“Last Jedi” Adds New Stories To Familiar Mythology

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” begins with a joke that could have come from “Spaceballs.”

In it hot headed resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, a Han Solo type, trolls Domnhall Gleeson’s Colonel Hux, the imperious stooge in charge of the First Order fleet, in “can you hear me now” fashion that buys time to allow for something big to occur.

The Resistance achieves a Pyrrhic victory at great cost, that is part of a series of battle that they are losing. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is in charge of military maneuvers, and the late actress has a central role and a complete through line.

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Much Ado About Generic “Justice League”

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I’m  old enough to remember when the DC superhero amalgam “Justice League,”  was called Justice League of America, or JLA.

But perhaps to widen the appeal of the franchise to an international audience, it ditched the word “America.”

I wish I could say this latest entry in the DC Extended Universe makes the JLA great again, but it’s another visually dense, narratively generic slog from director Zack Snyder.

Like other DC-EU movies Snyder has directed (“Man of Steel,” “Batman V. Superman”) the self-serious “Justice League” is a storm before the calm affair. You don’t need a weatherman to know it will be dominated by bleak themes, murky visuals and bombastic action, despite hopes otherwise.

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“Lady Bird” A Bittersweet Mother-Daughter Tale

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Saoirise Ronan and Beanie Feldstein

“Lady Bird” is a mother-daughter story in the tough-love tradition of “Juno” and the bittersweet coming-of age story “Gregory’s Girl” by Scottish director (and romcom pioneer) Bill Forsyth.

The thing about kids is that when they learn to walk they begin walking away. Saoirise Ronan plays the title character, a senior at a Catholic high school taking her first defiantly wobbly steps toward becoming who she will be.

Spoiler alert: in real life she became Greta Gerwig, the actress-writer-director whose film is semi-autobiographical and has the sharply drawn details to prove it.

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Manufacturing Catholic Guilt In “Novitiate”

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It’s Roman Catholic week at the Oriental Theatre this week!

Say five Hail Marys.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed “Lady Bird,” about a 17-year old girl at a Catholic high school.

But today’s topic is “Novitiate” an intimate and terrifying look at a cloistered community of nuns in 1964 and the young girls who want to become them. Its writer-director Maggie Betts, described as a “one time New York socialite and daughter of a Manhattan developer,” was named breakthrough director at the Sundance Film Festival, for this her first fictional narrative.

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Waititi Freshens “Thor: Ragnarok” With Quirky Humor

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“Thor: Ragnarok” is a buddy comedy brimming with one liners and offbeat characters and relationships whose mechanical narrative and generic visual design leaves something to be desired.

But the relationships between newly-shorn Thor, played Chris Hemsworth; Hulk and his alter-ego Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo; his trickster brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston; and a Valkyrie, played Tessa Thompson – are given appealing  top spin by director Taika Waititi.

Waititi, a New Zealander of Maori descent, is the first indigenous person to helm a superhero  film.

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Boseman Leaps Off The Screen. “Marshall” Doesn’t.

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In 1967 Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

But for 25-years before that he was the chief litigator for the NAACP, arguing civil rights cases in courtrooms around the country. His most famous case was Brown v. Board of Education in which the high court agreed with his arguments that separate but equal arrangements in education were not equal at all. It was one of 29 out of 32 Supreme Court cases he argued and won.

But “Marshall” is about a more sensational,  lesser and little known 1940 case – albeit with life and death consequences – about a black chauffeur, played by Sterling K. Brown, accused of raping a white socialite in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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Chris Smith’s Andy Kaufman Doc Comes To Netflix

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Milwaukee-based filmmaker Chris Smith’s new documentary will premiere on Netflix on Nov. 17.

The new film is about the making of the Andy Kaufman biopic “Man in the Moon” and actor Jim Carrey’s transformation into the volcanic character.

The full title is “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring A Very Special Contractually Obligated Appearance by Tony Clifton.”

“Jim & Andy” was created from hundreds of hours of unused footage from the 1999 film “Man In The Moon,” directed by Milos Forman. It was edited by Smith’s longtime collaborator and area native Barry Poltermann.

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My Milwaukee Film Festival Dance Card

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I find it insulting, when writing about the Milwaukee Film Festival,  to tell people what to see.

You’re adults. You  know what is of interest to you better than I do.

And like you, and I, the people making such recommendations usually haven’t even seen the films they recommend.

Frankly, I don’t care what you want to see. I’m going to tell you what I want to see, barring a nuclear attack.

 “A Gray State.”

It is a #fakenews-timely documentary about an alt right filmmaker David Crowley. After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan he went to film school and wrote a script about the future collapse of society under martial law.

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Milwaukee Film Fest includes Borchardt, “Manlife”

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The documentary “Manlife,” by local filmmakers Sue Kerns and Ryan Sarnowski, and Mark Borchardt’s “The Dundee Project” will be part of the Milwaukee Film Festival Cream City Lineup.

Also presented is Erik Ljung’s “Blood Is at the Doorstep,” about the Dontre Hamilton shooting.

“Manlife” is about the University of Lawsonomy, its founder aviation pioneer Alfred Lawson and his last follower Merle Hayden. Here is a link to my story on the film.

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Weightless “Life” Portrays Menace In A Vacuum

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“Life.” You’ve played the game and eaten the cereal. But should you watch the movie?

“Life” is a jeopardy-in-space B movie tale about a crew on the International Space Station that comes across a dormant form of life that wakes up and tries to kill them all, within the confines of their floating tin can.

The life form starts out looking like baby Groot but ends up a giant squid like thing that likes to eat you from the inside out.

Every dramatic beat is telegraphed in part because we’ve seen it all before, but also because of the ubiquitous commercials. “Life” even advertised on the Super Bowl.

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