Chris at the Pictures

Monday, 16 October 2017

'Loving Vincent' - Review

10/16/2017 10:23:00 pm 0
'Loving Vincent' - Review

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The father of modern art lives and loves again in this startling visual experiment – the first and only hand-painted motion picture – that continues a golden age of cinematic animation. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman lead this British-Polish co-production, with Douglas Booth and Saoirse Ronan heading up a perfect cast of performers through ninety minutes of painted poetry, detailing the aftermath of Vincent Van Gogh’s death in 1890.

With twelve individual paintings accounting for every second of footage, it’s incredibly easy to find oneself overwhelmed by the sheer audacity and scale of the project, allowing the story it depicts to become eclipsed by pure awe. It’s a testament to the screenwriters that Loving Vincent’s narrative is as compelling as its colours. Booth (playing Armand Roulin, an acquaintance of the troubled artist) travels to the small French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, ostensibly to deliver a letter to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo. His quest soon becomes an investigation; to divine the reasoning behind the Dutchman’s unexpected suicide.

While the visual canvas of the film is sweeping, majestic and writ large with the brightest tones, the storytelling is intimate, built on small but effective interplays. It’s a portrait of an artist not lectured by scholars or listed in biographical facts but whispered, reminisced and dramatized in memories and anecdotes from the subjects of his many paintings. Standout vignettes include the uppity sniffs sent Roulin’s way by Helen McCrory’s churchgoing matriarch, Chris O'Dowd as a sage postmaster and the earnest regret of Van Gogh’s doctor, Gachet (Jerome Flynn). Like our bemused protagonist, the plot stumbles hither-and-thither (sometimes losing sight of the finer details in pursuit of pithiness), but this lack of coherent structure is redeemed by a mature reliance on gentle humour and subtle heartbreak over melodrama broader than a brushstroke.

I’ve tried typing a description of how this film looks about fifty times, but the only real way to understand is to see it for yourself. See the colours ooze and meld, notice the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusions of Van Gogh’s masterworks, be stricken by the tiniest hint of moisture in Saoirse Ronan’s eyes that remains every bit as disarming through smudged oils as it is through the sharpest of digital lenses. Like all true art, its afterglow will leave you struggling to re-adjust your senses, baffled by the dull tones of reality.

'The Snowman' - Review

10/16/2017 08:25:00 pm 0
'The Snowman' - Review

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Why does this film exist? Why did Michael Fassbender waste his talents on this sodden snowdrift of a script? Didn't they draft in the editor of Goodfellas to try and salvage it? Did they hand the Avid to a blind chimpanzee halfway through? Why is Val Kilmer, a real human being, less convincing than the CGI Peter Cushing in Rogue One? What’s with the giant clumsy iPad thingies the police are carrying around? What were those glowing pin badges? Do they exist in real life? Where can I get one? What’s the subplot concering Oslo’s bid for the Winter Olympics all about? Why does Charlotte Gainsbourg dry-humping Michael Fassbender have all the erotic frisson of two stacked chairs? Who was that random woman who got snapped topless by JK Simmons? Where did she go? Is she okay? Did the Snowman killer get her? Why do the snowmen left at crime scenes look so glum? Are they okay? Why is Hot Butter’s ‘Popcorn’ played twice and then never heard again? Why is Toby Jones in this? Is he okay? Surely the director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is better than this? Am I actually supposed to take ‘Harry Hole’ seriously as a character name? Why is his hair several inches longer in one scene? Why does his apartment have dry rot? Is that a cheap bottom gag? Did they ever get rid of the mould? Why did Hole’s cleaner bring his puppy to such a grimy job? IS THE DOG OKAY?!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

'Blade Runner 2049' - Review

10/05/2017 07:31:00 pm 0
'Blade Runner 2049' - Review

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s the dead of night. Unable to sleep, a man – dressed in his day clothes, a glass clutched in hand – stands watching the city below. Cars roll endlessly past, a thin film of rain trickles streetward and all around, the skyline is lit by the distant diodes of passing aircraft and countless illuminated windows. This is not Los Angeles, November 2019, but Norwich, October 2013. The man is not Rick Deckard, bounty hunter, but me. His reason for restlessness is not the spectre of five active replicants, but five consecutive viewings of Blade Runner, in its various cuts.

Getting so wrapped up in Ridley Scott’s vision, its implications, its warnings and its world was all well and good then for a pretentious film student devoid of a social life, but will serve no good to anyone approaching its newly-arrived sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Due to a combination of hectic working hours, late nights and sheer lack of luck, I had no time to revisit Scott’s troubled, moody masterpiece before diving into Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up. This failure meant that I entered the cinema neither freshly contemplative nor burdened with expectations heaped higher than a dystopian skyscraper.

For months I’ve been confused by Villeneuve’s statement that such a respected artefact of popular culture was impossible to follow, a horrific idea. Having seen it, now I understand why he still dared to take it on. For him (as demonstrated in all his works to date), it’s the storytelling that comes first. Finding a way to step out from under Scott’s near-inescapable shadow – something that took me the first hour of Blade Runner 2049 to accomplish – makes one free to understand the trials of Rick Deckard and his prey on their own terms. No matter the attachments to its predecessor (which are plentiful, necessary, and carry unprecedented catharsis), 2049 stands by itself in a way I could never have dreamed, deftly defying every possible expectation borne upon its back by legions who’ve already decided its redundancy, egged-on by clumsy marketing.

Picking up 30 years since Deckard and Rachel disappeared (during which a Y2K-style blackout all but wiped the records clean), we find ourselves in the shoes of LAPD Officer K (Gosling), deciphering a lead from a long-lost replicant outlaw. Caught between his police chief (Robin Wright) and the hitmen of resurgent replicant-manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), K is set on a collision course with Deckard himself (Harrison Ford returns to complete his hat-trick of reprised roles).

It’s easy to crack jokes about Ford resurrecting performances from his eighties heyday, but less so when his latest tops them all by a country mile. Respecting Deckard’s character as originally written – by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher, the latter scribe resurfacing for this film – and Ford’s own doubts about his nature, the screenplay approaches the mystery in a way that not so much extinguishes as pours fresh fuel on the fires of ambiguity.

Gosling, Leto and Ana De Armas (leaps ahead from her turn in Eli Roth’s Knock Knock) were my main sources of contention going in but are cast perfectly by a director who understands how to utilise their strengths. Gosling’s frozen visage is played to unbelievable emotional effect, and Sylvia Hoeks proves herself a scene stealer from the word go as his predator, the ruthless replicant, Luv.

The talent behind the camera shines equally as bright. While many will bemoan the loss of Villeneuve’s long-time collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson from the project, Hans Zimmer and fellow Dunkirk alumnus Benjamin Wallfisch more than step up to the plate with a soundtrack that dips sensibly into nostalgia without extravagant wallowing. And as for Roger Deakins, everyone else previously considered for upcoming best cinematography awards should stay home. His total mastery of composition allows us to finally glimpse what Roy Batty once told us we wouldn’t believe.

For those still put off Blade Runner from its perceived emotional iciness (something I’ve always struggled to understand, despite close friends emphatically claiming a lack of attachment to any of the characters), fear not. Though it begins in a similar lonely place, it grows into something that elicited an array of stricken and adoring responses from the shocked stillness of a murder scene to sobs as tremulous as the deepest earthquake.

In a mode of address more in line with the original, it still doesn’t see itself as an all-important delegate of decades still to come: Villeneuve, Scott and Fancher just want to tell a compelling story, to rediscover the key ideals of Philip K Dick’s source legend for a new generation. 2049 fills its (somehow breezy) 163-minute running time with questions about the aspirations of artificial beings and the nature of memory because such matters are demanded by the story, not out of some portentous desire to occupy the pages of philosophy textbooks for the next three decades. In an odd parallel to Scott’s own Prometheus, this takes the backdrop of a lonely, grimy sci-fi actioner to tell a story more concerned with belonging and promise. Forged in the crucible of an android’s dream, it looks tentatively, beautifully, to a future that may not discard its most helpless children after all.

Friday, 29 September 2017

'Flatliners' - Review

9/29/2017 09:39:00 pm 0
'Flatliners' - Review

★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

In a revelation as inevitable as the “dead on arrival” gags accompanying its reviews, this sequel to Joel Schumacher’s 1990 thriller is as pointless as it is sterile. Five medical students become obsessed with triggering their own near-deaths in attempts to capture evidence of the afterlife. After initial highs and cognitive awakenings, the group find themselves hunted by the ghosts of their individual pasts.

The post-flatline powers exhibit themselves in trust fund hunk Jamie (James Norton) as increased proficiency in medical practices, whilst in the three lead women (Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev and Kiersey Clemons) as a sudden desire to get into Jamie and Ray's (Diego Luna) pants. Though they each have their own unique traumas to shape the apparitions, increasingly tiresome jump-scares and dark corridors morph them all into interchangeable quivering wrecks by the end. Courtney (Page) at least has some of her character fleshed out (the opening sequence clues us into the revelation she withholds from her peers, so they’ll indulge her experiment), but it’s all for nothing come the final act.

Luna plays the token sceptic, and is immediately engaging to the point that he almost pulls the whole enterprise together, though his hairstyle (perhaps in unspoken homage to the original’s fabulous array of wild wigs) is a choice almost as poor as his recent decision to work with Woody Allen.

A more befuddling decision is made by the filmmakers to include Kiefer Sutherland, reprising his role from the original as the students’ mentor. Again, it’s all for naught: never does he factor into their decision to explore flatlining, investigate them, or even deliver a knowing sermon. It’s the screenwriters showing they care enough to draw Sutherland back, but not quite enough to give him anything to do, nor to provide any other tangible connections to the first film, narratively or visually. Religious imagery and reveries make way for insipid sob stories, and the smoky streets and dark architecture are swapped out for crisp surfaces and vapid digital backdrops.

All this heavy comparison might fool you into thinking I hold the first Flatliners in high esteem. For the record; I don’t. Any interesting concepts are rapidly overridden by hammy performances and Schumacher’s total reliance on imagery over intelligence. This new iteration can barely pretend to offer the former, exhibiting drama as slack as its characters, living or dead.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' - Review

9/21/2017 03:13:00 pm 0
'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' - Review

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Matthew Vaughn’s spy series makes a haphazard pivot from ‘parody of bad Bond films’ to ‘bad parody of itself’ in this simultaneously listless yet overblown sequel. Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy, now left with only Mark Strong’s agent Merlin for company when the Kingsman organisation is all-but obliterated around them. Their enemy: Julianne Moore’s drug overlord, Poppy, a sugary-voiced villainess with a penchant for human meat burgers, robots, and Elton John.

The first Kingsman was very much a Marmite film: you were either won over by its homegrown Bond/Bourne/Bauer pastiche or disgusted by its button-pushing. Being an awkward sort, I fell somewhere in the middle, appreciating the unabashed comic violence and Alex Rider overtones but blanching somewhat at its seedier elements, particularly that final bum note (pun fully intended).

Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have clearly taken the controversy over Hanna Alström’s backside deeply to heart…and doubled-down. Partway through The Golden Circle (which sees Eggsy and Merlin join forces with their American counterparts, the Statesman), Egerton’s character is tasked with tagging the girlfriend of an enemy agent with a tracking device. With no explanation besides a sly wink from Pedro Pascal’s Agent Whiskey and a shrugged “It’s not going up her nose!”, our hero is to secrete the tracker within the genitalia of the oblivious Clara (Poppy Delevigne). After calling his girlfriend to ask her permission (which she does not give), Eggsy commits. As composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson deliver a heroic fanfare, Matthew “bloody feminists” Vaughn treats us to a close-up the likes of which a certain orange-faced misogynist would call “Tremendous”.

Looking for any excuse for this abhorrence, some fans might reach for The Golden Circle’s plethora of great female roles. They’d come up short. Halström is a plot motivation, Eggsy’s classmate Roxy is blown to smithereens in the opening salvo, and Halle Berry (playing Merlin’s equivalent in the Statesman organization) is exposition in a wig.

Moore’s villain finds me yet again confused as to why I’m supposed to dislike the Kingsman antagonists (decapitation bombs and cannibal fast food hobbies aside). Hot on the heels of Samuel L. Jackson’s eco-warrior from the first film, Poppy’s demand to the government is the legalization and supervised access to recreational drugs, an aim that makes her more sympathetic than the brutish Anglo-American spies bulldozing their way across the globe to find her (at least, until her relationship with the US president is revealed, to more sinister ends).

Her beaming smile as she feeds Keith Allen into a mincer provides some glee, as do the rough-and-tumble brawls towards the film’s conclusion. A robot arm-wielding henchman allows for some inventive choreography, and in the long-take ballets of umbrellas and uppercuts, it’s easy to see where the budget’s been spent. It certainly didn’t go towards the CGI, which is replete with green-screen outlines and aliasing as digital models of buildings, landscapes and cages meld into one-another.

You may have noticed I haven’t got around to mentioning the other big names from the poster campaign: Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and the inexplicable return of Colin Firth as Harry Hart. I only thought it fair to give them their representation as reflected by the film. Tatum is little more than a cameo appearance, Bridges is…well, Bridges, and I’m still not entirely convinced that Firth ever showed up. There’s a catchphrase-spouting waxwork doing an impression of him, though, the artifice of which is further exacerbated by Egerton’s uncrackable charisma.

As for Moore, her total screen-time is eclipsed by that of her popstar prisoner. John’s gormlessly smug guest spot culminates in his offering free tickets to his next gig, should the Kingsman help him escape. If his eye-scraping appearance here is any indication of his current talents, he can keep them.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

'mother!' - Review

9/19/2017 10:29:00 pm 0
'mother!' - Review

★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

After the big budget blowout of Noah, Darren Aronofsky returns to simpler times with this deliberately provocative tale of a man and woman (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence, whose characters remain unnamed) living peaceful, but soon-to-be interrupted lives. Basking in their Eden-like seclusion, Lawrence’s eponymous matriarch sets about restoring the house (with which she shares a mysterious, organic connection), while Bardem plays a troubled poet looking to write his masterwork. Just as inspiration appears to strike, an unknown couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) stumble upon the pair, bringing with them the unspoken threat of upset and destruction.

For all it’s unclear narrative strokes and ambiguous dialogue, mother! is not a subtle film. The instant it’s central metaphor takes root, it's nigh-on impossible to focus on anything else. The intended discomfort and tension as Harris and Pfeiffer encroach upon the couple’s handiwork is totally undermined by an allegory so ham-fisted you could slice it up and serve it in sandwiches.

That a film so steeped in parable and analogy is playing in multiplexes should be something to celebrate, making Aranofsky’s failure to combine symbolism with a compelling story that much more infuriating. The overriding thesis of the film – at least, as it was apparent to me – is one I sympathise with, but I can’t see it winning over the average movie-goer. As evidenced by the movie’s plummeting CinemaScore across the pond, they’re likely to remain resolutely alienated by a mood piece comprised mostly of Jennifer Lawrence gasping and shrieking at the camera.

To see Lawrence return to comparatively ‘out there’ cinema after her string of mainstream roles is an exciting prospect, and sadly remains just that: something still to come. Her role here (to use the word ‘character’ seems generous considering her deployment as reflection or caricature) gives us nothing but fear and loathing, of which she gave ample demonstration across all four instalments of the Hunger Games series.

Pfieffer tries to save what she can (largely through a particularly delicate method of sipping lemonade), but it’s a hopeless effort. She – along with Harris and brief spells from Dohmnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig – becomes just another face in the crown of walking, talking emblems that slowly but surely begin to overwhelm the isolated abode.

This increasingly fraught and claustrophobic home-invasion section of the film is where things truly go to pot. In terms of pure technical construction, there should be much to admire as time, space and bodies fast-forward, tighten and twist in a finale clearly designed to shock and awe. The established composition of mother! (a repetitive, clumsy and dull array of close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots) instead consigns us to crock and bore.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

'American Assassin' - Review

9/14/2017 05:47:00 pm 0
'American Assassin' - Review

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A charmless Dylan O’Brien takes the lead in this callous thriller which may as well be titled Toxic Masculinity: The Movie. He stars as Mitch Rapp, a young-ish man on the warpath for those who shot his girlfriend dead on a beach in Ibiza. His attempts to connect with vaguely-defined Muslim terror groups catch the attention of the CIA, and he’s brought in to face brutal training at the hands of no-nonsense Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton, just about managing not to nod off).

I’ve no idea how much of the plot has carries over verbatim from Vince Flynn’s 2010 source novel, but the opening massacre on a Mediterranean beach, a shootout in a crowded market and a subplot involving the threat of nuclear war couldn’t be more politically insensitive and exploitative if they tried.

The many scenes of cruelty are classified by the BBFC as ‘sadistic’, and believe me, that’s a generous appraisal. Not merely content with the customary CG splatter, American Assassin delights in looming, lingering shots of civilians and gunmen alike screaming, choking on blood and clutching hideous exit wounds. Women are usually victims of the nastier killings, the most distasteful offence occurring when Mitch follows a lead back to his luxury hotel. The businessman’s mistress wanders around topless for a few moments before getting cut down in the crossfire.

I don’t want to get on some moral high horse about this, but the kind of message the film sends through its constant depiction of shooting and stabbing as the quickest solution to any problem is troubling, and doubly uncomfortable when we consider that the whole reason for our hero's fractured psyche is exposure to horrific bloodshed. Stan’s cruel boot camp only serves to enhance the young man’s thirst for barbarity, and the only character who displays the slightest hint of pity is soon revealed to be minimally untrustworthy. Mitch immediately attempts to drown them in a bathtub.

Look: I’ve enjoyed a bunch of movies with as much – if not more – violence than this. Gareth Evan’s The Raid and its sequel are two of my favourite movies. But whereas they bring technical elegance, an empathetic lead, winning composition and threatening villains, Michael Cuesta's effort offers only the exhibition of a perfectly-manicured white man carving his way through faceless foreigners.

And that’s all Dylan O’Brien really brings to the role: eternally-windswept hair and skinny jeans in place of a personality. His eventual antagonist, appearing in the form of Taylor ‘glad to be working’ Kitsch, is equally laughable. During their final confrontation, the two trade blows and stagger around a small room. Both sport short, untidy facial hair, black slim-fit shirts and identical accents. In shots where O’Brien’s fluffier hairdo is out of frame, the two are genuinely indistinguishable, reducing what should be a nail-biting climax upon which the fate of the world rests to a pair of Hollister models having a special cuddle.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

'The Limehouse Golem' - Review

9/13/2017 09:35:00 pm 0
'The Limehouse Golem' - Review

★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Here’s a deliciously sordid and gory gem from director Juan Carlos Medina and screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: Days of Future Past). Based on Peter Ackroyd’s book, Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem, Medina’s film stars Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare. Eager to restore his reputation after damaging rumours of not being “the marrying kind”, Kildare is given the case of the titular Golem, a moniker appropriated by a killer who stalks the streets of London.

Olivia Cooke plays Lizzie Cree, a suspect in the death of her husband John (Sam Reid), himself under investigation for a possible part in the Golem murders. The alleged perpetrators have been whittled down to four: Cree, scholar George Gissing, stage performer Dan Leno, and Karl Marx (yes, that one).

During their individual questioning, we’re treated to fantasy sequences of each suspect committing one of the horrific homicides. Stylistic merits aside, they’re a hoot purely for the spectacle of Karl Mark dismembering someone with childish glee.

Each interviewee leaves an impression, but none more so than Douglas Booth as the exuberant Leno, who leaves no scenery unchewed. Eddie Marsan also puts in a juicy turn from under a very unconvincing bald cap, a prop which – combined with murky CG and an invisible but extremely loud orchestra in the music hall scenes – brings the film’s modest budget to the forefront.

Cooke is the best of the bunch by far, overshadowing even Nighy. Though reliably strong in his role as the noble and empathetic detective, the veteran British actor appears lost occasionally; the murder-mystery plot writ large over every inch of the marketing only rearing its head every once in a while. For most of the running time we’re taking trips back into Lizzie’s past, exploring her humble origins and deteriorating relationship with her husband and the stage she so desperately loves. Cooke proves a great companion for the journey, even if it’s genuinely painful turns feel somewhat at odds with the pulpier moments of misty streets and shameless viscera.

To its credit, the film itself seems aware of this imbalance. Infuriated by Kildare’s infatuation with Lizzie’s predicament, policeman George Flood (a great but misspent Daniel Mays) proclaims his confusion “as to whether we’re here to find the golem or save Elizabeth Cree!”

The unravelling revelations surrounding Lizzie’s guilt (or lack thereof) means Goldman can briefly raise a few discussions concerning the perceived innocence of one gender over another and the act of preserving one’s work after death. They’re piecemeal offerings, but to have them handed over by a B-movie Victorian horror is a welcome surprise. It’s not quite the ‘Hammer Horror takes on Mr Holmes’ we’re led to expect, but it’s well-acted, effectively gruesome and engagingly labyrinthine. Just one question: following Pride and now The Limehouse Golem, what film can we expect to complete the Gay Bill Nighy trilogy?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

'American Made' - Review

9/12/2017 10:59:00 pm 0
'American Made' - Review

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sold almost entirely on Tom Cruise’s ability to deliver a cheeky grin, American Made tells the ridiculous true story of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot hired by the CIA to provide reconnaissance footage in the early eighties. His skills are soon noted by the Medellin Cartel, and thus begins an eight-year odyssey of drug smuggling, arms dealing and mountains of cash large enough to shame Scrooge McDuck.

Cruise is back working with director Doug Liman, who – after achieving the impossible by making Hollywood’s ever-youthful hero look genuinely rattled in Edge of Tomorrow – makes a sharp 180-degree turn from their previous team-up. His direction and Gary Spinelli’s script turn the charisma dial up to eleven, giving Cruise that “I’m gonna buzz the tower” smirk we all recognize, but framing it in a frenetic and eye-popping series of increasingly ludicrous capers.

The film is also colour-timed to vibrant excess, but nowhere is the joy and madness more perfectly captured than by a supporting role from Domhnall Gleeson as CIA liaison ‘Schafer’, which proves once and for all that he’s at his best when doing sly, slimy cackling. Caleb Landry Jones also makes a brief but amiably bitter appearance as Seal’s homewrecking brother-in-law.

Occasionally, it is wearing. The whole Wolf of Wall Street vibe is a tad trite (Barry’s growing ambivalence to the jaw-dropping loads of money filling up his house, his preference for reading a book about the rise of Al Capone instead of confronting his problems), and the montages of our lovable pilot enjoying his vast extravagance face the same faults as Scorsese’s epic: we never really feel any ill-effects.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the treatment of Seal’s wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright). As is now seemingly par-for-the course with this sort of film, she’s almost a footnote. Brought out mainly for eyebrow-arching sequences of the couple having sex in the cockpit mid-flight, her disapproval and shock are played only for laughter. It’s an approach that reflects the films near-refusal to tread into anything remotely dark or upsetting: despite the danger constantly dogging Barry (guns, goons and maybe a little guilt), any danger to the audience’s expectations or sensibilities is severely lacking. It’s a frivolous flight of fancy that provides a great vehicle for Cruise’s shtick and Liman’s swift direction, but nothing more than that. It’s fast to please, but faster to fade.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Minor Star Wars Characters Who Need Spin-Offs

9/02/2017 01:02:00 am 0
Minor Star Wars Characters Who Need Spin-Offs
This summer, the Star Wars rumour mill kicked into high gear once again thanks to an exclusive from The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit. Kit wrote that Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry would be directing a spin-off centred around Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that Lucasfilm were also considering movies featuring other fan favourite characters to fit in around the three trilogies, Rogue One and the (still!) untitled Han Solo film.

Many fans seemed excited, others less so. The alleged decision to choose characters already given a trilogy or two dedicated to their stories (Obi-Wan, Yoda), secondary characters whose involvement smacked more than a little of fan-service (Boba Fett) drew everything from exasperation to downright ridicule (Jabba the Hutt movie, anyone?).

Still, as many commentators observed, this is Star Wars: whether it’s Obi-Wan’s tales from the desert or Boba Fett’s thousand-year digestion in the belly of the Sarlacc, you can be sure as the (twin) sunrise that audiences will shell out the cash. But just how far will this goodwill/franchise loyalty/slavish devotion (delete as appropriate) stretch? To find out, I drew up my own roster of minor and background characters who could star in their own standalone films...


Ben Quadinaros:

The excitable Podracer pilot who spectacularly lost control of his BT310 during the Boonta Eve Classic in The Phantom Menace wasn’t always a failure. This Rush-style racing drama would showcase his rise to power across the raceways of the galaxy, from Malastare to Ando Prime. High on a string of wins and against the advice of his sponsors, the skittish Toong invests his reward money into highly-experimental pods, ignoring his exasperated pit droid team’s complaints. A fellow racer attempts to copy one such design, and is killed in a mid-race explosion. Arrogantly confident that he can control the pod, Quadinaros journeys to Tatooine and, in the closing moments of the movie, takes his seat in the four-engine monster that will soon lose him everything.



Kitster:

This dark character study examines the life of an impoverished Tatooine teen when his best friend, Anakin Skywalker, suddenly leaves to follow his dreams of becoming a Jedi. Without the interest of Anakin’s racing exploits to excite them, Kitster’s friendship group lose interest in him. We cut to ten years later: the Clone Wars are being broadcast across the galaxy. A jealous Kitster, now a grown man, spends his evenings in the cantina, cursing his old friend as he is forced to watch Anakin hailed as a champion of the Republic again and again. In a biting piece of metanarrative, Kitster – who, in the 18 years since Episode I came out, has never been replicated as an action figure – burns a stall selling holo-posters and toys of his old friend.


Zuckuss and 4-LOM:

This chirpy buddy comedy details the exploits of the two bounty hunters seen aboard the Executor during Darth Vader’s search for the Millennium Falcon. Sick of being belittled and mocked by Boba Fett, Bossk and the rest, the duo makes it their mission to secure the Falcon first. Unfortunately, the hapless Gand mercenary and his droid companion learned everything they know about Bounty Hunting from watching the galaxy far, far away's equivalent of 21 Jump Street, and, in their haste to prove themselves, weave an accidental path of destruction across the cosmos. The film’s recurring gag is that everyone from assailants to clients and producers of wanted holograms keep mistaking them for one another, due to their fly-like heads.


Salacious B. Crumb:

Think King of Comedy with a Kowakian Monkey Lizard instead of Robert De Niro's Rupert Pupkin. Crumb, sleeping rough on the streets of Mos Eisley and taking whatever grimy cantina gig comes his way, dreams of playing the premiere clubs of Tatooine. During a particularly raucous pub brawl, he kidnaps one of Jabba’s henchmen in a desperate plea for attention, offering the bodyguard’s release for a chance to entertain the gangster. Given De Niro’s recent propensity to take even the most degrading gig (see Dirty Grandpa…actually, don’t), I can’t imagine he’d need much persuasion other than a lucrative Disney paycheck to voice the gnarly creature. In accordance with the recurrent preference for practical effects over CGI and against the advice of film historians, the original – rapidly degenerating – puppet will be used.



Constable Zuvio:

Remember Niima Outpost's very own long arm of the law from The Force Awakens? If you answered yes, you'd be lying, because – despite getting a whole article in Empire magazine dedicated to his first appearance – poor Zuvio was cut from the film, appearing only in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment during Rey and Finn's escape from the First Order. For the sake of justice, I say we give him his own movie. Jakku Vice? Heat (because it's a desert planet, geddit)? They can even throw in a cameo from a now-ancient C2-B5, Rogue One’s Imperial astromech droid, similarly left on the cutting room floor. They'll save a fortune in merchandise, too: why manufacture new action figures when you can simply apply a new logo sticker onto the hordes of plastic policemen still warming the pegs of your local toy shop? Gotta shift those Funko Pops somehow!