Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro

 

Star Wars isn’t a movie. It’s an event. It takes grown ups back to their youth, and ignites the imaginations of young children. There were kids with lightsabers running round the cinema, as well as actors in storm trooper outfits patrolling the foyer. I watched the original trilogy religiously as a kid, enjoyed the prequels at the time (I was the right age), grew up and realised they weren’t great, and really liked The Force Awakens. Where The Force Awakens did fall short was originality, and it received a lot of criticism for rehashing old story beats. The expectation on The Last Jedi was in taking this story somewhere new. Boy, does it deliver.

 

The Last Jedi starts exactly where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, and is trying to coax him out of his self-imposed exile. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance are on the run from the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, and a battle scarred Kylo Ren. To say much more risks running into spoiler territory, and this really is a film which is best seen with as little spoiled as possible.

 

There are so many great moments in The Last Jedi it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s probably the best looking Star Wars movie so far.  From the costume design, creature effects, and visual grandeur, it tops them all. The performances throughout are superb, with top credit going to Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. The original cast members really get a chance to stretch themselves, and deliver sides of their characters not seen before. Adam Driver is similarly terrific, his Kylo Ren is more nuanced here than The Force Awakens, the struggle between light and dark played out constantly on his face. If any performance is slightly off putting it’s Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaker DJ. Del Toro over acts, with voice tics, and odd hand gestures. He chews the scenery in all the wrong ways.

 

As I said before, The Force Awakens was criticised for just re-heating the original trilogy, and The Last Jedi really does forge its own path. This is a story driven blockbuster, and I’m sure some fans won’t like where Johnson takes the story, but I loved it. Instead of coasting on nostalgia, throwbacks are used to service the story. The biggest difference between the two films though is pace. After opening with a superb aerial fight, the film slows down, and allows us to dig into the characters. It’s here where Johnson pulls off his greatest trick, and that’s by giving the series heart. It’s easy to feel sad when Han Solo dies in TFA, you’ve grown up with this character. The feelings that Johnson is toying with are far more complex, and he makes you feel for every character by showing the audience what they are fighting for. This isn’t just a fight of good versus evil, Johnson throws in shades of grey. We also get answers to some of the biggest questions from TFA. I was satisfied with these answers, although I feel they will be divisive.

 

There are are a few minor flaws in the film. It’s too long, there are a lot of story strands to follow, and not all of them seem necessary. Finn and Rose’s, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, adventure to the casino planet at first feels like a mis-step, but is given more weight during the climax. It could have been cut down, but that would have meant less screen time for Boyega which would have been a crime. The logic of the main chase sequence of the film is also questionable, but I feel this isn’t too hard to overlook, as the story is so captivating. The dialogue isn’t too great either. It sometimes feels like exposition overload. There is also a character death with felt a little wasted. After so much build up, it was hard not to feel a little like “Is that it?” It’s hard to judge whether all the decisions paid off, after all it’s the middle film of a trilogy, and I think that whether you have more negatives depends on whether you liked where the story went or not.

 

Overall, the film is great. The best Star Wars movie ever, that’s hard to say without knowing how it will stand up in thirty years, but I left the cinema feeling like it was. I loved the characterisation, how it raised deeper questions about this universe. There was also a subtle animal rights message which I enjoyed. The action was some of the best in the whole series and it was by far the best looking film of the series. It felt new, and fresh, and there was an emotional under current previously missing. Where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess, but that’s the great thing about Star Wars now, it’s regained the element of surprise.

9/10

Murder On The Orient Express

2017, Uncategorized

Dir: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pffeifer

 

Full disclosure: I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel, never watched Poirot, and I’ve never seen any other version of Murder On The Orient Express. Going in to the cinema I did not know the ending; I did not know the who of the whodunit. I have though seen a lot of television and movies which were very obviously influenced by Christie and her works. The now familiar and over used tropes of the murder mystery are very much known to me. Now, with that being said, I was intrigued by the trailer, the music used and the use of the blue neon pop ups told me to expect something new. In this respect I was mis-sold the movie.

The movie centres around Hercule Poirot, played here by director Kenneth Branagh with the most ridiculous moustache committed to film. Poirot is, in his own words, probably the greatest detective in the world. Poirot is a man who craves order, and is driven crazy by anything out of place, which makes his normal life a nightmare but gives him the perfect skillset as a detective. After solving a case at The Wailing Wall; in an opening which sets the tone for the rest of the movie: old fashioned, epic sweep, shot through with class and grandeur; Poirot is ready for a rest, but is soon interrupted in Istanbul where he is called to another case. To get to his destination he will have to take a journey on the Orient Express. Luckily he is friends with the trains director who gets him the last place in first class. It is here where we meet the real drawing power of the film: its Star Power.

Johnny Depp, Michelle Pffeifer, Dame Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr, Willem Defoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gadd, Derek Jacobi, and Olivia Coleman fill out the cast/suspects, as one of them is murdered during an avalanche which leaves the train stuck. It is here where Branagh’s direction really comes alive, getting great performances from all members of his cast, and striking a great balance between the epic sweep of the earlier scenes, and the claustrophobic nature of the train carriage. Everyone is a suspect, and the second act of the film settles into an enjoyable murder mystery. The problems soon start to appear though. The films greatest asset becomes its greatest weakness, there are too many characters. The actors do great work, but with giving them all a chance to shine, the characters become very thinly drawn stereotypes.

The biggest problem comes with the reveal. In trying to achieve a finale with an emotional impact it only half succeeds. I didn’t feel like I was invested enough in the characters to really feel the full force of the blow, and it raised some questions about how realistic the solution was, which belied how intelligent the rest of the film had been constructed and how intelligent Poirot was supposed to be. It becomes an odd tonal bump, if the joy in a murder mystery is in how you’ve been tricked, the moment where you realise the answer had been right under your nose the whole time, I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated. It made sense in an emotional way, but I didn’t feel like the rest of the film had earnt that emotional end, especially at the cost of the more cerebral one I had hoped for.

 

I enjoyed this movie, but I didn’t love it. There were two things glaringly out of place: the title cards, and the credits. Both in the glaring blue neon of the trailer and the  posters. This is an old fashioned prestige picture, with real class in front of and behind the camera. It was sold as a new take on a well trodden path, but this film treads the same path in much the same manner as audiences have seen before. That it does so with grace is commendable, it is a true “they don’t make them like they used to” picture, but I would have preferred something new.

 

 

7/10