Saturday, December 16, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Catch Up, day 2/3: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a list redo, and foreign film

Writing a spoiler free review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is a bit difficult for this super fan. So difficult in fact that while I was writing it yesterday I ended up in the emergency room with an acute migraine brought on by stress, it seems. Oscar stress? I sure hope not, because here I am, back at it.

Almost everything I want to discuss is some form of a spoiler. Having had an additional 24 hours to read other comments about the film doesn't help matters either. But I'm going to stick to where I started yesterday with a few bullet points.

  • Rian Johnson. WOW. I have been a fan since "Brick." I had the pleasure of attending the NYC premiere of "Brick" back in 2005 and had a really nice conversation with Johnson at the after party. "Brick" wasn't a perfect film for me, but I knew immediately that he was a director to watch. "Looper" made my top 10, and now, we have "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." This film shows me that Kathleen Kennedy and Disney aren't opposed to these films having an original auteur stamp on them, like everyone has assumed due to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being replaced by Ron Howard, and "The Force Awakens" being so similar to "A New Hope." "The Last Jedi" is not only not a carbon copy of "The Empire Strikes Back" it is wildly unique in so many ways: in the production design (the casino and the salt mine to name a couple are truly remarkable), the plot structure (at least compared to other SW films), the acting! (see below), the battles. Sure, the space battles seem, well, like nods to Lucas...but do we really want an attempt at over the top originality? No, we don't. 
  • TOP 10? OK...when I left the theatre last night, I couldn't help but think that this film is certainly one of the best films of the year. Definitely in terms of the films I've seen so far in 2017. How much of this is based on excitement? The energy in the room? My childhood? I'm not sure. But I wonder if this is the time the Academy takes notice of a blockbuster. That being said, I thought the same with the final "Harry Potter" film, and I was wrong. I'll say this. It will be considered for my top 10.
  • Mark Hamill. I was not expecting Mark Hamill to be as good as he was. As much as I love the original films, Hamill was always the weak link to me. He is incredible here. And we owe that to both Hamill and Johnson.
  • Carrie Fisher. This is the performance we wanted in "The Force Awakens" and needed post Carrie Fisher's death. She is completely confident as Leia. Why, oh why did we have to lose her.
  • Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran and Benecio Del Toro. Tran, Dern and Del Toro are fantastic additions to the "Star Wars" canon. All three are so wonderful, and really bring something special to this world.
  • Humor. Johnson really nails the humor in this film. As has been pointed out by many critics, it happens right out of the gate, with Johnson really going for it. From that first bit of humor between Oscar Isaac's Poe and Domhnall Gleeson's Hux, I knew we were getting a special film. 
  • The end. OK...this will be the closet I go into spoiler territory, but I'm going to try not to say much here. As we entered the very last act of the film, I realized that the missions that we had spent quite some time following were, on the surface, failures. "Filler," as I have now seen them described on twitter. It's not filler. What happens in "The Last Jedi" seems, to me, quite vital to this story. Character development and character journey can absolutely drive the overall plot of the trilogy. However. The very end...this is where I take the most issue with the film. It's prequel territory.  And now, I guess I'm going to act like every other super fan and tell the experts how they could've done it better. I think they should have ended with a cliffhanger. Something to really push us through for the next 2 years. I really don't see much comparison to "The Empire Strikes Back," but an alternative ending, hinting back to "Empire" would have been nice. Maybe. I'm not saying Rey loses an arm, but something. Speaking of "Empire," I think there was so much potential for some really interesting romantic exploration in this film, and from what I see on other sites, I wasn't the only one who noticed it. I wish they would have gone for it even more, because now...we have one film left to tell this story!

This is certainly old news now that I didn't get to this yesterday, but it still applies. I've been covering Best Foreign Film for Awards Daily for several years now. And I love it. When we get the final 9 (is it always 9?) before the final 5 films are announced on nomination morning, things always seem to be inexplicably left out. This year, those films were Angelia Jolie's "First They Killed My Father" and France's BMP, Beats Per Minute. I had hoped to watch both of these films along with "A Taxi Driver" before the top 9 were announced but it didn't happen. I never imagined that the prior 2 films wouldn't make the cut. Surprised by Oscar, yet again. I did watch "In the Fade" and will talk about it at some point, just not now. Let's look at the finalists.

Chile, A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio, director
Germany, In the Fade, Fatih Akin, director
Hungary, On Body and Soul, Ildikó Enyedi, director
Israel, Foxtrot, Samuel Maoz, director
Lebanon, The Insult, Ziad Doueiri, dirctor
Russia, Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev, director;
Senegal, Félicité, Alain Gomis, director
South Africa, The Wound, John Trengove, director
Sweden, The Square, Ruben Östlund, director

FInally, I made some changes to my "12 Days of Christmas Catch Up" list. Gone are "First They Killed My Father," "Girls Trip" and "Beauty and the Beast" and added are "The Beguiled," "Good Time" and "Victoria & Abdul." Unless something crazy happens and I receive a batch of screeners in the mail, this is the list.  I've crossed out the films I've seen. Planning to watch "God's Own Country" tomorrow and will talk about "Beach Rats" then.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Beach Rats
God's Own Country
The Breadwinner
The Disaster Artist
The Beguiled
Pitch Perfect 3
The Shape of Water
Darkest Hour
Good Time
Victoria & Abdul

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