Forest Whitaker

December 19, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Matt’s Take)

Rogue One – Tough

TOUGH

2015 brought about the resurgence of a franchise literally dragging itself out of the fiery pits of Mustafar. “The Force Awakens” was a worldwide phenomenon; it bridged the gap between successful animated fare like “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” and washed the taste out of the mouths of fans still angry and beating their plastic lightsabers on the dead horse that were the Star Wars prequels. Since the Lucasfilm/Disney purchase that was so highly touted/publicized/argued, everything has been coming roses for the Star Wars Universe and its fans. Plus, now anything that can be Star Wars, IS Star Wars. Pet clothing, lawnmowers, coffee pots, I”m sure there are even Star Wars-themed Fleshlights out there. I mean come on, one can dream, can’t they?

My point is that Star Wars has taken over again. Add in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Disney is literally printing money with pictures of Mickey Mouse on it, hey, in a couple of years, the way we are going, that might end up being a legit form of currency.

Oh it’s a great time to be alive if you’re a fanboy of fangirl.

With all the success that Star Wars has had since it came out of the wilderness following the perceived failure that were the prequel films, there are many that wondered; “When will they slip up?” Much like the MCU, there have been many films where people though the shine was coming off, “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World,” and even “Ant-Man” were films that many can point to where the chinks in the armor were starting to show. And unlike “Star Wars” this was bound to happen with Marvel when introducing characters that were so fringe that it’s almost impossible to find a captive audience, of course “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the exception and not the rule.

This brings me to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” the first in what is bound to be many stories, and the 2nd film in the “One-Star-Wars-Film-A-Year-Until-The-Day-We-Die” series. Of course that might sound a little snarky, but in this day and age if you aren’t snarky you aren’t a member of this horrible, horrible Internet that was been created.

So was “Rogue One” good? Yes……and no. As a “Star Wars” fan, of course I loved this film. It finally brought the “War” to “Star Wars.” Sure, you get to see “The Clone Wars” in the “Prequel-that-won’t-be-named,” and who really wants to relive that….

The premise is simple. A band of bad-ass ruffnecks are tasked with stealing the plans to a planet-destroying weapon and thwarting an evil army. It’s really as simple as that, The only difference between this film and any other action or sci-fi film that has the same exact plot is that it takes place in the Star Wars Universe. I know….it sounds bad to equate it that simply, but that is exactly what we have here. If this was any other film franchise people would be bashing this film into the ground, but since it’s the holy grail of science fiction mythology, the literal scared cow of cinema, the bashing will be light by most reviewers.

With the finished product that is “Rogue One” we can see why the production might have been a little troubled. This is a dark film; this is a war film, and coming off “The Force Awakens” you can see where they tried to lighten the mood with some cameo appearances that I won’t spoil, the gallows humor of K-2SO helps, but nonetheless, this is still a dark film that of course brings up the comparison to “The Empire Strikes Back,” which in the scheme of things, chronologically, works very well for the canon where you have “A New Hope” now book-ended by two very dark entries.

One of my biggest gripes, and this is similar to a gripe that I have with the MCU as well, is the need for audiences to know EVERYTHING about the universe in order to grasp all the intricacies and “wink-wink nod-nod” moments that fans will love, while casual fans will be left out in the cold. I understand that you have to include fan service, but “Rogue One” is the victim of too much fan service without providing an explanation to crucial plot points. One of the biggest is the use of Kyber Crystals and why they are so important to the universe. Never once, in the history of the FILM universe have Kyber Crystals been spoken about, unless I’m mistaken. Yes, I know, they are used to power a Jedi or Sith’s lightsaber. I know that because I KNOW “Star Wars” and do the research. But this is explained more in the prequel book to “Rogue One,” “Catalyst” where Kyber Crystals are explained to a larger degree and how they do more then just power lightsabers.

Characterization was also lacking for the most part. We see glimpses of motivations for characters like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and the duo of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus (who I would LOVE to see a Star Wars Story about them) are my highlights. But in a film where you pretty much know the end result, I assume this was done on purpose because, SPOILER ALERT, a lot of people don’t make it. With that, to truly understand the motivation for these characters is pretty inconsequential, but that to me, is also a shortcoming of “Rogue One.”

Even with the run-time being two hours and 15 minutes, there were plenty of times where the action could have been dialed back, and we could have gotten to know these characters a little better. Gareth Edwards knows how to do a lot with a little, “Monsters” is a great example of how he was able to generate tension without having to show anything, but with “Rogue One,” he chose to go the route of “let’s blow up a lot of shit” instead of getting intimate with his wonderful characters. Maybe he felt like he was only going to be able to play in this sandbox once so it was balls-to-the-wall, which is understandable, and I might be in the minority of the person liking bigger and better booms and out-of-this-world CG, but characters come first, especially for a film universe that prides itself on it’s mythology.

Overall, for being the first “Star Wars Story” this is a worthy effort despite it’s flaws. This is a Star Wars film for fans, made by fans, and that might be one of the biggest issues. Even with the oversight of Disney, I think the inmates ran the asylum a little too much in “Rogue One” and caused this film to feel disjointed, rushed, and wasted the chance to flesh out new characters and instead chose to do it with a different medium, namely a book and cartoon series, “Catalyst” and “The Clone Wars,” respectively. I can’t knock Disney for trying to tie in their collective mediums, shit, I’m sure there are tons of people buying the e-book or the hardback for “Catalyst” today or binge-watching “Clone Wars,” but I don’t like having to study for a test in order to understand a film as a whole.

I’ll likely give this film another shot in the theater, but unlike my seven screenings of “The Force Awakens” in the theater in 2015/2016, this will be so I can catch all the things I missed. I want to like “Rogue One,” but this was a tough film to get behind, even for the die-hard in me. “Rogue One” is the blueprint, which despite it’s flaws, is still very watchable and will make fans happy as we finally know what happened to the rebels that gave their lives to help the rebellion.

April 7, 2016

Trailer Hot Take: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Teaser Trailer)

All the Interwebs is in a tizzy today and having a collective nerd-gasm over the reveal of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” the first in what is to be many one-off stories that will fill in the gaps in Star Wars canon.

With so much to talk about, let’s go to the stills and analyze this bitch!

Look at that title card…LOOK AT IT!!
Here is our first look at Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) She’s got a little Ellen Page going on there….
Erso being led away with a mighty fine X-Wing hanging in the back.
A little Mon Mothma anyone….
Diego Luna looks on while Mothma gives Erso the 3rd degree it seems….
Now here’s the money shot…putting the finishing touches on the Death Star
A high ranking Imperial, but who could it be?
Forest Whitaker strutting his stuff….friend, foe, or something in-between?
Donnie Yen about to go all “Blade 2” on these Storm Troopers.
Now here is the good stuff…Royal Guards seemingly guarding a tube. Could Vader be in the tube, or is that Vader walking up to the tube…or is it something different all together?
AT-AT’s going to war against the Rebels
This will certainly raise speculation, especially with the VO behind it. Is Erso a true blue Rebel, does she betray the cause, or something in-between….again…..
A lot to speculate in just a trailer just shy of :90, but we’ll have much more to talk about when a full length trailer appears soon enough.
December 22, 2013

Out Of The Furnace

PERFORMANCES

Perhaps it is because I’m a black man born and raised in a city environment that the world of the country gangster interests me so much.  Their world is an entirely different world than the one I’m used to, and it’s just a short ways up the highway.  I watched The Dukes Of Hazzard religiously as a kid…before I realized that them Duke boys were driving ’round with a big “Go F%*k Yourself Black People” flag on their car.  It is no secret that Justified is my favorite show on television. (SCREW YOU GOLDEN GLOBE COMMITTEE)  Even Roadhouse tickles the hell out of me.  Especially the absurdity of that final scene.  So, Out Of The Furnace seemed like a film set directly in my entertainment wheelhouse.  Unfortunately, the film has an overly simple and predictable plot that merely serves as a platform for its real asset.  The thoroughly stellar PERFORMANCES.

Out Of The Furnace comes from Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper.  Crazy Heart also ended up being a film with an unremarkable plot but extremely remarkable and Oscar winning PERFORMANCES.  Furnace is about the chaos that happens after two brothers get mixed up with a psychotic mountain man gangster.  That’s it.  Okay, there are some other secondary facets to the story.  This includes a regretable accident, an awkward love triangle, and a combat veteran’s hardship.  However, hardly anything happens that you will not see coming or have not seen before.  Because the premise is this simple and familiar, the moments that connect the important plot elements feels like overly long and extraneous padding.  You could easily cut forty minutes from this barely two hour film and still not miss a thing.  A very unfortunate problem, seeing as those padded moments have some of the film’s better acted scenes.  This makes me think they were kept in, not because the story needed it, but because of how good the actors were in it.  You never want to have a film where great PERFORMANCES are playing defense with your story.

Scott Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi are real artists when it comes to framing and light.  I think Cooper could make a terrific western if he wanted to.  The western genre is centered on confrontation, tension and the anticipation of violence.  That is maybe what he was trying to do here.  A modern day western.  If that is the case then the pacing of the film makes sense.  However, there are still some elements that don’t serve the build up of confrontation.  Though, Cooper should be credited for once again getting what he got from his actors in this film.

People still forget how great of an actor Christian Bale is.  Even after his recent Oscar win for The Fighter.  In The Fighter, Bale played a larger than life character that required his usual body transformation.  It was a character that gave him many things to do and many things to play with.  His character Russell Baze is precisely the opposite of Dicky Ward.  Russell is more subdued and still.  Most of Bale’s PERFORMANCE is internalized.  And yet, the PERFORMANCE is tremendous.  A scene with him and Zoe Saldana on a bridge is probably some of the finest acting you’ll see this year.  Yeah, Zoe Saldana is in this.  She isn’t in it for a long time, but long enough to give a strong PERFORMANCE.  Bale’s brother Rodney is played by the Affleck brother who can act.   (You’re an awesome director Ben, but Casey can act circles around you)  Again, the dynamic between the two brothers is nothing new.  However, Casey and Bale elevate the relationship in every scene they share.  You would never think Casey could display an intensity that rivals the always intense Bale, but he does.  And speaking of intense, the real standout of this movie is Woody Harrelson.  From the first scene, you know that Harrelson is going to steal this film.  He is tough, funny, and scary as hell.  He is such a great character, I wish there was a little more time dedicated to him.  His inevitable showdown with Bale struck me as a bit anticlimactic.   Cooper might have meant to keep his character Harlan Degroat (What a great name) simple and vague.  However, I would have appreciated a little more time with the character and see the behind the scenes of how he ran his organization.

I’ve focused on the main stars, which really short changes the fine work done by the supporting cast.  From Forest Whitaker, to Willam Dafoe, to Sam Shepard.  Every actor brought their A game.  Sadly, the story surrounding them is simply just a B-.  Grab your rifle…and your boxing tape…don’t let Woody Harrelson serve you a hotdog…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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