Film review – Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016)

Coming off the back of the unprecidented success of Bridesmaids, Feig looked to have carved a path as the director of female-led lighthearted comedies, following as he did with The Heat and Spy (both of which were well-received by both audiences and critics).  The safe move would have been to deliver more of the same until either the audiences or the actresses got bored, cashing the cheques as they exited stage right.

Rebooting the Ghostbusters franchise with women taking the lead roles, therefore, seemed like an unnecessarily bold move. Taking on the beloved franchise of an entire generation of cult film cinephiles has fallen flat many, many times recently. Total Recall. Robocop. the Terminator sequels. Vacation. The Karate Kid. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Conan the Barbarian. Oldboy. Please stop ruining our childhoods!

Fortunately, this time there’s enough talent involved to ensure that Ghostbusters is a success. It isn’t a remake so much as a reboot. There are some knowing nods back to the originals, but this is a film that stands on its own two feet and comes out with its head held high.

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Busting makes ’em feel good!

Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are both on fine form as the childhood friends turned ghost-hunters Dr. Erin Gilbert and Dr. Abby Yates, but it is Kate McKinnon as scientist and pyrotechnics enthusiast Dr. Jillian Holtzmann that is the real success story here. This should serve as a starting point for her career to truly take off. Another SNL-favourite, Leslie Jones, completes the cast as Patty Tolan, a New York subway clerk who knows her way around the city.

Sadly, it doesn’t sail through without disappointing from time to time. The ham-fisted cameos of the original actors were completely unnecessary and would have meant nothing to newcomers to the story. They just weren’t worked well and I can imagine younger audience members wondering why so much attention was given to the taxi driver as the pace of the film took a minor detour.

The casting of Leslie Jones attracted criticism in the run up to the release of the film from some who suggested that the portrayal of a street-smart African-American amongst three white scientists bordered on racism. This wasn’t something I particularly picked up on during the film – she was well cast in a role that suited her and had good chemistry with her SNL cohorts.

Fortunately, the ones most disappointed with this film will be the ones who had written it off before it had even started. The trailer was one of the most disliked in YouTube history, which serves only to underline how collectively vindictive some sections of the Internet can be. The only shame is that they probably won’t give this film a chance and as a result they will be missing one of the funniest summer blockbusters of the year.

ANNOUNCEMENT – EWOK ADVENTURES COMING TO BLU-RAY

UPDATE (07/11/2016): For no reason at all I’ve had a sudden influx of people finding this page after searching for “Ewok Adventure Blu-ray” or similar. Just in case you hadn’t realised… This was an April Fools joke. There is no scheduled HD re-release of these films. You can buy the films on DVD here

There has been an exciting announcement this morning from Walt Disney Pictures. Following the increased interest in Star Wars following the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the first sign that the Walt Disney company are going to mine the Star Wars back catalogue has seen the light of day.

Set for release on 1st August 2016, digitally restored versions of both Ewok Adventure films – Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor – will be released in a specially-commissioned 4K transfer. What’s more – any fans who are lucky enough to have tickets to the Star Wars Celebration on 15-17 July 2016 will be able to pick up a limited edition numbered steelbook of the release. How limited these will be is yet to be announced, though they are set to be one of the hottest items at the event.

It is thought that the unexpected announcement is a way to test the waters for future 4K transfers of other Star Wars releases. Of course, the dream release for most fans is the cinematic releases of the original trilogy, fully restored with no Lucas interference. Perhaps this will see the light of day at a later date, though we won’t hold our breath. This will be an excellent stop-gap release.

There are several bonus features set for inclusion on a third disc of the set, with more yet to be announced. The features listed are:

  • Brand new 4K transfer of both films;
  • Brand new storybook gatefold packaging;
  • 48-page booklet with on-set photographs, cast interviews and press articles;
  • Brand new commentary from directors John Korty (Caravan of Courage only), Jim and Ken Wheat (Battle For Endor), along with actors Eric Walker, Aubree Miller and Warwick Davis (both films);
  • All deleted scenes restored to both films;
  • Making-of Documentary – for the first time ever the making of created by Warwick Davis and Eric Walker during the filming of Caravan of Courage will be released on home video, with an optional introduction from both actors;
  • Three episodes of the Star Wars: Ewoks cartoon series (The Cries of the Trees, The Haunted Village, Rampage of the Phlogs) – SD only
  • Original TV spots – SD only
  • 1984 and 1986 Primetime Emmy Acceptance Speeches – SD only
  • Languages: English audio description, Spanish, French and Portuguese
  • Subtitles: English for the hard of hearing, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish

Pre-orders are not yet live for this release.

The Force Awakens… quite a few questions…

Warning: This article contains spoilers. Reading it will probably ruin the film for you.

The film is out now and the whole world is busy digesting their first viewing, whilst kicking themselves for not buying more tickets earlier now they’ve realised how good it is.

Whilst the film has achieved a lot, it has also left us with a few questions that may not be answered for another 18 months. Here are a selection.

Rey’s History

forceawakensreyandbb8

Rey has abilities never-before-seen by any untrained Jedi. The ability to use mind control, telekinesis and force pushes are usually only achieved by Jedi masters, yet she was able to perform everything with no training whatsoever.

In this case, it does make us wonder who her mother and father are. One guess would be that she is the daughter of Han and Leia – Leia is after all a carrier of Jedi abilities (though has never been seen to use them on screen).

Perhaps instead her father is Luke Skywalker, though this would require an explanation as to who her mother is. Given the final sequence of The Force Awakens, this could be a more feasible option and gives room to develop Luke’s recent history through flashbacks.

I’m foreseeing the line “Now the circle is a figure of eight.” Or something.

Where did this guy go?

forceawakenszuvio

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Constable Zuvio Ph: Elena Dorfman © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

Constable Zuvio has a very sinister look about him. In the pre-release press he was a reasonably prominent character, and was most recently featured in a large Empire Magazine article about the new film. There was also an action figure released when there wasn’t really many characters to get your hands on.

In the article, Empire reported that LucasFilm described him as a “vigilant law officer on a mostly lawless world” and a man who “keeps order in a frontier trading post”.

Well, his story obviously wasn’t important enough to warrant avoiding the cutting-room floor. I fully expect to learn about his whereabouts when the Blu-ray is released as his is inevitably going to be one of the deleted scenes, probably around the same time as the alleged Chewbacca arms-ripped-from-sockets scene that made the novelization but not the film.

What happened to make Leia and Han lose touch?

forceawakensleia

One of the most unexpected elements of the film was when Han and Leia were reunited after a seemingly long time. They passed some comments that seemed to suggest there was some history between them. Furthermore, when the final battle had finished and the remaining team returned, Chewbacca and Leia didn’t seem to even acknowledge each other. That seemed a little strange. Clearly something has happened beyond the fallout from the unexpected turnout of their son Ben, and I’m not buying that Han was just wanting to keep “doing what he did best”. I wonder whether this will be explored in future films or left as it is.

How much of Episode VIII has been filmed?

There were clearly some shots in the trailers that weren’t used in the film and whole characters that were taken out. Given the final scene left Luke with Rey on a distant island, it would seem like a bit of a waste to get everyone over there just for 30 seconds of film. This makes me wonder if they’ve also filmed the opening sequences of the next film.

Why was Captain Phasma so underused?

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Captain Phasmastic

This may be the same reason as Constable Zuvio, but Gwendeline Christie seemed criminally underused when she was so featured in the run up to the film and the press. Perhaps it was due to filming conflicts between The Force Awakens and Game of Thrones, but I’m hoping we either learn her backstory through future installments or perhaps a comic book series. It just seemed really unusual when she’s done so much promo for it and was limited to just a handful of appearances.

Why was C-3PO’s arm red?

Maybe it was explained at some point but I don’t recall when. Seemed a little pointless.

The full review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is here.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2015)

Warning – this review contains spoilers.

Well, here it is. The new Star Wars film. The first film in the series for a decade. The first good film in the series for three decades. Well, that’s what we’ve all been hoping for anyway. But once the lights go down at the cinema and everyone settles in, there’s nothing the hype train can do about it except sit back with everyone else and hope it lives up to the hype. So does it deliver? For me, the answer to that is a resounding “Yes”.

From the opening crawl, it sets its stalls out on a far more approachable basis than the prequels. It’s quite basic really. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing. There are two groups doing everything they can to locate him: the evil First Order, borne out of the remnants of the fallen Empire; and the Resistance, a military operation led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and backed by the Republic.

As the action opens on the planet Jakku, we see starfighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a mission at the behest of Leia, meeting with old ally Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow). Tekka gives him information about Luke’s whereabouts moments before the First Order arrive and start wiping out everything in sight. It is a brutal opening sequence.

Shortly after storing the information in a small droid called BB-8, Poe himself is captured and taken in for heavy-handed interrogation by the sinister First Order leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). BB-8, now stranded on Jakku, is befriended by scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and they are subsequently joined by defector stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and set off on a fate-driven mission to get the plans into the right hands.

forceawakensscreen01

Vast and expansive contribute to a wholly immersive experience.

Whilst The Force Awakens is not a perfect film, in comparison to the prequel trilogy it is a breath of fresh air to the extent that any shortcomings can be overlooked. The things that J. J. Abrams has got right here are enough to ensure its popularity will be maintained for years to come.

The most immediate element of success is one that directly combats one of the biggest criticisms of the prequels: the real-world setting. One of the great shots of the opening third of the film is the first time we see Rey. Having scavenged the inside of a derelict ship, she steps out into the open desert planes of Jakku, then slides down a large sand dune on a creatively-fashioned slide mat towards her Landspeeder. This shot achieves several things. Firstly, it underlines her solitude by showing her to be a small spot in such a vast open space. Secondly, there is an implied playful innocence in the way she slides down such a huge dune. Thirdly, it plants the action very much in a palpable and believable setting. This scene is also the first time the action is truly slowed down after the action of the opening sequence, forcing the viewer to take stock of what we’ve already seen and be immediately awed by the spectacular landscapes.

It is a long time before there is any obvious CGI in the film, particularly the characters inhabiting the screen. In direct response to the negative feedback for Episodes II and III, and the remastered editions of all six films where everything was perceivable ruined by over-zealous use of computer imagery, this is kept to the bare minimum for as long as possible. Indeed, when it is used, it feels like a juxtaposition against all the other good work seen throughout. In particular, the character Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) is as a real let down. Here we have an Oscar-winning actress in a small but critical role and they’ve needlessly realised her with computers when her diminutive size and colour seemingly have no relevance to what her character is doing. My guess is that they were going for a new Yoda-type character and got lost along the way. Similarly, there was a definite feeling of disappointment when Supreme Emperor Snoke first appeared – it felt like something we’d seen previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and lacked the sort of dread we were being showered with by Kylo Ren.

forceawakensscreen02

The Force is strong in this one.

Which brings us nicely on to the next point. If any of the performances needs to be singled out for excellence, it has to be Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Sinister and powerful from the start, Ren’s emotionally unstable and rage-filled actions are a real highlight, revealing a side to Driver’s acting ability little-seen before. There is almost nothing to like about him, which is perfect for such a pivotal villain. When he showed his emotional frailties towards the end of the film, before making an about turn and doing that thing, it really packed a punch (no matter how much we thought it might happen). It puts the likes of General Grievous to shame.

Another star performer is Daisy Ridley, in her first cinematic role of note. It can’t be easy to step into a universe this large with almost no experience and deliver a performance to the standard she has achieved. She flexes the emotional depths of a character scared by her new surroundings and scarred by guilt for leaving behind her former life to pursue the adventure she has in front of her. At times cocky and mixing in humour, she is something of a blend of Han and Leia and is well placed to combat the future of her character in the next installment.

Completing the trilogy of excellent performances is John Boyega, proving that this film is one for the new guard rather than those from the original trilogy. His portrayal of Finn is quite a departure from his performance as gang leader Moses in 2011’s Attack The Block, bringing in a lot more comedic aspects to the film following an intense opening sequence that gives his predicament gravitas.

In the final battles we get to see both Finn and Rey fighting Kylo individually in a much rawer manner than the polished choreography of the previous six films. It’s a refreshing take and appropriate to the story, but every time a hit is landed on Kylo there was a huge feeling of achievement – an indication of the successful portrayals of all three characters.

Where the film gains in pacing successes it loses its way in lacking clarity and a few presumptuous jumps in character development and inter-character relationships. One example of this is when Poe and Finn reunite towards the end of the film. They had previously successfully escaped from the Starkiller Base, which would undoubtedly have brought them together to some extent. However, when they are reunited later in the film they act like the oldest of friends with a lifetime of shared history. It was one thing that had to be taken at face value.

However, it’s difficult to compare this character development to that of the previous films. Surely once we have seen the next two installments of the main storyline their relationships will grow further and therefore this won’t seem so over-friendly. If the compromise is that we got to see a tightly-packed and intensely entertaining action film, then it’s an agreeable trade-off.

The biggest criticism the film should expect will come from the biggest fans of the original. The way this film deals with the Force is bound to upset a few people. It took Luke a whole film to develop his Jedi powers in The Empire Strikes Back. Anakin took an entire trilogy. Both were at the side of two great Jedi masters. In this film we’re being asked to accept that Rey was able to gain this knowledge and understanding… how, exactly? Just by touching Luke’s lightsaber? It’s bound to be seen as disrespectful to the franchise but to develop properly the film needs to find its own space to breathe. This route was far more convenient to create a fast-paced finale.

These are minor criticisms of a film that will inevitably be over-analysed forever more. They shouldn’t detract from the overwhelming feeling of joy I had when I left the cinema. The film finishes on a cliffhanger,with a hugely rewarding two hours tying itself together to a reasonable position before dangling a thread of things to come for our main hero Rey.

J. J. Abrams has managed to pull off a minor miracle. In just over two hours he has erased most of the memories of the prequel trilogy, reminded us of the best of the original trilogy and set up a new storyline that has the whole world anticipating where the next steps will take us. The prospects for the future of the franchise all of a sudden look extremely rosy.

The Force Awakens is showing at cinemas worldwide for the foreseeable future. 3D IMAX is well worth the additional price to experience the full effects of the Force.

Star Wars Articles

If you’re in need of even more of a Star Wars fix this week, you could check out some of these past articles here on Cinema, Etc., all related to Star Wars in some way.

Film Reviews
THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)
The Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder, 1978)
Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kirschner, 1980)
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (John Korty, 1984)
Star Wars: Episodes I-III (George Lucas, 1999-2005) – Guest reviewer!
Elstree 1976 (Jon Spira, 2015)
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Video Games
Star Wars (Lucasarts, 1991)

The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens – Do Your Homework
The Force Awakens – It’s Going to be Good, Right?

Film review – THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) – Asian Dub Foundation Re-score

A long time ago, precisely ten years before Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977, George Lucas was a young and experimental college student at film school at The University of Southern California. Packed with rich ideas and concepts of science fiction and Orwellian futures, he set about making the short film that would first bring him to the attention of Stephen Spielberg – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. This short won prizes and accolades, including first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968.
Soon after Lucas left college, production began on a feature length adaptation of the story, using the short film as a basis of the climax to the film and providing a backstory and richer background to the concept.
The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a worker at a factory that manufactures android police officers. His roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie, in her only major film role) is a CCTV operative. After she switches their mind-controlling pills, they disobey strict rules and have sexual intercourse, which is a punishable crime. Imprisoned with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance), LUH’s co-worker, and fuelled by the fear of being trapped for the rest of his life, THX launches an attempt to escape from this underground dystopian prison.

At times overwhelming

At times overwhelming

I have to confess that this live scoring event was the first time I’d seen THX 1138. This is a film that is itself much less immediate than the Lucasfilms pictures we are now more familiar of, and one that requires a level of concentration to follow the plot. Unfortunately, Asian Dub Foundation’s live scoring was somewhat relentless and unforgiving. On several occasions it simply drowned out the limited dialogue, making understanding the film almost impossible. Not only that, but the music didn’t really match up with what was happening on the screen. It felt like an Asian Dub Foundation gig for which they’d decided to use the film as a backdrop for their performance.

Sadly for the film and the musicians, a large portion of the crowd decided they weren’t on board with either element and left before the end. Perhaps it was a victim of clashing with the opening night of the latest Bond film Spectre, and maybe some of the attendees decided to catch a late showing instead of seeing how THX’s escape plan player out.

Where it did work, it was very impressive. The car chase in the final act of the film was excellent and the music added a lot to the scene. This is one of the most exhilarating car chases I’ve ever seen and is a worthy pay-off the often times slow paced story development in the preceding hour of film.

I’ll be seeking out the original version of the film to see if I enjoy it more without the distracting score.

THX 1138 is available on Blu Ray and DVD now. Of course, this is a George Lucas release so it is impossible to see the original film in its originally planned state. It has been tampered with. Since most probably never saw it in its original form, however, there shouldn’t be many issues here.

What About 2045?

Whilst everyone compares what has happened in 2015 to what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II, I thought it would be more fun to make a few predictions about what 2045 will be like. Here goes…

Franchise Films

Whilst Jaws 19 still hasn’t been released, the prediction that 30 years on from 1985 franchised films will be the most popular was a very accurate suggestion. By 2045, I don’t think much will have changed on this front. The most likely franchises to still be churning out big films are Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Marvel or DC superhero films or, most pertinently, James Bond. Sadly the person playing Bond at that point may not even be born yet.

Back to the Past

Another film prediction: a film production company lacking in imagination releases the film “Back to the Past”. Set initially in 2045, the film sees the grandson of Marty McFly, Marty McFly Jnr. Jnr. travel back to 2015. Using footage from Back to the Future Part II, he set off a chain of events that make the plot so convoluted and impenetrable that the film is an instant flop. Plans to travel to 1925 in Part V are instantly shelved.

Technology

Flying cars are still a thing of sci-fi cinema and have failed to hit the market, although luxury hoverboards briefly hit the market before being banned due to health and safety and a lack of control over the speed and direction of the devices.

Coldplay

Coldplay release their 17th album “The Chosen Sword”, again announced as their final album. They headline Glastonbury for a record 8th time, bringing out Tim Rice Oxley for a duet of “Somewhere Only We Know” to a bemused crowd.

Blogging

I schedule in a blog post for 2045 to see how I did and forget about it, only to see the post not go viral, much like all my other posts here.

New The Force Awakens poster

The new poster for The Force Awakens has dropped. It is absolutely gorgeous and will no doubt further increase the interest in fans throughout the world, myself included.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning so don’t miss out. A new trailer is also expected in the evening in the USA, though there are no confirmed times in the UK.

The big question is… Where’s Luke?!

The Force Awakens – Do your homework

The original Star Wars film was released on 25th May 1977. In the intervening years the dialogue, costumes, storylines, goofs, action figures, trading cards and just about everything else has been cross-analysed and dissected to the minutest of details, leaving the world full of Star Wars nerds always willing to provide you with an additional piece of information to “impress” you. Fans of the films hate being left behind on the details and the dedication to all things Force-related has subsequently reached unrivalled levels.

However, as Star Wars Fever grips to world again in the run up to the release of The Force Awakens, it’s difficult to stay on top of the facts of the new films. There are a few familiar faces but for the most part it’s new characters, creatures and worlds. Whilst the only way to secure your status as Force Awakens Trivia King is to watch the film several times when it hits cinemas, the film is over three months away from the big screen. What if there was a way to get ahead of the game?

Thankfully, this article is on hand to provide the lowdown on the best previous acting efforts of the main characters of the film, meaning you are familiar with their body of work and can show off your wider cinema knowledge closer to the time.

JOHN BOYEGA AS FINN
Essential viewing: Attack The Block

C'est Finn

C’est Finn

Surnameless Finn is the lead character in the new film, seemingly the good guy with a dark past as a stormtrooper. The scant details we’ve had on the character is mirrored by the limited previous performances by the actor portraying him, John Boyega.

His biggest role by far was in the much-celebrated Attack The Block (Joe Cornish, 2011), the British sci-fi coming of age action film where Boyega played Moses, the leader of a gang of youths fighting back against an alien invasion. It was an impressive turn and as a newcomer garnered him with a lot of attention, and rightly so.

If you want to go that extra mile you could seek out the wonderfully gritty British drama Junkheart (Tinge Krishnan, 2011). He has a small role as Jamal in a film that’s really all about its two lead characters, but you will get to see a fantastic film and out-nerd all your friends.

Of course, all of this will be dwarfed by his appearance in The Force Awakens and he is entering a world of super-stardom along with Daisy Ridley, another relative newcomer.

DAISY RIDLEY AS REY
Essential viewing: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

Who Rey?

Who Rey?

If a small proportion of Star Wars fans had heard of John Boyega before they announced he’d bagged the lead role, an even smaller proportion had heard of Daisy Ridley. Outside a handful of one-off appearances in the likes of Casualty, Silent Witness and Mr Selfridge, she also acted in The Inbetweeners 2 (Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, 2014) only for her scenes to be deleted. She has voiced Taeko Okajima in an English dub of Japanese anime おもひでぽろぽろ / Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991), though that hasn’t been released yet (there is a perfectly good version already available on Blu-ray and DVD should you want to check out a fantastic film).

So that brings us to the one thing she has been in that’s readily available to us all: the video to Wiley’s track “Lights On”, which you can see below.

There’s also an interactive film at the Life Saver website, though you’re going to have to play through parts one and two to get to part three.

OSCAR ISAAC AS POE DAMERON
Essential viewing: Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year

I knew the new Star Wars film would get an Oscar.

I knew the new Star Wars film would get an Oscar.

If there’s one actor in the new film you’re going to get a lot of joy out of, it’s Oscar Isaac. He has a filmography covering a wide range of genres and they’re mainly hugely enjoyable. Your starting point should be Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013). It’s especially good if you’re a huge fan of folk music, but his performance in the title role as a struggling and troubled artist is a great example of the depth he can bring to a character.

Ex-Machina (Alex Garland, 2015) should be a high priority. Not only does it tick two The Force Awakens actors off your list (Domhnall Gleeson also stars), it is an excellent piece of science fiction cinema.

A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor, 2014) shouldn’t be overlooked. Whilst it isn’t one to make an immediate impact, it was critically acclaimed at the time and shows another side to his abilities.

He’s had featured roles in a number of big-budget films, though you may, in hindsight, have forgotten he was in them. Agent Number 3 in The Bourne Legacy (2012), annoying Prince John in Robin Hood (2010) and the hammy Blue Jones in Sucker Punch (2011) all fall into this category. You could track down the film In Secret (2013), which is largely terrible and features Isaac in scenes of an erotic nature with Elizabeth Olsen. One to forget.

ADAM DRIVER AS KYLO REN
Essential viewing: While We’re Young, Girls (TV)

Kylo Ren looks pretty badass in everything we've seen so far.

Kylo Ren looks pretty badass in everything we’ve seen so far.

Kylo Ren has been the subject of much speculation, perhaps more so than any other character. He’s dark, he’s mysterious. The anticipation is similar to that of Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace (one thing they did get right in that film). The fact he’s hiding behind a mask helps, and his role is probably set to be similar to that of Darth Vader, with Supreme Leader Snoke as this film’s Emperor. Maybe.

As stars of the new Star Wars film go, Adam Driver strikes a friendly balance between having done enough films to show off his talent without having too many to watch to ever get on track. Additionally, for anyone who was longing for the Noam Baumbach film series action figures (strangely yet to appear), you can finally get your hands on a Driver action figure – actually the Kylo Ren Elite Series one is one of the coolest on the market (especially when it is in cosplay).

For a fantastic look at how two-faced he can make a character, then While We’re Young (Noam Baumbach, 2015) is essential viewing. He starts the film as a seemingly innocent and eager filmmaker, only to later turn out to be wholly manipulative and power-hungry individual. It’s likely light-going in comparison to The Force Awakens, but as it’s a rom-com you might be able to have a quiet night in with your other half without them realising you’re researching the new Star Wars film.

He had a brief appearance as a musician in Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2014), which is covered in more detail in Oscar Isaac’s section. Driver has a cameo as a deep-voiced musician and his role is almost entirely covered in the clip below, which also features other Star Wars key player Oscar Isaac (as well as Justin Timberlake!).

The quintessential role for him thus far has in fact been on the small screen with his role as Adam Sackler in the series Girls. His role is the boyfriend of the lead character, but it has been celebrated critically and he has received three Emmy nominations for his efforts.

Elsewhere, he had a cameo of note in Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012) as Samuel Beckwith, a brief appearance in another Baumbach film Frances Ha (2013) and recently starred in the lead role in indie film Hungry Hearts (Saverio Costanzo, 2015). There’s plenty to choose from and it won’t be difficult to get up to speed with his work.

ANDY SERKIS AS SUPREME LEADER SNOKE
Essential viewing: The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Welcome to the Serkis

Welcome to the Serkis

If Kylo Ren is a bit mysterious, then Supreme Leader Snoke is a stealth ninja, The Third Man of Star Wars villains. Who knows what he’ll look like? Probably quite a few people by now but they’re all tight-lipped. Let’s say he’s somewhere between a small green goblin creature, a 25 ft. tall colossal gorilla, a seafaring merchant marine captain and solid sound.

What we do know is that Andy Serkis has been involved in a lot of motion capture in his time, receiving many awards and accolades for his efforts. It’s fairly easy to pick a handful of films to get you started, so much so they’re hardly worth mentioning. If you haven’t seen him as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003) then stop reading this and immediately go and watch them. All three. Extended versions if possible. After this he put in a criminally underrated performance as the titular King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005). He also starred as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014). There are six huge films there, a great weekend to be had by any fan of cinema. The reason he works so well in motion-capture roles is his level of acting and the way that translates to the big screen. One thing’s for certain – Snoke will be a dynamic character with a believable drive.

If you ever get to see the episode of Pie in the Sky titled “Passion Fruit Fool”, you will see the origins of a great actor in a completely throwaway role. Actually don’t. It’s awful.

DOMHNALL GLEESON AS GENERAL HUX
Essential viewing: Ex Machina, Black Mirror: Be Right Back

He must be evil. He has a British accent.

He must be evil. He has a British accent.

Little is known about General Hux at this stage. He’s not really featured much in the trailers and none of the merchandise has featured him prominently. What we do know is that he’s part of the Dark Side, a senior figure in the newly formed First Order – an organisation build from the embers of the downfall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.

Whilst Gleeson might remain a bit of an unknown to the wider public outside his appearances in the two Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films (David Yates, 2010 and 2011) as Bill Weasley, he has actually been in a plethora of excellent films since then.

The pick of the bunch is going to be the afore-mentioned Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015). It’s a no-brainer as you get to see excellent performances from both Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014) is worth watching, despite its pitfalls as a way of ruining the legacy of a well-regarded British entertainer. British romantic comedy About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013) is one to avoid. The Black Mirror episode Be Right Back (Charlie Brooker, 2013) is a short slice of ingeniously dark satirical comedy and a great way to spend an evening.

You can also see the whole of the Academy Award-winning short film Six Shooter (Martin McDonah, 2004), in which Gleeson cameos as a trolley cart attendant (his first ever role), below.

He’s an actor of real ability and will undoubtedly deliver a haunting performance despite the fact he’s such a nice chap in real life.

By the way, you pronounce his name as if& it is spelled “Donal”.

GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE AS CAPTAIN PHASMA
Essential viewing: Game of Thrones

Phasma girl

Phasma girl

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years then you may not have heard of a little show called Game of Thrones. If you’re THAT person, then please leave this blog straight away and catch up with the rest of the geeky world. Brienne of Tarth is a key character from the second series onwards and is also a fan favourite.

Outside of this, her most prominent role to date, Christie has also featured in two Terry Gilliam films – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and The Zero Theorem – though only in minor roles. She will also appear in the new Hunger Games film, Mockingjay (Part 2) as Commander Lyme. So now you have a legitimate reason to go to a screening of that film other than the strangely taboo reason that they’re all excellent films. The Force Awakens will be her biggest film role to date.

LUPITA NYONG’O AS MAZ KANATA
Essential viewing: 12 Years A Slave

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

Maz Kanata is, apparently, a female pirate who resides at Maz Katana Castle. The castle serves as a base for other pirates and smugglers and will undoubtedly play a big part for our heroes’ journeys as they beg, steal and borrow the MacGuffins to get to their end goals.

Lupita Nyong’o is a wonderful actress. Originally from Mexico but with a Kenyan father, she had her breakthrough role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s excellent 12 Years A Slave (2013), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress (the first Kenyan and Mexican Academy Award winner). There really isn’t much else to look back on throughout her career (she breifly appeared in the film Non Stop in 2014), but if you’re going to be picky you might as well get an Oscar for your first big role then land a part in one of the biggest events in cinema this century.

Check out a clip from her amazing performance below.

The only reservation about her character is that it is completely CGId. Unfortunately there will inevitably be some CGI in the film but they are rather sneakily completely playing all of it down due to the negativity around Jar Jar Binks. A quick glance back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and Guardians of the Galaxy prove that Disney probably won’t get it wrong.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released in the UK on 18th December 2015.