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sequel

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels

REVIEW:

In my previous reviews, I considered J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens—the first installment of Disney’s continuation of the Star Wars saga after acquiring Lucasfilm from creator George Lucas—to be (despite some valid criticisms about it being more-or-less a reworked variation of A New Hope) a promising launching pad. Alas, that promise was squandered by the follow-up, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which received some praise but proved deeply divisive among fans and which I unfortunately came down on the negative side of, considering it both narratively unwieldy and having the feel of a Star Wars movie by someone who doesn’t like Star Wars and determined to deconstruct and subvert expectations at every turn for its own sake without having anything satisfying to replace them with. And now, with J.J. Abrams retaking the director’s chair—reportedly due to Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy deciding to go in a “safer” direction after the mixed response to The Last Jedi—we get Overcorrection: The Movie. In fairness to Abrams, he came back onboard with strikes against him: Johnson undoing some of the groundwork he’d laid in the first place, as well as the offscreen death of Carrie Fisher. Unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly, Abrams has not succeeded in righting the ship enough to end on a strong note. Rise of Skywalker is scattershot and convoluted, filled with extraneous characters, a poorly-focused narrative, and an overly frenetic pace that seldom slows down enough to make much sense of anything (not that there’s much sense to be found).

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Doctor Sleep (2019)

DIRECTOR: Mike Flanagan

CAST: Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis

REVIEW:

Thirty-six years after publishing The Shining, Stephen King published a follow-up, Doctor Sleep, further expanding on themes and concepts he had introduced in the first novel through the life of now-adult Danny Torrance. For Warner Bros., the allure of making a sequel (of sorts) to The Shining (adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980) was too much to resist, but screenwriter-director Mike Flanagan had a tricky task ahead of him, both adapting one of King’s dense, complicated, thematically rich works, and attempting to bridge a long-standing divide: being both reasonably faithful to King’s book while also doing some tweaking to serve as a more direct sequel to Kubrick’s film, which differed from the book in some significant ways (and which King famously disliked). Flanagan has mostly succeeded. While a little overlong and drawn-out, Doctor Sleep largely stands on its own (apart from the climax), telling a very different kind of story from The Shining but serving up some of the same slow burn. Perhaps most welcome, it serves up complicated concepts rather than a lazy reliance on jump scares and conventional horror tropes. In fact, it’s more a drama/thriller than a horror movie, which might disappoint some viewers attracted by its connections to The Shining.

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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Miller

CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

REVIEW:

And now in the latest of far too many examples of Hollywood’s dearth of original ideas, the long-running—and long-suffering—Terminator franchise once again proves itself even harder to kill than its titular killer cyborgs, despite the fact that it passed its sell-by date quite a while ago (for my money, all the way back in 1991). While Dark Fate‘s promotion made much ta-do out of the “return” of James Cameron (who gets a producer and co-writer credit but did not retake the director’s chair, which is occupied by Deadpool‘s Tim Miller, leaving it questionable how much direct involvement Cameron really had) and Linda Hamilton (who hasn’t taken part in the franchise since 1991’s Judgment Day, turned down a chance to reprise her role in 2003’s Rise of the Machines, and should have turned this one down too), neither Cameron nor his ex-wife’s names in the credits signals a return to the quality of the first two installments, which slipped after Cameron moved on and has never been regained. Dark Fate ignores the existence of every entry since T2 and acts as a direct sequel to the first two and the first two alone—which many fans would likely have been okay with—but alas it doesn’t replace them with anything superior. It’s probably better than its immediate predecessor Genisys (no great accomplishment), but finds its own new ways of dumping on the series mythos.

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

DIRECTOR: Joachim Ronning

CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Robert Lindsay, David Gyasi, Warwick Davis

REVIEW:

2014’s Maleficent, a “reimagining” of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale which turned the story on its head by casting Maleficent more as a wronged tragic anti-heroine than cackling villainess, was a lightweight and mediocre fantasy adventure, but it did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel. Nevertheless, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil will likely appeal to the same audience who enjoyed the first movie and likewise not convert those who were unimpressed. Despite a somewhat “bigger” story and expanded world-building, it doesn’t take things appreciably further than its modestly successful predecessor.

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It: Chapter Two (2019)

DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti

CAST: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, Andy Bean, Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Teach Grant, Bill Skarsgard

REVIEW:

IT: Chapter Two, the film adaptation of the “27 years later” adult section of Stephen King’s novel, hasn’t saved the best for last. The conclusion to 2017’s IT is far from the worst film adaptation of a King written work, but it’s bloated, overstuffed, and unwieldy, clocking in at a formidable—and unnecessarily drawn-out—-three hours, a full thirty-five minutes longer than Chapter One. That’s a lot of meandering runtime. To be sure, there’s a number of strong scenes in the mix, but it requires a bit of sifting through uneven material.

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Angel Has Fallen (2019)

DIRECTOR: Ric Roman Waugh

CAST: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tim Blake Nelson

REVIEW:

Despite ever-worsening critical reviews, the “[INSERT CODE NAME HERE] Has Fallen” franchise, like its generically stalwart hero Mike Banning, keeps chugging along. 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t any kind of great movie, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard knock-off. 2016’s London Has Fallen was a lazy, uninspired, low energy classic example of a sequel slapped together because the original did well at the box office, not because there was anywhere fresh or interesting to take the story. Angel Has Fallen is probably a little better, and at least a little more engaging, than London Has Fallen, but not as good as Olympus Has Fallen. It achieves more-or-less exactly what it promises—-a generic, moderately diverting but immediately forgettable action shoot-em-up—which given this franchise’s track record, is a low bar to hurdle.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

DIRECTOR: Michael Dougherty

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, Thomas Middleditch, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson, Aisha Hinds, David Strathairn

REVIEW:

I desperately wanted to love this movie. As a child of Godzilla movies, with virtually the entire film series and various action figures of Godzilla and friends (and enemies) in my possession, and as a fan of Gareth Edwards’ lukewarmly-received 2014 film (though I acknowledge it has issues), I followed along with the marketing with hype and attention. Lukewarm-to-negative critical reviews gave me pause, but I’d never really expected a Godzilla movie to be critically-acclaimed. To many critics, these movies are just too inherently silly, and at least outside of his native Japan, Godzilla is really more of a cult following. On the one hand, King of the Monsters does feel pretty much like an old-school Godzilla movie (with all the good and bad that that implies). Alas, it hasn’t gone above and beyond, content to follow in the same basic formula of virtually every other Godzilla movie, giant monsters smacking each other around and levelling buildings, sandwiched in between a ridiculous convoluted plot that primarily exists as a flimsy skeleton to string the monster mashes together and populated by goofy and/or one-dimensional humans scurrying around with inane “drama”. Balancing big monster action with human drama is a tricky act, and Hollywood hasn’t figured it out yet.

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The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper (voice)

REVIEW:

This is it. After eleven years and twenty-two movies, the long-awaited “endgame” that came to a head in last year’s The Avengers: Infinity War comes to a conclusion, and with it so too does at least the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and has since blown up into an interconnected universe more sprawling and ambitious than has ever been mounted before. It’s also no secret—and has not been for quite some time—that the appropriately-titled Endgame is the swan song for at least some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, including some of its biggest mainstays, a fact its fans have made their peace with long before setting foot in the theater. The MCU will go on, to be sure (this isn’t even the last MCU installment of the year), but it will not go on for everyone. Like the sign-off of the original cast of Star Trek, it’s the end of an era. Endgame fulfills its mission. The two-part climax of this first phase of the MCU is brought to a (mostly) satisfactory conclusion, but the movie’s real strength is serving as a well-crafted love letter both to the entire MCU up to this point and to the fans who’ve come along on every step of the journey.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

REVIEW:

In my review of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I said that it was an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but that its status as a franchise-launcher was in doubt.  Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has no allayed those concerns.  An overstuffed mess as unwieldy as its title, this is as good an example of any as a “middle chapter” that suffers from obsessing over set-up and moving all the pieces into position on the chessboard to the detriment of actually telling much of a story.  There’s also unfortunately a little of “George Lucas Star Wars Prequel Syndrome” creeping into J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting, as well as falling prey to the overindulgent excesses of when Peter Jackson returned to the Middle Earth trough with his laboriously expanded and drawn-out Hobbit “trilogy”.  It’s possible that when all is said and done (there are supposedly still three more films to go in this Harry Potter spin-off series), The Crimes of Grindelwald may be perceived more favorably in hindsight, but as things stand now, the idea of three more movies of this feels more laborious than exciting. Continue reading

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