BlacKKKlansman


A different kind of hoodie.

(2018) True Life Drama (Focus) John David Washington Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alec Baldwin, Frederick Weller, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Ryan Eggold, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Belafonte, Gina Belafonte, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson, Ato Blankson-Wood, Robert John Burke, Arthur Nascarella, Ken Garito, Damaris Lewis. Directed by Spike Lee

 

Spike Lee is the kind of director who tends to be ahead of his time; he has the uncanny ability to read the writing on the wall, particularly when it comes to race relations in America. His treatise on American racism in 2018 is cleverly couched in a based-on-actual-events dramedy set in the early 70s (although the actual events occurred in 1978).

Spike Lee is also the kind of director who doesn’t really care much about subtlety. Consequently, his films tend to make their points with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Here, Ron Stallworth (Washington), the first black cop in the history of Colorado Springs, has been chafing at a desk job. He longs to get out into the field and make a difference. He is assigned to go undercover at a black student rally at nearby Colorado College. There, he falls for the fiery, passionate president of the chapter, Patrice (Harrier).

His assignment goes well so he joins the Intelligence Division of the CSPD. He decides to call the Ku Klux Klan and see if he can get a membership card – which to his bemusement, he does. But after repeated phone conversations with KKK head David Duke (Grace), he is given the opportunity to infiltrate the local KKK chapter. Knowing that his physical presence is impossible, he gets a surrogate; Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Driver).

Lee doesn’t miss an opportunity to draw parallels between the 1970s and now, as in having the KKK members shouting in unison “America First!” or a racist cop opining that a racist President will get into office by masking his racism in policies about immigration and taxation. And if you still don’t get the connection, Lee appended a coda showing the tragic events of Charlottesville that took place almost a year to the day of the film’s release but after the film was completed.

This is one of Lee’s best films ever. While I’m not so sure that making white extremists out to be ignorant buffoons is a wise choice – that’s how we ended up with our current President – there is plenty of humor to balance out the seriousness of the message. Lee also does an excellent job of capturing the era, from the outstanding score and soundtrack to the wonderfully awful fashions and massive Afros.

Lee also benefits from outstanding performances from Washington and Driver, as well as to a lesser extent Topher Grace as the clueless David Duke. The message is certainly one that bears repeating – that in nearly half a century we still haven’t made much headway. I don’t know that the people who need to get that message will necessarily be flocking to see BlacKKKlansman but even if the movie ends up preaching to the converted it is still well worth the effort to check it out.

REASONS TO SEE: Captures the era to near-perfection, thanks largely to a terrific score. Great performances by Washington and Driver.
REASONS TO AVOID: Heavy handed and lacks finesse.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including racial epithets, a fair amount of violence (including sexual violence) and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mississippi Burning
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Uncut Gems

New Releases for the Week of December 20, 2019


STAR WARS: RISE OF THE SKYWALKER

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Forty years and ten movies on, and it all comes to this; the final chapter in the saga of the Skywalker family, from Anakin to Luke and now the last generation, the story that has spanned four decades comes to a conclusion. Is it going to be as emotionally satisfying as the MCU finale earlier this year? Probably not.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action)

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti. The true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War at great personal cost to himself and his family. This is the latest from recently prolific director Terrence Malick.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for traumatic material including violent images)

Bombshell

(Lionsgate) Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow. A group of women at Fox News take on Roger Ailes to try and change the toxic masculine atmosphere he created, leading to a profound shakeup at the official network of the Republican party.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Hamlin, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Daytona Luxury, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for sexual material and language throughout)

Cats

(Universal) James Corden, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson. At long last comes the screen version of the hit Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, depicting a group of cats meeting to determine which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and return to a new and better life. The film has gotten a great deal of blowback due to the trailer which some found the CGI make-up effects disconcerting.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive material)
 

Dabangg 3

(Yash Raj) Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan, Mahie Gill, Girish Taurani. India’s beloved badass cop Inspector Chulbul Pandey is back to take on a new case.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hero</em
Prati Roju Pandage
Ruler
Thambi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Hero
Only Cloud Knows
Prati Roju Pandage
Ruler
Thambi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Ruler

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Prati Roju Pandage

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Hidden Life
Bombshell
Cats
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Mistletoe Movie Madness, Dania Beach, FL

The Report


Going through millions of pages in government reports could turn anybody into Kylo Ren.

(2019) True Life Drama (AmazonAdam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, John Rothman, Victor Slezak, Guy Boyd, Alexander Chaplin, Joanne Tucker, Ian Blackman, Tim Blake Nelson, Fajer Kaisi, Scott Shepherd, Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Rhys, Kate Beahan, April Rogalski. Directed by Scott Z. Burns

 

As Americans, we have always held ourselves to certain standards. We are strong, true and follow the law. We do the right thing. There came a time though, that our self-image took a pounding.

Young Daniel Jones (Driver) is ambitious, ready to keep America safe after 9/11. He was anxious to make a difference the best way he could – behind the scenes as a Congressional aide. When Senator Diane Feinstein (Bening) asks him to look into recordings of interrogations that the CIA had reportedly destroyed, he uncovered something terrible; evidence that the CIA was torturing prisoners for information.

Calling the effort “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” or EIT, the program was put in place by a pair of contractors with backgrounds in psychology and the military. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that the two men had never conducted an interrogation before, or that evidence was strong that torture almost never yielded any actionable intelligence. The program went on and keeping it covered up seemed to be the main focus.

Jones and a small team of researchers worked in a basement office in a CIA satellite office for five years, working crazy hours going through more than six million pages of documents. Despite reluctance by the CIA and certain segments of Congress, Jones pressed and pressed until he uncovered the shocking truth.

The story is an important one, one that is especially relevant these days. Not every important story makes a good movie, however; much of what happened involved researchers sitting in front of a computer screen in a jail cell-like atmosphere. The dramatic tension here is not very strong. It doesn’t help that Burns doesn’t really develop Jones much as a character; we never see much of his personality except for that he’s driven and almost obsessive. He’s passionate about what he’s looking for and sometimes gets frustrated when others don’t share his outrage.

Bening and Driver are both outstanding actors and they don’t disappoint here. Driver is definitely in a much more different kind of role than we’re used to from him and it’s a good fit. I’m impressed by his versatility as an actor and he really stretches himself here. Bening is an actress who doesn’t always get the due she deserves; she probably won’t get a ton of accolades for her performance here but she really brings Feinstein’s personality to the forefront; that’s not surprising considering the two are friends in real life. Good casting is important in any cinematic endeavor.

I can see where those who are politically conservative might not like this much; the Conservatives don’t come up covered in glory here. Still, it’s an important story about how easy it is for the way to be lost, and how wanting to preserve our security can sometimes lead to compromising our soul. It’s a chilling tale and one that needs to be committed to memory.

REASONS TO SEE: A compelling story chilling in its implications. Strong performances by Driver and Bening.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overall the movie is a bit more underwhelming than the story deserves.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing depictions of torture, violence, plenty of profanity and graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Daniel J. Jones attended the film’s world premiere at Sundance and received a standing ovation from the audience.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zero Dark Thirty
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Last Color

New Releases for the Week of June 14, 2019


MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL

(Columbia) Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani. Directed by F. Gary Gray

The Men in Black have long protected the Earth from extraterrestrial villains but now they face their biggest threat yet; one of their own, a mole in their own organization. Agents H and M will be challenged more than any other agent before them in this new installment in the franchise, the first without either Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material)

5B

(RYOT) Hank Plante, Cliff Morrison, Mary Magee, Lorraine Day. The first dedicated AIDS ward in the country was built at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983. This is the story of those who built it; the nurses and caregivers and the often heartbreaking stories of loss, courage and triumph.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content including unsettling images, and some strong language)

American Woman

(Roadside Attractions/Vertical) Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, Amy Madigan. When a woman’s adult daughter disappears, she is left as caregiver for her infant granddaughter while trying to solve the mystery of her daughter’s disappearance, a journey that takes far longer than she anticipated.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

The Dead Don’t Die

(Focus) Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Carol Kane. A sleepy small town is beset by the living dead who are looking for a free meal in the latest by quirkmeister Jim Jarmusch.

See the trailer, a video featurette and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for zombie violence/gore, and for language)

Late Night

(Amazon) Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow. A veteran late night talk show host, in danger of becoming irrelevant, hires a woman of color to join her stable of writers. The two women, who couldn’t be more different, find themselves sharing more in common than they would have thought.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexual references)

Shaft

(Warner Brothers/New Line) Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall. The son of the baddest private eye in New York City has a completely different methodology than his father. When a close friend of the son turns up dead, he will need a crash course in street tough from his dad, who was absent throughout his childhood but John Shaft has an agenda and no mutha is going to keep him from achieving it, family or not.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Blackbear
Changeland
Hampstead
Plus One
Rainbow’s Sunset</em
The Souvenir
Vault

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Game Over
Los Viejos – The Oldies
Nureyev
Plus One
Premier Padmini
Remember Amnesia
The Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Daughter of the Wolf
Game Over
Heavy Water
The Souvenir
Vault

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Dead Don’t Die
Late Night
Men in Black International
Shaft

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


An iconic figure, his faithful manservant and Terry Gilliam’s 25-year-odyssey.

(2018) Adventure (Screen Media) Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Mollá, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Watkins, Paloma Bloyd, Hovik Keuchkerian, Matilde Fluixa, Joe Manjón, Antonio Gil, Rodrigo Poison, Sergi López, Rossy de Palma, Bruno Schiappa, Hipolito Boro, Jorge Calvo, Will Keen, Viveka Rytzner. Directed by Terry Gilliam

 

Few films have as checkered a past as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Visionary director and ex-Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam has been trying to get this film made since 1989. Unable to secure financing until 1998, he began filming only to have the production shut down after only a week following health problems for star Jean Rochefort’s health issues, a devastating flood which swept away nearly all the production’s equipment and assorted financial issues. Since then Gilliam has been continuing to get production restarted, adding some fairly big name actors to the cast but ultimately was unable to secure financing until 2017 when cameras finally rolled once again. Incredibly, production was eventually completed.

Now we see the finished product and was it worth 25 years of Gilliam’s life? Well, I suppose you’d have to ask him that. The story involved a jaded Hollywood commercial director named Toby (Driver) who as a student filmmaker commandeered a Spanish village and made a black and white film called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, transforming Javier (Pryce), an ordinary cobbler into believing he was actually Don Quixote, and Angelica (Ribeiro), a 15-year-old waitress into thinking she could be a star. The villagers, needless to say, don’t remember Toby fondly.

When Toby returns to the village of Los Suenos (“The Dreams”) years later while filming an insurance company commercial involving the Man of La Mancha, he is brought face to face with the results of his student film. The now-mad Javier mistakes Toby for Sancho Panza and off they go into the Spanish countryside where Toby nearly burns the village down, is arrested by the local constabulary, watches Don Quixote tilt at windmills and ends up at a lavish party thrown by a Russian Oligarch (Mollá) who now “owns” Angelica and assisted by Toby’s boss (Skarsgård) and his oversexed wife Jacqui (Kurylenko). Can Toby find a way back to reality through the cobbler’s madness or will he eventually get sucked in, Javier’s vision preferable to the real world?

This is not an easy movie to analyze; there are a ton of things going on and many layers to unravel. Toby could be considered a young Terry Gilliam, a bright and inventive creative mind worn down by dealing with the machine of commercial filmmaking. Quixote is the ideal he is striving to achieve. Or he can be construed as purity while Toby is the corrupted but not irretrievable. Quixote longs to re-create the Age of Chivalry; a return to an idealized past maybe? While Toby is the strictures of the present. I could go on and on…and already have.

There is a lot to think about here which is never a bad thing in a movie. My beef with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is that it needed more Terry Gilliam; this feels stripped down and less imaginative than his other efforts. I think this would have benefited from a much larger budget to give Gilliam’s imagination full flower and perhaps that is why it has taken so long to make this; unless it’s a superhero film or a science fiction epic, Hollywood is loathe to give those mega-budgets out to just anyone, particularly to people like Gilliam whose movies don’t always make money.

Pryce is delightful as Quixote; his madness is at least sweet and essentially harmless unless he perceives you to be non-chivalrous. In that case things could get testy. Driver is a versatile actor who can do just about any kind of character; Toby is essentially a self-absorbed twerp who at any given moment thinks he’s the smartest person in the room. Beyond the student film, we don’t get a whole lot of background on Toby and the movie might have benefited from connecting the dots between student filmmaker to jaded commercial filmmaker. The mostly European cast does solid work throughout the film. There aren’t a lot of dazzling special effects shots here and the film could have used them.

Maybe I expected more from the film since it took so long to make it to the screen, and because Gilliam is such a visually arresting filmmaker. I get the sense that this isn’t the film he wanted to make but it was the film he could afford to make. Perhaps that’s true of most filmmakers.

REASONS TO SEE: Like any Terry Gilliam movie, this is chock full of imagination. Skewers the film industry with a rapier wit.
REASONS TO AVOID: The movie could have used a little more whimsy.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some profanity, sexuality, violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Since 1989, Gilliam has made numerous attempts to get this film off the ground, most notably in 2000 when it became “the most cursed film in history” as documented by Lost in La Mancha. Over the years Gilliam has cast a number of actors as Quixote besides Pryce; Michael Palin, John Hurt, Jean Rochefort and Robert Duvall, two of whom have since passed away.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

New Releases for the Week of August 10, 2018


THE MEG

(Warner Brothers) Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson. Directed by Jon Turteltaub

An oceanographer is terrorized by what he claims is a 70-foot shark. Ridiculed and disbelieved, when it turns out that the creature indeed exists and is a prehistoric Megalodon that has somehow survived in the depths of the ocean, he must put aside his fears in order to rescue a trapped submarine.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG -13(for action/peril, bloody images and some language)

A Prayer Before Dawn

(A24) Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai, Vithaya Pansringarm. A young British boxer is incarcerated in two of Thailand’s most brutal prisons. He is allowed to enter a Muay Thai tournament to fight for his freedom, but every fight could be his last  as no holds whatsoever are barred. Based on a true story, the film has been available for DirecTV subscribers for about a month now and is just now seeing a limited theatrical release.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong violence including a brutal rape sequence, drug use and language throughout, some sexual content and nudity)

American Animals

(The Orchard) Evan Peters, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner. A group of young men plan an audacious heist to steal priceless books from a University library. No less audacious is the way director Bart Layton tells the story with the actual participants offering peanut gallery comments. This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material)

BlacKKKlansman

(Focus) John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin. Spike Lee’s latest is based on the true story of an African-American cop who manages to get an in with the KKK over the phone. He is forced to recruit a white cop to play him for face-to-face meetings.

See the trailer, interviews and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references)

Dog Days

(LD Entertainment) Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Eva Longoria. The lives of several L.A. dog owners (and would-be dog owners) intersect through the efforts of their dogs in this ensemble piece that looks  at how our four legged best friends enhance our lives.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude and suggestive content, and for language)

Slender Man

(Screen Gems) Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Javier Botet. A group of friends in a small town in Massachusetts discover the Internet creepypasta figure the Slender Man and set out to disprove his existence. When one of them mysteriously disappears however, their own skepticism begins to crumble.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website</a
>
Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language including crude sexual references)

Vishwaroopam 2

(Reliance) Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Shekhar Kapur, Pooja Kumar. After foiling an Al Qaeda plot in New York in the first movie, anti-terrorism expert Wisam chases his quarry as they plan an even more infernal plot to undermine the world’s most stable democracies – including India.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Along Came the Devil
Hope Springs Eternal
On Chesil Beach
Our House
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ashke
Cuban Food Stories
Goodachari
McQueen
Puzzle
Satan’s Slaves
Sergio and Sergei
Srinivasa Kalyanam
Summer of ‘84
What Keeps You Alive

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Far From the Tree
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bag of Marbles
Eating Animals
Srinivasa Kalyanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

American Animals
Blackkklansman
Eating Animals
Far From the Tree
The Meg
Our House
Slenderman
Summer of ‘84

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


In any Star Wars film sparks will fly and stuff will burn.

(2017) Science Fiction (Disney) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz, Benicio Del Toro, Justin Theroux, Billie Lourd, Joonas Suotomo, Amanda Lawrence, Jimmy Vee, Veronica Ngo. Directed by Rian Johnson

In the annals of all things cinematic, no film franchise has ever elicited as much anticipation as the Star Wars franchise has with every film that’s come out since the first one. Say what you want about their fandom, they are among the most loyal of any fanbase for just about anything anywhere; many of its fans go back to the first 1977 film forty years before the latest one came out.

And there are no signs of the franchise slowing down anytime soon. Not only is there a standalone Han Solo film coming out this summer, but earlier this year it was announced that another trilogy has been approved by Disney (to nobody’s surprise) after the current trilogy concludes next year. Rian Johnson, director of this episode, will be overseeing it although whether that means he will be directing all three of the films, writing them or acting more like a kind of Yoda for the filmmakers who will be involved with the fourth trilogy remains to be seen.

While this is the longest of the films to date, for the most part it doesn’t seem that way thanks to incredible special effects which have become and remained the norm for the series. Like The Force Awakens there seems like a lot of story lines that were cobbled from other films in the series (a last stand on an ice planet? C’mon, guys) and elsewhere. On top of that there are all sorts of threads going on here and while they seem to reach a conclusion, it still feels like we’re slogging through story more than we should be.

But there is a whole lot to like about the movie as well. One of the main things is Mark Hamill. He has delivered one of his best performances ever and certainly his best Luke Skywalker ever. I worried early on that he would be curmudgeonly “get off my lawn” Luke for the whole movie but thankfully he shows some growth, particularly in the final act. The film ends on a grace note that is as magical a moment as you’ll find in the entire series.

There are other fine performances and storylines here but Ridley as Rey was not as compelling as she was previously. Boyega also seems to be written as kind of a one-note character. Laura Dern is a welcome addition to the Star Wars Universe, giving a performance that matches some of the veteran cast members note for note. Oscar Isaac seems to be developing into a very interesting character and the storyline with Rose (Tran) was one of the best in the film. However, I think the movie will be long-remembered for being Carrie Fisher’s last appearance as Princess Lea (Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has stated that Fisher won’t be appearing in any form in that movie).

On the other hand, there’s Snoke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order who is played via motion capture by the great Andy Serkis. When you have maybe the best motion capture performer of all time to utilize it seems a bloody shame to use so little of him. He is almost casually dispatched early in the movie which may end up being a tactical error or not. The Emperor surrogate role now falls to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren who may not be wholly evil after all as Anakin Skywalker was. But can anyone be both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine at once? That remains to be seen.

This is superior entertainment and helped 2017 end on a record-breaking note. While many fans sniped over some of the story points (even Hamill reportedly wasn’t happy about the direction his charcter was taking) there’s no doubt that the franchise is as healthy as it ever was. Most people reading this have likely already seen the film multiple times in the theaters and await with varying degrees of eagerness for it to become available for their home collections. Well, so is this critic.

REASONS TO GO: As always, the special effects are as breathtaking as any in the movies. The action sequences are also top of the line. Hamill delivers his best performance of the series.
REASONS TO STAY: The buildup for Snoke led to somewhat of a letdown. The story is unnecessarily convoluted and once again feels like it was borrowed from other episodes..
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect from a film of this franchise there is all sorts of action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to playing Luke Skywalker, Hamill also played a CGI character who can be seen putting money into BB-8 during the casino scene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Scorched Earth