All posts by Josh Hains

“I’m not fallin’ all over myself to talk about much anywhere, Jack.” Manhunter Revisited – by Josh Hains

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
– Friedrich Neitzsche

Will Graham doesn’t want to take the job Jack Crawford is offering, and we can hardly blame him. We are able to infer that whatever happened to him was of such a horrific nature that it caused his retirement from the FBI as a criminal profiler. We later learn in little bits and pieces (and not in an unnecessary prologue; I’m looking at you, Red Dragon) that a confrontation with the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor left him physically scarred from presumably gruesome injuries, and mentally broken. Through his body language and the stern, almost melancholic tone of his voice, we discern his reluctance, his unpreparedness, and we can sense the deep pain broiling beneath his calm surface. His peaceful existence in Marathon, Florida with his wife Molly (Kim Griest) and son Kevin is now on the brink of being shattered, all thanks to Jack’s perseverance. All it takes for him to crawl back into darkness is one look at a photograph of the deceased Leeds family, and the knowledge that he can help track down this one last psychopath, as if catching the killer will somehow put to rest his own inner demons from his years as a profiler. Easier said than done.

I revisited Manhunter on September 4th, over two years since the last time I’d seen it in March of 2016, and have given myself these last twelve days to absorb the film all over again. I had forgotten that for all of the darkness, despair, and violence, Manhunter is a beautifully photographed film, particularly during the opening scenes that establish Will’s moral quandary, and the serene dream sequence that occurs when Will falls asleep on a plane later in the picture. Even if Manhunter was somehow a genuinely awful movie, I believe I’d still remember those jaw droppingly gorgeous images conjured up by director Michael Mann and the director of photography Dante Spinotti. It certainly helps that I was watching it in high definition.

We later see that Will Graham (William Petersen) was indeed unprepared for this final job when he comes face to face with Dr. Lecktor in his cell, and experiences some manner of anxiety attack that sends him rushing out of the colossal building he’s incarcerated in. I recognized as with previous viewings, that unlike other interpretations of Lecter (spelled “Lecktor” only here in Manhunter, and spelled “Lecter” in the books by author Thomas Harris, and the other films and television shows) that reach for grandiose heights with the kind of theatricality one might expect from a Broadway production, Dr. Lecktor as played by the great Brian Cox, is a mild mannered, relaxed, everyman take on the character. He’s undoubtedly a psychopath, but his menace doesn’t come though in how he speaks but rather in what is spoken. This approach makes him all the more chilling than later versions because we know from human history that many of the most vile beings who have ever walked this earth, walked upon it in a manner as calmly, politely, and “normally” as Lecktor presents himself to be. What’s more frightening to you, reader: the Lecter you know is crazy before he’s ever opened his mouth because he practically smells of insanity, or the Lecktor you never suspect is insane until you’ve awoken under his knife?

Of course, no serial killer thriller is complete without the law enforcement affiliated lead, here personified with a palpable depth and a grounded everyman quality by William Petersen, in a performance as subdued and internalized as Cox’s Lecktor. Petersen never once strays into any kind of territory that would evoke feeling of his performance appearing fake or forced. He’s as natural as they come, and were it not for the knowledge that he is in fact, merely behaving for the screen, one might assume from his naturalism in Manhunter, To Live And Die In L.A., and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, that maybe he’s the real deal, a cop turned actor like his co-star in Manhunter, the late Dennis Farina. Farina, who was a police officer in the Chicago Police Department’s burglary division for 18 years before Michael Mann used him as a consultant on his feature film debut, Thief (for which Farina also had a small role as an enforcer), turns in an equally as grounded, and entirely believable and authentic performance as Jack Crawford.

And then there’s the cause of Will’s return to profiling, the serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy” for the bite marks he leaves on the bodies of his victims post mortem, better known to us as Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan, who also has a small role in Mann’s Heat). His height and implied strength make him an imposing figure, though he’s also a shy little boy tucked away inside this monstrous shell, afraid to show his cleft palate, and obsessed with William Blake’s painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun”, later witnessed in a horrific scene with one of Dollarhyde’s victims, the sleazy reporter Freddy Lounds (the great Stephen Lang). That same painting has inspired an alternate personality borne out of his psychopathy he calls “Great Red Dragon”, which comes to life when he seemingly can’t control urges of both violent and sexual natures. Thanks in large part to Noonan’s eerie performance, and the subtle writing of Dollarhyde by Mann himself, the thin line between compassion and love, witnessed in intimate moments between Dollarhyde and blind co-worker Reba McClane (Joan Allen) with whom he starts a relationship with, and uncontrollable murderous rage, is narrower than the edge of a piece of paper, creating a figure all the more real and subtly terrifying.

It wouldn’t be a Michael Mann film without a memorable score or the use of a popular song, and Manhunter is no exception, complete with a thrilling, pulsating score from Michael Rubini, and The Reds, and the incredibly effective, memorable use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” during the climactic confrontation between Dollarhyde and law enforcement led by Graham and Crawford. The use of Red 7’s “Heartbeat” over the credits offers up a welcomed upbeat conclusion to an otherwise dark picture.

In my revisitation of Manhunter, I took note of something that I had noticed the very first time I saw Manhunter in my teens (at the very least 11 years ago), and that has stuck with me ever since: the scene when Will visits the Leeds family home to scour the crime scene for clues to their murders, which is also where I came intonthe movie all those years ago when I caught it on television. This interpretation of Will Graham doesn’t just stand in the bedroom of the deceased Mr. and Mrs. Leeds and state into a tape recorder what he thinks occurred, like later versions. He scans the room before he ever says a word, his eyes circling the room from left to right, his mind at work taking in all of this visual information and formulating his idea of what happened simultaneously. When he’s done absorbing the scene, he speaks, low and taking his time, telling us how he thinks they died, and more, in full graphic detail. While we thankfully never bear witness to the events that actually occurred, we move onto the next scene with a clear understanding of what more than likely happened, without the sensation that we just listened to an unnecessarily long exposition dump. It’s a bone chilling scene, given the terrible subject matter, but an effective one we might not soon forget.

I’ve also come to recognize as I’ve grown older, that this same scene also conveys what it is about Will’s brilliant skillset as an FBI criminal profiler that compelled Jack Crawford to ask Will to step out of retirement to help him capture this one last criminal in the first place; to knowingly pull him out of paradise only to thrust him into a personal hell that endangers his family and himself. And why Will Graham said okay.

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“You vicious snowflake.” A review of Mandy – By Josh Hains

The last time I saw a movie as batshit-fucking-insane as this year’s Mandy, a young woman was hacking apart her demonically possessed friends during a rainstorm of literal blood in Evil Dead (2013). And just like Evil Dead before it, Mandy earns its insanity by establishing it right from frame one with an epigraph containing the last words of the deceased murderer Douglas Roberts (who killed a man whilst under the influence of drugs):
“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”, a stanza which is evocative of the impending descent into a similarly drug induced murderous frenzy the character of Red will endure.

The plot is so exceptionally simple you can practically predict the ending from a mile away: happily in love lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the introverted artist and convenience store worker Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, who doesn’t have to stretch much here but is still great nonetheless), are living a peaceful existence near the Shadows Mountains of the Mojave desert in California, when the megalomaniacal cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his drug addled Jesus-freak followers and a few near demonic drug fueled psycho bikers who growl and roar like pissed off dragons, kidnap and murder Mandy, and Red sets out on an obvious path of bloodthirsty revenge. You’ve seen plenty of movie with similar plots to this one, haven’t you?

While your answer may be a resounding yes, what separates Mandy from the typical revenge thriller is how the movie is executed by director Panos Cosmatos (the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, whom directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Cobra), with lush and often trippy visuals occuping the space between small bouts of impactful dialogue, or gory killings at the hands of the broken hearted Red. After kickstarting the movie with the aforementioned metal mantra, and accompanied by a haunting score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that sounds like a 2 hour theme for the arrival of an apocalypse, Cosmatos beautifully conveys the idyllic lifestyle of Mandy and Red through lush, high contrasted photography while simultaneously gradually disintegrating the visuals into a trippy style that operates like a fusion between the surrealism of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the nightmarishly hallucinatory trip of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, as the film’s events become more hellish and violent.

This first half of the movie is literally separated from its second half by the title card “Mandy”, followed by Red suffering an all-out emotional and psychological breakdown that allows Cage to go “full Cage” without the scene itself feeling fake or forced. Red then arms himself for bloody battle, collecting a crossbow from an old friend (Bill Duke) forging an axe that would give Thor heart palpations, and unleashes his near animalistic, boiling like an active volcano rage upon Mandy’s murderers. And yes, the rumours are true, there is indeed a one-on-one chainsaw duel, and it’s every bit as metal, badass, and grotesque as you’re wishing it to be. And no, that’s not the goriest death in Mandy.

Of course, Mandy does have a couple flaws in its blood drenched body armour. A confrontation between Mandy and the cult that provides deeper insight into their madness serves great purpose, but ultimately felt like it brought the movie to a grinding halt until this prolonged sequence finally came to a close. I also found a supporting performance by an unknown actor as a cult member who I can only assume was intentionally meant to annoy the audience, didn’t match the tone of the movie and was distractingly campy, though thankfully limited in their screen time.

Mandy may not be a revolutionary, game changing motion picture by any means, but along with the similarly slick and brutal (and goddamned great) revenge flick Upgrade, it is the kind of gloriously gory genre fare that Hollywood used to make in fistfuls, and needs to keep producing at this level of craftsmanship. So if you’re looking to spend the night all cozied up with a violent movie pulsing on your television, or screaming in your ears at your go-to theatre, look no further than the blood soaked beast that is Mandy.

*Mandy is currently in limited theatrical release and available through VOD and iTunes across North America, and features a brief post-credits sequence.

“I can’t do that.” A review of Sicario: Day of the Soldado – by Josh Hains

In my review for Sicario, I noted that I had some difficulty shaking the movie so to speak, because seeing it in theatres had been such an impactful, resonant experience for me. I ended that review by saying, “It is assuredly an openly nihilistic (in the best way possible), unflinching examination of the thin grey line that separates wolves from sheep, and hunters from the hunted, with one hell of a bloodthirsty, tortured man in Alejandro dragging us blindly into a realm where darkness reaches out to darkness with battered hands and consumes its soul. And ours.”, and I think that ruling also applies to its sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which plays a lot less like your average movie sequel, and much more like the intended standalone spin-off that was being advertised.

A group of suicide bombers walk into a crowded Kansas City grocery store and murder 15 innocent people, including a mother and her young child, during the most disturbing and frightening sequence in either Sicario movie that lets you know immediately, this will be a significantly darker venture than what came before. The American government suspects that Mexican cartels are now illegally transporting Islamic territory across the border (sound like anyone we know?) and in reaction to this suspicion Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) gives CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) carte blanche to combat the increasing threat of these ruthless cartels. So of course Matt calls up his “big dog”, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), to help him wage a war between the major cartels, which includes killing a high level lawyer for one of the cartels, and the kidnapping of Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of one of the cartel kingpins. In time, things go south fast when the President issues an order to the CIA to abandon the mission and erase all proof of American involvement in the false flag operation including Isabela, pushing Alejandro into brutal protector mode having bonded with her, pitting him against Graver and his team.

By now you have likely heard that for some, the absence of Sicario director Denis Villeneuve, the late composer Johann Johannsson, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the Kate Macer character portrayed by Emily Blunt, is deeply felt throughout the entire running time of the movie. While Roger Deakins may not be the name behind the camera, Dariusz Wolksi does a remarkable job emulating the style and palette of Deakins’s work on the first movie, while also projecting a grittier, grimier image that adds to the low-key realism of the film, and the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir does a fine job of emulating Johannsson’s magnificent, dread inducing score of Sicario. Filling in for Villeneuve, Stefano Sollima successfully replicates the same style, atmosphere, and tone of the first movie, in a way that allows us to feel like we are back in that same world, but experiencing it through a different set of eyes.

There is no doubt in my mind that both Kate Macer, and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), could have been incorporated into Soldado in a multitude of ways if the script had gone in a partially different direction, much to the appeasement of those who were unable to see past their absence (more specifically, Kate’s absence), citing it as a major downfall of the movie. The question I have for those same naysayers is, how? How do you make her return feel natural and organically constructed, and not forced and unnatural?

Having seen the direction Soldado (which means “soldier” when loosely translated from Spanish) travels in without Kate (and Reggie), there is no denying that Soldado would have been a vastly different movie altogether had the character been brought back. Perhaps in the script for the impending third Sicario movie there is an opportunity to bring her back. Perhaps she experiences a personal loss or attempt on her life by the hands of the cartel, compelling her to become a Sicario like Alejandro. Maybe she joins Matt Graver’s task force because Alejandro was right, and nothing made sense to her American ears, she doubted everything they did, but in the end understood why it happened. Maybe she has no place in that movie either. Who knows? What I do know is, in my eyes her affiliation with Alejandro and Matt came to a close before Sicario ended, just as Alejandro told her the last lines of the movie: “You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.” Sure, I would have enjoyed her presence in this standalone spin-off, I do not doubt that Blunt would have knocked out yet another terrific performance, and Soldado would have been better for it, but I’m perfectly okay without her being there.

I disagree with the notion that the violence of Soldado is in any way, exploitive, or over the top, or unnecessarily ugly, which differing opinions suggesting that the movie only contains this violence because the filmmakers weren’t smart enough to convoy anything else, and not because it needed to be there. Obviously the violence is in service of the plot, and it occurs naturally so. In Sicario, the task force operated within a particular set of rules of engagement, including not firing unless fired upon, which we saw come into effect during the notorious border scene. Here in Soldado, carte blanche allows them to kill freely, so when they swiftly execute a truckload of gang members as efficiently as they did those border crossing cartel members, without having to be fired upon, it inherently creates an ugly aura to the violence, perfectly befitting of the new rule free, carte blanche perspective of this horrific crime infested world established in Sicario.

As one would expect from the next Sicario movie, the performances across the board are once again top notch. While actors like Jeffrey Donovan (reprising his role from the first movie), Matthew Modine, and Catherine Keener add gravitas and depth to their supporting roles with subtle nuances in their physicality, and grounded, authentic delivery of dialogue, it’s the principal trio who will take the most credit for truly knocking it out of the park. Anyone underwhelmed by Isabela Moner in Transformers: The Last Knight (which I haven’t seen, yet) will be pleased as punch to see her impress with a performance that elevates what could have been another in a long line of shallow kidnapping victim performances. Josh Brolin still so effortlessly manages to tow the thin line of playing someone with an intimidating record and a hefty amount of authority, who can be coldly serious, calculated, and unflinchingly, efficiently brutal if need be, while also projecting a relaxed “Chill out bro, let’s go catch some waves,” kind of attitude that allows Matt Graver apt exist within the Sicario world as a multi-dimensional character, and not merely a one-sided archetype.

I hold particular fondness for the way in which Taylor Sheridan writes Alejandro, and the subtle way Del Toro has portrayed him across both films, and has stolen every scene he’s been in. He cuts through any given scene (and both movies in their entirety) like a hot knife through butter, a true scene stealer but in a quiet and controlled manner. One might be inclined to incorrectly categorize the performances as minimalist, with so few lines because he convinced both Villeneuve and Sollima to allow him to remove lines so he may play in silence more often, adding to the allure and mystery of the Sicario while his powerful performance, quite often nothing more than the look in his eyes and/or the expression upon his face, helps us see the living layers within the man. The softness we first saw from him in Sicario, that showed care in how Kate was feeling after the attack on her, comes through all the more in tender scenes between him and Isabela, and during a delightful scene with a deaf man.

Make no mistake, the cold ferocity is still boiling like molten lava within him, it’s just that we are privileged to see more of the man who used to wear that skin long before the land of wolves tuned him into one.

“Why did you try to kill me?” A review of Hereditary – by Josh Hains

I do not hate, or dislike, Hereditary. I do not like it either, though I do avidly admire it. To clarify, it is difficult for me to say I like a movie that is so atmospherically dour, so tonally bleak, and so disturbingly grotesque, that makes me feel like I need to bathe in molten lava to burn away the residue of it. However, it’s easy for me to say I admire nearly everything about it.

The same can be said for similarly dark and bleak cinematic ventures like Sicario, You Were Never Really Here (my current vote for the best film of 2018), and Annihilation, to name a trio. Hereditary is as joyless an experience as they come, which makes it inherently difficult to for me recommend to friends of mine whose humongous appetites for horror are in desperate need of some quenching. This isn’t your archetypal, audience friendly and accessible popcorn horror flick one could take a date to and enjoy being scared from, complete with ample cheap or earned jump scares (such as The Conjuring), or heaps of deliciously over the top gory carnage (like in The Cabin in the Woods). I don’t find Hereditary scary per se, just unsettling and disturbing, much like iconic but hollow The Shining.

It is however, the kind of intricate, meticulously crafted psychological horror movie that uptight horror cinema snobs are constantly reminding the rest of us that Hollywood so rarely constructs and releases these days. Nearly every facet of the movie, from the performances (Toni Collette is truly Oscar worthy with her passionately raw performance of a fractured soul) to the cinematography to the editing to the eerie sound design, is handled with top notch laser guided precision worthy of the heaps of praise it’s received for months now since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st. It might not be the best horror movie of the year (which is easily A Quiet Place by miles), or the best movie of the year for that matter (that’d be a huge stretch, considering that honour should most definitely be bestowed upon You Were Never Really Here), but it’s certainly a great little horror picture in its own right.

As great as those and other elements are, the movie becomes dreadfully problematic in the script department after the initial 45 minutes or so. Initially, the movie has absolutely no problem both setting and maintaining a particular psychological horror aura, which is rather sadly, gradually pushed to the side after a major event in the first half hour of the movie, in favour of typical paranormal horror elements. This leads to an ending (that will go unspoiled here), that despite being set-up right from scene one onward, and makes sense to the overarching narrative that’s been told leading up to that point, feels ported over from The Witch (another horror release by the same studio that produced Hereditary, A24), and that doesn’t match the tone of everything that’s come beforehand, and requires one too many suspensions of disbelief in the laughably ludicrous twists. Aside from the tonality issues derived from an unnatural shift in the tone at the midway point in the movie, and a nearly unforgivably ridiculous tacked on ending that doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie, Hereditary is a masterful psychological horror movie bound for the glory of classic horror movie status, though those tonality and ending issues will likely haunt it for decades to come.

As I observed in an article I can’t recall the source of a couple of days ago regarding Hereditary, it’s the “other kind” of horror film, the meticulously crafted, bleak, and unrewarding kind, a rare find these days. The film studio A24 (whom released Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night), along with Paramount (who’ve also had divided reaction with mother, Annihilation, and the Cloverfield series) and others, seem passionately keen on continuing to churn out these more obscure and psychologically perplexing and taxing horror movies.

I don’t blame them for wanting to.

“I will protect you. I promise.” A spoiler free review of A Quiet Place by Josh Hains

A Quiet Place will be starting, the first frames slowly unfolding, and your audience will probably still be talking, their voices filling the air. Not too loudly, but loudly enough for the noise to annoy you, to grate on your nerves and make you wish you could shout at them to ‘shut up’, or worse. The ruffling of popcorn and candy bags, and the munching of said delicious delights will only further cloud the air. They need to stop making noise, you can’t hear the movie. But within the first half a minute of the movie your audience will have grown so incredibly quiet, the dropping of a pin against the floor would echo like thunder throughout the room, because they’ve realized that while you can’t actually hear much of anything, save for the scrapes of bare feet across a floor, or the slight thump of a pill bottle against a counter top, you still have to listen, and these small sounds are being drowned out by bigger sounds. The dead silence of your audience will become a requirement. John Krasinski has forced you into silence and a world devoid of big sounds, leaving you with the blowing winds, the rustling of grass and leaves, the crunching of white sand beneath bare feet. You and your audience won’t be able to anticipate when the louder sounds, like the effects of a toy rocket, or the screeching of the alien monsters rushing to snatch their potential victim (and in doing so setting the stakes of the movie), will come, and so each and every one of you will be on the edge of your seat in stone silence, fearful of the louder sounds yet to come, bracing for their impacts in the hopes you won’t jump out of your skin. All this, and the movie hasn’t even cut to black and shown you the title card yet. Imagine 90 consecutive minutes of this, and how suspenseful, tense, and quiet the experience will become long before the final frames snap to black.

Now imagine living in a world where you can’t make a sound, or the fast moving blind aliens that attack those same sounds will rip you to shreds. Imagine having to walk across long trails of sand everywhere you venture outside because sand is quieter to tread than twigs and grass. Imagine playing the board game Monopoly with balls of cotton, because the if you’re too loud using the metal car, one of those monsters will come a knocking. Imagine being pregnant like the mother, due in two or three weeks, and the fear that the sounds of a newborn baby’s cries will bring death to your doorstep. Imagine being hearing impaired like the daughter, unable to tell if you’re making noise, let alone how loud it could be. Picture being afraid of every sound like the son, scared of what lurks in the shadows and the idea that the loud noises you could make will get you killed. Try to think of the pressure you must feel being the father, the primary protector of your family, the resourceful one that’s kept most of you alive for over a year. How much longer can you keep it up? What if you can’t protect the ones you love? Put yourself in the shoes of the Abbott family (John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe). You’ll grow to care for them so much that the thought of harm coming to any one of them will only further enhance the creeping sensation of suspense you’ll undoubtedly feel. The performances, so subtle and nuanced in their presentation, reliant on facial expressions and physicality, including American sign language, will quietly blow you away. And the scares, when they come, will remind you that the best of jump scares work not because they’re loud, but rather because they strike when you are least expecting them to, much like this film’s monsters. A Quiet Place will make whatever you’ve conjured up in your mind look like Sesame Street by comparison, as nothing I have said up until this point can prepare you for this movie, because I’ve hardly revealed a thing about this brilliant lean thriller.

Don’t wait to see it on Netflix, go see A Quiet Place on the biggest screen you can find with a top notch sound system and a packed house. See it writ large and booming in your ears. To not see this likely classic of the sci-fi horror/thriller genre in such a fashion will do yourself, the movie, and the white-knuckling experience of it all an irreplaceable disservice. You’ll thank me later.

“It’s time for the Jedi… to end.” A spoiler review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi – by Josh Hains 

Thirty-seven years ago, The Empire Strikes Back subverted audience expectations by taking the story and characters in new directions that, for lack of better word, no one saw coming. Han Solo was frozen in carbonite late in the movie, and Luke Skywalker lost his right hand in the lightsaber duel with Darth Vader that revealed his biological connection to the man beneath the mask. Empire itself had a divided reaction, with some viewers angry that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, or that Han had been frozen, but thanks to the lack of internet in 1980, this division was nowhere near as caustic as it is now. Today, The Empire Strikes Back is lauded for the geoundbreaking risks it took in evolving the characters and story, and one would assume the risks involved in the storytelling of The Last Jedi would be received similarly. Oddly enough, it’s even more divisive than any if us could have expected, and thanks to the social media’s manner of letting every voice be heard no matter how asinine it may be, this division is infinitely more caustic. 

I know a lot of my fellow Star Wars fans went into The Last Jedi with their own fan theories and fictions bouncing around in their minds, and their expectations understandably high. This is Star Wars after all. It’s okay if you didn’t like the movie for a variety of reasons, from the performances to the CGI to the score. It’s also perfectly okay if you loved this movie for the same reasons other seem to hate it. However, calling a movie “bad”, or claiming it has ruined your childhood because your fan theories didn’t pan out, isn’t well thought out, rationally minded criticism, and it doesn’t make a movie bad. That’s not how cinema works. This hyperbole laced tantruming makes me appreciate the rational conversations I’ve had with others who don’t like the movie, or don’t like it as much as I do, all the more. Remember folks, it’s just a movie. 

I have seen The Last Jedi twice. Once for the experience of seeing the movie for the first time loud and writ large, the second to see if my reaction was strengthened or weakened by an additional viewing. After the second viewing, I came to the conclusion that most of the problems I had with the movie had dissappeared, and I was left with just one gaping problem that I simply can’t overlook. Thankfully, the rest of the movie built around that singular problem more than make up for the damages. I am happy to report that while it may not be my favourite entry in the series (I don’t know which one is, to be truthful), it is certainly beloved by me. Warts and all, I adore this motion picture. 

By now you should may know the basic plot of the eighth film in the Skywalker saga. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) are battling the First Order in wide open space. Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) head to a gorgeous new locale known as Canto Bight to acquire assistance in fighting the First Order. And Rey (Daisy Ridley) is confined to Ahch-To, trying desperately to persuade a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the battle against The First Order and put an end to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) reign. That’s not saying too much, is it? 

The gaping problem I was referring to in an earlier paragraph comes in the form of the plot thread involving Finn and Rose and their adventure of sorts to Canto Bight. The events that unfold here are do not affect the main narrative of the movie, and only seem to affect the characters involved in this plot in the moment, or soonly. I appreciate being shown how rich war profiteers live, how their intense gambling and partying also seem second nature to them by the time we meet them. It’s a shame then that their modes of gambling are too Earth-like, lacking any real imagination or creativity. 

I also took issue with the character of Rose, who I didn’t find to be a compelling character, and whose portrayal by Kelly Marie Tran lacked chemistry between herself and John Boyega (Finn). Had Rose’s arc ended shortly after she stuns Finn into a brief slumber, I would have been okay with it, but because Rian Johnson instead pairs her up with Finn, I felt like I was forced to suffer through watching a vaguely interesting character without a worthwhile character arc, who is as out of place in this movie as a Deadpool cameo would have in this year’s Logan. The forced and otherwise jarring and completely unnecessary romantic desire Rose holds for Finn (but he doesnt seem to reciprocate in the slightest), conjured up on the salty grounds of Crait that causes her to crash her speeder into his while he’s attempting a suicide run against a powerful First Order weapon, is as asinine as saying this movie ruined your childhood. It’s all fine entertainment, but this sole portion of the movie is its greatest weakness. 

There’s plenty of greatness to be found elsewhere, but for my money’s worth, I found true greatness in three places. Firstly, the elongated opening scene, once the action kicks in after a couple of humourous gags, is a frontrunner for the best space battle in Star Wars film history, especially becausit contains a brilliant white knuckling sequence where Rose’s soon to be deceased sister Paige (Veronica Ngo) has to recover a device that will allow her to drop the enormous payload of bombs aboard the ship she’s on. Secondly, there is the popular throne room fight scene around three quarters of the way through the movie, wherein Rey and Kylo face off against Snoke’s well trained private guards. It’s a dazzling, inventive, and thrilling action scene, bound for iconic status in no time at all. And lastly, there’s the scene near the very end of the film in which Luke Force projects himself onto the battlefield of Crait to distract Kylo while the remaining Resistance fighters escape the clutches of the hell bent Sith, before Luke is revealed to still be on Ahch-To. He seemingly becomes one with the Force and peacefully vanishes into the air. That he does so to the tune of John Williams’ beautifully composed and iconic Binary Sunset track from Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), made the moment all the more moving and powerful for this fan, whose favourite scene in Star Wars is in fact the original Binary Sunset, though this scene sure gives it a run for its money.  

In the opening line of his review for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the late movie critic Roger Ebert offered up the following sentiment: “If it were the first “Star Wars” movie, “The Phantom Menace” would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough. But this is the fourth movie of the famous series, and we think we know the territory; many of the early reviews have been blase, paying lip service to the visuals and wondering why the characters aren’t better developed. How quickly do we grow accustomed to wonders,”. That quote has stuck with me like dirt under my fingernails, and I can’t help but apply its unwavering logic to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My mind wanders to the finale of my favourite movie of last year, La La Land, which posed a delightful what-could-have-been sequence, an alternate timeline if you will. Perhaps in another timeline of our human history, The Last Jedi was the first of the Star Wars movies, lauded by many for generations to come, and praised for the risks it took in creating something new and unique. Perhaps not. Who knows what could have been. 

“This is not going to go the way you think!” A spoiler free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi – by Josh Hains  

Thirty-seven years ago, The Empire Strikes Back subverted audience expectations by taking the story and characters in new directions that, for lack of better word, no one saw coming. Han Solo was frozen in carbonite late in the movie, and Luke Skywalker lost his right hand in the lightsaber duel with Darth Vader that revealed his biological connection to the man beneath the mask. Empire itself had a divided reaction, with some viewers angry that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, or that Han had been frozen, but thanks to the lack of internet in 1980, this division was nowhere near as caustic as it is now. Today, The Empire Strikes Back is lauded for the geoundbreaking risks it took in evolving the characters and story, and one would assume the risks involved in the storytelling of The Last Jedi would be received similarly. Oddly enough, it’s even more divisive than any if us could have expected, and thanks to the social media’s manner of letting every voice be heard no matter how asinine it may be, this division is infinitely more caustic. 

I know a lot of my fellow Star Wars fans went into The Last Jedi with their own fan theories and fictions bouncing around in their minds, and their expectations understandably high. This is Star Wars after all. It’s okay if you didn’t like the movie for a variety of reasons, from the performances to the CGI to the score. It’s also perfectly okay if you loved this movie for the same reasons other seem to hate it. However, calling a movie “bad”, or claiming it has ruined your childhood because your fan theories didn’t pan out, isn’t well thought out, rationally minded criticism, and it doesn’t make a movie bad. That’s not how cinema works. This hyperbole laced tantruming makes me appreciate the rational conversations I’ve had with others who don’t like the movie, or don’t like it as much as I do, all the more. Remember folks, it’s just a movie. 

I have seen The Last Jedi twice. Once for the experience of seeing the movie for the first time loud and writ large, the second to see if my reaction was strengthened or weakened by an additional viewing. After the second viewing, I came to the conclusion that most of the problems I had with the movie had dissappeared, and I was left with just one gaping problem that I simply can’t overlook. Thankfully, the rest of the movie built around that singular problem more than make up for the damages. I am happy to report that while it may not be my favourite entry in the series (I don’t know which one is, to be truthful), it is certainly beloved by me. Warts and all, I adore this motion picture 
By now you should may know the basic plot of the eighth film in the Skywalker saga. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) are battling the First Order in wide open space. Finn and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) head to a gorgeous new locale known as Canto Bight to acquire assistance in fighting the First Order. And Rey (Daisy Ridley) is confined to Ahch-To, trying desperately to persuade a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the battle against The First Order and put an end to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) reign. That’s not saying too much, is it? 

The gaping problem I was referring to in an earlier paragraph comes in the form of the plot thread involving Finn and Rose and their adventure of sorts to Canto Bight. The events that unfold here are do not affect the main narrative of the movie, and only seem to affect the characters involved in this plot in the moment, or soonly. I appreciate being shown how rich war profiteers live, how their intense gambling and partying also seem second nature to them by the time we meet them. It’s a shame then that their modes of gambling are too Earth-like, lacking any real imagination or creativity. I also took issue with the character of Rose, who I didn’t find to be a compelling character, and whose portrayal by Kelly Marie Tran lacked chemistry between herself and John Boyega (Finn). Had Rose’s arc ended shortly after she stuns Finn into a brief slumber, I would have been okay with it, but because Rian Johnson instead pairs her up with Finn, I felt like I was forced to suffer through watching a vaguely interesting character without a worthwhile character arc, who is as out of place in this movie as a Deadpool cameo would have in this year’s Logan.  It’s all fine entertainment, but this sole portion of the movie is its greatest weakness. 

In the opening line of his review for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the late movie critic Roger Ebert offered up the following sentiment: “If it were the first “Star Wars” movie, “The Phantom Menace” would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough. But this is the fourth movie of the famous series, and we think we know the territory; many of the early reviews have been blase, paying lip service to the visuals and wondering why the characters aren’t better developed. How quickly do we grow accustomed to wonders,”. That quote has stuck with me like dirt under my fingernails, and I can’t help but apply its unwavering logic to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My mind wanders to the finale of my favourite movie of last year, La La Land, which posed a delightful what-could-have-been sequence, an alternate timeline if you will. Perhaps in another timeline of our human history, The Last Jedi was the first of the Star Wars movies, lauded by many for generations to come, and praised for the risks it took in creating something new and unique. Perhaps not. Who knows what could have been.