Matias Bombal’s Hollywood

Rogue One: A Star Wars story  
The MPAA has rated this PG-1

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Lucasfilm bring us “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” the prequel to the very first of “Star Wars” adventures, “A New Hope” from 1977. You may recall that in the very first “Star Wars”, Princess Leia placed the plans to the Death Star into R2D2’s memory. This new movie is the story of how she was able to obtain them in the first place. It is due primarily to the unlikely heroic efforts of Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. She is the daughter of a man (Mads Mikkelsen) that the Empire has used to design the Death Star, the menacing planet killing orb the size of a small moon.

The rebel forces feel that she is the key to getting information about it via her connection to Empire insiders. Initially they kidnap her, but when she sees more clearly the cause, she rallies the rebels to fight. Jimmy Smits may be seen briefly recapping his role of Bail Organa in the scene. Jyn is off to fight for the cause, assisted by a sarcastic droid and a pilot named Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Of course, first they must establish some level of trust and some comic moments ensue.

Something you’d not expect in the picture is the return on screen, through digital means, of Grand Moff Tarkin, played by actor Guy Henry. That is to say that Mr. Henry’s body and voice are Tarkin, but the face belongs to Peter Cushing, placed on Mr. Henry’s head by the latest technology. The irony of the fact that the digital presence of Cushing’s face, a man who of played the undead for years in movies, seems somehow fitting. It is surprising to witness. Truth be told, an impressive bit of movie magic. There is quite present in this movie the magical voice of James Earl Jones, once again giving voice to Darth Vader.

From an exhibition stand point it is possible to see this movie in multiple ways, both 3D and 2D on screens across the United States. However, if you are lucky enough to have one of the 15 IMAX theaters in the United States that are exhibiting this movie in a 15/70mm film print you are in for a very special treat indeed. Sacramento, California’s Esquire IMAX is one such theater and opened this picture on a rainy night to at capacity crowds. The anticipation was palpable as patrons milled through the lobby one day earlier than the national opening of the digital versions, not just to see it first but to see it on 15/70mm film!

Having seen both the digital and 15/70 film versions, I may report that the experience is different in several ways. First, there is a sequence of shots in the film version that is different than the digital one. They occur when we first see Darth Vader in a tank without his famous outfit. The digital shows the tank draining for him to get dressed. The tank drains with the camera placed behind the tank. On the 15 IMAX film prints, you see the side view of the tank beginning to drain with Darth Vader’s head unmasked instead with the liquid draining to just about his eyebrows. His face is not fully revealed.
The film print has better contrast than the digital and offers richer more palpable colors. If you have a chance to see one of these film prints, not in 3-D, you will have the best possible experience of this movie. How is the movie itself? I was thoroughly entertained by this Star Wars story, it held my attention from start to finish and was fun to watch. Adding good turns of the script are actors Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen, who I still think sounds just like classic film actor George McCready every time he speaks. This is fun at the movies and extra special in IMAX 15/70 film, the way I suggest you see it.

FENCES
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Paramount Pictures gives us Denzel Washington’s directorial effort of August Wilson’s screenplay based on his own play of the same name,”Fences”. Set in the 1950s, Washington plays a father, Troy Maxon, who works as a garbage man but longs to be promoted to garbage truck driver. He had wanted to be a baseball player, but life happened instead. His wife is played by the always magnificent Viola Davis. Actor Stephen Henderson is terrific in support as Washington’s work mate, Jim Bono. Outstanding performances throughout with beautiful photography, yet the movie does seem tightly bound to its play-like setting of origin. Maxon must examine his changing position in the world as his son and family grow and change around him. The dialog is fantastic as you travel through three distinct periods in the life of this family. A must see!

PASSENGERS
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Columbia Pictures (Sony) gives us a story of outer space with “Passengers”, directed by Morten Tyldum. In a rather familiar scenario, an elegant and exclusive spaceship is traveling to colonize a planet to leave the overcrowding of Earth behind with the entire crew and passengers in suspended animation as it takes about 100 years to reach the destination planet. An asteroid field hits the ship en route, causing the failure of the pod in which mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) had been suspended. He has the run of the whole ship but faces the future of living out the rest of his days before the fellow passengers and crew will awake. He tells his troubles to a robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen) whose bar looks just like the one in the Kubrick movie “The Shining”. In fact, there are many scenes reminiscent of other movies. After a year, he just can’t take it anymore and considers waking up a beautiful girl, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) to not face his days alone. This will produce expected and unexpected results. Also appearing briefly in the movie, and I do mean briefly; Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia. Overall not very good, but with some agreeable moments and gorgeous set design. It is all held together by likable Chris Pratt, who women find attractive and men may relate to.

ASSASSIN’S CREED   
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

From Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation comes another movie based on a video game, “Assassin’s Creed”. At this point I’d check my mind at the door and hope not to be abused by loud sound and violence, for there is that to be sure. However what makes this offering different is the fact that it has perhaps the best cast ever in such a video game based movie; Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling.
I thought I was reading the names from some fantastic British drawing period picture! Michael Fassbender is Callum Lynch who is “saved” from lethal injection by the modern day assassins who have fought the Knights Templar since the time immemorial for religious artifacts.
In this case, it is the apple Adam got for Eve. In order to find it, Rikkin (Irons) and Sofia (Cotillard) tap Callum’s ancestral memory to find when and where his relative hid the apple in antiquity and engage him reliving his past relative’s last battles in order to find it. This movie starts poorly, then picks up speed amid great photography, production design and sets, but is not very good, but for the unexpected element of great actors in these roles. Michael Fassbender also produced.  So strange in that Fassbender’s role in “The Light Between Oceans” was may favorite male lead performance in 2016. This, I just don’t get.

LION
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

The Weinstein Company releases this movie to critical acclaim and in the process, it has garnered four Golden Globe nominations. Based on true events, it is the story of a five-year old Indian boy, Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar), who, whilst bored waiting for his brother to return, climbs in an old railroad car and falls asleep, only be awakened by a sense of movement. The decommissioned rail car was on a long train ride to a scrap heap. Trapped aboard, he is taken thousands of miles from his home village. In the sea of humanity that is Calcutta, he is lost, orphaned. He is adopted by an Australian couple who rear him to adulthood. The adoptive mother is played by Nicole Kidman.  Actor Dev Patel plays Saroo as an adult. The adult Saroo becomes fascinated to find his long lost brother and mother and village of origin. He becomes obsessed with finding out the lost pieces that evade his memory, that of a child’s eye of the world. He embarks on an adventure of discovery. As lauded as this picture has been in recent months in its tour of film festivals, etc, I did not find it a solid movie, with likable Patel’s performance not really selling me on his character’s motivations. Kidman turns in a typical study of a slightly off, frigid woman with a big heart, the type she excels in playing, yet not a real stretch for her talents. I was just not as impressed by this movie as have been some of my colleagues.

WHY HIM?  
The MPAA has rated this R

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation offers a movie that had me asking why me? Or, just plain why? As in; why did they bother to make this picture in the first place. The tired old plot of a father (Bryan Cranston) who faces the biggest nightmare, that of his daughter (Zoey Deutch) wanting to marry a less than ideal husband (James Franco), one riddled tattoos, has a fowl mouth and yes, just happens to be a tech billionaire. This is strictly pay TV fodder that has no place on the big screen, in spite of the participation of Bryan Cranston. At least good actors got to work. Among them, the fun Cedric the Entertainer, Megan Mullally as the mother, and young and talented Griffin Gluck, an adolescent seen in many pictures of recent. There is even the appearance of two of the popular band members of the rock band “Kiss”. The jokes are crude and the comedy is focused on the lowest common denominator. I hope you hold a higher standard for your movie entertainment than this, I sure do.

LA LA LAND  
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Run, don’t walk to see this! Summit Entertainment’s “La La Land” is distributed by Lions Gate. Director Damien Chazelle has, at 31 years of age, made a musical movie love letter to Hollywood past and present. Homages abound, but the picture remains its own special story, told along the lines of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. The singing of the musical numbers are not in the modern Broadway style (which I do NOT care for) but more reminiscent of the natural style of singers in classic movie musicals, with more subtle nuance. Right off the bat, the Summit logo is in the academy ratio (the square look of classic movies) and black and white, dissolving to the CinemaScope logo which dissolves to color and the masking (side edges of the image)move out to reveal the CinemaScope aspect ratio. We think Mr. Chazelle has been watching our Current Cinema Reviews online in video form!!! (We have done that for 3 years now…) I knew from that moment on there would be screen magic and it is a delight from start to finish. Ms. Emma Stone is a pure joy and the popular Mr. Ryan Gosling dances well and captures your attention. Contemporary, yet classic. Hollywood! More movies like this!!! Made with LOVE in Hollywood, U.S.A.

JACKIE
The MPAA has rated this R

Fox Searchlight Pictures offers “Jackie” a powerful film and performance that will long linger in your mind. Chilean director Pablo Larrain, who made the well received “Gloria” in 2013 and is soon to release his bio-pic about Pablo Neruda entitled “Neruda” navigated the numbing days surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as recalled by his wife, Jackie and told from her perspective in flashback, during an interview. Jackie Kennedy is played by Natalie Portman. She recalls her experience shortly after leaving the white house to a reporter played by Billy Cudrup, telling him with direct and vivid frankness her thoughts without filter, only to tell him later that he can’t print any of it and it is off the record. But not before we have seen it represented and told. Portman is nothing less than sensational in her portrayal of a remarkable woman of poise holding it together as the world watched. In support, Sacramento actress, Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, John Hurt as her priest, and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy. Some graphic scenes of the assassination motorcade are sudden and rough, but tastefully handled.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY   
The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Warner Bros. gives us a great cast in a disappointing and sappy feature; “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith as a grief stricken father, mentally collapsing after the death of his daughter. He channels his grief by writing letters to Love, Time and Death, and did not expect to get answers… in person, from those three identities, in the same order, played by Keira Knightly, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren. Mirren is fun, but no stretch for her abilities.  Edward Norton and Kate Winslet play Smith’s business partners nervous that he is losing his grip and their company in the process. Are the entities of Love, Time and Death really there? Are they answering his mail and comforting him in person? Questions that remain unanswered even when you watch the movie. This has the sheen of a Hallmark movie but without the substance and there is little of that. Sappy. Too bad, Will Smith is so likable. Here’s hoping he finds a better movie, along the lines of his excellent “Concussion” of the early part of last year.

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