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Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Slowly Satisfies with Busy Space Opera

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the last jedi movie spoon

There’s a lot to unload from The Last Jedi, the intensely-awaited continuance of the new Star Wars trilogy. I went in with the intent of making a list of the film’s primary plot points to avoid writing any crucial spoilers in my review. That list turned out to be longer than I thought, occupying two pages of my reporter’s notebook. As you may have guessed from such a length, the film does answer many of the questions left hanging after The Force Awakens and even brings a handful of arcs to conclusions I was not anticipating. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s all scrunched into a 152-minute epic that hardly has time to breathe between dark discoveries, weird alien creatures, and booming space battles.

As the middle chapter of this latest Star Wars trilogy, director Rian Johnson has aimed to make The Last Jedi the familiar narrative of kicking the heroes down a hole to crawl out of, and it’s a mighty big hole this time. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), are now falling back after their successful destruction of the First Order’s Starkiller Base, the mega Death Star that could blow up multiple planets at a time. The First Order still has an armada with a massive battleship, The Dreadnought, that might not be able to blow up planets, but can make short work of a Resistance Base or an entire fleet. Even if that ship goes down, there’s no shortage of big cannons for blowing up rebel scum, from space and land.

Luke-Skywalker-Rey-Daisy-Ridley-Star-Wars-Last-Jedi-TV-Spot-Creatures-Ships

Facing their toughest hour, the Resistance needs all the help it can get from some unlikely heroes. Fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) continues to lead the Resistance fighters into battle but needs to learn to make better calls that don’t lead all his men towards kamikaze maneuvers (and there’s a lot of them in this film). Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-fighter Finn (John Boyega) believes he can use his First Order knowledge to save the day but will require some extra help from the plucky engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Both will have to contend with the stern Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) that has her risky strategies as well.

Elsewhere, potential Jedi knight Rey (Daisy Ridley) has sought the tutelage of hermit Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), whose days of wielding the powers of the Force are behind him. Of course, there’s the obvious comparison to the similar trials Luke went through in The Empire Strikes Back with Master Yoda. History is repeating itself, but Luke is a far more notable curmudgeon for wanting to change all that this time. And after what he reveals about the First Order’s star Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), you start to understand his desire to cut himself off from the world. By that same token, the more we learn about Kylo Ren’s history, his plight is a little more sympathetic for his rage and bitterness for not appeasing the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

These characters and themes are enough to weave a brilliantly somber bridge picture but must struggle to share the screen with so much else going on in the plot. Even at over two hours, the film feels overstuffed with so much going on that some of the more strong emotional scenes don’t carry as massive an impact as they should. I liked the inclusion of Benicio del Toro as a shapeshifter, but his introduction requires a detour to a casino planet that feels criminally underexplored, even with the abundance of alien-looking patrons and weird horse creatures raced for sport. There’s an epic fight between Finn and his bitter former superior Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), but she arrives so late to the party that their confrontation doesn’t hold the same level of intensity that was present in the previous film. There’s a backstory to Rose and her mission but she is fighting for screen time so badly. There are so many character arcs, backstories, Jedi mythos, space battles, lightsaber duels, and technobabble of ship strategies that there’s enough material here for three whole movies. No wonder Rian Johnson is considering making an entire Star Wars trilogy of his very own.

There’s a lot to like about The Last Jedi, but so much great stuff is rushed towards the screen that there’s only enough time to see them as merely good stuff. I missed the more straightforward style of adventure from The Force Awakens where a handful of heroes are followed and developed. Now there are even more characters and splintering arcs that always kept the movie moving but only made me wish it would take the time to stop and smell the oddly-colored flowers. As a result, many of the film’s quieter and more psychological moments come off without as much depth. There’s no time for letting these scenes play out longer; not when there are cute little Porg creatures to latch onto the fuzzy Chewbacca like pesky puppies.

For cramming so much into this story, there’s no doubt this will be a very divisive film for the Star Wars fans, especially those with fan theories that will perhaps be dismayed all their predictions did not come true. Still, I have to give Rian Johnson credit for going a little bolder by attempting to defy convention and not leave too many loose threads hanging by the end of the picture. The humor is still there, the space battles are more epic, and there are enough twists to keep the story interesting with no guarantees about who will survive. At the very least, Hamill’s performance is a major highlight, portraying Luke as the most badass Jedi that ever lived. If The Force Awakens was a fitting salute to Han Solo and Rogue One a tribute to making Darth Vader a fearsome foe, this movie is Luke’s time to shine as the brightest spark of heroism in this saga. The Force is certainly still with him.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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“Bumblebee” Swaps Insulting Action For Lighter Adventure

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As the first spin-off of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, BumbleBee is a huge shift from the usual gears. It’s as though Travis Knight took a good, hard look at the clunky and sloppy nature of the series and decided to give it an overhaul. Gone are the mounting and confusing story arcs that seemed to needlessly double with each sequel. The cynical nature has been removed, replacing the human and robot heroes with more quirky and heartfelt ones, albeit within the cartoonish realm of a 1980s adventure fit for kids. All of these changes don’t exactly make the film a stellar Transformers movie but it at least earns the title of being the best of the lot for the rather low bar it had to cross.

It helps that the Transformers lore is kept to a simpler story. As a prequel, we learn how BumbleBee was the first of the heroic Autobots to land on Earth after losing the battle for Cybertron against the evil Decepticons. His mission is to ensure that Earth is safe and free of Decepticon interference until the other Autobots arrive. But during a scuffle with one following evil robot, BumbleBee has his memory wiped and his voice taken, just in case you were wondering why the transforming robot only speaks through the radio.

Helping him to communicate is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic prodigy with a life in need of a tune-up. And unlike previous Transformers human tagalongs, she deserves it. She’s a smart kid, great with a wrench, has good taste in music, and is naturally depressed by her dad passing. Charlie feels that nobody can understand her so, naturally, the confused BumbleBee takes a liking to her easily as she teaches him about human life and music, something that the robot from another planet has opinions about. Who knew that Cybertronians have an instant disliking for Rick Astley?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without some evil Decepticons trying to take over the planet. Similar to everything else in the film, this plot has been pruned down to be less messy as only two Decepticons of Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) come to Earth for the invasion. Their mission is less convoluted; kill BumbleBee and kill all the humans. And you better believe they kill the gullible American government stooges that place their trust in these robots that pretend to be working with them. Don’t worry, parents; the robots will only zap the humans into liquid goo as opposed to bloody slop, for whatever that tweak may be worth.

Much of the junk has been scraped off the Bay-formers saga to be a more thoughtful and sympathetic film but some of the lameness remains. I don’t know why the film bothered to mention that the story takes place in 1987; the setting goes out of its way to prove this point, from ALF on the television to a VHS copy of The Breakfast Club to posters of The Thing on room walls. John Cena plays a cocky military agent who never quite crosses over into Wahlberg craziness with his meatheaded nature but still occupies the tired trope of the series with the military blindly trusting robots from space. Charlie has a neighborhood friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who wants to be her boyfriend but he thinks he’s too nerdy to ever have a girlfriend. I find it hard to believe a teenager with a rather trimmed body, which he does show off while shirtless, could have that much trouble finding a girl in a community of divers and beach lovers. But perhaps it’s a subversion of such a person, as the film blatantly tries to toss out the suggestion that Charlie and Memo will kiss by the end, as if nudging the audience to say, “See? We’re not THAT predictable.”

BumbleBee is Diet Transformers; all the robot action and adventure, none of the Michael Bay insanity, but loaded with artificial sweeteners. While I’d like to applaud the film for trying to take a sweeter and gentler route to its tale of giant robots that turn people into slime, it doesn’t feel like enough to carry the film past being a passive special effects adventure for the kids. Still, that may be the best part of the film with how it finally feels better targeted at its key demographic of kids, even inspiring for little girls that love the Transformers brand. Worth noting are the simplified designs of the robots that look more like the original cartoon than junkyard explosions. But if the spin-offs want to play more in the field of E.T. and The Iron Giant, they’ve got to tune up the heart to make me care more about a mute robot who can transform into a car. I was almost there but I need more character out of him than his innocent means of pranks and exploring a house he’s too big for. For a Transformers film, those scenes are cute moments. For stories of a kid and their alien pal, it’s par for the course.


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“Aquaman” Washes Out Christmas, “Bumblebee” and “Poppins” Close Behind

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Christmas weekend was a savage one. All manner of genre films came out to play, eager to be the biggest blockbuster of holidays. But there could only be one winner and it was the king of the oceans. Aquaman, the Jason Momoa starring superhero epic based on the DC Comics character, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a domestic gross of $67 million. Though it has a ways to go as such an epic to make its money back, the film is off to an enthusiastic start.

Following closely behind Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the Disney musical classic now starring Emily Blunt, earning a weekend debut of $23.5 million. Despite opening early on Wednesday, the film still only made about $32 million which isn’t looking especially strong for Disney during the holidays. This is especially concerning given that the film is a close call for the #2 slot as Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off of the titular heroic transforming robot, came up with a $21 million gross. That being said, Bumblebee’s opening is concerning given the big opening grosses of the previous Transformers film that were usually massive.

But that’s nothing compared to the low debuts of the films that were not intended as genre blockbusters. Second Act, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, would debut at #7 with a domestic gross of $6.4 million. Even further down the list is Welcome to Marwen, the new Robert Zemeckis directed drama starring Steve Carell, came in at #9 with a box office of $2.3 million. Brutal.

View the full top 10 box office results below:
Aquaman ($67,400,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($23,523,121)
Bumblebee ($21,610,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($16,635,000)
The Mule ($9,727,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($8,548,370)
Second Act ($6,480,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,702,425)
Welcome to Marwen ($2,366,560)
Mary Queen of Scots ($2,277,820)

Next weekend may be a bit of quiet one as we shall see how the films released on Christmas Day will fair. Holmes and Watson, the new Sherlock Holmes comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opens to 2,700 theaters. Vice, Adam McKay’s new biopic dramedy about Dick Cheney with Christian Bale playing the character, is opening to 2,300 theaters. Stan & Ollie, a biopic on Laurel & Hardy starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, will be in a limited number of theaters on December 28th.


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First Box Office Weekend of 2019 Finds “Aquaman” King (Again)

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It’s a new year and so we enter into the chilly month of January, usually reserved for Oscar nominations to strut their stuff and mediocre-to-decent films to swoop in and make a mint. Similar to last year, the first big new film a lukewarm horror picture. Escape Room, the horror film based on the party activity craze of escape rooms, debuted at #2 with a decent January take of $18 million. Not a terrible opening at all for such a horror film but most of its bigger gross was eaten up by Aquaman, the DC superhero epic that continues to make waves. Even though the film took a 41% dip from last weekend, the movie has currently $259 domestic with a worldwide gross total of $940 million. It’s a big success for DC Comics trying to catch up with Marvel Comics at the box office and Aquaman is still looking good coming into a slow January.

With Escape Room being the only major release, there are no big surprises for the shifting of placement. Mary Poppins Returns holds firm as a family film for winter, the domestic total now sitting at $138 million. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, is still just below with a domestic gross of $133 million. Still struggling to crack $100 million is Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off. Despite being the highest-rated Transformers movie by miles, the film has only made $97 million after three weekends.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The longest holdout in the top 10 box office is Ralph Breaks The Internet, Disney’s cyberspace adventure sequel. Released during Thanksgiving, the Disney animated film has to date made $187 million domestic after seven weekends. Just below it, however, is a film that has been in theaters for two weekends but has already seen a massive drop, Holmes and Watson, making headlines for being one of the worst films of the year with a descending box office.

View the full top 10 box office for the weekend below:

Aquaman ($30,700,000)
Escape Room ($18,000,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($15,773,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($13,010,000)
Bumblebee ($12,775,000)
The Mule ($9,040,000)
Vice ($5,803,490)
Second Act ($4,910,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,685,000)
Holmes and Watson ($3,400,000)

Next weekend will feature some bigger competition of dogs, clones, and soft human drama. A Dog’s Way Home, a spiritual sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, will debut in 3,000 theaters. Replicas, a sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves, will hit 2,500 theaters. The Upside, a dramedy where Bryan Cranston plays a paraplegic and Kevin Hart is an inept assistant, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. The battle is ultimately between A Dog’s Way Home and The Upside but I’m willing to bet a PG dog movie will take the top spot or about as high a spot it can muster with Aquaman still in play.


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