Search This Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Is this the film Star Wars fans have been waiting for? Possibly not but that doesn't mean they won't enjoy it anyway...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Set shortly before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Rogue One tells the story of how a group of scrappy rebels came into possession of the plans for the Death Star.

What we thought

Rogue One is a Star Wars movie the like of which we've never seen before on screen but is sure to ring a bell or two with those dire hard fans (like yours truly) who spent the 1990s reading Star Wars media tie-ins like the “Tales of” anthologies or the X-Wing series of novels and comics and, of course, played the X-Wing and Tie Fighter series of PC games. Those novels, comics and games were set firmly in the Star Wars universe but focused on either new or supporting players in the Star Wars saga and often featured a tone quite different from the original trilogy (these were pre-prequels, after all). They further widened the scope of this fictional universe, even if they did little to propel the overall story arc.

This, in a nutshell, is exactly what Gareth Edwards and screenwriters, Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, have created in Rogue One: a Star Wars Story – albeit now in the form of a “canonical” film. Even the subtitle, “a Star Wars Wars”, indirectly harkens back to those often terrific examples of glorified fan fiction.

How the rebels got their hands on the plans for the original Death Star was never really a story that ever needed to be told as it was dealt with perfectly well by a tossed-off bit of dialogue in the first Star Wars movie – a film where much of its genius lay in just how much world building was done in exactly such tossed off lines – but that doesn't mean that there isn't much pleasure to be had in its telling.

Office Christmas Party

So, a non-Star-Wars related movie also comes out this week. Not that anyone cares - or, frankly, should care. It's rubbish.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A slacker manager of the local office of a major corporation is told by his cold-hearted sister and boss that unless he pulls in an unreasonable amount of money by the end of the quarter, she will have no choice but to fire him and close down the branch. And, effective immediately, the office Christmas party is canceled. In a last ditch effort to save the branch, he enlists the help of his best friends and number two at the company to throw the biggest Christmas party ever in an effort to boost his employee's morale and maybe, just maybe, sign up a huge client who would singehandedly bring in enough money to save the branch.

What we thought

Jennifer Aniston has long ago proven to be the kiss of death for most major Hollywood comedies – and she certainly doesn't buck the trend here. It's not so much that she's a terrible actress (though I've yet to be convinced that she's at all great) or that she's a particularly awful comedic actress (though only one or two roles would convincingly refute that she probably is) but that she has a habit of choosing some truly awful, uninspired and horribly unfunny comedies with almost alarming precision. When We're the Millers is probably the best things she has starred in in years, you know you're in trouble.

It's especially annoying because not only is she surrounded by a number of very talented comic actors but the film actually starts off with a certain amount of promise. The opening few minutes of the film basically just follow Jason Bateman doing the whole trying-to-hard-to-be-nice thing that he mastered in Arrested Development and T.J. Miller playing a slightly dumber version of his hilarious character in Silicon Valley. It's not wildly funny or anything but it's light and snappy and bodes well for what is to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Edge of Seventeen

I noticed that this has a somewhat limited release in South Africa so you may have to hunt it down but, boy, is this one worth the effort.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Nadine is a smart, sardonic and socially awkward teenage girl who already hates everything about being a teenager but when her best friend starts dating her much loved (by everyone but Nadine, anyway) brother, things go from bad to unbearable.

What we thought

The Edge of Seventeen has exactly the kind of plot that should have all but the most emo of teenage girls running for the hills in terror, so how exactly did it become - and quite easily at that - one of my very favourite films of the year? And not at all in a guilty pleasure kind of way either, but in the sense that I am absolutely willing to go to bat for it as one of the year's most satisfying and perfectly conceived and executed films.

Well, for a start, it does once again prove the old (or perhaps just recently invented) adage that stories are, more often than not, about far more than their plot. It's true, the basic plot of the Edge of Seventeen is nothing we haven't seen before and, though it does buck clich̩ a number of times throughout its running time, it just as often gleefully embraces its own generic conventions Рmost especially as it moves towards its utterly effective but undeniably clean and cozy ending. All this matters not a jot.

While it would be rather disingenuous to say that the film has nothing to do with its basic story line, it reminds me of some of my favourite coming of stories in that the plot is there purely to drive along the characters as they try and come to terms with that horribly messy period between childhood and adulthood.

Inferno

Are we done with this series yet?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The third film in the Robert Langdon series, Landon wakes up in a hospital in France with no memories of what he's doing there or how he got there. It's not long, however, before he and the doctor treating him find themselves on the run for their lives from the followers of an eccentric billionaire who believes that the only way he can save the world from overpopulation is by wiping out most of humanity.

What we thought

Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code was rightly criticized for being a laboriously boring and badly lit conspiracy thriller but, by the sheer force of the madness of the conspiracy at the centre of the film, I couldn't help but have a bit of a soft spot for it. I have real trouble believing damn near any conspiracy I've ever heard but I tend to find they make for good fiction; the more far out the better, of course.

Following that, we had Ron Howard once again taking a swing at one of Brown's airplane reads, Angels and Demons, and without so impressively nutty a conspiracy at the centre of it, it had to rely on actual filmmaking to pack any sort of punch. Fortunately, Howard lightened his touch and greatly upped the sheer daftness of what was going on on-screen, resulting in a totally rubbish, monumentally stupid and actually kind of fun popcorn flick whose action-hero-priest-laden final act has to be seen to be believed.

Here was are, once more, with Ron doing Dan to absurdly stupid results but unlike the Da Vinci Code it has no nutso conspiracy to drive it forward and unlike Angels and Demons, it seems to be much less self-aware of its own rubbishness - which was really the only saving grace of its immediate predecessor. Sadly, there's just nothing whatsoever to recommend about Inferno beyond some nice, hellish imagery - that actually ultimately doesn't really have all that much to do with the story anyway.