Darke Reviews | Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

If you remember my Force Awakens review I made it clear how good that one was. What I did not do was share my fan-girl credentials, which in this day and age may get me doxxed or called a fake geek girl. Suffice to say there was no one in my high school back in the early 90’s who could keep up with me on the Star Wars lore. I admit I am nowhere near the obsessive with it I was then, but Star Wars The Old Republic is kindling that flame again. I have felt the hype for this one since the first trailer when I heard Felicity Jones go “This is a Rebellion isn’t it? I rebel.”

So lets cut to it…does the movie live up to the hype?

Directed by Gareth Edwards, who I have raved on before with Monsters and Godzilla, does well with the small character moments and specific scenes. The reshoots, despite what others may say, however are painfully obvious. I can see where the studio and Tony Gilroy came in. I can see the asks, and honestly so can you. Just watch the trailers after seeing the movie. Edwards clearly had a vision for the movie and the studio disagreed, now he has said in a recent interview the “real” reason for the reshoots and what they solved for – but I am not entirely sold on that. While I am certain some pick up shots and additional reshoots may have been necessary; what we have as a final product shows the signs of having come undone at the seams and being restitched to use Riz Ahmeds analogy. The stitches are evident in many places and what I sadly cannot judge is  – were they fully needed.

The reason I say that is there are so many tonal changes in the film, the characters, and plot, – even the look sometimes that you can tell there is something wrong. Maybe it is me having seen so many movies, maybe it is just having my expectations too high. But the joint directing and production of this has created a series of irreconcilable flaws and issues with the film. There are times that they show rather than tell – which adds run time and an unnecessary scene that SHOULD be cut. Ironic as I have been vetching about bad editing all year.

Ok so directing and editing have flaws, but what of the script? The movie wraps with 4 total writers between story and screenplay. Tony Gilroy (Bourne 1, 2, 3, and 4) was brought into direct during reshoots and also has a screenplay credit which means he also got scripting edits in too. Knowing he is also behind the lackluster Bourne Legacy makes me wonder why he was selected to be brought in to help. Chris Weitz (Cinderella, Golden Compass) also has a screenplay credit and I sort of eviscerated him on Cinderella’s review too. This adds to my confusion and maybe if I had looked for this before going in I may have tempered my expectations. The story credit (so this is the original writers) goes to John Knoll who was a visual effects supervisor on A New Hope and Return of the Jedi amongst many other really good movies; yet this is the first writing gig. With him is Gary Whitta, who was  writer on the terrifically bad After Earth, but also 2 episodes of Star Wars Rebels.

At this point with these pedigrees – I am surprised the movie is as good as it is. I wish I could see the original script. I wish I could see the original cut. There’s so much good here and unexplored potential. So much that I can see the hints of something better than the final product. I mean the story has a foregone conclusion to it so nothing should come as a surprise, except the fate of our characters. Which we have to be introduced to and care about in the space of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Thankfully – we do.

This is where the movie shines. The actors. Damn if they don’t have charisma and chemistry. Ok sure their performances are bordering on manic at times, but that isn’t their fault. That’s direction and story. Felicity Jones (Inferno, Theory of Everything) is more than capable of carrying the film. She’s remarkable, strong, vulnerable and everything I wanted. Diego Luna (Vampires Los Muertos, Milk, Elysium) does rather well with the complexity of his own character and pairs well with Jones like a fine meal. Alan Tudyk is a gift and a treasure. That is all you need know. Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are fantastic and add to the story even if you will have trouble remembering their characters names. Ben Mendelsohn, has an unenviable task of trying to be the films bad guy. He has the shoes of Vader, Palpatine, and Ren to fill. He does his best, but lacks the weight of even Ren. I almost wish him and Mads Mikkelsen had switched their roles as Mads has that kind of weight. This isn’t to say he doesn’t give his best effort because he does. It just lacked something – but perhaps that is also the reshoots?

Technicals – ok 94% of the movie is flawless visually. There are literally hundreds of scenes of practical meets digital effects that are only improved. Musically it’s very good. They did a truly remarkable job making me feel like this was before Episode IV. What about the other 6%? Two words Uncanny Valley. You did something. You did it very very well – but it’s not perfect. That lack of perfection is jarring to my eyes and those of the person watching it with me. Two more years of technology advancement and I wouldn’t even notice. I would know but not notice and that is saying something.

TL;DR?

The movie is good. The review above puts it through the meat grinder – because it could have been so much better. So. Much. Better. This is my expectations along with some very critical and painful editing choices. Not just the reshoots – which I have to admit may have improved the movie and I don’t know. That said; they may have also damaged it. I really can’t tell unless I could compare.

I know I am going to be in a minority on this one, but the movie is just a solid Good. It is deeply flawed and I don’t have to squint to see the flaws. This saddens and even angers me a bit. It should take more effort to tear this apart and it takes almost none. There’s good to defend, but it’s hard to overlook and defend the flaws.

The actors salvage this. Many of the visual effects shots are so gorgeous they fall easily into the category of best I’ve seen. That is why there’s anger. Because I can see where you did so bloody well. I just wish you had stuck the landing Disney.

Should you see it?

I still say yes – but temper your expectations.

What about 3-D?

Maybe. I can see where shots like the modified AT-AT’s walking out of the mist would be amazing in 3-D.

Will you buy it?

Yes.

Are you seeing it again?

Yes and I am hoping I am more forgiving to enjoy all of it a bit more.

Last words?

Sorry folks. I wish I could tell you this was as amazing as I thought Force Awakens was. It’s good, but it should and could have been better. It deserved to be better.

 

Darke Reviews | Inferno (2016)

So, I’ve watched all of the Dan Brown movies before watching this. I rather like The Da Vinci Code. I felt the acting was on point, enjoyed the mystery, even if there were a few contrived points. It probably comes from an absolute love and fascination with history. In addition a passion to ask the question, “What if?” These types of stories that are just a touch off the history, just a touch off the real thing that they create a fully enriched and believable mythology are fascinating to me. The mystery presented there was small(ish), and self-contained which allowed it to work as well as it did. The consequences were interesting, but at a specific scale that was relatable to the audience. History and Religion intertwined.

Then came Angels & Demons. Physics and Religion.  The mystery was curious, and while my love for physics and the sciences there is not nearly as strong as my love of history, it was engaging. Then the third act came along and left me feeling generally annoyed. A lot of goodwill for the movie was lost in short order and while again it was well made, it was annoying and too convoluted. While my memory can recall most of DVC pretty accurately, I can maybe recall 50% of Angels & Demons. It was an “ok” after a solid opening.

Now we have Inferno.

The question remains did I get stuck in the Inferno, Purgatorio, or Paradiso watching this?

First, let me say I have a early 1900’s print of The Divine Comedy in my library, so again I say History geek. Not that it comes into play much in this screenplay. In short, its a mess.  I cannot speak for Dan Brown’s novel, but David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) either was faithful and the novel is a mess, attempted to salvage it and failed, or took something good and gave it anxiety. Now, looking at his filmography he tends to work with pretty decent directors and the films themselves generally are well received. But there have been flaws since 2002. Secret Window, then in 2005 War of the Worlds, 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he did work on Angels & Demons as well. I am not sure what is going on here, but…this movie is a bloody mess.

The narrative is hard to follow and the parts that should be interesting are glossed over with such a wide brush I could paint the deck of the USS Enterprise with a single stroke. It takes a normal man who at least in the first movie was relatable. Now he is immediately thrust into the story of a super spy better fitting a Mission Impossible or Bourne movie without the physicality of either.  Every line is said, but they are just small quick beats that serve little point beyond getting to the next in something that is too large and ultimately meaningless.

I’ve been seeing a lot about risk show up in Superhero reviews. There are no risks. The dangers are too big to comprehend, thus you do not care. Ultron is going to destroy the world in some vague plan. Loki destroy the world, but to no particular real end.  The villain of Suicide Squad, destroy the world for reasons in some vague way. The stakes are TOO high. Too much. Constantly too much. This time, the trailers tell us we are at threat from something that will somehow wipe out only half of every living human. I admit my biochemistry and virology game are a bit weak, not really studied in over 20 years aside from a few journals reviewed from time to time and keeping an eye on the newest advances in medical science. That said, the science begs the incredulous here. A pathogen that will only take half the population because reasons? A race against the clock to stop it or the world dies in some vague way. It’s too big to care about or buy into. Unless…..

Unless you have the directorial fortitude to make the 12 Monkeys, Planet of the Apes, or 28 Days Later call; which would surprise everyone. The mystery and the race have no weight because we all know this isn’t going to happen. The first movie it’s about uncovering the Grail, something big but stays personal and the ramifications to the world are mostly philosophical in nature. Angels & Demons….would affect a single religion and how it affects the world, but in this day and age we see that even the faithful will turn against the faith if a message is sent they don’t agree with. It’s still a personal, theological, and philosophical outcome; but also was the first to have a McGuffin level body count on failure. This, from the trailer alone is a 4 billion people body count on failure. A failure you know won’t happen. So why care?

That is not the directors only failing here. The opening credits tried to mimic things like 12 Monkeys or I Am Legend, and other staccato style openings with dialogue that has no context to us at this opening. After that we begin in media res; in the hopes that we will dive right in and be brought along on the confusing journey of Dr. Robert Langdon. The trick to bring us along? Just tell the story. Let Hanks act. You do not need to cut every 2 to 4 seconds. You don’t need to blur the camera or lens flare it or wobble it to make us realize he’s confused. The man can act, at least based on 5 Oscar nominations and 2  wins of the golden statue. We don’t need camera tricks.

I really need to go to the story about Marathon Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier

During the filming of “Marathon Man,” Dustin Hoffman was supposed to play a man who had been up all night. And method actor that he is, he spent the night before shooting the scene awake. When he arrived on the set, his co-star Laurence Olivier asked why he looked so tired. Hoffman explained his approach. Olivier paused and then said, “Try acting, dear boy . . . It’s much easier.”

Director Ron Howard just out and out fails this movie. Let your bloody actors act. If you want to keep a mystery don’t focus on things that most audiences these days will pick up on. Don’t go to generic footage with bad CGI to show a plague scene. Interspersing so called Hallucinations of a battle just breaks the moment rather than enhances it. I really want to keep railing on the bad directing here, but the list would go on too long and I would need to have spoilers.

The final word on the directing is cutting the shot after no longer than 4 seconds the entire movie is a horrible way to make a film. It was noticeable, in such an excruciating way the guy next to me started counting along with me, even though I was just using my fingers. Just stop. Long takes are Ok.

*grumble* I didn’t expect this review to be this long.

Acting? Hanks sleep walks through the role, trying his best to play someone who has brain trauma. He’s uninvested the entire movie and has absolutely no chemistry with anyone at all, even himself. He doesn’t even manage chemistry with his suit. There are three bright spots however, Omar Sy (Bishop in X-Men Days of Future Past)  as a WHO operative on the trail of the plague. He is in the top three most memorable characters and enjoyable to watch, even if you see it all coming a mile a way since the movie opening (and trailer) spoils him. I finally have a line on Felicity Jones, having only seen her in Amazing Spider Man 2 as Felicia – which as I recall her being a bright spot in the movie. I am now looking very forward to her in a more action oriented role in Rogue One this December.  She does everything she can to elevate the poor material she was given and directed on. I can’t say she always succeeds, but I lay that on Howard not her performance.  Side note, I think she would make a great companion on Dr. Who. The brightest star goes to Irrfan Khan (Jurassic World, Life of Pi). He made me smile and laugh a few times (intentionally!!). It was needed. The man exuded charisma on screen and was so just casual and easy going that I wanted to watch a movie about him. Yet another failing on the material and director that a third string character (not actor) is so much more interesting than your main.

TL;DR?

This marks one of my larger reviews coming in at almost 1500 words at this point.

I didn’t expect to go off on such a rant above, but dear powers that be this movie fails on so many basic levels that I needed to use this gif.

While not an abomination like Die Hard 5 or other movies, this one is just such a remarkable disappointment. It is a dismal failure in my opinion on the career of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. It isn’t deserving of hate, but instead pity. Sadly that pity means I think it needs the Old Yeller treatment and to be never spoken of again. I come here to not praise this movie, but to bury it.

Should you see it?

I wish I hadn’t. So no.

Will you buy it?

Honestly I am hoping it bombs enough that the studio decides against putting it on BluRay. We should never speak of this again remember?

Is it really THAT bad?

Probably not, but unlike some movies which I can ignore the flaws for a greater narrative, performance, or filming technique there’s not enough good here to allow me to ignore the flaws.

Ok, so let’s talk Dr. Strange!

Let’s…not today. I would not be kind. Look for something on next weeks release soon though.