Tag Archives: Star Wars

Knives Out

27 Nov

 

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“Knives Out” is a good, old-fashioned whodunnit with a healthy serving of droll comedy. Yes, comparison to classics such as “Murder by Death” (1976) and “Clue” (1985) are apt. That first film had Truman Capote, Peter Sellers and Peter Falk (not to mention the voice of Fay Wray) among its eye-grabbing cast; here we have Chris Evans trading his “Captain America” duds for J.Crew gear as a slack, spoiled preppy, as well as Michael Shannon – who, as General Zod in another universe, could have been Cap’s foe, Jamie Lee Curtis, dandy Don Johnson, Toni Collette and the impeccable Christopher Plummer. The real centerpiece, however is Bond boy Daniel Craig as a private gumshoe named Benoit Blanc who, while not quite Clouseau wacky, is imbued with scads of quirk, overconfidence and a twangy, near-Southern drawl. It’s such a radical departure, you can’t stop gawking at Craig in every scene he’s in.

The film, shot in and around Boston, marks something of a changeup too for director Rian Johnson, who’s done everything from quirky indie (“Brick” and “Looper”) to big budget blockbuster (“Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”). Living in a quaint New England manse, renowned murder-mystery scribe Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) celebrates his 85th birthday and then dies when his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas, Ryan Gosling’s comely virtual love interest in “Blade Runner 2049”) gets his medications mixed up. Is it suicide, an accident, Harlan acting out one of his plots or something more nefarious? 

That’s the game afoot, and while it’s not particularly grabbing in its own right, there’s a rich potpourri of bloodsuckers who stand to benefit from Harlan’s departure and are thus prime suspects, be it his snarling son, Walt (Shannon), in charge of the publishing empire; his sister, Linda (Curtis), married to the self-righteous Richard (Johnson); their aloof son, Ransom (Evans); or Joni (Collette), wife of Harlan’s late son, who still holds a prominent perch. It’s not the plot providing the fun as much as the rubs of the twee and the entitled coming off with biting satire. Harlan is so dignified and magnanimous you can almost hear him bellowing from his grave as his blood squabbles around the remains.

As the crew stays around to hear the reading of the will, Craig’s Blanc sleuths about with varying degrees of success, but endless dry wit. The script by Johnson does what it needs to,. with just the right amount of red herrings, plot twists and deft humor. The best is the family’s insistence on the inclusion of Marta as “one of them,” yet none can remember if she’s from Colombia, Ecuador or Nicaragua. It underscores the absurdity of the insincerity of the well-off. In consumption, the film may be a touch overbaked – in length, and holding itself a little more grandly than it should – but still, as served, it’s great holiday entertainment if you just want to feast, fill up and let someone else take the wheel.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

26 May

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’: Lively origin tale, but young Lando beats the Han we’re dealt

 

“Solo,” the new “Star Wars Story,” is a fun galactic go, breezy and lithe with just the right amount of darkness. That said, it doesn’t do much to deepen the whole Star Wars mythos the way “Rogue One” so ingeniously did back in 2016. That first “story” implied a series of one-off backstories that would embrace and extenuate the goings-on in the three “Star Wars” trilogies (we’ve gotten eight to date, with one more to go). “Solo” does the former, giving us an intimate look at the young Han Solo pining away for a woman who isn’t Leia, but two and a half hours later, I was wondering: To what end? After all, the mature Han, as played so iconically by Harrison Ford, perished in “Episode VII: the Force Awakens” (of course, we know a return is not out of the realm of possibility) and the big reveals that made “Rogue One” such an inviting companion piece are scant here by comparison. “Solo” does answer the long lingering questions of how Han got his name, how he and Chewbacca met and how they got their mitts on their Millennium Falcon. But it also raises a few.

At one point in the movie, someone says, “It’s not about you.” It’s an astute observation, as the film is at its thriving best when the screen is filled by the potpourri of personality that orbits the pivotal pilot of the title. The problem with Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) as a character here is that he’s just not all that interesting of a dude, or in the least close to what was hinted at by Ford’s wisecracking incarnation. Also too, and I hate to say it, Ehrenreich is no Ford – not even a shadow. He tries, but you spend more time searching for vestiges and mannerisms of the Han you know than you are transported to the then and there. Continue reading

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

15 Dec

 

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” picks up right where “The Force Awakens” left off, and smartly so with Rey (Daisy Ridley, amping up the grit factor favorably) on a remote, bucolic planet trying to press Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) into a few rounds of Jedi training while Luke’s sister, Princess/Gen. Leia (a fitting final performance from Carrie Fisher, who passed away after principal photography completed) tries to steer the remaining Resistance forces to a new base with the evil Empire’s First Order in hot pursuit. How it all sorts out isn’t a straightforward affair, and that plays to its advantage with plenty of twists, turns and pleasant surprises to hold an audience rapt over the two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Given all that, it’s still an unenviable task to have to take over the reins from J.J. Abrams, the creative wunderkind who helmed “The Force Awakens” and has a reputation for making what’s old trendy and hip again – i.e., the “Star Trek” reboot – but Rian Johnson, who also scripted, proves more than game to go where Abrams has taken the next franchise trilogy, and beyond. To be sure, there’s a lot going on in “Last Jedi”; the gaping absence of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the elevation of Skywalker back to the fore (Hamill well up to the task), the deeper darkening of Darth Vader successor Kylo Ren (a palpably conflicted Adam Driver) and the Trump-like megalomania of the craggy supreme leader with the silly moniker of Snoke (Andy Serkis doing what he does best: seamless live-action capture) and even Yoda – yes, Yoda. But Johnson, who had so effectively juggled time travel threads folding back in on themselves in the satisfying sci-fi thriller “Looper” (2012), orchestrates it all masterfully, jumping from one far-flung point in the galaxy to the next without disconnect, and with plenty of humor and wit to fill any dead space. Continue reading

Rogue One

21 Dec
Diego Luna and Felicity Jones go rogue in this stand-alone entry in the Star Wars franchise

Walt Disney Pictures

Diego Luna and Felicity Jones go rogue in this stand-alone entry in the Star Wars franchise

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story postures itself as a one-off stand alone, the first (and only?) entry in the “anthology” series versus the “saga” series where the other seven franchise films fall. Just to set the table right, Rogue One does slide into the deck seamlessly in terms of chronology, just where exactly shall remain a mystery as one of the things Disney has done with this change-up is to pack it with nuggets of surprise — so much so that they pleaded with the critical masses to not burst their bubble in their reviews, “that you as press continue to be our partners on this journey.” Such requests generally go unheard as most critics are aware of their responsibility to audiences and art, but having seen the film I get it, and you will too. Though I am sure there are those out there who will spoil, I will not.

The big win for the series and fans overall when Disney took over the franchise from LucasFilms back in 2012, was the infusion of new blood and reined-in filmmaking. No disrespect to creator George Lucas, but Return of the Jedi (1983) couldn’t hold a torch to the darker and meatier The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the three films in the prequel trilogy (1998-2005) were wooden and so overpacked with CGI magic, that all the character and mythos that cemented the original series got lost in a vortex of filmmaking overindulgence. The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams’ 2015 initial go at the sequel series, was an admirable reboot, leveraging its ancestral roots while setting the stage for the next new adventure, even if it was too much a plot redux of A New Hope (the 1977 original that anointed and defined the blockbuster). Now comes Rogue One charging out of the gate, a breath of fresh air and more restrained in all the right places, but primarily in that it saves its best for last and is orchestrated in a way that every laser blast and saber slash bears profound impact. There’s nothing indiscriminate about what’s placed on screen. Continue reading

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

20 Dec

The resurrection of the cherished franchise that defined blockbuster and captured the imagination of generations owes much to Michael J. Fox – tags more apt than “The Force Awakens” could be “Family Ties” or “Back to the Future.” It’s a game go by J.J. Abrams, who rebooted the “Star Trek” franchise with aplomb, and here systematically atones for the missteps creator George Lucas made with his prequel trilogy. Gone are the mass millions of digitized droid warriors and CGI-rendered spectacles such as Jar Jar Binks. Thanks to some tireless plot weaving by Abrams and cowriters Lawrence Kasdan (who penned the best of all the “Star Wars” to date, “The Empire Strikes Back”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), the old-school magic and wonderment is back in the galaxy, because they’ve worked in Han Solo (a refreshed Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), now General Leia. Even the notion of Luke Skywalker floats out there, but all that comes in pieces carefully littered throughout, and pleasingly so.

121615i The Force AwakensLike the first theatrically released chapter back in 1977, we begin on a dusty, barren planet – this one called Jakku, and more junkyard than outpost. Time-wise we’re about 30 years out from “Return of the Jedi,” and a Resistance fighter (Oscar Isaac, showing some comic flair) and his beeping beach ball of a droid (the adorable BB-8, who’s been getting all the prerelease press) possess a secret hologram map to deliver to Resistance HQ. The info will allegedly guide the holder to Skywalker so the object of the title can be achieved and the Evil Empire – now known as the First Order – can be weakened and its tyrannical chains cast off. But before any of that happens Jakku is assailed by Imperial Stormtroopers, and BB-8 and the map fall in with a scrappy scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley, showing the resolve of Katniss Everdeen) who’s pretty good at hand-to-hand and has a mysterious childhood that spills back to her in ghostly shards.  Continue reading