Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


The empire strikes first.

The empire strikes first.

(2016) Science Fiction (Disney/Lucasfilm) Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Guy Henry, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Ben Daniels, Paul Kasey, Stephen Stanton (voice), Ian McElhinney, Fares Fares, James Earl Jones (voice), Warwick Davis, Peter Cushing, Anthony Daniels, Ingvild Della. Directed by Gareth Edwards

 

Most movies, particularly those that build entire worlds and mythologies, leave tantalizing questions. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is no different. Some of those questions were answered by the three prequel films. However, one tantalizing bit of information – how did the Rebel Alliance get the plans for the Death Star – remained unknown. Until now.

Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of a brilliant scientist (Mikkelsen) who has been shanghaied by the Empire into building a new super-weapon – a planet killer called the Death Star. The elder Erso convinces a freighter pilot (Ahmed) to defect and carry a message to Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), a former Alliance member who found the Alliance not radical enough for his taste and had holed up on the occupied moon of Jedha. When Alliance intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Luna) discovers this, he helps spring Jyn out of a rebel prison and takes her to the Alliance to propose that she introduce him to Gerrera, who is almost like family to her.

Jyn sees the message sent to Gerrera and realizes that her dad has left a flaw in the system, a flaw that the Rebellion can exploit to destroy the planet killer but in order to do that they’ll either have to retrieve her father from an Imperial work camp or the plans from an archive on a closely guarded tropical planet. Accompanied by the blind monk Chirrut (Yen) who believes in the Force and fights like he’s dialed into it, and his friend the gruff sharp-shooter Baze (Jiang), they go to fetch Jyn’s dad. Unfortunately, hot on their trail is Director Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) and Governor Moff Tarkin (Henry/Cushing) along with the Emperor’s new Lord of the Sith…one Darth Vader (Jones).

This is the darkest of the Star Wars films and by a lot. In order for the story to work, the odds have to be incredibly long and the Empire has to be justifiably evil. Both of those are true and it feels more realistic; the rebels don’t sail in and save the day at the last minute. It gets messy.

Jones makes for a nifty heroine in the franchise. She’s tough, she’s clever and she has good reason to do what she does. She’s no idealist but when push comes to shove she is in this for all the right reasons. Jones is an Oscar-nominated actress who is becoming one of the most reliable actresses in the business now. She’s the perfect choice to play Jyn.

The rest of the cast boasts some impressive names and more than a few familiar ones from previous episodes, mainly in cameo form (Anthony Daniels shows up for just a few lovely moments as C3PO. Tudyk provides most of the comic relief as a re-programmed imperial war droid K-2SO and Whitaker is impressive as the fanatical Gerrera who is almost all prosthetics now.

The special effects are just what you’d expect them to be; the best in the business. The climactic fight has as many moving parts to them as you’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie and the environments created are realistic and yet alien all at once. You are immersed in the environments, be they an Imperial garrison, a desolate asteroid, or the re-constructed Death Star itself.

Perhaps the most impressive special effect is bringing back the late Peter Cushing, who’s been dead for 24 years, as the odious Tarkin whose foul stench Princess Leia recognized in the very first Star Wars movie. Using a motion actor (Henry) to approximate the late actor’s build, the face of Cushing is digitally projected on Henry’s body and his voice synthesized. It is actually pretty unsettling in many ways. It doesn’t exactly bring Cushing back to life but it comes closer than anything I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie won a special effects Oscar just for that.

This is a marvelous film that hits every right note. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’re likely to be quite satisfied with what you get here (and if you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ve likely seen it more than once already as I have). If you’re not a fan of the franchise, chances are this won’t make you one – while it does make a fine stand-alone movie, knowledge of what happened in the first Star Wars film is extremely helpful in understanding what is going on here. The only drawback is that some fans of the series might find the tone too dark – it certainly isn’t your father’s Star Wars. Nor should it be.

REASONS TO GO: This is a real change in tone from the other Star Wars films. The special effects are absolutely amazing.
REASONS TO STAY: It might be a little bit too dark for the hardcore fans.
FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of action, some of it strongly violent and of a sci-fi nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first Star Wars movie not to feature the iconic scrolling text at the beginning of the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/3/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bridge on the River Kwai
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of December 16, 2016


Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

(Disney) Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits. Directed by Gareth Edwards

The first stand-alone theatrical film in the Star Wars universe concerns the plans of the Death Star. How did the Rebels acquire them? It was only a couple of lines about how many died getting those plans to the Alliance. Now we can see the story of how it happened. Expect this to be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) box office hits of the year.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Collateral Beauty

(New Line) Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet. After a successful advertising executive on Madison Avenue suffers an incalculable tragedy, he retreats from life, trying to find answers. In his suffering, he writes letters to Love, Time and Death. What he doesn’t expect is to get personal answers.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and brief strong language)

Jackie

(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup. The story of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, one of America’s most iconic figures of the 20th century, at one of the defining points in American history – the assassination of her husband. Portman’s performance is considered the strong favorite to take the Oscar for Best Actress this year.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (opens on Wednesday)

Rating: R (for brief strong violence and some language)

La La Land

(Summit) Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt. An actress and a musician, both struggling, are drawn together by their passion for their art and eventually that passion is amplfied  for each other. However as they each begin to achieve success they are forced to make choices between their relationship and their careers which threaten both.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village (expanding Christmas Day)

Rating: R (for some disturbing violence and language throughout)

We Are X

(Drafthouse) Yoshiki, Gene Simmons, Toshi, Pata. In America, the band X are punk legends, but this isn’t about them. This is about the Japanese band X, one of the most accomplished metal bands in the world.  Their story isn’t well-known in America nor is their music but that should change once people see this documentary, part of the Music Mondays series at the Enzian. This is a band that may be considered rock gods but that doesn’t mean they’ve had it easy.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: R (for some language)

Mother and Child


Mother and Child

Nobody beats Samuel L. Jackson in a staredown. Nobody.

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Benning, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, David Morse, Marc Blucas, Shareeka Epps, Lisa Gay Hamilton, S. Epetha Merkerson, David Ramsey, Eileen Ryan, Cherry Jones, Amy Brenneman, Tatyana Ali, Elizabeth Pena. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

 

Motherhood has a unique place in the female psyche. It may well be the driving force; the urge to procreate and then care and nurture for that child. Sometimes it’s not always possible for those instincts to be indulged the way you want to.

Karen (Benning) is an emotionally brittle caregiver in every sense of the word – by day she works as a physical therapist, by night she returns home to care for her elderly mother (Ryan). Karen is not the easiest person to get along with; she tends to keep people at arm’s length. She’d had a baby when she was 14 and was forced to give her up for adoption. That has haunted Karen’s entire life; she won’t let anyone in, not even sweet-natured co-worker Paco (Smits), although his patience seems to be limitless.

Elizabeth (Watts) is a driven attorney who never seems satisfied with anything in life. She is hard, occasionally crude and tends to keep people at arm’s length. She has started work in a new firm, and in order to cement her position – and possibly even improve it – she has initiated an affair with her boss, Paul (Jackson). It is a relationship all about sex, power and ambition. Elizabeth was adopted and seems to have no desire at all to find out who her birth mother is (although I’m sure you can guess). However, her world turns upside down when she discovers she’s pregnant.

Lucy (Washington) is unable to have children. She and her husband Joseph (Ramsey) have elected to adopt and are looking for a baby to call their own. The agency that Lucy is going through, whose representative is Sister Joanne (Jones), sends along several expectant mothers who are giving up their babies for adoption. Ray (Epps) seems to be a suitable candidate, but she is understandably picky about what kind of home her baby will be placed in and has enough attitude to choke an elephant.

All three of these women’s lives are entwined in ways that are both visible and invisible. Their stories may be told separately, but they are all a part of the same story, one that will not end as expected for all of them.

This is a bit different than most ensemble anthology dramas in that the story really is a single story although told from the viewpoints of three different characters. Much of the story is telegraphed – anyone who doesn’t figure out that Elizabeth is Karen’s biological daughter is probably not smarter than a fifth grader. However, it is saved by some pretty good performances.

Benning, who would get Oscar consideration for her performance in The Kids are All Right that year showed why she is as underrated an actress as there is in America. It is difficult at best to play an emotionally closed-off character and still make them sympathetic, but Benning does it. In some ways this was a tougher role than the one that got her all the acclaim that year but because the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the other one she probably didn’t get the scrutiny here.

Watts also has a similarly difficult job and while she doesn’t pull it off quite as successfully as Benning does nevertheless acquits herself well and shows why she is also a formidable actress given the right material. Sometimes she flies under the radar, mainly because her films aren’t always as buzz-worthy but time after time she delivers film-carrying performances and while she isn’t the household name she deserves to be, she is still well-respected in Hollywood as one of the top actresses working today and this movie illustrates why.

The ending smacks a little bit of movie of the week schmaltz and the story relies way too much on coincidence. However one has to give the filmmakers credit for putting together a movie that is female-centric and tackles the effects of adoption on the birth mother, the child given up for adoption and the person doing the adoption in a somewhat creative manner. While other critics liked the movie a little more than I did (and I can understand why, truly), the contrived nature of the plot held the film back from a better rating. Had the three stories been a little bit more independent of each other I think it would have made for a better overall film. Not all stories have to be wrapped up with a neat little bow.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly potent examination of women and their maternal instincts. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending strives for grace and lyricism but falls short.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sex and nudity, along with a decent dose of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Naomi Watts was pregnant with her son Samuel during filming; when you see her baby moving in utero during one scene, that’s actually Samuel.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.0M on a $7M production budget; the movie wasn’t a financial success from a box office perspective.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Motherhood

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls

Bless the Child


Bless the Child

I'd look worried too if I had the lead in this movie.

(2000) Horror (Paramount) Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Holliston Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Angela Bettis, Christina Ricci, Michael Gaston, Lumi Cavazos, Ian Holm, Eugene Lipinski, Leeza Gibbons, Dimitra Arlys, Anne Betancourt, Helen Stenborg. Directed by Chuck Russell

When you’re a Roman Catholic, you can go to an occult-oriented movie with a certain degree of smugness. After all, nobody knows the Devil like us Catholics. We’ve got the exorcisms to prove it.

Hollywood knows this. Therefore, a whole lot of their devil flicks are liberally steeped in what I call the Catholic experience. Lots of statues, paintings of Christ’s agony, aging priests (often with deformities or disabilities) and a whole lot of gobbledygook about how the world will end. I, being Catholic born and Catholic bred, love every minute of it, although I can’t possibly imagine my old high school guidance counselor Father Campanella taking on Satan mano a mano. It’s just too much of a stretch.

In this one, Maggie O’Connor (Basinger) is minding her own business one night when her junkie sister (Bettis) shows up on her doorstep, newborn baby in hand. And before you can say “Whaaaasssssuppppppp?” she’s gone, leaving Maggie with the baby. Of course, everyone who’s ever seen an occult flick before knows that this is Not An Ordinary Child.

Years later, the NAOC (Coleman) is displaying signs of autism (although for an autistic child she’s awfully expressive). But she’s also showing her NAOC-ness by causing objects to move about of their own accord, and bringing the occasional critter back to life. This brings her to the attention of Eric Stark (Sewell), a self-help guru and a rather nasty cult leader in his spare time.

Turns out that he’s been searching for a specific child who, in the future, will lead people to God. Turns out he’s been murdering innocent children in a ritualistic fashion to find the specific NAOC he is looking for. Turns out he’s married the junkie sister just to get to the NAOC. Turns out that the nasty cult leader is a bit cozier to Beelzebub than he is to the Almighty. Turns out the FBI Investigator (Smits) who was called in to investigate the child murders is in way over his head, as is O’Connor (remember her?). That’s a whole lot of coinkydinks, don’t you think?

I think. Part of what makes this movie an epic fail is that it relies too much on serendipity. There’s no organic flow to the plot; characters exist just to explain something that is going to be meaningful three scenes later, or three scenes previously. The script lacks clarity and subtlety.

You’d never guess that Basinger won an Oscar just three short years earlier. She sleepwalks her way through the part, although to be fair it ain’t much of a part. Maggie is a strong-willed, independent woman which the filmmakers took to mean “ignorant, stubborn hothead” and she often quite incomprehensibly gets herself into situations no sane person would even consider without calling in the National Guard first. Frankly, if my kid were kidnapped by a whacked-out Satanist, I’d be calling the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, cops, Guardian Angels and Johnny Cochran before I’d go into the lion’s den by myself. What would horror movies do without stupid people acting stupidly?

Of course, the ludicrous scale doesn’t really factor in to horror movies — common sense is supposed to take a back seat to a good scare. And that’s what this movie really lacks. I’ll admit, Da Queen jumped once, but I think she was more frightened by the teen-age girls sitting two rows behind us more than anything. In fact, if you REALLY want a good scare, try reading the political coverage in the local papers. Despite valiant efforts by Smits and Sewell, and a couple of good supporting role turns by Christina Ricci and Ian Holm, Bless the Child is more of a snooze than a scare.

WHY RENT THIS: There are  few decent performances here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A horror movie that isn’t particularly scary. Basinger sleepwalks through a role that is plainly beneath her. Too many coincidences.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of violence, some drug use and a few foul words here and there. There is also some scenes of children in jeopardy and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The line “the devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind he doesn’t exist” is a reference to a similar line penned by the French poet Charles Baudelaire “La plus belle des ruses du Diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40M on  $65M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Hancock