“Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, & Mark Hamill

While the First Order continues to ravage the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finalizes her training as a Jedi. But danger suddenly rises from the ashes as the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) mysteriously returns from the dead. While working with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to fulfill a new mission, Rey will NOT only face Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) again, but will finally discover the truth about her parents. She’ll also learn a deadly secret that could determine her future and the fate of the ultimate final showdown to come.

Luke Skywalker: [preventing Rey from throwing her lightsaber into the fire] A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect.

I (finally) saw this movie 2 wks ago; I saw the previous 2 sequel films in the theater (A Force Awakens and The Last Jedi). Wow, was it a disappointment; I’m sure you’ve heard that before! Now, I’m NOT a huge Star Wars fan, but I do have some interest in it. Director J.J. Abrams undoes a LOT of what Rian Johnson did in the previous film. The first thing I noticed was how unfunny it was; the lighter moments come off as too obvious. A few of the actors are phoning it in; others are doing the best they can (w/ the material that has been given to them). They way that Gen. Leia Organa’s scenes were put together come off as awkward (esp. on the re-watch); Carrie Fisher passed away before this movie was made. Some viewers felt like Leia’s death and her funeral weren’t handled well either.

[through the Force]

Rey: I see through the cracks in your mask. You’re haunted. You can’t stop seeing what you did to your father.

Kylo Ren: Do you still count the days since your parents left? Such pain in you. Such anger. I don’t wanna have to kill you. I’m going to find you and I’m going to turn you to the Dark Side. When I offer you my hand again… you’ll take it.

Rey: We’ll see.

We still have the “force time calls” (LOL- love that term) btwn Rey and Kylo Ren; they kept that from the last film. As w/ the last movie, there is good chemistry between Ridley and Driver. I also thought Ridley and Boyega worked well together before; however, Finn doesn’t have as much to do here. Poe has even less of a role than Finn; from interviews w/ Isaac I could tell he wasn’t enthusiastic about this movie. And what about Finn’s love interest, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran)? If you’re NOT paying attention, you’ll miss her (few/short) scenes at he Rebel base. Rose gets a pat on the back from Finn (no kiss here); more importantly, she doesn’t go on any adventures (ugh)! Some viewers assumed that Finn was in love w/ Rey; others commented that he wanted to talk to her re: being “force-sensitive” (which I also thought).

Finn: The Force. The Force brought me here. It brought me to Rey. And Poe.

Jannah: You say that like you’re sure it’s real.

Finn: It’s real. I wasn’t sure then… but I am now.

We get to see some new planets and aliens (some cute/some weird), BUT we don’t spend much time on anything! I watched some YouTube reviews and podcasts re: this movie; several used the term “fetch quest” (as characters are going from place to place in search of a “MacGuffin” which drives the action). It was fun to see Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) again; he is one of the few highlights. As for the action itself, I didn’t have any issues w/ it (though Rey’s lightsaber cutting off the wing of Kylo’s TIE fighter was unexpected). It looks like Rey can also heal w/ her touch; I don’t think this was seen in previous films w/ other Jedi. Perhaps this was explained somewhere else, BUT the casual Star Wars viewer won’t know that.

Finn: Why are you helping us?

Gen. Hux: I don’t care if you win. I need Kylo Ren to lose.

There are more new characters to meet, BUT they aren’t V developed. We now have the imposing/eldelry Gen. Pryde (Richard E. Grant); I assumed that Gen. Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) would have more to do. When they travel to the planet Kijimi, we meet Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell- mostly hidden under a big helmet), an ex-gf of Poe. A tiny alien droid expert, Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), works on C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). One critic compared Kijimi to “a Victorian X-mas village”- LOL! Finn is surprised/happy to learn that Jannah (Naomie Ackie- who I liked) and her people are also former First Order stormtroopers (who escaped to the planet of Kef Bir).

Emperor Palpatine: Long have I waited, for my grandchild to come home! I never wanted you dead. I wanted you here, Empress Palpatine.

The stakes aren’t that high, as several critics commented. In one (tense) scene, it looks like Chewbacca (Joonas Suatamo), was killed on a transport ship! Rey blames herself; she has been fighting Kylo for power to control the transport. But soon after, we see Chewie merely being held as a prisoner. Zorii somehow has a token that can help Poe and his friends avoid the First Order patrols around her planet. This part reminded at least one viewer of a video game (ugh).

We (finally) learn re: Rey’s true parentage- she’s a Palpatine (which surprised MANY viewers)! It turns out that her parents weren’t “nobodies”- they were hiding from the Emperor. FYI: Rey’s mom is played by Jodie Comer (who was recently in The Last Duel). Many commented that Palpatine looked/sounded like a cartoonish villain; they weren’t impressed w/ his planet or his crowd of Sith (?) followers. Also, the evil version of Rey just looked like bad CGI (and NOT scary at all). As for the kiss between Rey and Ben Solo (after Kylo left the Dark Side), then Ben’s instant death, some audiences laughed (which wasn’t what the filmmakers intended)! The editing comes across as slap-dash; Disney wanted it released in time for the 2019 holiday season. I could go on, BUT I won’t… b/c I’ve spent enough time already.

[1] The first critical error the film makes is by telling us that a secret message has caused a stir in the galaxy: the Emperor is alive. You know, instead of a scroll, perhaps this event — probably the most important thing that’s happened in all three of these post Return of the Jedi films, could have been shown to us so we could grasp just how mindblowing it is. Nope. It’s in words on the screen. The dead speak! This is lazy filmmaking.

It turns out that everything evil in the past few films has come from Palpatine, including Snoke who is just a clone.

[2] With so little time to breathe in the story, the film feels far too rushed which made it very difficult to digest the more convoluted parts of the story. There is also too much going on so the film feels very cramped by the final act, and also too many characters.

[3] The film is running on double time and the speed seems to be used to hide from story questions. Everybody is rushing. History is being revised. No one is throwing away a light saber in this one. Finn never actually say the thing to Rey. It is emotionally safe. I thought they would keep Carrie Fisher in the first act, but they dragged her out there for too long. I won’t say that it’s disrespectful, but it is a little awkward. Overall, this one tries to quickly wrap up the story in a fan friendly way and the last person turns out the lights.

[4] If you want lightsabers and space battles then you get it here. However if you put aside the technical feat, it is very much hollow. I struggled to care about anyone in the film; the dialogue was often clunky, and there was almost nothing natural or organic in there. The writing doesn’t help itself by doing things that seem fan-service at best, and cynical at worst.

[5] This episode boiled down to everybody chasing Rey. Fin was chasing her, Poe was chasing her, Kylo Ren was chasing her, and Palpatine was chasing her. Either someone wanted to help Rey as she wandered away lone wolfing it or someone wanted to convert Rey to the Dark Side–in any case Rey was always being chased. […]

We found that Rey was the most powerful being to ever grace the Star Wars franchise. Master Yoda hadn’t reached the power level of Rey and he lived 800 years! Which is weird because she was exhibiting amazing power though she wasn’t yet a Jedi. Which makes me realize I have no idea what a Jedi is. I thought once she knew how to use the force she was a Jedi, but apparently she was not.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Spoiler-Free Reviews of Trending Movies (OCT 2020): “Borat 2,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” & “Rebecca”

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime)

Yes, Rudy is in this mock documentary (and doesn’t come off as so innocent)! Of course, y’all can see and judge if you’re curious. This is NOT the type of humor for sensitive viewers, as some of it is quite gross, vulgar, and cringe-y. This time, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is joined by his wide-eyed teen daughter, Tutar (24 y.o. Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), who may be interested in becoming a journo also. Bakalova may be the breakout star here, as she can go toe-to-toe w/ the British comedian/filmmaker! Look out for a touching scene involving Borat and two elderly Jewish women. There is also a Black woman (babysitter) who gives Tutar some good advice. If you’re already a left-of-center (liberal) individual, you may be LOL-ing at the politically-charged stuff. I almost couldn’t believe that Cohen snuck into CPAC (which took place in FEB 2020 in DC)!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

In Chicago 1968, the Democratic convention was met w/ protests from activists like the moderate Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and the militant Yippies led by Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong from Succession), which led to violent confrontations w/ police. Seven of the accused ringleaders are arraigned on charges like conspiracy by the hostile Nixon administration, incl. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II- a rising star in Hollywood) of the Black Panthers (who wasn’t involved in the incident). What follows is an unfair trial presided by Judge Hoffman (veteran actor Frank Langella) and prosecuted by a reluctant, but duty-bound Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Two of the defense lawyers are William Kunstler (Mark Rylance- a British theater star) from the ACLU and Leonard Weinglass (character actor Ben Shenkman), an expert on constitutional law.

I saw this last week; I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (though haven’t seen all of his shows). Sorkin was approached by Spielberg several years ago re: writing this film- WOW! If you’re into US history, costumes, legal drama, and politics- you’ll enjoy the movie. Otherwise, it could come off as a bit boring; the directing style Sorkin uses is simple/straightforward. I liked the humor (which was mainly provided by Baron Cohen and Strong) and I learned some new things, too. I enjoyed seeing the subtle acting from Gordon-Levitt (now almost 40- whoa), Rylance, and Shenkman (who you may know from Angels in America).

Rebecca (Netflix)

Here was the (short) review I shared via Twitter last FRI night: Not sexy, not suspenseful, not one bit scary- just cliched, colorful, & clueless! Fans on my Alfred Hitchcock Facebook group were (mostly) reluctant to watch this version, though it’s not a remake. This is an adaptation of the novel (which I didn’t read); I suspect it’s not totally faithful. Though it delves into class issues, there is very little age gap between the leads. Viewers looking for the LGBTQ element to be explored further (w/ Mrs. Danvers) will be disappointed. The director (Ben Wheatley) doesn’t do much w/ light and shadow- a missed opportunity!

I don’t love or hate Lily James, but I don’t think this role suited her. The same goes for Armie Hammer (tall/conventionally handsome); he acts wooden, lacks mystery, and has no romantic chemistry w/ James. His accent is way off- it’s more Mid-Atlantic than British. I haven’t seen much of his acting, but I thought he’d be a LOT better than this! I did enjoy seeing Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) and the (still gorgeous) Kristin Scott Thomas. What we have is a movie where the costumes and scenery overtake the people in the story. The supporting actors did well w/ what they were given, esp. the prosecutor (in the third act). The ending scene looks like it belongs in a different movie- MANY viewers were confused!

SPOILER-FREE Review: “Marriage Story” starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

This Netflix movie (released also 30 days in theaters) is based in large part on director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences when he divorced actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013. Jason Leigh (the “Jason” was added as tribute to actor Jason Robards- a close friend of her parents), on whom the character of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) was based, had early success in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Baumbach and Leigh previously collaborated on movies together; during the 2009 filming of Greenberg, he and actress/director of Little Women– Greta Gerwig- fell in love. Theater director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) lived in Indiana before moving to NYC; Driver grew up in Mishawaka, IN. The toys shown while Nicole plays w/ son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the opening are from Star Wars, a reference to Driver’s connection to that sci-fi franchise. Celeb divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern- now winner of Best Supporting Actress Oscar), is loosely based on Laura Wasser (who represented Dern, Johansson and Baumbach) during their divorces. The mediation scenes were filmed in Wasser’s office building.

This film has something for everyone– domestic drama, comedy (arising from realistic situations), music, courtroom drama, etc. Charlie sings Being Alive (which Gerwig admitted Baumbach wouldn’t do), and Nicole sings You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company. Many of us know that Johansson can tackle challenging roles (having seen her since she was an ingenue at 16 y.o.); here Driver gets a chance to shine (and whoa, is he bright)! Both actors are very comfortable with each other; they play the quiet and intense scenes well. You really don’t see the acting- as it should be. You will see some similarities to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep; however, in this story- the wife gets an equal voice (which wasn’t given to Streep).

The supporting actors are all well-suited for their parts, no matter how small or meaty. The child actor comes off as very natural. Merritt Wever plays Cassie’s older sis (also an actor); she provides some comic relief, as does the mom (who is a big fan of her son-in-law). Charlie’s theater troupe includes a few familiar faces, such as Wallace Shawn (best know as the villain in The Princess Bride). Alan Alda’s soft-hearted lawyer breaks down what men really go through in a divorce. On the other hand, we see the intimidating/shark-like lawyer (Ray Liotta) who gets results.

SPOILER-FREE Reviews: “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” & “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Jojo Rabbit

This is an unique movie- that’s for sure- and it worked! It is a mix of comedy (satire), history, and drama from the mind of New Zealander, Taika Waititi, who also plays Jojo’s imaginary friend (Hitler). Waititi (who used to focus on acting before directing) is far from Aryan; he gets his unique (for mainstream Hollywood) looks from his Jewish mother and Maori father. This movie is a must-see for the touching/nuanced/realistic acting of its child/teen actors: Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo), Thomsin McKenzie (Elsa), and Archie Yates (Yorki). Scarlett Johansson (who got a Supporting Actress Oscar nom) does a fine job as the mom (Rosie). Jojo is fascinated by Hitler and joins a sort of Youth Movement (a Nazi-inspired Summer camp). The sunny/bright look of the film is in direct contrast to its themes. The supporting actors incl. Sam Rockwell (not a fan but he gets a good scene), Alfie Allen (from GoT fame), Rebel Wilson (who I found distracting), and Stephen Merchant (a tall/British comedian who is hilarious).

Joker

As a whole, this movie (loosely connected to the world of Batman) wasn’t as effective (or realistic) as I was expecting. It’s partly an exploration of mental illness, so not the (typical) development of the comic book villain- Arthur Fleck (AKA The Joker). I felt the audience was uneasy (incl. one particularly violent/bloody scene); Arthur gets beaten in several scenes. However, it’s a must-see for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (incl. his physical transformation). The dark/dreary look of the film is very fitting of its themes. As some critics commented, if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, Falling Down, and/or Fight Club– I haven’t, then maybe this movie won’t be original to you. I was surprised to learn that director Todd Philips worked on The Hangover franchise. The supporting actors come from the theater world (Frances Conroy plays the invalid mother) or are character actors. Critics have commented on the way race (particularly black women) are treated here. There are (at least) two big twists to this movie, but were they expected? You’ll need to see/judge for yourself!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’ve only seen three of Tarantino’s movies (so far): Natural Born Killers (1994)- which I barely recall, Inglourious Basterds (2009)- which I thought was very well-done, and Django Unchained (2012)- which was interesting, yet also self-indulgent. This is Tarantino’s 9th film; its a mix of buddy comedy, nostalgia for ’50s Hollywood/Westerns, and strong violence. In the first third, we see the development of the friendship between a middle-aged/fading TV actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his former stuntman-turned-driver, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). These two actors have great chemistry together! Rick is somewhat insecure re: his talent, and drinks way too much to compensate. Cliff maintains a more chill vibe, though we learn about his (potentially) dark past about at hour into the story.

The supporting actors are a mix of well-known TV actors who may or may not be distracting (incl. Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Lena Dunham, and 90210’s Luke Perry- his final role); the daughters of famous actors (Margaret Qualley, Rumer Willis, Maya Hawke, among others); and also some actors who never quite “made it big” in Hollywood. The super-serious child actor really did great in her scenes! There has been criticism of how B-movie actress, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and martial arts expert, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), were portrayed in the film. Tate comes off as a beautiful object; she gets one really good scene. The (flashback) scene between Cliff and Lee just seems unreal; I think it’s open to interpretation. It has some fine moments, but (as a whole) is self-indulgent, slow, and muddled.

“Midsommar” (2019) starring Florence Pugh

I think this film depicts a broader social commentary about cult mindset – the destruction of one’s individualism and systematic breakdown of one’s personality to become part of a “collective”/hive mindset.

To have another person acknowledge your grief, confusion and deep inner pain would be therapeutic. Instead of ignoring it, denying it, putting a mask on to try and be ‘happy’ without help. …the friend tells Christian, ‘dude, she needs therapy’ and he’s right- she does. But the group of boys Dani travels with are unable or unwilling to sympathize with her- the main person who should, Christian, was checked out.

I was also disappointed in how the main characters were handled. I hoped they would be given some depth, but they ended up becoming cliche caricatures.

-Excerpts from reviews posted on YouTube

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing. -Synopsis from A24 (studio)

Whoa, WHAT did I just see!? And what does it mean? This indie horror film, or perhaps psychological drama, is now on streaming (Amazon Prime). The writer/director, Ari Astor, explained that this was the story of a break-up. It’s also about the individual’s need for connection, community, and acceptance. Warning: This is NOT for everyone, as it is slow, has a long running time, and has several scenes (incl. blood, nudity, etc.) which will be difficult for sensitive viewers. I heard re: this film in Summer 2019 from a few podcasts, so did get spoiled on some of the events. I was even shocked by the gruesome nature of two scenes in particular.

He’s my good friend and I like him, but… Dani, do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you? -Pelle asks re: Christian

Pugh (Amy in Little Women) does a fine job w/ her role; sadly, she is the ONLY character who is well-developed. We can empathize w/ Dani, who suffers a great loss, lives w/ anxiety, and fears being “too needy.” She is studying Psychology in grad school; she could benefit from some counseling herself. Reynor (an American/Irish actor) doesn’t have much of a screen presence, though he is tall and conventionally handsome. He is the boyfriend who has one foot out the door; from the get go, we know he’s NOT deeply invested in the relationship. Later, he tries to “collaborate” w/ Josh, who is more of a scholar and has done background work on the Harga. As some critics commented, Christian didn’t deserve the harsh ending which he received.

Christian and his fellow American pals (Mark and Josh) don’t speak and act like grad students in Anthropology; they seem like stereotypical/insensitive frat boys. Pelle (Swedish actor Vilhelm Blomgren) is the friend who invites the others to spend the Summer in his community; he seems trusty, sensitive and kind. Pelle is concerned about Dani’s mental state; it has only been a few months since she had a tragedy in her life. Mark (British actor Will Poulter) is the comic element; he wants just get high, and to hook up w/ Swedish women (who he calls “the most beautiful in the world”). One the other hand, Josh (American actor William Jackson Harper), has a curious mind and plans to do his thesis on these Harga people.

This film is very white; it’s about an insular/rural Swedish commune where the sun always shines. I did like seeing the diversity when it came to age, body type, and size. There are some scenes w/o English subtitles, so most viewers will be confused like the Americans. A black journo commented that she didn’t like seeing the few people of color (POC), incl. Josh and the British couple- Connie (Elloria Torchi from Indian Summers) and Simon (Archie Madekwe)- being used as one-note plot devices. Was this intentional? Or is this what happens in most horror stories to everyone, incl. POC?

Some things work very well in this film. Aster has a vision and he goes for it full-force (world-building). It is unusually beautiful to look at and the cinematography is award-worthy; it was shot primarily in Hungary (stand-in for Sweden). The special effects are unique; I’ve never seen anything like it). A few viewers commented that these reflect what it feels like to be on ‘shrooms. You will find yourself wondering- how did Aster come up w/ this stuff!? I learned that he conducted years of research. FYI: The rituals conducted all have basis in history- yikes!