Have you wondered why 93% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but only 57% of the general audience did? I have my own hypothesis. Do you remember what Daniel Craig as the new James Bond said to the bartender who asked him if he preferred his martini shaken or stirred? He replied, “Do I look like someone who gives a damn?” That iconoclastic moment defined his take on the role. So, too, the new Star Wars film is filled with iconoclastic moments that have jarred dyed-in-the-wool fans. Those who go in to the movie with preconceived notions as to how things should turn out would best follow the warning Luke gives to Rey toward the end of the film: “This isn’t going to turn out as you expect.” The new director, Rian Johnson, takes a much freer approach to the mythos, and I’m afraid this disappoints some viewers. I was not one of them. I feel The Last Jedi delivers on all levels: compelling characters, engaging story, eye-popping action, and a very satisfying conclusion. Not to be crude, but I was tempted to light up a cigarette as I walked out of the theater.
On a different spectrum entirely, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a visceral, gut-wrenching tour de force for veteran actors Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Borrowing from the Coen brothers playbook, Martin McDonagh has crafted a sometimes darkly comic and always ferocious film about a mother’s grief for her murdered daughter. I confess that I was afraid the film would end with a graphic depiction of that grisly rape and murder, but it does not–thankfully that remains off-screen. That’s not to say the film isn’t violent, but it’s the violence of savage fist-fights between men. What is unique about this film is the attention to character: even the most minor character is nuanced, complex, more than what is immediately visible. Because of that, a gesture as small as offering someone a cup of orange juice with the straw pointed in the right direction can be redemptive. I do recommend you see it with a friend so you can discuss it afterward. I found I enjoyed it more as I got some distance from it and had a chance to process it with a friend. I will be very surprised if McDormand and Rockwell don’t get Oscar nods for their performances.