Warner Brothers and DC Comics gave us our first official trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie. The film will pick up where Batman V Superman left off as Bruce Wayne, inspired by the sacrifice of Superman and worried about the coming threat from Apokolips has teamed up with Wonder Woman to recruit other heroes to defend earth.
The trailer gives us our good look at Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg who will be joining the team. Each one of them brings their own energy to the trailer which should make for a fun dynamic for the new league.
Aquaman just looks cool. From his scenes out of the suit, to his surfing the Batmobile and helping Batman take out paradeamons, to his ribbing of Bruce's choice of attire, Arthur Curry looks to be a standout already.
When they first announced Ezra Miller as the Flash I was a little worried, partially because I've already fallen for Grant Gustin's Flash on The CW. I have to say, I think I was wrong. His portrayal of Barry Allen is different, but in a good way. His nervous energy is perfect for the fastest man alive and his relationship with Bruce looks to be a highlight. His line to Bruce, "What are your superpowers again?" and Bruce's response of "I'm rich" is perfect. One of the best things in the trailer is just watching Flash move. It's straight from the comic books, the lighting and the quickness are spot on.
Cyborg is still much of a mystery, but what we've seen, I like so far. Zack Snyder had this to say in USA Today about the new movie and its characters, "When it comes to the new guys, 'they’re each such awesome personalities in the movie,' Snyder promises. 'You have Jason stomping around as this inked hairy man, just this mythic figure. And you’ve got Ezra, who’s full of life and hilarious and all over the place and amazing — a really fun and also poignant Flash. And Ray’s story is in a lot of the ways the heart of the movie.'"
Zack also commented on the Superman situation, "So what about Superman, who was in a casket at the end of Dawn of Justice? 'It’s hard to have a Justice League without Superman. That’s how I feel about it,' Snyder says with a laugh. He knew BvS was going to act as a Justice League prequel, and Snyder remembers early discussions about figuring out what part the Man of Steel needs to play.
'It was always a super-intriguing concept to me to have this opportunity to have him make that sacrifice but also have him be this, in a weird sort of way, the why of Justice League: What do you do now with him? What does the team think? What does the world need?' Snyder says. 'All that comes into play. It’s fun for us but it’ll be interesting for audiences what we do with him.'"
Say what you will about Snyder, the man knows how to bring comics to life and Justice League looks to bring the team together in style with Amazons showing up, glimpses of Mera, Arthur's kick ass queen, Commissioner Gordon, Lois Lane and so much more. It truly is the Dawn of Justice.
It goes without saying, Disney knows how to market its movies. Forget simple trailers and movie posters – the Mousetakes it to the next level. (If you want a reservation to try “The Grey Stuff” at the Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant, you better plan three months in advance.) While others are lining up for limited-time theme park experiences, this cynical Disney super fan lined up to give the latest live action movie a go. As both a child of the 90s and the lead costumer for my high school’s production of the 1993 Broadway musical, the tale of the independent heroine has a magical place in my heart. Disney better not disappoint!
If you are looking for the hallmark excess of a big-budget musical, the good news is that you won’t have to wait for the dazzling “Be Our Guest” number to see it. From the first ballroom scenes at the prince’s palace, you see why this live action adaption was ready to come to light. (Hint: it involves a lot of glitter. Fans of the highlighting fad sweeping the cosmetics industry: I’m looking at you!) The opening dance number rivals the intensity seen in Moulin Rouge’s frantic can-can group number which likely is this film director’s way of flexing his muscle with the live format.
The switch in format is seen nearly immediately with the first of what I feel was several extraneous CGI choices. Since we are in live-action mode and don’t have to rely on expository stained glass to introduce the Enchantress character, you can imagine my disappointment when the old woman was miraculously transformed into a swirl of gold. That’s all you’ve got? This is a world of fantasy, but I would have loved to have seen a gorgeous special effect makeup applied to a person instead. This same sentiment is also how I felt after watching two hours of the Beast. With live-action humans all around him, the creature certainly feels more human-like, but the pixels distract from the unfolding romance. I wish more consideration was given to the use of practical effects. The fantasy characters suffer because of all the striking, real details that surround them.
The care paid to both set design and costuming throughout the picture are extensive and rewarding. During your first introduction to the residents of the village, such compelling creations work wonders to quickly acclimate you to the new setting. The scene brings us the first appearance of our heroine and the village she calls home during the chorus of “Belle”. Through this familiar refrain and the unique individual styling of the villagers adds to your understanding, and appreciation, for who our heroine is and what her life like is like in this “poor provincial town”. The costumes, hair, and make-up tend to upstage the performances of the actors within them, but perhaps this is good for a showy chorus number. A quick eye may also spot a hidden mickey located on a cheeseboard carried through the scene. (See, I told you I was a super fan…)
Here too we see Emma Watson’s Belle make her entrance into the story. It would be very easy to pick apart her performance, but she really does a great job. Her voice is pleasing and she effortlessly maintains the independent spirit for which Belle is known. Honestly, aside from a few lines of corny dialogue added to this new version, Watson knocks it out of the park.
But before I go any further, let’s pause and consider if it’s even fair to compare this live action film to the 1991 Disney animated classic. Maybe not. At its core, a “beauty meets beast” story already exists in hundreds of forms. While it would be perfectly acceptable to take a departure from the critically acclaimed cartoon to make this version, Disney very willingly served up a heavy dose of nostalgia. Due in large part to the inclusion of original music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman (who passed away before ever seeing his work completed on the animated film), it’s hard to imagine this remake without their involvement. A new production of the story allowed for reworking of familiar musical phrases as well as the addition of new songs. Having some of the previously unused lyrics for “Gaston” and “Beauty and the Beast (Tale as Old as Time)” peppered in gave the classics new life.
These musical extras, however, came with mixed reviews.In one such example, the Beast sings a soaring aria, “Evermore”, as Belle returns home to save her father. Worthy of any Broadway stage, this song was poignant and performed well, but is unnecessary to the plot. The movie is already 20 minutes longer than the original and at this point, you start to feel it. As a Disney fan, I expected to hear songs from the Broadway musical (also penned by Menken, Ashman, and Tim Rice), but those didn’t make the cut. “Human Again” is schmaltzy, but would have been a fun excuse for comedic relief from the enchanted objects.
Generally speaking, it’s the work of the secondary characters, like the enchanted objects, that make this film. Kevin Kline as Maurice delivers an amazing performance that will shift your perception from the bumbling old man who lives in Belle’s basement to that of an articulate, intelligent artisan. No longer depicted as the town wackadoodle, outrage is more justified when Gaston commits him to the asylum. His performance gives depth to Belle’s character in a way we haven’t seen before. So much in fact that I didn’t mind Maurice’s new song – fresh from the department of backstory – that gave us a glimpse at the loss of Belle’s mother.
The all-star cast of enchanted objects land their punchlines with perfect comedic timing; reprising both classic zingers and adding a few new ones. Emma Thompson was a delightful surprise as Mrs. Potts and holds her own when compared to the iconic Angela Lansbury interpretation. But most surprising was the masterfully subtle performance of Gaston by Luke Evans. Yes, subtle. Very easily this role could have suffered from overacting and nauseating machismo. The machismo is present, but purposeful. We see more of the familiar characters and the narrative of their past better informs how they behave as objects, or delusional war heroes. Not to say Gaston is a character with much substance, but his lack of intelligence entertains in the best way.
Leaving the theater, I felt very satisfied, but I’m not in a rush to see it again. The realism of the live action format makes you empathize with the characters more, but I wasn’t particularly wooed by the romantic parts of the story (partially due to the CGI, I’m sure). Also, the Beast’s parkour-stunt-show-ending made me really grumpy. But looking past that blemish on a lovely film, this blockbuster will definitely make the executives and fans happy. I was pleased with what this new take offered and was thankful that gave the fans what they were looking for. Because as a certain oversized pocket watch says, “If it's not baroque don't fix it!”
Note: This blog was originally published on kesseljunkie.com
The new Wonder Woman trailer is out. It’s put together well and actually does a better job of selling me on the idea of the movie than previous efforts.
This should not be a controversial view. At the very least, it should not start an argument.
But positive observations about this trailer have triggered the inevitable unprompted rants about the DC movie franchise. The complaints about the DC cinematic universe have now reached the level of the prequel bashing that went on for more than a decade; any positive mention of the franchise is a signal beacon for people to repeat their points ad nauseum. (I’ll also point out with some level of impish glee that Wonder Woman is, in some sense, a prequel to Batman v Superman.)
Same Old Song and Dance
If you didn’t like Batman v Superman, rest assured that I didn’t either! I heaped enough scorn on it that a friend who did like it told me point blank that he couldn’t ever talk to me about it again. (He has since relented, but I certainly hope he doesn’t think that means the movie has gained even a scintilla of regard from me.)
But there is a limit. We stopped talking about it. He still gets excited for the DC comics movies. Good for him! If I see he’s excited, I let it be.
I’ve written before about people online who just can’t help themselves from tossing snark at franchises that have fallen out of their favor. The best possible outcome is that fans come to defend the honor of the fair franchise-maiden to which they’ve dedicated their treasure and affection. It immediately devolves into an Internet slap fight.
Suffice it to say that everyone is annoyed with both sides – at least I think so. I mean, maybe people enjoy the drama. Charging in to defend the honor of thy fair franchise ‘gainst those who speak ill of her beauty is a Quixotic and exhausting thing.
But just like when I would vehemently argue that people just “didn’t understand” the prequels, you’re swaying no one’s opinion. You’re just restating the same arguments over and over again, until someone is inevitably churlish and condescending when the other side refuses to relent. The rest of us are just tired of witnessing the argument.
Wonder Woman is Not Batman
The fact is that Wonder Woman will be its own movie. People who liked Batman v Superman should acknowledge it could very well suck; people who hated Batman v Superman should conversely acknowledge that it may be good.
Though the same franchise, it’s a different director at the helm. Just like Star Trek, James Bond, Jurassic Lost Park World, Disney’s Marvel’s The Avengers, Disney’s Lucasfilm’s Star Wars, Harry Potter, or any other franchise, what came before isn’t always a clear indication of future results. When the creative team changes between films, perhaps the execution will improve enough that the good ideas at the core make for a good experience; maybe they don’t.
What are the odds I like the new Wonder Woman movie? I don’t know. My point is that it’s not relevant to a specific discussion of the trailer.
The trailer is good, with the exception of that spine-curdling theme at the end. Comment on that, and save your condemnation or praise of the film as a whole for when it’s released.
John "kesseljunkie" Mills is cohost of Aggressive Negotiations and Great Shot, Kid! here on The Nerd Party network. He cohosts Stage Nine on TrekFM. He also cohosts a free-floating radical podcast called Words With Nerds. In his spare time he's been known to talk to himself.
20 years ago, George Lucas brought Star Wars back to theatres. This was no simple anniversary release, though, as it had “a few new surprises.”
Celebrate this special (edition) anniversary with a double feature from The Nerd Party, as our shows Aggressive Negotiations and Great Shot, Kid! release new episodes focused on this defining moment for Star Wars fandom.
The video above contains a brief glimpse of female and puppet nudity.
After seeing over 150 films at the cinema alone, here is Lee 'Filibuster' Hutchison's Top 25 released in the UK in 2016. You can watch my video montage to 2016 and my top 25 above if you want a more visual experience.
You'll find my 5 worst movies of the year at the bottom.
1. Anomalisa (director Charlie Kaufman)
A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.
2. Sing Street (dir John Carney)
A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.
3. Weiner (dir Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)
An brutal examination of disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign. Whatever happened to him?
4. Mustang (dir Deniz Gamze Erguven)
When five orphaned Turkish girls are seen innocently playing with boys on a beach, their scandalized conservative guardians confine them while forced marriages are arranged.
5. Star Trek Beyond (dir Justin Lin)
With the Enterprise destroyed, the crew must find a way to escape an alien planet and bring the crew back together.
6. The Neon Demon (dir Nicolas Winding Refn)
When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
7. Spotlight (dir Tom McCarthy)
The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
8. Hunt For The Wilderpeople (dir Taika Waititi)
A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.
9. Son of Saul (dir Nemes László)
In 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son.
10. Everybody Wants Some!! (dir Richard Linklater)
In 1980, a group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.
11. High Rise (dir Ben Wheatley)
Life for the residents of a tower block begins to run out of control.
12. A Bigger Splash (dir Luca Guadagnino)
The vacation of a famous rock star and a filmmaker in Italy is disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter.
13. American Honey (dir Andrea Arnold)
A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.
14. Suburra (dir Stefano Sollima)
A gangster known as "Samurai" wants to turn the waterfront of Rome into a new Las Vegas. All the local mob bosses have agreed to work for this common goal. But peace is not to last long.
15. The Big Short (dir Adam McKay)
Four denizens in the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.
16. Hell or High Water (dir David MacKenzie)
A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas.
17. Your Name (dir Makoto Shinkai)
Two Japanese body swapping high school kids who've never met - city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha - are united through their dreams.
18. Eye in the Sky (dir Gavid Hood)
A military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.
19. Captain America: Civil War (dir Russo Brothers)
Political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
20. Bone Tomahawk (dir S Craig Zahler)
Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.
21. The Nice Guys (dir Shane Black)
In 1970s Los Angeles, a mismatched pair of private eyes investigate a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star.
22. The Witch (dir Robert Eggers)
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
23. The Fits (dir Anna Rose Helmer)
While training at the gym 11-year-old tomboy Toni becomes entranced with a dance troupe. As she struggles to fit in she finds herself caught up in danger as the group begins to suffer from fainting spells and other violent fits.
24. Victoria (dir Sebastian Schipper)
A one shot masterpeice as a young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.
25. 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir Dan Trachtenberg)
After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack
THE FIVE WORST MOVIES OF 2016
1. Suicide Squad
2. X-Men: Apocalypse
3. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
5. Warcraft: The Beginning
On the 15th anniversary of his first theatrical viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Missing Frames host Shawn Eastridge reflects on his memories of the experience.
I was a 15-year-old freshman in high school and I knew little of the world J.R.R. Tolkien had created. I’d read The Hobbit for a book report a couple months prior and I was only about a quarter of the way through the first part of Tolkien’s trilogy, but I was by no means a huge fan. While I enjoyed the books, I found Tolkien’s sprawling, descriptive text to be overwhelming; it was difficult to wrap my head around his world and characters. (I recall reading the scenes with Tom Bombadil rescuing the Hobbits and instructing them to frolic naked in the fields while he gathered new clothes for them and wondering how in the world that would translate to the big screen.) The film was on my radar, but not nearly to the extent that the first Harry Potter film had been the previous month.
So, on the Friday after its initial release, with little to no expectations, my dad, brother and I sat down in a dark theater to watch the first chapter in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited adaptation of Tolkien’s masterpiece. And while I might never know the joy and wonder of seeing the first Star Wars film in theaters back in 1977, I imagine my first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the closest I’ll ever get to that experience. Never before had I been so utterly captivated by a cinematic world, so involved with its characters, so thrilled by their adventures and struggles, so terrified by the villains, and so affected by its story. For 3 hours, I was transported and in total awe of the accomplishments of this incredible cast and crew. Not one moment rang false; everything felt real, like it actually existed. I even bought into the characters that were obviously computer-generated because Jackson and his crew had done such an effective job rendering a believable, lived-in universe and integrating practical and visual effects.
By the time the lights came up, I felt exhausted, emotionally drained and completely exhilarated. I’d never experienced anything like The Fellowship of the Ring in all my life, and to this day, few moviegoing experiences come close. It elevated my love and appreciation of cinema and inspired me to learn more about the art of filmmaking. I ended up seeing it three more times in theaters and, by the time The Two Towers came around, I was there for its midnight release (my first ever!) as well as The Return of the King’s. (The latter remains the single greatest movie experience I’ve ever had in a theater.)
Watching The Fellowship of the Ring 15 years later, being twice as old as I was when I first saw it, I’m struck by just how well it holds up. It works on every level and its special effects still give modern day attempts a run for their money. More importantly, I'm impressed by how well it maintains the integrity and spirit of Tolkien’s original work, while simultaneously infusing it with an urgency and energy necessary to make its story work on the big screen. It is, without question, one of the great films of all time. And while I love its two sequels, The Fellowship of the Ring remains my favorite of the trilogy, simply because it was such an unexpected gift.
Do you remember the first time you saw The Fellowship of the Ring? Does it stand as one of your favorite moviegoing experiences? Tell us all about it on @joinnerdparty or reach out to me directly: @yayshawndorman and let’s celebrate the 15th anniversary of this monumental achievement in cinema history!
(Review originally posted on Shawn Eastridge's blog Oh, How Spiffing!)
Missing Frames co-hosts Shawn Eastridge and Richie Pepio come together to extensively discuss and review ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. They also give their officially official series rankings.
FAIR WARNING: If you have not yet seen Rogue One, proceed no further. This review spoils EVERYTHING. I'm throwing up so many spoiler tags, you don't even know what to do with yourself. And now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to it, shall we?
RICHIE: Fan service is irritating. It's the shiny set of keys the studio dangles in our face to keep us from questioning why a sequel, prequel, threequel, or NyQuil exists. And this movie has more fan service than a nest full of gundarks - it’s a one-size-fits-all piece of wish fulfillment made for every type of fan, from the casual viewer to the red-eyed 3am commenter on a message board for TheForce.net. We don't even need this film. I mean, it's ironic that everyone's making a big deal out of this movie not having an opening crawl - because the introductory scroll in the original Star Wars basically summarizes what happens here. "It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." … There. That’s the entire plot of the movie - a logline written in 1977 that took nearly 40 years to get made. It's crazy George Lucas even "liked" this movie, according to Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, because the WHOLE point of the opening scroll in A New Hope is to keep this sequel/prequel from EVER happening! Come on!
So, considering all of this (fan service, cameos, winks, nods and all), I loved it. Why, Shawn, do I like Rogue One so much?
SHAWN: Richie, I'll tell you exactly why you like Rogue One so much. It's because Disney knows the way to your wallet. And mine too, for that matter. Really though, if there's one company that knows how to milk a product for all it’s worth, it's Disney. The downside is that they'll be churning out Star Wars and Marvel movies long past the point where they're any good; the upside is these franchise are currently in their 'golden age.' Not every movie is a home run, but, for the most part, they're solid base hits.
For its majority, Rogue One is one solid base hit after another. It has the advantage of not needing to be the first good Star Wars movie in over 30 years. The Force Awakens took the brunt of all that pressure and anticipation head-on and emerged victorious. Now that fans are on Disney's side, Rogue One gets a bit more wiggle room, though it never outsteps its bounds too much. Stunning visuals serve a script that never manages to fully shake the shackles of the many board room meetings that shaped it, but its clunky first two acts give way to a resounding, masterful finale that makes the whole thing worthwhile. I just wish the rest of Rogue One had lived up to those last 30 minutes. Did you get that vibe too?
RICHIE: Oh yeah, totally. I appreciated the changes it brought to the structure of Star Wars as we know it. The visual style took the gritty cinema verite-elements of A New Hope and went grittier. And they get a gold star (war) for trying to make an ensemble movie in the first half - I think Rogue One jumps too much between worlds in the beginning to be fully successful at it (and I was a little jarred by the use of text to name the planets - because Star Wars usually just assumes we know that information/will figure it out later; what is this: Guardians of the Galaxy?!?), but I thought it kept things interesting.
The movie opens on Jyn's story and then focuses on her over the other characters as the story progresses. But I appreciated a Star Wars movie that steered away from the same old hero's journey that we're used to. As you say, the clunky first two acts move onto something greater, and while The Force Awakens has better characters and stronger emotional beats, this movie has a more satisfying climax. I'd choose the Force Awakens' lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren over a lot of the action sequences in this film, but Rogue One used every moving part of the story in a more active and less derivative way. The X-Wing dogfights were more investing, the gunfights were better choreographed, and... Vader.
SHAWN: Yes!! I was nervous about Vader's inclusion here, that it wouldn't be anything more than a glorified cameo. And while it is certainly that, it felt less shameless than it could have. And his Sith Lord murder rampage near the end was worth every penny of my $15 ticket. All the cameos here were a lot of fun (Red Leader, Gold Leader) with the exception of Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin's face is 100% CG, and no matter how advanced face-capture technology becomes, I will never not notice it. I admired the filmmakers' commitment to having Tarkin play an active role - more so than I would have expected - but that doesn't make it any less creepy.
All that jumping around the galaxy at the beginning was a little off-putting, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt that way about the planet titles. It was almost as if the filmmakers realized they were jumping around too much and while the text helps orient the audience, it also calls attention to just how much we're jumping around.
I loved the ensemble cast element too, but I wish the characters had gotten more breathing room. There have been all kinds of rumors regarding Tony Gilroy's level of involvement with script rewrites and whatnot. I wonder how much of Rogue One's relentless, forward-moving plot is due to his involvement or if it's the miscellaneous character beats he contributed. Either way, I wish there was more of the latter and less of the former. I felt moderately interested in everything going on, and Rogue One is relatively entertaining, but I didn't feel truly engaged until the end. Part of that is Jyn as a character - she felt underdeveloped. The same goes for Captain Andor. It's like their character beats and growth were left on the cutting room floor in favor of the action. Nothing against Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, who are both solid actors. I just wish they'd been given more to play with.
I thought everyone else was great though: Donnie Yen's Zatoichi-inspired blind Force warrior; Jiang Wen and his awesome hair and giant gun; Riz Ahmed as the ex-Imperial pilot looking for redemption; and of course Alan Tudyk as K-2SO, the obligatory comic relief robot. All of their characterizations are stronger than the two characters we end up spending the most time with.
As for your comparison between The Force Awakens and this film, I couldn't agree more. The Force Awakens is a more successful storytelling venture overall, but I really wish I could have taken the fan-pleasing, emotionally satisfying conclusion of Rogue One and exchanged it with The Force Awakens' more generic ‘we have to destroy another Death Star’ climax. (Love that lightsaber battle though)
RICHIE: Yeah, the ensemble complemented each other really well. Although, in my opinion, Alan Tudyk's droid and Donnie Yen's blind monk were, by far, the standouts from the supporting cast. Everybody shines when they're given the chance, but there's not much room for the other actors to make their marks here and, to me, the Jyn/Cassian relationship was the anchor of the movie. I get that Rogue One is forcing us - almost manipulating us - to care about Jyn's character. They hit all of the stereotypical notes meant to tug at our heartstrings (missing parent, reluctant hero, shot at redemption), and I’m usually turned off by that manipulation when it feels assembly-line manufactured. Yet, because the whole film is rooted in this kind of agreement between fans and filmmakers that Lucasfilm is just going to give us a dream-casserole of all the leftover bits and unused ingredients from the Original Trilogy, I didn't mind. I was rooting for Jyn and Cassian to succeed and, while I wasn’t weeping at the end, I was still really invested in their cause and left wanting more (too bad that's not going to happen)...
SHAWN: Can we also talk a bit about Ben Mendelsohn and how awesome he is as Imperial Military Director Orson Krennic? I recognized him as one of the most unbearable bit players from The Dark Knight Rises - that guy with the lisp who whines all the time before Bane hugs him to death. I would never have guessed he could be so effective as a Star Wars villain. Well, I mean, he's an effective villain, but once Tarkin takes over, Krennic kind of fades into the background.
RICHIE: Holy crap - I didn't make the connection that Krennic's the hug-death guy from that Batman movie we love to hate. He's much better when he gets to wear the cape. I'll be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by his presence. I thought the performance was fine, but to me he ended up taking a backseat to Tarkin - which was a HUGE surprise for me. I had a feeling we were getting a Grand Moff Tarkin cameo (Lucas owns the life rights to every character actor from the 1970s), but I was shocked he had such a supporting role. It took some getting used to, but I actually didn't mind him being here, even if the facial-CGI technology isn’t convincing. It's leaps and bounds better than the prologue to X-Men 3 and Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy, but it still reads as incredibly fake. If Rogue One had the film quality of, say, a movie shot in the 1970s, it could probably sneak by unnoticed, but here his face sticks out like a sore-thumb (on a dead actor). I will say, if we compared the Rogue One-Tarkin to the computer generated characters in the prequels, the Rogue One-Peter Cushing effect wins.
(What are the ethics of using a deceased performer if you own the rights to these actors' likenesses? Isn't it a little weird? If I wanted Meryl Streep to be in the new Han Solo movie and she turned it down, could I just buy the rights to Death Becomes Her, CGI her into my movie, and call it a day?)
As for the other cameos, the Red Leader and Gold Leader footage in the X-Wing fight really worked for me, and the appearance at the end of a certain princess, while weird, was the icing on this photoshopped cake. Although, when the camera was leading us down the corridor of the Tantive IV (Princess Leia's ship from the beginning of A New Hope), I had this sinking feeling: "I hope that rebel soldier doesn't take those plans to the cockpit." Then we were in the cockpit. "I hope we don't see Princess Leia." Then we see her from behind. "I hope she doesn't turn around." And she does. But because it's just for a split second before jumping to the credits, it somehow didn't kill the moment. Sure, her face looks like she's on a heavy dose of computer-generated sedatives, but 1977 Carrie Fisher was weird in a good way. Fake animated faces make me more uncomfortable than, you know... a normal human face... yet for the sake of this movie, it works.
And Vader was successful overall. His intro in the lava palace was beautifully constructed (and speaking of lava palace - this is the same castle that George Lucas envisioned as Darth Vader's home back in the rough draft of Empire Strikes Back! The nods to the earlier versions of Star Wars scripts, with the references to Kybur Crystals, the ancient texts of "the Whills," and the original version of "may the Force be with you" - "May the Force OF OTHERS be with you" - were all amazing touches. But back to Vader...) We see him in a state of vulnerability, emerging from a bacta tank, life support systems working overtime, and it's creepy, hellish, and perfect. Once he's in the suit, it's a little odd adjusting to old Vader in this new environment. Maybe it's all the details and art direction invested in the newer characters of these new movies, or maybe it's the look of the old Sith Lord's costume under the scrutiny of 2016's high resolution cameras, but he seems a little less imposing in his conversation with Krennic than he was in the Original Trilogy. James Earl Jones' noticeably aged voice doesn't help. The guy's a legend and can still pack a punch behind those booming vowels and consonants but there were certain times when it seemed like he was fighting through a yawn. Give this guy another breathing apparatus! Or at least take some Imperial tax dollars and buy his facemask a new filter - FORCEDAMMIT!
... Ultimately, it's all nitpicking, because I was very happy to see him back in action. Especially the ending - the chase scene gave goosebumps and his relentless pursuit carried the momentum perfectly into the opening of the original Star Wars. Rogue One works overtime to undo the scars Revenge of the Sith left on this character and it redeems him for a new generation.
SHAWN: It's great that we can finally use the term 'Star Wars Prequel' in a positive light. While Rogue One can never fully undo the damage of Lucas's Prequel Trilogy, it still satisfies in all the ways we wish the Prequels had. And you're right about Jyn and Cassian. While I never felt fully invested in their characters for a good chunk of the runtime, by the film's conclusion I realized I really did care about them. Their final moments together are really beautiful and I have to give credit to Disney/Lucasfilm for allowing this story to reach its depressing, but necessary and satisfying conclusion.
It's funny you mention a 'sinking feeling' regarding the Rebel ship escaping and the Death Star plans 'baton toss' that takes place as Vader annihilates the Rebel soldiers. I felt exactly the opposite. I was so thrilled and excited by what I was seeing and that desperate attempt to get the plans away before Vader recovered them was sheer brilliance. Even though we know the Rebels succeed, I was still on the edge of my seat. And then when we discover we're on the Rebel ship from the opening of A New Hope, I just about lost my mind. And with all my talk about how off-putting Tarkin's CGI face was, I have to say, I loved seeing Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. It just worked for me, and I'm sure part of it is because she's only on screen for a brief time. With the Prequels, every attempt to connect the new trilogy with the Original Trilogy made me roll my eyes; here, it really works because the filmmakers have treated the material with care and respect.
Speaking of filmmakers, how about that Gareth Edwards? I loved his film debut Monsters, which he wrote, directed, shot and did the special effects for, and I admired his Godzilla, though I'm not over the moon (or space station) for it. Here, he does such an excellent job with the visuals. He really has this impeccable sense of scale: everything feels BIG and EPIC. That space battle at the end will go down as one of the series' finest, if not the finest. It's got a lot to live up to, but the emotional stakes blend perfectly with the excitement of seeing the classic X-Wings taking on those Star Destroyers for the first(?) time.
It's all punctuated by Michael Giacchino's score. I know we're both big fans of the composer's work. How did you feel about the first Star Wars score that wasn't composed/conducted by John Williams?
RICHIE: Oh no, I didn't have a sinking feeling about the space battle, I was just worried we were about to end such an entertaining movie on a poorly imagined CGI face. And although I dreaded the last couple of seconds leading to the Princess Leia reveal, I thought she looked surprisingly good. Or at least, good enough to drive the point home.
Again, I actually loved the "baton toss.” Following Vader down that corridor was the highlight of the movie. I just worried that fake Carrie Fisher might take me out of it. Thankfully, I was invested through the end credits.
As for Gareth Edwards, I think he knocked it out of the park. We don't yet know how much the film changed during reshoots, and at this point we don't really need to know. I'm the kind of person who loves what-if scenarios, and if the movie sucked, then I probably would’ve complained that they ruined it in reshoots or something, but here, I'm sure it's a better movie because of the additional photography.
And let's talk about the cinematography for a second... they nailed it. In addition to the muted colors, the shots were perfectly focused during intimate moments, frenetic during battle scenes, and there wasn't a drab visual in the movie. My favorite location may be Jedha - it's an all too familiar war-torn desert city, and the atmosphere is depicted perfectly. The contrast between the rustic ancient city and the gleaming star destroyer hovering overhead is a striking edition to the album of classic Star Wars visuals.
And it's funny, I remember us having a conversation about the music sometime last year. Alexandre Desplat - great composer - was set to score the movie, and I was a little disappointed that Michael Giacchino wasn't attached because Star Wars seemed right up his alley. Through a weird turn of last minute events, he ended up leading the Star Wars orchestra, and although it doesn't have as many memorable themes, the music was engrossing from when it jolted us from the opening "A long time ago..." into the first shot in space.
What did you think of the visuals? And how did this compare to other movies?
SHAWN: Visually Rogue One is perhaps the most grounded and bleak a Star Wars movie has ever felt. The war-torn imagery carries an ever-present sense of impending doom - you really feel the overpowering might of the Empire in those beautiful shots of the Star Destroyer on the horizon of Jedha and the Death Star blotting out the sun during its approach. The sequence of the AT-AT's storming the beach against the Rebels is filled with one jaw-dropping shot after another; the execution regarding the combination of practical and computer effects is top-notch. And while I think the standalone shots here are more impressive than the overall visual style, I'm still mighty impressed with Edwards' direction and Greig Fraiser's cinematography. I wish the storytelling had been as compelling.
And you know, as bummed as I was about Desplat getting the boot, I have to admit I was excited about Giacchino's involvement. Rogue One's score isn't as immediately memorable as The Force Awakens', but it successfully serves this film's story in a satisfying way. I can't wait to revisit it.
FINAL THOUGHTS, RATINGS AND SERIES RANKINGS
SHAWN: So, we've come now to the end of our extensive discussion. What are you final thoughts and what should our ranking system be?
RICHIE: In a normal ranking, I would give it 4 out of 5. We could rank out of seven underwritten characters-- if so, I would give 5.5 out of 7 underwritten space rogues.
SHAWN: Okay, great. Personally, I enjoyed Rogue One overall, but I didn't find it to be the rousing success last year's The Force Awakens was. I just wasn't as invested in its characters and found the storytelling to be less involving and cohesive. But everything comes together for its final 30-40 minutes, which are some of the best in the entire Star Wars saga.
My final rating is 5 out of 7 underwritten space rogues; my normal rating is 3.5 out of 5. My series ranking is as follows:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. Star Wars
3. The Force Awakens
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Rogue One
And coming in at a DISTANT 6, 7 and 8…
6. The Phantom Menace
7. Revenge of the Sith
8. Attack of the Clones
RICHIE: Man, ranking the series is difficult... A New Hope and Empire are interchangeable to me, it just depends on my mood. And I loved Force Awakens, even though I was pretty disappointed that the second half of the film recycled much of the plot of the original. And unlike Force Awakens, my view of Rogue One keeps getting better in retrospect. It'll be interesting to see how our rankings evolve after Episode VIII next December... OK! Since I'm on a Rogue One high, and this movie ends where the original Star Wars begins, I'm going with the following:
1. Star Wars
2. Empire Strikes Back
3. The Force Awakens
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Rogue One
6. The Phantom Menace
7. Revenge of the Sith
8. Attack of the Clones
I'm adding Rogue One to my next Star Wars viewing marathon and I'll be watching in Machete Order. Start with Rogue One, follow it up with the original Star Wars and Empire, then take a machete to the prequel DVDs, and close out with The Force Awakens.
This review originally appeared on Matthew Rushing's Blog
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
These words are the first thing that anyone ever saw of Star Wars as the film opened in 1977 and now Gareth Edwards has imbued them fully in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The Rebellion’s struggle just got worse, as it learns that the Empire has created a world-killing weapon named the Death Star. The Rebellion finds itself on the knife’s edge between hope and despair. The council of the Rebellion cannot decide what to do. Do they risk it all by trying to steal the plans, or do they resign themselves to defeat and despair? Jyn challenges the council, “What chance do we have? The question is what choice”. She implores the council to remember that if they do nothing then they’ve sealed the fate of the galaxy and that evil this great cannot go unopposed. It brings to mind Edmund Burke’s famous saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” She encourages them with a refrain Cassian Andor said to her earlier in the movie, “Rebellions are built on hope”. Hope changes everything, it reminds people that the way it is, is not how it has to be. Hope is the spark that, if kindled, creates the fire of change. Change is possible, but it takes sacrifice, determination and some times, lives to see it come about. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It takes faith, faith that a difference can be made, which births hope and it’s all because the love of something greater than themselves leads them to live out the truth that, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The beauty of the film is that hope is not just a figment of the heroes imaginations. The Force seems quite active, even without the Jedi. It’s moving in mysterious ways and bringing people together that can make a difference. This band of rogues does the impossible, one chance at a time, succeeding in their goal and setting in motion something that will see the end of the Empire.
Gareth Edwards made a Star Wars movie that feels completely different and yet utterly familiar, all at the same time. Like The Clone Wars, Edwards uses cinematic inspirations to pull in the war movie genre and make it a Star Wars movie, emphasis on the war. The nods to great war films of the past are all there and they work perfectly. On top of that you feel the “Star Wars” seeping out of every single frame. The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels can be seen at least 4 times, General Sydulla is called for over the coms at Yavin 4, the sets feel like they came out of a lost arc of The Clone Wars, Saw Gerrera has an important role and so much more. The point here is that Edwards lovingly knits together the history of the Prequel and the Original trilogy and it’s seamless.
Star Wars, when it’s at it’s best, is stretching what it means to be Star Wars by taking other genres and telling a story in the Star Wars universe that aligns with the themes of the saga. Edwards achievement is nothing short of incredible, the movie feels like the Maker’s fingerprints are all over it and it’s the highest compliment that could be paid to the movie.
The characters are outstanding. K-2so is the best new droid since R2 and Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, Baze and Bhodi are all welcome additions to the Star Wars canon. Darth Vader’s scenes are chilling (and let’s stop here and just geek out completely that Vader’s castle is finally on screen!) and perfectly played, just enough to leave you wanting more.
The music by Giacchino feels like a welcome addition to the Star Wars franchise, it’s much like The Clone Wars music and only references familiar themes in snippets yet that’s a good thing. The movie needed it’s own identity and the themes he created feel familiar and distinct, perfectly matching the spirit of the movie.
I’ll get personal, this movie is everything I wanted a new Star Wars movie to be. Pushing the boundaries of what it means to be Star Wars while at the same time respecting the history and the franchise as a whole. Here’s to hoping the rumors of Edwards wanting to direct a Kenobi movie are true. Rogue One is rated 4.5 upside down Death Stars out of 5.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. Revenge of the Sith
3. Rogue One
4. Star Wars
5. Return of the Jedi
6. The Phantom Menace
7. Attack of the Clones
8. The Force Awakens
Footnote: If you have not read Catalyst by James Luceno, I highly recommend it. It is the lead-in novel for the movie and it does a fantastic job of filling in everything you’d want to know about Krennic, the Ersos and the Death Star.
We just did an unboxing Mondo's Fight Club vinyl release. It was beautiful and painful just like the movie.
This review originally appeared on Shawn's film review blog 'Oh, How Spiffing!'
I imagine Warner Bros (WB) studio execs, along with countless Harry Potter fans around the globe, practically wet themselves with excitement when J.K. Rowling agreed to pen a spinoff series. For fans, this marked a more-than-welcome excuse to return to Rowling’s universe. For WB, this was an opportunity to rake in the dough and help them compete with Disney’s flourishing Marvel and Star Wars franchises. As for me, I couldn’t have cared less.
Let me set the record straight: Yes, I’m a Harry Potter fan. In fact, I absolutely adore the series. I love the books, the films – I even spent my honeymoon in Orlando at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Despite all this, I wasn’t the least bit interested in this spinoff series. 'Why,' you ask? First of all, Rowling had already told her story and she’d done so beautifully; and under the expert tutelage of producer David Heyman, the film adaptations followed suit. The Potter series had concluded in glorious, satisfying fashion on both page and screen - so, why would I want more?
But while I was skeptical, I trusted in Rowling. Her involvement lent the new spinoff an aura of credibility and I hoped that this new story would not only enrich the legacy she had created, but would give me ample reason to hop on-board for future entries in the new franchise. Besides, when has the creator of a series going back to do a prequel series ever gone wrong?
Sadly, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them contains all the negative connotations the term 'prequel' evokes. It is a plodding, tonally inconsistent mess. Its story and characters are uninvolving and it lacks the compelling, emotional core that made the Potter franchise such a joy. It was bad enough that we were going to get a trilogy of these films, but now we’re getting FIVE of them?! I solemnly swear Rowling and WB are up to no good.
For the most part, Fantastic Beasts follows the exploits of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an awkwardly eccentric wizard with a penchant for bizarre magical creatures. He travels to America from England on a personal trip and during a stopover in New York City, all manner of chaos ensues when the creatures in his trunk get lose and begin wreaking all kinds of havoc on the city. Along with muggle/No-Maj Jacob Kawalski (Dan Fogler), an aspiring baker with ambitions of opening a shop in the city, and Tina (Katherine Waterston) a recently-demoted auror looking to regain her position, Newt scampers about, attempting to recollect his creatures before the less thoughtful authorities do.
Intercut with this relatively lighthearted affair, is a dark and gloomy plot involving an orphanage and an abusive mother who runs an anti-witch/wizard cult out of it. Her adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller) is secretly working with the U.S. Magical Congress and having regular meetings with Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) to help Graves uncover information about a mysterious and destructive force that has appeared in the city. These scenes are shot in the most melancholy way: dark lighting, grey colors, and are totally at odds with the brighter, more colorful scenes involving Newt.
But wait! There's more! Undercutting all of this nonsense is some major teasing of the evil wizard Gellert Grindlewald, who Potter fans will remember as something of a precursor to Voldemort. While Grindlewald doesn’t play much of a part here, it's clear his role will be greatly expanded in the inevitable sequels. This means we have to deal with the whole ‘tune in next time!’ vibe that so many franchises use and abuse these days.
Needless to say, Fantastic Beasts suffers from something of an identity crisis. Is it a lighthearted, magical romp through 1920s New York? Is it a dark, depressing glimpse at prejudice and discrimination? Is it a teaser for future films in this new franchise? It tries to be all of the above and fails in every respect.
Rowling, who has in the past proved quite adept at balancing multiple plots and characters, demonstrates none of her usual talents here. The opposing tones are a jumbled mishmash and feel entirely at odds with one another. Despite her best attempts, the two main storylines: Newt’s attempts to recover his creatures and Graves’ investigations of an evil monster, feel detached and never coalesce into a satisfying whole. The mood swings treacherously back and forth between scenes of wonder and delight to moments that are utterly depressing and feel incredibly out-of-place.
Even worse, the film is overflowing with plotholes and nonsensical occurrences. Typically, Rowling does an expert job of crafting a tightly-wound story with explanations for each magical occurrence and plot point. Here though, nothing makes sense and so many instances are left unexplained or unjustified.
While many of Fantastic Beasts’ faults are due to Rowling’s mediocre script, director David Yates’ inconsistent abilities do nothing to help alleviate those shortcomings. Yates, as you may recall, directed the final four Harry Potter movies. While his debut, Order of the Phoenix, demonstrated his lack of experience with big-budget filmmaking, he came into his own as the series went on, finishing strong with the masterful Deathly Hallows. Here, Yates seems to have abandoned whatever lessons he learned from his work on Potter. His direction is uninspired and workmanlike. Additionally, the film's editing is atrocious. Editor Mark Day, who worked with Yates on the latter four Potter films demonstrates a complete lack of understanding regarding how to put scenes together in a coherent manner. There are so many points where we leap from one occurrence to another without explanation or justification. It would take far more fingers than two hands can account for to tally up the number of moments I muttered, “What the hell is happening??” in a state of utter confusion
To make matters worse, the special effects carry that awful, artificial CGI sheen. Everything looks fake, even the city. In the Potter films, CGI work and practical effects merged beautifully to create a living, breathing world. This New York looks more at home in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake. The creature design is relatively uninspired as well. There's nothing here that you haven't seen in a dozen far better movies, Harry Potter included.
Perhaps Fantastic Beasts’ greatest flaw is in its lack of interesting or memorable characters, another area Rowling usually excels in. Here, they serve hardly any function and feel as under-developed and dull as Rowling’s lackluster plotting. Newt’s character is the primary example. He spends the majority of the film stumbling around, refusing to connect to any of his human companions. He doesn’t seem very interested or invested in anything going on around him, aside from his computer-generated magical creatures. When your main character doesn’t care about anything or anyone, it makes it very difficult for the audience to get involved, and Redmayne’s awkward demeanor isn’t charming enough to hold interest or garner empathy. He’s just a weird dude who can’t connect to the people around him and it makes it very difficult to connect to him on any level, emotional or otherwise.
Truthfully, it’s difficult to connect to any of these characters. They’re about as simple-minded and surface-leveled as can be, and none of them play much of a role in the unfolding plot events – not even Newt, who’s supposedly our main character. As aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, Dan Fogler does a quality job pulling off the whole ‘everyman’ vibe, but his comic timing lacks finesse. He spends most of the time stumbling around and making silly noises to fill in the awkward silences, but aside from being a comic foil, he's never fully fleshed out.
The same goes for Waterston’s Tina and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). As Queenie, Sudol becomes the embodiment of every NYC flapper girl cliché; her put-on accent is atrocious. Waterston fares better, but her character is about as boring as can be and she can only do so much with the underwhelming material. Not even Colin Farrell or Ezra Miller, typically fine actors, can rise above the shortcomings of Rowling’s script. Honestly, they're so detached from everything that happens, I keep forgetting they were even in this movie, hence their last-minute inclusion in this paragraph.
Fantastic Beasts ends with the promise of more to come, which, come to think of it, feels more like a threat than anything else. It is a disappointing effort in every respect, recalling the worst elements of both George Lucas’s Star Wars Prequels and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. I can only hope Rowling decides to jettison this lame cast of characters in favor of a more interesting one next time around. And while there’s great potential to Grindlewald’s story and his relationship with Albus Dumbledore, this mess of a movie shows no indication of it. Warner Bros may be satisfied with the piles of money this is sure to bring in, but if they want to keep fans invested, they're going to have to work just a tad bit harder to keep them coming back for more.
Until then, I'll always have Orlando...
FINAL RATING: 2/5