Monday, January 2, 2017

Rogue One



Finally saw Rogue One today. Wow what a good movie, with standout work by an international cast headed by Felicity Jones, Mads Mikklesen, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang and Donnie Yen. And Alan Tudyk as the robot. 

Thumbs up...but (no spoilers intended) did anyone besides me NOT like the ending?

WARNING: Do not read any further! Spoilers ahead!

Let's talk about that ending. All the heroes die. Come on, Disney. Come on, George Lucas.

You can't do that to us, the fans. We want to see more of Jyn Erso the plucky heroine of Rogue One. Cassian Andor the dashing but dark rebel captain. And Chirrut Imwe the blind yet dangerously skilled monk who trusts in the powers of The Force. Plus the rest.

Rogue One fits comfortably in the same movie genre as the Dirty Dozen and the Magnificent Seven, films where a ragtag bunch of misfits melds into a unified team to do something good. Yes many die, but typically a few walk away to fight another day.

Director Gareth Edwards does wonders with creating another side of the Star Wars universe and we care about the team that he has assembled to accomplish their "do or die" mission.

They do it, but must they all die?

Somewhere in the reshoots and re-cuts, a committee hatched a very bad idea and put it into theaters.

I'm sorry to say, but I walked out of Rogue One angry.  After such an excellent set-up, the end is a let-down.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Spotlight

As a Roman Catholic who remembers all too well the horrendous revelations about abuse of children by priests in Boston, I dreaded the prospect of seeing this movie. 

But Spotlight is an excellent film, directed with a sure hand by Tom McCarthy. The movie documents not only what happened in the Church abuse scandal, but also the lies that good people tell themselves to cover up the awful truth.

Spotlight is filled with an ensemble of fine actors (including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Stanley Tucci) who should all get an award. I would like to single out for praise the muted performance of Liev Schreiber who plays the out-of-town Jewish editor who comes to Catholic Boston and stirs the hornets nest.

Spotlight delivers a knockout effect, but without flash or CGI or any pounding music score. It is a somber and quietly devastating film.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Hateful Eight

The eighth (?) film from director Quentin Tarantino can be summarized as Reservoir Dogs in a snow-bound cabin. There is no hero, no one to like, and everyone gets what is coming to him or her.

While the film is visually splendid and the Tarantino dialogue is often quite good, there is not much of a story, especially for a 3 hour running time. What is there might have made a neat 90 minute thriller. Alas the film is a let-down after the soaring successes of Django and Inglorious Basterds.

QT has assembled a fine cast, headed by the always spectacular Samuel L. Jackson, the much abused Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the revelatory Walton Goggins (who some of you may know from TV's series Justified), who all do their best with what they are given. All of these excellent actors deliver award-worthy performances but were snubbed in the recent Oscar awards just announced.

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone contributes some original music. And the wide screen Panavision lensing is a treat for film lovers.

My son Dave and I just re-watched QT's Django and thoroughly enjoyed it again and we both agreed that Hateful Eight pales in comparison. If only QT had stayed with his idea to make Hateful Eight a sequel to Django. Now that would have been something...

Warning to viewers:  This is a very violent film, shockingly so at times. The language is also extreme. This movie is NOT for the faint of heart. Do not bring children.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

Director JJ Abrams brings the Star Wars franchise back to life in the new episode The Force Awakens.
In a nutshell, it is a fun, fast-paced, thrill ride in a galaxy far, far away.

Set years later, after the victorious triumph in episode six, The Return of the Jedi, we find that Luke Skywalker has vanished...and the forces of the dark side are seeking him out.

Abrams and team introduce us to a whole new set of heroes, while bringing some of our old favorites back.

So is this new film any good? Yes it is. Definitely a thumbs up for sheer entertainment.

But because Abrams wants to embed the new characters in the familiar turf of the original trilogy, it often seems like a remake. Even composer John Williams' music feels mostly old, though in this case his Star Wars themes are beloved.

Having said that much of the film feels like a re-warming of old stuff, there is much to like, especially the new faces Daisy Ridley as scavenger Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as ace pilot Poe, and Adam Driver as the tortured baddie, all fine in their respective roles.

Special mention must be made of Harrison Ford returning in fine form as an old and grizzled Han Solo, along with his hairy pal Chewbacca.

The movie ends with a slew of questions dangling in mid air...so we will just have to return for episode eight in a year or two.

I'll be there.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Creed

Imagine you are a member of a writing team sitting down to pen the latest installment in a long running and successful movie franchise. You could play it safe and basically "repeat" what has worked before and/or you could step out and innovate with something new. There are risks associated with both choices.

In the new film in the Rocky series, titled "Creed," written and directed by Ryan ("Fruitvale Station") Coogler, the writers come up with a real winner, one that lovingly embraces the best of the past, while presenting a brand new central hero in Adonis Johnson, illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, played expertly by Michael B. ("The Wire") Jordan.

Abandoned to foster care as a child, Adonis early starts fighting for his identity. And even after Creed's wife adopts him, giving him a life full of opportunity, Adonis never loses that fighting spirit and seeks to fulfill it by acquiring a mentor, Rocky Balboa. What happens next, as the aged Rocky warms up to Adonis and takes him under his wing, is a heartfelt chapter in the Rocky saga. Sylvester Stallone's pitch-perfect performance as the humble and humorous Balboa may very well earn him an Oscar in the next awards season.

Monday, November 9, 2015

OHMSS - 1969

The initials OHMSS stand for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." It's the title of a James Bond book by author Ian Fleming.

And it is also the name of the very best 007 film made so far in the 24 Bond movies. Including the excellent Casino Royale and Skyfall.


OHMSS features the best Bond Girl (Diana Rigg), the best Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the best score by John Barry, and the story (very close to the book) that really humanizes James Bond in a way no other film has done.


In a nutshell, in OHMSS, Bond falls for Tracy, the headstrong and wayward daughter of a Corsican Godfather, (one of the most lovable mobsters in all of cinema!) who pleads with 007 to tame his daughter and marry her.

Many fault this 1969 film for the absence of star Sean Connery, replaced by newbie George Lazenby. While it is a fair criticism, the movie still works overall.


If you have not seen it, give it a try.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre

It has been a looong time since writing a movie review here (*Interestingly my last post was for Skyfall, the excellent Bond film from director Sam Mendes). I kept saying to myself that, when the time is right, I will write here again.

Apparently the time has come.

I just saw Spectre, the new James Bond film.

As I sit here following my viewing of Spectre, and I reflect on how much UK film critic Mark Kermode, whose opinion I trust, liked this film, I am wondering, Did we see the same movie? Is he nuts or is it me?

As a long time fan of everything 007 from the books to the films, I hate to say this: I did not like it. Spectre is a letdown. In fact, I was bored and underwhelmed by it. I think I would be embarrassed if I were director Sam Mendes or star Daniel Craig.

To be fair, let me start with the things I liked about Spectre:

The globe trotting typical in a Bond movie is on full display here with various locations such as Mexico, Austria,  Rome, Tangiers, and London.

The "Bond Girls" are fine this film, in particular the beautiful Monica Bellucci (in the film all too briefly, a big missed opportunity I'd say) and dangerous yet sexy Lea Seydoux (who does a nice job with a role that never quite lifts off).

Q played by Ben Whishaw is great, as is Ralph Fiennes as the new "M." Andrew Scott as a shifty bureaucrat is good but vastly wasted in a throwaway role that could have been so much more.

A few of the set pieces are quite good especially the opening Day of the Dead sequence and the fight on the train.

Now for my beefs:

What a wasted opportunity! If ever a film felt like a committee had written it, this is one. What really hurts is to see the talents of Craig, Christoph Waltz and others go to waste in a big budget film. So much talent, and so little story, motivation, or momentum.

The story, if there is one, has something to do with an assignment from the prior "M" (played by Judy Dench) in a brief video mysteriously delivered to Bond. There should have been much more to this, but alas there never is.

The motivation is never explained. Bond just goes gallivanting around the world wreaking havoc wherever he goes.

There is no momentum, just a drawn out, long film that drags most of the time. Every 15 minutes I was checking my watch and calculating how much longer till the ending credits.

My son Kevin, a filmmaker, said there is something wrong with the sound of the movie. This is most apparent in the scenes with the new "M" which are actually hard to hear.

As my son Kevin and I drove home from the multiplex, we both agreed that the Biggest Missed Opportunity was that Andrew Scott's annoying bureaucrat should have been The Big Bad, wearing a disguise yet later revealed as the mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld. And Monica Bellucci should have returned as his "Irma Bunt."

Well, despite my disappointment, many are enjoying Spectre. That's good. It will probably make bajillions at the box office.

Let's hope for another fresh reboot the next time around.

Anyone for Chris Nolan as director?  And Michael Fassbender for Bond?

Terrence Seamon loves movies. Follow him on twitter @tseamon