Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reviews: Star Wars The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist and MORE

Once again, I have fallen way behind in my reviews.  Thanks to Moviepass which my wife and I both have now, we have been watching films at a breakneck pace.  I'll quickly sum up some the recent movies I've seen and then dive deeper into Episode 8 in the Star Wars saga.

My Friend Dahmer - Exploring the high school life of a young Jeffrey Dahmer, director Marc Meyers paints a detailed picture of a demented, troubled youth.  Ross Lynch (apparently a Disney actor) does a good job of playing creepy as his Dahmer character struggles with his sexuality and has a fascination with dissecting roadkill.  This movie is interesting at times, but never moves into the Dahmer killings themselves, ending just before his first murder.  -  3 JRs

Daddy's Home 2 - Decided to give this one a go after watching the original the night before on video.  Ferrell and Wahlberg are comedy gold when they bounce of one another and the addition of Gibson and Lithgow as the dad's dads works well.  A bit corny and cheesy at times and there are some forced laughs, but overall I had a good time.  3 JRs

The Disaster Artist - Oh, HI James!  Franco did an amazing job portraying the misguided aspiring filmmaker Tommy Wiseau who decided to produce, write, direct and act in the "so bad it's good" 2003 film The Room.  In an adaptation from Greg Sestero's book of the same name, Franco and his brother Dave showcase the dream and vision that went into this awful film.  We understand why the acting is so bad and are still enamored with the cast as they give their "best" effort.  James Franco deserves an Oscar nomination for his nuanced, lovable portrayal of Wiseau.  He has the crazy East-Euoropean accent down-pat and delivers a slew of comedic lines throughout.  While I would have liked to have seen more scenes that focused on making the actual movie, what I got was good enough to make me want to actually watch (and finish) The Room.  I'm also very interested in checking our Sestero and Wiseau's upcoming follow-up film Best F(r)iends.  A solid film that's worth watching even if you don't know what The Room is. 4 JRs

Mudbound (Netflix) - The story of two young men (Tron Legacy's Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who go to war (WWII) and return to a small town in Mississippi that is poisoned by racial segregation. The acting is solid throughout and while Mary J. Blige is getting some awards love (including a Golden Globe nomination), I really didn't think her performance was that memorable.  The story is interesting and the visuals are gorgeous at times through the sprawling farm landscape of the South.  Worth a viewing if you have Netflix.  3.5 JRs

Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadignino's slow-moving yarn about Elio (Timothee Chalamet) a 17-year-old American living abroad in an Italian villa who meets his Father's intern Oliver (Armie Hammer) during the Summer of 1983 and falls in love with him.  This film builds very slowly and once the friendship between the two leads turns into love, it goes over-the-top in some places.  There's not a whole lot going on for most of the film and I just never really was invested in the characters personally.  The film does rebound slightly towards the end thanks to a truly remarkable performance by Chalamet.  In fact, the end-credits sequence is one of the most moving and raw one-take scenes I've seen in a movie in quite some time.  Overall though, it just wasn't my type of movie and I did not like it as a whole.  It might be more suited for others (my wife enjoyed it), but I have to personally give it only 2 JRs

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Rian Johnson has been given the reigns of the new Disney money-making machine.  It was recently reported that the Looper/Breaking Bad auteur is signed on to develop a new Star Wars trilogy that sits outside of the Skywalker story of Episodes 1-9.  In a prequel to this new endeavor, Johnson has delivered an entertaining and original take on the Star Wars franchise with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Without giving anything away plot-wise, the movie focuses on our favorite characters from JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Rey, Finn, BB-8, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron) and spreads them out across the galaxy on various adventures.  Luke, Rey and Kylo in particular have monumental scenes that change the shape of the story arc of this saga.

Johnson is adept at bringing inventive battle scenes, rewarding cinematic sequences and a whole lot of humor to the table.  As a whole, The Last Jedi is more fun than Episode 7 and while I still enjoyed Rogue One better, it is a worthy addition to the franchise that answers some questions and ends up adding more.

Adam Driver and Mark Hamill are the two MVPs of this movie from an acting standpoint.  They give their all to their respective parts and compose the lifeblood of the story.  However, to properly review this film I feel that I need to dive into spoiler territory.  The next few paragraphs contain important reveals from this film and if you don't want to know anything, stop reading here...

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There are several decisions that writer/director Rian Johnson has made with this film that worked really well for me, while others I could have done without.  I really liked the decision to kill off Supreme Leader Snoke.  Kylo Ren's desire to become the big baddie of the franchise seemed like the wise move, and his amazing lightsaber battle with Rey in Snoke's chamber was a gorgeously shot piece of film.  Seeing Rey and Kylo communicate through a force connection brought those two characters closer together and after they decided to part ways again after the chamber battle, you can totally tell Adam Driver gives his all to the performance.  Watching him hunt after Luke in the Battle of Crait, you can really feel his anger and desperation.  It's like watching a problem child spin out of control.  Driver has turned Ren into one of the more memorable movie villains in recent memory.

On the flip side, Mark Hamill totally owns his elderly Luke Skywalker performance.  Nuanced, funny and touching at times, he is able to bring elements of the past to life in a new way.  I've always wanted to see Master Luke in a role similar to Obi-Wan in A New Hope and we got just that in this film.  I'm not sure how I feel about how Johnson chose to have Luke die as he was giving a force-projection, but the move paid off as it brought us those epic climactic battle scenes between Luke and Kylo.  It was also a nice touch to see Yoda come back as a force ghost, voiced once again by the legendary Frank Oz.

While a lot of this movie I thoroughly enjoyed, I did not really care for some of the excess cutesy stuff.  I did like the Porgs but the horse-type creatures and the subsequent chase to get off Canto Bight (the casino planet) seemed a bit forced and over the top.  BB8 driving an AT-AT was a bit much too and a re-hash of Chewy in Return of the Jedi.  I wanted to see Finn sacrifice himself to destroy the cannon at the end of the film and didn't like the choice to have Rose save him.  In fact, the whole Rose/Finn/Benicio Del Toro side-plot didn't work for me.  The worst moment of this movie, however, was when Princess Leia got sucked out of a spaceship and all of a sudden starts flying/floating through space because of the force.  That scene seemed so out of place, ridiculous and forced.

Despite these flaws, Johnson really delivered visually with this movie.  The Battle of Crait itself is a sheer marvel of set design and cinematography.  Watching the white surface explode in red lines and dust clouds was a wonder to behold as an audience member.  The epic, silent flash-explosion of Laura Dern's character's spaceship smashing into a Star Destroyer was stunning.  ILM did a great job of ramping up the CGI in this movie and helping deliver Johnson's grand vision.

Last Jedi has brought a lot of negative disturbances in the force lately.  Several Reddit users have been up in arms about the choices Johnson has made (some of which I outline above).  I am not one of those people.  I feel Johnson had free reign to make his decisions and they were made to move beyond the Skywalker soaked plot line.  I'm excited to see how JJ Abrams finishes this trilogy (think General Poe Dameron) and look forward to enjoying Johnson's own trilogy down the line.  This movie was very entertaining to me and I'm glad I got to see it on opening night with all my kids.  The Last Jedi falls short of a perfect rating but is slightly better than Episode 7 and gets 4.5 out of 5 JRs from me.  Kudos to Rian Johnson, one of the better directors working today who has earned the keys to the George Lucas' franchise.