Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Do you know someone that is not a fan of Star Wars? Yes, shocking as it may seem, those people actually do exist. And for those people that are out there, I truly feel sorry for them this weekend, because that means they are making the decision to not see what may be one of the better war films we have had lately in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

Now for those of us who are Star Wars fans, ‘Rogue One’ is the first of the anticipated anthology films that LucasFilm and Disney are going to be giving us on a bi-annual cycle, in off years from the main saga films. And admittedly, if the first film that we have received is any indication of the quality of films that will be forthcoming in the anthology series, we will all be in for a treat.

‘Rogue One’ tells the story of how the original plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the Death Star, come into the hands of the Rebellion. Alluded to during the opening crawl of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’, the theft of the plans is a very important moment for the Rebel Alliance in their attempt to overthrow the First Galactic Empire.

The new film is an interesting mix of new ideas, taking old threads and increasing their importance, and also providing enough easter eggs for fans of not just the main saga films but also the current in-continuity projects such as the TV show ‘Star Wars Rebels’, that it really is a full run time that does not feel that it takes anywhere near the two hour and 13 minute run time that it is listed at.

From giving glimpses of new unseen planets, some new technology and ships, to showcasing well known locations such as Yavin IV and glimpses of favourite vehicles and ships as well, ‘Rogue One’ is a great melding of both new and old.

But it is the old that really grabs your attention here. Set designers did a wonderful job of building sets that give a real 1970’s vibe at times, which is critically important as ‘Rogue One’ is a direct prequel to 1977’s ‘A New Hope’, so much so that one wonders just how much time actually separates the films with regards to their timelines.

Over to the characters, and you really gain an appreciation of how much the new generation of Star Wars films are going to pushing forward with strong female leads. While I don’t really believe most people have fully appreciated just how strong of a character that Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa was in the original trilogy, they have really pushed the envelope with the main front running character in both ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens’ and now ‘Rogue One’ both being female.

Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is really setup as a character that is being used to reach a goal for the Alliance, but at the end of the film, has become a great driving force for the Rebellion and is one of the more important cogs to the success not only of the mission in the film, but the film in theaters as well. While sometimes falling flat at the dialogue provided, Jones still does enough to pull off being a natural leader, one that uses her name when needed to get results, and in a great continuation of what Star Wars does best, not force a female character to be female to be a strong character.

The other characters of the main cast are at times overshadowed by both lack of development, essentially being wallpaper to Jones at times, and also by well known characters who are here to tie ‘Rogue One’ into ‘A New Hope’. This boils down to just how difficult it is to give proper character backgrounds and explore character depth in a film that is just slightly more than two hours in length as opposed to having seasons of a television show with which to build characters.

There are definitely some new characters introduced in ‘Rogue One’ that I would love to see explored more, and maybe we might get to see that in ‘Rebels’ if the show continues long enough to make it reach the timeline of this film.

But the thing that really sets ‘Rogue One’ apart from the previous seven live-action Star Wars films we have seen in the past is not the characters, but the genre of the film. While the main saga films are epic space operas, this film is a gritty war movie. From discussions of rebellion versus extremism, to being a spy and the dirty hands that come with it, to undercover beach heads, and the largest space battle we have seen before, ‘Rogue One’ is in fact what the series calls itself, Star Wars.

Regardless of if you take the main saga films to be the rise, fall and possible rebirth of the Skywalker family and their ties to The Force, or a higher overreaching arc of the eternal strife between the Jedi and the Sith, ‘Rogue One’ slots in perfectly as an entry into the history of what is now a franchise across multiple platforms.

So much so that I slide ‘Rogue One’ as the second best of the eight live-action films, trailing only ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ as the best of the bunch, and that is high praise indeed as I view that film as one of the best films of all time.

In the end, if you love Star Wars, ‘Rogue One’ is for you. If you enjoy war films, you will enjoy this film. If you don’t enjoy either, I’m not sure what you are doing making it all the way through this.

I do promise that I am back to reviewing films on a regular basis as we now have enough stability in our home to allow it. Expect a full review of recent Marvel films coming soon. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer for movie talk and more. Cheers all.

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The Good Dinosaur

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I am a Pixar nut. Not quite a fanboy, but a nut. I love all of their films except one since they started making feature length films, and even that one looked damned fantastic, just didn’t nail it for me. So, with 2015 bringing us not one but two Pixar films for the first time, I was utterly ecstatic, and now, after having seen them both, I would say they got one near perfect but also one that left me wanting a little more.

As good as ‘Inside Out’ was earlier this year, and with a great message to boot, I feel like ‘The Good Dinosaur’ was a step back. What begins with a simply amazing idea of what would have happened had the great extinction meteor of 65 million years passed us by, led to a story  that ended up feeling like it was a mishmash combination of unused story elements laying around the animation office at Disney.

‘The Good Dinosaur’ is probably the best looking animated film, visuals wise, we have ever seen. The glimpses of what the animators could do at the end of ‘Monsters University’ when it ventures into the human world are fully visualized here in the background scenery. Be it a close up of a lizard, a crashing river or the acres of trees on a mountainside, we have never seen anything like this from an animated film before. Sadly, this is what the film may end up being known for.

With a great premise and the best animation we have ever seen, `The Good Dinosaur` could have been the next big groundbreaking film from Disney and Pixar, but what it winds up being is an above average cross of `The Lion King` and `Homeward Bound`, and one that never truly finds it`s own footing.

Kids will love it however, as it does try as hard as possible to tell a heartwarming story, one with some good laughs and some moments where the feels get a little too much, but one that truly never gets to that level the `Toy Story` franchise or the `Shrek` franchise that transcends being just a kiddy movie into one that is truly for the whole family.

In the end, my biggest takeaway from `The Good Dinosaur` is one of caution. Pixar and Disney are looking to release two films a year, and if it is going to be a success, they need to get closer to films like ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ for that to work, instead of films like ‘Cars’. That being said, ‘Cars 3’ scares me…

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. I promise to review more films and get back into the swing of things. Should be easy with the next trip to the theater coming in a couple of weeks with another film being released by Disney. Cheers everyone.

Oliver &Company

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One of my main goals as a person who watches films is to own all of the “canonical” Disney animated films. Well, this past week we came across ‘Oliver & Company’ on Blu-ray for ten dollars which meant that it was an immediate purchase for our upcoming Saturday night family movie time.

I need to lead with this, ‘Oliver & Company’ falls into the trap of many Disney animated films from the early-to-mid 1980’s, which is universally known as one of the two “lesser” points in their animation history. As a result of this, it is entirely geared towards children, and never has that been more evident than when we watched the film last Saturday.

Our two oldest boys were laughing and tapping their feet to the music, while myself and my fiancee were both very resigned to the fact that the film was not for us. The music is not up to par with future efforts from Disney during their “renaissance” era that would shortly follow ‘Oliver & Company’, and the jokes were not two-tiered, for both children and adults, which has become a staple of animated features from all companies in this day and age.

While presenting what one would have hoped was an interesting take on the Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist” story, ‘Oliver & Company’ was just another failed effort from the old Disney Feature Animation department during the 1980’s.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

Frozen

frozenIn the seventy-six years since Walt Disney first released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ all the way back in 1937 up until the more recently released ‘Tangled’, Disney Animation has long relied on European fairy tales for the basis of their films, and this year’s ‘Frozen’ is no different.

Based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Cristian Andersen, ‘Frozen’ very much signals a triumphant return fro Disney to the fairy tale genre of animation that they have almost exclusively dominated for the history of film.

The animation is crisp and beautiful, clearly showing just how much of an impact that Pixar Animation has had on major animation features for the past decade or so.  Despite primarily being set in a wintery landscape, the brightness of this film is undeniable.

Just as with the key Disney classics of the past, the other stand out part of ‘Frozen’ were the songs.  The songs in this film are a return to the glory days of Disney Animation, and “Let It Go” will runaway with the Best Original Song and the film as a whole should win Best Original Score at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Some of the films that Disney released during late 90’s and early 2000’s could be classified as subpar, but the past few years has seen a rebound in quality with ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, and that trend definitely continues with ‘Frozen’.  The quality of the story telling, the emotional impact and the visual quality of all three of these films have been raised and Disney lovers everywhere are the beneficiaries of this.

That being said, I found ‘Tangled’ to be a good mix of a film for both boys and girls, while ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ was aimed at boys, especially those who play video games, and as a result ‘Frozen’ is most definitely aimed at young girls as a main target audience, and at times it slowed the film down a touch for me.

In the end, ‘Frozen’ is probably the best animated film I have seen at the theatres this year. Yes, better than ‘Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, The Croods and all, and should wind up being Disney’s first winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar this coming February.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Why Disney Bought Marvel and Star Wars

With ‘The Lone Ranger’ set to come out in the middle of next week, it started a train of though about why Disney was forced to purchase both Marvel and the rights to Star Wars. They fail at producing blockbuster franchises on their own.

Now, I am sure some will point to the success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise at the box office as a major win for Disney, and monetarily it definitely was, but as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ showed, making money does not a good movie make, and Disney has a bit of a track record of this as of late.

In recent years, Disney has tried to take properties from many different genres of entertainment, from video games to books to old film ideas, and launch them as possible money-making franchises.  And aside from ‘Pirates’, none of them have succeeded.

The problem I am having with writing this is the fact that I have enjoyed the majority of the films that Disney has produced during that time period, from ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ to ‘Tron: Legacy’ to ‘John Carter’, so I have found some pleasure from the films and would have more than likely enjoyed additional forays into those worlds.

As a result of their inability to create a steady stream of franchise fare for the theatre, which to be honest is the backbone of the major studios in this day and age, it forced Disney to look to outside sources to bridge that gap.  With the acquisition of Pixar finally happening in 2006, Disney was able to leverage that move into a significant boost for their animated feature film department which saw a decline in the quality of films produced around the turn of millennium.

As a result of this acquisition, Disney has seen a sharp turnaround in the quality of animated features, up to and including 2010’s ‘Tangled’ which highlighted the fact that they could look at outside companies as a way to increase their overall box office successes.

What this led to was Disney looking at up and coming studios with the possibility of having success on the franchise level, and this led Disney directly to Marvel Studios in particular, and Marvel Entertainment as a whole.

Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment at the end of 2009 on the strength of 2008’s ‘Iron Man’ and 2010’s upcoming ‘Iron Man 2’ and the prospect of the paycheck that would be 2012’s ‘The Avengers’.  A previous deal allowed Paramount to have their logo on the last two Marvel films in ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ but these two movies, the first produced fully since Disney purchases Marvel, currently sit at third and fifth in box office receipts worldwide in unadjusted sales, which tells you the value of just what Disney purchased here.

As a result of this, Disney also took a long look starting in 2011 at purchasing LucasFilm from George Lucas to gain access to the profitable ‘Star Wars’ franchise.  While not securing the rights to the first six episodes of the ‘Star Wars’ saga yet, the purchase of LucasFilm enables Disney to produce films that further the saga and standalone’s that would enhance the universe, all of which will draw large crowds to the theatre.

Who knows for sure if this was a long term plan of Disney’s, to purchase Marvel and LucasFilm, or if this is a direct result of past failures to launch monetarily successful film franchises, but what it has done is create an atmosphere where Disney, in 2015, will be producing films for three of the most successful movie franchises of all time: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’, ‘The Avengers 2’ and ‘Star Wars Episode VII’.  While there is an outside chance this could be overload on general audiences, for the serious movie fan, this could be the best summer ever.

Wether any of this will mean a successful run for ‘The Lone Ranger’ in the theatre or not remains to be seen, but it does mean that Disney is hoping that they can learn how to build franchises with these acquisitions, and who knows, we may yet see a ‘Tron’ trilogy come to  fruition as well.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Oz: The Great and Powerful

ozDisney’s track record as of late with adapting pre-existing stories into big-budget live-action film productions has been spotty at best.  While there are some out there like myself that have enjoyed their recent forays such as 2010’s ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ and ‘Tron: Legacy’ and 2012’s ‘John Carter’, many have not enjoyed them, and while 2010’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has set all kinds of box-office records, it has not moved into the area of must-see long-term film that many Disney animated films have.

With that being said, we come to this years first foray into big-budget, possible franchise starter attempt for Disney in ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’.  An attempt to tell the origins of the Wizard of Oz character, Disney brought in Sam Raimi to direct and eventually turned to James Franco as the lead character after trying unsuccessfully to bring in more well-known actors.

Raimi and Franco of course have previously worked together with the original ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy, and I found that Franco’s Harry Osborn in those films were lacking and we get more of the same here as well.

As a whole, I found that the acting from the main four actors, Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, was lacking, and I was particularly let down by Kunis whom I felt could have had a possible career defining role in this film, but that never came forward.

Probably the best character in this film is Finley the flying monkey.  A CGI character voiced by Zach Braff, Finley steals most of the scenes that he is in.  I firmly believe that Finley is best looking overall CGI character we have had since we got our first full look at Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ back in 2002.

Visually I would say that ‘Oz’ is the best looking film so far in 2013, with rich colours and vibrant backdrops thoughout the film.  Even the darker scenes managed to visually pop off the screen and bring more life to the film.

There are also enough tips of the hat and homages to the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to tie it all together, even though Disney were not allowed to directly show the tie-ins due to rights issues, like having to use a different shade of green for the Wicked Witch of the West than in the original film.

‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ is a great tie-in to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but is yet another tie-in prequel that lost some of its magic due to the digital nature of film today compared to the original, much like what happened with the prequel trilogy for ‘Star Wars’.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

85th Academy Awards

argowinThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave out the 85th Academy Awards last evening with a couple of surprises in an otherwise long drawn out ceremony that continues to struggle to find a format or host that can have broad appeal.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the success of ‘Life of Pi’  Nominated for eleven Academy Awards, ‘Life of Pi’ won four awards including a surprise win for Ang Lee in the Best Director category.  This was Lee’s second Best Director win, following up on 2005’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’.

The other three awards it claimed were Best Original Score which went to Mychael Danna, Best Cinematography which was awarded to Claudio Miranda and Best Visual Effects which was shared between Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan de Boer and Donald R. Elliott.

The four acting categories all went to actors and actresses that I would have voted for, which was quite the nice turn for me as I try to critique more films.  Christoph Waltz became a two-time winner in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’.  Waltz had previously won for his breakout role in Tarantino’s 2009 film ‘Inglorious Basterds’.

Anne Hathaway was a clear winner for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Fantine  in ‘Les Miserables’.  Hathaway has garnered near universal acclaim for this role, and had one of the two true standout performances in the film, along with Samantha Barks.

In probably the most anti-climactic award of the evening, Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to ever win three Best Actor awards for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, joining his previous awards for 1989’s ‘My Left Foot’ and 2007’s ‘There Will Be Blood’.

In what I thought was the toughest acting category to call was Best Actress, where Jennifer Lawrence won for playing Tiffany Maxwell in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’.  A case could be made for each of the other four nominees, but Lawrence’s turn in a movie highlighting the various degrees of mental illness was the strongest of the lot.

As for Best Writing, it is hard to argue with either of the winners, Quentin Tarantino winning Original Screenplay for ‘Django Unchained’ or Chris Terrio winning Adapted Screenplay for adapting The Master of Disguise and The Great Escape into ‘Argo’.

Possibly the one category outside of Best Director that I disagreed with the most was Best Animated Feature.  The two films with the most realistic chances of winning were Disney and Pixar’s ‘Brave’ and Disney’s ‘Wreck-It Ralph’.  Having seen both of these films, I would 100% chosen ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ in this category as it was a much more enjoyable film.  That being said, I knew ‘Brave’ would win as it was a much better sell for the older voters of the Academy.

Finally, we come to Best Picture.  One could actually make a case for all nine nominees to have been chosen as Best Picture, but in reality one film did stand out above the rest, and that was ‘Argo’.  Directed by Ben Affleck, who I feel was not only robbed of the Best Director award, but also of a Best Director nomination, ‘Argo’ is one of my two favourite movies of the year, and a joy to watch, and very much deserving of Best Picture.

As for my own personal predictions, in a previous article I made predictions on who will, who should and possible darkhorse winners, and I think I did pretty well.  I correctly predicted three of the seven in who would win, five of the six in who should win, and I pulled out one darkhorse winner.  In all, in the seven categories I looked at, I had a winner in each category.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.