Note: there are spoilers for Rise of Skywalker below.
ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944) was one of the first sword-and-sandal swashbucklers wherein Prince Ali (Jon Hall) escapes the Mongol conquest of Baghdad and rallies the Forty Thieves and their leader “Old Baba” to fight for the oppressed people (“As I am Old Baba, we shall call you — Ali Baba.”). Their Robin Hood-style campaign of taking from the rich and giving to the poor hits a snag when Ali’s childhood sweetheart shows up as the stunning (but not terribly talented) Maria Montez, bride to the Mongol leader. Now Ali has extra reason to fight the tyrants, alongside Turhan Bey as a knife-throwing slave and Andy Devine as a blustering loudmouth (surprisingly he gets to kill the Mongol leader rather than Hall). Not an A-list swashbuckler, but fun enough. “I am the sword that hangs over your head.”
STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) drove me nuts in the first third as it couldn’t seem to keep still: Rey & Co. are constantly bouncing from planet to planet, goal to goal, subplot to subplot. After that it starts to stabilize and we get the core plot: Emperor Palpatine has somehow resurrected himself and is preparing an all-out war from the lost planet of the Sith — can the good guys find it in time?
TYG and I enjoyed this, but it’s definitely flawed, pushing Rose into the background and adding way too many new characters. The big twist that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter didn’t work for me at all (it has none of the dramatic heft that “Luke — I am your father” did) and it isn’t necessary for the plot (he plans to possess her body, which I imagine he could do to her even if she wasn’t kin). Kylo Ren’s redemption is not great but didn’t really bother me (I’ll have more to say about it later though). Not as good as Last Jedi but better than The Force Awakens. “I saw the thrones of the Sith — and I saw who sat on them.”
NANCY DREW (2007) stars Emma Roberts as a Nancy Drew who seems to have stepped out of the 1950s, which makes her an odd fit when she’s stuck at a hip LA high school while her dad’s doing business in the City of Angels. Fortunately the house she lives in has a mystery (what happened to a long-dead movie star?) and despite her promise to Dad to stop sleuthing, she just can’t help snooping … Roberts doesn’t work in the lead: she looks about 12 and doesn’t seem happy even when she’s cracking a mystery. Not recommended. “Oh, did I mention there’s a strange caretaker?”
ALCHEMY (2005) stars Tom Cavanagh (best known to me as the various Harrison Wells on Flash) as a college computer prof whose solution to a Publish or Perish ultimatum is to test whether his AI can win Sarah Chalke’s heart faster than a smooth-talking ladies man, with the outcome to be published in a woman’s magazine. This is bland, and the ladies man feels odd, more like a parody of a romantic charmer. Ileana Douglas plays Cavanagh’s coworkers and Celeste Holme plays his grandma. “Love is like when you turn lead into gold — what’s the word for that?”
KNIVES OUT (2019) is a lively, twisty mystery in which mystery novelist Christopher Plummer turns up with his throat slit in what appears to be suicide — but then who hired ace PI Daniel Craig to investigate the death? And what exactly was Plummer’s devoted nurse doing while he was dying? This was well done, with some effective jabs at Nice People Who Are Not At All Racist; the cast includes Chris Evans, Don Johnson, K Callan and Jamie Lee Curtis as members of Plummer’s family. “Don’t you see, it’s not a hole — it’s a smaller donut with a hole of its own in the middle!”
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