Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogueDirector: Gareth Edwards

Screenwriters: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, and Riz Ahmed

George Lucas must be laughing his way to the bank now. I mean, imagine you made a mess, I mean a serious, disastrous, offensive mess. Then someone offers you $4 billion to clean it up for you and still keep you on the payroll? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story represents more than just an extension of the Star Wars brand and cinematic scope. It frees the franchise up to allow more dynamic and complex voices to influence the future of the characters and stories.

Rogue One takes place just before the events of 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The film opens with Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) along with a flank of Empire forces landing on a remote planet where Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is hiding out with his wife and young daughter. Erso’s history as chief scientist for the Galactic Empire has made him indispensable in the Empire’s construction of a new weapon, and Krennic is not leaving without Erso. When things go bad, Erso is abducted by Krennic, but his daughter Jyn (later played by Felicity Jones) manages to hide and escape with the help of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).  Jyn ultimately comes of age with a chip on her shoulder against the imperial forces and after a host of actions including forging imperial documents, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest, she is tossed into an imperial prison. Fortunately for Jyn, the Rebels manage to break her out only to task her with helping them on a secret mission. Why her? I’ll leave it at that for now since the answer to that question is actually the answer to a question that has been bouncing around the galaxy since Star Wars debuted in 1977.

Rogue One is an enjoyable film for all levels of fans. One does not need even a passing understanding of the other films to enjoy this film. However, I would strongly recommend watching Episode IV before watching Rogue One if you want to catch all of the nuanced touches left in there for super-fans. Director Gareth Edwards designs and directs this film to feel connected but not tethered to the other films, and I think that is a delicate task to accomplish. From the first moment when the classic text, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” we are introduced to something familiar but slightly different (no trademarked scrolling text accompanies this film). Also, Edwards allows his characters to interact, talk, and feel. The opening scene between Krennic and Erso feels more like a Tarantino scene than a Star Wars movie.

Not that the film doesn’t have its small share of missteps. First of all, in his defense, Forest Whitaker is having a great year starring in quite possibly two of the year’s best films: Rogue One and Arrival. Still, his performance is odd and a little annoying. Additionally, his character’s whole purpose seems arbitrary in that he acts as a shepherd and plot device that is then appropriately “put away” once those tasks are served. Furthermore, much will be discussed about the film’s use of CGI. In an effort to not spoil, I will say that this CGI is not the Jar-Jar Binks kind of CGI, so don’t worry. It’s more of a principled approach that will have its detractors and its supporters. I reluctantly dip my foot in the supporter pool for now, but with reservation. Nonetheless, a precedent has been set where things could get goofy, which would be problematic.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a strong, balanced, and entertaining film that plays how we wish the original prequels could have played. There’s a hint of nostalgia along with new and fresh perspectives, which make us forget that we all know where this is going and “forces” us to care and root for these new characters. Rogue One also continues the recent track record of introducing another classic droid character that will be beloved in K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk); I imagine we haven’t seen the last of him. Jyn is also a strong dynamic lead. Parallels are destined to be drawn between Jyn and Rey (from last year’s The Force Awakens, but Jyn is starkly different and Jones plays her with an edge. Like the best Star Wars movies, there is plenty to interpret including some theoretical connections to The Force Awakens and the continuation of the latest trilogy. There are also some major bombshells and any misgivings you have about the film are wiped clean away with the final 20 minutes. If you have any level of appreciation for Star Wars, you will leave the theater in high spirits!  Easily immersed, we are, in this new/old environment, and knowing what is going on just over in Tatooine, Mos Eisley, and Dagobah only enriches the fabric of this film that much more. A-

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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Office Christmas Party

officeDirector: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Screenwriter: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, and Courtney B. Vance

I’m a sucker for a good holiday movie; I even devised a gimmick to perpetuate my ability to release an annual top ten list of my favorite holiday films. That means Hollywood always has $10 up for grabs from me this time of year, if they want it. Last year, The Night Before got it, and if not for the church scene, I’d say I was ripped off. This year, Office Christmas Party got my $10. As I mentioned, I am a sucker for a  good holiday movie, but it looks like I’ll have to settle for adequate.

Office Christmas Party is the clichéd story of a dull- named man, Josh (Jason Bateman) having a stereotypical divorce conveniently before entering the stereotypical flirtation zone with Tracey (Olivia Munn), who is stereotypically a tough gal who literally “locks people out” of her life. When dull-Josh and stereotypical Tracey can’t land a major client for their tech company, a formulaic conflict emerges about doing something crazy to keep the branch from being shut down.

Now I know what you’re saying, “Peoples Critic, didn’t you say this was an adequate holiday film? Where’s the adequacy?” Well thank your lucky stars that directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck prayed to the comedy gods and the gods delivered T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, and Jennifer Aniston.  They make the movie. Miller and Aniston play sibling branch manager and CEO, respectively, of their father’s tech company, and their dynamic and conflicting nature of how to run a business is quite entertaining. These two have buckets more on-screen chemistry than Bateman and Munn have, and they’re playing siblings! Aniston is at her snarky best playing the tightly wound Carol, who is fed up with her brother Clay’s disregard for bottom lines and irresponsible management. After reviewing Clay’s branch, she delivers the ultimatum that there will be no extraneous spending, and jobs will be cut in the new year. So what does Clay do? He works with Josh to throw the most extravagant office Christmas party possible and use it to try to woo the client (played by Courtney B. Vance) Josh and Tracey couldn’t land. There you go, plot-premise delivered. So is it funny?

The short answer is, occasionally. Kate McKinnon’s stressed out, high-strung HR manager, Mary certainly helps. The biggest revelation I had during this movie is that McKinnon is ready to break out. She needs a vehicle (other than her Kia minivan in this film) to star in right now! Other than that, Office Christmas Party is a string of gags that have about a 50% success rate. Is that a good rate of return for a comedy? Not really, but these days (especially 2016), it’s par for the course, I’m afraid. The marketing obviously wanted you to be hearkened back to the outstandingly funny film Horrible Bosses from 2011. It’s about bosses, it’s got Bateman and Anniston, but what it doesn’t have is director Seth Gordon or writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein. So let’s be clear, it’s not Horrible Bosses. But it’s also not horrible. Miller channels his character, Erlich Bachman from Silicon Valley in all the right ways, and his line at the end about describing his pain to the doctor is still making me chuckle when I think about it. The premise makes way for plenty of bit players to swing in for a gag and back out again, but I wish more of the gags landed. Also, I don’t’ understand why the final act of these types of movies has to go so far off the rails. There is always an attempt to crowbar in a sudden sense of danger, but this is Office Christmas Party; leave the danger to Die Hard! And while I’m on the subject, *spoiler alert – go to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know about a minor plot point* there is a rule in screenwriting that if you’re going to show a bomb, it needs to blow up. There is a scene early in the film where Clay talks to Josh about how much velocity you’d need to jump the Franklin Street Bridge in Chicago when it’s opened up. Then, surprise, there’s a car chase at the end of the film, and where are they headed? You guessed it, but they don’t jump the bridge! Why set this up? You are already inventing a false sense of ridiculous danger; why not go for it? Totally annoying.

Ok, spoiler free from here on out. Office Christmas Party does exactly what its title suggests. There is an office Christmas Party. It is also full of funny people being mostly funny, which makes it worth my stupid $10 holiday donation to Hollywood. But if movies like La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea would quit with their dumb limited-release BS and just open like you know they will in a month or so, then I’d be far happier to give my donation to something more worthwhile. B-

Office Christmas Party is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

2017 Golden Globe Nominations Ballot

73rd-open-ceremony-golden-globes-awards-2016-live-red-carpetAnother characteristically weird collection of nominees from the Golden Globes. Evan Rachel Wood nominated for Actress in a TV drama, but Thandie Newton nominated in a supporting role on a limited series /made for television movie? How does that even work? It’s the same damn show. I mean, jockeying around categories has always been a trademark of television award shows, but now we have nominees for the same show in different classifications! Anyway, my predictions will be announced closer to the January 8th ceremony, but in the meantime, take a crack at your own predictions on the ballot below!