Star Wars: The Last Jedi

December 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher
Directed by: Rian Johnson (“Looper”)
Written by: Rian Johnson (“Looper”), George Lucas (based on characters created by)

It was 1977 the first time that cannonblast-of-a-musical-fanfare, yellow text crawl, and intrepid white runner-ship exploded across a celluloid starfield, changing movies forever. Forty years on, few phrases have the capacity to ripple the pop-cult zeitgeist like an upturned bedsheet in quite the same way as “they’re doing a new Star Wars.”

Toss it casually into your nearest social-media flea market of opinions and it’ll be met, in part, by a tide of cocksure pessimism, even anger – but know that these reactions are inflated artificially by their purveyors (even the most hardened and embittered of fanboy cynics and Han-Shot-Firsters) to castigate themselves for the inner flame of hope they dare not allow themselves to indulge.

Because that’s the power of this series: Even that wide (or at least vocal) swath of a generation that purports to feel intimately burned by the trio of p-words (sort of rhymes with “seagulls”) that “everyone hates” (disclosure: I don’t) would likely have to admit that their fear of feeling that way again is still tempered by a light side – a deep, secret longing to feel the wonder and awe they did when, as children, they watched a towheaded space-hick teenager thread the needle on a no-scope proton-torpedo shot that blew up a planetful of jackbooted, corrupt-establishment assholes. And of course it is. That fear and that hope coexist always, in all of us, swirled like chocolate-and-vanilla soft-serve, one amplifying the other. We’re afraid to wish for the feeling we grew up with, but we want desperately for someone to give it to us again, the same but different. So. Enter Rian Johnson?

Johnson’s “The Last Jedi,” Episode 8 of the Saga That Launched a Quadrillion-Million (Toy) (Space)ships, takes the baton (almost literally) from J.J. Abrams’s “The Force Awakens,” the December 2015 sequel that kickstarted a third trilogy under Lucasfilm’s new auspices at Disney. (Disney further cemented its “Star Wars” ownership this week – including new rights to the original theatrical versions of Episodes IV-VI – by purchasing 21st Century Fox). “Awakens,” despite its colossally daunting charge, acquitted itself more-than-admirably well: It delivered thrills, introduced winsome new players, and was for the most part received warmly, even enthusiastically, with perhaps its most common and agreed-upon criticism (a fair one, perhaps) being that it tried too hard and too often to call back to the original films. For my money, it was certainly a good time.

“The Last Jedi,” then, benefits not only from Awakens’ strong start, but more particularly from its predecessor’s having laid down backstory and development for such characters as First-Order-Stormtrooper-turned-rebel-hero Finn (John Boyega), orphan-junk-scavenger-turned-lightsaber-wielding-icon Rey (Daisy Ridley), and – despite the actor’s own demurrals, let’s face it – inescapably Han-Solo-esque fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). This legwork done, Johnson’s film is free to hit the ground running, and wisely does so, kicking things off with a rather breathtaking space-action sequence, engaging multiple concurrent storylines, and bringing faces old, new, and new-but-familiar into the galactic fold. At times, in fact, there almost seems (but doesn’t quite) to be too much going on: Clearly expository dialogue, which would otherwise chafe, is instead often welcome, as it helps explain (natch) and contextualize things that are happening quickly. Without spoiling much of anything (I promise): Rey has gone in search of Luke Skywalker (and found him, as we saw in “Awakens”), Finn decides to go in search of Rey, and Poe and Leia are alternately fleeing and facing down the First Order (General Hux [Gleeson], Kylo Ren [Driver], Supreme Leader Snoke [Serkis], et al.), who want the Rebellion quashed, because that’s what oppressive regimes like to do to rebellions. More happens, of course. But you don’t want me to tell you about that.

So. Does it work? As a film, and as a Star Wars film? In a word: Yes.

In another word: ABSO-PORG-ING-LUTELY.  Johnson is bold in his choices – and, more importantly, enacts his choices with the requisite confidence and style (and then some) to bring us along for the rollicking ride, even when we’re not immediately onboard. Further, again, so much is happening, and so much of it is so good, whatever’s questionable is easily and happily swept up by the consistent and captivating entertainment that surrounds it. One conceptually brilliant plot point/character motivation, for instance, doesn’t seem to get to breathe enough cinematically to have maximum impact, but is intrinsically such a stroke of genius that it nearly gets there on its own anyway. Johnson, who also wrote the film, uses humor early and liberally (and often notably modern-seeming humor, at that), which occasionally threatens to distract, tonally, but ultimately lands frequently enough to more-or-less justify itself. A few performances aren’t the sort in which one gets lost and forgets the effort being expended, but work well enough, for various reasons, to not break things up much. The porgs probably aren’t as cute (or omnipresent) as you think they are, but they’re still pretty freakin’ cute.

Much of everything else: Great.

Battle scenes, in space or otherwise, are gripping and spectacular. One of them contains a short action set piece that is, without exaggeration, one of the most instantly unforgettable sensory experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Visually, sonically, narratively, emotionally, it’s utterly, utterly stunning. We were at a press screening, full of critics – generally a more restrained audience (no whoops at the onscreen appearance of the words “Star Wars,” say) – and here there were audible gasps, surprised laughter, cheers, … even applause, I think. Ridley, as Rey, has come fully into her own. While she was certainly scrappy and charismatic in “Awakens,” “Last Jedi’s” Rey anchors and drives the emotional and narrative core of the film. Her focus is unblinking; her power undeniable. She’s one of a number of self-possessed, memorably heroic women in the film (there are a couple in even just the first few minutes), but Ridley’s transformation, and the calm certainty and resolve with which she carries vital portions of the picture, are astounding: She’s become the legend-in-the-making “Awakens” was hinting at, and I can’t wait to see more. The same could be said of Driver’s Kylo Ren, whose arc and inner turmoil are further explored and expanded, giving us a deeper, emerging portrait of a truly fascinating character – rendered so in large part by the actor’s quietly searing, often transfixing performance. Both actors are dialed in, and Johnson crafts a sprawling, compelling narrative around their interwoven fates — one that makes me want to keep watching.

Oscar Isaac, too, is phenomenal. He’s given much more to do this time around, and knocks it all out of the park. He flies like Maverick, disobeys orders for good reasons (like Maverick), and lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees buddies Finn (Boyega is as heart-on-his-sleeve magnetic as ever) or BB-8 (whom I could watch speedroll chirpily around for hours). (Side note: You deserve someone who looks at you the way Poe Dameron looks at Finn or BB-8. We all do.)

There are surprises to be had, and remembrances to be made. Go in willing to have a good time, and it might just be inevitable. Johnson tackles a monumental task with aplomb, paying deep homage in ways that feel integrated with and advance the story while putting his own stamps on it, as well. He knows how to create truly “cool” movie moments, but also how to weave them into the narrative so that they feel organic and earned. While Abrams is back at the helm for “Episode IX,” Disney has announced that Johnson will be directing an entirely separate Star Wars trilogy – which, following Last Jedi, sounds good to me.

Ep. 103 – Top 5 movies of the year so far, home video reviews of The Circle, Unforgettable, and Kong: Skull Island, and a preview of Fathom Events this week

August 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod run down their top 5 movies of 2017 so far. They also preview a pair of Fathom Events, “Batman and Harley Quinn” and “Rifftrax Live – Doctor Who: The Five Doctors,” and Cody reviews home video releases for “The Circle,” “Unforgettable,” and “Kong: Skull Island.”

Click here to download the episode!

Detroit

August 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Written by: Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”)

As well directed and emotionally charged as Oscar-winning filmmaker Katheryn Bigelow’s true-life film “Detroit” is, it also plays as a one-note exercise in how to trigger outrage from an audience. “Detroit” is upsetting and disheartening and puts the ugliness of racism at the forefront, but it also needed to be a little more enlightening to capture the full essence of exactly what we’re witnessing in the harrowing drama. With “Detroit,” Bigelow and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal place us at the center of the civil unrest that took place in the Motor City in 1967, but do so in a way that sensationalizes the entire narrative. It would be like watching “Selma,” and the entire film was the Bloody Sunday scene on the Edmund Pettus Bridge stretched into a feature.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek Into Darkness”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”), J.J. Abrams (“Super 8”), Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)

After more than a decade-and-a-half of heartache whipped into a frenzy of pain and anger by the rise of the internet and some cold, sub-standard prequels hatched exclusively from the brain of series creator George Lucas, “Star Wars” fans felt they had, ahem, a new hope when Disney bought the franchise in and immediately announced an Episode 7 of the saga—now known as “The Force Awakens”—would finally continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Adding admitted fan J.J. Abrams as the director and “The Empire Strikes Back” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to the creative team, along with the pledge to return to some practical special effects and film stock instead of existing almost exclusively in the digital world as the prequels did, ramped anticipation for the film into the Dagobah system. After what seems like years of carefully navigating the news releases and leaks to avoid spoilers, the movie is finally here, and it most definitely calls to mind the classic “Star Wars” movies—for better or worse.

The spoiler-free synopsis goes like this: 30 years after the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished. The First Order has risen in the Empire’s place, and is on the hunt for the last Jedi, led by Vader-worshipper Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture legend Andy Serkis). A hotshot pilot for the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), has the missing chunk of a map that leads to Skywalker’s location, and to keep it from falling into the First Order’s hands as he comes under attack from Ren, he entrusts the data to beach-ball droid BB-8 on the desert planet Jakku. BB-8 rolls his way across the sand dunes and encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger waiting for her family to return after abandoning her years ago. Meanwhile, a Stormtrooper groomed from birth to be a warrior (John Boyega) grows a conscience and helps free Dameron from Ren’s clutches. The two escape on a stolen TIE Fighter, where Dameron gives his new friend the name Finn and tells him they need to retrieve BB-8. After crash landing on Jakku, Finn finds Rey and the droid, and the trio must run flee the planet to look for help as the First Order closes in. Luckily there happens to be an old, junky spaceship lying around…

In an effort to please the fans who felt burned by the relative crumminess of the prequel trilogy, Disney has rendered “The Force Awakens” as the mega-franchise version of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house. It’s cinematic comfort food with almost no exotic ingredients to make it different than the similar meals you’ve enjoyed before. Sure, some things were rearranged and there was a small sampling of a new type of gravy—look, what I mean is this “The Force Awakens” essentially serves up a greatest hits remix of original trilogy plot points. Desert planet? Check. Droid with secret plans? Yup. Planet-sized planet-destroying weapon with one point of weakness? Oh yes. A showdown between family members on the opposite sides of good and evil on a bridge over a bottomless chasm? Yeah, even that, and much more. But it still makes for a fine sci-fi fantasy, and Ridley, Boyega, Driver, and Isaac are all fantastic additions to a cast that includes old timers Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and the rare engaged Harrison Ford. I suppose the franchise needed this palate cleanser, but let’s hope the next adventure is a little more adventurous.

Attack the Block

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail
Directed by: Joe Cornish (debut)
Written by: Joe Cornish (debut)

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, who co-created the weirdo British sketch comedy series “The Adam and Joe Show” in the ’90s, “Attack the Block” desperately wants to be for sci-fi thrillers what the hilarious 2004 satire “Shaun of the Dead” was for zombie horror movies. Even though both films share producers, Cornish is no Edgar Wright, which is clearly evident from the humorless script and pitiable youngsters that make up this extraterrestrial turf war between wannabe hoodlums and what the kids here call “big gorilla wolf motherfuckers.”

There’s really no better way to describe the creatures that crash land in a London neighborhood except, perhaps, by adding that they’re really pissed off after a gang of troublemaking teens bludgeon one of them to death and then decide to hunt down the rest like safari trophies.

Moments before the alien invasion, we witness the misfits, led by 15-year-old gangsta Moses (John Boyega), mug a helpless girl (Jodie Whittaker) in their borough. Quickly labeled as the antagonists of the film, Cornish’s challenge is to make the little punks likeable enough that audiences won’t root for the monsters to claw their baby faces off.

Instead, Cornish chooses snarky attitude over genuine personality and scrambles the script by adding an ineffective side story about a drug deal gone bad, mostly to insert Nick Frost into a role as a fat stoner with a room full of weed and nothing interesting to say. “Attack the Block” could’ve been a blast, but with characters this useless, a better movie title would’ve been “Battle: U.K.”