Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Star Wars continues the story with its first big budget feature length spin-off.  ‘Rogue One’ bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 of the main canon and tells an adjacent story in the star wars universe.  While this story doesn’t assists main canon its primary goal is to flesh out the rich star wars universe.

A few words about “Rogue One: A Star Wars story”;
1.  Visually stunning – Every shot in this film was beautifully done.  Wide sweeping shots of spacecrafts flying and landing.  Full color landscape shots of planets and space battles.  Detailed graphics, an amazing blend of costume design recognized from the original trilogy coupled with advances in film technology made for a very appealing visual aesthetic.
2.  Paper thin plot – This film had the difficult task of going from one fixed point to another fixed point with little room for latitude in the storytelling.  This means the plot was very rigid and there was little room to develop the characters on screen.
3.  Weak character development – due to the weak plot, characters while having a backstory did not have quite the depth as those in the main canon.  This did not mean you do not care what happens to them, but rather your acquaintance with them is a bit rushed.  Individually there is little attachment, however being invested in the main canon and the mission of the characters in the film allows you to care about what they intend to accomplish.  This is enough to attach you to their fate as the film continues.
4.  War tone, very different – In no other Star wars film has there ever been a greater sense of the stakes at hand than in rogue one.  This film does an excellent job of reminding you that the rebel alliance and the galactic empire are at war.  This is war in which people are dying in order to accomplish their goals.  Not just dying offscreen or in a way that allows you to be shielded from the reality of death but rather death in a very realistic and palpable sense.  This tone is completely different from other Star wars films in this regard.  (That being said there are still jokes and it’s still a lot of fun at times)
5.  Great action – the battle scenes in this movie are brilliant.  Going back to the first point visually the space battles are easy on the eyes however even the blaster ground battles are very lengthy fast paced and enjoyable.  There is only one scene of light saber and force battle carnage, however it is well worth the wait and is especially satisfying.  Advances in film technology make battle scenes much more realistic and easily viewed.  It does not feel campy any longer, but like what you would imagine a futuristic space battle to be.
6.  Leans into tragedy – If the original series and prequels are the tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker then this film continues to tell a bit of a tragic tale.  That’s about all that can be said here without being a spoiler.
7.  Solid fan service ( cameos, lines, music) – while there is no scrolling text to begin the movie, there is plenty of fan service done here.  From the cameos, to the extremely well done CGI “cameos” to the music to the obligatory line stated in every single Star Wars film, this movie did fan service right and every moment was well received.
The movie started slow, but ended well.  It was an extremely solid movie that did an excellent job of expanding the Star Wars universe.  This was a tale told in the world of star wars that tells us that many more individuals made sacrifices for the rebel alliance than movies can be made.  This tells us that the Star Wars were filled with many more stories that could be told for years to come. (cha-ching says Disney)  You can bring your kids but it’s not the romp that the other films were so it may be a little intense for the youngest of children.  3.5 of 5 stars.
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Doctor Strange

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Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) receives its second film with Doctor Strange.  One of the lesser known heroes (as far as mainstream knowledge of superheroes go) Doctor Strange is a bridge for the MCU from the known villains, factions, and heroes to new and more “mystical” unknown villains, factions and heroes.  As the Avengers will need time to regroup and prepare for their eventual clash with Thanos, the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Doctor Strange will reset the stage for the coming conflict in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

A few words about “Doctor Strange”:

  1. Strange pacing (no pun intended) – there was no marking of the passage of time.  From the time doctor strange was in training to the time he mastered his craft seemed especially fast.  Some of this was explained by his superior intellect, however in some ways this felt like cheating.  This made portions of the movie feel rushed.  By the time we reach the main conflict, the film does not feel like it got to this point naturally.
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch played his role well, but did nothing new. – a spin on his typical take of being brilliant as is the case in most of his roles.  He was more arrogant than usual in this, but with a heart of gold as is standard with marvel heroes.  This shtick is pretty familiar coming from him, however what made it better was imagining his interactions with the rest of the folks in the MCU.  He will fit right in.
  3. Stark change in genre – Typically Marvel movies are action/adventure films with a touch of fantasy.  Sure there are portals, talismans, stones and other mcguffins however these are all typically more seasoning than sustenance.  Doctor Strange falls deeper into the category of Fantasy/Adventure, where much of the plot is driven by the mysticism.
  4. Excellent special effects – Imagine if all of the coolest portions of the movie ‘Inception’ that had to do with bending time and space were used over and over as a method of physical combat.  Between this, and the brilliant colors and time moving backwards, this film visually is stunning.  Watching these scenes was very enjoyable.
  5. Sets up for next phase well – This film does a good job of expanding the universe.  With some of rules set by what is established in Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange builds larger on this theme by setting rules in the “multiverse”.  Routinely using the portals they create and artifacts they use for battle, Doctor Strange gives a glimpse into where the MCU is going.  Much of the universe has been driven by physical actions and characters fighting back physical forces, however Doctor Strange doubles down on the mystical doors opened by Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy.
  6. Forgettable conflict – It almost didn’t feel like a conflict much as obligatory first level challenge for the new hero.  Even the bad guys weren’t completely fleshed out as much as they were placeholders standing in place as stereotypical movie conflict.  By the end of the film this becomes unimportant as what is most important is introducing a new direction for the MCU.
With all that being said, the biggest problem that this movie faced was that it didn’t necessarily need to be a feature length film.  Perhaps it would have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or as a backdoor pilot on Marvel’s Agents of Shield.  (although the budget cut would have affected the visual effects).  Overall a solid summer film, albeit opening in November which is always a breath of fresh air among mostly art films vying to contend in Oscar season.  Take your kids, but be warned there are a few scenes that may not be easily understood by young eyes.  However if they can handle Harry Potter this shouldn’t be a problem for them.  3 of 5 stars.

The Netflix Chronicles: 13th

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There is a documentary on Netflix by Ava DuVernay about the shift from slavery to prison for black folks in the United States called ’13th’.  I am not going to rate this film but rather just mention a few reflections from watching the film.

A few words on 13th:

1. The history of black people in this country continues to have the ability to be traced directly back to slavery.

2.  The inability of people to admit that the history of this country and the thought processes of both white and black people perpetuates an issue commonly thought as “solved” or to have “ended”

3.  This country still profits off of slave labor, but the slaves are now classified as criminals, which makes it easier for most folks to stomach.

4.  Criminal, nigger, slave, and black person for the most part are pretty much synonymous.

5.  As long as it is profitable for black folks to remain in prison, policies will be implemented to keep them there.

6.  Kalief Browder is one of the most important martyrs of our age, and I never heard of him before this movie.

7.  Being released from prison, does not actually release you, from prison.

I encourage everyone to watch this documentary.  It was extremely informative.

The Netflix Chronicles: Time Lapse

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Typically Netflix is the perfect place to binge watch a television show.  However it is also a fine place to stumble across hidden gems.  Movie distribution has changed in this era of film making and while cream rises to the top in terms of the best movies being distributed by the traditional methods, streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are making room for all types of movies to be consumed by the masses.  Enter this independent film, which falls into the nontraditional distribution method category.  ‘Time Lapse’ is a film about three roommates who discover a method to view a snapshot of their lives 24 hours in the future.  As the film begins, the most obvious of “what would you do if knew the future?” questions are immediately answered.  However as the film continues it becomes all about decisions these characters are making because of their knowledge.  It is a slow burn thriller.

A few words about ‘Time Lapse’:

  1.  Understated acting – There are no real familiar faces in this film, which lends to its authenticity.  Here are three young people in a pretty baffling situation and their reactions seem to be pretty believable.  Watching the film a second time lends itself to really take note of the acting choices, which are important to the film’s conclusion.  It was the second viewing that really allowed the subtly of these choices to shine.
  2. Really solid premise – This is film based on time travel.  That being said, there is no actual travel in the movie.  It rather explores decisions people make when they have a peek into their future.  This allows for some pretty intense questions that the movie attempts to answer.
  3. Excellent deliberate pacing – This movie unfolds at a pace commiserate with the decisions the characters are making.  While at times the pace is slow and steady, even when the pace quickens it’s only enough to drive home the larger point or to further highlight the decisions the characters are making.  The movie at its “slowest” never feels slow because the viewer is waiting for the next decision to be made.
  4. Satisfying conclusion – Movies based in time travel, or time viewing have a tendency to fizzle out toward the end, unraveling and/or imploding on themselves.  This movie does not do that.  This writer in particular finished the movie than walked around his apartment wit his hands on his head saying “ahhhhhhhhahahahahahahaha”.  While this is not the typical descriptive language used to convey an ending, the point gleaned here should be that this movie follows its own time travel rules and concludes its story as it should.  This was enough to make the journey that much more enjoyable.

This is solid movie, especially for it not to be on anyone’s radar.  Before stumbling across it on Netflix, the writer cannot be certain that he would have even viewed this movie.  This is why it pays to rate everything you watch on Netflix.  This is a good, stay in and try to ride out hurricane matthew film.  Put the kids to bed first, as this isn’t particularly a gory or graphic movie however is some spurts of strong language and very adult themes.  4 of 5 stars.

 

Suicide Squad

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DC studios continues to make attempts to establish franchise super heroes beyond the Christopher Nolan batman series.  With the highly anticipated “Justice League” in the works DC studios continues to trail behind Marvel studios with regards to quality of product as well as fan interest.  Enter Suicide Squad, a less widely known (among casual fans) DC property that brings together a group of “meta-humans” to fight against threats to the US government.  On literal paper (in the comic books) this worked because of the comic’s commitment to maintaining that these were indeed villains bound only by self preservation rather than any inherent need to do good for goodness sake.  (you better watch out)  On film, this translated as a ragtag bunch of antiheroes with hearts of gold who maybe, just maybe would make a friend in the process of doing a good deed.

A few thoughts about Suicide Squad:

  1. A solid performance from Will Smith – Will Smith leans into his role as Deadshot an antihero hit man who only cares about the welfare of his daughter.  He is funny, at times serious, and all in all refreshing to watch as he breaks from his typical character archetype.  Seeing Will Smith play an ensemble player in a movie that did not necessarily revolve around him was a definite break from the norm.
  2. Clunky pacing – This movie was the victim of some second guessing from the studio after the successful release of “Deadpool”.  At times it was easy to spots the portions of the film that had been updated to fit a more silly tone.  However this happened at the cost of a well paced film with any clear intentions.  As the tone shifted wildly from serious to fun, to grave, and at times ridiculous, it could be easy to forget where the viewer was at any given scene.
  3. Strange villain – Not like “Dr. Strange”, but strange as in strangely placed.  This villain at times seemed to be overly powerful for this group as a first obstacle.  The foot soldiers seemed to be placed in the film as a low level enough challenge to showcase the powers of the protagonists.  This felt very plot device-y.  However the way the team came together seemed to indicate that there will be other adventures and obstacles for the team to face in future films.
  4. Suicide Squad felt like “antiheroes” – In some cases the poison was taken out of the fangs of these villains.  The Suicide squad was meant to be a group of dangerous super criminals who were only released to do the government’s bidding.  At times they felt more like the superhero response to the expendables.  The decision was clearly made to soften these criminals to make them “likable” for the audience. This was done at the cost of complexity to the characters, making some of them seem like flat stock pieces of a typical “team” movie.
  5. Off screen backstory – This film, much like “Batman V Superman:  Dawn of Justice” leaves much assumption to the viewer.  There is some character development and plot that occurs off screen that clearly affects the decisions made by the characters on screen.  Except for some flashbacks to explain some of these decisions or feelings, it seems as much is left to the assumption of the viewer.  This film definitely expects you to know the backstory of batman and the joker.  Speaking of the Joker…..
  6. The Joker’s presence was not necessary – This movie did no real service to the Joker as a character as the viewer is not actually introduced to the Joker as a character with any depth.  While one should not immediately compare this Joker to the Joker from “The Dark Knight” there was definitely a sense that his presence in this movie was either thought necessary by studio executives or some sort of fan service.  This would have been a far more intriguing movie with just the Joker’s finger prints and bread crumbs in the film rather than the lackluster performance from Jared Leto.  (also plot wise, the Joker could have been anyone as far as his actual effect on the story)
  7. Better than most of the other DC movies – Except for the Christopher Nolan Batman films this movie stood out as a minor success for DC.  Not a disaster, while not a resounding success, this film was not as problematic as many of the other DC films in rotation.  (read: superman)

All in all, a nice distraction from the Washington DC summer heat.  Bring the teenagers, leave the young children at the house.  2.99 of 5 stars.

Jason Bourne

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After the 2012 release of the fourth film in the Bourne franchise without the involvement of Matt Damon, or two time Bourne series director Paul Greengrass 2016 reunited the pair with “Jason Bourne”.  When the Bond films were rebooted with Casino Royale in 2006 much credit was given to the Bourne franchise for bringing the spy genre movie back to earth by using a limited amount of technology and more hand to hand combat and general wits to overcome obstacles.  With the latest installment in the Bourne series an aged Matt Damon stars as an aged Jason Bourne who is still attempting to stay far away from the people that would either use him as a weapon or see him discarded.  While it was good to see another Bourne film with Matt Damon, this one was not necessarily a break from what we are used to seeing in these movies.

A few thoughts about Jason Bourne:

  1. Extremely convoluted plot – Leaving the theater a viewer can expect to forget the details of why anyone on screen is motivated to do anything they did.  Per usual in the Greengrass installments of this series the focus is more on the chase, and the stunts and creating a “thriller” feel.  Plot definitely feels secondary here, however for some this may be a plus as we explore in point 2.
  2. Very good action – The viewer can expect to be on the edge of their seat for some of the action scenes in this movie.  Including a very long car chase on the Vegas strip involving a SWAT truck, as well as a very intimate execution, this film did not hold back with the body count.  For viewers that want to see action on the big screen, this film delivers.
  3. Too much chase – Much of the previous installments in “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” involved the usual scenes of two people completing separate tasks to find each other but cut together in order to give the viewer the anxious feeling that one will find the other before the second outsmarts the first.  This makes the film feel very familiar in a tired way.  The viewer can almost always expect Bourne to come out on top which makes the actions of almost everyone else seem futile.
  4. Old Matt Damon – (and older Julia Stiles)  really worked for this film.  As far as thinking about how the character has aged and how being older would affect and haunt a former assassin, Old Matt Damon is perfectly cast in this role.  At times the viewer can expect to look at his weathered face on camera and completely believe that he is now the haggard former assassin that has never been able to find the peace that he seeks
  5. Extremely relevant subject matter – The plot in this film (albeit convoluted as mentioned before) still manages to hit on some of the fears that the US faces today.  By weaving a subplot (eventually mainplot) that involves a major social media company and dealing with the CIA’s desire to neutralize threats the film feels like it kept up with the trend even in terrorism, or what a threat would look like in 2016.  This made the film feel a little more relevant while it still leaned heavily on the action
  6. Flat women characters – There are two women characters in this movie.  One of them I would have loved to see more of, as her backstory is very relevant to the plot.  The other has a very flat performance that did not do the actress much justice.  In general the performances from the women, did not feel as if they were given much opportunity to be relevant.  This made the movie feel like it was still a little behind its time.
  7. Not sure if they need a sequel – It seems like they either need to let Jason Bourne rest or put him back to work in the CIA.  Either way, we cannot realistically expect him to keep engaging in this abusive relationship with black ops in the US.

Definitely not the movie of the summer.  However consider this the backup plan, if Star Trek Beyond, and Ghostbusters are sold out.  Leave your kids at home, there is a lot of senseless murder in this film.  2.5 of 5 stars.

 

Star Trek Beyond

 

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With the onset of the movie franchise, Marvel has led the way in terms of creating symphonies, after allowing individual instruments to shine on their own.  Not to be outdone Paramount has followed suit, not only cranking out several Mission Impossible movies in recent years but also with the Star Trek reboot series.  Star Trek Beyond is the third installment in this franchise however this movie spends far less time establishing characters or backstory assuming that you have watched the others.  This leaves plenty of time and room for a good story to be told.  If by any indication of the quality of this film, viewers can expect to see a few more installments of this particular franchise.

A few thoughts about Star Trek Beyond:

  1. Deliberate Beginning – For most Trekkies, the beginning of this movie will feel very familiar.  With a voice over from the captain the slow start of this film leads the viewer to feel as if there is something to anticipate that is just out of reach.  While it may strike some as boring, seasoned fans will recognize this familiar setup as a means to an end.
  2. Good homage to the original show/films – This being the first film that spent a significant amount of time on a planet rather than in space, many of the beats paid homage to the familiar off world episode.  Much of the magic of the new films come in the form of a new spin on familiar ideas, this felt very much as if the stakes had been raised.  Being outside of the ship felt like a natural progression for this series.
  3. Great ensemble acting – As Marvel has their avengers, Star Trek has its crew.  The characters felt very much as a team with their dialogue complimenting one another’s.  For Trekkies they will recognize and appreciate the rapport that this cast has gained working with one another.  The character development is also working well, as if you have seen the first two movies the place of the characters felt natural,
  4. Good pacing – Like the first film in the franchise this movie unfolded at a steady pace.  From a slow beginning, the action accelerated at a steady pace from beginning to end.
  5.  Corny at times (but in a good way) – The dialogue at times was a little corny.  However no audible groans or gasps.  This again felt like the corniness a Trekkie could come to expect from a Star Trek property.  Even the corniest lines did not necessarily feel forced.
  6. Very well directed. – Justin Lin did a solid job with this film.  Some may know him from his work with the Fast and the Furious franchise however while elements of that can be seen here, this has proven that with better source material he definitely rises to the occasions.  Beautiful wide shots of the ship, the space station, the planet, as well as great choices in terms of action shots and space combat.  This was a beautiful film in terms of just watching.
  7. Well written. – Simon Pegg wrote the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” which consisted of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.  While those movies garnered plenty of fans this was Pegg’s first foray into a non comedy property.  If pacing and plot are any witness, many more writing opportunities will come Pegg’s way.
  8. Villain was a little lackluster – That is not to say that there wasn’t an element of danger or cool factor with the villain’s actual weapons of choice.  However the villain’s motivation was not entirely executed well.  In the end this did not matter, as he still had the desired effect of being the obstacle the crew had to join together to overcome.

Overall a solid summer movie, and a good Star Trek movie.  This is one your entire family will enjoy, go ahead and bring the kids.  4 of 5 stars.