Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD. REPEAT NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD.

I only say this as I found out today more than a few people don’t read my reviews as they are afraid of spoilers. Thought it would be worth it to recap that, especially on what has been one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Now as to the movie, I have given my fan girl credentials before so no need to do so again. Let’s get to the meat of this review right away and not waste anymore time with my usual preamble. Not even going to get quippy or referential with the question I ask:

How was the Last Jedi?

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson who doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, but is beloved by the majority of the folks who have seen his previous work; most especially 2005’s high school retelling of a noir mystery film Brick. 2012’s failed film Looper of course gave folks pause, but his vision on that was clear its how the studio muddied the waters that left a far murkier film that should have been better. Of course that brings us to The Last Jedi and Disney, ok Kathleen Kennedy specifically, giving the reins of one of the most profitable franchises ever to a director who is at best 50/50 on his success. Granted this can come from his ability to be directed by the producers effectively so they don’t run into a Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) situation again, yet at the same time it is also trusting a man who its clear has vision and capabilities that exceed many of his peers in the past ten years. What could he do with that opportunity I wonder?

For one he could make a solid Star Wars movie that doesn’t lean too heavily on what has come before. While I am sure there will be people who invariably compare it to Empire Strikes back, and there are similarities in more beats than I like, it doesn’t hit it as close as Force Awakens did to A New Hope. The arc of the movie is wholly original within the Star Wars stories we’ve seen before, and even a majority of other science fiction. He does manage to craft real tension and characters into the story that have purpose, meaning, and weight to them which only adds to your investment into the story. You come to understand why Luke gave the look he did at the end of Episode VII. You get more into the psychology of Rey, Finn, and Poe to a point that they are truly exploring their own arcs and identities and all of it makes sense and shows the characters growing into the people they are meant to be for better or worse along the journey. It is a much smaller story than we are used to as well, and while it does hit the three planet rule most of the other films do, they aren’t the focus or even a true backdrop to appreciate against the overriding pulse of the film – with perhaps the exception of Crait.

Yet, it is far from flawless in its scripting and story. It is bloated with truly unnecessary characters and beats, which hurts when you consider the movie runs just over two and a half hours from crawl to credits end. There’s easily ten to fifteen minutes of unneeded footage in the film that does nothing to add to who the characters are, their arcs, or the arc of the greater ‘verse that is being told. There are too many humorous beats that don’t work or are otherwise just a touch awkward and out of place. It’s not nearly as bad as Thor Ragnarok was in this regard, but it was noticeable. Frequent readers may go something like this now “Jess, you don’t like comedy” and this is true for the most part. The trick here is this piece of feedback, while noticed by me, was commented on by my movie going partner this time and they DO like comedies. A few jokes here and there are good, and there’s more than a few that land just right. The movie did edge into the land of too much comedy and oddly modern dialogue here – but only just a little. There are other flaws beyond this though that detract from the movie if you think about them in the slightest; most of which are flaws in logic and for me a few beats of “why was that needed?”

The actors were all on point though, Daisy Ridley (Rey) continues to impress, Oscar Isaac (Poe) can do no wrong, and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) glowers his conflict well. Carrie Fisher will bring you to tears every time Leia says farewell to another, even if she comes across more Carrie than Leia – but she’s earned that. Mark Hamill (Luke…duh) was a joy and gets to do far more than glare this time.  We need to talk though about John Boyega.  His character isn’t treated as well as he could be, but damnit if this man can’t react so well with his face. I absolutely loved him in Attack the Block and he continues to impress here and show a wider and wider range. I don’t think next years Pacific Rim movie will do him any favors, but I promise you he is going to act and emote his heart out like he did here. Alas; even in casting there are weaknesses. Familiar faces show up and while one may not detract (Laura Dern) another (Benecio Del Toro) did for me. It is great and all to have familiar actors in these roles and I am sure they loved getting to act along side the others and be in a Star Wars film, but some folks just have a certain presence they bring with them which can be detrimental to the production – even if it is *very* minor. You would expect Jack Nicholson to swagger and smarm his way through any performance, Clancy Brown to use his voice and physical presence, and with Del Toro you expect some weird voice affectation and odd body language that just leaves him feeling off. He does that here and it just doesn’t work (for me).

EDIT INSERT HERE: I did not talk about Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. She is a gift and I owe her an apology for not including her in the review when I first published it a few minutes ago.

From a technicals perspective there’s much like the rest of the movie good and bad to discuss.

Johnson’s camera work with his long time cinematographer collaborator Steve Yedlin (Brick, Looper, Carrie, San Andreas) know how to move the camera for the most sense of scope, scale, and action. There is a good use of wide shots and pans with good angles to let you appreciate what you are seeing, while the close ups really bring you into the characters emotions. The shots on the planet Crait (white and red planet from the trailer) are gorgeous and weighty and I could watch those a few more times happily. There is nothing ill to say about the camera control here, but alas there is in the effects department. I know right? This is an absolute nitpick but there are enough unfinished – just not quite looking right – effects that eject you from the moment. Conversely there are hundreds that are beyond amazing with one in particular that is breath taking. There is an inordinate amount of practical work and puppetry here that brings a tear to the eyes and gives me hope we will see more practical in the future thanks to films like this and Blade Runner 2049.

John Williams Score. Its perfect. Fight me.

TL;DR?

The Last Jedi does live up to its hype with me. It is a good movie that verges on the edge of great, but within the pantheon of Star Wars it is truly solid with its dedication to practical effects, characters you care about, and a story you want to see to the end. It does feel a bit long towards the end but nearly everything pays off in a satisfactory way. This review wasn’t going to convince anyone one way or another, but we or at least I write these to praise movies for what they do right and call them on what they could do better. The things this could do better are minor and really could help edge it into one of the great Star Wars films, but even a good Star Wars movie is better than the majority of what we received this year and last combined.

Should you see it?

Why are you asking me? You already plan to. Seriously though its good. I like it a lot. I am a bit overly critical but you can get that way after seeing literally hundreds of movies in a year and as my understanding of film theory grows my critical eye does as well.

Are you going to see it again?

At least once, probably twice.

How about buying it?

Without a second though. Yes.

Can I have a little spoiler? Tell me about Luke or Leia or something.

No…

How about Carrie Fisher – did they do right by her?

She’s our Princess and our General; I and this movie salute her. I understand that there’s enough footage for her to be in Episode IX posthumously, but if this one was all we had. I’d be OK with that too.

Any last thoughts on the movie?

Rian Johnson did a good job. The franchise was in good hands and I am looking forward to see what he does with his new trilogy that is being green lit – that isn’t tied to the Skywalker arc.

Also, I like the Porg still.

 

May the Force be with you to my Jedi friends and to my Sith may the Force serve you well.

 

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Darke Reviews | Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

If you remember my Force Awakens review I made it clear how good that one was. What I did not do was share my fan-girl credentials, which in this day and age may get me doxxed or called a fake geek girl. Suffice to say there was no one in my high school back in the early 90’s who could keep up with me on the Star Wars lore. I admit I am nowhere near the obsessive with it I was then, but Star Wars The Old Republic is kindling that flame again. I have felt the hype for this one since the first trailer when I heard Felicity Jones go “This is a Rebellion isn’t it? I rebel.”

So lets cut to it…does the movie live up to the hype?

Directed by Gareth Edwards, who I have raved on before with Monsters and Godzilla, does well with the small character moments and specific scenes. The reshoots, despite what others may say, however are painfully obvious. I can see where the studio and Tony Gilroy came in. I can see the asks, and honestly so can you. Just watch the trailers after seeing the movie. Edwards clearly had a vision for the movie and the studio disagreed, now he has said in a recent interview the “real” reason for the reshoots and what they solved for – but I am not entirely sold on that. While I am certain some pick up shots and additional reshoots may have been necessary; what we have as a final product shows the signs of having come undone at the seams and being restitched to use Riz Ahmeds analogy. The stitches are evident in many places and what I sadly cannot judge is  – were they fully needed.

The reason I say that is there are so many tonal changes in the film, the characters, and plot, – even the look sometimes that you can tell there is something wrong. Maybe it is me having seen so many movies, maybe it is just having my expectations too high. But the joint directing and production of this has created a series of irreconcilable flaws and issues with the film. There are times that they show rather than tell – which adds run time and an unnecessary scene that SHOULD be cut. Ironic as I have been vetching about bad editing all year.

Ok so directing and editing have flaws, but what of the script? The movie wraps with 4 total writers between story and screenplay. Tony Gilroy (Bourne 1, 2, 3, and 4) was brought into direct during reshoots and also has a screenplay credit which means he also got scripting edits in too. Knowing he is also behind the lackluster Bourne Legacy makes me wonder why he was selected to be brought in to help. Chris Weitz (Cinderella, Golden Compass) also has a screenplay credit and I sort of eviscerated him on Cinderella’s review too. This adds to my confusion and maybe if I had looked for this before going in I may have tempered my expectations. The story credit (so this is the original writers) goes to John Knoll who was a visual effects supervisor on A New Hope and Return of the Jedi amongst many other really good movies; yet this is the first writing gig. With him is Gary Whitta, who was  writer on the terrifically bad After Earth, but also 2 episodes of Star Wars Rebels.

At this point with these pedigrees – I am surprised the movie is as good as it is. I wish I could see the original script. I wish I could see the original cut. There’s so much good here and unexplored potential. So much that I can see the hints of something better than the final product. I mean the story has a foregone conclusion to it so nothing should come as a surprise, except the fate of our characters. Which we have to be introduced to and care about in the space of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Thankfully – we do.

This is where the movie shines. The actors. Damn if they don’t have charisma and chemistry. Ok sure their performances are bordering on manic at times, but that isn’t their fault. That’s direction and story. Felicity Jones (Inferno, Theory of Everything) is more than capable of carrying the film. She’s remarkable, strong, vulnerable and everything I wanted. Diego Luna (Vampires Los Muertos, Milk, Elysium) does rather well with the complexity of his own character and pairs well with Jones like a fine meal. Alan Tudyk is a gift and a treasure. That is all you need know. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are fantastic and add to the story even if you will have trouble remembering their characters names. Ben Mendelsohn, has an unenviable task of trying to be the films bad guy. He has the shoes of Vader, Palpatine, and Ren to fill. He does his best, but lacks the weight of even Ren. I almost wish him and Mads Mikkelsen had switched their roles as Mads has that kind of weight. This isn’t to say he doesn’t give his best effort because he does. It just lacked something – but perhaps that is also the reshoots?

Technicals – ok 94% of the movie is flawless visually. There are literally hundreds of scenes of practical meets digital effects that are only improved. Musically it’s very good. They did a truly remarkable job making me feel like this was before Episode IV. What about the other 6%? Two words Uncanny Valley. You did something. You did it very very well – but it’s not perfect. That lack of perfection is jarring to my eyes and those of the person watching it with me. Two more years of technology advancement and I wouldn’t even notice. I would know but not notice and that is saying something.

TL;DR?

The movie is good. The review above puts it through the meat grinder – because it could have been so much better. So. Much. Better. This is my expectations along with some very critical and painful editing choices. Not just the reshoots – which I have to admit may have improved the movie and I don’t know. That said; they may have also damaged it. I really can’t tell unless I could compare.

I know I am going to be in a minority on this one, but the movie is just a solid Good. It is deeply flawed and I don’t have to squint to see the flaws. This saddens and even angers me a bit. It should take more effort to tear this apart and it takes almost none. There’s good to defend, but it’s hard to overlook and defend the flaws.

The actors salvage this. Many of the visual effects shots are so gorgeous they fall easily into the category of best I’ve seen. That is why there’s anger. Because I can see where you did so bloody well. I just wish you had stuck the landing Disney.

Should you see it?

I still say yes – but temper your expectations.

What about 3-D?

Maybe. I can see where shots like the modified AT-AT’s walking out of the mist would be amazing in 3-D.

Will you buy it?

Yes.

Are you seeing it again?

Yes and I am hoping I am more forgiving to enjoy all of it a bit more.

Last words?

Sorry folks. I wish I could tell you this was as amazing as I thought Force Awakens was. It’s good, but it should and could have been better. It deserved to be better.

 

Darke Reviews | Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

This review is of course SPOILER Free.

SPOILER FREE got it?

Good.

On top of that since anyone who reads my reviews is seeing this as a foregone conclusion the review will take a different tone and style than usual.

It’s been a full decade since the debacle that was George Lucas last run at the helm of the Star Wars franchise. His prequel trilogy is rightfully lambasted by many, though they do have a few redeeming qualities here and there. A few. By and large they deserve to be confined into cell block AA-23 and then thrown into a trash compactor. The acting was bad, the effects were bad, it was over produced and under directed.

J.J. Abrams comes along in 2006 and gives us Mission Impossible 3. He then goes in 2009 and writes his resume cover letter with Star Trek; a film many acknowledge (and bemoan) is more Wars than Trek. Lo and behold he lands the impossible job of reinvigorating a franchise many felt might be irredeemable. Talent is brought in to write in the form of Michael Arndt (Oblivion, Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and, in a brilliant move, Lawrence Kasdan. The man who gave us what is critically considered the best of the Star Wars franchise, Empire Strikes Back. Kasdan was also the pen behind other greats, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Silverado, and Return of the Jedi. This is what was missing.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The parts that were supposed to be intentionally funny – were funny. I laughed. The theatre laughed.
  • The reveals of old favorites – the audience cheered.
  • There is no Jar Jar, there is nothing like Jar Jar, if you consider that a spoiler…well deal with it.
  • The effects are PRACTICAL when they can be and there are A LOT of practical
  • That which must be CG is and the movie is largely better for it. The flight sequences with the X-Wings look so much better on the big screen than they did when I first saw the trailer.
  • John Williams returns to do the music.
  • Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac have real chemistry. I want to see more of them.
  • Girls can look up to Daisy Ridley’s Rey. She’s a good character.

The movie could be called

Star Wars: The Force Apologizes

Is it flawless? No. There are a small score of issues  I have with it. Some of the CG isn’t as good as it could be. Some of the acting isn’t as good as it could be. Some of the editing isn’t ..ok a lot of the editing isn’t as good as it could be. There are flaws. Yes.

That said, the movie makes every single attempt it can to make up for the last three movies and does so with great passion.

Should you see it?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I really enjoyed it. It took me back with Nostalgia and then gave me some new things as well.

Should you see it in 3-D?

If you don’t have a problem with 3-D, absolutely. There are shots that beg for the 3D treatment and shine because of it.

Should you wait?

Eh…no. Mostly so people can talk about it with you. They will want to.

Are you buying it?

Yes. Yes. Yes.