Link Dump

The usual roundup of interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • And Now, An Intimate Conversation With Elijah Wood - Scott Wampler's interview with Elijah Wood is, well, it's something else:
    I've interacted with you often enough on Twitter to know you're a regular social media user.

    Oh, yeah.

    So then you must be familiar with Daddy Culture.

    (long pause) ...Not really.

    I don't believe that.

    Do you...are we talking about, like, someone who's looking for someone else to take care of them? Like a Sugar Daddy?

    Yes, it could be that. Anyone can be a Daddy.

    I don't -

    People said Venom was Daddy.

    Okay.

    A lot of people said Venom was Daddy, in fact.

    Sure.

    So, was there ever any concern on your part that titling your film Come to Daddy might therefore be considered an intrusion, or co-opting of, Daddy Culture?

    I don't think that was ever a concern.

    Mhm.

    The first thing that came to mind when I read the title was probably the Aphex Twin song, and there's actually another Aphex Twin song in the movie, it's beautiful. But no, I don't think we thought about Daddy Culture, or how we might be appropriating it.

    Well, maybe that's something for you to think about.

    You're absolutely right.

    Do you consider yourself a Daddy?

    Well, I mean, I am a dad.

    Yes, you're a recent father, but are you a Daddy?

    (long pause) I don't think I quite know what that means.

    Alright, Elijah, if we're gonna continue to play games I'm just gonna have to move on to the next line of questioning.

    Honestly, Scott, I want to help you, I just -

    Moving on.
    They talk about things other than Daddy Culture too.
  • It’s Time for a Best Stunts Oscar - The trials and tribulations of trying to get a Best Stunts Oscar off the ground. It's more complicated than you might think, but it's also stupid that it doesn't exist.
  • Why Didn’t Ancient Rome have Dungeons and Dragons? - Ruminations on the nature of innovation and how infrequently it actually happens.
  • Predators And Danny Glover Dancing On The Set of Predator 2 - I mean, what is going on here?
  • Spiders On Drugs - Stick with this until the end, it's not what you think. Or maybe it is. I don't know what you're thinking.
  • This Grasshopper Mouse Hunts Scorpions, Howls at Moon - This mouse is much more badass than the bigoted stereotypes surrounding mice.
That's all for now...
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Favorite Films of 2019

We conclude this recap of 2019 movies with a traditional top 10 list, only a month and a half (or so) late! This marks the fourteenth year in a row that I've posted a top 10, which is a pretty respectable streak. For reference, previous top 10s are here: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

I always try to find some sort of themes for the year in movies, which is a total fool's errand, but I guess I'm a fool because I enjoy trying it out. This year's biggest theme seems to be an "Eat The Rich" sort of thing. I would list some examples, but it appears that the grand majority of the below films actually comment on wealth and inequality, directly or indirectly (alright, fine, some of the more notable examples include Parasite, Knives Out, Hustlers, Ready or Not, Us, and many more). I would normally say that this isn't my favorite theme or anything, but then, these are some pretty fantastic movies, so what do I know? Another theme worth mentioning is the continued influence and growth of streaming. One film in my top 10 and three more in the honorable mentions are streaming exclusives, which is a pretty solid showing... We'll see if the Oscars will get over the hump and recognize some streaming stuff tonight, but it's clear that there's some interesting stuff happening on streaming services.

As of this writing, I've seen 98 films that could be considered a 2019 release. While this represents an increase over the past few years and is certainly significantly higher than your average moviegoer, it's still a much smaller number than your typical critic, so take this all with the appropriate boulder of salt. Standard disclaimers apply, and it's especially worth noting that due to regional release strategies, some of these would be considered a 2018 movie, but not available until 2019. Eagle eyed readers may notice one particular entry reappearing on this year's list from last year (which had to do with unofficial release shenanigans last year), but I love the movie so much and most people haven't seen it, so in it goes! Anywho, I think that's enough caveats for the moment, let's get to the list:

Top 10 Movies of 2019
* In roughly reverse order
  • Us - Jordan Peele's sophomore directing effort isn't as lean or focused as Get Out was, but it is jam-packed with interesting ideas, visual flare, amazing dual performances, and yet it remains entertaining and rewatchable. It's bold and exciting filmmaking, and I'm intrigued to see what Peele does next.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Dolemite Is My Name - Eddie Murphy's triumphant return to comedic greatness comes in what is clearly a labor of love. For some unknown reason, Rudy Ray Moore movies were a staple of my teen years, and this bio-pic of Moore is supremely entertaining and funny; an excellent example of the "I'm pretty sure it didn't happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!" style of movie. Murphy's performance alone makes this worth the watch, but the whole thing is just so much fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Capsule Review]
  • Parasite - Bong Joon Ho's films don't often work for me, but this one really opened my eyes. It's a fantastic con movie with lots of thematic heft bubbling under the surface. It's one of those movies where I never really knew where we were going, but once we got there, it felt inevitable. Impeccably crafted with great performances all around, I'm glad this one is garnering lots of attention.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Shadow - Zhang Yimou's tale of palace intrigue sometimes approaches Shakespeare-esque grand historical drama while also featuring excellent wu xia action sequences and a muted but somehow still visually striking visual palette. Zhang handles the intricate plot and action with a clarity and fluidity that is impressive (and beyond most other directors).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Apollo 11 - This documentary is an astonishing document of one of humanity's greatest achievements.
    Apollo 11
    It winds up being more informative, exciting, and emotionally potent than any "dramatization" of the same events can manage, and the restored 65mm footage looks astounding.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Knives Out - Rian Johnson's whodunit perfectly captures the Agatha Christie ouvre; tons of red herrings, mysteries within mysteries, an old creaky house, a will reading, cozy sweaters, and so on, all expertly crafted and knitted into an airtight narrative. While some of its surface politics might initially feel ham-handed, the real lesson at the heart of the movie is that it doesn't matter what ideological position you take, it's your actions that matter.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek - Taut single-location thriller about a militia member trying to ferret out a killer in their midst, this movie is gravely underseen and underrated. Smart, sharp writing anchors the film and manages to ratchet a lot of tension out of what are essentially a bunch of conversations.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • One Cut of the Dead - Longtime readers may recognize this as my favorite movie of last year, but due to various release date snafus, it's probably more apt to put it in this year's list. It obviously has traction among genre fans, but it deserves wider recognition so I'm including it near the top of this year's list too.
    One Cut of the Dead
    What starts as a somewhat rote zombie story (albeit one that is made more interesting due to the filmmaking), eventually morphs into something that is so much more. Highly recommended Japanese flick, very entertaining and surprisingly resonant.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino's latest love letter to 60s Hollywood and the power of cinema continues some of his more indulgent tendencies and at first glance feels a bit disjointed, but after watching a couple times, any reservations have been obliterated. Tarantino is still at the height of his craft, he's able to harness star power while getting great performances, and he managed to redefine Sharon Tate as a real person while he was at it. A supreme hangout movie, I have a feeling this will age very well.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
The Quantum Jury Prize:
Awarded to films that exist only in a quantum superposition of two or more states. If you're not sure what that means, but that's kinda the point, and I'm going to confuse matters even more because while I've had this section in the last few years's Top 10 lists, I'm using it in a completely different way this year. In the past, the quantum state had to do with my respect for films that I didn't particularly love watching, or things that I went back and forth on.

This year, it's more about which film would end up in the tenth slot (astute readers may have noticed that there's only nine films listed above). Like Shcrodinger's Cat, the actual #10 film exists in a superposition that will only experience a waveform collapse once we observe it. But every time I observe it, I get one of four answers. Or something like that. I guess I could have just done a four way tie for #10, but it's my list and I'm doing this instead.
  • 1917 - The single take conceit dominates the conversation around this affecting WWI drama, but I found it effective at emphasizing the tension and claustrophobia of the young soldier's mission. The story is perhaps a tad simplistic, but the execution is so spectacular that it deserves some recognition. This is the sort of film that I do tend to gravitate toward, so it could easily have taken that #10 slot.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Dragged Across Concrete - S. Craig Zahler's latest crime thriller is a real doozy. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start, but once the unconventional bank robbery at its core gets going, it sinks its teeth in and never lets go. This movie occupies a similar space as several others on my top 10, but that's because it's sorta in my wheelhouse.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Little Women - Greta Gerwig's impeccably appointed adaptation of the famous Louisa May Alcott novel hits on all cylinders, but the performances of a large ensemble are what really shine for me. As I understand it, Gerwig's spin on the story was to introduce some chronology tinkering, and I have questions about one bit in particular, but I ultimately loved the movie. This film would make my top 10 a more rounded list.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - Just in terms of pure action, this film is worthy. In particular, the knife fight is one of the most spectacular sequences I saw on film all year. The only thing holding this film back is the plot, which is starting to feel a bit creaky and strained at this point. That said, it's still supremely entertaining to watch, and that's the sort of thing I like in my top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
Honorable Mention
* In an order I dare you to discern
  • Uncut Gems - The Safdie brothers pull an exceptional performance out of Adam Sandler and the last hour or so of the film is almost unbearably tense, but I can't help but thinking that I'd enjoy this movie a lot more if I cared at all about pretty much any of the characters. The artistry is evident and the film is very well made, but it's far from a crowdpleaser. I liked it, but it's a far cry from the top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Prospect - This indie science fiction flick about a doomed prospector and his daughter's fight for survival on an alien planet has some setup issues, but is ultimately a very well done thriller with good performances and worldbuilding (I particularly like the decision to make wearing the space suit with helmet at almost all times a necessity; it's one of those things that seems like a limitation but is actually an opportunity and actually makes for a good aesthetic choice.)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • High Flying Bird - Steven Soderbergh shot this film on an iPhone, and it's true that the film mostly consists of simple conversations, but there's a nifty plot baked in, with sharp dialogue and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. This is one of those things that got kinda dumped on Netflix early in the year, but is worth seeking out (also of note: I hate basketball, but I still enjoyed it!)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • The Irishman - Martin Scorsese's epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, but it's also an interesting character study about a man who (very) slowly hollows out his soul over the course of decades of working for the mob. By the time you get towards that last hour, it becomes utterly devastating. De Niro and Pacino put in their best performances in years (decades?), but Joe Pesci is the real standout, and that's saying something. It's not a "fun" film, but it has grown on me, and is well worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Capsule Review]
  • The Kid Who Would Be King - Joe Cornish's modern-day take on Arthurian legend is probably more entertaining than you expect. This seems like one of the more chronically underseen films of the year, with great performances from a young cast and properly archetypal characters. Maybe it's a little silly, but it's actually a lot of fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Avengers: Endgame - The culmination of more than a decade's worth of films somehow manages to mostly stick the landing. It doesn't break the mold of your typical Marvel movie, but that sort of thinking doesn't work for the MCU. The real strength is not the individual films, but rather the way they underline and reinforce one another. This may or may not be your thing, but it is still a pretty amazing achievement. (Oh, and this particular film is, in itself, pretty damn entertaining.)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Farewell - Lulu Wang wrote and directed this drama about cultural differences between China and America (as illustrated by a family crisis precipitated by the matriarch's cancer diagnosis). Wang manages a fine balancing act between the specific and the universal. We all have families and events (ranging from happy to sad and everywhere inbetween) like those highlighted in the story, but the movie also portrays a very specific family and a very specific culture clash with oodles of keenly observed details. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would (it's one of those films I probably wouldn't have caught up with if I didn't go out of my way for posts like this).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Little Monsters - Lupita Nyong'o leads this goofy Australian zombie flick about a down-on-his-luck musician and a teacher protecting a field trip from a zombie outbreak. Well worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Klaus - Animated Christmas movie that plays with the origins of the Santa Claus (er, Klaus) myth, this is a gorgeous movie with a clever script and fun story. I'm not sure if it's destined to become an annual tradition, but you could do a lot worse in that respect...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • Marriage Story - I'm not a big fan of Noah Baumbach's general obsession with dysfunction, but there seems to be a bit of balance here that helps this story about bitter divorce proceedings. There's a somewhat even hand between the two aggrieved parties, but the real insight of the film is just how shitty lawyers are and how the legal system can intensify an already brutal and vicious event into something even more severe. Exceptional performances abound, and even a touch of hope in the end.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • Ready or Not - A new bride becomes enmeshed in her new family's gaming tradition, which sometimes involves a hunt to the death. One of the most fun times at the movies of the year, with an eye opening and unexpected ending which I'm probably ruining for you just by talking about it, sorry. Worth checking out for you horror bloodhounds out there.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Good Boys - Surprisingly affecting story about a group of tweens going on an epic quest to fix a drone (or something, that part isn't important). I thought this would be a rote, one-joke affair (tweens cursing!), so when it turns out that this movie had some pretty sharp insights into the nature of growing up and friends who come together or drift apart, I was quite surprised, and you might be too.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Hustlers - A group of strippers band together to scam a bunch of Wall Street clients, this sorta has the feel of a Scorsese gangster epic; the rise and fall of a brash criminal enterprise, anchored by Jennifer Lopez's magnetic performance and her relationship with costar Constance Wu.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
Just Missed the Cut:
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order: Should Have Seen:
Despite having seen around 90 of this year's releases (and listing out 30+ of my favorites in this post), there are a few that got away. Or never made themselves available here. Or that I probably need to watch, but don't wanna because reasons. Regardless, there are several movies here that I probably should have caught up with: Normally, I'd do a whole post of Oscars predictions, but since they pushed the ceremony up this year, I basically ran out of time and in the end, who cares about my predictions? I'll be on Twitter during the show, so feel free to hit up @mciocco for incisive commentary (or, more likely, retweets of people funnier/more insightful than me). For the record, my guesses are for Best Picture: 1917, Director: Mendes (maybe Bong Joon Ho), Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Actress: Renée Zellweger, Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Original Screenplay: Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood (though maybe Parasite), Adapted Screenplay: Little Women (though maybe Jojo Rabbit). So there.
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The 2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week. The premise of those awards is to recognize aspects of films that aren't reflected in more traditional awards or praise like a Top 10 list or whatever. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available, so we come to the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don't conform to normal standards. A few of these "awards" have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
  • The "You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" Award for Worst Dialogue: Serenity. Sometimes this award goes to bad movies, other times it goes to movies that are so bad they're good. This utterly bonkers movie straddles the line, and is almost worth watching for the absurd twist at its core, but the dialogue is also quite impressively bad (A favorite line read: “Baker Dill, you’re no more than a hooker“, funny just because of his name, but then the struggling fisherman responds: “A hooker who can’t afford hooks").
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Glass. Overall, I like a lot about this movie, but boy, are those hospital employees stupid!
  • Award for Achievement in Seagull Violence: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse. I was mixed on the film overall, but the, er, seagull scene was pretty eye opening, and it's worth noting that Willem Dafoe probably deserves more recognition somewhere too.
  • Best Stripper Who Doesn't Really Strip That Much: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. There's this thing in Hollywood movies were really famous people play strippers but they don't actually take their close off but in this case, who cares, J Lo is magnetic and super charismatic in this film that definitely warrants more recognition than it's got.
  • Give This Person Their Own Action Franchise, Dammit: Mackenzie Davis was really fantastic in the middling Terminator: Dark Fate, it really just made me want to see her in an original action movie that isn't saddled with all the baggage of the Terminator sequels.
  • Most Explosive Ending: Ready or Not. I will not spoil the ending, but I admire that they went there.
  • Best Entrance to Graduation: Booksmart. This movie is fun, if not quite the revelatory experience some have proclaimed it as, but I kinda loved their entrance to their graduation, so here we are.
  • Best Documentary About a Complete Fraud: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. The story of multi-billion dollar medical-testing startup Theranos is fascinating and the fraud at its heart is completely bonkers. Strong runners up in the the Fyre Festival documentaries, but there were two of them and they split the vote and besides, Theranos' fraud is much more egregious than a poorly run music fest.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: 1917. Duh. Due to release date weirdness, I'm not sure if One Cut of the Dead qualifies, but it would be a strong contender.
  • Should Host the Oscars: Babu Frik from Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker. Look, he won't be better than my dream host for last year's Oscars (that would be Cheddar Goblin, who should host every year), but Babu Frik would work...
  • Best Hero/Disembodied Body Part: I Lost My Body. This is an interesting animated French movie that I'm not sure adds up to much, but approximately half of the screen time portrays the quest of a disembodied hand making its way back to its body, and it's something else, let me tell ya.
  • Most Egregious Use of Bullet-Time Technology: T-34. Tank battles galore. Some of the effects aren't perfect, but it's a really fun action movie with great tank battles.
  • The "Weiner" Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: American Factory. It's perhaps not as distinguished as the award's namesake, but the access the filmmakers managed in this Chinese run American Factory is admirable and enlightening.
  • Best Drinking Game: Whatever it was they were playing at the wedding in The Farewell. I don't know what the game was, but the visual comedy of it all was perfectly calibrated.
  • Achievement in Sandwich Eating: Vince Vaughn in Dragged Across Concrete. Dude just plows through a breakfast sandwich after a long stakeout night. This is one of those scenes that immediately made me think "This needs to be an arbitrary award", but since that was like 9 months ago, I totally forgot about it until now (I'm adding this after the fact), but it 100% warrants recognition.
Stay tuned, the top 10 comes next week (just in time for the Oscars, which I probably won't be posting about because they pushed the broadcast up a few weeks)...

Update: Added the last category, which I can't believe I forgot to add. I had the flu this weekend, so I wasn't thinking straight...
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2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

The nominations for the 2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Since then the Vegas odds-makers and Howard Ratners of the world have been going bonkers, so it's time to announce the winners so that the criminals trapped in that weird vestibule thing can be buzzed out (get it? I'm being topical! For the approximately zero of you who have seen Uncut Gems, at least.) Next week, I'll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I'll post my top 10 of 2019 (the Oscars are much earlier this year, so I may post some commentary, time permitting, or more likely not). Alrightly then, enough preamble, let's get to the winners. And the KMA goes to:
  • Best Villain/Badass: Red, played by Lupita Nyong'o in Us. And it's not even particularly close. Lupita Nyong'o's performance as Red is full of menace and barely suppressed rage, but it's a dual role, and she puts forth a distinct performance has Red's doppleganger too (and without spoiling the movie, the villainy is not diminished by such machinations).
    Red in Us
    The other nominees aren't so much bad as they are simply perfunctory. It's a superhero film or a Star Wars film and so a villain is dutifully trotted out. For the most part, they get the job done, but few leave a lasting imprint. Thanos works less because of himself than because he's the villain in the culmination of a ten year run of movies (this is Marvel's superpower - the individual films matter less than the whole). Jake Gyllenhaal makes Mysterio work better than he does on paper, but is ultimately a little silly in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Mark Dacascos is interesting in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, but it's hard not to see him as the Chairman from Iron Chef America, which adds its own surreality to the proceedings, I guess, but perhaps not intentional. Plenty of fine villains, but nothing stands out as much as Red...
  • Best Hero/Badass: Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. An altogether better year for heroism, even for a more atypical, perhaps even ambiguous character like Cliff Booth. Tarantino doesn't explicitly tell us what happened with Booth's wife, but what we do see in the film proper is certainly badass and heroic. It's one of those things where your interpretation of the character in the film probably says more about you than the film itself.
    Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Lots of other strong contenders in this category too. I don't know how John Wick keeps losing this award, but it appears he'll have another chance soon enough, and we'll certainly be talking more about this film below (this is perhaps why I don't feel compelled to give him this category - it gets recognized elsewhere). Scott Adkins puts in a fun, badass performance in Avengement, pouring himself a pint after beating the hell out of every gangster in a bar with a cricket bat. Even bit parts like Tilda Swinton in The Dead Don't Die warrant some mention, though that character has a distinct lack of heroism (which is not to say that she's a villain either). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not also does well, though she suffers in comparison to Sharni Vinson's Kaedrin Movie Award Winning Hero/Badass performance in You're Next. Actually, the grand majority of nominees are pretty close, with only a couple standouts. It's a pity that most of them were not opposed by proper villainy.
  • Best Comedic Performance: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. This movie was clearly a labor of love for Murphy, and his passion for the material really shines through. This is an award that is often muddled due to the prevalence of comedic ensembles (and a glance through the nominees shows some of that), but Murphy's performance really does stand out in a way that most others do not. A bunch of the nominees are smaller, side characters who manage to steal scenes from the larger narrative (Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe, Zoey Deutch in Zombieland: Double Tap, and perhaps most impressive due to the young age, Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit). Other nominees are more conventional, or perhaps less conventional but not defined so much as comedic roles. In the end, Murphy's performance is why this award exists.
  • Breakthrough Performance: Florence Pugh in Midsommar and Little Women. For whatever reason, I had a tougher time populating this category this year, but Florence Pugh was my first thought and the obvious winner due to a strong lead performance in Midsommar and her thankless ensemble work in Little Women ("thankless" might not be the right word for this, but the character of Amy is fraught with some baggage for sure). The woman can frown like no other, but she has a nice smile too (there's a scene in Little Women where the sisters are doing one of Jo's plays and she clinks her pipe with her sister and for some reason that moment is very memorable for me.) Anyway, Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U is here as a sorta "sorry, I forgot to nominate you last time", but she genuinely seems up for anything in this sequel (the glee with which she kills herself to reset the day, jumping out of the airplane or headfirst into a woodchipper, really does stand out). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not again gets a nod here and I'm expecting good things from her going forward. Did I say it was hard populating this category? Huh, because all the nominees are pretty great, actually.
  • Most Visually Stunning: Shadow. It's an odd choice, because the color palette of this movie is quite muted, to the point where it almost feels like a black and white film at times, and yet that only makes the visuals in the film stronger and more memorable.
    Shadow
    Strong runner up in the form of 1917, whose single take shenanigans are impressive to say the least. The rest of the nominees range from the gorgeos spectacle to the more sober but very well photographed that usually populate the category...
  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Us. Jordan Peele's sophmore directing effort isn't as lean or focused as his first effort, but it's still good and interesting stuff. The rest of the nominees are a pretty fun bunch and well worth checking out. They skew towards horror, as I wasn't taken with a lot of this year's high-profile artistic SF (like Ad Astra or High Life), but the lone SF nominee, Prospect, is quite good and it feels underrated (or at least underseen) too.
  • Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Avengers: Endgame. As mentioned above, this movie's strength is not just that it's a fun movie with lots of good stuff, but rather that it's the conclusion to more than a decade's worth of films, and the achievement as a whole seems worhty of recognizing (and what better place than the best sequel category). Given my usual distaste for sequels, this category is often difficult to populate and it's hard to believe that I never had "Remake" as part of the category before (though I'm sure I had some nominees that were remakes in the past? Maybe?), but two decent remakes this year in Little Women and Cold Pursuit) persuaded me to add that to this category. The other nominees are just fine and well worth checking out if you liked their respective previous films...
  • Biggest Disappointment: The Laundromat. Remember when Steven Soderbergh quit directing films? Well, he made two in 2019, one of which was pretty great (High Flying Bird), and the other just fell completely flat. So many of the elements of The Laundromat should work, but it just continually fails to inform or entertain, culminating in a bizarre non-sequitur of a 4th wall break that's just plain boorish. This is not a category I like to dwell on, but I will say that I generally enjoyed the other nominees, but for whatever reason, I had higher expectations that I probably should have going in, which makes them disappointing. But the Laundromat takes the cake here.
  • Best Action Sequences: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. Hey may not have won the best Hero/Badass, but this film certainly had the best action sequences of the year. With each new installment, these movies one-up the action, and this one contains a few amazing setpieces, most notably the knife fight and the one with the good doggies. This marks the year in which I discovered Jesse V. Johnson's direct to video/streaming offerings, so a couple nominees show up here that are worth watching for action fans (Avengement and Triple Threat). I didn't love Ad Astra, but what's not to like about the moon rover battle? Also of note, S. Craig Zahler's more measured, deliberate action setpieces are tense and unpredictable, punctuated by gruesome violence. Oh, and not nominated but should be: T-34, a Russian tank movie with great, propulsive action sequences and extensive bullet-time-esque shots (the one on Amazon Prime is dubbed, but who cares, you're not watching this for the dialog). A decent crop of action this year, for sure.
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Knives Out. "It is not a doughnut hole, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not holed at all!" I won't go into details here due to spoilers (and I suppose the fact that there's a twist/surprise is spoiler all on its own, but in the case of a whodunit, what else would you expect?) Some other good nominees here, but again, I'll refrain from details due to spoilers...
  • Best High Concept Film: 1917. The idea of a "high concept" is a bit of a nebulous one and maybe the "stringing together shots so it looks like one continuous take" isn't enough of a high concept for you, but it really worked in 1917, so here we are. Much has been made of whether this is a gimmick for gimmick's sake or otherwise effective, but it worked well for me, building tension and claustrophobic dread over the course of the film (with little in the way of release). Other nominees had some neat ideas for sure, and most are worthy, even when the high concept doesn't quite work out in a way I loved (i.e. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a bizarre documentary and I'm not entirely sure it works but it's interesting nonetheless...)
  • 2019's 2018 Movie of the Year: A Simple Favor. It's a nice, twisty little thriller. Once I get past a given year, I don't usually catch up with stuff from that year, especially when it comes to more challenging films. This year wasn't really an exception to that, but I did catch up with a lot of fun things. Perhaps another benefit of the streaming era... One notable nominee would be Suspiria, which felt a little overlong and overindulgent, but which I ultimately liked a lot. Most of the other nominees are worth a watch here or there too, though none are really lighting the world on fire.
So there you have it. Congrats to all the winners. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week!
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Vintage SF Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss "older than I am" Science Fiction in the month of January.

Theodore Sturgeon once famously opined that "ninety percent of everything is crap." It's a funny adage, but unfortunately for Sturgeon, his own bibliography proves it to be a lie. Of course, I haven't read it all, but he's batting 1.000 in my book. To Marry Medusa was originally published under the less palatable title The Cosmic Rape (there are some wrinkles to the edited versions/titles that aren't really worth going into; this is close enough for jazz), but what I read was the full novelization... that still only clocks in at 160 or so pages.

The story presents an unusual riff on the tired alien invasion genre. Dan Gurlick is a bitter, alcoholic hobo. His latest meal, snatched from a trashcan, is a half-eaten cheeseburger that just happens to contain an alien spore that has traveled many light years in search of an appropriate host. Once Gurlick eats the burger, the alien spore proceeds to eat him. Or rather, his mind. It turns out that the spore is the tool of an alien hive mind called "Medusa", which has absorbed and assimilated the lifeforms of billions of other planets across multiple galaxies. And yet... humanity flummoxes it.

Medusa is able to infect Gurlick the normal way, but there's no connection to others of his species. As a vast, nearly incomprehensible hive mind, Medusa can't conceive of a species that isn't already a collective. It thinks that humanity has fractured as a protective measure, and thus sets Gurlick on the task of collecting raw materials so that Medusa can create some self-replicating machines that will (re)unite humanity... and thus make them ripe for conquest. But is Medusa trying to play with something it doesn't understand?

The story has an interesting, if scattershot structure. There are chapters covering the aforementioned exploits of Gurlick and Medusa alternated with various vignettes and character sketches of seemingly ordinary people in not-so great situations. There's a creep seeking to rape a co-worker, a homicidal maniac named Guido who is animated by his hatred for music, a young boy named Henry who is abused by a smiling father, and an African farmer named Mbala whose yams are being stolen. Sturgeon's fondness for the short story form is certainly evident here, and at first, I thought each of these secondary characters would only get short introductions, but then he starts to revisit folks we've already met. As you might expect, some of these work better than others, but that's almost part of the point. Sturgeon literally refers to these stories as anecdotal (page 107):

These were people, these are anecdotes, dwelt upon for their several elements of the extraordinary. But each man alive has such a story, unique unto himself, of what is in him and of its molding by the forces around him, and of his interpretations of those forces.
It can be a bit disorienting, but the ultimate effect is that Sturgeon has managed to make humanity as a whole a character; at first metaphorically, and then literally. It's a neat trick, and one that a lesser writer might not be able to pull off.

Sturgeon's prose is stylish but lean, often moving in unexpected directions without being drowned in hooptedoodle. It's funny, because a lot of characteristics of this book are things that I don't normally enjoy (i.e. episodic structure, character sketches, pretty simple plot overall, very stylish prose, some overly dark situations, etc...), and yet Sturgeon makes them work for me.

Sturgeon is clearly fascinated by hive minds and collectives as evidenced by his earlier classic, More Than Human, which covers many of the same themes from a smaller perspective. To Marry Medusa is certainly great, but even though Sturgeon pulls off the disjointed nature of this story, it can't quite compete with More Than Human. Both books are recommended though!

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2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards

Welcome to the fourteenth annual Kaedrin Movie Awards! The idea is to recognize films for various achievements that don't always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we'll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we'll post a traditional top 10 list (usually sometime in early/mid-February). But first up is the awards! [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018]

Standard disclaimers apply: It must be a 2019 movie (with the one caveat that some 2018 films were not accessible until 2019 and are thus eligible under fiat) and I obviously have to have seen the movie. As of this writing, I've seen 92 movies that would be considered a 2019 release. Significantly less than your typical critic, but more than your average moviegoer and enough to populate these awards. Obviously this is a personal exercise that is entirely subjective in nature, but the world would be a boring place indeed if we all loved the same things for the same reasons, right? Right. Without further ado:

Best Villain/Badass
It seems like the last few years have been mired in mediocre villainy and while this year is not exactly breaking the mold, the winner is very clear and could hold their own with most of the previous winners in this category. In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc...) or ideas. Best Hero/Badass
Probably a step up from villainy, and a more broad coalition of heroism to boot. A few standouts, might be difficult to pick the winner here. Again limited to individuals and not groups. Best Comedic Performance
This is sometimes a difficult category to populate due to the prevalence of ensembles in comedy movies (this year being no exception). I also noticed a distinct bias towards smaller side roles or cameos this year, which is neat, but makes it hard to pick those roles as a winner. That being said, this year has a clear lead performance that exemplifies why this award exists... Breakthrough Performance
This used to be a category more centered around my personal evaluation of a given actor (rather than a more general industry breakthrough), but it's trended more towards the youngsters breaking through as time has gone on. This year is certainly more along those lines, with plenty of decent options. For whatever reason, I had a more difficult time populating this list this year, though I think I'll be able to narrow it down easily enough... Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great... and yet most of these are pretty great. A middling year for this sort of thing, perhaps leaning towards more sober, well-photographed beauty than flashy spectacle, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film
It's always nice to throw some love to genres that don't normally get a lot of recognition in end-of-the-year lists. As an avid SF fan, it's sad that the genre has to be combined with Horror in order to come up with a well rounded set of nominees. There was a time in the past decade or so where that seemed like it was changing, but that moment seems to have passed. At least, for the types of SF that I love (there were a few high profile SF films that I didn't love this year, so the industry is still trying, at least). Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake
Always an awkward category to populate, especially given my normal feeling on this sort of thing. After an unusually fertile year for this category last year, this year isn't quite that great, but still pretty good. Biggest Disappointment
A category often dominated by sequels and reboots, and lo, this year is a bit of a return to form, though there's still some original films that were quite disappointing as well. This category is definitely weird in that sometimes I actually enjoy these movies... but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski's Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale). Best Action Sequence
This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and there's actually a pretty good range this year. I think there's a pretty clear standout, but there's not a lot of filler in this category, so it's been a pretty solid year for action... Best Plot Twist/Surprise
I suppose even listing that there is a twist is a bit of a spoiler, so I guess we'll just have to risk it. A pretty strong lineup this year, and I think there will be a strong standout... Best High Concept Film
A bit of a nebulous concept for this one, but I think the category fills out nicely, with a couple of standouts. Pretty wide open for the winner though. 2019's 2018 Movie of the Year
This is a weird category. Once I get past my top 10, I rarely tackle challenging material from the previous year, though I do sometimes find a few diamonds in the rough. This category emerged from one frustrating year in which I saw two movies far too late for the top 10, so I created this award to recognize them. Since then, the nominees are pretty lackluster (and indeed, the amount of films I watch that qualify are usually pretty low to start with). This year, for whatever reason, I've seen a ton of decent things from 2018. None that I think would override my top 10 from that year, but I'm sure we can find a winner worthy of recognition. So there you have it. 51 different films nominated (2018 films and disappointments not counted), so really spreading the love here. Surprisingly, Ready or Not leads the way with 5 nominations, which is an honor all by itself (because, um, I don't think it'll be winning many of those awards, even if I really enjoyed it). Us, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, and Happy Death Day 2U clock in at a respectable 4 nominations a piece (with at least a good chance of winning some awards). Five movies snagged 3 nominations, and the grand majority have 2 noms or a lone nomination. Winners to be announced next week, followed by Arbitrary Awards, a traditional Top 10 of the year, and maybe some Oscars commentary (the ceremony is much earlier this year, so maybe not?) Stay tuned!
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Vintage SF Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss "older than I am" Science Fiction in the month of January.

Rumor has it that James P. Hogan, disappointed by the ending of Stanley Kubrick's (and I suppose I should also mention Arthur C. Clarke's) 2001: A Space Odyssey, made a bet with his engineer colleagues that he'd write a science fiction novel inspired by some of the ideas he liked in 2001 (presumably he liked the idea of finding something really weird on the moon). The result is Inherit the Stars, Hogan's debut novel. It seems to be pretty well received and spawned a few sequels. Hogan would later become a notorious crank, but this debut is pretty interesting and well regarded.

Inherit the Stars
Explorers on the moon make a grim discovery: a corpse in a bright red spacesuit. By all measures, "Charlie" (as he is nicknamed) is human, the same as his discoverers. But no one can identify him. He doesn't match the description of any missing astronauts and his spacesuit is not of any known manufacture. The mystery only deepens when scientists discover that the body had been lying dead on the moon for 50,000 years. Who was this man? Where was he from? Surely Earth, right? Why was he on the moon? Charlie had a notebook written in an unknown language, but once the translations start to progress, we begin to find some answers, and yet more mysteries also emerge. Soon, other "Lunarians" are discovered on the moon, as well as other evidence of their civilization and the conflict that destroyed them throughout our solar system. But mysteries still abound.

Published in 1977, Inherit the Stars feels more like something out of the 50s. The prose is straightforward and unremarkable, the info-dumps are bald and plentiful, the characterizations are basically an afterthought, and in terms of plot and storytelling, it's a bit staid. The bulk of the story is just scientists talking to each other about confounding discoveries. I kinda love it. The sense of wonder remains fully intact, starting with the premise, and with the way characters slowly break down the evidence, piecing together what happened 50,000 years ago, hypothesizing explanations, and constantly revising their thoughts when new discoveries don't fit with the current theories.

To some, the deep dives into how one deciphers a lost language could be tedious, and so too could the constant revisions of speculations about what is really going on. To me, though, this is the beating heart of science fiction. The potential explanations are, in themselves, mysterious and tantalizing, and grow moreso as we find out more information. I'm not entirely sure that the orbital mechanics work out perfectly, but everything generally fits, and the ending makes for a satisfying explanation.

While I was a bit hard on the characterization and plotting, it's worth noting that the two main characters, while they have opposing theories of what happened throughout the story, are generally cooperative and one of the more impressive things about Hogan's resolution is that he manages to allow both characters to be correct. It turns out that there's one piece of evidence that, once discovered, removes all the apparent contradictions, allowing both scientists a victory.

People don't write books like this anymore. Standards of storytelling and characterization have perhaps risen over time (and, frankly, this still feels like a bit of an outlier even for 1977). That being said, maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Characterization is great and all, but these days, it seems to overwhelm the ideas and sense of wonder. In a book like Inherit the Stars, the idea is the hero, something that you don't see often these days.

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2019 in Movies

The transition of year to year is largely arbitrary, but then, it does happen, and one might as well take the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we're going. When it comes to movies, most critics and publications have long since published their "Best of 2019" lists and other such reminiscences. This sort of thing has been trending earlier and earlier every year, to the point where people are posting their annual movie recaps in November or early December. This is a bit absurd, so here at Kaedrin, we wait until January to start our festivities, which tend to last about a month. Today, we look at my overall movie consumption in 2019. This will be followed by the Kaedrin Movie Award nominations next week, then the winners, the Arbitrary awards, and finally a Top 10 list. For now, though, let's look at what I managed to see in 2019:
  • 392 films watched
  • 682.7 hours watched
  • 32.7 movies a month on average
  • 7.5 movies a week on average
  • 26 movies made in 1978
Last year, I "only" watched 356 movies, which was kind of a bummer because I was so close to the 1 per day average but didn't quite get there. This year I managed to blow past that goal with 392 films. The general trend is due to watching less television and playing less video games (book reading is about on par with last year). The 1978 project started in the latter half of the year, though I had inadvertently seen a few things earlier in the year too, but 26 movies represents pretty great progress).
2019 movies by week
As usual, lots of variability from week to week, though you can see a pretty consistent high rate towards the end of the year. New record for movies in one week hits 14 (I may have done more than that before, but since I've been recording my watching habits this closely, this is a record), with lots of 10-12 level weeks included. As for days of the week, it looks like Mondays and Saturdays got a little bump this year, though it's overall more consistent.
2019 movies by genre, country, and language
When it comes to genres, countries, and languages, it's not that big of a surprise to see US and English with a commanding lead. UK movies had a decent increase, but are still dwarfed by US movies. The top six countries remain the same though, and tend to be western-focused. Heck, Japan didn't even place this year (though I certainly watched several Japanese movies.) Action leads the genres, which is not too surprising, with Thrillers and Comedies nipping at their heels. Horror had a bit of a dip compared to last year, but the catchall category of Drama is right about where it normally is.
2019 Movies Map
I didn't count the countries I managed to see a film from this year, but this seems fairly diverse, about on par with last year's map (give or take a few countries). One of these years, I'll do a 50 from 50 list to watch 50 films from 50 different countries in one year (maybe even more, since I seem to do pretty well without even trying)...
2019 Movies Breakdown
19.9% of the movies I watched last year were a 2019 release, a slight increase from last year's 17.1% of 2018 movies. Most of this is driven by streaming movies, which makes sense. 24% of the movies I watched in 2019 were rewatches, which is actually a pretty significant decrease from last year (which was at 29.2%). The ratings spread has moved slightly lower, with the 3 stars (out of 5) rating being the most popular (I used to be a little more forgiving, averaging more like 3.5 stars out of 5). Otherwise a pretty standard bell curve (with a slight bias on the higher end of the scale, driven by rewatches of things I love)...
Most Watched Movie Stars in 2019
Most watched stars remain pretty white and male, with Harrison Ford edging out Samuel L. Jackson for the top slot. This is mostly driven by a Star Wars rewatch (which, when considering Rise of Skywalker, represented 6 out of the 9 things I saw him in...) ScarJo (driven by Marvel flicks, but she also had a pretty busy year) and Carrie Fisher (also driven by Star Wars) are the female actors on the list. Actually, the grand majority of the list is driven by franchises like Star Wars, Mission Impossible, Marvel, and Ocean's. The longer list contains only one person not associated with those franchises, which is Danielle Harris (though, heh, her presence is driven by the Halloween and Hatchet franchises, but there are also some other flicks).
Most Watched Directors in 2019
And the most watched directors are not exclusively white and male, but could probably still be more diverse. Maybe a little less franchise driven here, though there's plenty of that (even Kenji Misumi is only there because I watched a few Lone Wolf & Cub movies this year). A weird inclusion is Jesse V. Johnson, a DTV action director that makes generally enjoyable stuff.
2019 movies - highs and lows
Lowest Average rating and Most Obscure film are the more interesting categories here, though it's nice to see that both of the others are 2019 flicks, and not some rewatch (which they have been frequently in the past)...

So it's been a banner year for movie watching here at Kaedrin. Stay tuned for the Kaedrin Movie Award nominations next week!
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I joked about avoiding this review last week because, well, the discourse around this movie (and it's predecessor) has become a bit of a battleground in the culture wars, which are totally not as fun as the star wars these movies are talking about. As a child of the 80s, I can't help but hold a special place in my heart for Star Wars, and so there's this never-ending reserve of goodwill towards new installments in the series, even when they don't hold up (like, say, the prequels). As such, I found Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker a cromulent enough entry into the canon. That being said, it's clear that the film and the trilogy it purports to cap off is janky as hell, mostly because there didn't appear to be any real plan.
  • In fairness, J.J. Abrams was dealt a pretty weak hand. Disney originally brought him in to kickstart the relatively dormant franchise, which plays to Abrams's strengths. He's rejuvenated franchises before and he's infamous for creating tantalizing mysteries at the beginning of a story. So it wasn't surprising that The Force Awakens was a massive hit. It was severely dependent on (verging on a remake of) the original Star Wars movie, but that seemed to suit the franchise well. Then Disney brought in Rian Johnson to follow up Abrams with The Last Jedi. Regardless of what you may think of that entry (and I liked it a lot!), it's clear that it didn't strike quite the same chord with audiences, though to my mind, Johnson left the third film wide open to do something new and exciting, not as bound by the shape of the original trilogy. The third movie was planned to be written and directed by Colin Trevorrow (presumably based on the success of Jurassic World), but like most of the Disney Star Wars movies, this movie had a troubled production and Trevorrow left/was-fired/whatever, and Abrams was brought in to save the day. Add to that the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, and things get really complicated. Abrams, not known for ending stories well, was brought in to an unpopular but relatively clean slate, inheriting a troubled production that had based the story on a character whose actress was no longer with us (in as much as the Disney trilogy had a shape, it was based on the original three characters: Han in Force Awakens, Luke in "Last Jedi", and presumably Leia in this third installment), thus forcing a large rewrite on a shortened timeline. Given the constraints, Abrams did a fine job bringing this home, even if a lot of the movie doesn't quite gel for me.
  • It has become abundantly clear is that there was no overarching plan or vision for this trilogy. I'm not sure who's to blame for this, though the obvious choices are Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger. Still, this sort of thing gets complicated, so I'm sure there are tons of other folks who played a role in muddying the waters of the trilogy. I mean, some of the poor cards in Abrams' hand were dealt by Abrams himself. In the end, it still feels like the overarching vision for Star Wars at Disney was "Make boatloads of money!" Which, to be fair, they've certainly accomplished. But have they done so only in the short term? The grand majority of the issues I have with the new trilogy emerge from this one decision to just sorta wing it for this trilogy.
  • The bit about the production being rushed should not be underestimated. One thing Abrams had mentioned about Force Awakens was that while he obviously didn't plan for Harrison Ford to get injured, having to slow the production down actually helped make the movie better, as they had some more time to iron out details. This sort of story isn't unusual in Hollywood either. John Carpenter's The Thing famously benefited from the unexpected luxury of time. On the flipside, rushed productions can have an inverse effect. One recent example was Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. How could the guy who made The Lord of the Rings work so well fail so completely at The Hobbit? Well, he inherited a troubled production and didn't have as much time as he did with the previous movies (which, to be sure, probably isn't the only reason those movies were so flabby, but definitely a key part of it). There have been lots of interviews indicating that the rushed schedule of Rise of Skywalker presented a struggle, particularly for the editing (which was partially done in parallel, on the set, due to the time constraints - not a good sign). Again, this is a part of the hand Abrams was dealt. He did a pretty good job considering this constraint. But should we be considering this sort of constraint?
  • As mentioned above, one of the things I actually liked about Rian Johnson's entry into the series was that he sorta cleared the slate, opening up a lot of opportunities to do something new and interesting in the third film. For example, the notion that Rey was a "nobody" frees that character up to choose her own path. The familial connection bit seems quite overplayed these days, and while it was a key component of the original trilogy, there's no real need for it here. Of course, then Abrams goes and informs us that no, she's only a nobody from a certain point of view, and in fact, she's a Palpatine. Now, this isn't the worst idea in the world, and there were pretty intriguing fan theories way back during the Force Awakens timeframe that speculated on this, but it very clearly wasn't the intention all along. I don't know, maybe Johnson threw a wrench into some sort of original plan, but from everything I've seen, that's not actually the case. Whatever the case, in this movie it just feels rushed and unnecessary. A perfunctory twist that doesn't actually add anything, other than vaguely recalling the Luke/Vader revelation in Empire. It's not strictly bad, but it contributes to the overall jankiness of the story.
  • Abrams approach to this movie feels very similar to his approach to Star Trek into Darkness. Abrams managed to breath new life into the Star Trek franchise with his fun, action-packed Star Trek flick from 2009. One of the mildly clever things that story did was to introduce a plot device that freed the filmmakers from the continuity of the earlier Kirk/Spock canon. What did Abrams do with that newfound freedom in the sequel? He remade The Wrath of Khan. Similarly, Johnson seemed to free up the playing field for Abrams in the third movie, and Abrams took that freedom and punted. You could say that Johnson did his bit in a way that alienated too many fans or cut off too many avenues or whatever, but I suspect there could have been a way to do something new and interesting in the third movie that would have underlined and reinforced what Johnson did, such that people might have changed their mind about it. Instead, Abrams seemed to be actively hostile to Johnson's efforts, almost trying to make the third movie more of a direct sequel to Force Awakens than to create a cohesive trilogy. I don't want to be too hard on Abrams here though, because The Last Jedi clearly wasn't as popular as The Force Awakens and my thoughts here verge on me just harping on what I want rather than Abrams doing what he wants. However, all of this goes back more to the whole "no real plan for the trilogy" idea than anything else, and again, Abrams was dealt a bad hand with respect to timing and an untimely death.
  • The dead speak! I have to admit, I kinda loved that opening line of the crawl. I mean, sure, Palpatine coming back makes no sense whatsoever, but handling it at a remove in the crawl is actually pretty fun. Just kooky enough to grab my attention and honestly it sorta hedged against my fears of Palpatine as a character in this. Which were justified, to be sure, and honestly I still think the Palpatine concept is a bit much, but if you're going to do it, go all the way, and they did. I can kinda, sorta retcon the whole thing in my head by involving cloning and some sort of weird collective Sith hive mind concept (i.e. he's not just Palpatine, but rather all of the Sith, which is literally mentioned but somewhat unclear in the movie proper). Also, it's worth noting that Ian McDiarmid is an excellent actor and he really makes Palpatine work through his performance (which is something we never really got out of Snoke).
  • Kylo Ren continues to be one of the more interesting parts of this new trilogy. He's got an actual arc in this movie, but unfortunately, it's an arc that would have worked better with more Leia interactions, which was just not possible (and I respect that they minimized CGI Leia stuff here). Like Poe's arc in The Last Jedi, I can see the shape of what they were going for here and it works, but the execution is a bit off, which sorta mutes my response. That being said, Adam Driver puts in a great performance, and almost manages to pull it off all on his lonesome. His relationship with Rey has a similar feel, though it comes off a bit better. I'm not entirely sure the kiss was earned, but everything else works. That lightsaber fight on the old death star was pretty darned cool too.
    Light Saber Battle
  • Rey's story here is a bit messy, but ultimately works. There's a couple of bits that feint towards a really interesting "maybe she'll fall to the dark side" arc, but every time something like that comes up, it's almost immediately undercut in the next scene. Like when she accidentally destroys a troop transport - she thinks she may have inadvertently killed Chewbacca. But it turns out that she didn't, it was a different transport, we're only left wondering about it for a mere couple of minutes, and no thought is given to her murder of an entire transport of stormtroopers. Which, sure, they're stormtroopers, who cares? But one of the bits that runs through this new trilogy is that the stormtroopers are people too, usually born into slavery and forced into this role. This is one of the things established by the Finn character, and underlined in this new film by the character Jannah, another stormtrooper who disobeyed orders and overcame her conditioning, refusing to fire on innocent civilians (and who references a bunch of other stormtroopers with similar stories). So yeah, killing a bunch of stormtroopers could have been a step on the slippery slope to the dark side, but who are we kidding, there was never really any danger of Rey going to the dark side and the movie doesn't even pretend to care about stormtroopers. Now, Rey being a "nobody" could have been an interesting starting point, because finding your way in the universe is difficult enough even with guidance from your family, and starting from a literal clean slate can be daunting and scary. Of course, this movie went a different direction, as she learns that she's a Palpatine. As mentioned above, this doesn't quite have the same impact as, for example, the Vader/Luke revelation, but it could have been interesting if developed over the course of the trilogy. Unfortunately, it has to mostly happen in this one film, so it feels a bit rushed. It's ultimately fine, but again, it really underscores the "no plan for the trilogy" bit.
  • Poe gets some great one liners and has some nice back-and-forth tension with Rey, such that it seemed like they were building up a romance angle there, but then that was sorta dumped in favor of Kylo and Rey and Poe and Zorii Bliss? Who's that, you ask? I don't know, some woman from Poe's past. There's some chemistry there, I guess. It just seems weird to be introducing so many new characters in the final film of a trilogy like this. And really, these movies don't know what to do with Poe (or Finn, for that matter, but we'll get to that). So yeah, Zorii Bliss looks cool, I guess, and I always get a kick out of casting a recognizable face in a role where the character wears a mask the whole time, but ultimately she just feels extraneous and introducing a new character while trying to wind down the story seems like a bad idea.
  • Finn gets a couple of decent moments, but like Poe, this series never really knew what to do with him. Johnson introduced Rose Tico as a love interest for Finn, but that's completely sidelined here (and frankly, that whole plotline was one of the weaker parts of The Last Jedi, so maybe that was a good idea). We get a new character with a similar backstory to Finn, which is the aforementioned Jannah, but this relationship doesn't progress much beyond an introduction. At the end of the movie, there's a bunch of character interactions, and it seemed weird that Jannah's final bit was her discussing her past with Lando (rather than Finn) and then literally asking the audience to subscribe to Disney+ to find out what happens (ok, fine, it wasn't a literal thing, but the implication was so strong that it sure felt like one). Anyway, there's also this bizarre dangling bit about Finn having something to tell Rey, but then not actually telling her? And it's not, like, one line, but rather repeated a couple times throughout the movie. There's some notion out there that Finn's secret was that he's Force sensitive, but once again, this is not something that's particularly supported by the trilogy and a clear indicator that there was no plan for these three movies (or that the plan was abandoned or something).
  • There's probably a much shorter version of this trilogy that you could make (maybe you could even do it Phantom Edit style?) that just totally downplays Finn and Poe, putting more weight on Rey/Kylo. That might actually be a better film. One of the big challenges of this new trilogy goes back to one key decision: they wanted to include the original trilogy characters of Han, Leia, and Luke in very prominent roles, which really constrains options for the whole trilogy, but particularly for the new trio of characters (I went over this in more detail for my TLJ review). As a result, only Rey and Kylo got the depth and focus needed throughout the trilogy. The more I think about it, the more I think that a major flaw of The Last Jedi is that Poe and Finn are separated throughout most of the movie. One thing that is nice about The Rise of Skywalker is that our three new heros spend a fair amount of time with each other. There's a scene when they're in a cave and need light, so Rey fires up her light saber and Poe clicks on a flashlight and it's way funnier than that sounds, and it's nice to see our characters interacting in fun ways like that. We haven't gotten much of that throughout the series, and there's a bunch of it in The Rise of Skywalker, which is to be commended.
  • Hux is a spy! I actually kinda like this little twist and payoff. Hux and Kylo's petty rivalry was always fun, and you could argue that Johnson's use of Hux as a buffoon in The Last Jedi took the teeth out of the character, but I like this bit about him spying for the resistance not because he wants them to win, but because he wants Kylo Ren to lose. Naturally, the movie immediately kills him off in favor of another middle-manager in the empire, General Pryde. I think Hux's plan to reveal himself and then stay aboard was pretty foolish, and it misses an opportunity for him to have fun interactions with the resistance people by joining them, but whatever. Pryde is played by Richard E. Grant, who actually makes the character memorable and interesting despite minimal screen time.
  • Lando Calrissian is back! This is a statement that is true!
  • Maz Kanata gives Chewie the medal he deserved from the original Star Wars movie, for some reason? Completely unnecessary, but for whatever reason, I always like when Maz Kanata shows up. She's one of those side characters that gave The Force Awakens a little bit of texture, and I kinda like seeing her again, even if this bit was extraneous.
  • Babu Frik is great. No joke, no snark, he's great. Despite being part of a video-game-esque fetch-quest sub-plot, this is the sort of new character you can introduce in the third movie of a trilogy and get away with. The D-O droid also works well enough, though he's a little less successful and probably unnecessary. I mean, we've got R2-D2 and C-3PO and BB-8, why do we need to keep adding more droids to the mix.
  • C-3PO is surprisingly fantastic in this. His stuff represents some of the grace notes that pepper this movie and keep it from going off the rails.
  • Snoke was a clone or at least grown in some sort of vat and really just a puppet of Palpatine/Sithhivemind? Sure, let's go with it. I wonder if all the ships in Paplatine's new fleet are, like, staffed by Snoke clones.
  • The Knights of Ren are back, and they're just dudes in fancy suits who represent the boss-battle before Palpatine. Another thing that was sorta set up by Abrams, perhaps squandered by Johnson, but not really paid off much in this movie. But then, they do look cool, and the scene where Rey passes Ben the light saber is awesome, so there is that. And I suppose the whole "dudes in cool costumes without any real development" is a pretty common thing in Star Wars, so these guys are ultimately pretty cool, I think.
  • So remember when people where like "The Force Awakens is fun and all, but maybe there doesn't need to be a Death Star in every movie?" In this movie, Abrams is like, "Yeah, but what if we had a fleet of 10,000 Death Stars? Wouldn't that be cool?" And, well, yeah, I guess it's kinda cool, but nothing about that fleet made any sense. Where did they actually come from? Who is staffing them? I mean, yeah, "the evil space wizard did it" is a nice hand-wavey explanation, but then, why do they need some Star-Trek-esque Tech-the-Tech explanation for why they can't leave the planet? And what's the point of this fleet? Palpatine just wants to blow up the galaxy or something?
  • That whole Sith chorus thing, like all the people sitting in the amphitheater on Exegol, those were, like, the spirits off all the dead Siths right? Like, somewhere in there is a salty Count Dooku chanting along with Palpatine? As mentioned above, I found a lot of this stuff interesting because it's just sorta there and you can fill in the gaps yourself, but that sort of wild retcon might not last. Some people think that the people in the stadium are, like, actual physical people and Sith worshippers or something, but that doesn't feel quite right.
  • Palpatine has this whole power move thing where he's like "Strike me down in anger and your turn to the dark side will be complete!" which has always felt like an awkward way to transition power (even in Return of the Jedi), but it kinda fits with the whole Sith are a hive mind thing mentioned earlier, I guess? The notion of Rey not really striking him down in anger, but just sorta reflecting his force lightning back at him works well enough, but the whole thing feels a bit muddy. Also: Force Lightning. Doesn't seem like the best Force power, seeing as though nearly every time we see it, it's not really successful. In the prequels, it doesn't work when he's fighting Mace Windu, who reflects it back at Palpatine giving him that extra-wrinkled look. I think Dooku uses it unsuccessfully sometime in the prequels too? In the original trilogy, it sorta works, but also convinces Darth Vader to throw him down a giant shaft (and I think some of that lightning also ended up going stray and hitting Palpatine again). In Rise of Skywalker, Rey inadvertently uses it to kill a bunch of people by accident, and Palpatine tries to use it again, and again has it thrown back into his face (and into the sky or something?) Yeah, maybe the Force Lightning isn't that useful.
  • From a nuts and bolts filmmaking perspective, this movie is mostly competent, with some bits remaining janky. It certainly looks... expensive. I mean, it looks like they spent a lot of money on this movie. There are definitely some nice, painterly shots sprinkled throughout. There's also a fair amount of CGIed pixel stew, but it's far from the worst in the series in that respect. The editing of the film threw me for a loop during the first half hour or so. It felt so sloppy and uncoordinated. They seemed to right the ship as the film progressed though, and it definitely got much better in the middle of the film. I suspect a good portion of this could be resolved by giving Abrams and co. more time to refine and optimize. Heck, rumors abound of a "Skywalker" cut or director's cut of this movie, and we might just get that.
  • The film isn't conversant with cinema history in the way that Lucas' originals were. Lucas' callbacks were to old Flash Gordon type serials, Kurosawa movies (particularly The Hidden Fortress), WWII dogfighting movies, and so on. Of course, Lucas sorta forgot all that in the prequels, having become far to enamored with special effects to worry about that sort of thing (though there are occasional bits that jump out, like that dude Obi Wan visits in the space diner - straight out of Film Noir). One of the things I really loved about Rian Johnson's effort is that he brought back these cinematic reference points. Kurosawa again (particularly Rashomon) and even the worst parts of The Last Jedi have decent cinematic references (think about that Wings-esque shot zooming through that casino on Canto Bight. As bad as that whole sequence was conceptually and story-wise, shots like that kept me into it). The Abrams installments don't particularly do this sort of thing. The cinematic references in his Star Wars films are to... other Star Wars films. Not a bad idea, for sure, but there's less to dig into for movie nerds and some of the Star Wars references are a bit on the nose. Or maybe I just need to watch this one again with a eye trained on that sort of thing. I might be surprised.
  • At the end of the film, you see Rey take the name Skywalker, which is a non sequitor but kinda fits thematically and I guess makes the title of the movie work? I dunno, the whole familial thing just feels shoehorned in here.
  • So it looks like there's a lot of things I don't like about this movie, and I suppose there are, but I still enjoyed the movie. It's just that I have sorta mixed feelings about everything. Palpatine being back wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it's not the best either. Rey being a Palpaine isn't bad, but it's not really good either. And so on. Most of this has to do with the disappointment of the trilogy not being planned or cohesive. You can blame that on Rian Johnson if you want, but that seems more like a Disney problem than anything else. As it is, we're left with a trio of decent movies (and a couple other movies that are also a bit mixed), which isn't that bad.
  • I think people are probably just exhausted with Star Wars at this point. It turns out that churning out Star Wars movies year after year for half a decade has maybe diluted the brand a bit. Last week, I got together with some friends at a bar and we chatted for a few hours... and this movie didn't come up. Now, we're all nerds. I'm pretty sure we've all seen the movie. We've geeked out about Star Wars on numerous occasions in the past and even gushed over stuff we liked about the prequels back when those were being released. We talked about lots of stuff, even about movies, but Star Wars just didn't come up. That's not a good sign for these movies. On the other hand, a counterpoint: The Mandalorian seems to be pretty popular, so maybe people aren't completely sick of Star Wars...
  • My Humble Star Wars Wish List remains in effect. This movie didn't really scratch the itch of what I want out of Star Wars, and that's fine, but The Mandalorian is actually pretty good, so there's still hope. I suspect future installments will do better when they don't have to deal with as much baggage from the originals. Onwards and upwards!
I could probably keep writing about this for a while, but I'll leave it at that for now.
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The Great Movie Catch-Up, 2019 Edition

I'm a little late to posting this list of movies I want to watch in preparation for the annual Kaedrin Movie Awards and Top 10 list (which, because I'm not a fancy schmancy critic, means I post much later than everyone else, usually at the precise moment people are totally sick of the best-of discourse, but still before the Oscars, so there's that, stop looking at me like that, I'm trying here, ok, I get it, you have to want it, but I've got other things to do, like maybe write a Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker review that I'm totally not avoiding in any way, no sirree, is that how you spell sirree, weird, the spellcheck doesn't mark it as a misspelled word like "schmancy" or "Skywalker", oh wow, I did actually spell it right on the first try and it totally means what I thought it meant, I'm the best, wait, what the hell were we talking about, shit we're still in the parenthetical, I should end that before we get started, or maybe not, rules are made to be broken, are they not, I mean, look at all the goddamn commas I've used recently, jeeze, maybe I'm not as much the best as I thought, um, yeah, let's actually get this over with, close-parenthesis.

As of this moment, I've already seen 81 movies that could plausibly be considered 2019 releases (some are listed as 2018, but my official criteria doesn't count film festivals, jerks). Much of this is due to the rise of streaming (not the Rise of Skywalker, which, again, I'm not avoiding) and it also helps that Regal Cinemas (i.e. the chain that has the most theaters around me) finally released their MoviePass money-losing scheme that I'm totally taking them up on. Anywho, despite all the movies I've already seen, there are still quite a few that I never got to, and I always try to track them down because I usually manage to discover a couple of things that I never would have seen if left to my normal devices (or, uh, streaming devices, yeah?), but which I really enjoyed. Usually 1-2 of my top 10 are discovered during this period, which is actually pretty great. So here's a bunch of movies I want to catch up with that are totally not ways to avoid writing a Rise of Skywalker review, which I am definitely going to do soon.

  • Uncut Gems - The Safdie brothers latest, I didn't quite love their previous release (Good Time), but their artistry is evident, and this one has great reviews. Update: I've seen it! It's good, but it's anything but a crowdpleaser. I didn't like the main character, despite Adam Sandler's great performance, so it sorta felt flat for me. Well, like, you're not really supposed to like him, and the movie does manage to ratchet up the tension in that final half hour, but all I kept thinking was "damn, I wished I cared more about this guy who's clearly going to die". Anyway, if you're a normal person, you probably won't like this, but if you're a weirdo who likes watching assholes make dumb decisions and like, lots of conversations where everyone is yelling over each other, you might enjoy it.
  • The Farewell - Pretty emphatically doesn't seem like my sort of thing, which could mean that I'll love it. It could also mean that it's emphatically not my thing.
  • Under the Silver Lake - This seems like one of those things that has an incomprehensible plot, which I hate, but which is made really well, which I like. Another toss up.
  • Little Women - It looks like a really well made version of a story that's probably not my thing, so I should totally watch it in the hopes that it will surprise me.
  • Little Monsters - I'm not a huge zombie movie fan, but "A washed-up musician teams up with a teacher and a kids show personality to protect young children from a sudden outbreak of zombies." does sound pretty great. Plus: Lupita Nyong’o!
  • Cold Pursuit - American remakes of quirky foreign films don't usually work out, but the talent behind this one gives me some hope that they could translate the original into something interesting. That being said, you should totally watch In Order of Disappearance, it's great.
  • 1917 - The gimmick is that the whole film appears to be a single take, which is certainly my kinda gimmick, but it's tough to make the story work in those scenarios. Even Hitchcock struggled with this sort of thing (but then, he's Hitchcock, so the result was still pretty good, if nowhere near his best).
  • Captive State - Indie SF film about an occupied earth, seems like it could be interesting. Divisive reviews though.
  • Richard Jewell - Eastwood is always interesting, so if this is actually still in theaters, I'll get to it eventually. Mid-tier movies that aren't monster successes, like this, have been falling out of theaters so quickly lately though, so I'm not sure if it'll work out...
  • American Factory - I know very little about this other than it's a documentary, presumably about an American Factory.
  • Climax - Gaspar Noé's latest sounds like a plotless, psychadelic fever dream. Not usually my thing, but maybe?
  • The Grizzlies - One of them underdog sports movies, could be fun.
  • Fast Color - Something about a woman with superhuman abilities being hunted and hiding out where they'd least expect, with her family. I dunno, sounds like it could be interesting.
  • Close - Action espionage film starring Noomi Rapace as the Bond/Bourne type? Sure, I'm in...
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu - I'm just old enough to have missed the general Pokémon craze, so I certainly won't get all the references or in-jokes, but this does strike me as the sort of thing that gets how to translate a video game into a movie (i.e. by changing it completely). Update: I saw it, it's perfectly cromulent, Ryan Reynolds is great and the whole cast is pretty good too.
  • Shaft - I dunno, a sequel to a remake? All three films are named the same thing? A friend recommended it though, so I'll give it a shot.
  • Long Shot - Seems like a winning romantic comedy with charismatic leads. Update: I saw it. It's fine, definitely coasts on Rogan and Theron's charisma moreso than jokes or storytelling, though it's, again, fine.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters - I love the original 1954 Godzilla, but to be honest, almost everything since then has failed to connect with me, though some of them are fun.
  • Satanic Panic - I keep hearing good things about this movie, but it doesn't appear to be available anywhere to watch. If it becomes available, I will watch it!
  • Color Out of Space - I don't think this is actually getting a release until 2020, but it sounds great. Nicolas Cage in an adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story directed by Richard Stanley? This could be amazing... or a total disaster. Early indications, er, indicate the former.
  • Extra Ordinary - This Belgian/Irish flick about a paranormal driving instructor who... you know what, that first bit is all I really need to know. Alas, no idea how to actually watch this movie.
  • Synchronic - Moorhead and Benson's latest directorial effort, that's all I really need to know. Alas, no idea when this will be available to watch (or if it'll be a 2020 release).
Phew, that's a lot of movies, and I almost certainly won't see them all (I mean, even beyond the ones that aren't even out yet), but it'll be an interesting January...

Update 1.5.20: Fuck it, here's some more movies for the Catch-Up, focusing a little more on foreign films because I'm somewhat lacking in that this year:

  • Mike Wallace Is Here - Documentary about famous journalist, could be interesting. Don't think it's top 10 fodder, but you never know. Available on Hulu.
  • Aniara - Swedish Science Fiction flick about a colony ship knocked off course to Mars, could be interesting... Also available on Hulu.
  • Thadam - Indian crime thriller/murder mystery, sounds like it could be really fun. Available on Amazon Prime.
  • Monos - Something about kids on a mountain taking a hostage. I'm skeptical as to whether I'll like this, but will probably give it a shot. Available to rent all over...
  • Luz - German flick about a woman chased by a demon or somesuch. Sounds fun. Available on Shudder.
  • Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made - Not a foreign film, but was recommended to me by a friend. Found footage horror about two kids who try to dig a hole to hell. Sounds like a fabulous idea, kids.
  • 3 Faces - Iranian film directed by Jafar Panahi, doesn't sound like it'd be my thing, but who knows?
  • T-34 - Russian tank movie about a tank crew escaping a WWII prison camp in an old tank, sounds interesting...
So there you have it, lots of movies, some of which I will no doubt not get to...
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