7 Big Talking Points From The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer

It’s finally here: the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed simultaneously in US theatres and online yesterday, marking a very important day in the life of Star Wars fans everywhere.

It may not be very long – about 88 seconds by my count – but our first glimpse of the new trilogy was jam-packed with hair-raising moments – the foreboding score, the return of The Millennium Falcon, and that Lightsaber! – to assure fans that JJ Abrams’ take on the franchise is on the right track.

Naturally, the release of the trailer posed a bigger threat to the life of the internet than Kim Kardashian’s backside as thousands of fans took to the web to voice their thoughts on the new footage and wildly speculate about what it all means for the plot.

With that in mind, here are the 7 biggest talking points from the Star Wars teaser trailer.

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1) A new look for a Stormtrooper

And I’m not just talking about the subtle redesign of the classic henchmen’s helmets that was leaked a few months back. The teaser opens with a shot of John Boyega – rumoured to be the film’s lead – in the unmistakable garb of a Stormtrooper. Word is that Boyega’s character is a troubled guy who’s aching to do the right thing and this first glimpse certainly tallies with that description, introducing the franchise’s potential new star panicked and perspiring in the middle of a vast dessert. But if our hero is to be a Stormtrooper, what questions does that raise about the nature of morality in a post-Palpatine world?

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2) Who’s that girl riding the Land Speeder?

The focus of the first trailer is definitely on the future stars of the franchise, and alongside Boyega we also get our first look at Daisy Ridley in action. Plucked from obscurity to apparently play Boyega’s co-lead, early speculation has pegged Ridley’s character as the daughter of Han and Leia. And while there’s no sign of her parents here (more on that below), there’s a definite spark of fiery independence about Ridley’s character as she straddles a new-look Land Speeder – surely an inherent trait of the iconic space couple?

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3) There’s a new pilot in the X-wing cockpit

In a shot that will feel incredibly familiar to even the most blasé Star Wars fan, we see Oscar Isaac squeezed behind the controls of a tweaked X-wing fighter. Very little is known about Isaac’s character at this stage, but it’s hard to image the actor signing on to be a bit-part player so expect him to play a major role in the new trilogy. Taking on the mantle of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo perhaps?

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4) A New Power is Rising…

Sorry, wrong franchise; but the point remains that the overriding message of the trailer is that evil is still an ever-present force in this universe. From that initial, ominous voice over – which some fans have speculated to be Benedict Cumberbatch – declaring that “There has been an awakening” to those two brief glimpses of a new Sith Lord staggering across of frozen forest, we’re left in no doubt that darkness will play a major part in the plot of the new film.

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5) A Medieval revamp for the Lightsaber

As if there was any doubt we were looking at the villain of the piece, one of the final shots of the trailer sees the black-cloaked Sith Lord spark up a red Lightsaber. It’s an undeniably cool bit of kit; more ragged and more fiery, and with a broadsword-like design that points towards the existence of a more violent and battle-hardened Sith this time around.

6) But where are the Golden Oldies?

With the trailer’s focus placed firmly on the film’s new blood – although there’s no sign of Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver or Andy Serkis – there’s no room for any of the classic cast to make an appearance. So no Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Artoo or Threepio to get excited about. Fear not, however, because it’s a practical certainty that these characters will play a significant role in the first movie, and it seems Mr Abrams is simply playing a canny game by saving our first look at the old gang for a later date. The big tease!

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7) The Millennium Falcon makes its entrance …

By far the biggest, most air-punching moment of the trailer was the final shot that heralded the return of The Millennium Flacon – swooping, swivelling and arching across a dessert plain to dodge emperial fire (it’s good to know the enemy still can’t shoot for toffee) as John Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme blasts from every available speaker. The Big question, though, is who is piloting the coolest spacecraft in all of movie-space travel?

Remember Me – TV Review

Yorkshire is having quite a traumatic year, telly wise. First the peaceful residents of the Yorkshire valleys were stalked by a sadistic murderer and serial rapist in Sally Wainwright’s unassailable Happy Valley, and now, in Remember Me (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm), a tiny community in Millthorpe is being haunted by a rotting haggard of a ghost. It certainly is grim up North, it seems.

BBC1’s new supernatural thriller stars Michael Palin – in his first role in a tv drama for over twenty years, no less – as Tom Parfitt, a cantankerous pensioner who’s so petrified of the mystery lurking at the top of his stairs that he fakes a fall and then insists on being admitted into a care home, where he immediately becomes a witness in an eerie and violent death.

Though set in the modern day, Gwyneth Hughes’s three-part horror has all the trappings of a classic ghost story. An isolated setting, a vengeful ghost, unremittingly blackened skies and the most unsettling suitcase in television history, Remember Me is very much in the style of The Turning of the Screw and The Woman in Black.

But if you think the presence of every horror-trope going will make the story predictable you’re in for an upsetting shock. It’s consistently frightening; with seemingly every scene making your skin crawl with the subtle suggestions that something is lurking and watching in the shadows. The relentless drip of a tap, or the cutting squeak of a floor board, or a split-second glimpse of the ghost all serve to escalate the anxiety until it’s too much to bear. You’ll likely spend so much time screaming into your pillow you’ll start to taste feathers.

What makes it even better than most ghost stories, though, is that almost every character has a complex personal life and forms dynamic relationships. Palin is perfectly cast as Tom; shifty, uncomfortable and curmudgeonly whilst also conveying the piteous terror of an “80-odd”-year-old man haunted by a tragic secret.

Mark Addy is also brilliant as a browbeaten detective who’s isolated from his family and stuck in a rut at work. But it’s Jodie Comer (My Mad Fat Diary) who is the revelation as teenage care assistant Hannah. Wonderfully kind-hearted and gutsy enough to enter Tom’s spooky home alone at night, our attention is increasingly drawn to Hannah as she helps the elderly lodger to investigate the unsettling mystery while bearing the brunt of her alcoholic mother’s grief and caring for her bratty younger brother; Comer is never anything less than an absorbing presence.

Given that Hughes has surely already emptied the ghost story’s entire bag of tricks in this episode, it remains to be seen if she can stretch the creepy tension across another two instalments. Nevertheless, Remember Me is one of the most terrifying horror stories seen in a long while, one that’ll have you sleeping with the lights on and one eye trained suspiciously on your luggage. Just in case.

Click here to watch Remember Me on BBC iPlayer

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One – Film Review

Intense, absorbing and confidant, there’s a lot that’s right about Mockingjay -Part One, the first of a two-part finale to the Hunger Games series; and yet, it’s all drastically undermined by one fatal flaw, and it’s right there in the title: Part One.

Like the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, the final book in this insanely popular franchise has been split across two films to maximise profit at the expense of the story – which inevitably suffers a bereavement of action and, crucially, an unsatisfying resolution. It’s a disappointing comedown from Catching Fire – even if it does whet our appetites for a potentially bombastic Part Two.

The drop-off in action is most frustratingly felt during a sluggish first act that seems terribly cold and disconnected as Katniss, saved from the wreckage of the Games arena in the last film to become the figurehead of a rebellion, spends most of her time sat in a bunker debating the morality of war tactics while outside, and unseen, others do all the dying.

Like President Alma Coin (Moore), leader of the outlaw District 13, director Francis Lawrence realises Katniss is much more effective when dropped into the throbbing heart of the action and our young hero is soon sent out to witness the Capitol’s destructive force and rally the troops to kick the film into a higher gear.

Cut to a series of taut and viscerally daunting action sequences as more Districts join the rebellion, culminating in a gripping midnight raid on the Capitol that evokes the gritty claustrophobia of Zero Dark Thirty – albeit with an added sci-fi twist.

Lawrence also doesn’t hold back when depicting the horrors of war, leading us on sobering walks through obliterated homes where hundreds of corpses remain frozen in terror by ash and rotting bones crunch underfoot, and on a trip to a ramshackle hospital overcrowded with injured and dying children. Mockingjay doesn’t take the effects of war lightly, and it’s all the more moving for it.

All this destruction is part of a high stakes game of cat and mouse between Coin and her despotic counterpart President Snow (Sutherland), a battle that is as much focused on the power of the media as it is on bullets and bombs. Each side is waging its own propaganda campaign to gain support and discredit the opposition, the rebels using Katniss as a symbol of hope for Panem while, on the side of the Capitol, and imprisoned Peeta (Hutcherson) appears in treasonous broadcasts advocating surrender.

The pawn caught up in the middle of these warring presidents’ political games is Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen. Left shattered and traumatized by the trials of two Hunger Games, Katniss is far from the girl on fire we, or indeed Coin, anticipated, and she’s more concerned with rescuing Peeta and mourning the destruction of her home than she is with fanning the flames of revolution across the Districts.

Yet Lawrence continues to be sublime in the lead role, displaying an impressive emotional depth in conveying Katniss’ vulnerability and devastation as well as her fiery determination to protect the ones she loves. Lawrence carries the emotional heft of this film and the franchise would simply be lost without her engaging and enticing presence.

Strangely, the rest of the cast don’t fare nearly as well, with Gale, Finnick, Plutarch and Coin all having the roles truncated from the book. The performances are uniformly strong – Julianne Moore’s Coin is intriguingly enigmatic, robust and slightly androgynous, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is fascinatingly manipulative as guerrilla PR man Plutarch – but there’s little progress or character development, which raises the question: why split the book if not to explore these characters in greater depth?

It’s a problem that frustrates throughout as, for all Francis Lawrence’s masterful tension and subtle imagery and the cast’s exemplary performances, there’s no sense that the story is building to anything important until a final image that leaves events tantalizingly poised ahead of next year’s true finale.

Running time: 123 mins; Genre: Action/Sci-fi; Released: 20 November 2014;

Director: Francis Lawrence; Screenwriters: Danny Strong, Peter Craig;

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland

Click here to watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingly – Part One

In defence of The Newsroom…

“The worst show on television”, that’s what a recent article in the Guardian branded The Newsroom, HBO’s dramatization of a fictional cable news channel, which airs over here on Sky Atlantic. The crux of Brian Moylan’s argument is the same one that has been used to lambast Aaron Sorkin’s political drama throughout its three controversial seasons: that it is too sanctimonious and self-serving.

And that’s absolutely right. A large slice of The Newsroom is dedicated to providing Sorkin with a soapbox from which he can decry the sorry-state of journalism today and also propagate his dream of a virtuous news channel where commercial interests come second to reporting the facts. And where kids can still play safely in the street. And where sweets are only tuppence a pound.

Often episodes are too heavily weighted towards these sermonizing diatribes that serve no purpose other than to remind us that Sorkin really is a miserable sod. In the first episode of season three, for example, Jeff Daniel’s arrogant news anchor Will McAvoy makes aggrandizing speeches about the use of Twitter as a reliable source of information and how breaking unconfirmed stories on Reddit is undemocratic because it forces the FBI to reveal information before they are ready. Sorkin may have noble intentions, but it all becomes a little too much to bear in one series.

And that’s a shame because The Newsroom has so much more to offer if viewers can just tune out the intellectually self-serving invectives.

Beneath its smug surface, the show is trying to create a less cynical view of today’s media, inviting us to get to know a group of well-meaning characters who endeavour to do their best but find it hard to do so in the face of mounting legal, political and commercial obstacles.

Each episode is structured around McAvoy and his team breaking a major news event from the recent past, such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the killing of Osama Bin Laden, which gives the show a uniquely exuberant and manic pace.

Yet this is only an exciting backdrop to the some intense interpersonal drama and where Sorkin’s writing really excels in this series is the way in which he constructs well-rounded and relatable characters using only snatches of dialogue.

Most of our focus is on McAvoy, a well-intentioned, if supremely grumpy, news anchor who is often undone by his own hubris, and his on-again off-again relationship with Mac (Emily Mortimer), a clumsy but commanding ex-girlfriend who returns to exec produce his show and make its content more meaningful.

But there’s also the relationship between Jim (John Gallagher, Jr) and Alison Pill’s Maggie, two kindred spirits who are kept apart through sharing the same fatal flaw of self-loathing, and Dev Patel’s British tech whiz who tries desperately hard to prove his credibility and earn his colleague’s respect despite his self-perceived inferiority. It’s these flawed but likeable characters and the funny and heart-breaking ways in which they interact that make The Newsroom an enjoyable and rewarding watch, whatever its flaws.

Sure, it’s easy to be put-off by Sorkin’s sanctimonious proselytization on the state of an industry he knows very little about; but that’s really just a disappointing distraction from what is otherwise an excellent show filled with wit, heart and fantastic performances.

Many of you may rightly hate it, but for the few of us who can appreciate it for what it is, the final five episodes of The Newsroom are ones to savour before the lights go down and the music plays, and we have to say thank you and goodnight to one of the most underappreciated shows on TV.

The Imitation Game – Film Review

The Imitation Game – a poignant, occasionally uplifting, but more often monstrously sad film – examines the life of pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose revolutionary work in breaking the Nazi’s Enigma Code was rewarded with prosecution for his homosexuality.

With a powerfully nuanced performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and a delicately crafted script from Graham Moore, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, this is not so much concerned with Bletchley Park’s efforts to thwart the German’s greatest weapon. Instead it digs deeper to elegantly construct a character study of a brilliant man who excels at uncovering secrets while fighting to conceal the ones about himself.

Moore’s script deserved its place on the 2011 Black List, the first-time writer always keeping the drama teetering on a razor’s edge without getting too bogged down in explaining how Turing’s machine works.

The pace never falters because Moore wisely spans the film across three key periods in Turing’s life: his miserable teenage years in boarding school, where he first discovers his sexuality with devastating repercussions; the challenge of his secret war-time work for the Government; and the despair of his post-war conviction for gross indecency, a now-abolished law that criminalised homosexuality, and for which Turing was chemically castrated two years before committing suicide.

Early scenes of Turing first arriving at Bletchley Park are played for laughs with a formulaic characterization as an irascible genius – part Sherlock, part Sheldon Cooper. He possesses a prodigious talent for codes and cyphers but is also socially obtuse, the concepts of jokes and flirting as alien to him as basic good manners, which puts him at odds with Matthew Goode’s code breaking team.

But when the film dares to probe further under Turing’s skin we begin to see how a life defined by torment and shame has led to the creation of this abrasive routine to protect him from the torment of others. In one upsetting scene, we witness the seed of this idea planted when, whilst enduring the savage bullying of his classmates, Turing realises he can make them stop by suppressing his emotions – and thus he’s set on a lifetime of loneliness.

Cumberbatch is wonderful here, swiftly slipping into Turing’s twitchy and stammering mentality, the Sherlock-star is both compelling and believable as a conflicted genius – a character he can surely play in his sleep by now – and also as a fractured human being destroyed by his own secrets. Awards success surely beckons.

Not that his supporting cast are any less impressive. Kiera Knightly for one is a happy surprise as Turing’s close friend and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke – who initially looked like a one-note frustrated English rose in the trailers, but in Knightly’s hands becomes a strong and challenging character in her own right.

All these excellent performances would be for nought, of course, without Moore’s deft writing that takes potentially bit-part players and fleshes them out into realistic and rewarding characters. The rewards of this shine through in the final moments that – despite our advanced knowledge of Turing’s fate – are emotionally wrought and completely heart-breaking.

There are, however, a few holes in the film. Rory Kinnear’s detective requires some huge leaps of logic to begin his investigation and the depiction of Bovine Tuberculosis seems ill-thought-out. But these are wholly forgivable when the end product is so superb.

Tenderly written with depth and feeling and with exemplary performances from the entire cast, The Imitation Game is a near-perfect film and a cracking tribute to one of Britain’s greatest minds that will be hard to surpass. Your move The Theory of Everything

Run time: 113 mins; Genre: Biography/Drama; Released: 14 November 2014;

Director: Morten Tyldum; Screenwriter: Graham Moore;

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong

Click here to watch the trailer for The Imitation Game

Babylon – TV Review

When the pilot for Babylon, the police-procedural comedy drama from the combined talents of Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong and British filmmaker Danny Boyle, first aired way back in February it felt caught between tones.

The plot had elements of farce and a rapid-fire collection of absurdly funny lines, but it also had the drive of a thriller and came with a lot to say about the eroding relationship between the police and the people they must protect.

In short, it was a muddled hodgepodge that never quite found its stride – owing greatly to a testing 95 minute running time.

Now back for a full series, which began on Channel 4 last night, the tone is much better balanced. The gags are as razor sharp as ever (“Shut up you fucking yogurt.”) but the volume has been dialled back to draw a closer focus on the communications minefield that surrounds the Metropolitan Police – a force that commands less trust than it has in its entire history, as Ralph Brown’s smug Deputy Mayor happily informs Police Commissioner Richard Miller (James Nesbitt).

For those that missed it first time around, Babylon splits its time between three tiers of The Met: the ‘banter boys’ in an Armed Response Unit who help one of their own get back on the horse (almost-literally) after he’s involved in a mistaken shooting; a clutch of the Territorial Support Group who try (and fail) to present a veneer of professionalism in front of an intrusive documentary filmmaker; and City Hall, where new spin queen Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) has to navigate the political bureaucracy of London policing.

In style, Babylon is closest to The Thick of It – which both writers worked on – in the way it takes a sweary satirical swipe at everything from reporters’ lines of questioning to social media to build a picture of modern policing.

Last night’s episode focused on the privatization of police services – a poisoned chalice for the force where they can’t afford to maintain all services but see handing the work over to under-prepared contractors as a dereliction of duty. This point is hilariously exemplified in a hapless exchange between a private rep and two senior officers as they try to agree on a wording for a youth prison riot: “It’s definitely a disturbance…”

For all the talk surrounding the show’s off-screen talent, though, it’s the superb cast in front of it that make Babylon an entertaining watch. Nesbitt owns each and every one of his scenes as Miller, taking the lion’s share of funny lines and delivering them with a pitch-perfect precision (“I sleep like a cokey meerkat on an electric fence. That’s me relaxing!”). Bertie Carvel, too, is excellent of Liz’s smarmy, scheming deputy, Finn.

And Brit Marling is fantastic as driven PR manager Liz Garvey, easily carrying off her aggressively uncompromising professionalism; but unlike most female leads right now, Liz is given a charming vulnerability as we see how she is uncomfortably aware of her colleague’s perceptions – an occupational hazard, it seems.

The only drawback to Liz’s character is her disastrously rote personal life, which is played as though it’s a role in a trashy chick-flick. We first see her gate-crashing a girls’ cocktail night and getting embarrassingly drunk, then overhearing what the girls really think of her while hiding in the loo, and finally she leaves an awkward message on her ex’s answer phone because she’s feeling lonely in the big city.

Yet it seems churlish to nit-pick a series that has made great strides since its slightly underwhelming pilot. Bain and Armstrong have now honed in on the perfect balance of comedy and drama without having to dilute the elements that make the show enjoyable, and in the process have brought the cop-comedy into the 21st Century.

Click here to watch the trailer for Babylon

The Fall Preview: Will Series Two Provide The Ending It Deserves?

Tomorrow night, BBC 2’s procedural thriller The Fall will return for a second series and with it comes a lingering concern that it will once again disappoint with an unresolved ending.

The drama – which stars Jamie Dornan as ashamedly handsome bereavement counsellor Paul Spector, who commits a series of sickeningly artful murders throughout Belfast, and Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, the steely-yet-elegant detective drafted in to catch him – was one of the most highly-regarded new shows on TV last year.

In fact, it was BBC 2’s most popular drama for more than twenty years; however, not everyone was quite so enamoured with it. The Daily Mail labelled the show the most repulsive drama ever broadcast on British television, while an Express columnist echoed the thoughts of many viewers when he criticised the show’s depiction of violence against women, calling it a “glossy excuse for misogyny”.

But what makes for difficult viewing for some is precisely what makes The Fall so uncomfortably gripping for the vast majority of us. The gift of the show is its unique focus on the psychological character study that brings viewers unbearably close to both leads. Those much-discussed scenes that lingered intimately – too much so according to its creator Allan Cubitt – on Spector’s victims, framed in exposing and sexually-suggestive poses, are upsetting because they make us complicit in his monstrous acts.

This blurring of the boundaries between voyeur and participant is further enhanced by the way we’re encouraged to empathise with Spector. Yes, we watch him stalk his prey with a chilling enthusiasm, but these scenes are also juxtaposed with ones showing Spector as a loving father to his young daughter and a caring therapist to his distressed patients.

Detective Inspector Gibson, by contrast, is given a much less flattering depiction, wantonly luring a married colleague to her hotel bed with scarcely a how-de-doo and barely batting an eye when that same man is gunned down by the IRA just days later. Even Sarah Lund would think that cold.

The first series intentionally kept its two main characters apart for its entirety, generating an unrivalled sense of suspense through Spector and Gibson’s dangerous game of cat and mouse that wound perilously close to disaster over five nail-biting episodes. And then, in the final few moments, Cubitt fumbled his ending. There was no final showdown as anticipated, a fortunate Spector counting his stars as he whisked his family off to a new life in Scotland while Gibson merely seethed impotently on the other end of a phone line.

It was, frankly, a disastrous move. Twitter was understandably up-in-arms and the Radio Times rightly branded the episode a “big disappointment”. Ardent fans may argue that this conclusion was ‘true to life’ with its refusal to wrap up everything in a neat little bow, but the most troubling aspect of the finale was that it felt like an open-ended cop out, lacking the forethought and consideration of the rest of the series as though it had been tacked on in the final few moments when everyone involved realised they were going to get a second series.

Now that the show is indeed returning for that second run, The Fall has been gifted the opportunity to get the ending right. Stephen Wright, commissioning editor for BBC Northern Ireland, has already said that the upcoming series is “pitching to a climax”, and while the first episode may find Spector and Gibson isolated in different countries, you can rest-assured that it won’t be long before Spector returns to prowl the grim and gritty streets of Belfast once again.

With any luck, this time Cubitt will follow through with his story and deliver a resolution to match his masterful build-up over the past two series. Get it right, and the show will almost certainly go down as one of the most inventive and darkly compelling dramas on British TV; get it wrong for a second time, and many of us will be left lamenting the collapse of The Fall.

Click here to watch a trailer for The Fall – Series Two