Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) – An Amazing Subversion of Expectations

   “The Last Jedi” is my second favorite Star Wars film. This is a series that is second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” and in many ways has greater depth even though the structure of this film is a bit of a mess. What this film does though is upset the status quo, delve into the reasons the First Order and Resistance have for even existing in the first place and also a much deeper analysis of “The Force” that we haven’t really gotten since the Original Trilogy. Before I get into spoilers, this is a film with the best characters and themes thus far, amazing character development and emotional payoff, amazing action and it is easily the most beautiful of all the Star Wars films. Seriously, check it out.

The film was directed and written by Rian Johnson while being produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman.

The story involves the Resistance attempting to escape from the First Order who are attacking them after the destruction of Starkiller Base, while Rey is seeking Luke’s help in their fight. Things soon get more complicated when the First Order executes a trap that forces members the Resistance to seek outside help  to escape the First Order trap, and a clash within the Resistance itself between Poe and Vice-Admiral Holdo after General Leia is incapacitated.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is visually the best looking of any film in the Star Wars franchise. Whether it is the filming of fight sequences in space or within a ship…the camera executes the action beautifully and each planet was somewhere I wanted to return back to after it was done.

The Universe – This Star Wars has quite a few different environments and animals. From the adorable porgs, to crystal foxes, to the salt world of Crait, Luke’s Island and Snoke’s Flagship and a Casino World. I was never bored because there was always more to see as each environment was so rich.

The Reason for Resistance – One of the major themes of the film is the reasons to resist. We see this as a class struggle in regards to oppression through the eyes of kids and Rose, a character we are introduced in this film…and also that personal identity is a huge role too and that finding the balance between them is important. Poe is driven by ego and glory for much of what he does but comes to see that it is bigger than each fight, the war is larger than any one person as the individuals and groups define what it means to resist, just as much as if not more than the personal reasons to fight.

The Cost of War – So many people die in this film. There are lots of heroic sacrifices, but also the people who are being oppressed by those profiting from the war, the deaths of so many soldiers on both sides who die. You feel that in this and it does a good job humanizing both the Resistance and the First Order. War is hell and sometimes no one wins, this film captures that theme beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. This film is all about relationships between characters, be it Leia and Poe, Rose and Finn, Kylo and Rey or Luke and Rey. Each relationship gets developed over the course of the film and reveals layers to the characters that didn’t exist in “The Force Awakens.”

Vice Admiral Holdo – Holdo is a character who has got a lot of crap from the fanbase, but she was one of my favorite characters in the film. She was respected for winning in the past but Poe doesn’t get that. She is presented as an antagonist through a good portion of the film, and the payoff of who she actually is and what she is doing is great.

Rose and Finn – It is through these characters that we get to see another face of the Resistance and why they fight. Finn is originally a part because of his friends and is even willing to leave in order to protect Rey but Rose reminds him of the bigger picture and that at the core they exist to fight oppression. It is handled on the casino world and seeing their friendship bloom was one of the more memorable parts of this film.

Master Luke Skywalker – Luke is done with everything. Like before in the Original Trilogy guilt defines him and it is mistake that helped lead to Kylo Ren’s creation and that guilt is something he carries with him and resists until the end. He is wanting to destroy the Jedi order and die as the last Jedi until Rey helps him realize there is so much more that he’s forgotten and that he can still make a difference and change things. Mark Hamill is fantastic.

General Leia Organa – I miss Carrie Fisher. It was great seeing her in this, her whole drive is survival and protecting the Resistance from the First Order. She is the mentor who is there to remind the young folks there is a time and place for glory but you have to work to keep everyone alive, or there won’t be anyone else left to fight. This was my favorite presentation of her besides “Empire Strikes Back” and I’ll miss her in these films, now that she’s gone.

Rey and Kylo Ren – One of the core relationships is that between Kylo and Rey both of who are alone and seeking more beyond the old order as so much of who they were was tied to the legends of the past. They are connected but still adversaries and it is great relationship to see explored as Ren becomes more confident and much more of a bully and Rey finds an identity outside of her parents and her expectations of Luke and the Jedi.

Subverting Expectations – If you go in expecting “The Empire Strikes Back” or another version of “Return of the Jedi” or “A New Hope” prepare to be surprised. This is a film where most things don’t work out for any characters. Things change, both in the First Order and the Resistance in regards to their identities…but it doesn’t repeat the cycle. We get away from The Ring Cycle a bit here and from that “Star Wars” seems to finally be developing it’s own identity outside of the past. We also see The Force not being tied to bloodlines and the fantasy feel of the past films and midichlorians are implied to no longer be a factor (Rey’s background and the last scene of the film). I loved that, this is no longer the Skywalker show, Star Wars has to be bigger than one family drama and I can’t wait to see where the series goes.

Everybody Loses – Poe finds out he was wrong, Rose and Finn get betrayed, Rey isn’t able to turn Kylo Ren and even the Resistance only barely survives. The First Order isn’t in great shape either after the events that take place and it is going to be transforming further or it will collapse. That is powerful and with it we see the most potential for change both within the Resistance and the First Order. They’ve lost too much to remain static.

Okay: Welcome to the Casino / Side Quest – This first point is related to the second point, there is a side plot on a casino world in order for Rose and Finn to get a code breaker in order to break onto Snokes’s ship so that they shutdown the Empire’s ability to track the Resistance’s fleet. It explores the meaning of the Resistance so I’m not putting it as a total negative but it could have been shorter and achieved the same purpose in the plot, and I would have traded a few Finn and Rose scenes for more scenes with the codebreaker played by Del Toro named DJ. He is fun.

Structure and Clutter – The greatest issue with this film for me was the structure and how cluttered some of the different plots are. It wasn’t bad, I saw this film twice but it does feel long during some of the side tangents. The overall story and themes greatly overwhelm this in quality though and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.

This is probably going to be in my Top 5 films at the end of the year. This is a film I’ve watched twice and is easily the most fun I’ve had at a film this year since “Baby Driver.” I can’t wait to see where things go after this film as it upsets so much of the status quo. I am a guy who loves the original Extended Universe and I always will, but I’m glad they didn’t repeat it (and I still enjoy it as another timeline of Star Wars). By the time of “The Force Awakens” I was done with the Skywalker drama, predictability will kill this franchise as so many of the problems that plagued the Prequels was the lazy recycling of the Original Trilogy. This film is strange, different, takes chances and changes things and honestly, it is the only way Star Wars can grow beyond the corner it was written in to. Here is to Disney embracing that change and giving us more great stories like this film.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Second best Star Wars film thus far.

 

Sin City (2005): The Struggle for Justice in a City with None

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Frank Miller’s Sin City Comic Series is one I have always been meaning to check out. His style is very distinct and he is good at capturing the feel of a dark noir. This was true in The Dark Knight Returns, and definitely true in this film which follows the style of the comics. A big reason that inspired my reviewing of this film, beyond wanting to watch it, is the fact that “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is coming out and I want to see and review it as well.

The style the film was done in was also like a comic book, beyond the visuals. There is “The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2, “The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill.” All are loosely connected as you see characters from “The Yellow Bastard” in “The Big Fat Kill” and “The Hard Goodbye” but that is the only connection, each story arc stands on it’s own and reveals a new part of the corruption that is Sin City. A city of corrupt cops, priests, politicians, serial killers and mobsters…with only the heroes of each of the stories to stand against them.

“Sin City” was written, directed and produced by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, as well as also produced by Elizabeth Avellan. For the reviews I’ll do each story individually and afterwords a final score at the end, so that all of the anthology is covered.

Also, before I get into the review, I want to say this is some of the best stylized cinematography and directing I’ve seen in a film. Robert Rodriguez did a really good job creating the comic book feel in a movie and using it fully capture the tone and feel of the world.

Here is the assessment of the film:

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“The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2

“The Customer is Always Right” is how we kick off the anthology as a woman is looking at escaping and the Salesman is there to help. He kisses her and shoots her and talks about how he’ll never know what she was running from.

Part 2 picks up with an injured Becky (who we meet in “The Big Fat Kill”) is talking with her mom but stops when the salesman says her name and offers her a cigarette.

The Pros: I like the mystery behind it and also the stark cruelty of how it sets off the world of Sin City. We never know if the Salesman was paid to kill her or if she meant something different by escape.

Cons: I wanted to know more about the Customer and what her motivations were as well as her connection to the Salesman, since she recognized him when he says her name.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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“The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2

Part 1 of “The Yellow Bastard” has aging police officer John Hartington (Bruce Willis) doing one last thing before he goes. The corrupt senators son who is a serial killer named Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) from killing a young girl named Nancy Callahan (Mackenzie Vega) when he shoots Roark Junior his partner turns on him (Michael Madsen). Haritagan knocks out his partner Bob and chases after Roark Junior. He manages to reach him and shoots off his ear, hand and genitals before Bob returns and shoots him in the back as sirens arrive.

Part 2 picks up with Hartigan in the hospital being framed by Hartigan for his son’s murders and being beaten until he confesses. He refuses to confess until Roark Junior tricks him by taking one of the letters that Nancy was sending him while in prison, leading him to believe that Nancy is in trouble. He confesses and is released and finds Nancy (Jessica Alba) is now working as a dancer in the bar. The mysterious yellow bastard than arrives on the scene and over the course of the chase and eventual capture of Nancy by him we discover he is Roark Junior who was mutated in the growing back of his ears, hand and genitals. It is here Nancy keeps from screaming which prevents him from killing her and Hartigan arrives and kills him. He than has Nancy leave and kills himself so the corrupt senator Roark will stop hunting Nancy.

Pros: The Acting – Alba, Stahl and Willis do a great job in this. Each of them is so open in their roles (Alba as Nancy who fell in love with the one who saved her, Willis as the bitter cop and Stahl as the serial killer). Each of them is interesting to watch as they drive the plot forward in different ways.

The Story – I liked the story in this one, it was clear and followed the dark theme of Sin City. Hartigan only is able to win by confessing to dark crimes he didn’t commit and in the end has to die anyway to protect the woman he loves. It is also realistic in how Roark Junior becomes more crazy and Nancy becomes a fighter, who is both trained to fight and helps Hartigan take out Roark Junior.

Con: Feels almost too short.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Hard Goodbye”

“The Hard Goodbye” follows the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke) and how Goldy the woman he had a one stand with, was killed the same night. He than goes on a killing spree to find the man who did it. This leads him to get help from his parole officer Lucille (Carla Gugino), whose drugs help stop him from seeing things. Eventually, after questioning he comes to the farm where Kevin (Elijah Wood) the cannibal has captured Lucille and has the heads of his past victims mounted on the wall. He and Lucille escape but Lucille is gunned down on orders from Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer). Marv escapes into Old Town and learns the mysterious woman is Wendy. The Prostitutes who run Old Town support Marv once they learn about Kevin and Cardinal Roark. It is than Wendy and Marv go to take out Kevin and finally Roark who says he and Kevin did it to eat away their sins. After he returns, Wendy says that Marv can call her Goldy and is there before the state executes him for the killing of the Cardinal.

Pros: The Tone – This one is the creepiest of them, as Lucille’s hand was eaten in front of her by Kevin and Kevin has long nails that cut. Rutger Hauer is a great baddy too and is completely mad. Marv not being able to escape at the end and Lucille being gunned down by the police when she was an officer herself.

The Story – I like the story, the twist of Wendy being the sister worked well and the depths of the darkness in Sin City where revealed slowly over time so that when Kevin and Cardinal Roark are revealed it has the needed effect.

Okay: The Acting – Not the best acting, Mickey Rourke is good but Wendy isn’t all that memorable and Lucille should have been given more to do. It was hard to gauge her talent in what little time we had with her. Elijah Wood and Rutger Hauer were fantastic as the baddies though, best ones in the film for sure.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Big Fat Kill”

“The Big Fat Kill” begins with Shelley (Brittany Murphey) being harrased by her ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) until her new boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) water boards him in the toilet. He than sees that they are looking for trouble so follows them to Old Town. It is there they are harassing Becky (Alexis Bledel) until Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her girls arrive on the scene and execute Jackie Boy and his friends before they can hurt Becky. It is here we learn that Dwight and Gail are former lovers. It is here they learn Jackie Boy was a Detective and that this could create war between Old Town and the Police so Dwight goes to leave the body in the Tar Pits but all are attacked by Wallenquist who Becky had gone too for protection. He plans to conquer Old Town so sent his enforcer Manute (Michael Clark Duncan). A standoff happens but ends when Dwight trades Jackie Boy’s head for Gail and armed the head to explode which leads to the mob enforcers getting killed. From here we see Dwight and Gail re-establishing their love affair and love of battle.

Pros: The Acting – This one had the best acting, minus Brittany Murphey. Clive Owen was fantastic in this role, as was Alexis Bledel, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro and Michael Clark Duncan. We get to know all their characters and can understand their motivations as their is peace in Old Town but it only hangs by a thread. We see the threat of the Mob in the background now too and the Mob knows not to mess with Old Town.

The Tone – At one point Dwight has a conversation with dead Jackie Boy, which establishes the fear factor and the race against time that Dwight is up against. It is creepy and cool, as are the scenes between Manute and Gail.

The Politics – Establishes the power brokers of the Mob, Old Town and the Police and the relationship between the three groups. With the coups and Old Town Prostitutes respecting each others areas and the Mob trying to start a war between them and capture more territory.

The Story – This one had the best of the stories in my opinion, I just wish it had ended differently. It ended with a celebration of slaughter when so much of the story had been introspective. I wish the introspectiveness had not been lost.

Okay: The Ending – The final scene on the battlefield re-establishes Gail and Dwight as a couple but goes on a bit too long. I would have liked them to have some lines to end it. I guess that is why Becky meeting the Salesman happened after, it kept that tone going.

Score is 9.5 / 10

So how does “Sin City” hold up? It is a little long at times, but for exploring the world that is Sin City, it does a fantastic job. We meet the major characters, we get the rules of this world, and most of the characters have complete character arcs (though many of the female character arcs remain incomplete). The Cinematography is also some of the best I have ever seen. After seeing it I am excited for “A Dame to Kill For” as it will help us to understand this world more and re-establish old threats while introducing new. I would say this isn’t for everyone, but if you like stylized dark noirs or mystery anthologies, this is worth checking out. Definitely one of my favorite films after today.

Final Score for the film is 9 / 10. It is solidly really good.