Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

The Rise of Skywalker is an entertaining end to the franchise that maybe tries to do too much for one movie to handle.

Spoiler Free Review

Score: 4 / 5

And so we have arrived. The end of the Skywalker Saga, a series that has spanned generations has received its conclusion with final installment. This is a movie that not only has given itself the task of concluding the new trilogy of movies starting with The Force Awakens, but also given a larger conclusion to the six movies that came before that. It’s a tall order and one made even more challenging with a runtime of 2 hours and 21 minutes. Does it stick the landing? Were J.J. Abrams and crew able to pull it off? Yeah, I’d say so. Mostly. 

Let’s get this out of the way right now, there was always going to be a little bit of an awkward dance around how to include the only living original trilogy character Leia due to the passing of actress Carrie Fisher. The options were limited, re-purpose old deleted footage from the previous two films, try to digitally recreate her likeness? It was never going to be easy, and what they landed with by using never seen old footage works, but you can tell they had to do some delicate editing to get there. Kudos to the team and what they were able to accomplish. 

Now with that out of the way, let’s get down to the meat of this. The Rise of Skywalker is super fast paced. A movie that rarely has time to hit the breaks. What this gives you is an entertaining action adventure that leans more on action than the joy of the adventure aspect.  That runtime I mentioned before? You can feel like someone was telling them to run through moments to meet that. Why? I’m not sure, it doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad, but it almost feels like this movie could have been two movies. Like it could have taken a third of it, remixed it into the previous film The Last Jedi and given the rest of Rise of Skywalker some room to breathe. The last thing I want to mention that is more on the critical side of things is by the end of the movie, there is one particular set of moments that felt super fan service-y and not really reflective of the characters themselves. 

To the good, there’s a bunch of it. This movie finally gives us a chance to see our trio of new heroes, Rey, Fin, and Poe interact as a group for a large amount of the runtime. It’s great, the chemistry between them is strong like Rey’s connection to the Force. Another fun standout in this movie is how much humor they fire out of C-3P0. Boy oh boy does Anthony Daniels get to steal this movie in the humor department. Along the way we see some fun new characters, (Babu Frik is another gem of a character), as well as the return of more original trilogy characters such as Lando and Emperor Palpatine. Lando’s role is small but fun to see, but it’s Palpatine’s inclusion in this story that will likely make or break Rise of Skywalker for a lot of fans. I won’t say much other than I personally enjoyed the heck out of seeing the puppet master back for one more go at trying to rule the galaxy. It’s also quite interesting how much his inclusion not only brings back elements of the original trilogy but also gives us some echoes of prequels in terms of mythology. 

I’ll save talking about story details in a spoiler review but as a whole I enjoyed where it went, there is one major twist that propels the movie forward that at the beginning I wasn’t satisfied with but as the movie continued I was accepting of it. Again that’s for another talk. This movie definitely felt like one that was out to honor what came before and give a conclusion to a story that has been playing out in front of us for 42 years. 

Beyond the story, the two other major elements of Star Wars were at full display here. The visuals were absolutely breathtaking, outdoing most of what this new trilogy has had to offer. The colors ranging from bright warm smoke bombs on a desert planet to a cold icy sky filled with endless Star Destroyers. It’s a treat, and something that should be seen on a big screen to fully appreciate. Then the secret weapon of this franchise, John Williams. The master composer left no stone unturned as he weaved themes from throughout the franchise and gave us the epic finale our ears have been waiting for. It’s glorious and deserves recognition for how much he packed into it. 

Is this movie a perfect masterpiece? Does it give you the depth you’d expect out of a long-form TV show or smaller scale movie? No, but that’s not what Star Wars ever was. This was a franchise built on entertainment based around the battles of good and evil. The Rise of Skywalker delivers entertainment in spades and in the same process brings to an end to a story that began a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. 


Jojo Rabbit Review

Jojo Rabbit is a joyous comedic journey with a heart that also happens to center around a Nazi youth with an imaginary Hitler friend. It sounds insane, but it’s the insane that you have to see.

Score: 4.5/5

Right from the start of Jojo Rabbit it is very apparent that although it is set in one of the darkest periods of human history this is a positive movie looking for the bright side in terrible times. It’s heartfelt, joyful, funny, and doesn’t dwell on the negative side of things for very long. It’s not that it is trying to hide from the bad aspects of the situation, it just bravely chooses to say “that happened, but you can still be happy.”

Jojo Rabbit follows Jojo (played by the talented Roman Griffin Davis), a young lonely German who wants acceptance and friends by believing in the Nazi propaganda. It’s when he finds out that his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is hiding a Jewish girl in their house that the boy’s world is turned upside down. Throughout the movie Jojo’s brainwashing is challenged by the good qualities his mother taught him and a budding love for a girl he was being taught to hate.

It’s crazy that a movie with an imaginary best friend Hitler played by the writer/director Taika Waititi works so well. It works because of the excellent lead performances from Davis, Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie who plays the Jewish Elsa. Yet it also works because of the rest of a great ensemble with the likes of Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson. And I cannot forget to mention Archie Yates who plays Jojo’s not imaginary best friend Yorki. That kid is perfect in this movie and every line that comes out of his mouth is pure gold.

That’s kind of the case for everyone though because the script is just as top-notch as the cast. The word play jokes are perfect, situational gags brilliant, and the heavier moments touching. This is one of the best feel good movies of the year because it finds ways to overcome a lot of terrible things in our real human history. Leave it to Taika Waititi to find a way to make a movie with Hitler and Nazis a funny and positive joy from start to finish.


Terminator: Dark Fate Review

Terminator: Dark Fate finally gives us a passable sequel to the classic Judgement Day.

Score: 3 / 5

There hasn’t been a good Terminator movie in 28 years. In the time since the Cameron classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we have had two sequels and now two retcons / reboots of sorts. Out of the four movies to come out, Dark Fate is probably the best of the bunch. That doesn’t mean it’s a great movie, but it sure feels like a step in a right direction of the franchise is ever going to continue.

First let’s get this out of the way, this movie is no Judgement Day, but what is tries to do is take echoes of Judgement Day to give viewers something to latch onto. It works. The best bits of this movie are Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back together for this sequel that ignores the last three misfires. Which by the way, with how loopy the time travel is of this franchise you could argue that every movie after two did happen but it a parallel reality. Having Linda Hamilton back though really does make this feel like a true sequel. It’s a shame that it doesn’t feel like true closure for Sarah Connor as that feels like the way this movie should have gone.

I digress, should is not what is, and what Dark Fate is, well it’s another in cookie cutter Terminator movie. It gives you what you’d expect from the last five Terminator movies (well maybe not Salvation that one was an odd failed experiment), a Terminator and a protector from the future come to do battle over an under-prepared human that will one day be of grave importance to the fate of humanity and machines. This is handled by the new cast of characters. Natalia Reyes is the Dani who is essentially the new Sarah/John of this movie. Mackenzie Davis is Grace, the new spin on the protector from the future. While Gabriel Luna, plays the new Terminator Rev-9 model. Each of the actors are fun to watch but this is where the biggest issue comes in for the movie.

On the action end Grace and the Rev-9 are fun to watch, but it does end up feeling too much CGI trailer action for action’s sake rather than going anywhere interesting. Yet this isn’t the problem. The problem is there is no depth to the new cast. Grace is given the best chance out of the three new characters and while it helped make her character more interesting, it made me wish that we would have been given more of her. It felt like ideas of why she went back to protect Grace where left on the cutting room floor.

Tucked into this been there done that Terminator movie is the continued threads of Sarah Connor. This is where this the movie felt at its strongest. What becomes of the Connor legacy in this sequel is interesting, and how it all plays into T-800 Arnold is what gives this movie anything meaty to chew into. It’s a shame that this movie didn’t focus solely on Sarah for the entire duration of the movie as it feels like this movie was trying to both keep the past alive while starting a new generation to lead on the franchise. By the end it’s clear that the creative team couldn’t quite cut the cord and instead we are left with a movie that leaves us no closure of the past, and a hollow future.

Terminator Dark Fate isn’t bad, but it’s not great. It’s right in the middle. It has some fun actors, while still giving us a hit of the what made the franchise great. It’s biggest fault isn’t that it is a cookie cutter Terminator movie, it’s that it had ideas that could have been something special if they were brave enough to follow through with them.


Parasite Review

All I can think about is how I need to see this again because it’s just that damn good of a movie.

Score: 5 / 5

As I left the theater after watching director Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite my mind was trying to come to terms with what I just watched. It’s a masterstroke of blended comedy, and drama that by the end I was feeling like my emotions were tugged into two opposing directions at once.

Parasite follows the unemployed Kim family as they embed themselves into the extremely rich Park family, and what starts off as seemingly innocent at the start spirals down and down the morality staircase till we reach a powder-keg crescendo that makes you sit and ask, what the hell just happened? Needless to say I don’t want to spoil the story as it’s such a fun watch going in with as little as possible.

What I can say is the situations in the story create this interesting balance, where it feels like this is 100% a satire but underneath there is real depth and seriousness to the situation. A darkness lurking just under the surface. To make this all work is a stellar cast, the entire Kim family are excellent, with Kang-ho Song, the father of the Kim’s having the most range. His character’s arc is something you can’t stop watching no matter the outcomes. To play off this humorous family on the Park side, Yeo-jeong Jo plays the rich housewife character to perfection. Her interactions with the entire Kim family create endless laughs as she is a catalyst for many humorous moments.

And I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning how gorgeous it looks. Cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong’s does an amazing job of framing scenes, and using interesting techniques to really give this movie a true cinema feel. It’s one of the best looking movies of the year and paired with a great score by Jaeil Jung you get a movie that keeps the audience on their toes at all times.

Going into Parasite all I knew were two things, it was a South Korean film, and it’s getting a crazy amount of praise. Leaving Parasite, the praise was right but all I can think about is how I need to see this again because it’s just that damn good of a movie. Parasite stands as one of the best films of 2019 and not to be missed.


Zombieland: Double Tap

Zombieland: Double Tap is just as funny as the original with the scene stealing Madison (Zoey Deutch). Fans should be chomping at the bit for this return trip.

Score: 4 / 5

Ladies and gentlemen, they did it. Somehow, someway, the main creative team and talent behind a classic comedy from ten years all came back for a sequel and it doesn’t suck. It not only doesn’t suck, it’s actually really great. Zombieland: Double Tap is something special in that it has the right amount of differences mixed in with what you know that it doesn’t feel like you can just skip this and just watch the first. It has old ideas and playing on old jokes, but it also has some entertaining new ones that makes this feel like not a cover of a classic but a real part two.

Double Tap picks up ten years after the original film as the dysfunctional family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock are still kicking. The chemistry between the original cast is still there and even stronger than before. You can tell they are all having a great time returning to these oddball characters, but what really makes Double Tap works is the new blood, more specifically Madison played by Zoey Deutch. Madison injects new life into the group, and there wasn’t a scene she was in that wasn’t hilarious for one reason or the next. Her presence always causes a new comedic moment to bounce off of and I couldn’t get enough of what she brought to the table. That isn’t to say at all that the main cast aren’t still quite humorous in themselves. More that Deutch’s Madison amplified what was already there. Along the way there are also some great additional cameos that also add in some very funny moments.

In terms of tone, this movie feels like a perfect continuation of humor and design of the first film, which makes perfect sense when you have the same writers and director involved. You’ll get your Zombie Kill of the Week, you’ll get some ridiculous gory action, you’ll get the funny rules of Zombieland, and you’ll get a very zany attitude of what should be a very dour world in a zombie apocalypse. In fact the writing is clever enough to point out something that I was thinking about as watching the movie. There has been a LOT of zombie related content since Zombieland first came on the scene a decade ago. It had me analyzing the movie in the more Walking Dead like analysis that the show somehow programmed me into thinking. It made me realize how much I miss having a good helping of zombie comedy to go with zombie drama. This was just one of many moments where the excellent writing knows how to be self aware in the right ways.

Humor is a subjective beast, more so than most other genres. I was a really big fan of the first Zombieland, and as one of those fans I liked Double Tap just as much if not more with the addition of Zoey Deutch. So if you enjoyed the 09 original, you should definitely get to theaters and check out the really funny sequel.


Gemini Man Review

Gemini Man is a run of the mill Will Smith action movie, but with double the Will!

Score: 3 / 5 (Normal 2D non-High Framerate version)

There’s something refreshing about watching a Will Smith action movie. It won’t necessarily surprise you every time but they are always entertaining popcorn movies. Gemini Man falls into this camp nicely with some interesting dabbling into more fancy special effects technology.

Gemini Man follow’s Henry Brogan (Will Smith), one of the best hitmen in the world ready to retire. It’s when he decides he is out of the business that he is now being hunted by a younger clone of himself. I’m going to get this out of the way now. This movie’s story would have been much more interesting from the start if you didn’t have to sell this movie as “Look it’s two Will Smith’s! How? Oh one is a clone.” For viewers it cheats them on what could have been a shocking story beat. Which fine okay, I can work with that. Luckily the movie doesn’t spend too long dancing around this topic or otherwise it would have been a major negative to the movie kind of like the last several Terminator movies that gave away huge reveals in the marketing.

The story isn’t bad, but it’s not a massive selling point either. If you generally like the premise, you’ll enjoy the events that unfold. What will make or break this movie is if you enjoy the acting of Will Smith and his style of action movie. While I enjoy the young Will Smith days of old, I much more appreciate the more nuanced Smith that we get now which makes even the average plot feel stronger. You can see depth in his character and the action is great.

While we are on the topic of Will Smith acting, as the trailers push Smith is also playing a younger version of himself named Junior. Again, Will Smith does a great job playing a conflicted younger version of himself and it’s fun to watch him play off of his other character. In terms of does the visuals work for the younger Smith? I’d say it looks pretty great most of the time. There are a few moments that are a tad uncanny valley looking but for the most part the technology keeps improving to scary proportions.

Along the for the ride is the always fun to see on screen Mary Elizabeth Winstead who can be equally bad-ass in action scenes along Smith, and then you have Benedict Wong adding some additional humor to the mix. Then there is Clive Owen’s Clay Verris, who’s goal has some bullet points that sound reasonable until you get into the whole playing God thing. His character is the weakest part of the movie because although there is effort to make him not seem all evil, there is just something off about it in a not interesting way.

Really though, you aren’t going to a Will Smith action movie to see a deep character piece about the villains, you are going to see the charming super cool Will Smith, be charming, and cool, and do action-y stuff. That’s what Gemini Man is, and you even get two of him in one movie. Neat! So if you like the I, Robot / Bright style type of Will Smith movie, you are gonna enjoy yourself nicely.


Joker Review

Joker is a dark look at society’s ignorance of the mentally ill and one of the must watch movies of the year.

Score: 5 / 5

Comic book inspired movies for well over a decade now have been looking to be taken seriously not as just blockbusters but as art with more to tell then good versus evil. In all that time I can count the amount of films that deserve that recognition with two fingers. After the Joker I can say it’s up to three.

When it was announced that Director/writer Todd Phillips was making a Joker standalone movie my first thought was this would not work. How can you make a movie around a monster like that? It would feel dark in a way that doesn’t sit right with you. Well that’s exactly what the Joker is, but it’s in the way it’s told and by the masterful performance by Joaquin Phoenix that makes this a movie you can’t not watch.

Joker is about a mentally ill man named Arthur Fleck (played by Phoenix). Raised in a terrible environment all he wants is to make people laugh, to be a comedian. Throughout Joker Arthur comes to learn more about his past and is pushed by society to the point of suffocation. He is a mental powder keg that is just waiting for that one day that pushes him too far. If you have never seen a comic book movie or read a comic book, you’d still have no problem at all taking in this movie.

Once again Joaquin Phoenix is an artist at the highest level, delivering another performance that keeps you drawn to the screen. You can feel the constant battles going on in Arthur’s head, the pain that he can’t lessen, and the disturbing satisfaction he finds when he accepts what he believes is his purpose in the world. This is awards winning material here that I would be shocked does not get nominations at all the big end of year shows. Along with Phoenix is an excellent cast of supporting characters that never outshine the lead but compliment the energy he is firing off in all directions.

To complete this haunting tale is the combination of excellent cinematography and a score that perfectly captures the serious dark dance that is on display. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s shots rest on moments of Arthur fixated in some mental loop, while Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score builds the tension of the explosion that is bound to happen one way or another. Warner Bros wiliness to let a filmmaking team create such a disturbing tale on a character that could just be used for selling toys is bold and truly separates them from the Disney empire that is looking to consume the entire industry. The film landscape needs movies like these just as it does empty entertainment ones.

Joker is a no holding back look at a mentally unstable man that society tossed aside. It’s a chilling look at how we treat the mentally ill and the general lack of understanding or attempt at compassion. It’s a fictional example that in our real world we should be discussing mental illness, we should be doing more. Joker is a must see for that reason alone but add in that it is actually a well-crafted work of art just adds to the need that for a movie fan this is a must watch.


Ad Astra Review

Ad Astra is a gorgeous and emotional journey that should be seen on as big a screen as possible.

Score: 4 / 5

Ad Astra, in Latin that means to the stars. It’s a fitting title for a movie about space, and the distance one would go looking for closure, for that’s exactly what Ad Astra is all about. This is a heady introspective sci-fi movie that’s just as interested in the journey of Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride’s mental state as it is about the journey of one man traveling our solar system to save humanity. What you should understand going into this movie is that this isn’t your action blockbuster in space, it’s about that exploration of emotional pain and the exploration of space in a much closer to reality take than something like Star Trek or Star Wars.

Brad Pitt has been having a great year with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and now Ad Astra. Pitt’s McBride is a broken man. Emotionally closed off because of his father’s abandonment. This struggle to come to terms with this fact and that his father was no hero to him is the major driving force in the movie. Saving Earth? That is what draws McBride in, but it’s not what keeps him going. Pitt does a great job capturing that conflicted man still dealing with childhood trauma quite well. Pitt’s performance works so well for this movie that I actually was okay with voice over. Something I’m typically not a fan of. But it fits with this movie, it truly feels like we are in the head of this accomplished astronaut that deep inside is empty.

Moving past performance the other star of this movie is the visuals. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and the visual effects team give us beautiful shots filled with a future of space technology that doesn’t feel that far from what we could see in the next 100 years. So many shots felt like they could easily be paintings, not just because of their beauty, but because they capture an emotional story beat. I could easily see a coffee table book filled with stills from what’s on display in this movie. The final piece to this making this movie work as a deep journey into space is the score by Max Richter. It’s both haunting and moving at the same time giving this movie the right tone at every turn.

The thing that could and likely did turn some viewers off is the pacing and very fact that this movie is so invested in the mental journey of McBride. This movie sits with the quieter moments. It dwells on things. It’s a slower paced journey. It’s also solitary for many parts of the movie, but to me it fits and makes sense. This is a journey for this one man to find peace within himself, and it was something he had to do on his own.

By the time this movie ended, I felt I was part of an experience. It felt heavy and reflective. It made me think and ponder. I left with images of the beautiful shots in the movie. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then you should not go to the stars but to a movie theater and see this gorgeous movie on a massive screen.


It: Chapter Two Review

IT: Chapter Two successfully continues the creepy horror-with-a-heart tone that the amazing 2017 IT began.

Score: 4 / 5?

The excellent 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s classic IT ended with the title card IT: Chapter One, leaving audience members with the tease, that this story wasn’t over. The Losers Club’s work wasn’t finished. Now Chapter Two has arrived and with it the nearly three hour telling of what happened 27 years later. The question is, can Chapter Two be as great as Chapter One. I’m happy to say that at least for me, this was a great continuation of what the first IT brought to the table. Great characters, creepy vibes, and excellent scares.

I won’t go too deep into actual plot points, but I will say I found it clever how this movie tackled the trauma of what happened in the first movie as the building blocks of the creepy moments that each member of the Losers Club experienced. IT knows them inside and out, and torments them at every turn. The sequel really dials it up a notch in terms of just crazy sequences that are a joy to see on screen. Remember that projector scene in the first movie? This movie has a whole lot more of that weirdness. Speaking of that, where the first movie keeps that in balance with the horror. This movie by the end goes much more into the full on odd. It works for me as that is the nature of the monster they are fighting, but I could see some fans of the first getting turned off by that.

What really makes this movie work is some excellent casting of the adult versions of the characters we saw last time. Everyone does a great job embodying the spirit of the child actors from Chapter One. When you have talents like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Skarsgard, you might think no one could out shine them, but Bill Hader continues to show he’s an acting treasure beyond just comedy. With that said he still very comedic in this movie as the adult Richie but he has a pretty great range in this movie. I do have to come back and mention just how great Bill Skarsgard is as Pennywise. He does a perfect job with this entity of evil. Unsettling, and terrifying Skarsgard knocks it out of the park for a second time in a row.

Visually this movie picks up where the last did with gorgeous cinematography that really captures the mood of every messed up scene. Marry that to the familiar musical themes from the first film’s score and you have something that keeps you feeling tense and connected to the horror of the first film.

Did I like IT: Chapter Two as much as the first? I did. It was more of what we got from the first movie with a new adult cast that gave the movie a slightly different flavor. Fans of the first should definitely head to theaters to see how the story of IT ends.


Ready or Not Review

Ready or Not is a cult classic satirical horror in the making with an entertaining plot and a great ensemble cast.

Score: 4.5 / 5

Satirical Horror is not an easy genre to nail. It requires walking a tight rope between going too dark or going too goofy. If a movie can pull it off though, you are typically in for an entertaining treat that elevates itself from every other horror movie on the block. Well Ready or Not is one of those movies. In fact Ready or Not feels just like the cult classic The Cabin in the Woods creating a tone of messed up moments balanced by humor that keeps things from getting depressingly bleak.

Ready or Not follows Grace, who is about to marry into the very eccentric and rich Le Domas family. Along with being a family of Arrested Development style odd balls, they have a little family tradition whenever someone new joins the family. Play a game chosen by the draw of a card. Unfortunately for Grace she picks Hide and Seek, which for this family is more Hide and Hunt. If Grace doesn’t avoid the family she is dead, if Grace doesn’t die the family is dead (or so they believe). So begins this game of cat and mouse. The movie doesn’t get too twisty and sticks more to just being an entertaining horror satire.

This movie works so well because of a fun script that does an excellent job keeping the story from getting so dark that it just brings you down. There are a great jokes, and moments of levity throughout which keeps things entertaining. What really makes this all work is the excellent cast. Samara Weaving plays Grace, and she leads the hell out of this one. You want her to win, you want her to take out this family. She’s tough, humorous, and sells the horror of the situation extremely well.

The rest of the cast all have their moments, but my favorites would have to be Adam Brody who plays Daniel, and Kristian Bruun who plays Fitch. Brody’s Daniel plays off as someone who has just checked out of the whole family cult thing, but you can tell he wants a reason to finally put an end to the madness. Then you have Bruun’s Fitch, the brother in-law who doesn’t take things seriously because he’s just that kind of dumb. That’s also not to say that the rest of the cast does a great job with their roles as well. I could spend paragraph after paragraph highlighting their contributions needless to say it’s a great ensemble.

Ready or Not feels like a cult classic in the making, not enough people know of it and not enough can grasp what kind of movie it really is. This movie is a fresh entertaining ride through the horror genre that any fan owes themselves to check out. If you liked the Cabin in the Woods, this is a must watch.