Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

★★

It’s Star Wars, probably everyone reading this is going to see it no matter what. This second installment of the sequel trilogy includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for the series. Rian Johnson made a decisive sequel to the near-universally loved J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens (2015) and decided the take a risk as far as how the story was handled. The audience score (as of right now) on Rotten Tomatoes sits at a surprisingly low 57% (making it tied for the lowest out of all the main-series Star Wars films). What a time to be alive.

Just a heads up, any paragraph below this one is crossing into spoiler territory.

Luke Skywalker is not playing Luke at all. Instead, it is just Mark Hamill playing Mark Hamill. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) uses the force in the dumbest way possible. Puppet-Force-Ghost Yoda appears and it’s a surreal experience that also is kind of unintentionally funny. The Last Jedi is a movie that is inconsistent. It takes a bit for the film to get interesting but when it does, it can feel just like classic Star Wars. There are also some interesting, new world-building ideas as well as some not-so-interesting ones (like those freakin’ Porgs). Overall it is a mixed bag where the positives just narrowly outweigh the negatives.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still a character without flaw. Everything comes easy to Rey, she learns the force with little struggle and with pretty much no training from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The only interesting thing that could have been done with her character in The Last Jedi. Which, would have been teaming up with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and joining the dark side. Which is instead thrown away for a fight sequence after the rejection of Ren’s offer. Here’s to hoping that by the time Episode IX comes around in 2019, they will finally give Rey some character that consists of things other than being a prodigy at everything.

Why was Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) killed off? What was the purpose of that character? He was pretty much was given the “Darth Maul Treatment” and not just because they were both sliced in half. Both characters had very little time to do anything meaningful and ended up just looking, instead of being interesting. Also was a golden Gucci bathrobe the most threatening thing that Snoke could have been wearing before his death? Despite his detractors, I still firmly believe that Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren is the best thing that the sequel trilogy has going for itself. Ren is what Anakin Skywalker should have been. A bratty, whiny, and childish accomplice to a dark lord that is also a loose cannon. But now, with no leader to follow, this could bring the story in many different, interesting directions.

The most popular criticism that I heard from people about The Force Awakens was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope (1977). Well, for all the people that were afraid that this one would just be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) it isn’t. However, that doesn’t immediately make one film better than the other. While The Force Awakens was immediately good, like a warm cookie straight from the oven. The Last Jedi may be like a bottle of Merlot, that in two years could be better than it is right now. Or, maybe I could just be in denial, and if I am, at least the space battles make it worth revisiting.  

 

 

 

 

Detroit (2017)

★★★

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is something that I feel quite mixed about. It is definitely well made; and it has some terrific parts and performances. But the first and final acts take away from the experience of the picture.

First, the good. I really enjoyed how the movie was shot. It was done in that documentary-style that other directors like Paul Greengrass enjoy using. It added to the atmosphere of the movie and made it seem much more gritty and real. Which is smart as this is a dramatization of something that was inspired by a real life event. Will Poulter is the stand out actor in the film. If anyone will be getting an award for this movie, it will probably be him. As the main villain, he is menacing, and terrifying and all the right ways. Everyone else did a good job with the material, like John Boyega and Anthony Mackie as well. The dialogue, with a few exceptions was also pretty solid for the most part. It helped develop the characters and who they were as people without explaining everything. The whole scene in the Algiers Motel is so well done that it is thrilling and helps display Mark Boal’s screenwriting abilities. (Check out Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) to also see Boal’s talents as a writer).

As for my gripes with the movie, it all started with the editing. I disliked the cutting to real photos of the 1967 Detroit riots. It felt unnecessary to include and took me away from the actual movie. In the beginning, the film also felt oddly paced when leading up to the riots. As that part was rushed way too much and needed some more buildup. The ending also felt drawn-out and probably deserved less time then it was given. I understand what they were trying to do with the end of the movie.

With Detroit, the sad thing is that the whole middle of the film is an intense and emotional ride. And it is sadly book-ended by a mediocre and poorly paced beginning and end. Bigelow picked an interesting script about a deeply saddening event that happened, but I think that it could have been executed a little better than it turned out. But that doesn’t change the fact that Will Poulter is an extremely talented actor that gave it is all in this film.