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.
After the VIFF ended on October 9th, I managed to take in a few film festival repeats immediately after. The day after, I saw Umrika and I thought it was an amusing story.
The film begins with Udai, a young adult from India in the 1970’s, leaving his family and younger brother Ramakant for a better life in the USA. The whole village says their goodbyes to him. The family wait a long agonizing time for his first letter. When it comes, the whole village is excited. It’s a letter with pictures of how life is in ‘Umrika.’ The letters with pictures keep coming for years and they’re filled with more exciting stories and pictures. It gets the whole village dreaming. Then suddenly in 1985, Ramakant’s father is electrocuted to death. Shortly after, Rama learns that the letters are all forgeries created by his father and uncle to keep his mother from agonizing. The truth is Udai vanished without a trace in the port city of Mumbai. Ramakant is determined to find him, even if it means his own trip to Umrika.
Rama learns the best person who would have knowledge of the whereabouts of his brother is the man in charge of illegal immigration. However to reach him, one would have to be like a delivery driver or messenger. Rama is opportunistic enough to steal a bike belonging to a delivery driver of a sweets bakery. Rama is the new driver. He’s able to deliver as well as win the favoritism of the man with each delivery he makes. Rama also learns of the dark secret of him, that he’s involved in a crime ring. One deliver Rama made was of a gun used by one of his men to shoot wrongdoers.
Soon Rama finds himself living in an area owned by a restaurateur and his family. The youngest daughter who’s a waitress takes a big liking to Rama. Soon Rama’s friend Lalu comes to visit Mumbai to catch up with him. Lalu has been concerned with Rama since he left. Lalu agrees to help despite film making ambitions of his own. Soon Udai is discovered. He’s a barber working in Mumbai and married to the Himalayan girl of the village, something his mother never would have approved of. Udai revealed he never would have left because of how much it would break his mother’s heart. But the truth cannot be revealed to their mother as it would cause disgrace to the whole family and the village. In the end, Rama, Udai and Lalu devise a scheme to ‘make things right.’ It gives the impression the story ends on the right note.
The film is an impressive comedy-drama. It captures a lot of moments in the right sense. In the first half, it captures the essence of the excitement upon reading the ‘letters’ and it giving American dreams to the village children. It even captures some light humor as they insist on believing the wieners in the hot dogs are actually barbecued carrots. The film switches to drama at the right moment starting with the father’s death and then the truth revealed. I feel the film made good choices in setting the stage for the pursuit when the mother says: “It hurts me to know your brother wasn’t here to light the flame. It should be the oldest.” Despite switching to drama, it does keep the viewer intrigued with Rama’s each move from taking on a delivery job to trying to find his brother. At the same time, it highlights what it is to be young and full of dreams even when it’s faced with stiff opposition and challenges.
I don’t think the film was trying to make too huge of social commentary. However I do feel it did a good job of displaying the corruption and the shadiness happening in the big cities of India like Mumbai. I also found the time setting for the story interesting. Writer/director Prashant Nair starts the story in the 1970’s and then moves to 1985-1986. I thought that was intriguing and wondered why he chose that time period. One thing I especially noticed was the scene inside the restaurant where Rama and all the others saw images of the Space Shuttle Explosion as it happened. Looking back I think Nair was trying to say even devastating moments for the US like this doesn’t stop people from India from having their American dreams.
I feel this is an excellent comedy-drama from Prashant Nair. This is only his second feature-length film and it was very entertaining. It kept your hopes up but ended not how one would expect but on the right note. It’s unique as it becomes a story where Rama doesn’t just search for his brother but chart a path of his own. Suraj Sharma was excellent as the protagonist Ramakant. I will admit it’s not as good as his performance in the Life Of Pi but he played his part well and very believable. Tony Revolori was also good as Lalu and made a great supporting player.
Umrika has had impressive results since it debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. At that Festival, it won the Audience Award for dramas and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the world Cinema categories. Shortly after its premiere, the film was sold by Beta Cinema to a wide variety of countries and became the most widely distributed Indian movie ever.
Umrika is a delightful Indian film that mixes both comedy and drama well. It captures a positive essence and even keeps it alive during its negative moments.
Anyone else here who missed seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel back when it was released in the spring? Yes, I’m guilty of that too. I can blame it on things like me being tired right after last year’s Oscar season to having a lot of preoccupations in my life at that time. This year’s Oscar race sent me the message of what I missed out on the first time. I finally saw it on DVD a few days ago and I now finally see why it ranks among one of the best of 2014.
This is another review of mine where I won’t give an analysis of the plot. Instead I will put focus on the movie’s strengths and possible flaws.
This film is quite typical of what to expect from a Wes Anderson film. It has an eccentric situation along with eccentric characters and a lot of comedy along the way. However this movie has its charm: the common charming eccentricity with Wes Anderson movies that continuously attract fans of his movies and moviegoers looking for something different. It’s also a trademark charm of the director that does not run stale with their movies time after time and continues to be enjoyable.
This too is a film that offers a lot and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first but makes sense as it goes along. It starts with a young girl paying honor to a writer in the present. Then flashing back to the writer in 1985 talking about hearing from Zero the owner of the practically lifeless Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 about why he won’t close it down and Zero flashing back to 1932 to explain the whole story why. Wow, a lot of flashing back!
The story itself unravels itself over time with its various chapters from Zero joining the hotel as an orphaned lobby boy to the fictional country of Zubrowska nearing war to the owner Monsieur Gustave’s affair with Madame D to inheriting her most coveted painting much to the anger of her own family who hoped to have it to being framed for her murder. Yes, already bizarre. However the colorfulness comes with Zero’s love for the cakemaker Agatha whom he eventually becomes engaged to and helps bake cakes with escape tools.
The situation gets weirder as an assassin is on pursuit for him and the hotel needs to be managed, especially since news about a second will from Madame D is in existence somewhere. It’s after a pursuit while at a winter sport’s to kill off the assassin that the can return to the hotel only to find it overtaken by soldiers in the war and police on the hunt for Gustave.
As you can tell, this all makes for a bizarre confusing story and even leave you wondering about why the hotel is still in existence. Understanding it means having to see the story for itself from beginning to end. There may be some confusing moments along the way and even a lot of eccentric humor but you will understand it and even the reason why a mountaintop hotel that’s completely useless is still in existence. You’ll even understand why the lobby boy is the only person in the world Gustave can trust wholeheartedly and would eventually own it. It’s no wonder Wes had to write a story along with his writing partner Hugo Guinness in order to bring this to the screen and make it work.
There are even times when I felt the story resembled Farewell To Arms, albeit with Wes Anderson’s dark humor intertwined into the story. Actually the credits in the end say the film was inspired by the readings of Stefan Zweig. I’ve never read Zweig’s writings so it’s hard for me to judge on that factor. Nevertheless the fact that Zweig was an Austrian Jew who fled to Brazil for refuge where he died may have some bearing on this. Even seeing how the character of The Writer looks like Zweig gives a hint. Whatever the situation and even if the story does not go as well as you hoped it would, it does leave you feeling that it does end as it should.
Despite this film being another excellent work from Wes Anderson, we shouldn’t forget that this is also because of the excellent ensemble of actors. Many of which have already acted in Wes Anderson movies of the past. Here they deliver well as a whole to make the movie enjoyable and true to Anderson’s style of humor and style of film making. However it also succeeds well with those who have never acted in a Wes Anderson movie before, like lead Ralph Fiennes. He delivers a character that’s humorous and true to the humor of the movie. Newcomer Tony Revolori also adds to the charm of the movie as the young bellboy who becomes Gustave’s partner in crime as does Saoirse Ronan as Agatha. You can easily see why she won his heart. Even minor roles from other Anderson first-timers like Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham add to the story.
Even the technical aspects of the story are excellent. The costumes designed by Milena Canonero are perfect to a T in this movie as is the set design and the makeup and hair. All these elements fit the times they’re set in and add to the film’s charm. The cinematography by Robert Yeoman fit the story well and the music from Alexandre Desplat also fit the film.
The interesting thing to note is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film ever with $59.1 million in North America and almost $175 million worldwide. Buzz for the film first started after it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Buzz continued after it continuously impressed film festival after film festival. Although his box office total in North America is not too impressive, it should be seen as respectable as it opened around the same time as the summer movie phenomenon that was happening. It made for a nice humorous alternative to the overhyped summer schlock.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a DVD worth watching. We all didn’t know what we were missing during the summer and now we can finally see why.
The AFI (American Film Institute) ranks Some Like It Hot as the best comedy of the 20th Century. No doubt it’s one of the most legendary comedies ever made. The question is does it still have what it takes to entertain people today?
Here’s a brief synopsis for those who’ve never seen it. It’s 1929 in Chicago. Joe and Jerry are musicians by day, bootlegging gangsters by night. They face themselves in a lot of trouble first with a rival mob for being in the crossfire of the St. Valentine’s massacre and secondly for the money Joe owes thanks to losing it on gambling. Their talent agent finds them a job to help them get away from the mob racket and make the money. There’s one catch. It’s with an all-girls band–Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators—and they’re heading to Miami. They accept and agree to pose as women: Josephine and Daphne.
The beginning is not the best. As they board the train to Miami, they meet Bienstock, their manager who is one to give band members a cheap feel. However they do meet band member Sugar Kane who likes to take a drink every now and then and takes a liking to the two women-in-disguise. They soon start a good friendship after Sugar accidentally drops her liquor flask and the two try to cover it up to bandleader Sweet Sue.
Sugar confesses to the two on the train trip how she’s interested in millionaires. However they can’t make passes at her because they know they have to keep their disguises as women. Once in Miami, Joe disguises himself as a millionaire named Junior to woo Sugar: heir to Shell Oil who has a problem with his ‘disinterest’ in women. However Jerry faces a pursuit of his own as an aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III takes an interest in Daphne.
One night Osgood invites Daphne for dinner on his yacht. Joe convinces Daphne to keep Osgood occupied onshore so that he can take Sugar to the yacht as Junior and pass it off as his. Once on the yacht, Junior tries to convince Sugar that he is impotent because of psychological traumas. He does say he’ll marry anyone who changes that. Sugar tries to arouse him and it’s after some amount of effort that she succeeds. Meanwhile Daphne’s very good at charming Osgood as the two tango all night.
It’s right as Jerry tells the good news to Joe– that Osgood has proposed to him and a divorce upon the truth will result in a huge cash settlement–that they learn the charade has to end. Spats and his gang of mobsters from Chicago are in the hotel for a ‘Friends of The Italian Opera’ conference and they have to quit the band and escape the hotel. This also means that Joe has to disguise himself as Junior again and break off the engagement to Sugar. He succeeds by telling her he has to marry a woman of his father’s choosing but it breaks her heart.
But it doesn’t end there. The two finds themselves in pursuit of the mobsters from the Valentine’s Day killings. It’s right after a revenge shooting at the conference that the two find themselves in pursuit again by Spats and his gang. Even their disguises as dames won’t help them get away for long. They face an additional problem as Joe notices on stage how brokenhearted Sugar is. It’s there that Joe has to tell Sugar the truth and kisses her in his Josephine guise.
Soon Sugar, Joe and Jerry have to leave in a getaway boat for Osgood’s yacht. They all find the boat in time but not before a drunken Osgood runs out. It’s right in the end with all four in the motorboat that all the truths come out, but with unexpected results.
As I pointed out at the beginning, Some Like It Hot has received renown since its release and over the years as both a film and as a comedy. There’s always the question of whether today’s moviegoers will understand the films significance or its comedic value. There’s no question that people of today would still find men dressing as women funny. Heck, the ‘S*** Girls Say’ videos are a hit partially because of it. However we’re at a time where we’re not that unfamiliar with drag queen shows and men dressing up as women. We may not be blasé but we wouldn’t be as shocked as say a crowd from back in 1959 would be upon seeing this. Even the sight of two women kissing would be less shocking to us. Humorous but not so shocking.
We shouldn’t forget that this was released during a different time. A Streetcar Named Desire caused some controversy because of its depiction of promiscuity and a failing marriage. Rebel Without A Cause raised eyebrows with its portrayal of teenage crime. And Blackboard Jungle was being labeled as ‘outrageously violent.’ All these movies would be considered tame by today’s standards. It just goes to show how far we’ve come.
Even Marilyn Monroe’s sex appeal comes into question. By now we’ve had all sorts of screen actresses who have had their own shots at achieving sex appeal with male moviegoers. By now the top screen queens would be Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Most males who are charmed by them would probably have a look at Marilyn and probably think she’s not as ‘babe-like.’ They may also think she “doesn’t show enough skin.” Heck some might even think she’s ‘fat.’ It wouldn’t surprise me, knowing today’s casting standards in Hollywood. Anyways those who know the screen goddesses of the past would know Marilyn was about more than her looks. She was also about her charm and charisma. That’s something today’s top screen queens lack.
The one thing that surprises me about Some Like It Hot is that it has cross-dressing during a time when Hollywood movies were still subject to the Hays Code. For those of you who don’t know or are too lazy to click on the link, the Hays Code was a rigid code used on movies and television up until 1966. It allowed for certain things to be in the movies but disallowed a lot of things too like an image of a toilet bowl or negative depictions or religious figures or certain things about sexuality. Even while watching it, I was thinking of the Code that was used at the time and wondered about certain scenes—the kiss between Sugar and Josephine and the “Well nobody’s perfect” scene—that left me wondering how they were able to get away with it at the time. Actually back then it did receive some flack from the Catholic Legion Of Decency who gave it a C (Condemnatory) rating. They’d also give Psycho a C rating the following year. Soon after other later films followed with a C-rating, it would lead to an overhaul and eventual end to the Hays Code in the 60’s. You have to give credit to some of these movies of the 50’s for pushing envelopes at the time and eliminating a lot of censorship in Hollywood in future decades. Mind you I don’t see why ‘decency committees’ should have a problem with cross-dressing. Besides we shouldn’t forget that Milton Berle dressed up as a woman on TV frequently during that time.
This is another winning movie for Billy Wilder. Billy is sometimes known for darker movies but rarely for comedies. This is probably his best comedic effort. Not his first but his best. He really took some challenges in making this film but he pulled it off well. This was also very good acting from both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Their performances were very humorous and it was amazing to see Jack, or should I say Jerry, instantly get into character as Daphne. Marilyn was also good but we shouldn’t forget that in this, like most movies, she was encouraged to play the movie sex goddess we all know her for. She pulled off her part very well. It’s still surprising how Marilyn is the biggest actress never to have even received as much as an Oscar nomination. Character acting from the supporting actors was also very good and added to the movie. The big surprise is that costuming was done by Orry-Kelly. Usually in the movies at the time, especially in Billy Wilder’s movies, it would be Edith Head who would do the costuming back then. Yeah, there were two types of costumers back in Hollywood back then. There was Edith Head and then there was everybody else.
Also interesting to see all the accolades this movie has received over the years. Besides being ranked the #1 Comedy by the AFI, the movie has been ranked #14 on their list of the Top 100 movies of all time back in 1998, then changed to #22 in their 10th Anniversary list in 2007. The line of “Well nobody’s perfect” ranks as the 48th-best movie line in their 100 Years…100 Lines list. In fact “nobody’s perfect” is even on Wilder’s epitaph. However it was not as lucky back at the year-end Oscars. That year the big toast of Hollywood was Ben Hur which would receive 12 nominations and 11 wins including Best Picture. The big surprise is that Some Like It Hot was not even nominated for Best Picture. Nominations did go to Wilder for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Lemmon was the only nominated actor with his Best Actor nomination. The only Oscar win was for Orry-Kelly for Best Costuming – Black and White who even beat out Edith Head. Some Like It Hot did fare better at the Golden Globes for wins for Lemmon, Monroe and Best Picture – Musical Or Comedy.
Some Like It Hot is a cutting edge comedy of its time in which most of today’s film goers who go to see it might not understand why it’s labeled the “Best Hollywood Comedy Of All Time,” especially since they’ve seen more shocking and more outrageous stuff. People who appreciate old movies and know the history of Hollywood film making will understand why and appreciate for such. For me, it was my first time seeing it and I was entertained.
The first weekend in May certifies the official beginning of the summer movie season. This is where the big studios are the most competitive where they deliver big-time attention-grabbers in an attempt to hit new highs at the box office. As expected, the first movie to kick off the 2013 summer movie season is a sequel of a huge-grossing series: Iron Man 3. The question is does it live up to the hype?
Tony Stark is back but instead of setting up for his third adventure, it goes back in time to the turn-of-the-millennium. Tony had a fling with a scientist named Maya Hansen who worked for a mechanics company named Extremis that’s experimenting with regenerating amputated limbs. Her boss, scientist Aldrich Killian who’s disabled himself, offers Stark a job but Stark refuses much to Killian’s humiliation.
Fast forward to the present, Stark and girlfriend Pepper Potts build several Iron man suits in immediate response to an alien attack which left him with panic attacks. Meanwhile Stark learns of a new rival villain: The Mandarin, who assaults his butler Happy Hogan. Stark challenges The Mandarin with a televised threat only to be faced with battle with The Mandarin and his army who leave his mansion demolished. The world believes Stark and Potts to be dead but they’re both alive with Stark being rescued by Hansen and Stark dawning an Iron Man suit whose JARVIS technology lands him in Tennessee. Stark learns more about the Mandarin thanks to the help of a young boy named Harley. Harley directs Stark to an alleged bomb explosion. Stark learns that the explosion is not only by Extremis but a possible fake to cover up Extremis’ flaws.
After a failed attack by two Extremis agents, Stark is able to get the location of The Mandarin through Harley’s help and through using improvised makeshift technology. Stark soon learns that The Mandarin is an impostor, an actor named Trevor Slattery. The Mandarin is actually a decoy of Killian who used Hansen’s program to fix his own disability and create an army of his own who successful has Potts hostage in hopes of getting Stark to fix Extremis’ flaws. That’s not all Killian has planned. Killian also stole James Rhodes’ Iron patriot outfit in an attempt to hold the plane with the President Of The United States hostage. Stark attempts to save the plane and those on board. He succeeds but misses the President whom Killian intends to kill and have the Vice President as his puppet to follow his every order to make Extremis succeed in its business.
The end battle features a lot of twists and turns but gives a surprise but somewhat expected ending to the movie and the Iron Man series as well. Oh yeah, I encourage you to sit through the credits for a surprise end.
Usually I’m not a huge fan of movie sequels. I consider Hollywood sequels to be the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. However I did find Iron Man 3 to be enjoyable. This was movie that was to be, or appears to be, the end of the Iron Man series. It had quite a lot to work with and it did a very good job of it, even though I feel it could have been better. Yes it was a story with a lot of clichés and yes there were a lot of areas that felt very formulaic. Even the addition of a cute kid felt like Hollywood up to its usual tricks. What it lacks in terms of inventiveness and unpredictability, it does make up in terms of its visual effects. The fights still thrill and the effects still dazzle. It’s what one should come to expect from a superhero movie. Surely director/co-writer Shane Black knew what he had to deliver when he agreed to do Iron Man 3. He’s written for popcorn movies before. Even though he delivers an ending to a series that could have been better, he does mostly end the Iron Man series on a positive note. One thing is that even though this may mean the end of the Iron Man series, it doesn’t mean that Tony Stark won’t be back for the next Avengers movie. There was even a hint or two of The Avengers in the script.
Once again, Robert Downey Jr. brings out the character of Tony Stark, but it felt like something was missing. I don’t know what it was but I felt there was a certain quality of Tony that was present in the first Iron Man and made him a scene-stealer in The Avengers that was missing here. Pepper Potts was given more of a role as being the one getting Tony to smarten up although Gwyneth is not as much of a scene stealer as she could be. Guy Pearce could have done more with his role of Killian but keeps him as a stockish villain. Rebecca Hall was good as Maya Hansen even though her role was nothing out of the ordinary. Don Cheadle was good at being a comedic sidekick Iron Patriot but he too lacked the scene-stealing quality. Ty Simpkins was given a typical child actor role where he’s made to look cutesy. And Ben Kingsley’s turn as the Mandarin succeeded in being both intense and comical when it was required to be.
As is to be expected with any big release of the summer movie season, Iron Man 3 succeeds in challenging for top box office results. It achieved $174.1 million in its opening weekend making it second only to last year’s The Avengers for the biggest opening weekend ever. Even now it continues to remain strong at the box office even though it was replaced at the #1 spot in its third weekend by Star Trek Into Darkness. I don’t think it will supersede The Avengers‘ total gross since The Avengers was still #1 after three weekends. I am confident that Iron Man 3 will finish its box office run in the Top 10 of all time. It’s only $86 million away right now.
Iron Man 3 is a series-ending movie in which first seems surprising but turns out to be typically expected on second-thought. It’s better than the second but not as entertaining as the first. Nevertheless it ends on a good note, if slightly flawed.