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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!

 

It’s been a long 2 years since the release of JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens hit theaters and reinvigorated the slight tarnish on the Star Wars franchise at the time. Rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly) the prequels left a bad CGI taste in many fans mouths as they failed to deliver on the massive heights of the original trilogy. Looking back almost twenty years after the Phantom Menace (yes it’s been that long) the thought that any new set of films could top the iconic characters and movie moments of the original 3 films seems nearly impossible. Which was all the more astonishing when The Force Awakens dropped and for the first time in what seemed like a long time ago actually felt like a proper Star Wars film.

Yes it’s tremendous success came largely at the expense of playing its safe with close homages to what fans have always loved about the originals. Swashbuckling action, characters we could emotionally invest in and root for, wonderful special effects and it’s ace in the hole, it was FUN. I loved everything about The Force Awakens when it came out as it hit all the right nostalgic nerves while taking the franchise in a seemingly new direction. When the film was over I genuinely wanted to see what came next for Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, The Resistance, the First Order, and of course the long lost now found Luke Skywalker  Who the hell was Snoke? And of course, just who are Rey’s parents?

After The Last Jedi, I’m still waiting to find out.

Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond hyped when the first trailer for The Last Jedi hit the internet last year. The release of a new Star Wars trailer is like a mini Christmas for me as I unpack the trailers to glean every speck of detail and story from each frame as possible. This new film had new A-wings (my favorite ship!), a massive space battle, Rey kung fu Jedi training and an ominous Luke foreshadowing the end of the Jedi order. It looked great and I ready to jump on the hyperspace hype train all over again.

But I didn’t . News started getting out from directer Riam Johnson and even Mark Hamill himself that in order to preserve the story of the Last Jedi it was best to stay from the trailers as much as possible. It hurt, and it was difficult but I headed master Skywalkers words and decided that for this film, I would put myself into exile from the galaxy I loved and walk into the new film totally unspoiled. The first trailer laid subtle hints that something might be off about Luke and if he did turn to the dark side I didn’t want to see it coming. Or Rey, maybe she would go bad this time around. In my mind, anything could happen and I wanted to keep it that way. So with more willpower than I knew I had I sat down to watch The Last Jedi ready to be blown away.

The Force Awakens Pt. 2

About the only I did know about the Last Jedi was that it supposedly picked up right after the cliffhanger ending of the Force Awakens. It almost had to with the way Episode VII’s last shot of a awe-struck Rey handing Anakin’s old blue lightsaber to it’s rightful owner. And in that scene lies The Last Jedi’s critical flaw. It is in every way a continuation and carry over from the Force Awakens.

Say what you will about the prequels but at the very least they advanced the franchise’s story along. I was hoping The Last Jedi would pick up on that scene along the seaside cliffs of Ach-To then jump forward a few months or a year in time to see how the story moved forward. The Last Jedi doesn’t do this and instead takes place within the span of a full 72 hours after Force Awakens. Such a self inflicted time restraint really puts a damper on the plot as only so much can happen and change within 3 days of story.

And at the end of the Last Jedi hardly anything has changed from the end of The Force Awakens. Rey is still not a Jedi. Luke Skywalker is still pretty much absent. Kylo Ren still has a lot of growing up to do if he wishes to become Darth Vader, the First Order is again heavily devastated having taken major loses , and the Resistance is barely eeking out victories. If nothing much happens I ask then, what was the point of the movie? Main Star Wars films don’t come around that often (yet) and when we get an official episode it’s expected big things are in store. Instead with the Last Jedi we get a small after story better suited dare I say not for a comic book or video game. Not a full blown movie.

The film opens up with the Resistance in what could have been a desperate attempt to flee from their hidden base as the First Order, pissed at the loss of StarKiller Base, a MAJOR and recent event only mentioned once in the film, Seeing the rag tag members of the Resistance scramble to evacuate as the First Order bears down on them would have been a great way to reset the stakes and set the tone for the film. Instead we get the exac nearly completed and hotshot X-wing pilot Poe single handily jousting a Star Destroyer while cracking wise. It’s ok but could have been better. There is probably 40 seconds of a disappointing space battle that follows and the Resistance hyperspaces away to fight another day.

Or so it seems as the First Order has developed a way to track the Rebel fleet through hyperspace and catches them shortly after unable to fight back or run away for fear of being tracked down again then annihilated. How will the Resistance ever get out of this jam you may wonder? Easy, they fly away from the First Order fleet at a speed just fast enough to stay out of weapon range but too slow to break away with only the 72 hours of fuel they have left to find a way out. Putting a time constraint in a film is a cheap way to add tension but putting every action against a clock of dwindling urgency. But here it does the opposite by bogging the movie down into an extended and boringly drawn out slow motion chase scene. It can work well when done right, like in 2003’s underrated Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World but in the action packed Star Wars universe it doesn’t translate well.

Given the setup this could have been the Resistance’s version of Dunkirk.  Instead I’m convinced the only reason the chase was contrived was to fill up the middle of the movie with a pointless and convoluted sequence of hoops for Finn and new hero Rose to jump through and hence, something to do. It’s not worth mentioning in any detail suffice to say 30 nearly minutes is wasted sneaking onto a Monte Carloesque casino planet to find some renowned code breaker (so important I don’t think he is ever even given a name) so Finn can then sneak onto the First Order flagship to deactivate the homing tracker and allow the Resistance to escape. Problem is it’s all 100% pointless as the disarming of the tracker never happens and all that screen time was spent on nothing of consequence for the movie. Actually, this might be the most fitting part of The Last Jedi after all now that I think of it.

More time should have been spent with Rey squeezing some lesson out of old man and the sea Luke Skywalker. Like Harrison Ford’s Hand Solo in The Force Awakens, Mark Hammil is a welcome sight for fans as an older crustier version of Luke that still feels right. Luke’s crisis of Jedi faith is a plot point Hammil resisted at first but works here because it’s uncharted territory for the series and we want to see what it takes to break Luke to the brink and bring him back.

To the film’s credit, at the point where things begin to seem to drag on and become predictable the 2nd half of the 2nd act really kicks the legs out and goes headfirst into all sorts of crazy directions. Yoda makes a fun cameo, Snoke pulls a Darth Maul, Rey and Kylo have a super hero team up, the Resistance’s non-plan of escape was a plan all along, we watch the Battle of Hoth 2.0 and Luke does some Jedi stuff. This is when the movie goes fully off it’s well established rails and is at it’s most Star Wars like fun. Had the first half been more like the 2nd I’d be writing a much different review right now.

But good things aren’t meant to last and when the credits roll for The Last Jedi hardly anything has changed to our characters or the state of the universe. Because of this I have a feeling that when JJ Abrams comes back to helm Episode IX it will be more of a sequel to VII than VIII as there is simply more to work with from that film.

The Balance in the Force

That’s not to say I hated everything about the new film. Certain scenes are shot beautifully with the salt encrusted red dust last battle of Crait looking beautiful and fantastic. The penguin like Porgs that seem to have nested on the Millennium Falcon are scene stealers and the fight/duel with Rey and Kylo Ren in Snoke’s throne room was something I didn’t expect to see.

Other random thoughts I had while watching the movie.

  • The cartoonish banter between Poe and Hux in the first scene was cringe worthy and has no place in a Star Wars film, unless it was a call back to some of the slapstick of the prequels. In which case I again say it has no place in a Star Wars film.
  • Hooray for new A- wings! (my fav ship!)
  • Boo they only get 10 seconds of screen time
  • You’d think a big slow bomber crammed full of over-sized thermal detonators would come equipped with shields but no, those things light up like roman candles.
  • Why the First Order refuses to overwhelm enemies with it’s TIE fighters boggles my mind. They literally send just 3 to attack the Rebel cruiser at the beginning. But hey the Resistance just sent Poe by himself to do the same.
  • Also, why can’t the First Order just hyperspace it’s fleet just ahead of the Resistance and blow it up from the front?
  • At the same time, if the Resistance’s goal was always Crait, why did they exit hyperspace 3 days way from the planet?
  • How does Poe or Finn know how to get in contact with Maz Kanata considering Finn just met her days ago and Poe never has?
  • Those gamblers in the casino sure took the news of the destruction of the New Republic and First Order’s Starkiller base pretty well considering they both were likely major customers of their weapons and all.
  • Snoke was kinda growing on me until he, well you know.
  • Oh cool, Phasma is back! Until she well, you know.
  • Why does Yoda just show up now to bust Luke’s chops when he had 30 years after Jedi to jump in and give advice?
  • This is a Star Wars movie right? So where are all the Wookies, and Bith, and Greedo’s and Twi’leks?
  • The Falcon at Crait brought the biggest smile of the movie to me.
  • Why did they feel the need to sadistically whittle the Resistance down to just a handful of survivors at the end? Reborn?  No, I’d say more like on the verge of extinction.
  • Luke’s finale was fitting and considering Carrie Fisher’s recent passing, the franchise is entirely in the hands of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issac. I really do wish these 3 and their characters got developed more.

The Last Jedi certainty isn’t the worst Star Wars movie but it’s no Empire, or even Force Awakens. It’s “just” a Star Wars movie and sadly I’ll have to wait yet another 2 years to see what finally happened next after the events of my beloved Episode VII.

Fittingly, there is a scene towards the end of the film where the Resistance, in a last ditch attempt at rescue, send out a distress signal to their friends waiting on the fringes of the galaxy for help. To their dismay, nobody answers it. Nobody comes. I guess they also are waiting to see what happens next as well.

Mistress America – Review

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I won’t lie to you. Noah Baumbach is climbing rapidly to the top of my most admired directors list. Last years While We’re Young was a sensational film (you can read my review here). Prior to that he made Frances Ha, starring his real life lady love Greta Gerwig, which didn’t excite me near as much as While We’re Young, though it was still a solid, well made indie comedy. Mistress America has Baumbach reuniting with Gerwig once again as he examines the lives of young folk living in America. As you might have guessed by my gushing over the director, I did like Mistress America very much, but there’s more to this film, and my admiration of it, than a simple thumbs up.

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The film takes place, as with Baumbach’s prior films, in the hustle and bustle of New York City. The Big Apple is an instantly recognizable, uncannily cinematic and irresistibly exciting locale for shooting a film and Baumbach wisely matches the vibe of the city with the energy of Gerwig’s character Brooke. Before we’re introduced to Brooke, however, we meet young Tracy. Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, is a plucky, though naive, college freshman. She aspires to be a writer and we witness her in various campus activities, be it study groups or discussing a super exclusive literary club at the school. Tracy’s mother is due to marry a new beau and encourages young Tracy to reach out to her fiancé’s daughter Brooke, who’s also living in the big Apple, as the two are soon to be step-sisters. Brooke gladly takes Tracy under her wing and Lola is soon after swept away in the tornado of Brooke’s life.

What’s interesting about Mistress America is it’s a film that examines the mind, and life, of a constant dreamer. Brooke is a wide eyed, powder keg of anxious energy. She’s a T-shirt designer, an interior decorator, an entrepreneur, and most recently a restaurateur. The restaurant she hopes to open is as idealistic as can be. She wants to open a place where people can come eat, relax, have fun, throw parties and everything in between. A lofty goal, no doubt, but we’re pulling for Brooke, who’s charismatic charm makes us believe she can do anything she puts her mind to. Tracy is equally smitten with the idea, though she see’s that Brooke is the constant dreamer who may not be able to pull it off in the end. Being a writer, Tracy puts her adventures with Brooke into a short story which grants her entry into the aforementioned exclusive literary society. Naturally Brooke finds out that Tracy’s story puts her in a bad light and the two have a falling out. Of course this is short lived as the two have grown to really love each other as genuine siblings. It’s a sappy, touching end to the film, but it feels natural and welcome.

Much like While We’re Young before it Mistress America examines the lifestyles, mind sets, and struggles of those in their mid to late twenties and the generational differences that come with age. Brooke is older than Tracy in the film, I believe by ten years give or take. It’s curious that Tracy, the youth, is the one that see’s the world a little more for what it is rather than Brooke, the consummate starry eyed dreamer. Both actresses knock it out of the park. Greta Gerwig is instantly believable, to the point that you could imagine this being a little more documentary than fictional narrative. Lola Kirke, who I’ve never seen in anything prior, has a smoky allure that perfectly contrasts her characters naiveté. She’s vulnerable, but not to the point of being breakable. She’s confident, smart, witty, but still craves the big sister mentorship of someone like Brooke. This is some of the best casting I’ve seen in a film in a long time, with each supporting cast member holding their own, breathing life into every frame of the film’s modest run time.

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I will say I didn’t enjoy this as much as While We’re Young. I’d dare to say that film was one of my favorite’s from last year, and it could very well be that I saw more of myself and related to the characters in that film more so than in Mistress America. That’s not to say Mistress America is not worth watching. It absolutely is. It’s a funny, touching, entertaining ride that makes you wish you could spend more time with these people. They’re the sort of people you want to get to know and be around, warts and all. Noah Baumbach is absolutely on a roll and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Fantastic Four – Review

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If I were asked to describe the latest attempt at a Fantastic Four film in one word that word would absolutely, without question, be joyless. I won’t beat around the bush here. We all knew this film was bad, but how bad was up in the air. This is a film who’s only reason for existing is to hang onto movie rights for a bit longer. It’s sad, really, to see Marvel’s first family treated with such after thought. It was as though the studio assumed that a film with Marvel super heroes is inherently great before the camera’s even begin rolling so why bother trying. Nevertheless I am a film critic so let’s get criticizing.

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Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four immediately starts off by deviating from the original origins of the titular super hero team. In this flick Reed Richards is a ridiculously intelligent youngster who’s working on a teleportation device. His partner in crime is a young Ben Grimm, who’s not nearly as bright, but fills the affable “muscle” role that he’s always inhabited in the comics. Soon after Richards teleporter is discovered, at a high school science fair of all places, by Franklin Storm, head of a brainy think tank full of young inventors and geniuses. Before you know it Reed Richards is recruited (not Ben, who’s quickly forgotten for awhile) and is hard at work finishing his teleporter with the help of Storm’s two kids Johnny and Sue. Added into the mix is the negligibly malevolent Victor Von Doom who’s motivation for doing anything is as muddy as the cinematography in this dull, dull picture. In any event the teleporter is soon finished and that’s when we’re introduced to the meddling “evil” government types who want to take the teleporter away and use their own guys to explore the mysterious (and bland) alternate dimension our young bucks have discovered. Not to be outdone these intrepid youngsters decide to teleport on their own, without parental supervision (gasp). For some reason Reed say’s he can’t go without Ben, which I imagine is about how the screenwriter felt having forgot Ben Grimm so many pages ago. Our young heroes go through the teleporter, bad stuff happens, they get super powers, they have a super hero vs super villain fight. The End.

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If it sounds like I’m over simplifying the later portions of the film I’m not. The narrative and cohesiveness of the story and characters fall apart around the same time as the lives of our young heroes do. The film sprints towards a rushed ending so quickly that the audience is in danger of whiplash every groan inducing second. No doubt the studio set it all up the way they did so they could get a sequel and start another power house franchise, but they sure missed the mark. This film can’t even claim to be a brainless action film a la Michael Bay. There’s little to no action happening. The final fight between Doom and the Fantastic Four is Reed saying out loud all the things that we the audience can clearly see are happening while each member of the Fantastic Four attempts to do something near Doom. The villain is ultimately defeated with a single punch. He tumbles back into a wormhole and that’s that. It’s exactly as exciting as it sounds.

I don’t know where to place blame here. Was it the studio? Was it the director? The actors? Nothing worked in this movie from the word go. It was a joyless slog through what felt like one film studio flipping the bird to another. I could very easily drone on and on about all the things they could have done to make the film better. There was plenty of small changes they could have implemented that could have allowed the characters to breath, to allow the narrative to excited and hold an audiences attentions, and to make the film fun, which above all else it was NOT. I can’t recommend this film in any capacity, unless you enjoy being painfully bored. Then again, we all knew it was going to be bad. Jokes on me.