“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I saw a funny tweet earlier where mentions fans hated The Force Awakens for being “too safe.” The tweet also mentions how fans hate The Last Jedi for “taking too many risks.” Can we just all stop being angry fanboys and agree that The Last Jedi is fun?

Without spoiling anything, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens takes place right after the first one ended. We focus on four storylines:

  1. Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under the guidance of Luke Sywalker (Mark Hamill), but questions his guidance.
  2.  Finn (John Boyega) meets a Resistance member Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and they embark on an adventure to stop the First Order from defeating the Rebel Alliance.
  3. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) rebels against the Resistance leaders while trying to outrun the First Order in a never ending chase.
  4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) questions his destiny and must choose his destiny.

The Last Jedi has a lot going on within 150 minutes. I admire that auteur Johnson expands on the Jedi and Force mythologies; The Last Jedi excels when it focuses on Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Part from that, I found The Last Jedi fairly disappointing. I attribute the disappointments to the film’s running time, which should have been 120 minutes.

Starting with the pros, the opening act is a mini Poe Dameron adventure reminiscent of the prologue of The Force Awakens. Isaac once again delivers a charismatic performance and has much more to do in The Last Jedi. Laura Dern plays a seemingly antagonistic admiral to Poe. When they meet, it’s built as a predictable Top Gun narrative, but I was left surprised. Poe’s story brought a lot of humor and heart to The Last Jedi. We’re also treated to the late Carrie Fisher’s final outing as Leia, who now acts as a mentor to Poe.

Johnson also turns Kylo Ren into a more complex character filled with anger, contradictions, and guilt. We see him go from mercilessly attacking the Rebel Alliance to briefly regretting his actions. Kylo Ren’s arc is unpredictable throughout the film and easily the strongest character arc. Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren here is a huge improvement over The Force Awakens.

Rey and Luke’s segment together is the film’s highlight due to Johnson’s fresh take. Hamill delivers a multi-layered performance as Luke; Luke is no longer a whiny kid, but a burned out Jedi in his prime. Ridley is just as good in this segment as she goes from idealistic to disillusioned. Also, we get to see the cute little Porgs here.

Now for the cons, I hated Finn’s segment. There, I said it. I’m in the minority and liked Finn in The Force Awakens, but his adventure with Rose is pointless. It serves no purpose to the film and neither does Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric thief character they encounter. This segment is an excuse to see another part of the galaxy and serves no purpose to Finn’s arc. It also causes several pacing and tone issues when we transition from this segment to the others.

When the segments tie together in the final 45 minutes, The Last Jedi is sensational. Johnson choreographs some innovative and brutal lightsaber sequences, gives us some stunning visuals, and writes some emotionally satisfying moments that made the final scenes unforgettable. I’m already looking forward to the next film because of The Last Jedi’s ending alone.

The Last Jedi is arguably the most polarizing Star Wars film of the franchise, but I still admire it for its risks. It’s downfall are Johnson’s overlong script and lack of restraint on callbacks. Maybe he’ll learn from his mistakes when his trilogy is released.

Grade: B

 

 

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

 

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Happy New Year! Did you have fun? Are you tired of countdowns? Well, bare with me because I have one. I’ve chosen my top 10 most anticipated Movies of 2017. Let the countdown begin!

10) Wonder Woman (in theaters 6/2) – The DC Cinematic Universe has been rather tame since Man of Steel was released in 2013. With Gal Gadot arguably being the strongest part of Batman vs. Superman, and a trailer demonstrating the titular character’s humanity and positive attributes, Wonder Woman has the potential of being the first great DC-CU movie.

9) Split (in theaters 1/20) – I never thought I’d say again that I’m excited for an M. Night Shymalan movie. The trailer for Split features some of M. Night’s flaws (overly intelligent kids, exposition-fueled dialogue), but in terms of direction and acting, Split looks like a bone-chiller. James McAvoy showed his sinister side in Trance and he appears to embrace it again with Split.

8) Power Rangers (in theaters 3/24) – This one’s on my list out of nostalgia. Plus being a sucker for superhero movies and John Hughes movies, Power Rangers looks like a solid combination of the two. Here’s to hoping it’s not just a generic origin movie.

7) The Lego Batman Movie (in theaters 2/10) – The Lego Movie was the biggest surprise of 2014, and Will Arnett’s satirical performance as Batman was one of my favorite parts. Two hours of Will Arnett as Batman, Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, and Michael Cera as Robin? I’m sold.

6) Star Wars: Episode VIII (in theaters 12/15) – If The Force Awakens followed A New Hope, then we can expect Episode VIII to be as dark and epic as Empire Strikes Back. With the underrated Rian Johnson (Looper) writing and directing, he can potentially satisfy the disappointed Force Awakens viewers.

5) Kingsman: the Golden Circle (in theaters 10/6) – For the first time, Matthew Vaughn isn’t flaking out on a sequel to his own movie! Kick-Ass 2 was watered down lackluster compared to his mayhem-fueled Kick-Ass, and X-Men: Days of Future Past wasn’t as imaginative as X-Men: First Class. Can The Golden Circle be as good as The Secret Service? With Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Julianne Moore cast, here’s to hoping!

4) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – The Guardians are back in what appears to be another visually arresting and hilarious space opera. Plus we get a little Tango and Cash reunion with Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone being cast in key roles? I’m in.

3) Dunkirk (in theaters 7/21) – I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work since Batman Begins (the first film I saw of his), and Dunkirk looks like Nolan is branching out of his comfort zone. Instead of science or psychology, Nolan explores history. We have an ensemble cast, so we’ll see various perspectives in Dunkirk, giving us a potentially epic and powerful journey.

2) Alien: Covenant (in theaters 5/19) – Alien and Aliens both excited and terrified me simultaneously when I saw them as a kid. The red band trailer for Alien: Covenant gave me that same reaction. Besides the nostalgia, I’m happy to hear that all of Prometheus’s questions will be answered and Covenant will be a full transition into the Alien franchise.

1) Blade Runner: 2049 (in theaters 10/6) – Harrison Ford is rumored to be in Blade Runner: 2049 for a short amount of time, but that’s okay. Ryan Gosling is our new lead and his acting style suits the psychological and ambiguous tones of Blade Runner. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival) is now director and with his trademark cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men) and composer Johan Johansson, Blade Runner: 2049 will be a dark, artistic experience that suits our world.

Top 16 Films of 2016

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That’s right! I saw 16 movies that were great and worth mentioning. Before I count them down, I have a few things to mention:

  • Grades are arbitrary. So, just because a movie has an A+, that doesn’t mean I’m going to rank it above the A’s and A-‘s.
  • If there’s a movie missing, keep in mind I saw well over 70 movies throughout the year for review. So, if there’s one you liked that’s missing, I either didn’t see it or didn’t like it.
  • As much as I loved Hail, Caesar!, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Edge of Seventeen, and The Witch, these are honorable mentions, as I found the top 16 films superior.

And my top 16 films for 2016 are:

16) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This New Zealand gem is loaded with heart, humor, and a myriad of action movie references that left me entertained beginning-to-end. The underrated Sam Neill also gives an award-worthy performance that’ll sadly be looked over.

15) Manchester by the Sea – The most recent film I reviewed, Manchester by the Sea is a funny, heartbreaking, and sincere depiction of grief. Casey Affleck once again delivers a powerful performance as Lee Chandler, this year’s most haunting on-screen protagonist.

14) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I know a lot of fans are mad this isn’t higher on my list, but hey, I still loved Rogue One! This is a refreshingly dark and political installment in the Star Wars franchise, featuring one of the year’s best final acts.

13) 10 Cloverfield Lane – Semi-sequel to the decent monster film Cloverfield10 Cloverfield Lane is an old-fashioned thriller reminiscent of 80’s sci-fi and horror films. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance as survivalist, Howard. His relationship with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is also an in-depth commentary on abuse that left me floored.

12) Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch steals every seen as our charismatic and arrogant titular character. Between his performance and Scott Derrickson’s bizzare and innovative visuals, Doctor Strange is a must-see for Marvel fans.

11) Deadpool – Speaking of Marvel, Ryan Reynolds gave me what I wanted: a damn fine Deadpool movie. Reynolds brings his A-game in a movie packed with meta jabs at himself and the superhero genre, frenetic action, and quotable dialogue. Deadpool has set the new bar for R-rated superhero movies.

10) Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson makes a directorial comeback with this harrowing and spiritual war film. Hacksaw Ridge has some pretentious moments, but they’re redeemable thanks to Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance as conscientious objector, Desmond Doss. Between his performance and Gibson’s visceral direction, it’s now a top contender for best WWII movie.

9) Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins directs this year’s most ambitious and unique film. It’s a tough film to watch, focusing on three periods in one man’s life. The journey pays off as we’re treated to some innovative cinematography, a kinetic score, and beautiful storytelling.

8) Zootopia – One of the most important films of the year, Zootopia is an insightful and funny animated film with a lot on its mind. Did anyone expect a cartoon to have thought-provoking commentary on race, discrimination, xenophobia, and gender roles? We’ll need more films like Zootopia over the next four years.

7) Kubo and the Two Strings – Kubo and the Two Strings is a magical animated film with heart and superb animation. Dario Marianelli’s brilliant score and the ensemble voice performances make Kubo an unforgettable experience.

6) Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier’s third film Green Room is sick, twisted fun. Combining arthouse elements of Gus Van Sant with grindhouse elements of John Carpenter and Sam Peckinpah, Green Room is an explosive tribute to siege movies and punk music. It also features an against-type performance from Patrick Stewart and one of the late Anton Yelchin’s final performances.

5) Captain America: Civil War – As a Marvel fan, I was satisfied with the morally ambiguous turn in Captain America: Civil War. The second and third acts contain the year’s best action sequences and one twist that made the movie into a dark dysfunctional family tale.

4) The Nice Guys – Shane Black takes his buddy cop formula and mashes it into the Film Noir genre (my favorite genre); the result is a smart, hilarious, and stylish throwback on 70’s New Hollywood. Russell Crowe returns to form in his most badass role since 3:10 to Yuma, while Ryan Gosling shows off his hidden comedic talent. The duo’s chemistry is brilliant!

3) Hell or High Water – A modern Western reminiscent of the Coen Brothers, Hell or High Water is a cynical and poetic tale of brotherhood. Ben Foster and Chris Pine shine as a pair of troubled brothers while Jeff Bridges steals every scene as the persistent lawman. The final scene alone makes Hell or High Water a haunting, but rewarding experience.

2) Arrival – Arrival is the year’s most challenging film. It’s slowly paced with minimum dialogue, but expressive. Director Denis Villeneuve makes an uncommonly optimistic and beautiful hard sci-fi film, featuring the best twist ending I’ve seen in years. It’s an emotional journey, and it shows Blade Runner 2049 is in the right hands.

1) La La Land – I’ve been singing “City of Stars” nonstop since I saw La La Land, this year’s best film. Director and writer Damien Chazelle follows Whiplash with another love letter to jazz. La La Land is a more hopeful commentary about passion and dreams, and it’s packed with masterfully directed musical numbers and more winning performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This will be the Best Picture winner!

Those were my favorite movies of 2016! What was yours?

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

So, “Star Wars” is now a yearly thing, huh? I can dig it.

“Rogue One” is a prequel to “A New Hope,” and without going into details, it’s about a rag tag group of rebels trying to uncover the Death Star’s weakness.

“Rogue One” is still a space opera like the previous films; however, this is the franchise’s most political and psychological installment. Our main characters are morally ambiguous and aren’t afraid to kill *anyone* that can compromise them. Even the high-ranking rebel leaders have their own agendas.

The new characters include Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young rebel with a grudge against the Imperial Military. We also have Rebel Alliance operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a sassy android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (the great Donnie Yen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and Imperial traitor Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). They’re the Expendables of the “Star Wars” universe!

On the villains side, we have the great Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, a high-ranking Imperial Officer with a raging God Complex. There’s no lightsabers or Force. This is a espionage movie in space.

Each character has their own agenda or reason for participating in the war, and we see their weaknesses and flaws. Unlike the other “Star Wars” movies where we have traditional heroes, the heroes in “Rogue One” are all flawed and feel more like people.

Director Gareth Edwards knows how to photograph action sequences, and the battle scenes are frenetic and gorgeous. There are a lot of slow tension-filled moments, emphasizing the film’s espionage aesthetics.

Every cast member does a great job, but I was disappointed that a few of them didn’t get their moment, particularly Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Ahmed is a talented, versatile actor, but he doesn’t have his moment like the other cast members.

The biggest flaw is at times, “Rogue One” keeps alternating between its own movie and being a traditional “Star Wars” movie. Edwards wanted to make this his own, so the traditional “Star Wars” credits are absent. But we still get the traditional closing credits and numerous callbacks?

Same time, I can’t bash on “Rogue One” too much since I loved “The Force Awakens” (it was on my top 10 of last year), and that’s one big homage to “A New Hope.” If this month’s artsy movies or holiday comedies aren’t for you, check out “Rogue One” instead.

Grade: A-

PS, in case you’re all wondering what my ranking of the series looks like:

  1. A New Hope
  2. Return of the Jedi (not the best, but my personal favorite)
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (arguably the best, but I have a stronger attachment to the other tw0)
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Rogue One
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. The Phantom Menace
  8. Attack of the Clones

The Best Movies Of 2015

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It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite review to write – MY FAVORITE MOVIES (OR FILMS) OF 2015!!!! This year was a solid year, especially in the genre films department. Now I have a couple of disclaimers.

  • I go see at least three or four movies a month, but it’s hard to catch everything. So films on other peoples’ lists like Straight Outta Compton, Room, and Carol won’t be on the list.
  • I really wanted to see The Revenant, but it won’t be out until a week after the new year, so it’s unfortunately not a contender.
  • There are a few movies you’ll see on this list and think, “Hey, why didn’t you review or mention this?” It’s because I either saw them before I launched this blog or after they were released on video.
  • A grade doesn’t mean I have to rank an A+ over an A. There’s even a movie I gave an A+ that’s not on the list at all!

On that note, I have some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but are still worth mentioning:

  • Beasts of No Nation (the only A+ movie not on the list) was a beautiful and harrowing war film about innocence lost, featuring Idris Elba’s finest performance to date.
  • Creed restored my faith in the Rocky franchise, thanks to Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
  • The End of the Tour is the best road trip movie I’ve seen in the last few years and featured Jason Segel’s finest work.
  • Ex-Machina was a disturbing and suspenseful sci-fi thriller that had great commentary on objectification.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – was the best spy movie I saw in a year loaded with spy movies, and featured one of the most innovative and memorable fight scenes to date.
  • Trainwreck was a very funny and surprisingly dramatic comedy that introduced me to the talented Amy Schumer.

And now let’s get down to it! My top 10 favorite films of 2015 are:

10) It FollowsIt Follows may have the ridiculous concept of a dark sex comedy, but it’s also a very disturbing commentary on teen sexuality and a strong message to young kids about safe sex.

9) Sicario – Perhaps the darkest and most nihilistic movie on my list, Sicario shines through the darkness, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s visceral direction and powerful performances from both Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. This is one cartel thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart.

8) The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s newest Western is also not for the faint of heart, but still an absolute blast. Part murder mystery and part classical Western, Tarantino’s beautiful direction brings out the best work from its cast, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins.

7) Love & Mercy – I hate music biopics, but Love & Mercy is more of an engaging psychological study of a broken man than a generic Brian Wilson biopic. Paul Dano plays young Wilson with frenetic energy while John Cusack portrays the older fragile version of Wilson in this unique music film.

6) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Thank you, J.J. Abrams, for giving us a great Star Wars movie for Christmas. New and old blood, nostalgia mixed with more character-driven storytelling, Star Wars ranks among the best Star Wars installments to date.

5) The Martian – Ridley Scott returns to form and directs the year’s most optimistic movie featuring this year’s most likable protagonist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon in his best performance). This is a survival sci-fi tale that will have viewers laughing while engaged in science and disco music.

4) Steve Jobs – Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin crafted the best film that no one saw this year! Shame on the film goers for skipping a visionary fast-paced biopic, featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender as the titular character.

3) Spotlight – Likely this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight is a gripping and important journalism piece that follows people (not heroes or villains) and their struggles writing an investigative piece on molestation in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel MacAdams all deliver standout performances as our protagonists.

2) Inside Out – Pixar is back with the very beautiful, funny, and emotional Inside Out. Director Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) continues to combine basic genre formulas with innovative storytelling in the form of an animated film. In this case, a disaster movie with insight on emotions.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM! That’s the fanboy part of me talking, but the reason why Mad Max is #1 is because George Miller rebooted his own franchise and topped his previous installments. Between the action sequences with stuntmen and reliance on basic props for visual effects, we rarely get an action movie with as much effort put into it as Mad Max: Fury Road. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie that treated an ensemble of female characters as powerful people and passed the Bechdel test. These reasons are enough to please all film goers and not just action fans.

Thanks a bunch for reading this countdown! At the bottom, tell me if you agree or disagree with my list. Also, what was your favorite film of 2015?

 

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (Spoiler Free)

I won’t fanboy over “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I won’t spoil anything whilst talking about “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I’ll say that it’s good to read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” again.

“The Force Awakens” follows the Resistance over thirty years after the events of “Return of the Jedi”, and they’re now up against the First Order led by dark master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). They’re in pursuit of resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid, BB-88 for mysterious reasons.

Thrown in the middle, are a rogue storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who become the franchise’s new heroes while aided by our classic heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

I don’t want to spoil anything for the people who haven’t seen this movie, but this film is great. Director JJ Abrams has brought new life into the series while paying tribute to the classic trilogy.

Abrams doesn’t rely on CGI and lackluster camera tilts like prequels. He’s gone back to the original aesthetics with props, limited CGI, and innovative camera movements. He even restrained himself on lens flare, which was nice.

Abrams co-wrote the script with Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) and Lawrence Kasdan (the original “Star Wars” trilogy) and they’ve crafted an exciting and beautiful story. There’s limited dialogue, but we get a sense of who Rey and Finn are through their expressions and possessions.

Rey is the star of “The Force Awakens” and Ridley brings great spirit to the character. She’s spunky, fearless, and destined for greatness. Finn is a vulnerable and redeemable character who isn’t afraid to take on any adversaries.

Kylo Ren is also a human villain, but perhaps a tad whiny (my biggest complaint with the movie), but his background and development make up for the whining he does later. I can’t wait to see more of him.

My favorite new character in the new trilogy is Poe. He’s cool and noble, and has a human-pet relationship with BB-88 that brings some charm to the film.

I’ll also say that it was great to see my favorite childhood characters Han and Chewy back together on the big screen, but I think I liked them more in this movie than the original ones. Han has more depth in his old age while maintaining the attitude that originally made him a badass.

That’s what’s great about this movie. For the first time, this is a “Star Wars” movie where there aren’t good guys and bad guys; there are flawed people.

Flaws? Well, sure, there are a few. The climactic setting isn’t as cool as it could have been, and the storm trooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets the Boba Fett treatment (NOT A SPOILER – she’s just hyped and has limited screen time). Good news is we still have two more movies to explore her character.

“Star Wars” will break box office records and it should. This is a film that I didn’t want originally (the prequels, you know?). I was skeptical of Abrams directing, but he left me smiling for a great two hours.

Grade: A