Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

January 3-5 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Note (01/02): On the eve of its premiere, I’m revising my Grudge estimate down to $10.2 million for a fifth place showing.

As 2020 comes before us on the box office front, the year should begin as 2019 ended with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level topping the charts. There is only one newcomer this weekend as horror reboot The Grudge debuts and you can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

We have seen scary movies perform very well in this weekend in recent history. However, I’m skeptical that The Grudge gets to the teens. That could put it in a battle for third place with the sophomore frame of Little Women and Disney’s Frozen II. I’m giving the newbie a slight edge.

For the returning sequels in the 1-2 positions, it will fascinating to see the drop of Skywalker in weekend #3. It didn’t match my Christmas expectations and a dip of over 50% seems quite feasible. The fall for Jumanji shouldn’t be near as pronounced as it should continue to leg out admirably like its 2017 predecessor did.

And with that, my vision for 2020’s first weekend:

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Predicted Gross: $34.4 million

2. Jumanji: The Next Level

Predicted Gross: $23.8 million

3. Little Women

Predicted Gross: $12.1 million

4. Frozen II

Predicted Gross: $11.6 million

5. The Grudge

Predicted Gross: $10.2 million

Box Office Results (December 27-29)

There was no question that Star Wars would maintain its #1 perch atop the charts, but the ninth episode (with mixed reaction from critics and crowds) certainly didn’t hit my numbers. Skywalker made $72.3 million and that’s considerably below my $92 million estimate. In two weeks, it’s running just behind where The Last Jedi was at two years ago. However, I expect that to change this weekend when it loses more than half its audience.

Jumanji: The Next Level was second with $35.3 million, in line with my $37.5 million projection. The total is $175 million.

Frozen II was third with $16.8 million, a tad under my $18 million prediction as its gargantuan gross has hit $421 million.

Little Women had the honor of being the best performing Christmas opener in fourth place. The Greta Gerwig directed Oscar contender made $16.7 million over the traditional weekend and $29.2 million since its Wednesday start. That’s pretty close to respective estimates of $14.8 million and $28.7 million. Look for this one to hold well with solid word-of-mouth.

The animated Spies in Disguise opened in fifth with $13.3 million from Friday to Sunday and I was on target with a projection of $13.6 million. Since Wednesday, it’s made $22.2 million and I was more generous at $27.4 million.

Finally, Adam Sandler’s critically acclaimed Uncut Gems shone brightly in seventh with a better than expected $9.5 million over the regular weekend and $18.8 million since Wednesday. That’s well over my takes of $5.7 million and $11 million. Factoring in its limited release dollars, it’s up to $21 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Happy New Year and until next time…

2019 Oscar Predictions: December 30th Edition

There are two weeks to go before Oscar nominations come out and it’s been two weeks since I’ve updated my predictions. There’s not much in the way of major movement in the top races, but the numbers have shifted in some cases. Let’s break it down:

  • In Picture, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood vaults to #1 in what looks like a three-way competition between it, The Irishman, and Parasite.
  • Bong-Joon Ho rises to first in Director over Tarantino and Scorsese.
  • There is a change in Actor as Jonathan Pryce is back in over Antonio Banderas. Pain and Glory takes another hit in Original Screenplay as I’ve taken it out and put Knives Out back in.

Check in later this week for my predictions on winners for the Golden Globes, which airs this Sunday. The plan is to have Oscar predictions next Monday and then a post up on Saturday (January 11) with final predictions on the races.

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees:

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Previous Ranking: 2)

2. The Irishman (PR: 1)

3. Parasite (PR: 3)

4. Marriage Story (PR: 4)

5. 1917 (PR: 5)

6. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 6)

7. Joker (PR: 7)

8. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 8)

9. Little Women (PR: 9)

Other Possibilities:

10. The Two Popes (PR: 10)

11. Bombshell (PR: 11)

12. The Farewell (PR: 12)

13. Pain and Glory (PR: 13)

14. Knives Out (PR: 13)

15. Uncut Gems (PR: 14)

Dropped Out:


Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite (PR: 2)

2. Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 3)

3. Martin Scorsese, The Irishman (PR: 1)

4. Sam Mendes, 1917 (PR: 4)

5. Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Todd Phillips, Joker (PR: 6)

7. James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari (PR: 7)

8. Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit (PR: 9)

9. Greta Gerwig, Little Women (PR: 8)

10. Pedro Almodovar, Pain and Glory (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Ben and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Adam Driver, Marriage Story (PR: 1)

2. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker (PR: 2)

3. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 3)

4. Robert De Niro, The Irishman (PR: 5)

5. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes (PR: 7)

Other Possibilities:

6. Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory (PR: 4)

7. Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari (PR: 6)

8. Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name (PR: 10)

9. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems (PR: 8)

10. Taron Egerton, Rocketman (PR: 9)

Best Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Renee Zellweger, Judy (PR: 1)

2. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story (PR: 2)

3. Charlize Theron, Bombshell (PR: 3)

4. Cynthia Erivo, Harriet (PR: 4)

5. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Awkwafina, The Farewell (PR: 7)

7. Lupita Nyong’o, Us (PR: 6)

8. Alfre Woodard, Clemency (PR: 8)

9. Ana de Armas, Knives Out (PR: Not Rankled)

10. Mary Kay Place, Diane (PR: 9)

Dropped Out:

Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 1)

2. Al Pacino, The Irishman (PR: 2)

3. Joe Pesci, The Irishman (PR: 3)

4. Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (PR: 4)

5. Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy (PR: 7)

7. Song Kang-Ho, Parasite (PR: 6)

8. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse (PR: 8)

9. Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy (PR: 9)

10. Alan Alda, Marriage Story (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Laura Dern, Marriage Story (PR: 1)

2. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers (PR: 2)

3. Margot Robbie, Bombshell (PR: 3)

4. Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit (PR: 5)

5. Florence Pugh, Little Women (PR: 4)

Other Possibilities:

6. Nicole Kidman, Bombshell (PR: 9)

7. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell (PR: 6)

8. Annette Bening, The Report (PR: 7)

9. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell (PR: 8)

10. Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Jo Yeo-Jeong, Parasite 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

1. The Irishman (PR: 1)

2. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 2)

3. Little Women (PR: 3)

4. The Two Popes (PR: 4)

5. Joker (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (PR: 6)

7. Hustlers (PR: 7)

8. Just Mercy (PR: 8)

9. Richard Jewell (PR: 9)

10. Dark Waters (PR: 10)

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees

1. Marriage Story (PR: 1)

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 2)

3. Parasite (PR: 3)

4. The Farewell (PR: 4)

5. Knives Out (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. Pain and Glory (PR: 5)

7. 1917 (PR: 8)

8. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 9)

9. Bombshell (PR: 7)

10. Dolemite Is My Name (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Uncut Gems

Best International Feature Film

Predicted Nominees:

1. Parasite (PR: 1)

2. Pain and Glory (PR: 2)

3. Les Miserables (PR: 3)

4. Atlantics (PR: 4)

5. The Painted Bird (PR: 9)

Other Possibilities:

6. Corpus Christi (PR: 7)

7. Beanpole (PR: 5)

8. Honeyland (PR: 8)

9. Those Who Remained (PR: 6)

10. Truth and Justice (PR: 10)

Best Animated Feature

Predicted Nominees:

1. Toy Story 4 (PR: 1)

2. Frozen II (PR: 2)

3. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PR: 3)

4. I Lost My Body (PR: 4)

5. Missing Link (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Klaus (PR: 8)

7. Abominable (PR: 6)

8. Weathering with You (PR: 7)

9. Funan (PR: 10)

10. Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (PR: 9)

Best Documentary Feature

Predicted Nominees:

1. American Factory (PR: 1)

2. Apollo 11 (PR: 2)

3. For Sama (PR: 4)

4. One Child Nation (PR: 3)

5. Honeyland (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Cave (PR: 6)

7. The Biggest Little Farm (PR: 8)

8. The Edge of Democracy (PR: 7)

9. Midnight Family (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Knock Down the House (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:



Best Cinematography

Predicted Nominees:

1. 1917 (PR: 1)

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 2)

3. The Irishman (PR: 4)

4. Joker (PR: 3)

5. Parasite (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Lighthouse (PR: 6)

7. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 8)

8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (PR: 7)

9. Marriage Story (PR: Not Ranked)

10. A Hidden Life (PR: 9)

Dropped Out:

Ad Astra

Best Costume Design

Predicted Nominees:

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 1)

2. Little Women (PR: 2)

3. Dolemite Is My Name (PR: 3)

4. Rocketman (PR: 4)

5. Downton Abbey (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Judy (PR: 7)

7. The Irishman (PR: 6)

8. Joker (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 8)

10. The Aeronauts (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:


Best Film Editing

Predicted Nominees:

1. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 2)

2. The Irishman (PR: 1)

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 3)

4. Marriage Story (PR: 6)

5. Parasite (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Joker (PR: 7)

7. 1917 (PR: 4)

8. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 8)

9. Bombshell (PR: 9)

10. Apollo 11 (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Knives Out

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Predicted Nominees:

1. Bombshell (PR: 1)

2. Joker (PR: 3)

3. Judy (PR: 2)

4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 6)

5. Rocketman (PR: 8)

Other Possibilities:

6. Dolemite Is My Name (PR: 4)

7. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PR: 10)

8. Little Women (PR: 7)

9. Downton Abbey (PR: 4)

10. 1917 (PR: 9)

Best Original Score

Predicted Nominees:

1. 1917 (PR: 1)

2. Joker (PR: 5)

3. Little Women (PR: 3)

4. Marriage Story (PR: 4)

5. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (PR: 2)

7. Motherless Brooklyn (PR: 10)

8. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 8)

9. Avengers: Endgame (PR: 9)

10. Pain and Glory (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:


Best Original Song

Predicted Nominees:

1. “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II (PR: 1)

2. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman (PR: 2)

3. “Stand Up” from Harriet (PR: 3)

4. “Glasgow” from Wild Rose (PR: 5)

5. “Spirit” from The Lion King (PR: 4)

Other Possibilities:

6. “Daily Battles” from Motherless Brooklyn (PR: 6)

7. “A Glass of Soju” from Parasite (PR: 9)

8. “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4 (PR: 8)

9. “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough (PR: 10)

10. “Speechless” from Aladdin (PR: 7)

Best Production Design

Predicted Nominees:

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 1)

2. The Irishman (PR: 4)

3. Little Women (PR: 3)

4. Parasite (PR: 6)

5. 1917 (PR: 2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Joker (PR: 5)

7. Jojo Rabbit (PR: 7)

8. Downton Abbey (PR: 8)

9. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 9)

10. The Two Popes (PR: 10)

Best Sound Editing

Predicted Nominees:

1. 1917 (PR: 1)

2. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 2)

3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (PR: 3)

4. Avengers: Endgame (PR: 5)

5. Rocketman (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 7)

7. Joker (PR: 4)

8. Ad Astra (PR: 9)

9. The Irishman (PR: 8)

10. Us (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Best Sound Mixing

Predicted Nominees:

1. 1917 (PR: 1)

2. Ford v Ferrari (PR: 2)

3. Avengers: Endgame (PR: 5)

4. Rocketman (PR: 4)

5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (PR: 7)

Other Possibilities:

6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (PR: 3)

7. Ad Astra (PR: 10)

8. Joker (PR: 6)

9. The Irishman (PR: 8)

10. Us (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:


Best Visual Effects

Predicted Nominees:

1. The Lion King (PR: 4)

2. Avengers: Endgame (PR: 3)

3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (PR: 2)

4. The Irishman (PR: 1)

5. 1917 (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Alita: Battle Angel (PR: 6)

7. Gemini Man (PR: 7)

8. Terminator: Dark Fate (PR: 10)

9. Captain Marvel (PR: 8)

10. Cats (PR: 9)

And that equates to these films getting the following numbers of nods:

11 Nominations

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

10 Nominations

The Irishman

8 Nominations

1917, Marriage Story 

7 Nominations

Little Women, Parasite

6 Nominations


5 Nominations

Ford v Ferrari, Rocketman

3 Nominations

Avengers: Endgame, Bombshell, Jojo Rabbit, The Two Popes

2 Nominations

Frozen II, Harriet, Judy, The Lion King, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

1 Nomination

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, American Factory, Apollo 11, Atlantics, Dolemite Is My Name, Downton Abbey, The Farewell, For Sama, Honeyland, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Hustlers, I Lost My Body, Knives Out, Les Miserables, Missing Link, One Child Nation, Pain and Glory, The Painted Bird, Toy Story 4, Wild Rose 

The Grudge Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (01/02): On the eve of its premiere, I’m revising my number down to $10.2 million

2020 begins at multiplexes in the same fashion as other recent years with a horror offering. This time around, it’s a remake of the 2004 supernatural pic The Grudge. And that Sarah Michelle Gellar hit was itself an update of a 2002 Japanese title in which Takashi Shimizu directed both. Nicolas Pesce is behind the camera now with a cast including Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, and Jacki Weaver.

As mentioned, this is the genre that has typically kicked off the cinematic calendar lately. In 2019, Escape Room surprised prognosticators with a debut north of $18 million. Two years ago, Insidious: The Last Key unlocked a gross just under $30 million.

The Grudge is not expected to approach those figures, but horror flicks always have the capacity to surprise. Yet this could also fall victim to the unasked for franchise fatigue that has plagued several titles recently. A decent comp could be 2017’s Rings, which was also a reboot of a Japanese series. It opened to $13 million and that sounds about right here (and perhaps a tad under).

The Grudge opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million

December 27-29 Box Office Predictions

It is Christmastime at the box office and multiplexes are offering three new debuts: Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, animated action comedy Spies in Disguise with Will Smith and Tom Holland, and the nationwide expansion of Adam Sandler’s critically heralded crime thriller Uncut Gems. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on all three here:

The holiday falling on a Wednesday makes things quite interesting. For the newbies, you can generally assume the Wednesday and Thursday combined numbers (they all open on Christmas) will roughly equal the Friday to Sunday earnings. I have Women and Spies each in the low teens for the traditional weekend and that means high 20s for the five-day rollouts. I wouldn’t be shocked to see either of them take in a bit more. As for Gems, I believe it could struggle a bit in its wide berth even though it’s posted impressive grosses in limited fashion. My $5.7 million Friday to Sunday projection and $11 million Wednesday to Sunday estimate puts it outside the top five. The other premieres are slated for the four and five spots.

That’s because the current top three may just stay the same. The question isn’t whether Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stays #1 (it will), but how much it falls in the sophomore frame. Predecessor The Last Jedi plummeted a steep 67% two years ago, but the days of the week for this holiday makes a difference. I’ll project it loses less than half its audience and manages to be in the low 90s range.

Other holdovers around this time of year see increases and I expect that to be the case with family flicks Jumanji: The Next Level and Frozen II. And with that, my Yuletide take on what I expect:

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Predicted Gross: $92 million

2. Jumanji: The Next Level

Predicted Gross: $37.5 million

3. Frozen II

Predicted Gross: $18 million

4. Little Women

Predicted Gross: $14.8 million (Friday to Sunday); $28.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

5. Spies in Disguise 

Predicted Gross: $13.6 million (Friday to Sunday); $27.4 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

Box Office Results (December 20-22)

Rare is the picture that can take in more than $175 million out of the gate and be considered somewhat of a letdown. Such is the case with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Suffering a very mixed reaction from critics and even audiences, the ninth official episode in the massive franchise made $177.3 million. That’s under my forecast of $191.4 million and 19% less than what The Last Jedi achieved in 2017. It’s $80 million lower than the haul of The Force Awakens four years ago. As mentioned above, I do anticipate its hold to be sturdier than Jedi. For the weekends that follow, it may not be so lucky.

Jumanji: The Next Level dropped to second with $26.5 million, right on target with my $26.8 million prediction. The sequel crossed the century mark after ten days with $102 million. Expect an uptick as family crowds continue to turn out.

Frozen II was third with $12.9 million (I said $11 million) as the Disney sequel has amassed a hot $387 million.

Use whatever bad pun you wish as Cats had an embarrassing opening in fourth. Reviled by critics and with a rank Cinemascore C+ grade, the musical earned just $6.6 million. That’s well under my $14.5 million projection. This is truly an example where word-of-mouth made a difference.

Knives Out was fifth and I incorrectly had it outside the top five. It earned $6.5 million and is up to $89 million.

Finally, the Fox News expose opened wide and came in below estimates with $5.1 million (I was higher at $6.9 million). Despite some Oscar chatter, this didn’t break out. It will hope for meager declines as the awards season continues.

And that does it for now, folks! Wishing you a Happy Holidays and until next time…

Ad Astra Movie Review

Roy McBride has major dad issues in James Gray’s Ad Astra, a space epic that’s more consumed with the personal. As played by Brad Pitt, McBride is a supremely subdued astronaut with a legendary father. He disappeared years ago and is assumed deceased after his mission to Neptune to find extraterrestrial life. This is all a giant metaphor for a father and son relationship that’s literally and figuratively separated by billions of miles. Tommy Lee Jones plays distant papa Clifford and Roy accepts a classified mission to retrieve him after it turns out he may be alive. Only the Earth’s fate hangs in the balance as all of human life is threatened and perhaps by dad’s activities far far away.

We are told that Ad Astra takes place in the near future, but there’s been time for moon bases, plenty of Mars exploration, and the capacity to get to Neptune in a relatively short period of time. Roy is not just estranged from Clifford, but so focused on work that his emotions leave him ambivalent about his wife (Liv Tyler) leaving him. For both him and the father who abandoned him, the mission of work trumps anything familial.

Much credit should be given to the design of Ad Astra. This is a beautiful looking picture as Roy’s travelogue takes him to stunningly desolate set pieces. Director Gray and his team pay attention to how this future world functions in a way that Minority Report did. Those details are worth exploring. It’s the rather tired dynamic between Roy and Clifford that gets in the way. The screenplay seems to think their relationship and what it represents is more profound than it is.

Astra is certainly a visual feast and a bit of a non-starter on a poignancy level. Midway through, I thought of the Dave Matthews Band track “The Space Between”. That could have been the title of this picture, which is more admirable than engrossing. There’s been efforts in this genre with parental themes (Gravity and Interstellar to name two) that landed the emotional stuff with more accurate precision. They didn’t leave me with Dave Matthews warbling gooey lyrics in my head either.

**/2 (out of four)

2019: The Year of Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler

One of the welcome cinematic storylines of 2019 involves two beloved Saturday Night Live vets who accomplished some of their finest film work, have garnered Oscar attention, and both returned to the show that made them after many years away.

I’m referring to Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler and they both get spots in my Year of 2019 posts. Murphy had been absent from the silver screen since 2016’s drama Mr. Church. Over the past several years, he was known more for his family comedies then the raunchy comedian that sold out stadiums in the 1980s. 2019 saw a return to form with Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name, his critically hailed recounting of Rudy Ray Moore’s contributions to movies. The pic has given Murphy his best reviews since 2006’s Dreamgirls and gotten him back into the Oscar conversation. We also witnessed the legendary performer host SNL for the first time in 35 years. 2020 will showcase Murphy returning to stand-up (something he hasn’t done since the late 1980s) and reprising his Prince Akeem character and others in Coming 2 America, which again teams him with Netflix and Dolemite director Craig Brewer.

Mr. Sandler also hit the 30 Rock building to headline SNL. He hadn’t been back in that role since being fired from the show in the mid 90s and embarking on his own wildly successful film career. The SNL gig saw him perform a humorous and touching tribute to cast mate Chris Farley. His partnership with Netflix includes this year’s Murder Mystery with Jennifer Aniston. There’s already a sequel planned for it. And the critical kudos came with crime thriller Uncut Gems, which opens wide on Christmas. That pic, from directors Ben and Josh Safdie, has Sandler picking up awards precursors and, like Murphy, in the mix for Academy attention. He’ll return to his preferred streaming service next year with Hubie Halloween.

For SNL, 2019 will be remembered as a time when two of their most famous alumni returned. For Murphy and Sandler, it’s a time when they gave us some of the most memorable onscreen work.

Uncut Gems Box Office Prediction

Veering far away from the Netflix comedies like Murder Mystery that he’s become known for over the past few years, Adam Sandler headlines the critically heralded crime thriller Uncut Gems and it expands nationwide on Christmas, The pic comes from directors Ben and Josh Safdie and the supporting cast includes future NBA hall of famer Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, pop star The Weeknd, and Eric Bogosian.

Since its initial screenings at the Telluride Film Festival in late August, Gems has shone brightly with reviewers. It stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and Sandler has picked up early awards precursors and could be in the running for an Oscar nomination. How will this translate to box office dollars? For the past two weeks, the film has been in limited release in five venues and performed well with $1 million in its coffers.

Whether or not Gems translates widely to mainstream viewers across the country is a trickier question. Even with Sandler’s involvement, this may cater more towards the art house circuit as opposed to audiences looking for holiday options. I’ll project that this hits mid single digits from Friday to Sunday and low double digits for the extended five-day rollout.

Uncut Gems opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million (Friday to Sunday); $11 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Little Women prediction, click here:

For my Spies in Disguise prediction, click here:

The Two Popes Movie Review

The Two Popes volleys back and forth between light and dark tonal shifts, but is benefited greatly from moments of divine inspiration by its two leads. At its base, the film is about one man replacing another for a job. It just happens that this occupational transition involves taking over the Catholic Church and that impacts over a billion followers worldwide. The transfer of the Papacy from 2013 was a nearly unprecedented event as a sitting Pope hadn’t resigned in over 700 years. The screenplay here from Andrew McCarten imagines the potential talks that could have happened behind giant Vatican doors between the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the current Cardinal Bergoglio and soon to be Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Both men’s crises of faith are explored in dramatic ways, but they also eat pizza, talk music, and take in a soccer match while the weighty stuff is happening.

This gorgeously edited version of history from director Fernando Meirelles takes us behind the scenes of two conclaves and the Sistine Chapel as the church is experiencing various scandals. The death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 posits the question of whether the Catholic upper echelon should move in a different direction. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger represents the old guard while Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio advocates for a different and more inclusive approach. The old guard prevails for years until Benedict contemplates the unthinkable act of renouncing the position.

The picture is mostly a two-man show that would probably work well as a stage play. It’s an excuse for Pryce (who bears a very passing resemblance to Francis) and Hopkins to have lengthy conversations about flagging faith and the pristine halls of power. And because these two leaders are human, after all, even contemporary subjects like ABBA and the Beatles come up. Hopkins is no stranger to portraying figures staring down the prospect of abdicating the throne (he did so in alternative fashion in Oliver Stone’s potent Nixon).

Like that film, the use of flashbacks is incorporated for context into the protagonist’s background. That character here is Bergoglio and the makers of The Two Popes are clearly in his corner with his focus on the poor and the environment. Yet the often humorous script is sympathetic to Benedict as he ponders his momentous choice. Juan Minujin plays the future Francis from a young priest hearing the call of his Father to a more seasoned one grappling with political upheaval in his native country. These sections are more hit or miss. They’re perhaps a little less involving because we want to get back to the master class of acting courtesy of Pryce and Hopkins. These two veterans make this well worth the price of the Netflix streaming admission.

*** (out of four)

2019: The Year of Jennifer Lopez

This year, Jennifer Lopez kept up her judging duties on the reality show World of Dance, hosted Saturday Night Live, and embarked on a nationwide tour performing her many hit songs. She also turned 50 and got engaged to baseball legend Alex Rodriguez. However, 2019 will likely be known as the year J-Lo made a commercially and critically successful return to the big screen.

Her role as seasoned stripper turned business savvy crime lord Ramona in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers has already earned her precursor awards love. And the film, which grossed over $100 million domestically against a meager $20 million budget, should earn her a first trip to Academy Awards as a nominee for Supporting Actress. She’s even got a real shot to win.

It’s been over two decades since Lopez’s most acclaimed roles in Selena and Out of Sight. Over the past few years, her cinematic work has consisted of forgettable thrillers like The Boy Next Door and middling rom coms such as Second Act. That dynamic changed with her fierce Hustlers work and earns her a welcome spot among the block of memorable performers this year.