A bittersweet movie event this holiday season, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker the last of the original Skywalker saga winds up decades of sci-fi enchantment and for many deep childhood memories. The late Carrie Fisher has a sizeable nostalgic role as General Leia some scenes involving her daughter Billie Lourd, shattering. The film is emphatically inclusive and groundbreaking, with a lesbian kiss, a realistic mix of characters of all kinds, and a big embrace of ideas of growth, love and honour. However, for all this good stuff, director J.J. Abrams creates a boisterous, nerve-shredding mix of visual and audio effects; icy shards of light sear the eye, and non-stop explosions grate on the nerves. The pattern of fight, blast off, obstacle, and repeat lacks interest, and the endearing qualities of the early films are few, lost to this 2.5-hour array of tech effects. The story has all the familiar catchphrases and keys to the franchise, aimed square at the fans BUT, the pacing is exhausting – there is no real build as every second is already built, that is, it’s at a constant climax without having honestly got there. It’s at a constant screech, which is numbing and dull, and results in an unemotional end to an otherwise harmless saga. Well, not really the end, there are ways and means, kids. Stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and a host of British film and TV personalities.
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Cats the new big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical Cats based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats has social media aflame and tongues wagging. Headliners James Corden, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and Rebel Wilson have landed in a peculiar spot. The stage musical, a beloved staple for decades is adapted but jibber jabber about the unfortunate special effects that render our stars felines rather hideous and off-putting. First, that’s not fair to the beauteous cast, second of all, what did cats ever do to the tech guys? Storyline: “Over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.” Director Tom Hooper who gave us Les Misérables a few years back marks his second musical which is controversial sight unseen.
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Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie’s well-timed and intense #MeToo film Bombshell rips the lid of Roger Ailes and his Fox Newsworld – again. Ailes has been excoriated twice this year in the rip-snorting doc Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes and in the streaming series The Loudest Voice and now, with Oscar winners Kidman and Theron and Oscar-nominated Robbie as Fox newswomen indebted and uncomfortable in a systemic master-slave relationship with John Lithgow’s Ailes. He was a corrupt and selfish man who demanded sex for jobs and promotions for his female staff, creating a newsroom environment in which his law “to play with the big guys, lay with the big guys” -everyone knew, no one spoke. Theron is eerily transformed into prestige anchor Megyn Kelly as a walking talking carbon copy – that gruff, sing-song, breathless voice is dead on, as is her makeup, hair and persona. Kidman is Gretchen Carlson who outed Ailes’ abuse with a strategic lawsuit when she was fired for not consenting. Margot Robbie is a fictional, composite anchor who did Ailes’ bidding while fighting back the shame, in some of the creepiest sequences of the year. The pace, access and action as fast and builds from minute one, but the film’s held back by some obvious continuity and plot gaps. The newsroom scenes are accurately brisk and in sum it’s like watching a high stake, blood curdling three-ring circus. Shame Ailes didn’t live to see how he is remembered.
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The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão starts in 1950 Rio de Janeiro where sisters Eurídice, 18, and Guida, 20 live in a traditional, conservative Catholic. They are best friends and rarely apart, wandering soulfully through the jungle, talking, dreaming, planning their lives, or doing chores. One is a pianist and hopes to make an international success, while the other wants a loving marriage. An unexpected event cruelly separates them; they believe the other is chasing her life dream in a new city. Little do they know that they are in the same city, and have come within glancing distance of one another but never connected. Director Karim Aïnouz’ so-called “tropical melodrama” is a sad one, as the characters long for a better life and never quite get there, so near and yet so far. It runs 2 hours and 19 minutes and takes its sweet time, but it gets under the skin. Stars Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler and Fernanda Montenegro.
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What the heck is Canada’s Carrie-Anne Moss doing in the middle of nowhere Norway investigating a serial killer at Christmastime? Well, she’d be a non-nonsense FBI agent from New York sent to Larvik to investigate reports that local police found a long-dead body. Sundance Now’s Nordic noir series Wisting follows the homicide detective leading the local case of the man found under the snow and ice wearing summer clothes and carrying a plastic bag bearing fingerprints, not his own. Turns out, those prints belong to an American serial killer Robert Godwin who escaped US custody twenty years earlier. Seems he fled to Larvik and started a new life and he’s still out there. Wisting’s journalist daughter determines to solve the mystery and dives right in, breaking all the rules. She finds newspaper clippings of the killer’s US murders, putting her own life in danger. Meanwhile an elderly reclusive paints pictures of women who died violently. Ten episodes of tension and discovery, and twists set against stunning wintry Norwegian forests. Based on two popular Jørn Lier Horst novels The Hunting Dogs and The Cave Man, featuring detective William Wisting. What does Cave Man refer to you ask? Watch for the chilling answer.
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The Lighthouse is on digital platforms on December 20 and on Blu-ray and DVD January 7. here’s a reminder Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are well-matched in the curiously eccentric and utterly mesmerising two hand drama. Robert Eggers the genius behind the superlative supernatural drama The Witch puts the men in a lonely lighthouse off Nova Scotia standing in for New England, takes away their food supply, supplies generous amounts of whiskey, gives them hallucinations, drunken rages and brutal sea storms and lets ‘em go at it. Shot in antique black and white in a tiny square frame, we are trapped in this powder as claustrophobia grows, then madness, inevitable in this queasy cinematic box.
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Dafoe’s an ill-tempered old salt and Pattinson’s a con on the run; their race to disintegration is the thing. It’s poetic and scary, as they attempt to keep things civil, an inevitable failure. Old-style English language and lexicon are Egger’s way of removing us from our comfort zone adding to the general agita. Haunting in the extreme and funny, The Lighthouse is a marvel of eccentricity and mood. We expect nothing less of Eggers who can really make the past come alive in surreal ways. So far, twenty awards nominations and five wins.
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Critics Choice Association/AWFJ/TFCA/FIPRESCI