MARRIAGE STORY

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by Alan Yudman

Watching a marriage end is never enjoyable on screen. You wind up rooting for one side or the other, you feel horrible for what is happening to the family. Watching Noah Baumbach’s wonderful MARRIAGE STORY is as close to an enjoyable experience you can have given the circumstances.

Anyone who knows Baumbach’s story knows that this is semi-autobiographical about his marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Adam Driver is Charlie, a somewhat successful and respected theater director. His wife is Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), an actress who believes she has given up stardom in Hollywood to follow Charlie to New York.

That is the major source of tension in the movie. Charlie seems unaware of Nicole’s distress over her situation. She acts in his experimental theater and raises their young son Henry (Azhy Robertson). But as we learn nearly right away, she feels frustrated and unfulfilled. We don’t see the marriage falling apart, except for a few flashbacks. Mostly this is two people who were once in love navigating the stormy waters of divorce. Charlie seems so self-involved he doesn’t seem to notice Nicole doesn’t want this to be friendly. She gets advice on the set of her new TV show that she should hire Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), a kind of benevolent shark. She is therapist for her client and attack dog when it comes to getting the best for Nicole. Charlie is forced to hire a lawyer, first seeing Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), a stereotypical nightmare of a divorce attorney. It’s not what Charlie wants so he goes to see Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) a genial but ultimately ineffective attorney.

All this points to how different Charlie and Nicole see the process. Charlie thinks they will live in New York and Nicole will have none of that because her career is in California. They are on opposite coasts and opposite sides of this battle… both separated by 3,000 miles. It all comes to a head in an amazing scene in Charlie’s L.A. apartment where they have it out for the last time. It is an incredibly raw and emotional scene that surely lead to both Driver and Johansson being nominated in their respective acting categories.

MARRIAGE STORY is great, but it’s not unique or remarkable in any real way. The score by Randy Newman is perfect and sets the right melancholy tone. Baumbach’s script and directing are perfectly solid, but unspectacular. The skill here is knowing you have and incredible cast (3 nominations for Dern, Driver and Johansson) and just setting them up to be the best they can be. I dreaded watching this movie before I saw it. But, I’m glad I did because MARRIAGE STORY is an example of good storytelling and solid if unspectacular filmmaking.

OSCARS 2020 PREDICTIONS

by Alan Yudman

It’s that time of year again. The Academy Awards are a little more than a week away as I write this. The Oscars are a little more than a week away. If you follow this blog, you know I have seen all the Best Picture nominees and all the Best Director nominees. I have some holes in my Acting category knowledge having not seen The Two Popes, Richard Jewell, Harriet or Judy. Like all of twitter that will not stop me from sharing a largely uninformed opinion. Welcome to the USA in 2020.

First let’s talk about the misogyny in the room. There were no women nominated for Best Director. And it’s not like there were no viable films from which to choose. All the directors I’m about to mention helmed films that rated 85% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes. Some have more extensive resumes directing foreign films, acting or writing. But all are deserving: Mati Diop (3 features), Lulu Wang (3), Olivia Wilde (1), Alma Har’el (6,) Marielle Heller (3), Lorene Scafaria (3) and Greta Gerwig (3, but 11 screenwriting credits). I’m sure I am leaving someone out, but at least I’ve acknowledged their excellence. Then there is the latest version of “Oscars so white”. Antonio Banderas is the only minority nominated in the male acting categories and Cynthia Erivo is the only woman of color in the female acting categories. It continues to baffle how the academy ignores minorities and women after several years of backlash. Even expanding membership over the past few years hasn’t solved a problem that needs fixing.

Ok, climbing off the soapbox now and walking up to the ballot box. Here’s how I’m laying this out. I will give you my pick in a category and then who I believe will win. For most I will link to my review and will argue who should replace whom. Yelling about someone not being nominated while not being brave enough to remove an undeserving nominee seems a little cowardly. Here goes:

BEST ACTOR

Choice: Joaquin Phoenix

Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix did what he always does. He transformed himself for a role. JOKER is not JOKER without him. He is the sole reason that movie was watchable at all.

BEST ACTRESS

Choice: Saorise Ronan

Prediction: Rene Zellwegger

Zellwegger has won every acting award for JUDY leading up to the Oscars. So this is as “no brainer” a no brainer as there is.

LITTLE WOMEN features a great ensemble, but it revolves around Jo and Ronan is the force of nature that makes us root for her.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Choice: Joe Pesci

Prediction: Brad Pitt

Like the actress category, Pitt has won everything for ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. But Pesci’s quiet, nuanced performance as mob boss Russell Buffalino in THE IRISHMAN is completely different than anything he has ever done before and it gives the movie a bit of heart.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Choice: Laura Dern

Prediction: Laura Dern

Yeah, yeah.. Jennifer Lopez was done wrong by not being nominated at all. But Dern gave 2 standout performances in LITTLE WOMEN and MARRIAGE STORY. She should win for both.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Choice: Thomas Newman

Prediction: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Guðnadóttir won the Golden Globe for JOKER and it definitely fits the dark and weird tone of the film. But give me a big score anytime. It was close for me between Randy and Thomas, but I had to pick Thomas for 1917.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

This is a incredibly competitive category. It’s not that THE IRISHMAN, KNIVES OUT or 1917 are undeserving. I would replace 1917 with UNCUT GEMS. But Bong Joon Ho’s PARASITE made you think, laugh, cry and shocked the hell out of everyone. It’s damn near perfect.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Choice: LITTLE WOMEN

Prediction: LITTLE WOMEN

The Academy’s version of a consolation prize for not being nominated for Best Director, Gerwig gets the screenplay trophy.

BEST DIRECTOR

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

Mendes won the DGA award. His movie is great. But PARASITE was something greater than all others. Throw out Todd Phillips and replace him with Gerwig. As Dana Stevens wrote in Slate, did LITTLE WOMEN direct itself? Phillips is riding Phoenix’s coattails.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Choice: 1917

Prediction: 1917

Roger Deakins is a god. The one shot “stunt” wasn’t so much a stunt as the tool that drew the audience into the story. Amazing achievement.

BEST PICTURE

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

For the same reasons Bong should win screenplay, his film should win Best Picture. This story is at its base about income inequality. It shows what is wrong with global economies while entertaining you for 2 hours. JOKER does not belong on this list. Replace it with UNCUT GEMS and add KNIVES OUT (the Academy can nominate up to 10 and only chose 9 this year). 1917 has gotten all the love from The Golden Globes, the DGA and the Producer’s Guild. That is a pretty good predictor of Oscar success.

Ok, that’s it for this year. I’ll check back in after February 9, 2020 to see how I and the Academy did.

 

STAR TREK: PICARD — EPISODE 1 “REMEMBERANCE”

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by Alan Yudman

Imagine your career is not just a career, it is a calling. You have always served a higher purpose. You weigh moral consequences with every decision and those calls can mean life or death for large populations. Now image your moral compass has forced you to give that all up. You step away because the world has changed around you and you are unwilling to change who you are. Former Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself at that point of his life in the excellent STAR TREK PICARD.

The first episode in the CBS ALL ACCESS and AMAZON series titled REMEMBERANCE, sets the scene for where Picard is in his life. That is retired on his family vineyard. There are hints at how unsettled he may be. That seems to be the theme of the entire episode. Picard and a young woman named Dahj are both at sea in their lives. Picard seems to be enjoying retirement, but the death of Data (killed saving Picard in STAR TREK: NEMESIS) haunts his dreams.

Dahj seems fine. She has a nice apartment in Boston. A boyfriend. An appointment to the Daystrom Institute. That is until three helmeted Romulans break in, kill her boyfriend and try to abduct her. She is “activated” during the struggle and kills them all. The life she knows, or believes she knows, is thrown into chaos.

Picard and Dahj meet. She runs. They meet again, something shocking happens and there are hints about her origin and possible ties to Data and Bruce Maddox (check out MEASURE OF A MAN from Season 2 of THE NEXT GENERATION). Oh, and she might be a twin.

Producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Kirsten Beyer and Michael Chabon use the first episode to establish the time and circumstances that will push Picard on this journey. And even these first slow steps feel earned and of a piece with the entire TNG universe. The nods to Picard’s history are all over the place and feel perfectly integrated into the story. Data and Picard play poker in Ten Forward on the Enterprise D. Picard visits the Starfleet Archive and we see nuggets from TNG… items from his Ready Room and the “Captain Picard Day” banner are just two examples. But these are not just fan service, there are real threads pulled that are tied to Picard’s time as Captain of the Enterprise.

The story draws you right in and really feels like Star Trek. What elevates this from “good for fans” to excellent television is Patrick Stewart. Apologies to William Shatner, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine… but Stewart is one of the greatest actors of his generation and the greatest captain in the franchise’s long history. He brings heart and weight to the role. That’s probably why Kurtzman and Goldsman tried to bring him back to Picard several times before he said yes to this project. This would not be as compelling without him.

Where STAR TREK: PICARD goes from here is hinted at in the trailers. Jean-Luc feels Starfleet is no longer the Starfleet he knew and served. That is made painfully obvious in a scene where he is interviewed on the anniversary of the destruction of Romulus and the interviewer ambushes him with questions about why he left Starfleet. He needs answers to his questions about Dahj and the destruction of Mars (sorry… spoiler alert). He abandons his ties to the Federation to find the answers he and the universe need. And I am completely along for this ride.

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UNCUT GEMS

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by Alan Yudman

I heard someone describe UNCUT GEMS as a two-hour long heart attack. Hard to argue. This is a manic story of a schemer who thinks he has pulled off the ultimate score, only to be thwarted at every turn.

The movie, directed by the Safdie Brothers and co-written along with Ronald Bronstein, is a non-stop trip into the world of Howard Ratner (the wonderful Adam Sandler), a New York jewelry merchant who goes through life at a pace that could only be described as frenetic. The only time he seems to slow down during the entire run time of the movie is when he is having a colonoscopy and at the very end

Howard has managed to smuggle a rare black opal into the country, and he plans to auction it off and make millions. But between his dream and reality stands a superstitious NBA Superstar (Kevin Garnett), a loan shark to whom he owes money, his girlfriend, his wife, his partner in hustling up business and his own inability to stop trying to play everyone and everything.

Sandler’s fidgety, obsessive performance is the highlight of the film. I read that the Safdies wanted Jonah Hill at one point, then considered Harvey Keitel at another. This would not be the same film without Sandler. He seems to coast through movies like GROWN UPS, LITTLE NICKY, JACK AND JILL, etc. Maybe he’s just that good an actor, but he seems to put little or no effort into those roles – like he is barely making an effort. Then you watch Sandler in a movie like this or THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES or PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and you see a guy who can inhabit a role almost as much as say, Joaquin Phoenix. This is the Adam Sandler I am here for. The guy who seems beaten down by life but is either too desperate, stupid or obsessed to see what a mess he is making. He shambles, lopes and slouches through every interaction. Talking too fast and making sense to almost no one but himself. No one else can see the big picture like Howard can. Sandler sells that better than any other actor I can think of could. Being ignored for a Best Actor Oscar nomination is almost a crime.

The supporting cast is excellent. Garnett plays himself, or a version of himself that he is totally ok with. Eric Bogosian as the loan shark (or bookie.. can’t really tell), relative newcomer Julia Fox as his gorgeous and needy girlfriend, Idina Menzel as his “ok, I’ve had enough of your shit” wife, LaKeith Stanfield as his hustle partner Demany, Keith Williams Richards and Tommy Kominik as thugs, Judd Hirsch as his father-in-law and The Weekend as the worst version of himself all add to the off the rails vibe.

The ending of this movie is shocking. I’ll just leave that out there because to say anything more would be a spoiler.

That feeling of constant mania is due to the Bennie and Josh Safdie’s style that employs jittery camera work, fast cuts, dialogue on top of dialogue. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who has trouble with anxiety. It’s all anxiety. But is it good? It’s not bad. I really like the Safdies’ GOOD TIME. They are expert at communicating a vibe while telling an interesting story. For me, the frenetic pace was a little too much. I felt I couldn’t just sit with what was happening before I got yanked into the next catastrophe. I mean it worked, but it’s not my favorite feeling. I can see why the Academy shunned this film, it’s not really their thing. The Safdies are an acquired taste. The more you keep trying it… the better you like it.

1917

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by Alan Yudman

If you know anything about World War I, you know that it was trench warfare. Each battle, a fight for feet if not inches. In 1917, Sam Mendes breaks away from that and chooses to tell a very personal and action-packed story about a mission to save 1,600 men.

Most of what you have probably heard about the movie revolves around its style. Mendes and Director of Photography Roger Deakins decided to create a “one shot” experience. The camera follows the two British soldiers from the first moment when they are trying to get some rest in a field in France until the end of the movie. It is a remarkable choice. You notice it at first, but after a while you don’t. It really brings the audience into the world of Blake and Schofield. This is the way we go through life. Things come at us, we dodge obstacles (not bombs, rats or falling German planes), we hold conversations. It works so well not just in the slower scenes where the pair are walking across no man’s land, but in the action sequences as well. It adds a sense of uncertainty and expectation that makes you feel a part of the film.

Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns created this screenplay from stories told to Mendes by his grandfather. There is humor, tragedy and even in the slower parts it feels real and well thought out. The story has no exposition to speak of, at least not at the outset. But you slowly learn more about the two soldiers as the movie goes along. Again, it gives you the feeling of being the third person on the team. Like you are a recruit assigned to accompany these veterans.

The acting is first rate. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay work well together. You believe them as war “buddies”. The small roles populated by top tier British actors Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch are fantastic. But the standout here is MacKay. His desperation to complete the mission while conveying a sense of exasperation and exhaustion with the whole war is fantastic. He makes all the right choices. He is compassionate, brave, determined and slightly raw. I loved this performance. I wish the Academy would look beyond the usual suspects when selecting best actor nominees. They are missing some fabulous performances.

The score by Thomas Newman fits so well. It doesn’t get in the way, but brings the appropriate gravitas at the right times. This is a flawless movie. I can see why it is getting so much love during awards season. In another year, I’d select it as best picture. But this year it has to compete against PARASITE and LITTLE WOMEN. I loved those two films more than any other this year. I will be disappointed if 1917 wins, but not GREEN BOOK disappointed. This is a film worthy of the accolades it receives.

KNIVES OUT

by Alan Yudman

Rian Johnson has a lot of undeserved hate for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. I don’t know if he was on mission to prove the haters wrong (actually I don’t think he was at all. He liked TLJ and thought he did a great job), but KNIVES OUT proves his bonafides as a filmmaker.

This Agatha Christie-style whodunnit keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Who killed mystery author Harlan Thrombey? Did anyone kill him? Did he commit suicide? Oh no. You are not going to get me to spoil this twisty mystery. You are just going to have to watch it for yourself. But this is about so much more than solving the puzzle. It is about family dynamics, immigration, lying and betrayal. But it does all that while making you laugh. A lot.

This is a heavyweight cast. Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, LaKeith Stanfield and Edi Patterson. But the “star” of the movie is relative newcomer Ana de Armas. She is Marta, the nurse who takes care of Plummer’s Harlan and is there when he dies. The plot revolves around who will get Harlan’s inheritance and the question of whether he killed himself or not. De Armas doesn’t seem even a little intimidated by her co-stars. She is innocent, yet tough and she learns how to survive in this crazy family. Craig employs a Foghorn Leghorn-type accent to great effect. He comes off as folksy, yet smart and cunning.

The way Johnson choses to make a political statement is very sly. Marta’s mom could be deported, which is held over her head as a blackmail tool at one point. And while the family claims Marta is one of them, they can’t even remember what country she is from. It not so subtly skewers the privileged class and the way they see their subordinates as merely comfortable pieces of furniture.

Johnson’s screenplay is amazing. He could have tried this and failed spectacularly. The audience could have been so confused that it would have taken them out of the movie. That never happens. Johnson makes it twisty, but not overly complex. That means it is easy to follow and you are surprised as everyone else when the mystery is finally solved.

The set design and cinematography are also quite excellent. The house chosen as the Thrombey estate is perfect. It has weird nooks and crannies, multiple staircases and hidden doorways. It really adds to the feel.

Johnson received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay and I could see it winning, but the Academy will probably go with a more traditional choice like Quentin Tarantino. That’s a shame, because KNIVES OUT is a well written, well directed film that is one of my favorites of the year.

LITTLE WOMEN

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by Alan Yudman

I started writing this on the day the nominations for this year’s Director’s Guild of America awards were revealed. Once again, just like the Golden Globes… no women nominated. And since I began writing this review the Oscar nominations are out and it is also exclusively male.

No Lorene Scafaria. No Olivia Wilde. No Alma Har’el. No Mati Diop. (full disclosure… Ha’rel and Diop were nominated for first time director by the DGA). No Lulu Wang. No Marielle Heller. And most confounding… No Greta Gerwig.

I jumped off my sofa when I heard the news, then sat down and fell out of my chair when I read the list of nominees. Now don’t get me wrong, DGA nominees Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Taika Waititi, Sam Mendes and Bong Joon Ho all are deserving. Don’t get me started about Todd Phillips’ Oscar nomination. Gerwig does something so wonderful with LITTLE WOMEN that I cannot believe she was ignored.

This isn’t the first adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s story about the March sisters, but it may be best. The way Gerwig takes a classic novel, one that has been turned into two well-respected films, and makes something completely new is an incredible achievement. Gerwig’s most obvious innovation is the way she blows up the novel’s timeline. Her version jumps back and forth in time and it works perfectly. In lesser hands it would be a confusing mess, or a director would feel the need to put up a title card explaining where we are. Not here. Gerwig does it with storytelling, costumes, hair styles and tone. It is absolute genius.

The story is funny, emotionally wrenching and poignant. That is owed to an excellent screenplay (also Gerwig’s genius) and superb acting. The ensemble is excellent. The four sisters, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen play off each other like actual sisters. There is love, rivalry and caring. Grief is not necessarily explored, but its depiction felt real. The girls after Beth dies (sorry,it’s an old book and if you didn’t know Beth dies going in, I cannot help you) and Chris Cooper’s wrenching moment when he hears Beth playing the piano his late daughter used to play. I apologize… I’m wiping tears from my keyboard right about now. But this movie isn’t really about grief. It is about life. Timothee Chalamet’s foppish portrayal of Laurie Laurence makes you hate him one minute and adore him the next. Having your heart broken, and eventually bouncing back. The joy of family. The joy of realizing your dreams. The joy of finding your place in the world after it seems you have no place.

It also is one of the most honest depictions of a writer’s life I have seen in a while. Ronan’s Jo struggles, gives up, then ultimately triumphs. It doesn’t romanticize it, but it’s hard for someone who aspires to write not to feel thrilled by the way the struggle is portrayed. Just like SPOTLIGHTand THE POST had scenes of what some call “newspaper porn”, you know the scenes where the type is set, the presses hum and the papers is churned out, this has “bookbinding porn”. Pages are cut, covers are sewn and imprinted… it is the most action you’ll see in this movie.

All the elements that go into telling that story are simply wonderful. Alexandre Desplat’s score. The cinematography by Yorick le Saux. The choices made and not made by Gerwig. It’s just a fabulous film.

I have heard comments that what Gerwig has done here is mostly unremarkable. It’s not groundbreaking or really that innovative. She didn’t push the creative envelope very hard. To this I say: ARE YOU NUTS? The movie is great. That greatness didn’t just arrive fully formed from outer space or another dimension. It grew inside the brilliant brain of Greta Gerwig and was pounded like clay into a beautiful piece of art. And if that doesn’t earn you a Best Director nomination, I’m not sure what the criteria might be. Awards don’t really matter in the long run. What matters is quality and LITTLE WOMEN’s legacy will be long and lasting.

THE IRISHMAN

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by Alan Yudman

If you look for comments about THE IRISHMAN on social media you’ll probably come across a lot of things.. most notably that it is over three hours long and it stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. But this remarkable film is so much more.

The first thing I will tell you is don’t be daunted by its length. Yeah it would be great to see it in a theater, but watching at home was deeply satisfying and I was able to take a bathroom break without missing anything. Again, that is about the mechanics of watching this movie rather than what I should be talking about… this is an incredible film that feels like an exclamation point on Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre of mob movies.

The framework is a decades long story about Frank Sheeran (De Niro), an enforcer for the Philadelphia mob who claims to have killed Jimmy Hoffa. This is a deeply felt story about loyalty, respect and honor. Sheeran’s loyalty to Pesci’s mob boss, Russell Bufalino is put to several tests yet he never wavers in doing what he believes to honor that relationship. And it is tested with his relationship with Hoffa (Pacino). The legendary Teamster’s boss has his own brand of loyalty and respect. He is fiercely loyal to his union members and he believes that the Teamsters should be a powerful force in America. He also believes that will bring him a measure of respect that he deserves. Hoffa and Sheeran work well together until Hoffa’s goals clash with those of the mob. But Sheeran’s code of loyalty motivates him to try to save Hoffa. But in the end he must choose a side and he goes with Bufalino and in the end he suffers for that choice.

The movie is filled with powerful performances from De Niro, Pesci and Pacino. We have seen De Niro and Pacino play these types of characters before. The real joy here is Pesci, who sets aside his manic New York-ness in favor of a subtler portrayal of a powerful mob boss. It makes you wish Pesci did more of this kind of acting when he was younger. That’s not to say De Niro and Pacino aren’t wonderful. De Niro’s Sheeran is quietly dangerous, while Pacino’s Hoffa is filled with rage and hubris. Watching these three work together is a joy we have waited too long for.

There has been some criticism for not giving Anna Paquin more to do as Sheeran’s daughter. True she doesn’t have a lot of lines. But acting is more than reciting words. It is embodying a character through physicality. That is the work Paquin is doing here. The disapproving looks she gives her father and Pesci tell you all you need to know about what she thinks of these two powerful men that are involuntarily a part of her life. I loved her performance. One more great supporting performance is turned in by Ray Romano who plays a mob lawyer.

Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography sets a perfect tone and Robbie Robertson’s score is marvelous. Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is on the mark. The movie spans more than 30 years and Scorsese used a much publicized de-aging technology so Pesci, Pacino and De Niro could play themselves throughout. It was a little distracting at first but I got used to it and eventually didn’t notice it at all.

Could THE IRISHMAN have been shorter? I don’t think so. Should it have been split up as a TV mini-series? I don’t think so. That would deprive the world of being able to sit still and watch a masterpiece delivered by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Kudos to Martin Scorsese. This film will make you appreciate what it is to create a great work of art.

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

By Alan Yudman

Look, if you are making a Star Wars movie you will never ever please everyone. But, STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER tries so hard to please fans who hated THE LAST JEDI, it sometimes forgets it is its own thing and not a piece of fan fiction. Because to be sure, there are a lot of this movie that seems to have come from a Star Wars Reddit group.

The issue here is in this final trilogy two different directors got to tell the story. J.J. Abrams was responsible for THE FORCE AWAKENS (TFA) and THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (TROS). Rian Johnson was given THE LAST JEDI (TLJ). THE FORCE AWAKENS did a great job reintroducing us to this universe and brought back Han, Leia and Chewbacca (with just a hint of Luke). It felt new and old at the same time and set up some interesting character arcs. Johnson decided to really explore the development of Rey, Kylo Ren, Fin and Poe. It worked to make it a story with deeper meaning, you know, a real step forward. But that angered fans and Abrams was given the final film in this 9 movie saga.

Abrams tosses out a lot of what Johnson brought to the table. Johnson’s TLJ set up the inevitable confrontation between Rey and Kylo for control of the Force and the universe. Abrams tosses that aside and brings back a character everyone believed long dead, Emperor Palpatine. Kylo also told Rey her parents were nobodies in TLJ. Well, maybe not according to this re-writing of history. Kelly Marie Tran’s “Rose Tico” is nearly written out of TROS. The character was a badass in TLJ. She’s nearly invisible here, apparently addressing all the undeserved hate the actor got after the last movie. Then there is the inclusion of Carrie Fisher’s “General Leia”. Fisher died before filming began for TROS. So how to write her out? You don’t. Abrams used archive footage of the actress left on the cutting room floor after TFA. So to include that, he and co-writer Chris Terrio had to write around her dialogue. The result is Leia appears in scenes but never feels a part of them. Abrams seems to try to address that lack of human connection by having her hug Rey. I’m not sure it works at all. There are a few other eye rolling fan service moments that I won’t spoil here. Hey, if I had to be surprised by them why should I deny you the pleasure.

All this would seem to lead you to believe I hate this movie. I don’t. It is fun and thrilling in moments. It is satisfying to see the arc of this story come to an end, even if that end feels more like merely a stoppage of time rather than a conclusion to a story.

Star Wars isn’t going away. THE MANDALORIAN on Disney + is an absolute thrill. There are rumors of other projects in the works though Disney and Lucasfilm haven’t shared any details. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER ends a nonology that has been a part of my life for more than 40 years. It is a fun movie, but could have been so much more.