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Movie Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso: the heroine of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

One of my Christmas treats was seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I’m glad I had my chance because it was an excellent movie.

Now just a reminder to you all, this is not part of the nine-episode Star Wars saga we all know. This is part of the Anthology Films of the Star Wars franchise. Actually this is the very first Anthology film to be released. The film is a triumph for writers of ‘fan fiction’ or ‘fanfic’ as it’s commonly called on the internet. However bringing fanfic like this to wide release on the big screen was no easy task. We all know how Star Wars has become a cinematic phenomenon like no other. George Lucas knows about it. Lucas himself is comfortable with ‘standalone’ films based on the Star Wars stories but wanted to make very clear that any standalone stories could not carry characters between the Saga films.

Here we have a story that is to take place between Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith and the very verse Star Wars film that’s now referred to as Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s a pretty lengthy amount of time between when Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker seeks to become a Jedi. Nevertheless it does make for ample time for any Star Wars fan to create a story of what happens in between. Storywriters John Knoll and Gary Whitta aren’t just any Star Wars fans. Knoll has done camera operations and visual effects supervision for many science-fiction films including four Star Trek films and the three Star Wars prequels. Whitta is a scriptwriter for The Book Of Eli and After Earth.

The adaptation of the story to screenplay had to fall into the right hands as well. Scriptwriter Tony Gilroy may have had his biggest renown with 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton (for which he himself was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) but his he’s also made his biggest impact in writing the scripts for all four Jason Bourne movies. Chris Weitz has an eclectic resume of writing and directing from Antz to American Pie to About A Boy to The Golden Compass to one of the Twilight films. Then there’s the film being directed properly. Gareth Edwards may have not had the most experience in directing but he has developed his reputation in recent years upon films like 2010’s Monsters and 2014’s Godzilla.

Then there’s the story itself. There are possibly loads of Star Wars-inspired stories. The story would have to be true to the Star Wars saga without it being a rip-off. There’s lots of that and even professional writers can make something that’s a Star Wars rip-off. Most Star Wars fans will not go for something insulting. True, there are a lot of people that are Star Wars-crazy but most will not go for something if they sense it’s a rip-off. Don’t forget many felt insulted by the prequels so that’s a reminder.

They succeeded. They provided a very good story about the completion of the Death Star and the family behind it and the rebellion attempting to steal the plans leading to the hope in the end. The story had to be well-researched in order for it to make the right connection between Episode III and IV. Any new characters like the Ursos, Cassian Andor and K-2SO had to fit with the story as well as include original Star Wars characters like C3P0 and Darth Vader properly. On top of that, it had to have the right action scenes and the right battles done. Basically the whole movie had to have it all to work. The story could not be compromised despite the action sequences. The acting also had to be top notch from Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker. Even the theme of the story of heroism has to be present. It’s there, but in a way like no other Star Wars saga film does it. For the first time, self-sacrifice is needed for heroism.

The story worked very well. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave a total percentage of 85% approval. Many praised it for its depth in the Star Wars mythology and for breaking new narrative and aesthetic ground while paving way to a potential future for other blockbusters. The film scored well with crowds too as it would become the 20th movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not just an excellent movie. It’s an accomplishment. It’s proof that Star Wars standalone movies can not only be a hit but be excellent in their own right.

VIFF 2016 Review: We Are The Flesh (Tenemos La Carne)

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Noe Hernandez plays a svengali-like philosopher of a man with a warped desire for control in We Are The Flesh.

DISCLAIMER: This film review will mention of various explicit acts and may offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

“This is not your average party!”

Back in 2014, I ended the VIFF with a Mexican film that was part of the Altered States series called The Incident. I end my VIFF at the Rio Theatre again with another Mexican film part of Altered States called We Are The Flesh. And boy was it something!

The film begins with Mexico City in a completely ruined state. A recluse of a man taking shelter in a hidden location: one of the few livable locations left. Even without uttering a word, he displays some eccentric human behaviors. Even making a bizarre mix of batter, fish and human blood. He talks of the essential elements and of gas.

Two siblings find their way into his location. They’ve been out in the city’s ruins for years and are in need of food and shelter. The man, named Mariano, teaches the two his beliefs and his philosophies. He offers to help them but they must comply to his demands. First he wants them to help him build his domain. They agree, building the walls to his desires. Then he wants the two to have sex. It’s a world where there are no laws. Not even anti-incest laws. The sister complies, fellating the brother. The acts become even more explicit and Mariano dies while masturbating watching them.

The two try to find a place for Mariano’s body. After they find a place in the area, they’re left to their vices on how to fend for themselves. The sister has been mesmerized by Mariano and does things according to the way he wants it but the brother is hesitant. Suddenly Mariano appears again. It’s like he came back to life. But he’s not ready to die yet.

Mariano wants to make sure his world is created before he can die. Cannibalism is part of Mariano’s world. The first victim is a soldier who finds his way into Mariano’s domain. The soldier is scared for his life but Mariano is able to calm him down with his mesmerizing talk and even having him singing along to the Mexican national anthem before being killed by Mariano and the sister. Before Mariano is to sacrifice his own body as flesh to be eaten, he needs more people to be part of his world. Over time the number of people grow. Mariano is then ready to die and have his flesh consumed. The film ends with a man in a dress making his way out of the world and into Mexico City which has returned to its normal state.

Without a doubt the film creates another world: a deeply disturbing world. This world is to be a shelter from a ruined city but instead it’s a world completely devoid of morals and full of lust and animalistic desires. This is the world created by Mariano. This is the world he tries to incorporate the brother and sister into. This is the world he wants to incorporate others into before he decides to leave this earth for good. However it’s a sick world, a world where unspeakable things like incest and cannibalism are the norm because there are no earthly rules. The rules are all gone because Mexico City outside is a load of debris. The two have no choice but to help Mariano create his world and become a part of it.

To make this world work, it all boils down to the character of Mariano to work. Mariano isn’t just a svengali. He comes across as a crazy man full of his wild imagination at first. However he also comes across as a mesmerizing madman reminiscent of Charles Manson of how he’s able to convince the sister that it is the right thing to do all these things including kill the soldier. Mariano’s mind control goes as far as working on the soldier he’s about to kill. The soldier is first scared for his life but as Mariano sings the national anthem, the sister joins in as does the soldier and the soldier is then willing to be killed. That’s the type of mesmerizing mind-control of Mariano. However Mariano knows that if he was to die, it would have to be at the right time. It’s only after hundreds of people become a part of his world that he’s able to sacrifice his body for his feeding. He wanted it that way so that he could create a world of his own. He couldn’t stop at just the brother and sister.

One thing about this film, it’s obvious it’s done for artistic and experimental purposes. This film features countless elements that would make this film uninviting and unwatchable: incest, cannibalism, torture, murder and a demented insanity. It may not be as disturbing to watch as 1975’s Salo but it’s disturbing enough. The subject matter of incest and cannibalism is enough to deter lots of people from seeing this.

Obviously this is a film meant for the film festival circuit. In order for a film like this to get screened, it would need support. Emiliano Rocha Minter is a director who has earned acclaim from fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Support of the director from elder Mexican directors is a definite boost for a film like this. However it would surprise me if a film like this does get a release in a box office anywhere. I know dildos were used in certain sex scenes and you can’t call it porn, but even knowing that doesn’t stop those scenes from being hard to stomach. Even with the film being hard to watch, there were some scenes that became confusing. One example: that batter that we see Mariano make at the beginning and then add more flesh to it in a later scene. It’s not clear what it’s for. Even the ending with a person who’s not one of the main characters being the first one to leave gets one questioning.

The film’s possibility of a box office release may be in question but it has actually won some acclaim at some film festivals. The film was nominated for one award at the East End Film Festival two awards at the Rotterdam Film Festival including a Bright Future Award. It even won Best Film at the Fantasia Film Festival.

This is the first feature-length film for writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter. As I mentioned, Cuaron and Inarritu are already touting him as the next big thing from Mexico. I don’t know if a film like this is good enough to send a message that Minter could be the next big thing from Mexico but it definitely shows his fearlessness. The acting of Noe Hernandez is the highlight of the film. He did an excellent job in capturing Mariano with his eeriness, controllingness and insanity but also his creepy charisma and imagination. It took the right character choices for a lead character like Mariano to work for the film and Hernandez made it work. The next-biggest highlight is Maria Evoli who played the sister. Going from a naive young adult woman to a follower of Mariano is definitely a big effort. The music from Esteban Aldrede added to the eeriness and creepiness of the film.

We Are The Flesh can best be summed up as an ‘envelope pusher.’ It’s definitely an over-the-top film that’s meant for the film festival circuit as it has subject matter too discomforting for your average movie-goer. Even though it can cause many people to leave the cinema, those that stay will be as intrigued as they will be disgusted.

And there you have it. That’s a wrap for my experience at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Wrap-up blog coming soon with big news.

Movie Review: Elysium

A computer hacker (Wagner Moura) gives Matt Damon the right stuff to help overtake Elysium.

A computer hacker (Wagner Moura) gives Matt Damon the right stuff to help overtake Elysium.

Okay, you remember how I mentioned a while back about the struggle of big budget action movies this summer? Elysium has been out for a while. Does it have what it takes to get things moving again? Or will it be another casualty?

 

Before I get into the plot, I have to give you a picture of the two worlds. It’s 2154 and Earth is a poor polluted overpopulated planet under anarchaic conditions. Out in space is the satellite Elysium:  a luxurious satellite full of sun, life and full cure from disease in the comfort of your own home. Earth isn’t even ruled by humans. Just ruthless androids programmed by computers. Elysium however has robots in their favor, as servants to them.

 

Max da Costa has developed into a rebel on planet Earth. He grew up an orphan and has lived in prison most of his life. Out on parole, he now works an assembly line of robot parts for Elysium in a wrecked-out Los Angeles. Max has a dispute with a robot that turns violent and lands him in the hospital with a broken arm.

 

In the hospital, he meets with a nurse named Frey. Frey was actually his childhood love in the orphanage. Despite his hard times growing up in the orphanage, he had the comforts of the love of Frey and a nun who served as a spiritual mentor to him and always believed he was meant to do something great one day. Frey is not only a nurse now but a mother of a daughter dying of leukemia.

 

Elysium is under a power struggle. It’s run by President Patel but Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt has power desires of her own. She orders the shooting down of a spaceship full of civilians from Earth which earns her a reprimand from Patel and her top security agent Kruger fired. That only fuels Delacourt’s desire for power as she connives a plan to have CEO billionaire John Carlyle design a computerized cybercoup to make her president which allows Carlyle’s company to override security for the next two centuries. Carlyle has the program implanted in his brain for safekeeping until his return to Elysium.

 

Max however is exposed to radiation at the plant one day and is given only five days to live. He desired to head to Elysium to cure himself and through the help of Spider: a computer hacker who builds illegal space caravans to Elysium. Spider agrees to send Max up there as long as he agrees to steal vital information. Max agrees and Spider gives him weapons, a fake Elysium ID, a bionic exoskeleton that can help him withstand force from android sentinels, and a cerebral data upload that can allow Max to steal data implanted in Carlyle’s mind.

 

However Carlyle and Delacourt know what’s going on and try to end Spider’s plan by shutting down the system. In the ensuing fight, Carlyle is killed along with most of Spider’s men. Max’s friend Julio sacrifices himself so that Max can get away. He does but only after being stabbed. Max goes to Frey for help but she wants to come along to get her daughter cured. Max tells her to stay out of it as this might be a suicide mission. Meanwhile Delacourt is in pursuit of Max as he holds Carlyle’s data implanted in his head. Spider wants to extract the data to make all people citizens of Elysium but can’t as long as the power is shut off in his place. The power outage can’t even get Max to Elysium just before he dies.

 

They are able to get a ship to Elysium through Max exchanging the program with Kruger but only to disguise Frey and her daughter as hostages and hold a grenade to his own head. Kruger agrees and Spider is able to sneak more people on board. During the trip, Kruger’s head is severely damaged by the grenade explosion and the plane crash lands in Elysium causing Delacourt to set off a state-of-emergency and fire Patel.

 

Right when Delacourt plans to get the program from Max and ‘bring him to justice’ Kruger’s head is reconstructed and he has mutiny plans of his own which includes assassinating Delacourt and making Elysium his own private playground. This allows Max and Frey to escape and get her daughter cured. However the ‘cure booths’ on Elysium only work on Elysians which her daughter is not made officially. It’s all up to Max to work with Spider to make everyone a citizen of Elysium and defeat Kruger from his regime in what little time Max has left. The ending is somewhat predictable but it works well for the movie.

 

The film seems to focus on the division of the rich and poor. It’s not an uncommon theme. Those who studied classic literature must have read A Tale Of Two Cities. Now we have Elysium where Earth is a hellhole for the 99% who can’t afford to live on Elysium while the rich 1% have it. It’s interesting that Neill Blomkamp is tackling such a common theme of the ‘other 99%.’. If you’ve seen his first big movie District 9, you’d notice how the transporting of aliens from one area of land to another echoes of apartheid. Now we see the separation of classes in Elysium. It’s unique to see Blomkamp make sci-fi movies that can get people thinking. It’s a welcome relief from most of this summer’s sci-fi with is mostly mindless. One unique twist from District 9 is that District 9 shows an outsider succumbing to the apartheid he’s participating in. Elysium is the opposite as it shows the lesser people trying to make the unfair fair. Good change of twist that works here.

 

This is another great sci-fi effort from director Neill Blomkamp. It’s not as well-written or well-directed as District 9 but it does make for a more intelligent sci-fi film than most of what’s been released this summer. The acting however was not that much of a standout. Matt Damon came across as a cardboard hero and Jodie Foster looked like she was trying to be a robot. Alice Braga wasn’t much of a scene stealer. Sharlto Copley however was quite good at playing the villain and Wagner Moura was a scene-stealer as Spider. The visual effects were very good and the satellite of Elysium was done excellently without flaw. It almost looked like a satellite capable of acting the same way earth does, with plant and sunshine, is actually a possiblility even in this century.

 

Checking out the box office, things don’t look so good. Elysium opened two weekends ago at the top of the box office with $29.8 million. Pretty somber since it cost $115 million to make. Last weekend also gave some bad news with only $13.6 million and this past weekend was more bad news as it didn’t even muster $7 million and ended the weekend at #7. I don’t know. Do you think it’s a victim of timing?

 

Elysium seems to be the right sci-fi thriller out at the wrong time. It is intelligent and does get you thinking unlike most of the sci-fi movies this summer but it suffers because of the current audience weariness of sci-fi movies. I think if it was released earlier this summer or even last year, it would have had more impressive box office results.