Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - A Popcorn For One Review (Possible Spoilers)

I might accidentally throw in a SPOILER or two without meaning to, depending on how much attention you've already paid to the trailers, early reviews and rumors that preceded the release of the film.  I'm not going to give away the ending or the fates of the characters, so with that warning we can get down to it.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is the first of the stand alone films that tie into the SW universe, but are not part of the trilogies that make up the Skywalker legacy, if you will.  To be honest, if this film is going to set the pattern for future ones it does seem to help to be somewhat familiar with what is already canon in the world created by George Lucas and others.  This film, especially, assumes you have seen or have some knowledge of the prequels (Revenge of the Seth) in particular. Also, it does set up things we already know from SW: A New Hope, as Rogue One pretty much leads directly into that film.

In the years following events in RotS the Empire has tightened it's grip on just about everything and everyone.  A fledgling rebellion is forming among many worlds and the Emperor desires a weapon that will inspire fear and crush the spirit of those who will not yield.  Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) was one of the most brilliant engineers working for the Empire until he left with his wife and child to become a farmer.  When the Empire's own scientists are unable to complete work on the great weapon, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is sent to retrieve him. When Galen refuses his wife is killed and his daughter, Jyn goes into hiding until rescued by Galen's friend, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).  Saw raises Jyn for years until he leaves her to find her own way.  The older Jyn (Felicity Jones) has spent the following years as a petty thief, so when we first see her she is imprisoned by the Empire and being sent to a penal colony.  At this point she is rescued and ends up in the hands of the rebel alliance, who want her assistance in finding her father.

As you can see from the trailers she soon becomes actively involved in the rebellion and eventually takes part in an attempt to retrieve the plans for the Death Star, which may contain information that will aid in its destruction. 

That's if for plot points since I don't want to give away too much, but all the above you pretty much get from the TV spots and trailers already released.  There are a few surprises, including characters we have seen in the prequels and in the original trilogy.  We also finally get an answer to something that has been bothering some fans since the very, first film came out and has not been answered (at least in the films) up until now.  It has actually become something of a joke among even casual folks familiar with the SW story.

I can't say that RO ranks up there with SW IV - VIII, but I enjoyed the film, despite some weaker moments.  As other reviewers have said the early parts of the movie have some wonderful scenes, but there is also a lot of time introducing a pretty large cast and filling us in on things most of already know.  I'm still not sure how I feel about the CGI recreation of some characters, although it was done brilliantly in the case of one of them.  We also get to see Darth Vader in action and it becomes evident why he was so feared in the earlier movies. The final third of the film leads up to the action we have been shown in the trailers and the battles themselves.  This is indeed a 'war movie' taking place in the SW universe, making the fights we have seen in previous films pale in comparison.

I'm giving the movie a solid "B" throughout and ending in a "B+" thanks to the final battle and it's outcome.  Not a perfect film, but any means, but the folks involved have shown that you can continue the SW saga even without the major players we've grown up with.


Just quickly I want to mention that it was nice to see a decent number of trailers before the movie began and these were well chosen.  I've seen more than my share of movie previews that seem ill-fitted for the audiences waiting for a particular feature.  Here, however, the trailers were all for SF and super-hero films which fit in perfectly.  Not sure if what you'll see are different, as I saw the movie in a Regal theater and other chains may play others.

What I did see were:  LOGAN (an X-Men related film and possibly Hugh Jackman's final one as Wolverine. One I want to see.); PASSENGERS (an SF film with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence); TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (which interests me as much as the others I have never seen); SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (the first solo film in the new Tom Holland led franchise of that character. A must in my book.); THE MUMMY (another attempt to create a Universal monster universe, this time with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, plus a female mummy. Action looks good, and Cruise can do that well, but the scenes of the mummy remind me too much of the Enchantress character in Suicide Squad so this may continue to bother me.); PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEADMEN TELL NO TALES (to be honest I gave up after the second film and this looks something only a PotC fan would care about);GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (the only trailer that got a noticeable and positive reaction from the audience and the theater was almost full. I think everybody in there seemed excited about this movie.)

That does it for me until the next time.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Popcorn For One: Reviews of DOCTOR STRANGE and ARRIVAL

I think I’m getting into a bad habit again.  Back when I was in New York I’d pretty regularly spend hours on a day off going to several movies back-to-back.  Most Manhattan theaters were turning into multiplexes in the ‘80s and it was pretty easy to move from one film into another, especially if several were getting out at the same time. I have not done it in years, but find that it’s still pretty easy to get away with.  Of course, I have a feeling that the theater staff would be more likely to question a few teenagers they saw trying that, while they wouldn’t consider the senior citizen wandering the lobby to be much of a problem.  Anyway, onto the movies.

As you can imagine, if you regularly read this blog (when I remember it’s here) or actually know me, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Doctor Strange film from Marvel for the past few months.  Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange, a famous, if egotistical, surgeon who has little use for anyone or anything unless it reflects well on himself.  About the only person who actually likes him is fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who may have been his lover at one point prior to the film’s opening scenes. After a tragic car accident causes Strange to lose the use of his hands as a surgeon he goes out of his way to alienate everyone else, including Christine, as he continues in a downward spiral.  One day he happens to hear of another man who seemingly recovered from physical injuries that should have been impossible to overcome.  The only thing this man will tell him is that he should seek Kathmandu, in Nepal. Narrowly escaping a vicious beating by local thugs thanks to the intervention of the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetelu Umeadi Ejiofor), Strange is led to his destination.  There he meets the order’s master, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, in a role portrayed as a male in the comics since his introduction), who finds him wanting so has him cast out.  It is again Mordo who comes to his defense allowing Strange another chance.

It is unclear how long Stephen is undergoing training in the mystic arts, but one assumes it is months, if not years.  When an earlier apprentice of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (a very intense and menacing, Mads Mekkelsen) steals a spell that will allow him to contact the ruler of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu, thereby giving this being access to Earth which he wishes to conquer and merge with his own worlds.

I’m not going to give anything else away, since most of the above you can get from the trailers that have been coming out since Comic-Con this past summer.  Needless to say the film was everything I could have wanted and I even sprung for the extra four bucks to see it in 3-D, which I generally pass on but would recommend for this film.  I’m not sure how the interdimensional travels of the good Doctor work in 2-D and I think you would miss out on just how impressive the city twisting battles (reminiscent in a way of INCEPTION) appear.  Nicely acted, with just perhaps a little too much humor for the character as fans know him.  Of course, you expect that from the Marvel films we’ve already seen so it should come as no surprise.  Some of the jokes work better than others, and those featuring the Cloak of Levitation are priceless.

There is one comment seemingly tossed off by one character towards the end of the film that should get the attention of folks already familiar with the MCU’s workings, plus it adds to one of the post credit scenes (there are two of them, so be patient) in setting up future events featuring Strange. 
It was nice to give my eyes a rest, as the 3-D glasses still bother me a bit as I have to put them on over my regular eyeglasses, as my next choice was ARRIVAL.  I had to admit that the trailers for the film really didn’t do much for me, but several online reviewers spoke so highly of the film that I decided to give it a chance.  I’m so happy that I did as I think this film is the best film I have seen so far this year.  Not only are Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (perhaps best known to many of you as Hawkeye from the Avengers films) excellent, but supporting actors Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are also quite good in their roles. 

Adams portrays Dr. Louise Banks a linguist called in by the U.S. military to help decipher the language of an alien race who have suddenly appeared in twelve different areas of the world.  Renner is a physicist and mathematician also enlisted in an attempt at understanding the technology the aliens have used to travel from wherever they call home. 

I can’t really say much more without ruining the story and how the relationships develop in the film. If you go in expecting dazzling special effects or space battles I think you might be disappointed. Think more along the lines of the film CONTACT with Jodi Foster or some parts of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.   Just keep in mind that the trailers you have seen for the film barely give you an idea of what to expect.  This is a movie that will have you thinking after it ends and is one of the few SF films I have seen where many in the audience were applauding at the end.  I expect and hope that there will be some Oscar consideration for this film.  Amy Adams was absolutely wonderful and you forget how good Renner can be in a serious non-action role.  Do yourself a favor and see this movie.

Three trailers for upcoming films caught my attention.  I already was excited for both ROGUE ONE and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Vol. 2, but VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS really caught me by surprise.  I don’t recall hearing of the film prior to seeing a trailer on YouTube, but have seen some pages of the French graphic novel on which it is based.  This is from Luc Besson, who directed and co-wrote FIFTH ELEMENT, so you know he can do visually stunning stuff.  I may add this to my list of films ‘to see’ next year.

Next up, expect my review of ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story in the later part of December.  Of course, I might actually write something about comics before that, but I’m not promising anything.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD - A Popcorn for One Review (Few SPOILERS)

 I finally had a chance to catch SUICIDE SQUAD and was pleasantly pleased by the movie.  It was impossible to not hear the pod casts or read social media, even before the official release, without already getting the impression that this might be another missed opportunity by DC.  I'm glad that I ignored all that and decided to see for myself.

These are just some quick comments (Notice I always say that and end up going on at length.) about the movie, with as few SPOILERS as I can give away.  If you don't want to know anything about the movie you can quit now or take your chances.

The film opens with scenes of various criminals, who would eventually become Task Force X/The Suicide Squad, being captured and some of their background revealed.  Most of the screen time, naturally goes to the highest profiled and popular characters, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).  A different version of Smith's character had been portrayed by Michael Row on the ARROW television series.  The Harley character was teased in the initial episode of ARROW revealing the Squad in that show, but she was not actually seen.  Both Smith and Robbie are the standouts in the film and they actually have a chemistry that I'd love to see used in future appearances of either in the DCU franchise. Ultimately, I think both could carry solo films if DC wants to go that way.  I understand that a Harley film has been mentioned.

Early on we also get to see Ben Affleck's Batman having confrontations with both Deadshot and Harley, who is in the early stages of her relationship with The Joker (played nicely by Jared Leto).  It's hard not to compare Leto with the other actors who have played Batman's greatest foe over the decades. While I don't find Leto's interpretation as riveting as that of Heath Ledger, Leto doesn't try to model his version on any of the earlier actor's.  In some way's he is closer in showing the sheer joy of mayhem that Jack Nicholson displayed way back in the first modern Batman film. But this Joker is intense and really scary. It will be interesting to see how he does when he appears again, probably in the solo Batman film that Affleck is working on.

The other villains who are forced into the Squad are Boomerang(Jai Courtney),  Diablo (Jay Hernanadez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).  The team is formed by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who is just as ruthless as she is in most of her comic and ARROW incarnations.  Waller, known by most as The Wall, who was given her personality by John Ostrander and his late wife, Kim Yale, is a force to be reckoned with. She uses anyone without mercy to do what she believes to be the 'right' thing for her country, even if the country might not agree if they knew what she was up to.  She puts career Army officer Capt. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) in charge of the group, partly for his military expertise and partly because of the romantic connection he has formed with June Moone (Cara Delevingne),  Moone has become inhabited by the supernatural being known as The Enchantress, and Waller hopes to use that being for her own missions, not knowing that the creature has her own agenda all along.  The final member of the team, brought in by Flag as his own enforcer, is Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a skilled swords woman whose blade absorbs the souls of those she kills.

Boomerang, Waller and Katana have all appeared before, played by other actors in the CW/DC universe. I do want to mention a quick cameo in the scene where Boomerang is captured.  The audience I was with seemed pleased.

When The Enchantress is able to escape and completely possess the body of June Moone, she puts her plan into effect by resurrecting her brother so they can once again rule the world as 'gods'. This scene is creepy on several levels and probably the best one featuring Delevingne. It's up to Waller's new team to put a stop to the destruction the pair is causing, whether they want to or not.

The action is great for the most part and just about every character gets some nice scenes.  I really liked Diablo and feel he brought a lot to the film. It would be nice to see him return, but that might be problematic.  I know some folks didn't care for Killer Croc, but I don't think you can blame that on the actor.  He was given some weak jokes which didn't always work, but I'd like to see him return.  I really wish that Boomerang had more to do, because Courtney nails the character and he's a lot of fun.  Especially nice is how he tricks another character into doing something just to see the results.  Sadly, Katana, while effective in the fight scenes really didn't add anything, but again it's more the script than the actress.  I'd have to say that I'd like to see most of the team return.

The weakest performances, and unfortunately, those that hurt the film the most (and I don't seem to be the only reviewer feeling this way), were those of Flag and Moone, who really had little chemistry, except for what was written on the page.  Flag was pretty much a cipher and Kinnaman really didn't do much to make the character stand out.  Tough soldier with a 'heart of gold' underneath but he was just going through the motions.  I'm not familiar with the work of Delevingne, but as the primary villain she was 'comicbook' in the worst way.  Her portrayal of Moone was as a rather weak woman, who needed a man to help her and as The Enchantress the initial dark incarnation was creepy, but when she later transformed it was like she decided she was auditioning for a role in a Joel Schmacher Batman film.  It totally threw the viewer out of the film and her 'hoochie coochie' dance moves were laughable.  Why did director David Ayer, or anyone else behind the camera not see how bad this was?

Finally, this was for me the best of the three DC released in this new franchise.  While I personally didn't dislike (or hate as some seem to) Man of Steel & Batman v Superman as much as some folks, they weren't up to what the best of the Marvel films have been able to bring us.  I thought both movies had some merit and Ben Affleck's Batman stood out as a wonderful character.  I'm looking forward to his return in the new Justice League film and thought that Gal Gadot, as Wonder Woman, was a refreshing surprise in BvS.  I have high hopes for her solo movie. 

I'm going to give this one a solid B+ for the performances of most of the cast, with an overall B for the final product. I just wish that more thought and effort had gone into the casting of two of the major characters.

Not a spoiler, but stick around after the initial credit sequence for a scene that may reveal something happening in a future film. Nice bit with two good actors.