Friday, December 22, 2017


Lavish costumes and location photography cannot help this thinly plotted, dull film with its anachronistic politics.  It takes what is a genuinely fascinating late life obsession of Queen Victoria with a handsome young Indian clerk and drains it of its spikiness and shoe-horns it into politically correct nonsense.  While still apparently in mourning for her long-dead husband Albert, Victoria had already conducted a scandalous romance with her Scottish servant Mr Brown (also depicted on film with Judi Dench as the Queen.) In her final decade, she took fancy (literally, creepily) to a young muslim Urdu-speaking Indian.  The spikiness of the relationship comes from its objectification of the young male, but also the fact that she used him to learn about the culture of her dominion which she had never visited. In reality, he was the fawning man we see on screen, but also potentially a chancer (as are all courtiers more or less). His brother in law was selling Victoria's jewels in London and he was using her to advance the cause of his father's pension.  Did Abdul really believe in deference and service or was he on the make?   Stephen Frears banal film never bothers asking the tough questions - about Victoria's frustrated sexuality and exploitation of Abdul - about Abdul's motivations - about the dangerous situation in India with the rise of the independence movement, and Abdul's potential role in gaining favour for the Muslim League.  It's only interested in an anachronistic tale of love across the class, race and religious divide.   Judi Dench's Victoria is thus a radically anti-racist Queen with an enquiring mind, embattled by her small-minded Royal Household, as embodied in her pantomime-villain son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard).  The whole thing is slow-moving, and so uncurious about motives as to be a profoundly boring watch.

VICTORIA & ABDUL has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Venice and Toronto and opened in September 2017. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is the second instalment in the new trilogy of films, that sees the aftermath of the Rebellion's defeat of The Empire in the original trilogy.  In THE FORCE AWAKENS we saw a weakened Republic under attack by the newly resurgent remains of the old Empire, named The First Order.   The Emperor was replaced by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), with General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) as his military leader, Starkiller Base as his Death Star, Coruscant as its target, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) aka Ben Solo as his Vader.  

In response, Republican Senator Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) was running a covert militarised Resistance starring a dashing pilot called Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB8.  The droid happened upon a young girl called Rey (Daisy Ridley), abandoned on the desert planet Jakku, waiting for her parents, and an instinctive force user. They in turn happened upon a stormtrooper defector called Finn (John Boyega) who seemed to exist mostly for comic effect, but also to have an antagonistic relationship with his former boss Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). A largely redundant but popular side character was cantina owner Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyongo) who served to give Rey Luke Skywalker's old lightsaber.

The main questions set up by the film were whether Ben Solo would or could be turned by Rey to the Light Side of the Force having killed his father Han (Harrison Ford) in a test of loyalty to Snoke; who Rey's parents were, thus explaining her exceptional Force strength; and whether Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), living as a hermit, would be willing to train Rey to that task having failed in training Ben. Ancillary questions were how the First Order has amassed such tech and power so quickly (largely answered in the EU); and who Snoke was (which wasn't.)

And so we get to The Last Jedi, familiar with the grammar of Star Wars movies and the role of the middle chapter in a trilogy as a bridge of sorts, and eager to see if director Rian Johnson (BRICK, LOOPER) could move beyond the excessive fan service that was the only serious flaw that JJ Abrams (STAR TREK) made in his otherwise flawless and joyous The Force Awakens. Additionally, if we read the EU, we might have thought we would see some serious character development for Phasma (given the standalone book).


BRIGSBY BEAR is a heartwarming dark comedy that melds NAPOLEON DYNAMITE with ROOM and BE KIND REWIND!  It's  about a young man called James (Saturday Night Live's Kyle Mooney) who is returned to his family after being abducted as a child and raised by a couple of kranks. He struggles to adjust to reality and misses the cocooned world he lived in, most specifically the fake TV show his fake dad (brilliantly/manically played by Mark Hamill) created called Brigbsy Bear.  James is shocked that no-one else is ingrained in the TV shows mythos but with the help of a friendly cop (Greg Kinnear) and his newfound high school friends, he manages both to recreate the show and come to a kind of emotional acceptance of his past. 

The film is laugh out loud funny and goofy and features a truly brilliant cameo from Hamill. But beyond that I found it to be a particularly insightful and wry take on modern internet fuelled fandom, and the kind of "fake nostalgia for an unremembered 80s" that South Park so brilliant satirised with its "memaberries" plot line. James watches old shows on meticulously labelled VHS tapes and discusses them in online forums with fake friends his fake parents made up. He even has fake faded fan T-shirts. The way in which the school kids who didn't grow up with Brigbsy take to him also speaks to the current way in which new generations get immersed in a self-consciously old-school lo-fi pop cultural past. 

BRIGSBY BEAR has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Sundance, Cannes and London 2017. It opened earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, and earlier this month in the UK and Ireland.