Tagged: Rogue One

John Ostrander: Forces for Change

By now, everyone has heard (or should have heard) about the sexual depredations of film producer Harvey Weinstein (and James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others of their ilk). This follows revelations of the sexual depredations of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly (seriously, what can you do that commands a $32 million settlement?). And everyone in all the other walks of life who have been playing predator.

The constant refrain that has been heard is that this kind of stuff has been going on out in Hollywood since there has been a Hollywood. Among the reasons that there have been so few direct accusations is that all the predators have been powerful men who could really exact retribution. And the fact that the women speaking out would be shamed, discounted, and not believed. And they would literally never work in that town again.

That’s changed. Women are coming out in droves, speaking up, making themselves heard. Makes no mistake – Weinstein, Ailes, and O’Reilly were extremely powerful individuals. The women have spoken up anyway and it’s the men who have, justifiably, suffered.

Why now? What makes this era different than eras in the past?

There are a lot of different reasons and possibilities but I would like to offer one that, at least in part, contributes. That is our own “pop culture.”

We have seen recently the rise of the strong woman hero or lead. Witness two Star Wars movies, both Episode 7 and the stand alone, Rogue One. Episode 7 not only centered around Rey but Princess Leia is now General Leia, a full and equal commander of the Resistance. And, behind the scenes, you have Kathleen Kennedy, who is head honcho of the whole Lucasfilm legacy.

Rogue One centers on Jyn Erso, the daughter of one of the principal designers of the Death Star and the main person responsible for obtaining the plans to the battle station that will enable the good guys to destroy it and save the galaxy.

And we have also had this year an amazing Wonder Woman, not only played to perfection by Gal Gadot but directed by Patty Jenkins. lt’s unheard that a woman would get the opportunity to helm such a big ticket film and Ms. Jenkins really delivered. Thank Hera both are returning for the sequel!

It extends these days to TV as well with Supergirl who not only gives us a Maid of Steel who may be stronger than her cousin, the Man of Steel, but shows women in so many different roles, including a very strong and positive lesbian couple.

I’m not forgetting Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies or Ripley in the Alien movies, or Hermione in the Harry Potter films or Buffy, the redoubtable Vampire Slayer and many others.

My point is this: seeing positive and strong heroes who look like you is important and they need to be seen on a regular basis. Will and Grace had gay characters in it and, because of the show’s popularity, they are invited into peoples’ living rooms every week. It normalizes meeting LGBTQ folk for straight people who may never have knowingly met one.

In the same way, movies and shows such as Wonder Woman or Star Wars or Supergirl gives us the image of women heroes who are strong, brave, resourceful and are examples to other women and to men as well. You need to see what you want to be, something the black community knows very well.

I’m not claiming that the pop culture examples I’ve given are the main reason that women now are speaking up against the Weinsteins of this world. However, I think they are a contributing factor. No single film or TV show alone but all taken together they contribute to the change. Make no mistake; “pop culture” is a potent force in our society. It entertains and bypasses our brain to reach the heart – and that’s where real change comes from.

ComicMix Six: Box Office Democracy’s Top Six Movies of 2016

6. Captain America: Civil WarThere are so many fantastic moments in Civil War.  The easy one is the fight at the airport where we finally get that big super hero battle we’ve seen in a thousand different comic books (and acted out with action figures at least that many times) put on the silver screen in all its glory.  The three-way fight at the end might be even better because it’s a crisp action beat full of emotion that is rare anywhere these days, and is honestly pretty uncommon even in print.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it might be the perfect application of fan service.  Every other Marvel movie has to either top this in terms of fan service (and they honestly probably shouldn’t try) or do something new and exciting.  The gauntlet has been thrown down (this is not an Infinity Gauntlet pun I swear).

5. Moana This is the pick I am most concerned is recency bias messing with me.  I saw Moana recently, and while it completely delighted me, I’m concerned in a few years time I’ll look back at this pick and think it should have been The Accountant or Kubo and the Two Strings or really anything else.  I loved Moana, it’s a sweet movie with a good heart, a great set of characters, and a soundtrack that I can’t stop humming to myself.  When we spend the next two months marching towards the Oscars falling over ourselves to talk about what a historical accomplishment La La Land is, I hope people remember it wasn’t even the best musical released within two weeks of its release date.

4. Rogue One This might seem a little high for a movie I reviewed two weeks ago and was kind of hard on but while it was easy to harp on the stuff that didn’t quite work I’m still quite fond of the stuff that did.  Rogue One brings a bunch of new stuff to the action vocabulary of the franchise and while it might not have wowed us as an independent sci-fi film, as a Star Wars film it feels like a revelation.  There’s an honest-to-goodness war happening in Rogue One for the first time in eight movies with “War” in the title.  Weak central characters may keep Rogue One from joining the top tier but in a soft year for movies overall a compelling B+ can make the top list.

3. ZootopiaZootopia is a great movie.  It’s funny, touching, and with a decent bit of intricate noir-inspired plotting for a kids movie.  It is worthy of being a standard bearer in the Disney Revival era and standing next to Frozen and Wreck-it-Ralph.  That would probably be enough to get it on this list but what makes me actually proud is that Disney decided to use their giant influence on the youth of America and make a movie about institutionalized prejudice.  They’ve done “don’t judge a book by its cover” movies before but Zootopia is about how the whole system can be against people because of what they look like and that makes it a more special movie and one that I would be proud to show my own children.

2. The Nice GuysI did not review The Nice Guys for ComicMix this year (I watched The Angry Birds Movie that week) and it’s rare I go see a new release movie on my own anymore— but for Shane Black I was willing to do it and it was worth it.  The Nice Guys is very funny, certainly the best comedy of the year, but more than that it was so inescapably fun.  That’s a strange thing to say about a movie that is sort of about a string of murders in the seedy world of the 1970s porn industry.  The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is delightful— I would watch that pair do seven buddy movies like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  I think a premium cable network should commission a junior detective show staring the daughter character.  I want to live in the world of The Nice Guys as much as I can, and that’s such a fantastic thing to get from a movie.

1. Arrival For the second year in a row my top movie of the year is a non-franchise science fiction film with a third act that’s a little out of left field.  I guess we all have a type.  Arrival is a movie that establishes a high degree of difficulty with its concept and then crafts a simply perfect film to go with it.  It’s tense and thought provoking and beautiful and cripplingly sad.  I went in to Arrival with no idea what I was getting or what to expect and then spent the next three weeks recommending it to literally every person I spoke to.  In 2017 I would consider myself beyond lucky if I saw another movie that completely delights me like Arrival did; I would settle for the new Blade Runner being a passable attempt.

Box Office Democracy: Rogue One

It’s very clear that barring some sort of production-related catastrophe, we will get a Star Wars movie every December until they stop being profitable.  For the foreseeable future it seems that on the even years we will get “Star Wars Stories”— little asides not directly connected to the main movies but providing some backstory or context or simply fleshing out the edges of a galactic civil war.  Rogue One is the week or two directly before the original Star Wars and showcases the work that had to happen to get Luke Skywalker in position to fire a torpedo into an exhaust port.  It isn’t as flashy or grandiose as what we’ve seen before, but they’ve made a grisly little space war film here.  Well, as little a movie as you can make for $200 million anyway.

What we’re getting in Rogue One that we haven’t gotten before in Star Wars is a grittier look at the Rebellion war effort fighting against the Empire.  In the seven films we’ve gotten so far, all of the characters are larger than life heroes who are largely above the fray of the day-to-day war.  Han, Luke, and Leia are so far above the fray for 90% of the original trilogy they only operate at the highest levels.  Rogue One gives us characters who operate at the lower levels of the war.  Our main character is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a fugitive/criminal sort of forcefully conscripted in to the Rebel Alliance to assist intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial assault droid (Alan Tudyk) on a rather convoluted mission (there are six steps and they probably could have gotten away with three) to get the plans to the Death Star.  Along the way they pick up a defecting Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), a wannabe Jedi (Donnie Yen), and his mercenary protector (Jiang Wen) to make up a ragtag band of resistance fighters.  There are times when they feel a little bit like the assortment of Star Wars characters you would put together for a tabletop RPG, but the supporting characters absolutely work.

The main characters are a little rougher.  Its hard to suss out what Cassian or Jyn really want out of the events of the movie besides a vague desire to do what the plot demands.  Jyn wants to be reunited with her father but she doesn’t do very much to make it happen, nor does she react particularly emotionally when it doesn’t work out.  Cassian is just a soldier who wants what a soldier wants and never has any time for deeper motivations.  The most egregious example of poor character work comes in the form of Orson Krennic, the film’s primary antagonist.  I believe that he’s evil and should be stopped based solely on the fact that he devoted his life to building the Death Star, but he doesn’t spend the movie doing anything particularly evil, rather he spends it trying to ensure he gets credit for his work from his superiors.  That isn’t jump-off-the-screen evil, and it means he gets overshadowed by every other prominent Imperial in the film.  These three principles just needed clearer goals and a bigger push.

There’s some stunning work being done in the visual effects department for this movie.  The space battles seem more dynamic than anything I’ve seen on screen, better than The Force Awakens mostly because it’s trying to do something altogether different than anything I’ve seen in a Star Wars film before.  The interplay between the war in orbit and the mission on the ground made everything feel a little more real, an odd thing too say about a movie about space battles and lasers that emulate atomic bombings.  An effect that did not go over as well was the digital way they make actors look like actors from the older movies.  They do it a few times and it never looked quite right— the attempt to recreate Peter Cushing failed completely for me.  It was firmly in the uncanny valley, and I spent an entire scene featuring him just thinking about how oddly his upper lip was moving.  George Lucas would have been endlessly trashed for a stunt like this, and it’s only that Disney hasn’t burned through all the good will yet that saves them from the same critique.  Parts get recast all the time, they can do it here too.

I’m excited to see Star Wars “go wide” like this, to start exploring stories and ideas that would have been shuffled off in to the Expanded Universe a decade ago and putting them on the big screen.  Rogue One feels a bit like a novel and there’s some good and bad with that (the main characters feel tailor-made to not ruffle any existing continuity)  but it’s ambitious and different and that good far outweighs the occasional fit of mundanity.  I want to see other kinds of movies in this setting; from this kind of war movie to perhaps more ambitious science fiction and quieter character pieces.  We might never get any of that but right now it all seems possible— and Rogue One is lighting the way.

Joe Corallo: Rogue One – A Marketing Story

Before I jump into my main point about the latest live action Star Wars adventure known as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I’d like to make some things clear. First, I loved it. By noon this past Friday I had seen it twice. I enjoyed it more than The Force Awakens. I’d be more than happy to go out and spend the money to see it again.

Now that I made that very clear, I’d like to go into two of my observations. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider anything I’m about to state as a spoiler, that doesn’t mean you won’t. If you are very sensitive to anything even remotely resembling a spoiler, please watch Rogue One before you continue reading.

We’re all on the same page now? Great!

The first observation I’m going to make revolves around foreign markets. In particular, the Chinese movie going market. China has become the second largest market for movies in the world and Hollywood has been taking advantage of that. The Force Awakens failed to go over well in China, which made it impossible for the movie to beat out Avatar for the highest grossing film of all time.

In an effort to change that, Rogue One features Hong Kong action mega star Donnie Yen as well as another prominent Chinese actor, Wen Jiang. It’s a solid marketing move and could prove very lucrative for Disney if it gets China’s moviegoers to the theaters for it.

This is more or less a neutral move to pander to an audience. While this does mean precious character real estate isn’t going to other groups or to Asian American actors, it’s still diverse casting. It is also pandering and not really risktaking. While we can discuss this as being good representation, we have to acknowledge it’s also smart business.

Don’t think that considering financial gains to be made in other countries from Hollywood will always have a neutral impact like this. In some cases it’s a positive impact. Movies like Iron Man 3 likely avoided offensive stereotyping with the character of the Mandarin by not wanting to offend that audience. That’s great. Hollywood becoming more worldly for that reason is important and encouraging.

There are drawbacks, however. One of the biggest examples being Doctor Strange. In a politically motivated move, Disney avoided casting someone to portray the Tibetan character of the Ancient One and instead changed the origin of the character to be Celtic while keeping the Asian aesthetic. The thought being that the Chinese government would inhibit the movie’s release and cost the studio precious revenue. While that’s not what is happening with a movie like Rogue One, this mindset could potentially be damaging in other ways. Dehumanizing the people of Tibet or erasing them entirely for a generation will have consequences. As will promoting talent from other countries as Asian American actors and actresses are given more and more hurdles to overcome to make it in Hollywood.

My second observation has to do with the characters of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus who are played by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang. I’ve seen many opinion pieces going around about how they’re clearly a gay couple with evidence from the movie. I’m going to make my thoughts on this very clear.

I’m not happy that Disney’s approach to Star Wars so far had involved queer baiting. If they weren’t aware they were doing that in The Force Awakens they certainly knew for Rogue One.

There is nothing about either sets of those characters that directly implies they’re in a relationship, or that they even want a relationship together. They like having each other around and aren’t shy about their admiration of each other in both movies, but men showing some affection towards each other does not mean they are in a sexual relationship and that kind of thinking can be dangerous and continue to inhibit straight people from feeling they can express themselves that way without implications as well as keeping queer people in the closet longer.

It’s 2016. If you want to have queer characters in your movie, you can.

You don’t need to code them. If you’re coding them, then you’re only speaking to a queer audience. This is an audience that doesn’t need coding anymore; we need real representation. Besides, coding characters so only a queer audience might read them as queer isn’t speaking to straight audiences who are the ones who really need to understand queer characters more and understand that we exist and we aren’t going anywhere.

A reason to code characters in 2016 would be so you can make more money at the box office by not potentially turning away moviegoers who might think twice about wanting to see a queer love story play out while also wanting to make nice with a queer audience. They might also want to make sure people in countries with governments that may be less friendly to the queer community will allow the movie to play unhindered. Not sure something like that would happen? Queer elements have been edited out of anime like Sailor Moon back in the 90s so it could play on TV here in the States.

I completely understand that not everything out there will have queer representation and I am okay with that. What I don’t want to keep seeing are queer baiting story elements like we’ve been seeing in Star Wars since Disney has taken the helm. Either have the representation or don’t. You don’t get to have it both ways and we can’t keep praising companies like Disney for representation that isn’t actually there.

Rogue One was a solid installment in the Star Wars universe and might be my favorite installment since the original trilogy concluded. I highly recommend it. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep hoping for something better even if it means rebelling against some of those in power. Rebellions are built on hope.