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Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

*Related Update: Carrie Fisher, R.I.P.

Every once in a while a movie catches you completely by surprise. ¬†You go in expecting perhaps nothing more than a mediocre couple hours, and possibly even a complete disappointment, and you walk out thinking “WOW! I really enjoyed that.” ¬†That film, for me, was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

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Rogue One is the 2nd Star Wars offering from Disney since buying the franchise as part of a $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm. ¬†What is essentially Star Wars Episode 3.5, Rogue One fills in the gap between 2005’s Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vadar, and Episode 4: A New Hope from 1977; what most of us old-timers would call “the original Star Wars.” ¬†I’ll be honest, while I love the Star Wars franchise, I have not been completely interested in it since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. ¬†That could be due to my youth interests at the time, or could be due to the fact that every Star Wars film since then has been relatively weak in comparison. ¬†The simple fact is Episodes 1, 2, 3, and 7 have over-told the story. ¬†They try too hard to give story and character background, and just pile far too much onto the viewer. ¬†And that doesn’t even begin to address the terrible acting featured in all four films.

But Rogue One is different. ¬†It isn’t burdened with a huge backstory to tell because its time frame is very small. ¬†The film tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the plans for the Death Star and smuggles them to Princess Leia. ¬†Felicity¬†Jones¬†(The Theory of Everything) stars as Jyn¬†Erso–daughter of Galen Erso,¬†the primary architect of the Death Star. ¬†Jyn¬†meets up with Rebel Alliance Captain, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna – Open Range), and his droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk – A Knight’s Tale), and together with members of “an estranged radical movement within the rebellion” (H/T commenter Dead Rabbit) and a renegade Imperial pilot, the pair cause a fury of chaos and destruction as they locate, penetrate, and raid¬†the Empire base that holds the coveted Death Star plans. ¬†No less than the full power of the Empire, including the notorious Darth Vader, stand in their way.

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Director Gareth Edwards, a relative newcomer, does a fantastic job¬†bringing writer Chris Weitz’s story to life. ¬†The sets were not overly¬†expansive, but loaded with believable detail, even for a science fiction film. The special effects were of the quality one comes to expect from the masters at Disney and Lucasfilm, even bringing to believable CGI life the long-deceased Peter Cushing as the face of Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Carrie Fisher as the face of Princess Leia.

Rogue One has chases, shootouts, dogfights, and tense, palm-sweating¬†drama and excitement that makes it one of the most enjoyable films¬†I have seen in quite a while. ¬†The film is rated PG-13, but that is probably because of its laser-blasted violence. ¬†To be honest, I didn’t see anything that younger viewers would need to be sheltered from. ¬†As a special treat, we watched it in 3D and had DBOX seats. ¬†This did accent the experience¬†but wasn’t worth the added cost. ¬†The film stands on its own just fine without those extras. But, with that stated, seeing¬†and hearing it in a theater environment is an absolute must, so don’t wait long, as it is already in its second week.

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Clinton Cash: The “Film”

Why do I put film in quotes in the title? Your average 12 year old with his own YouTube channel could have produced a more professional looking product. The roughly hour long documentary has no first person interviews. The only person filmed expressly for the doc is the Clinton Cash book author, Peter Schweizer. Everyone else is featured in stock  footage. 

If we get beyond the cheesy look of the film (disembodied hands exchanging cash, a disembodied hand writing out “$1,000,000”) and focus on content, the best we can say about the Clintons is they have zero trouble with moral ambiguity. 

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and the Foundation (which I believe are two related but distinct entities) play footsie with corrupt governments like that of Nigeria.  They go into Haiti after a devastating earthquake and run projects that help donors but do little to help those in need. They get into a complex scheme (that I could not completely unravel) involving uranium going to Russia and a uranium company traded on the Canadian stock market making out like bandits. And then there’s that time in Colombia when Bill just happens to bump into the Secretary of State while they’re on “independent” business trips. 

Connected to many of these arrangements are “coincidental” paid speeches by Bill Clinton, in the six figure range, almost 5 to 10 times as much as he got paid prior to Hillary becoming Secretary of State. So, the very credible allegation made is that CGI work indirectly lined the pockets of the Clintons. 

The film was produced by Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart fame, and now CEO of Donald Trump’s POTUS campaign. Hillary fans will call it a hit piece full of circumstantial evidence. They will call it the product of “the vast right wing conspiracy”. Hillary haters may have heard it all before. Folks on the fence though should definitely give the movie a peek to get a preview of how murky an HRC administration might be. After viewing this doc, any reasonable person would have to ask himself, can’t a charity be run without all the moral ambiguity?

I give the film 2 out five R’s for poor production quality and 4 R’s for content being thought provoking. 

Production quality: RR
Content: RRRR

This box office bonanza can already be viewed for free on YouTube. 

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Movie Review: The Walk

Some stories are obvious.  That does not mean that they are predictable.  In fact, far from it.  A story can have twists and turns and take its audience on an unsuspecting and surprising ride.  But the audience still knows what the story is about.  The twists and turns simply fill the void between the beginning at Point A and the inevitable conclusion of Point B.

The Walk is different.

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In The Walk (2015), director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Contact) uses all of the incredible¬†imagery we have long come to expect from his many films to tell the true story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire walk between the 110-story towers of the World Trade Center.

The story begins with Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun, Inception), speaking with an unconvincing French accent to the audience from atop the Statue of Liberty. ¬†As the narration continues, we are transported to Paris to see a younger Petit making his way as a street performer. ¬†The young Philippe sneaks into a circus and sees his first high-wire act, performed by “Papa Rudy” (Ben Kingsley: Ghandi, Schindler’s List), and shorty after begins his training. ¬†Philippe keeps a short red piece of string with him that he uses to imagine a wire filling the void between two points that he sees at any given time. ¬†The only requirement he has for Point A and Point B is that they both be “beautiful”.

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Petit eventually meets a fellow street performer named Annie, wonderfully played by the stunning Charlotte Le Bon, and the two become inseparable. ¬†All the while, he continues to get lessons and advice from “Papa Rudy” on the art of wire walking and showmanship. ¬†He eventually gets enough training and confidence to walk the void between the towers of Notre Dame. ¬†But this is not enough for Philippe. ¬†In a magazine he sees a picture of the Twin Towers under construction, and he spans his red string to connect the two beautiful points. ¬†The towers call to him, and he must answer. ¬†Knowing his feat will be both incredible and illegal, he begins to enlist “accomplices” to aid him in his “coup”.

As one might imagine if given a moment to think about it, it’s no small task to get a wire across the 140 foot span between the Twin Towers, and much of the story is devoted to the careful planning that is required to get the wire and stabilizers to the top of the towers and then across the void. ¬†At this point, the audience begins to understand that this story is more about getting ready to take the walk than it is about the walk, itself.

Once the wire is in place, Petit begins his walk. ¬†True to the historic facts, he makes several passes back and forth, most¬†of which are prompted by the urge to taunt police waiting on both ends of the wire. Eventually his walk ends, and he, along with one of his multiple accomplices is arrested. ¬†His debt to society is paid by a court-ordered wire walk in Central Park for an audience of children. ¬†A debt he happily pays. ¬†When asked by reporters “Why did you do this?”, he simply replies “There is no why. ¬†When I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resist.”

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The story ends with Philippe still narrating from atop the Statue of Liberty. ¬†By now, the audience is told that he has brought life to the new towers previously¬†compared to “two giant filing cabinets” by New Yorkers, who, from that point on, took pride in being witness to his daring feat. ¬†He tells us that the architect of the towers gave him a pass to go beyond the observation deck atop the towers, with an expiration date that read “forever”. ¬†Then, as¬†the camera pans out and we see the Twin Towers in the background before the screen slowly fades to black, we realize that the story is just as much about the towers as it is about the walk–and we inevitably remember a much different story, and perhaps shed a tear for its conclusion.

The Walk was released on DVD in January, 2016 and should be easy to find for anyone who looks for it.