The first hero to wield a lightsaber, in battle, in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” is not a Jedi. Nor is he ever likely to become one. The film, the first in a new trilogy, gives every indication he’ll develop into a different type of protagonist over the course of the next two movies. So why then does he have in his possession the signature tool with which the Jedi Knights, those robe-clad mystical warriors, once guarded over the galaxy? In some not insignificant sect of the “Star Wars” fanbase — united around an imaginary consensus about the rules that should govern a fictional universe — this plot point might be construed as heresy. Given my severely limited knowledge of the rest of the “Star Wars” canon — made up of novels, comic books, video games, and TV shows — I am unable to say whether or not it is commonplace for an ordinary person, that is, someone who is not predisposed to Jedi woo-woo, to take up a Jedi’s weapon of choice. Up until “The Force Awakens,” however, it was unprecedented at the cinema. What the hell, then, is going on?
There is a radical silence at the heart of “Brooklyn,” a deeply affecting film which reveals the inner life of a young Irish immigrant even as it keeps the audience at a discreet distance. Set in the early 1950s, and spanning two continents, the film takes the cinematic close-up, rather than dialogue, as its main mode of expression.
The predominant face, lucky for us, is that of the 21-year-old actress Saoirse Ronan, who can shift, effortlessly, from crippling vulnerability to fierce resolve. Her performance, as the homesick Eilis Lacey, is at once intimate and remote, a series of glances and gestures amid a cultural divide that amount to a universal longing — for love, joy, freedom and home.
There is much talk of being eaten in “Crimson Peak.” The mysterious aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) speaks achingly of an all-consuming love. His sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), recognizes the food chain as the organizing principle of the universe. She says as much in a scene that depicts, in close-up, a colony of ants feasting on the corpse of a butterfly. The symbolism comes early and its meaning, that we are slaves to our carnal urges, should be obvious even to the nascent moviegoer. This invigorating Gothic romance, set in a haunted mansion full of sensuous horrors and eye-gouging delights, requires very little thought. It is meant to be devoured.
Early into “Sicario,” director Denis Villeneuve’s grisly thriller about the American government’s response to Mexican drug cartels, a convoy of black SUVs cross the U.S.-Mexico border into the city of Juárez. It is unclear at first, to the audience and to FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), who’s been recruited by another agency for seemingly extrajudicial operations, whether this one is a rescue mission or a kidnapping. What is certain, though, is the sense of dread. The sequence, paying special attention to the synchronized movements of the vehicles, evokes a funeral procession, and soon the bodies begin piling up. All that is missing is the hearse.
Some movies, good and bad, conveniently provide the vocabulary with which to criticize them. When reviewing a bad one, like the action-comedy “American Ultra,” a small amount of generosity is required because my job has been made a little easier. So while I didn’t hate the film, about a hapless stoner who turns out, to his surprise, to have once been a lethal government operative, I found it to be half-baked. Despite a few potent hits of the good stuff — solid performances, a tender romance — what “Ultra” offers is mostly synthetic. My advice: pass this blunt.