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Spoilers, obviously.

As a pretty severe Star Wars nerd, I disliked this movie. I resent the toxic combination of fan service to the original series and spiteful defiance of the existing Extended Universe. This was a crappy riff on The Empire Strikes Back and I wish it had been Dark Force Rising. You could even cast Oscar Isaac as Grand Admiral Thrawn. He’s been painted blue before.

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As a person who has seen a film before, I hated this movie. Somehow, at two and a half hours long, it managed to be both frenetic and boring. Even the laughs were telegraphed and rather joyless. Most of the emotional beats relied on the real death of Carrie Fisher, which is cheap and lazy.

Look. A Star Wars movie does not require six acts, especially if nothing really happens in most of them, and it would be easier to care about some of these people if they weren’t stupid. If a single errant TIE fighter will destroy your entire squadron of bombers, perhaps your formation needs reconsidering. If you’re infiltrating a fancy casino, don’t break everything, and don’t trust the first guy you meet in jail. You met him in jail. If your mutiny only lasts for thirty seconds because you didn’t do some very basic forward planning, maybe every insulting thing Laura Dern has said to you is true.

Oscar Isaac is still ludicrously handsome (and in case you were forgetting, both Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern are there, slightly creepily, to remind you). The lightsaber battle of Kylo Ren and Rey against the red people was visually striking and the final battle on the mineral planet was visually stunning, with its trails of blood-red salts. Porgs are cute. But this patchwork preachy nonsense is not a movie.

Stray observations (VERY SPOILERY):

  • Astral projection is asinine and if Luke was just going to die anyway he could have just shown up. And the bait-and-switch with Leia’s death was not only cheap but actually offensive.
  • Laura Dern is cool and all, but why do women in the military command structure of the Resistance wear drapey and impractical clothes? Mon Mothma wasn’t a general, and Carlist Rieekan never showed up anywhere in his goddamn pajamas.
  • Hey, Poe? I know you love your droid, but a lot of people just died. Read the room.
  • “I’m with the Resistance.” Cool, Rose. He’s eight, and doesn’t look especially politically aware.

Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: PG-13
Length: a way, way too long 152 minutes
Score: 2/5

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MV5BMTcyNzk5NDg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM5MDQxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Not your mother’s buddy-cop comedy,” we are told. I wish it had been. I would have liked it a lot more. Instead it was tonally inconsistent and gory.

LA, some time, some universe. Lots of different species live there: the Elves are all rich, the Orcs get the crap beaten out of them by the LAPD in front of their wives, the humans seem pretty standard. Ward (Will Smith) is a human cop, and he’s been shot in the chest by an Orc robber. Now his new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), is an Orc. No one is thrilled about this, and Ward’s police friends (Margaret Cho, Ike Barinholtz, some others) are impressively gross about it.

I expected this to be a parable about racial difference, and if the jokes had been as good as the first ten minutes promised, that would have been a solid film. But no, there’s a bunch of supernatural nonsense instead. There are (gasp!) evil Elves, led by Noomi Rapace, and a crazy Elf lady with a magic wand that drips glowing blue goo and kills people (Lucy Fry), and gangs of mean Orcs and gangs of mean humans, and a lot of not making sense. Oh, and a prophecy!

It may have been better as a series, à la “Almost Human.” Then the world-building would have been less rushed, and the magical Feds (Edgar Ramírez and Happy Anderson) might have been more than vestigial, which probably I would have enjoyed. Or at least understood.

Director: David Ayer
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5

Ugh. Ugh.

Iris (Kate Winslet) works in publishing in England and is in love with a fancy author, Jasper (Rufus Sewell, and no, the names don’t get less precious). He is not in love with her but he does enjoy keeping her around. She needs a change.

MV5BMTI1MDk4MzA2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQ3NDc3._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Amanda (Cameron Diaz) makes movie trailers in Los Angeles, and her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) both is running around on her and thinks she’s bad at sex. She is unable to cry. She also needs a change.

They swap houses over Christmas, back in a time when the internet was fairly new and this seemed interesting and strange. Amanda goes to stay in Iris’s ludicrously adorable country cottage, where she is (not) hilariously bad at driving on the left. She nearly runs down several people. It is contemptible. Iris goes to stay in Amanda’s enormous automated house, where she is amazed by the pool and cannot figure out how to work the gate. So, yes. Both of these women are literally stupid.

Fortunately, of course, there are men. Graham (Jude Law) is Iris’s brother, and stumbles drunkenly to the cottage. He is mostly delightful, and for some reason falls heavily for Amanda. He is a widower with small children, wears sensible spectacles, and cries a lot. Miles (Miles! seriously!) (Jack Black) is around Amanda’s old house and he helps Iris out of her sad repressed self. He has some help from a bunch of elderly Jewish screenwriters (principally Eli Wallach), who teach Iris about having feelings and also Chanukah.

It’s Nancy Meyers, so the interiors are gorgeous. They are the best thing about this movie. Seriously, you have to watch Kate Winslet jump in the air and shout “yippee!” or something. She seems no more convinced than you are.

Director: Nancy Meyers
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 2/5

Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is a talent-booker for a nationally syndicated television talk show that for some reason desires to book, on the one hand, Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro, and, on the other, a batty old lady with theories about male infidelity.  Her boss, Diane (Ellen Barkin), speaks in smug clichés and sits with one foot tucked up under her. On TV. In a skirt. At her job as a hot-shot talk show host.

MV5BNWIwMGYzOGYtMDY2Yy00NDk5LWI5MTItMDI2YzExMzI4ZDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDY4Mjk@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Also working on the show is Eddie (Hugh Jackman), who wears black Levis and mock turtlenecks and too much hair gel but apparently gets all the ladies. It was 2001. And, to be fair, he still looked like Hugh Jackman. And then there is Ray (Greg Kinnear), who is sensitive and has glasses and a girlfriend but they’re having problems. So Jane falls hard and digs her diaphragm out of a shoebox, in a touchingly hilarious moment.

Of course Ray goes back to his girlfriend. And, instead of drinking heavily or eating all the ice cream or something else hackneyed but cathartic, Jane dances on the career implosion tightrope! She decides, having read an article about how bulls don’t like to mate with the same cow twice, that this is why Ray left her, and she creates an entire fake person whose research is about this “new cow theory.” And then, because fact-checking was not a thing, she manages to fool the world into believing this woman is real, and she gets booked on her own show! It is insane.

But, otherwise, the movie is cute. It has annoying voiceovers, sure, and annoying intertitles, sure, presumably because Tony Goldwyn was trying to be Richard Curtis, but I’ll allow it. And this is because the other stuff is nice. Jane’s best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei), is nutty but supportive in classic Marisa Tomei fashion. They pass the Bechdel test. And Jane’s sister (Catherine Dent) is trying to get pregnant, and she and her husband (Peter Friedman) are an unsubtle but still pleasant contrast to Jane’s wackiness.

Stray observations:

  • Fashion was terrible. Jane deliberately wears a tank top and some kind of sport…skirt? Like, basketball shorts, but a miniskirt. And she has a coat that resembles nothing so much as a silk dressing gown.
  • Seriously. Jane thinks they can book Fidel Castro. But this is a show that does not do the very simple digging that will reveal that the new cow theoretician does not exist. Ah, 2001, and careers in movies.

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Rating: PG-13
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 3/5

There isn’t a strong chance for a movie called The Only Living Boy in New York not to be pretentious and terrible, and this one…does not take it. It is bad. It is over-written and under-directed, boring and vacuous.

MV5BODEzODA5NjU2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkwNzA5MjI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The titular Boy is Thomas Webb–always Thomas, of course, never Tom–and he is played by Callum Turner, which is how you know he’s going to swan about looking like a Romantic poet and probably seduce an older woman. He’d like to be a writer, but his father (Pierce Brosnan) is in publishing and has crapped all over his dreams. His mother (Cynthia Nixon) keeps her moods in balance chemically and throws dinner parties with insufferable people (inexplicably played by proper actors such as Tate Donovan, Debi Mazar, and Wallace Shawn, I have no idea why). Thomas also has a crush on a hipster nymph, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), who is dating a guy in a band but enjoys keeping Thomas on the hook. They are both unbearable, so maybe they deserve each other.

There is a wise old recluse who lives in Thomas’s building: Jeff Bridges, playing someone whose name doesn’t matter, and who is so hackneyed it’s almost hard to believe. He understands love, he understands writing, he is the father Thomas always wanted–it beggars belief and induces nausea.

But it gets worse! Thomas’s dad is having an affair with a beautiful woman, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). And Thomas finds out, so he has an affair with her too. No one makes any sense. No one is trying not to be the worst.

The writing is inhuman, the pacing is nonsensical, and it’s just…bad.

Director: Marc Webb
Rating: R
Length: 89 minutes
Score: 1/5

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Or, Thor: Ragnarok.

So. The Thor movies might be my favorite, as an oeuvre, because the Iron Man movies start out over-written and the Captain America movies become tedious. The Thor movies are just kind of joyously bad.

Except this one, which is joyously rather good.

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) dies, which depresses his sons and releases his daughter, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from imprisonment. She is the goddess of death, and she wants to take over Asgard. She manages to banish both Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to a garbage planet on which Thor becomes an enslaved gladiator and Loki becomes a member of the local dirtbag elite, because of course. This planet is managed by Jeff Goldblum (Jeff Goldblum), who runs the fights and has a hilarious and bloodthirsty assistant, Topaz (Rachel House). Also there is Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), an angry drunk lady (Tessa Thompson), and a sentient walking rock called Korg, who is voiced by Taika Waititi and exists solely for comic relief. He is terrific.

Naturally much of the film is the attempt to get back to Asgard and deal with Hela, but, unlike other Marvel movies which would take the “dead dad” and “goddess of death” and “fraternal friction” tropes and go to a miserable place of tiresome angst, Ragnarok keeps it light. That is not to say that this film does not take things seriously–it does, but with Waititi’s deft touch it does not get bogged down in the gravity. The movie is a little too long, but the pacing is sufficiently frenetic that this rarely grates.

And the soundtrack is great. It’s not trying too hard to motivate a specific kind of nostalgia (Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m looking at you), but is instead humorously on-the-nose: Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for Thor’s theme or “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka during what seems like an acid trip.

Stray observations:

  • “I’m not a witch.” “Then why are you dressed like one?”
  • Is Loki ever going to get a real person haircut? Also: this was a return to the original Thor‘s endless string of squirrelly Loki faces and I am at home for that.
  • I’m glad that Idris Elba isn’t too proud to continue being in these movies. A soupçon of Heimdall is very welcome.

Director: Taika Waititi
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Score: 4/5

I am too dumb for Coen Brothers movies and I didn’t need to see Steve Buscemi get stuffed in a wood chipper.

Frances McDormand is great.

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Rating: R
Length: 98 minutes
Score: 3/5

MV5BMjE5MTEwNjIxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODk1NzYyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Unsurprisingly, War and Remembrance the miniseries is the sequel to The Winds of War, as the novel is. The book is worse than Winds of War, but the miniseries is much, much better. It is no more faithful to the source material, but the screenwriting and acting are drastically improved.

Leading the charge here is the recasting of several major characters. Jane Seymour replaces Ali MacGraw as Natalie Jastrow and is so much better in the rôle it’s hard to believe. John Gielgud replaces John Houseman as Aaron Jastrow–this, too, is an improvement, though less marked (and is no real reflection on John Houseman). Finally, Hart Bochner takes over for Jan-Michael Vincent as Byron Henry, and he is better looking and more convincing.

The war is on, and Herman Wouk bows to statistical necessity and starts killing off major characters, although he still manages to pull some punches. The Henrys lose Warren (Michael Woods) on a bombing run in the Pacific, and his widow Janice (Sharon Stone! Sharon Stone!) starts messing around with Byron’s XO, even though Byron’s XO is terrible. Rhoda Henry (still Polly Bergen) takes this as an opportunity to have an attack of conscience about her infidelities and starts emotionally blackmailing Pug (still Robert Mitchum), so he, man-like, gets all guilty and Protestant. This makes poor Pamela Tudsbury (still Victoria Tennant) have feelings.

This is all largely to remind you that there’s a war in the Pacific and in Russia and sometimes in England, but the heart of the story is Natalie and Aaron Jastrow. It begins in their villa in Siena, and ends, via Marseilles, Geneva, and Theresienstadt, in Auschwitz. Avram Rabinowitz (Sami Frey) tries to get them to Palestine on a refugee ship, but under pressure of various kinds they decide against it, and a long, inexorable process is set in motion. In parallel with this, Byron moves heaven and earth in an attempt to find and rescue them. It is hideous to watch, but well done.

The production is overall more careful than the first installment, though there are inevitably bits on which they cheap out. The clothes are marginally better, although again we fall back on uniform and Natalie in rags. The main problem is that it is so, so long. Feature film length is a more palatable amount of the War. This is Wouk’s point, of course, so it’s not an accident.

Stray observations:

  • I suspect General Eisenhower is impossible to cast–his particular brand of funny looks is not common.  E. G. Marshall does not work for me. Ralph Bellamy as FDR and the recently late Robert Hardy as Churchill are better.
  • Obviously we have to deal with the Valkyrie plot. It’s not as good as the film, but Sky du Mont is an acceptable Stauffenberg.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 27 hours
Score: 4/5

How much I liked this hovers between 1 and 2 out of 5. How capable an adaptation of the book it is hovers between 4 and 5 out of 5. How good a movie it is probably lands about average.

Look, Gone Girl the novel has a lot of aspirations about being a satire, and it’s well enough executed that you often wonder whether the over-writing is deliberate. The film compounds the problem–were the casting choices likewise deliberate, to emphasize the hollowness and artificiality at the heart of the narrative? Or is it just bad casting? I think it might just be bad casting.

Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike) grows up rich and beautiful in Manhattan, and eventually marries Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), even though he is from Missouri. Her parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) buy them a brownstone (notably not a brownstone in the film, though it is still called so), and life is wonderful for the first few years of marriage, until they lose their jobs, because both of them work for magazines.

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They move back to Missouri to take care of Nick’s dying mother, and Nick buys a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). He calls her “Go.” It’s trying too hard to be verisimilitudinous. I suspect that she is the best actress in the film. Nick also adjuncts in the journalism department at the local college. Amy doesn’t work. Obviously Nick meets a hot young student, Andie (Emily Ratajkowski), and has an affair with her. It’s not obvious to me that Andie can read, much less write, but sure.

Then Amy disappears, and it looks like Nick murdered her and incompetently covered it up. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) investigate. They are the only people in the film you can stand, and they don’t have enough to do. Amy’s parents arrive, a nationwide campaign to find her begins, and so forth. It’s worse, because her parents wrote a series of books about her as a child, so she’s universally beloved. And everybody hates Nick, because he has a charming smile (ha! Ben Affleck in 2014! as if!). Because of course.

There are some other people around. Tyler Perry plays the lawyer, the last chance option for men everyone thinks killed their wives. Missi Pyle is a gloriously angry Nancy Grace type. Lola Kirke condescendingly plays a trashy woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend. And Neil Patrick Harris plays Desi Collings, a man Amy dated at her posh boarding school and has kept on the hook ever since. He’s awful. I’m sure Harris can act, but he’s totally ludicrous as Midwestern old money, and I don’t think it’s on purpose. Sorry, Barney.

In the novel, the suspense and innovation more or less made up for the cringingly terrible gender politics and the vacuity was arguably by design. Here, no.

Directors: David Fincher
Rating: R
Length: 149 minutes
Score: 3/5

This is one of those productions which really makes me wonder how the economics of it could possibly work. Costumes are lush, the cast is frankly amazing, and it can’t have been cheap. But it’s awful. The writing is insulting and incoherent, the battle scenes are worse than nothing, and the directors have no idea how to get their actors to resemble human beings. And since it ran on TV, presumably it had no real way to recoup the outlay? How does this happen?

We open with Catherine’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) marriage. Mel Ferrer is the priest! She is marrying the heir to the Russian throne, who is a non-entity with smallpox scars. Apparently he’s also incapable in the bedroom, so the Empress (Jeanne Moreau of blessed memory) recruits some slab of a nobleman (Craig McLachlan) as stud. Catherine falls heavily, has a kid whom we won’t see again, and is disappointed when this chap turns out to be gross.

MV5BMjA2Nzg4MTg4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDc1NjkxMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Then she launches a coup against her husband, the circumstances of which are not clear. That is: I didn’t already know them, and this production did not help me. Brian Blessed and Ian Richardson are there being sinister, but to what purpose it is impossible to say. The army seems to be important, and she has an affair with some guy called Orlov (Mark McGann), whose main skill seems to consist of being so manly he must use a pocketknife to unlace a corset.

Eventually Potemkin (Paul McGann) shows up, and they shout at each other and sleep together and he acquires a stylish facial scar. Approximately two dozen Ottomans make trouble, and Petersburg totters. Meanwhile some peasant (John Rhys Davies) pretends to the throne and both Catherine and Potemkin have a lot of angst about it.

Everyone in this production deserved better. I’m almost mad I watched it.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, the actors who play Orlov and Potemkin are brothers, and there’s actually a third brother as well, and yes, it is jarring. Orlov basically looks like a slightly coarsened Potemkin, and they’re both called Grigory.

Directors: Marvin J. Chomsky, John Goldsmith
Rating: tame TV
Length: 100 minutes
Score: 1/5