THE BIG RELEASE
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
REVIEWING any Star Wars film presents a particular challenge. The mere sniff of a spoiler and fans will be storming Metro Towers with flaming pitchforks. But here goes…
Episode VIII starts with that legendary, nostalgia-prickling ‘A long time ago…’ screen crawl, penned in the finest Lucas-ese. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis — not that you’d recognise him) has ‘deployed his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy’. With Resistance forces on the back foot, General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) wants to find her long-lost brother, Luke (Mark Hamill), and thus restore ‘the spark of hope’. To this end she dispatches Rey (Daisy Ridley), an orphan with whom the Force is mysteriously strong.
The Last Jedi could never top the thrill rush of JJ Abrams’s The Force Awakens, which relaunched the franchise to storming success two years ago. However, new director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) displays an impressive mastery of his material.
Above all, he’s achieved an astounding feat of balance. His measured mix of action, humour, gravity and emotion thrusts the saga forward, while remaining as reassuring as a well-loved Star Wars duvet.
Story-wise, there are plenty of questions to be answered: who are Rey’s parents? What’s been going on with Luke? Can Kylo Ren be turned to the light? Can the Resistance triumph? And where can I buy one of those insanely adorable owl/puffin/guinea pig critters that live on Luke’s island for Christmas?
Meanwhile, everyone in the substantial ensemble gets their moment, even if John Boyega’s Finn is a tad short-changed. Adam Driver is almost Oscar-worthy as Ben Solo, while Oscar Isaac channels Han Solo as the ‘trigger-happy fly-boy’ who asks: ‘Permission to jump in an X-wing and blow something up?’ ‘Permission granted,’ twinkles Fisher, who only has to appear on screen for you to well up (the film is dedicated to ‘our princess’).
There’s a refreshing gender balance among the key characters. Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo may be dressed more for the opera but don’t be fooled, kids.
And as General Hux, Domhnall Gleeson is once again as sneery as a Slytherin house prefect, only this time more winningly because he’s allowed to be funny. All the while, a bouncy, Avengers-style wit keeps things light on its feet, which is welcome given the bum-numbing two-and-a-half hour run time.
However, it really picks up speed at the end. The final moment where [SPOIL] and [SPOILERss] reach out and touch will have you in tears, as does [SPOILERs’s last line: ‘[SPOILER] SPOILER Spoil’.
Another spectacular instalment in the mythological space saga, this punches all your pleasure buttons.
FROM the makers of Ice Age comes this lovable romp about a Spanish bull called Ferdinand (voiced by WWE star/actor John Cena) who prefers to skip around and smell the flowers than fight. Sadly, Ferdinand’s fate is either the bullring or the slaughterhouse. That is unless he and his chums can buck destiny.
Based on a children’s book, the story covers a lot of meaty themes yet still manages to feel slight. And there’s so much charm (a bull-in-a-china-shop scene is an instant classic) that this family treat will put a smile on your face, a tear in your eye and an extra bada-boom in your heart.
Prince Of Nothingwood
‘YOU have Hollywood and Bollywood but Afghan cinema is Nothingwood,’ declares its prince, Salim Shaheen, ‘because there is no money, nothing.’ This eye-opening doc by Sonia Kronlund follows this exuberant one-man national movie industry on the shoot of what could be his 111th zero-budget film. Larger-than-life and cartoonishly macho, Shaheen creates schlock action flicks and comedies in the midst of war zones. Kronlund could have teased out the political and sexual complexities, but she does what she can given her hazardous circumstances. A fascinating testimony to the uplifting power of cinema.