Episode 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)


GOING IN

In the two years since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it’s been a bumpy ride for my fandom of this once beloved franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this new trilogy, but also found its use of nostalgia to be a bit off-putting. And then came Rogue One, which I did not enjoy much and resulted in me becoming very down on Star Wars and its cinematic future. Thankfully, a recent re-watch of The Force Awakens and the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi snapped me back to attention and I am now properly excited once more.

So many questions exist that must be answered. How will Rian Johnson fare in the director’s chair and how will the treatment of recently deceased Carrie Fisher be handled? Where is Kylo Ren’s character arc heading and will he evolve into a villain on par with Darth Vader? And who, for the love of all that is holy, are Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi looks amazing, and expectations are sky high. Hopefully not so high that they’re bound to be let down.

2 Hours and 32 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

A few weeks prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Disney announced that director Rian Johnson would be expanding Star Wars further with a new trilogy. This news sort of tipped Disney’s hand as to how they felt about The Last Jedi because they certainly weren’t going to give Johnson more work if they didn’t like what he’d done in Episode VIII. Well, it all makes sense now, and Johnson has proven that the franchise is in good hands.

The Last Jedi follows a similar path to The Empire Strikes Back, with dual storylines following Rey (who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker at his secret hiding place) and the rest of the Resistance separately. But if you’re worried about the film being a beat-for-beat remake of the hallowed Episode V, you can rest easy knowing that it does not do so and instead offers many surprises. It is telling that Luke says, “This not going to go the way you think,” because for (mostly) better and (a few times) worse Johnson twists and turns this tale all over the place, which creates the exhilaration that comes with having no idea what is coming next. After its typical over-the-top opening sequence, Johnson’s film does lag a bit, though, and I felt the overall length more-so than I have in other epics. It’s not that the character development and plotting aren’t important, but it is noticeable compared to the high octane pacing of the film in its second half. And in that second half is where things really shine the brightest as everything and anything can and does happen. The final third of The Last Jedi is as emotionally affecting, gorgeous to behold, and fun to experience as any Star Wars film has ever been.

One thing that really stuck out the most in The Last Jedi was Johnson’s ability to challenge the moral choices of characters both “good” and “bad.” Poe Dameron has to actually deal with the repercussions of his Maverick-esque personality and Finn struggles with being considered a hero. Even Chewie deals with moving on after the loss of his best friend, albeit with a pretty adorable outcome. Many characters are faced with dilemmas that seem easy to solve on the surface but prove to be so much more. I’m not even going to address Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs because those need to be seen firsthand with no prior knowledge, but I will say that I appreciated where the former ended up more than the latter. One of my disappointments with the film was being left with the feeling that Ren still isn’t a villain worth fearing like Darth Vader. That being said, this is a different story with different relationships in play, and there is much I do like about the complex Kylo Ren.

Acting is solid across the board with Hamill standing out the most. His grizzled, regretful Luke feels very real and sincere. We do finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke up close and Andy Serkis does his typical great motion-capture work, however the voicing of Snoke sounds a little too reminiscent of Gollum at times and that can be distracting. Also, thankfully, Carrie Fisher’s appearance is handled with the utmost care and respect. She’s not just a side character either, but a very integral part of the the entire film’s plot. One final small criticism would be that the characters are sometimes forced to use very modern dialogue, specifically when the film is being humorous. Many laughed, but I found some lines to just be more eye-roll worthy instead. Luckily these moments are few and far between, nothing that derails the cerebral and intriguing plot.

VERDICT

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since The Empire Strikes Back. Its unexpected plot choices will have fans gasping in surprise, and many emotional moments will cause a lump in the throat or tears in the eye. As Star Wars has always told us, the Resistance (and Rebellion) operate on HOPE. The story here is no different, but our HOPE in Rian Johnson has also been pleasantly rewarded. Whether you like every choice or not, it’s impossible not to respect the filmmaker’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible conclusion. The Last Jedi is a must-see for fans and should be taken in at the biggest theater possible for full effect. See it soon to avoid spoilers, and may the force be with you always.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: American Made

“All this is legal?”

“If you’re doing it for the good guys.”

This brief exchange tells us all we need to know about the measuring stick for the morality of the world of American Made. Unfortunately, what we’re quick to learn is that in this world, there aren’t any good guys, just guys who occupy various levels of bad. The worst part for the viewer is, of course, that the world of American Made is the world we live in.

American Made is based on the true story of Barry Seal, who is recruited to take reconnaissance photos of communist separatist groups in South America for the CIA in the late 70’s. After proving to be up to the task, he’s further asked to act as a courier between the CIA and Panama’s General Manuel Noriega. Before Seal reaches the end of the rabbit hole, he’ll be involved in smuggling drugs and guns and laundering a whole lot of cash. To say more would be to ruin the fun. It is a true story, but it’s not one that a lot of people have heard.

Tom Cruise is great as Seal, a man who in his own words expressed his tendency to leap before he looks. He’s a damn fine pilot and knows as much, but the fun of the movie is watching him react and adapt to the situations he’s thrust into where he gets more and more in over his head. I think Barry would want you to believe that he’s a family man and like all good men who find themselves in bad company, he was just trying to provide for his wife and kids. That might be true, but what we really see in Barry is a thrill seeker out looking for his next adventure and a little extra cash on the side. Domhnall Gleeson is direct and manipulative as Monte Schaefer, Barry’s CIA handler, who is willing to look the other way on Seal’s extracurriculars provided he still does what he’s told. The film could have been stronger had it spent more time highlighting Barry’s relationship with his wife and kids. Sarah Wright does good work with what she’s given as Barry’s wife Lucy, but there isn’t that much there for her to do. Doug Liman’s direction is solid with some pretty-fun camera work that makes much of the movie feel like a documentary. By utilizing a type of talking head narration and home video like images, you’d almost believe this came from the early 1980’s. You get a sense that Liman has trouble believing this story is actually true and so he assumes that the viewer will have a hard time with that fact as well.

This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to leave you feeling upbeat as your Gary Cooper-esque hero rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. Unfortunately, that’s not how this portion of our history as a nation worked out. But if you want to see 2 hours of peak Tom Cruise, I’d recommend American Made.

Rating:


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 21: Ex Machina

For our April Donor Pick, our Patreon supporters chose from a list of films and by a wide margin picked this stunning sci-fi directorial debut from 2015  – Ex Machina. This film is ripe with ideas for contemplation and conversation so we brought in guest host Emmanuel Noisette of Eman’s Movie Reviews to help us dissect Alex Garland’s masterpiece. We cover a lot of ground in this minisode so get comfortable, put your thinking cap on, and enjoy.

Emmanuel Noisette

Website: http://www.emansmoviereviews.com

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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