Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Felicity Jones

Diego Luna

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

I didn’t have high hopes for this movie. I mostly liked Episode Seven but in my heart, I felt that Star Wars was slowly but surely moving away from that of my generation. Change isn’t always bad but the bittersweet nostalgic sense of loss is sorely felt. For me, (and perhaps my generation), Rogue One is a very welcome return to form for the franchise. Its characters aren’t immortal or all good or bad. There is something even more valuable than this though. The Star Wars universe has existed for nearly 40 years now and the first introduction, of course, was through Episodes IV: A New Hope, a film in which the mythical Jedi and the ways of the Force were first explained and shown. That a world in which neither existed in any way preceded this film is almost impossible to fathom. At least to this reviewer’s satisfaction, the world of the Jedi and their place in the universe didn’t come across very clearly throughout the prequels. OK, they’re not soldiers, they’re not police but they show up to slice off limbs, negotiate peace, requisition tens of thousands of clone soldiers. Without a clear purpose, it is no wonder they immediately fell into the world of myth and belief in the Force became “a sad devotion to an Ancient religion.” In “A New Hope,” it is easy to believe. We see Obi-Wan cut off his quota of limbs, “change the minds” of Stormtroopers and speak to Luke from beyond the grave. But how about those with nothing to prove their beliefs, nothing to look at and say, this, this is the Force. They are true believers and their faith is the strongest.

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Shin Gojira

Hasegawa Hiroshi

Ishihara Satomi

starstarstarhalf star

 

The title for Shin Gojira is completely written in katakana, the Japanese phonetic alphabet usually reserved for foreign words or those whose Chinese character (or kanji) equivalent is so difficult, that using katakana or hiragana (the Japanese phonetic alphabet used for specifically Japanese words or words that have been in the Japanese language so long, their foreign origins have been forgotten like “tobacco”). Godzilla or gojira as he is known in Japan is also written in katakana as he has been since 1954 labeling him as something outre’, foreign, otherworldly. The use of kanji usually establishes, as with Greek or Latin roots what underlying meaning lies in any one word so the use of katakana in the shin of Shin Gojira leaves quite a lot open for interpretation. Does the film’s title mean New Godzilla, True Godzilla, Evolved Godzilla, The Relatives of Godzilla or all of the above?

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The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio

Tom Hardy

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

 

I have seen all but one of Director Alejandro Inarritu’s notable works (or so noted as such by the Wikipedia empire). Much of his storytelling is deliberately confusing sometimes irritatingly so. Some of his films have a chopped narrative to further stymie unattentive viewers. He certainly has a unique voice although it is not for everyone. The Revenant is the first time I thought one of his films was beautiful just to watch pass by. Yes, terribly violent events are occurring but they happen in a pace of an older, calmer world. I found it relaxing just to see the falling snow and the flowing of the river. It is very well known now that Innaritu has a passion for challenges which critics may deem gimmicks. In the Academy Award Best Picture recipient Birdman, it was seemingly filming the movie all in one take. Here, it is filming in all natural light. In terms of cinematography, The Revenant is a ringing success. As for its story, that is another matter.

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Sicario

Emily Blunt

Benicio Del Toro

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

The name Denis Villeneuve may not mean as much to filmgoers as his various oeuvres Incendies, Prisoners, or Enemy. I have seen the latter three and can attest to the strengths of the director’s style which includes a weighted intensity and patient yet significant panning of the camera. The intensity isn’t moody as in a Lynch film, although it bears the same dreadful feeling of imminent threat closing in on the protagonist(s). He doesn’t set store with memorable dialogue but rather ordinary, albeit never repetitive or trite speech that provides almost a documentary-like feel as the movie moves towards its inexorable conclusion. After the late Autumn frigid forests of Prisoners, and the dingy brick buildings of Enemy, we now get the Southwestern United States in Arizona and New Mexico. Utilizing mostly darkness as a tool in the aforementioned films, here he uses blinding sunlight over the flat desert wasteland, a bit of a change in style, visually, for the filmmaker.  The effect is more shocking as very early on in Sicario, we are blindsided by threat lying in broad daylight.

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Ted 2

Mark Wahlberg

Amanda Seyfried

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstar

There are certain film characters you meet once and then the magic they possess runs its course leaving no room for successful continuation. Shrek was one such character and so is Ted. I’m sure you are now thinking of countless other likely candidates. The first Ted film was a gambit toeing the recently popular line drawn by Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith, and others balancing raunchy humor and characters with a big heart hiding behind (way, way behind in some cases) their profane language and obscene habits. Despite the absurdity of the premise, ie a Teddy Bear come to life, we felt for the characters and believed in their friendship which made the walking talking Teddy Bear aspect not merely shock value. The first film had some memorable and critical cameos which were jaw dropping and hilarious in their placement and timing. Unfortunately, that was long ago.

In Ted 2, after a remarkably beautiful opening wedding scene and a rather extended but very well composed, choreographed, and attired dance number by men in tuxes and top hats and long legged women in Broadway Showgirl attire complete with little Ted dancing along. This is Tony Prize level stuff and I couldn’t help but think it was wasted on the target audience: eg folks here to see a stoner/raunchy sex comedy. Seth MacFarlane has an affinity with Big Band that finds its way into his animated hit Family Guy, and here, at least only in the opening moments, we get a glimpse of this love of his. Fortunately (or unfortunately, perhaps) it itself is worth the price of admission.

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The Martian

Matt Damon

Jessica Chastain

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

I had had it with Ridley Scott. Despite the beautiful production value of his films, something about the direction of his recent films disappointed me. A feeling of greatness thrown away for a cheap twist or beating a dead horse for an obscene length of time. I approached The Martian with a wary countenance. I am happy to say, it is a great success almost making me forgive him for wasted chance that was Prometheus and the boring mess that was Kingdom of Heaven. How should I describe it? Is it a mix of Gravity and Dallas Buyer’s Club in the respect that the protagonist is not on the Earth, in immediate danger, but is affable about his chances for survival. It is also a bit like 127 Hours in that Matt Damon, in his intelligent quest for survival is every bit as charming as Matthew McConaughey and James Franco were in their respective films of overcoming seemingly impossible odds with tenacity, intelligence, and sheer will power.

It is also like Apollo 13 with astronauts on Earth devising virtual scenarios and calculations which are so intellectually satisfying to see on film. Mars is so beautifully recreated that it is a joy to just sit back and watch the fiery red landscapes. The plot isn’t all that different from Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars from the 1990’s, except for where Don Cheadle’s brilliant plan of survival was there a mere side note where, it is the main dish.

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Creed

Michael B. Jordan

Sylvestor Stallone

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

 

Like any great boxing move, the hit came when we weren’t expecting it. It came from outside our field of vision from a writer/director we had never heard of. It landed on our breastbone igniting all sorts of emotions old and new. Now, filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams have succeeded in doing this with the Star Trek and Star Wars series but not as beautifully as this. Creed is its own movie and Adonis his own character. While there are plenty of salutes in the directions of the previous 6 films, Creed doesn’t require any homework to enjoy although fans of the series will certainly appreciate the nods.  

We begin in a juvenile corrections facility where young Adonis Johnson is fighting an older, taller, and stronger boy for insulting his dead mother. He is later visited by a very kind yet severe woman, who reveals herself to be Apollo Creed’s widow (the great Phylicia Rashad of The Cosby Show fame, the third actress to portray the role). Fast forwarding to the present, we see Michael B. Jordan as Adonis (Wallace from The Wire all grown up!) with a wonderfully muscular frame preparing for a boxing match in Mexico. Boxing, in this film is much like seeing Godzilla in the eponymous remake by Gareth Edwards, built up slowly with no jumping of the shark. Adonis, or Donnie as he prefers to be called, is unhappy in his high-paying albeit boring job. Seeing his toned muscles covered by a shirt and tie is almost hilarious.

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