Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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Revisiting Rock Docs and Music Movies You Might Not Have Seen

We may no longer be living in the era of rock and roll, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a pantheon of great films to help us relive the glory days. Not all the films on this list will cover rock music specifically, but each brings out excitement and attitude that’s at the heart of any genre. Some real, some fictional, you’re likely to enjoy all of these films, even if some of them are unfamiliar.

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Blu Tuesday: Suicide Squad and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Suicide Squad”

WHAT: When a powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes captivity and sets out to destroy the world, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) enlists no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead a covert team of the world’s most dangerous criminals – including sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), the Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – to stop her.

WHY: Following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” moviegoers looked to “Suicide Squad” to get the DC Extended Universe back on track. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about the basic setup, it’s too often hindered by the film’s many flaws and surprising conventionality. The movie doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its colorful roster – especially Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto (as a very different iteration of the Joker), all of whom deliver great work in their respective roles – but while it’s packed with some great character moments, they’re spoiled by the lame plot and even lamer villain. There was a much better story to be told, or at the very least, a better way to tell it, but “Suicide Squad” gets so caught up in trying to compete with DC’s bigger properties that the film loses sight of what made it such a unique and exciting idea from the outset. Although it’s not quite the post-“Batman v Superman” pick-me-up that many people were expecting, there’s enough good to be salvaged from David Ayer’s original vision that it’s not a total failure, either.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a series of featurettes on the characters, boot camp training for the cast, filming the action sequences and the Joker/Harley relationship, as well as a gag reel and the extended cut of the movie, which runs about 13 minutes longer.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “La La Land”

Starring
Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Director
Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” wasn’t just my favorite film of 2014 – in my estimation, it’s one of the best movies of the past decade. So it goes without saying that the bar was set pretty high for his latest project, a loving homage to the big, bold and colorful musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age featuring two of today’s brightest stars. Making a musical these days is already a huge risk, but the fact that “La La Land” is a completely original piece of work rather than an adaptation of preexisting material is what makes it truly daring. The film’s ambition is evident from the very first frame, launching into an elaborate song-and-dance number set during a gridlock on the Los Angeles freeway that announces itself in grand fashion. Though it falls just short of matching that ambition (perhaps due to a tiny bit of overhype), “La La Land” is still one of the most dazzling, effervescent moviegoing experiences of the year.

The film tells the love story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) over the course of four seasons. When the two artists first meet, it’s not cute like in the movies but rather a curt interaction during the opening traffic jam that begins with a loud honk and ends with a middle finger. The pair crosses paths later that night when Mia wanders into a Hollywood restaurant where Sebastian has just been fired by his boss (J.K. Simmons in a fun cameo) for failing to play the agreed-upon setlist of holiday jingles, and again, their encounter is less than friendly. As fate would have it, Mia and Sebastian run into each other at a house party several months later, and this time around, the sparks finally fly. But as their romance blossoms through the summer, they’re forced to reassess their careers, leading both of them to wonder whether being together means that they must give up on their dreams.

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Blu Tuesday: Jason Bourne and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Jason Bourne”

WHAT: When former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) steals top secret files on the agency’s black ops programs and uncovers new details about David Webb’s (Matt Damon) past, the Treadstone agent formerly known as Jason Bourne is dragged out of hiding. Hot on his trail is ambitious CIA cyber division chief Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and a vengeful operative (Vincent Cassel) with a personal grudge against Bourne.

WHY: Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass were pretty adamant about being done with the Jason Bourne franchise after 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum,” but following the disappointment of the Jeremy Renner-led spinoff “The Bourne Legacy,” Universal must have thrown duffle bags of money at the duo to convince them to come back. They should have resisted, because while it’s good to see Damon and Greengrass return to the series that helped make their careers, “Jason Bourne” doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Not even Damon looks particularly excited to be back, speaking as little as possible over the course of the film’s bloated two-hour runtime. Though it boasts an excellent cast (including Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel and Riz Ahmed) and some great action that culminates in a thrilling car chase through the Las Vegas strip where a SWAT truck is used like a battering ram, “Jason Bourne” is so fixated on its titular character’s past (yet again) that it fails to look ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a general making-of featurette, as well as five additional featurettes on filming the major fight scenes and the Athens and Las Vegas chase sequences.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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