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Saving the Universe, by Bob Connally

6 Jan

Three episodes into the new Disney+ series The Mandalorian, I wrote, “Given how divisive the films have become, Star Wars needs something that unites the fans in a positive way. Right now it looks like The Mandalorian could end up being just that.” Now that the first season of the series is complete and The Rise of Skywalker has been released, it appears that The Mandalorian is indeed the thing that has united the Star Wars fanbase more than anything else in this Disney era. There have been a few bumps here and there, but overall series creator Jon Favreau’s dive into the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe has focused on character while telling relatively small scale stories well. Compare that to the noisy, busy, and unfocused The Rise of Skywalker and it’s practically night and day. As much as J.J. Abrams’ film is an attempt to appeal to fans of the original trilogy, it’s Favreau who has made something that actually feels like those films in the ways that truly matter, which is in regards to character development, tone, and pacing.

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Good Choices, by Bob Connally

29 Dec

Twenty years ago, Adam Sandler was famous for playing a variation on the same character in virtually every movie he was in. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy all existed as vehicles for Sandler to play a man who never matured past the age of 8 and who could be given to sudden bouts of unbridled rage. Even in movies such as The Wedding Singer or Big Daddy, the characters he played never strayed far from his comfort zone and the writers and directors who tailored those films to his style never challenged him. Enter Paul Thomas Anderson in 2002, coming off of his 3 hour, 8 minute operatic ensemble drama Magnolia

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Killing It, by Bob Connally

5 Dec

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the beloved author of numerous murder mystery novels. He’s just celebrated his 85th birthday with his children and grandchildren. His housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) is making her morning rounds through his palace of a home… when she finds him dead, his throat slit. Her reaction to this discovery is a comical one. Thus the tone is set for Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

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Bountiful Hunter, by Bob Connally

25 Nov

The first time the Star Wars universe extended to the world of television was in November of 1978. The Star Wars Holiday Special remains one of the most baffling TV programs ever produced. Between several minutes of Wookiee growling, the bizarre and misguided scene with Diahann Carroll, and, “Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir,” it’s like watching a train crash into an orphanage that was already on fire. There is, however, one part of the show that those of us who have subjected ourselves to it must admit isn’t entirely a disaster. While the cartoon short that introduced Boba Fett a year and a half prior to The Empire Strikes Back has strange and unpleasant looking animation – what’s with the chins? – it’s not a bad story. It gave fans their first look at the Mandalorian armor of the bounty hunter who would go on to capture Han Solo before dying in the most embarrassing way possible. (Yes, I know that according to the extended universe he climbed out of the Sarlacc pit but, to anyone watching Return of the Jedi in 1983, Boba Fett was dead. In the most embarrassing way possible.)

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Fast Times, by Bob Connally

18 Nov

Ford v Ferrari, the new based-on-a-true-story/underdog vs. the world/sort of dual biopic is a movie that feels very familiar. The story beats and character dynamics are ones that audiences know well. Even if you don’t know the details of this particular story (as I did not), one more or less knows how things are going to turn out. There is nothing challenging about it and it is probably just what you are expecting it to be. Of course, there’s no reason a movie like that can’t be incredibly entertaining, and thankfully that’s what Ford v Ferrari is. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) has delivered a movie that is involving, exhilarating, and makes you want to drive fast.

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Imaginary Fiend, by Bob Connally

4 Nov

After directing low-budget comedies in New Zealand such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Taika Waititi was given the keys to the Marvel kingdom with Thor: Ragnarok, which turned out to be one of the best loved movies in the MCU and one of the funnier comedies of the last few years. Clearly not interested in playing it safe between big budget Marvel films (Waititi is currently writing Thor: Love and Thunder), he decided his next film would be a comedy set in Nazi Germany about a 10-year old boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, just as one would have expected.

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Misery Loves Company, by Bob Connally

28 Oct

In 2015, Robert Eggers established himself as a highly-talented filmmaker to watch with his debut, The Witch. Maybe the most notable aspect of that film is the incredible sense of atmosphere Eggers creates. The grimy, foggy sense of dread. That mastery of atmosphere is a strong component of his second feature, The Lighthouse, but in service of a more character-focused story.

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Big Dreams, by Bob Connally

27 Oct

There’s a scene early on in Tim Burton’s greatest film Ed Wood in which Ed (Johnny Depp) and his friends read scathing reviews of the new play he’s directed. Still, Ed looks for the positive, emphasizing that the theater critic stated that the costumes looked realistic. There’s a similar scene near the end of Craig Brewer’s Dolemite is My Name where Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) finds the positive in equally scathing reviews of his new film Dolemite. Both Ed Wood and Dolemite is My Name are written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski, and the writers have a clear affection for both Wood and Moore. There is a key difference between the two scenes and the two central characters however. While Ed continually struggles and never finds success, Rudy does find it and experiences genuine appreciation in his time from the audience he’d most hoped to connect with. This gives Dolemite is My Name a sense of triumph that makes it one of the more genuinely uplifting movies to come along in some time. The struggle to get there is what makes it relatable and makes the ultimate triumph feel earned.

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Return Visit, by Bob Connally

24 Sep

Three and a half years ago, when Downton Abbey’s final episode aired, series creator Julian Fellowes left all of his characters – yes, even Edith – in a good place in their lives. For the Crawley family, the year was 1926 and, as a longtime fan of the show, I wanted to leave everyone just as they were. I was quite apprehensive at the first mention of a movie, worried that Fellowes might be tempted to have Edith’s husband Bertie choke to death on a potato or that my favorite character Mrs. Hughes might be crushed to death by a bit of scaffolding. Downton Abbey was never Game of Thrones, but enough characters we knew and loved died tragically that there was reason for concern.

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Heartfelt, by Bob Connally

28 Jul

Extreme violence, lengthy conversations set at tables or in cars, movie references most people won’t even notice, perfectly crafted soundtracks, liberal usage of “colorful metaphors,” and so very many shots of feet are just a few of the surface level staples of the work of Quentin Tarantino. But if you’re really paying attention you see so much more revealed with each film and he can still surprise us after 27 years and either 9 or 10 movies, depending on how you count Kill Bill (for the record, Tarantino himself considers Volumes 1 & 2 a single film). For instance, the word “heartfelt” had never come to mind with any of his earlier films but it’s clear to me that Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is just that.

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