Tag Archives: Daisy Ridley

The End

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

by George Wolf and Hope Madden

Not that long ago in a galaxy near and dear to us, J.J. Abrams brilliantly re-packaged our Star Wars memories as The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi took an opposite approach two years later, bringing a challenging and welcome nerve that sent a clear signal it would soon be time to move on.

Abrams is back as director and co-writer to close the saga with The Rise of Skywalker, which ends up feeling less like a course correction (which wasn’t needed) and more like a sly meeting of both minds. The fan service is strong with this one, indeed, though it never quite smacks of panicked fanboy appeasement.

In fact, the echoes of Johnson’s vision only make Abrams’s franchise love letter more emotionally resonant. We were told this goodbye was coming, and now here it is, so grab hold of something.

And that doesn’t mean just tissues (though you may need them), as Abrams delivers action that comes early and more than often. From deep space shootouts to light saber duals amid monstrous ocean waves, the heart-racing set pieces are damn near non stop and seldom less than spectacular.

But let’s be real, this is the Rey and (Kylo) Ren show.

We knew their fates would collide, we wanted that collision, and here we get it, propelled by two actors in Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver who are able to fully embrace the weight of their respective arcs. As all our questions are eventually answered, Driver and Ridley never let us forget what drives their characters: the closure of identity.

And from a new hope to the last hope, it is precisely those bloodlines and destinies that have always driven this entire franchise. Abrams makes sure he honors that legacy with a satisfying sendoff bursting with fandom in nearly every frame.

Yes, you’ll find some awkward dialogue and underused characters, but that’s not a bad scorecard considering all that The Rise of Skywalker throws at us. From welcome hellos (Lando!), to sad goodbyes (Carrie Fisher’s is handled with heroic grace), political relevance (“there’s more of us” in the resistance) to stand up and cheer moments, this is a one helluva farewell party.

No Shoes, No Pants, No Problem

Peter Rabbit

by Christie Robb

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, some gatecrashing, a tense dude named McGregor, and a pervasive lack of pants. But Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit is a bit of a departure from Beatrix Potter’s twee kids’ books.

And you might think, ugh, not another attempt to lengthen and embellish a piece of classic literature beyond all reason (looking at you, Peter Jackson). But hold on. This (cotton) tale takes place somewhat after the events in Ms. Potter’s books. Both Peter’s (James Corden) parents are dead and there’s a new McGregor in town, Domhnall Gleeson (perhaps most familiarly known now as the strident General Hux from the Star Wars saga).

Gleeson’s McGregor is an acutely type A city slicker who longs to immediately sell his recently inherited country estate in order to reinvest the profits in a business venture back in London. Until he meets the animal lover/bunny portraitist Bea (Rose Byrne) who lives in the Pinterest-worthy cottage next door.

This gets Peter’s invisible knickers in a twist for two reasons: 1) restricted access to the tantalizing McGregor garden, and 2) a rival for the affections of Bea who, in the absence of his own rodent parents, has become personage he invests with a significant amount of maternal affection.

The conflicts escalate in cartoon violence that’s kinda Home Alone by way of the Odd Couple. And, as you might expect, it is an absolute delight to see Gleeson rant in nearly Shakespearean cadences about the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit.

(To be honest, I’d probably pay the price of a movie ticket to see Gleeson take exception to piece of burnt toast.)

Like Gleeson, the supporting cast is also a delight. Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daisy Ridley stand out as Peter’s siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and the devil-may-care Cotton-tail.

If you want to get all highbrow about it, the entire movie can be read as a metaphor for a kid’s struggle to accept a new romance in the life of a primary caregiver. And if you want to be honest, it bears as much resemblance to its source material as my 4-year-old’s picture of me does to the Mona Lisa.

But there’s enough beautiful animation, fun 90s and early 00s songs, and Easter-egg jokes for parents in case the kids decide they really like this movie and you have to watch it 400 times.





Day for Knight

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Did The Force Awakens simply recycle our Star Wars memories and sell them back to us? It did, but not simply, damn near brilliantly.

Then we got the sneak attack from the surprisingly deep Rogue One, a highly effective prequel that only strengthened our bond with the original Star Wars trilogy, and our confidence in the filmmakers now at the helm of this historic franchise.

The Last Jedi makes any letdowns seem light years away. With a deft mix of character-driven emotion, high stakes action and mischievous fun, it waves a proud flag for the legacy of this cinematic universe while confidently taking big strides toward crafting a new one.

Visionary talent Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) now has the con as both director and sole screenwriter. His affection for the franchise, coupled with an innovative sense of character arc and storyline, combine for a freshness that respects nostalgia even while priming you to move beyond it.

Like J.J. Abrams, Johnson revisits iconic images and bits from the predecessors, but even with much more screen time for Mark Hamill’s Luke, Last Jedi feels less indebted to the original trilogy than did Force Awakens. You’ll find more humor (an opening “on hold” bit is a riot), more action and more Kylo Ren.

As Rey, Leia (Carrie Fisher in a bittersweet appearance), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Bodega) gather their scrappy troops to resist the First Order’s plan for pasty-faced, black-clad tyranny, the yin and yang of the film pits Adam Driver’s dark Ren against the spunky light of Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

Force Awakens gave Ridley plenty of opportunity to claim her spot at the center of the franchise, but Last Jedi allows Driver the chance to fully expand into the role of series villain. A true talent, Driver delivers a Ren who is emotionally manipulative and yet sincere (so emo!), needy and conflicted as he struggles to prove himself more than the “child in a mask” derided by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis – aided by improved CGI).

Last Jedi also completes the transition of Poe into the courageous, never-tell-me-the-odds “flyboy” we knew was his destiny since the fist moments of Force Awakens. Isaac never disappoints, and it’s a joy to see him buckle this swash so Han-dily (sorry).

While we meet some great new characters, too, there is little exposition and a near constant barrage of action which renders the extended running time meaningless. It might get a little too cute once or twice, but there’s enough social commentary here to be relevant, enough visual glory to look wondrous, and more than enough spirit to be confident in its vision.

Things happen to characters we care about and to others we just met, and nearly all of those things carry the emotional heft of torches being passed.

And The Last Jedi makes it feel not only right but necessary, and all the more satisfying.





Terror Train

Murder on the Orient Express

by Hope Madden

Kenneth Branagh likes a big room.

The thespian and Shakespearean master often feels ill-suited to film, as if he cannot help but play to the back row. Whether Branagh is in front of or behind the camera, subtlety and subtext don’t appear to come easily.

How about Agatha Christie? Branagh gambles that a 20th-century crime novelist whose prose created the architecture for a genre of books, movies, stage and television will still thrill modern audience.

A stacked ensemble for Murder on the Orient Express makes the same wager.

Branagh plays Christie’s brusque genius, Belgian Inspector Hercule Poirot.

Branagh the director is so preoccupied with Branagh the actor that his talent-laden cast is offered little more to do than to quickly hash out one-dimension. The waste of talent is the real crime afoot.

Those underused? A wide array of A-listers, from immediate hot properties Daisy Ridley (The Last Jedi) and Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin) to cinematic icons (Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi) to true movie stars (Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp)—and that’s not even half the cast.

Josh Gad appears in his second period-piece of the season (after last month’s Marshall), here playing a shady, drunken lawyer-turned-secretary who just might have killed a man.

Leslie Odom Jr. (Broadway’s Hamilton) plays a problem-solving doctor and former sharpshooter who just might have killed a man.

Penelope Cruz is a missionary nurse who won’t touch a drink, but she just might have…

You get the point. It’s an Agatha Christie story. At its best, campy, stagey fun. At its worst, stale.

The movie is a bit of both.

In keeping with Branagh’s love of spectacle, Murder on the Orient Express is a gorgeous, larger-than-life adventure. He shot on 65mm, and whether 20th Century Fox decides to release a 70mm print or not, the result is a glorious display, particularly in Act 1.

By the second act, we’re trapped in the train with a murderer. At that point, Branagh’s film starts to smell musty, and no quirky fun performances (Pfeiffer is particularly memorable) or delicately framed dining car treats can freshen things up.

When not doting on his star, Branagh’s camera showcases dazzling locations before luxuriating in the sumptuous appointments of the elegant train cars. It’s big. Very big. Grandiose, you might even say.

Which makes no sense at all for Christie’s close-quarters sleuthing of clues, faces, motives and sleight of hand.