Going Rogue

With nothing to do on a Thursday, I decided to partake in the continued saga of the galactic battle which has captured the minds of fans around the world for decades. I reviewed what I thought was the complete story last year,  only to have The Force Awakens bring us up to speed on what had been happening in the lives of Leia, Han and Luke. I don’t remember much of that film, so I figured I’d jot my thoughts down on Rogue One before it too drifted away from me.

For starters, I’m glad I read nothing about the movie or saw any of the trailers so that I could enjoy the surprise appearances sprinkled throughout the film. The only downside to this approach was that it took me some time to determine where chronologically this movie was taking place. I suppose numbering your films becomes problematic when you already have a III, and then come up with an idea for another film that fits perfectly in as a III. To the credit of the film’s creators, they didn’t try for a III.1 but just provided the subtitle; A Star Wars Story.

After being bludgeoned for 16 minutes by visually jarring previews, the feature presentation finally began. I naively expected an empty theatre for a 12:00 PM showing–the first of the day–but it was a full house, comprised mostly of children. This provided additional stress for me as the movie wore on for I started worrying for the children’s state of mind. You see, Rogue One is more of a classic war movie than its predecessors, or so it felt to me. War films as a genre are rather ill defined, but at least one director provided a loose description for us: Sam Fuller defined the genre by saying that “a war film’s objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war.” While Rogue spared us some of the more graphic aspects of combat featured in many films dealing with the issue, we experienced plenty of death and destruction. A movie with so many moving parts and so many characters makes it difficult to connect to many of them, so their deaths don’t produce a lasting emotional impact. Consider how many tears have been shed for the countless Storm Troopers who’ve lost their lives throughout the many Star Wars movies that preceded Rogue. A cartoonish laser blast, dropping a faceless bad guy to the ground with no blood and guts on display, can be taken in stride, but the death of a main character may provide the viewer prolonged sadness and a sense of despair. Rogue gave us lots of both.

Rogue One is a fine bit of movie making, with the stunning visual panoramas we’ve come to demand from modern films, combined with a complex storyline, better dialogue than Star Wars is known for and less cheap attempts at campy humour. Storm Troopers were still dispatched with relative ease by the rebels, but they displayed a bit sterner stuff than the bumbling halfwits they are in all the other movies. The new characters introduced were excellent additions to the tale, well played by the cast with a particular nod to Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Orson Krennic, Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Empire. Mendelsohn brings the same creepy vibe he brought to the character of Danny Rayburn in the TV series Bloodline to his take on Krennic and its effect is memorable. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are a pleasure to watch together and their robot companion adds to each scene, rather than almost steal it from them as C-3PO and R2D2 were prone to do. The surprise CGI appearances of beloved characters were a delight.

The supporting cast of rebels were surprisingly impactful for their short screen time, so their ultimate demise was disturbing in a way most extras don’t produce. The use of Weapons of Mass Destruction on two targets came across with an ominous bit of realism, assisted along with the powerful visual effects of shock wave blasts felt agonizingly long after the initial explosion off in the distance. I was left with the pain of reflecting on small lives, given up in pursuit of a grander goal, never knowing whether their valiant efforts had any impact on the future. Their existence wiped out in an instant while the battle rages on interminably it seems, as we are surrounded by war not only on our planet, but even in galaxies far, far away.

The Batman

I am somewhat perplexed and ambivalent about the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series of films. The Dark Knight Rises rode over the cliff of reasonable suspension of reality, even for a superhero flick. For example, with mere seconds before detonation of an atomic bomb, we clearly see The Batman in his Bat-Copter. There is a multi-megaton blast and we are then treated to the various somber posthumous rituals duly performed. We are then to believe that Bruce Wayne “fixed” the autopilot program in his copter, and this crucial point is made almost casually by a repairman in a split second of film time. Even allowing this rather convenient autopilot resolution, at what point did Wayne leap from his craft? Did he then swim from the middle of the bay, suffering with a seemingly forgotten knife wound to the ribs, to a European nation to rendezvous with the thieving and incredibly flexible Anne Hathaway? The physics of atom-splitting would beg to differ. When Bruce managed to be only the second person to ever escape the Pit Prison, how exactly did he manage to walk from what appeared to be Istanbul back to a completely cutoff Gotham, and when did he find time to shave?

Begins was a necessary film to create the epic orphaned boy turned billionaire turned caped crusader, and I suppose making Wayne a ninja was required to support the intense hand-to-hand combat he would endure over the remainder of the series. But as a standalone film it felt unfinished, which is likely the fate of every first of a series.

I felt that The Dark Knight was the most honest of the films, with Bruce’s childhood sweetheart actually perishing, vs. seeming to perish only to walk through the smoke several scenes later. Heath Ledger’s Joker was nothing short of brilliant, and while Gordon’s cop glasses and mustache combo felt overly contrived to the point of caricature, and Harvey Dent’s All American hero show was overdone, the plot stayed on a steady path and while dark, dreary and callous about human life, it didn’t demand a complete suspension of one’s critical faculties to enjoy it.

I won’t say that I didn’t love the series, because I can honestly say that I did. I was captured by the story and the cinematography and I watched all three films over the weekend. For those who follow my diatribes, you’ll know that I often can’t get halfway through one film, let alone three. But in Rises, one gets the sense that the writers overindulged in creating a deep story-line, with multiple comeback scenarios that had Christian Bale repeatedly growing month’s worth of facial hair. Michael Caine’s Alfred was well written and acted and I can’t recall ever seeing Morgan Freeman play a part poorly. The Bat-Toys, particularly his wings and his rockin’ motorcycle, were pure joy.

The ultimate test of a movie’s quality may be one’s willingness to watch it again. Even though it’s been only 36 hours or so since I first ventured into the Bat-Cave, I can see myself settling in to take it all on again.

Star Wars Review

I first saw Episode IV: A New Hope in theaters as a new release (yes, I’m that old). I had not seen the prequels, I, II and III, until now. After thoroughly researching the optimal viewing order, I watched IV, V, II, III and VI in rapid succession. I have not seen Episode I as from what I’ve read, it’s both unnecessary to the storyline and a plainly bad movie.

  • The story is a timeless one of greed, power & Machiavellian ruthlessness.
  • Placing it in another galaxy of advanced species is the one twist that makes it unique. It would be easy to dismiss the entire affair had it been a terrestrial Earth-bound story.
  • The dialogue is sophomoric at best, and often cringeworthy.
  • The acting is bland and deadpan, with only a few strong moments by supporting actors.
  • Episode III is the strongest of the VI, although it’s also the most violent featuring treachery and betrayal, and almost countless occasions of callous and cold blooded murder.
  • Leia’s memories of her birth mother in Episode VI violate the storyline as her birth mother died shortly after delivering her in Episode III.
  • The Emperor could clearly have killed Luke Skywalker instantly once he had determined that he could not be turned. Instead, the prolonged tasering made the finale predictable.
  • The ineptness and outright buffoonery of the Stormtroopers throughout the epic was unfortunate, but being defeated by teddy bears with rocks and sticks on Endor was humiliating.

Highlights:

  1. The concept of the Jedi knight.
  2. The use of hyperdrive to acknowledge the vastness of space and the impossibility of space travel without conquering the speed of light.
  3. R2D2 and C-3PO (although they tried to make C-3PO a stand up comic in Episode III, which almost ruined that film).
  4. The surprise ending of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, with the revelation of Vadar and Luke’s relationship.
  5. Jabba the Hutt.

Disappointments:

  1. A second Death Star as the Empire’s choice of weapon to stop the rebellion. It reeks of a lack of creativity.
  2. Some of the lifeforms were absurdly muppetish.
  3. Han Solo’s ridiculous high-school-boy-age crush on the Princess. I can only assume his recovery from carbon freezing contributed to the moronic displays of pouting featured in Return of the Jedi.
  4. While tapping into the Universe’s “force” is a workable premise, the seeming immortality of Obi Wan Kenobi stretches credulity to the point of ridicule.

Overall, I give it 3 bags of popcorn out of a possible 5. It’s enjoyable with moments of grandeur, but falls short of the epic greatness an interstellar civil war story could have risen too. Had the comic book feel been toned down a bit, and a more serious script been presented with less attempts at campy humor, it could have been a series that adults would watch more than once.

Mad Max: Fury Road

There’s just something about a post-apocalyptic nightmare landscape featuring a lone warrior with a chip on his shoulder, fast cars, scantily clad females, and leather jackets–torn and frayed or not–that are appealing to me, and apparently lots of other folk. I’ve seen all the Mad Max flicks, with Road Warrior the standout favorite. With Mel Gibson now too old to properly play Max again, I assumed the series had run its course years ago and was surprised, pleasantly I might add, to see previews for a new Mad Max movie. The trailers looked intense, so when the opportunity came available, I drove my own sleek metal machine down the darkened roads to my local cinema.

After the interminable parade of previews which demonstrated that yes, people still make horror and slasher flicks, I was transported to the desert world of some not too distant future and a car chase soon ensued. I was then assaulted by the chaotic visual stimulus that would go on for the next two hours. I don’t need a deep, thought provoking plot to enjoy myself and I certainly don’t expect one from this kind of movie. But I will say that the three previous Max’s had a storyline that more or less worked. I can’t say that about IV.

Here’s my down and dirty summary:

  • Visually stunning.
  • Mutants.
  • Lots of cars.
  • Chase scenes.
  • More chase scenes.
  • No one eats, or seems to have access to any food of any kind, yet well muscled physiques abound.
  • Max is a man of very few words. Like seriously, very few.
  • Charlize Theron steals the show.
  • A plot twist that made me look at my watch and think, “oh please, not again.”
  • A building sensation that one possibly did not spend two hours in a meaningful way.
  • The pointless, meaninglessness of life. Oh wait, that’s just life in general.

I’m left with a sense of loss for what was the Mad Max semi-cult phenomenon. Fury Road could have been something if they’d just had a story to tell to go with the bombastic onslaught of gasoline fueled mayhem. 24 hours later, there are handful of things that still come to mind about it, so there’s that, but dammit it should have been more.

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Post Script

I have since watched the movie again, at home, in the comfort of my bed and was able to actually hear most of the dialogue, which was inscrutable in the theater’s overly loud, and apparently distorted sound system. The plot, which seemed so thin without being able to discern the conversations adequately, took a bit more shape for which I am grateful and relieved. My second viewing was a far different experience from the first, and the moral of the story is a message to all cinemas: Don’t cut costs at the expense of your sound system. You will pay dearly for it.