STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Movie Review)

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*** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for sequences of sci-fi action and violence)
Released: December 15, 2017
Runtime: 152 minutes
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels

A long time ago, George Lucas created the mythology of our time. Forty years later, Rian Johnson adds to the canon and even expands it, conjuring displays of the Force never before seen or imagined, yet this eighth episode stops short of truly fulfilling its destiny.

At 2 1/2 hours, The Last Jedi is the longest entry of the Star Wars franchise. It by no means should be. Fortunately, the film’s final act is its strength, an epic stretch that stands well with the best that the saga has to offer, but the first ninety-plus minutes often feel like they’re idling on thrusters.

Episodic in nature, with placeholder drama that lacks propulsive urgency, the plot-heavy threads often forget to explore the people in them, or to deepen their bonds in convincing ways. Too often, the characters are in service of the story rather than the other way around.

The big exception, thankfully, is Rey and Kylo Ren. Their growing connection (made passionate, kinetic, and unpredictable by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, in the film’s two best performances) is the main through-line, just as it should be.

That duo is who (and what) Johnson is clearly most interested in – narratively, emotionally, and thematically – utilizing whatever’s going on between them to blur the line between the light and the dark, and wondering if that’s where the future is headed.

Johnson’s more misguided with the rest of the ensemble, first in believing they should be given nearly equal screen time. They shouldn’t, especially when the story’s gravitational, er, force so obviously swirls around its young Jedi and Sith. As constituted, this movie begs to keep going back to Rey and Ren.

Luke Skywalker is a central figure between the two, but Johnson belabors the recluse master’s cynical disillusionment. Mark Hamill doesn’t fit as comfortably back into Luke’s skin as, say, Harrison Ford did into Han Solo’s. More strained, he lacks the gravitas to fully embody Luke’s angst-ridden soul, although he does have his moments (particularly when feeling shame and regret).

Carrie Fisher is given a spectacular moment before being sidelined, suggesting intended potential for Leia in Episode IX that will now, tragically, go unfulfilled.

Johnson doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in Poe or Finn either, or the new characters they encounter, beyond the archetypes they can fit, how they can serve the plot’s mechanics, or the comic relief they can provide. Indeed, Rian tries too hard for laughs, taking the air out of moments that should remain sincere, or bated. At times, it borders on self-parody.

And Domhnall Gleeson‘s General Hux? It’s a thin comic caricature that makes one wish Eddie Redmayne could pull a Christopher Plummer reshoot and amp Hux with whatever Redmayne was doing in Jupiter Ascending.

Benicio del Toro has the most fun of the newbies, but Laura Dern’s character is needlessly mysterious and confusing. Our impression of her is largely filtered through the instincts of one of our heroes; when that can’t be trusted, it just feels like we’re being jerked around.

Speaking of plot, the whole story feels narrow, not expansive. In spite of all that’s going on, events largely stay contained in two or three small corners of the galaxy, not zipping and sprawling between various planets or across star systems.

Even so, there’s a lot of war in these star wars, and there are junctures where Johnson seems like he just might burn the whole mythology down. It’s fitting, perhaps, that in the same year of the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary, Johnson’s approach to the Force would be so, well, Protestant.

It all leads to some ballsy choices and satisfying surprises. Yet for as exciting as these risks are on paper, and to watch, they don’t resonate with nearly the power intended.

And here’s why.

Rian Johnson is a smart storyteller, but J.J. Abrams – who reset the Star Wars standard with The Force Awakens – is a gifted myth-maker. Abrams possesses the instinctive intangibles to effectively build mythos, to summon its overwhelming weight and vigor. Abrams wields the power of myth; Johnson merely constructs it.

It goes beyond plotting. There’s magic in Abrams’ execution. His strengths are in knowing when to use sentiment, how to earn it, create mystery, and provoke genuine awe.

For Abrams, myth is more than lore. It’s something spiritual. For Johnson, it never gets past philosophical.

Look, The Last Jedi is fun, it’s clever, it’s entertaining. It’s never prequel-embarrassing. Some turns are intriguing, others surprising, a few shocking. But it’s never inspiring.

It’s not enough for a Star Wars movie to offer thrills; it must induce chills. The Last Jedi offers plenty of the former but rarely the latter, despite many moments designed to.

As a Rian Johnson fan I’m glad we got to see his Star Wars. The strengths of The Last Jedi rise even more on a second viewing, and Rian should do well with the new trilogy that Lucasfilm recently re-hired him to create.

But I’m glad J.J. is coming back to close this one out. Daisy Ridley said she cried tears of joy when she learned that Abrams was returning for Episode IX. Girl, hold my beer and pass the tissues.

Chicago Critics Chirp For LADY BIRD (AWARDS 2017)

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After a recent trend toward Get Out among critics groups, the Chicago Film Critics Association brought it back around to early favorite Lady Bird.

The debut directing feature from actress Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the screenplay, loosely inspired by her senior year in high school), Lady Bird also took Best Actress honors for Saoirse Ronan, and Most Promising Filmmaker for Gerwig.

Christopher Nolan received his second major Best Director prize for Dunkirk.

The remaining winners are all regulars from this ongoing Awards Season.

CHICAGO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
2017 Awards

Best Film: Lady Bird
Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Best Actor: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Best Original Screenplay: Get Out, Jordan Peele
Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory
Best Ensemble Performance: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Animated Film: Coco
Best Foreign Film: The Square, Norway
Best Documentary: Jane
Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
Best Editing: Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss
Best Art Direction: Blade Runner 2049
Best Original Score: Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
Most Promising Performer: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Most Promising Filmmaker: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Click on links below for other Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far for the 2017 / 18 season:

Screen Actors Guild Nominations
Atlanta Film Critics Circle
San Diego Film Critics Society
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle
Toronto Film Critics Association
Golden Globe Nominations
San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Boston Society of Film Critics
Washington D.C. Film Critics Association
AFI Top 10 of 2017
Critics Choice Awards Nominations
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
New York Film Critics Circle
The National Board of Review

New Eastwood Film Stars Real Heroes Of Real Terrorism Story – Trailer (VIDEO)

On August 21, 2015, three young Americans thwarted a terrorist attack on a train headed for Paris. Clint Eastwood just directed the movie of their story, The 15:17 to Paris, and it stars those actual three men: Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone. As casting stunts go it may not pay off, but count me intrigued. It’s a daring move, and those are always worth trying, especially when you have the credibility capital of someone like Eastwood. If it captures the power of this trailer – fueled by the inspiring words of a preacher – then they’ll have succeeded. Co-starring Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, and Tony HaleThe 15:17 to Paris opens on February 9, 2018.

Inaugural Atlanta Critics GET OUT For Best Film, DUNKIRK Director (AWARDS 2017)

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The Atlanta Film Critics Circle recently announced their first-ever year end citations, naming Get Out Best Film. The nod furthers that movie’s surging Awards Season momentum.

Christopher Nolan has been surprisingly overlooked – until now. The AFCC named him Best Director for his experimental WWII epic Dunkirk.

The rest of the winners look familiar to what we’ve seen so far this season, namely:

Supporting Actor: Willem DafoeThe Florida Project – check
Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – check

By including a full Top 10 ranking, the AFCC gave room for love to The Big Sick and Baby Driver as well.

ATLANTA FILM CRITICS CIRCLE
2017 Awards

Best Film: Get Out

TOP 10 2017 FILMS
1. Get Out
2. Dunkirk
3. Lady Bird
4. The Shape of Water
5. Call Me by Your Name
6. The Florida Project
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
8. The Big Sick
9. Baby Driver
10. The Post

Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Best Actor: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Best Screenplay: Get Out, Jordan Peele
Best Ensemble Performance: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Animated Film: Coco
Best Foreign Film: BPM (Beats Per Minute), France
Best Documentary: TIE Jane and Kedi
Best Cinematography: Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema
AFCC Breakthrough Award: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Click on links below for other Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far for the 2017 / 18 season:

Chicago Film Critics Association
Screen Actors Guild Nominations
San Diego Film Critics Society
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle
Toronto Film Critics Association
Golden Globe Nominations
San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Boston Society of Film Critics
Washington D.C. Film Critics Association
AFI Top 10 of 2017
Critics Choice Awards Nominations
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
New York Film Critics Circle
The National Board of Review

Multiple Shocking Omissions In Screen Actors Guild Nominations (AWARDS 2017)

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If the history of the Screen Actors Guild nominations is any indication, the following major Oscar contenders now have no shot at winning the Academy Award for Best Picture:

– Call Me By Your Name
– The Shape of Water
– The Post
Dunkirk

And throw in The Florida Project for good measure.

Why? Because in the 23 year history of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, only once has an eventual Academy Best Picture winner not been nominated by SAG for Cast in a Motion Picture, the guild’s top film award. (That asterisk came in year two, 1995, when SAG didn’t nominate the cast of Braveheart.)

If any of the five films mentioned above somehow move on to win the top Oscar, they’ll have broken a streak lasting more than two decades.

To further emphasize how iron clad the SAG Cast nominees have become at being Best Picture predictors, the past two years the leading Oscar favorites – La La Land and The Revenant – did not secure SAG Cast nominations, . Instead, little indies Moonlight and Spotlight were the big Best Picture winners, following their SAG cast noms (Spotlight also won the cast award for 2015).

Suffice it to say, the 2017 Awards Race has been officially blown wide open, particularly when you also consider that The Post was entirely shut out, snubbing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as well.

If SAG has boosted any film’s prospects it’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It leads with 4 nominations: Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand, and two nods for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role – Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

Favorite surprise inclusion: The Big Sick, which has been sorely overlooked so far this awards season until getting nods for Best Cast and Supporting Female Actor Holly Hunter. The year’s best rom-com (and one of the year’s best, period) is very deserving of this belated recognition.

The 24th Screen Actors Guild Awards will be handed out live on Sunday January 21, 2017 at 8pm EST/7pm CST/5pm PST, simulcast on TBS and TNT.

24th SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARD NOMINATIONS
Films of 2017

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
Mudbound
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
– Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
– James Franco, The Disaster Artist
– Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
– Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
– Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
– Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
– Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
– Frances McDormandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
– Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
– Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
– Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
– Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
– Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
– Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
– Sam Rockewell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
– Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
– Hong Chau, Downsizing
– Holly Hunter,  The Big Sick
– Allison Janney, I, Tonya
– Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Logan
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Wonder Woman

54th Life Achievement Recipient
Morgan Freeman

(To see a full list of SAG Television Nominees, click here.)

Click on links below for other Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far for the 2017 / 18 season:

Chicago Film Critics Association
Atlanta Film Critics Circle
San Diego Film Critics Society
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle
Toronto Film Critics Association
Golden Globe Nominations
San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Boston Society of Film Critics
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association
AFI Top 10 of 2017
Critics Choice Award Nominees
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
New York Film Critics Circle
The National Board of Review

San Diego Critics Go Genre With GET OUT Best Film, SPLIT Best Actor (AWARDS 2017)

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Finally, a critics group that dares to go against the conventional tide.

Okay, not so much with Get Out, a worthy choice for Best Film that’s actually gaining steam with more and more critics groups. It’s in the lead acting categories, where James McAvoy gets a surprise win for his spectacular turn as the metaphysical multi-personality villain in M. Night Shyamalan‘s Split. In a more honest world, where pure merit mattered over fitting a certain type of Awards Season mold, McAvoy would be in the Oscar conversation.

And speaking of split, there’s the inspired choices for the winner and runner-up in the Best Actress category: Sally Hawkins – for both. The Shape of Water could win her an Oscar, but she’d be just as deserving for Maudiean inspiring real life tale that ripped my heart out in the best way, primarily because of Hawkins. You might find acting equal to those two performances in 2017, but you won’t find better.

SAN DIEGO FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
2017 Awards

Best Film: Get Out
Runner Up: Lady Bird

Best Director: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Runner Up: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Best Actor: James McAvoy, Split
Runner Up: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Runner Up: Sally Hawkins, Maudie

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Runner Up: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress: TIE
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird and Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Comedic Performance: Daniel Craig, Logan Lucky
Runner Up: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Best Ensemble Cast: Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay: Get Out, Jordan Peele
Runner Up:  Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Runner Up:  Mudbound, Virgil Williams & Dee Rees

Best Animated Film: My Life as a Zucchini
Runner Up: The Boss Baby

Best Foreign-Language Film: Thelma, Norway
Runner Up: BPM (Beats Per Minute), France

Best Documentary: Jane
Runner Up: The Work

Best Cinematography: Dunkirk, Hoyte Van Hoytema
Runner Up: The Lost City of Z, Darius Khondji

Best Editing: Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss
Runner Up: Dunkirk, Lee Smith

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water, Paul D. Austerberry
Runner Up: Blade Runner 2049, Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner

Best Costume Design: TIE 
Beauty and the Beast, Jacqueline Durran and Phantom Thread, Mark Bridges

Best Use of Music: Baby Driver
Runner Up: Call Me By Your Name

Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
Runner Up: TIE Beauty and the Beast and Dunkirk

Breakthrough Artist: Timothee Chalamet
Runner Up: Barry Keoghan

Click on links below for other Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far for the 2017 / 18 season:

Chicago Film Critics Association
Screen Actors Guild Nominations
Atlanta Film Critics Circle
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle
Toronto Film Critics Association
Golden Globe Nominations
San Francisco Film Critics Circle
Boston Society of Film Critics
Washington D.C. Film Critics Association
AFI Top 10 of 2017
Critics Choice Awards Nominations
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
New York Film Critics Circle
The National Board of Review

Japanese BLACK PANTHER Trailer Sets Up Conflict Between BP and Killmonger (VIDEO)

All Marvel movies should be required to have Japanese narration with subtitles, like in this Black Panther trailer for the Japan market. The cool quotient goes up instantly.

Starring Chadwick BosemanMichael B. Jordan, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, and directed by Creed helmer Ryan Coogler, Marvel’s Black Panther opens in the United States on February 16, 2018.