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Movie Reviews
'The Invisible Man'
(R / 110 mins / Universal Pictures)

Overview: Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass (Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister (Harriet Dyer, NBC's The InBetween), their childhood friend (Aldis Hodge, Straight Outta Compton) and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid, HBO's Euphoria).

But when Cecilia's abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House) commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax.

Verdict: Writer/Director Leigh (Saw, Insidious) Whannell’s 'The Invisible Man' is a frustrating film. Anchored by a truly fantastic lead performance by Elizabeth Moss, the movie looks great, moves with purpose, has a deft sound design and innovative and refreshingly minimalist special effects.

The fact that there are so many great things going for it, makes its flaws all the more glaring, chief among them a shockingly thoughtless script that threatens to derail the entire otherwise opulent affair.

Moss stars as Cecilia, a woman whose millionaire inventor husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has apparently kept her in a state of emotional and physical agony.

Pushed too far by his abuse, she escapes, in a beautifully orchestrated opening sequence that relies on atmosphere, suspense, sound and of course, Moss’s ever-expressive face.

With the aid of her sister, she seeks shelter with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a single dad who lives alone with his teenage daughter. Living in terror that her maniacal ex will find her and finish her off, she spends her days a recluse until she finds out that the brute has apparently committed suicide and left her his fortune.

As she slowly comes out of her shell, strange things begin to happen and soon, Cecilia comes to the conclusion that Adrian is not dead, but has instead perfected the science of invisibility and is now dedicated to making her life an even more special sort of Hell, one in which no one will ever truly believe her accusations of abuse.

And that is what’s really wrong at the heart of this socially aware rethink of H.G. Wells’ oft-visited source novel. The film asks us to suffer along brutally with a woman who is tormented, beaten and driven to near-lunacy, while her friends and family refuse to acknowledge or even investigate her claims that her supposedly dead husband has become invisible and is secretly stalking her.

That those same family and friends are cops and lawyers and they still do nothing, is one thing. That the sociopathic spouse was/is actually a world-renowned, eccentric young inventor experimenting in the field of “optics” is another.

Just a casual glance at his life’s work (let alone his still-standing in-home lab!) would tip even the stupidest SOB off that yeah, this dude was kind of working on becoming, y’know, an invisible man!

And then there’s the fact that so much of the mayhem happens in clear view of surveillance cameras and yet…no one bothers to check them. And then there’s that cop-out ending that weirdly makes Moss the monster. Or worse, a potential super-hero ready to be franchised. Sheesh.

When a horror film deals in the realms of the abstract and psychologically ambiguous, a filmmaker – and the audience – can shrug-off logic. You can do whatever you like. Make it up as you go along.

But when your movie takes place in the real world and obeys natural law, it needs to cover its ass and ensure that it makes perfect sense or else the character’s plights lose credibility.

And when we’re dealing with the subject of domestic abuse, credibility is something you need. There’s a very serious message here, and it needs to be delivered in a far more complex, sophisticated way that matches Moss’s fearless work. She’s real. Her co-stars are devices.

Still, you can’t dismiss 'The Invisible Mna.' The good stuff is really good and Whannell gets extra points for trying something new as opposed to replicating and recycling the old. And of course, that dynamite Moss performance is truly a sight to see.

'Sonic The Hedgehog'
(PG / 100 mins / Paramount Pictures)

Overview: 'Sonic The Hedgehog' is a live-action adventure comedy based on the global blockbuster video game franchise from Sega that centers on the infamously brash bright blue hedgehog!

Verdict: As a kid, Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) is forced to flee his home planet after being attacked for his powers of super-speed.

He hides out on Earth for a number of years, but his peaceful life is disturbed when Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) discovers Sonic’s powers. The blue hedgehog is forced to go on the run again and luckily he has local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) to help him.

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ could have ended up going down the same road ‘Cats’ did. There was a furor when the original trailer came out as the design of Sonic - with its creepy beady eyes and human-like teeth - repulsed viewers for its uncanny valley effect.

Fortunately, director Jeff Fowles committed to re-designing the character. And the more cartoonish appearance of Sonic now is much more akin to the original Sega games he appeared in.

Thus we tip our hats to the VFX department for all those efforts because in the end, they paid off.

Now to the movie itself. Plot wise, as you can imagine, much of the focus is on the relationship between Sonic and Tom. It’s a dynamic you’ve seen a hundred times before in mismatched odd couple going on road trips (like ‘Planes Trains and Automobiles’ and ‘Finding Nemo’), the annoying kid idolises the father figure (‘Up’), and the mischievous animal gets paired up with the irritated human (‘Turner & Hooch’, ‘Hop’, and ‘Up’, again actually).

There are some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly involving Tom’s wife’s sister (Natasha Rothwell - ‘Insecure’) but it’s usually a bit silly and mostly for kids.

One thing that does work in the movie’s favor, and brings the quality well up a notch, is Jim Carrey. The star of such '90s comedies as ‘The Mask’, ‘Ace Ventura’, ‘Liar Liar’ and ‘The Cable Guy’ has lost none of the energy he brought to the big screen three decades ago.

He is one of the best movie villains we’ve had in a long time and totally throws himself into the role, bringing that zaniness and mania we adore the comedian for. He’s loving playing this evil genius, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

His character is sharp and witty as well as delightfully obnoxious and devilish. His little dances are adorable and he has this assistant he’s constantly abusing – it’s such good fun.

Carrey makes the movie so much more enjoyable for the adults and the kids (who may not have been introduced to the actor yet) are just going to love him.

Thus if you’re going to ‘Sonic’ for a bit of Jim Carrey nostalgia, I’m happy to say, you won’t be disappointed. Generally speaking though, it’s just an OK film. But, what we need next is a Doctor Robotnik solo movie!

'Fantasy Island'
(PG-13 / 110 mins / Columbia Pictures)

Overview: In Blumhouse's new spin on Fantasy Island, the enigmatic Mr. Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort.

But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island's mystery in order to escape with their lives.

Verdict: Based on the 1970s television show, Blumhouse’s 'Fantasy Island' follows several characters as they arrive at the title locale for several days of literal wish-fulfillment fantasy – with the island, lorded over by Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke, possessing magical properties that inevitably wind up twisting the heroes’ desires to an often deadly extent.

It’s an off-the-wall yet nifty premise that is, at the outset, employed to fairly promising effect by Jeff Wadlow, as the filmmaker does a decent job of establishing the picture’s decidedly mysterious atmosphere and the various characters that inhabit its picturesque landscape – with, in terms of the latter, Peña delivering a solid turn as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke.

It’s equally clear, however, that Blumhouse’s 'Fantasy Island' doesn’t exactly possess a whole lot in the way of forward momentum, with the somewhat arms-length vibe compounded by a proliferation of perilous events and encounters that may or may not be actually happening (ie: what are the stakes here, exactly?)

The initial emphasis on individual storylines certainly highlights the hit-and-miss nature of Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, and Wadlow’s screenplay, and although the various subplots eventually do converge, Blumhouse’s 'Fantasy Island' has been saddled with an exceedingly tedious third act that seems to transpire entirely within a dimly-lot cave – which ensures the whole thing peters out to a rather demonstrable degree and cements its place as a periodically watchable yet mostly inert adaptation.

'Birds Of Prey'
(R / 118 mins)

Overview: You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? "Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it.

When Gotham's most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her.

Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya's paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.

Verdict: Beware of movies with long titles. I vaguely recall a Dustin Hoffman film, made in 1971, called “Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?,” but for the life of me I can’t remember the answer to either question.

An oversized title has no practical worth, its sole purpose being to give us a mandatory dose of wackiness. Hence the latest contender, “Birds of Prey, and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” Don’t you feel kooked up just reading that?

The film, directed by Cathy Yan, follows on from “Suicide Squad” (2016), which ranked among the most thumpingly cheerless experiences of recent years. Sequels were therefore inevitable. This one begins—and, given the tone at which the movie aims, should perhaps have continued—with a high-speed cartoon sequence.

We are yanked through the personal history of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a bright kid who went on to become first a psychiatrist and then a frenzied felon. What wrought the change was her relationship with the Joker, a big cheese in the stink of Gotham City. (In case you’re wondering: no, Joaquin Phoenix does not appear.) Harley, however, has now split with her grinning swain and gone solo.

Comic-book films are plagued by a particular indecision: are the protagonists better off being lonesome or gregarious? When we describe them as clubbable, is that because they like to gang together or because, taken as individuals, they’re just asking to be hit over the head?

Needless to say, the plague is extremely profitable; Iron Man, for instance, has three Marvel movies pretty much to himself but also gets folded into the Avengers. The DC franchise, desperate not to be outdone, has tried something similar with Batman, forcing the poor fellow to sign up for “Justice League” (2017), when we all know that he’d be so much happier staying home, curling up in his little Bat-bed, and shedding idle tears over the Bat-days that are no more.

No one could call Harley Quinn a recluse. She loves to go out, get wasted, meet people, and fight them. In onscreen graphics, she proudly reports what it is about her that vexes her opponents. (“Voted for Bernie.” “Have a vagina.”) Yet Harley is often alone in the frame—marching toward the camera in her T-shirt and shorts, smiling madly through lips of fire-engine red, and peppering us with unceasing chatter, as if words were buckshot. She lives on her own, too, with a stuffed beaver in a tutu and a pet hyena named Bruce.

(As with the title, note the surfeit of nuttiness. Rarely have I seen a movie strain so hard to seem out-there.) Our heroine needs some kindred spirits, and quick.

So, a warbling welcome to the Birds of Prey: Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a teen-age thief; Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a singer and chauffeur; and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a cop who’s been passed over for promotion.

Last and loftiest is Helena Bertinelli—the one interesting card in the pack, the reason being neither her backstory (some Mafia-flavored baloney about revenge) nor her skill with a crossbow but the fact that she’s played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who, thanks to her low and Lauren Bacall-ish delivery, brings an amused aloofness to the fray.

All of the above team up with Harley to tackle Roman Siones (Ewan McGregor), a Gotham superthug, otherwise known as Black Mask. Why? Because he sometimes wears one. Scary.

The script is by Christina Hodson, who has also contributed to the creation of Highland 2, an app that enables you to submit your screenplay to gender analysis.

No surprise, then, that Yan’s movie, peopled as it is by women who talk among themselves, with only fitful reference to men, doesn’t so much pass the Bechdel Test as ace it, while also ticking the profanity box, the ear-splitting box, and the bone-snapping box—every box, in fact, except for the tricky one that requires a motion picture to be good. “Birds of Prey,” alas, is an unholy and sadistic mess.

“Nothing gets a guy’s attention like violence,” Harley says, and the action consists largely of female combatants breaking the limbs of hapless males and clobbering them in the groin.

Thoroughly deserved, I guess, and about time, too, though the point was more efficiently and more elegantly made long ago, in “Nothing Sacred” (1937), when Carole Lombard, in revenge for being punched by Fredric March, slugs him back. For a second, he teeters upright, whereupon she puffs at him, as if blowing the clock off a dandelion, and he keels over.

That gets his attention just fine.

'Bad Boys for Life'
(R / 123 mins)

Overview: The Bad Boys Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are back together for one last ride in the highly anticipated 'Bad Boys for Life.'

Verdict: A disappointingly underwhelming sequel, 'Bad Boys for Life' follows Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett as they’re faced with a fearsome villain from Mike’s distant past – with the partners reluctantly forced to accept the help of several up-and-coming cops (including Charles Melton’s Rafe and Vanessa Hudgens’ Kelly).

There’s little doubt that 'Bad Boys for Life' fares best in its quick-moving and impressively entertaining opening stretch, as filmmakers Adil and Bilall effectively highlight the somewhat irresistible chemistry between Smith and Lawrence’s respective characters – with the watchable vibe certainly heightened by the actors’ typically charismatic work (in truth, Smith is more affable and commanding here than he’s been in quite some time).

It’s disappointing to note, then, that 'Bad Boys for Life' does begin to slowly-but-surely wear out its welcome, with the most obvious culprit for the picture’s downfall Adil and Bilall’s inability to offer up a single compelling action sequence (ie: every high-octane moment suffers from that Michael Bay-like sheen of intolerable slickness).

The viewer’s growing disinterest in all of this results in a palpable lull in the buildup to the climax, and it goes without saying, too, that the loud, frenetic third act is nothing short of interminable – which ultimately does cement 'Bad Boys for Life’s place as just another terminally uninvolving contemporary actioner.

'The Grudge' [2020]
(R / 95 mins)

Overview: After a young mother murders her family in her own house, a detective attempts to investigate the mysterious case, only to discover that the house is cursed by a vengeful ghost.

Now targeted by the demonic spirits, the detective must do anything to protect herself and her family from harm.

Verdict: A star-studded cast and filmmaker Nicolas Pesce’s skill with horrific gore can’t save a baffling and emotionally empty retread.

Death isn’t dark enough for the haunted characters that populate the unwieldy “Grudge” franchise. Instead, it’s what happens after that’s worse, when the vengeful (and always very moist) spirits appear and attempt to exact cosmic-level revenge on whoever happens to be around.

The fourth American film based on Takashi Shimizu’s wildly popular J-horror films functions as both a reboot of the series and a strange sequel to the first Americanized remake of the franchise.

The new entry has all the hallmarks of the first round of remakes, but the pitiful retread only succeeds at proving that the potential for this franchise died long ago.

Like its predecessors, director Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge” utilizes cheap tricks both on a narrative scale (a baffling, fragmented timeline is impossible to follow) as well as with tired genre conventions (jump scare after jump scare, occasionally broken up by a weird presence floating in the background).

Yet Pesce’s skill with gore — used so masterfully in his black-and-white breakout “The Eyes of My Mother” — and a stacked cast that includes the likes of Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Demián Bichir, Lin Shaye, and Jacki Weaver, hints at what could have been a compelling new horror outing.

Brief moments of brilliance, including a riveting performance by Riseborough and a number of gorgeous frames, only shine with momentary appeal before the whole thing slips back into vapidity and convention.

Familiarity with the original American remakes isn’t necessary, but will prove to be more entertaining than a slapdash flashback that attempts to explain the connections: Opening outside a familiar Tokyo house in 2004, “The Grudge” soon zips through three time periods, two countries, and four sets of characters, before landing in 2006 Pennsylvania and what may (or may not, the film is edited to the point of nonsense) serve as our central story.

The convoluted timeline only briefly pays off dramatically, and the rhythms of it remain difficult to track until the very end. It’s a silly way to spice up a familiar enough story — a visitor to a haunted house is infested with some sort of evil spirit, brings it back into her own life, and sees it end in only murder and terror.

Unlike the rest of its Americanized brethren, the ostensible lead of this “Grudge” isn’t the one who was initially haunted; instead, it’s picked up second-hand by Riseborough’s flinty Detective Muldoon (who has no first name for no good reason), thanks to a complex case that starts with her and her new partner Goodman (Bichir) finding a long-dead body and working backwards to her last known stop.

Built on such cheesy, exposition-heavy dialogue as a cute kid whimpering “I miss Daddy” (oh, is Daddy dead?) and a no-nonsense cop sighing, “Looks like we got another one” and huffing away (another…spirit-based killing?), “The Grudge” chugs along until eventually reaching the barest of plots.

In 2004, a rage-based spirit (you know the one) pushed a woman to kill her family, and then herself. The guy who found their bodies? He murdered his loved ones in gruesome fashion.

The next family that moved in suffered their own casualties. Whoever comes next, they’ll find something awful there, too.

And yet it’s not as if Muldoon’s discoveries — made by use of some of the flimsiest law enforcement techniques recently committed to film — aren’t believed, that her fears aren’t founded, that anyone (even her haunted partner and cute kid) doesn’t quite believe she’s found something nefarious in a clearly nefarious house.

Instead, Muldoon is up against what every audience member is: terrible plotting, truncated scenes, and enough idiotic jump scares that involve bathrooms that you have to wonder why she’s even bothering to wash her face while she’s alone.

The question isn’t if Muldoon will find answers, but when the jumpy editing and non-linear storytelling will calm down long enough for her (and the film) to capture any sort of forward momentum.

The real villain of “The Grudge” isn’t a pissed-off spirit; it’s the choppy editing.

Chilling! By the time the final act pads out the film’s mercifully slim 90-minute running time with what amounts to a montage of disgusting deaths and at least one flashback so unnecessary you almost have to wonder if its inclusion was a genuine mistake, both Muldoon and the audience will be praying for the end credits. (Amusingly enough, the end credits are actually quite terrifying.)

For all its wasted opportunities, there are some compelling ideas about the nature of the genre lingering just beneath the surface. “The Grudge” series has always invoked the corrosive power of rage, death, and grief.

Pesce and Jeff Buhler’s script makes sure to outfit their film with a coterie of characters already in the grip of such pains, even before the spirits show up.

It’s a concept that goes a long way toward selling the series’ biggest, weirdest idea — that even seemingly “normal people” can be attuned to great supernatural unease, emotions so horrific they can’t be suppressed for long.

That’s an idea worth considering, but “The Grudge” never digs any deeper, instead opting to resurrect gimmicky frights that never deserved a resurrection.

(R / 110 mins)

Overview: At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield (Captain Fantastic's George MacKay) and Blake (Game of Thrones' Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission.

In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers - Blake's own brother among them.

Verdict: The most vulgar visual effect that I saw in a movie last year wasn’t Marvel-ous or otherwise superheroic; it was in “1917,” and depicted the death of a soldier in combat. The soldier is stabbed, and, as he bleeds out, his face is leached of pinkness and turns papery white just before he expires.

The character’s death would have been as wrenching for viewers if the soldier’s appearance remained unaltered and he merely fell limp. Instead, the director, Sam Mendes, chose to render the moment picturesque—to adorn it with an anecdotal detail of the sort that might have cropped up in a war story, a tale told at years’ remove, and that would have stood for the ineffable horror of the experience.

Instead, rendered as a special effect, the character’s end becomes merely poignant—not terrifying or repulsive—making for a very tasteful death.

That tastefulness is a mark of the utter tastelessness of “1917,” a movie that’s filmed in a gimmicky way—as a simulacrum of a single long take (actually, it’s a bunch of takes that run up to nine minutes and are stitched together with digital effects to make them look continuous).

Yet that visual trickery isn’t the fakest aspect of the movie. Rather, the so-called long take serves as a mask—a gross bit of earnest showmanship that both conceals and reflects the trickery and the cheap machinations of the script, the shallowness of the direction of the actors, and the brazenly superficial and emotion-dictating music score.

The story is a sort of “Saving Private Ryan” in reverse, and that reversal is by far the most interesting thing about “1917,” with its suggestion of an antiwar ethos. Somewhere behind the lines in France, a young British lance corporal, Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), dozing during downtime, is awakened by a sergeant and told, “Pick a man, bring your kit.”

Blake chooses a fellow lance corporal, Will Schofield (George MacKay), a friend who’d been napping in the grass alongside him. The sergeant sends the duo on a special mission: to cross the former front lines, now abandoned by German forces, and take a letter to a colonel who’s with his troops at a new forward position.

That colonel is about to launch an offensive against the apparently retreating Germans, but aerial reconnaissance shows that the Germans are luring the colonel’s two battalions into a trap, and the letter is an order calling off the offensive. What’s more, the battalions to which Blake is being dispatched include his brother, a lieutenant.

Blake is outgoing and earnest, Schofield is a sarcastic cynic, and the implication is that Blake has been chosen for this mission not because he’s necessarily the best soldier to undertake it but because he’s uniquely motivated to complete it—because he knows that, if he doesn’t reach the colonel in time, his brother will be among sixteen hundred soldiers who will be entrapped and massacred.

The darker suggestion, utterly unexplored, is that morale and commitment were issues in the British Army at this latter stage of the Great War (the action begins on April 6th, 1917, and concludes the next morning), and that a soldier without Blake’s personal motive for saving the two battalions might not be trusted to put himself at risk to fulfill it.

What’s clear is that Schofield is dubious about the mission and resentful of Blake for choosing him as his partner. Of course, because “1917” is a film of patriotic bombast and heroic duty, Schofield’s mind will be changed in the course of the action.

It’s only one in a series of painfully blatant dramatic reversals that wouldn’t be out of place in any of the comic-book movies that are so readily contrasted with “authentic” cinema. (For example, while Schofield has the cynicism knocked out of him, Blake—in another overlap with “Saving Private Ryan”—has to confront the painful consequences of his own warm-heartedly humane idealism.)

The script is filled with melodramatic coincidences that grossly trivialize the life-and-death action by reducing it to sentiment: Schofield fills his canteen with fresh milk that he finds in a pail at a recently deserted farm, and eventually feeds an abandoned baby with it; Blake’s reminiscence of the blanket of cherry blossoms that covers his family’s garden is echoed in Schofield’s discovery of cherry blossoms scattered on a river, which serves as a reminder of his duty and a spark of motivation; an ugly but inconsequential swarm of rats in one part of a battlefield presages a single fateful encounter with a rat in another.

Whereas Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” presents an entire army mobilizing to save the life of one soldier, Mendes’s “1917” depicts two ordinary, obscure, and low-ranking soldiers thrust into a mission to potentially save sixteen hundred, and, by implication, the entire British Army, and change the course of the war.

This is a classic idea, one that comes packed with an elegant irony. (For instance, it’s the idea at work in John Ford’s brief and brilliant Civil War episode in “How the West Was Won,” depicting the fateful encounter of two foot soldiers and two Union generals.) And it’s that very irony which Mendes replaces with a lumbering portentousness.

He endows Blake and Schofield with no comparable sense of their own mission, their own disproportionate moment. The script (written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns) is imagination-free, which is to say that it endows the characters with no inner lives whatsoever. Have Blake and Schofield ever killed before in hand-to-hand combat?

How far along are they in their military experience? What have they experienced of the war? For that matter, who are they? What do they think? Where are they from? What did they do before the war? What are their ambitions beyond survival?

What’s especially revealing about Mendes’s superficial and externalized practice in “1917” is that he’s not averse to presenting his characters’ inner visions and states of mind. In “American Beauty,” he famously showed the middle-aged male protagonist’s sexual fantasy of a naked teen-age girl being covered in a sprinkling of rose petals.

While Mendes didn’t shrink from displaying the vivid imagination of a suburban horndog, he’s unwilling to face the imagination of the valorous combatants of “1917.” It’s as if whatever might be on the minds of his protagonists in the course of their dangerous journey toward the front lines, whether fear or lust, frivolity or hatred, would get in the way of the unbroken solemnity and earnestness with which he approaches the subject of the Great War.

(On the other hand, he may fear unleashing his characters’ imagination, because, when, in “American Beauty,” he let his own imagination loose, the result was a cinematic ickiness of historic dimensions.)

Instead, Mendes shuts down Blake and Schofield and envelops them in a silence of the mind in order not to probe or care what they think. What he substitutes for their inner lives are sequences that exist solely because they make for striking images (a big fire at night, a run through a crowd of soldiers going over a trench wall).

These shotlike compositions that arise from the flow of long takes come at the expense of plot and character, as in a scene of hand-to-hand combat that’s framed in the distance without regard to its mortal stakes and intense physicality.

Once more, violence is moved offstage and prettified. The movie’s long takes, far from intensifying the experience of war, trivialize it; the effect isn’t one of artistic imagination expanded by technique but of convention showily tweaked. Its visual prose resembles a mass-market novel with the punctuation removed.

The film is dedicated, in the end credits, to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes—the director’s grandfather—“who told us the stories.” In honoring the recollections and experiences of his grandfather, Mendes remains trapped in the narrow emotional range of filial piety that, far from sparking his imagination, inhibits it.

His sense of duty yields an effortful and sanctimonious movie that, at the same time, takes its place in a lamentable recent trend. Mendes joins such directors of proud and bombastic craft as Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, and Damien Chazelle, who’ve recently made films that are fixated on the heroic deeds of earlier British and American generations.

These filmmakers, celebrating their truncated yet monumental versions of history’s heroes, are separating the public figures from their private lives, their visible greatness from mores that might not pass current-day muster.

(It’s worth comparing their films to the work of Clint Eastwood, who’s upfront about the powers and limits of his stunted heroes.) The vision of heroism that these directors present bleaches the past of its presumptions and prejudices, cruelties and pettiness, but also of its genuine humanity, courage, and tragedy.

'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'
(PG-13 / 155 mins)

Overview: No one's ever really gone. Rey's journey continues and the Skywalker saga concludes in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.'

Verdict: I will begin by making it clear that I found The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the Skywalker saga, boring. There, I said it!

And it was not even a long movie, and I'm a fan of the director's (J.J. Abrams) work (particularly Mission: Impossible III—the best in that franchise), and many of the visual effects are impressive—particularly the haunting business of bringing the late Carrie Fisher back to life.

But all together, the film is burdened by too much sentimental family stuff (you are my granddaughter, you are my son, you killed my parents, and so on), and its end did not know how to end for a very long time.

That said, let's talk about a scene that involves Finn (John Boyega), the film's main black character.

Now, The Last Jedi concluded with something going on between Finn and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran, and Asian American). But only a year later, when The Rise of Skywalker is set, nothing seems to be going on between Finn and Rose.

They do not look at each other in that special way that lovers always do. We must assume their romance came to an end in forests of the moon Endor. Also, Finn seems to be focused on Rey (Daisy Ridley, a white Brit) in a way that's not entirely unromantic.

But then on the oceanic moon of Kef Bir, near the ruins of the Death Star, he meets Jannah (Naomi Ackie). She is black like Finn. She was also once an Imperial stormtrooper.

These two appear to be a match made in that galaxy's heaven. Jannah, who clearly has a thing for Finn (though Finn is not into her as much), joins the Resistance and follows Finn to the heart of the final big battle, on Emperor Palpatine's dark planet of doom (Palpatine is also not dead).

And it is during this battle we have one of the most numinous moments in the Star Wars franchise.

The rebels have landed on the top of the main Star Destroyer. They are heading to its communication tower, which is guiding a fleet of planet-destroying ships up to space.

The mission is to bomb the tower. The rebels from the ocean moon are charging on horse-like animals. Finn and Jannah run to their target while under heavy fire. It is then we see morning light in the sky above the destroyer.

The alien clouds, falling X-wing Starfighters, blasted TIE fighters, flying stormtroopers, the warrior courage of the black man and black woman—all of this happening under a darkling blue sky.

The scene lasts for about three or so seconds, but it's incredibly beautiful. The rest of the film was dead to me. Sorry! Not Sorry! [CM]