Tag Archives: Laura Dern

Blue Velvet (1986) Review

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Blue Velvet

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] contains violence, sexual violence and offensive language
Cast:
Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens
Kyle MacLachlan as Jeffrey Beaumont
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth
Laura Dern as Sandy Williams
Hope Lange as Mrs. Pam Williams
Dean Stockwell as Ben
Director: David Lynch

College student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home after his father has a stroke. When he discovers a severed ear in an abandoned field, Beaumont teams up with detective’s daughter Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) to solve the mystery. They believe beautiful lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected with the case, and Beaumont finds himself becoming drawn into her dark, twisted world, where he encounters sexually depraved psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

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Blue Velvet was the first movie I saw from David Lynch and it left quite an impression on me. Returning back to it after having seen some of his other movies, I find it to be an even better movie. A great and strange thriller, directed excellently and beautifully. It may have been divisive upon its release, but its generally regarded now as a classic.

BLUE VELVET, Kyle MacLachlan, 1986. ©De Laurentis Group/Courtesy Everett Collection.

Blue Velvet is by far the most straightforward of David Lynch’s films, at least one of his most. While there’s definitely a lot to unpack thematically, you won’t have to deep dive interpret events yourself to understand the general plot (like some of his other movies like Mulholland Drive). It is tightly paced across the 2 hour long runtime and keeps you constantly engaged. It starts as an innocent enough mystery that seems Nancy Drew esque (albeit one sparked by discovering a severed human ear in a field) but turns into a seedy nightmare as it descends into an unsettling psychosexual fantasy world. Lynch contrasts the bright and sunny façade of suburban life with the dark underbelly of crime and sexual perversions. Blue Velvet may be a neo-noir thriller but it’s a mix of a lot of elements, noir, comedy, satire, thriller, a bit of horror, and it’s even part sordid noir and teen melodrama. It’s a film dripping in sleaze and foreboding menace, and has a creepy aura.

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The cast are all great in their parts. Kyle MacLachlan does well as Jeffrey, portraying someone who finds his innocence corrupted as he uncovers what’s really going on. Isabella Rossellini gives a very effective and memorable performance. Laura Dern is also good in her part. The performance that steals the whole movie however is Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. Hopper has played plenty of villains, but none of them come close to the level of Booth in this movie. He’s completely depraved, disturbed and incredibly memorable. The movie is already great before he shows up, but its taken to a whole other level when he does, and really does signal the reveal of the darker side of the film’s setting.

Blue Velvet - 1986

David Lynch’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. It looks great, the cinematography is rich and colourful in its presentation, showcasing the light and dark of the town with impressive use of texture and shades of tone. At the same time there are occasionally some aesthetics of a horror film in here. The set and production designs are also quite effective. Blue Velvet really does aim for a noir movie feel, with the shadows, some of the shots and the score. Speaking of which, the score from Angelo Badalamenti works quite well. The use of songs also works in their respective scenes, including Blue Velvet, In Dreams and Mysteries of Love, fitting Lynch’s vision perfectly and heightening their respective scenes.

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Blue Velvet is an excellent movie, a dreamlike and nightmarish thriller so fantastically directed and put together. It is up there among Lynch’s best work, and I think I’m close to considering it among my favourite movies now. While I haven’t finished watching all of David Lynch’s movies yet, I’d say that if you wanted a movie to start to get into his filmography, Blue Velvet is a great start.

The Tale (2018) Review

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The Tale

Time: 114 minutes
Cast:
Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox
Isabelle Nélisse as Jenny Fox, age 13
Jessica Sarah Flaum as Jenny Fox, age 15
Ellen Burstyn as Nadine “Nettie” Fox
John Heard as William P. Allens
Jason Ritter as Bill Allens
Frances Conroy as Jane Gramercy
Elizabeth Debicki as Mrs. G
Common as Martin
Director: Jennifer Fox

Jennifer (Laura Dern) has it all, with a loving boyfriend (Common) and a great career as a journalist and professor. But when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story – “The Tale” – that Jennifer wrote when she was 13, detailing a special relationship Jennifer had with two adult coaches (Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki), Jennifer returns to the Carolina horse farm where the events transpired to try to reconcile her version of events with the truth.

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I had been meaning to watch The Tale for some time. I knew that Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki were in it and that it was about the director’s own sexual abuse as a child and I heard some good things about it. The Tale isn’t by any means an easy film to watch but I do think that it is worth taking a look at.

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Handling a subject matter like abuse is definitely touchy and not an easy task for any film to have. I’m actually surprised that it was actually HBO who distributed this movie, it’s probably their most controversial movie and looking at the results, the risk definitely paid off well. This is a great examination of trauma and abuse, and something that definitely helped is that director Jennifer Fox is telling her own story, and that really added a lot. It’s a bit unconventional with the way it tells its story, mainly the flashbacks, with the time period jumping all around the place. In a way it works as it’s Fox looking back at her life, but at times it’s a little too jarring and hard to follow. I will say though that the way they ended the movie and story was great.

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One of the highlights of the movie are the performances. Laura Dern is such an talented and underrated actress and I’m glad that she finally got a lead role in a movie. Here she basically plays Jennifer Fox and this is definitely among her best performances, a powerhouse yet real performance, especially towards the end of the movie. Isabelle Nélisse also plays the younger Jennifer and she’s quite prominent throughout flashbacks and she’s quite convincing in her role. The rest of the cast is great as well. Jason Ritter and Elizbeth Debicki play the two adult coaches that the young Fox had some sort of relationship with and both were really great, especially Debicki. The older versions of the two played by John Heard and Frances Conroy were also great. Ellen Burstyn and Common were also very good as Dern’s mother and boyfriend respectively.

The Tale

Jennifer Fox’s direction was quite good and she knows how to handle her story, even if there were some aspects that didn’t work perfectly. Fox prior to filming The Tale was a documentary filmmaker and at times you can feel it, and I mean it in a good way. There are bits where people in the flashbacks where Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter and even Isabelle Nélisse (who played the younger version of Fox) are being interviewed by the younger and older versions of Fox, with the camera facing the interviewee and all that. As it is about Fox looking back at these people, it made sense and worked for what she was going for. Despite some editing decisions that made the movie a little bit jumpy at times and feeling occasionally like a tv show (given that it’s an HBO movie it’s not that surprising), Fox’s debut at a non-documentary film was quite good.

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The Tale is for sure difficult to watch, but an important look at abuse and trauma, and all around was a really good movie. The highlights were the great performances, particularly from Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki, and it was directed very well. While the subject matter is heavy, I’d say that it’s a film well worth watching.

Little Women (2019) Review

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating:
Cast:
Saoirse Ronan as Josephine “Jo” March
Emma Watson as Margaret “Meg” March
Florence Pugh as Amy March
Eliza Scanlen as Elizabeth “Beth” March
Laura Dern as Marmee March
Timothée Chalamet as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence
Meryl Streep as Aunt March
Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood
Bob Odenkirk as Father March
James Norton as John Brooke
Louis Garrel as Friedrich Bhaer
Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence
Director: Greta Gerwig

In the years after the Civil War, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) lives in New York and makes her living as a writer, while her sister Amy (Florence Pugh) studies painting in Paris. Amy has a chance encounter with Theodore (Timothee Chalamet), a childhood crush who proposed to Jo but was ultimately rejected. Their oldest sibling, Meg (Emma Watson), is married to a schoolteacher, while shy sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) develops a devastating illness that brings the family back together.

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I heard quite a bit about Little Women leading up to its release, mainly the people involved with making it, and the awards hype surrounding it. Greta Gerwig’s previous movie (and her debut) was Lady Bird, which I thought was pretty decent. I didn’t read the Little Women book, not have I watched any of the previous adaptations of them, so I really didn’t know what to expect from this most recent version. However I found it to be rather fantastic really, and one of the highlights of 2019.

I can’t comment on how well Little Women does as an adaptation as I’m not familiar with the story. However this movie did such a good job at making me interested in at least checking out the version from the 90s. There are two storylines that the movie cuts between, present day and the past. For some it was jarring and indeed there are moments where it feels that way, however I actually liked how they handled it, the use of parallels worked particularly well. It’s a really heartfelt story as we follow this family through their lives. One thing I had heard going into the movie was that the ending was changed. Knowing the context of the original book and considering the main character throughout the story, I actually liked it, and it made a lot of sense. Although it took a bit for me to get into the story at the start, I didn’t feel like it stretched on for too long, even at 2 hours and 15 minutes. I was invested in what was going on from start to finish. A minor but nonetheless distracting thing is the fact that early in the flashbacks, Florence Pugh’s (who is very clearly an adult) character Amy is supposed to be 13, however for whatever reason they had a scene with her in school with actual 13 year olds. That choice was more than a little distracting, but the scene lasted for less than a minute. Outside of that there aren’t many problems I had with the movie.

The cast on the whole were outstanding. Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen play the March sisters, and they all work really well, especially with each other. Ronan gives one of her best performances, and Pugh was a standout. Laura Dern does well as the mother of the March sisters, and Timothee Chalamet gives quite possibly my favourite performance from him. The rest of the supporting cast was solid too, with the likes of Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk Chris Cooper and others really working.

Greta Gerwig directed this movie exceptionally well. It is larger scale compared to Lady Bird, yet manages to make much of this movie feel very personal. I can’t tell how previous versions handled the story, but her version was done in a way where today’s audiences can easily get into it. Everything for the time period works perfectly, from the costumes, to the production design, and more. It’s such a visually stunning movie and looks great, very well shot by Yorick Le Sauz. The score by Alexandre Desplat was quite good and was also fitting for the movie.

Little Women surprised me by in how great it was. Greta Gerwig has directed and written this exceptionally, and the cast all played their parts well. I have seen some people say that this adaptation of the story has the potential to be a future classic, and I can honestly see that happening. Even if you don’t think you’ll like it, I still highly recommend checking it out as soon as you can, it’s one of my favourites of the year.

Marriage Story (2019) Review

Time: 136 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language & sexual references
Cast:
Scarlett Johansson as Nicole Barber
Adam Driver as Charlie Barber
Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw
Alan Alda as Bert Spitz
Ray Liotta as Jay Marotta
Azhy Robertson as Henry Barber
Julie Hagerty as Sandra
Merritt Wever as Cassie
Director: Noah Baumbach

A stage director (Adam Driver) and his actor wife (Scarlett Johansson) struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

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I have heard of Marriage Story for a while, and there was much anticipation leading up to its release. I liked the few movies I’ve seen from writer/director Noah Baumbach, and the cast included Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, so there was a lot of talent involved. However, I didn’t really know what to expect except that it was a movie about divorce and a lot of people were hyping it up. Marriage Story is definitely great and for sure worth seeing when you can.

The script by Noah Baumbach is greatly written, at 2 hours 15 minutes or so, Marriage Story is rather engaging. It’s a slower paced dialogue driven drama, I had an idea it would be that going in, and I liked it for what it is. So much of it feels real, from the dialogue to the story and some of the characters (even if it does throw in a few large monologues too). It doesn’t really side with either of the main characters Charlie (Adam Driver) or Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), it portrays both of them honestly, each with their own flaws. However I will say that it feels more like Charlie’s movie than Nicole’s, so Driver had a little more to work with. Side note but wondering about “whose fault it is” between the two is very counterproductive, and is not really a conversation worth having. I don’t know too much about the divorce process, but the movie at least felt like an accurate depiction of it. It showed glimpses of the process, as well as the effect it has on the two leads as well as their child. I should mention that yes, Marriage Story very much has replaced Kramer vs Kramer as the best movie about divorce. I heard going into this movie that it was emotionally devastating and all that. Excluding whether you can relate to it (whether first hand or second hand experience with relationships/divorce), it’s not really that sort of movie. It is a dramedy, while it can be sad in parts, it’s not a consistently depressing or heavy movie or anything, it’s really bittersweet at worst. There are some lighter parts, and plenty of genuinely humorous moments too. Ultimately it’s a hopeful movie, including the way that it ended (not spoiling anything). Not to mention that as far as divorces go, there have been a lot more unpleasant divorces in both fiction and reality than the one front and centre throughout Marriage Story. None of what I said is a tangent to flex about how I didn’t cry during the movie or anything, I’m just talking about what kind of movie it is. I will say though on that note, I wasn’t that emotionally connected to the story and characters. I was definitely invested in it as a movie but that was sort of it.

There is a great lineup of a cast, and they all do some great work here. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give their best performances of their careers, as well as some of the best performances of the year. They felt incredibly raw and human, and while you don’t see a lot of them being together before the divorce (this is just shown in a brief montage), they have such great chemistry and you can believe that these two people were once in love. I’ve noticed people reposting and praising an argument scene between the two (there are a number of arguments but you’ll know which one I’m referring to), watching a couple minutes of it out of context doesn’t do it justice at all. The way it builds up to it and the context really gives it its impact, and both actors did very good jobs in that scene and the whole movie. The lawyers played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta also work well in their respective roles. Azhy Robertson is also good as Henry, the child of Charlie and Nicole, who’s caught in the middle of the divorce.

Noah Baumbach directed the movie well, particularly with the dialogue scenes. An example was a monologue by Scarlett Johansson in her first scene with Laura Dern, it’s uninterrupted and focuses on Johansson, letting the scene play out and allowing her performance to take up the focus. It’s a much more intimate and personal movie, and the direction certainly accompanies that, but it’s also edited very effectively. The score by Randy Newman was also quite good.

Marriage Story is really worth watching as soon as possible, it’s fantastically written, and features some excellent acting from its talented cast (particularly Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson). Whether you like Noah Baumbach or not, or if you have you seen his movies or not, check it out on Netflix if it’s not in a cinema near you.

Cold Pursuit (2019) Review

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, suicide themes, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Liam Neeson as Nels Coxman
Tom Bateman as Trevor “Viking” Calcote
Tom Jackson as White Bull Legrew
Emmy Rossum as Kim Dash
Domenick Lombardozzi as Mustang
Julia Jones as Aya
John Doman as John “Gip” Gipsky
Laura Dern as Grace
Director: Hans Petter Moland

Nels Coxman’s (Liam Neeson) quiet life as a snowplow driver comes crashing down when his beloved son dies under mysterious circumstances. His search for the truth soon becomes a quest for revenge against a psychotic drug lord named Viking (Tom Bateman) and his sleazy henchmen. Transformed from upstanding citizen to coldblooded vigilante, Coxman unwittingly sets off a chain of events that includes a kidnapping, a series of deadly misunderstandings and a turf war between Viking and a rival boss (Tom Jackson).

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Liam Neeson ever since 2008’s Taken has starred in a bunch of revenge thrillers, so one could be forgiven for completely blanking on this year’s Cold Pursuit as just being more of the same, albeit set in the snow. That or it is just remembered as that one movie where Neeson said some things on a press tour that got him into some hot water to say the least. I was meaning to check it out earlier but missed it at the cinemas, so checked it out more recently. Cold Pursuit has its issues but its pretty entertaining overall.

It’s around 90 minutes long and for the most part it’s paced reasonably well. It starts off like you’d expect it to, it shows Liam Neeson in his normal life, tragedy strikes with his son being killed, and then he goes on his path of revenge. The second act is when you really notice something strange about the tone of the movie. As previously mentioned, this is a dark comedy and is very offbeat throughout, and you should probably know that going in or the experience is going to be a little surprising to say the least. You think that it would mainly focus on Liam Neeson, and while he is very prominent, it also focuses on two other groups of characters, one led by the main antagonist Viking, and the other being another crime group who would come into conflict with Viking. Personally I liked how they handled it, mostly because in the third act everything comes together to really work to hilarious effect (no spoilers). However the second act is a little stretched out, even if the runtime of the movie is shorter, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of Neeson, he needed to be in the movie a little more (particularly in the second act).

It really feels like Liam Neeson was cast in the lead role for a reason given his typical lead revenge roles, and he’s effortlessly good as expected. This time however, this isn’t a Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills, just a normal guy who is out for revenge. Tom Bateman plays the drug lord and the main antagonist of the movie. He’s crazy and unhinged but he’s mostly used for comedy, as he doesn’t really do anything till like the third act. He’s just so over the top but in the right kind of way, he’s deliberately not meant to be taken seriously. Most of the rest of the cast is fine as well. There is a subplot following a couple cops played by Emmy Rossum and John Doman, and while the two are okay in their roles, their parts didn’t really amount to anything. It’s almost like they’re in the movie to show that police exist in this town but they basically contribute nothing to the plot. The worst treatment of a character/actor is definitely with Laura Dern as Neeson’s wife. It’s actually kind of ridiculous, she appears for scenes before and after her son’s death, and then they just disappear and aren’t mentioned or seen ever again. I heard that apparently it was like that with the original movie, but then I wish the director then would’ve improved the role instead of keeping it the same.

Turns out that this movie is actually an English language remake of In Order of Disappearance, a film also made by the same director, Hans Petter Moland. He really does place you in the snowy location very well. His direction is especially great when it comes to the comedy. For example, every time someone dies, a title card comes up with the name of the person who was just killed. A lot of the time this is used for some really great comedy. The action itself when it actually happenss is quite good, however don’t expect the amount of action in some of Neeson’s other flicks like Taken.

Cold Pursuit isn’t anything special but it’s a fun movie. Liam Neeson and the cast worked well (although Laura Dern and Emmy Rossum weren’t given the best things to work with), and the writing and overall direction made it work as a dark comedy. It’s definitely not a conventional Neeson thriller and despite its issues, I’d say that it’s worth a watch.

Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

Time: 152 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley as Rey
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke
Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
Benicio del Toro as DJ
Director: Rian Johnson

Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

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Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. I loved The Force Awakens and with Rian Johnson attached to direct the sequel I was looking forward to where the story would progress. The Last Jedi has what you would typically expect in a good Star Wars movie, great characters and top notch visual effects and action sequences. But it managed to do something that recent Star Wars movies haven’t been able to do: surprise me. It went in directions I didn’t expect. After thinking upon it for a while, The Last Jedi just might be one of the all time best Star Wars movies.

First thing I want to say is to make sure you don’t see any spoilers, I saw none of them before going in and I was surprised by many of the things that happened. For that reason, I can’t go into too much depth about why this movie is great. The story is darker and bleaker than The Force Awakens, yes it is still quite fun, it has very effective humour and it does have its good dose of adorable creatures in the form of Porgs, which are these little penguin hamster creatures (and surprisingly they are actually cute and not annoying). It’s very much still Star Wars. But at the same time it feels like its something different, most people in charge of this film wouldn’t go in this direction with its story and characters. If you felt that The Force Awakens plays it way too safe, I can see you liking The Last Jedi more. I can see this film dividing some audience members with regard to some of the decisions that the story takes but for me, I loved these decisions. I know I’m being very vague when talking about the plot but that’s because in order to do that I would have to go in depth and I just can’t, not in a non-spoiler review at least. As for whether some of these risky decisions should have been made at all, I think that a lot of it will depend on how the story is resolved in episode 9. This movie is 150 minutes long, making it the longest Star Wars movie to date. For the most part it earns its long runtime, and I say for the most part because there is a section which takes place on a planet with Boyega’s Finn and Marie Tran’s Rose that feels rather unnecessary. Outside of that I think most of the plot is great.

The returning cast is great, Daisy Ridley continues to impress as Rey, John Boyega is great as Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe gets a lot more to do here. Regardless of what you think about the character of Snoke, there’s no denying that Andy Serkis acted so well, this time we see Snoke in his non-holographic form and Serkis is so fantastic in his scenes. Carrie Fisher is as usual great as Leia and yes, she does have her chance to shine in certain moments. Carrie Fisher will be sorely missed. We also get some newcomers. Kelly Marie Tran is really good and likable in her role, if I can understand correctly this is the first real film that she’s been in and she does such a great job here. Laura Dern is also quite good in her role. If there’s a weak link, it’s Benicio del Toro’s character, Benicio is quite good in the role but the character feels like he could be played by anyone and wasn’t that memorable and didn’t feel that necessary. If I was to pinpoint the two stand outs of the whole film, I’d say that it’s Mark Hamill and Adam Driver. Mark Hamill is fantastic as Luke Skywalker, Luke has clearly been through a lot and has changed as a result from Kylo’s turn to the darkside and the guilt that he feels for it. He’s less hopeful and he’s not quite what you’d expect him to be but you can tell it’s still Luke, not just a grumpy old Mark Hamill. Not only is this the best Hamill has been as Luke Skywalker, it is also the best he’s ever been in a live action film. With regard to some of the polarising decisions of the film, many of them surround him, that’s all I’ll say. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was one of the highlights of The Force Awakens and he was a highlight once again here. He’s even more conflicted and unstable now due him killing his father in episode 7 (if you haven’t watched The Force Awakens you really shouldn’t be reading this review by the way) and watching his journey was intriguing. Kylo Ren is almost at Darth Vader’s level in terms of Star Wars villains. Really everyone is great here, and they all get to have at least one moment to shine.

Rian Johnson directed this film excellently. The visual effects are incredible, there wasn’t a moment that stood out to me as being out of place in terms of CGI. The cinematography… I’m just going to say it, out of all the Star Wars films, The Last Jedi has the best cinematography. There are countless beautifully shot sequences, all of them fantastic. All the action sequences are great and I’d consider most of them to be amongst the best in the Star Wars series. It succeeded so well at making these sequences feel incredibly tense. The only sequence that felt out of place was the one I mentioned earlier with Finn and Rose, and even then that’s more to do with tone and how unnecessary it felt. The score by John Williams was also great, while his score for The Force Awakens was fine, it was below the quality of most of the other Star Wars scores. Here with the Last Jedi it’s absolutely great and it adds so much to the scenes.

Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi wasn’t what I was expecting, along with being fun and entertaining, it is much more, it makes decisions that will divide its audience and for it to be this risky, I have to give Rian Johnson a lot of props. The story was so different from what I was expecting and without giving anything away, I loved it. I personally loved almost everything in this movie, all but one or two aspects. I’m going to say this now, The Last Jedi is in my top 2 favourite Star Wars movies. This movie is already dividing some audiences, even those who liked it have some aspect that they aren’t entirely sure about. So I say this, avoid all spoilers and just go into the movie with no expectations, even if some of the decisions are different, just be willing enough to go with it. And don’t try to predict where the story is going, because you won’t. I couldn’t be happier with this film and I’m now waiting with anticipation and nervousness to see whether Episode 9 will deliver a solid conclusion to the new Star Wars trilogy.