Solo

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

by E. Stevens

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Even though Han Solo is the hero of the film, I actually thought Calrissian was a much more likeable and fun character, despite being dishonest and untrustworthy.”

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke & Donald Glover

Synopsis: Empire deserter Han Solo falls in with thieves attempting a dangerous heist to steal valuable hyperfuel, and the people he meets on the way change his life forever.

Although Solo is not one of the best Star Wars films, as well as being slightly unnecessary, it is an interesting story about one of the franchise’s best characters.

Han Solo’s story begins with his escape from the planet Corellia. Joined by Qi’ra, he plans to bribe the Imperial guards with stolen fuel, the extremely valuable coaxium. Solo manages to make it on board the transportation, but Qi’ra is captured and taken away by guards. Han is desperate to come back and find her with his own ship. Whilst working as a soldier, he encounters a group of thieves posing as commanders of the imperial army. After helping an enslaved Wookiee to escape with him, Han convinces the thieves to let them join the gang. They plot to steal a vast shipment of coaxium, however the plan goes horribly wrong when a band of pirates arrive as two of the group are killed and the coaxium is destroyed. Apart from Han and Chewbacca, the only surviving member of the group is ringleader Tobias Beckett. Beckett is furious at Han for destroying the coaxium, as they were hired by the sinister Crimson Dawn syndicate to deliver the hyperfuel. To avoid being killed by the head of Crimson Dawn, Han, Chewbacca and Beckett must steal another shipment of coaxium, but this time it is dangerously unrefined. However, when they run back into Qi’ra at the Crimson Dawn headquarters, Han must decide if she is still the girl he grew up with.

One aspect of the movie that I loved was the character of Lando Calrissian. Even though Han Solo is the hero of the film, I actually thought Calrissian was a much more likeable and fun character, despite being dishonest and untrustworthy. Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Han Solo was decent, and did capture the original spirit of the character, however I felt that it didn’t quite live up to Harrison Ford’s iconic acting, which is understandable. Apart from this, the film was action-packed and fast-paced, but the plot near the end was slightly confusing. Han’s plan to swap the coaxium was clever and this part made sense, but the motivations of Qi’ra just didn’t. The entire film she had essentially been on Han’s side, although there was an inkling that something was wrong. However by the end, she seemed to switch sides every minute before abruptly deciding to abandon Han, which he just seemed to accept. Overall though, this film is a fun backstory to one of Star Wars’ most iconic characters.

Solo is currently available on Disney + and was rated 12A by the BBFC.

The History Boys

The History Boys Review

by H. Thomas

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘The parallel stories of Hector and Posner truly depict the effects that repression and homophobia have on both the children coming to terms with their identity and the adults who never managed to do so.’

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Cast: Richard Griffiths, Stephen Campbell Moore, Frances de la Tour, Samuel Barnett & Dominic Cooper

The film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s famous play follows the story of a Sheffield school in 1983, and particularly the lives of the eight boys who are attending their seventh term there before trying out for Oxbridge. These boys are all eager to continue their journeys in University, and are ready to attend this last term with their familiar English teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths), who is well-loved by his pupils despite his questionable treatment of them – that is, until new History teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) shows up, replacing their sole female teacher, Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) and teaching the boys an entirely new way of understanding history and writing their entrance exams. Even with all this on their shoulders, the boys are still finding out about themselves, and we focus on the inner conflict of Posner (Samuel Barnett) – a boy who is coming to terms with being gay and in love with his classmate Dakin (Dominic Cooper), a boy who is easily presumed straight – but with his need to impress Irwin constantly growing, even Dakin isn’t sure of that. The boys must keep working to grasp their own understanding of themselves, their identities, their education and their futures, while their teachers fight to show them that the way that each of them teach is the best way.

There is absolutely a reason that The History Boys was so popular and well-loved as a play, and this film is no exception. Without too much thought, it may seem to be another particularly well-written, comedic coming-of-age story, but with enough attention, the true, important messages of the story shine through. The diverse cast and characters which they play allows the covering of issues with race, religion, gender and sexuality, as well as the complexity of being a student hovering at the end of school and the beginning of university without really being sure where to go next. The parallel stories of Hector and Posner truly depict the effects that repression and homophobia have on both the children coming to terms with their identity and the adults who never managed to do so. The setting of 1980s England, at which time Margaret Thatcher, who was well-known for her outspoken homophobia, was Prime Minister, really drives this message home. Furthermore, the character of Mrs Lintott as the only female main character, and seemingly only female influence in most of the boys’ school lives, also speaks out on the issues that come with being female, particularly throughout history. On top of all this, the conflicting opinions of each of the boys’ teachers and how they constantly strive to be the one who influences their students the most, really does recreate how the teachers who guide students to university shape not only their knowledge but their worldview.

Overall, this film is absolutely fantastic, completely deserving of everything it has been awarded and more, and, even in 2006, was incredibly ahead of its time.

The History Boys is currently available on BBC iPlayer and was rated 15 by the BBFC.

WALL-E

WALL-E Review

by O. Spooner

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Even though for most of the first half of the film there isn’t really that much speech, it doesn’t make the film any worse.’

Director: Andrew Stanton

Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin & Fred Willard

Synopsis: After earth is deemed “too full of trash”, a robot is left in charge of clean up whilst humans live on spaceships. But when another robot comes to look for signs of life (plants basically) he comes with her back to the axiom, the deluxe spaceship where humans are staying.

First of all, this film is great. Even though WALL-E is a robot, he acts like a human: he sleeps at night like most humans, and has some form of emotion. Some people may consider this to be unrealistic, as robots don’t show emotion in real life (they can’t think, therefore they can’t feel) but it is meant to show earth roughly eight hundred years into the future, so there is a possibility they might be able to feel at that point as technology is developing extremely fast so maybe by then, it might be able to happen.

Anyway, back to the film. The animation is really good, with some real-life footage too, but the way the real things and animated things blend together works really well. This could be the fact that all things in real life appear as things on screens, but it still blends in well. Even though for most of the first half of the film there isn’t really that much speech, it doesn’t make the film any worse. In fact using no words for a predominantly large part of the first half creates a darker mood compared to usual Pixar films and truly shows just how isolated earth has become. It also shows how minimal WALL-E is in the big picture.

Overall, this film is excellent and I strongly recommend it.

WALL-E is currently available on Disney + and was rated U by the BBFC.

Hamilton

Hamilton Review

by E. McDonnell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

‘The show is unlike anything I have ever seen before. From the first moment when the lights go down and the beat starts, there is a moment of surprise as the song begins.’

Created by: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Plot: Hamilton, tells the story of forgotten American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his ascent out of poverty and to power, against the backdrop of the American War of Independence.

Hamilton, the extremely popular and well acclaimed Broadway musical, has now come to our screens on Disney +. For years, I have heard great things about this show and really wanted to see it live but it wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, I and so many others who haven’t had the chance to see the worldwide phenomenon can now watch it in the comfort of our living rooms, and I was not disappointed….

The show is unlike anything I have ever seen before. From the first moment when the lights go down and the beat starts, there is a moment of surprise as the song begins.
One of the most astonishing, iconic and memorable moments of the show is the music. It is described as a mix of Hip hop, Jazz and Musical Theatre but I think the genius of the songs, all written by lead star Lin Manuel Miranda, is how they manage to achieve so much in so little time.

It is not quite rapping but a form of lyrical poetry, that manages to both tell the story of the characters, express their feelings, set the scenes, describe the historical events and most importantly – sound good! So many musicals have that one song, the one it is known for, but Hamilton has an album’s worth. The popularity of its songs is proven by the millions of online sales to fans who have both seen and not seen the show, although I think the songs work best in the show’s context. The songs are really catchy and I couldn’t get them out of my head after watching which is unique compared to other musicals I have watched – I could even imagine hearing some on the radio. Some of the songs, especially George 3rds, are hilarious; any song from the Skylar sisters is powerful and any song from Hamilton or Burr, the latter having some of the best songs of the show, despite being the ‘villain’, are incredibly emotional. Each character has a different style, from 80s hip-hop, to modern rap, with some even impersonating famous rappers which gives the show a really fresh feel. The congress meetings are even expressed in rap battles which was really fun to watch. Even though it is about the war of independence, it feels extremely current, and just as it was famous for its innovation at its release, the music adds to its revolutionary themes. Somehow, each song captures a different mood, event or emotion with the show carrying through-lines associated with the characters and musical motifs that change and adapt as the story goes on – it is really something that immerses you and leaves you in awe.

And of course, those songs could not have been as memorable if it wasn’t for the insanely good performances of all the cast – some playing two (or more) completely opposite characters. The story is very complex, as are the characters within it, and it is awe-inspiring watching the different characters transition from different emotions, whilst remembering all of the complicated vocals and choreography. Many of the characters are very complex and as the story covers a long period of time, the actors manage to show, both physically and psychologically, how the characters have changed, with maybe its ‘double edged sword’ being that the ‘villains’ are likeable and the ‘heroes’ are in the ‘grey’ area. Nevertheless, each performer gives 110% and this passion really adds to the enjoyment of the show.

The musical plays on historical elements, with period costumes and a main set that resembles an 1800s dockyard, representing the history of America. The different settings the story takes place in, however, are created by nothing more than the actor’s performance and maybe a table or chair. It is incredible how an intense battle scene is constructed with an empty stage – it is another innovative marvel of Hamilton.

Another innovation is the structure of the story itself. The settings and time jump around in a non-linear order, switching between different characters. This makes it even more intriguing and immersive, as the surreal sequences of flashbacks and pauses to reveal character motivation, or even re-watching the same scene through different characters eyes, guide the viewer. The opening song which introduces us to Hamilton himself and the world of 1800s America actually outright tells the audience how it will end and what will happen to the characters; and yet, the storytelling is so good that the ending is still a shock – as is the journey along the way. The lighting and choreography of the show also help to bring this element of the show to life. This is a unique blend of storytelling that I haven’t encountered in any other musical, or many films for that matter.

Although, and I don’t like criticising something I enjoyed so much, but to a different audience, Hamilton may be less enjoyable. The structure of the story is slightly hard to follow, as with all the time jumping and the musical storytelling, especially in the rap verses, which can be hard to grasp. For those who are not necessarily rap fans, although most of the songs are sung in a very traditional musical sense, they may find the show very intense and maybe a little ‘too’ revolutionary- although I would argue that this should not deter people at all. The only other show that resembles Hamilton in any way would be Lés Misérables in scope, narrative and music, although they are two very different shows – however, like ‘Lés Mis’ or any Shakespeare play, on first viewing, it can be hard to grasp all of the themes and events although once you get into it, it’s very worthwhile.

I would recommend maybe pre-reading up on the history of the War of Independence, if at all possible, as it makes the events of show so much easier to understand and I found it more enjoyable, although understanding the characters is very easy to follow and so looking too much into the period before watching would maybe affect your show experience.

Overall, the show is a unique, innovative and extremely exciting show with incredible performances, choreography and music. It is a historical story told by a diverse modern audience and is truly one of its kind. It is a show that requires multiple viewings to truly see all the motifs and references, as well as making your own assumptions of the characters to fully admire it. I am so happy to have finally seen the show and it exceeded my expectations and more. As it is only on Disney + for a limited time, I would recommend anyone to go watch it while they can. So, go “take your shot” and “don’t wait for it” (ha-ha Hamilton jokes, if you’ve seen it then you’ll know what I’m talking about!)

Hamilton is currently available on Disney + and was rated 10+ by the BBFC.

Ocean’s 8

Ocean’s 8 Review

by E. Stevens

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ocean’s Eight was worth watching, and it was refreshing to see a film where the cast was made up almost entirely of women.’

Director: Gary Ross

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway & Helena Bonham Carter

Synopsis: After being released from prison, Debbie Ocean assembles a group of seven women to steal a priceless necklace from the Met Gala.

Going into this film, I knew almost nothing about it, and I had never seen the previous movies starring George Clooney. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as although it wasn’t my favourite, Ocean’s Eight was an enjoyable and fun film to watch.

The story begins with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), recently released from prison, where she has spent five years planning her most audacious heist yet. She also appears to be some relation to Danny Ocean, but in my opinion, it wasn’t made clear enough how she was related to him, although I found out later she is in fact his younger sister. In order to pull off the crime, Debbie recruits former partner-in-crime Lou, and reveals her plan: to steal a priceless diamond necklace from the Met Gala. To do so, they decide that they need a team of seven women, including fashion designer Rose, who owes the bank thousands, hacker Nine Ball, jewellery maker Amita, who is eager to leave her pushy mother, street performer and pickpocket Constance, and Tammy, a full time mum who also happens to sell and receive stolen goods on a huge scale. Ocean tells the women how they will pull off the heist, by getting Rose to dress celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) in the necklace to wear to the Met Gala, where they will then steal it. But unknown to the other women, Ocean has her own reasons for wanting to pull off this extremely risky theft.

This film was fast paced and action packed and was definitely an enjoyable experience. Although at times it was slightly unrealistic, this is possible to overlook due to the entertainment value. All of the cast gave great performances, in particular Mindy Kaling as Amita and Anne Hathaway as the slightly air-headed Daphne Kluger. However, I did feel that the ending was slightly rushed; I was expecting maybe another fifteen minutes to fully wrap up the plot. But overall, Ocean’s Eight was worth watching, and it was refreshing to see a film where the cast was made up almost entirely of women.

Ocean’s Eight is currently available on Prime Video and was rated 12A by the BBFC.

Frozen II

Frozen II Review

by H. Thomas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘While Anna and Elsa are, as usual, perfect characters, Kristoff’s point of view is where the film really shines – allowing a male character to express his emotions, even having a song about them, creates a brilliant example for young boys in what would usually be seen as a film designed “for girls.”’

Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad & Jonathan Groff

After the events of the first Frozen film, reunited sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are settling into a happy life in the kingdom of Arendelle, with Elsa as Queen. However, something is bothering Elsa – and this time it isn’t her ice powers. She is the only one able to hear a voice sing, a voice which seems able to control the elements of her kingdom – and a voice which appears to be calling her. Worried for the kingdom, she and Anna, along with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who is twice as concerned with the task of asking Anna to marry him, and the carefree snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), venture into a forest which no-one else could enter, and discover the people who were stuck there by magic long ago. The group must find out how to rescue these people, the mystery of their parents’ disappearance, and who the voice is that is calling to Elsa – and how this may all connect to Elsa herself.

Frozen was an instant success and has been well-loved by so many people across the world, so it was important that a sequel would do the story justice – and this film absolutely does. The storyline smoothly picks up where the first film left off, and the strong elements of magic are as beautiful as always, with a wonderful plot to show the discovery of Elsa’s true identity and coming to terms with the loss of her parents and who she was meant to be. While Anna and Elsa are, as usual, perfect characters, Kristoff’s point of view is where the film really shines – allowing a male character to express his emotions, even having a song about them, creates a brilliant example for young boys in what would usually be seen as a film designed “for girls.” The entire film is powerful and full of emotion, and this is particularly prevalent in the soundtrack, with songs such as Into the Unknown and Show Yourself almost surpassing the famous Let It Go in terms of power and emotion.

Overall, this sequel is a fantastic continuation of the story of Arendelle and its rulers, and is full of the wonderful Disney magic that is much-needed in so many lives.

Frozen II is currently available on Sky and on Disney Plus. It was rated U by the BBFC.

Ant-Man

Ant-Man Review

by O. Spooner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘The villains try to weaponise the Ant-Man suit, but with their own version that has more weapons is quite a good story-line. In fact, it makes for a funny battle on a Thomas The Tank Engine toy.’

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas & Corey Stoll

Plot Synopsis: After getting out of Prison, a thief hears about a vault in a house and that the owner is out of town. When he opens it, he realises there is no money or jewels, but just a suit, that has the capability to change your size.

First of all, why is there a suit that changes the size of your body, in a house, unprotected? Well, as explained in the film, the owner actually wanted him to find the suit, take it and use it for him. Anyway, let’s talk about the film. It’s an amazing watch and the special effects are great. I mean they had to be, it’s a Marvel film, and it’s also to do with the fact that the main character has a suit that changes his size from the same size as an ant, up to the size of a giant (despite the fact that giants aren’t real and ants are). Also, the villains try to weaponise the Ant-Man suit, but with their own version that has more weapons is quite a good story-line. In fact, it makes for a funny battle on a Thomas The Tank Engine toy. It also describes how hard it is for people who have recently come out of prison to find a stable job.

There are also some small problems about the film: the first are the scenes involving animal testing. This is a surprisingly strange and stupid scene as it shouldn’t have happened, and also you hear a high number for the test subject, around the 180’s mark. That is a stupid thing for 2 reasons. One, why test on animals that didn’t do anything wrong and not for any good reason? Two, surely you should try some sort of other animal or a human, as it would make more sense to try a few different types of things. The way the film handles the testing of animals is problematic.

Overall, this is a good Marvel film and I would recommend it to fans of the MCU.

Ant-Man is currently available on Disney Plus and was rated 12A by the BBFC.

Talking Heads: A Lady of Letters

Talking Heads: A Lady of Letters Review

by H. Thomas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘This episode of Talking Heads is absolutely fantastically written and played, and instantly draws the audience in, making them want to watch the rest of the series as soon as it has finished.’

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Cast: Imelda Staunton

In the first episode of this 2020 adaptation of Alan Bennett’s collection of monologues, Imelda Staunton plays Irene Ruddock, an elderly lady who seems to live a lonely life. We hear the entire story from her perspective and retelling. She occupies her time by writing letters to anyone and everyone she feels the need to – including the Queen herself. In multiple scenes, she tells the audience of all her letters, but also of the underlying story of the couple and their child across the road. She never sees the child, only the parents going out every night, and decides she is viewing a case of neglect, and setting out to solve this in the only way she knows – writing letters. It is only when the police show up at her door that she learns that the letters have caused more harm than good, and her assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. She is warned that anymore letters could send her to prison.

This episode of Talking Heads is absolutely fantastically written and played, and instantly draws the audience in, making them want to watch the rest of the series as soon as it has finished. The combination of the seemingly mundane letter-talk and the slightly hidden story of the family across the road underneath make an incredibly interesting plot that makes you will Irene through her stories of the letters to find out what has happened to the family. The scenes are incredibly cleverly structured, so that you know how the story has progressed at the change of a location, or the expression on Staunton’s face, and the character of Irene herself is perfectly played, with a twisting story that shows her judgement disappearing as she is proven wrong through her letters and is now one of the ones being judged. With the slight addition of Bennett’s touch of humour and dramatic irony, this series opener is beautiful in every way and even as a person who struggles to watch TV shows, I was completely entranced.

Talking Heads: A Lady of Letters is currently available on BBC iPlayer. It was rated 15 by the BBFC and some of the other episodes in the series contain distressing content.

The Terminal

The Terminal Review

by O. Spooner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘This film is inspired by the story of a real refugee, Merhan Nasseri who landed at an airport near Paris and was refused entry into England after they found out that their refugee pass and passport were stolen – only in this case it’s rebels who revolt against their country that force the main character, Victor, to be trapped in JFK.’

Director: Steven Spielberg

Actors: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones & Stanley Tucci

Synopsis: When his country is in the clutches of war, an immigrant is forced to live in JFK Airport as he doesn’t technically have a nationality, so he can’t go into New York or go back to his country.

First of all, this film is inspired by the story of a real refugee, Merhan Nasseri who landed at an airport near Paris and was refused entry into England after they found out that their refugee pass and passport were stolen – only in this case it’s rebels who revolt against their country that force the main character, Victor, to be trapped in JFK. Something that’s quite strange is that the set used in the film isn’t based off on JFK, it’s actually based on Düsseldorf international airport in Germany, though the set is actually very well done and is actually all to scale, with them making it in an abandoned hangar. The story is very well plotted and there are also some good scenarios in which Victor helps his new friends in the airport, including when he helps his friend get married.

There are a few problems with this film as there are a few continuity errors (won’t say what it is as it contains a spoiler) and there are a few misinterpretations in the film – during one scene, the man in charge of immigration mentions an episode of the Twilight Zone called “Nightmare at 30,000 feet” and the episode is actually called “Nightmare at 20,000 feet.” In another scene, Victor is trying to get a visa, which he then proceeds to do every day. In reality, this would decrease his chance of acceptance when he gets his nationality back as he would have been denied multiple times. In a scene, Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) explains that a wedding gift given by Napoleon to his wife Josephine is inscribed “destiny”, but it’s actually inscribed “to destiny”. I wouldn’t really count this as an error because it still has the word destiny in it, and she did say destiny, so it is both an error and not an error at the same time.

Overall, this film is a great watch and I strongly recommend it.

The Terminal is currently available on Netflix and was rated 12 by the BBFC.

Talking Heads: Soldiering On

Talking Heads: Soldiering On Review

by E. Stevens

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘As a character, Muriel is likeable, and we are definitely supposed to feel sorry for her in many situations. However, she does seem to have one main flaw; Muriel is blind to the faults of the people she loves.’

Director: Sarah Frankcom

Cast: Harriet Walter

Synopsis: Recently widowed Muriel is pleasantly surprised at her son Giles’s helpfulness towards her finances. But soon there is a liquidity problem, the truth behind her daughter’s mental illness is revealed and her life begins to unravel before her eyes.

Some of Alan Bennett’s best-known monologues are brought back to life by a new cast in this BBC series. This series has a very unique structure, in which there is only one actor performing a monologue that describes the events of the story.

Soldiering On tells the story of Muriel, recently widowed, and trying to carry on living a normal life without her husband. She tells the story of her husband Ralph’s funeral, where she has several breakdowns remembering him and all his usual habits. After she discusses the funeral, Muriel introduces us to her daughter Margaret, who we learn has some kind of mental illness. She tries to continue with her life, by seeking advice from various acquaintances about how best to deal with bereavement. Soon after, her son Giles takes her out to lunch, and we learn that Ralph and Giles never got on and were always arguing, but Ralph doted on Margaret. After Giles and Muriel return from the restaurant, Giles tells her that Ralph has left her very well off in his will, but she does have a couple of problems with her finances. However Muriel does feel vaguely uneasy when Giles removes various valuable items from the house to keep them safe. Soon Margaret is admitted to a mental hospital, Muriel is forced to sell the contents of her house and we learn something shocking about the origin of Margaret’s condition.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this monologue was the way it conveyed information. Alan Bennett never explicitly tells the audience what is happening, but instead drops subtle hints throughout the speech that plant doubts in the audience’s heads, and then confirms our uneasiness later on with a slightly more obvious statement. This is done particularly well when we learn the truth about both Giles, and Margaret’s illness. This way of revealing information is particularly effective as the audience learns everything through Muriel, so we have to think further than just what she tells us in order to uncover the truth. As a character, Muriel is likeable, and we are definitely supposed to feel sorry for her in many situations. However, she does seem to have one main flaw; Muriel is blind to the faults of the people she loves. We see this first with Giles, and then with Ralph, and it forces the audience to question whether the other people in Muriel’s life are really as ‘good’ as she makes out.

Although Talking Heads describes very sensitive topics, it handles them very well and in a delicate way. I would highly recommend the entire series, but this episode in particular.

Talking Heads is currently available on BBC iPlayer and was rated 15 by the BBFC. Some of the episodes in the series do contain some distressing content.