You can only pick one: who’s it gonna be?
p.s. Sean’s Rise of Skywalker review below.
You can only pick one: who’s it gonna be?
p.s. Sean’s Rise of Skywalker review below.
Honestly, I never thought this day would come. In 1983 there were rumours in the playground that George Lucas had nine chapters of Star Wars planned, but it seemed made up. None of us would have have predicted that a fourth Star Wars film would be released 16 years later, and none of us could possibly have foreseen that another 12 years after the disappointing prequels wrapped up, the third trilogy would kick off. It’s been more than 42 years in the making, which is essentially my whole life, but at long last Star Wars’ ninth chapter has finally arrived.
Picking up more or less where The Last Jedi left off, Rise of Skywalker immediately confirms that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back and hasn’t lost one bit of his galaxy-dominating ambition. With a whole fleet of Star Destroyers at his command and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at his side, the Emperor’s goal is to destroy the Resistance’s rebels once and for all. It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to lead the Resistance into battle against the Emperor and finally foil his dark plans, with the help of many old friends along the way.
By any objective measure, Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest film of the final trilogy. Clearly spawned from a checklist of items that needed to be addressed, Rise of Skywalker is exactly the sum of its parts. Fortunately, its parts are very well-crafted and they fit together to close out the Star Wars ennealogy as well as this fanboy could have hoped. Some of J.J. Abrams’ choices are not entirely satisfying on their own, but combined, they provide some closure, some redemption, and a whole lot of Return of the Jedi flavour. The choice to borrow so liberally from RotJ, in particular, grants a satisfying symmetry to the whole affair.
An argument can be (and has been) made that Rise of Skywalker plays it too safe. No doubt that is a conscious choice by Abrams and an understandable reaction to the (unfair) hate The Last Jedi received for trying to take these films to new places. The choice to emulate the final (and weakest) movie of the original trilogy is one such safe choice, and overall, I agree that Rise of Skywalker plays it safe at every turn. But isn’t that beside the point?
Rise of Skywalker takes us to where we’ve been and in revisiting these familiar places gives us a final showdown between good and evil where the fate of the galaxy is at stake, where lightsabers and force lightning flash while a small rebel fleet takes on impossible odds, where working together for the right cause offsets a shortage in numbers, and where good always finds a way to win. That is the only way the Star Wars saga could have ended, and that’s exactly what Rise of Skywalker delivers.
Tired of being chased with pitchforks and fire, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) find a perfectly horrible asylum to convert into their matrimonial home shortly after their wedding. Thirteen years later, their family resembles the one we all know and love: creepy daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz), bumbling son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), faithful servants Lurch and Thing, indefatigable Grandma (Bette Middler), and a pet tiger. Out of fear and caution, Gomez and Morticia have kept the gates to their home closed, so their children have never seen the world outside it – have never breached the gates certainly, but an enveloping fog means they have also literally never seen beyond their own property.
Which means they don’t know that at the base of their hill, a new town is flourishing. A home renovation guru named Margaux (Allison Janney) has been building a town called Assimilation for her TV show, and besides her own daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher), several homogenized families live there as well – the rest of the homes will be auctioned off during her show’s season finale. But when Margaux drains the marsh, the fog lifts, revealing an unsightly castle on the hill filled with undesirables. And it’s not just the immediate Addams family but the whole clan: uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) leads the way, but soon everyone will be assembled for Pugsley’s rite of passage. Margaux protects her investment the only way she knows how: to cultivate fear among the existing residents, and to start sharpening her pitchfork (or catapult, if that’s what you have handy).
The new Addams Family movie combines elements from the original source as well as the beloved 90s films, so lots will be familiar, but there’s still enough new ground to keep you interested. It’s not quite as dark or as morbid as other iterations, which means it’s not quite as spooky as you’d like, but is probably safer for small children. The voice work is excellent; Theron and Isaac are nearly unrecognizable below the creepy accents they’ve refined. Wolfhard is perhaps the only one who doesn’t distinguish himself and sounds a little out of place – he’s just doing his regular little boy voice while Moretz, for example, is doing some very fine work as deadpan little Wednesday.
The movie does offer some fun little twists: the TV host’s daughter Parker makes friends with Wednesday when they unite against the school’s bullies. Parker decides to go goth to her mother’s complete horror, while Wednesday experiments with pink and unicorns and her own mother struggles with acceptance.
The animation is also quite well rendered and I appreciated the little details that make such a movie unique: Wednesday’s braids ending in nooses, Gomez’s tie pin a tiny dagger, the gate to their family home looking vaguely like metal teeth and opening like a set of jaws. The critics seem not to have loved this one but Sean and I found it quite enjoyable, definitely a fun Halloween outing for the whole family.
Pope (Oscar Isaac) gets the Special Forces gang back together again for one last job. The only difference is, this one isn’t government sanctioned. Which means this drug lord take down is really more of a robbery, with extremely high stakes in the middle of the South American jungle – but also potentially high rewards. With no government agency looking over their shoulders, there’s a lot of drug money up for grabs.
Redfly (Ben Affleck) has been out of the game for a while, and he’s reluctant to be pulled back in. But a lousy real estate market and a newly separated household are drains on his bank account, and the money is highly motivating. Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam) is in it for brotherhood. His little brother Ben (Garrett Hedlund) is in it for adventure. And Catfish (Pedro Pascal) is the much-needed copter pilot rounding out their crew.
For the first time in their lives, these heroes who’ve always operated in secrecy, for their country, are operating on their own, for financial benefit. So there’s obviously a moral or two at play when this operation goes south. I mean, there’s more money than anticipated. More money than they dreamed. More money than they can carry. More money than a helicopter can safely navigate, and these guys have a getaway route that has them flying over the Andes. You can basically play along and see how you’d react. Would greed trump safety? Does money win over planning and rational thinking? How many American dollars is one life worth? Or many lives? There’s lots of juicy moral conundrums, and these 5 guys don’t always agree, which makes for some intense conflict.
Charlie Hunnam and Oscar Isaac are magnetic. Ben Affleck seems a little lethargic. There’s lots of crazy car chases and gun fights to wake up the sleepy Batman though, and gorgeous if forbidding landscapes. Unfortunately, director J.C. Chandor doesn’t quite follow up on the most compelling bits. He dangles the ethics carrot and then throws it down a dark crevice. What is the meaning of it all? Oscar Isaac isn’t the only one exploiting war for profit – so is Hollywood, and this movie could have had a meta-quality to it, an incisive commentary, and you feel at times that we’re teetering on the precipice of it, but Chandor never dares take the plunge, and Triple Frontier remains a meaty but mediocre shoot-em-up movie.
10. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), Burn After Reading: We don’t often get to see Brad Pitt being funny, but as Burn After Reading’s dumb blond, he’s hysterical. He’s charming, his enthusiasm is infection, and he’s dumb as rocks. But that little dance of his isn’t a meme for nothing.
9. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), O Brother, Where Art Thou: Clooney feels loose and slick in this movie, with slightly wild eyes and patter to match. This one is crowded with memorable characters, and so many have juicy moments, but Ulysses is the beating heart with a zest for oral hygiene, and you have to love a man for that.
8. Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The film’s opening chapter draws us in with horseback song and fancy gun slinging. The two combined are a sight to behold, so well-choreographed you can only whistle along in admiration. But when sudden violence hits and the tone shifts astronomically, it’s a signal to us all that this film is going to take us for a ride.
7. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn is a gentle creature, writhing with pride, jealousy, determination, dejectedness, and so much more, always evident in the crinkles around Isaac’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking movie in many ways, and less an ensemble than many Coen films, but Isaac, a relative unknown at the time, carried it, and sang like honey, so you’d want to curl up at his feet and purr yourself into sweet oblivion.
6. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), Hail, Caesar!: Hobie Doyle was Ehrenreich’s breakout role, playing a successful western movie star just starting to transition to more dramatic roles. His wide-eyed cowpoke ways are refreshing and unexpected in Hollywood, and Hobie feels guileless and forthright. He’s a genius with a lasso but it’s his signature flubbed line that every single person found themselves repeating as they left the theatre – “would that it were.”
5. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Big Lebowski: I challenged myself to pick only one John Goodman role, or else he easily could have taken over half this list. But Walter will always be near and dear to my heart. He’s a self-righteous, judgmental, controlling moron with a passion for rules without ever overthinking them. What’s not to love?
4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo: Undeniably an asshole, Macy makes us feel sympathy for Jerry, and even more amazingly, he keeps him funny, despite the fact that he just keeps digging and digging until he’s so far deep in the hole he can’t even tell he’s in a hole anymore. Jerry is riddled with anxiety, desperate to be more than he is, and just can’t seem to understand that you can’t be only a little bit bad. Once you crack the door, violence comes barreling in, and Jerry is laughably unprepared.
3. Edwina McDonnough (Holly Hunter), Raising Arizona: I just love how Hunter can swing between wild emotions in this – nurturing to violently defensive, ecstatic to complete meltdown. It’s emotionally exhausting to watch so I can only imagine how intense it was to play such a character, but that’s what makes Edwina so iconic. Raising Arizona is such a fun and funny film, but Hunter has the skill to keep Edwina’s need and her love pure and honest and painfully apparent.
2. Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski: Lebowski is a philosopher at heart. So many wild and zany characters bounce off him in this film, memorably so, and in other hands, Lebowski may have been overwhelmed. But along comes Jeff Bridges, and he’s perfectly laid back, unflappable really, but still engaged in the world around him, still curious and questioning. It was so note-perfect a performance that it was instantly iconic, eminently quotable, and beloved to this day. What could possibly top it?
1.Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Fargo: Thank you holy cheeses for giving us this backwards-talking, nine-month-pregnant, slow moving, fast thinking, admirable as shit character. The world needs Marge Gunderson, and we’ve been doubly blessed having Frances McDormand to play her. Is anyone else even worthy? Marge sees people on their blackest day, the world at its worst, but she does her part to make it just a little better, and then she comes home to dinner with her husband, cozy and domestic as all get out.
This movie is a tribute to the unsung heroes of post-WW2 Nazi hunting.
When notorious SS agent (the architect of the final solution, no less) Adolf Eichmann suddenly pops up on the radar, Israel puts a crack team of secret agents on the case. Peter Malkin, in particular, is the loose cannon of the operation, but ten short years after the war, emotions run high for the whole team because everyone who wasn’t in a camp personally lost someone, or several someones, or everyone to Germany’s ethnic cleansing machine.
Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and company manage to pick up Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) thanks in part to his indiscreet son who still hates Jews all the way from Argentina. They sweat it out in a safe house. For safe travel they require Eichmann’s signature, and Malkin vows to get it. The interrogation is heated; Eichmann is emotionally manipulative and he knows exactly which buttons to push. The agents have agreed to bring him back to Israel for a public trial, but not killing him proves to be a very big challenge for almost every single one of them. Eichmann knows this trial is not likely to rule in his favour, so he delays endlessly, which is also to the benefit of the Nazi rescue party determined to find him.
Oscar Isaac is terrific, of course. Malkin plays it cool, almost sympathetic, but he’s always on the verge of an emotional outburst. Isaac draws a haunted man, bent under the weight of his own grief, and the loss of a whole nation. Ben Kingsley strikes the exact right chord – reprehensible. His hypocrisy rankles. I felt it so personally it was easy to feel for the agents and to admire them for their restraint. But overall, director Chris Weitz’s ability to humanize his characters makes for some very watchable performances.
The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are the best the film has to offer. Operation Finale is otherwise a little still, a little familiar, a little predictable. It has good intentions but you see them coming from a mile away. At times it can be surprisingly complacent for a ‘thriller’. It’s an Argo wannabe that doesn’t quite achieve its potential, but it’s nice to hear from this side of history, and it’s fantastic to see Kingsley do what he does best.
If you watch Dan Fogelman’s This is Us, then you know what to expect from the writer-director: a love story to make you swoon, a family saga to make your heart swell, emotional manipulation to milk your tearducts dry. Life Itself is This Is Us on steroids, and with swearing.
Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) have the kind of love story only found in movies and imaginations. She’s wounded in a sexy way, he’s wildly devoted to her, they’re both unbearably attractive, he talks about his feelings, which are grandiose and pointed solely toward her, she doesn’t complain when he kisses her with stubble.
But – record scratch – this isn’t some ordinary rom-com, this is Life Itself! We can’t stop there. No, Dan Fogelman grows the concept to include generations that cross continents. The ensemble cast includes Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris- Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Mandy Patinkin, and Jean Smart. Like his hit television show, Life Itself is not so much about the destination but the journey. Fogelman plays around with the chronology, as he does, and with an unreliable narrator and its delicious implications.
I love the casting. I loved seeing Jean Smart. Oscar Isaac was a stand-out for me. He’s playing Prince Charming, only sexy, and he sells it. Coming from almost anyone else on Earth I’m sure I would have been rolling my eyes but for Oscar I was nodding and tilting my head, and wanting desperately to touch him lightly on the forearm. Alex Monner was also really solid. His part isn’t huge, but he leaves quite an impact. And I loved that his story line shot in Spain was done in Spanish and subtitled in English. I think there’s been a trend in films lately to see more characters speaking in their native tongue, and I’m all for it. It worked really well here and I hope to see this trend continue.
But before you start thinking this is to good to be true, to be honest, I had some problems with the film. Specifically with the direction taken by some of the characters that just didn’t feel right to me. I admit those choices fit the narrative; Fogelman knew where he was going and he got us there. Does that excuse it? Ugh. I’m struggling because the movie gave me emotional release, I had such a satisfying, cathartic ugly-cry that I sort of want to excuse it anything. But the truth is that no, you shouldn’t shit on your characters. If you’re going to ask me to buy some pretty extreme things, you shouldn’t spend so much time letting me get to know them first, know them well enough to call bullshit when they suddenly start acting out of character.
In the end, fans of This Is Us are extremely likely to like this movie if they aren’t too shocked by Dan’s potty mouth. I liked it myself. I can’t help it! This movie hits you right in the feels and there’s no use trying to logic it away.