[#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.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 21 – Body Bags (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Cast: John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Screenplay: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

91 mins. Rated R for sexuality and horror violence.

 

Body Bags was to be the pilot episode of a series on Showtime to rival Tales from the Crypt. At some point during production, Showtime pulled the plug, leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. So was Body Bags not worth the time? I checked it out.

Body Bags is another anthology film, this one from John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). It features three stories with wraparound introductions from a Coroner played by Carpenter in heavy makeup. The Coroner is showing us how the bodies ended up in his morgue. The first story, “The Gas Station,” is a classic small set horror story that you might find in a pulp magazine about a young woman by herself running an overnight gas station and a killer stalking her. The second story, “Hair,” features Stacy Keach (American History X, Cell) as a balding man named Richard who wants more than anything to have thick lustrous locks, and he’s willing to sacrifice anything to get it. The final story, “Eye,” features baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Bunyan and Babe) who loses an eye in a car accident and gets a transplant, but the eye he gets isn’t the one he wants.

We’ve talked a lot about anthologies this month, and, as before, I’ll say it again: anthologies can be hit or miss. That being said, Body Bags is so much fun, the flaws hide behind the flavor. Having cameos from tons of other horror aficionados like Wes Craven and Roger Corman, Body Bags is a lot like desert for horror fans. It’s sweet and enjoyable and you can never have enough. I personally think the first story is the best one and it’s very simple, and Robert Carradine (Django Unchained, Tooth and Nail) is exemplary in it. The second and third stories are only flawed in that they are rather similar to each other. The framing device, though, is quite fun as John Carpenter just kind of lets loose and has fun in a very Cryptkeeper-esque role.

If anthologies and horror are your thing, then I highly recommend Body Bags. It’s not a film that pops up often and it isn’t always easy to find (I was able to hunt it down on my Roku for free, though), but if you can get a copy, I think you’ll be happy you did. It’s rare to see someone like Mark Hamill get to really flex some insanity, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad

115 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

 

I saw Atomic Blonde the other night, and I was heavily intrigued walking into the theater. After all, David Leitch has proven he knows action and the trailers had a lot of bite, so how was the film?

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious) is sent to Germany in 1989 right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall to retrieve The List, an important piece of intel containing information about all current operating spies. Lorraine is ordered to work with David Percival (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Split), a Berlin station chief who has gone native, in order to retrieve The List and take down a powerful group of spies in the process.

Atomic Blonde has some of the best action sequences of any film in the past few years. Charlize Theron proves herself yet again capable of playing a strong kick-ass female protagonist, and her scenes where she is whooping her adversaries are incredibly strong. The rest of the film, however, falls flat rather quickly. We are introduced to interesting characters like Til Schweiger’s Watchmaker and Bill Skarsgard’s Merkel and then instead are subjected to poor villains (and far too many) that are underdeveloped. It’s as if somebody said, “Yeah, there are Russians and Germans and it’s set in the Cold War,” and somehow that was enough. But it wasn’t. I actually would have liked to see more inclusion from Broughton’s allies, including Toby Jones as Eric Gray, her handler, and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc., Bunyan and Babe) as Emmett Kurzfeld, a CIA agent. Sadly, these two great supporting players are relegated to a small role that amounts to little more than a framing device.

The plot is overly convoluted with twists and turns for the sake of having twists and turns, and every time that the bullets stopped flying, I lost interest. This is especially apparent near the end of the film when everything Shyamalans pretty hardcore. By the time the ending hit, I was mostly out of it.

That’s not to say it’s the worst film ever. I liked some of the more stylistic flairs like the titles displayed as spray painted Berlin Wall-esque touches, and the soundtrack is exceptional and worth listening to, but there just wasn’t enough outside the fight scenes to cling to, and Atomic Blonde suffers from it.

Overall, Atomic Blonde is mindless action, but its major detractors are its plot, and no film should have that noted. Charlize Theron does better than I expected again, and she is surrounded by capable players that have nothing to do.  The film quickly finds itself out of excitement and it isn’t something I see myself wanting to watch again.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

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