As a life-long Star Wars fan I thoroughly enjoyed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. I was sat mouth agape as the story continued to take unexpected turns, I loved the marriage of nostalgia and new ideas when it came to handling an iconic character like Luke Skywalker, and I even managed to avoid eating my entire bag of Peanut M&Ms during the trailers like I normally do, meaning I had some to enjoy during the movie. It was a home run. But even while I was enraptured in what was essentially a two-and-a-half-hour chase movie in space, there were moments that left me thinking, “Hang on a minute…” There are questionable narrative choices, bizarre character moments, and plot holes in this movie big enough to fly a First Order dreadnought through.
So, for fun, let’s take a look at some of the silliest moments in The Last Jedi. It should go without saying, but this top five is going to be absolutely rife with spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you probably want to stop reading right now. Like, right now. There’s going to be spoilers right after this comical picture of Chewbacca. Right now. You’ve been warned.
5. C-C-C-C-C-Code Breaker!
Mid-way through the movie, Finn and Rose discover that they have a potential solution to the First Order being able to track their ships using magical space GPS, and they go to Poe Dameron with their plan. Princess Leia is conveniently in a coma after being sucked out into the cold void of space and magically flying to safety with force powers (erm, okay), meaning that she can’t tell anyone that they’ve already got it covered, and her replacement is an idiot, so Poe Dameron thinks that Finn and Rose’s plan is their only shot at stopping the First Order before the Rebellion is destroyed once and for all. Forever. And so our heroes put in a call to Maz Kanata, who tells them that their plan is so outrageously complicated that there’s only one man in the ENTIRE GALAXY who is good enough to crack First Order’s security code in order to get Rose where she needs to be to shut down the tracking.
And then they just find somebody else to do it. Wait — what? Yeah, so Finn and Rose travel to the Casino Night Zone — or whatever it was called in the movie — which is basically like a massive tax haven for the richest 1% in the galaxy. The goodies are looking for a master safe cracker, but immediately after locating him they’re arrested by casino security and get thrown into a jail cell — a jail cell that they share with an inmate who just happens — no shit — to also be a master safe cracker who can do exactly the same thing that the one person in the galaxy who they were looking for could do. I was sure that at some point Benicio Del Toro’s character would be revealed to have been the guy they were looking for all along, but unless I slipped into a momentary force coma during the movie, that never happened, and the whole thing was actually just a massive, ridiculous coincidence.
4. Finn and Rose’s Wild Goose Chase
Of course, Finn and Rose would never have had to go after an intergalactic safe cracker at all if their commanding officers had actually told them what was going on. While on the run from First Order baddies, Princess Leia is put into a coma, and she’s replaced as the leader of the Rebellion by Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo. Holdo immediately gets into a bit of a to-do with Poe Dameron, disliking his reckless, cavalier attitude, and rugged, bad-boy good looks, and she utterly dismisses him when he comes forward with ideas for how to solve their First Order problem, but doesn’t bother telling him that she’s already got a loads better plan of her own.
Her scheme involves secretly getting the entire Rebellion onto transport ships and abandoning the fleet, allowing the First Order to believe that they’ve destroyed the Rebellion while our heroes escape and hide out at a nearby base. I mean, it’s a solid plan, as long as nobody from the First Order looks out of a window. That aside, why is she keeping the plan a secret? Princess Leia says it’s because Holdo didn’t need to be a hero. Oh, okay. It’s good to be modest. But because she doesn’t tell anybody about her plot, Poe Dameron believes she’s a coward, and so he gets in league with Rose and Finn, actions that directly result in the First Order discovering what the Rebellion are up to (thanks to Benicio Del Toro’s treachery), which leads to the deaths of like half of the Rebellion. Even when Poe confronts her she doesn’t mention it. And loads of people die. So yeah, good job on not being a hero. Maybe, you know, actually tell people what’s going on, Holdo. That would probably help.
3. The Force Can Do What Now?
Man, how much easier things would have been in the previous Star Wars movies if only all of the characters had known that you can just magically talk to anyone in the galaxy using Force Skype. Rey and Kylo Ren spend half of the movie talking to each other while light years apart, only for it to eventually be revealed that Snoke is the one who has given them this ability. How or why Snoke is so strong with the force I do not know, and we’re not likely to find out since he gets unceremoniously sliced in half in the middle of the movie, but Snoke’s power is absolutely nothing compared to what Luke can do by the end of it.
At the end of The Last Jedi, Luke telepathically projects an image of himself across the galaxy to engage in a pretend fight with Kylo Ren to distract First Order forces while the Rebels escape. How long has he been waiting to pull off that little trick? Since when was that possible? Up until The Last Jedi we’ve seen people trick their way into bars using the force, move things with the power of their mind with the force, and occasionally shoot lightning out of their fingers with the force, but now we’ve got force holograms? Imagine that. If only people had known sooner. Want to trick the enemy into believing you’re at the other end of the Death Star when you’re plotting to blow it up? Force hologram. Need a distraction so you can escape when the new leader of the Galactic Empire decides to murder all of the Jedi? Force hologram. Been invited to a party that you can’t be arsed to go to? Force hologram. It’s a shame nobody knew about it until now.
2. The First Order Are Complete And Utter Morons
Back in the first Star Wars movie, C3PO and R2D2 escape the clutches of the Empire on an escape pod and the baddies, apparently because of some sort of galactic recession resulting in uber-expensive laser charging fees, don’t bother shooting it down. “No life signs on board,” they say. Oh boy. If only they’d known. We’ve long mocked the Empire for orchestrating their own downfall thanks to their frugality with ammunition, but compared to the First Order they’re positively on the ball. General Hux, who was suitably slimy and evil in The Force Awakens, is reduced to wholesale buffoonery by the end of The Last Jedi, being thrown around in slapstick fashion time and again by Kylo Ren. By the end he’s only missing the Benny Hill theme tune. And as if to demonstrate just how comical the First Order have become, General Hux has hired Eddie Hitler from Bottom as his second in command.
But by far the silliest thing about the First Order in The Last Jedi, though, is their plan to stop the Rebels. The Rebels are driving away from the First Order, and so the Order are chasing them. They’re moving at the same speed so the Rebels are always just out of firing range, thus saving their skins until they inevitably run out of fuel, and the First Order ships blow them out of the sky. What this amounts to is an incredibly slow chase through space, but for some reason, absolutely nobody in the entire First Order says, “Hey, why don’t we just engage the hyperdrives on a couple of our ships and move them to the other side of the Rebels, trapping them between us, and shoot them to shit?” I mean, I’m not a military general, and so perhaps there are flaws in my plan, but honestly, somebody had to have had a better idea than to keep firing every now and again just to remind the rebels they’re there.
1. Crying Over Spilt (Green) Milk
One thing dumber than anything that happens in The Last Jedi is the absurd level of fan backlash to it. I’m old enough to remember a time when it was Jar Jar Binks’ vaguely racist comedy routine in The Phantom Menace that had ruined Star Wars forever and retroactively destroyed childhoods across the globe, but apparently if the hilariously overblown user reviews on collation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are to be believed, The Last Jedi is literally the worst thing ever. Sure, it’s got some silly moments in it, and some of the story beats don’t quite hold up to scrutiny, but it’s a movie about space wizards and laser swords and we’re really going to start a petition to force Rian Johnson to admit his movie sucked over a couple of plot holes? Give over.
A quick perusal of said user reviews reveals that there are a bunch of people who take massive issue with the lack of answers as to Snoke and Rey’s heritage, a selection that are real sad about how Luke Skywalker buys the farm, and a not insignificant portion bemoaning that not every hero in Star Wars is still a white American dude. For shame. Duder77 on Metacritic has this to say in his in 4/10 review:
“Last year we got to see a 15 year old girl lecture battle-hardened rebels that “rebellions are built on hope.” Thank you, Mary Sue.
This year, we get to see a purple-haired kindergarten teacher appear out of nowhere to lecture a reckless “flyboy” on his toxic masculinity before she single-handedly takes out a huge first order starship.
I wonder what the Solo movie will have in store for us. Maybe it will be revealed that he’s really a girl identifying as a boy. Actually, as I write this I’m getting scared…”
chabbledubbs82 was even more critical in his thought provoking 0/10 review:
“Star Wars is officially dead. Disney is a corporation simply to serve SJW agendas by piggybacking off popular names. End of story. Even with the shoehorned diversity forced upon people for no reason other than to tell you what to think and that women are powerful (every major heroic moment is all females for the feminist agenda).”
Although perhaps Parag0N says it best in his in depth critical analysis of The Last Jedi in which he awarded the movie 0 marks out of a possible 10:
“Sucked this movie did…lost their damn minds the critics have…ruined Star Wars Rion Johnson has…Ive never left a theatre more pissed off and disappointed in my life. This felt like being diddled by your favorite uncle for three hours then offered ice cream afterward. Every single major plot point and mystery from Awakens is wasted in the worst of ways. Star Wars has always bordered on hokey and corny but it had just the right tone to keep it dramatic and serious. Rion Johnson didn’t understand that and went full on Lucas (ep I-III) with the tone. I was waiting for a laugh track to kick in during the very first scene it was so bad. F this movie and Rion Johnson! Do not support this trash. A waste of some of the best characters of all time…the people raving about how great this pile was would probably be just as entertained watching dogs hump for three hours…”
Everyone’s a critic.
Seriously, though, get yourself on there with a bag of popcorn and you can waste at least an hour trudging through the mire. There’s some glorious work by a bunch of Star Wars fans that are super not happy (again), and they really want everyone to know about it, and you can have a good laugh reading it all.
Yes, sillier than anything that transpires on screen during The Last Jedi is the absurd overreaction that some fans have had to it, with some even claiming that they’ve developed bots to artificially lower the user rating of the movie on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, because apparently just not liking something quietly and getting on with your life isn’t an option. Let’s face it — there was a bunch of stuff in the old movies that didn’t make a lick of sense either, and I didn’t give a fig about any of that when I was watching The Empire Strikes Back on VHS for the twelfth time in the mid-’80s as a kid.
So suck it up, star dorks.
‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot
The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.
The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.
Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016.
For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.
We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them.
But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein.
The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day.
And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.
The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory.
Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject.
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.
After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.
The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.
The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.
However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.
A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.
Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?
The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.
‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire
Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.
Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous.
This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection.
Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom.
When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness).
These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us.
Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results.
Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.
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