By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
Lies. Love. Suspense. Deception. The mystery is afoot when it comes to ALLIED, the new war thriller from framed director Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis is a great director, there’s no doubt about that. This is the man who directed the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, CAST AWAY and FORREST GUMP. The man knows how to make a good movie, and while his last couple of movies opened to decent, if not slightly mixed reviews, I’ve been a fan of most of them. Last year’s THE WALK was an exciting adventure, and FLIGHT was an interesting look at a broken man. I was excited for ALLIED, hoping to see Zemeckis deliver a film on the same level as some of his earlier works. But does he deliver?
We open in Casablanca in 1942, the war brewing all throughout the globe. A charming, handsome young man, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), has been sent to this wondrous little town to be someone he’s not. He’s undercover, given a temporary name and identity, as well as a temporary wife. Her name is Marianne Beausejou (Marion Cotillard), and as she states in the film, she’s “very good at pretending.” The two work together to complete a job, but in the process, they do the one thing everyone in their line of work knows they should never do. They fall in love. When the job’s done, they wed and move in together in Max’s hometown of London, the war sill going on.
We catch up with them over a year later, the two now with a child who they very dearly love. Max is called in for a top secret, underground meeting by two high-ranking officials, including a close friend of his, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris). They have reason to believe that Marianne, Max’s wife, is a German spy who’s been giving out all the classified information that Max has been receiving. Max doesn’t want to believe it, but the evidence is strong, and so he’s given a job he can’t say no to, not matter how much he wishes he could. He’s given the job of finding out if she is in fact a spy, and if she is, he’s to kill her with his own hands.
ALLIED is a tense and emotional thriller that works. It gets you attached to these characters, all before trying to change your perspective on each and every single one of them. Are they really who they say they are? Is this all a game? Is it real? Who’s telling the truth here? They’re just a few of the questions that will be running through your head as you watch the mystery unfold. The film does an excellent job at setting up the bond between Max and Marianna, and the thought of her potentially being a spy is almost heartbreaking. I found myself begging for that situation not to go down.
The third act goes in a slightly different direction than one would expect, but not so far out of the way that it feels out of place. Every action feels justified and real, the stakes consistently high. It’s an emotional gut punch of an ending, and it’s one I didn’t see coming. But it works. It fits. It doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, but instead suits the film’s plot perfectly. In fact, the later scenes in this movie may just be the best scenes in the entire film. They’re the most exciting and thrilling scenes, creating a third act that’s engaging and, quite frankly, brilliant.
Unfortunately, it does take a while to get to the film’s juiciest moments. While a few scenes drag here and there, most of the scenes involving Max’s investigation are completely gripping. However, this plot isn’t introduced as soon as one would think. The initial set up in Casablanca takes about forty five minutes to complete, and after that, it’s another ten to fifteen minutes until Max is actually called down into the underground meeting. The Casablanca scenes are interesting to a degree, but the pacing is dreadful, making it a much longer experience than it should’ve been. The final film clocks in at 124mins, putting it just over two hours. In my opinion, ALLIED could’ve been of a much higher quality if it were a 90min thriller. It could’ve been a tightly plotted, twist-filled rollercoaster that’s brisk and to the point. Lose the fat, so to say.
The upside to having an extended runtime is that there’s more room to showcase the wonderful talent this film managed to get on board. While this can refer to talent both in front of and behind the camera, as the direction is quite exquisite, the real standout of ALLIED is in the performances. When a film has Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as your two highest billed actors, you know it’s going to be good. And they disappoint. The night before I watched this movie, I watched BURN AFTER READING. In that film, Brad Pitt plays a goofy, exercise crazed character, and it was so brilliant and so unlike Pitt. I then saw him in ALLIED, and his performance is stoic, dramatic and determined. It just goes to show how versatile and great an actor this man is.
As for Cotillard, this woman is amazing. Simply amazing. I honestly believe she can turn any script into an Oscar worthy performance. She’s so good here, which is to be expected. Her character has a lot going on, whether it’s her troubled and deep backstory or just the way she’s got to handle everything with her job. Cotillard takes on every situation with grace and brilliance, and her character was without a double the most interesting character in this entire movie.
ALLIED is a tense and emotional war thriller that works thanks to exquisite direction by Robert Zemeckis, as well as two utterly brilliant lead performances from Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. It’s not the type of movie I could see myself going back and watching again, but for a one-time viewing, it’s great entertainment.
3 1/2 Stars
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
I feel like the teen high school movie is starting to become an underappreciated genre. It’s a long lasting genre with a countless amount of classics, ranging from American Pie to Mean Girls to The Breakfast Club and even to High School Musical. It’s a genre that should easily run out of stories to tell, but it never does, and yet it doesn’t seem to get as much appreciation as other genres. Maybe it’s because there are not enough of them, or perhaps it’s because they usually seem to get a limited release. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s a greatly appreciated genre and I just don’t realise, but from the look of things, it just doesn’t seem to the case. That’s why Edge of Seventeen is going to be a massive hit when it arrives to Australian theatres this January. It’s a teen high school movie to bring teen high school movies back into their 80s/90s glory.
Edge of Seventeen follows the story of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward teenager who is going hell while attempting to trudge her way through high school. She’s never been one for fitting in, only really having one real friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) neglects her and her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is one of the self-obsessed popular kids at school. Things aren’t going well, but at least they’re going at a steady rate. Or at least they were until Krista and Darian start dating, throwing Nadine’s life into a whirlwind of awkwardness, teen angst and uncomfortable lunchtimes with one of her teachers, Mr. Brunner (Woody Harrelson).
In attempting to avoid as many clichés as it can, Edge of Seventeen successfully becomes a witty, honest and entertaining teen movie that’s going to be one to remember. First thing’s first, this is a seriously funny movie. It’s not always the most original film at times, certain plot lines dwelling in familiar yet effective territory, but the jokes nearly always work. It’s the sort of humour you don’t expect a movie like this to make, but it does it anyway. The humour is born and bread from places you don’t expect, places that don’t normally bring humour. It’s frequently dark, mixed with a lighthearted nature and always relatable. As made evident in the trailer, teen suicide hasn’t been this funny since Heathers.
Our central protagonist, Nadine, shouldn’t be a central protagonist that works, but she is. She’s problematic, drenched in self-pity, highly unconventional and, from time to time, a source of annoyance to all the other characters in the movie. Yet she’s brilliant. She’s got a bit of every sort of teenager mixed into her, making the film accessible and relatable to everyone who is or ever has been a teenager. Her awkwardness never fails to entertain, floating her way through all sorts of situations teenagers find themselves to be in. It’s real, and not always played for laughs, as some of the more dramatic moments pack a real punch.
That’s one of the things that make this film so great, too. It’s not only funny, but also deadly serious when it needs to be. It’s built on some solid emotion, creating realistic characters that each have a dramatic character arc. Even characters you don’t expect to have an arc are given an arc, making for an even more rewarding experience. It’s not hard to guess the final result of these arcs, the final few minutes feeling more familiar than anything else that came before it, but it’s the journey there that’s so unpredictable. The final outcome can be seen a mile away, but the path is a little bumpier. It’s quirky and different, yet firmly placed in the real world. This film may not receive as high of a rating as you’d expect, as I’m giving it the rating it deserves, but I honestly cannot wait to see it again. It’s great.
Let’s not finish this review up without mentioning the supporting cast. Without them, the film wouldn’t be as good as it is. Woody Harrelson steals the show as a sarcastic asshole teacher who, believe it or not, isn’t actually as big of an asshole as he seems to be. His character is layered and real, working as more than just the voice of reason when it comes to Nadine’s countless problems. Sure, the filmmaking itself is decent at best, and the film decides to use irritating narration for no apparent reason and then stop using it halfway through, but this film brought us Woody Harrelson as a high school teacher all high school teachers wish they were, so I’m glad it exists.
To sum up, Edge of Seventeen is a quirky and relatable teen movie that mixes dark and light humour together for a splendid, but flawed movie going experience. The performances are great, especially Woody Harrelson’s scene stealing teacher, however it’s the genuine heart that puts this film on a whole other level.
3 1/2 Stars
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
In this year’s Zootopia, Disney dealt with themes of racism. They created a fun and loveable buddy cop movie with animals that was also heavy hitting and incredibly important. They followed this up with Moana, which ended up being one of their best movies in years. It not only brought light to a culture not frequently seen on film, but also broke all the Disney conventions and took one huge leap forward for diversity and the role of certain characters in film. Both Finding Dory and Kung Fu Panda also dealt with themes of family and the love we have for them, and heck, even Trolls dealt with themes around finding happiness in the darkest of times. Then, there’s Sing. It’s a cute movie about animals that sing. So yeah, it’s safe to describe this as one of the weaker animated films of 2016.
Sing revolves around Buster Moon (Mathew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala with a love for musical theatre, despite none of his shows work out. So what does this optimistic koala decide to do? He decides to put on a musical talent show, inviting the whole town to audition. The problem is, and Buster doesn’t know this, there was a misprint on the audition call, offering up more money than he’s ever had in his entire life. So of course, everyone auditions, and making their way through to the show is a pig named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a second pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll), a porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johanson), a gorilla named Johnny (Taren Egerton), a mouse named Mike (Seth McFarlane), and a shy elephant named Meena (Tori Kelly).
If anything’s become evident in all of Illumination’s animated films, it’s that they tell really simple stories. There’s never a lot of depth, merely the characters getting from point a to point b with mild characterization, but it seems to be working for them. A lot of their films are actually pretty good, and the characters are always as loveable as ever, if not generic. It’s fun, family friendly entertainment that’s harmless in nature, but thin on plot. The characters are each distinct and have interesting dynamics to add to the whole thing, and when put together, it can be quite an entertaining ride.
Set to the backdrop of countless famous songs, you’re sure to be dancing along to at least a few of them. The soundtrack does feel scattershot at times, especially in the film’s opening, which just cuts from song to song to song on no end, but when in the moment, each seems to work. The song covers never fail to deliver, either working as a great adaption or a humorous take on the original song. The montage in which everyone auditions is one of the best moments in the film, as Illumination gets to play around with so many different things. I never thought I wanted to see a snail singing ‘Ride Like The Wind’ until I saw this movie.
The film even throws in a few original songs into the mix. There’s not many, but they’re there, and while the songs themselves aren’t bad, they’re not awfully memorable. With so many different songs crammed into the one movie, the original songs find themselves lost and buried in the moment. I remember them being fun while they lasted, but I can barely remember any of the lyrics. Trolls did a similar thing earlier this month, but their original songs worked because the rest of the soundtrack didn’t overburden them. Plus, the scenes they were in were unforgettable and easily the highlights of the film. The original songs in Sing just come and go without much attention needed. They let themselves slip under the radar, in a way.
Even just looking at the film’s plot, there’s not a lot going on. There’s a message of never giving up on your dreams, and while I do like that message, it’s something that we’ve seen a thousand times before. There’s rarely an ounce of originality put into this film, the plot being a combination of a large handful of generic sub-plots. Johnny has a criminal past he wants to escape? Oh, no. Mike is in some trouble with gangsters? Oh, no. Meena has a great voice but isn’t confident? Oh, no. Rosita isn’t appreciated enough at home? Oh, no. Ash is having boyfriend troubles? Oh, no. They’re familiar and bland, and make everything all the more predictable.
On the plus side, when the finale comes around, it’s a show stealer. It’s not groundbreaking or mind blowing or even all that shocking, but it’s fun, and that’s what’s important. That’s what the film was going for. It aims to get kids to jump up and dance along, and it does so. It knows what it’s going for and it’s able to achieve that, creating a toe-tapping, smile-inducing finale that lets all these characters shine. You may have to sludge through an overlong runtime, some truly awful humour and a lot of generic plots to get there, but the finale makes the whole thing worthwhile.
To sum up, Sing is without a doubt one of the weaker animated films of 2016, but with that being said, I was still able to enjoy it for what it was. It’s all over the place, generic and a little too kid friendly to work at times, but the song covers are great, if not occasionally forgettable, and kids of all ages will have a ball.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
This could’ve been it. No, let me correct myself. This should’ve been it. This should’ve been the video game adaptation that absolutely nails it. If this were to fail, all hope would be lost, and here we are. Assassin’s Creed has been a passion project of Michael Fassbender’s for quite some time now, both producing and starring in the movie, and that gave it the potential to be something fantastic. I’m not even sure what the hell it is we got, but man oh man was it a let down. Will video game movies ever be good? I sure hope so. Do I have faith in the genre? After this, my faith is pretty much gone.
Assassin’s Creed follows the story of Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a man locked away in prison and sentenced to death, where he soon wakes up to find himself a legally dead man. He’s been locked away in a mysterious facility ominously watching out over the rest of the city. In charge of the facility are Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and her father Rikkin (Jeremy Irons). Their main goal is to use Callum’s ancestor’s memories to hunt down an artifact that holds the power to control free will. They hook Callum up to a machine called the animus, where he experiences his ancestor’s memories in real time, set during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s here that he discovers he’s part of a hidden society known as the Assassin’s Creed.
In a similar, but far less dramatic vein to Star Wars, Assassin’s Creed begins with an opening crawl. It’s tedious and dull, attempting to give backstory to the plot at hand, despite all the details being given to us in the opening scenes anyway. The film hadn’t even properly begun and it already felt clunky. It already felt disappointing. As the rest of the film continued, something just didn’t feel right. It just didn’t seem to be working, no matter what the film tried to do, and by the time it cut to black one final time, the credits beginning to role, it become clear that this really wasn’t a good movie.
While the video game series the film is based on is rich in mythology and developed characters just waiting for a big screen debut, Assassin’s Creed decides to steal the game’s premise and create an original story out of it. New characters, new time period, new adventure. It was in the right mindset to work. Not restricting itself to the 10 hour long story from the game, but feeling reminiscent of this source material was a genius move. It allows for more freedom and unpredictability, or so one would hope. As it turns out, it merely allows for the development of a generic and under-explained plot that doesn’t manage to do the popular video game franchise justice.
As someone who’s played the video games before, I was already familiar with the way the story and the universe play out. I knew what a Templar was and how the animus worked, yet even when watching the film, nothing makes sense. It’s all severely underdeveloped, sure to confuse those unfamiliar with the source material. It throws so many interesting ideas at you, yet never follows through with any of them, and the ones they do follow through with make very little sense. Featuring an abundance of plot holes, the overall story is dumb and rushed through, never allowing enough time for anything to develop. It’s all quite two dimensional in nature, especially the film’s antagonists, if there even were any. The film is too incoherent to notice.
The main selling points of this movie are the sequences set in the past. It’s Michael Fassbender kicking ass as an assassin that made me, and many others, want to see the film, especially when directed by Justin Kerzel, the man behind last year’s Macbeth. The sequences set during the Spanish Inquistion should’ve taken up the majority of this film, yet they don’t. Michael Fassbender only hooks up into the animus three times, and none of the scenes are lengthy. They’re three generic action sequences with no context, no attachment, no story and awful CGI. The film does have the guts to put these scenes in Spanish with English subtitles, but because of how short the sequences are, there’s barely any time for dialogue, so the ambitiousness of it all falls apart.
With that being said, however, they still manage to be the best parts of this movie. There’s an electrifying chase sequence that begins as a vigorous fight and concludes with one hell of an ending. The main issue with it, along with all the action sequences, is that, on top of the hideous visual effects, it’s all unbearably choppy. There’s nothing special about the camera work or the editing, and the film feels a constant need to keep cutting back to Michael Fassbender’s modern day character as the action proceeds. It’s jarring and frequently took me out of the moment, taking away from the impact of the scene. I didn’t want to see Michael Fassbender climbing up an imaginary wall. I wanted to see him fight as an assassin.
As there is only three scenes set in the past, a great deal of the third act is all set during the modern day, and it’s appalling. I’m honestly not even sure what they were trying to do, let alone what they were trying to set up in the film’s closing minutes. I will refrain from spoiling why, but the whole thing is awkward and idiotic, lacking any sort of sense, character motives or realism. I don’t even think it tried to play anything out as a surprise or plot twist. The film is too lazy to care. It is what it is, and what it is is another disappointing video game movie. As my friend said to me the other day, the film got Suicide Squad-ed. It had an awesome marketing campaign for such a letdown of a movie.
To sum up, Assassin’s Creed had so many opportunities to achieve greatness, but fails frequently. Fassbender is great, as would be expected, but the film is under explained, two-dimensional, choppy and focuses on all the wrong things. It’s okay to cry, I’d understand. Video game movies just aren’t meant to be.
2 1/2 Stars
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
When the director of The Imitation Game is set to direct a sci-fi survival story with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as the film’s two leads, you know I’m going to be there. That description is a guarantee that I will be heading off to see it, as it sounds like one insanely good time at the movies. Add into the mix the intriguing premise this film has going for it, as well as the decent but seemingly spoiler-filled trailer, and I’m sold. My expectations were high, as they should be for a film with this caliber. So why isn’t this film nearly as amazing as it should be?
Passengers begins thirty years into a 120-year mission to a distant planet in the furthest reaches of space. The 5,000 passengers onboard are all in hibernation, sleeping away until they’re due to arrive, where they’ll be given the opportunity to start a new life on a new planet. Unfortunately, one of the pods malfunctions, and Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up 90 years too soon. He’s alone on the ship, destined to die there, his only friend being a robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen). That is until Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up early too…
With just two (technically three, but Michael Sheen is merely a supporting role) actors carrying this movie, Passengers needs to do a lot right in order to work. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are the only two human characters in this film, and it’s up to them to tell a compelling story that can sustain a two-hour runtime. For the most part, they do. The two have excellent chemistry, but also the capability to create more dramatic, suspenseful moments. The film isn’t simply a romance in space, and they nail both the suspense and the romance.
For the first twenty or so minutes, this film is literally just Chris Pratt trying to survive. He’s the first to wake up, the explanation of which is not a spoiler but I’ll refrain from explaining it. This initial opening is so much fun because I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. It’s got the much-needed emotional weight and sense of urgency, but there’s also a lot of joy and excitement to be found, as one would expect when a film has Chris Pratt in the leading role. It’s expertly paced, things coming to a slowdown just as Aurora wakes up, kicking the plot back into action and creating a new level of investment.
It’s the first two acts that are definitely the best part of this movie; thanks to the ever-flowing plot that will keep you on your feet while also letting you sit comfortably in your chair. There’s certain freshness to the whole thing, and while I won’t discuss specifics due to the fact that it will spoil the only things left unspoilt by the trailer, it’s definitely an exciting ride, full of visual effects that flow seamlessly into the real world scenarios. The situations and the reactions of these characters aren’t always as realistic as one would hope, but for a fun sci-fi movie, they worked.
That being said, the later scenes of the film are far from perfect. A shocking reveal jeopardizes the plot, leading into an explosive, high-risk finale where anything goes and stupidity is at an all time high. The visuals in this third act are better than ever, but all the problems lie within the script. The characters are given nonsensical, out of place lines that contradict everything they stood for earlier on, and their emotional bond is entirely unbelievable. The personal connection to these characters is lost, replaced with big set pieces used for the intention to dazzle audiences, but at the cost of making a good movie.
The plot had so much potential to go for an unexpected, uncomfortably dark route, and it’s a route I would’ve loved. They could’ve done something that would’ve been both realistic and entertaining, but instead, they don’t. Instead, they go for a massive cop out of an ending that just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s generic and worthy of a groan or two, once again backtracking upon these character’s previous statements. This is not what they would do. This is not who they are. It’s a tame and underwhelming conclusion that left a muted taste in my mouth, which shouldn’t be in the case in an otherwise decent movie.
To sum up, Passengers is not as good of a movie as it should’ve been, given the cast the crew involved with the whole thing. The third act raises some serious problems, but for the most part, the film still manages to be a lot of fun, full of thrills, laughs and excitement.
3 1/2 Stars
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
Remember many years ago when the world was greeted by a little trilogy called the Star Wars prequels? Do you guys remember those? They were set before the events of the original trilogy, showcasing the origins of so many characters, and they sucked. They were major disappointments, and fans (myself included) remain upset to this very day. Thankfully, when Disney purchased the rights to Lucasfilms, they set to make things right. They tried to bring balance to the force, in the shape of a new trilogy as well as standalone movies. The Force Awakens, the first instalment in the new trilogy, blessed our screens last year, and this weekend sees the release of the first standalone film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set before the events of the original trilogy, it's the prequel we all deserve.
While the trailers give a general gist of what the movie is about, they don't spoil a lot, and to keep that up, neither will I, so this plot outline is going to be very vague. But essentially, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story revolves around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who's a young rebel on the run. She's taken in by the resistence, who come to her with a proposition. If she helps track down her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who's critical to the devlepment of a superweapon known as the Death Star, then they'll clear her name of all previous crimes. She accepts, joined by a crew consisting of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and an imperial droid named K-2S0 (Alan Tudky). Together, they form Rogue One, bonded together to find Galen and steal the plans of the dreaded Death Star.
Right from the film's opening, Rogue One feels like a distinctly different entry to this saga. With no opening crawl, it throws you straight into the midst of space, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Before anything even begins, it feels fresh. It feels new. And it is. There's no fancy transitions, there's no Jedi and, with the exception of the occasional Darth Vader appearance, the film doesn't involve the Skywalker family. It's new and fresh and it absolutely rules. The film plays out like a war film set in the Star Wars universe. It's dark and gritty, but scattered with much-needed humour that's driven from the characters, and it works to perfection.
A rule of thumb when it comes to Star Wars is that the story always moves forwards. There's no dawdling and no flashbacks. Rogue One, in its glorious standalone nature, decides to break the mould. It begins in the past, a young Jyn getting the centre stage (or at least part of it, as the earlier scenes are definitely more about her father, as advertised in the trailers. Don't worry, this is not a spoiler. I'm not going to spoil a thing). There's even a flashback sequence, allowing for Jyn to receive a little more characterisation and allow for a deeper emotional bond to form between her and the audience. Throughout the course of the film, she goes from rebel to soldier, and she makes for a highly compelling protagonist.
Felicity Jones is an absolute treasure, and she gives a tremendous performance here. Her personality is distinct and lively, and everything that happens in the film always seems to tie back to her. Jones nails the action, the humour, the emotion and the scoundrel ways of her character. Without delving into specifics, the plot for Rogue One proves to be much more sophisticated than anticipated. While pitched and advertised as a mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, that's merely what's on the surface. The film goes a lot deeper than that, and it's Jyn who takes us on this thrilling adventure, full of twists and turns that consistently had my jaw dropped to the floor. There's so much more to this movie than the trailers advertised, and fans are in for a real treat.
While I was a big fan of Jyn and the story she tells, especially how it relates back to her father, the characters I loved the most were the supporting cast. Chirrut Imwe, a blind man with strong beliefs in the force, was by far my favourite character. One of the earliest scenes he's in is one of the coolest moments of the entire film, and everything with him in it after that was just brilliant. He's charismatic, extremely likeable, kicks ass when he needs to and brings a particuarly innocent style of humour to this dark world. While not a force user, he's a force follower, and this made for some highly investing plot elements. His friendship with Blaze is fun, but it's not until the third act where Blaze really stood out. However, that's not to say he was at all bad in the first two acts.
In fact, every member of this group of rebels felt like an authentic, three dimensional character. They all have history, personality and standout moments. Even the droid, K-2S0, manages to have a character arc. Alan Tudyk is the perfect choice for this droid, and every word that comes out of his mouth is utterly wonderful. To begin with, he merely feels like the main source of comic relief, and yes, his sarcastic wit was a highlight, but he ends up being in the same league as, say, R2D2 and C3P0. Gasps, belly laughs and joy were all brought on from his character, and I just loved him to pieces. There's so much I want to say about him, but I won't. I'll be saving a lot of it for the spoiler review, which will be up in a few days time.
Also on board the crew are Cassian Andor and Bodhi Rook. While Bodie may be my least favourite, that's not to say I didn't love him. I did. He really surprised me. He ends up being of great importance all the way throughout the film, and the performance is great. The same goes for Cassian, who I felt was probably the most developed and realised character in the movie. There's even times where I felt as though he was of more importance than Jyn, but every time I thought that Jyn would come back into action and show everyone who's boss. The dynamic the two of them have is really something, and while it was starting to lean in a direction I was unsure about, they managed to turn things around and do it well.
With all the heroes covered, what about those bad guys? The villains in Star Wars are always iconic, even the ones from those not-so-great prequels we can now forget about. The main antagonist in Rogue One is a conniving little shit who goes by the name of Orson Krennic. He's manipulative and after whatever gets him the highest position possible amongst the Empire, and I loved him. He's a charming character, especially for someone in his position, and I found every scene he's in to be rather compelling. Also amongst the big baddies is Darth Vader, who makes his triumphant return to the big screen after so many years. His screen time is scarce, but used to perfection, his presence constantly looming while the entire operation is being performed. Also, not going to lie, when he first appeared on screen, I was in too strong a state of awe to actually hear some of the words he was speaking, so that's one of the many reasons I look forward to rewatching it tonight.
2014's Godzilla reboot was met to mixed, but generally positive reactions from fans and critics alike. What was undeniable about that film, however, was how well it was made. Director Gareth Edwards put himself on the map with that film, following his debut with Monsters a few years earlier. He's a true talent, and he handles Rogue One with care and enthusiasm. If you've seen any interview with him for this movie, you'll see just how big of a Star Wars fanatic he is, and his love and admiration for this universe becomes abundantly clear while watching this film. It's set in the period of A New Hope, and it feels like it. The cinematography is stunning, the landscapes well realised and the overall grittiness oozing from the screen. It's a dirty Star Wars movie and Edwards is sensational.
Rogue One marks the first time that a Star Wars movie wasn't scored by legendary composer John Williams. This made me anxious, and the last minute swap of composers didn't help ease the tension, but thankfully, Michael Giacchino pulls through, delivering a score that's reminiscent of Williams's classics tunes while also standing its ground as its own thing. I wouldn't go so far as to say he better suits this universe than Williams does, but it's an interesting take, and I loved it. Will I be marathoning the score back to back with the first 7 scores? Absolutely. It deserves to stand alongside them, and I'm actually very excited to listen to it outside the context of the movie. Much like his previous scores, I feel it'll make for a good listen at home.
Every Star Wars film has iconic moments, whether good or bad. Even the prequels do. I know I quote Anakin's sand speech more than I quote anything Luke says in the original trilogy. Okay, maybe that's a joke, but still. Rogue One is full of crowd pleasing moments and fan throwbacks that will ultimately make their way into the Star Wars hall of fame, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if this film's entire third act made it into this imaginary but totally real hall of fame. The third act of Rogue One is the most exciting, suspenseful, shocking and wholeheartedly satisfying 45 minutes of 2016. It wraps the film up perfectly, while also setting up A New Hope. The film's story comes to a close in its own right, yet it's ending plants the seeds for the original trilogy to grow from, and I've never reacted quite as strongly to anything compared to how I reacted to this film's final 5 minutes. My smile has never been so huge.
To sum up, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story manages to succeed in almost every way, working as its own thrilling adventure as well as a leeway for the original trilogy to begin. With great characters, an effective score, stunning cinematography and near flawless visual effects, Star Wars manages to be the best thing about the year, two years in a row.
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
I went into this film not expecting much. I knew it wasn’t going to be that great, yet at the same time, part of me was actually a little bit hopeful. Part of me wanted to really, really like this movie, presumably because of the incredibly talented cast. I was hoping to find just a little bit of enjoyment in it, and perhaps my low expectations would’ve helped in that. Unfortunately not, as Office Christmas Party is not the super fun time at the movies that it had the potential to be.
Surprisingly, the plot for this film is more than just “yeah, these guys just party for 90 minutes,” as that’s pretty much what I was expecting this entire film to be. Thankfully, there’s actually a little bit of plot worked into it, centering on Josh Parker (Jason Bateman). He’s finally divorced after a year long separation, steadying into the single life. His boss and close friend Clay (T.J. Miller) is struggling to maintain their Internet Company, and Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Anniston) is threatening to shut them down. To keep the company afloat, they have to land a deal with a man named Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), and to win him over and show him what a great group of people they are, they throw a Christmas party in his honour. They invite him along, give him a tour and try to show him a good time.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I enjoyed this movie, but in its defense, it’s not the worst film imaginable. There have been a lot of movies this year that I enjoyed far less than I enjoyed this one, mostly thanks to the likeable and naturally funny cast. With Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Jennifer Anniston, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon and a massive group of minor cast members, it’s hard for this film to not be at least a tiny bit funny. And it is. From time to time I did find myself enjoying this movie, mostly through their smaller, less in your face gags. It’s when these actors are allowed to be themselves that I had the most fun with it.
Party movies can be very hit or miss. There are a few solid ones, such as Animal House or Suberbad, but there’s also more than a few not-so-good ones. I guess we could even consider Wolf of Wall Street a party movie to a degree, but for argument’s sake let’s just say it isn’t one. It’s a hard topic to nail, mostly because there’s not a lot you can really do with it. It’s just the actors having a super fun time with the events surrounding them getting more and more ridiculous, and it doesn’t always work. Office Christmas Party manages to make it work, at least in terms of plot. They’re not just throwing the world’s greatest party for the sake of a movie, and its increased ridiculousness is actually justified, which I liked. It doesn’t just get bigger and bigger for no apparent reason.
The film even manages to end on a fast paced, really dumb, but ridiculously fun finale. I wasn’t sure if it was too stupid to be funny, or stupid enough to be hilarious. It was constantly walking between the two lines, but it managed to be stupidly funny just enough times to work. However, it’s the rest of the film that isn’t really as funny. The jokes can work, but more often than not, they don’t. A lot of the humour is forced or familiar, and even comes off as really awkward some of the time, including the three or so fart jokes surrounding Kate McKinnon’s character.
It doesn’t seem to know what sort of humour it’s going for, and I think that’s the biggest problem with this movie. It’s too indecisive on what it wants to be, trying to appeal to a few different audiences and not combining together any of it all that well. Standouts include the always likeable T.J. Miller and Jason Bateman, and even occasionally Olivia Munn, but not everyone is as consistent as they are. Jennifer Anniston has a few solid lines, but her character was extremely uninteresting, and a lot of the supporting cast, while occasionally providing us with some chuckle-worthy moments, is familiar and boring.
To sum up, Office Christmas Party tries to use its absolutely hilarious cast as best as it can, but unfortunately that isn’t very good, leading to mixed results in an inconsistent, infrequently funny movie that, while likeable and fast, isn’t really that great.
2 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
I’d just like to begin this review with an apology. I walked out of this movie mildly disappointed. I loved it, absolutely loved it, but I just wanted to like it a tiny bit more. I wanted to walk out going “that was the best film of the year,” like I was expecting to say. I wanted to love absolutely everything about it, but I didn’t. I was, unfortunately, mildly disappointed, and told this to the people I went with, to which they obviously disagreed. To everyone I said this to, and to the film itself, I am sorry. I was wrong. Much like with Star Wars The Force Awakens last year, a film *this* good is just too much to handle. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure how. It just is. I walked out of both of those movies positive that it was a 4.5 star movie, but after sitting down and actually thinking about them, I was in love. So yeah, my initial disappointment was oh so very wrong, and I have serious regrets.
La La Land is the story of two central protagonists. We begin with Mia (Emma Stone), a waitress with aspirations to be an actress, despite nearly all of her auditions going rather poorly. We’re then introduced to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling pianist with a passion for jazz. He knows it’s a dying art, but his love for it is strong, and he hopes to open up his own club and bring it back to its former glory. The two, through chance, meet on several occasions, and after a while they decide to go on a date. Sort of. But romance ensures nonetheless, and we follow their attempts to follow their dreams while falling in love, resulting in the most beautiful movie of the year.
Thank god for La La Land. This is honest to god one of the best films of 2016, and I feel as if I might even bump that up to ‘best film of the year’ position after a rewatch. Its sheer magnificence was way too much to handle at first, hence my slightly underwhelming initial reaction, but ever since stopping and thinking about it, the film just gets better and better and better. I’ve not been able to stop humming the songs or replaying its deep and powerful finale over and over in my head. The entire film is pretty much going to be on loop inside my mind for the rest of my life, and to be honest, I don’t really have a problem with that. In fact, it’s a very good thing.
It’s a film that feels as though it was thrown right out of the golden age of musicals, but at the same time, it feels very modern. It feels very fresh and new, relevant for audiences today. It’s got a nostalgic feel to it. Actually, it doesn’t seem right saying this film is nostalgic. This is more than nostalgia. This is more than a throwback. This is something that was born and bred from a love of both classic cinema and classical music. It’s a film about passion and love and people’s dreams, and it’s told through powerful and emotional storytelling that will grasp your heart and rip it right from your chest. There hasn’t been a movie like this in the history of film, and it truly is utterly wonderful.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have shared the screen several times before, and they’re a pairing to always look out for. The two share excellent chemistry, and their relationship here is more authentic and real than it’s ever been on screen before. The characters just work, and I loved absolutely everything about their performances. They draw you in to this story and keep you there forever, bringing you on this whirlwind of music, emotion, love and dreams. It’s a film that will hit you hard, much like Damien Chazelle’s last film Whiplash did, but for very different reasons. While Whiplash is an intense, chair-destroying masterpiece, La La Land is more of a personal and romantic tale of one’s ambitions, but it’s impactful all the same.
What Chazelle has managed to craft here can easily be considered a work of art, and at times it quite literally is. It’s one of the most beautiful looking movies I have ever seen, the colours and overall aesthetic just immensely satisfying. It’s lively and wonderful, truly feeling like a dream at times. He manages to dazzle audiences with not only an impactful story, but also pleasing visuals, and I’m not just talking about the transfixing sequences that feel out of this world, like the scene at the planetarium, but even just the scenes in which two characters are talking. He manages to make ordinary scenes like those into an art form, and that’s impressive.
This is, after all, a musical, and upon completion of this movie, I wanted to go home and watch every musical ever made. On top of every amazing thing about this film, it’s also a love letter to music, cinema and several other things. The musical sequences are thoroughly mind blowing, combining together so many things to make for an extraordinary piece of film. The movie opens with a dance number involving dozens of extras and it’s all done in one big long take. It’s one of the most impressive things to come out of any movie this year, and it doesn’t stop there. One of the more gorgeous, but smaller scale musical numbers is simply between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and that’s also done in one take. Best cinematography of 2016? Without a doubt.
Normally with musicals, it’s the music that really carries the movie. It’s the music that people come out of the cinema singing along to, and while that is the case here, it’s not the thing that carries it. Nothing in La La Land carries the movie. There is no one thing that makes this movie as good as it is. Every little tiny component of it comes together to make for one of the best films you will see this year. Or in the opinion of many, one of the best films you will see in your entire life. There’s no stand out moment because every moment is a standout moment. Every scene, line and character beat has been imprinted into my brain and it’s there forever. It’s not possible to forget this movie. It’s absolutely unreal, and a movie you need to experience as soon as possible.
To sum up, La La Land is so much more than movie. It’s a film that’s almost too good to be real, and if you come out overwhelmed and need a moment to process it, I won’t blame you. I know I certainly did. There has never been a film like this before, and if I don’t see it at least ten more times in cinemas then can I really call myself a lover of film?
By Jack Dignan
With Oscar season steadily approaching, Australia, like every year, is finally getting all the potential Oscar movies. We’re finally seeing the releases of all of them, many of which have been out for a while in the US and some of which still aren’t coming out here until February. Amidst the many Oscar movies we’re about to receive, this is the one film that I didn’t know an awful lot about. I’d seen the poster, and a friend had told me the general gist of it, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Was it another Oscar movie? It was coming out in the right time frame. I was wiling to find out, and while it’s not going to end up being an award winner, what I got was a rather great movie.
Queen of Katwe is the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl living in the poorer areas of Uganda with her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and siblings. She’s making do with what she’s got, but with no education, very little food and a house that they’re struggling to keep up with the rent for, things aren’t going well. That’s when Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who introduces her to the game of chess. She excels at the game, making her way up through the ranks and winning several competitions. With the help of Robert, Phiona tries to rise up and become a master, hoping to change her life for the better.
The true story behind Queen of Katwe, which I wasn’t at all familiar with prior to watching the film, is inspiring and uplifting. It’s the story of a young girl who’s given an opportunity bigger than she could ever dream of, and she seizes it. We watch her journey as she rises up from a life of poverty and makes her way into bigger and bigger chess competitions, gaining more popularity. She’s very easy to connect with and sympathize for, and her journey is an inspirational, highly emotional one that moved me and will undoubtedly move all that watch it.
I do love a good underdog story. It’s hard not to. Seeing the little guy come out on top is always a joy, and this applies for Queen of Katwe. Phiona has very little to lose. The odds are completely and utterly against her, yet she powers on. She does her best, her attitude almost always positive. However, the film does have its fair share of familiarities in terms of narrative structure. It plays out pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to go, and the basis of the plot has been done in several other films. The story itself is fun and new, but it’s told in a generic, been there-done that sort of way.
From time to time, the film also has a tendency to drag and repeat itself. Phiona is just going from chess tournament to chess tournament for a lot of the film, and don’t get me wrong, I was definitely interested in what was happening, but it can all get very repetitive. There’s no montaging through anything. We see almost everything that goes on, and it slows the pacing down a lot, particularly in the second act, which felt as though it went on for a much longer period of time than it actually did.
Thankfully, the film is just so wonderful and fun that I was happy to watch it, and it helps when the performances are as good as they are. David Oyelowo, like he always is, is fantastic. He works as a father figure to Phiona, who’s grown up with just a mother, and he’s great. Lupita Nyong’o is also excellent, giving an emotional and honest performance as Phiona’s mother. The real star of this movie, however, is Madina Nalwanga. This is her first feature film, and she kills it. She gives it her absolute all, and she delivers. If this kid doesn’t go on to wonderful places in life, I will be disappointed. She is excellent.
To sum up, Queen of Katwe is an interesting, inspiring and uplifting true story of a child whose determination and skill helps to get her a better life. With excellent performances, especially from the film’s breakout lead star, and an exciting, if not familiar narrative, this is another Disney hit… so long as you don’t look at its box-office numbers.
3 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
The first Red Dog movie, released back in 2011, is considered by many to be a modern Australian classic. It made big money here in Australia, even getting mostly positive reviews. I like the film. It’s a sweet and emotional true story of an iconic Australian dog. A fictitious prequel that creates the story of Red Dog’s origins seemed like a strange idea, but I was willing to give it a go. I was hoping for the best. I had a little faith in it, especially since it reunites the creative team of the original movie. Alas, Red Dog: True Blue is a disappointing and unneeded story that’s not worth checking out.
The film opens in 2011, with a father named Michael (Jason Isaacs) taking his sons to see the original Red Dog. While disinterested at first, when the movie starts, something hits him. It hits him hard, stirring up emotions deep inside. When he gets home, he explains to his kids that Red Dog was, many years back, his dog. He was the dog’s first owner, and from here, we watch as Red Dog’s origins play out on screen, Michael now played by the young Levi Miller. He’s sent off to live in the outback with his grandpa (Bryan Brown), getting tutored by a young woman named Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), and throughout, we watch as he bonds with Red Dog and forms his first real friendship.
First thing’s first, Red Dog himself is just as adorable and loveable as ever. He’s a cheeky, outdoorsy dog who settles for nothing but the best, getting a priority over everyone. You want to sit on the couch? You’re just going to have to hope that Red Dog hasn’t claimed the couch first. He’s a gorgeous dog, having fun and loving life, and you can really feel the bond he has with Michael. The two have excellent chemistry, and they’re able to craft emotion when emotion is needed, which is mostly in the film’s final moments.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot else to love when it comes to this movie. It has a few fun moments, mostly thanks to Red Dog (or Blue, as he’s called in this movie). The entire film is 90 minutes of disconnected, unrelated character beats, none of which have any flow. Some of them can be a lot of fun, whereas others drag out the pace drastically. It feels more like an extended montage than an actual movie, with very little characterization and a plot that’s completely non-existent. It has some good ideas, but the filmmakers aren’t able to get it to work as a cohesive, linear movie.
The screenplay by Daniel Taplitz is just straight up awful. Not only is he unable to form any sort of plot, but also on top of that, the dialogue ranges from mildly okay to unbearably bad. It’s corny and full of exposition, never feeling authentic or believable. There are moments where he attempts to raise certain plot points through dialogue-heavy scenes, but then never touches any of them ever again. When a lot of the scenes finished up, I felt almost as if I’d wasted my time watching them. I was constantly begging for them to focus things back up on Red Dog.
While a lot of the actors in this movie are actually decent actors, none of them were good enough to salvage the dialogue, and henceforth their performances do feel wooden from time to time. Australian actor Levi Miller was fine in last year’s Pan, but his performance there is amazing in comparison to what it is in Red Dog: True Blue. He certainly tries, and the third act does manage to get a pretty good performance out of him, but everything else is very, very forced. There’s a few scenes involving a mysterious rock in a cave, and the acting and writing in these scenes were truly horrendous.
Even just looking at the filmmaking craft on display, ignoring the performances and writing, it’s not that good. The cinematography is average at best, and the film doesn’t know what sort of style it wants to go for. It tries to be fast and stylized at times, but then just a regular movie at others, and the two don’t work well together. The colour pallet is vibrant and alive, which I really dug, but it’s also wildly inconsistent. There are countless scenes that need a new colour grade, as the shots don’t even look as though they’re in the same location. It’s baffling how nobody was able to fix it, as it does look extremely awful at times.
To sum up, Red Dog: True Blue is an unnecessary and uninteresting prequel to an iconic Australian family movie. It’s a bland and forgettable movie, the performances and writing both below average. I’ve heard mumblings of a third movie. If this is to be the case, I seriously hope it doesn’t go ahead. There’s no more story that needs to be told, fictitious or not.