The new Star Wars: The Last Jedi has a built-in success factor. We’ve literally come to the point in film history where it’s not about what you like, but what corporate groupthink says you like.
The Last Jedi verily contains the requisite great action sequences at the beginning and the end. One set piece has Kylo Ren (Adam Driver in his I’m going to break things mode) and Rey (Daisy Ridley totally maturing into her role) joining forces to fight an enemy that threatens them both. The color scheme of red backgrounds and costume gives the sequence a bloody feel without the blood. Ren and Rey should go ahead and grudge fuck and get it over with.
There’re occasional flourishes of grand excitement that are juxtaposed with contemplative character scenes. Early on we get a dose of writer/director Rian Johnson’s offbeat humor only that kind of atmospheric levity gets jettisoned into space when Last Jedi launches into overdrive during a genuinely thrilling confrontation between the remaining Resistance army and the might of the First Order.
On a side note, many people consider Chapter VII The Force Awakens to be a reboot of the original Star Wars, but Last Jedi doesn’t exactly mimic Empire Strikes Back so much as it unwinds like this week’s above average episode of Star Trek. The majority of Last Jedi is a car chase through the universe with the First Order being able to track the Rebels through any kind of space-warp-parsec travel or some kind of nonsense.
The plot provides a bullet-point list of things that appeal to Star Wars fans: Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill get a lot of screen time, Oscar Isaac continues to flaunt his bad boy pilot disgruntledness as Poe Dameron (although Poe doesn’t pout like Kylo), while Benicio Del Toro pops up as a con artist with certain skills.
In the film, Johnson gives the mysterious island Luke Skywalker lives on a life of its own. The actual island is called Skellig Michael in County Kerry, Ireland and appeared at the end of The Force Awakens. Johnson fleshes out the stone paths and huts that form the mini-village along with the alien creatures that inhabit the island.
Skywalker has been living much too long by himself.
Case in point: Luke milks a multi-teated sea creature into a giant baby bottle and proceeds to guzzle the milk with a fierce look in his eyes. More scenes like that or one where Chewbacca has spit-roasted some of the island’s resident mammals, Porgs, that look like diminutive penguins while the rest of their species stand around looking really sad would’ve been outside the Star Wars box yet more enjoyable than the mainstream story.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens across the universe this weekend. One theater manager informed me that when the screenings commence on Thursday evening his movie palace will stay open 24-hour-per-day throughout the weekend for the expected crowds.
Audiences familiar with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room will especially be attracted to The Disaster Artist, with writer/producer/star James Franco completely going method in his portrayal of Wiseau. Played for comedy but with some serious underpinnings, Disaster Artist recreates the hectic behind-the-scenes of making The Room.
A funny thing happened when looking at the actual The Room and the new Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel — both films are variations of themes in the works of Tennessee Williams. In the source material for Disaster Artist, written by The Room co-star Greg Sestero, it’s mentioned that Wiseau twice sent out both invitations or posters for The Room where Tennessee Williams was evoked and misspelled, each time differently.
Both The Room and Wonder Wheel also revolve around a main room, in Wonder Wheel’s case an apartment that looks out onto 1950s Coney Island where a lot of emotional dialogue is delivered in various degrees of emotion. Lastly, because I won’t go on with this vapid comparison forever, both films utilize greenscreen technology for the backgrounds.
Wonder Wheel specializes in grandeloquent performances with Kate Winslet center stage as a woman betrayed by her own desires. The film bears merit and not just for Vittorio Storaro’s unbelievable cinematography where the light seems to be constantly changing, if not from the setting sunlight then by the neon hues that dominate the tourist town landscape.
The Disaster Artist and Wonder Wheel are playing at area theaters.
The Shape of Water combines cold war government secret research laboratory set design with an adult fairy tale that pivots on a love affair between a mute cleaning woman and an amphibious man. Sally Hawking (Elisa Esposito) and Doug Jones star as the water-crossed lovers. Guillermo del Toro writes and directs with a fine eye for the balance of fantasy and international espionage. Del Toro isn’t just genre mixing, he’s genre smashing.
Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon (playing a particularly nasty individual) co-star, but it’s the film’s retro look with its sleek lines and green and teal colors that also seems to breathe as a sentient character. A score very evocative of the era, while maintaining love themes and danger cues by Alexandre Desplat, contains memorable riffs.
Hawkins daily routine is filmed in an overblown manner that at once accentuates Elisa’s lifestyle as well as her distance from others. Reminiscent of Amélie in its use of cool imagery that depicts the habits of multiple neighbors to move any sequence along, Shape of Water offers its own original take on the myth of Beauty and the Beast. Only in this case, it’s the demure mousey femme who’s actually a sex goddess and the creature from the Amazon lagoon who’s a god with which to be reckoned.
The Shape of Water opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.