Star Wars: The Last Jedi

nullThe Star Wars franchise has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, with The Empire Strikes Back being lauded by many of its vociferous fans as the critical pinnacle.  Well, The Last Jedi comes pretty close, only missing out for this reviewer because along with an extra three decades of age comes the unavoidable onset of cynicalitus (the medical term for being a cynical old film critic).  Shame I couldn’t quite muster up my starry-eyed younger self from the eighties for this viewing.  But for the less cynically challenged, The Last Jedi provides everything to lose yourself in; engaging characters, intriguing atmosphere, action sequences that aren’t overdrawn… and it’s better than most of its predecessors.

Arguably the “middle” film does have the luxury of avoiding plot setups and tying up loose ends.  In short, it’s allowed to immediately hit the ground running and have fun—and The Last Jedi does just this.

It’s difficult to cover the salient plot points without slipping on a few spoiler shaped banana skins along the way.  So, treading carefully, all you really need to know is that Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues to develop her Jedi skills that she discovered in Episode 7, with the help of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). This covers a significant portion of the film and operates ostensibly as the Luke/Yoda sequence from The Empire Strikes Back.  Meanwhile, the Resistance continues to … well, resist.  Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his First Order cronies give chase in pursuit of Leia, Finn, Poe and their eclectic bunch of Resistance fighters. All the while, Kylo Ren comes to terms with his own identity issues. The film traverses across the stars and salty planets (quite literally) climaxing in a satisfying if somewhat open-ended finish. Indeed, it packs a lot into its 160+ mins, but thankfully never feels forced.

The film appears to know its audience and despite its target market being as wide as the grand canyon, it still manages to pack in a healthy mix of racial and gender empowered characters and have time to promote its life-affirming philosophy.

A few continuity hiccups aside, the film runs a fairly fluid telling of some reasonably complex ideas. It avoids getting bogged down in its mythology, whilst still paying homage to everything that is “Star Wars”.  In short, there’s more Star Wars here than you’ll know what to do with.  Even Yoda pays a small visit, to which I’m sure his advice for the cranky cynics would be: this not the film you are looking for, no. For others … go see this film you must, yes.

    

You can see my published reviews here.

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The Hero

theheroHave you ever laboured your way through the retelling of someone else’s dream?  Boring to many, gold to others perhaps, but as The Hero tells us, “Movies are other peoples dreams.”  and your level of appreciation for this film may well rest on the amount you empathise with its retelling of another man’s story. Here, The Hero’s quiet nature implores us to be patient and listen to Lee  Hayden’s story.

Lee (Sam Elliott) is a washed-up actor, aged 71 and well past the twilight of his career. A star of multiple westerns in the sixties and seventies, he now resides in his Californian bungalow and quietly smokes weed with the drug dealer next door while wallowing in his self-pity at the broken relationships with his daughter and ex-wife.  It’s not until he receives news of a potentially terminal cancer is he woken from his apathetic slumber and seeks to right a few wrongs.

By chance, he strikes up a romantic relationship with Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a woman almost half his age. The ensuing sex scene will, no doubt, challenge some viewer’s preconceived ideas about mixed age relationships—its irksome nature being a social construct that’s come about through desperate old men and gold diggers taking reciprocal advantage of each other.  But here, theirs is a tender and honest relationship reluctantly accepted by Lee, who is well aware of how it looks.

The thematic similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler are worth mentioning. Only, this is a gentler version… minus the lycra, razor blades, and strippers.  But both films have at their core an exploration into mortality, the coming to terms with a failing body, and the desire to mend broken relationships.  The cinematic treatments of both films are very personal tales from directors who’ve elected to dial back the filmic flourishes to allow breathing space for their star to deliver a stellar performance.

Actor Sam Elliott’s familiar persona parallels his onscreen character, his smokey voice (which makes Johnny Cash sound like a chipmunk) resonates more powerfully than his face—it’s a masterstroke of casting. Despite the film being very much a vehicle for Elliott’s mesmerising performance, it is still worth mentioning director Brett Haley’s intentionally subtle hand.  He is a director who knows when to observe and listen, making The Hero a notable example of directorial restraint. 

The Hero is perhaps too earnest is its middle stanza but rights itself with a powerful ending.

Few films finish this well.  If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals and cried inwardly at Amy Adam’s tour de force of acting in the film’s final scene, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Elliott delivers his final few lines with devastating effect. Lines that echo the film’s opening act and speaks volumes about how far his character has developed. Lee’s story is a dream worth watching.

See my reviews here on the Witchdoctor website.