Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Opening to thunderous applause from audiences everywhere is Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After what I feel was a strong predecessor (not including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I felt was rather underwhelming), I was very excited to see what direction Star Wars would be taken in.

With the Resistance on the ropes and the First Order hot on their trail, things become increasingly desperate for the Rebels. Prepared to make one final retreat, the Resistance places its hope on Rey (Daisey Ridley), who desires to be trained in the Jedi ways by a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

The Last Jedi attempts to integrate many various characters (new and old) and side plots, which ended up feeling more like a juggling act. There are even some plot points established by the preceding film (The Force Awakens) that are completely blown off here.

The acting was mostly strong from the rather large cast, but the characterization varied. Poe Dameron (a highly skilled pilot for the Resistance) gets a lot of screen time and development, which was very nice to see. Our up-and-coming Jedi character of Rey gets lots of attention too, further solidifying her as a pivotal piece in the franchise.

Unfortunately, a lot of previously strong characters are inevitably thrown to the back-burner for the majority of the film. Take one of my favorite new heroes, Finn (played by John Boyega), for example. He’s given a not very important side plot with little to no further development on his character. A real shame.

Oftentimes I found the humor to be out of place and frankly miscalculated. Moments that could’ve and should’ve been more emotional are thrown away by quick little gags. I’d even go as far to say that the oversimplified humor interfered with some of the characters and their behavior. Which made everything feel less like a Star Wars film and more like a Marvel film pulling for laughs.

The characteristics that felt most consistent with the other more recent Star Wars films were the designs of the sets and creatures. Locations like Supreme Leader Snoke’s (voiced heinously by Andy Serkis) throne room

The designs of the creatures that inhabit The Last Jedi are pretty imaginative and cool. All except for the porgs (plush, penguin-looking animals), which frequently hijack the movie to needlessly remind you that they exist. They might as well put an ad for toys and stuffed animals in the film itself. Regardless of my disdain for these annoying characters, a lot of the creatures were brought to life through costumes and puppets, which is something I highly respect in a film nowadays.

The truly magical, awe-inspiring moments are few and far between in The Last Jedi, but are well worth the wait when they do arrive. One of my favorite scenes is where Luke Skywalker meets up with an old friend, who teaches him an important lesson on where to place his values. Not only does this scene look great visually, but at its core I believe it represents and understands Star Wars far better than anything else in the film.

And while these scenes like this are wonderful, I don’t think Rian Johnson and Disney were able to capture the passion and creativity that made the original Star Wars films so enjoyable.

On the surface it seems to have everything. The exciting space battles, witty characters, newly designed creatures, and intense lightsaber duels. And while all these aspects are genuinely fun to experience, I still feel that a few ingredients are missing. Perhaps it’s the gross overcalculations of Disney trying to mathematically appeal to all fans of the series. All the while unintentionally ostracizing some individuals who dare call the mass-marketing of Star Wars excessive.

I’m glad I saw The Last Jedi, and I enjoyed my time watching it too. However, it’s by far not the best Star Wars film, as I don’t think the writing, or the characters were as clever or powerful enough to warrant such a bold claim.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Blade Runner 2049 Review

As a lifelong follower of the science fiction genre, Blade Runner has always been revered as a classic. Pioneering many awe-inspiring visuals that films today look to for guidance. While I respect Blade Runner for its visual achievements, emotionally the film has done very little for me. I find it a bit mundane and heavy-handed, with little going for it other than the artistic style.

In many aspects, Blade Runner 2049 is very similar.

The film takes place about thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner. Since then, the world has fallen into somewhat of a dystopian mess. With a new era of blade runners (hitmen, essentially) hunting down replicants (a term for bioengineered humans) of the past.

Blade Runner 2049 follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a particularly skilled blade runner on a mission with enough significance to throw what’s left of the world into complete chaos.

Beautifully crafted sets, enticing visuals, and monumental sound design all blend together to make Blade Runner 2049 artistically stand out. Concepts and knowledge only briefly mentioned in the previous film are expanded here tenfold. Scenes are shot and crafted with such delicate precision that viewers like myself will be left completely spellbound. The level of imagination in its design is on par with the Star Wars trilogy, and the perfectionism in the lighting and set pieces is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, it is here where I’d argue the film does too much expanding, to the point where it exhausts itself. Dramatic scenes that, overall, carry very little weight last for ten to fifteen minutes, when they could be summed up with two simple lines of dialogue. Instead, the film goes for this melodramatic, philosophical dialogue so that it may beat its themes and messages into the viewers head.

And unfortunately, the themes are all recycled from the first Blade Runner. “What does it mean to be human?” Boiled down, that’s the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the audience. Only it takes them three hours and way too many dialogue pauses to say it.

With so many needlessly lengthy scenes, the conclusion of Blade Runner 2049 felt all too rushed by comparison. Plot lines that needed more depth and discussion get no such thing, which leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers.

So, while most of Blade Runner 2049 was still entertaining to watch (mostly due to the visuals and Goslings straight-faced performance), I think the story and themes have very little to offer viewers.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Dark Tower Review

Based on the dark fantasy book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower takes audiences on an all too brief journey into a very creative and unique universe.

The film stars Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, the last on an elite group of marksmen, who is constantly at war with an evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It’s the Gunslinger’s duty to prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower, the key to holding the universe in balance. When the Gunslinger meets a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), he discovers Jake has the power to take him to the Man in Black. Because of this, the Gunslinger teams up with Jake to exact revenge on the Man in Black, and perhaps save the Dark Tower in the process.

For reasons beyond my understanding, The Dark Tower felt the need to cram all eight of Stephen King’s novels into a single, ninety-minute film. And for this reason, the film is unevenly paced and condenses too much complex material that needed more time to develop. Character arcs, logical plot progression, and even necessary background information is all completely ignored due to limited time constraints. What should have been at bare minimum a three-part trilogy is instead just a CliffsNotes guide to The Dark Tower, which is sure to upset most fans of the novels.

The only actor to give a serious, respectable performance in The Dark Tower happened to be Idris Elba. Elba’s role as the Gunslinger carried the film through its roughest and most emotionally void scenes, giving the audience one aspect of the film to take seriously.

Even more memorable then Elba, we have the wonderfully miscast performance of Matthew McConaughey, who was already hamming it up by the first scene in the movie. There were many moments where he’d get real close to another character and whisper his lines in this creepy, perverted way. It didn’t help that he was dressed like a 90’s boy band singer for the entire film, which made it impossible for me to take him seriously.  Everything from his facial expressions to the way he carried himself was comical, making McConaughey an absolute delight to watch.

Overall, I can easily see why so many fans of the book series have expressed anger and frustration at this adaptation. To take a series so dense with lore and boil it down to a single ninety-minute adventure film feels needlessly disrespectful.

I, never having read the books, was able to look past this issue and enjoy the flick for what it was, a typical action-adventure movie. The few action sequences that The Dark Tower did sport were very well shot and a lot of fun to watch. It also had some pretty amazing visuals, and managed to hold my attention for the entire runtime, which is more than I can say for many films of this genre.

So, if you’re a fan of the books this film was based on, then I’d stay far away from The Dark Tower, as this adaptation will probably just upset you due to how unfaithful it is. If you’re someone like me with little knowledge of the book series, than I’d go ahead and check out The Dark Tower. Its action scenes, creative set locations, and oftentimes comical demeanor will keep you entertained the whole way through.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is about as visually awe-inspiring as its title would have you believe. Full of creative ideas from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), Valerian unfortunately struggled to get past its own mediocre characters and bizarre writing.

The film takes place in the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) act as peacekeepers of the universe. They are tasked with a very important mission that sends them to the thriving, culturally diverse city of Alpha, also known as the City of a Thousand Planets. There, Valerian and Laureline discover a dark force that threatens the safety of everyone within the city, and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

In usual Luc Besson fashion, Valerian possesses engaging and appealing visuals, but incredibly bizarre writing and characterization. Take the opening scene of the film for example, where we are introduced to an alien race that are unfortunately killed off in a planetary explosion. The aesthetics of this scene are pretty breathtaking, as the audience is given a nice glimpse into the unfamiliar culture of this race. Yet, everything that happens is so strange and off-putting that I was genuinely confused as too its purpose. There were plenty of moments that were supposed to be charming that either had me laughing hysterically or completely shocked.

The acting in Valerian wasn’t much different, as the remarkably poor performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne had me giggling through most of the flick. Dane DeHaan was particularly bad, as it seemed like he was doing his best “Keanu Reeves on Nyquil” impression. Both of them seemed so disinterested in what was happening in the story that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

By the third act of the film, scenes began to drag and get very heavy-handed, especially when we drew close to the disappointing climax. By this point it became obvious that the entire purpose of the flick was to force-feed the audience political and social commentary, all of which comes off as way too forced and gimmicky. The well-meaning politics overall do very little for the film, other than to make the obvious villain just a one-dimensional, boring character.

The few strengths of Valerian weren’t in its ability to give us interesting characters or tell a cohesive story, but in its capacity to immerse the viewer in a vast, all-encompassing universe. From the first moment I saw the City of a Thousand Planets, the location in which most of the film takes place, I was completely mesmerized by all the wonderful aesthetics. Many of the creatures we come across in the film are designed very creatively as well, and are brought to life with great use of practical effects and costumes.

However, rather than focusing on the immersive atmosphere and truly creative ideas, Valerian spends its time focusing on a jumbled plot and characters that are honestly pretty loathsome. I had no interest in the relationship between DeHaan and Delevingne, and the plot felt way too disorganized for what it was. I wish I could’ve enjoyed the film more than I did, but even the countless moments where Valerian got so bad it was humorous weren’t enough to save it from its own painful writing.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the underwhelming introduction to the recently rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise.

The film stars James Franco as Will, a San Francisco scientist working on a drug that he hopes will cure Alzheimer’s, a disease his father (John Lithgow) suffers from. When Will’s experiments (which are conducted using apes as test subjects) are deemed a failure by his colleagues, Will is entrusted as the secret caretaker of a young ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis). Being previously exposed to Will’s drug tests, Caesar displays an unusual level of intelligence, far greater than other apes. And as his intelligence continues to grow over time, Caesar creates an insurrection among apes that threatens the existence of the human race.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes an intriguing look at the typical “don’t control nature” plot. It fuses a whole host of ethical issues and questions into the storyline for the viewer to ponder, many of which reflect on real world problems we as the human race struggle with.

The CGI effects on Caesar, as well as the rest of the apes, were pretty spectacular. This blended well with the performance of Andy Serkis (the man that brought Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), whose talent really shined through with the help of modern-day motion capture. Every little facial expression is finely detailed on the face of Caesar, and by the end of the film his character transcends from animated animal to more human-like than the actual humans.

The majority of the flick takes its time building up to the climax, but perhaps too much time. There are plenty of moments where I felt the film would start to drag, and not even Franco or Serkis could keep the story immersive. However, when the film picks up in the third act, it really picks up. The climactic showdown atop the Golden Gate Bridge is both fast-paced and exciting, the kind of material I was hoping to have seen throughout the entire picture.

On an emotional level, this film really didn’t do much for me. While I thought there was a great dynamic between Franco and Caesar, I never felt as invested as i should’ve been. There were numerous occasions where characters would share heartfelt or poignant scenes that I found hard to even pay attention to. Perhaps this was due to the poor performance of James Franco, who looked rather tired and passionless throughout the entire film, as if he might fall asleep at any given moment.

Best describable as average, Rise of the Planet of the Apes answers for us the obvious question of, “did we really need a Planet of the Apes prequel/origin story”? It has some good CGI effects, a great motion captured performance by Andy Serkis, and a third act that I found to be quite exciting. Yet the film lacked any emotional investment from its leading stars (minus Andy Serkis), creating a boring and uneventful atmosphere for most of the runtime.

The Verdict: C

 

-Zachary Flint

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

War for the Planet of the Apes is the highly anticipated conclusion to the Planet of the Apes trilogy.

The film takes place a few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family have been forced into a devastating war with a ruthless military Colonel. As the apes continue to suffer heavy losses, Caesar goes on a dangerous quest to avenge his kind, while wrestling with his more sinister instincts in the process.

War for the Planet of the Apes took a much different perspective than the previous two films by focusing almost entirely on the character of Caesar. This, I feel, comes with a whole host of advantages and disadvantages.

I find Caesar to be a vastly entertaining protagonist, and having the plot focused on him allowed us to delve even deeper into his character. We see that Caesar is haunted by his past, and watch him continuously seep into a darker place as everything he loves is stripped away from him.

Putting less of an emphasis on the human characters also gives way to a lot of powerful visual acting. Since most of the apes can’t talk, we are forced to rely on their facial expressions and body language to carry the story, and to great success.

The most disappointing aspect of the film (and a major disadvantage of focusing entirely on Caesar) was that it lacked a strong human-ape dynamic. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the audience was introduced to plenty of bad apes and good apes, as well as bad humans and good humans. This made for a morally complicated situation for the viewer, with many conflicting ideologies that make it hard to know who to support.

War for the Planet of the Apes felt like a huge step down from this. The humans are bad and the apes are good, and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. Even the evil military Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) is your basic bad guy, with the obligatory sad backstory to get the viewer to sympathize with his position. The audience is never given anything to mull over regarding the already established, complex morals of Planet of the Apes.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t the most compelling title in the series, but it still stands as a pretty entertaining flick. Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is beyond captivating, and watching his character arc come full circle at the end was wonderful. The film also utilized the wintry location well, which coupled nicely with great cinematography, camera work, and beautiful visual storytelling. There’s an abundance of very emotional scenes throughout the film that are extremely effective, even if they’re sometimes drawn-out too long.

However, the film ultimately could’ve stood for more than it did, and wasn’t as morally complex as many individuals would have you believe. Instead of taking an in-depth look at the various ideologies and morals that exist in this series, War for the Planet of the Apes went for an overly simplified and watered down plot. Leaving very little to contemplate after you exit the theater.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint