Monday, December 25, 2017

The Greatest Showman

Release Date: Dec 20, 2017 
Runtime: 1 hr. 45 min. 
Director: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh JackmanMichelle WilliamsZac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson.

I should probably preface this review with the fact that I'm a sucker for musicals. It's subjective and not everyone's cup of tea but throw in a good soundtrack and I'm usually intrigued. Loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum, "The Greatest Showman" is a dreamer's story of rags to riches. Hugh Jackman stars as the man himself, bringing all of the charm and star power that we've come to love about him. After seeing his talents at the Oscars and in "Les Mis," it's great to see him flex his vocal chords with some original songs. Touted as featuring the lyricists of "La La Land," it's hard not to make any comparisons in this new age of modern musicals. While "Showman" does have its array of catchy numbers, they come off as sounding more generic and 'pop' than being original. The so-called show-stoppers are good examples of this, but that's not to say they aren't enjoyable in the least. The ballads offer up memorable moments, with "Rewrite the Stars," featuring Zendaya and Zac Efron, being a personal favoriteWhere songs meets spectacles is when the film really soars getting us lost in the wonder and magic of being at the circus. It's this escapism that I've come to love about musicals and "Greatest Showman" does not disappoint. The choreography and cinematography are absolutely gorgeous, whereas the whole cast looks to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. In lieu of this, the story falls into the ways of being conventional, ignoring the darker and less favorable aspects of Barnum's life. But honestly, that shouldn't be the take away of the film, as its main message stretches far deeper than that. At the heart of it all, "The Greatest Showman" revels in celebrating individuality and diversity. After all, given the current circumstances, what's more culturally relevant than that?

Rating: 4 stars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Release Date: Dec 15, 2017 
Runtime: 2 hr. 32 min. 
Director: Rian Johnson 
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy SerkisDomhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong'o.

It's been well over 20 years since I first experienced the grandeur of George Lucas' Star Wars, yet hearing that familiar overture still gives me the chills. Continuing on in what is to be the second to last of the Skywalker Saga, Rian Johnson takes on the insurmountable task of appeasing the fans. If there was one criticism of "The Force Awakens," it was the overwhelming similarities it possessed with "A New Hope." Taking cue, Johnson deliberately breaks the mold, but it's a decision that's rather divisive in nature. While some may argue that "Last Jedi" is a weak link in the canon, it just proves that fans are wary of change. The main issue seems to lie in the attachment to these characters, especially to the originals who have sparked a renewed interest. As standards run incredibly high, the film has no chance but to fall short of expectations. Is it the best since "The Empire Strikes Back?" Probably not. But there are still redeeming qualities that make this a respectable entry. The music, for one, is a return to familiarity – a mix of nostalgia and excitement that only John Williams can offer. Mark Hamill gets grittier in his portrayal of Luke Skywalker, delivering a stoic yet seasoned performance. The late Carrie Fisher takes a final bow as one of the most beloved characters to emerge from the series. Though her presence is bittersweet and left open-ended, one can't help but wonder what could've been in the climactic finale. The rest of the cast is rounded out by the returning members from "The Force Awakens," with the addition of Kelly Marie Tran as an ambitious engineer. If there's one thing I appreciate about this updated Star Wars universe, it's the diversity it brings to characters both big and small. The increase in humor, however, seems off for the series, which is usually expressed in minimal doses. At times it would feel forced and longwinded, causing moments of bemusement and disconnect. In addition, some of the characters don't feel fully fleshed out, or given trivial storylines to fill in the gaps. Still, there is a good amount of surprise to be held, albeit different from what many have theorized and speculated. The mysteries surrounding Rey and Kylo Ren are considerably unraveled, but as to how much of it is true is yet to be determined. With J.J. Abrams coming back for Episode 9, it should be interesting to see how this trilogy concludes. After years of ostracizing those questionable prequels, it will be gratifying to bid farewell in a more reputable manner.

Rating: 3.5 stars