December 22, 2019

Movie Review #68 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Plus I rank all 9 Skywalker Saga Films) With my Talking Flick Podcast appearance!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac Directed by J.J. Abrams 

Watching The Last Jedi helped me prepare for what was to come in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (See below review and podcast discussion on TLJ and TFA). Although TLJ was polarizing and not nearly my favorite Star Wars film, the fact that it attempted (maybe didn’t succeed) to move the story forward convinced me to let go of my old favorite characters and pass the saga on to the next generation (This is not “my” Star Wars anymore). Because I was able to let go the stakes were much lower for me in Rise of Skywalker. I went in open-minded and was able to have fun, but the downside of letting go was that the emotional moments also lost some of their power. I rejected TLJ in part for running away from fan theories and trying too hard to subvert our collective expectations, but the retcon job done here by Abrams also has problems, probably magnified by the fact that it is trying to course correct and doesn’t bother to explain the how and why, just when your mind wanders to those questions, he quickly jet sets you off to another planet before you can process it all. The franchise is taking a hiatus (at least in film) we are told by Disney, and I for one think it may need one. 

J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek) reluctantly returns to a galaxy far far away one last time to finish a saga 42 years in the making along with screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo, BVS). Rey (A wonderful Daisy Ridley) trains while the war wages on, this time faced with a new/old threat (Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor) threatening to crush the rebellion once and for all…again. Meanwhile Kylo (A subdued Adam Driver) considers the Emperor a threat and as per the usual, wants all the power for himself, or maybe himself and a partner? I think at times it is hard to understand what the characters really want, because the script is constantly changing? Old friends and now seasoned rebel leaders, Finn (a lively John Boyega) and Poe (a little too intense Oscar Isaac), along with newcomers Jannah (Naomi Ackie), Zorii Bliss (helmet wearing Keri Russell), and new useless baddie General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) all attempt to add to a story that is overstuffed and hard to follow. It is nice that we see Lando (Billy Dee Williams) again, but what exactly is he doing on that planet? J.J. is trying wrap everything up as best he can, but when faced with answering looming questions, he either just gives us hard exposition or decides to not even bring it up. Now that we can look at the complete trilogy, I do think it served Rey and her story well enough, but pretty much no other character old or new. I think Luke and Leia get a decent arc and Han Solo adds to the trilogy immensely, but it’s hard not to criticize the lack of a cohesive story. From the 1st new film on it felt like we were making things up as we go, shooting many versions of the film and then editing something together. Rise of Skywalker feels no different, it is a messy ride, fun, at times exhilarating, but very messy. 

As an action film it is often spectacular, mostly because the emotion of our main characters, gives their battles weight. There are several wonderful set pieces and at least one epic lightsaber duel that I think is up there with any lightsaber duel before it. Similar to its predecessor TLJ, Rise of Skywalker does make some aggressive story decisions, but unlike TLJ which seemingly ran away from what the fans wanted, Rise of Skywalker leans into what the fans want. Whereas Rian Johnson read Reddit to see what not to do, J.J. reads Reddit to see what to do, it’s an odd juxtaposition that makes the 3 films feel less like a trilogy than both the originals or the prequels. All in all the sheer amount of crowd-pleasing moments are worth the price of admission, it is rare that a film can reach such heights (then forget it has the high ground), and fall flat on its face in the same 3 hour span. I went into Rise of Skywalker wanting to enjoy it mostly as a visually experience rather than an emotional one, and because I did, I left feeling fine, but it was hard not to sense the air coming out of the balloon  a bit, and one wonders how Disney can keep this gravy train rolling without someone to really steer its storytelling and find out what people really care about in this universe. SEE IT (but lower expectations). 

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) The Rise of Skywalker is a nifty conclusion to the Star Wars Saga, though it doesn’t fully satisfy due to being overstuffed, a little messy, and often lacking in compelling storytelling. It serves old fans, perhaps at the cost of inspiring imagination in new fans. It doesn’t feel enough like an event and through small pockets of screen time, doesn’t feel like Star Wars. That said the visuals are stunning and there is enough emotion that you will leave the theater not completely dissatisfied. A solid 6.0 on the Shawshank Scale, it falls short of greatness, but will entertain you.  

Ranking all 9 Skywalker Saga Films:

1. Return of the Jedi-How a trilogy should end, fun and complete.
2. Empire Strikes Back-That’s how you do unexplained family drama!
3. A New Hope-Great ride, exhilarating introduction to a galaxy far far away!
4. Revenge of the Sith-Emotional weight and amazing visuals excite and entertain.
5. The Force Awakens-Expertly casted and fun, J.J. reboots another franchise!
6. The Phantom Menace-Too long and often political, still Darth Maul and Qui-Gon are super cool.
7. Rise of Skywalker-Allows us to say goodbye to our favorites and gives Rey a shining moment.
8. The Last Jedi-Feels like a different franchise, but does have bright spots and a great soundtrack.
9. Attack of the Clones-Although Yoda fights, it is the least rewatchable of the 9. 


Talking Flick on iTunes (The Rise of Skywalker Episode)

Talking Flick on Anchor (The Rise of Skywalker Episode)

December 18, 2019

SPECIAL REVISIT OF: The Last Jedi 2017 Review With Talking Flick The Last Jedi Podcast!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Mark Hamill Directed by Rian Johnson

So J.J. Abrams did a great job getting us excited about Star Wars again (See 2015 review of Force Awakens below), but he also left the galaxy far far away a little messy. Questions and storylines that were purposely left open ended, has left the fan base (and we are a crazy fan base) theorizing endlessly about everything. Rian Johnson had a tall task with The Last Jedi, take these new characters advance their stories, pay homage to the old characters, and steer clear from the speculation machine as best as possible. To me The Last Jedi makes a noble effort, in its attempt to be a good Star Wars Sequel. I didn’t love all the writing; I didn’t love all the editing, and certainly didn’t love all the choices Rian Johnson made (maybe he could’ve used some help from frequent Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasden), but I did at least appreciate the risk Johnson was willing to take telling a story that he must’ve known was going to be very polarizing, and it is. There is great risk in how Johnson chose to answer all the pertinent questions and he did not shy away from taking them. I was one of those crazy fans that watched youtube videos talking about who Snoke could be and what will Luke say to Rey, and so on, so I know that what Johnson did was original and not really what people were expecting, but that said I kinda wanted something more expected I guess (I didn’t realize that until I saw this film). I think seeing Last Jedi was just another example of me discovering I’m old (that is a big theme in this film, aging, time, and how we change). The truth is as much I love Rey and Finn and sort of like Kylo, I really like the old characters, so for me there is no forgiving Kylo for killing Han Solo, and there is no being ok with characters like Luke and Leia eventually departing the series. I understand that now, so given that I wanna be fair to The Last Jedi and even being fair, I didn’t love it. There are some very odd storylines that really don’t go anywhere. Benicio Del Toro and Lupita Nyong’o gotta be scratching their heads at this final cut and wondering wha-what? Laura Dern has a nice little arc and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher do get moments to shine, but overall this story is a mess. I can’t help but feel that they are storyboarding this thing as they go and the movies are suffering from lack of a clear vision. There is this mission that leads Finn and newcomer Rose (a delightful Kelly Marie Tran) to some place called Canto Bight that makes almost no sense, and even though there are cool aliens and nice shots there, I kept asking wait why are we here again and what are they trying to achieve? The actions taken by Kylo are almost just as nonsensical, clearly this is a bad guy that doesn’t really think things through. The movie is filled with in your face dialogue like “let the past die” and “you’re not part of this story”. It isn’t all bad though the actors really deliver. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is still captivating and John Boyega is a special actor that does the best he can with what he has to work with. Carie Fisher has some great moments and Mark Hamill is just awesome, it takes a while but he becomes Luke again. There are also some great cameos which I will not spoil. When the credits come and the John Williams music rolled I was left with an uneasy feeling, this is not my Star Wars anymore, this is someone else’s Star Wars and I am going to have to get used to that…It may take awhile. SEE IT, because you have to. Lower your expectations and keep your mind open though. 

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) I give it solid 6.0 currently, but maybe in more viewings it will grow on me, for now instead of seeing it again right away I'm gonna head down to Canto Bight and roll some dice, even though I have a bad feeling about it.  


Talking Flick on Anchor (The Last Jedi Episode)

Talking Flick on iTunes (The Last Jedi Episode)

December 4, 2019

SPECIAL REVISIT OF: The Force Awakens 2015 Review With Talking Flick The Force Awakens Podcast and BONUS Empire Strikes Back Podcast!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Harrison Ford Directed by J.J. Abrams 

** This is a portion of my article 2015 Year in Film, with some new material added after a recent rewatch of The Force Awakens for the Podcast

I had to start with one of the biggest films of all time, after all I stood outside in the cold on opening night to get in like so many others. Here is the thing with a movie like this is more than just a movie (don’t snicker), it really is a cultural phenomenon. I know this is true because during my 2nd viewing of this film (some 9 days after its release in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday) people were still giving standing ovations. Even more so than that, almost every time I’ve been to a theater since its release, someone in line behind me is talking about it (and get this: they are usually young folks!). This film didn’t need to be great (and it’s probably not great), it just needed to be good (and it’s better than good). J.J. Abrams does a nice job bringing back what made Stars Wars fun to begin with (and not just talking about the original cast). Like an Onion the film peels back layer after layer of nostalgia, however none of that would have really mattered if he didn’t get the new characters right…and he did, big time. I think it is wonderful to see a female lead, I can’t tell you how fresh the character Finn is (Reluctant hero, traitor, and cool leading man), Poe Dameron (who was supposed to die in the first script) is also great, I’m happy they are keeping him around. The returning cast does a nice job as well, Han Solo leads the film very well, Leia is sharp in her limited but effective role, and Luke delivers in his brief but smart ending sequence. The locations they used, and practical sets really make the difference and improve upon the prequels (which get a bad rap, but are pretty good). 

Now it isn’t all great in a galaxy far far away, there were moments this year that I flirted with the idea of having this film as #1 on the Top Ten List (See Sidebar Top Ten Lists in web browser mode if you are on a mobile device*), certainly all said and done I will rewatch this film more than any other film this year and that holds a lot of water on the Shawshank Scale, but despite that this film has problems. For starters it is fair criticism that the beats of this film feel awfully familiar (another Death Star, was that really necessary?). In addition to that the film feels incomplete, I know some of that is done on purpose, but not all of it. The film really feels like they were writing, shooting, and guessing as they went along…there is probably like 4 hours of additional footage that takes the film in all sorts of other directions. To me they could’ve waited to get the story right instead of trying different things and piecing it together. Several times in the film it feels cut and pasted, now we don’t care because it is so much fun, but still. I was surprised it received an Oscar Nomination for editing given that some of the edits are abrupt and out of place. I didn’t love, understand, or care about the Bad Guys. Who is the first order, Snoke, or what the hell are the knights of ren…who cares. That said it is a great ride, it bridges the old with the new in a fun way. I’m not sure anyone (including Lucas) could’ve done a perfect job with a film like this and J.J. deserves credit for taking on such a daunting task and not failing. Kids are excited about Star Wars again, and adults love that…because they’ve always been excited about it!

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) The Force Awakens is an incredible ride, yes, yes it has mystery boxes, hard edits, "emo" bad guys, and sadly the useless Republic and Starkiller Base (wtf??), but again what a fun time. It also has remarkable casting, great sincere nostalgia, and wait for it...Han f**king Solo, Luke mother****ing Skywalker, and the incomparable General Organa, so deal with it, I liked this film. It is well worthy of a very respectable 7.0 on The Shawshank Scale and has already proven to be extremely rewatchable. 


Talking Flick on Anchor   (The Force Awakens Episode)

Talking Flick on iTunes  (The Force Awakens Episode)

Talking Flick on Anchor (The Empire Strikes Back Episode)

Talking Flick on iTunes (The Empire Strikes Back Episode)