STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. A friend recently referred to me as the Star Wars Grinch — for the sake of full transparency, he said it in a text and called me both a "gronch" and a grinch — which is earned and fair, if not entirely accurate. This was in response, after all, to my statement that I had just watched the latest Star Wars and "I don't care at all," which kind of sums up my feelings about the whole enterprise, in this moment.
In my own defense, though, I would make the distinction that I don't hate Star Wars, or even the weird cult of fandom surrounding it. I have the fondest of memories of watching the original, pre-digital-facelift trilogy on cable on a seemingly endless loop around the holidays. I stood in line like everybody else (except the true believers who camped out on the sidewalk) to buy tickets for the prequels. But as the gross commercialization of the franchise has become all consuming and as some disturbing social tendencies have emerged among the faithful, I've come to realize that one is either In or Out; I guess I'm out.
This new understanding has been complicated (and to an extent mitigated) by the disconcerting push/pull of these final three installments and the collective reaction thereto. The audience was prepared to kill for The Force Awakens (2015); I was decidedly non-plussed. I loved Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi (2017); the audience (or a faction, anyway) reacted with great anger and threatened to kill its creator. Similarly, I thought Rogue One (2016) did interesting, original things within the Star Wars universe (I know, I know, it's non-canonical; put away the poison pens) but the same audience reacted with resounding negativity and not more than a little racism and misogyny.
And so we arrive at The Rise of Skywalker, which is acted by a tremendous cast, boasts the greatest effects of all time and has a few rousing sequences in it and about which I do not care at all. I got through it, though my mind drifted, as it does in those hours when sleep is elusive, to stupid song lyrics and to-do lists and the weightless, clinging minutiae of the day.
Much of the charm of the original trilogy was born of necessity-bred invention, practical effects, of working within the limitations of budget and the technology of the day. George Lucas quite obviously blew all of that up with the prequels and one would think J.J. Abrams, nostalgic synthesist of style that he is, might have corrected the course. In some ways he did, essentially rehashing the events of Episodes IV-VI and recalling the aesthetic of their universe. But he also set into motion so many strands of story and felt compelled to put all the money on screen during the battle sequences, that by the end it all feels like too much and not enough. Just because one can depict 10,000 spaceships falling from the sky simultaneously does not necessarily mean one should. And therein, to me, lies the rub: The Rise of Skywalker is so visually and narratively cacophonous that the story, the emotional moments within it, the performances that should carry it, are all but drowned out. PG. 141M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BOMBSHELL. Beyond a brief sketch of its plot, its formidable cast and the presence of director Jay Roach, I went into this with little knowledge and no expectations. I was, of course, aware of the headlines surrounding the events upon which it is based but had not taken the time to do any deeper background. And as I know Roach primarily for the Austin Powers trilogy, I couldn't really formulate a hypothesis as to how he would handle the dramatization of such a recent occurrence. But he has clearly studied and matured as a director in the intervening decades, and Bombshell is, in short, incredible — one of the best movies I've seen this year.
I've long considered Fox News the ultimate corruption of the Fourth Estate, a necrotic limb that should be amputated and burned to ensure the end of its malignancy. But I had only a vague notion as to how vile, restrictive and manipulative a fiefdom Roger Ailes had built; Bombshell opens all the closet doors.
In 2016 anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), fired by Ailes (John Lithgow) basically for not toeing the line to his satisfaction, seizes the opportunity to sue him personally and expose the legacy of sexual abuse that defined his reign. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), for so long ascendant and seemingly bulletproof within the organization, finds herself in a war of words with a certain New York-based cretin running for president and begins to question her loyalty to that organization, along with the man who would be its king. Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), the only fictional character among the leads, ambitious and very much drinking the company Kool-Aid, learns quickly what sort of hideous sacrifices will be required to climb the ladder.
The style and dignity of Bombshell are significant attributes, indeed, but it would be nothing without a tremendous script by Charles Randolph. Still, the cast is the real revelation here, bringing villains and victims to life with unrivaled nuance. It's a formidable work of art and of journalism, and it feels essential to me. R. 108M. BROADWAY.
CATS. My wife and I had never walked out of a movie until an hour into this ridiculous nightmare. (Editor's note: Meow.) PG. 110M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
*Due to the holiday, updated listings were not available for Broadway and Mill Creek. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
LITTLE WOMEN. Director Greta Gerwig brings back shawls with the Louisa May Alcott novel with Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet. PG. 134M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SPIES IN DISGUISE. Karen Gillan, Will Smith and Tom Holland voice an animated comedy-adventure about a spy who's turned into a pigeon. Yeah, I got nothing. PG. 101M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
UNCUT GEMS. Adam Sandler is under pressure in New York's diamond district as a jeweler trying to make the deal of a lifetime. R. 135M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BLACK CHRISTMAS. Holiday college slasher with sorority girls arming up against creepy hooded baddies. Starring Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes. PG13. 92M. BROADWAY.
FROZEN 2. Elsa and Anna return for more snowbound sisterly adventure and to put that song back in your head. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are literally back in the game, which is glitching. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KNIVES OUT. Director Rian Johnson's tightly controlled whodunnit both pays homage to and raises the stakes of classic mystery with a stellar cast. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE. Documentary about the iconic singer. With Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton, so go and be blessed. PG13. 95M. MINIPLEX.
REDOUBT. Matthew Barney experiments with movement as language on a hunt in the mountains of Idaho. NR. 134M. MINIPLEX.
RICHARD JEWELL. Clint Eastwood's real-life drama takes damaging liberties with true events, especially for the late Kathy, and succeeds best as fiction, given its economical shooting and editing, and its strong performances, especially from Paul Walter, who plays the wrongly pinned security guard. R. 131M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill