The Messiah narrative thread with Paul and the Fremen is a bit white-saviour-y, but will hopefully be nipped in the bud in the sequel, and the plot is otherwise excellent: a twisting tapestry of planet-hopping politics, breathtaking sci-fi/action, moody mysticism, and compelling coming-of-age/family drama fare. Strongly acted (Paul and parents in particular), with incredible sound and visuals (lots of big, immersive movie moments–the nighttime assault on Arrakeen being one highlight).
The plotting and exposition are a little sloppy at times (the climax with Palpatine is a tad puzzling) and the bevy of twists and fake-outs are a bit much, but overall this is a fun and technically-excellent starry sci-fi war/adventure movie carried by a refreshingly diverse cast of characters (men, women, humans, non-humans, old, young, past, new) and sprinkled with great bits of deeper character work (see the cool Rey-Kylo dynamic, along with their individual arc-defining moments) and humour.
The music is strong, the editing is sharp, and the cinematography is sleek (lots of gorgeous wide shots of natural scenery). Isaac stands out among a solid cast and the plot is consistently engaging in its twisty mix of heist thrills and survival adventure. It’s the drama that doesn’t quite hit home: the characters are inconsistent, the moments of tension aren’t followed up on, and the thematic reflections on the morality of violence are uncomfortably weak (and ultimately undermined in the end).
An eye-rolling America-centric terrorist thriller at first blush thanks to Hoffman’s disturbing opening monologue, but in actuality, it’s more mature, with decently nuanced political drama that’s expertly intertwined with espionage action. The contrast of Crowe’s detached CIA boss (his suburban activities during tense phone calls are a great touch) with DiCaprio’s emotional on-the-ground agent makes for an excellent central character dynamic (see the memorable final exchange). Very well acted.
The constant melodramatic mono/dialogue either comes off as pretentious (“Maybe God made me a painter for people who aren’t born yet”) or just aimless and tiring (see Vincent and the priest)–and same goes for the fidgety and cold aesthetic (trying to mirror the character I suppose but it was still hard to like). Neither are able to make up for the lack of a plot, and I think in the end they both just distract from what could’ve been (it occasionally was) an engaging and unique character study.
A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply. (IMDb)
Ultimately unhelpful flash-forwards and -backs mar an otherwise immersive (viscerally more than intellectually–the ending didn’t satisfy) sci-fi experience initiated by the haunting homecoming scene early on: solid turns, an intense score, and monumental visuals carry the film from spooky (see the first wake-up) to grisly (see the bear attack; stomach cut) to weird (see the trippy cave scene), with just an unforgettable sense of “WTF is going on!?” (both in awe and terror) pervading it all.
Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the First Order. (IMDb)
It was the cons I was thinking about when I left the theatre–the jumble of rollercoaster plot threads and tones, the bloated run-time, the sometimes cheesy dialogue (“Every word in that sentence was wrong”)–but it’s the pros that have been popping up for me ever since: The fantastic female representation, the fascinating relationship between pro- and an-tagonist, and the bold (often fourth-wall) subversions of tradition and expectations (see Yoda’s lightning, Poe’s humbling, Rose’s save).
Three decades after the Empire’s defeat, a new threat arises in the militant First Order. Stormtrooper defector Finn and the scavenger Rey are caught up in the Resistance’s search for the missing Luke Skywalker. (IMDb)
Self-sufficient Rey (“I know how to run without you holding my hand!”), nervous and naive Finn (“Stay calm” “I am calm” “I’m talking to myself”), and moody Kylo Ren (“I’m being torn apart”) make up a fresh and engaging trio of central characters (Poe was excellent too, just needed more screen time) that carry the film in spite of the weak plot and sometimes wooden returning characters. Great action, good pace, and surprisingly funny (“How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that”).
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbor. (IMDb)
Smoothly moves without leaving a character behind or strings untied from a subtly spun protagonist set-up (the quiet Driver is ever intriguing) with budding romance to a bloody crime/revenge drama spiked with shocking violence. Add to that an equally cohesive aesthetic of a moody city setting slickly portrayed (see the crossfade transitions, scrumptious slow motion shots under a gorgeous synth soundtrack) and unique scene edits (see the final confrontation) and the film packs quite the punch.