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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.

Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.

Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.

A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Death Stars.







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“I aim to misbehave!”- Malcolm Reynolds

The story of Joss Whedon’s cult classic series Firefly and it’s not only premature demise but, large and loyal fan following is stuff of legend at this point but, at least fans got some closure when Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to transfer the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of the Serenity to feature film. It’s mediocre box office performance sadly spelled doom for any further adventures but, at least this theatrical ‘final episode’ gave fans some closure and was a fitting goodbye… and a damn good movie too!

The flick starts off with Capt. Reynolds deciding to put the psychic talents of mentally unbalanced teen River Tam (Summer Glau) to use in a routine payroll heist against the wishes of her doctor brother, Simon (Sean Maher). The simple theft goes awry when a horde of cannibalistic Reavers attacks and they barely escape. Simon vows to finally leave Serenity with his sister but, when River receives a subliminal message in a bar and decimates the occupants with an outburst of martial arts, Malcolm decides his charges should stay and the crew need to determine what just happened and why. And they may get more answers then they bargained for, as a mysterious and lethal assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in hot pursuit of River and this take’s Serenity’s crew to the most dangerous parts of the galaxy to finally find the answers to what lurks inside River’s head that the Alliance is so afraid of… and afraid is exactly what they should all be.

Obviously to really enjoy this flick you should be familiar with writer/director Joss Whedon’s endearing and eccentric crew and their previous adventures but, there is enough info to make it enjoyably watchable to those uninitiated to this sadly short-lived saga. Whedon has always had a gift for charmingly eclectic characters and ensembles and that goes a long way here to bringing us a very endearing bunch of outlaws to root for and giving these characters some nicely unexpected layers. We also get a very unique villain in the ‘Operative’, a man who seems part samurai, part philosopher and part cold-blooded killer. He truly believes his ruthless acts are for a greater good and has a disturbingly business-like approach to killing. The contrast is Malcolm, who appears like a man out for himself  but, has a lot bigger heart then he let’s on and is far more willing to sacrifice himself for others then he’ll ever admit. There is plenty of action to put our beloved characters in and Whedon gives us some nice suspense and energy to those sequences but, never let’s them overshadow the important stuff. We even get a really good look at the Reaver’s and finally get to see them in gruesome action only hinted at in the show’s scant 14 episodes. Whedon handles a big budget, feature movie like a pro, giving it a very fast pace but, not sacrificing character or story development in the process. His choice as writer/ director of the mega-hit The Avengers is no surprise to those familiar with his work. This is a quality sci-fi flick that not only gives us an intriguing story and multi-layered characters but, the explosions and laser fire that post Star Wars science fiction is expected to deliver. There’s some crisp cinematography by Jack Green that takes Firefly’s look to the big screen nicely with a very effective score by David Newman to properly accent Whedon’s action packed adventure. Overall a very underrated genre flick.

The cast is simply great. All our regulars are back with Fillion leading the pack as the hard-nosed outlaw with a hidden heart, Malcolm Reynolds. He can be both cold-blooded and warm-hearted almost in the same beat and just when you think you’ve figured him out, he surprises you. A tribute to Whedon’s writing and Fillion’s underrated acting. Ejiofor is simply a very unique and original villain. He makes his ‘Operative’ very charming but, like a serpent, that charm is only to lure you in for the fatal strike. He is completely convinced his cause is just, yet, is not just a brainwashed tool. There is an intelligence and a surprising lack of malice with his actions which oddly makes him scarier. And the actor carries this off very well. The rest of the cast are delightful as they were on the show and they translate their character dynamics to the big screen without missing a beat since we last saw them… and make them accessible to those who are just getting to know them. Glau, Maher, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres, Ron Glass and Morena Baccarin all do good work in taking Whedon’s characters from script to screen for one final adventure.

Overall, I love this flick. As a fan of Firefly it both gives closure to those who enjoyed the series and yet still makes us sad that this was the last appearance of the Serenity crew, fan fiction and comic adaptations aside. It is a well made, well written movie that gives us all the action and adventure we want but, adds an intelligent story and a heart as well. It’s a perfect example of why the series is so rabidly loved by it’s cult following of fans and a sad testament to a series that was never given a proper chance. Also stars David Krumholtz as ‘Mr. Universe’.

PERSONAL NOTE:  I want to be honest and admit that I am a perfect example of how Fox’s seemingly intentional mishandling of this show worked. Despite being a big fan of Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer series, I was not impressed with the first few episodes (which Fox aired out of order thus omitting crucial character development) and passed on the rest. It was only till a friend lent me the DVD box set which feature all the episodes and in the order intended, that I became a full fledge ‘Brown Coat’ and joined the ranks of it’s loyal fan base. Also, my only disappointment with Serenity is Whedon not finding a way to bring oddball bounty hunter Jubal Early (Richard Brooks) back one last time. Loved that character from my favorite episode Objects In Space.

3 and 1/2 fireflies.

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frozen new poster


FROZEN (2013)

I’m not the biggest Disney fan. When I was a kid my parents took me to se things like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and while we did see the occasional Disney flick, my sister and I seemed bored by the traditional kid stuff. So, I don’t have that fixation on their flicks like others do but, I have seen and enjoyed a lot of the new wave Disney stuff that started with The Little Mermaid… though I do prefer Pixar’s stuff more. So, I finally got around to what has turned out to be one of Disney’s most successful cartoons in years and must say I did enormously enjoy it, though, I am still curious why this particular one has had such a massive appeal. The story opens with two young princesses… big surprise there… Anna and Elsa who live in the beautiful kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has magic abilities to control and create ice and snow and during some exuberant play with Anna, the younger sister is injured. This causes her parents, the King and Queen to sequester her away from others so, no one finds out about her powers or is hurt till she learns to control them. But, when the two sisters grow to be young women, tragedy strikes and their parents are lost at sea. Now it is the powerful Elsa’s job to take the crown and rule but, a fearful Elsa loses control at her coronation and the new crowned Queen unleashes her power on a frightened populace, causing her to flee into the mountains in seclusion and subsequently throw the kingdom into eternal winter. Now it’s up to the spunky and resourceful Anna to find her sister and help her put an end to the endless Winter and lay to rest the kingdom’s fear of her powerful sibling… their queen. Of course, along the way she is aided by handsome ice salesman Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and talking snowman Olaf while being thwarted by the villainous Hans and the weasel-like Duke Of Weselton. Will she save her sister and the land or will the power hungry villains stop the sisters cold? Written by Jennifer Lee and co-drected by Lee and Chris Buck, Frozen is an enormously entertaining fairy tale that is fueled by some very strongly endearing characters and the usual peril, heroics and romance. The plot in itself is traditional Disney fairy tale stuff but, it is the exceptionally lively and colorful characters that put this over the edge and make it special. Not to mention the computer animation is sumptuous in both character design and the spectacular visuals and backgrounds. There are songs too but, most are simply functional though very well sung by the likes of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel who voice and sing adult Anna And Elsa respectively. The only one that really stands out and is a show stopper is Menzel singing ‘Let it Go’ which is a powerful number supported by some beautiful vocals and animation. I also did like that Lee chose to keep Elsa a tragic figure in that she never turns evil but, is simply too upset and guilt-ridden to fix what she’s done and right what has gone wrong. Other characters become the villains of the piece instead and so we root for both Anna and Elsa to save each other and the day along with the equally endearing Kristoff, Sven and Olaf. And obviously, Anna and Kristof fall for each other, not that they’ll admit it. A really entertaining and fun animated fairy tale/adventure with some very three dimensional and lively characters to populate it. One of Disney’s best animated tales in quite some time… though I did enjoy Tangled quite a lot too. Also features the vocals of Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, Josh Gad as Olaf, Santino Fortana as the devious Prince Hans and the multi-talented Alan (Firefly) Tudyk as The Duke Of Weselton. A delightfully entertaining flick.

3 and 1/2 Olafs… would have been four if not that most of the songs are forgettable save “Let It Go”.

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TUCKER & DALE v.s. EVIL (2011)

Amusing horror/comedy tells the story of two harmless country boys, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) and their encounter with some college kids who have seen far too many horror movies. A series of mishaps, starting with the boys’ rescue of an injured female member of the group being misinterpreted as a kidnapping, gives the coeds the belief that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill them…and soon the boys think they are being stalked by a group of crazy college kids. What follows is a bloody and funny comedy of errors and misunderstandings that starts to rack up quite an unintentional body count. In the middle of all the gory chaos, the innocent and sweet Dale starts to bond with the pretty Allison (Katrina Bowden) as he tends to her.

Director Eli Craig could have given it a bit more energy, but it is funny and clever at times, especially if you’ve seen your share of backwoods horror flicks, and the leads Tudyk, Labine and Bowden really help with creating very likable characters. The rest of the cast are good too as the over-imaginative college students who think they are in the middle of a real life backwoods horror. They play it straight and let the situations provide the humor and while it could have been a bit funnier, it is an entertaining enough 90 minutes especially if you’re a horror fan who likes to see a popular sub-genre turned on it’s head. T&D has a lot of fun with some tried and true backwoods horror conventions and is delightfully gory with it’s skewered heart in the right place.

A solid 3 chainsaws

3 chainsaws