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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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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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“Alita” Fights For First, Romance and Horror Behind in Box Office

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Valentine’s Day weekend wasn’t exactly the weekend where the romantic comedy took the top spot. But, surprise, the top spots were taken by a sci-fi action picture and an animated comedy about toys. #1 for the weekend was Alita: Battle Angel, the cyberpunk tale based on the manga and directed by Robert Rodriguez, premiering to a debut of $27 million. Though at the top spot, the film cost $170 million so it remains to be seen how well the film will do over the course of the next few weeks when it goes up against other blockbusters.

At #2 in its second weekend is The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, the animated sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, making another $21 million. Though not terrible for its second weekend, the film has only made $62 million so far, way less than the previous film. It, too, remains to be seen if it can weather the storm of new films on the horizon.

We now come to the romantic comedy for the weekend, Isn’t It Romantic, a satire on rom-coms starring Rebel Wilson. Debuting at #3, the film made $14 million, not as strong even when considering that it debuted on the 13th for a box office total of $20 million. The other new film, Happy Death Day 2U, didn’t fare much better with an early debut and a weekend total of $9.8 million. Although it should be noted that Happy Death Day 2U was a somewhat cheap production at $9 million so the film has already made its money back.

Though the box office was pretty low all around, the drops were fairly low, with the thriller Cold Pursuit and the horror The Prodigy taking the biggest drops of 45% and 46%. With the lowest drops, no surprises, were the soft dramas of The Upside and Green Book, both proving to have the legs to carry themselves over months in the box office.

Take a look at the full top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

Alita: Battle Angel ($27,800,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($21,215,000)

Isn’t It Romantic ($14,210,000)

What Men Want ($10,920,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($9,816,000)

Cold Pursuit ($6,000,000)

The Upside ($5,590,000)

Glass ($3,859,000)

The Prodigy ($3,150,065)

Green Book ($2,751,000)

Next weekend is all about the dragons and warriors. How to Train Your Dragon 3, the animated fantasy adventure of the on-going saga, will hit over 4,000 theaters. Fighting with My Family, a comedy about a family of professional fighters, will debut in over 2,500 theaters.





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