As I was watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I was reminded of two other 2017 releases: Darkest Hour (which I review below) and Dunkirk.
Without offering too many spoilers, the situations depicted in all three films are rather similar: trapped armies seeking a means of escape so as to avoid imminent destruction—thus affording themselves the opportunity to fight another day.
In The Last Jedi, a reasonably entertaining installment in what seems to be the never-ending Star Wars saga (one on the way, and then, who knows?), wars on being fought on two fronts. A bruised and battered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is prevailed on by Rey (Daisy Ridley) to come back to the Resistance, while many of the remaining Resistance fighters (led by Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia) have to find a way to make use of limited fuel to flee the pursuing fleet of the First Order (led by Adam Driver’s conflicted Kylo Ren and Andy Serkis’ malevolent and seemingly omnipotent Snoke). Aslo on the main Resistance ship, there is escalating friction between Oscar Isaac’s hot-headed pilot Poe and Laura Dern’s stern interim commander, while John Boyega’s Finn (and new character Rose) travel to Casino Bight to find a possible way of sabotaging the First Order’s means of tracking the Resistance.
There are moments of excitement and wit in The Last Jedi, courtesy of writer/director Rian Johnson, notably a light saber fight involving Rey, Kylo Ren and countless others—and one or two moments that inspire audience applause. Many of the best scenes involve Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill—Hamill brings a gravitas to his scenes, as well as notes of mordant humor, while Ridley continues to be the most engaging new member of the series. And yet, the film seems like a placeholder between the first installment and the next one. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that nothing really gets resolved (there IS a sequel coming after all), other than finding a way to spin a retreat into something a bit more morale-boosting (which is, after all, what was done with Dunkirk). In addition, the whole Casino Bight sequence is pretty much a waste of time, for various reasons that you’ll see for yourselves. Here’s hoping the Resistance gets its act together for the next go-round in space.
In Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman is quite impressive as Winston Churchill, Britain’s new Prime Minister in the early days of World war Two, and facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge as he deals with the prospect of the British Army being decimated by overwhelming, advancing German forces—and encountering staunch opposition from members of his own Parliament as he tries to find a way to mollify the British public while steadfastly refusing to appease Adolf Hitler. While there are occasional cutaways to the battlefront, most of the main battles are incisively and forcefully played out in conference rooms, and in one key scene, the Underground (Britain’s equivalent of the subway). Oldman’s Churchill persuasively bellows, frets, seethes, quips, reflects and even inspires (and under all the make-up), ably abetted by a sterling cast led by Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s supportive wife and Ronald Pickup as a quietly scheming Neville Chamberlain. My only quibble with the Darkest Hour is in its overly emphatic use of music (Dario Marianelli) which serves to almost drown out key moments, such as Oldman’s climactic, fiery delivery of Churchill’s famous oration to the British people after the retreat from Dunkirk. Sometimes, less (especially in terms of music) is more.
Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, with a script by James Ivory (from the novel by Andre Aciman) has earned heaps of praise from other reviewers, but this intrepid writer thinks it falls far short of being masterpiece, as some have termed it. This combination coming of age/sexual awakening tale, set in the Italian countryside of 1983, concerns seventeen-year old musical prodigy Elio (Timothee Chalamet), his archaeology professor father(Michael Stuhlbarg)—and a visiting grad student/research assistant (Arme Hammer) who arouses certain latent feelings in Elio. The question is—are these feelings reciprocated—not to mention what effect will this have on Elio, his relationship with his parents, and his own budding relationship with his good friend Marzia (touchingly played by Esther Garrel). While there are some tender moments in the film, courtesy of sincere performances from the principals (especially Stuhlbarg’s moving speech to his son about life, love, and missed opportunities), it didn’t really move this reviewer, partly because what seemed to motivate Elio is more about his all-consuming sexual drive and less concerning the idealistic nature of love. The film is lovely to look at, but there may be less here than meets the eye.