Tag Archives: Riz Ahmed

We Are Stardust

‘Rogue One’ is Rollicking Prequel to Original ‘Star Wars’ Saga

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luno, Forest Whitaker & Riz Ahmed
Directed by Gareth Edwards
PG-13
In theaters Dec. 16, 2016

Space, science tell us, just continues to expand—endlessly, forever.

How else would it have room for Star Wars, the multi-billion-dollar franchise that just gets bigger all the time? It’s listed by Guinness World Records as the planet’s most successful movie merchandising series, a gargantuan, ever-growing realm of films, TV shows, games, comic books, toys and other products.

It all started back in 1977, sort of. As fans know, the first movie was really the fourth—or Episode IV—in the middle of a much bigger story arc to come, one that would play out over the following four decades. And now, the rollicking eighth film takes us back some 30 years, prequel-style, before the big bang.

Ben Mendelsohn

Ben Mendelsohn

In the new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Felicity Jones is a feisty fireball as Jyn Erso, the daughter of a brilliant scientist (Mads Milkkelsen) kidnapped by a fascist operations director (Ben Mendelsohn) of the Galactic Empire to complete his ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star. When Jyn finds out her father has built a secret booby trap, deep inside the device, by which it can be destroyed, she knows she has to help the Rebel resistance find and steal the blueprint of the weapon so the Death Star can be blown to smithereens.

These events, you may recall, preceded and set up the original Star Wars, and are summarized in that film’s iconic opening scroll: “It is a period of civil war… Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans…”

That alone should be enough to send goose bumps up and down the spine of any true fan. British director Gareth Edwards was only 2 years old when the original film—introducing the world to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia, and the loveable droids R2-D2 and C-3P0—came out, but he obviously immersed himself in the culture as he grew. While buzzing and humming with new characters, the visually splendid, dramatically stirring Rogue One remains steadfast to the legacy of the franchise and offers some delightful surprise appearances by “old” familiar faces—good, evil, human and droid.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)

Jyn gradually becomes part of a motley, multicultural, Dirty Dozen/Ocean’s 11-esque crew on a mission to steal the Death Star plans. Diego Luno is Capt. Cassian Andor, a veteran resistance spy, this movie’s version of Han Solo. Forest Whitaker plays Jyn’s mentor, Rebel insurgent Saw Guerra. Hong Kong action star and martial artist Donnie Yen is a blind warrior monk guided by the Force.

Riz Ahmed plays Bhodi Rook, a defected Imperial pilot seeking atonement. Alan Tudyk (the voice of the Duke in Frozen) provides the voice of K-2SO, or Kaytoo, a retooled, wisecracking Imperial droid who gets many of the movie’s best lines. Chinese actor-director Wen Jiang is fearless machine gunner Baze Malbus.

There are Imperial Destroyers, gigantic AT-ACT Walkers and fleets of Jedi Interceptors and X-Wings in pounding, eye-popping sky and land battles. Much of the action has strong military vibes, such as a rousing speech to the “troops” before a beach landing preceding a blistering assault with guns, grenades and aerial bombing. Filmed in the tropical island atolls of the Indian Ocean, the sequence is like a gritty, futuristic throwback to classic WWII cinema.

Off the battlefield, Rogue One works the themes of family, camaraderie and loyalty, and how—throughout time—the heavy hand of rule and repression has masqueraded as “peacekeeping.” When Jedha, a Jedi holy mountaintop city and rebel base, is attacked by the Death Star, it’s no stretch to think of the ancient Roman hammer coming down on Jewish cities like Jerusalem or Masada.

“We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon,” wrote Joni Mitchell in her 1970 song “Woodstock,” her anthem for the hippie generation about how everyone is basically—elementally—connected. Science tells us stardust, originated from explosions billions of years ago, zillions of light-years distant, continues to swirl throughout the cosmos, regenerating in everything in the universe.

In Rogue One, “Stardust” is the nickname given to Jyn as a little girl by her father. It takes on a much deeper meaning as the movie progresses, and especially—quite literally—as it ends.

Who would have thought that a rollicking space opera so “long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” back in 1977, could make such an impact, such a cultural explosion, still expanding and spreading? The next Star Wars, Episode VIII, is slated for December of next year, another—starring Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo—is tracking for spring 2018, and Episode IX is on the launch pad for May 2019.

In space, and just about everywhere else, the Star Wars stardust just keeps spreading, indeed. “We have a long ride ahead of us,” says Capt. Andor as he, Kaytoo and Jyn buckle up when their adventure gets underway. Fans will giddily enjoy every minute of Rogue One’s rousing journey spanning both yesteryear and tomorrow. And when it’s over, they’ll be ready to hop aboard again and again and again, for a ride that may just go on forever.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bourne to Kill

Matt Damon returns as memory-challenged spy in grim, glum ‘Jason Bourne’

Film Title: Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne
Starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones & Alicia Vikander
Directed by Paul Greengrass
PG-13

For espionage fans, Jason Bourne has always been the spy who can’t remember. Based on the character created by novelist Robert Ludlum, he’s appeared previously in three movies (2002-2007) played by Matt Damon, who now returns to the role (after sitting on the sidelines for the oddly Bourne-less The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner, in 2012).

A former brainwashed CIA killing machine who went rogue as his head began to clear, Bourne, has been wandering the Earth for the past decade (apparently) in an existential quest to distance himself from the murderous, amnestic murk of his tortured past.

When his old colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into a government computer, she discovers files suggesting that Bourne’s late father might have been involved in the clandestine government program that “indoctrinated” his young son into the CIA and erased his previous life. She tracks Bourne down to tell him, and it puts both of them in serious danger.

Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones

Learning that sensitive, covert computer files have been breached, CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) knows the situation requires drastic action. If Bourne and Parsons leak those files, one of his advisors frets, “It could be worse than Snowden.”

That means calling on the agency’s top assassin, known only as “the Asset” (Vincent Cassel), to “cut the head off this thing.”

Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander plays an ambitious CIA cyber-ops expert who thinks she can bring Bourne back in to the side of the good guys. But will she get the chance? And the line between “good” guys and “bad” guys gets plenty blurry.

There’s also a plotline about a gigantic new cybertech company, Deep Dream, and its charismatic owner (Riz Ahmed), whose ties to the CIA bring up some timely, troubling concerns about privacy and governmental policing.

A generous amount of globetrotting culminates in a slam-bang Las Vegas crescendo involving a hotel sniper, a brutal back-alley brawl and a colossal downtown chase, dozens of smash-ups and a “jackpot” of a crash inside the Riviera casino.

Film Title: Jason BournePaul Greengrass, who also directed two films from the original Bourne trilogy, is behind the camera again—but can’t seem to hold it steady for a single scene. The director’s penchant for woozy, wobbly “shakycam” shots is meant to convey edge, movement and action, but man, it sure gets old. Even when characters are having a calm conversation, the camera is fidgeting like it can’t wait to split.

And spy flicks have always been about thrills, danger and even death—but this Bourne feels and looks especially grim, glum and grungy, especially given the tenor of the times. Gunmen on rooftops, bombs, civilians dying in the fray, government corruption, a mopey Matt Damon—there ain’t no escapist sunshine here, folks.

“I remember… I remember,” Bourne intones at the beginning of the movie. By the end, the audience may remember, too—that there were other, not-quite-so-downer choices at the multiplex.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , ,