The Adventures of Gerard 1970 ***

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Jerry Skolimowski’s 1970 film has been quite elusive; rarely shown on tv anywhere, an unknown quantity on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray. That’s a pity, because this action-adventure provides the missing link between two huge cultural touchstones. The technical consultants here are Adrian Conan Doyle, here helping four of his father’s stories onto the screen in one sitting. The other technical consultant is the late John Mollo, who would go on to create the iconic costume designs for Star Wars. Peter McHenry stars as Gerard, a brigadier in the Napoleonic army used as a useful idiot by Napoleon (Eli Wallach). Jack Hawkins and John Neville make the most of their brief bits, along the way, and Claudia Cardinale gives it both barrels in her big dancing scene. With lots of fourth-wall breaking chats to the camera, plus speeded-up film and a very 1970 jaunty score, The Adventures of Gerard is a sincere attempt to revive the comic-historical epic, and one that’s well worth seeking out for collectors of such whimsy.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story *****

star-wars-rogue-one-disney-panicSince Star Wars came out in 1977, all of the successive sequels and prequels that follows have skewed more or less towards a younger market; even The Empire Strikes Back has cheesy puppets and romantic elements which drop the ball, and from return of the Jedi onwards, it’s strictly for kids. Rogue One reverses the trend; it’s a dark, gritty, downbeat epic that tells the story of how the rebels captured the plans for the Death Star, a kind of Guns of Navarone in space. As well as addressing a number of plot holes in the original film, Rogue One feels more like a war film than a family-friendly blockbuster; parents with kids under ten should be warned that the good guys get their asses kicked here. But the formula of the original films is well-adhered to in Gareth Edwards’s one-off adventure; robot sidekick K2-S0 generates some good comedy touches, which are much needed because the storyline and characters are deliberately bleak. The introduction of a CGI Peter Cushing is regrettable, looking more like a video-game character and never resembling the original actor for a moment. But as the narrative builds to a massive multi-layed battle and a brilliant bit of business with a stuck door, Rogue One is the best entry in the series since, well, the original Star Wars itself.

Caravan of Courage/ The Ewok Adventure 1984 ***

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From the fertile imagination of George Lucas comes this made for television special, set in the crummier end of the Star Wars universe. Long before the expanded universe was deemed a financial goldmine, oddities like this as the notorious Star Wars holiday special cheapened the much-loved ideas to hilarious effect. A touch-stone in so-bad-its –good cinema, John Korty’s film is populated by the inexpressive teddy-bears of Endor, and fails to wring many different emotions from characters that barely worked as comic relief. As they battle to help children who need to be reunited with their parents, the Ewok costumes prove somewhat cumbersome for expressions of domestic angst, grief, romance and just about anything. Add in in some fairly cheap-looking effects and a dull narrative, and Korty’s film is a muddy footbath compared to the massive swimming pool of the Star Wars saga.