The Two Popes draws a distinction between the reign of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and his successor, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Relative to Benedict, the movie positions Francis as benevolent, modern, and liberal. Under even the lightest of scrutiny, this intellectual dishonesty crumbles like the Eucharist in sacramental wine. As an artistic endeavor, The Two Popes doesn’t fare any better.
The origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime, whose history is often as fluid as his sanity, is firmly established in Joker. Loosely remaking Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, director Todd Phillips riffs on the Martin Scorsese classics without revamping them. Star Joaquin Phoenix is contorted and damaged as Batman’s notorious archnemesis, but never approaches Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Joker masquerades as prestige film without revealing emotional, political, or intellectual depth behind its clown-shaped mask.
Co-writer and director J.J. Abrams launched the newest trilogy of Star Wars movies with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s challenging (and somehow controversial) second entry, The Last Jedi, indicated a shift in priorities for the franchise. In The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams returns to bookend the trilogy and nullify Johnson’s efforts to advance the canon.
High Life, the first English-language film by French auteur Claire Denis, made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018. Planned by Denis for 15 years, High Life finally saw a limited release in the United States in April 2019. In comparing the film to genre heavyweights, it is closer to The Phantom Menace’s meandering than A New Hope’s quality. High Life would’ve been better off unrealized.