The Morning After: Dec. 23, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Irishman

Martin Scosese is one of our greatest working directors and with The Irishman, he returns to a genre he has become synonymous with: crime films. His long absence from the genre, 13 years since The Departed and 24 years since Casino, may explain why some of his characteristic flourishes are here, but so are his recent tendencies towards self-indulgence.

Starring Robert De Niro as an Irish union man, the film follows his lengthy career in service to the Teamsters, specifically notorious leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). As the film shifts back and forth between the present and the past, we come to understand the venality of union politics in the 1960s and 1970s and the organized crime influences that made that all happen.

Scorsese and his cadre of frequent Collaborators have crafted a generally satisfying saga, but the film drags in many spaces, forgetting that pacing is a key element of an editor’s job. Thelma Schoonmaker skillfully winds all of the narrative threads together, but the long spans of tedium showcase either a lack of interest in getting to the end or a directorial push to linger for ego’s sake.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

There comes a point when studios need to understand that fan service can only do so much heavy lifting with a film. It requires a convincing narrative, strong characterizations, and a commitment to taking risks to elevate a film beyond the pablum of box-checking. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is not the film Disney should have made, it’s the film fans demanded to their own detriment.

As the final film in the Skywalker Saga, The Rise of Skywalker is an overlong mess that tries to tie every single other film into the narrative without doing so convincingly. The film features countless cameos and throwbacks to the prior film that it almost feels like a documentary about the saga itself rather than a fully-formed idea of a film.

Characters with a great deal of promise (Rose Tico) were sidelined while new characters (Zorii Bliss) were added with seemingly little need. While a great deal of effort was made to retcon the prior outing because fans were unreasonably angry about it, the end result is something that feels almost half-baked.

That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t work in large part because fans are sure to be enthralled by the movie even if some are disappointed by the direction the final film ultimately took. Those fan service moments mostly work and there are plenty of emotion-filled moments thanks to John Williams’ always-exciting score.

The problem is and always will be J.J. Abrams who has never been a fan of creating his own unique vision. Every franchise he gets his hands on is stripped bare of its essence and retrofitted to his exacting mediocrity. If he’s not outright copying other, better work (Super 8, Star Trek 1 & 2, The Force Awakens), he’s creating something as unchallenging and frequently dull as The Rise of Skywalker.

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