FlixChatter Review: DUNE (2021)

dune-2021-poster

Few films are as buzzy as DUNE in the past decade and after nearly a year delay, its eventual release date felt like it crept up on me all of sudden. The press screening was packed, which wasn’t always the case lately as most screenings have been barely half full. But DUNE felt like a cinematic event, and the visuals on screen certainly attest to that. No wonder, Denis Villeneuve wasn’t pleased that DUNE will be released on HBO Max the same day as its theatrical opening, even from the first five minutes, this is a film to be seen in as big a screen as possible.

dune-2021-fight-training

Right from its opening screen, I was immediately in awe of the visuals… the world building that Villeneuve has done with his longtime collaborator Patrice Vermette. Set in the year 10191, the universe of DUNE is undeniably vast, so I’m glad I had read up about it leading up to the film. It certainly helps me digest the plot a bit better, which begins on planet Caladan, where the leader of the House Atreides, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is preparing for a new role as the governor of Arrakis.

It’s a lucrative gig given the desert planet is the only place the vital natural resource of spice, aka melange, can be found in the galaxy. Of course, that new power comes with a dangerous enemy, especially from the House Harkonnen, the previous family in charge of mining the spice. Like any greedy colonial government, the Harkonnen is good at stripping any place of its natural resources and use it for their own gain. Naturally they’re not happy to have to leave Arrakis and would do anything to regain control of it.

dune-2021-house-atreides

At the center of the story is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the Duke’s son and heir of the royal house. Obviously he’s special given what he’s to inherit, but he’s also got special powers thanks to his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who belongs to a mythical intergalactic guild comprised of women with special powers called Bene Gesserit. The scene between Paul is tested by the guild’s leader Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) is a memorable one and filled with mystery and suspense. The film shows just how revered and powerful this group is, as Mohiam is seen talking to and wielding her influence in both royal houses.

dune-2021-the-test

The set design, architecture, costumes, and the futuristic elements are marvelous to look at. The Atreides’ home base in Arrakis capital Arrakeen looks like a world war bunker with its angular shape, which I read is what the style was modeled after. The construction looks like it could withstand the extreme climate and high winds of the desert planet. I especially LOVE the four-winged, dragonfly-like chopper (ornithopter) used by the Atreides, which apparently built for real by a company in England specifically for the film. This meticulous details of futuristic elements are the kind of stuff we go see a sci-fi movie for! I’ve always appreciate films shot on location and the fact that DUNE was filmed in UAE and Jordan definitely lends authenticity to the story, you could almost believe this desert planet actually exists.

dune-ornithopter-Wings

Given the complexity of the story, this film could’ve easily get bogged down by exposition. Thankfully, the script by Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Villeneuve did a good job in not over-explaining things. I like how Dr. Liet-Kynes, the planetary ecologist explain how the Fremen stillsuits work to help survive Arrakis’ harsh environment while commenting on how Paul seems to already been familiar with a world he never steps foot in. It’s obvious that Paul, like his mother, has supernatural abilities who’s destined for adventure and greatness.

One of my favorite scene is when Paul is in his room studying about Arrakis via holographic imagery and senses a foreign object has trespassed his space. It’s such a cool, thrilling scene that’s beautifully-filmed. Given this is just first part of the story, the script feels more enigmatic that sparks my curiosity. I like all the mystery of it all… the secrecy surrounding Bene Gesserit, the Fremen’s native people and desert power, etc. There’s a lot to take in, but the film makes it enjoyable to digest them.

Hans Zimmer‘s music helps immerse me in the desert universe with its Middle-Eastern motifs and African beats. Just like Villeneuve, Zimmer has been a huge fan of the book in his teenage years. He seems to relish working on this project and the result is an evocative, soulful and rousing score. As much as I love it though, the music can get overwhelming in some scenes as it overpowers the action. I think in certain parts, the music could have been toned down a bit.

dune-2021-paul-attack

I have to commend Villeneuve in the one thing that many filmmakers struggle with, and that is pacing. It’s especially crucial in films over 2 hours long, but for me, its 2.5-hour running time didn’t feel like a drag. I do have my quibbles–for one, the films does feel overly indulgent at times, likely because of the director’s passion for the subject matter. The film’s energy also dips a bit in the second act, but overall it’s well-paced and the talented actors help keep me engaged throughout.

Oh and what an ensemble cast it was! Chalamet is perfect as the film’s protagonist, he’s got a strong screen presence with his handsome, youthful face and lithe figure. There’s an inner tumult and angst, which is typical in a teenage boy, but there seems to be something deeper that plagues him… as he constantly dreams of a Fremen girl that’s both seductive and ominous. Zendaya’s Chani is an important figure in the story. Though she doesn’t really get to do much until the third act, her presence is felt throughout through Paul’s dreams.

dune-2021-zendaya

In the House Atredeis side, I love how commanding and regal Oscar Isaac looks as the Duke with his glorious grayish hair and matching beard. Apparently he lobbied for a role in DUNE and he’s spot on as the patriarch who’s protective but also loving to his heir. But then again, he rarely made a wrong move since I first laid eyes on him in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood as Prince John. I’ve loved Rebecca Ferguson since The White Queen series and she’s got the beauty, strength and certain mystical aura as Lady Jessica. She has the most screen time with Chalamet here and I like the unconventional mother-son dynamic. In many ways, his mother is also his mentor as she was still training Paul to use the ‘voice,’ an audio-neuro mechanism used to manipulate others. 

dune-2021-isaac-ferguson

As the Duke’s most trusted military advisers, both Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa have the brute force as well as intellect required for the roles. The fighting scenes are pretty cool to watch, especially since the characters use an invisible shield, some kind of protective energy field that make them temporarily impervious from harm. Charlotte Rampling is not in the film much but you definitely won’t forget her in one pivotal scene. In the House Harkonnen side, we’ve got the villainous Baron Harkonnen, who looks like an oily version of Jabba the Hutt. Stellan Skarsgård portrayed the role in full body prosthetic jumpsuit. He doesn’t have to act much as his body makeup alone does the work. Baron is more repulsive than scary, while Dave Bautista barely has much to do here as his henchman.

Javier Bardem plays the leader of a Fremen tribe who has the audacity to visit the House Atredeis without an invitation. He’s a knight-like figure who’s strong and defiant, but like Zendaya, we only get to see him prominently in the third act. Taiwanese actor Chen Chang has some memorable moments as House Atredeis’ family physician Dr. Yueh despite his limited screen time. Last but definitely not least, there’s Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet-Kynes who’s easily one of my favorite characters in the entire film. Apparently the film changed the gender of the character from male to female in the book, which I think works just as well. Duncan-Brewster has a charismatic presence here so I’m glad to see her featured prominently throughout.

dune-2021-liet-kynes

I think fans of the book would likely have more things to pick apart than those who have not, such as myself. Herbert’s book has an anti-imperial, anti-colonial themes woven in its larger arcs. Even without reading the book, I could see the unsubtle commentary on Middle Eastern oil (swapped for the spice in this story) and also its environmental message that resonates today in regards to climate change and lack of care for our planet. As for the ‘white savior trope’ criticism towards the book, Villeneuve himself has addressed that as saying that ‘…it’s not a celebration of a savior, but more of a criticism of the idea of a savior, of someone that will come and tell another population how to be, what to believe.’ As someone from a SE Asian country that was colonized for over three centuries by a small country who literally mined our spices, obviously I’m not fond of this commonly-used narrative.

dune-2021-timothee-chalamet

To be fair, I think Villeneuve has tread carefully in this regard and present Paul’s story as someone who struggles with the idea that he’s seen as a savior. He’s shown as being passionate to learn about Arrakis and its people. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Fremen watering the native palm trees. You can imagine how precious water is to a desert planet, and Paul questions whether the water should be saved for the people instead.

There’s also a scene where he and his mother mimic the Desert Walk of the Fremen where one alters its rhythm while walking on sand. It’s not just for efficiency but for survival given the giant sand worm is a constant threat. The fictional extraterrestrial desert creature is meticulously designed and it’s quite thrilling and suspenseful every time it glides through under the sand and practically swallow everything in its path, even a giant mining machine, if you can’t outrun it.

dune-2021-sandworm

Overall I’m impressed with what Villeneuve has done in bringing his vision of DUNE to life. It’s more than just a feast for the eyes, but the narrative delivery offers something thrilling and thought-provoking. The version we’re seeing is in fact Villeneuve’s vision from when he was a teen when he first read Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel. I’ve mentioned in this post that I haven’t seen the David Lynch version, or should I say the Dino De Laurentiis version as Lynch disowned it. Not that it matters as Villeneuve has said repeatedly that his version wouldn’t have any semblance to the 1984 film. ‘Fear is the mind-killer,’ that’s the book’s mantra, but it might as well be Villeneuve’s as well given he dared to tackle something deemed ‘unfilmable.’ Tackling this weighty project obviously takes some massive ambition, passion and craftsmanship. It takes an even higher level of courage given that the Montreal-born director took this on after the major box office bomb of Blade Runner 2049 which also happens to be a remake of a 1980s version. 

Now, I’m not saying this movie is without flaws. I was hoping there’d be more emotional resonance given the high stakes. I didn’t connect with some of the key characters as much I had hoped, either because they’re under-developed or inaccessible. I figure it’s par for the course that the film feels incomplete, as this is just the first part of the whole story (even the poster spells it out… IT BEGINS). One thing for sure, there’s enough to get me invested in the world of DUNE, and the ending certainly makes me hope we get to see the conclusion in part II.

4/5 stars


Have you seen DUNE? I’d love to hear what you think!

THIS JUST IN! Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (2020) trailer

Woo wee!! Can you believe it’s been five months since the first official FIRST LOOK photos of DUNE were released?! I remember hyperventilating then just looking at a bunch of photos, well… finally, the trailer is here!

Behold…


I had been standing in front of my laptop since 10:45 CST… waiting w/ bated breath to see the trailer. Well, as it turns out the studios had a special event Q&A w/ the director Denis Villeneuve and the entire cast, hosted by Stephen Colbert, here’s the convo if you missed it:

 

My reaction is: WOO HOO!!! Cannot. freakin’. wait for this!! As if I weren’t anticipating this enough already, the Q&A w/ the cast/crew really whet my appetite even more! The world building, the set pieces, outstanding ensemble cast… boy, it LOOKS AMAZING! Glorious, atmospheric, mysterious, suspenseful… everything I expect from a sci-fi epic.

I respect Villeneuve as a filmmaker and I trust that he’s going to bring something that’s truly worth the hype!

Hollywood’s it-boy Timothée Chalamet is perfectly cast here as Paul Atreides… the narration of DUNE’s famous quote about fear gives me goosebumps!

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear and I will permit it to pass over me. When the fear is gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I quite like the pairing of him and Zendaya too as Chani, a Fremen woman.

Full cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

Great seeing several of them on the Twitter trailer event Q&A today!! They all look happy, even emotional, seeing the trailer, just like the fans!

Twitter trailer event Q&A w/ director + cast

DUNE’s full synopsis:

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Chalamet as Paul Atredes with Charlotte Rampling’s Gaius Helen Mohiam

The film is currently set for theatrical release on December 18 in the U.S. and the UK.


Well, what do you think of the DUNE teaser?

FlixChatter Review: The Addams Family (2019)

When most adults hear the name The Addams Family, they’ll likely think back to the 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld live action movie, starring Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia and Christina Ricci. The film was based on the The Addams Family cartoon created by cartoonist Charles Addams and the 1964 TV series produced by David Levy. While The Addams Family existed as a cartoon, TV series and live action movie, there was never the existence of an animated feature movie, until 2019 when the directors of Sausage Party, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan teamed up with screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler to make the computer animated feature, with the thought of making the heavy source subject of death and darkness much more kid-friendly with likable characters and a snappy tune.

The story is similar but also it deviates from the live action version. Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia Addams (Charlize Theron) are on the hunt for a suitable mansion after tying the know before being chanced out of town by an angry mob of villagers, when they stumble upon Lurch (Conrad Vernon), a former inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. He leads them to the abandoned mansion/asylum in (of all places) New Jersey and becomes the Addams Family’s butler. There they raise two kids — Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley Addams (Stanger ThingsFinn Wolfhard) – and live at the mansion on a hill for years in comfort and peace, in isolation from the outside world. Thirteen years later, the Addams kids are now teenagers and have to start acting like adults. Gomez starts to prepare Pugsley for his upcoming Mazurka, a rite of passage every Addams family member takes, and they invite the whole extended family for the special celebration.

Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Morticia (Charlize Theron)

Wednesday finds a red balloon (insert murderous clown joke here, which they do) and confetti that make their way to mansion and begins to wonder what’s in the outside world. Speaking of, in a town that has formed down in the valley, and a TV show host and interior decorator Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) has discovered the less than pleasing Addams family mansion on a hill, and is hell bent on making it over and getting rid of its inhabitants. She spies on her neighbors though hidden cameras and an online app, which can easily be manipulated for maximum gossip and rumors to run wild in the town. Margaux’s daughter Parker Needler (Elsie Fisher) befriends Wednesday and they borrow styling tips from each other, with Wednesday adding some flashes of pink to her wardrobe and Parker going completely Goth.

Grandma (Bette Midler) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard)

The story finishes all too familiarly, with the townspeople and the extended Addams family coming together after Margaux tries to make them hate each other. There are good morals to be learned for those 13-and-under in the crowd, such as accepting others for who they are and saying that differences are what make us unique. There is a cute moment when Cousin It (rapper Snoop Dogg) rolls to the mansion with Snoop’s 2004 single Drop It Like Its Hot blaring loudly (well, at least the “G version” of the song) and we first hear Cousin It’s voice, which sounds like nothing but garbled words. Another song in the movie called My Family (Migos, Snoop Dogg, Karol G, and producer Rock Mafia) incorporates the famous The Addams Family tune and finger snaps, and talks about how “if you mess with me, you’re messing with my family.” The tune also features Spanish lyrics from Columbian singer Karol G, making this a multicultural tune, well in line with the massage of the animated movie.

While this version of The Addams Family is nothing new and different for adults, this animated version is a terrific introduction for younger audiences (esp. those under 13) into the horror-themed genre. It should prepare them for the much scarier and darker versions of the franchise they might watch in the next few years.  Both adults and kids can enjoy the soundtrack, the wonderful voices of Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac and Allison Janney. You’ll probably snap your fingers once or twice out the theater as you hum The Addams Family tune that gets stuck in your head — like a great earworm that it is.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen The Addams Family? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019)

As of last October, Netflix began offering press screenings for its original movies. Yet for some reason, this is the first time I’m seeing a Netflix Original Movie on the big screen. The tile seems rather generic, but the term Triple Frontier actually refers to a tri-border area along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the action takes place in this heist crime drama.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought this was directed by one of its stars Ben Affleck as he’s specialized in crime dramas in his directing career. But no, it’s directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) based on a screenplay he’s written with Mark Boal (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). The mastermind of the heist is Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia (Oscar Isaac). We first saw him with his special ops team exchanging gun fire with the people working for powerful drug lord Lorea. I feel the film should’ve opened with Isaac’s character instead of someone else’s. In any case, Pope’s been trying for years to get to Lorea, and for the first time, he’s finally got a credible tip from an informant, Yovana (Adria Arjona).

Instead of alerting FBI or DEA, Pope decided to take this upon himself to bring down Lorea. Well in order to do that, he enlists four of his former Special Forces buddies to join him on this dangerous mission. The film took a bit of time to introduce us to the team: Affleck’s Tom aka Redfly, William aka Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco aka Catfish (Pedro Pascal). Affleck’s basically a down-on-his-luck divorcee who’s been shot five times but now couldn’t even sell a condo to save his life. Despite being strapped for cash and concerned for his daughter, Redfly is the hardest for Pope to convince to join the mission… and for good reason.

The trailer tells us it’s a heist movie and this time, it’s the Americans robbing a drug lord… AND they’re doing it for self, not country. Executive-produced by Kathryn Bigelow who’s no stranger to military-minded stories, Triple Frontier is a heist action movie with a moral quandary. If the guy you rob is a criminal, does it make it less of a crime? I like that the script examines these soldiers’ psyche and moral conscience when faced with such a lucrative but self-serving mission.

The heist itself is quite suspenseful, with plenty of scenes during torrential downpours in the South American jungle and rural areas. People who likes action movies would probably expect more shoot-em-up scenes like in Sicario and fans of Netflix’s NARCOS has definitely seen more brutal violence and extreme gore. I’m glad it isn’t the case here. To me, the highlights of the movie are not so much the action itself, but the psychology of the characters, and the moral dialog the team have throughout the harrowing journey. It’s no surprise that money (especially a huge amount of it) has a forcefully-mesmerizing power and this movie is none too subtle to reveal how fast greed could take over even the seemingly prudent person.

I like that the movie isn’t too concerned about plot twist, but focus more on the moral dilemma. It centers on the themes greed and honor, and how those two things are mutually exclusive. At times Triple Frontier feels like an adventure road movie, which I find mostly engaging as they face one hurdle after another. Each of the five ensemble cast is given a moment to shine, some more than others. Casting-wise, since its inception nearly a decade ago, there have been big names attached, from Tom Hanks, Leo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Denzel Washington, etc. But I think the group as it is now works pretty well and it doesn’t rely so much on star power (even Affleck is more subdued here), but more on the power of the ensemble. Isaac definitely has leading man charisma and he’s technically the lead of the film more than Affleck. I personally wish Charlie Hunnam gets more work, he’s an underrated actor whose strong performances often gets overlooked (i.e. The Lost City of Z).

Now, there’s a lot of testosterone here featuring five really hunky men. I suppose the story calls for it, and I for one don’t expect every single film to pass the Bechdel Test. That said, it’s a pity that the sole female character that’s crucial to the story, Yovana, is barely given a compelling arc. Even Isaac’s character is a mystery to me. Other than the fact he’s got a personal vendetta against Lorea and that he feels he deserves to be rewarded more for his military service, we don’t really know much about him.

That said, there’s plenty to like about this film and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen. Netflix now offers their original films in Dolby Color Grading and Dolby Atmos so the movie looks and sounds great. The cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is quite stunning, especially when they get to the Andes mountains. The ensemble cast and taut script makes this a journey worth taking. I might even see it again when it’s out on Netflix.


Have you seen TRIPLE FRONTIER? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – ANNIHILATION (2018)

guestpost
Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Runtime: 1h 55min

Annihilation, based on the book trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) join a group made up of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist to investigate mysterious environment after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns from an unexplained year-long disappearance. Lena, along with Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and Josie (Tessa Thompson) soon learn that the laws of nature don’t apply in this strange and dangerous location.

This movie made me want to read the books immediately, because the screenplay is so well-written, and I can only imagine how fantastic the source material must be. It’s such an imaginative and suspenseful story. It’s tense and unpredictable without feeling messy. I especially like that it’s a female-led sci-fi movie, which is rare. It’s not the focus; it’s commented on once toward the beginning of the film, but otherwise the characters are interesting and well-developed without being defined by their gender. The fact that they’re portrayed by phenomenal actors makes it even better. The group has amazing chemistry, and they all give strong performances, although Gina Rodriguez as Anya is definitely the stand-out; she goes from likable to terrifying to heartbreaking seamlessly.

This film is visually stunning as well. The CGI is incredibly detailed, but not overused to the point of being over-the-top. The designs are beautiful, unsettling, and in some cases, horrifying. Even the more mundane scenes are beautifully shot; there’s a moment with a close-up of Lena holding Kain’s hand, filmed through a glass of water distorting the image, that is so subtle but so effective.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. There’s a subplot about Lena cheating on Kane with her colleague, Daniel (David Gyasi) that doesn’t really have any effect on the overall plot and doesn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe it’s more important in the books, but it doesn’t feel necessary in the movie, and the time wasted on it could have been better used developing the alien nature the group is exploring.

I was also a little distracted by how many times different characters exclaimed over how impossible everything in this alien area is. I understand expressing surprise and initial disbelief, but they are so adamant about things being impossible that it’s kind of ridiculous. I wanted to yell “You just saw a mutant crocodile attack your friend in a fairy garden swamp, all surrounded by a shiny bubble of science fiction! Maybe accept that everything you’ve learned until this point doesn’t apply anymore!” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, though.

Overall, though, Annihilation is excellent. It’s beautiful, it’s frightening, it’s brilliantly acted, and if the two-hour movie is that good, I can only imagine how amazing the story is when it’s fleshed out over three books. Definitely check this out.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Annihilation’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

I have to admit that my life has been so hectic lately I haven’t really had time to anticipate any films this holiday season like I normally do. But when the press screening invite came out for The Last Jedi, I actually got more excited despite only having seen only one trailer. Well, I’m glad that is the only trailer/videos I’ve seen of the film… it’s best to see it ‘blind’ knowing as little as possible. I don’t write reviews very often anymore, so indulge me when I go a bit longer with this one.

Force Awakens is more nostalgic and an homage to the original from JJ Abrams, and while The Last Jedi also still has to tread on familiar grounds, it somehow feels fresh and new. There are quite a few surprises that thrills, delights and tugs my heartstrings. Ok granted I’m more of a casual Star Wars fan, so I don’t have the depth knowledge like ardent aficionados, but I was quite caught up with the journey of the main characters. The story pretty much picks up where the last film leaves off, with a literal cliffhanger as we saw Rey (Daisy Ridley) meeting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) up high on a cliff by an ocean.


But before we get there, the film drops us straight into an intergalactic space battle of the Resistance fighters, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) against the reigning First Order. I enjoy thrilling aerial battles and the SFX is off the charts in a film of this magnitude, but I’m glad there’s more to this movie than just action, action, action. What I really enjoyed most from the film is the quieter, more talky scenes between Rey and Luke. Writer/director Rian Johnson delved deep into the saga’s mythology and Jedi philosophy… about what the force really is, the real power of the Jedi, etc. Those are the real appeal of this enduring franchise and what makes me go ‘ok I see why people love this saga so much and why it appeals to multiple generations.’

There are fans who might not like the direction of Luke in this film (even Hamill himself reportedly told Johnson he fundamentally disagreed how his character was written), but I personally love the deconstruction of such a titular character. Why is Luke such a legend? Just what exactly is the Force and who gets to have it? How does Luke himself sees his own power and its effect in the universe? It’s always intriguing to learn just what the fuss is about Luke, especially given how he was talked about in virtually every scene in The Force Awakens, yet we only got to see him for mere seconds! I love the grizzled, curmudgeon Luke (like Hamill was channeling the real Harrison Ford!), the salt & pepper longish hair and beard makes him look even more distinguished. The scenes between him and Rey are definitely my favorite. “This is not going to go the way you think.” Luke says at one point (it’s not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer and all over its promos)… and you know what, the film actually delivers on that sentiment!

The film is divided into three major scenarios, in which each team has to fulfill a certain ‘task’ if you will, all happening around the same time. My main quibble with the movie is that the transition between one scenario to another feels disjointed at times. One scene would be solemn and intense, then it’ll switch to something more mischievous and funky and then it’s full-throttle action. Perhaps it’s to be expected when you have such a vast narrative involving so many players but it could’ve been done more smoothly. That said though, the film has enough going for it–the energetic action, lively humor and genuine emotion–that I didn’t even mind the 2.5 hours running time.

Obviously the strength of this space saga is the characters people truly care about over the years. I feel like there’s a proper balance (a word thrown out a lot in this film) between the iconic characters and the newer ones that expand the story. The emotional tug of war between Rey and Kylo is the heart of the story here, and both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are absolutely terrific. I’ve loved Ridley’s spunky Rey from the start and I find Driver’s Kylo even more magnetic here (and not only ’cause he’s got such great mane!). Yes he’s a grandpa Vader wanna-be (and he’s still got serious anger-management issues), but there’s much more than that and the internal conflict within him is palpable. Poor Domhnall Gleeson though, a terrific actor who’s relegated to being the comic relief as the over-the-top General Hux.

On the Resistance team, pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, not to be outdone by Adam in the sexy hair department) gets more to do here. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Poe solo movie with the oh-so-charismatic Isaac, he’s just a cool guy with a reckless energy a la Han Solo. There’s less bantering between him and his bestie Fin (John Boyega). Instead, Fin is paired with another spunky maintenance worker loyal to the Resistance, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). BB-8 is still an immensely fun droid to watch, while the new avian creature Porg likely only appeals to little kiddies. I’m glad to see two new female characters with a proper arc, one is Rose and the other is Vice Admiral Holdo, played by veteran actress Laura Dern. There’s a pretty intense exchange between her and Poe, but I’m not even going to spoil it for you what it’s about. One thing I can say is the scenes of Carrie Fisher is truly bittersweet. The film is dedicated to her (naturally!) but the whole film gives a proper homage to such an iconic character.

Now onto SPOILERS territory… (highlight to read)

It was cool to see Yoda making an appearance here with Luke on the island. As Luke struggles with destroying the ancient Jedi text, Yoda just made it go kablooey. It’s not particularly a highlight for me, but it’s cool to see the apprentice and the master reunited. Another reunion that made me tear up is Luke and Leia… especially when she gave the Han Solo’s dice he grabbed from the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. I love when Leia said ‘Luke, I know what you’re going to say. I changed my hair.’ Ha! It feels like something Carrie Fisher herself would say. When Luke said to her (about Han) ‘he’s never really gone’ it feels like how Carrie herself is to the SW family and the fans. Her spirit will always be with the franchise. 

Now for those who’ve seen this? Who do you think the Last Jedi is? Is it Luke or is it Rey? Thoughts on the kid in the last scene that hints he’s got the Force with him?

My initial reaction after I saw this is it’s currently one of my favorites in the franchise! Well, after four days seeing it, I still stand by it. In fact, I don’t mind seeing this again by year’s end. It’s really got everything. Thrilling action, check. Intense lightsaber battle, check. Witty repartee, check. Emotional struggles, check. The action punctuates the story and that’s how it should be. Unlike the overwrought and mawkish prequels, Rian’s script has zest and wit, and also unafraid to poke fun at themselves. I also marvel at the cinematography by Steve Yedlin, a longtime Rian Johnson collaborator. So many iconic visuals that truly took my breath away, especially those on the island filmed in County Kerry, Ireland. And of course, John Williams’ iconic epic score still gives me the chills!

By the time the end credits roll, I am already excited to see how the story goes from there. It’s great to have a filmmaker who evidently has been a fan of the franchise since he was a kid, but still also an ‘outsider’ who dared to take the 40-year-old saga into unexpected paths. The force is certainly strong with Rian Johnson, so I have no problem having him do the next Star Wars trilogy.


So what are your thoughts on The Last Jedi? Feel free to indulge me on your own theories about what happens in the film!

Guest Review: The Promise (2017)

guestpost

Directed By: Terry George
Written By: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 minutes

It has taken more than ten years for Terry George to return from Hotel Rwanda with another sweeping historical narrative – again about genocide. The Promise is a sobering, beautiful disappointment. The film has a beautiful score and decent cinematography, but is hindered by two competing and uncomplimentary story-lines, flawed casting, and lackluster performances by usually gifted actors.
One thing that The Promise does right is its dogged determination – at least in the beginning – to accurately recreate the Ottoman Empire at its peak. The diversity of the Ottoman Empire is highlighted in the script and on the screen: crowded streets and classrooms alike brim with a rainbow of skin colors and a wide variety of clothing styles. This attention to detail falls to the wayside later on: extras become less and less Armenian with every passing scene, leaving me wondering if the casting department doubts an audience’s ability to see facial features through dirt.

That initial pursuit of realistic cultural immersion was also highlighted in moments like the one when our stars leave a stuffy party full of people in European clothing to hit up the nearby belly dancing club where they drink absinthe, sugar cube ritual and all. The effort to establish the Ottoman Empire as a progressive, inclusive, educated, and wealthy place is palpable.

Unfortunately, The Promise falls short constantly. The focus of the film is what can only be described as a love square: one man is betrothed to a woman but he falls in love with a different woman who is already romantically involved with another man, but she also falls in love with that first man. On its own, this might be a decent movie, but this love square has been placed in the foreground of a genocide. The result is a bad love story (because the backdrop is too dark) and a bad historical drama (because the love story is more carefully developed than the history).
The flashes of the Armenian Genocide that we get are stark: labor camps, cattle trains full of people, violent killings, riots, executions, people on the run and trying to hide. They deserve a telling that does not hide them behind a petty romantic squabble. This is a story that is more than 100 years old and is still illegal to tell in Turkey. 1.5 million people were killed in five years. That story can be told without a love story.

Casting was poor. Oscar Isaac is a great actor, but why a man who is nearly 40 years old is playing a medical student who is betrothed to be married in two years is completely beyond me. He also does not look particularly Armenian. Neither does Charlotte Le Bon, who plays his romantic interest. Angela Sarafyan who, is both a phenomenal actress and an Armenian was cast in a lesser role. I would have liked to see her as the leading actress and a younger, more Armenian man in the place of Isaac.

I get the feeling that this set was not especially actor friendly, which is evident in a lot of lackluster performances. Christian Bale’s character (which should not exist, but that’s a rant about American centrism that we can save for another day) had many a stale outburst. Marwan Kenzari gave a consistently mediocre performance. Charlotte Le Bon seemed out of place in the 20th Century.

It is unfortunate that The Promise fails in its execution because the film explores many prescient themes:

In what ways might people respond to an atrocity? What compromises of our own character might we make when put in a difficult situation? How do we know what side of a story is the true one, both journalistically and personally? What sacrifices might we make for the sake of our families and our friends?

I can only hope that we’ll get the opportunity to explore those questions in a different movie. With any luck, it will be about the Armenian Genocide, because clearly we still haven’t found it in ourselves to tell that story in the way it deserves to be told.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘The Promise’? Well, what did you think?