New Releases for Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Run time: 142 minutes
The Lowdown: I told myself I wasn’t going to watch Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.
Not because I didn’t care, but more likely because I cared too much – about the original trilogy, which has seen its legacy beaten down like a feral cat that never gets fixed and keeps having litter after litter of kittens until finally some of the babies are born with abnormalities that would never have materialized if only someone with compassion had taken a minute to stop the madness and paid $40 to have her spayed all those years before.
Just as the first trilogy lumbered to a close with Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, this new, supposedly “concluding” chapter, more than 40 years after the debut of A New Hope, should have been a crowning glory, a chance for George Lucas’ beloved franchise to shine with its own emotional Endgame climax.
Instead, director/co-writer J.J. Abrams, who kick-started the new trilogy five years ago with Episode VII – The Force Awakens, returns to finish the job like a dutiful assassin after learning his presumed kill shot didn’t take.
Abrams and Chris Terrio take a kitchen-sink approach here, advancing confusing subplots so quickly, upending established mythology so thoughtlessly, and cashing in on any opportunity to evoke nostalgia so blatantly, that the film just buckles, lurches and finally gasps a dying breath well before the credits roll.
The revelations, fake-outs and what-the-fuck character turns are relentless.
Palpatine is alive! Leia Organa is now a lot more like a grandmother than a general. Oh, and she too now has a light saber?
Instead of the First Order, we now have the villainous Final Order, which is basically code for a fleet of Star Destroyers, which are basically smaller versions of the Death Star, which basically means this is the same Star Wars movie you’ve been watching for more than half of your life.
There’s even a goddamn MacGuffin, the Sith wayfinder, which is the only instrument capable of leading one to Exegol, which is where Palpatine plans to relaunch the Sith.
But wait, it gets worse.
As Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, BB-8 and C-3PO hopscotch across the galaxy, we learn many things, none of which are treated with the care required to make them seem holy-shit cool:
Stormtroopers can now fly, with the help of I’m guessing a jet pack, and they’re terrible at it
Rey can use the Force to heal wounds
Rey can use the Force to stop a transport ship from flying away
Two words: Ghost Luke
There are plenty of space battles, lots of new alien characters who seem to only exist in order to prompt production of new action figure toys and an answer, finally, to the question of Rey’s lineage, which arguably isn’t all that shocking.
At one point, I hit pause just to see, and at the 90-minute mark, the point that most movies, lots of really good movies, have just wrapped up a huge climatic sequence, The Rise of Skywalker still had almost an hour to go.
That’s a huge problem, and here's why.
When you’re trying to tie together all these thread strings in order to sufficiently conclude a 42-year-old film franchise, and you’re already an hour and a half in and absolutely nothing of significance has happened yet, people should be pissed.
Instead, the film just keeps plodding along, haphazardly trying to satisfy disgruntled fans by including throwaway moments like Chewbacca finally receiving a Medal of Bravery (which he didn’t get at the end of A New Hope) or a fucking Ewok popping its head out from some brush or Ghost Luke resurrecting his X-Wing fighter from a boggy pit.
By the time that Kylo Rey (see what I did there?) finally square off with Palpatine, it’s like watching the Big Boss final fight from afar while your roommate plays the videogame and gets all the enjoyment.
Maybe I’ve hit that phase in life where I’m just the cranky ‘Get off my lawn!’ guy, but it just doesn’t seem like it should be this difficult to make a good Star Wars movie.
Yet, here we are again, concluding a third trilogy when really there’s still just one trilogy that matters and it wisely called it quits in 1983.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Sure.
Nudity – No. Gore – No.
Drug use – You should be on drugs while watching this.
Bad Guys/Killers – Kathleen Kennedy, followed closely by J.J. Abrams.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
Terror in Woods Creek (Wild Eye Releasing, 94 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer-director Tracy Lee Staton’s feature-length debut, Terror in Woods Creek, is that proverbial diamond in the rough.
It’s a super low-budget film that disguises its limitations really well, and the longer it plays, the more invested you become.
The basic story is Horror 101: Fifty years after a drifter arrived in the sleepy hamlet of Woods Creek and killed a bunch of people, the evil has returned, seeking more blood.
Terror in Woods Creek opens with a flashback, and then jumps to present day, which is sometime in 2012, I think, and a bunch of random events slowly coalesce to create the overall narrative.
Despite feeling familiar, Staton finds inventive ways to keep the action moving. Even stock characters – the dangerous redneck rapist, the alcoholic detective, the pushy news reporter – don’t present as annoying or one-dimensional.
The thing I liked most is that despite having a character who is the devil, and who calls himself 'Devil,' Staton takes the idea of what kind of chaos the actual devil might sow, and allows that madness to infect every character in her film in ways that are often very bloody and thankfully surprising and unexpected too.
This isn’t going to be one of your favorite films of all time, but Terror in Woods Creek is absolutely deserving of 90 minutes of your life, if only to give you the chance to appreciate Staton's style and voice. Personally, I can't wait to see what she does next and to see how she improves and builds on all the things she does right with her first film.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence
Munster, Go Home!
Not to be Overlooked:
A lot of months, BVB: Blood Violence and Babes finds itself inundated with too many movies to watch, and sadly, a bunch of deserving films don’t get the attention they deserve.
March was very much one of those months, in large part, due to the unexpected arrival of a global pandemic.
The following five films were all on our radar and BVB had every intention of checking them out, but then the world went to shit. Here’s what you need to know about each. These titles can all be found, for the most part, on major streaming Video-on-Demand services.
Blood Widow (Indican Pictures, 94 minutes, R): An interesting mashup of the vampire and serial killer genres set in Arizona.
Union (Indican Pictures, 135 minutes, PG-13): Historical drama set during the Civil War about a woman who disguises herself as her brother in order to survive.
Infernum (Indican Pictures, 85 minutes, R): A paranormal ghost story set on a train.
American Terrorist (Indican Pictures, 78 minutes, R): Suspenseful action film centered on two brothers who thwart a terrorist attack and must contend with the fallout from them turning into vigilantes.
Lore (Indican Pictures, 109 minutes, Unrated): A mother searches for her missing son in this creature feature set in the woods that explores Native American mythology to great effect.