[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan

115 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #48 (as of 6/25/2019)

 

What else would I watch on IndyPendence Day, right?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Witness, The Secret Life of Pets 2) is a professor and archaeologist known for acquiring various historical items of merit. Now he’s been tasked by the American government to find the missing Ark of the Covenant, a chest that contains the remains of the Ten Commandments, and an item he has a history with. He doesn’t know its location, but his former love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, Starman, Year by the Sea) may know something. He has to work quickly, though, because a group of Nazis, led by rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Absentia), are already on the search for Marion and the Ark, as Hitler believes the Ark to have mystical powers that may grant the Nazis an edge on their quest for global domination.

I actually got into Indiana Jones in my late teens because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I knew I had to see the other three first, because I’m a little insane that way. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is not my favorite of the four films, it’s a damn good introductory adventure to our heroic archaeologist and it set the blueprint for how to create an effective adventure under the crafting of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Ready Player One), George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Solo: A Star Wars Story).

Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Jones. It’s laughable now to even think of someone else like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, or even Steve Martin donning the fedora, even though they were all part of the lengthy list of potentials for the lead. He is excellent here, playing an otherworldly parallel to Han Solo, another crotchety character who thinks he knows everything. His chemistry with both love interest Karen Allen and also close friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aquaman), are both exemplary.

What’s so great about introducing this film at this time is that so much of its iconography and recognizable pop culture occurs in the opening sequence. My wife had only seen Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull (the latter of which probably a decade ago), and after Indy takes on the fertility idol, she turned and asked what happens in the movie, assuming that the boulder and everything leading up to it was the plot of the movie. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s true.

Spielberg’s style, borrowed from pulp adventure novels, B-movies, and serials from his youth, elevated the material with a fun sense of style that integrated nicely without getting bogged down in silliness. He also wasn’t afraid to hit the violence hard. In fact, when I was younger, I remember a teacher showing us the violence in one of the sequences of the film. I cannot remember the reason for it, but we were supposed to count the number of violent acts that occur in the fight sequence, and it was a lot. To be honest, that’s one of the great things about the film. The hunt for the Ark is not an easy one for Indy or Marion, and it is their knowledge and skill that keep them going. Plus, Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan actually showcase their lead character’s intellect by having him skirt a few nastier situations in the film by using his brain power over his bullwhip and fist.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nearly-perfect film which has aged extremely well (except for the age of Marion during her romantic entanglement with the archaeologist). It’s action, violence, and smarts make for a B-movie with an A-movie cast and crew. This is excellent adventure boiled down to its core.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.

[#2019oscardeathrace] Free Solo (2018)

Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Cast: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Sanni McCandless

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what the term Free Solo meant before I saw this movie.

Free Solo is the documentary covering Alex Honnold’s unprecedented climb of El Capitan Wall in Yosemite. The climb, over 3,000 feet high, was completed without ropes or any safety gear at all, hence the term Free Solo. That means is Alex were to slip or fall, he’s a dead man. A documentary crew followed him on this incredible trek, a dangerous idea adding more stress to the climb.

I’ll put it as simply as I can: Free Solo is one of the most intense and exhilarating experiences I have had in the theater in quite some time. Everything leading up to the big event is shown with such gorgeously captivating cinematography. There were times I felt a little light-headed because you feel like you are up there with Alex. That’s the magic of this cinematic experience. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru) depict this insane sport and the toll it has on those around the climbers. They took me on the climb with them. I felt like a fly on the wall.

I really liked what time they spent diving into Alex’s childhood leading to his decision to become a climber and, eventually, a free solo climber, but I do wish we got some more of that in the film. It’s my one nitpick because I really wanted to study the mind of these daredevils and what makes them do what they do. The surface is merely scratched in the film, and I would have liked more.

The most centralized relationship in the film is between Alex and girlfriend Sanni, and it’s really nicely detailed. I felt for her as she tried to reach him and make him understand what this sport was doing to her, and it’s a great emotional argument of the film.

Free Solo’s striking visuals and its intense personal story is a powerful combination, making it one of the strongest documentary features of the year. I feel bad for you if you missed this one in IMAX, but seek it out when you can and experience this incredible feat for yourself.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2019oscardeathrace] The Wife (2017)

Director: Bjorn Runge

Cast: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke, Elizabeth McGovern

Screenplay: Jane Anderson

99 mins. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Glenn Close] [Pending]

 

The Wife is a movie that has slipped by unnoticed by the public and, if not for the nomination of Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, Father Figures), it may have disappeared entirely. I was well-aware of the love that has been thrown her way for this performance, so I hunted down a copy of the film knowing very little about it. The question being lobbed around by film pundits and critics is whether or not Close was nominated for her performance in the film or her career.

Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) has just been informed that he is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. His wife, Joan (Close) is overjoyed for her husband, and the two depart for Stockholm. As the ceremony draws closer, Joan confronts her choices in her life that led her to this point as she is pursued by a frustrated biographer, Nathanial Bone (Christian Slater, True Romance, TV’s Mr. Robot), searching for the couple’s secret.

The question of whether or not Close’s performance is worthy is a simple one: it is. Now, I wouldn’t say she gives the best performance of the year, but hers is a role filled with emotion and visual flair. She acts with her eyes in a sometimes muted performance that flows with regret and frustration in what could be called a late mid-life crisis as the secrets of her past come forth. It’s an incredibly moving story marred by historical and cultural shifts. I felt myself emotionally broken watching Joan as she discovers what she’s been missing with her own life. I won’t get into specifically spoilery territory but it is something to watch her bare her soul.

Merit should also be given to Pryce and Slater for their terrific turns. Slater is engaging and secretive, always holding his cards close. His performance is similar to the small bit he played in Interview with the Vampire. Pryce, though, is multi-layered, a man with regrets of his own who has seemingly lost touch with himself and doesn’t see the world through a realistic lens. His isn’t a likable character for the most part, but his is definitely an understandable character. What’s fascinating about the duality between Pryce’s Joe and Close’s Joan is just how close they are to each other while being two sides of the same coin. There are shades of both husband and wife in each of us.

Outside of the production design and sets, there isn’t a whole lot of technical flair to the film. Director Bjorn Runge (Daybreak, Happy End) tends to let his focus stick to the characters. The screenplay from Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge, Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson) is elegant and slowly burns to an intense and emotional finale, one that stayed with me long after leaving the theater.

The Wife isn’t flashy or visually evocative in the way that so many films are. It is beautiful and nuanced and the type of film that most people aren’t likely to see. That shouldn’t take away from the story and the characters which are well-performed and heartbreakingly realistic. This is a film I would implore you to see as soon as you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Florida Project (2017)

Director: Sean Baker

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Screenplay: Sean Baker, Chris Bergen

111 mins. Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Willem Dafoe] [Pending]

 

Many critics believe that The Florida Project was snubbed for Best Picture this year. Let me weigh in yet again.

The Florida Project follows Moonee (Brooklyn Prince, Robo-Dog: Airborne) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) who live in the Magic Castle, a cheap motel near Disney World. Moonee is not disciplined by her mother and takes part in mooching, stealing, and rudeness with friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky. Magic Castle’s manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of a Vampire, Death Note) tries to keep the peace, but Halley’s inability to take responsibility for her child causes many guests to complain. Bobby is torn between his duties as a manager and his concern for the well-being of the children.

I wasn’t a big fan of The Florida Project. As I say a lot, a character doesn’t have to be likable as long as they are interesting. The only character I found to be compelling and interesting in the film is Dafoe’s Bobby. His performance is strong and real. You can see the strain of his decisions weighing on him.

I really didn’t like Halley as a character. I felt bad for her child as I’ve seen this kind of thing play out in real life. The film was real and believable in a lot of ways, but these weren’t compelling characters that I wanted to spend time with, and Halley especially was more annoying and one-note.

The technical aspects are strong, though, with director Sean Baker (Tangerine, Starlet) again using his strong visual sense to fill the screen with gorgeous albeit tragic images. It’s one of the saving graces of an overall disappointing and depressing film.

I might catch some flack here for my opinion on The Florida Project, but overall, I wasn’t nearly as taken by the film as others clearly were. That’s the great thing about film. I hope you enjoy it, but I certainly didn’t. Short of Dafoe’s incredible work and the lovely cinematography, The Florida Project didn’t work for me.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Greatest Showman (2017)

Director: Michael Gracey

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya

Screenplay: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon

105 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “This is Me” [Pending]

 

Musicals are getting a comeback recently thanks to La La Land. In 2017, the same lyricists contributed to The Greatest Showman, a musical biopic based on the life of P.T. Barnum. So can the film stand up to meet the music?

Phineas T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables, Logan) came from nothing. When his father died, he was forced into a life of stealing bread and selling old newspapers just to survive, but his hard work and determination to give his beloved Charity (Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea, All the Money in the World) the life she deserves brings him to the creation of P.T. Barnum’s Museum, a building of curiosities and unique people. When Barnum’s successes lead him further away from his family, he is forced to confront what is most important in his life.

Okay, so the music is incredible here. I could not stop tapping my foot all throughout the film, and I did actually enjoy myself. The best songs in the film are the opening number and, of course, “This is Me.”

The biggest problem with the movie is that the story hits familiar beats all too often. There is a lot in P.T. Barnum’s life to cover, but the screenplay focuses on some paint-by-numbers plot points like the way Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Snowman) influences the plot and the love story between Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, The Disaster Artist) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zapped).

Hugh Jackman is, thankfully, a tremendous force in the film. In prepping for his role as Barnum, he read over 30 books on the famous showman. His role is joyful, emotional, and full of life. The Greatest Showman has been a passion project for Jackman since 2009, and his passion shows through here.

I left the theater with a big damn grin after The Greatest Showman ended. Much like The Disaster Artist, the film is about the need to perform and create, and in that way, Jackman’s performance shines through. He and the rest of the cast give their all in their acting and singing, but the screenplay hits a few too many beats. That being said, this is still a lovely time, especially in the theater.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigot-Smith, Paul Higgins

Screenplay: Lee Hall

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins) seems to surprise me with his films. He has regularly directed films that, on the surface, seem very boring, but when I see them, I’m often shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed them. Victoria & Abdul is another such film that seemed rather boring from what I’ve seen. But did the finished film actually work?

Victoria & Abdul is the story of a friendship between an aging Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, Murder on the Orient Express) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7, Fukrey Returns). This friendship is resented by son Bertie (Eddie Izzard, Ocean’s Thirteen, The LEGO Batman Movie) and others in England, who devise several plots to get rid of Abdul and send him back to India.

Frears’s new film suffers from the same issue that some of his previous films have: their pacing. Victoria & Abdul should’ve been tightened down by cutting around 20 minutes from the film. There is a sizable chunk in the middle that doesn’t develop either character and also doesn’t advance the narrative.

What saves the film is the central relationship between Queen Victoria & Abdul Karim. It is the scenes with these two that are so spectacularly well-acted that it makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable. Dench and Fazal put in some of the best performances of 2017, hands down, and their chemistry is terrific.

On the other side of that coin, I didn’t find the supporting “antagonists” of the film to be very well-written. I didn’t really understand their motives outside of them just being mad or jealous. It just didn’t work for me and I didn’t find them interesting or compelling enough to support the narrative’s driving force.

Victoria & Abdul showcases its two leads and their central relationship, and while the “villains” were less than stellar and Frears still hasn’t solved his pacing issues, Dench and Fazal have so much infectious chemistry that it still makes the film worth it. The technical merits of the film are finely-tuned here and the story is a very enjoyable character piece. Check this one out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stephen Frears’s Philomena, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]

 

I guess it’s true. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This movie was divided as hell, but does The Last Jedi deserve the hate or is it missing the praise?

Picking up moments after the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Only Yesterday) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Brigsby Bear, Bunyan and Babe) on Ahch-To to discover that he has abandoned the Jedi code to live out his days in quiet solitude. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy) leads the resistance forces away from D’Qar as a First Order fleet arrives to take them. Now, they are on the run from First Order forces. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Suburbicon) makes a costly mistake in the defense of the convoy and falls into a path of mistrust when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, Wild, TV’s Big Little Lies) assumes command of the Resistance forces. Now, as the First Order closes in, Finn and Poe attempt to save the convoy, Rey finds herself drawn ever closer to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, TV’s Girls) and the truth about her past.

Okay, so I’m not a Star Wars apologist. I find the prequels to be extremely middling in quality, and even though I love all the Star Wars films, I’m not above finding glaring issues that stick out. That being said…

I loved The Last Jedi. It completely changed the game and added so much to the mythology by driving the film forward rather than looking to the past. This is an incredible addition to the Star Wars Saga. Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) came to the table and took what J.J. Abrams created with The Force Awakens and pushed it further. It’s definitely not like its predecessor in that it isn’t how I expected it. In fact, that’s what I love most about the film. I walked into it with all these preconceived ideas about how the movie has to go, and I would say just about all of them were wrong. I love The Last Jedi because I was shocked and surprised when I watched it, and that hasn’t happened since The Empire Strikes Back.

The film’s performances and cast are top-notch yet again, particularly leads Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, this being her final Star Wars outing. Hamill could easily have been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars with his most subtle and tortured performance in his entire career. Skywalker is broken by his failure to save Ben Solo.

There’s also some really great work from Ridley and Driver, especially in their shared scenes. We see some darkness in Rey and some potential good in Kylo. It’s clear that these two have not fallen into their roles as enemies yet. There are some nice flaws showcased on both sides here.

I also have to say some about Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Supreme Leader Snoke. He doesn’t get as much to do in this new installment, much like The Force Awakens, but the way he is utilized in this film is far superior to Episode VII. Unfortunately, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe) and Gwendoline Christie (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, TV’s Game of Thrones) feel shoehorned in as Maz Kanata and Captain Phasma, respectively.

But the film was always going to be divisive. I just wasn’t prepared for how divisive it would be. Even Mark Hamill expressed concerns to Johnson about the direction of the film, but after seeing the finished product, it sounds like he has since been won over.

And there are things I take issue with in the film, but they are merely nitpicky things like a particular Leia scene that comes across a little silly. There’s a moment early on with Luke that could have emotional impact but instead falls to cheap comedy. These are mere nitpicks and, in the scope of the film, this being the darkest film in the saga, I can understand the reliance on some levity.

The Last Jedi honors what has come before while also paving the way to what’s yet to come. It’s a unique Star Wars film, and it’s the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson’s attention to detail and the film’s connective tissue with the rest of the sage, including Rogue One, is just another reason that this film works as well as it does. With this film, Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) becomes the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars live-action releases. I unabashedly loved the theater experience of seeing The Last Jedi, so much so that I saw it an additional two times. See this movie. Three Times.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

 

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