Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One and Yoga Hosers

Rogue One: A Star Wars Tale

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas created a cultural phenomenon with Star Wars, later retitled “Episode IV, A New Hope” and shaped the lives of young fans and film makers for decades to come- the children of those movies (people who were lost in the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Princess Leia) are now adults and artists and film makers who grew up with games of their own and stories of their own and adventures of their own. All of these stories were given birth in the Star Wars Universe, where Jedi fought with lightsabers and space pirates ran Imperial blockades while a desperate band of rebels struggled against tyranny. And while the Episodes continue, Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise also brings us a series of new anthology stories… movies just off to the side of the primary source films that continue to follow the adventures of the Skywalker family.

Rogue One is not, actually, the first film to step off to the side in the development of an expanded Star Wars universe- George Lucas’ production team also brought a few Ewok films to life in the 80’s. He also brought the Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels cartoon series to life. But this is the first film under the Disney umbrella and the first real attempt to expand Star Wars cinematic scope- and it’s a Star Wars geek’s dreams come to life.

This is the Dirty Dozen of the Star Wars universe- a group of outlaws, spies, and saboteurs are on a mission to retrieve the Death Star’s lead science officer (played by Mads Mikkelson) and gain information on the Empire’s Secret Weapon- but things are far more dire than anyone realizes and it may be too late to prevent the creation of the weapon itself. The galaxy is torn apart by war and darkness and this is the darkest story in the Star Wars canon- a story of desperation and hope. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of that science officer, a girl raised in the desperate years of struggle against the Empire and an outlaw in her own right. She is recruited by a rebel spy and assassin, Captain Cassian (Diego Luna) to track down her father. They are joined by turncoat Imperial Pilot (Riz Ahmed), two temple guardians (Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen), and a reprogrammed Imperial Droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk, in a scene stealing performance).  

Let me get this out of the way- PETER CUSHING!!! I could not believe it when Gran Moff Tarkin turned and revealed the face of Peter Cushing, the original actor who had played the signature Star Wars villain from the first film- the very man who held Vader’s leash. To be honest, I expected some sort of a cameo- I knew I should expect Darth Vader (And no, you’re not REALLY expecting Vader to be like this… WOW!) but the truth is that I didn’t expect him to speak or even PERFORM for that matter. But Peter Cushing is one of the primary villains of Rogue One- he doesn’t just appear in a cameo, he is a driving force behind the film and appears in a number of scenes. This is some serious necromantic movie magic at play here!

9 out of 10. Must see in the theater, must buy for Star Wars fans.

Yoga Hosers

For those who don’t know, this is Kevin Smith’s latest cinematic venture into his True North Anthology. It’s currently planned as a trilogy, but one never knows where his Canadian fixation may lead him. The films are only slightly interconnected, and Smith immediately let’s the audience know that the tone of this film will be vastly different from the one set by the first film in his series. While both films feature horror elements, Yoga Hosers is a much stronger return to his comedic roots and bears strong similarities to his earlier work.

This film sees the return of Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) and the Colleens (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily Rose Depp) from Tusk. The two convenience store clerk teens are a best friend “pair” with a band and a reputation after being featured in the rescue of the Human Walrus experiment from the first film. Sarcastic, irreverent and dismissive of the world around them, the Colleens are super excited to be invited to a senior party when they’re plans come crashing down in a series of mishaps that uncover a secret underground Nazi experiment beneath their store. LaPointe returns to aid the girls when his investigation into a string of grisly murders brings him back to their store. There is obviously a lot of raw talent in the Colleens, who are carrying the majority of the film on their own backs. They overshadow the strange LaPointe at every turn and deliver fine performances on their own.

This isn’t really a “horror” film by any stretch of the imagination. In point of fact, this is a very odd film that sort of defies the ease of genre classification… but let me take you back to the mid-to-late 80’s and the local video stores stock of obscure titles: Munchies, Ghoulies, Critters, and a number of other low budget films- quirky “light-horror” films with less of an eye toward scares and much more of an eye toward a few thrills and low brow humor. That’s what this film is and in that regard it hits the mark. Smith wrote and shot a film that would appeal to the preteen kids and it should be measured as such… so with that in mind, the film is often silly, a little stupid, and incredibly crass.

But the film is also an endearing and affectionate homage to those films.

The film isn’t going to appeal to a majority of viewers, but I was entertained throughout and found myself feeling kind of happy when all was said and done. There were a few laugh out loud moments, some gross outs, and an impressive monster suit.

Unfortunately, whether budget constraints or a lack of shooting time prevented it; Smith’s lighting choices were not done very well in showing off the suit itself. Instead of looking like the gross and disgusting assortment of rotting meat that it was, the suit looked like precisely what it was- foam rubber and latex.

5.5 out of 10 and a low priority rental.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Moana and 31... yeah, that's a weird combo.


If this is the last movie I see for 2016, then 2016 will at least end on one high note as “Moana” is an absolute triumph in animated storytelling for the Disney Princess tradition. Set in the Pacific Islands, we open the story as the demi-god “Maui” has long ago stolen the heart from the Goddess; Tala. With his theft, a darkness is spreading and it is said that one day a hero will sail beyond the barrier reef and will force Maui to return the heart of creation. The Chieftains daughter, Moana, dreams of life on the ocean even as the responsibilities for the village leadership will eventually fall to her shoulders. She eventually starts on her journey and meets a far different Maui than the one she imagined.

The story is a simple hero quest with unlikely heroes, obstacles, villains, and a soundtrack fearing music from “Hamilton” creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. And it’s beautiful- the lush colors are like nothing I’ve seen in many previoius Disney productions, the animation capturing a look that is at once familiar and strange with an eye toward cultural heritage and respect. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is spectacularly cast as Maui, an arrogant demi-god whose actions have had unintended consequences. Johnson is at his best despite only being a voice on the screen, perfectly capturing the humor and occasional pathos of a character driven by very human motivations. But while Johnson features heavily in the story, the soul and drive is entirely on Auli’I Cravalho in the title role. Her arc as a hero is wonderful to watch as she goes from uncertain girl to the woman that she needs to be in order to try and save her people.

Sea monsters, storms, volcanos and angry gods stand between Moana and her quest. Don’t let this film pass you by in the theater. You will laugh, cry, and feel everything you’re supposed to feel and this is the way movies should work.

10 out of 10 and a definite BUY! See it in the theater.


Rob Zombie released his latest film in select theaters through a Fathom event during the month of October. Events conspired to rob me of the opportunity to catch this film at that time. So I bit my lip and waited- biding my time. One month later and it’s streaming exclusively on the new Horror-Themed streaming service, “Shudder”. The time had come and I settled down for a night of blood curdling horror and psychotic clowns hunting people-

Set in the late 70’s, “31” tells the story of five unlikeable carnival workers who are kidnapped and forced to participate in a “Deadliest Game”-style murder game that is described as “31”. Throughout the course of the evening they will be chased around by psychotic clowns with a “head” themed name; IE Death Head, Doom Head, Sex Head, et al.. Malcolm McDowell plays a man who instructs the contestants as to the rules and introduces each “Head” as they appear in the film. Then there’s death, carnage, blood, and quite a bit of gore- unfortunately, it also features tone deaf dialogue dialed up to ten with foul language, obscenities, and shouting to the point where the film loses any sort of impact roughly one quarter of the way through. And the film also tends to retread previous Zombie material, but not quite as refined or as stylized as his first two films.

In total, the film isn’t a complete waste of time but it’s not going to be high on my “best of” list- there are a few decent kills and one chilling scene that almost lives up to the hype. The problem is that the material is unable to sustain itself and the movie screams itself hoarse before it’s unsatisfying conclusion.

5 out of 10, and a mid-priority rental.