Movie Review ~ Last Looks

The Facts:

Synopsis: A disgraced ex-cop seeks solace by moving to the woods, but his quiet life comes to an end when a private eye recruits him to investigate a murder

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Mel Gibson, Morena Baccarin, Rupert Friend, Lucy Fry, Clancy Brown, Dominic Monaghan, Cliff “Method Man” Smith

Director: Tim Kirkby

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:   Last Looks is a movie very much after its time.  Now, before you scroll past this review thinking this should be taken as a bad thing, let me explain.  Last Looks is the type of picture that would have played like gangbusters back in the mid to late ‘90s and will remind viewers of Hollywood insider crime romps like 1995’s Get Shorty.  True, even watching the original trailer for Last Looks (which I find to be quite bizarre, so…skip it) left me convinced it was another in the long line of adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels that explored organized crime infiltrating Tinsel Town.  Instead, this is based on the first of two books by television writer Howard Michael Gould, and he’s adapted his 2018 work as a star vehicle for Charlie Hunnam. 

As inferred above, a glance over the disjointed trailer didn’t inspire much hope for this one, and the opening moments might make you question if you’re even in the correct movie.  Hunnam (Pacific Rim) is former LAPD Charlie Waldo living a barebones lifestyle in Idlewild after leaving the force due to a botched investigation of a former case.  With a wild beard, un-showered appearance, and Zen attitude, he’s a man that appears content to be off the grid and solitary.  When former flame Lorena Nascimento (Morena Baccarin, Greenland) blazes in with her flashy car and proposition of an easy payday assignment back in Hollywood, which he politely declines, it invites a whole host of surly players into Waldo’s humble life who think he’s involved with either Lorena or the case.

All but forced to travel to Hollywood and clear up any confusion, it’s here that Last Looks catches its stride and sinks its hooks into viewers.  Famous actor Alastair Pinch (Mel Gibson, Boss Level) is the star of a popular television show and stands accused of murdering his wife. While it’s a boon in ratings the slimy studio executive (Rupert Friend, A Simple Favor) enjoys, no one wants to see the popular star thrown in jail for a crime he (maybe?) didn’t commit.  The trouble is, Pinch is a notorious temperamental boozer, and the live wire isn’t the easiest to warm to.  At first, Waldo is resolute against taking the case, but after meeting Pinch’s daughter and taking stock of the evidence against him, he’s inclined to stick around town and see what he can do to prove the innocence of his constantly inebriated client. 

Saying more about Waldo’s investigation or elaborating further on the various colorful people he encounters would muck up far too much of the enjoyment to be had in Last Looks.  Director Tim Kirkby is primarily a TV director, with episodes of Fleabag and Veep in his pocket, though he’s also credited with the 2018 Johnny Knoxville film Action Point.  That eclectic mix of style and mediums helps immeasurably in the timing of scenes (dialogue is fast, action sequences are swift but controlled) and keeping Last Looks light on its feet.  It’s often highly entertaining and connects the dots of its crisscrossing plot as it goes.  I’m always up for an insider-y look at Hollywood, and Gould inserts just enough gossipy talk into his efficient screenplay to satiate the cinephile needing a solid fix.

Even the best scripts and strong direction need a cast that can deliver, and Hunnam makes for a terrific leading man, and it’s a role he could parlay into an ongoing character (this is the first of two novels, after all) if he chooses.  I sure hope he’d be interested in continuing with Waldo because you can easily see a niche movie franchise or, better yet, a streaming TV series being crafted around the character.  The charisma factor is off the charts, and Hunnam is the kind of star who makes everyone around him look better, even the hard-to-write about Gibson.  It’s tough to know how to critique Gibson at this point because off-screen, he’s beating the same troublesome drum as ever, yet it’s impossible to deny how magnetic he is.  Like Hunnam, Gibson plays well with others (onscreen), and you crave more of him when he’s not there, and to be fair, his screen time in Last Looks is brief. 

Clever casting in the supporting roles gives Kirkby more room to score points with viewers.  Clancy Brown (Promising Young Woman) has a few nice scenes as Waldo’s former colleague, while Dominic Monaghan’s (Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) tiny cameo is well-executed.  Playing one of the shady sort more interested in Waldo’s ex than the murder case, Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys for Life) steals several scenes from his more notable co-stars, while Friend channels studio mogul Robert Evans just by donning a pair of oversized specs and questionably fashionable suits.  My nostalgia meter pinged seeing Robin Givens as a high-powered attorney defending Gibson’s character, and although Baccarin displays some nice heat with Hunnam, I’m glad her character is sidelined so Waldo can focus on the case.  The only bit of slightly akimbo casting might be Lucy Fry (Night Teeth), a little off-center as a schoolteacher who may know more than she’s letting on.  Perhaps it’s the Australian accent she’s working hard to cover up.

Back to what I said at the start, about how Last Looks is after its time.  I was recently remarking in a previous review how sad I was that the typical mid-budget film of an era long ago has seemed to vanish into the ether, replaced by either the franchise tentpole or quick glorified television movie.  Along comes Last Looks and restores my faith that there are filmmakers and studios out there fighting the good fight and delivering entertaining yarns reminding us how each ticket we buy doesn’t have to be for an established package.  It’s tremendous fun, the kind of film that for once actually deserves a sequel, and I think it would do quite well via word-of-mouth if enough people spread the news.

Movie Review ~ Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker


The Facts
:

Synopsis: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences

Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Billy Dee Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Keri Russell, Billie Lourd, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Dominic Monaghan, Greg Grunberg

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Here’s the thing.  I grew up with the Star Wars movies in my orbit but they were never exactly part of my universe.  Does that make sense?  Every time I went over to visit my cousins I vividly remember the posters of the movies on their wall and playing with their Millennium Falcon…or, rather, playing around the famed ship because I wasn’t quite cool enough to actually hold the majestic piece of plastic in my hand yet.  I was relegated to a storm trooper whenever we were reenacting scenes and I was too young to have seen any of the original trilogy in their first release.  I was probably twelve or thirteen years old before I ever saw the movies and even then I didn’t quite get the appeal.

Now, all these years later I was preparing to see the final (for now) installment of the current Star Wars saga and went back and watched all of the films in chronological order.  That meant starting with the much-reviled prequels, which haven’t aged well, followed by the recently released Solo and Rogue One which already feel even more extraneous than on their first watch.  If anything, getting through those five films makes arriving at the three landmark entries that started it all that much sweeter because you appreciate the level of storytelling and creative filmmaking that was used.  These were crafted when people were pushing limits higher, not just seeing how crazy the limits could be.

In 2015 when director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) brought viewers back to a galaxy far, far away with The Force Awakens, he tapped into what made those earlier blockbusters so lasting – a sense of discovery blended with heart and humor.  Introducing new characters that interacted with fan favorites, it may have felt slightly like a redo of A New Hope but ultimately it acquitted itself nicely for even the harshest of naysayers.  The same can’t be said for 2017’s The Last Jedi which, though popular with critics (and this one right here) was somehow, bafflingly so, seen as a horror show for longtime fans.  Raging against new writer/director Rian Johnson (Knives Out) and going above and beyond in some nasty spikes toward cast members, the fandom showed its ugly side for a movie that didn’t deserve the vitriol.

Back to bring this new trilogy to a close (replacing Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow who was let go before filming began), Abrams evidently was tasked with addressing some of the chief fan complaints from The Last Jedi while still steering important events toward their conclusion.  Watching the movie you get the feeling Abrams wasn’t entirely happy with the path Johnson had taken and was painted into a corner trying to undo a knot that was tightly bound.  Some of the ideas Johnson hinted at had to be considered or simply thrown out.  In doing so, there is sometimes an overcorrection, resulting in a bit of an unwieldy but ultimately supremely satisfying final chapter in what is surely seen as the event picture of 2020…sorry Avengers: Endgame.

We’re going to keep this thing spoiler-free as much as possible – but I know fans consider even the slightest detail a spoiler so it’s up to you if you want to continue on.  Know that I’m keeping your best movie-going experience at the forefront of my review!

The familiar opening text crawl has never quite caught my attention as much as it has in The Rise of Skywalker.  The very first line after the title sent a little shiver up my spine and set the tone for the opening sequence following Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Marriage Story) traveling to a planet spoken of as a legend to find an old foe.  The isolated location is a fairly scary opening, testing the limits for young children right out of the gate, but it was great fun for the big kid in me that enjoyed a little bit of the old monster movie feel to the set-up.  Hoping to join forces with the driven but haunted son of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, This is My Life) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Blade Runner 2049) this powerful enemy proves to be a worthy villain for this last movie – even if their somewhat miraculous return after quite a long time isn’t ever fully explained.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) has been completing her training under Leia’s watchful eye but is distracted by her continued psychic bond with Kylo.  Taunting her by dangling the truth about her lineage just out of her reach, Kylo now seeks her out, having learned a new truth about her from his dangerous ally…a truth that, once learned, will change the direction of the First Order and the Resistance forever.  Traveling with Finn (John Boyega, Detroit), Poe (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year), and Chewbacca to a distant planet in hopes of finding a rare artifact, Rey embarks on a galaxy spanning adventure that will lead her to confront her past and embrace her future.

There’s a little bit of the video game leveling up aura to The Rise of Skywalker, with our characters coming head to head with various bad guys, curious creatures, and strange new worlds all in the hunt for pieces to an overall puzzle.  I didn’t mind this episodic feel and found the two and a half hours to fly by at near light speed.  A great deal of attention has been paid to fans wanting one last look at favorite characters or desiring to see a storyline tied off with a nice bow.  True, it may be too tidy for some but at least there is some finality in place by the time the credits roll.  I’m not one to delve deep into the psyche of a character and decry actions as “not something their character would do” or anything like that, though it’s evident Abrams and gatekeeper producer Kathleen Kennedy wanted to be clear about particular story arcs and less ambiguous on others.

Receiving top billing, Carrie Fisher may be the first person to get that honor without being alive when the movie started filming.  Fisher’s performance was reportedly put together from unused footage from The Force Awakens and it’s blended seamlessly in; there’s no creepy faces put on other actors or janky editing going on.  With limited footage, Leia is a bit more on the reserved side and has less to say…but Abrams doesn’t wallow in sentimentality, just as Fisher wouldn’t have wanted him to.  There are plenty of other surprises for fans both hardcore and casual along the way, just keep your eyes (and ears) open because you never know what might pop up.

The performances in this entry might be the strongest so far, with Ridley nailing Rey’s increasing resolve to always face her fears head on.  What started as a nice discovery of a new talent back in 2015 has evolved into a respected performer that rises above the material and brings a different gravitas to her scenes.  She matches well with Driver’s brooding would-be leader who can’t forget Rey even though he knows she stands in his way of running the show.  I’d like to know how much of the scenes where Kylo is in his revised helmet is actually Driver, just like I want to know if Keri Russell (Austenland) was in fact on set as a former flame of Poe dressed in a galactically skintight suit and aerodynamic helmet.

There’s going to be many opinions about the 9th episode of Star Wars and my advice is to go in and see for yourself.  Just because I liked it doesn’t mean you will and even if you read a terrible review that shouldn’t automatically sway you to see Jumanji: The Next Level instead (seriously, don’t).  We so rarely get true event movies like this and around the holidays when you can go with family and friends makes it that much more special.  Celebrate the season, catch a movie, and make it The Rise of Skywalker.