Mark Hamil

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

15/12/17

Well, Episode VIII is suddenly upon us and everybody’s going crazy to see it, so I thought, what the heck, how bad can it be? I know I’ve gone on record as saying that Star Wars is one of the most overrated movie franchises in history, (and I genuinely believe that) but J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens was pretty decent stuff, largely because it had the good sense to deliver a sort of ‘greatest hits’ package, featuring all the best bits from A New Hope. This time out, we have writer/director Rian Johnson at the controls and I have to say, rather than the exhilarating flight we had last time, this is more reminiscent of an interminable train journey, packed with passengers you neither know nor care about. Will we ever reach our destination?

Proceedings kick off (of course they do) with a great big space battle, as the tattered remnants of the resistance flee from the overwhelming might of the Empire. (Sound familiar? Get used to it.) You quickly get the sense of worse things to come when the usually reliable Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux is reduced to stamping around and leering at his underlings like a pantomime villain. Yes, there are state-of-the-arts special effects, but I feel completely unmoved by the spectacle. Shortly thereafter, we cut to a remote island where Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still trying to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) that he should stop being such a moody monkey and come back to join the rebels. (You may remember this was where we left the previous film.) Luke manages to spend pretty much the entire two hours and thirty two minutes running time trying to make his mind up, though of course, we all know he’ll get there in the end…

This procrastination seems to be key to Johnson’s vision. Kylo Renn (Adam Driver) faffs around trying to decide whether he’s good or bad (when of course we all know which one it is), Rey seems, for quite a while, to be suffering from exactly the same malady and Finn (John Boyega) spends much of his time scampering around a variety of exotic locations with his new sidekick, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). The main problem is, everything feels turgid here and whenever we sense we’re approaching some kind of resolution, we discover that there’s another ending tacked on – and then another, and just for good measure, one more. The film is dedicated to ‘our Princess, Carrie Fisher,’ and perhaps the saddest thing is to see her hanging around in scene-after-scene, with very little to do but look mournful and mutter lines about ‘the Force’. (At one point, the script even has her put into suspended animation, which, I can’t help thinking, doesn’t feel entirely respectful to her memory.)

I’ve already seen a few decent reviews for The Last Jedi and no doubt, the hardcore fans will come out saying they adored it. (They generally do.) But for me, this one ranks very low down the pecking order, better than those terrible prequels, of course (though to be honest being beaten repeatedly over the head with a fresh haddock would be a step up), but limping along behind Rogue One, which at least a few fresh ideas to offer.

I can’t help feeling that the well is running pretty dry and unless somebody comes up with something very inventive soon, it may just be time to press the ‘self-destruct’ button on Star Wars.

Yeah. Like that would ever happen…

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Brigsby Bear

12/12/17

Once in a while, a movie comes along that is fresh and original enough to make it stand out from the herd. Brigsby Bear is one such movie – a charming allegory about the importance of childhood and the awful wrench we inevitably feel when we must finally leave it behind. It’s also funny and quirky and its delicious sense of invention keeps me hooked to the final frame.

James (Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a twenty six year old, living in an underground bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamil) and April (Jane Adams). Outside, he’s been told, there’s a nuclear wasteland where he dare not venture without wearing a respirator, so he passes his time watching episodes of a shonky children’s serial, recorded on VHS tapes, featuring a character called Brigsby Bear. The episodes arrive at regular intervals and the walls of James’ room are lined with hundreds of copies. But one day, police cars arrive at the bunker, sirens wailing. James is taken away and Ted and April are arrested. It’s down to Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) to break the alarming truth to James. Ted and April are not his real parents. He was abducted many years ago and the whole bunker/nuclear holocaust thing is an elaborate construct to keep him safely out of the public eye. Whats more, his real parents, Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins) are just dying to be reunited with him. Oh, yes, and one other thing – he also has a younger sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins).

James does his level best to integrate with his new family, but something very important is missing from his life. Of course, he’s keen to see the latest episode of Brigsby, but it turns out, this too is just another part of Ted and April’s scheme to keep their abducted ‘son’ occupied. Ted has been filming the series himself, episode-by-episode, inventing a whole universe of characters to keep it going. The problem is, James cannot abandon something that means to much to him, even though psychologist, Emily (Claire Danes) urges him to move on with his life and put away childish things. But James is determined that the series must be completed at all costs and in the absence of anyone else to undertake the job, he decides he will do it himself…

It may sound a little outlandish when set out so matter-of-factly, but it’s done with absolute conviction. James’ awkward interactions with Aubrey’s friends are astutely realised, funny but also endearing – ‘Would you like a beer?’ ‘Yes, I’ll have one of that.’ Also, the way James charms other characters through his naive interplay with them is another lovely element. (The bit where Detective Vogel admits he used to do a bit of acting is a particular delight.) I enjoy the hokey (not so) special effects and the fact that James’ abductors are not portrayed as weird and evil characters, but as people who are mostly motivated by love. Uniquely, here is a film that has no real villain – unless you count Sun Snatcher, the chief baddie from the Brigsby Bear adventures.

This film may not be to everyone’s taste, but in my honest opinion, it’s one of the most original slices of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while and well worth seeking out.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney