With each new year comes a new Star Wars film. This one has stars and also some warfare. I hope that is not a spoiler.
So, The Last Jedi is an odd film among other Star Wars flicks. You see, this is the most closed-off film in the series, in terms of scope. There are very few locations, and much of it is set in space. Yet, in some ways, this is refreshing to a relatively mild fan of the franchise such as myself. I should note here that I have never adored the Star Wars films, and I do not believe they necessarily deserve high praise. Still, I do not mind seeing them when they release, especially considering the volume of my compatriots who would discuss a new entry’s merits or shortfalls.
I will dive into the effects and cinematography first; the film is visually breathtaking. That is to be expected, of course. There were some incredibly stunning moments, and the aforementioned focus on open space is executed quite effectively, albeit with some flaws. That is, although it’s a wonderful idea to have a film set primarily in space (unless that film is called Gravity) the film suffers somewhat from a lack of environmental diversity. The Last Jedi is quite a long movie, and I would argue that it drags toward the middle, having little to show that hasn’t been shown several times already. I could almost wager that this was a cost-saving decision, requiring few filming locations and a more simplistic set design. Regardless, this is noticeable, and any viewer expecting an array of strange planets and vibrant scenery may be disappointed. Despite this setback, The Last Jedi does well with its shot composition. There’s a particular scene toward the end of the film, in which all sound is cut out for an intense effect, and there’s a beautiful shot with stunning visual design. Also, there are a few scenes with Rey which have excellent camerawork showcasing a fairly unique area which was seen briefly in The Force Awakens.
The acting is mostly good. I am conflicted; Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver were splendid, as expected from them. Oscar Isaac had a fairly wooden and simple performance this time, as he was constantly angry and bitter throughout the film. He exhibited so little variability in countenance that I fear director Rian Johnson may have fooled us all with a CGI recreation of him from a single photograph. Poe Dameron was an intriguing and somewhat complex character in The Force Awakens, yet here he seems wasted and shoved aside. That’s probably more an issue of writing than acting, admittedly. Of course, that does not apply to Laura Dern. I appreciate her acting capability, but she is unconvincing as a rebellion general. Her character appears suddenly when it is necessary, and there are mentions of her past, but she acts as if she were reading from a script in which she plays a family matriarch, guiding whippersnappers along their journey. I do not believe her character was necessary in the film, but if she had treated it differently, I may have enjoyed her performance more. As some may wonder, considering the buzz this has been getting around the internet, I do not care about her hair. I do not think a character’s hair color is relevant to the movie’s quality. That would be pedantic.
The story has many incredible twists and a variety of remarkable situations. Frankly, this is actually a very surprising film. While I did find Force Awakens to be somewhat predictable, I had my expectations subverted persistently in this film. That is a testament to the difference between The Last Jedi and other Star Wars films; this movie will not go in any direction foreshadowed by the previous films, and I daresay it revels in mocking one’s predictions. A persistent reader of mine may glean a sense that I appreciate films which are able to consistently surprise me. There are touching and heartfelt scenes, and while the action scenes are few and far between, they are worthy of praise for their style and ingenuity. I suppose that I wanted a more grandiose presentation for the middle of a Star Wars trilogy. Still, I cannot fault the film much for its design in that aspect. The dialogue is witty although sometimes corny, but that is how I have always viewed Star Wars. Some of the jokes were strange, and while none will be as quotable as ‘scruffy-looking nerf-herder’, they mostly landed decently. The music is standard Star Wars fare; outside of the predictable opening crawl, there is not much to be said about it. There is nothing wrong with the sound, but I do not believe it was a significant step up from previous films, per se.
The main issue with this movie is the script. A striking amount of screen time is spent on dialogue-driven scenes that, while somewhat entertaining, serve little purpose and seem to pad the run-time. I would have appreciated a heavier focus on Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, and Rey; despite the length of The Last Jedi, precious little time is spent on what I would deem the best parts of the movie. Certain characters die suddenly in unexpected but disappointing ways. Overall, I believe the new characters could have been left out in favor of a tighter cast. I would argue that the original trilogy worked well in no small part due to the constant presence of its main trio, leading to excellent character development and recognizable story arcs. Despite my complaints, The Last Jedi is still pretty good. It is well worth seeing, especially for the impressive visual artistry.
This one sits as a Wondrous film. I enjoyed it more than the other Disney Star Wars movies, and my appreciation of certain scenes and effects outweighs my lamentations of the script and acting. Worth noting is The Last Jedi’s comparison to another 2017 sci-fi film I have reviewed here: Blade Runner 2049. If a viewer has a choice between seeing this or the new Blade Runner, I highly recommend the latter. Blade Runner 2049 somehow has less notoriety yet arguably does better what this film tried to accomplish in virtually every category.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is peculiar in its sagacity. Therefore, I think it’s necessary to keep this simple. You see, there’s not much I can say about this movie without quickly running out of adjectives with positive connotations. In all my years of watching movies, I’ve seen only a few which could match the sheer brilliance and raw magnitude of awe within Three Billboards. The story is as unique as can be; I’ve never seen a film with a concept resembling that of this film, and the various strange events transpiring in this small Missouri town work to cement that idea.
The music has various intense and intermittent guitar-heavy tracks which beautifully contribute to the scenes. That effect can’t be understated. The writing proves exceedingly hilarious and remarkably dire and gloomy, both in convincing and incredible ways. Every facet of this film is virtually flawless. Everything is weird and lovely and sublime. There’s real character development in a movie that isn’t especially long, and the acting is magnificent across the board. Do you see the problem yet, oh precious reader of mine? I’m using too many adjectives because it’s too damn fine for criticism or even neutrality. The shots weren’t spectacular (except one profoundly intense scene), but they were still excellently utilized, so they don’t hinder the film at all. The special effects are fantastic too, and why should they be? Who would even care? Yet, they put great detail into making sure everything was convincing and amazing. It’s a mobius strip of delight, a can of pure bliss with no artificial preservatives.
Martin Mcdonagh’s previous films, such as In Bruges and especially Seven Psychopaths, were sublime and darkly funny in their own right. I have cherished Seven Psychopaths for a few years, and I didn’t expect its place in my mind to be superseded by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Mcdonagh is at his best……no, that’s not quite right. Mcdonagh is at the acme of cinematic quality. I don’t think this is a niche feature or a bizarre cult classic in the making, either. This isn’t some one-off odd film some people brought together. This is a masterpiece, and an achievement of the highest order. I wondered why Mcdonagh took 5 years to make another film, and I wonder no longer. If this is the result, let him take all the time he needs. It’s certainly been worth the wait.
Salient…In fact, if ever I adjust the system and add a new category for the very best possible films in the history of mankind, this will be there. It’s not just worth the ticket price, it’s worth the blu-ray box set price. It’s worth the price of a collector’s edition with special interviews and bonus content. I might cry if this movie doesn’t get Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars. I can’t imagine anything being better this year than this movie has been for me. Please, I urge you, whoever you are, to watch this movie as soon as possible, no matter the cost. Regret is surely impossible thereafter.
2018 Update: It won both major acting categories. I am very glad for it. I still think it deserved Best Picture, but it’s nice to see my favorite film of the year recognized so highly anyway.
It’s probably wrong of me to see the third Thor film without seeing the second. In answer to this, I didn’t care to see the second Thor film. From what I’ve gathered, I was right to avoid it. However, this movie is a bit different from most Marvel outings in my opinion.
I’d like to start by claiming that this is the funniest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Most of them made me laugh several times, but this one really had me in stitches. Then, subsequent drama and legitimately tender moments ripped open the stitches and left me confused and bleeding slightly. The writing is quite good all-around. It isn’t believable, per se, but it isn’t supposed to be. I suppose the MCU films, and perhaps especially this one, operate with this sense of ‘science-magic does whatever we want it to’ mentality. In accepting that and running with it, I can see (and review, naturally) how effectively the support runs around it. Some part of me wants to call the whole film childish and absurd, but it’s done in an entertaining manner, and I quickly stopped caring about how bizarre and random many things seemed. With that in mind, it’s somewhat farcical, but it’s truly held up by crazed, sensational special effects (there’s a one-man army scene in the middle which blew me away) and stereotypical superhero music to supplement the material. I think this is one of the least formulaic superhero movies I’ve seen, as well.
The performances are nice, although not particularly special or noteworthy, with the exception of Jeff Goldblum. He’s not afforded a great deal of screentime, but his sheer charisma and obnoxious attitude were pleasant. Also, I appreciated Chris Hemsworth here, as he goes through a range of emotions and shows himself to be effective in various capacities. I’ve never been a fan of Mark Ruffalo or Tom Hiddleston, but I suppose they were better in this film than they had been in a few others. I recall a specific moment which referenced back to a memorable scene in The Avengers (which, keep in mind, was released 5 years prior to this film) and I appreciated this sense of characters’ persistent memories between several films, especially with such a subtle nod. Hulk and Thor have some memorable and funny scenes together, and I appreciated their relationship’s fluctuation throughout the film.
So, the story of Thor Ragnarok is intriguing and amusing, at the very least. There are some fairly clever twists, and the ending was magnificent to me. There were some characters which seemed simply meant for a short running gag, but they were held up throughout the film, which was surprising and enjoyable.
This one’s a Wondrous film. It’s not terribly high on that scale, but it’s fine there. I realize that sometimes a movie is intended to be a bombastic and insane comedy with ridiculous action scenes, and that’s fine. For those seeking that sort of experience, there’s not much I’ve found that fits the bill better. It’s a good movie that deserves to be watched for a good laugh.
I suppose that my lack of prior knowledge regarding this story is a matter of significance; I was pleasantly surprised by the story beats of this film, and I appreciated the twists and turns as one may when first reading the Agatha Christie novel upon which the film is based. Whether this is a profoundly flawless adaptation, I cannot say.
Kenneth Branagh’s work is diverse and complex. He’s behind the worst Frankenstein film I’ve ever seen (It’s really quite abysmal), and the best Shakespeare film as well. Forgive my resultant caution, as I was enticed to see this film but not with immediacy. Rather, I’d like to see more intelligent mystery films, and also more intriguing films set on trains (Snowpiercer is the only good train film I could recall offhand). So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film.
Branagh’s portrayal of detective Hercule Poirot is fabulous. It’s the sort of character which seems fleshed out and driven without the movie yielding spoon-fed details to a wide-eyed viewer without a bib. He’s funny and charming but also subdued and bitter. He’s sarcastic in such a manner that one might be fooled into believing an insult to be a compliment. As an actor, Branagh is riveting and incredibly, perhaps ferociously, serene. It’s difficult to explain how a character can seem to emote effectively while remaining steadfast and calm. While this is certainly Poirot’s story, I’d be amiss to lack mention of his supporting cast. There are many diverse characters who play their parts beautifully, however little screen time they may have been afforded. Particularly notable is Daisy Ridley, who I had not seen outside Star Wars until this outing, in which she is remarkably fierce and perhaps coy as Mary Debenham. Josh Gad and Willem Dafoe also stand out somewhat.
The writing in Murder on the Orient Express is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a quick wit with brevity and complexity I wouldn’t see much outside of Wes Anderson films (and I do so adore Wes Anderson films). I found myself incredulous at my own laughter in this film, as it’s not farcical or especially comical in its presentation, but rather, it can be hilarious through many short dialogue exchanges. Yet, when there must be a serious turn of events, the film (and by extension, Branagh) never misses a beat. It’s dreadful and morose when it needs to be. I don’t think that any scene was especially mundane. Poirot’s apparently realistic obsessive-compulsive tendencies are an incredible surprise as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s the sort of consistently wonderful and relatively believable dialogue which elevates what could have been a monotonous slog of a movie. As for the mystery, it’s resolved in a manner I could not have foreseen, and that’s a testament to the novel as well as Branagh’s presentation of the events; my awe as the credits rolled was well-deserved for this film.
There’s not much to say about the cinematography, unfortunately. That’s not to say that it is bad, but, without spoiling anything, the majority of the film simply occurs within various compartments of a train. There are a few nice environmental shots and some quick cuts around the train, but it isn’t spectacular. It’s competent, and the camera does its job well, but I was seldom taken aback by shot compositions or transitions. In terms of effects, the setting is made believable, and I appreciated certain outdoor scenes with some lovely environments. I’d guess that it’s all CGI, but I’m unsure, so the effects are therefore pretty good.
The musical score for the film is amazing. It’s gut-wrenching and turbulent as it should be, but it’s also boisterous and booming when such a tone is expected. I do not often see films which time certain pieces so well. It’s not so hauntingly memorable or mesmerizing as the recent Blade Runner 2049’s score, but it’s beyond serviceable.
This is one for the Wondrous section. It’s sweet and it’s profound. There seem to be hints at a possible sequel starring Branagh once again, and I would gladly seek that out if it happens.
This movie is a grandiose spectacle. I want to pay special attention to how awe-struck I was by the visual storytelling. It’s not just that the effects are top-notch; there’s a great deal in the background which amplifies the story and the world of the film. This is truly terrific in scope and execution. From subtle hints at a futuristic equivalent to racism, to several intriguing implications regarding unseen events or ideas, Blade Runner 2049’s aesthetic is imperative for its delivery. It also features many striking shots, especially with overhead views of vast cities and deserts. Truly, Blade Runner 2049 is beautiful to gaze upon.
Understand that, as a reviewer with focus on quality of substance over presentation, I’d say this doesn’t make or break any film on its own. The visuals are incredible and noteworthy because they elevate the rest of the film, and support the excellent writing. There are nods to the first film, yet they are scarce enough that I suppose it’s not necessary to be familiar with it.
On that note, the course of events in this film is compelling; do not believe anyone who tells you this is a boring film. Rather, I suppose it could be boring for viewers with no interest in mystery or actual plot. Perhaps Zack Snyder enthusiasts should stay away from this one. I digress; there’s a chain of events in this film, following the protagonist K and his interpretation of everything around him. In that sense, this isn’t an action film, and the science fiction environment is arguably a backdrop or perhaps simply a circumstance of this complex character study. I won’t divulge any further details here, as this is a story one ought to experience fully without being spoiled in the slightest. I don’t say that lightly, as I think most films won’t be brought down with some ancillary information. This is probably my most vague review yet, and for good reason.
Ryan Gosling is a gem in this film. I’d say all of the actors perform wonderfully, yet Gosling stands out in particular. There are a few scenes in which his character, K, has an incredible revelation, which also serves as a clever twist for the audience. Instead of a stereotypical swell of sounds to indicate something significant (which I find common for even the best film twists), in one such scene, the movie becomes silent as K comes to an understanding and exhibits an intense emotional reaction. It’s not over-the-top or unbelievable, either. He’s reacting the way the audience might in such a situation. That’s what makes his performance so magnificent. Also, Ana de Armas deserves a mention, as I’ve never seen her act before, and she’s a stellar opposite to Gosling’s K, bringing levity and a bit of bleakness to the world, while bringing back memories of Her, which is another fantastic film.
Finally, the music in this film is a strange mix of techno and classical pieces which blend in juxtaposition in such a way that I would have trouble believing it had I not witnessed this myself. This isn’t a knock on techno music by any means, yet I realize that I’m accustomed to having a blaring techno track pounding a viewer’s ears while guns fire and things explode and stuff happens all over the screen. That is, Blade Runner 2049’s soundtrack utilizes a quiet and brooding tone while eliciting awe and wonder, complimenting the visuals amazingly. This is the best score in a film this year, so far. It’s impossible to overstate its effect.
This is a Salient film. That’s where it must be placed. I could gripe about a sudden and open ending, or the strange and sparse use of Jared Leto’s character, yet I was so riveted by the film that it can’t be brought down very much. Everyone who wants to see movies with excellent stories and ideas should quickly see this on a theater screen.
Wind River is painful to watch. That’s not because it’s poorly made, or because it’s disgusting, or any other possible negative aspect; this isn’t some abhorrent or trashy film…it’s practically a masterpiece. That’s why it hurts, though. This is a film about loss, and grief, and horrible, gut-wrenching, brain-splattering tragedy. Yet, unlike almost every sad drama I’ve seen, Wind River pulls no punches. Wind River doesn’t care that it hurts. Seeing this might cause someone to need painkillers because it’s unbelievably harsh and effective to a point at which the audience is on a train and they passed Reason and Sensibility 3 stops back. They’re at the end of the line now and they’re pretty sure there’s been a mistake because the rails just end with a sign which states “Goodbye.” It’s also beautifully shot, especially considering the vast emptiness in much of the film’s landscapes. A less competent filmmaker would end up with boring stills of snow. That’s not how this was done, however. Actually, this film could have been simple and formulaic; the story is not far from that of a generic thriller film, yet it’s handled so brilliantly that it moves past the notion of normalcy.
I cannot express enough the harrowing experience of watching this film. I was reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (which also involves punching) in how gloomy and dire the film is. That’s a great film, and Wind River is better. There’s a persistent bleakness which perhaps escapes the film itself and attacks the psyche of any who dare enjoy it. Still, the effect such a film has had on me is amazing and terrible in its grandeur. This is no sprawling epic, no immensely packed film with many high profile actors and lavish set pieces. This is a low-budget mystery thriller and it’s probably the best it could be. Also, the soundtrack was good, but not especially memorable, unfortunately. That’s probably the biggest flaw, overall.
Wind River delivers and causes me to quiver and shiver. There’s little to say about the story or characters without possibly spoiling important narrative points, and so, I can divulge little but the utmost praise for each. However, perhaps the most shocking aspect of Wind River, personally, was the idea that Jeremy Renner can be an excellent actor. I’ve seen him in ~10 movies, and I’ve always thought he brought each of them down, and that he should have been recast (Yes, even in The Avengers). To my surprise, he gives a subtle, muted, quiet performance while showing a significant contrast in emotions. He has a range and depth in this movie which I would not have expected to see. Elizabeth Olsen is also a tour de force in this role, which was also surprising, albeit less so. I’ve seen very little of her, however, this film has caused me to wonder what more she can bring to films from now on.
This snags a spot in the Salient category. It’s perfect on a technical level, extremely engaging, and remarkably enticing. This is an exotic gem of a movie, a rare and precious artifact, something to be appreciated and cherished persistently. Wind River represents the acme of its genre, and deserves to be seen by many, even if it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Tyler Sheridan is doubtlessly one of the greatest modern filmmakers. Expect this one to win multiple academy awards.