It’s fair to say that our pick of this week’s new releases is the latest, and final release in the Star Wars franchise (well, of the original nine-part series anyway) but that’s not to say it’s a hugely impressive production, but more because its competition is really rather purrthetic. But that comes as little surprise, as who really wants to release their new film alongside such a giant piece of blockbuster cinema?
We got into much more detail into The Rise of Skywalker in our official review, but for a summary, it’s fair to say we’re fans, albeit in something of a minority when taking the general critic’s response into consideration. But this is undoubtedly a film made for the fans, and while in some regards you could argue that compromises on the integrity of the production, and the narrative at hand, this plays out like something of a greatest hits, and for many this will more than suffice. It evidently did for us.
It doesn’t take the same level of risk as The Last Jedi did, which strived to subvert expectations and play around with the genre in a creative sense. Instead J.J. Abrams has played it safe here, and it does feel contrived as a result. But on a surface level, as a piece of entertainment, this delivers and then some, it’s got some wonderful action set pieces, it’s funny in parts (thanks to new character Babu Frik, mainly) and it’s profoundly moving at times too (thanks to Princess Leia, mainly). The first hour is disappointing though, there’s no real flow to proceedings, it’s edited in what seems to be a rushed fashion, but it’s made up for with a thrilling finale. Of course there’s very little we can say in that regard so as to avoid spoilers, but we will say this one thing: stick with it. It gets better.
But does it ever get good enough? That’s the question. The bar is raised so high, expectations are ginormous, and the film perhaps doesn’t satisfy in a way that it should, but it does have a sense of finality, and the performances from both Daisy Ridley – her best to date – and the always-impressive Adam Driver helps matter tremendously. One of the biggest criticisms is that this panders too much, well, maybe some of us quite like being pandered to.
The next film out this week, but by no means a recommendation, is Cats. Based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage play, this works well in the West End because it’s based on a collection of poems and short stories, and when performed live it feels like a set of individual songs, more akin to a concert. In film we require something more, a sense of linearity and narrative flow, and this has neither. The best musicals are those where the songs profess the storyline along, we have to hear Summer Nights in Grease to understand how Danny met Sandy, for instance. But here the songs all feel so seperate from one another, just character introductions.
The beauty of cinema is the ability for storytellers to elicit an emotional, sometimes physical reaction from the audience; to make us so tense we perch near courageously on the edge of our seat, to often moving us to the point of noisy tears. In the case of this Tom Hooper film, such is the visceral nature of this film we too felt a physical reaction, squirming in our seats in sheer horror. The film actually makes you feel a little uneasy, it’s not an enjoyable cinematic experience. It feels as though we’ve just injected a dose of catnip and have fallen into a weird fever dream. The human faces on feline bodies is enough to keep you up at night.
In terms of the story, it’s hard to know what happened when so constantly pondering the polite time to leave the cinema, but effectively it’s about a cat who makes friends with other cats, who are all afraid of another magical cat, played by Idris Elba, who has the face of a man who was promised to be working at a desk at a new company, only to be handed a big cuddly suit and told to stand outside in the rain and hand out flyers.
Finally we have another underwhelming release in the form of action thriller The Courier, starring Olga Kurylenko. A generic, conventional flick that does have its moments, it’s another strange career choice from Oscar winner Gary Oldman, who seems hellbent on doing all he can to destroy his reputation after winning such a prestigious award for his turn as Winston Churchill. That said, it’s not trying to be anything its not, it’s an unrelenting actioner with car chases aplenty and some enjoyable scenes. Another thing it has going for it is that it’s not Cats. That also helps.