Tag Archives: Rian Johnson

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh

THE LAST JEDI

Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson, George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson

Well it has to be said, its been two extremely quick years following the release of ‘The Force Awakens’ and now Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga is out in theatres. It would be fair to say that not everyone is a overly enamoured with his vision. There has been a very vocal minority of Star Wars fandom that have taken to aggressively bashing it; even going as far as creating bots to negatively impact the Rotten Tomatoes viewer score.

This doesn’t mean that every detractor of the film is doing this or is wrong to be airing their grievances. They aren’t. Films are a highly subjective matter at the best of times. Now, combine that with a much beloved franchise and characters that have been a part of pop culture for nigh on 40 years and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some heated disagreements.

But enough of that hysteria. What did I make of it all? Well, if you’ve been listening to our podcasts then we did actually do a review last week but laying out your thoughts mere hours after leaving the cinema can make for tricky business. Things can be missed. Hence why I’m doing a written version after another viewing in an attempt to do a more ‘in depth’ review.

First of all, I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I recall playing with a Sand People figure when I was about four or five years of age and being absolutely fascinated with that galaxy far, far away. My credentials in that department are undeniable, and as a complete nobody, I can’t be accused of being a Disney shill. I absolutely loved this film. It’s not good enough to trouble the original three but it’s a damn good film and I’m genuinely perplexed at the vitriol coming from some quarters.

It begs the question. Just what were people expecting? A three and half hour long film that answered every single theory just as they’d painstakingly thought out?

Rian Johnson has a reputation for going dark, for his excellent writing ability and for just being a great director period. He’s also been a Star Wars fan from the age of four. What better credentials could you ask for? And what he’s given us is a fabulously entertaining film, that develops the newer characters well, offers a satisfying progression for the older characters, but more importantly expands and shakes up a mythology and galaxy that quite frankly had become static and in danger of repeating itself ad infinitum.

He tied up the two major loose ends JJ left from ‘The Force Awakens’ and did it well. Was it exactly what I wanted? Nope. Did I enjoy the direction he took? Yup. Rey’s parents? Yeah, they were unimportant nobodies. She wasn’t a Skywalker but instead a naturally gifted random. Fair enough. Snoke? He wasn’t Darth Plagueis. He was just some bushy eyed, deformed looking weirdo with a frankly incredible connection to the force, that had a fetish for gold and was cut down in spectacular fashion.

Luke Skywalker is by far my favourite Star Wars character. His arc seems to be causing the biggest amount of anguish amongst the films detractors. Again, Rian Johnson did not go down the path I personally would have liked to have seen come to fruition. He didn’t cut down the Knights of Ren in an epic lightsaber battle, didn’t slap down Kylo and he didn’t even leave that bloody island. But man, did I enjoy Luke in this film. The way he takes his nephew to school at the end, playing on his clear penchant for impulsiveness was a joy to behold.

The sight of him walking out to face the might of the First Order was a standout moment. Everything about it was perfect. From ‘The Spark’ theme (Williams best in this film) to the visuals, it had my personal favourite wide shot in the film too.

Mark Hamill is utterly brilliant in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s arguably his best performance in the character of Luke. Hell, it’s arguably one of his best live action performances period. He’s been through some shit and it’s changed his character in the thirty year gap. He’s experienced unimaginable hardship, loss and learned some incredibly cool force abilities. He’s a tad grouchy and he’s taken to drinking green milk from the udder of a hideous alien. He also lost some weight and looks fantastic for it.

Princess Leia is handled very well too. The late Carrie Fisher was much improved here, giving a very good showing, following her practically mute role in ‘The Force Awakens’. The infamous space scene wasn’t as bad as some have made out. I thought the scoring and visuals were on point during it and it finally showed us Leia using the force. What’s not to like? I was also incredibly pleased to see her have a moment with Luke. It would have been criminal for either of those two to go out without sharing a scene together. It was a genuine lump in the throat moment.

Visually, I thought the film was stunning. It’s the most stylish to date and some of the action, aided by lovely wide shots, was jaw dropping. The opening shot where the camera rushes down was exhilarating, the Canto Bight stuff popped despite being superfluous, the scene when General Holdo (Laura Dern) sends the Resistance cruiser zooming through Snoke’s Supremacy was ridiculously cool and that lightsaber battle in the throne room is up there for me. There was a plethora of visually incredible moments in this film and sadly I can’t possibly list them all which is annoying.

Speaking of Canto Bight. Finn and Rose’s side plot was unnecessary, disrupted the pacing, was off in terms of tone and felt like a rather convoluted way to setup the showdown on Crait. Benicio Del Toro’s character was poor and don’t even get me started on the druggy stutter. It felt superfluous to the main plot and conjured up memories of the prequels whilst also featuring some real corny dialogue. That along with some poorly worked comedic moments and the slightly underwhelming walkers at the end was the only real let down for me.

In terms of Rey and Kylo. I actually loved the whole dynamic of their relationship in this one. The force ‘FaceTiming’ as I called it wasn’t that off putting, was explained well and again opened up new possibilities. Rey is obviously struggling to find her role in things, trying to coax Luke into training her whilst Kylo is really on the end of a prolonged bout of bullying at the hands of Snoke and equally questioning his role. Which is why I was delighted when he ended him. It was deserved and Kylo is fast becoming my favourite of the newer characters.

Adam Driver is a brilliant actor and he’s really showing up Hayden Christiansen in the how to play a conflicted character stakes. I see now why JJ hand picked him for this role. By the end, it’s pretty clear that he’s went full big bad however which is a shame because even now I want him redeemed. He’s clearly the last thread of Skywalker heritage in this saga that can realistically continue and for that reason alone I want him to survive. It’ll be very interesting to see where he goes from this.

Daisy Ridley has been criticised in some circles for her so called wooden delivery of certain lines. I must have been watching a different film though because I missed these completely. Perhaps I was too busy just enjoying the story and action instead of looking for reasons to throw the toys out the pram. She was absolutely fine for me and I felt they reigned in her ‘overpowered’ abilities, making her more vulnerable, particularly during the throne room sequences to appease the ‘Mary Sue’ brigade.

I can’t discuss this film without mentioning Poe and General Hux. Oscar Isaac is a talented actor and I’m delighted he was given a chunkier role. He learnt a valuable lesson in this and it looks like he’s taking control of the Resistance going forward. Hux was often used as comedic levity and for the most part it worked. His little smirk at Kylo upon leaving the throne room and general slyness was oddly enjoyable. Domhnall Gleeson owns the character.

Musically, John Williams returns to score this and it’s brilliance from the man as ever. There’s not many new themes in there but that’s probably because there’s not many new characters worthy of them. What he does do is reintroduce many classics to delightful effect. The Leia theme has a delicate moment in the space scene whilst Yoda’s adds an emotional edge to the return of that particular character. It just isn’t Star Wars without the great mans involvement.

Incidentally, the Yoda scene was absolutely fantastic. The puppet looked great and they nailed the mannerisms and the eccentric personality we all loved from the Original trilogy.

This is a divisive film and much of the hate appears to stem from two main issues. Firstly, predetermined fan theories not coming true, and secondly, the apparent callous way in which established mythology and characters have been dealt with. As I said earlier, I’m delighted that the mythology has been freshened up. This misconception that you must be from famous lineage to be a Jedi is just that. I think the older characters were handled competently. It’s all subjective though.

Overall. I think the positives more than outweigh the negatives in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a brilliant addition to the Star Wars saga and opens up so many possibilities going forward. It’s added freshness to the franchise, Luke still very much has a role to play and the fate of the Resistance hangs on a knife edge. I look forward to Episode 9 now and Rian Johnson’s trilogy and I highly recommend this one to the majority of fans. Most will already have seen it mind, but if you haven’t, then what the hell are you waiting for?

Rating: 4.5/5

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Looper (2012) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

LOOPER

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  Bruce Willis,  Emily Blunt

The Retro Review season continues with the 2012 Rian Johnson movie Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. I have to admit I totally missed the initial release of the film and only got round to watching it in 2014. The movie itself although was still fresh in my mind as I decided to review it, I thought I should view it once more as this is a film although complex in many levels goes to great lengths to avoid any glaring plot holes.

Time Travel movies have always consistent of audience members looking for these plot holes at great lengths and deep debates of trying to find them. Here Writer and Director Rian Johnson really nails the situation within the first 10 minutes of the movie on how it works. Loopers are employed to assassinate a person sent back from the future immediately and that is their job until “retirement”. When a “loop” closes (basically when that looper is done when they are older they are sent back in time to be killed by their younger self, hence the loop is closed.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays young Joe and Bruce Willis plays the old version of Joe who is sent back in time to the exact time and location that young Joe is waiting on to kill him. Obviously the young Joe isn’t aware of his next victim and  this is one thing I liked and understood about older Joe. He was aware and prepared to do battle with his younger self knowing this path. In typical Bruce Willis fashion his character doesn’t get bogged down with how this happens and why it happens etc. The character really just bypasses any deep and logistical explanation as if all that matters is the situation now and there. I found this with all the main character in the movie that they all had their own reasons why they were there and why they had to do what that had to do and to be honest this works for this movie as the plot is multilayered and complex enough without over complicating the storyline.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger Joe is brilliant and delivers once again. But he is also a younger Bruce Willis and under heavy prosthetics and makeup is a passable younger Willis too. The make up is as good as its going to be and to be honest if I hadn’t known what Gordon-Levitt looked like before I probably wouldn’t have noticed the change in his appearance. Apart from the cosmetic side of the Actor I noticed Gordon-Levitt adopted a few of Willis’ mannerisms and I was pleased to see that he wasn’t impersonating Willis but really captured the essence of the veteran actor instead.

Bruce Willis is equally as good playing opposite Gordon-Levitt and there is a real chemistry between the two leads which was great and really helped convince the audience that they are one of the same person. It’s not often you get to see Willis perform as the “Bad Guy” in a movie and here is an exception based on the fact that he is trying to stay alive and as the story unfolds his actions and mission are explained in a believable and emotional way which if you haven’t watched “Looper” I won’t go into any great detail as it is a major spoiler.

Supporting the leads is Emily Blunt as Sara who performed very well and really held her own with both Gordon-Levitt and Willis. although not entering the story until a good hour into the movie Blunt really makes her mark right away as a no nonsense mother protecting her son and to be fair is a long way off her more familiar roles we were used to seeing her in up to this point. Her character is convincing and she really fits into the role with a convincing american accent and looks pretty comfortable holding a rifle when protecting her family and land.

Her son Cid in the movie portrayed by Pierce Gagnon is a stand out and fantastic in such a pivotal role. The chemistry between Blunt and Gagnon is so obviously there that you would be convinced they are Mother and Son in real life and the emotional pull between both actors really goes beyond anything I was expecting from the supporting cast. Gagnon also has some tender and funny moments with Gordon-Levitt in the movie and really added to the relationship between the characters.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson to be honest created a very believable future that isn’t a far cry from todays world and doesn’t portray it too much in the style of the Fifth Element or darker in the way of Blade Runner. Johnson’s style intrigues me as his tone is some major dark scenes at night (obviously) and during daylight looks very gritty and grainy, much in the way Logan (2017) is shot (if that makes any sense) and overall I have to say that I like more of the things “Looper” achieved in storytelling, acting, direction and chemistry. The plot isn’t over complicated and I think this is why it’s a likeable film. Johnson appears to respect the audience enough not to patronise and appears to relish keeping the audience interested and in suspense. “Looper” is a fine piece of filmmaking and has a wonderful multilayered and intelligent storyline that I can’t recommend enough.