Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

In this history of all movies and movie franchises, there is no doubt that the most prolific and lucrative of all time, is the Star Wars franchise, that is now almost 40 years old.  One can only imagine the hundreds of billions of dollars in total profits these movies have generated when you consider the profits from the many Star Wars movies, peripheral movies,  TV shows, cartoons, toys and games over so many years.  I remember the first movie when it came out seemed at first almost like a B-movie, but when you saw it for the first time, the quality of the special effects, the story and the overall production was great enough to break box office records and change science fiction films forever. It is impossible to imagine that Star Wars will ever become unpopular because the stories and the characters have always been so compelling. You can even argue that maybe 100 or 200 years from now, they will still be making new Star Wars movies.

The idea for the new Star Wars Movie is a great one and film is a prequel to the first movie in the franchise Star Wars A New Hope that was released almost 40 years ago in 1977.  The story behind this new film is about obtaining the plans to the Death Star in which a weakness was built into it by the father of the main character, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. The Death Star plans were obtained at the beginning of the first movie in 1977 by Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fischer so I thought this prequel idea connecting these two films was a very good one. I also thought that the building of a weakness inside such a huge weapon that could be figured out by the rebel forces just by seeing the plans was a flawed plot point. If there was some kind of a weakness in the Death Star that could be figured out just by seeing the plans that built the Death Star, then why couldn’t the empire figure this out for themselves while the Death Star was being built, long before the rebels could get the plans? Perhaps a better idea would be that the rebel forces would need some kind of code or primer to figure out what the weakness was with the plans, but I guess that the producers needed a less complex way to connect the first movie with this one. However, this part of the story as it stands, really does not make sense.

This film also used computer generation to have some characters from the film in 1977 appear in this movie, those being Peter Cushing who died in 1994 and Carrie Fischer, who appears at the very end of the film. The special effects, especially at the end of the movie were very well done, but I thought the story overall, was just average, and not outstanding like any of the first 3 movies. The beginning of the film had too many different planet locations that I thought at the early stages of the story, were not necessary and most of the scene locations were too dark, with the exception of the end of the movie. Some of the other big name actors in this film included Forest Whitaker and Jimmy Smits who was also played the same part in two other Star Wars sequels in 2002 and 2005. I thought that all the acting in this movie was well done, despite the story which I thought was only an average one.

Overall, I think this movie is a must see for all Star Wars fans, but for all others, I just give it a marginal recommendation.

Golden Globe Nominations – 2016


Motion picture, drama

“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“Manchester by the Sea”

Motion picture, musical or comedy

“20th Century Women”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“La La Land”
“Sing Street”

Motion picture, animated

“My Life as a Zucchini”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”

Motion picture, foreign language

“Divines,” France
“Elle,” France
“Neruda,” Chile
“The Salesman,” Iran
“Toni Erdmann,” Germany

Actress in a motion picture, drama

Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Jessica Chastain, “Miss Sloane”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Actor in a motion picture, drama

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Joel Edgerton, “Loving” | Video Q&A
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Actress in a motion picture, musical or comedy

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”
Lily Collins, “Rules Don’t Apply”
Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Actor in a motion picture, musical or comedy

Colin Farrell, “The Lobster”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool”
Jonah Hill, “War Dogs”

Supporting actress in any motion picture

Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Supporting actor in any motion picture

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Aaron Taylor Johnson, “Nocturnal Animals”

Director, motion picture

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Screenplay, motion picture

Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”

Original score, motion picture

Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Jóhann Jóhannsson, “Arrival”
Nicholas Britell, “Moonlight”
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka, “Lion”
Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer, “Hidden Figures”

Original song, motion picture

“How Far I’ll Go” (“Moana”)
“City of Stars” (“La La Land”)
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” (“Trolls”)
“Faith” (“Sing”)
“Gold” (“Gold”)

Movie Review: Miss Sloane

Whether or not you are a regular movie-goer, most people know that the best movies all come out this time of year, just in time for Oscar consideration. The movie Miss Sloane will without a doubt be nominated for best picture and Jessica Chastain, who plays the lead role, will in my opinion, definitely win this year for best actress because her performance in this film is tremendous. For those who think that being a great actor or actress is trivial, they should see this movie. How anyone can remember so much complex dialogue in scene after scene and be so believable in her role, is a truly great accomplishment.

This storyline of this film is about political operatives and lobbyists in Washington and specifically gun lobbyists, even though the NRA was never mentioned by name in this entire movie, probably for political reasons. At the start of this movie, Elizabeth Sloane, played by Jessica Chastain, is an employee of a political lobbyist firm that supports the gun lobby. During a lunch with a major gun lobbyist who wants to bring more political support for no gun control by influencing young women to buy guns, Sloane switches over to the other side and quits the firm she is with. She then tries to do the impossible, by supporting a new bill that wants more background checking for guns. Why an obvious bill like this is considered impossible to pass is what is wrong with Washington. Defending the second amendment for years has been confused with Government control and taking away the rights of citizens to bear arms, rather than improving laws so that known terrorists and crazy people can not get their hands on guns or ever be able to buy machine guns or other dangerous firearms that no law abiding citizen would ever need. Of course, money and payoffs are involved and the gun lobby has enough money to suppress the obvious need for more common sense gun control for many years. A great argument is made in this film where Sloane debates gun control with another political operative and compares gun control with having to get a drivers license. Why is it that we require people to get a license to drive and pass a test, but not for owning a gun?

The main character of Elizabeth Sloane is portrayed in this film as someone who works 16 hour days, has no personal life, wants no personal life and needs drugs both to get to sleep and keep herself awake. There are people like Elizabeth all around Washington and as her doctor points out to Sloane over the phone, the way she is living her life, she will not live very long. This much is very obvious when you watch her extremely high stress, high pressure, rapid fire life.

I thought this movie was extremely well acted, most especially by Jessica Chastain and the many twists and turns, especially at the end were well done. John Lithgow also stars in this film as a senator and his part mostly consists of chairing various senate hearings that are investigating Elizabeth Sloane. The ending was a surprise and I thought was one of the best parts of the entire two hours. I give Miss Sloane a very high recommendation.

Movie Review: Office Christmas Party

The new comedy movie “Office Christmas Party” starts off in an interesting way. Jason Bateman is in his divorce lawyers office and during their meeting, there are several comments suggesting that his financial life, which consists of many years of hard work, will never be the same. He makes a comment, “It’s only money”, which is a comment that for me, always makes me nauseous. At the end of their meeting, the lawyer mentions his final bill which is in the stack of papers Batement is holding. Trying to make something as life changing as a bitterly contested divorce funny at the start of a comedy movie is challenging, to say the least, as there is nothing funny about the idea of financial ruin just because you married the wrong person or the marriage just didn’t work out. My opinion is that this first scene was a bad way to start any comedy film, even if you have never been financially ruined by a divorce.

The idea of an office Christmas party as the central theme of a movie, either dramatic or comedy is a great one. I remember thinking, why didn’t someone think of this idea before and this could be a great idea for a dramatic movie as well, considering the complexity of office politics. For the most part, this movie could be considered an opportunity lost because although the idea behind this film is great, the screenplay and ultimately the movie missed too many opportunities to be funny enough to make the entire premise work for the whole two hours. There are many famous actors in this movie, along with Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Jennifer Aniston, T.J. Miller and most importantly Kate McKinnon, who in my opinion completely steals this movie.

Kate McKinnon is one of those rare comedic talents that comes around once every 25 or so years. Currently, McKinnon is saving Saturday Night Live as the most talented performer on that show, but she has still not found a movie where she could be the star to showcase her many comedic talents. McKinnon is so naturally comedically talented that she can get away with saying or doing nothing in any scene because of her eyes. She is one of the very few television or movie actors in the last 50 years who can make you laugh just because of her funny eyes. Johnny Carson has this rare ability, so did John Candy as does Will Farrell and even Chelsea Handler. This ability to make people laugh just from one subtle look is extremely rare and should be celebrated by everyone who appreciates what is truly funny. There are several scenes in this movie where McKinnon either steals or rescues a moment that would not have worked without her talents. Unfortunately, her presence was not enough to save this movie as I only give it a very marginal recommendation. I liked the technical thread of the internet company, which was inherited by Jennifer Aniston and T.J. Miller and how it tied into the insane ending, but other than that, the movie was not original enough or funny enough to give it any more than a marginal thumbs up, that I only give this film because of McKinnon.

Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals

In all the many movies I have ever seen, regardless of the rating, I have never seen a cold opening of a movie even close to what I saw at the start of “Nocturnal Animals”. This film opens with a group of 4 extremely obese women, totally naked dancing on screen for a way too long a period of time. One of these four women, all of whom seem to be in their 40’s or 50’s, is so obese it was impossible to imagine that she was even alive as there was so much flab on her body. I immediately thought that there had to be some reason to open a movie like this, in such a shocking and disgusting way and in the first scene of the movie, we all find out that the main character, played by Amy Adams, is an art dealer and these obese women are part of one of the exhibits in the art studio she is running. I later thought that perhaps this opening montage of horribly obese women dancing could be some sort of symbolism, reminding us that life can be messy, or disgusting and shocking, which turned out to be a good description of the main story in this film.

This movie extensively uses flashbacks that go back and forth between a marriage 20 years in the past between Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and a story of highway abduction in a deserted area that at first reminded me of the Kurt Russel movie from 1997 Breakdown. It is very easy within any movie to overuse flashbacks and this movie comes close, but overall, despite the chronological flipping of the story back and forth to different events, it was easy to follow the flow of the story. Central to the idea of the screenplay is a novel that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character writes about his abduction on the highway and sends to his x-wife after 19 years since they divorced. What would cause Gyllenhaal’s character to do send this novel to his x-wife after so many years is not made entirely clear in the story, but Amy Adam’s subsequent reading the novel while the horrible events of the abduction unfold are a big part of the storyline of this film. The 3 men who abduct Gyllenhaal’s wife and daughter on the highway are by no surprise vicious and disgusting nocturnal animals and what follows is the involvement of a local police officer, played by Micheal Shannon who because he is dying of cancer, cares little about following the letter of the law to find the abductors of Gyllenhaal’s family. Amy Adams character has also remarried and her new husband is played by Armie Hammer and he turns out to be a serial cheater, causing her serious regret that she ever left her first husband.

This film follows a back and forth flashback series of events that fills in the story piece by piece and ends in a complex ending that many people will not like, because it will seem incomplete, but for other people it will be appreciated as an attempt to be different, in not only telling a complex story in a different way but also leaving the final conclusions the audience might reach as the movie abruptly ends and leaves it up to the individual to figure it all out for themselves. Sometimes I find movies that end like this very annoying, almost like a magic trick where you want to find out how the magician did what he did, but for this film, I accepted the ending and was satisfied with the conclusion of what really happened which at least for me, made sense. There are now numerous different theories about this movie, the ending and even the beginning that I have found on youtube. This once again leaves it up to the individual viewer to decide to draw their own conclusions about what this movie is all about or watch the videos about the different theories or read the many reviews and articles. The ending of this movie will not be satisfying for many people, who will find this sudden conclusion too abrupt, but for me it all worked. This film is directed by Tom Ford who is more known in the fashion world than as a movie director and screenwriter, and he did a very good job directing this movie.

I thought that Nocturnal Animals was an effective thriller and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Manchester By the Sea

The Definition of Subtext:
The underlying or implicit meaning, as of a literary work.

It is said that if you want to be an exceptional actor then it is important that nobody ever sees you actually acting. There are no signs of any acting in the new film “Manchester By the Sea”. The dialogue, subtext, actions and reactions to life events by the great actors in this film are as real and believable as any movie I have ever seen. The life events are extreme and very real and demonstrate the delicate balance between a mundane and normal existence and the possibility of unforeseen events that are impossible to conceive of and in some cases even survive. This movie asks the question, “how would you survive if this happened to you? Could you survive?”.

I predict that the screenwriter and director of this movie Kenneth Lonergan will win for the best original screenplay this year at the Oscars because the originality and writing of this screenplay are that good. I have never seen a movie that has more flashbacks that zig and zag into the story and not only explain what is happening and has happened but do this in a more understandable and seamless way. The subtlety and complexity of the plot in several parts of the story are brilliantly left up to the audience to figure out for themselves and in some cases, you are not fully aware that you are in a flashback scene until some subtle dialogue or actor makes an appearance, which was another technique I have not seen before in any other film. There is a dinner scene between a son and his mother who he has not seen in years and her new boyfriend that make it completely obvious that there is no way that the son could ever live with her or her boyfriend. The looks, body language and the trying too hard conversations in this scene which include Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick are another example of the brilliant subtext in this film.

The actor Casey Affleck will be nominated for best actor this year, due to his outstanding performance in this movie which was great for its subtlety and his interpretation of this role believing that a person going through hell like that is more abt be in a zombie like state, occasionally lashing out at the world as he attempts to continue living with unbearable, overwhelming guilt and grief. One has to also have great respect for Michelle Williams who with her relatively small part in this movie will also be nominated for best supporting actress. Since her part in Dawsons Creek ended over 10 years ago, Williams has made an ongoing and very impressive decision to only act in small and very high-quality movies, not caring at all for a big financial payoff that she could get with more mainstream films. This decision has made her a very respected actor in Hollywood and she has already been nominated for 3 Oscars and this film will definitely provide her 4th nomination. There is a reunion scene in this movie between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that is one of the best acted and most emotional scenes I have ever seen between two actors in any film and in my opinion both Willams and Affleck should be nominated for Oscars for this one scene alone.

Manchester by the sea is brilliant in all aspects and about as real with the subject of loss and grief as any movie I have ever seen. The film will be nominated for best picture this year and might actually win it. I highly recommend this great film.

Movie Review Revisited: Joy

It has been almost a year since I saw the movie Joy and I thought at the time it was one of the best movies I have ever seen and I still do. Recently this movie has been showing regularly on HBO and I have been reminded of how great a movie this is and in fact how well this film approached the subject of being poor, trying to break out of a bleak existence and how people even in your own family will do and say almost anything to destroy your dreams. There are several scenes in this movie where Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence is sabotaged by her own sister, who was jealous of her success. Joy’s sister was so quick to try and knock her down at every opportunity throughout this entire film. When things were not going well, her sister “piled on” over and over again, almost as if she was receiving extreme pleasure from her sister’s setbacks. Even Joy’s own father played by Robert Deniro seemed to derive pleasure when Joy’s business was having problems and at one point was even facing bankruptcy. Her father was the first to point out the mistakes and that it was all her fault that she put her family in financial jeopardy and that it was a mistake for Joy to ever think that she could be anything more than poor, or a failure, like the rest of the family. He even went to the extent of blaming himself for giving Joy the belief that she could be anything more than below average. Clearly, this is not only a disgusting trait in many people, but just as unfortunately, more often something that someone can expect from good number of people they will encounter in their life.

So one of the main questions this movie points out is, why are people like this? Because they believe that if someone is successful and breaks out of the same reality that they are in, that somehow this reflects on them negatively. In other words, how dare someone believe that they can expect something better than I have resolved to accept? In my experience, this is something I have seen so many times, not only in my own personal life but in my working life as well. Joy points out that in order to be successful in life, you not only have to have perseverance, but you also have to ignore and move on when everybody around you wants you to fail.

There is a scene in the movie Joy that is so profound for me that it ranks as one of the most singular movie moments I have ever seen in any film. The combination of Joy’s reaction to a high point with her business and the muted sound of a bell and some subtle emotional background music gives me an extreme reaction no matter how many times I have seen this movie. The movie Joy should have received an Academy Award nomination for best picture last year and in my opinion, should have won, not only for the great quality of the writing, acting and overall production; but for its unique insight into what it takes in life to be successful.

After almost a year and I don’t know why I waited this long to buy one, I recently bought the mopwhich was the first product that changed Joy Mangano’s life. After using it a few days, I highly recommend it.