Film review – Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow, 2017)

As I sat alone in the local multiplex chain cinema, watching the fellow viewers trickling in, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the couple on a date a few rows in front of me. They’d stocked up for the next couple of hours with the standard fare: a popcorn tub bigger than their own heads, a couple of XL soft drinks, a pouch full of chocolate nibbles. They may well have been wearing Star Wars t-shirts, hoping to see lead actor John Boyega in something other than Poe Dameron’s jacket, but I didn’t quite see. The point is, they almost certainly had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. To some extent, neither did I.

As a British man in his early 30s, the real tragedy of the 1967 Detroit Riots were largely lost on me until the announcement of Kathryn Bigelow’s film. It’s a film seeking to shed light on the events that unfolded at the Algiers Motel as part of the 12th Street Riot. Whilst the motives behind making the film may have been perfectly justifiable when its production was announced in January 2016, the poignancy of its release over the backdrop of the recent events in Charlottesville could only be lost on the most unaware of cinema goers.

The film is split into three acts. The first provides a backdrop to the riots and the status of the never-ending and constantly evolving racial tensions across the USA. This act also serves to introduce some of the key players in the film: Boyega stars as diplomatic security guard Melvin Dismukes; Will Poulter portrays trigger-happy policeman Philip Kraus; Algee Smith is aspiring singer and performer Larry Reed; Hannah Murray features as young female Julie Ann.

The final act is essentially a courtroom drama that covers the fallout from the middle portion, which is a breathtaking piece of cinema that Bigelow has chosen to tell in realtime. Kraus heads up a police operation to discover what is believed to be a sniper rifle fired from the Algiers Motel, with a group of innocent black men standing accused along with two white girls. The racism is evident, driving the policemen’s actions and words to breaking point, leaving several people dead and the remainder with horrific memories of the night.

It is overwhelmingly upsetting and unsettling, made even worse by the fact it is based on accounts of real events. It seems unfathomable that anyone could watch this and not wince. It’s certainly something that has stayed fresh in my mind since I saw the film, which gives me a fraction of an idea of what it must be like for the survivors of the incident.

John Boyega’s performance is perfectly nuanced as he stands by almost helpless, doing what he can to keep the accused alive. As a security guard he is afforded a degree of respect, though it is respect that is only uniform deep. It’s not an easy role to pull off. The scene in the police interrogation room that kicks of Act 3 is almost as horrifying as what has come before, and it is in this scene that Boyega really shows his acting mettle.

Will Poulter is also worth pulling out as the extraordinarily derisible policeman Kraus. It may just be so good that he will suffer typecasting for the rest of his career. The role is written so you can do nothing but hate him, but not every actor can achieve this with such little charm. That’s deliberate and is thus a genuine triumph by Poulter.

Detroit has seemingly fallen away at the box office now, failing to recoup the production costs. In a week where The Emoji Movie continues to run having made a global profit of over $30m, I can’t help but wonder whether escapism is the order of the day for film fans at the moment. Why would we want to see a long film like this when it seems to be on the news every week anyway?

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Film review – The Circle (James Ponsoldt, 2017)

“Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better.”

So says Eamon Bailey, Tom Hanks’s character in the new science-fiction thriller The Circle. Well, you should take his advice. Knowing that this film is one you should watch for yourself is better than believing the dismissive reviews, because the fast-tracking to direct-to-streaming does a vast disservice to film that is both thought provoking and well executed.

The film stars Emma Watson as Mae, a young woman who begins a career at the titular company The Circle, working as a help desk assistant. She is helped through the door by an old friend called Annie (Karen Gillan), who has a considerable level of seniority at the company. It is headed up by the Steve Jobs-like Eamon Bailey (Hanks), a believably powerful visionary and motivational speaker at the top of the company. We follow Mae as she journeys into the company, becoming the saccharine champion for its upcoming products and turning herself into a genuine celebrity by becoming “transparent” and having live videos of her life 24/7 on the platform SeeChange.

It’s like she looking in a Black Mirror

When I first saw the trailer for The Circle, I was sat in an AMC cinema in New York. It looked absolutely fantastic at the time and I’d already added it my my mental list of films I needed to see this year. I was, therefore, shocked to find out that it was side-stepping cinemas here in the U.K. and heading straight to Netflix. The production and distribution companies will certainly have their reasons for doing this – namely the critical planning and commercial failure in the U.S.A. – but I can’t help but think that it hasn’t been given a fair chance.

If you’re a fan of the Charlie Brooker series ‘Black Mirror’, you will be forgiven for feeling a sense of familiarity with the film. Not only is the story exactly the kind of thing that would be covered by Brooker’s brilliant series – indeed the recent episode Nosedive is a clear touch point – but the visual realisation feels like it is part of the same universe. As the page fills up with comments, likes, stats and charts, engulfing Mae as she carries on with her normal day-to-day life, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a common element across the two productions. That said, Dave Eggers’s original novel was released in 2013 so it is quite feasible that it served as inspiration to Brooker, though the visual similarities are inescapable.

Tom Hanks plays Steve Jobs

This is a film that utilises Watson’s undeniable talents as an actress to good effect. Her character goes on a journey and Watson’s performance allows us to join her on it, despite some convenient jumps in her development. Her changing relationship with her family and best friends Annie (Gillan) and Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) are the backbone of the film. There is, of course, an extra poignancy with her parents as both Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly unfortunately passed away after filming was completed.

John Boyega, through no fault of his own, is something of a let down. His character, Ty, is one of the more obvious loose ends in the film. There is almost certainly a cut of this film that exists with more Boyega included. Instead, we are left with a character that looks on with menace in the background as the plot develops around him. His character is a co-founder of The Circle but he has fallen out of love with what his company has become. There’s a lot to work with there. Why not have a meaty argument with Hanks’s Eamon to reinforce his feelings?

This is not the Star Wars and Harry Potter crossover you were looking for

Indeed, there also seems to be a whole segment dropped from the film where Annie spirals into depression following Mae’s developing successes within The Circle, which left me wondering if I’d missed a whole segment out of the film (I hadn’t). Her jump from focused career woman to nervous wreck happens in an instant, apparently in the space of one short seminar. It’s this kind of thing that makes me wonder exactly who was calling the shots on the editing and whether they’d be better suited as a tree surgeon.

The 18-35 market in the U.K. would have been excited by this kind of film and it’s a failing of the marketing research that this wasn’t spotted. Ironically, I’m confident they have looked at analytical data and spotted the popularity of ‘Black Mirror’ on U.K. Netflix, which has led them to releasing it directly on to the platform. It’s just disappointing that this will never be released at cinemas.

To look down the listings at my local cinema and see a summer schedule full of mindless sequels, I can’t help but think the audience’s lack of imagination is being encouraged and nurtured by the larger studios’ inability to take risks.

I’m sad for everyone involved that this film won’t get a wider audience and I’m sad it was critically panned. There is an important message about modern life and the role of social media here. It’s a warning. 

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 3

Today was the third and final day of the Star Wars Celebration Europe event in London, and they really saved the best to last. In the build up to the hugely popular final panel, there was plenty on offer to keep even the most exhausted Star Wars fan happy.

Panel – Carrie Fisher: The Princess Diaries

Trumping even Anthony Daniels on the bizarreness levels, Carrie Fisher (with her equally loving and loved pet dog Gary Fisher) joined Warwick Davis on stage for an hour-long interview. Or so we thought. The real star of the show was Gary, and at times I wasn’t sure which one Warwick was having more time keeping an eye on.

Exhibition – ILM X LAB: Trials on Tatooine

This exhibit was a VR experience that was exactly what it says on the tin. Clearly this technology is in its infancy in terms of how general public will interact with what they see on the headset goggles, but it was a fun way to spend 15 minutes and provided a glimpse of the fun to come.

If someone can work out an affordable way to put it in everyone’s living room they’ll make a lot of money.

Panel – The Future Filmmaker Discussion

Fascinating panel discussion on future Star Wars films


There was so much discussed here that I put it in a separate article. Well, two actually with a third on the way.

Star Wars Episode VIII – What did we learn at SWCE?

Han Solo actor confirmed!

Panel – Closing Ceremony

And with that, Warwick Davis concluded the proceedings and the mad dash to the exit doors commenced. 

For a lifelong Star Wars fan, this weekend was a dream come true and if you can afford it it’s something you should try at least once.

Thank you for reading. May the force be with you.

Star Wars Episode VIII – What did we learn at SWCE?

With a December 2017 release date, the eighth instalment of the main saga might seem a long way away. But as we know from recent experience, these dates can rapidly creep up on us and we’ll be at the midnight screening before you can say “Sans Han Solo”.

The Star Wars Celebration Europe event was very Rogue One-focused and as such there wasn’t a great deal of information handed out. That didn’t deter the legions of fans from repeatedly asking for snippets of information and this meant one or two pointers were revealed.

I’m not going to apologise for spoilers but I will apologise for the speculative nature of the post, especially if I’m wide of the mark. Let me know if I missed anything!

Starting Point

Let’s have a Luke around


The opening scene of the film will take place exactly where we left our heroes, with Rey holding out her lightsaber-wielding hand to Luke and Luke responding with a knowing stare. 

Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) confirmed the filming took place on Skellig Island off the coast of Ireland over a two day period before any pre-production had taken place.

Presumably the opening line will therefore be Luke saying “I’m sorry, but there was a hand attached to my lightsaber.”

Han’s Funeral?

In Carrie Fisher’s bizarre Princess Diaries panel with Warwick Davis, she misunderstood a question about what had been going on between Han and Leia between Episode VI and VII, answering as if the question was about VII and VIII. 

At this point she seemed to mention Han’s funeral, thus either ruling it completely in or out depending on what she thought the question meant (she was busy with her dog Gary at the time). I initially thought it was a joke but given there’s no time gap between the two films it seems plausible that it would appear.

If there’s a funeral, then surely some of his closest friends would show up. You know, like Lando?

Finn is Awake

John Boyega joked with the various filmmakers in the final panel discussion about the state we left him in VII.

Director Rian Johnson fuelled the joke: “We did at some point think it would be cool to have him in a coma for the whole film… You just keep coming back to him.”

I’m pretty sure he’ll feature quite prominently.

BB-8 will appear!

Not a big surprise but during a segment on the Star Wars Show Live!, Matt Denton and Josh Lee stated that for the Celebration event they “brought along one of the real film versions [of BB-8]… that came straight from filming Episode VIII”. 

So that’s that cleared up then! Phew!

Kelly Marie Tran

Kelly Marie Tran has a key role in Episode VIII


A complete unknown for the new film is Kelly Marie Tran. Her name was mentioned again in the final panel. 

Director Rian Johnson had this to say:

“I’m so excited for you to meet Kelly… In good time. I don’t want to say too much because I want her to come out and present herself properly, down the line. She’s really something special.”

Cinematic reference points

Arguably the most revealing comment was the cinematic reference points mentioned by the director. These included two World War II films: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Twelve O’Clock High’. Both of these films involve tension due to an individual with control/seniority issues and may point to a psychological struggle for one of the characters in VIII.

Also mentioned was Japanese ‘Three Outlaw Samurai’. This was an interesting film to bring up. Hideo Gosha’s 1964 samurai battle film has been reissued and restored by Criterion so can be picked up and enjoyed in its best quality. This film will likely influence the fighting style seen in VIII, with plenty of location shots of samurai battles that would serve as a perfect reference point for some large-scale battles involving teams of Jedi.

Check out the trailer here:

‘Letter Never Sent’ is a Soviet survival drama about a team of geologists being isolated by a forest fire. Perhaps Rey and Luke are isolated together for longer than they planned and Luke is going to show off some Ray Mears survival skills. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched – Johnson stated that they filmed a lot of the film on mainland Ireland after the Skellig island shoot had finished. This would help create a vaster planet than achievable if the shoot remained solely on the small tourist attraction.

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.