Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Just like THE EWOK ADVENTURE and EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is a stand alone film that takes place in the STAR WARS universe only without Ewoks.  The film is about Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) being recruited by the Rebellion to locate her father who was taken from her when she was a child to work on weaponizing the Death Star.  Eventually this quest leads her and some new allies on the path to steal the plans for the Death Star and get them to the Rebellion.  The story is serviced by a forgettable music score, some breath-taking visuals and horrible horrible fan service.  If you like STAR WARS for it's explosions, lazers and spaceships then ROGUE ONE is the greatest movie of them all.  If you like STAR WARS for its endearing timeless story and memorable characters then you will be disappointed.

When I first saw the trailer for ROGUE ONE I was immediately impressed by the character of Jyn Erso.  The trailer portrays her as a Snake Plissken type character.  My favorite line from the trailer is when she says "This is a rebellion, isn't it? I rebel."  That's a great line.  Unfortunately that line was cut out as well as any other possible scene or moment that would make her a strong or even memorable character.  Instead she comes across as a scared little girl forced into a situation she never would have put herself in.  Yeah, the film makes it a point to show her beat up a bunch of storm troopers but that doesn't make her a strong character.  She is just an action figure.  Jyn has no good moments.  She gives a couple of speeches that come across as out of step with her character.  Jyn is a non-character in her own story.  She has not earned the right to be the biggest character on the movie poster.  She never really seems to be a part of the Rebellion even though she has experienced personal loss at the hands of the Empire.  You would think she would have been in the Rebellion from day one.  I'm not even sure what she was doing before being rescued/captured by the Rebellion and setting her on the mission to find her father.

Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna is a spy for the Rebellion.  His character has a little more of an arch.  We see him having to kill one of his own as to not let him fall into the hands of the Empire.  He has had to do a lot of bad things for the sake of the Rebellion  Bad things not wrong things I will point out.  He can't escape the guilt that he has from doing those things.  That guilt actually interferes with his secret mission which is to kill Jyn's father.  When given the chance he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.  Wanting to make up for the bad things he has done he joins Jyn on the mission to steal the Death Star plans.  You would think he would be an interesting character but he is also kind of forgettable.  He is rather bland.  Him and Jyn are the perfect couple.  They both fail to bring an emotional attachment to the film.  That is why so many people view the first hour or so as kind of boring while the action packed third act impresses.  If we cared about the characters then the beginning of ROGUE ONE would just as entertaining.

Is ROGUE ONE a war story?  Nope.  ROGUE ONE is no different than A NEW HOPE or RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Essentially ROGUE is an adventure film about a woman and a small crew who go to find her father but by the third act find themselves in a large scale battle with the Empire.  Its really no different or more grittier than A NEW HOPE or RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Heck, they even show the cutesy lovable Ewoks getting killed in JEDI.  I don't remember seeing any gory severed arms in ROGUE ONE either.

Darth Vader Force chokes Director Krennic for no reason except for fan service.  Director Krennic did nothing wrong except show his ambition to show off for the Emperor.  He didn't insult Vader for his sad devotion to an ancient religion nor made huge incompetent strategic errors that cost the Empire huge victories against the Rebellion.  This is an example of writing a character and not knowing who that character is but knowing the character actions in previous stories.  Vader has become the guy who Force chokes and uses a red light saber.  He even makes hand into a weird hook shape to let the audience know that he is using the Force to Force choke Krennic.  Its dumb as well as the line Vader says about not choking on your own ambitions.  It made no sense.  The dirty little secret for making ROGUE ONE is not to tell the story of those who sacrificed their lives to steal the plans to the Death Star.  No.  This movie was just an excuse to show Darth Vader (going against character) charging down a hallway like a Force sensitive Jason Vorhees slaughtering Rebel soldiers like they were made of paper.  The general audience just wants Vader killing people with the Dark Side of the Force and using his cool looking red light saber.  Don't be surprised if we get a stand alone Darth Vader film.  Hopefully the next time we see Vader he isn't voiced by James Earl Jones.  He just sounds too tired now.  The fire is gone.  Also hopefully we get a better body double that can match David Prowse's imposing presence.  We really owe David Prowse a debt of gratitude for bring Darth Vader to life in the physical sense.  Oh, yea and give Vader some better dialogue too.  In fact never make a movie with Vader in it.

The biggest problem of the film is its need to bridge the ROGUE ONE directly into A NEW HOPE.  The makers didn't pay attention to what was going on at the beginning of A NEW HOPE.  For them it was just two spaceships shooting lazers at each other followed by storm troopers boarding and shooting lazers at the escort soldiers.  On a side note why didn't Vader just storm in by himself and mow everyone down with his red rocket light saber?  Maybe he was just too tired from doing it five minutes ago because he is old and stuff.  It is the small details that paint a bigger picture to what is going on.  When Vader boards he chokes a soldier for information.  The soldier says that this is a counselors ship on a diplomatic mission.  Why would he say that if they had just escaped from Vader during a large scale attack against the Empire?  They know that Vader personally witnessed their ship escape.  Then when Princess Leia meets Vader she says that only he would be sold bold to attack a diplomatic ship and that the Imperial Senate will hear about this.  Why would she say that if she just escaped from a major battle against the Empire again right in front of Vader himself?  According to Princess Leia she is part of the Imperial Senate.  When she is going on these diplomatic missions for the Empire she is secretly working for the Rebellion.  Secretly means she isn't partaking in full blown military excursions.  Vader attacks the ship because he knows that the plans to the Death Star were beamed directly to that ship by rebel spies via several transmissions.  That tells me that the spies are still alive too by the way.  The only way Vader knows that Leia  is a spy is by those transmissions.  Capturing her is done in secret because it may generate sympathy for the rebellion.  This also shows that the Empire doesn't have full control of the universe  Only when the Death Star is complete do we have the Emperor disbanding the Imperial Senate.  On the surface level what happened in A NEW HOPE is that a diplomatic ship flying through the universe is attacked by an Imperial Star Destroyer.  In reality Princess Leia was using her diplomatic status to fly out and retrieve the plans via transmissions from Rebel spies as well as bringing back Obi-Wan Kenobi.  After retrieving the plans she races home only to be pursued and captured by Vader.  If ROGUE ONE is to be accepted everything that happens at the beginning of  A NEW HOPE makes no sense.  

I didn't hate the film however.  Despite things getting stupid at the very end I did like seeing Grand Moff Tarkin return via some impressive C.G.I.  The actor they imposed the C.G.I. on to bring Peter Cushing back to life also did the voice.  Even though it sounded slightly different it still felt genuinely like how the character would sound as oppose to Vader.  Another surprise seeing Red Leader and Gold Leader brought back via footage from A NEW HOPE.  I like seeing the cannon fodder from A NEW HOPE given more life.  I also loved how the beginning of the film looked like an Akira Kurosawa film with wide stretches of empty skyline with imposing figures decorating  the horizon of an open field.  I like that kind of nod to the franchises inspiration.

Ultimately it is the supporting cast that puts some actual emotion in the film.  Donnie Yen as Chirrut the blind Jedi wannabe and his best friend Baze Malbus played by Wen Jiang give some much need personality to the film.  Their brotherhood is the only relationship that comes across as genuine.  Alan Tudyk provides most of the comedy as the voice of K-2SO, a former Imperial droid that now serves as a badass C-3PO.  These three characters are the best thing about ROGUE ONE besides the grand and awe inspiring visuals.  You care for them and feel a sense of loss when they die.

I was hoping for something different but by the end we got another regular STAR WARS adventure film.  The only difference is that all the main characters die at the end.  The fan service ("I have a bad feeling about"..."No!") makes this film no better than films like TERMINATOR GENISYS.  An enjoyable film but not worthy of its original predecessors.  Yes it is the best prequel but that isn't saying much.  I would say about 80% of ROGUE ONE is terrific but that 20% of bad really hurts the film and the franchise as a whole.  The continuity is ruined again.  It is because of it failings to fit into the STAR WARS continuity without taking away from the originals is why ROGUE ONE is only a "What If" story and not true canon.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

A TASTE OF KILLING needs a re-release!

Tonino Valerii has directed about five Spaghetti Westerns in his day.  DAY OF ANGER aka GUNLAW is probably his best with the help of the two main stars Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma.  His most famous is MY NAME IS NOBODY which stars Henry Fonda and Terence Hill and may have been co-directed by Sergio Leone.  It is terrible and boring.  The ending is good but it belongs in a better film.  The movie as a whole is bad which is why I find it strange that so many critics familiar with Italian Westerns would often have it ranked somewhere in their top ten lists.  I guess they need to see more Spaghetti Westerns.  If they had then maybe they would have seen the far more satisfying A TASTE OF KILLING.

The film stars Craig Hill (A sort of cross between Eastwood and Bronson) as Lanky, a bounty hunter who has been tasked to protect a shipment of gold locked in the town's bank vault from a small army of bandits.  The leader of the bandits, Gus Kennebeck (George Martin) also just happens to be the man who killed Lanky's brother back in the day.  Time for some payback, right?  Well sort of.  Lanky may not be the hero we have been so accustomed to in other Westerns from Italy.

At the beginning of this tale of bloodshed and greed, Lanky is traveling on horseback watching a column of cavalry soldiers escort a shipment of gold through a valley in the desert.  From atop the valley Lanky has a birds eye view of the escort.  Through the scope of his rifle, he sees bandits waiting to attack.  Lanky sets his sights on the first leader of the bandits, Sanchez, played by Fernando Sancho.  Character actor Fernando Sancho always plays bandit leaders in Spaghetti Westerns.  I will just assume he dies in all of them.  With his sights set on Sanchez, Lanky waits.  Then the bandits begin shooting.  Lanky does nothing.  All the soldiers are murdered mercilessly and the gold is stolen along with some money.  This moment tells us everything we need to know about Lanky.  He is in it for the money.  Lanky's motivations are dictated by his plan to get more money.  He is just like Franco Nero's Django.  The only difference is that at the end Django redeems himself while Lanky continues in his amoral ways.

Before there was Quigly Down Under there was Lanky.  Lanky likes using a scope on his rifle to scout from atop and kill from a distance.  That doesn't mean he always kills from a distance and not adversed to shooting someone in the back.  Sanchez and two of his goons found out early on that Lanky is fast and deadly with a pistol too.  The scoped rifle is a symbol of Lanky being distant from humanity.  He kills bad guys but he lets innocent soldiers die too when he could have easily helped out.  Lanky is only interested in money.  I don't think this makes him one dimensional though.  His distance stems from his experience with loss.  Well at least I think so.  We learn that Gus, the new and more dangerous leader of the bandits, murdered Lanky's brother.  Lanky states that he would kill him for free even though he can wait while the bounty on Gus's head keeps going up.  Lanky is a man of simple motives.  He wants money and keeping things simple.  Surprisingly he is illiterate but he can read the amounts of money for bounties on wanted posters.  Reading is only important enough to read dollar signs.

The characteristics of a hero's story are dispersed to other characters in the film.  This makes the movie's characters a little more intriguing.  Just a little.  Gus has more noble intentions than Lanky does.  Gus wants to steal the towns gold so he can provide a better life for his wife who struggles raising their son in the criminal lifestyle.  The movie doesn't make us like him much though because every so often he gets upset and starts slapping the wife around.  I think the movie would have been stronger if Gus was actually more identifiable and sympathetic.  Being too interested in financial gain Lanky does not have a love story.  That story goes to a bandit who is in love with the wife of a former bandit who has changed his ways and now works for the bank protecting the gold.  Yeah, it's kind of confusing with all the subplots that form to stretch out the run time.  I don't even remember who any of these people are.

All the subplots and the stupid plan of Lanky's hiding the gold as the front steps of the bank to fool the bandits don't really take away from the film.  The movie is full of enough gun play to keep everyone entertained.  In fact I think this might be the first movie where someone is shot in the eye while they are looking through the scope of a rifle similar to what happened in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HEROES SHED NO TEARS.  My favorite moment in A TASTE FOR KILLING is at the end when Gus tries to shoot Lanky with his own scope rifle.  Lanky shoots him through the scope with his pistol killing Gus instantly.  Then Lanky picks up the now broken and grimaces.  Its a quick and funny moment.  Lanky showed more emotion over his ruined rifle scoped than he did for the dozens of soldiers left behind to become vulture meet.  At the end Lanky follows the gold he just rescued and once again watches from a distance as another band of outlaws gun down the new cavalry detail and begins to steal the gold.  Lanky's true intentions are revealed.  He makes money chasing gold shipments. That is when you realize he let all those soldiers die on purpose at the beginning of the film and he let it happen again so he can make some money.  You have to wonder how Lanky gets his own hero theme song.

A TASTE OF KILLING needs to be better known.  Its good.  Maybe it's not as great as I think it is but with lots of bad guys to shoot and some good dialogue from time to time the movie never gets boring.  I like Craig Hill.  He is a great alternative to Eastwood or Bronson without coming across as generic.  Despite some choppy editing this is a pretty slick film with a story that doesn't follow the typical 'Stranger comes to town and starts trouble' formula.  Usually it is the rich bankers and business men that the hero fights.  In this movie the hero works for them and they are played by Franco Ressel and Piero Lulli!  These two actors always play the main bad guys in Spaghetti Westerns and they always die by the end.  In A TASTE FOR KILLING they don't suffer a scratch.  Its rather refreshing.  If this film was made a few years later Lanky and Gus would team up to take on the greedy bankers and rich land owners.

Unfortunately the DVD is out of print and rather expensive to buy.  I can only hope that someone out there puts this movie that plays to a different beat out on Blu-ray soon.  PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!  I am not above begging.  If you are in to Italian Westerns this is a must watch especially if you are looking for something outside of Leone.  Director Tonino Valerii was a student of sorts under Leone if that peaks your interest.  This was Valerii's first film in the director's chair.  Also Lanky's theme song by Nico Fedinco is catchy.  I need the soundtrack which is probably out of print too.  Ugh!.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016


SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER sounds more like a title for a Spaghetti Western than a modern day Eurocrime.  I'm sure this film has many different titles and translations depending on what market of the world it was distributed to.  Director Fernando Di Leo has made an excellent entry into the genre.  The first thirty minutes or so I wasn't very impressed.  The film is kind of ordinary in it's initial appearance.  Most likely the film was quickly shot.  There isn't any well thought out creative camera angles and compositions to make the film any different from all the other hastily made Dirty Harry knock offs from seventies Italy.  I can't even remember the music.  However, if you wait you will be rewarded with a simple but very compelling story about the consequences of police corruption.  Its the story that makes SHOOT FIRST worth a watch.  The ending is great too which I will be spoiling completely in this review because I love it!

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER opens with a large bow tied mafia boss named Pascal having a bunch of local drug dealers shot in the legs for doing business behind his back.  Later an eccentric old man tries to leave his house to get milk for his cat but his gate has been blocked by a couple of cars to where he can't get out.  This prompts the old man to file a police report.  Meanwhile police officer, Domenico (Luc Merenda) busts some gun runners.  After being glorified for busting them Domenico gets word to show up to a meeting.  That meeting ends up being with Pascal.  Domenico is actually working for the mob!  They inform Domenico that there was a report filed involving the parked cars that links Pascal to a recent murder.  Domenico is to get rid of that report.  The problem is that with the escalation of the murder investigation everyone involved with filing that report is now a witness and Domenico knows it.  The police officer who wrote down and filed that report just happens to be Domenico's father.

Domenico is a carefree kind of cop.  He busts the bad guys, gets into high speed car chases through the crowded streets of Milan and at the end of the day goes to his girlfriend Sandra's apartment to make sweet sweet love.  He does all of this and helps out the mob with their coffee and tobacco trade.  For Domenico and his partner Garrito (Rosario Borelli) this is small time harmless crime and easy money.  They see no wrong in it.  He doesn't realize that the Mafia are expanding their trade into guns and drugs until Domenico busts two Portuguese gun runners that are dealing with Pascal.  Domenico learns the hard way that working for the mob is not harmless fun and the only thing he needs to buy with his ill gotten gains is a fancy new casket.

What a great movie!  The first thirty minutes sets up the true drama that comes later almost unassumingly.  The movie comes across as just another silly tough guy movie but the moment you see that Domenico is corrupt everything changes.  There is an invisible noose around Domenico's neck that tightens with every passing scene as he tries to get that report out of the hands of his father.  We see that his father is very proud of him.  When Domenico has to reveal to his father that he is working for the mob it breaks his father's heart.  His father reluctantly brings Domenico the report breaking the law and making his father corrupt too.  His father never forgives him and he isn't given time to do so because he is murdered after giving the report to Domenico.  This propels Domenico into going after Pascal but doing so costs him everything.  

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is about the price one pays for being corrupt.  Though he doesn't realize it, Domenico has lost his soul.  Our protagonist is not any better than the bad guys he gets revenge on.  One of the best and most revealing moments of the film is when Domenico, Garrito and another cop who we see early on is not part of the police corruption go to Sandra's apartment to save her from some hitmen.  After pulling up to the apartment Domenico sends the innocent cop to the front door to ring the bell.  Domenico just watches and waits as if he already knows what is about to happen next.  BOOM!  The cop dies from a rigged explosive after ringing the door bell.  Domenico shows no concern as he charges into the apartment only to find his girlfriend dead on the bed.  He sent the cop to die and it didn't bother him.  Domenico is truly lost to the world of sin.

Throughout the film Domenico tries to stay ahead of the mob.  He avoids their traps and bullets.  Finally he strikes a deal with Pascal's lawyer and second in command, Mazzanti played Richard Conti.  A meeting is set up where Domenico meets with Pascal face to face.  Pascal offers his hand to end all the trouble but Domenico shoots him in the face.  Mazzanti and his men leave but Garrito walks up behind Domenico and shoots him in the head.  And that is how the film ends.  You can never truly escape the consequences of corruption.  Its a cruel and unforgiving ending.  Garrito was a trusted friend. At the funeral for Domenico's father Garrito is the only one with tears in his eyes.  After going back and watching the movie again I have to wonder if he is crying for Domenico's loss or is he upset that he has already been tasked to kill his best friend?  Will Garrito have a similar fate in the future?

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER has some good tough guy moments to help pass the run time but it is the story that makes this a definite must watch.  Luc Merenda as Domenico is a surprise.  At the beginning I dismissed him as just another tough guy actor but his acting chops shine through in the scenes involving drama between him and his father.  You feel for him as he tries to persuade his father that what he did wasn't all that bad.

The Italians know how to have a good surprise ending.  They have to for having so many similar films produced at the same time.  I like the endings where at the end when all is said and done our hero still manages to get themselves perished at the hands of a friend or random thug.  BIG GUNS has a similar ending.  If you feel like you have seen everything then let me recommend the horror and Eurocrime films from Italy.  You never know what you are going to get.  Over the years I have become a reluctant fan and now embrace them looking for the next surprise.  The search never gets old.