What makes a film a holiday landmark? Not so much religious subject matter as much as its appeal for the whole family and audiences of all ages. This year, three high-budget films, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the political thriller The Post and the musical The Greatest Showman, fit the bill.
The new Star Wars installment is one of the most highly anticipated film extravaganzas of the year. It begins with a desperate standoff of the forces of the Resistance against the First Order. Even if Star Wars is not your religion, this visually powerful sci-fi flick offers massive sets, complex characters and, most important, a twist of events centered on the battle of good versus evil.
Daisy Ridley reprises the role of Rey, one of the key characters of the Resistance, who finds Luke Skywalker on a remote island and uncovers the powers of the Jedi warrior. Ridley said that what attracted her to this story was the martial arts-type of fighting. She said the Jedi was reminiscent of the samurai and that warrior's code of ethics.
As Rey discovers her powers she grapples with her purpose in the battle between the Rebels and First Order. Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, the brooding, charismatic antihero and prospective leader of the Order, is also facing inner conflict.
Ultimately, 'a family story'
As the main heroes reckon with who they are, margins between good and evil are blurred. And if the philosophically charged plot does not satisfy you, something else in this film will, said Daisey Ridley. "Ultimately, it is a family story," she said. "But then, some people prefer the ships. Some people prefer the creatures. I hope there is much that will please a lot of people in The Last Jedi."
Mark Hamill, who reprises the much-anticipated role of Luke Skywaker, was overwhelmed by the scope of the film's production. "I'm telling you, I've never been on a set that opulent in my life, plus 150 extras in exotic makeup and prosthetics," he said. "They spared no expense!"
The cast is equally expansive, including first-generation cast members such as the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa and Hamill. It would not be an exaggeration to say that newcomer filmmaker Rian Johnson has created the most riveting yet Star Wars episode, with a thought-provoking tale, stellar performances, great ensemble cast and a plot that is emotionally satisfying without being cliched.
The battle scenes are enhanced by the tightly paced drama and powerful cinematography. Naturally, the glorious sets and costumes help.
"I hope audiences come out of the theater wanting to run into their backyard, grab their Star Wars toys and start flying spaceships around. I hope it just feels like a great Star Wars movie, a fun Star Wars movie that takes you back to being 10 years old again," the filmmaker said.
Another big holiday movie focuses on a real-life political story that rocked America in the '70s.
The Post, a critically acclaimed docudrama by Steven Spielberg, tells the story of how The Washington Post newspaper, at great risk, published excerpts of top-secret government documents describing the war in Vietnam as a lost cause and revealing that the U.S. government had lied about the extent of its involvement in the war in Indochina.
"It showed that we were fighting an illegal war. An unwinnable war. And yet we fought on," Spielberg said.
Meryl Streep has already received critical acclaim for her role as Washington Post publisher and socialite Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks interprets the paper's prominent executive editor, Ben Bradlee.
The two offer a dynamic performance showcasing their often-contentious relationship as they argue over whether to publish excerpts of the secret documents, known as the Pentagon Papers — a move that could have destroyed the paper and everyone who worked for it.
This is a highly entertaining, tightly paced political drama that will appeal not only to fans of political thrillers who may reminisce about Alan J. Pakula's iconic All the President's Men, but also to many who may find the '70s political scene in the U.S. nation's capital eerily relevant to today as they listen to Hanks as Bradlee retort, "What will happen if we don't publish? We will lose. The whole country will lose!"
And from the musical film genre, Hugh Jackman takes center stage as The Greatest Showman. The film by Michael Gracey is based on the real life of showman P.T. Barnum who founded was was originally called Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth.
Jackman plays the legendary Barnum as he rises from obscurity, recruits marginalized people with peculiar talents and creates a spectacular variety troupe. Michelle Williams plays Barnum's wife, Charity Barnum.
The film, a great spectacle of its own this yuletide season, delivers a message of acceptance for those who, no matter how different or odd they may look, exude a spark of genius. As P.T. Barnum says in the film, "No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else."