The last Jedi, a tax auditor, a murder list and a three-hour film(#SFWApro)

My comment to TYG after we saw STAR WARS: The Last Jedi (2017) was “they nailed that sucker.” Where The Force Awakens recycled too much of A New Hope (note: to me Ep.4 will always be Star Wars) Ep.8 doesn’t simply knock off Empire Strikes Back. Instead it uses several plot elements (Rey seeks a Jedi mentor, the Resistance is embattled and in danger of getting snuffed out) and puts its own spin on them. I enjoyed the new cast such as Rose the techie and Admiral Holdo (the always charming Laura Dern), Carrie Fisher’s aging Leia and the burned-out Luke. And in general we just had a good time. Except for Kylo Ren — once again “Darth Emo” underwhelms. “Fight to save the ones we love, not to kill the ones we hate — that’s how we win.”

When I first watched STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006) I was single, lonely, unsure I’d ever find anyone (TYG was still two years in my future) and feeling very inept when I tried doing so. I couldn’t but identify with Will Ferrell’s role as a head-centered, unsure tax auditor who’s emotionally withdrawn (something I identify with from times past) but finally learns to connect to life thanks to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s warmhearted baker (whom he’s unfortunately auditing). Only his life isn’t going to last because he’s somehow a character in Emma Thopmson’s new book and her protagonists always die … Rewatching last weekend I discovered that even though I’m happily married and not at all lonely, the movie is still very charming. With Dustin Hoffman as a literary expert (“Do you have the impulse to solve mysteries at opulent country houses?”), Queen Latifah as Thompson’s assistant, Linda Hunt as a shrink (“I must sound like a broken record.”) and Kristen Chenowith in a bit part as an interviewer. “Now — eat the cookie.”

THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER (1963) is a delayed double-bill to The Hound of the Baskervilles, the delay being the need to order it with some Christmas money. While I didn’t realize this was a strictly bare-bones DVD, it still rewatches well as British writer Messenger asks detective George C. Scott to investigate this list of names — all of whom turn out to be dead in recent accidents. And right after that, someone blows up the transatlantic plane Messenger is on, but that’s all coincidence? Right? A nicely twisty adaptation of Philip Macdonald’s novel (looking him up on line I found it was one of a series, and that Macdonald was the grandchild to George McDonald). However the gimmick of having several stars make cameos in then-novel latex masks didn’t add much. With Kirk Douglas and Dana Wynter among the aristocrats in this story of murder and inheritance. “For once he spoke the truth — there is such a thing as evil.”

MAGNOLIA (1999) is an ambitious three-hour film in which largely unrelated plot threads and characters slowly interrelate, culminating in a miraculous moment that means … absolutely nothing. There’s really no payoff to the film, so the parts are more than the sum of the whole. Said parts include dying Jason Robards as the body around whom caregiver Philip Seymour Hoffman, seduction guru Tom Cruise (“Seduce and destroy!”) and whacked out Julianne Moore revolve, aging prodigy William R. Macy, a painful kids’ quiz show and John C. Reilly as a cop on a date. All well done, but the deeper meaning is as shallow as Kiefer Sutherland’s old series Touch (which tried for similar points about seeming coincidences all tying together). “You’re wrong — it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels.”

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