Friday, 16 December 2016

'Rogue One' (2016) Review: Hey Did You Know Star Wars Had A Death Star?

Big Screen Watch:  'Rogue One' is greater than the sum of its parts, with a finale that easily justifies running out to see it.
Set very nearly before ‘A New Hope’, ‘Rogue One’ tells the story of a group of rebel underdogs as they attempt to gain the plans to the Death Star that were such a crucial plot point, nearly 40 years ago. To that end, much of ‘Rogue One’ feels so much like what you’ve seen before, but in an entirely new light. Somewhat.

For starters, since ‘Rogue One’ is situated so nearly before the first ‘Star Wars’ film, painstaking time and effort has gone into emulating the feel of the futuristic 1970s. There’s an air of authenticity, right down to the outdated display on the ship computer screens. While this tasteful recreation is impressive to say the least, it pales in comparison to the more innovative work found in ‘Rogue One’.

Innovation #1: Shooting an AT-ACT with a rocket launcher
Director Gareth Edwards is known for his work with giant monsters, and he’s brought that unique eye to ‘Star Wars’. Edwards captures the scale and vastness of space in epic fashion, but then brings the focus down to a more intimate, human eye. Giving these scenes this personal context makes you feel claustrophobic & frightened yet exhilarated, and perhaps best captures what it would be like in an intergalactic war.

But as much as you experience the film from the character’s level, I’m afraid I had trouble connecting with them. Mainly the main character, Jyn Erso, whose story of jaded rebel turned freedom fighter was a little bland for my tastes. Thankfully with an ensemble cast like this one, you’re treated to a vast array of characters to cling on to. Some of them feel more like action figures than characters, but it’s a delight to have characters that are colourful, in more than one sense of the word.

No that's not dirt, there's just people of colour in the new Star Wars. Crazy right? Okay there's a little dirt too. 
With so many prequels these days opting for their own re-imagining and a soft reboot of their franchise, it was kind of a trip to have 'Rogue One' go the way it did. I mean, you know the ending. They get the plans to the Death Star. Having said that, 'Rogue One' doesn't lean on its connection with the other films too heavily. There's no mention of a Skywalker, or any grand destiny. Really the movie tries to give life to the war that's being fought. By showing you a lot of death on the battlefield.

There are moments where 'Rogue One' can't help itself. Shoehorning in moments that are honestly a little distracting. I suspect when a filmmaker gets a chance to make a 'Star Wars' movie, they just have to throw in something from their childhoods. It's nowhere near as egregious as in 'The Force Awakens' though, which mixed story moments with nostalgia which tastes good at first, but leaves a bad aftertaste.

A spoonful of nostalgia makes the bad storytelling go down.
In the end, 'Rogue One' is a fine movie. Its first act is muddled, and unevenly paced, but gets exponentially better as it goes on. The dialogue isn't remarkable, except for being a little cringey at times, but it's nowhere near bad. I'd say the film did a lot more right than it did wrong, because the things it did wrong are so easily ignored. At least in my judgement.

Leave it to ‘Star Wars’ to bring together an audience of children playing with light-sabers, adults with full time jobs, and teenagers finally finished with exams, all together to scream and cheer at the screen. ‘Rogue One’ may not be the best ‘Star Wars’ film, but it certainly captivates an audience in the same way, and is worth the full price of admission for the final 20 minutes alone.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Thursday, 8 December 2016

'Office Christmas Party' Review (2016): Office Space X

Half Price: Some jokes work more than others, but the movie is so light on the party itself, it just feels half baked.
For many people, the annual office Christmas party is a droll experience. No one really wants to be there, and it somehow turns the joyous event of Christmas, into a sad lonely affair. ‘Office Christmas Party’ is for those people. It’s an escapist fantasy that brings the reckless and wild goings on of ‘Project X’, to the cubicle rebellion of ‘Office Space’.

The story follows the company of Xenotech. It doesn’t really matter what the company does, all that matter is Clay, played by the irreverent TJ Miller runs a failing branch of it. After his big sister Carol, played by Jennifer Aniston, threatens to shut down his business, Clay decides to throw the Christmas party to end all Christmas parties. He hopes that his efforts will win the interest of an investor, save his company, and the jobs of all his employees in the process.

Your secret Santa gift is: Job security!
‘Office Christmas Party’ does its job well. It has characters that fit the people you see in an everyday work environment, and it tries to put them in funny situations. Those situations can be low brow, like the HR person who uncontrollably farts in nervous situations, or they can be quite clever, with quips that play on the frustrations of office politics. With jokes that range from the silly to the cerebral, ‘Office Christmas Party’ never loses its genuine voice, making it feel like in the writers room, all jokes were created equal.

Unfortunately it seems like ‘Office Christmas Party’ had too many ideas in that room. Many a time in the movie reference will be made to something happening at the party that is infinitely more interesting than watching Jason Bateman & co. fumble around trying to arrange for their company to be saved. Truthfully, while the segments of the Christmas party you do see have some genuinely laugh out loud moments, the movie treats it as an afterthought, rather than the main event.

I feel bad disparaging the movie for focusing on plot rather than spectacle, but honestly, spectacle has its purpose. I definitely appreciated everything the film was trying to say about downsize culture, and sanitization of office relations. It never delivered these ideas through preaching and everytime they were touched on, it felt natural. That said, the movie presents the Christmas party as its stand against those very things, yet keeps you away from the party. You feel like the guy running the party, making sure everyone's having a good time, but never at the party yourself.

A feeling I know all too well
The movie did make me laugh, and I never felt like any of the talent in the cast was wasted. Everyone was on point, and had characters tailor made for their abilities. Who else could play the middle aged man frustrated at being told what he can or cannot say without feeling creepy than Rob Corddry. I also loved Kate McKinnon as Corddry's adversary. Her uptight HR woman is mainly there to be a buzzkill, but McKinnon is a riot, even when she's supposed to be sucking the fun out of everything.

Kate McKinnon. So talented she'll make a still image feel like a GIF. 
To say that ‘Office Christmas Party’ was a satisfying experience, is only a half truth. While it definitely is firing on all cylinders, doesn’t always hit its target. It’s definitely a movie enhanced by a cinema viewing with a big audience, and it has enough in it to feel that escapism it tries to deliver. Just don’t be surprised if you end up wanting to leave the party early.

Rating: Half Price

This isn't the first R rated comedy of the year, but it's far from the best. We looked at some of our favourites ever on the podcast:

Thursday, 1 December 2016

'Sully' (2016) Review: Soft Landing

Half Price: Perfectly good movie, that you should seek at a discount
As a fairly young, but avid viewer of motion pictures, many of the movies that are based on true stories, are stories I either don’t remember or wasn’t alive to see. However in the ever flowing stream of time, events continue to occur, and then are recreated to be enjoyed from the comfort of the cinema. Recently, there was ‘Captain Phillips’ and now ‘Sully’. Both films about Captains surviving a 2009 tragedy, and both starring Tom Hanks. Go figure.

As long as middle aged white men get into tragedy, this man will have work.
‘Sully’ of course is the story of the 2009 forced water landing in which Captain Chesley Sullenberger (It’s a wonder he chooses to be called Sully) landed a commercial airplane with 155 people on board, after both engines failed, on the Hudson River. A story like that is amazing on its own, but is the movie any good? Well yes, but I’m not certain I needed to see it.

‘Sully’ is a movie that suffers from its publicity. The sequence of the landing itself is thrilling, and it makes for an incredibly immersive portion of the film, but it’s only a fraction of the runtime. The rest of the movie looks at Sully himself. Tom Hanks gives a, well, sullen performance, as a man who’s suddenly thrust into fame, while dealing with an investigation of the incident. The film attempts to create tension in that investigation of the landing, but it comes across as artificial. The type of dramatic re-imagining you expect from a Hollywood movie, that pushes it into a sort of real life fantasy.

Hanks’ performance is layered, and gives Sully a humanity that helps reconcile his seemingly superhuman feat. There’s a clear attempt to make Sully as ordinary as possible, complete with incomplete house payments and other financial struggles. It’s a little undercut though at the end of the film when you get a clip of the actual Captain, who is so gentle and kind he makes Tom Hanks look like Clint Eastwood.

It's like a live action Animorphs movie 
The film is well cast and well acted all around. but it’s naturally more interesting if you weren’t at least somewhat familiar with what took place 7 years ago. For those that were, it’s a decent character study of the humanity behind the people we so quickly turn into celebrities in this internet age, where every action is analysed and under scrutiny.

P.S Major props need to go to Aaron Eckhart for his superb moustache, whose face fuzz eclipses the main man himself. Make no mistake, Hanks' moustache game is on point, but it's nowhere near the beast that occupies the space directly below Eckhart's nasal cavity. His thick, musky, forest of lip hair is a feat, and easily takes the cake for best moustache of 2016. If you only see one moustache at the movies this year, make it Eckhart.

Eckhart takes it. Hands down. 

Movie Rating: Half Price
Moustache Rating: GOAT