Monday 9 April 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist, Suburbicon, and 6 Balloons (Your Week In Film: April 9-15)

Top Ren hit: Adam Driver's charismatic anti-hero makes The Last Jedi a must-see

The best and worst of this week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Despite the terrible prequels, the daft teddy-bear thingies in Return Of The Jedi, and the fact The Force Awakens was little more than a cynical rehash of A New Hope, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WWW½ has upset certain fans of the franchise more than anything else in its chequered history. They don't like the diversity of its new cast, hate the liberties taken with the original movies' characters, especially Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and can't abide some of the film's storytelling twists. Not only are these people wrong, but to quote Reynolds Woodcock from Phantom Thread, they should be "spanked in public".

The Last Jedi is, simply put, the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the reasons for that are almost entirely down to all the things the reactionaries dislike so much. The new cast members – some introduced during The Force Awakens, others seen here for the first time – are an intriguing bunch, every bit as brave, selfless and inspiring as Han, Leia and Luke were way back when. The fact more of them are women (Daisy Ridley's Rey, Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo and Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico) and some are non-white (Tran again and John Boyega's Finn) has to be the most ridiculous and offensive reason to take against them imaginable, especially when matters of gender or ethnicity are never mentioned here. It's easy to get angry with racists and misogynists, but perhaps healthier to just pity them.

Meanwhile, Skywalker is far more fun as a bitter old misery guts, sick of bearing the weight of the Force upon his ageing shoulders, than he ever was as a fresh-faced but vanilla young hero, only made truly interesting by the matter of his paternity. The story's twists are all good ones, two in particular delivered so expertly they made audience members in the screening I attended audibly gasp. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) takes a lot of risks, trying stuff that might not come off, and it's a credit to him so much of it does. It's surely a good thing when a story doesn't go the way you expect it to and The Last Jedi makes an enjoyable habit of confounding your expectations. He has a way with a visual too the climactic Skywalker v Kylo Ren lightsaber face-off is like something straight out of Kurosawa, while one character's ultimate sacrifice makes for a moment both heart-rending and mind-bending.

The movie's crowning glory, though, is Adam Driver's Ren, comfortably the most compelling anti-hero-cum-bad-guy we've seen in any blockbuster franchise for many a year. His journey from Vader-lite apprentice of the ludicrous Snoke in The Force Awakens into something altogether more dangerous and exciting is worth the price of admission on its own. Driver is probably the most charismatic young(ish) actor in Hollywood right now and The Last Jedi really belongs to him and Ridley's Rey, perhaps to the exclusion of other characters at times. And while this eighth entry in the main franchise might take a while to get going, it has given the Star Wars universe the bloody good shake up it sorely needed.

Force of nature: The Star Wars franchise is finally back to its best

The most memorable thing about Suburbicon (Amazon Prime Video) WW is its misleading trailer (see below) which, somehow, amidst all the blackly comedic japes about mob-related murder and mayhem, neglected to properly mention that a large chunk of the film involved a harrowing tale of small-town racism. It was as if the movie's producers thought including such a difficult subject in its highlights reel may put people off. As it turns out, the race plot on its own might have been a far more interesting subject for a movie than the rather clunky crime caper – based on an old Coen brothers script – served up here alongside it by director George Clooney.

Set in 1959, in a predominantly white suburban US town (the titular Suburbicon), it sees supposed family-man Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) up to his neck in trouble after conspiring with the Russian mob to bump off his wife Rose (Julianne Moore). He even moves in her twin sister Margaret (also Moore), who wastes no time slipping into her dead sibling's role of partner and mother. A dodgy claim alerts Oscar Isaac's insurance man, which is a problem for Gardner as he needs the cash to pay off the Russians. The murder and its aftermath casts a pall over the town and its residents start looking for scapegoats, starting with the Mayers, the town's newly-arrived African-American family...

Suburbicon is saved by a strong cast (Moore and Damon are good, Isaac's extended cameo excellent), the occasional funny moment (most of which appear in the aforementioned trailer) and a script that expertly peels away the layers of Gardner's true self to reveal a 24-carat rotten bastard. It also has some timely points to make about the scapegoating of minorities and the ugliness of mob rule (you can imagine, I'm sure, what has inspired such notions). The problem is that the two parts of the story aren't an especially good fit and the black family have little agency. They're just victims with little to do outside of that (Mr and Mrs Mayers are given few lines and no first names either). Clooney's film (his sixth in the director's chair) is ambitious and certainly visually pleasing, but somehow never quite coheres into anything genuinely worthwhile or even particularly memorable.   

Without a Cloo: Director George's sixth movie underwhelms 

You don't need to have seen The Room to get a kick out of The Disaster Artist (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW½, but a working knowledge of Tommy Wiseau and his infamous movie would be a definite advantage. James Franco's debut as a director tells the story of how the "worst film ever made" came to be. It follows the mysterious Wiseau (Franco), as he meets partner-in-crime Greg Sistero (played by James's brother Dave), his eventual co-star in The Room, who went on to co-author the novel this film is based upon.

The pair are both struggling actors and when they fail to set Hollywood alight, wealthy Wiseau writes and finances a movie of his own, which becomes a cult success, despite being as terrible as anything the likes of Ed Wood or Uwe Boll ever came up with. Franco Senior is amusing and convincing as Wiseau, getting the filmmaker's bizarre mix of naivete and megalomania just right, and topping it off with that utterly preposterous Eastern European accent. The film itself is sporadically funny but, in reality, provides little more than a rummage through The Room's best bits, several of which are lovingly recreated here ("You're tearing me apart, Lisa", "Oh, hi Mark" etc). The real Wiseau pops up for a cameo in a funny post-credits sequence.

Rock on, Tommy: James Franco plays The Room creator Wiseau

There has been a recent debate about whether Netflix Originals count as "proper films", with even Steven Spielberg dismissing the streaming giant's features as "TV movies" and suggesting they should qualify for Emmy rather than Oscar consideration. I can't imagine this week's new Netflix releases will do much to change his mind. 6 Balloons WW½ is an economically told drugs drama (only 74 minutes long) that sees Broad City's Abbi Jacobson charging around southern California desperately trying to find her heroin-addicted brother (Dave Franco) a detox programme, but facing obstacle after obstacle. For the most part, it's smartly, inventively told by writer/director Marja-Lewis Ryan, while comedian Jacobsen excels in a dramatic role. Unfortunately, there's a drowning metaphor that is worked into the ground and Ryan fumbles the ball badly with a "tough-love" ending that at best lacks compassion and seems to misunderstand the nature of addiction.

Despite its faults, 6 Balloons has the edge on Orbiter 9 WW, a Spanish sci-fi movie about a lonely young colonist (Clara Lago's Helena) on a 40-year journey from Earth to a new planet called Celeste. Hatem Khraiche's film (his first) is one of those Everything You Know Is Wrong tales with a couple of decent twists and a nicely worked ending. Somehow, though, it never sets the blood racing, although Lago – who has a slightly unearthly quality – is very good.

Burst Balloons: Marja-Lewis Ryan's movie is a mixed bag

Finally, allow me to point you in the direction of a few films previously recommended here that have very recently popped up on Netflix. Click the links to check out my views on Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, God's Own Country, and The Villainess.

Film Of The Week: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What I will be watching this week: Ready Player One

UK Top 10 DVDs/Blu-rays (movies only)
1. Paddington 2
2. Justice League
3. Wonder 
4. Moana
5. Thor: Ragnarok
6. Daddy's Home 2
7. Murder On The Orient Express
8. Paddington 1 and 2
9. Beauty And The Beast (2017)
10. The Boss Baby


  1. I thought Driver was one of the worst things about whatever the last Star Wars film was called. He came across as a petulant, whiny brat and had me grinding my teeth every time he was on screen; does he tone that aspect down a bit in the newer film?

  2. There is still an element of that but the character is far more fully realised in TLJ than in TFW. It's like he's woken up to what he is and what he's capable of. He really becomes his own man and it's both scary and thrilling because he's like this force of nature - unpredictable and deranged, but not entirely lost to the madness either. A really intriguing character and a great performance, and I say that as someone who really didn't like TFW.