Tag Archives: Rian Johnson

Review: Star Wars:Episode VIII- The Last Jedi

Theatrical Release Poster

Wow. All I can say is wow. I was semi-excited for this movie because of how Episode VIII ended and set up respective story threads and character arcs. However, I was also kind of nervous. The last movie, even though I really enjoyed it, felt safe for a lot of the film and I was worried that this film would similarly pull a lot of punches and just be a rehash of Episode V. Thankfully, I was wrong. By the end of this movie, I was more than satisfied with the way previous plot threads were handled and forwarded. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi innovates and changes the Star Wars formula in ways that I genuinely enjoyed while retaining the magic that has made me fall in love with the franchise.

The film immediately picks up after the end of the last one which I appreciated. One of my biggest issues with a lot of the Star Wars movies is the time gaps between them. I never have a great grasp of what has changed which makes power differences and character motivations feel unearned. It’s a problem I had with the transition between Episodes V- VI and Episodes II-III (yes I know the Clone Wars exist and I’ll be watching them but the problem is still there and noticeable). Because this film bypasses those issues, I wasn’t left asking why or what happened and could just focus on the subsequent plot and character development.

One glaring issue with the last film, is it’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. He’s missing from a galactic conflict and unresponsive to the plight of the innocents being destroyed by the First Order. When I saw the opening crawl in Episode VII, I could hardly believe it. Luke was a beacon of optimism in the original trilogy and I genuinely enjoyed the way his character developed from a headstrong, passionate, ready to charge in hero to someone more calm and wise in his solutions to problems. In particular, what stood out to me the most was his hope and control of emotions. He gives in to his rage and fear in Episode VI, but manages to control those impulses in favor of the heroic and ethical approach. That stuck with me. So how could such a hero, who saved the galaxy purely through spirit and resilience be away from the situation at play? That’s the question I couldn’t stop asking during the run time of the last movie. Johnson’s answer and direction for Luke, answers those questions in spades, and genuinely surprised me. There’s a satisfying explanation for his motivations and his withdrawal from the conflict. More importantly, there’s a beautiful discussion about the dangers and merits to legends of heroism. Luke is forced to confront his legendary status and this isn’t something I’ve gotten to experience in heroic movies. Yes – legends are great in how they inspire- but looking at how they can debilitate their sources is something I’ve never really bothered to consider and I enjoyed the way the discourse is presented. Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke is breath-taking and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing he was. He’s grumpy, irritated, distraught, hopeful, lost, wise, and everything in between. He’s asked to do so much by this plot and never fails to deliver. I was completely enamored by his presence on the screen and I think that this movie would be an absolute failure if he couldn’t sell the gravitas of his decisions and subsequent character arc. He makes the movie and gives it the emotional weight necessary to elevate it from good to great. If someone had told me Luke still had a dynamic and emotionally resonant character arc left in him, I wouldn’t have believed them, but that’s what I got in this film.

Luke’s not the only character that gets some love in this movie. Finn, Poe, and Kylo all get development in this movie and I love how their character arcs progressed. Finn’s biggest issue in the last movie is how how much he wants to run away. He’s forced to confront that issue and decide his place in the conflict. His ultimate decision in the third act becomes more meaningful as such. Kylo is still emotionally distraught and watching his inner conflict is satisfying. It’s believable and makes his actions and decisions that much more interesting to follow. Poe’s changes are my favorite by far and I loved watching his journey from a guns-blazing hero to someone more tempered. It reminded me of Luke’s journey from Episode V to VI but felt more developed and earned.

The story also continues a lot of the thematic elements I loved from the prequel trilogy- namely the idea that the Sith is “evil” and the Jedi are “good.” Moral grayness is the name of the game and the film explores this through a variety of different character interactions and plot lines. I loved what I got and wish the film had gone further with its deconstruction of those ideas. The primary theme of the film is failure and how we can learn and develop from it. Characters literally come out and tell the audience as much. It’s not a novel lesson, but it’s not something that’s usually explored as much. I mean, no one really loves to focus on their losses. This movie forces the characters to confront their issues and learn or be eliminated. It’s powerful and the lessons some of the group learn are harsh.

This movie shines as a audio and visual treat. There are some gorgeous action scenes that feel larger than life because of the tension and themes that go behind them. The emotional intensity driving these moments kept me engaged and once the action started in the third act, I couldn’t stop staring at the screen in appreciation of the spectacle I was witnessing. John William’s score in this movie is similarly amazing. I paused more than once to find out the name of a track in the background. If you followed my review of Episode VII, this is one of the elements of the movie that I was somewhat disappointed by, so when I heard the riveting score in this film I was genuinely happy.

I know it seems like I’ve gushed a lot over this movie, but I did have a few issues with it. There’s a subplot in the movie that feels kind of out of place. If you’ve watched the movie and seen other reviews online, you know what plot I’m talking about. While I agree that the sub-plot was long and overdrawn, I don’t think it was useless. I enjoyed the way it played with and subverted our expectations while adding to the political commentary and ideas of a moral gray zone. I do think that the section could have been cut down and thought that it did mess up the pacing of the movie. Better editing could have reduced this effect and helped the scene feel less cumbersome to get through.

I lauded the character growth in this movie, especially in relation to failure and development in response. However, because each character is learning a different lesson, sometimes when those lessons are presented one after another it creates a jarring thematic experience. For example, a character learns about the value of patience and then another character immediately acts haphazardly as a martyr. It makes sense for both characters to do what they do (at least in my opinion), but because both arcs are presented with each other it comes off as a thematic whiplash. There’s also an attempt to shoe-horn another theme in the third act, that I thought felt out of place and less resonant.

Speaking of tonal inconsistency, the movie has a lot of humorous moments that follow serious moments. I didn’t mind this in some sections because the comedic moments never felt too serious. However, there are definitely sections that would have benefited greatly from the exclusion of any humorous moments to really drive home the gravity of what was going on.

Rating

TLDR: I loved The Last Jedi. It has some tonal and plot flaws that could have been solved with better editing, but is by and large entertaining and thought provoking. Characters old and new are forced to grow and adapt and I’m excited to see where they end up by the end of the story.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. This movie is a great follow up to Episode VII and I cannot wait to see Episode IX in a few weeks.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Knives Out

Theatrical Release Poster

I’ll be honest – I love a good mystery. As a kid I loved watching Scooby-Doo and trying to figure out what was going on. Some of my favorite book series were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I loved BBC’s Sherlock (at least the first two seasons). When I first saw the trailer for the movie and saw the cast list, I knew I had to see it to satiate the mystery fan inside of me. I’m more than happy to report back that Rian Johnson’s star-studded mystery, Knives Out, is charming and filled with great twists and turns.

The film follows Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he helps the local police determine if the death of popular mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), was a suicide or something more nefarious.Honestly, what surprised me the most about the movie was how well it balanced humor, mystery, drama, and tension. No element ever feels like it feels out of place. Combined with the beautiful shot composition, the aesthetic and makeup of Thrombey’s house, and a riveting score and you have a formula for success. I laughed out loud more than once with the audience and also had my share of white knuckle moments.

What makes the film more interesting than the traditional mystery plot is the information revealed to the audience. I didn’t expect to get the gleams of info I got, and I was amused with the way the plot’s focus and scope changed. It made the movie more interesting and the way the movie plays with mystery tropes is a delight. There was more than one moment I didn’t see coming and watching all the pieces come together by the end of the movie was great. There are quite a few elements that are set up through the movie and I was thoroughly satisfied with how they were explored by the end of the movie. Pay attention – I promise the payoff is more than worth it.

The acting in this movie is great and there are a few stand-out performances that were really fun to watch. Besides his accent ( which feels deliberately over-the-top), I loved how much Craig owned the screen. He’s confident, witty, and feels charismatic in an endearing way. His ability to go from hard ass to comedic observer helps keep the tone of the movie consistent. Ana de Armas’s performance as Marta is also phenomenal. She plays off Craig well and does great in her own light. Watching her innocent character try and navigate the contours of the Thrombey family was a delight and made me want to cheer her on. Speaking of the Thrombeys, every member of the family feels distinct and the members that get more fleshed out are quite interesting. As someone who loved Toni Collette in Hereditary and The Sixth Sense getting to see her as a liberal lifestyle guru was a treat. The issue with so many characters however, is that a few of them become one note characters that are associated with nothing more than a gag. It’s a shame because there are hints of moments that could be developed with them, but they’re never explored to their full extent.

Although the movie is a fun adventure, it feels lacking thematically. There’s a surface level discussion of politics- immigration in particular- and besides some cyclical gags in relation to it and some minor drama it’s never handled in a way that makes it more meaningful. It’s obvious that the film is a criticism of opulence, but so many of the other elements of the movie are so intelligently written, so the lack of depth feels like a huge missed opportunity. Likewise, there’s this underlying discussion of family and obligation that’s mentioned a lot in the movie, but is really mishandled. In particular, certain character reactions betray where the movie could have gone with this meaning in favor of being more generic. There’s also one glaring character decision that doesn’t make sense in the 3rd act of the movie which is kind of a big deal in how the plot unravels. I might just be nitpicking here but it felt out of place with how well thought out everything else in the plot was.

Rating

TLDR: Knives Out is fun and filled with twists and turns. What it lacks in thematic meaning, it makes up in over the top fun and excitement.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. One of the best movies of the year- I’d recommend going with friends. This is more of a communal experience. Mystery fans rejoice! This movie should be a refreshing adventure.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!