Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Disaster Artist

            “Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!”
                  (attributed to Rear Admiral David Farragut Rear Admiral David Farragut,
                  said in some form during the brutal 1864 Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama)

 Originally, it seemed year-end-logistics (including events surrounding my age-significant-70th birthday) would prevent me from getting any more Two Guys in the Dark postings done in 2017 so I was simply using some spare time to prepare Short Takes comments on various screenings as opportunities allowed, assuming I’d offer a cluster of briefer remarks than usual in early January.  However, a combination of writing more than I intended (surprised?) and more free time than anticipated gives me the chance to get these 2 reviews posted now, although eschewing my standard Executive Summary, What Happens, So What?, Bottom Line Final Comments structure this time but with Spoiler Alerts still in place.  So, if you have the time during this busy holiday season (while counting the cash you’re supposed to save when filing your taxes next year, thanks to the D.C. oligarchs) please have a look at these reviews; I’ll be back soon with commentary on some likely Oscar contenders, once I’ve had a chance to watch them.

                                Reviews by Ken Burke
                  Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)
The decades-old Star Wars narrative continues, with parallel plot crises straight from The Empire Strikes Back (but set some 30 years later) as emerging-Jedi Rey seeks Luke Skywalker's help against the First Order (the new, just-as-vicious Empire) but he refuses even as various members of the Resistance give their all to prevent total takeover by a new dictatorship.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like so: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
 Attempting to give brief commentary on something part of such a looming cultural presence as the Star Wars franchise may not be what you’d prefer (and it's certainly not characteristic of my usual rambling), but that’s my pattern for this posting so if you want more extensive commentary you can easily find it on the Internet, from those who’re satisfied with Episode VIII (93% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 86% average score at Metacritic [more details in the links far below]; attendance has been amazing, with $536.6 million in worldwide ticket sales [$261.8 million domestically {U.S.-Canada} second highest opening weekend ever, behind its predecessor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens {J.J. Abrams, 2015; review in our December 31, 2015 posting}] in just the 1st week of release plus an A rating from CinemaScore audiences) and those who aren’t (56% audience score at RT*, even some negative comments from star Mark Hamill). With my imposed-analytical-limitation in mind, then, here goes my commentary: You’ve got to be willing to accept a lot of repetition in these movies, because the basic scenario of good constantly trying to overcome evil without getting into a lot of intricate plot detail simply leads to revisiting established (and audience-embraced) themes and locations (including obvious  duplications from … A New Hope [George Lucas, 1977] to … Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand, 1993] with crises involving Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine, the climatic destruction of a Death Star), so even though … Return … saw the beginning of the Empire's end, for all practical purposes its remnants still grew in the dark corners of this galaxy for 30 years until they’ve now been able to reassert themselves as the First Order,** bringing a drastic end to the New Republic with only Gen. Leia Organa Solo’s Resistance fighters (heirs to the previous Rebellion) left to provide a desperate attempt at bringing down the vicious, well-armed forces led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) with able help from his increasingly-Dark Side-consumed apprentice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), still trying to rid himself of any love for his heroic parents, Leia and Han Solo (the later [Harrison Ford] Kylo mercilessly killed in … Awakens).  

*Or, is this a legitimate number?  Check out these HuffPost and Vox articles exploring the claim these negative responses are a sexist/ racist/angry-fanboy calculated effort to undermine the true public acceptance of this movie, just as other devious abuses of social media have impacted everything from Yelp! restaurant ratings to election campaigns in various countries in recent years.

**Even with my unabashed love for this franchise and its reaffirmation of The Beatles’ "All You Need Is Love"-solution to human problems (although hand-to-hand-combat-skills with a lightsaber are quite useful as well), I can’t begin to claim knowledge of all the novels, comics, TV series, etc. that carried on the main story or offshoots between … Return … and … Force Awakens, but it’s clear some of that stuff’s non-canonical anyway as with books where Leia and Han have 3 kids, none of them Ben Solo deteriorating into Kylo Ren, so just follow whatever storylines appeal to you.

 Meanwhile, emerging-Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally locates Luke Skywalker (Hamill) on the almost-uncharted, mostly-ocean planet of Ahch-To, but he refuses to participate in this latest war against the forces of uncompromising-evil, instead saying that the inherent hubris of his once-renowned-peacekeeper-order of galaxy-roaming-knights now justifies rejection of their continued existence.

 This lengthy (152 min.) story works it way through many battle scenes; psychic connections between Rey and Kylo (him trying to pull her into the Dark Side, her trying to return him to the Light); Luke’s begrudging decision to give Rey some Jedi training* after R2-D2 shows him the long-ago “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope” hologram; the emergence of new characters Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the BB-8 robot, leading to mere-cameo-appearances by Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C3-PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), and other familiar faces from earlier episodes—as the new ones will carry the franchise in upcoming Episode IX (J.J. Abrams, scheduled for December 20, 2019) and beyond—along with a host of surprises: ⇒Luke admits his sense of self-importance almost led him to kill Ben Solo/Kylo Ren when he sensed how strong Snoke’s manipulation of the Dark Side had become in his nephew, after which Kylo killed the other acolytes—just as his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, did years ago; Rey learns her long-lost-parents were simply rogue junk-dealers who sold her as a child with no regret; Kylo seems to come to his senses by killing Snoke but only in hopes Rey’ll join him in ruling the galaxy (sounds like the Emperor and Luke at the end of … Return …, but I told you this series breeds repetition); the short screen time of scoundrel codebreaker DJ (Benicio del Toro), but I’ll bet he’ll be back too; Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) sacrifices herself by shooting into light speed right through Snoke’s ship, destroying it while interrupting the struggle between Rey and Kylo with Luke’s lightsaber ripped apart in the process; Luke withstands the onslaught of Kylo’s forces (he’s now declared himself as new First Order Supreme Leader) before we realize it’s a holographic projection from across deep space that consumes Luke to the point of death, but his sacrifice allows the few remaining Resistance members to escape in the Millennium Falcon, after Rey demonstrates her emerging Jedi powers in a manner like Yoda’s command over objects (he makes a return too, as a ghost, fulfilling Luke’s intentions of bringing the old era of the Jedi to an end, using lightning to destroy their sacred-tree-temple with all the original scriptural writings.)⇐   

*Here’s information about a reported-cut-scene of Luke’s third Jedi lesson with Rey, which simultaneously shows her the error of letting aggressive emotions cloud her responses to a crisis situation while confirming that she needs to be an active agent of justice, not a mind-scarred-hermit such as Luke has become, despairing over his unleashing the terrible Dark Side power of Kylo Ren.

 You could easily say this movie’s a bit too long (with repeated battle scenes of an outnumbered Resistance force making some gains, buying some time, in their struggles against Snoke’s armies before being almost totally destroyed, all of which gets a bit too repetitious even for me—as well as too reminiscent of aspects of … Return of the Jedi with the fatal confrontation between an aged villain and younger Force-wielders [along with an intentionally-silly-casino-scene when Finn and Rose are searching for a master codebreaker—before they’re conveniently thrown into a cell with DJ—too obviously intended to evoke the always-mentioned-appeal of the bar scene in … A New Hope]), but a wealth of well-orchestrated, marvelously-visualized combat encounters are what devoted fans of the franchise want (along with occasional doses of humor, which do work their way nicely into this script), plus the reappearance of a host of familiar characters, although now enhanced by the enlarged presence of the new protagonists including mechanic-turned-brave-pilot Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).  Overall, for those of us invested over our variously-ranging-lifetimes in this ongoing storyline there’s mostly a lot to like here (despite the naysayers' opinions, legitimate or otherwise), with a useful evolution of the Jedi mythology, as explored in this essay which notes Rey now aware of the potential danger of assuming a mantle of infallibility that unknowingly haunted previous generations of these knights, especially the powerful Skywalkers with their decisions to determine destiny for others in their families (Padmé Amidala for Anakin; later, Ben Solo for Luke).

 My standard use of a review-closing Musical Metaphor’s a bit more obscure here than usual, but I find my choice to be fitting for Carrie Fisher’s final appearance in a Star Wars story, especially given the movie’s dedicated to our now-departed “Princess” in the end credits; this song, Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones” (from the 1983 album of the same name), at was written about ex-wife Fisher and the closing “arc of a love affair” (even though the song came before they married in 1983, soon divorced in 1984), maybe as a premonition of a doomed relationship neither could avoid speeding headlong into anyway because of “Love like lightning shaking ‘till it moans [… even if it ends up in] specua[tion about] who had been damaged the most.”  ⇒Now that the chief characters from the beloved Star Wars “middle trilogy” are all dead either on-screen (Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader) or off-screen (Sir Alec Guinness’ Kenobi, Fisher’s Princess/General Leia, although she’ll now have to be somehow written out of Chapter IX)⇐ we’ll just have to wistfully remember all of them through theatrical/video re-screenings where “Easy time will determine if these consolations Will be their reward The arc of a love affair Waiting to be restored,” just as the memories of gallant heroes fighting for a just cause will, in fact, be the inspiration that stirs new warriors Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose—along with yet-unknown-rebels (shown by the final shot of a little guy using The Force to grab his broomstick)—to once again overthrow the evil forces of tyranny (with my hopes some of their contemporary brethren will arrive in Washington, D.C. after the 2018 elections to accomplish a similar, needed cleansing for American politics from the horrors of Donald Trump and his despicable tax-theft-bandits), so the galactic Republic of yore and its people (along with ours in the 21st century) will rise once more, manifesting the emerging strength of “Their hearts and their bones And they won’t come undone.”
                      The Disaster Artist (James Franco)
Based on the actual "so-bad-it’s-good" The Room, this dramatization of a midnight-screening-cult-favorite attempts to give some sympathetic understanding to the real-life screenwriter/director/star (and necessary-wealthy-financier, of unknown means) Tommy Wiseau, who fancied himself a cinematic auteur even though his vision seemed absurd to everyone else.

Here's the trailer:

      Before reading any further, I'll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 I have to admit I never saw The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) because the reviews were so bad upon initial release, then I still didn’t track it down after it became a cult favorite with a solid shelf-life in midnight screenings.*  Based on the comments by director/star James Franco (portraying Wiseau)—noted in the 2nd entry connected to ... Artist in the Related Links section of this posting below—it’s clear Franco and those associated with this film have deep respect for Wiseau’s devotion to his own project, even though they all admit it’s a mess on screen, enjoyable only because every element of The Room is such a travesty of cinematic intentions (at least in terms of script and acting; without watching the original I can’t say if lighting, editing, etc. are equally bad or are reasonably competent within the larger atrocity that’s become embraced as the successor, as worst cinematic atrocity ever, to Ed Wood’s equally-terrible Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959], itself the subject of another [but in my opinion, superior] sincere-in-original-intention-manifestation of bad filmmaking, Ed Wood [Tim Burton, 1994]).  What’s absolutely riveting about The Disaster Artist is James Franco’s mesmerizing depiction of self-absorbed (coolly wealthy) Wiseau, a performance already generating Best Actor buzz (nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild**).

*But it’s now playing in various places and will have a 600-theater-showcase on January 10, 2018 if you’d care to seek it out in the several cities in which it will have an earlier-than-midnight-revival.

** See the Related Links section below for the Golden Globes full list; here’s the full SAG list.

 Franco gives all of himself from his opening appearance in a 1998 San Francisco acting class (run by Jean Shelton [Melanie Griffith])—where he not only chews but fully devours the scenery as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire—to the finale where, encouraged by close friend/co-star Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ younger brother), he accepts Greg’s encouragement ⇒that the audience laughing hysterically at The Room’s premiere is showing Wiseau appreciation for his vision rather than ridiculing him (which I’m not convinced of, but they do give him an ovation when he comes on stage), allowing Tommy to feel justification for pursuing his oddball artistic vision.⇐

 You don’t have to have seen The Room to fully appreciate what James Franco’s recreated here (you can see some side-by-side-comparisons, used in The Disaster Artist’s final credits to get a sense of the fidelity, though), to admire his devotion to what’s presented in The Room which in the … Artist seems to be a heartfelt-attempt to celebrate Wiseau’s dedicated-vision in his now-famous (notorious?) screen-debut, although the humor we find in the … Artist is still debatable (just as with Wiseau’s original) as being something to celebrate because it willingly violates so many norms of traditional cinematic narrative or because it’s just laughable in being so incompetent in all manners of conception and execution.  (To my mind, in these comparison clips, even though Franco’s just overseeing an exquisite imitation of the mundane reality of the original movie, The Room, his version’s still superior, at least in terms of acting competence, which further shows the humor embedded in Wiseau’s version is simply based on ridicule, making it difficult for me to fully appreciate what J. Franco’s intended here in presenting the story of a man so obsessed with his own self-image, even though he can’t pass an audition to save his life, while his friend/fellow-actor Greg finds acceptance from top-agent Iris Burton [Sharon Stone] but equally lacks the talent to actually get hired, so their only salvation is to finance their own movie, which Tommy does—to the tune of a reported $6 million, even though no one yet seems to know where the actual guy gets his money, how old he is, if he’s really from New Orleans, or what inspires his [pseudo?] Eastern European accent).  ⇒As this version of The Room goes forward to its premiere (which, as depicted, eventually becomes a “Springtime for Hitler”from The Producers [Mel Brooks for the 1967 original comedy, then directed by Susan Stroman as a 2005 musical-adaptation]type-ironic-success, but just on opening night for The Room) with a miserable $1,800 take in its only L.A. theater, held over at Tommy’s expense for 2 weeks to qualify for Oscar consideration (the height of uncomprehending myopia) we have to understand—despite the audience’s eventual embrace of Tommy—his success is based on perverse glee for his absurdity, a fine line between appreciation and condescension.⇐

 The Disaster Artist has been lauded by critics (93% positive review at RT, 76% average score at MC), but with other, more-engaging-options available even after 3 weeks in release it’s generated only about $13 million at the domestic box-office (along with a paltry $2.7 million from international sales) so this is proving to be another cult-favorite of its own from the James Franco-Seth Rogan-Jonah Hill, etc.-“conglomerate” which has intrinsic value for their true-believers but may not be all that appealing to audiences outside the realm of such particular fandom (including those who adore The Room for its quirkiness but don’t constitute much of a critical mass [in the sense of importance, not reviewer-friendliness]).  Honestly, I was in awe of J. Franco’s unhinged performance (as well as the competence of others in the cast, especially D. Franco and Rogan [as script supervisor/more-functional-director, Sandy Schklair], as well as cameos by stars such as Melanie Griffith, Zac Efron, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, J.J. Abrams, Kevin Smith, and many more), but despite Franco’s honest attempt to evoke empathy for sincere-but-frightfully-untalented-Wiseau (courageous—if possibly incoherent—in allowing himself to be portrayed as such a mental-case in this fictionalization of his career accomplishment) I felt uncomfortably-bothered about laughing so much at the unrealized-idiocy of the lead character (despite the obvious distain most of his coworkers easily come to feel for him) and wondering what I’m gaining from The Disaster Artist I couldn’t get from just finally watching The Room itself.  I’m highly impressed by the work of the elder Franco, but the film as a whole leaves me less engaged than the responses I found from most other critics.

 As for a Musical Metaphor to give some closure to this review, I’m going a bit far afield again here, but the 1st song under the final credits, "The Rhythm of the Night" (by Corona, from their 1993 album of the same name as the song) somewhat reminded me of the beat of “What Is Love?” (Haddaway, from another 1993 album simply called The Album [seems an appropriate match for The Room]), with this particular version at taken from a Saturday Night Live skit’s use of this song with various performers such as the one here featuring Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, and Chris Kattan (a funny original idea mistakenly enlarged into a film, Night at the Roxbury [John Fortenberry, 1998—11% positive reviews on RT, even worse than The Room’s 26%]) as clueless guys rejected by most of the women they attempt to dance with, just as Tommy’s rejected by just about everyone in L.A. except Greg (even he gives up on his friend’s weirdness for a while), saying “I give you my love, but you don’t care So what is right and what is wrong? […] Baby don’t hurt me Don’t hurt me No more,” even as the initial responses to Tommy’s movie drive him out of the theatre until Greg convinces him he’s achieved his dream of a strong audience response, maybe even more so than such a great master as Hitchcock received.  I’ll leave it to you as to whether the actual Tommy’s work (or this celebration of it) deserves such accolades, but Tommy does have a funny exchange with Franco as Wiseau in an oddball-post-credits-scene.

 This last-minute-posting will definitely be all for me at Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark in 2017 so I’ll close by wishing you all Happy Holidays for whatever you may celebrate and a peaceful, prosperous 2018 (or whatever year you may celebrate).  I’ll return to you again in a couple of weeks.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2017.

Here’s more information about Star Wars: The Last Jedi: (14:52 extensive exploration of Easter Eggs, cameos, and references, with a general sense of support of the movie) and com/watch?v=Ddt0k3yU9Q8 (10:08, with 70 complaint questions about the details of the movie [illustrated with footage from a Star Wars video game]; methinks the questioner reveals his nerd credentials too much with the physics demands of his many challenges, all of which would likely lead to a more complicated—or boring—scenario if all his concerns were resolved, further proving my point that these Star Wars movies belong in the Fantasy genre where you just have to go with the flow, rather than even the Science-Fiction world where some rationale is usually attempted to explain the feasibility of hyperdrive movement at light speed [with no impact on the ship or its inhabitants]—yes, I put beings like Superman and Spiderman in the Fantasy realm also, despite their quasi-scientific-explanations of extraordinary abilities, but if you believe moving from a red sun to a yellow sun will give you x-ray vision or a bite from a radioactive spider will allow you to crawl up walls, then I’ve got some high-fire-danger-California-real-estate you might be interested in)

Here’s more information about The Disaster Artist: (45:35 jovial interview with director/actor James Franco and actors Dave Franco, Seth Rogen)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.


Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 8,498 (overall numbers continue to drop—was it something I said? Have the bribery checks gotten lost in the mail?—but at least the previous week’s info shows that of my 4 continents reached [counting the Asia portion of Russia] I’ve finally connected with South America again, so hello, Colombia!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. I love to watch Star war movies and Last i watch Star war the Last Jedi. Which is one of my favorite Star war movie. Recently I Watch Solo A Star Wars Story 2018 Online trailer that makes me crazy about the movie.

  2. Hi Deepak, Thanks for your comment. I'm also looking forward to seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story. Ken