That’s No Moon…

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

It is a Star Wars story, no doubt about that.

Familiar crafts and creatures are scattered about, buoyed with a stream of cameos that begin as clever and escalate to downright ovation-wothy. And, at the film’s core is a story of wayward fathers, longing children, and the paradox of “confusing peace with terror.”

Why this sudden pearl-clutching over the politics of the Star Wars universe? There’s been a “final solution” tilt since the outset (they are called stormtroopers, after all), and Rogue One takes us back to when the Empire’s prized Death Star had yet to be completed.

As an act of conscience, Empire scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) designed the Death Star with that fatal flaw that is exposed when viewing the original blueprints. It’s up to Galen’s daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) and her band of rebel fighters to capture that file and ensure daddy’s flaw is exploited.

Sure, we know how it all turns out, but connecting those dots becomes a thrilling, thoughtful bit of fun.

Jones makes a fine hero: brave, righteous and naive – or, perfect for this series.

She and Mikkelson join a full slate of very talented character actors – from the genius Ben Mendelsohn to the under-appreciated Diego Luna to the up-and-coming Riz Ahmed. They’re part of an adventure that butts up against the New Hope, bridging tales swirling around that far away galaxy.

Like JJ Abrams’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story peppers the action with welcome humor and continually reminds viewers of the film’s place – chronological and geographical – in the saga.

One or two of the tricks up director Gareth Edwards’s (Monsters, Godzilla) sleeve come up short, but the majority land with style. With his team of writers and a game cast, he takes us back to the height of the Empire’s smug attitude – their belief in their right to silence those who oppose them and dictate to a voiceless population with impunity.

It’s a clever, thoughtful slice of entertainment entirely apiece of the Star Wars history. It’s also a reminder that there is always hope.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

Pederasts and Innocent Men for Your Queue

 

If you’re looking for something intense and fascinating this week, check out The Hunt, available today. Powerful, understated and devastating, the film looks with startling authenticity at the one accusation that can never truly be shaken. Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg‘s slyly observational approach offers his lead, a magnificent Mads Mikkelson, the opportunity to show his breathtaking range as an actor. It’s a haunting film, one that takes the less-trod approach to the topic and mines it for all it has.

Pair it with something a little different. Director Todd Field followed up his devastating In the Bedroom with a complex, brilliant work about two unfaithful lovers, selfish thirtysomethings and sketchy parents, Little Children. It was the best film of 2006, and among its countless successes is the Oscar nominated performance by Jackie Earle Haley as Ronnie McGorvey, town sex offender. Field’s playful approach to the film gives it a pleasantly off kilter feel, as if keeping the action at arm’s length, but the immediacy and intimacy of Haley’s performance packs a wallop. The scene between him and Jane Adams is brutal perfection.

An Exquisite Performance Haunts The Hunt

The Hunt

by Hope  Madden

There is one accusation too insidious to ever truly shake, even when it’s unfounded. The Hunt follows the unraveling of one life tainted by that implication.

Danish filmmaker Thomas Viterberg’s restraint behind the camera and the pen allows this quietly devastating tale to unspool at its own pace. It’s November, and the men of Lucas’s small community are daring each other into the freezing lake. Lucas’s best friend strips to nothing and enters, then of course Lucas has to wade in and pull the cramped and drunken buddy back to safety.

Then it’s on to dry clothes and drinking. Later, it’ll be hunting and drinking. It’s all very rustic, charming and masculine, which may be why something feels off when the mild-mannered and deeply decent Lucas makes his way to work at the preschool.

Very slyly, Viterberg creates an atmosphere that separates the masculine from the feminine in a way that hints at a town uncertain of a man who works with children – even if that man is the same truly nice guy you’ve known your whole life.

Viterberg’s observant style picks up casual behaviors, glances, assumptions and choices and turns them into the unerringly realistic image of a small town undone by a rumor of the ugliest sort. He’s aided immeasurably by the powerful turn from his lead, Mads Mikkelson.

For an actor usually saddled with a villain’s role (indeed, he’s currently playing Hannibal Lecter in the TV series), Mikkelson’s reserved and wounded Lucas is a complicated triumph. He won the top prize Cannes awards in acting for a role that proves a breathtaking range.

His work is buoyed by an impressive supporting cast, the gem of which is the chillingly natural little Annika Wedderkopp.

If Viterberg plumbs small town concepts of masculinity to discomfiting effect, what he does with the self-righteous naïveté of upright citizens protecting their young is positively chilling in its authenticity. We watch helplessly as this tiny pebble of an accusation races downhill collecting snow. The quick acceleration of misguided action is breathtaking.

Viterberg seems almost to implicate the audience, because what is the answer? Disbelieve the child?

And if you do believe – would you behave differently?

Small mindedness combines with protectiveness, disgust with suspicion, until a man is no longer considered a man at all but something else entirely. Viterberg’s concern is not simply what happens during the crisis, but whether that crisis can ever finally be resolved. His deliberate and understated storytelling, along with one stunning performance, makes it an unsettling conundrum to consider.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars