STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – WORTHY CULMINATION OF 42 YEARS AND NINE FILMS

SHORT TAKE:

The culmination of 42 years and nine films, the “last” Star Wars installment, which follows Rey as she seeks out the truth about her parentage.

WHO SHOULD GO:

No inappropriate sexuality, tiny amount of mild profanities, no blasphemy, BUT there is a good deal of very intense and cartoon-violence fighting scenes in a variety of frightening landscapes: underground, in extremely high seas, space, etc. So young teens or, with parental discretion, any age.

LONG TAKE:

I had read a lot of bad press about this latest Star Wars installment: Disney princess-fied, rehashing of old storyline, feminist diatribe, devaluing of men. So two of my kids and I went in as fairly hostile audience members. Honestly, none of the complaints were truly justified. We all kept waiting for it to be bad or get bad and it never happened.

Now if repetition is your irritant of choice, certainly there was an avalanche of nostalgic homages in this (supposed) last installment of the 42-year franchise, but that was to be expected.  And director J.J. Abrams (contributor to Star Trek, Star Wars and Mission Impossible installments) with his team of writers does not disappoint with: exciting non-stop action, classically Star Wars-ian pseudo-science/fantasy, exotic species, deeply committed and self-sacrificing leads and smart aleck supporting cast dialogue.

The late Carrie Fisher appears thanks to CGI, left over footage and clever cinematography by Dan Mindel who has lent his talents to many franchises including Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and Star Trek. The most prominent of supporting cast members also include: Oscar Issacs (multi-talented actor whose resume includes The Nativity Story, Operation Finale, and X-Men) as Poe, the wisecracking pilot; John Boyega as Finn, former First Order (read new Storm Trooper) inductee and Rey’s best friend; Anthony Daniels reprising C3PO as the only cast member to be in ALL NINE movies (R2D2’s Kenny Baker having passed away); Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, the Cohen brothers True Grit, and Peter Rabbit) as the comically nefarious General Hux (whose success rate is about that of Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes); Billy Dee Williams who cheerily reprises Lando with contagious enthusiasm; Ian McDiarmid returning as the oozy evil Emperor Palpatine; and the list goes on for miles. The majority of every character and actor who have ever appeared in a Star Wars movie show up regardless of whether they and/or their characters are currently dead or not.

Abrams’ writing team includes himself, Chris Terrio (D.C. universe and Argo), Derek Connolly (Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom SEE REVIEW HERE, and Kong: Skull Island), and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). There is a lot of sci-fi fantasy credentials involved and it shows.

This – allegedly – last Star Wars film examines who Rey (Daisy Ridley – Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express) really is as she fights the last remnants of the Empire with a coalition of freedom fighters. As to having a female in the lead I saw nothing wrong with their handling of this story decision. Anyone who has read previous reviews knows I am adamantly against rewrites to crowbar in females where men had previously starred (ahem – Ghostbusters 2), and am on record for looking with a jaundiced eye at female led action movies. However, I also am equally vocal in praise of well done movies like Wonder Woman and characters like Black Widow, where the protagonist is awesome and the storyline well done and the lead just happens to be a female – hero first, woman second. Rey, here, is an action hero first who just happens to be a female. Well done her.

The music by John Williams (who else?!) blends smoothly with all the rest of the franchise music. It is but a variation on the same themes, but that is not a bad thing. (They don’t call the original soundtrack the “Star Wars Symphony” for nothing.) This iconic music is as much a character in all nine of the movies as Chewie or R2 or Lando or Leia or, for that matter, the Millennium Falcon.

The cinematography is visually spectacular – as you would expect from any Star Wars film. From a stark desert landscape to a fight surrounded by CAT 5 hurricane level waves, from a space dog fight to a duel underground, the screenwriters went out of their way to be sure we got the length and breadth of how a Jedi deals with hostile environments of all kinds.

If it were not for the fact this movie is supposed to be the wrap up to four decades of films catering to three generations of Star Wars fans, I would think they maybe had over egged the pudding. As it was there were both cheers and tears from the audience as the storyline went through its paces in a most satisfying effort to pull out all the stops.

I couldn’t help but see the parallel to the long running thread at the heart of  The Blacklist‘s seven-season (and still going strong) tale, wherein the FBI’s most wanted (James Spader’s Red Reddington) turns himself in to aid the FBI in hunting down criminals so dangerous and elusive the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. But Red will only speak to Elizabeth Keen, newbie Quantico grad, who has never even heard of Reddington aside from his rap sheet. Though the titular storyline involves pursuing bad guys in clever ways, who Keen is to Red is the engine that propels the core of the show.

Similarly, the Star Wars Saga’s wrap up films have explored Rey’s search for closure. Rey is their new version of Luke – the Padawan with inexplicably extraordinary Force abilities – who searches for her parents and is occasionally sorry she asked.

There is something eternally appealing to the quest to reveal our origins, harkening back to our search for our place in the Universe and ultimately our relationship with our Creator. The annals of cinema history is rife with examples of orphans searching for their place in the Universe: Little Orphan Annie, Oliver Twist, Heidi, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Cosette from Les Mis, even Billy Batson from Shazaam! and Peter Pan – all search for what they see as their missing piece. Some, like Billy and Dorothy discover they never truly lacked anything to begin with and there was no place like home with people who already loved them. Others were disabused of idealized fantasies. And this is the identity crisis with which both Rey and her antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – Paterson SEE REVIEW HERE and Logan Lucky SEE REVIEW HERE) wrestle. Rey wants to know who her mom and dad are/were and why they left her. On the other hand, while Ren knows who his parents are, he is in a constant state of struggle in coming to terms with them and their beliefs. (And boy with 6 kids isn’t THAT a familiar theme.)

SPOILERS

Dove-tailing with the search for identity embarked upon by the lead antagonists, the resolution for Kylo Ren comes from a very Christian based theology. Ren has done terrible things: genocide, patricide, torture of innocents, random violence, all in the service of becoming a galactic tyrant.  All very NON-Jedi activities. For the 3 or 4 people in the solar system who might not know, a Jedi is a monk-like warrior who leads a fairly aesthetic existence while fighting, armed only with a light saber and his connection to the “Force” of life, to ensure freedom and protection for innocents, even at the cost of their lives. Ren is the polar opposite of this, despite his parentage of Princess Leia, twin sister to Luke, a powerful Jedi master-knight and Han Solo, Luke’s best friend. But when Rey fatally bests him in battle, then, in an act of mercy, shares some of her life force with him to heal his mortal wound, he turns his back on what he has become. Ren repents! And when  he dies, in a turn about to save Rey by re-offering ALL of his life force back to her, he disappears as Yoda and Obi Wan had done – a sign of ultimate acceptance by the Jedi Force of his worthiness.

So with Ren’s genuine repentance and his willingness to die for his one time enemy, to love his “neighbor” as himself, came true redemption. A laudable and admirable lesson with which to close out (if this truly IS the last) the Star Wars Saga.

On a completely different topic – A lot of ink has been spilled over a same-sex kiss. The film makers made a big deal about this but it is truly “much ado about nothing” and a ridiculous effort at some glad handing political correctness. It occurs during a World War II Victory-like moment of joyous abandonment and celebration of life so that everyone is hugging and kissing everyone else. The kiss was about a sexual as if, in the joy of the moment Poe had kissed Maz or Rey had smooched Chewbacca. It had the same feel as when Ernie kissed Burt on the forehead after they finish singing for George and Mary’s wedding in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Were it not for the hypersensitivity in this artificially created lame-stream media’s constant attempts at shoving politically correct agendas down mainstream audiences throats, I don’t even think anyone would have noticed. Noticing it and attributing any particular significance to it hints at a subtext. But the kiss comes out of nowhere and BECAUSE of the attention brought to it in advertising campaigns, it effectively commits the cardinal sin of breaking the suspension of disbelief, needlessly popping the viewer out of this otherwise wonderful moment which was 42 years in the making.

The only other significant critique I would give is the insufficient amount of time given to the, as my kids put it, non-“Emo” Kylo Ren. Ren spends the majority of his time in these movies growling behind a Vader-like mask, barking orders, destroying things in fits of anger, glowering, killing people, and generally  being a REALLY tough audience. Ren’s moments of slight gentle humor after his miraculous healing by Rey are a surprise and delight. They are simple and little but effective moments where Ren is FINALLY channeling his father, Han Solo – like saying “Ow” after a fall or giving a wry smile and shrug as he pulls a lightsaber from nowhere to school some opponents. These are the best moments in all of Ren’s appearances in the entire franchise. They are memorable but tragically ever so brief minutes before he dies. Would that they had made an entire feature film with this aspect of his character.

So after all the reveals and (sort of) character deaths and familial connections resolved within the Star Wars Universe, you might think they really mean it when they say this is the LAST Star Wars movie to ever be made. Everyone who believes that shout out loud. (*so quiet crickets can be heard*) I agree and that’s just fine. See you at the NEXT “final” Star Wars movie.

SOLO – GAP FILLER AND WELCOME “THROW BACK” TO THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS STYLE OF A NEW HOPE

SHORT TAKE:

FINALLY, a return to the classic style and pacing of the original family friendly clean agenda free (mostly) Star Wars, in the origin story of the one and only Han Solo.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Pretty much anyone. Not as violent as Rogue One and less cleavage than Carrie Fisher's gold metal bikini in Return of the Jedi.

LONG TAKE:

WARNING: CONTAINS A FEW CRUCIAL SPOILERS TO OTHER STAR WARS MOVIES.

When I was a kid I used to do jigsaw puzzles with my Dad. 300 piece, 500. I think the biggest one we ever did together was a 1,500 piece puzzle of the French Quarter at Night. Similar to this one.

No one piece stands out, except as you are fitting it into the bigger picture. Originally made from wood in 1760 and cut into pieces by a jig-saw, most jigsaw puzzles are now made of cardboard, but the fascination remains. Each piece has its own unique "personality" and has only one place where it will go to complete a bigger overall picture. While you are searching for just that right spot, that one piece becomes very important and you know, briefly, every detail of its shape – every tab and blank, edge and curve fitting specifically into one part of the tesselation that is a completed jigsaw puzzle. But then, when you figure out where it goes, its success is defined as how well it blends in with and disappears into the rest of the picture.

Solo reminds me of that – appropriate for such a movie to be named for a single, unpaired, individual – Solo is as unique in shape but as uniform in texture and picture as all the other Star Wars movies, so like a unique puzzle piece stands alone yet fits in beautifully to the overall picture. This is not a bad thing.

The point I’m making is that Solo fills an empty spot in the larger overall painting that is the Star Wars Universe. In the original films, Star Wars – A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi  – there was a LOT of missing back story to Han that worked as a mystery then, but over time became niggling points for which people would enjoy answers. What was this card game from which Solo won the Falcon "fair and square" from Lando? How did Solo and Chewy meet? Where did Han come from? How did he acquire the skills he so effortlessly displayed as a smuggler? There was no mention of a gang or family business. No mentor or sponsor. Were there any women in his life before Leia? Why does Chewy stay with and take orders from this annoying, snarky, only marginally successful representative of a significantly physically weaker race? Were there any defining watershed moments in his past which would help shape this surprisingly complex character, who was part scoundrel with a soft heart and part hero with a large Machiavellian streak? Why are Lando and I the only creatures in the Universe that think Solo’s first name should be pronounced with a short vowel – Han – like hand or fan? And where did he learn to speak —- Wookie? Well – MOST of these questions are artfully answered, at least in part by the new Star Wars installment – Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Personally, I find the timeline for the release of the Star Wars movies very convoluted. We start with Star Wars, originally released as a stand alone movie in 1977 but then renamed Star Wars – A New Hope IV in 1981 when they started making the sequels. The SECOND Star Wars movie made, Empire Strikes Back was numbered V and Return of the Jedi – really the third born, was numbered VI. THEN they made Phantom Menace and the sequels to IT 16 years after the Return of the Jedi but were subsequently numbered I, II and III. THEN THEN Force Awakens and Last Jedi were made in 2015 and 2017 but they REALLY belong after Return of the Jedi which was released in 1983. But THEN THEN THEN Rogue One’s story belongs squeezed between number III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and IV – A New Hope which was released in 1977, which REALLY should force a renumbering AGAIN if it weren’t for the possibility that the Star Wars fans might storm Lucasfilms and…..wait……that changed too. Disney bought them out.

Well.  *sigh*

Where does that leave Solo’s timeline you might ask? Crammed between Revenge of the Sith (III) and Rogue One, leaving LOTS of time BETWEEN the timelines of Solo and Rogue One to fill in more of Han’s life adventures before he basically…catches up to himself.

Alden Ehrenreich (pronounced ALL-DEN ERIN-RIKE – I know I got THAT correct as I listened for it on an interview with the actor!) is wonderful as the young Han Solo. A terrific actor in general he made quite an impression in the Cohen Brothers homage to 1950's movie genres, Hail Caeser, as an endearing, stalwart, naive Audie Murphy-type character. Ehrenreich has JUST the right twinkle in his eye, spring in his steps, mischief in his manner, unrelieved optimism in his own abilities, confidence in his mannerisms and slightly arrogant attitude that make him SO familiar to the Han Solo we grew up with. Yet this Solo is neither an imitation nor a caricature. Ehrenreich makes Solo his own but is so convincing that, like a reigning dowager at a family reunion you would have known who this young man belonged to just by watching him for 30 seconds.

Donald Glover (the scientist who figures out how to get The Martian home) plays a young brash Lando with the expected pinache and verve.

Peter Mayhew – all 7 foot 3 of him – now retired living in Texas, was the original Chewbacca. This mantle, or should I say "walking carpet," is now worn by Joonas Suotomo, a 6 foot 11 Finnish basketball player.

Emilia Clarke (Game of Throne’s Dragon Lady and the newest incarnation of Sarah Conner from the Terminator series installment Genisys) introduces a new ingredient into Solo’s early life – Qi’ra, a fellow street rat from his home world of Corellia.

Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Glass Castle (see my blog) and 2012) brings his own unique but familiar style to the character of ringleader Beckett. Charismatic as always, Harrelson’s Beckett runs a troupe of highly specialized thieves who takes Han on in the middle of a job.

Thandie Newton (2012, Crash, HBO's Westworld series, Mission Impossible II) plays Val, a member of Beckett’s gang. As a side note I thought it was only me who kept confusing her with Star Trek’s new Uhura and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora –

Zoe Saldana. For half the movie I was thinking: WOW Zoe is in EVERYTHING sci fi! I felt stupid when I discovered my mistake in the credits until I found these pictures and anecdotes about how other fellow actors confused them as well.

I mean, to be fair, they could stunt double for each other.

L3-37 – voice by Phoebe Waller-Bridge – is really the only sour note in the production. Intended, I suspect, to be their female version of C3PO, she is such an over-the-top feminist robot that she would have been better suited to an animated Shrek caricature or a replacement for Joan Rivers’ Dot Matrix in a Spaceballs sequel. So grinding was she that whenever she was on screen I couldn’t wait for her to be off. At least she makes Jar Jar Binks seem more appealing.

Finally, Paul Bettany plays Dryden Vos, a guy as bad as his Avenger’s Vision is Thor-hammer good. Bettany is fun to watch as he chews the scenary with calculated menace and the evil abandon required of any good Bond super-villain or Star Wars Hutt-style baddie.

Overall, I really enjoyed Solo. It’s completely family friendly. There is a bit of violence but no more than in the original Star Wars and less "cleavage" than in Fisher’s gold bikini in Return of the Jedi. The plot fills in a lots of gaps – like spackling over the holes in a well worn, well loved bedroom wall … or like one of the missing pieces of a puzzle, making it a very satisfying experience. Unlike the Last Jedi, which kind of trashed the continuity character of Luke, or the lame way they dispatched Han in Force Awakens, this story feels as Star Wars-ian as the original. It’s exciting, has lots of space races, neat aliens, is often funny and is basically a "throw back" in the BEST possible way, to the very first Star Wars – the foundational New Hope, which, personally gives ME hope that the Star Wars franchise might FINALLY be back on the right track..

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING – FUN LIKE WHIPPED CREAM OR FIREWORKS

SHORT TAKE:

The sequel to Pacific Rim – not intellectually challenging but lots of fun.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anybody old enough to watch a Godzilla movie and not get nightmares.

LONG TAKE:

Some meals are meant to be savored – a great steak, shrimp bisque followed by a chocolate mousse. Some meals are simple and filling but more memorable for the people you had them with than the food itself. Some meals, like breakfast right out of the Easter Bunny basket, are meant to be completely just for fun. And then there are those days when, using a G rated version of Joel Goodson’s catch phrase from Risky Business: "Sometimes you just have to say what the heck," and you serve yourself a big helping of whipped cream and toppings.

Movies are like that too. And fittingly there is even a scene where the lead character in Pacific Rim: Uprising serves himself a huge Bowl of Reddi-whip and sprinkles while talking to his friend.

SPOILERS BUT I WILL TRY TO KEEP THEM TO A MINIMUM

The premise to Pacific Rim: Uprising is the sequel to Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim is the story of the titanic battle between Godzilla-sized monsters who come out of a crack in the ocean’s floor from another dimension to wreck havoc on the Earth (mostly Tokyo) and the Jaegers – Godzilla-sized robots which humans built to combat them. Never mind the illogic or the physics, it’s an excuse to watch grown men like writer/director Steven DeKnight spend millions of dollars recreating "lifesized" versions of the sand box action figure matchups from when they were kids.

Pacific Rim: Uprising picks up 10 years after the Kaiju have been defeated — or have they? The first Pacific Rim was quite straight forward – bad monsters come out of ocean – must beat them up until they go away. This one has a plot which is a bit more complicated and has a few more twists and turns than you might expect. Not so tricky though that you can’t still make sense of it even if you need a designated driver to get you home, but it did have a few unexpected surprises.

John Boyega (most notably Finn from the recent Star Wars installments) plays Jake Pentacost, son of the late Spencer Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first movie. Jake is introduced as not quite the hero his father was, but who must grow into those shoes quickly. Nate (Scott Eastwood who has been paying his dues with small parts in Fate of the Furious, Suicide Squad and Texas Chain Saw Massacre 3D) plays his former best friend and comrade in arms. Cailee Spaeny, a newcomer, plays Amara, a street kid and Jaegers/technical prodigy who is drafted into the Jaeger cadets. Burn Gorman (formerly of the Dr. Who spin off Torchwood) and Charlie Day (mostly from goofy comedies and voice work in cartoons and video games) return as the Frick and Frack scientists Gottlieb and Geiszler whose creativity helped defeat the Kaiju last turn.

Much like the Thor franchise, the Pacific Rim series wisely incorporates bits of humor into their action packed sequences which help underscore the film makers' acceptance of the fact that what they are making is Godzilla meets Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and have fun with it.

And for those of us old enough to remember when Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots first came out, watch for Clint Eastwood’s son Scott – playing the above mentioned Nate. Not remembering he was in the cast, I thought the actor looked SO familiar, and then when I realized who he was it was like when you finally "see" the picture buried in the pixels – you cannot UNsee it. His Dad’s voice, mannerisms, profile and body language will jump out at you from the screen. Not that that is a bad thing but it is an amusing anachronism seeing a close variation of the inveterate Western and Dirty Harry hero I grew up with in a goofy sci fi- action adventure.

This is not the Venus de Milo but a fireworks display at the start of a Carnival and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Pacific Rim is mostly good clean fun — well the critters all make quite a mess but there’s NO hankie pankie, (who has TIME when you’re dodging 50 story Kaiju) and a little profanity. Younger audiences might get scared – I’m talking nightmare scared – by the giant monsters screaming and tearing up buildings. But any kid old enough to understand it is all make believe should have a great time.

It's also nice to watch a global disaster type movie and not be burdened under the weight of the human-created-climate-change-global-warming believer cultists' propaganda digs that so often end up littering otherwise enjoyable flicks.

SPOILER

ONE PROVISO to that is there IS a scene where a little girl’s family is swept away as they are trying to reunite with her right in front of her eyes. So be aware if that might upset even an older child.

If you liked Pacific Rim, you’ll love Pacific Rim: Uprising as long as you’re happy with Cool Whip and don’t expect a rib eye steak.

OSCAR WINNER 2018 CEREMONY – AN ANALYSIS – WE GOT THEM ALL RIGHT!!!!

Now that the Oscars have come and gone I thought I'd made some observations. First off, if you listened to the Lake Charles' Best Sport Show culture segment on Sunday morning starting at 8:15 am CST, you would have heard Matt, Chad, Corey and my predictions, which were, if I say so myself – pretty good.

WE PICKED ALL THE RIGHT WINNERS! Unfortunately, the Academy didn't always agree with us.

Keeping in mind that we limited our picks to the nominees chosen by the Academy, we hereby present the REEL…I mean REAL…wait maybe I DO mean REEL…winners of the awards given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more familiarly known as Oscar since the 1930's when the Academy librarian mentioned she thought it looked like her Uncle Oscar.

In no particular order:

BEST ACTOR

Let's start with a nominee on which we all unanimously concurred. Gary Oldman's breathtaking performance as Churchill in Darkest Hour was a well nigh impossible hurdle for any other actor to overcome. In a role that obviously brought a lifetime of skill and experience to bear, Oldman WAS Winston Churchill for 2 hours and 5 minutes. For more details on this stunning performance in this great film click here – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Next up, Sam Rockwell handily shone above all the other contenders INCLUDING his co-star Woody Harrelson who, had Rockwell not been so amazing, I think would have won. Rockwell's portrayal of the massively flawed but redeemable deputy Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri earned this golden statue. Click on the name for my review. (As a side note I remember the first time I ever saw Rockwell. His performance in Galaxy Quest – the Star Trek homage/spoof/love letter was quite memorable. In what instantly became one of my all time favorite movies, he was arguably the most adorably goofy character in a tremendous ensemble of gifted actors including Sigourney Weaver, the late Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub and Tim Allen.)

BEST ACTRESS

 In another example of where the Academy occasionally gets it right, the brilliantly talented Frances McDormand picked up her second best actress Oscar. The first was for the charming, very pregnant and easily underestimateable Sheriff Marge in the weirdly quirky crime comedy-drama Fargo at the 1997 ceremony. This one was for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This round she is the desperately grieving mother of a murdered daughter who takes her frustration over the lack of progress out on the local constabulary, who are just as anxious to get results as she is. It is a case of two groups separated by a common goal who come to loggerheads because they can not find the real culprit. But interestingly, that is not what the movie is about. For more information on this complex and moving film see my review on Three Billboards subtitled: The Main Character is Not Who You Expect

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Here is where the Academy started to get it wrong. They picked Alison Janney for I, Tonya. A solid performance, certainly, in a dramedy/documentary about the life and scandal surrounding Tonya Harding and her complicity in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan just before the 1994 Olympics. While meaning no disrespect to Ms. Janney, as often actors are limited, obviously, by the roles they inhabit, Janney's character as Tonya Harding's mother was a monotone. Mrs. Harding was portrayed as a manipulative, abusive, emotionally calloused mother. She was not allowed, due to the nature of the script and person she was playing, to use much off the pallette of colors from those she was given. The result was almost a caricature of a person. Ms. Janney performed Mrs. Harding well, but it was by no means as challenging a part to play as the one tackled by Laurie Metcalf in Ladybird.

Laurie Metcalf's Marion is the mother of a rebellious, hormonal teenager struggling with her transition from child to woman. Marion actually has some traits in common with the notorious Mrs. Harding. Marion is distant and harsh at times, but despite her personal difficulties and conflicts with her daughter, manages to convey motherly purpose, love and conviction into a character that would have been unpleasant and unsympathetic in other hands. Metcalf's role was a very tricky hand to play. Too much and she would have been off putting, less and she would have seemed incapable as a mother. As it was Metcalf walked that fine ine between a flawed unpleasant character and a character with whom you feel empathy.

I have HAD the conversations Marion had with her daughter, Lady Bird – both as a daughter AND as the mother of a daughter, and I can tell you her portrayal was spot on.

For more on Ladybird see my review at: Lady Bird: To Anyone Who Knows a Teenaged Girl

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

There is no other way to describe the Academy's pick for best adapted screenplay as anything other than offensive and morally repugnant. Call me by Your Name was nothing but an attempt to lionize and romanticize pedophilia. Frankly, the author and everyone involved in the making of this movie should not have been awarded anything but jail sentences.

To be fair to the other nominees, I have to say I did not see any of them – mostly because I missed opportunities to do so and plan to catch up later. So, in this case, I deferred to my son who had at least seen Logan. He reported that Logan was an extremely good adaptation of the comic book series, exploring multi-dimensional character exposition while following the complex storyline set down by the original authors. If it later turns out one of the remaining three viable candidates did a better job, at least we can say that Logan deserved its place in the list of nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I saw all five of the nominees and I can safely say that not only is Get Out the best original screenplay – in that it was not based upon any pre-existing source material – but that it was – literally – one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen and certainly the most original of the nominees which included Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Big Sick, all of which were excellent. While in good company, Get Out still outshone them all in its innovative and creative story ideas, theme, plot and execution.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

The Academy chose, Coco, what I thought was second best. They certainly chose the best CHILD'S animated feature film, but that is not what the category is. The category is for best animated feature film. I do not understand how they could compare Coco, which is what can only be described as a cute Halloween-like movie about a child searching for his grandfather among the dead, to the genuinely unique, classically and masterfully conjured  tour de force that is Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent follows Armand, an ersatz and initially reluctant detective, who pursues the stories surrounding the death of Vincent Van Gogh. The entire film is animated using paintings made by hundreds of talented artists in the style of Vincent Van Gogh himself. The entire film is animated the way Vincent might have seen the proceedings. As satisfactory as Coco was, choosing it over Loving Vincent would be a bit like picking a cel from a Bugs Bunny cartoon over Starry Night. For more details on this daringly imaginative labor of love and brilliant masterpiece of animation, including links to where to obtain a copy, please see my review at – Loving Vincent – an Animated Biography.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

At least the Academy got this right. Dear Basketball is a lovely inspirational animated film based on the poem Kobe Bryant wrote about his love of the sport, commemorating his retirement and presented at the ceremony honoring him for his lifetime achievements.

BEST PICTURE

The only positive thing I can say about the Academy's ill-considered choice of The Shape of Water as best picture is that at least they didn't pick the movie about the pedophile. Please read my review of this misbegotten movie at: Shape of Water – Offensive on so Many Levels.

There were many excellent choices to be had but hands down my pick would have been Darkest HourDarkest Hour features one of the best performances anywhere by anyone. Darkest Hour also is a detailed and fascinating account of a moment in time shaped by courageous men, great and small, who changed the course of history almost solely by their foresight, heroism, stalwart determination to stand up to the face of evil and refusal to buckle under the massive pressure of others' cowardice. Simultaneously, the movie openly presents the foibles, and occasionally almost whimsical personality of one of the most powerful men in history – Winston Churchill, humanizing him in ways that make it easy to believe we can all aspire to greatness in our own way, if we are but willing to self-sacrifice for honor and the protection of others.

I just do not see how they could reject such a magnificent film as Darkest Hour in favor of a movie which examines a woman's selfish and disturbing descent into bestiality.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  I deferred on this category to my husband who is a gifted amateur photographer. After examining the work done in all of the nominated films he thought Dunkirk should have squeaked past Blade Runner 2049, though he admitted that Blade Runner 2049 demonstrated exceptionally good craftsmanship in that art. So I am pretty content with the Academy's choice of Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 here.

COSTUME DESIGN

I know just about nothing concerning fashion and whether or not a particular costume was brilliantly recreated, difficult to construct or pulled off of a rack at Walmart. Therefore, I figure it is safe to assume that Mark Bridges' acquisition of that award for his work in Phantom Thread ABOUT a fashion designer is a pretty good bet. besides, the dresses are really pretty. LOL

BEST DIRECTOR

My objections to The Shape of Water are the same as those given above for Best Picture only more so as the director of a film is the captain of the ship and therefore the court of last resort and where the buck stops for the disaster or masterpiece which is created.

To my thinking, even had The Shape of Water not contained such offensive elements, Jordan Peele deserved the best director Oscar far more for Get Out. Jordan Peele both wrote and directed this fable exposing the truth behind the smug and smarmy smiles of wealthy elitist white liberals towards minorities whose lives they carelessly use like so much marketplace clutter.

Mr. Peele's use of sound and cinematography, fantasy elements and music, editing choices and plot twists all managed to deftly balance across a tightrope between horror and humor, creating a movie the likes of which I have not ever seen. Although there were many creative people involved and he did not singlehandedly make this film Mr Peele was the one who chose amongst an infinite choice of elements available to him to scupt this mesmerizing tale. Again, as the captain of this shiop he deserves the kudos, just as del Toro deserves the disapprobation. Hitchcock, I would be so bold as to guess, would have enjoyed Get Out, so suspenseful and woven throughout with intrigue, misdirection and cleverly laid clues it is. I can not help but wonder if the shoe Mr. Peele constructed of liberal hypocricies fit just a bit too tight for them to be comfortable in conferring the award Mr. Peele so clearly deserved.

FILM EDITING

Another choice where the Academy got it right. Dunkirk was chosen. The filmmakers had the interesting challenge of how to present one story wherein a certain aspect took place over a period of weeks, another essential element took days and a third was only a matter of hours. And I think the editor, Lee Smith, cracked this nut quite effectively and cleverly.

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

One of the few others that the Academy chose wisely. Although Wonder was brilliant the makeup for Darkest Hour was transformative. Not only Gary Oldman's face but his entire body structure was altered to reproduce the distinctive Churchill physique.

ORIGINAL SCORE

All of the music in all five of the nominees was beautiful and I will not begrudge the fact that The Shape of Water won for what is rightfully a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat, but you think they would have at least thrown a bone to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I mean it IS John Williams!!

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

While "Remember Me" from Coco , the song chosen by the Academy, was kind of cute in a harmless, innocuous, forgettably Disney-ish sort of way, I can't remember how it goes off the top of my head. But "This is Me" by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from The Greatest Showman should have won.

"This is Me" is the kind of song that will stick with you – not only because it is very catchy and fun to hear and sing, but it is inspirational and uplifting and is something you will want to recall in moments of frustration or challenge or even despair. "This is Me" is an anthem for those who are determined to pick themselves up and start over, who desire nothing more than to be left alone to strive for greatness without the burden of artificial obstacles placed in their way by interfering hypocritical cliquish elitists who think they are better than others because of the privilege to which they were born – oh wait, now I see why the liberal elite in the voting Hollywood establishment didn't want to pick it. Silly me.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

OK I'll give The Shape of Water this one as one it might actually have legitimately won. Although all the nominees created amazing worlds, there is an argument for the dream and water worlds created in Shape of Water. It is just a shame they didn't put these beautiful sets to better purpose than this egregiously misanthropic excuse for extreme selfishness and sexual depravity.

SOUND EDITING and SOUND MIXING

To me these awards were a toss up between Baby Driver and Dunkirk, and Dunkirk won. The challenge of combining dialogue, sound effects and music into a cohesive whole must have posed an especially creative challenge given the surroundings ran the gamut from inside a metal ship run aground to the open sea to being able to reasonably hear over World War II aircraft during a dog fight, sounds one might hear underwater, explosions and the clacking of boots on empty streets. I can applaud and respect this choice.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Lastly, Blade Runner 2049 earned its award for visual effects handily in the world of red lighted dust, dark rain swept vistas and holograph enhanced interactive environments. It's beautiful but stark and intimidating world deserved its win.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Sadly I saw none of the nominees for these last four categories.

Let me know in the comments what your favorites were in any or all of the categories. If you like, present a convincing argument and I might post it as all or part of a guest rebuttal.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

LISTEN TO THE REVIEWS OF COLOSSAL AND STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI WITH THE GUYS FROM KBYS.FM (88.3) LAKE CHARLES’ BEST SPORTS SHOW

On Mcneese's KBYS.FM Lake Charles' Best Sports Show every Sunday morning from 9-11 AM the guys are gracious enough to take my call within the first hour to talk movies and theater. December 17, 2017 Matt, Corey, Casey and I talked about Colossal and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. THE REVIEWS ON THIS EXCERPT START AT TIME 14:00

 

Audio Recording of movie reviews from the December 17, 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – IT’S…STAR WARS. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT???

 

Have you ever gone into your parents’ attic, rummaged around and found an old favorite toy – a Teddy bear, a plastic sword, a doll house or an old board game? Suddenly you are flooded with the warm fuzzy nostalgia of childhood and the uncomplicated excitement of an anticipated adventure with like minded companions.

In a slightly different scenario, but one which will tie in to the previous analogy, have you ever been to a foreign country which had a McDonald’s? Amidst all of the unfamiliar occasionally unidentifiable store front names, the Golden Arches stands out like a beacon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go – if there is a McDonald’s, even with a variety of specials particular to the indigenous population, you will still be able to get the same Big Mac in Lesieux, France that you could get in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Sitting in a dark theater as the simple words “A long ago time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen in deliberate graphic print quality circa 1977 followed by the signature trumpet Star Wars fanfare I couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Now 58, when Star Wars first came out I was 18 years old. As I have repeated in my own cautionary refrain many times to my children – the only reason an 18 year old is now considered a legal adult is because of the Vietnam War. In short, when Star Wars premiered I was still a child.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, arrived on the screen 40 years 6 months and 20 days after the premiere of Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope much to the confusion of many inasmuch as there was no Episode 1, 2 or 3 for many years to come) but who’s counting, right?

During that time we have watched Luke and Leia   be born, grow up, and grow old. Many of us have grown up and grown older right along with them.

How does this all tie in? Simply.   Star Wars doesn’t change. Despite the moderate improvements in special effects the world of Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and Darth Vader, Emperor Pallapatine and the Cantina on Tatooine is the same now as it was when we were all much much younger. A few of the trimmings might be tweaked but it’s still the same Star Wars I came to love fresh out of high school.

Like the dusty rediscovered Teddy Bear or the Big Mac purchased in Tokyo, the opening scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are familiar territory to those of us who have tread these paths for 40 plus years of 7 movies, dozens of Halloween Vader masks, uncountable action figures, Youtube analyses, spoofs, comic books, Yoda backpacks, Millenium Falcon bed sheets, fanzines, shipping theories and both canon and non-canon books. This is not strictly speaking a negative thing. Nor is it a criticism, any more than someone who is fond of vanilla ice cream might note that there is a gallon or two of Blue Belle in the freezer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks very little new ground, does not further the conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force much, or do more than mildly massage the dynamics of the characters we have come to know and love. Even those coming later to the party like Rey (Daisy “Murder on the Orient Express” Ridley), Finn (John Boyega reprising his role from The Force Awakens) and Poe (Oscar Isaac – the only really good thing in Suburbicon) fall into step with their predecessors – Luke, Leia and Han.

MAJOR SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The entire gang is here minus the significantly notable (and I continue the debate with my kids as to whether or no it was entirely unnecessary) exception of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Mark Hamill is the aging Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels is C3PO, Frank Oz voices Yoda, and Peter Mayhew continues as Chewbacca. Princess Leia, too, has a major role to play, even though, ironically, the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, has in fact, actually passed away. (Hail the bizarre technology of CGI which enhanced Ms. Fisher’s last screen moments into a fully fleshed out part.)

The premise of Last Jedi is that Rey, the street urchin who discovered her powerful Force sensitivity in the previous Force Awakens, tries to get an extremely reluctant, jaded and worn out Luke to rejoin the fight against the Empire. At the same time the last remnants of the rebel forces attempt to escape the pursuing clutches of the Imperial Fleet directed by Emperor Snoke (Andy Serkis) and lead by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), in a caricature of evil Nazi-like officer. Hux seems to have, through a kind of Peter Principle, risen through the ranks to the limits of his capabilities, probably because of the attrition resulting from the execution of previous failed commanders. This is a source of mild amusement to the audience.

Which brings us to the one singular added refreshing ingredient to this familiar but very welcome recipe – the sense of humor which has been incorporated into the characters. There has always been an element of comedy – mostly the droids banter and the snarky comments from Han. But for the most part the other characters were straight men. Now, with a certain seasoning, they have allowed characters like Luke to include a few one liners and humorous moments. guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-1366x768-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-6474It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy has set the Gold Standard of humor, converting the likes of the Thor franchise from an almost medieval melodramatic fraternal conflict to a sibling rivalry which occasionally plants tongue firmly in cheek and wisely no longer takes itself too seriously, throwing in moments which might otherwise be considered bloopers. Star Wars has reaped the benefits of this informant as well, levitating the mood in much needed relief from its darker more sinister moments.

All in all Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows there’s plenty of steam left in this railroad or should I say fluff in this Teddy bear.

In short Star Wars: The Last Jedi is………Star Wars. And I wouldn’t want them to change a thing.