Since Star Wars came out in 1977, all of the successive sequels and prequels that follows have skewed more or less towards a younger market; even The Empire Strikes Back has cheesy puppets and romantic elements which drop the ball, and from return of the Jedi onwards, it’s strictly for kids. Rogue One reverses the trend; it’s a dark, gritty, downbeat epic that tells the story of how the rebels captured the plans for the Death Star, a kind of Guns of Navarone in space. As well as addressing a number of plot holes in the original film, Rogue One feels more like a war film than a family-friendly blockbuster; parents with kids under ten should be warned that the good guys get their asses kicked here. But the formula of the original films is well-adhered to in Gareth Edwards’s one-off adventure; robot sidekick K2-S0 generates some good comedy touches, which are much needed because the storyline and characters are deliberately bleak. The introduction of a CGI Peter Cushing is regrettable, looking more like a video-game character and never resembling the original actor for a moment. But as the narrative builds to a massive multi-layed battle and a brilliant bit of business with a stuck door, Rogue One is the best entry in the series since, well, the original Star Wars itself.
After the huge success of The Sting, neither Paul Newman, or Robert Redford fancied another, so this sequel represents a mighty downgrade on most aspects of the package. Who better to step into the shoes of Newman than Jackie Gleason? Almost anyone. And if Mac Davis is a like-for-like substitute for Redford, it’s a strange equation indeed. It’s another con-man story, with rollercoasters, boxing and all kinds of period attractions thrown in. But despite the lack of star-power, there’s much to enjoy here, with a super script by the same author, David S Ward, more wonderful soundtrack work from Lalo Schifrin, and some neat support from Karl Marlden, Oliver Reed and Teri Garr. Forever in the shadow of the original film, The Sting II is actually a pretty good film in its own right, and worth checking out for curiosity’s sake.
Not-unreasonably maligned on release, Ted 2 is a far inferior product to the original talking bear movie, but has a few hidden virtues. When so many sequels are reverent and respectful of the original property, in the hope of spinning a franchise, Ted 2 is a more old-fashioned sequel in the it’s completely slapdash and careless; it’s in the spirit of Smokey and the Bandit 2, and even as a few similar action sequences in the unrated version. Ted 2 also has an interesting idea, as Ted (Seth Macfarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) engage lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is fight in court to prove that Ted should have ‘human’ rights. While the original was on-point and engaging, the sheer randomness of the in-jokes is the appeal here, with everyone from Liam Neeson to Morgan Freeman pulled in, unwarranted and self-indulgent musical breaks and lots of really filthy humour in the auteur’s patented style.
Hidden behind a not-very-expressive title and with poster art that suggests another tee fantasy, Your Name is a worthy follow-on to the ground-breaking Studio Ghibli animations. Starting with a gender-bending body-swap, Manako Shinkai‘s film has more to say than most. The two protagonists, Mitshua and Taki get the fun of interfering with each other’s lives, but the story opens out to encompass a natural disaster as a hunk of rock falls to earth and destroys a peaceful village. Your Name then becomes a time-shifting melodrama, as Taki attempts to avert the catastrophe. This is a ghost story, but also a rom-com, and also an action adventure, all in one package, adorned with stunningly imaginative animation and pop songs. It’s great for kids, but adults will understand and appreciate the gravity of the ideas, even if the presentation is sugar-sweet.
In the ‘post-truth’ era, it’s easy to get nostalgic for a time when news was news. David Mamet’s playful Wag The God, back in 1997, shows there’s nothing new under the sun as a Hollywood producer and a spin doctor contrive a war to cover up a Presidential sex-scandal. With heavyweight leads in Robert de Niro (as the PR) and Dustin Hoffman (as the Robert Evans-type producer) , Wag the Dog feels stagey in a good way, never resorting to action when it can show through character and conversation how the media can create it’s own truth. Now that it can be divorced from the Bill Clinton era, Wag The Dog seems to hold a more universal truth and ever. Anyone looking at the Trump/Clinton debate circus and wondering ‘how could this happen?’ would do well to take a look at this clever film about what sticks and what doesn’t, and why post-truth is one step closer to post-apocalypse.
Somewhat erratically released due to the misfortunes of Relativity Media, Masterminds in a return to the ancient comic staple of the idiot bank-heist. From Palookaville to Welcome to Collinwood, it’s a tried and tested route, and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)’s film is aided by being based on true events. Reuniting most of the key players from the Ghostbusters reboot (SNL’s Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig), it gives center-stage to Zack Gilifianakis as David Ghantt, a hirsute security-detail employee who is lured into being a stooge by comely ex-employee Kelly (Wiig). The details of the heist are presumably much exaggerated, since they fall on the side of slapstick, and there’s extra life due to support from Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as a hit man. While not exactly polished due to some cringe-worthy fart-jokes and caricatures, Masterminds may yet find an audience due to some full-blooded pratfalls and a willingness to find humour in some rather dark corners of US life.
A sequel of sorts to 2008’s Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane works just as well, if not better, as a stand-alone thriller. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a perfect Sigourney Weaver-style scream queen, gutsy and vulnerable in equal measures, and the set up is minimal and terse. Fleeing her boyfriend (an un-credited Bradley Cooper in a voice cameo), Michelle gets into her car and drives; a road accident leads her to waking up in the underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman). Howard and his helper Emmett (John Gallacher Jr) are hiding out as new of some kind of surface contamination breaks, so Michelle throws in her lot with Howard reluctantly. Dan Trachtenberg’s taut thriller ratchets up tension, notably during some parlour games, and even when the plot is finally revealed, the director keeps the scale small and the intensity on point. There’s valuable lessons on how to build a homemade hazmat suit, and even though the final tip into sci-fi is predictable, there’s so much to enjoy before that point that it’s hard to begrudge the splattery pay-off. If nothing else, this JJ Abrams production might just be the most intense PG-13 movie ever; any children watching are likely to need the services of a therapist for years to come.