (and therefore Darth Vader’s grandson). Though emotionally torn, Kylo Ren eventually kills Han to prevent the First Order from falling.

Of course, the Resistance win, the base is destroyed, and the star map is used to allow Rey to find Luke in the end.

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens

That’s the story. So what did I think?

The plot itself is light and generally substance-free, following much the same trail that A New Hope walked back in 1977. The way that it was presented was very good, with space battles shown far closer to the original trilogy than those horrible pointless prequels. The light sabre fights were a welcome return to common sense, without all the ‘Crouching Jedi, Hidden Sith’ rubbish. And the scenery was far less CGI-driven and far more realistic than Episodes 1-3, which will always be a good thing.

The familiar characters were very good, even though Luke really didn’t appear until the very end. Leia was the Leia from  Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back) in full military mode, and Chewie was as much fun as always. Han was the surprise, with a performance of maturity and depth that made the wisened old space-farer very believable.

The new characters were generally good, and certainly the future sequels will give the opportunity for their characters to mature. John Boyega (Finn) gave a unique performance as the Stormtrooper with a conscience, and became more likeable as the film progressed. Daisy Ridley (Rey) was excellent as the feisty, independent, yet deeply focused heroine. And then we get to Adam Driver…

Sorry, but for me, Kylo Ren really didn’t work.

You can split the film into three main sections as far as he is concerned. Firstly, there’s the sinister, secretive, mask-wearing Ren, who was so obviously subservient to the commander on the battle cruiser. Vader was never subservient, unless it suited his purpose, and never to a ship captain. It made him look weak and less significant.

Then you get what I call his Jacobean period. As soon as the mask came off, he looked like one of the consumptive poets in Blackadder III. Definitely not a Sith Lord.

Then after he killed Han, he just seemed to go mental when trying to kill Rey and Finn. Zero control, and nothing at all like every other Dark Lord that the films have ever portrayed.

So there you have it. A great film, highly enjoyable, but not as good as the initial trilogy simply because the baddie was laughably pathetic.

Let’s see what the future (well, the long distant but not quite so long distant as before) past reveals.

And, of course, what Family Guy makes of it…

The Martian

Year: 2015

Director: Ridley Scott

Stars: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover

When disaster strikes in the form of a major storm, Ares III, a manned NASA Mars exploration mission, needs to be cut short. On the way back to the MAV Launcher, mission botanist Mark Watney is struck by debris and lost. The rest of the astronauts are forced to leave, believing him dead.

Only he’s not…

The Martian tells two stories – Watney’s struggle to survive on the barren, lifeless planet alone, and the plans to rescue him once the folks at Nasa realise he’s still alive.

The former relies on stunning scenery, science that is generally far more accurate than in 2013’s Gravity, and an excellent performance of wit and determination by Damon.

The latter, if anything, is a better movie. It’s very much character-driven, with Daniels playing the far too risk-averse NASA Director, Wiig playing the PR officer concerned solely with how things will look to the press, and Bean’s crew director focused on the welfare of his people.

It’s down to Ejiofor as the Mars Mission Director to bring these people together and formulate a real plan to get him home. After some setbacks, a tech at JPL (Glover) hatches an audacious plan…

I mentioned Gravity earlier, because in truth, Gravity could have been – indeed should have been – this movie. Where it failed (through complete disregard for the science of space in favour of cinematography) The Martian manages to succeed through taking the material seriously enough and making sure that all of the stuff that Damon and his earth-bound colleagues do is possible – or at least feasible. Sometimes their solutions appear a little too… obvious, or even convenient, but on the whole there are far less instances of deus ex machina than in other movies – especially Gravity.

That, together with some top performances and some stunning scenery, make this a great movie.

Brave

Year: 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Stars: Kelly McDonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane

Disney Pixar’s Summer 2012 offering is Brave, the tale of a feisty young celtic princess, determined not to follow the path that tradition, and her mother, lay out for her. Rather than marry one of the suitors presented by the three clan heads allied to her father the King, Merida seeks a path that leads to a witches’ spell, which turns her mother into a bear – the one thing her father cannot but try to kill.

Brave is a tale of teenage rebellion and a journey to acceptance and understanding set in the time of Scottish warrior clans. There are more than a few nods to other movies such as Braveheart, and comic relief provided by the clansmen and Merida’s three cheeky younger brothers.

As such, the story follows Disney Pixar’s stock formula, and on the whole does it well. The animation is as good as we have come to expect from the studio that has brought so many great animated movies, and never fails to show the Scottish highland setting in all it’s splendour.

My concern with Brave, however, is that the story isn’t unique enough any more. Pixar efforts such as Monsters Inc and Up! gave surprises, stories, and situations that drew you in. Brave nearly did the same, but the same formula that has brought Disney Pixar so much success is starting to need a makeover of it’s own.

I liked Brave, maybe a little more that I thought I would. Let’s just hope that their next effort is a little more individual and a little less ‘more of the same’.

A Monster In Paris

Year: 2011
Director: Bibo Bergeron
Stars (English Language Version): Vanessa Paradis, Sean Lennon, Adam Goldberg, Danny Huston, Bob Balaban, Madeline Zima, Catherine O’Hara, Matthew Geczy

It’s 1910 in a Paris suffering under the burst banks of the Seine. But the streets are not simply filled with water, they are filled also with unrequited love. There’s the love that shy projectionist Emile cannot express to the ticket-girl Maud, and the undeclared love that Emile’s friend Raoul, an inventor and delivery driver, has for Lucille, a cabaret singer at Madame Carlotta’s club L’Oiseau Rare. Lucille is also being pursued by ambitious, power-hungry Police Comissioner Mayotte.

On a delivery to the Botanical Gardens, Raoul’s inquisitiveness proves disastrous, as an accidental mixing of two chemicals creates the creature soon to be known as Francoeur, a seven foot high singing flea.

Mayotte wants to destroy the creature and claim his rightful place as Saviour of Paris, but Lucille hides Francoeur in the club, disguising him as a visiting singer. Emile and Raoul discover the secret, and then the three humans face a battle of wits and a race against time and across Paris and up the Eiffel tower  to keep Francoeur safe.

On the face of it, the plot sounds frenetic, fast-paced and exciting, with opportunities for music, romance, chases, in fact everything that has come to represent the best in animated movies over the last decade or so. Sadly, the delivery simply doesn’t reflect the promise.

The characters are ok, but none are truly likeable. And in this genre, ‘likeable’ doesn’t really cut it. To make it to the top, the writers, actors and animators have to work together to make the viewing audience really care about the fate of the heroes and heroines – and I just didn’t get it. The villain of the piece, the Police Commissioner, was so one-dimensional it was impossible to care about him one way or another, and this denied you any real tension or anxiety.

There have been great animated movies set in Paris (Ratatuoille). There have been great animated movies where the hero is a  ‘monster’ (Monsters vs Aliens, Shrek). There have been great animated movies about so many things, such as toys, cars, ogres, monkeys, rats, you name it.

The simple fact is that, despite looking glossy and trying hard, A Monster In Paris simply isn’t very well done.