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

Advertisements




REVIEW: The Bourne Legacy

10 08 2012

No Damon, no problem, right?

Jeremy Renner is a capable action star, so there shouldn’t be any hiccups.  Plus he’s a great actor as evinced by his Oscar nominations for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.”  And Rachel Weisz is a perfectly capable actress to match him; after all, she has the Oscar win (for her riveting work in “The Constant Gardener“) that has eluded Renner’s grasp.

Not to mention, the franchise is in the capable hands of Tony Gilroy.  He wrote the first three installments in the “Bourne” universe, which were all awesome.  And once those were done, he moved onto direct the taut, immaculately constructed “Michael Clayton” (earning him Oscar nominations for writing and directing) and the twisty thriller “Duplicity” (which does not get nearly enough credit).

Yet for all these reasons that “The Bourne Legacy” should work, it absolutely flops.  The expression the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall has more to do with the expectations surround the film than an evaluation of quality; however, a spin-off, sequel, or whatever the heck this movie “Legacy” claims to be cannot escape being measured against its predecessors.  And while the Greengrass/Damon films had a palpable sense of forward momentum that propelled the franchise, Renner and Gilroy’s take on the “Bourne” universe  is dead on arrival and drags for 135 long minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »





F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 6, 2012)

6 01 2012

With previous Oscar winners George Clooney and Tilda Swinton coasting towards another nomination for “The Descendants” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” respectively, it’s as good a time as ever to feature a movie they starred in together, Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton.”  The 2007 Best Picture nominee (and winner for Swinton’s performance) is a gripping legal thriller that never takes you farther than a deposition room but provides legitimate fodder for thought beyond the annals of the court.  Gilroy presents three characters, played by Clooney, Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson, who each must consider what place morality and truthfulness has in their lives and in their jobs as lawyers.

It all begins with Jerry Maguire-esque moment of awakening for Wilkinson’s Arthur Edens, an incredibly respected New York attorney, who suddenly realizes that he no longer wishes to deny his conscience by representing UNorth in a class action lawsuit that violates his ethics.  After meeting with the victims of the company’s agrochemical products, the class action suit suddenly gets a human face for him … and Arthur feels the need to purge this skin of falseness so urgently that he strips naked in the middle of a deposition room.

While Arthur has a history of mental shakiness, Clooney’s Michael Clayton, the fixer for their firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, knows that there’s something more to the meltdown that a few chemical issues.  Michael, facing staggering debt from a failed restaurant and questioning the value of his job, is forced into a rigorous self-examination that Clooney animates with the perfect balance of internalized and externalized emotion.  He proves himself to be one of the best, if not THE best, actor of his generation at exploring tortured souls.  He realizes Michael’s flaws so vividly but finds some hidden nobility so we care about the journey even while vacillating on our opinion of the character.

Meanwhile, the scene stealer is Swinton’s Karen Crowder, the general counsel for UNorth.  She’s an über-Type A perfectionist who labors and frets over the smallest of details and really has no idea how to handle a situation like Arthur’s, which threatens to undo years of litigation and jeopardize millions of the company’s dollars – not to mention their reputation.  As he descends into madness (or a divine clarity depending on where you stand), she descends into a professional hell where her off-the-record, back-alley decisions make the difference for the fate of the lawsuit.  Karen, like the rest of the characters in the movie, are so richly written by Gilroy, who uses them to explore complex issues without ever being preachy or turning “Michael Clayton” into a silly morality play. In an era where “Inside Job” shows the actual moral bankruptcy of corporate America, the four-year-old movie remains incredibly relevant.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 1, 2011)

1 07 2011

Back at the end of 2009, my first year of blogging, I caught some heat for including Tony Gilroy’s sophomore directorial venture, “Duplicity,” among my top 10.  To quote directly, “Duplicity? Really?”  There was also a slightly more detailed explanation of someone’s distaste for the movie, with that blogger describing the film as “dull.”

So now, with Julia Roberts headlining “Larry Crowne,” I have the perfect opportunity to defend the movie that charted as the 7th best movie of 2009 for me as the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  For my money, “Duplicity” was a fun, sleek, and stylish spy thriller that kept you on your toes every step of the way.  Coming after the flop that was “Quantum of Solace,” espionage was desperately in need of a facelift.  And at the beginning of 2009, originality wasn’t exactly plentiful at the theaters.

And in addition to being insanely well-written as an espionage movie, it also doubles as a romantic comedy with a dynamite couple in Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (who shared the screen as lovers in Mike Nichols’ “Closer,” a past F.I.L.M.).  The two play all sorts of games with each other, but since they are both corporate spies, all the lying, cheating, and stealing is for their job.  As the movie cuts back and forth between their history as lovers and their current scheming, it keeps us wondering where the line between work and play is drawn by these two spies.  Do they draw it at the same place?  What happens when this line is crossed?  By mixing the two genres, Gilroy gets us more engaged than ever in the business of these spies.  (Not to mention he cuts out all the contrived mumbo-jumbo we’ve been told to tolerate time and time again by Hollywood.)

Owen’s Ray Kovacks and Roberts’ Claire Stenwich are fascinating to watch unfurl courtesy of their nuanced portrayals.  First spies for competing governments, then from competing corporations, their alliances are never completely evident nor are their motives fully crystalline.  But as their quest to be the smartest guys in the room takes them on a crazy path that only a brilliant screenwriter like Tony Gilroy could imagine, their worlds and minds begin to unravel, ultimately laying them bare.  Some might call the movie’s never-ending plot twists excessive and ultimately self-destructive, but in the current Hollywood climate, “Duplicity” doesn’t have enough to compensate for the lack of complexity in a calendar year.  The twists can be electrifying if you choose to let them shock you, and the movie’s ride can be tremendously rewarding for those with the commitment to follow it.