Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro

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Continuing where The Force Awakens ends, Rey (Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Hamill) and seeks to have him train her to become a Jedi. The First Order is pursuing what is left of The Resistance, led by General/Princess Leia Organa (Fisher).

I finally had the opportunity to see this movie. Now that I’m a few hours removed from seeing it, I can understand and appreciate why this movie is so divisive with the fans. I was thoroughly entertained by The Last Jedi, but there were elements of this movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about.  My initial reaction is that this film is superior to the prequels, and for those who say it is by far the worst Star Wars movie need to go back and watch Attack of the Clones, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Following the prequels, The Force Awakens was a breath of fresh air.  When I saw The Force Awakens the first time, I walked out thinking “This was thoroughly entertaining and I’m interested in seeing where this story and these new characters go.”  I saw and understood more of the flaws of that film with additional viewings. I had a similar experience seeing The Last Jedi in the theater today.  There were more things that bothered me about this movie, but on the whole it was entertaining and I am interested in seeing where this story goes moving forward.

I get the sense that Disney and the powers that be want to move forward with this franchise.  It is a necessary part for a film franchise that has existed for this long. I grew up with the original trilogy, and I still watch them on a semi-regular basis to this day. I have and continue to keep an open mind with the direction of the franchise. They are still telling a very entertaining story, and I am ok with the fact that it’s not the same Star Wars I grew up with.

Connecting original series characters with this trilogies introductions can be tricky. I think Rian Johnson does a decent job with this. The scenes with Luke and Rey, and a lot that goes on at the island for that matter, were among my favorite. Leia’s scenes, especially knowing that Carrie is gone, were especially touching.  And yes, I got a little choked up when the tribute to Carrie showed during the credits.  She’s missed, and it will be interesting to see what happens moving forward without Carrie.

One of the things I didn’t like about The Last Jedi was all the additional characters and subplots. It dilutes what you can do with the main characters and the main storyline. There are a lot of parts to this story.  The fight between Resistance and First Order, Rey and Kylo Ren (Driver) figuring out their place in this universe, Luke and the future of the Jedi order, Finn (Boyega) and Rose (Tran) and their mission, Poe Dameron (Isaac) and his contributions, and on and on and on. I wasn’t crazy about Rose. Her story is compelling, and it was interesting to see how she came to be the person she is, but I feel like that back story is another side trail that distracts from the main story. Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern) was an ok addition to the cast, but it’s another character you have to commit some time to in developing for this story.

I also wasn’t crazy about how humor was used at times. There were a few good laughs, but some of the humor is what I expect from a Marvel movie.  At times I feel like humor was overt and overused. I enjoy Star Wars humor because it’s more subtle and less “hardy har har” humor.  I don’t need Tony Stark in this film.

The Porgs were a waste of time.

By comparison, in The Empire Strikes Back, the conflict between the Empire and Rebel Alliance is virtually non-existent after the Battle of Hoth, and that allows for the entire focus of the movie to be on character development.  The war wasn’t even in the backdrop for most of that movie. Also no porgs.

I don’t want to give very much away, but I will say that despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Last Jedi.  I may see this one again in the theaters, in part because I enjoy the Star Wars franchise.  I find it highly entertaining and an enjoyable escape from everyday life.

Is it perfect? Not even close.

Will I see it again? Absolutely.

Was it a waste of my time? Nope.

Do I recommend seeing it? Yes, and try going in with an open mind.  It’s a movie, it’s meant to entertain.

Another thing I enjoyed about this particular viewing:  I saw this in IMAX 3D on a Thursday afternoon and there were maybe 30 people in the theater.  As I was leaving, four guys probably late 50s to early 60s were speculating about certain characters and talking about the movie the same way my friends and I would.  Those kinds of things, to me, are what makes the Star Wars franchise great.  It can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and allows a nice escape with an entertaining story and interesting characters.

My Rating: after I watch it another time or two.

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Movie #123: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, and Bruce Bennett

Academy Awards (1949):

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Walter Huston

Best Director: John Huston

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Motion Picture: Warner Bros.

Best Writing, Screenplay: John Huston

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.”

Down on their luck Americans Fred Dobbs (Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Holt) search for work in Mexico in 1925.  They recruit Howard (Huston), an old-time prospector, to search for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.

This film is an interesting character study on greed.  It’s interesting to see Bogart play a character so different from what he usually does.  He quickly gets paranoid and possessive at the first site of gold.  Though he’s not a character I cared for, his performance probably should have gotten him an Oscar nomination.  Huston’s Howard represents wisdom and experience, a real voice of reason.  Curtin, presumably younger than his fellow prospectors, waves back and forth in his loyalties within the group, and Holt gives a great performance in this at times conflicted character.

An interesting scene for me was when Curtin and Howard are discussing what they’ll do with the money they earn.  Each seems to have a good grasp of their lives after prospecting.  When Dobbs joins the conversation, though, he basically runs through all the vices and has no direction.  The contrast helps build the tension and distinguishes him from his fellow prospectors.

I also liked the pacing and balance of dramatic, comedic, and adventurous elements of the film.  Walter Huston gives an Oscar-worthy performance that has wisdom, sarcasm, and the moral compass the audience tends to follow when navigating a story like this.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was filmed largely on location in Mexico.  It also cost about 3 million dollars to make, a large sum at the time.  John Huston does a great job in filming with purpose.  There’s a good balance of long, wide shots, specifically when the Mexican gang approaches the group. I thought it was funny that the guys had a somewhat nonchalant attitude, knowing the gang was approaching but still taking time to eat some beans before the shootout began.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was entertaining and interesting to watch.  It’s been on my radar for a long time, and I’m glad I finally watched it.  I probably won’t see it again, but definitely recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Grumpier Old Men (1995)

Director: Howard Deutch

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau, Sophia Loren, Ann-Margaret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ann Guilbert, and Burgess Meredith

“I find you disgusting.”  “Well, just as long as you find me.”

Six months after the events of Grumpy Old Men, Melanie (Hannah) and Jacob (Pollack) are engaged, Max (Mathau) and John (Lemmon) are getting along as they help their children plan their wedding, John and Ariel (Margaret) are happily married, and Maria Ragetti (Loren) moves to Wabasha to turn Chuck’s Bait Shop into Ragetti’s, a romantic lakefront Italian ristorante.  Max and John do everything in their power to sabotage Ragetti’s, but Maria catches Max’s attention.

Though I usually get tired of movies that just repeat the same gags and rely on the same humor to the point where it gets annoyingly repetitive, Grumpier Old Men is the exception.  This film relies heavily on a lot of what made Grumpy Old Men great, but they advance the main and secondary stories in a way that keeps things fresh, and introducing a love interest for Max.  Using the same pleasantries Max and John exchange with each other makes sense since they’ve been friends/enemies virtually their whole lives.  Why change it at this point?

I enjoyed seeing some of the central themes get fleshed out in this movie.  Characters deal with getting older, finding and staying in love, and dealing with assorted family dynamics.  It’s interesting how much the younger generation is trying to help out their parent and the how the parent responds.  Jacob tries to get Max to do more than just “wait for another Ariel to drop into your life.” John tries to get Grandpa Gustafson to drink light beer or low-fat bacon.

Loren gives a great performance as Maria integrating into an already established cast.  She does a good job as a woman who wants to open a nice restaurant but also has a lot of relational baggage.  She is a formidable foe to Max and John and holds her own with Matthau as their relationship develops.  Having Mama Ragetti (Guilbert) in Grumpier Old Men gives Grandpa Gustafson a love interest and makes it easier to bring him to a more prominent supporting role in the film.

Though he was less prominent in the first film, Burgess Meredith delivers a lot of great lines in Grumpier Old Men.  He was better utilized in this film, whereas he spent most of his time in an ice shanty in Grumpy Old Men.  I especially like his scenes with Lemmon.  They do the father-son dynamic very well, and I especially love how John goes to his dad for advice even though he himself is retired.  The scene where John is going through the laundry list of what’s going on and is seeking out his dad’s advice, that scene always gets me.

It’s also interesting how similar background music is used with specific events in both films.  There are a lot of ways to do this wrong where it seems more repetitive and lazy, but it works in this movie.

As with its predecessor, Grumpier Old Men relies heavily on the comedic chemistry between the two lead actors, but also utilizes every performance to create a well-rounded, fun, heart-warming, and at times irreverent movie.

I enjoy it, I’ll see it again, I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Grumpy Old Men (1993)

Director: Donald Petrie

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau, Ann-Margaret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis, and Burgess Meredith

” I also know the only thing in life that you regret are the risks that you don’t take.”

Retired history teacher John Gustafson (Lemmon) and retired TV repairman Max Goldman (Matthau) have been sworn enemies, and next door neighbors, their entire lives.  Their rivalry only intensifies when Ariel Traux (Margaret), a college professor from California, moves in across the street in their small town of Wabasha, Minnesota.

I’ve seen this movie many times, mostly around the time it came out.  I was probably too young for Grumpy Old Men when came out, but since my parents and grandparents loved the movie, that made it ok for me to watch.  Although Lemmon and Matthau had done many movies together, this was my first exposure to either actor.  As I’ve gone back through and seen a few more of each individually and acting together, I’ve been able to see the great talent each actor has and the great chemistry they have with one another.  Gustafson and Goldman could easily be swapped for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple, Goldman is more working class and more of a slob whereas Gustafson is more straight-laced.

Though I may see this film through rose-colored glasses with fond memories from my childhood, revisiting Grumpy Old Men and its sequel Grumpier Old Men, has helped me have a better appreciation for each movie.  It may be because I have a different appreciation for the complexities in each characters lives.  I think I’ve been able to see this for more than just the comedic aspects.  There is also tragedy and conflict in each character.

This movie has a tremendous supporting cast.  Ossie Davis does great as the guy who cuts through the crap with John and Max.  He calls it like it is and makes the most of his scenes.  Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollack are great as John’s daughter Melanie and Max’s son Jacob.  Each does great with their own subplots (Melanie is in a bad marriage and Jacob is running for Mayor of Wabasha) and they do a great job putting these subplots within the main story.  Burgess Meredith has very limited screen time in Grumpy Old Men, but he makes his presence known, and delivers some great one liners.  I like that he is more prominent in Grumpier Old Men, and will reserve some of my thoughts on his performances for a review of that film.

Lemmon and Matthau showcase their chemistry in this movie.  Each character is widowed and dealing with his own problems.  It seemed only natural for their rivalry to rev up with Ariel entering their lives.  Though the characters are considering themselves lifelong enemies, at the core they do care about each other.  When Max realizes John is in trouble with the IRS, he does everything he can to help his neighbor.  The scene where John tells Max that Chuck died is very powerful.  John is taking his frustration out chopping wood, and upon sharing the news with Max, Max responds with anger.  The moment Max goes in and sees his hat from Chuck’s bait shop, the news finally hits him.

Ann-Margaret does a fine job as the worldly and at times eccentric Ariel.  She’s not overpowering, but definitely holds her own with the serious and comedic scenes in this movie.  I haven’t seen very many Ann-Margaret films, but she complements Lemmon and Matthau in her scenes with each actor.

There are a few moments in Grumpy Old Men that I don’t distinctly remember from watching this movie years ago that I just enjoyed now.  When John and Max are fighting on the frozen lake, Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) yells at the guys and they immediately stop and Max refers to him as Mr. Gustafson.  It’s humorous and interesting to me to see a man in his last 60s refer to someone older than him in a way that conveys respect and reverence.  It’s also interesting to see Jacob have a lot of the same mannerisms and use the same phrases as Max.  I realize he’s his son, but Petrie makes a point to have Jacob say lines like “Holy moly” and humming the same tune as his father did at the end of the movie.

This is an enjoyable movie to revisit.  I liked seeing more of the family relationship aspects in these characters, something I paid less attention to when I was younger.  That adds depth and enriches this movie.  I will definitely watch Grumpy Old Men again, though it will probably be a while before I do so.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #122: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, Vincent D-Onofrio, Adam Baldwin

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford

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Full Metal Jacket follows Private J.T. “Joker” Davis (Modine) from his Marine Corps training on Parris Island, South Carolina through his time as a combat correspondent for Stars and Stripes in Vietnam.

This is one of the definitive movies about the Vietnam War.  I think what sets Full Metal Jacket apart from other movies on the same topic is the grand scope of what life was like for a soldier in this war.  Other films, such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, launch straight into combat and don’t take the time to show the path these soldiers take to get to that war.

Full Metal Jacket is primarily known for roughly the first 45-50 minutes where Joker, along with Private Cowboy (Howard), Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (D’Onofrio) and the rest of the platoon take part in eight weeks of recruit training.  A large part of the training focuses on Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Emrey) and his attempt to whip Lawrence into fighting shape by any means necessary.

With his experience as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor during the Vietnam War, Emrey had originally been brought in as a consultant for that part of the film.  He quickly demonstrated a more competent and authentic portrayal compared to the actor who was originally playing the role.

Kubrick does a great job at going into the details and giving an authentic look at the emotional toll that intense training and circumstances of war has on each type of soldier.  It was especially hard for me to see the deterioration of Lawrence as he was repeatedly chastised both by Hartman and his platoon.  The nighttime beating he took was one of the roughest of the movie, and I really lost a lot of respect for Cowboy’s character at that point.

Though the actual war part of the film is less memorable, it is still very well done.  I’ve read that Animal Mother (Baldwin) represents what Lawrence would have been like had he made it to the war.  He has his one track mind and has truly become a killing machine.  Baldwin has said that he has come to appreciate the patience Kubrick had in making the best movie possible.

Though there is no perfect film, and liberties are taken when dealing with historical events, Full Metal Jacket humanizes and personalizes the Vietnam War in a way that sets it apart from other war movies.  I’ve seen this movie twice, and I don’t feel like I need to see it again.  It’s great, but it’s not one that needs to be seen over and over again.  I haven’t seen too many Kubrick movies, but this film confirms why he has the reputation as one of the great directors.  His time and attention to detail are very apparent.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Movie #121: The Sea Hawk (1940)

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Flora Robson

Academy Award Nominations (1941):

Best Art Direction: Anton Grot

Best Music, Scoring: Erich Wolfgang Korgold

Best Sound Recording: Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, Nathan Levinson

Best Special Effects (Photographic Effects): Byron Haskin, Sound Effects by Nathan Levinson

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“Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn), a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I (Robson) to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.” (from IMDB).

As a movie fan, I’m usually pretty easy to please.  In any film, even a terrible one, I try to find a redeeming and enjoyable quality.  Though I’m far more familiar with modern movies, this project (that I’ve apparently been on a very long break from) has expanded my horizons and helped me gain an appreciation for the different eras of film making.  Though I’ve seen a number of the major movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era, I would have never watched The Sea Hawk without doing this project.

The Sea Hawk is entertaining for its time.  The storytelling is good, there is a good balance of action and drama.  Dialogue is intentional and well placed.  There isn’t too much emphasis on the political elements or the action on the high seas.  The scenes in Queen Elizabeth’s court and aboard Thorpe’s ship complement each other and advance the story.  All the characters have their various charms, and the pacing worked.

Though I’m very limited on his work, it makes sense that this is probably one of Errol Flynn’s biggest roles.  He does a fine job of bringing out the various traits of his character.  He is calculated and reasonable in his action as a captain.  His character is beloved by his crew, dreaded by his enemies, and respected by his peers.  He also excels in his romantic involvement with Don Jose’s (Rains) niece Dona Maria (Marshall).  While the progression of their relationship is a bit cliché, it still works.

I came in with little expectation.  The pleasant surprise for me in this film was Flora Robson.  I’m familiar with Elizabeth I as a historical figure, and Robson’s performance was great because she demonstrates strength and reasonable judgement as a leader.  The scene where she puts the needs of her people ahead of what she personally believed was the best course of action as especially touching.  It was probably a combination of good writing, direction, and acting that made this scene stand out.

The Sea Hawk brought back Director Michael Curtiz, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and actors Flynn, Rains, and Alan Hale, a winning combination from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Robin Hood to make comparisons and contrasts between the two films, so all I can say is they found a formula that worked and so they kept it going.

Will I watch this one again? Probably not.

Am I glad I watched it? Yes.  The version I watched was the colorized version, so if I were to watch it again, it would be to see it in its original black and white format.

Would I recommend seeing it? Yes, as least once.

Movie #120: Once (2006)

Director: John Carney

Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglovia

Academy Awards (2007):

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova for the song ‘Falling Slowly’

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Guy (Hansard), a street musician who also works in his father’s vacuum repair shop, meets Girl (Irglova), a pianist who works odd jobs to support her mother and daughter.  They collaborate to create a demo tape for Guy.

Once is a unique musical in that it doesn’t have the flash of your typical musical.  This low-budget film shot in a more primitive fashion adds a layer of authenticity and realism that doesn’t exist in the traditional musical.  No over-the-top performances, just people making music.

I was especially impressed with Hansard and Irglova’s performances.  They are musicians first, not actors.  Their performances are very natural, and play well for the films rough and authentic feel.

The soundtrack for this movie is excellent.  I still listen to a number of the songs regularly even now.  I know it’s probably not for everyone, but I enjoy it thoroughly, even now.  I also like how the songs are integrated in the film almost seamlessly.

I heard part of an interview they did for NPR a few years back.  It was interesting to hear their side of making the film.  The dinner party they attend was shot in Hansard’s flat, and his mother was one of the ladies who sang at that party.  Little things like that intrigue me.

I hadn’t watched Once in a number of years.  One thing that I noticed this time around was a bit of a diminishing return.  I’m not sure how this one will hold up in say, 10 or 20 more years.  Still enjoyable though. The diminishing return may have more to do with me though.  Once was released when I was in college, and perhaps it doesn’t have the same effect on me now that I’m a little older.

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Once has seemed like a movie that you either love or can’t stand.  There is no middle ground.  I think the characters are enjoyable, the music is entertaining, and it’s a nice modern twist on a musical.  I’d recommend seeing this one, even if it’s only once.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.