Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Growing up with the Star Wars prequels, I remember when Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace came out. The movies have a range of highly passionate fans, but also appeal to broad audiences. It’s a difficult balancing act to produce such a movie. I feel that my more passionate side wanted more out of this movie, but it’s hard to say if that desire could have been quenched by one film. I enjoyed certain scenes and they will stick with me for some time. Star Wars is often fast-paced in the beginning so I will need to spoil things from early in the movie to put events into perspective.

The opening texts explains that the former Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) voice has been broadcast across the galaxy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has been seeking out Palpatine in order to destroy him. Meanwhile Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are on a mission to gain information from a spy within the First Order. Poe and Finn end up being discovered while getting this information and must perform multiple lightspeed jumps to try and get away which is visually appealing with all the places they fly. Kylo finds Palpatine at an ancient Sith world. Palpatine asks Kylo to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley) and in exchange he’ll hand over his enormous fleet of ships he’s been building called the Last Order.

Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca return to the base of the Rebels with the plans of the First Order and news of the return of Palpatine. Rey has been working on her training with Leia (Carrie Fisher) but senses something is wrong. Rey determines she must go alone and destroy Palpatine before his plans move forward, only to have Poe and Finn say she can go alone; but they’re going with her “alone.” Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) go after a trail Luke had pursued to find one of two Sith compasses to the Sith home world. They find the dagger Luke was looking for with Sith writings on it that C-3PO is capable of reading, but C-3PO is unable to read aloud due to laws passed against that. As they come out of the caves Chewbacca gets arrested by the First Order and Kylo Ren arrives. Rey sees a ship escaping and uses the force to try to pull it back to save Chewbacca only to have Kylo try to free it from her grasp with the force. As they struggle, Rey accidentally shoots lighting from her hand and destroys the ship.

This movie has a lot of events going on both big and small. I do think it would have benefited to be made into another movie, which is both a positive and a negative. I don’t feel like we reached the level of closure that we wanted, but leaving people wanting more also shows they care. It’s certainly a technical spectacle with the musical score by John Williams just helping to make it feel like an epic adventure. I’m personally a fan of fight choreography, which I don’t feel was as developed in this film. I don’t think this movie is fantastic, which is how I measure Star Wars films. It’s still a good movie with some great scenes. I do hope there’s enough of a push to develop these characters further in the Star Wars Legends (all canon Star Wars stories). Rated PG-13.


Jumanji: The Next Level

I’m not sure if you’d call this a sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or possibly another installment in a series that includes Jumanji and even Zathura: A Space Adventure. After the nearly billion-dollar box office of the previous film, it was more a question of when than if the series would continue. With this strong comedic cast adding Danny DeVito as Eddie, Danny Glover as Milo, and Awkwafina as Ming; they decided to build on what they created instead of trying do the same thing as last time. I wasn’t sure if they were going to lean too much into having Danny DeVito and Danny Glover take over in the game, which thankfully they did not. Overall, we get a good edition to the series that I think gives it a reason for more.

We see Spencer (Alex Wolff) living his life alone in New York City, where he’s going to college. His friends are coming back home for Christmas and he can’t seem to bring himself to respond to their messages. He goes home only to find that his Grandpa Eddie (DeVito) is living with them while he recovers from hip surgery, and Eddie is sleeping in the same room as Spencer. The next morning Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) have breakfast wondering why Spencer hasn’t joined them. Milo (Glover) goes to visit Eddie since Eddie has been ignoring him and they seem to have some past grievance to resolve. Spencer’s friends next arrive at the house to find that Spencer has gone into Jumanji once again.

Despite Fridge’s objections, Bethany and Martha convince him to go into the game to help Spencer. As they return to the game, they find Eddie is in the body of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo is in Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is in Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), Fridge is in Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and Bethany didn’t get taken into the game. The group is quickly escorted onto a plane by Nigel (Rhys Darby) and dropped in a desert. They encounter an ostrich which Eddie agitates, and it ends up taking one of his character’s 3 lives. Then they are chased by the ostriches until they manage to jump a canyon. When they get into town, they start to learn what they must do to progress the game. They run into Spencer, who is the character Ming (Awkwafina) as he is trying to accomplish a task. With the group reunited, they break up to accomplish various tasks.

The movie is designed in a very imaginative way, as the characters find themselves in a video game adventure. The video game has unusual strengths and unique skill sets for the players. The movie’s creative settings are introduced by the game’s “levels”, and they are visually engaging locations that utilize fantasy in a very successful way. I do think the personalities of Spencer and Fridge were a bit weak as they spend a lot of the movie complaining. Overall, it’s a fun edition to the series with a good mix of action and comedy. Rated PG-13.


Last Christmas

From the trailers of this film, I was uncertain if I’d like it. I tend not to like romantic dramas, but I do like some romantic comedies and Christmas films. I spoke to someone who saw this film before I went. This person helped alleviate my concerns that it was too dark, dramatic, or sappy. After seeing it, I’d agree with them. This movie mixes in romance, family relationships, moving on from a point of trauma, and comedy.

The movie starts off showing a choir singing in 1999 in Yugoslavia, then we move to modern day with Kate (Emilia Clarke) going to work. We learn Kate has been looking for a place to stay after accidentally killing the fish of her former roommates. She goes to work at a Christmas shop where her boss, Santa (Michelle Yeoh), asks her about her plans and why she just won’t return to live with her parents. Kate wants to avoid her mother, and her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) ends up having to relay the messages to Kate. Kate gets distracted one day at work by a man looking up at something strangely. She goes outside to look up and she gets “pooed on” which Tom (Henry Golding) says is good luck.

Kate at first rebukes Tom asking her out, but when she agrees after bumping into him again, she sees how unusually optimistic he is. He shows her some interesting and strange sights in the city she’s lived in for years by telling her to “look up” to see what she’s been missing. Tom helps Kate to realize that she should try visiting her family again, and we see the strained family lifestyle she wanted to avoid. Her overbearing mother Petra (Emma Thompson) even tucks her into bed and won’t stop singing a lullaby to her in one scene. Tom takes her on another date where he teaches her to ice skate to practice for her audition of Frozen on Ice. Kate is unusually upbeat for herself, but she’s frustrated by the inability to contact Tom as he leaves his cellphone at home.

While this movie seems to be a romance film, Last Christmas largely is focused around Kate’s personal journey. The movie takes a character who was focused on herself and sees her develop into someone who is both comfortable with who she is and wants to help others. I would say that it’s unfortunate that some of the themes make this a more mature movie, as it has good messages throughout the story. I do like the general theme of a character transformation in a Christmas film as it does match the general theme of finding joy in the winter. I wouldn’t say this movie greatly exceeded my expectations, but I would say that it was undersold by the trailers. Rated PG-13


Frozen II

Frozen was a bit of a shock when it came out in 2014. It was the second film from a new group within Disney Studios following Wreck-It Ralph. Pixar was better associated with the hits coming from the Disney company at the time, but with Frozen they really solidified themselves. I’ve personally enjoyed this studio more than Pixar in the years since. So, while I wasn’t highly motivated to see Frozen II, I wanted to see what the studio had planned this time.

We start once again with the childhood of Elsa (Eva Bella) and Anna (Livvy Stubenrauch) as their parents tell them about an enchanted forest their father King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) had visited when he was a child. Agnarr had gone there with his father King Runeard (Jeremy Sisto) and inexplicably a battle broke out causing Runeard to be lost and Agnarr was injured only to be saved by a native. Agnarr made it out, but the four elements were mad and sealed the forest off with a wall of fog not letting anyone in or out since. We then are taken to the present where adult Anna (Kristen Bell) is talking to Olaf (Josh Gad) about things that will and will not change. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven the reindeer arrive into town and Kristoff reveals he intends to propose to Anna.

The main characters come together with adult Elsa (Idina Menzel) for charades. As Elsa gets her clue, she hears a voice singing to her. She stops as she listens to it. Later she goes on to chase the sound of this voice trying to make sense of this. She casts her ice magic as she approaches the water when suddenly she seems to form crystals in the air all around Arendelle. Abruptly; the fires in the town go out, a huge wind starts blowing people out, and the ground shifts causing everyone to evacuate. The trolls find Elsa, and Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds) warns that Elsa must go to the enchanted forest and solve the unrest of the elementals.

Frozen II helps to expand a world many have been waiting for. There are plenty of musical numbers, with the main cast each getting a new song. Seeing the last film would certainly help to understand the characters, though they do briefly recap the last movie in a comedic fashion. Overall, it’s a good family adventure and musical. I was surprised by one of the songs that I really thought had a strong message to it. I do think this was a good edition of what will likely continue to be a series. Rated PG.


Ford v Ferrari

I really didn’t know too much about the race going into this film. It seemed like an interesting movie about two men trying to do a nearly impossible challenge. I was curious why this event was highlighted for a biography, as to me it isn’t a world changing event. The movie does an interesting job of explaining car development through experimentation to develop a better car rather than using raw math. If anything, this film pushes home the idea that conceptual knowledge and practical knowledge are two very different things at times.

The movie starts from Carroll Shelby’s (Matt Damon) perspective as he races. We can see how intense and stressful the race is to him. We learn that Shelby can no longer race because his doctor told him his heart can’t take the stress anymore. We’re taken to another race where Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is arguing about his trunk capacity being compliant. Shelby tries to help advocate for Miles and Miles throws a wrench at Shelby. Miles goes on to win the race, but we get a glimpse of their racing relationship.

We’re introduced to the main conflict by a disgruntled Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), he’s not happy with how Ford sales have been and wants someone to bring him an idea to increase sales. Lee Iacocca (Jon Berthal) shows that people want fashionable cars and not just functional cars and suggests buying Ferrari. Ford goes to buy Ferrari but Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) turns them down at the last minute insulting the company and Henry Ford II personally. Henry Ford II is infuriated and vows to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Iacocca is sent to recruit Shelby and his team, offering a “blank check” to build a car that would beat Ferrari at Le Mans.

This film really has a few central dynamics: Ford the company, Shelby’s racing team, and Miles’s family. Shelby and Miles’s relationship are often the highlight, but Shelby is trying to do what’s best for his business and his friend which sometimes conflict with each other. Miles is clearly a great driver and is immensely helpful developing the car, but he can be emotionally extreme and isn’t sure if he should even be a racer at his age. In my opinion, this is one of the best sports films I’ve seen in years. So, I’d recommend it if you want to see an exciting biography. Rated PG-13


Zombieland: Double Tap

I really enjoyed the first Zombieland in 2009, so I was excited to hear they were doing another one. The general critical success of this cast is noteworthy with four having Oscar nominations and one winning. While the first movie was about four humans in a world full of zombies, this film focuses on how this isolated group would deal with other humans as well as the rising zombie threat. I found this movie to be an enjoyable sequel. The mix of irreverent comedy and the struggle to survive still makes for a strong combination.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) narrates the opening of the movie, helping to catch us up on the events since the previous film. He explains that the zombies have evolved over the years into three distinct types and a new, deadlier type. We quickly see them working together as a team by taking down a zombie infestation and making the White House their new home.  We see them as they settle into a domestic life over time. Columbus proposes to Wichita (Emma Stone) which pushes her to leave the group with her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

A month goes by and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) starts to mention that he feels it’s time for him to move along. He is not happy staying in one place for any length of time and is willing to let Columbus tag along. As they’re discussing this in an abandoned mall, they discover a new survivor called Madison (Zoey Deutch). They take her back to the White House as she’d been living in a freezer to survive. The next day they wake up to a noise only to find Wichita is back. She informs them that Little Rock met a guy her own age called Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and ran off with the car. Worried about their safety and the guy Little Rock is with, the group leaves together with Madison to find the two.

This movie has a lot of fun with itself. They have “zombie kills of the week” shown as cartoonish ways to kill zombies around the world. Columbus’s “rules” are mentioned with interesting animations. There are several good action scenes. Overall, it’s a movie that just tries to take a dark sense of humor about this Apocalyptic setting. It honestly doesn’t develop characters quite as much as I’d like, but you still get a sense of their comradery and how well they know each other when they fight zombies. I treat this mostly as a comedy film, and it has several good laughs in it. Rated R.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Disney’s live action remakes are much more common now, but the first Maleficent was an experiment in this area. The film explored an alternate perspective from the original story that portrayed Maleficent in a more sympathetic light. The original movie was a tale of betrayal and learning to love again. I honestly didn’t want to see this be about personal relationships with the same light-hearted tone or very dark and dramatic. This movie delivers an original story full of adventure and intrigue. To me, the trailers undersold what they were doing in this film.

The film starts out in the night. We see three humans in the moors (the fairy sanctuary and Maleficent and Aurora’s home), they are there to abduct some creatures and sell them for profit. We see the horned Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) approach them and capture 2 of the intruders. The third human grabs a mushroom creature and escapes back to the kingdom to deliver the creature to the base of the tower. We then see the next morning where Aurora (Ellie Fanning) is holding her royal court. Some of the fairies steal her crown and lead her to a tree where Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) is waiting.

Philip proposes to Aurora, and she accepts. Diaval (Sam Riley) reports this to Maleficent and she storms off to confront Aurora. Maleficent at first doesn’t accept this idea of marriage, but she eventually goes so far as to agree to meet Philip’s parents at a dinner. King John (Robert Lindsay) seems excited for Philip but Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t seem happy at the prospect. Maleficent gets in an argument with Queen Ingrith at dinner and gets ready to leave, flourishing her wings. Suddenly, King John falls into a deep sleep, and Maleficent flees only to be shot down. A large figure with wings dives into the water and retrieves wounded Maleficent.

I think the advertising campaign did a poor job describing even the early conflict, so I tried to go a bit further. This movie has three main ideas taking place: the fairy abductions, the struggle of Aurora between her home with the fairies and the human lifestyle, and Maleficent coming to terms with whether fairies can live in peace with human. If it were one or two of these story lines it may feel too simple, but all-together they stand as a stronger narrative. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a high fantasy adventure movie that really improves on the series. The special effects, costume design, and general creativity makes this a great experience to me. Rated PG