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Fri12132019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Director Rian Johnson, maker of the divisive Star Wars: Episode VII—The Last Jedi, and also the brilliant Looper, takes a crack at the whodunnit genre—and comes up aces.

Daniel Craig stars as private-investigator Benoit Blanc, mysteriously hired by somebody in a rich family after the strange “suicide” death of their patriarch, mystery-author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, still going strong). There’s something fishy about his death, and his personal nurse, Marta (the awesome Ana de Armas), knows something the rest of the family doesn’t. What transpires is a solid mystery with a fun set of characters featuring a stellar cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield and Chris Evans. Everybody has a blast, as does the audience, as Johnson takes the genre and twists it into an entertaining pretzel.

Craig is especially good in a role that allows him to show his comic side, with Shannon and Johnson impressive as a couple of paranoiacs. Above all, the film gives the talented Armas a chance to really shine.

Knives Out is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi again, I can say that it I liked it even less than I did the first time.

To be clear (or, maybe more confusing): I like the movie just fine. I just have major reservations about some choices made by director Rian Johnson. For example, a few months haven’t lessened my annoyance with a frozen Princess Leia flying through space to save her own ass; Kylo Ren with his shirt off; and just about everything Johnson did with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Too much of this feels decidedly non-Star Wars to me.

However, the stuff with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is so good that it saves the movie. Their bickering on that island as Luke basically goes through a bit of a wuss phase is great moviemaking, and feels right at home in the Star Wars universe. Having Hamill back as a different version of Luke—a version that still feels like Luke—was a nice feat.

The film gets a pass, but I want to be a little more emotionally wowed the next time out. This Star Wars is the first one I didn’t watch multiple times in a theater. Usually, I march right back into the theater after a Star Wars release for a second and third viewing. That didn’t happen this time.

J.J. Abrams will right the ship with Episode 9. I’m sure of it.

Special features: There’s a behind-the-scenes doc that is feature-length and better than the movie, along with some deleted scenes and a director’s commentary.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we finally get the movie with both older Luke and Leia. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher get to do what Harrison Ford did in The Force Awakens: They spend a little more time (in the case of Hamill, a lot more time) in their iconic roles.

Both stars shine as they play in the Star Wars sandbox 40 years after the original’s release. When this film focuses on the saga of Luke and Rey, it is nothing short of epic. When the camera is on the late Carrie Fisher—who gets more quality screen time than she did with her glorified cameo in Force Awakens—it’s heartwarming and, yes, sad. (The Leia stuff gets a little kooky at times, but I’m trying to make this a spoiler-free zone.)

When writer-director Rian Johnson takes the action to the characters of Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new character named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the film falters. Poe, so engaging in Force Awakens, seems underdeveloped here. While the Resistance fights an oddly prolonged and bizarre space battle against the First Order, Poe just whines a lot—the point where you’re actually happy when Leia smacks him across the head.

The film picks up where The Force Awakens left off, more or less, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke in a stare-down: Rey is looking for tutelage, but Luke wants nothing to do with that Jedi stuff anymore, and desires to be left alone with his alien milk. While on the island, Rey starts having some sort of psychic Force conversations with Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Will Luke train Rey? Will Rey find out who her parents are? Will Adam Driver engage in his obligatory partial nudity in this film? I’m not telling.

What I will tell you is that there’s too much going on in The Last Jedi, and a lot of it feels like filler. Besides that stalled-out space battle, there’s a clunky sequence in a casino that goes on far too long; a lot of distracting cameos; and new characters inhabited by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro who bring little to the proceedings.

Am I overthinking this? Yeah, I am—but I’m a dude who has spent the last 40 years worshiping Star Wars. Anything you put onscreen that’s a Star Wars production is going to have me (admittedly, a loser) breaking down that shit. I’m saying that some of this movie seems a little half-baked, and also overstuffed. If there’s any movie I want to be more than 2 1/2 hours long, it’s a Star Wars movie—but at that length, it needs to be a really good Star Wars movie, not a so-so one. The Last Jedi is so-so.

I’m of two minds when it comes to The Last Jedi. It’s part Best Star Wars Ever (Luke, Leia, Rey, Ben Solo) and part Worst Star Wars Ever (Poe, Finn, the girl with the flip hair, and just about any time Domhnall Gleeson speaks). I’m recommending it for the Luke and Leia goodness, Daisy Ridley’s continued greatness as Rey, and inspired moments of fun and humor. But, man oh man, it nearly goes into “Jar Jar” territory a little too often for my tastes.

Johnson has been given a new Star Wars trilogy on which to work—a saga supposedly away from the Skywalkers. I’m hoping the guy gives us something a little more balanced. He’s made great movies (Brick, Looper) and crap movies (The Brothers Bloom) in the past. The Last Jedi falls somewhere in between.

So, as Yoda would say: A great Star Wars, this is not. Like it just fine, I did, but there is a tremor of over-indulgence in the Force. Be mindful of this for future times in edit bay, you must.”

One final note: Porgs are awesome.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

If you missed this one in theaters, you missed one of the year’s best big-screen experiences. Director Rian Johnson’s time-travel thriller is startlingly good-looking film.

It’s also a great brain-twister, featuring a bravura performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a hired assassin killing people sent back from the future the instant they pop up in front of him. Things get a little kooky when the person sent back to be offed is actually an older version of himself (a strong Bruce Willis).

Gordon-Levitt wears makeup to achieve a look more akin to Willis, but it’s the smirk and airy voice that really nail it down. Gordon-Levitt had a blockbuster year with this and The Dark Knight Rises, with this being the best screen work he has done to date.

A supporting cast including Paul Dano, Noah Segan and Jeff Daniels is top-notch. Dano is especially good as a fellow assassin (or “looper”) who loses his nerve at the wrong time—and pays a grisly price.

In a role that isn’t getting the notice it deserves (although she has gotten a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association), Emily Blunt takes a break from funny stuff to deliver stellar work as a mom protecting a strange son (played by talented child actor Pierce Gagnon). Blunt holds her own with Gordon-Levitt, matching him at every turn.

Willis gets a chance to do some seedy stuff as his character goes on an unfortunate crusade. He does a good job of making his version of Joe a sympathetic character, even as he does unspeakable things.

As time-travel movies go, this is one of the best. The moment when future Joe sits down in a diner with present Joe is a real winner. (The universe does not end, as Doc Brown predicted would happen in Back to the Future Part II.) If you missed this on the big screen, don’t fret: The Blu-ray will look mighty good in your living room.

Let it be noted that this movie cost $30 million to make, according to IMDb.com. That’s a pretty low budget considering the look Johnson has achieved. It seems like the movie would’ve cost five times that amount, at least.

Special Features: A great commentary with the director, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt. It’s actually one of the year’s better commentaries, a truly fun listen. You also get deleted scenes, a couple of featurettes on the making of the film, and a short doc about the film’s score. 

 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing