My Top Ten Films of 2017

Here is my top ten… top eleven… top twelve … wait… top THIRTEEN no, noTop FOURTEEN films of 2017. Before anyone asks?  I have not seen Ladybird, Blade Runner 2049, Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Murder on the Orient Express, Wind River, Hostiles, the Shape of Water or Mother!

logan-movie-poster1.  Logan
Logan is the swan song for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in their memorable runs as Wolverine and Professor X.  Set in a time where most of the X-Men are gone and Wolverine’s health is failing, Logan was a gutsy move.  It earns it’s ‘R’ rating in the first five minutes, but what really makes it stand out is the emotion that is packed into it.  Stewart gives a wonderful performance here.

2. Land of Mine
I know this was released in Denmark in 2015, but technically, it is a 2017 film for the U.S. So I am calling it as “this year”.  After all, the director’s next film is due out in 2018.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves managed to make the most consistent trilogy of films.  All three of his Apes movies have been top notch.  Emotional and exciting, Reeve shows a real understanding of the balance of action and drama.

4. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was everything I wanted to see from the DC film universe.  Wonder Woman is hopeful and filled with excitement.  It was a bright spot for Super-Hero films in general, the DC Cinematic Universe quite specifically.

get_out_poster5. Get Out
Jordan Peele, best known as part of the comedy duo Key and Peele, wrote and directed this smart dark social satire thriller that skewers liberal attitudes towards black Americans.  It has great writing and some really good performances.

6. The Big Sick
A wonderful and personal story from husband and wife creative team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the Big Sick mines humor and heartbreak from their real life experience.  In what seems like the ultimate Rom Com movie plot, Emily had fallen into a coma early in their relationship.  The Big Sick does not approach this from a glossy sense of “isn’t it romantic”. It is messy and gut wrenching at times.  It is also endearing and joyful.  They explore the issues of cultural differences, the pressures those can bring on relationships. Really, the Big Sick is a wonderful little movie.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Unexpectedly one of the most controversial films of the year… and one of the rare reversals for Star Wars where the critics largely love it, while the general audience is more sharply divided…The Last Jedi is kind of the Unforgiven of Star Wars. It also has one of Mark Hamill’s best live action performances ever.

Atomic_Blonde_Poster8. Atomic Blonde
This film was not what was advertised.  This is not a James Bond Spy Action flick.  This is an Espionage Thriller, and a very, very good one at that.

9. Edge of Seventeen
I thought this was a real good “coming of age” film, full of wit and heart.

10. It
It (Chapter One) is a pretty solid fright film.  Dramatic with some of the strongest kid actor performances I have seen in a long time, this was a real intense scare film and one of the best adaptions of King to date.

11. Logan Lucky
I suppose this is really just “White Trash Ocean’s Eleven”…but it is full of great performances, and held together emotionally by Channing Tatum and young Farrah Mackenzie. Really, this was a lot of fun.

12. Baby Driver
Baby Driver is not a deep film. It is not even all that emotionally engaging.  It is the simple story of a getaway driver trying to get out of his job for the girl he loves. But Edgar Wright does not give the film any such pretense of being more than just a really good noir action flick with a killer soundtrack.

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13. Thor: Ragnarok
Ragnarok is a lot of fun. I simply had a terrific amount of fun.  The Hulk has evolved, Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a good villain and Taika Waititi managed what seemed to be looking impossible…a Thor film that rose above, “I guess it was okay.”

14. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sam Raimi had a decent run with Spider-Man, but ended on a flawed note.  Marc Webb made Spider-Man films with some good points, but still did not quite connect for audiences.  Sony’s deal with Marvel to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe paid off.  Skipping over the origin story, we get a Spider-Man months into his role.  Peter Parker wants to be an A-List Super-Hero badly, but he is stuck on a neighborhood level, and his connections to Tony Stark are not boosting him forward like he hoped.  Between good arcs for both Spider-Man and his nemesis the Vulture, I am excited to see where Peter goes next.

Honorable Mentions:

John Wick 2.  Somehow, these John Wick movies have me wanting to see more.  I mean, they are really enjoyable.  Kong: Skull Island was fun, much in the same way as Baby Driver.  A Cure For Wellness was just such a weird film, but I really liked it. Also really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  While not perfect, it is a lot of fun.

Nothing But Star Wars Episode Eight (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017)

Last_Jedi_PosterI will be be honest.  Walking out of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I had no idea just how controversial this film would be.  I wrote my first review and then rewrote it due to a spoiler claim. I watched as the film seemed to rise with critics and fall with some fans.

So I went to see the film a second time in the hopes of determining my feelings on the film.  Do I think it sucks on a second viewing? Did I see those glaring flaws?

And so here we go…let us dive into the Last Jedi…

Spoilers, spoilers and and in the words of Artoo, “Bleepin’ Spoilers To Follow”!

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi L to R: Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and a Porg

The Last Jedi opens in the middle of an evacuation by the Resistance. Due to their actions in the Force Awakens the Resistance is no longer underground, and they have no cover from the New Republic as, well, the First Order obliterated them.  While the Starkiller Base was destroyed, that does not mean the First Order is no longer a threat.  They have located the Resistance Homebase and arrive in the middle of the evacuation.  They bring in a super ship called a Dreadnought.

They are startled as a lone fighter appears to face the ship.  It is Poe Dameron and BB8. Dameron is patched through and messes a bit with Admiral Hux. This is, for me, anyways a good little bit.  It also worked for both audiences I saw it with. Poe starts firing on the ship, leaving the Hux confounded, but the Dreadnought Captain realizes what is happening. He calls for tie fighters to be scrambled, As Poe takes out the last of the cannons, Leia calls for him to abort the attack.

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Dameron rejects the command, noting that taking out a Dreadnought is a big deal.  He has the fleet launch their bombers.  But as they near the Dreadnought? the Tie Fighters start taking the bombers out.  The last bomber is in position and Poe is calling for them to drop the bombs.  But the bomber’s, uh, bomb guy is out called.  Gunner Paige tries to grab the trigger, but gets nocked down, in a last minute move, she gets the trigger and drops the bombs, sacrificing herself.  We see her holding a medallion, which seems important.

Poe and the remaining fleet return, the ships jump to hyper space. There, Leia demotes Poe for his refusal to follow orders.  He points out the gamble was a success, but Leia notes that the cost was to high.  They lost all their bombers. They lost countless pilots. At the same time, Finn wakes up from his injuries received in the Force Awakens. He meets up with Poe and asks where Rey is…

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Rey gives Luke the lightsaber…he looks at it and…tosses it aside?! Luke is not happy to see Rey at all.  In fact, he walks off bitterly. Rey is perplexed.  She tells him the Resistance…his sister…needs him.  And Luke responds with derision. He mocks the notion of the legend returning with his laser sword and sending the First Order packing.

Rey follows Luke around a bit, but his day to day is kind..bizarre yet mundane.  Luke went to find a place to hide and die. Rey suddenly feels a pull and finds an old tree…inside is a collection of books.  Luke asks Rey why she is there.

Rey notes there has always been something inside, and now it seems to be growing. Rey wants to understand it.  But Luke is convinced the Jedi should end.

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Meanwhile, not long after having dropped out of hyperspace, the First Order shows up right behind them.  The Resistance realizes they were able to track them through hyperspace.  They put it together that the ships only have enough fuel for one last jump through hyperspace.  The First Order launches their ship.

As Tie Fighters attack, the pilots race for their X-Wings.  But along comes Kylo Ren.  He and Leia seem to sense each other, he flies into the Resistance ship’s hanger.

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All the X-Wings are destroyed.  Ren and two other tie fighters approach the bridge of the ship, Kylo hesitates, but the other ships fire, blowing the ship bridge wide open.  Leia appears dead, but then her eyes open and she flies to the bridge where medical officers retrieve her.

The Resistance opts to get out of the range of the main First Order ships, forcing the Tie Fighters to fall back and also allowing the shields to hold up under the First Order Barrage.  It is announced that Leia’s command is passing onto Commander Holdo.  Instantly there is friction between her and Poe.  Poe clearly thought he should be leading, and he demands to know the plan.  The only answer he gets is… “Be a good soldier.”

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Finn tries to escape, hoping to find Rey, but runs into Rose. Rose is introduced in tears, looking at a familiar medallion. We find out her sister was the bomber gunner from the beginning of the movie. She recognizes Finn and starts gushing about what a hero he is.  He is embarrassed, but then Rose realizes he was trying to take an escape pod.  She stuns Finn and as she is hauling him to the brig, he mentions that the First Order can track them through hyperspace. They start to contemplate this and formulate a possible plan.

All the while, Rey has found herself psychically connected to Kylo Ren. They are conversing at times, Ren making his pitch on how terrible Luke is. Luke merely tells Rey that Kylo attacked him.  But Kylo states Luke tried to kill him, claiming it was self defense to attack Luke. After confronting him, Rey finds Luke did indeed have a moment of fear, when he considered killing Kylo Ren, but he realized it was wrong.  Unfortunately, Ren awoke to just see Luke standing over him and freaked out.

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Luke starts to train Rey in a rather…unique fashion. He at first mocks her…he has her close her eyes and says to reach out.  She literally reaches her hand out.  He starts to tap her hand with a weed. Rey starts to get excited until she opens her eyes to realize what Luke was doing…but her second attempt starts to yield results.  Luke explains that the Force is not a magic rock moving power.  It is more like the tension between things.

Poe finds out from Holdo that they plan to have everyone take the emergency transports to reach a nearby planet. Poe thinks the idea is terrible. He works on a plan with Finn and Rose.  They reach out to Maz to try and figure out a way onto Snoke’s ship. She tells them to go to find the Master Codebreaker.  He will be at a Las Vegas type of place.  Rose and Finn go to find him.  In the meantime, Dameron leads a mutiny against Holdo, believing her plan will get everyone killed.

Finn and Rose arrive at their location, and in a humorous reference to the New Hope, Rose tells Finn what a terrible place they are visiting (not unlike Mos Eisley) and then it is a beautiful location.  One the surface. They see the Master Codebreaker, only to be promptly arrested for a parking violation.

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They end up in a cell with a guy who claims he can get them in.  At first they reject him, but he ends up helping them escape.  They may work their way back toward’s Snoke’s ship.

Rey and Chewbacca leave Luke behind, as Rey believes that since Luke won’t return, Kylo is their only hope. Rey arrives on Snoke’s ship and is brought before Snoke.  He reveals that she and Kylo were connected by him.  He had thought that Luke Skywalker was the Force Equal for light to Kylo’s darkness. But he now realizes it was Rey.

Holdo and Leia end the insurgency, stunning Poe.  They start to send out their transports.  But Holdo stays behind.

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Last_Jedi_Snoke

In an unexpected moment, Kylo uses the force to slice Snoke in two. This results in a battle between Snoke’s guards, Rey and Kylo.  Rey believes the tide has turned. But Kylo reveals that he wants Rey to help him reshape the galaxy.

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Poe Dameron wakes up to find that he is on a transport ship to reach the planet.  And the danger increases when Rose, Finn and the Codebreaker are caught.  The Codebreaker betrays them and tells the First Order about the  escape plan. The First Order starts firing on the transports.  But Holdo takes the main ship and then jumps to light speed, splitting Snoke’s ship in half.

Finn, Rose and BB8 escape the ship, as does Rey.  They arrive at Chait (a planet that initially looks like Hoth).  Kylo claims that Rey killed Snoke and basically takes up the mantle of Supreme Leader.  They arrive on the planet surface, planning to destroy the Resistance.  Finn and Poe take junk ships to try and destroy a giant battering ram laser thing.

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The planet surface, instead of snow, is covered in salt, and just below that is red. It creates this really cool visual. They end up failing to stop it…but when all hope seems lost…in walks Luke Skywalker.  He takes a moment with Leia to apologize.  He then marches out and stands before the First Order Walkers.  They fire on him (at the order of Kylo Ren). When the smoke clears, Luke is still standing.

Kylo steps down and confronts Luke in person.  They start to fight, but Kylo seems unable to lay a blow on Luke.  Meanwhile, Poe realizes Luke is giving them time, and they look for a way out.  They follow some animals to find an exit…blocked by boulders.

It is revealed that Luke is projecting himself across the Galaxy.  Then Luke fades away.  Rey moves the boulders so the last of the Resistance can escape.  They all climb aboard the Millennium Falcon and fly off.

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As noted, the film has been…controversial.  While critics has mostly loved it, the audience reaction seems largely split with a leaning towards negative.  Some of these reasons are, well…okay… flawed.

One of the first negative articles I saw included the phrase “There is no gravity in space”.  STOP SAYING THIS PEOPLE.  There is gravity in space.  But it functions a bit differently. But more importantly? Star Wars is not a hard science series.  X-Wings would not fly like they do in any of the films. The Star Wars films disobey science all the time.  The Empire Strikes back has space ships dropping bombs in space. Yes, yes, light speed would work differently than it does in the film.  Stop arguing science against Star Wars films you do not like.  Because the films everyone agrees are good are every bit as guilty.

Hologram Luke.  Really, it is more like Astral Projection.  We have not seen this in prior films.  However, both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi introduced new Force powers.  And certainly, the Star Wars world was in it’s infancy then. But at the same time, maybe the Astral Projection was a lost or forgotten thing.  It is presented as immensely taxing.  Snoke merely tied Rey and Kylo Ren together psychically, and he noted that would have torn either of them apart. So, it stands to reason it would not be something Jedi used a lot, if at all.  Plus, it is certainly an extension of the concept of the Force Ghost. I actually liked this.  I like how there are a few queues (that I missed on my first viewing) that something is off.  Luke’s beard and hair lack any gray, and he does not effect the ground around him.  Seriously, if you can accept Force Ghosts, but not Astral Projection?  You probably need to be a fan of something else.

Related to that was “Space Leia”.  After being pulled into space by an explosion, Leia opens her eyes and flies back to the ship. While I think the way it was shot is a little goofy, the concept itself is fine.  Leia is Force sensitive, and in a life or death situation, using the Force to save her life is plenty believable.  If the force can pull a lightsaber across a room to a Jedi, certainly a person can use the Force to pull themselves towards an object.

A couple things that I found a little disappointing.  The class issues of the Las Vegas resort is lacking room to breathe and explore it.  It all feels rushed. They need to find the Codebreaker and take off.

Then there is the fight with Captain Phasma.  Phasma has a cool look with the Metallic Storm Trooper armor.  She was set up as something big, even though she was disposed of quickly in The Force Awakens.  Here, they have a decent fight and then she falls into a pit of fire.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi L to R: Finn (John Boyega) battling Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The fight is to quick, so Phasma becomes kind of like Darth Maul…gone to quickly.  However, I loved the exchange with Finn in which she tells him he will always be scum.  Finn looks at her and says, “Rebel scum.” It is a great moment for Finn. I would also note that I have seen people constantly refer to Finn as a janitor, suggesting he should not be a good fighter based on this.  But the problem with that logic is…he was raised and trained as a Storm Trooper.  He has combat training, regardless of his assignment as a janitor.

I also found it frustrating that as Finn was about to sacrifice himself to destroy the laser battering ram, Rose blows through and stops him.  Now, mind you, I like Finn, and did not want to see him die.  But I also felt it would be a dramatic and heroic moment. I found myself admiring Finn as he was flying into the mouth of the cannon.

Now, some have made a big deal that the Last Jedi is an attack on Mansplaining.  I am not convinced that it is this extreme.  I think it is a bit simpler than that.

One of the things I really enjoyed was how the film thwarted my expectations.  As a movie going culture, we have been heavily trained to be sympathetic to guys like Poe Dameron. Poe is kind of the John McLane character here.  In any other film, Poe would be the guy who knows more than his leadership.  When they announce that Leia is in a coma and they have chosen her successor, Poe clearly thinks it will be him.  But instead it is Holdo.  Oscar Isaac has a pretty hilarious reaction, as you see him practically ready to stand up and thank everyone…only to be deflated. In the case of Dameron, I think he would have reacted to command the same from a man as he does women.  Poe does not think he is smarter than them because he is a man.  He thinks he knows more than everyone else.

And in almost any other film, he would be proven right. Poe, Rose and Finn would have succeeded and been hailed as heroes.  But the Last Jedi takes a huge risk.  Many are using the rule of the “Idiot Plot” to condemn this particular story point. The Idiot Plot is a story point dependent on people not knowing vital information. Specifically, everything would be solved if somebody just told another character simple information.

This is a common plot device in sit coms and romantic comedies. And yes, as tropes go, it can often be very frustrating in those types of movies.  And sometimes films and shows will have elaborate reasons why two characters cannot show such information. But it is not always applicable just because you can look and say “Gee, if so-and-so only knew this…” Context matters.  Here, Poe is a soldier.  A demoted soldier no less.  And he was demoted for his reckless decision making which results countless deaths. People keep saying that Holdo could have averted the problem by simply telling Poe everything.  But it is Poe that decided he is smarter than everyone else.  It is Poe that decides to not tell Holdo of the plan he sets up, mocking her for keeping him in the dark.

Holdo and Leia are not incompetent leaders.  Instead, it is Dameron’s single minded arrogance that causes the problem.  His unwillingness to trust his boss. We have an endless supply of films about rebellious cops and soldiers who buck the system.  And here we see that play out…and it backfires spectacularly. This may seem like the idiot plot on the surface, but looking below that surface makes plenty of sense as to why they told Dameron to just trust them.

It was quite interesting to see a story played out so differently than the conventional tropes.

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Kylo’s story is interesting to me.  Early in the film, Snoke berates him for getting beat by Rey and mocks his wearing of his mask.  Ren leaves and angrily smashes the mask.  Much of his journey in this film seems to be from that of wanting to be Darth Vader to accepting a different path. His interactions with Rey certainly give us a look at his continuing conflict, and it is understandable why Rey thinks he could be won over.

In spite of Snoke’s death at Ren’s hands, I feel the story is not over and need to withhold judgement for this unexpected move seeming premature.

The reveal that Luke is living alone, bitter and unwilling to help rubbed a lot of people, including Mark Hamill, the wrong way.  But I think it was an interesting choice that made a lot of sense.  Luke ran from both his failures and his legend.  I suppose the Force Awakens could have opened with Luke having successfully rebooted the Jedi Order.  But this is far more interesting.  We find Luke resentful of not being left alone.  He believes that the Jedi is a concept unworthy of continuing.  And in some ways, this feels true.

The prequels established that the Jedi were a flawed bureaucracy, not cool Intergalactic Knights. The original trilogy showed Ben Kenobi to be a guy more than willing to stretch the truth.

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And to this, we find Luke to be a pretty terrible teacher.  And why wouldn’t he be? Even when he agrees to train Rey, it is with the attitude that all the rules of the Jedi are garbage.  The Force is not for special people.  The Force is not about your family line.  The Force is available to all, if they are open to it.

And there is the Rub.  Luke has closed himself off to the Force.  In doing so, he has cut himself off from life.  He cannot sense the activities of his loved ones. He did not feel it when Han Solo was killed by Kylo Ren. And Luke is fearful of the power he sees in Rey.

It is only when he realizes his failures should not define him that he sheds his fears.  In opening himself back up to the Force, he is able to tap into power that even he had not experienced in the past. And upon completing his mission to help Rey and Leia? He finds Peace within the Force.  He tells Kylo Ren, “Be seeing you.”  It sounds like there is more to come with Luke.  By the end of the film, Luke is reconnected with the Force and in unity with it.

The film’s biggest reveal is that of Rey’s parents.  The Abram’s film showed us that Rey’s parents had left her with Unkar Plutt. Fan speculation was all over the map.  Is she a Kenobi? A Skywalker? The Last Jedi loudly declares they were nobody. They were junkies who sold her to get money for a fix.  They are buried in paupers graves on Jaaku.  The Force Awakens hinted that Rey’s parents were not that important, despite claims otherwise.  Maz tells Rey they both know her parents are never coming back.

This works for me.  It of course, also works for the themes of the Film.  Snoke believed that it was the Skywalker line that would stand in his way. It is why he converted Ben Solo. The fact that Rey is some random Force Sensitive person? That she is not some part of a prophesied blood line? I find this a very satisfying answer.

Are there things that I think could have been done better? As noted, yes.  But are these failings greater than the things the film does well?  Not by a longshot.  Johnson has given us an unpredictable, interesting film that still reflects it’s predecessors. The Last Jedi is a strong Star Wars film that has me interested in seeing the next chapter of this story.

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The Tension Between Things (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017)

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The Last Jedi picks up shortly after the Force Awakens. It begins with a bold battle that has powerful repercussions on the characters.

Rey is trying to get Luke to come back with her to help the rebellion.  But Rey finds herself unsure of her true goals.

This new Star Wars film is building off the questions and set up of the Force Awakens, and yet, it addresses them in very unexpected ways.

Characters you know are the heroes find themselves the ones needing to learn the lesson. Others are trying to come to terms with their celebrity status. Others are trying to come to terms with heroes not living up to their expectations, and in some cases, even face betrayal.

I found Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke to be Hamill’s strongest performance in the entire series.  He is funny, frustrating, heartbreaking and heroic. And the film does this very well.

The film will likely frustrate people who have heavy theories about just how the new trilogy ought to play out, but I found Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Looper) choices to not satisfy those pet theories kind of…well, satisfying.

I appreciated the visual style, there is some genuinely gorgeous action in the film.

I really enjoyed the film, and feel it is one of the stronger films within the Star Wars story.

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