Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Perplexed.

I understand where this film lies in the Star Wars movie-verse, and that this obviously means that there will be links to other films. I also understand that there will be all kinds of references to things which mean nothing to me but which will satisfy those who are more immersed in the universe than I, and which won’t cause a problem to those of us who have no knowledge of anything other than the films.

But. When I leave the cinema thinking that the trailers seemed to have been for a different film, and that there were huge jumps in character or timeline that I didn’t grasp, then I have to wonder what happened. If I can’t understand a film in isolation, then I have a bad feeling about this.

I will say that apart from being a bit confused I was generally entertained while watching this. I was certainly was impressed by the final act, and happy that they made those choices they did with regard to how the characters ended up. Of course I loved Mads Mikkelsen (underused for the second time this year), Donnie Yen, and the dark lord wielding his light sabre down a corridor. But this was not enough for this non-Star Wars freak.

Our main group of rebels all seemed to have the potential to be really interesting in their own right (stand up Riz Ahmed and Diego Luna), but we learn next to nothing about them; what we do discover is largely contradictory, particularly Jyn and Cassian. I didn’t understand why Cassian would do something so brutal when we first meet him, then appear to have a change of heart later on. Jyn hopped around from being sullen kid to rebel leader with no character development and little believability from Felicity Jones, and I have no idea what Forest Whitaker was being or doing – nor why he grew a full head of hair between the trailer and the film.

I also side with those who feel that the controversial CGI characters were a mis-step. For the one we spend more time with, it was definitely a case of being creeped out by the glassy eyes and weirdly moving mouth.

Definitely underwhelmed.

 

Doctor Strange 

Woah. So many things in this film seemed incredibly familiar, which is strange (sorry) since I went into this with zero knowledge of the character and having only seen the teaser trailer.

Eschewing a training montage in favour of letting the audience work out that time had passed and skills had been acquired was actually a good move in my opinion. We realise that Strange has learned his knowledge through time and effort rather than having a superpower gifted to him. We also see him taking responsibility for his actions and questioning the ethics of his use of said knowledge.

Now, whether you believe or accept this mystical knowledge is another thing entirely, and it does bring a different dimension to the Marvel superhero/demi-god/mutant dynamic.

The visual effects are truly stunning on multiple occasions – better than any I can instantly recall in the MCU – to such an extent that I actually thought I ought to have seen it in 3D for a better experience.  And that’s not something I thought I would ever say out loud.

True, this is also where the familiarity exists – we have seen such things before in Inception and The Matrix for example, and even episodes of Star Trek, but the way they are used here definitely adds to our prior experience rather than merely copying.

It’s in the character-building however where there are ups and downs. Here’s another thing I thought I’d never admit – Benedict Cumberbatch was very good. I didn’t think his John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness quite hit the mark (apart from his fighting skills), but Stephen Strange is just the right combination of arrogance, intelligence and later acceptance which is required for his story. The other Benedict in the cast, Benedict Wong (playing a character named Wong, just to confuse matters further) is just plain brilliant and I really hope we get to see him again. But as is to be expected, the magnificent Tilda Swindon is MVP. So good.

On the other side of the infinity stone, Beautiful Mads Mikkelsen was superb but given criminally little to do, which was massively disappointing. And again, Rachel McAdams is capable of a lot more than she was allowed here.

So while I wasn’t as bowled over by this film as others, it was entertaining, visually engrossing, and funny where it felt it could legitimately get away with it. Apart from the cape. That can do one.

Two post-credit sequences, folks.

A version of this post appeared at www.filmdispenser.com

 

 

The Year of the Alternative Western?

Note: These musings contain mild spoilers for El Ardor (The Burning).

It’s the darndest thing.

I’ve just watched Gael García Bernal’s latest film El Ardor. It’s set in the Argentinian rainforest but towards the end I found myself thinking of two other films I’d seen recently – Slow West, starring Michael Fassbender, and The Salvation, with beautiful Mads Mikkelsen.

It took a second or two to figure out why, but then the penny dropped.

In the past two months, I’ve seen three films that are westerns. But westerns with a twist.

The Salvation‘s plot is fairly standard revenge western fare, but it focuses heavily on Scandinavian immigrant families, with the bad guys being the longer-standing settlers with the accents we would now recognise as American, but nary a glimpse of a Native American.

Slow West is the bounty-hunter western, and this too is very much the view of the outsider. It’s the combined work of Scottish director John Maclean, Irish/German Fassbender, Australians Ben Mendelsohn and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and was shot in New Zealand. During the trek we also come across immigrants from other places, which all highlight the fact that at this period in time, no-one is actually American, everyone is a settler. This film does briefly feature a Native American character, and there is mention of how the colonisation of their lands affected their situation.

And then there’s El Ardor – not strictly a western, but with a very definite shoot-out denouement and Sergio Leone-style camera and sound. The bad guys are, yet again, incomers trying to take land from the natives or settlers who have worked the land for a long time, but it’s only in the last third that it begins to feel like a western.

I’ve never really understood the appeal of westerns, and even with these three films, the pull to see them was the actors not the plot.

So what is it about alternative westerns in 2015 – or am I imagining things? Is it a genre that’s making a comeback? Is there something about the western that suddenly has relevance? And if so, what am I missing? Don’t forget Quentin Tarantino’s next film The Hateful Eight is also a western …

Edit: see also Jauja (31/7/15)

Anyway, here’s an excuse to look at Mads Mikkelsen again.

The Salvation

Beautiful Mads Mikkelsen straps on a holster, loads up his Winchester and primes his cheekbones for a showdown with the guy who done killed his family.

It has some gorgeous visuals which make it a pleasure to watch, but beyond that it’s actually a formulaic revenge Western with one-dimensional characters, predictable plot and some minimalistic growled dialogue.

But hey, Mads Mikkelsen.

10 most anticipated films of Spring 2015

There’s usually a bit of a post-Oscar lull in March, and then things start to pick up again. A number of films have been on my radar for quite a while, and several of them are coming up soon. So here are my top 10 most anticipated films from now until the end of June (in order of release date).

  • Miss Julie (dir Liv Ullman) – a Strindberg play, directed by Liv Ullman, starring Jessica Chastain and Samantha Morton is must-see. But Colin Farrell.

Keep checking back to read my thoughts after I’ve viewed my choices.

Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas

Beautiful Mads Mikkelsen – astride a horse and speaking French for added enjoyment – sets out to right a wrong done unto him.

Loosely based on a novella by Heinrich Von Kleist, the themes of vengeance and God’s justice for the righteous were lost for me among a lot of trekking around on horses and some confusing geography. A bit like Robin Hood meets Valhalla Rising. I was never exactly sure where we were supposed to be or why, and for Kleist, the landscape is part of the story so I felt I should have been more ‘there’. Also a bit confused as to why everyone could understand Sergi Lopez when he turned up in the forest speaking Catalan, and why there were a couple of lines spoken in German at a particular point.

Good job the beautiful Mads was there to keep the eye entertained.

Jagten – The Hunt

The ending to this film stayed with me for quite a while after I’d seen it, and completely over-rode the few doubts I’d had about it at the beginning.

The beautiful and most excellent actor Mads Mikkelsen plays a quiet, lonely but amiable kindergarten assistant whose life is turned on its head by a lie told by one of his pupils. It’s torture to watch what happens to him, and at no point do you doubt his innocence, which makes the treatment of this delicate subject so engrossing.

The doubts I had were admittedly with my teacher hat on, eg the way the initial allegations were handled didn’t seem to be quite right and was frustrating at the start, but I was able to forgive this by the end. One of the top films of the year.

En Kongelig Affære – A Royal Affair

Now this is an interesting story, based around actual events.

The young sister of the English king George III is married off to an equally young king Christian VII of Denmark. He’s a bit disturbed, she’s lonely. Mads Mikkelsen is appointed as the king’s physician and you can guess the rest.

However, this is only one aspect of the story; far more absorbing are the historical, political and social issues brought to screen.

Set during the Age of Enlightenment in the second part of the18th century, the physician is influenced by philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire, and uses his friendship with the King to try to influence the Danish court to adopt more egalitarian policies.  It is both his success and failure which capture the imagination, and drive the story forward.

Not your common or garden fluffy period drama – this is social history brought to life.