Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Suddenly Jar Jar Binks Doesn’t Seem So bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi achieves the near impossible task of making the wretched prequels look like beautifully written masterpieces and George Lucas’ dialogue seem brilliant. It’s unmitigated crap from the very get-go.

After the obligatory text crawl, this 152-minute agony-fest leaps right into General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) pacing his bridge as he closes in on the Resistance base. Apparently, Mr. Gleeson thought he was in a theater-in-the-park production of The Pirates of Penzance. I expected him to burst into a rendition of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” at any moment. And then things started to go downhill fast.

It would take a novel to detail all this movie’s sins, so, for the sake of readability, I will limit myself to the most egregious infractions.

Adam Driver, reprising his role as Kylo Ren, once again fails to be even slightly menacing. There’s just no way to take this guy seriously as a Big Bad, no matter how many force powers he throws around. Even so, he comes off better than most by simply managing to be an actual character. No one else in the film accomplishes this. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and vapid newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) are all soulless puppets, blandly performing their assigned tasks and reciting seemingly endless speeches. Rey (Daisy Ridley), supposedly the main protagonist, is little more than a piece of uninteresting scenery. The worst failing in this department is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). He has zero character development and zero backstory. Without so much as a hint about who he is or where he came from, he becomes nothing more than a stock bad guy figuratively twirling his mustache and cackling as he ties Rey to the railroad tracks.

Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Even Ebenezer Scrooge Would Like The Man Who Invented Christmas

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a staple of western Christmas celebrations. It has been the subject of countless adaptations, and even Mr. Magoo took a crack at playing the lovable old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. The Man Who Invented Christmas spares us yet another rehash of the story and, instead, gives us the epic journey of Charles Dickens conceiving it and bringing it to life.

The film opens with Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conducting a triumphant tour of America. A year later, he’s back home, has had 3 flops, and is in the middle of expensive renovations to his home. In dire financial straits, Dickens embarks on the ambitious task of writing and publishing a Christmas story in time for Christmas.

Time pressures are not his only problem, though. After an argument with his publisher, he dives further into debt to pay for the publication himself. His estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) escapes from the country house to which he had been banished and returns to London to cause all kinds of havoc. And his wife (Morfydd Clark) informs him she’s pregnant. Again. Continue reading

Justice League Proves Wonder Woman was a Fluke

After last summer’s excellent Wonder Woman, many fans were hopeful that Warner Brothers had finally turned a corner with their DC film universe. Unfortunately, Justice League proved that Wonder Woman was nothing but a happy anomaly in an otherwise endless sea of wretched films. Zach Snyder directed most of it, and infused the film with his signature bleakness. Joss Whedon was called in to finish directing when Snyder left the project because of a family tragedy. Whedon’s ham-fistedly grafted-on one-liners and attempts at levity are painfully obvious.

Justice League was an expensive movie, but it looked cheap. The big bad Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) was a CGI mess that might have been passable in a video game 5-10 years ago. League member Cyborg (Ray Fisher) was a constantly morphing, humanoid-shaped blob with garish red bits. He’d have looked better if the studio had simply copied the effects from 16-year-old Terminator 2. The endless waves of minions, the weapons, the explosions, the fire effects, the water, pretty much everything looked obviously and horribly fake. You couldn’t get away with releasing a top-tier video game that looked this bad. Continue reading

Kenneth Branagh Delivers a Tepid Remake of Murder on the Orient Express

Another week, another remake. Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Based on the novel published in 1934, this film, like many works in the mystery genre, relies on a series of wild logical leaps, critical information pulled out of nowhere when the plot requires it, evidence that would never stand up in court, and the tendency of suspects to blurt out confessions at the drop of a hat. The story has been kicking around for over 80 years and has been subjected to numerous adaptations, so no one is likely to be surprised by the outcome. The question for a film like this is: Do the actors and director tell the familiar story in an entertaining way?

The ingredients are certainly there. In addition to Branagh as the famous detective Hercule Poirot, the film features a talent-rich ensemble cast including Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, and Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, Branagh, wearing his director’s hat, largely wastes them. Continue reading

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok Strikes Comedy Gold

Whether intentional or not, Thor: Ragnarok is a delightfully funny spoof of the superhero genre. Director Taika Waititi may or may not have been simply trying to lighten things up a bit, but what he delivered looked like the product of Adam West’s Batman and Don Adam’s Get Smart having a fling with Monty Python (including a brief “I’m not dead yet” gag). And I mean this in a good way.

The silly tone is set immediately with the opening sequence, and there’s a huge supporting cast of weird characters to keep the laughs going. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is the last surviving Valkyrie bent on consuming as much alcohol as she possibly can (and it’s a LOT). She reluctantly helps Thor (Chris Hemsworth) try to reclaim Asgard from his big sister Hela (Cate Blanchett). Continue reading