Movie review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

A film that needs no introduction has finally arrived. It’s the nerds’ Christmas also known as Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi!!!

IMDb summary: Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn, and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.

Just before we get into the review, I have done a few Star Wars related posts and I’ll link them all here, in case you want to check them out: my general thoughts on Star Wars, The Force Awakens review, Rogue One review.

Also, the majority of my review will be spoiler-free, while some spoiler-y ideas will be included down below (after the rating and the poster). However, I advise you to proceed with caution as the things that I deem unspoiler-y, might seem spoiler-y to you if you are trying to go into the film completely clueless.

Rian Johnson

Star Wars 8 was written and directed by Rian Johnson. The filmmakers previous writing and directing credits include Looper, The Brothers Bloom, Brick(his indie directorial debut) and some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad. While Johnson’s credits list is not extensive, its qualitative worth cannot be disputed. Moreover, Kathleen Kennedy and other producers at Lucasfilms seem to believe in his filmmaking talents, as it was recently announced that Johnson will be creating a new Star Wars trilogy. Anyways, let’s talk about the writing and the directing of The Last Jedi – both of which were excellent.

Writing: the story and the reveals

To begin with, I loved how the writing for The Last Jedi went for more: more humour (this was honestly the funniest Star Wars movie out of all of them), higher emotional stakes (I have never cared for the nameless background characters more in my movie watching experience), and more action (literal action and just stuff happening plot-wise). Speaking about the plot, it was quite saturated with twists and turns: the picture had 4 storylines all interwoven very nicely (the villains, Rey/Luke, Poe/Leia/Resistance, and Finn/Rose). Nevertheless, while I enjoyed all the points of the narrative, I’m not entirely sure whether the reveals of The Last Jedi will be impactful in the long run – more on that in spoilers.

Thematically, The Last Jedi, more than all Star Wars movies before it (again with the idea of ‘more is more’) traversed the line between the darkness and the light. It also had a varied portrayal of heroism which was quite refreshing. It also presented a never before seen side of the galaxy – the glamours one (Casino Royale in space), and, through it, The Last Jedi was able to explore the concepts of privilege and war benefit. I also liked the film’s idea that wars can be won ideologically as well as physically (more on it in spoilers). Lastly, while The Force Awakens was a narrative rehash of A New Hope, The Last Jedi was somewhat similar to The Empire Strikes Back thematically, in that, both the Resistance and the Rebels have taken heavy losses in their respective stories. However, Episode V did not even come close to the having a hopeful ending of Episode VIII. Although The Last Jedi was about loss, grief, and sacrifice, it also carried within itself an undying spark of hope.

Directing: the action and the visuals

The Last Jedi’s action was vastly entertaining and exciting. It was also varied: the epic space battles (at least 3) were accompanied by amazing hand-to-hand fights (at least 3 as well). The visuals of the settings as well as the designs of the new characters/animals were gorgeous and unique. Luke’s island and the white/red plane of Hoth, which both could be glimpsed at in the trailers, were magnificent to look at. Porges (or the pigeons of the Star Wars universe) were cute and not annoying (that was my worry).

The pacing was also very good – the movie was a bit long but it never dragged or got boring, again, mostly because so much was constantly happening. Lastly, John Williams’s score was as impactful as it has always been. My conclusion after watching The Last Jedi is that I completely trust in Rian Johnson to continue expanding the Star Wars canon with that new trilogy of his.

Acting

  • Mark Hamill delivered the best performance of his career as Luke Skywalker. I highly enjoyed the complex portrayal of the character. It was a bittersweet feeling seeing Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. She didn’t have the biggest role in the film but her presence was felt throughout it. Also, she had one incredible scene that made up for the lack of quantity of scenes with her. The dedication to her at the end of the picture was heartbreaking.
  • Adam Driver (Midnight Special, Logan Lucky) was absolutely brilliant as Kylo Ren – he owned the role and was a pure joy to watch. Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express) was equally brilliant as Rey – I feel like she grew more confident in her acting abilities and that definitely shined through in the character. Her personal confidence also fit the character’s arc really well as Rey herself has also grown bolder and braver.
  • John Boyega (The Circle, Detroit) reprised his role as Finn and was amazing. He got a chance to show off his comedic talents. I also loved his chemistry with the newcomer Rose, played by  Kelly Marie Tran (she has played a handful of minor characters on TV and in films before but hasn’t done anything even close to the scale of this franchise).
  • Oscar Isaac (The Promise, Suburbicon, X-Men: Apocalypse) was wonderful as Poe Dameron – a.k.a. a bundle of charisma. His and BB-8’s interactions were just great. Laura Dern (recently appeared in a limited TV series Big Little Lies for which she is receiving a lot of awards’ nominations) played quite an unexpected and a very unique character. Her character’s and Poe’s standoffs very superb.
  • Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes, Avengers 2, directed Breathe) did his thing motion capturing Supreme Leader Snoke, while Domhnall Gleeson (Goodbye Christopher Robin, mother!, American Made, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Anna Karenina) was a bit caricaturish as General Hux but still somehow fitting – probably mostly because the characters around him were aware of his cartoonishness and enjoyed slapping him around.
  • Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) appeared as Captain Phasma and, while she did have a great fight with Finn, I still think that the actress was wasted in this role. Lastly, Benicio del Toro (Sicario, soon the sequel Soldado) had a little but a very interesting role in the film – would love to see more of his character in the future.

In short, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an immensely satisfying addition to the Star Wars franchise. May it continue for many years!…and May The Force Be With You!!!!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer

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SPOILERS

Throughout my review, I mentioned a few times that I don’t know if The Last Jedi’s reveals will be impactful. Let’s go through them and I’ll explain what I mean.

  1. To begin with, the most speculated thing of the past two years – Rey’s parentage – was somewhat revealed. Kylo stated that she is a nobody and that her parents were nobodies and, even though Rey keeps looking for father figures in Han and Luke, she is definitely not related to either of them. I have few reservations about this: first of all, is Kylo a trustworthy source? Also, what about that idea that the main three trilogies are Skywalker-centric – how could one of them have a lead character who isn’t a Skywalker? And yet, I also sort of love the idea that Rey is a nobody – it’s quite an inspirational message to spread that everyone can become a hero.
  2. The trailers have been toying with the viewers, making it seem like Rey was turning to the dark side. However, Kylo is the one who ends up turning…but not really. His character’s arc is just brilliant – I feel like these past two movies have been his growth as a villain rather than redemption as a hero. I immensely enjoyed his and Rey’s back-to-back fight against the imperial guards – it was certainly my favorite smaller scale action scene of the film.
  3. Another great hand-to-hand dual occurred between Luke and Kylo. It wasn’t as visually pleasing as the Kylo/Rey one but it was highly enjoyable because of its meaning for the characters’ shared backstory – Kylo’s darkness scaring Luke into a shameful and regretful act.
  4. The aforementioned fight also resulted in a very interesting goodbye to one of the characters of the old cast – Luke. His way of passing – with peace and purpose – was just so deserved and fitting for the character. However, I don’t think that this film was the last time that we see Luke – I expect him to reappear in the next feature as a force ghost (like Yoda in this one – his cameo was a lovely surprise).
  5. The dual between Kylo and Luke was not only important for Luke but also significant for Kylo, who got a double defeat – physically and, more importantly, ideologically. Kylo has been on a quest to defeat the past, however, as The Last Jedi’s ending proved – the past cannot ever be defeated. It will be reborn and repeat itself, as evident in the closing shots with the force sensitive child.
  6. You know who else’s force sensitivity was finally shown on screen explicitly? Leia’s! It took this series a while to give Leia a great force related scene but the one in this picture was worth the wait. The bait-and-switch aspect of it only added to the emotional turmoil of watching that scene.
  7. Another significant death in the movie was that of Supreme Leader’s. The fans have been speculating online about who he actually was but we didn’t get a chance to find that out before his demise. It seems a bit cruel to play with the fans like that – hint at something in Episode 7 and not deliver on it in 8. I wonder whether he will somehow come back in 9 or whether he was truly just a stepping stone/a development point for Kylo?
  8. Lastly, I don’t know if I was reading into the characters’ interactions too much but I think we will get a love triangle in the next film. There appears to be something brewing between Finn and Rose; Finn and Rey also have a connection; and Poe, having finally met Rey, also seems to like her (I mean, who wouldn’t, she is awesome!).
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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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Movie review: Stars Wars The Force Awakens

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of Star Wars The Force Awakens! I have never thought that I will be able to write about a Star Wars film and a new one, nonetheless. Once again, my review will be from a newcomer’s perspective – I have already explained all of this in my preview, which you can read here. So, without further introduction, let’s celebrate Christmas early and review Episode 7!

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

IMDb summary: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Atmosphere

Only a few times in my life I have seen the whole cinema cheering and applauding the film even before it has started. That’s exactly what happened in one of the premiere screenings of The Force Awakens in my hometown – as soon as the words ‘A long time ago in the galaxy far far way…’ appeared on screen, the energy of the crowd doubled and it just kept on increasing throughout the whole film. We all said goodbye to this film with another round of applause, of course.

George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of this universe and he also directed a lot of the Star Wars films. From what I can gather from the Internet (not the most trustworthy source), the fans have this mixed opinion about him: they like him for creating this amazing galaxy but hate him for re-releasing and re-editing the films over and over again. He also doesn’t seem to understand that the fans prefer the practical effects and a great story and not the CGI monsters and walking/sitting/standing exposition. Lastly, the huge difference in quality between the originals and the prequels is also a dividing factor in the fandom and in the image of George Lucas.

My own personal opinion is also mixed. However, I am happy that Lucas was involved and will be involved going forward with the sequel trilogy as creative consultant. It’s his world – let’s let him expand it and make it even cooler. Just don’t give all the power to him.

Directing + Visuals

J.J. Abrams directed the film and he did an amazing job. I was expecting him to nail it and he did not disappoint. The action was great, the establishing shots – breathtaking and the close ups – suspenseful. I loved both the big battles in spaces and the more personal lightsaber fights. The final duel in the woods was wonderful! I hope that Abrams continues to work on the Star Wars films going forward, at least as a producer. He has directed some of my few favorite films (Star Trek and Mission Impossible) and I can’t wait for his next film. BTW, I practically did not notice any lens flares if that bothers you.

Writing + Story + Dialogue

Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt wrote the script for the film with the help of Abrams himself. Kasdan has written Episode 5 and 6 back in the 1980s and is writing the script for the Han Solo spinoff for 2018. Arndt has written a screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine (one of my favorite movies ever) and has worked on a few Pixar films as well as Hunger Games Catching Fire and Oblivion. I really enjoyed the story that they wrote. It was both fresh and familiar. To be fair, quite a few plot points were very similar to the original films – they might have referenced Episodes 4 to 6 a bit too much (especially in the 3rd act), but I still loved every minute of it. I liked how they set up the new characters but were still able to incorporate the old ones. The new characters were just similar enough to the old ones to induce nostalgia, but fresh enough to be interesting. I loved the funny moments as well. They were organic and fit the occasion. My favorite ones were the thumbs up and the reveal of the Millennium Falcon. The revelation of the family relation was not as surprising this time (we were all expecting something similar), but it was amazing nonetheless. In addition, the film left lots of gaps in a story, which the fans can fill in themselves and speculate – that’s part of the fun. The prequels hit the viewers with tons of boring exposition, but the sequels do not seem to be following the same path. Also, on a side note, John Williams’s score was glorious once again.
Acting/Character by character

The new trio:

  • Daisy Ridley as Rey – she is definitely my favorite female character of 2015 (even better than Furiosa, although I really loved Theron in Mad Max). Rey was young and independent, strong and vulnerable, a bad-ass fighter and a good friend. If I ever need a costume for Halloween or if I ever get a chance to go to a comic con, I’m definitely dressing up as her. Lastly, I cannot not speculate – I think she is Kylo’s sister and a Rey Solo – how else could the force be strong with her? However, she also might be a Skywalker or a Kenobi. I guess we will just have to wait and see. Daisy Ridley  has not starred in any big films before but she played an amazing lead. I couldn’t be happier that this actress will be the one taking us on the journey in the galaxy far far way in the near future and I also am excited for her other projects (if she has any time for them).
  • John Boyega as Finn – another amazing lead. I liked how we finally were able to have stormtrooper (or a former one) as a lead. I, personally, have always thought about stormtroopers as soulless tools of the Empire (or the First Order), so it was really nice to be proven wrong. Boyega did a really good job with his action scenes – he was just the right amount of clumsy and funny. Boyega does not have a long list of films on his resume as well, however, I think he has a bright future ahead.
  • Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron – another amazing character who I can’t wait to know more about. He was extremely likable and a really efficient pilot. I hope he gets a bigger character arc in the sequel. I also want more scenes with him and Finn (bromance shippers- the Tumblr is yours). Isaac was the most experienced actor out of the new trio. I have seen a few of his films – Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina – I especially loved the second one. Oscar Isaac will also play Apocalypse in the upcoming X-Men film – I can’t imagine him as a villain and can’t wait to see that film because of that.

The old trio – it was amazing to see all of them coming back for this film – and they actually had some stuff to do and weren’t just there for emotional purposes (although, for that also).

  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo – I liked Ford’s take on Solo one last time. He played an older, wiser Han, however, he was still the smuggler that we all knew and loved. The scene on that bridge broke my heart and I think I wasn’t the only one weeping in the cinema.
  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker – while he personally didn’t have much to do, he was the thing driving the plot. His meeting with Rey at the end of the film was really great – it had no dialogue but was still very powerful. I hope he comes back for another film (he probably will and will have a much bigger part in it).
  • Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa – while Fisher is known online for being a tough actress to work with, I still love her as Leia. She also played a different kind of Leia – Leia in her next stage of life. Fisher’s and Ford’s scenes together were as amazing as 30 years before – they haven’t lost any chemistry.

Villains:

  • Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a really good antagonist. He received a lot of development and had lots of emotional depth. He has defeated his father and I can’t wait to see his confrontation with his uncle and a former teacher. I was really surprised that they  allowed Kylo Ren to take his mask off in the first film – I was expecting them to keep this reveal for at least the sequel. Speaking about the actor portraying Kylo – I am not really familiar with his work but can see him getting lots of work after this movie.
  • Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke – the king of motion capture captures not only motion but our attention once more. I think he will be a great ‘big bad’ for the sequel trilogy. I am also really looking forward to other motion capture roles by Serkis – the 3rd Planet of the Apes film and Jungle Book.
  • Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux – was a surprisingly big character. I think Gleeson did a really nice job, although, I don’t see his character surviving till the last film. I have seen a few of Gleeson’s films and liked all of them (mainly Anna Karenina and Unbroken). He has also starred in Brooklyn this year and will also be seen in The Revenant.
  • Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma – the only disappointment of the whole film. I was expecting her to have a bigger part but she had like 3 lines and a few insignificant scenes. I hope they fix her character in the sequel. This is the 2nd time that I expect Christie to have a proper role in the film and am left only with disappointment – the first time was Mockingjay Part 2.

Supporting cast:

  • Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, a pirate – although there have been rumors floating around that Nyong’o was almost cut from the film, because her motion capture skills were not good enough, I believe that she did an amazing job. I really like the design of the character, especially the eyes and the goggles, but even the most amazing visual design would have been worth nothing without the amazing acting of Lupita. I hope we get a chance to visit Maz in the other movies going forward. Next year, we will hear Lupita in The Jungle Book.
  • Also, I really liked the new droid – BB-8 – it was so cute. In addition, I liked seeing the familiar faces of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Lastly, I am not that familiar with biology or anatomy of the Wookiees, but Chewbacca has not aged a day – could you imagine Chewie with gray hair – I mean all of it…

Future

In 2016,  we will be getting the first standalone/spin-off film – Rogue One and a year after that Episode 8 will reach theaters. While I am definitely happy that Star Wars franchise is back, I am a bit worried that if the market gets over-saturated with Star Wars films, they quality will diminish once more and that they will become a less special event – just an ordinary sci-fi film. However, I want to keep an open mind and hope for the best.

All in all, Star Wars The Force Awakens was a great film. I felt included in the experience of watching it, although I didn’t have any nostalgic connections with the previous films. I still can’t believe that it’s Star Wars and it’s back! Everything – the story, the visuals and the characters were just the right amount of familiar and newly exciting. If you have any worries that this film won’t be good, just drop them and go to see it with a calm heart and mind. It is amazing and is definitely worthy of breaking all the box office records.

Trailer: Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer

Rate: 5/5

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