There is little time for informed optimism in the galaxy. The Empire is expanding their grip on each star system, the Rebellion is not agreeing on any tactic for counterattack, and the agents working against the Empire in secret can't recognize allies in the dark of their activities. But hope comes in unexpected ways, and the discarded agents of the Rebellion stumble on the one thing that might bring light back to the galaxy. Gareth Edwards directs Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with the screenplay written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, starring an ensemble cast led by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna.
"How come I've never seen you people before?"
"Because we are the people you do not see."
-Dirty Pretty Things-
The Force Awakens (TFA) had one too many weights on it keeping the images from soaring. The most detrimental was how TFA held responsibility in bridging the old and new worlds of the Star Wars universe together. Flashes of inspiration, most notably in the trio of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver, kept the rebooted Star Wars series promising if not successful artistically.
I was completely unprepared for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Rogue One moving forward). Friends exalted Rogue One, and I read their words mystified at how many loved ones reacted strongly to a one-and-done Star Wars film about a mission I know could not end well. Even if I had embraced their words and gone into Rogue One full of optimism I would have been surprised. Rogue One isn't powerful because of the courage in facing up to a seemingly invincible opponent, but because of its focus on unseen population of the Star Wars universe, the ones who work the camps, pilot the ships, and toil in squalor. This is the cry of the unsung, and will not be ignored.
A considerable chunk of Rogue One's success is how director Gareth Edwards, working from a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, understands both the original and prequel trilogies were critiques of American politics. Because each film of the original trilogy was directed by different people, A New Hope bears the strongest stamp in how our benign liberal heroes are one step away from working for the Empire while ragging on the aliens and droids that make their lives bearable. The prequel trilogy was a sustained critique of Clinton-era liberalism, paralleling the rise of New Age feel-good selfish spirituality with the obliviousness of the old Jedi Order, while rooting our emotional investment in the one person who realizes the harm in the Jedi code but lacks the vocabulary to explain it.
Chris and Rose are happy place. They’re young, in love, and ready to take the next steps in their relationship by having Chris meet Rose’s parents. But Chris is hesitant – do they know he’s black? Despite Rose’s reassurances, Chris starts the visit uneasy and grows suspicious at the behavior of everyone around him. Is Chris paranoid, or is Rose’s family setting him up for something sinister? Jordan Peele writes and directs Get Out, and stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, and Stephen Root.
There was the usual theater-wide bustle of activity as my screening of Get Out started. Onscreen, the camera cranes down from high above a suburban street and starts circling around a black man, on his phone, trying to figure out where he needs to go. Behind me, there was the sound of shushing as we settled in, and one of the shushers gave a loud, “Quiet,” to our right.
No one was there, at least no one physically in the theater. Director Jordan Peele crafted the sound in such a way that the conversation seemed to come from the rear of our theater before slowly making its way to the front to center on the nervous man.
Folks, that is one hell of a way to get your audience involved in a movie early on. With this opening scene, Peele integrated one of the most common experience of our communal enjoyment of movies – the chatter – and redirected the audience’s attention in a way that let us know we were manipulated early on. The formal visual qualities impressed as well as Peele used the crane to create an unsettled aura around the man, as if we and he are aware that someone will violate his personal space soon.
Rick wanders Los Angeles, searching for meaning in decadence and art. Terrence Malick writes and directs Knight of Cups, starring Christian Bale.
To the Wonder put me at a breaking point with Terrence Malick. His trademark dreamy visuals centered on yet another collection of billowing wheat and shifting clouds which read almost as parody. So when I heard the advance buzz around Knight of Cups, where even sympathetic critics were having a hard time connecting with it, I prepared myself for another ponderous if beautifully shot round of navel-gazing.
My reaction coming out of Knight of Cups was positive, but it wasn't born from the diminished expectations his previous films and fellow critics generated in me. I was instead struck by how Malick so wonderfully communicated a painful truth about life and art. It hurts to care, and a sense of detachment is necessary to live the life of someone who goes around trying to both empathize and make better the lives of those who suffer. Focusing on this detachment, by presenting Christian Bale as a sort of heavenly knight of the streets who wanders from one part of the city to the next, Malick creates a hymn to the isolation of modern existence.
This, maybe, is why I didn't react as strongly to The Tree of Life and was hostile toward To the Wonder. From Badlands to To the Wonder we have spent so much time in nature with Malick that it seemed he could toss something like To the Wonder together with a spare few weeks. Knight of Cups was made much like his other films, where the performers have little idea of what their characters are like and he keeps the sparse dialogue close to his chest. But there is little of the nature we commonly think of, not as much plant life and ponderous cloud shots, and more modern art installations with Bale's impassive face leading us from one section to the next.
Rell is having one of the worst days of his life. His longtime girlfriend has left him heartbroken and alone in his home. Just as his cousin Clarence comes to cheer Rell up, he hears a little scratching and meow at the door, where he finds a kitten he names Keanu. Just as Rell's life is starting to pick up he comes home to find someone has broken into his apartment and kitten-napped Keanu. Rell, determined to make his life whole again, drags the reluctant Clarence into the criminal underworld to rescue Rell's feline companion. Peter Atencio directs Keanu from a screenplay written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens, and stars Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, and Jason Mitchell.
Long live Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
Their brilliant show on Comedy Central came to an end late last year despite its continued popularity. As Key put it, "It was just time for us to explore other things, together and apart." Keanu arrives just a few months after the last episode of Key and Peele and, saints be praised, it's a great sign of what Key and Peele are going to be up to when they're working together.
The big thing to remember about Keanu, and what made so many of their sketches fantastic on Key and Peele, is they don't condescend to any of the genres they work with. Key and Peele are huge fans of every form of entertainment and do their best to work within a style even if they're making some satirical jabs at it. On its face, and based on that wonderful trailer, Keanu may seem like a farcical take on action-comedies in the vein of Pineapple Express. But, as with the best of their sketches, Key and Peele are using the form of an action blockbuster to function as a loving nod to the bullet ballets they love, all while delivering an assortment of great character beats and some sly commentary.
"Understated" might not be the word many associate with the work of Key and Peele, but the best moments of Keanu work in this vein. Sure, you've got your slow-mo gunfights and adorable kitten costumes for little Keanu, but the insecurities of Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele) are what drive the comedy. On Clarence's end, his background training corporate yes men finds a comfortable and heartwarming place amid the stereotypical gangster supporting characters. While with Rell, he gets to counteract his perpetually stoned post-breakup sadness with pure love and care for little Keanu.
There was a time before Superman, and a time after. Now that the world knows there are men among them who might break the planet at a moment's notice, what do we do with our lives? Batman takes it as a sign that he needs to return to punishing those who live in opposition to order. What neither Superman nor Batman are aware of is another figure behind the scenes, one who understands all ethical systems may be manipulated to destroy one another. So if Superman and Batman were to fight, would any of us win? Zack Snyder directs Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, from a screenplay written by Chris Terrio, and David S. Goyer, and stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Jesse Eisenberg.
What are we talking about when we talk about Clark Kent? We're all going to answer the question a different way. Are we going to be discussing the paragon of All-Star Superman, the one who is able to take time for a woman contemplating suicide before giving Lois Lane superpowers? Or maybe it's the flawed Clark of Kingdom Come? This one couldn't handle what his symbol was inspiring, escaped the world to live only as Clark, and when he returned as Superman created a prison for those who wouldn't play by the rules. My favorite, and the one who came to mind the most watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), was the Clark of Superman for All Seasons. The one who was manipulated to feel he couldn't make a difference, but when the time came to save a flooding town he put the cape back without question because, "...all I needed to know know was Clark."
Zack Snyder understands Clark. He understood Clark was a boy raised in a humble, loving, and not always correct family. Clark had abilities which made him unlike anyone else, and with that the pressure of becoming a symbol for something we as a species aren't capable of. Man of Steel put Clark through the wringer, presenting him an impossible situation and a public suspicious of him, and still Clark found the strength to do what good he could. Snyder's Clark is not like Grant Morrison's, Mark Waid's, or Jeph Loeb's. You may recognize bits of those other Clarks, but Snyder's is aware that he can't save everyone. But still he tries.
If Man of Steel was Snyder embracing the optimism of a superhero in our troubled times, BvS positions itself as the critique that Clark's best is not good enough. I don't agree with that, and thankfully neither do screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. This is because the critique comes in the form of Batman, whose perspective skews the moral lens of BvS, and exposes the virus of modern American society. If Batman is what our policemen aspire to, the one's who are supposed to be protecting us, then they aspire to become careless xenophobic men of power who can hurt who they want - when they want. Batman is not someone we should aspire to be. Clark is.