Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi unfolds in two utterly different locations: an austere, treacherous island in the most remote part of the Galaxy and the vast, infinite sky that is the setting for war. The steep, rocky island establishes a mood of danger while Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to lure Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) away from his isolation (“It’s time for the Jedi to die”) and back to the life in the sky that he left.

That sky is alive with the turmoil of war that roars at the audience in superb designs of modern abstractions. The sound designers have created aerial turmoil, death, and danger in nearly constant fiery explosions that blow up all manner of futuristic space vehicles and men. The ability to create this spatial chaos has grown since the first Star Wars movie in 1977 to the point where we feel nailed to our seats as the screen morphs into fiery orange violence. We marvel at what artists in 2017 can do to bring a digital story alive.

The visuals are extraordinary, the acting excitingly appropriate. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are terrific as the alienated brother and sister who are older and wiser than the younger warriors. Laura Dern endows Vice Admiral Holdo with the great dignity that comes from calm presence. Daisy Ridley turns Rey into a young woman who injects intelligence and power into her violent trade along with an underlying sense of fair play and kindness. She is enormously appealing.

Because the whole thing is imagined, writer/director Rian Johnson was free to create a marvelous mix of humans and animals who navigate the violent warfare. There are no rules in this world of the imagination and Johnson’s work is creative artistry.

But there is something else going on here. In this year’s other big success, Wonder Woman, the terrific actor Gal Gadot stamped the women’s movement with approval and encouragement and gave young girls the super hero they’ve never had. Ask any teenager; they love their new role model. After that unexpected twist, women began to get stronger roles in movies just as they have begun to assert themselves powerfully in real life.

Now, in this Star Wars episode, three good actors portray three strong women leaders. Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, and Laura Dern have created characters whose attitudes establish the tone of the story. This is another movie that has stepped into the tide with public recognition of the strength of women. Along with the new “Me Too” movement, this is what’s happening in the real world at a fast, long overdue, and exciting clip.

There is one possible cause for worry: the dark side of the explosive expansion of Star Wars style robotics. How soon will we see robotic tools of warfare and relationships erupt in our own life on earth? Perhaps next year’s Star Wars will give us some answers. Until then, they’ve given us the questions.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 2:32
Rating : PG-13
Date : 24 December 2017


Wind River

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Wind River

Of Wind River, the studio says “An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.” That description is a one sentence understatement of a movie that may well be one of the best of this year.

Anyone who visits an active Indian reservation in the west or the main street of a town like Gallup, New Mexico, carries away a permanent brain imprint of what we did to the Indians by taking their land. Alcohol, sadness, and emptiness are at every turn.

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote, directed and set the story in Wyoming, shows the results of the past without sermonizing. For an hour or so he shows us the majestic beauty of snow covered mountains, woods, and flatland until we begin to wonder whether anyone could live there. Then, as he introduces the characters, we begin to understand the problems of weather and isolation on the people who do.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a tracker for the wildlife department. We watch him roar through the wilderness at top speed on his snowmobile (to avoid becoming stuck) in search of predatory animals who kill the smaller ones who belong there. In the silence, we watch him follow patterns and tracks of both humans and animals on land he knows so well.

Suddenly Cory comes on the dead body of Natalie (Kelsey Abile), the 18 year old daughter of his Indian friend Ben (Gil Birmingham). He offers emotional support to Ben with understanding born of losing his own daughter to the culture of emptiness some years before.

The FBI is summoned and arrives in the unexpected form of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a new young agent from Las Vegas who is smart though inexperienced and looks to Cory for advice on how to find the killer. That’s it for the story.

At that point we are feeling quiet appreciation for director Taylor Sheridan’s subtle gift to us of the nature of physical isolation and the danger of the country. He then hits us with a prolonged explosion of violence. The beauty has turned to desolation; blood spreads on white snow; hatred and anger explode in an overwhelming violence of assault, rape, and battery. Thirteen people die. How did this brutality root itself in all this beauty? Suddenly, we understand this is why Sheridan spent the first hour showing us the erosive effect of isolation on people. Does isolation always breed violence?

My graphic description here is intended for people who avoid brutal violence in movies. So warned, it is rare to see a director’s vision delivered so powerfully despite one raw piece of overacting late in the film. Jeremy Renner is superb in his quietness; Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as the smart but inexperienced FBI agent; Gil Birmingham is powerful as the grieving father. You will best remember Taylor Sheridan who is a man unafraid of unleashing unvarnished historical truth.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Wind River
Word Count : 502
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : August 27, 2017