REVIEW: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

16 12 2016

Filmed entertainment in the “Star Wars” universe is valuable, expensive real estate – and I am somewhat skeptical that “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a good use of it.  Admittedly, it is nice to see a film contributing something to a multiverse that isn’t a mere brand extension. But given that the events are a direct vamp up to the pre-determined beginning of the original 1977 film, what’s the point in spending two hours with characters working towards an outcome we already know? Why invest in them?

“Rogue One” has plenty to cheer on, not the least of which includes the thrill of watching the coalition of women and minorities successfully band together to defeat the fascistic empire-seeking men. (Do these things only happen in fiction now?) In a deftly constructed battle sequence to steal the plans to Darth Vader’s Death Star, they come together in an act of valiant sacrifice to save the galaxy. It’s a sight to see, though it does feel like a component or two has gone missing.

The rebel team of rivals, which includes the daughter of the Death Star’s architect (Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso), a rebel intelligence officer (Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor), an Imperial pilot defector (Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook), a blind Force-wielder (Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe) and his mercenary pal (Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus), comes together over the course of “Rogue One.” Given the somewhat languorous speed at which their union occurs, one would think that this is a setup for multiple sequels, “Avengers“-style. By the end of the film, however, it’s quite clear that such is not the case.

So why does Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script take such a cursory approach to defining each of these characters? The threads they tie together by the final battle are quite thin. Jyn Erso leads her band of rebels into a daring maneuver with the call to action, “Rebellions are built on hope!” The line falls short of rousing because we know so little about her. We know even less about her companions. For all the vicarious inspiration “Rogue One” provides, it offers almost nothing in the way of personal connection and emotional investment. B-2stars

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 10, 2014)

10 01 2014

Alfonso Cuarón is an almost certain nominee for Best Director (although you never know with the Academy’s directors branch, I said Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were undebatable nominees at this point last year).  If his work on “Gravity” isn’t enough, just look at the incredible stylistic and storytelling diversity of his post-2000 work.  He’s tackled a Harry Potter film (and made the best one, in my opinion), made a dystopian Nativity allegory, and “Y Tu Mamá También,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

This 2002 Mexican road trip drama is character driven like “Gravity” but has a lot more to offer in terms of a firm story to follow.  (The original screenplay netted Cuarón and his brother Carlos their first Oscar nominations.)  Even in subtitles, their snappy dialogue has an undeniable pop to it.

The movie follows the exploits of two sexually active teenage boys, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), who find themselves suffering from upper-middle-class ennui after their girlfriends go for an extended trip to Italy.  Looking for something to do, they take a spontaneous trip to the beach with the older Luisa (Maribel Verdu) whom they just met at a wedding.

As they drive through the poorer parts of their country to find the beach, the three have frank conversations about love and sexuality.  Eventually, their conversations give way to … well, do I really have to say?!  Don’t watch this movie with anyone with whom you’d feel awkward seeing lots of naked bodies.

But in case that last sentence had you thinking “Y Tu Mamá También” is some kind of smutty pornographic film, you’d be mistaken.  It’s a fascinating character study, a gripping journey, and a bold exploration of what men are really expressing when they enter into love triangles.  I’ve only seen this movie once, but I’d love to give it a second look soon to more closely examine how the surprising ending is foreshadowed and how the film addresses the sociopolitical context of late ’90s Mexico.





REVIEW: Casa De Mi Padre

8 08 2012

If you ever needed a definitive case against vanity projects, “Casa De Mi Padre” should be the first bullet-point of your presentation.  Conceptually, it’s a Funny or Die video that is somehow allowed to last longer than three minutes.  An hour and twenty minutes longer, as a matter of fact.  At half the length of “The Dark Knight Rises,” it still manages to feel twice as long.  How that’s even possible still baffles me.

All the humor of Will Ferrell’s tacky Spanglish speaking is drained by the opening credits.  Any sort of political statement the movie was trying to make has already been made by Robert Rodriguez in “Machete,” a parody movie that also did in “Casa De Mi Padre” by using all the tricks of self-referential Mexploitation films first – and also better.  I didn’t even care for Rodriguez’s film all that much, but it had something that screenwriter Andrew Steele couldn’t provide this movie: a plot!

Every scene in “Casa De Mi Padre” just feels like a new YouTube video from the same Mexploitation parody channel with most of the same actors.  It’s not just that the tongue-in-cheek casting of Will Ferrell gets old incredibly quickly.  You could cast Antonio Banderas or Javier Bardem, and even if they put on a comedic game face, they couldn’t salvage the sheer juvenility of the movie.  It’s so stupid that it makes those weird  Adult Swim animated shows look like high art.

So if you’re still curious about how low comedy can go and “The Watch” wasn’t nearly torturous enough for you, by all means, check out “Casa De Mi Padre.”  You may wish Thomas Edison hadn’t pioneered the craft of film to begin with.  D-