REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There are certain things that make me really glad that I’m alive at the point in history that I am. I’m glad to have grown up with Harry Potter, for instance, and to be alive at the same time as Paul McCartney. One of these things is that I’m glad to be able to go and see Star Wars movies in theaters.

Seeing a Star Wars movie in theaters is, I think, a great experience no matter which movie it is. There’s the wave of almost tangible happiness that washes over everybody with the opening notes of the theme song, and the yellow letters beginning to scroll out backwards through space. There’s the clapping and cheering whenever familiar characters like Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) show up onscreen.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode overall and the second installment in the latest trilogy, delivered in pretty much every major way. We got to see interesting developments in terms of the characters that we already know and their relationships with each other, and we also received the pleasure of being introduced to new characters and new relationships.

One of the definite highlights of The Last Jedi was the addition of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who teams up with Finn (John Boyega) to try to sabotage an enemy ship that has the ability to track the rebel forces through light speed. Rose was charming and relatable (even fangirling over Finn’s hero status when we first meet her), and she’s also gritty and layered. She’s not afraid to let images get in the way of the way she sees things, and we actually get to see some of her backstory up close with the death of her sister, Paige (Veronica Ngo). She also acts as our introduction to one of the previously un-glimpsed sides of Star Wars: the back characters. Rose is a technician, normally a behind-the-scenes role in the Star Wars universe. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense in this movie to pair her with Finn, who was a background Stormtrooper before he joined the rebellion in The Force Awakens.

To me, The Last Jedi felt overall like an embrace of the idea that anybody can be a hero. Rose, for one thing, was brought to the forefront. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage, a lingering question for fans, was largely dismissed, which was a fresh turn in a franchise that has long been preoccupied with the power-infused lineage of Darth Vader’s family. Wealthy circles of society were outright criticized for their reliance upon forced labor, exploitation, and war profiteering. The film also ended with a glimpse of a young peasant boy using the Force to grab a broom, then looking up to the stars with a close-up of the Resistance insignia on his ring.

Finally, when Rey claims that the Force is “a power that Jedi have,” Luke Skywalker himself tells her that that is completely wrong. The Force is not exclusive to Jedi and Sith; it’s the balance between all things and all people. By removing the Force’s explicit attachment to the Jedi, and by showcasing heroes from all backgrounds and walks of life, The Last Jedi comes closer than any previous Star Wars movie to espousing what the series is all about: that anybody can be a hero if they decide to choose good over evil. Obviously, the Force doesn’t appear everywhere, but this movie shows us clearly that it can come from anywhere.

There are almost too many good things in The Last Jedi to count: the performances of newcomers Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, and Benicio del Toro; the development of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as a villain and of his terrifically interesting relationship with Rey; the immortal strength of Leia and of Carrie Fisher. There’s the fun cameo from the eternally awesome Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), and the affection between pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB-8, and the chemistry shared between pretty much every single character onscreen.

In short, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is doing pretty much everything right. It is a more than worthy follow-up to The Force Awakens and to the rest of the Star Wars franchise, and hopefully a very good indication of things to come.

REVIEW: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is more than just a good movie about a bad movie, it is a story about trying to fulfill your dreams in anyway you can. The movie chronicles the making of The Room, dubbed by many as the best terrible movie; and in many ways that holds up. There have been plenty of bad movies over the years but none have stayed in the theaters for 14 years and have such a large cult following like The Room.

This movie is based on the book of the same name, by Greg Sestero. The movie focuses on him (Dave Franco) and his friend, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), the director of The Room, and the journey that they went through to make The Room. Along the way the movie explores their friendship and the mystery that is Tommy Wiseau.

The performances by all the actors involved in this movie were spectacular. The Franco brothers, especially James, played their roles very convincingly and very accurate. On top of this the smaller parts with Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, and Zac Efron make up some of the most hilarious parts of the movie – which is already very funny throughout. However, what stood out to me wasn’t just the comedic aspect, but the story of Tommy and his friendship with Greg. It tells a story about trying to make it in a cut throat industry and them adapting and doing it their own way. We see Tommy’s sympathetic side come out of his mysteriously unique personality, and it dives into what it is like to follow your dreams even when it happens in a way that you may not have thought. In the end, The Disaster Artist, is a story of uncommon friendship and passion.

You will walk away with not only questions about who Tommy Wiseau is, but also how this unbelievable story can be true. Although, it is important to note that Tommy himself says that it is 99.9% accurate, and the .1% that is wrong was the lighting (but that might just be due to the sunglasses he always wears).

I think that this movie was excellent, and can definitely be seen even if you haven’t watched The Room, as I hadn’t. It is currently showing State Theater and tickets can be purchase for $8 with a student ID.

REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I was not sure what to expect, going in to see this movie. The trailer didn’t give me much to go off of, and the brief summary provided little information as well. I just knew it was a black comedy drama as I sat in the Michigan Theater, waiting for the organist to stop playing and for the movie to start.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri greatly exceeded all my expectations.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that literally made me tear up and gasp and cringe, my hand covering my mouth as I watched tragedy and horror unfold that numbed my heart and chilled my spine.

This was that movie.

It brought the crime and the drama and the intensity and the violence that made your heart pound one second and stop the next.

It tackled issues of racism, divorce, rape, murder, suicide face on. It didn’t shy away from controversial scenes, and forcing it in your face so casually and blatantly is what makes this movie so powerful.

The best part of Three Billboards was definitely the characters, people so tough-skinned and resilient and raw and tender and so human. That’s the thing with Mildred Hayes and Chief Willoughby and Officer Dixon. They are so flawlessly full of flaws that it makes them painfully real. As the characters persevere through that pain trapped in their minds and exacerbated by the community, they maintain a truthfulness that allows them to forgive but not forget, a moral authenticity that rips them open viciously only to piece them back together, fragilely yet stronger than ever.

This movie shows humanity at its worst and at its most pure; it shows all sides of humanity, and it reminds you of the humanity in people, through the facades they put up.

It was brutally nasty and brutally honest. It was heartwarming and heart-wrenching. It was emotionally intense and intensely emotional.

Yet there was laughter throughout the movie, a humor so dark it brought light to this grim film. Frances McDormand’s caustic performance of Mildred Hayes, along with dim-witted, stereotypical clueless young girls, slow advertising men and eager midgets, helps ease the weight in heavy situations. This fine balance of drama and comedy worked perfectly as every scene kept you on your toes and engaged your heart and your mind.

At what price does justice come at? How can anger and hate be reconciled with hope and love? Is forgiveness possible? How do broken hearts heal?

To reflect on these questions and watch them transpire in a sequence of scenes of sinking realization, follow the journey of a grieving, bitter mother coming to terms with the haunting limits of reality and the remains of what life holds.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is now showing at the Michigan Theater with student tickets for $8.

PREVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

An unsolved murder case. A grieving, demanding, unapologetic, bold mother. Controversial billboards. “Dim-bulb” police officers. Violence in the name of love, hatred, hope, rage, and forgiveness. Comedy. Crime. Drama. What more do you want in a movie? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri features all these elements and more. Starring Academy Award winners Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes and Woody Harrelson as William Willoughby, with Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, this dark comedic drama captures “something truthfully human.” The film opens at the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, November 21. Student tickets are $8, and it is also free with a Passport to the Arts voucher from November 22-29!

REVIEW: Dont Look Back

Bob Dylan is celebrated far and wide for his sense of enigma. It draws many fans to him like a magnet — the fact that he rarely, if ever, reveals details of his personal life, the impenetrable nature of his ever-changing persona. In fact, I actually went to see him in concert this October, and I was surprised by the fact that he didn’t say a single word outside of the songs that he played. This mystery is a trait that he carries even to this day, and it can be traced all the way back to the very beginnings of his fame in the 1960s.

Dont Look Back, a 1967 documentary focusing on his 1965 tour of London, England, brings its audience closer to Dylan — the “real” Dylan, if there is such a thing — than any of them are otherwise likely to get. This Dylan is striking, more than anything, because he wavers so much between different facades. At times he is visionary, playing guitar and singing straight from his heart, or talking honestly with people who see life differently from him; at other times he is downright arrogant, interrupting people often and discounting their opinions in favor of his own. Sometimes he is quiet and attentive, carefully listening while fellow musicians like Donovan and Joan Baez play music for him in hotel rooms; sometimes he is loud and angry almost to the point of not making sense, like when he demands to know who in his hotel is guilty of throwing glass into the street. He’s humble and down-to-earth, but also remarkably full of himself (“I know I’m big noise,” he taunts to a man he has accused of being guilty of the glass-throwing). Sometimes he’s very serious, and sometimes he grins and makes jokes — and what’s more, he’ll often switch between many of these attitudes within the span of a single minute.

Of course, many of these less endorsable sides of Dylan — that he is argumentative, acerbic, full of himself, etc. — are traits that a great deal of his fans will easily dismiss. They’ll say, “That’s just the way he is,” or, “That’s what makes him so great — he’s not afraid to tell people how it is!” Luckily, the film itself takes no sides; with no retrospective voiceover or imbalance regarding what footage it decides to show us, it is indiscriminate. It leaves its audience to make their own decisions.

The crowning achievement of Dont Look Back, then, is that it’s honest. It gives fans an inner look at everything they love about Dylan — the ways in which he can be at once relatable and completely, untouchably elevated — while refusing to shy away from the paradoxes of his character that at times can undercut this. I’ll admit feeling a personal pang of anger during a moment in the movie when Dylan tells a reporter something on the lines of, “I know more about you and your profession, just now from meeting you, than you will ever know about me.” But I also laughed anytime Dylan told a joke, and watched breathlessly during recordings of his live performances of songs like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Talkin’ World War III Blues”.

Dont Look Back was filmed at the height of Dylan’s fame and at the cusp of some of his most major creative breakthroughs (a.k.a., his 1967 triple-album win with Bringing it All Back HomeBlonde on Blonde, and Highway 61 Revisited). It situates us directly in Dylan’s touring life, to the point that we feel like we’re actually sitting where the camera operator is sitting, three or four feet away from him. It is arguably the closest any film has ever or can ever really come to penetrating the eternal mystery and captivating persona of Bob Dylan, for better or for worse.

PREVIEW: Dont Look Back

When I first got to Ann Arbor, I was amazed how many Bob Dylan fans I seemed to run into. It’s not surprising, considering how enduring his work is and how popular he remains to this day. I even remember my History of the Sixties class talking about his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Naturally, there are a ton of movies and documentaries focusing on aspects of Dylan’s life. My favorite so far has definitely been the extensive documentary No Direction Home (after the line in his famous “Like a Rolling Stone”). But Dont Look Back, with appearances of people like Joan Baez and Donovan and a 100% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is definitely at the top of the list of necessary Dylan-related films. It covers Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England, on the cusp of many of the creative breakthroughs that would eventually confirm his place in history as a legend.

That’s why I’m very excited to see Dont Look Back tonight at The Michigan Theatre, as part of the theatre’s 1967 Film Series. I’ve never seen it before, and I can’t wait to see what it’s like. The film will show at 9:30, and student tickets are $8 each.