Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Plot: Jyn Erso's (Felicity Jones) father was pressed into service building the Death Star, and he had Jyn raised by a friend, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). When she grows up,  her father wants to see her, and the rebels try to take her to him. On the way, she makes friends with the rebels especially Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Because this is a prequel to "A New Hope," it is not a spoiler to say that the team steals the plans, and transmits them to Princess Leah's ship.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: I liked it. It is a fresh story but it has all the familiar elements from the original Star Wars movies. The characters are clearly motivated, and the bad guys are characters we know already. When the battles come, they are grittier and smarter versions of the battles in the original movies. The special effects are non-stop perfect, and the art direction is inspired and detailed.

Rogue One is dark. No jokes or funny robots. Very little smiling. It is a tragedy and that means a sad ending. The worst part of the movie is the sad ending.

I liked the performances by Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker and Diego Luna. They were much more concerned about people than about their technology, and I liked that. The humanity of the characters made the story better.

 I also liked Donnie Yen who played a blind monk who kept chanting "I am one with the force and the force is with me." I am sure he will inspire of a generation of Force-oriented mystics.

The battle scenes at the end seemed long, and while I could follow it all, the fighting not the most interesting part. 

Cast: Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk

Directed by:
Gareth Edwards

Written by:
Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta

The Music:
Orchestral music with a nice majestic feeling like John Williams'

The Visuals:
All top notch

3.5 stars: A good movie; fun to watch, but dark and with a sad ending. I want to see it again. 

More: Director Edwards as a young man made a trip to Tunisia (where the Tatooine scenes were filmed) with food coloring so he could drink blue milk like Luke Skyworker. He was and probably still is a real fan.

Even More: Jyn Erso: We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Lee (Casey Affleck) feels guilty and responsible for a past tragedy, so he is angry and depressed. When his brother dies, he goes back to Manchester for the burial. His brother left his 16 year son Joe (Kyle Chandler) in Lee's care, and this causes Lee to move back to Manchester and all tragic old memories. Joe and Lee have many sharp worded arguments. He encounters his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) at the funeral and later around town.

Review: The film is all about Lee and his depression about the tragedy (that I am not going to spoil.) Lee can't forget and never learns to cope. The film is tragic because it is not a redemption or come-back or healing story. At the end, I wondered, why did the movie end here?

Manchester by the Sea has a core pessimism, and perhaps that fits the national zeitgeist -- leading to its surprising popularity.

Casey Affleck's performance is the highlight thoughout -- playing the broody and boiling Lee with intensity and sadness. There is snappy dialog with Joe, but young Kyle Chandler isn't up to the role and he sounds like a 40 year old scriptwriter. Joe isn't fully realized, but he challenges Joe just like the internal voices of his younger self might have. Joe does provides the few moments of levity -- primarily involving attempting sex with his girl friends.

The end is the least satisfying part. It does not resolve Lee's central issues, and his life will become much like it was at the beginning. Manchester by the Sea is a fictional story where a writer has concocted all the characters and all the plot twists, I expect the writer's message to be embedded inside. I don't find one here: just a cold, stormy reality -- just like all those wintery seascapes director Lonergan shows us. The message is that life sucks, and while people can fight it, in the end life still sucks.

"Why did the movie end where it did?" The answer is that it could have ended anywhere, because just like Godot nothing ever is going to change. If Manchester by the Sea has a message for this modern age, it is an icy, windy, bleak seascape. 

Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler

Written and directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan

The Music:
Simple minimal music by Lesley Barber mixed with orchestral classics

The Visuals:
Many photos of the ocean, the harbor, and sea birds. Few special effects.

3.0 stars: Worthwhile and with deep characters. 

More: After the election, I read that this is an age for the Black Madonna -- not the pop star Marea Stamper or Kanye West -- rather the 12 Century European original. A dark faced woman who embodied the tragedy of the plague and the descent in to ignorance. The Pope is planning to visit her shrine on his trip to Poland.

New age pantheists link her to the Hindu goddess Kali, who is called the dark mother and associated with destruction & doomsday.