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Movie Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one1

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.

Summer Movie Summary: Animated Movies

If there is one style of film that reigned supreme at the box office this summer, it’s the animated movies. It had some of the best results not just of the summer but the whole year as Finding Dory grossed more than any other movie in 2016 and The Secret Life Of Pets is also in the annual Top 10 so far. There were a wide variety of animated movies from sequels to stop-motion to even an animated movie for adults only. For my summary, I will review four animated films for the summer: Finding Dory, The Secret Life Of Pets, Sausage Party and Kubo And The Two Strings.

Finding Doryfinding-dory

It’s been thirteen years since Finding Nemo hit the big screen and captivated crowds. This time around it’s Finding Dory. The question is does it still have the same magic?

The magic of Disney/Pixar films is that it’s not only about top notch animation but also about taking the audience to new and exciting worlds of the imagination. The magic of Finding Nemo is that it captured the magic of the sea world. Finding Dory attempts to capture the magic of the sea world again but it also tries to capture another magic. This time it’s the magic of the Marine Life Institute. It does a very good job of creating a universe out of a marine life park. I’m sure that when Pixar was writing the script for this film, it had to create its own map on how the park would be for Dory to go from place to place. It even had to create the system of communication through pipes.

In addition, the story had to focus on the animals headed to quarantine. That was intertwined with Dory’s search for her parents. It gives a story with many facets. It starts with Dory’s search for her parents and leads to much more. Whatever the situation, it leads to a story that the audience will find thrilling as well as enchanting to look at.

Pixar does it again with writing out an excellent story and giving it top-notch animation. Once again I doubt if you’ll find a glitch. Andrew Stanton returns as director and co-writer with Victoria Strouse and they deliver an excellently entertaining movie. This time it’s Ellen De Generes’ time to own the show. She stole Finding Nemo and now this is her time to have the show as her own. Albert Brooks is back again and he delivers an excellent performance as Marlin too. The film features a lot of other big names as voices like Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Bill Hader, Alison Janney, Sigourney Weaver (of course) and Idris Elba.

If there’s one glitch about Finding Dory, it’s that a lot of children may not understand the story in its entirety. For the most part, it’s us older adults who have seen Finding Nemo that understand Dory and her situation. I think that was it. Pixar was making a film that would be meant for both children who love animated movies and the grown up adults who have a special place in their heart for Finding Nemo.

Finding Dory continues on the excellence of Disney/Pixar and continues the charm we first saw in Finding Nemo and entertains crowds this summer in big numbers.

The Secret Life Of Petslife-of-pets

Ever wonder what your pets do when you go to work or school? The Secret Life Of Pets attempts to answer that question of what happens, as long as you live in modern Manhattan. And boy does it give some interesting answers.

This movie creates a humorous premise: pets that come across as your typical house pets but have a sneaky double-life when their owners aren’t home. However they find themselves in trouble and they all have to get back home in time before their owners return.

The thing about this movie is that it’s not focused too much on the story or taking the audience to another world the way Pixar movies do. Instead its focus is on creating crazy humor and funny characters. It’s obvious from the start its intention is to be a crazy goofy comedy to get us all laughing and it succeeds.

However such a movie cannot compromise on things like a solid story with the right beginning, middle and end, characters that fit the story and top quality animation. The movie does exactly that. Actually this movie is more driven on the humorous characters rather than be story-driven like Pixar films. Hey, we’re talking about the same animation studio that gave us the Minions. It works for such a movie and it wins over movie audiences young and old.

Pixar is not the only animation studio alone at the top. Illumination Entertainment has given it some rivalry especially with the Despicable Me movies and the Minions. Here Illumination brings back its main director Chris Renaud and its writer Bryan Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to create another entertaining film. The film even includes a lot of great vocal talent from Albert Brooks, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K. and Steve Coogan just to name a few.

The Secret Life Of Pets isn’t so much about creating a mesmerizing world the way Pixar’s movies are. What it does is create a story that’s entertaining to watch and full of fun intriguing characters. No wonder it charmed crowds this year.

Sausage Partysausage-party

Sausage Party is the first wide-release animated film since South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut to earn an R-rating. And rightly so. And I’m sure the animators, directors and actors of the movie wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s obvious right from the start that Sausage Party is a spoof of Disney/Pixar movies but as you watch over time, and even as you look back in retrospect, it’s obvious it’s a lot more.

Those of you who’ve seen Sausage Party will know that it’s not like most of the animated movies released today. Sometimes you may even get the feeling the movie is trying to sabotage all those family-friendly movies and the wholesome values they stand for. It sure seems that way.

I hate to bring up retro 90’s assimilations but it reminded me of a lot of 90’s entertainment that pushed envelopes and had sadistic pleasure slaughtering sacred cows and skewered values and morals we held dearly, and somehow charmed us into wanting more. Yes, such entertainment that knew we’re all gluttons for punishment. And we saw that in Sausage Party as they were definitely doing lot of tricks in the book to freak us out, whether it be the storyline or characters or images, and succeeding. We also see how it’s even skewering the wholesome values that are normally promoted in the family-friendly animated movies.

One major difference that keeps it from being 90’s-style envelope-pushers. One thing about all those envelope-pushing balls-to-the-wall entertainment of the 90’s that they not only pushed boundaries but they were also successful in making squeaky clean entertainment or entertainment with morals and a conscience look either wimpy or look like a complete joke. Yep, entertainment that broke all the rules and changed the game in the process. Can you blame me for calling them ‘The Nasty Nineties?’

I don’t think Sausage Party succeeded in doing that. Despite the ‘Dixar’ bumper sticker, it’s not as much the punch-in-the-stomach comedy or middle-finger to squeaky clean entertainment from Seth McFarlane or the South Park duo is. Yes, it does mess with wholesome entertainment but it’s more interested in having fun and pleasure making us squirm in our seat. Even though it did warp my brain, I will admit this was the most fun I had in a movie theatre this summer. It’s definitely my ‘guilty pleasure’ movie of the year.

Some people have complained that the movie is anti-religion. I don’t deny that as made obvious by the characters which include one Jewish and one Arabic and most of the lot appearing to resemble Christianity. You get the first hind right at the beginning as the groceries refer to the humans as ‘the gods’ and of the mustard coming back scared over the reality of what they’ve always called the ‘great beyond.’ I knew it would be critical of religion from the reviews I’ve read and I was expecting to get my tolerance on that subject tested. However I will state it’s not the obvious blasphemy as one would commonly see in South Park episodes or a lot of works done by Seth MacFarlane. I will also state that even atheism is also looked upon critically as it will state some common traits among many atheists like a feeling of misery or a ‘smarter than thou’ attitude.

If there is one glitch, I will have to say it’s the ending. What you first think will be the ending isn’t. Instead it will lead into what should be known as an ‘animation orgy party’ and then into a bizarre ‘reality check.’ I don’t have problems with them being in the movie or even in the ending but there are many times I feel the ending could have been done better or mapped out better.

Since I’ve been doing a lot of animation studios talk, it’s interesting to know that heading this film is a Canadian studio: Nitrogen Studios Canada Inc. The head of the studios, Greg Tiernan directs his first ever feature length film along with Conrad Vernon who has directed films like the Shrek movies, the Madagascar films and Kung Fu Panda too. You could say Vernion is spoofing his own films here. Interesting that while most animated movies of this summer have big budgets, this one only cost $20 million to make. Even though the animation was not as flawless as Pixar–and I noticed some technical glitches– its top focus was the humor and it definitely succeeded at that.

Without a doubt, Seth Rogen owned the film. It was pretty much his idea to do such a film like this for years. He not only acts in this but is co-producer and co-writer along with Kyle Hunter, Evan Goldberg and Ariel Shaffir with a story he wrote along with Goldberg and Jonah Hill. He has the delightfully evil charm of the film in his hands and knows how to deliver it well. Additional acting highlights come with Kristen Wiig and Brenda Bunson, Salma Hayek as Teresa del Taco, Bill Hader as Firewater, Nick Kroll as Douche and Edward Norton as Sammy Bagel Jr. just to name a few.

Sausage Party is a film that deserves to be hated but you can’t help but love it. Yes, it will warp your mind but it has a delightfully evil charm that will make it your guilty pleasure of the year. Just don’t bring the kiddies.

Kubo And The Two Stringskubo

After Sausage Party warped my mind, I had to watch Kubo And The Two Strings to reclaim my sanity. Good choice as it was a marvel to watch.

Normally it’s the Pixar movies that have the animation magic that mesmerize us and take us all to another world. This summer, I’d have to say it’s the world of Kubo. It was best at creating a world and an adventure that was enchanting and mesmerizing. It took a unique story that isn’t exactly one that’s best at winning big crowds and turned it into a spectacular marvel.

The thing with Finding Dory is that it does succeed in doing that but it’s a world we’ve been to before and whatever new world is in the story doesn’t differ to much from the world of Finding Nemo. In Kubo, we have a fresh new world of the imagination and that’s its advantage.

The story element of the film is just as strong. It’s about the fate of humanity and good in the world being threatened by evil and the mortality of souls and it resting in the fate of Kubo. Especially since it includes the fates of the souls of Kubo’s own parents. It’s the story of a son of a late master samurai who goes from master storyteller to the one to fight the evil forces. The very cinematic values that make the superhero movies make Kubo. In addition, it gives an alternate definition of ‘destroying the enemy’ one would come to expect. And a definition that appears to be the right thing.

While most of the films this summer were 3D computer animated films from start to finish, Kubo was a mix of both 3D computer animation and 3D stop-motion. This is a common trademark of Laika studios as seen in their past releases like Coraline, ParaNorman and The BoxTrolls. Such style of animation works to its advantage and comes off as a refreshing alternative to the 3D computerized films. It also works best in what makes this movie so captivating. I don’t think 3D computer work alone would make this film work as well.

This film is the directorial debut of Travis Knight, son of Nike CEO Phil Knight. He has actually been an animator with Laika during their first three features and now he takes the step into directing this time. He does an excellent debut job in directing. I was actually surprised to learn this is an original story. It was created by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes with the screenplay written by Haimes and Chris Butler. Very excellent and very true to spirit of common mythology. Vocal talents were also very good. Game Of Thrones actor Art Parkinson does a very good job in voicing Kubo and creating his personality. Charlize Theron captures the mysterious side of the Monkey excellently and Matthew McConaughey does a very good job in capturing Beetle in both his bravery and his idiocy. Dario Marianelli does a very good job with making the music fit the film. It captures the whimsy of it perfectly.

Kubo And The Two Strings is my favorite animated film of this summer. It had the best combination off all ingredients that make a great animated film from great animation to a great story to a great redeeming message. Sure, Sausage Party was fun in how it was the complete opposite of your typical family-friendly animated movie but Kubo is a reminder of why such movies win us over time after time. Also it helped me get my sanity back.

And that’s my review of animated movies of the summer. Three were strictly 3D computer animated while one mixed it with 3D stop-motion. Three were mostly family-friendly while one was obviously adults only and proud of it. Three were comedies while one was mostly a drama. Three were fresh new stories while one was a long-awaited sequel. All were entertaining in their own way and wouldn’t let you down. In addition the comedic animated movies had the box office success that eluded the live-action comedies of the summer. So yes, today’s moviegoers do have a sense of humor after all!

In conclusion, the animated movies were this summer’s top box office fare. If you’ve even seen one of the films I reviewed, you’d know why.

Double Movie Review: Mad Max- Fury Road and Jurassic World

Here I am back to my blogging habit. Yes, I have quite the backlog in terms of movie reviews. I have the energy to post now and I’m able to post a double review of two of the hottest movies of the summer: Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both were either sequels or part of a franchise. Both cost $150 million each to make. Both are different in terms of the audience they can win over and both have differing success results.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron pursue a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron fight for survival together in a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Yes, it’s been a long time since there’s been a Mad Max movie: 30 years to be exact. George Miller is back in directing this Mad Max movie, or picking up where he left off as one could assume. And believe me this movie was quite something else.

Right at the beginning you’re left wondering what kind of world this is. The world is a complete bizarre wasteland and the whole universe in existence is fighting each other and Max. Mind you even the bad guys are insane enough that Joe uses Max as a universal blood donor and has five wives for the sake of breeding purposes. Over time, some of the people become Max’s friend in order to save civilization from Joe.

Already that’s a lot of craziness most fans of the original three Mad Max movies would find hard to fathom but watching the movie even gives it enough craziness for any movie viewer hard to fathom. Even the people all act like they’re all on something–crack, smack, speed–and it’s not just the bad guys. Just one insane place full of insane people. However what would have to make people adjust to this new version of the Max Max franchise would have to be good characters. First would have to be Furiosa. Right in the middle of the movie, you could see the pain in which she’s going through. It’s also a pain shared by the other four wives of Joe. Once these characters were made more human, it made for something for people to connect to the story. In addition is the connection of the character Nux. Nux was very unhuman but his human side was more noticeable later on and it gave cause for people to feel for him even as he sacrifices himself.

The character work couldn’t have been done firstly without Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It’s her performance that made people feel the pain of Furiosa. There’s even talk of Oscar buzz for Charlize this early. Nicholas Hoult’s performance help turn a beast of a character like Nux into a character with dimension and actually makes the audience feel for him. Tom Hardy did a good job as Max Rockatansky. I’m sure in this film he had the duty to try to fill Mel Gibson’s shoes. I don’t know if he did it but he did a good job as Max.

George Miller did a good job not just in directing the movie and co-writing the script with two additional writers. He also created the bizarre world in which Mad Max and his allies had to survive in and fight for their freedom. Also instrumental in creating this bizarre world are the set designers, costumers and the visual effects team. The music from Junkie XL also adds to the drama and the insanity of the movie.

Of the $150 million Mad Max: Fury Road cost to make and produce, it has so far made $152.6 million in North America and $368.6 million worldwide. Not huge spectacular numbers as far as summer movie fare goes but pleasant enough for a sequel– Mad Max The Wasteland— planned for either 2017 or 2018. It has even impressed critics that it received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Who says all summer movies are money-grabbing junk?

Mad Max: Fury Road may not be exactly the type of movie most would expect, not even fans of the original Mad Max movies, but it exceeds the expectations of whatever you throw at it. I know for me it didn’t appear at all like what I normally expect from a sequel. And many of you already know what I feel about Hollywood sequels. I don’t even think this is even a sequel. Mad Max may just be a franchise instead of a chronological series. Nevertheless it’s way better than most common summer fare.

JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos ensues any minute.

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos will undoubtedly ensue any minute.

Already you know a movie like Jurassic World will be a hit simply because of the title. This is the few times where judging a book by its cover is legit. Whether the movie is all that great remains to be seen.

The film doesn’t really carry on the tradition of the Jurassic Park book of Michael Crichton. Instead it’s a new story concocted by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and adapted to screen by Jaffa and Silver along with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow who directs the movie. What happens is Jurassic Park is long defunked especially after the fatalities. The writers and directors create a story in a new park, Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a theme park that`s a whole island that includes exhibits that make it both a museum and like one of those safari parks one can drive through.

Clever work for a popcorn movie but over time, you feel the story is as simplistic as one would expect from a Hollywood story. A park worker is a woman out of love while looking after her about-to-be-divorced sister`s kids and dealing with the dinosaur trainee whom she finds charming but had a flop first date with. Sometimes it seems as though the characters seem too simplistic as well: Owen as the charming but stuffy trainer, Claire as the out-of-love-and-depressed type, Vic as the slacker security operations person, Grey as the cute kid with sad puppy dog eye and his bother Zach as the typical bored miserable teen who somehow gets cheered up by the dinosaurs.

Even the drama becomes a bit predictable over time. You sense there would have to be some sort of havoc at the World to get the story rolling. Sure enough, the escape of Indominus is what starts the drama. You have to admit it was a tad predictable. Even how the two boys become threatened in the ensuing drama is predictable too. I will admit the one unpredictable thing was when Indominus breaks into the park`s pterosaur aviary and has them all on the loose chasing all the other park visitors. I did not expect that nor did I expect the whole Jurassic World to look like a war zone at the end. I give that credit.

Overall, Jurassic World came across as a common popcorn movie where a lot of the excitement was either missing or anticipated right from the start. It`s a movie that appears undecided whether it wants to be charming or a thriller. I kind of blame it on the lack of Spilberg magic that came with the first Jurassic Park movie. I also kind of blame it on some of the character acting that appears so stocky like Bryce Dallas Howard playing another unlucky in love type, Vincent D`Onofrio playing an all-to-common slacker player and Ty Simpkins playing a typical cute kid with sad puppy dog eyes. The one good performance although in a typical popcorn movie character was from Chris Pratt. He was able to make his character of Owen Grady charming and even a bit charismatic. I also give credit to the set design team for creating this island where Jurassic World is situated on and credit to the visual effects team for delivering top notch visual effects and even delivering some thrills to the movie. Although I said the action was mostly predictable, it did deliver in some thrills.

Jurassic World wasn`t too much of a critical darling as it received 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Good but it could be better. However the big payoff came for Jurassic World at the box office as it broke a ton of records. It all started in breaking the opening weekend record and becoming only the second movie ever to have an opening weekend that grossed more than $200 million (the 2012 Avengers movie is the first ever) and it`s been growing ever since:

  • All-Time Opening Weekend: $208.8 million.
  • All-Time second weekend: $106.7 million
  • Fastest to $500 million (North America): 17 days
  • Worldwide Opening Weekend: $524.4 million
  • Fastest to $1 billion (Worldwide): 13 days

That`s just a sample of the records Jurassic World broke. I`m sure you`ll find more at Box Office Mojo. I don`t think it will break the all-time gross records especially as it finds itself out of the Top 10 in its ninth week. It may eclipse Titanic as the second-highest grossing movie in North America but it would still need at least $100 million more to contend to beat Avatar`s record.

Sure enough, there will be a Jurassic World sequel. It`s not clear if Trevorrow will return as director but he will write and produce it. Bizarre because if the Jurassic World wreaked that much havoc on that many visitors, you`d figure Jurassic World would mark the absolute end of any Jurassic theme parks. Hey, money talks especially in Tinseltown.

Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road were two of the big movies of the summer of 2015. One didn`t do as well as expected while one was a record-breaker. One had a better story and better character than the other. Both gave a good statement of what the summer movie season of 2015 was like.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: Selma

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma.

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma about an important part of American history.

Selma appears to be about an important time in US history. However it tells more than what we’ve learned about the whole story including those involved.

The film is about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would pave way to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was more than that. It starts with Martin receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However it’s just the beginning for Martin. A black church in Alabama explodes killing four young girls. Annie Lee Cooper has been denied the right to vote like most black people in Alabama before her. Meanwhile King is unsuccessful in convincing Johnson to pass a law allowing black citizens to vote.

Instead of accepting defeat, King is undeterred and determined to achieve this. Selma, Alabama is the meeting place for King and other activists to organize efforts to achieve this law. However both Johnson and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover are nervous about this. Hoover uses phone calls to disrupt his marriage to Coretta. Undeterred, King and black residents of Selma march to the registration office only to be confronted by a mob of police and a riot ensues where King and Cooper are arrested.

Things get even harder as state governor George Wallace, a pro-segregationist, speaks out against the marches and even calls police in Marion, Alabama to use force from state troopers during a planned night march. An assault by troopers does occur during the march where Jimmie Lee Jackson, who hid in a restaurant for the safety of him and his family, is shot to death by the police. Jimmie’s death only prompts King to tell people to stick to fighting for their rights. However the Kings receive threats on their children and activist groups are becoming unhappy with him.

A march from Selma to Montgomery to make their message heard is planned especially with the hopes of having all of the United states watching and paying attention, especially as working on ‘white consciousness’ is one of King’s objectives. At first King is hesitant but is convinced by his colleague Andrew Young. The original march takes place with all African-Americans. Right on the Edmund Pettis Bridge they’re stopped by police and attacked. The news goes nationwide. A second march is planned. This time King not only has blacks from other cities but white supporters too from regulars to religious clergy. Just before the marchers reach the end of the bridge, the chief officer and his group are back again. This time they’re allowed to proceed but King kneels in prayer and goes back. The reason was because King was suspicious. He doesn’t trust the mob of police and wants legal permission for them to march. The push for permission is especially stressed as one of the white allies, Rev. James Reeb, was beaten to death. The permission is granted by Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marchers make history.

There’s no question that this is to do about an important moment in American history. Actually coming from Canada, I was never taught about Selma. I knew about the I Have A Dream speech but was never taught about Selma. However the film is also about Martin Luther King himself. The movie begins with him accepting his Nobel Peace Prize which came months after his I Have A Dream speech. However we would be reminded that King had more work to be done. Selma was a new challenge for him as his people needed the right to vote. However there was the constant threat of police brutality and even death. He stood firm in his non-violence stance and his plan was to work on ‘white consciousness’ and he knew it was the only way to work. He also knew he had to work with the tough minds of President Johnson and other politicians including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Each death linked to the marches would make him more fearful but it would make him more convinced this is something that needs to be done. We all know it was achieved but this is a reminder of how King and his people had to achieve their right.

The film also takes us back to the time and place. It reminds us just how hard it was to be black in southern US states like Alabama. Living in segregation was one thing. Being denied the right to vote was another. The only time in my life I knew of black people being denied the right to vote was in South Africa up to 1994. Apartheid riots were common news stories in the 80’s. I was shocked to learn that it was happening to black people in the 60’s in the Southern US. I always thought the US was supposed to be the ‘land of the free.’ It showed the red tape black people had to face in the justice system and especially with the police. We are all shocked and disgusted to hear about the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in recent years and their killers getting away with it. This was happening in Alabama in the 60’s all the time. Especially shootings by police on young unarmed black men like Jimmie Lee Jackson. You couldn’t blame them for having had it. They couldn’t be denied this anymore and this was a must-win situation for them and King.

Just as much of a focal point as blacks fighting for their right to vote is also the focus of the bigoted attitude of the whites in Alabama. King made it his duty to work on ‘white consciousness’ in order to achieve this victory. Alabama, especially in the city of Selma, showed what type of ‘racial battleground’ they had to deal with. The first sign was the church explosion but we’d see it all throughout. We’d see it in the police brutality, we’d see it as a restaurant proudly advertises itself as ‘a whites-only restaurant since 1883,’ we’d see it as a white man ‘introduces’ himself to King and punches him in the face, we’d see it in the taunting of white people from all around. That’s the type of environment the black people had to fight. We should forget that Alabama has segregation removed years ago but the white people weren’t happy. They felt that segregation was right and they reacted in frustration with taunting and even violence. Even when white people joined the blacks in their march, that didn’t change a lot of people’s minds. In fact they found white supporters to be a threat and reacted with the same violence on them, even killing some. Another reminder that white supporters of the Selma marches would also be at risk to the same violent reactions as blacks. The film takes us back to the time, place and the hostile attitudes at the time. An ugly reminder but necessary to show.

Even though the film was about Martin Luther King, his crusade for human rights and the bigoted attitudes in the area, the film also showed another factor: the strength of non-violence. King’s use of non-violent means to achieve human rights may appear radical to many and even ridiculous to some at first. In fact it explains why he had a rivalry with Malcolm X as seen near the beginning of the film. Because Malcolm believed: “by any means necessary.” However it was shown to be successful in the actual event and in the film. In fact I noticed the film to also show violent means to look cowardly. We see it in the police who try to use it to strike fear in the protesters in hoping they’d quit. We see it in the white Alabamans as they use it to strike fear in the blacks and their supporters. Most of the times it’s seen they do it on impulse because they just don’t know how to deal with the situation. Funny how we’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies, especially in the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, where the leading man uses vengeance and violence to become the hero. Here violence looks very cowardly.

Without a doubt, this film has to belong to Ava DuVernay in directing and co-writing the story with Paul Webb. She did an excellent job in recreating the story of the marches, the people involved with them and the atmosphere of the time and place. The end result is an excellent film that won’t leave you. It’s not without controversy. There are many questioning the depiction of Lyndon Johnson in the film. Historical documents show he was actually supportive of Martin Luther King and his mission. Even I myself believed for a second that Johnson may have had some difficulty at first, knowing Johnson was originally from Texas: a state that formerly had segregation. DuVernay simply responded: “I’m a storyteller. Not a historian.” Whatever the situation, it was still a very good film put together.

David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King Jr. as she showed him in both his convictions, his inner strength and even his own personal frailties at times, like that time he relied on Andrew Young to go through with the march. Even that scene where he calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for inspiration and she sings to him shows that King did have fears which he needed support for. Tom Wilkinson was also very good as Johnson. Even if you feel his depiction of Johnson wasn’t that truthful, it was still a very good performance. Carmen Ejogo was excellent as Coretta. She did more than just simply play Martin Luther King’s wife. She played a young woman who herself grew in courage: a courage Coretta would need after Martin’s assassination. Oprah was also surprisingly well as Annie Lee Cooper. Right at the beginning we could see a character completely opposite to the Oprah we know. A character that looks like she’s been through the hardest life offered her. You could see it in her face. The cinematography and music added to the environment of the story. You could feel that this was a struggle worth winning.

Selma is a film retelling an important moment in history. It gives us insight into the people involved and the environment they had to fight in order to achieve their rights.

Movie Review: Gravity

Sandra Bullock plays a rookie astronaut who struggles to survive in space after a freak accident in Gravity.

Sandra Bullock plays an inexperienced astronaut who struggles to survive in space after a freak accident in Gravity.

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know Gravity has been out in theatres for weeks. Even I saw it almost a month ago. But as you can tell from my VIFF writing, I lacked the ambition to write for weeks. It’s only until now I’m getting it back. So I hope you understand. Also I hope you like my review.

Gravity is a movie that promises not to be like your typical outer space movie. The trailer also promised a thrill ride. The question is does it deliver?

The film shows a space shuttle mission commanded by two people: Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski. This is Ryan’s first journey. She receives guidance from Matt: a veteran on his last shuttle trip. It is while they both service the ship’s hubblescope that they learn the Russians did a missile strike on a defunct satellite. It appears to be no big deal until the debris comes straight to their spaceship. The debris detaches Stone, damages the shuttle to the point it’s unusable and leaves the rest of the crew dead. Fortunately Kowalski is able to catch Stone before she flies away into oblivion.

Stone and Kowalski are the only two survivors left. They know they have to make it to the International Space Station (ISS) within 90 minutes to avoid the orbiting space debris. The two talk. Stone admits she hasn’t had a happy life since her young daughter died. They approach the ISS finding many of the Soyuz models inoperable. Kowalski finds one still operable and suggests it be used to travel to a Chinese space station to return back to Earth. However the force of weightlessness becomes too much for the two to travel to the Soyuz together. Kowalski leaves Stone to the Soyuz despite her protests and floats away.

Stone is left on her own in the ISS trying to get to the one safe Soyuz even as there’s a fire in the ship area. Fortunately she finds her way there in time as the debris make a return orbit to commit further damage. Stone tries to communicate with the Chinese ship only to come across audio of a Greenlandic fisherman cooing his baby. Stone turns off her oxygen resigned to giving up. She receives a change of heart from Kowalski where he scolds her and tells her to go on and she receives instructions.

Stone immediately realizes that her conversation with Kowalski was a dream but she develops the will to go on. She directs herself to the Chinese capsule only to learn that it’s been damaged too. She immediately has to find her way to land back to Earth. She has to do it and time is running out. Nevertheless the movie ends as many believe it will but actually not as many originally though the ending would be.

This is one of the best and one of the most unique against-all-odds stories I’ve seen in a long time on the big screen. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know everything was against Ryan. She suffered tragedy in her life and made a loner of herself. She was completely inexperienced in space travel and nothing disastrous was expected to happen. The debris of the satellites leaves the ship damaged and the crew dead. Then Matt Kowalski, her partner in need, floats off into oblivion. She’s left all alone to fend for herself, try and work two damaged spaceships she has no clue how to operate and with broken communication and bring herself back to Earth. Being in the theatre will leave one at the edge of their seat not knowing what will happen next. I myself remember feeling the intensity of the moment during its high-tension scenes. Once you thing something is solved, it turns out that it isn’t and a new decision has to be made.

The best thing about this movie is that it’s not just and outer space thrill-ride. It’s a thrill-ride that’s able to keep its focus on one main actor practically throughout the whole movie and it succeeds in being both entertaining and thrilling. Even having it almost completely in space without ever really focusing outside of it during the space scenes also adds to it being an accomplishment. I remember 127 Hours attempted to focus on one person and their story but there were a few times it shifted away in flashbacks or other scenes. Gravity was better at the focus. It was almost like watching a moment in real-time.

Without a doubt, Sandra Bullock was the performance of the movie. She was the lead role and it was her movie technically from start to finish but she did all the right moves. She succeeded in making her character not just a player in the action but a three-dimensional person with deep feelings. That’s what made the movie more. George Clooney also did well in his supporting role. His role didn’t include the depth or range as Bullock’s but he succeeded with his presence and playing an experienced astronaut who’s cool under pressure.

The big accomplishments go to Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas. Alfonso directed it. Alfonso and Jonas both wrote it. Alfonso also co-produced and co-edited it. They took a story one normally could not create a good box office-winning movie with. Trying to turn a story like that into an eye-catching movie would take a huge amount of effort and may needs the right effects to be added to it to make it work. But they made it work. The cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and the music from Steven Price also added to the excellence of the movie.

Gravity is a sci-fi movie that goes above and beyond what one would expect from a space movie. No big space wars. Just one person and their struggle to stay alive and make it back to Earth. A tough job to turn into a winning picture but it succeeds brilliantly.

Oscars 2011 Best Picture Nominee: The Descendants

“My friends think that just because we live in Hawaii, we live in paradise. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tai’s, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up? Our heartaches, less painful?”

The Descendants is a movie starring George Clooney which is set in Hawaii. But if you’re expecting this movie to be an escapist holiday getaway, you’re wrong. It’s about real-life pain and heartache happening in an island paradise.

Matt King is a Honolulu-based lawyer who has to deal with the fact that his wife Elizabeth is in a hospital comatose from a boat racing accident. On top of that he has the issue of dealing with being the sole family member in charge of 25,000 acres of land on Kauai owned by his family for generations which will expire in seven years. The King family decided to sell the land to a developer, something Matt supports. Matt was never really close with his two daughters and always considers himself to be the ‘back-up parent’. With Elizabeth in a coma, he now has to be the main parent and deal with things like youngest daughter Scottie’s inappropriate behavior with other children and teenage daughter Alex’s drinking. As if his ailing wife and the future of his family’s land isn’t enough to deal with.

Matt had always considered himself a lousy husband and make a mental promise to Elizabeth that he will be a better husband to her once she’s better. Then the news drops. She will never recover. She also has it in her will that she be disconnected shortly from her life support. Matt will no longer be the back-up parents. He decides to tell Alex before Scottie. Alex gives the shocking news that Elizabeth was in an affair just before the accident. He later learns the ‘other man’ is Brian Speer. Matt makes a surprising decision: to find Brian and give him the news the Elizabeth is dying and a chance to say goodbye. He learns that Matt is a real estate agent vacationing in Kauai.

After telling the family of Elizabeth’s eventual death, he goes to Kauai with his daughters and Alex’s slacker guy friend Sid to find Brian. He soon finds Brian jogging on a beach and entering into his family’s vacation resort. Matt also learns from Cousin Hugh that Brian has connections to the developer who they’re about to sell their land to. If sold, Brian Speer will gain a lot of money from commission once it’s developed.

Before confronting Brian, Matt introduces himself to Brian’s wife Judy. Soon Matt is able to meet alone with Brian. He drops him the news he’s Elizabeth’s husband and she will die soon. Brian is shocked of the whole thing. He apologizes for the grief it’s caused the family but that the affair was only a fling and he loves his wife and sons. The fate of the land is finally determined.. The cousins meet to vote on the land mostly in favor of the developer but Matt decides to keep the land for other reasons. He doesn’t regret it even if it means potential lawsuits from Hugh or other cousins.

With the issue of the land over, Matt can now focus solely on the last days of Elizabeth as she’s taken off life support. Scottie hears the news from a nurse. Sid, who first appeared like an idiot, is now a figure of moral support for the family. Elizabeth’s father tells Matt he should have been a more devoted husband and father and describes Elizabeth as ‘good and faithful’. Matt expects Brian Speer to show up but it’s wife Judy instead. Matt is shocked but Judy is now aware of the divorce. She gives Elizabeth flowers and says she forgives her even though she should hate her for destroying her happy home. Finally after Alex and Scottie say their last goodbyes to Elizabeth, Matt comes to terms with all that’s happened and all Elizabeth has done and gives her a goodbye kiss. The movie ends with a scene showing that Matt is now no longer the back-up parent.

The best quality of the movie is that it deals with a family problem very likely to happen, if not common enough already. A wife from a marriage that’s already failing is about to die. The husband finds out his wife cheated on her while she’s in a coma with only days remaining. A lot of times, Alexander Payne has focused on stories of people that were either failures or felt like failures. This is a story of a husband and father who is a success as a realtor but paid the price of his success with a failing marriage. Now with his wife dying, he has to confront the fact that she failed him as much as he failed her. He’s forced to confront the fact that he would have to be the full-time parents now that his wife will die. It’s also on the verge of what could be the biggest break of his Real Estate career and the biggest break for a family business. The impending tragedy mixed with lucrative opportunity mix well in creating a story that succeeds in telling a lot about ourselves and our own feelings. Maybe this situation could be happening to an audient who sees this movie.

It also has an important element about forgiveness. For so long Matt thought he was the bad guy and he failed Elizabeth. Then he learns that Elizabeth was the dishonest one. Confronting the sudden fact that one’s dying wife was cheating is not an easy thing to sort out. She’s dying but she was unfaithful. Matt makes a lot of surprising decisions in that factor both on the future of his family’s land and to do with Brian. It’s surprising to see the husband of the cheating wife confront the ‘other man’, tell him she’s dying and offer a chance to say goodbye. It’s also surprising to see Brian’s wife, the wife caught in the mess, confront the dying ‘other woman’ and say that she forgives her despite the pain she caused. Forgiveness is not easy. Necessary but not easy.

George Clooney again shines. This is the best effort I’ve seen him do that involved a multitude of emotions and feelings. This could be his best performance yet. Even though none of the supporting performances were at the same performance level as George, the two best supporting performances came from Shailene Woodley as the oldest daughter Alex and Judy Greer as the wife of Brian Speer. Alexander Payne did an excellent job of directing and co-writing the script with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne has always specialized in including the story’s region and its charms in stories of people’s failures and difficulties. About Schmidt captured the charm of the American prairies. Sideways captured the charm of California’s wine country. Now The Descendants captures the charm of Hawaii while dealing with the impending death of a cheating wife and mother. Again Payne directs it to perfection. That scene around the beginning which shows homelessness in Hawaii sure says something about a place we all call and ‘island paradise’. The script’s plot and atmosphere combine perfectly to make the story of family problems in an island paradise work.  The script’s mix with dramatic and comedic elements as well as some genuinely touching moments makes a situation like this easier to watch on the big screen. The addition of Hawaiian music to the movie also added to its charm. Those lucky enough to see it will be glad they did.

The Descendants is excellently well-acted, well-directed, well-adapted drama. It features a situation that could be more common than we think and it shines. Definitely worth seeing.

Osama Bin Laden’s Death Doesn’t Make The World Safer

The news came unexpectedly on May 1, 2011. Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi hermit and terrorist leader of Al-Qaeda who was the master mind of the attacks on US soil on September 11,2001, was finally found and killed. He had been on the run from the law and taunting the US by videotape for 9 1/2 years until he was finally caught and killed. Reactions have been numerous and varied. One thing is for sure, that his death leaves an uncertain question about the safety of the world, particularly the United States.

 Before September 11, 2001, the world was not a safe happy place. The World was a place that was already as precautionary as it felt to be. Airline terrorism had been a reality for almost 40 years and prevention procedures were already in place and carried out as best as they did. Terrorism from Muslim extremists, especially against the US, had been known for years. Until then the biggest terrorist attack on US soil from foreigners was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which left six dead but failed to bring the two towers down. Osama bin Laden was actually already on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. His connection to money and his ability to access arms was already legendary. He formed and headed the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which means ‘the foundation’. He helped to empower the Taliban in Afghanistan and they would become his biggest ally.  He was the admitted mastermind of the 1998 US Embassy bombings: the August 7, 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya that left hundreds dead. He had already been known for making a ‘death wish’ against the United States for his wish to see every American dead. In 1999, just two years before 9/11, Bill Clinton had already encouraged sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to extradite him. Weeks before 9/11, bin Laden promised in a videotape a ‘great day of terror’ to the United States.

Then 9/11 happened. Terrorists with flight training knowledge committed possibly the most shocking terrorist attack ever. The Two Towers destroyed by terrorists in a Kamikaze-style attack. Part of the Pentagon was also destroyed by a plane attack. A fourth plane meant for the Camp David site crashed outside it thanks to the vigilantism of American passengers. In the aftermath, thousands of Americans were dead. The world’s airline system was shut down for days. Memorial services were conducted all around the world. Some Arab countries and Arab peoples considered it a great victory for them and punishment from Allah to the US. Bin Laden himself acknowledged the attacks and praised the ‘martyrs’ in the attacks. He promised more in the future and promised never to get caught. Soon President George W. Bush declared war in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bin Laden was now the World’s Most Wanted man.

Even while at large for years, Osama still had access to money and had a huge worldwide group of allies with the ability to carry out a terrorist attack anywhere in the World at any given time. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent war in Iraq have fueled further attacks since. Osama’s Al-Qaeda have carried many terrorist acts out since that have left a total of hundreds dead: the 2004 Madrid Train bombings; the 2005 attacks in London; two bombings in Algiers in 2007; the 2008 bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan; a 2009 shooting in Little Rock; and two failed bombing attempts.

You could say the world has changed a lot since 9/11. Arabic words we never knew before are now part of our everyday language. Airline security has become more advanced and becomes increasingly stricter after additional foiled terrorist attempts. We have no-fly lists. We have a colored alert system whenever a terrorist threat appears coming. Right-wing and left-wing politics in the United States have increased in their division. We have a ‘Patriot Act’ which claims to be a prevention to terrorism. We had a terrorist list introduced in attempts to catch those connected to the bombings or terrorist associations. There have even been conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks with protesters seeking attention for their cause. A lot has changed in the past ten years. The one thing that remained unchanged during that time was Osama bin Laden was alive and still at large. His lack of access to any means of modern technology besides a personal courier helped keep him from being found for years. He was capable of orchestrating terrorist attacks and shelling out videos to Al Jazeera television while remaining at large from authorities. Billions of dollars and cooperation from many nations failed to capture bin Laden. But on May 2, 2011, that all changed.

On May 2, 2011 in Pakistan (still May 1 back in the US), Osama had been killed by shots to the head and chest by an operation ordered by Barack Obama on his compuond some 40 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan. This operation was conducted by Navy SEALs under the command by the Joint Special Operations Command in cooperation with the CIA. It will forever be remembered at Operation Neptune Spear. Many other associates of Bin Laden, including his courier, one son and two others, were also killed. Soon after the killing, his body was taken to Afghanistan for identification and confirmation, then buried him at sea within 24 hours.

Reaction around the world was almost immediate. US President Barack Obama made the address on US television with the phrase “Justice has been done.” There was cheering in the streets, especially in New York around the area where the Twin Towers stood. Many Americans, especially those who lost loved ones on 9/11, were met with relieve that the killer had finally been brought to justice. There’s also cynicism too. Some conspiracy theorists are adding to the claim it’s a conspiracy. Many are demanding that the ‘death photo’ be shown. In the Arab World, reactions were mixed. Pakistan is denying ‘hiding’ bin Laden since his compound was so close to the capital of Islamabad. Some were happy of his death. Others were hurt and angry that their hero had been killed by the Americans.

It is because of the latter reactions that it’s too soon to believe that the world is a safer place now that Osama is gone. Both Obama and Bush have stated that. We should not forget that Al-Qaeda was a group built on revenge. That is why they carried out their terrorist attacks. Osama even stated that the 9/11 attacks were for revenge of all the Arab blood. Osama has also stated in previous tapes that he had people to carry on his mission even after his death. Even Al-Qaeda promised revenge shortly after acknowledging Osama’s death. That is the top reason why the US won’t release the death photo of Osama. Plus with Al-Qaeda spread so far out around the world, including countries like the US and Canada, there’s no telling when and where the next terrorist attack will happen. Also there’s no telling who from Al-Qaeda would be the new mastermind and there will be no telling what new security precautions will result because of this. So the terrorism precautions used shortly after 9/11 still have to be in effect. Also airlines have to maintain top professionalism and security competence to keep any further security risks. we should not forget that part of the 9/11 attacks’ success was taking advantage of the security ‘weak spots’ at airports.

While millions of people are probably still celebrating Osama’s death, the celebrations can’t last for long. The next ten, possibly twenty, years will tell whether this was a smart movie for the US to carry out. I personally wanted to see Osama arrested, tried by a World tribunal court, and executed. Also the next years will tell whether Al-Qaeda was in fact weakened by Osama’s death or only grew stronger and wider. Only time will tell.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden>

WIKIPEDIA: Death Of Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011.Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Osama_bin_Laden>