Tag Archives: Disney

Just wild about Larry: An Interview with Steve Mitchell by Kent Hill

Steve Mitchell has been on quite a ride. Having begun in the world of comics, he has the distinction of inking the very first book by a guy you might have heard of . . . Frank Miller. But being in New York with all his friends heading west, Steve, after forging an impressive beginning to his career, took a phone call one night from his another friend and filmmaker Jim Wynorski. Jim wanted an opinion on an idea that, if he could make it work, they might be able to get the picture made. From that conversation a film would be born. It was the cult classic Chopping Mall.

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So like Horatio Alger before him, he went west and continued writing for both the worlds of film and television. The fateful moment would come one day while looking over the credits of the legendary maverick auteur, Larry Cohen, on IMDB.  Astounded by the length and breadth of Cohen’s career, Steve saw an opportunity to possibly make a documentary that would chronicle the life and exploits of the successful filmmaker.

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After receiving a blessing from the man (Larry) himself, Steve set about the mammoth undertaking of  not only pulling together the interviews with Cohen’s many collaborators, all of the footage of his many works , but also the financing to bring these and the countless other elements together to form KING COHEN: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

This truly insightful and utterly entertaining look at the, thus far continuing, career of Cohen is the passion project of a man with whom I share a kinship. Not only for the stories behind the men who make the movies, but also how the films we know and love were pieced together with money, dreams, light, shadow and the technical tools which help capture and refine the many wondrous adventures we as cinema goers have been relishing since our very first experiences.

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KING COHEN is a great film made by a really great guy, and it is my hope, as it is Steve’s hope, that you enjoy the story of Larry Cohen, but also come away from watching the film wishing to then seek out and discover the movies contained within that you may have only experienced for the first time as part of the documentary. The films of the filmmaker that inspired Steve’s film in the first place. (that’s a lot films)

Enjoy…

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JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

There are three types of people. Those who have an undying love for anything and everything Star Wars, those who have a legitimate beef with the unintentional ramifications that Star Wars brought to the fertile era of 70s cinema, and then there are the overly pompous people who parade around “liking” the original trilogy yet scoffing at minute aspects of THE FORCE AWAKENS. The third type of person is a fictitious amalgam of what people loathe about other people.

What JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Kathleen Kennedy did with the seventh entry into the Star Wars saga was establish a whole new world of Star Wars films. Some arguments against TFA are understandable, but after decades Abrams was able to construct, shoot, and assemble a film that looks and feels like it belongs, wholeheartedly, in the saga canon. Ultimately the job of directing a Star Wars film isn’t that sexy, their artistic freedom is monitored, but it’s up to that person to hit the marks that George Lucas set with the first film, and JJ Abrams achieves that in a way makes it hard to think anyone else could do a better job.

THE FORCE AWAKENS follows a template, just like THE PHANTOM MENACE before it. It’s A NEW HOPE but in a different era with some of the same characters. Anyone who walked into the film expecting something other than a Star Wars Saga film would be better off searching the deep web for some obscure Russian film from the 1970s that they can discuss in a vapid and obtuse way. Star Wars is Star Wars is Star Wars. There’s the light side. There is the dark side. There are TIE fighters and X-Wings, and there are space aliens that make witty zingers. Oh yeah, and there’s a Death Star.

Abrams assembles a diverse cast that is inspired organically. There wasn’t a mission to check boxes of ethnicity or gender. He found the right people that were born to play that part. The new cast is simpatico with returning cast members of Mark Hamill in his ultra brief turn, Carrie Fisher in what is now a very bittersweet performance, and of course Harrison Ford as the ultimate space cowboy.

Ford brings everything as he has to his final turn as his seminal character in a career stocked to the brim with so many memorable characters and franchises. With help from Abrams and Kasdan’s script, Ford takes on the Obi-Wan esque role. Ford is perfect. He’s funny, he’s smarmy, he’s hopeful, and he’s everything you’d want Han Solo to be all these years later and more. For those who fall into the first group of people, watching Han Solo die is one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema history. Ford’s build up; his gruffness wrapped in his sentiment and nostalgia completely sells his demise in the most beautifully tragic way possible. It’s near maddening that Ford wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

There is a mixture of practical effects and CGI, much like the prequels. And then there’s BB-8. The new fan favorite that is an encompassment of R2-D2’s sassy personality and an ultra cute design and color scheme. It’s rather impressive how instantly beloved and welcomed BB-8 was, and after seeing the film, it’s incredibly hard not to fall hard for that little whirling dervish of love.

The picture excels on nearly every level, and if it weren’t so quickly followed up by the excellent ROGUE ONE, there wouldn’t be as much shelf wear on the film. The film is vibrant as it is dreary. Abrams not only acknowledges the prequels, he embraces the aesthetic. He mixes the original trilogy with the prequel trilogy to create his own, and predominantly new world of Star Wars. The film isn’t without some minor hiccups and narrative issues, but this isn’t the new film by Martin Scorsese. It’s Star Wars.

Star Wars saga films are built on nostalgia. Star Wars is nostalgia for many. And while Lucas isn’t part of the Star Wars universe moving forward, Abrams has more than proved himself as a worthy supplement. He’s inherited the mantle of Lucas, and he’s helped construct the joy of Star Wars for generations to come. What’s so ironic are those who hold such an obnoxious contempt for Lucas, yet are rabid for the new dawn of Star Wars. Those who consistently beat the drum of talking in circles to those who are as like(narrow)minded as them, that will bend over backwards to suck any joy they can out of anyone who praises Lucas. You know, the guy who created everything in the first place. Leave George Lucas alone, without him you’d have nothing to complain about and would have saved a lot of money.

Disney’s The Journey Of Natty Gann


It’s neat to think that Disney would take a chance on something as grim and risky as The Journey Of Natty Gann, but they green-lit it and allowed a wonderful story to come alive. Set during the Great Depression and focusing on themes of abandonment and loss, it’s hardly the studio’s milieu, but they’ve proudly stamped their seal on it and I consider it to be one of the best amongst their live action output to date. Starring a terrific Meredith Salenger, it tells the tale of a young girl who’s separated from her father (Ray Wise, brilliant as ever) after he takes off to a logging job elsewhere in the country. Faced with life as an orphan or worse, Natty makes an epic trek across the dilapidated, economically gutted states to find him. It’s got all the trappings of a syrupy, run of the mill Disney outing: dog/wolf cross sidekick etc, but it really manages to find the danger, fear and loneliness she faces in a country that has gone to all hell everywhere she looks, and let the pathos come naturally out of how she fights her way through each new situation. John Cusack is great as a train hopping rambler who joins her here and there, his mopey doglike visage fitting right into the 30’s hobo shtick uncannily well. Salenger is a strong and fierce leading lady, the strife she sees around her echoed in her haunted face, emblazoned also with hope for the future. Filmed entirely in my home province of British Columbia, the film is beyond gorgeous to look at, the sooty grime of a looming industrial wave accented by the burnished greens and crystal waters of the region. This is sort of a forgotten Disney film, it wouldn’t be right up there on someone’s collection shelf or sitting near the front of the rental queue online, but it’s more than worth checking out, and considered a classic by me. 

-Nate Hill

Disney’s Big Hero 6


Disney/Pixar’s Big Hero 6 is the perfect example of what we should expect from animated films: dazzling, imaginative, passionate fables set across times and dimensions with no shortage of expanse or varied themes and visual splendour. It does seem that with each new outing (they’ve recently outdone themselves with Inside Out) they reach further for the stars and pull something out of the hat with qualities that somehow get better and better each time around. 6 is a miracle of innovation and future-house scientific pyrotechnics, a story that calls on everyone who ever wanted to try their hand at robotics, engineering or dazzling computer tech to take a look at the images on display here. In the futuristic metropolis of SanfranSokyo, the search for scientific progress and new discoveries reigns supreme, free from other pesky constraints like the R word (the way it should be in every society, tbh), and everybody is a pseudo Asian American brainiac devoted to brilliant new ideas and ingenuity, basically one giant year round science fair that doesn’t quit. Young Hiro (Ryan Potter) worships the endeavours of his prodigy of an older brother, who whips new inventions out of his sleeve every day, until one of them garners the attention of a shadowy arch villain, hijacking it for himself, resulting in his bro’s death. Left behind for comfort and companionship is giant Michelin Man robot Baymax, an adorable fatso who uses his Inspector Gadget level itinerary of utilities and rotund charm to befriend Hiro, while coaching him through the dangerous waters of seeking revenge. He’s joined along the way by many friends with voices from TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell and more, blasting off into one of the most visually stimulating Sci Fi adventures the world of animation has ever seen. Every kind of tool, gizmo and tech marvel is on display somewhere, and not just plonked in there as Dr. Seuss-ical sideshow diversions either, everything has a logical and specific purpose to fit it’s garish appearance and style. Baymax is the highlight, a big baby with a heart as big as his waistline who knows just when to lay down the comic relief when things get heavy. They do get heavy too, this is a mature film that treats subjects like loss, anger and moral corruption seriously, it’s a fantastical world inhabited by humans that couldn’t be more real or fleshed out, a recipe that Pixar has been perfecting for sometime now, since the first human leading characters showed up in The Incredibles. The Sci Fi is laid on thick enough for any geek to run with, and we’re reminded of everything from Stranger Things to Astro Boy and more with this package. If Pixar plans to keep climbing uphill in terms of quality, this is one hell of a brilliant plateau, and I can’t wait to see where they ascend too from it on rocket powered boots of inspiration and magic. 

-Nate Hill

Fantastic Beasts and the Man who made them: An Interview with Chris Walas by Kent Hill

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When I think of the work of Chris Walas, a few things pop into my head.

The first is how much I loved Dragonslayer when I saw it at the cinema as a kid. It like The Black Hole was a dark, different Disney movie. This was the era when Disney was trying to be more like a studio and not purely focused on the animation that had garnered it so much love.  I remember waiting for the moment when the dragon would finally be revealed and I was not disappointed. I was becoming aware of how movies were made at that time, so the prospect of any giant creature on screen, knowing that it was actually there, that it had to be built was incredible.

The second is Enemy Mine. A movie for the longest time I had only seen the last twenty minutes of. During the heyday of video piracy, it was not uncommon to borrow a tape from friends or family and find the tail ends of stuff that had been taped over. Ironically I can’t remember the film that was taped over it, but those final scenes from Enemy had me intrigued. I think it was one of my cousins who I borrowed the tape from, so I asked him about the clip at the end. “Oh I taped over that ‘cause it was kinda boring. Some dude and an alien have a baby together.” Yes folks, I have some really classy relatives, and that was how he pitched Enemy Mine to me. Still, undaunted, I sought it out and it is a whole lot more than that; indeed another great film from Wolfgang Petersen who had blown my mind prior with The Neverending Story.

Finally I reflect on The Fly 2. One of two films I have literally lost my lunch watching. And, let me be clear, up to that point, I had seen gruesome stuff before so it wasn’t so much the imagery as it was the visceral qualities of the imagery. As the years go by, and because I haven’t seen it in a long time, so it’s sketchy at best, but one thing that I recall was Daphne Zuniga wiping away Eric Stoltz’s slimy coating from this one scene and giving him a kiss. I remember that or something like that, like I said, it’s been a long time between drinks, but that scene and a few others helped my lunch get its own sequel that day.

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But enough about me, let’s talk about Chris.

Chris Walas has worked on a handful of truly iconic films. You can see is work in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins. He is an Academy Award winner – that Oscar being for The Fly and part of a terrific association with David Cronenberg who he would go on to work with on other films like Scanners and Naked Lunch.

He has sat in the director’s chair on (of course) The Fly 2, The Vagrant and “Til Death”, an episode of Tales from the Crypt. He was part of the Roger Corman stable; he worked on Airplane!, Galaxina, Caveman and Virtuosity – he is a very talented man who has had a hand in the truly grand cinematic experiences of my youth and it was an utter delight to interview him, and subsequently, to present said interview to you. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I give you . . . Chris Walas

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KH: Sir, it is truly an honour to make your acquaintance. You have the distinction of being the first Oscar winner I have interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly.com

CW: That’s hard to believe with all the Oscar winners out there these days, but I’m happy to be here.

KH: Before we get into the meat of things, I was wondering if working in the picture business has be a lifelong pursuit, and if so, what were the films that lit the fire, so to speak?

CW: You know, it’s interesting because so many interviewers ask “What was the film that made you want to do what you do?”  I don’t think it’s a simple as that. It’s like asking painter what painting made them want to be a painter. It’s not about a single event; it’s about an artform that creates the magic in the imagination. I was a movie fan as far back as I can remember. I loved all films. I loved what the medium could do. I didn’t understand any of it, but I loved “Citizen Kane” as a little kid. It was riveting to me. I grew up on the old Universal Horror Classics and still love them. The Sci Fi films of the 50’s hold a special place in my heart for sure. But I can definitively say that the single film that made me DECIDE that movies were where I wanted to be was Ray Harryhausen’s , “Jason and the Argonauts”. It was the first film I ever saw in a theatre and I was transfixed by the experience. I knew at that moment (even though I understood nothing about it) that that was what I needed to be a part of in my life.

KH: You have worked on some truly iconic movies, many of which are my personal favourites. But, how did you get into the business after your schooling ended?

CW: I wanted to get into films somehow. At that time I was on the East Coast and the film business was pretty dead just then. So I left for Hollywood with a couple hundred bucks in my wallet and a sublime ignorance of the realities of LA.  I was lucky enough to get a job shipping film for Disney, which was magical for a naive kid from New Jersey. Discount tickets to Disneyland, and I could spend all my lunch hours on the back lot talking to the original animators of Snow White or the wire rigger for the Squid tentacles from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They all brought their lunches and sat out in the backlot relaxing or practicing their watercolours. And they loved to talk. It was my introduction to the world of movies. Wonderful. I then took filmmaking classes for a year until my money ran out and I took a job at Don Post Studios, a company that made high quality Halloween masks and occasionally did some film and TV work. I was there a year and started out painting a gross of masks a day on the cheap line to being a member of the lab crew, developing new product and working on the occasional outside project. It was an education I would have paid for. I learned more in that year than in four years of college. But I was antsy and impatient, and one of the other Lab guys (Bob Short) and I left and started a little partnership doing odd projects. We both started to get good reputations, but each doing different things, so we split up and went our separate ways. And it just grew from there.

KH: Tell us, if you will, about working on some of your early credits like Island of the Fishmen (Screamers), Humanoids from the Deep and Piranha?

CW: Piranha was my first on set film experience. Jon Berg, who was in charge of the effects on the film, had been to Don Post to see about them running some of the rubber piranhas. That didn’t work out, but the connection had been made and when the FX shoot needed more people, Bob Short got pulled on board and then through Bob, I got pulled in. That was my entry into the crazy world of Roger Corman films. It was wild and desperate filmmaking in those days; no money, no time. The only good part was that IF you could actually make something to get in front of the camera within the meagre time and budget, you were a hero. It was a process that very quickly filtered out those who could from those who couldn’t. But it was exhilarating and magic at the same time. Isle of the Fishmen was a bit of a mess. The original Italian production had been purchased by some fly by night LA outfit and they wanted to “beef it up” for the American audience. We had almost nothing as far as a budget, but it was with some people that I felt comfortable with.  Miller Drake and (unofficially) Joe Dante. It was a small and relatively close group in those days at New World Pictures. We shot out at the beach in the middle of the night in January and nearly froze to death soaking wet in the Fishman costume. Other inserts were shot in Joe’s garage; it was that kind of filmmaking.  But Humanoids was a different story. New World had asked me to do it, but I was busy on GALAXINA and a couple of other films at the time, so I suggested Rob Bottin. But the schedule was a tough one on that show and Rob asked me to come in and do a bunch of the sculpting and running on the Humanoid costumes. As well as those absurdly huge arm extensions! It was an extremely intense time for me as there was way too much work and not enough people in town to do it all.

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KH: I know you probably get a lot of “Fly” questions and I think that if people really want a good insight into the making of that film they should watch the comprehensive Fear the Flesh. But, you worked on a few movies with Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners and Naked Lunch). What was making pictures with David like?

CW: This is a great question, if for no other reason than it lets me applaud one of my very favourite directors I’ve had the honour to work with.  David Cronenberg is an amazing filmmaker. He’s not just a director. His films truly belong to him. They are his vision. He’s an astonishing writer. When I was first approached for The FLY, I turned it down. I didn’t want to do a remake, etc. Stuart Cornfeld, the producer, said, ” I know,  I agree. Just read the script”. I read the script and it was superb. David had redone the original script and made it his own. I couldn’t say no to that script.  And David is an astonishing director because he really understands the process that everyone is going through. A lot of directors are absolutists; it has to be a certain way. David understands that production is about compromises and that a good director only makes compromises that don’t hurt the film. He was demanding and understanding at the same time. Very unique qualities in a film director and I feel very fortunate to have worked with him.

KH: I have vivid memories of The Fly 2. I remember watching it on video with some cousins and felt my lunch coming back on me a couple of times during that flick. How was it to finally sit in the director’s chair on Fly 2 and the other films you directed?

CW: Somehow, we hold the director’s chair as some ethereal pinnacle in filmmaking. And in some ways it is. It is the ultimate decisive position, historically. But I had already been directing teams of dozens of artists at my company, coordinating large operations and such, so I don’t think I was as intimidated as a lot of first time directors. I was quite comfortable directing, especially as I had such a wonderful crew of true talents on the FLY II. I never actually wanted to be an effects person. It was just the easiest way for me to get into the business.  Besides, it’s ALL filmmaking. All of it. From craft service to timing final prints. Directing is just the most focused, exhausting position. But I loved it.

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KH: I interviewed William Sachs recently, director of Galaxina. Can you tell us about your work on that film?

CW: I’ve only lost money on two films. GALAXINA was the first one. At that time there were a lot of productions trying to cash in on the STAR WARS phenomenon. So there were a lot of over-ambitious, under-funded films being made. GALAXINA was right smack in the middle of those. Bill (Sachs) had his hands full on that film. He really did. And for me, it was a really, really tough show as there was a lot of stuff and very little money. We had to make a couple of the alien costumes overnight; the schedule kept changing wildly. I don’t know how Bill dealt with it all, honestly. It was furious alien making, to be sure. We had Angelo Rossito as the little alien creature. Little Angie, as he had been known, was a dwarf who had worked on countless films. The schedule changed dramatically and the three weeks we had scheduled to make his suit turned into 18 hours. But he was a total pro. He showed up with some of his old clothes for us to use as the base for the suit! We built the suit right on him and he never had a word of complaint at all. Total pro. Everything we did for Galaxina was done scraping the bottom of the barrel because there was so much work.

 

KH: I have a great fondness for both Dragonslayer and Enemy Mine, they speak to my youth. Tell us about working on those pictures; especially Enemy Mine, it’s one of my all-time favourites?

CW: Phil Tippet brought me up to ILM to work on the team for Dragonslayer. And that was a wonderful experience working with some of the absolute top talent in the field. Every day was an education for me. I was strictly on the in-house FX team and didn’t go over to England for the shoot. I made most of the molds for the dragons and baby dragons as well as running most of the rubber pieces.  I rigged the puppets for the baby dragons and built a few odds and ends pieces for individual shots; smaller scale grabbing legs, a bit of wing, etc. The biggest thing I was involved with was the close up Vermithrax puppet. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but they just couldn’t get the footage they wanted out of the full size head and neck that Disney had done, so I designed and built, and operated an animatronic puppet head. That was exhausting because the puppet had to be dripping water all the time, so the puppet became supersaturated and just kept getting heavier and heavier. But I think it worked in the end and helped the picture.

Enemy Mine was basically problem after problem. I started out working with the first director, Richard Loncraine, who I really liked and admired. We shot for six weeks on lava fields in Iceland before 20th Century Fox closed the picture down and hired Wolfgang Peterson to direct. We were supposed to be closed down for two weeks for the restart, but it was a full six months before we got going again.  I think, for us, the production got bogged down in a lot of committee decision making, which slowed everything down.  But in the end I was happy with the designs. We had an opportunity to do quite a lot of different effects for the film between the Dracs and all the odd creatures. The newborn Zammis puppet was one of my favourite rigs on that show.

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KH: You worked with Joe Dante on Gremlins which was produced by Steve Spielberg whom you worked with on Raiders which was produced by George who brought us Return of the Jedi which you are also credited as having worked on. In retrospect, what was it like working on these milestones of cinema?

CW: Every once in a while you get lucky. Gremlins was a true milestone for me in both my life and my career. It was the first time I was in charge of running such a big crew on a studio picture. It was truly an insane experience for me as the picture just kept changing and growing, with new gags being developed for the Gremlins almost daily.  I don’t think I’ve ever been worn out so completely on any other film. But at the same time it was great fun, like a bunch of grown up kids playing. We had no idea we were working on a film that would be so successful and impacting.

Working on Raiders of the Lost Ark was great. Challenging. But it was at ILM, which was then the absolute pinnacle of FX houses in the entire world. I really wasn’t used to being able to say, “I sure could use one of these…” and then having someone order it right up or just get it from another department. So I had options available to me that I hadn’t really had up to that time.  Richard Edlund was in charge of the FX on the show and he was great about making sure that I had what I needed for the melting head and the other shots. I didn’t get to see the film until just before it opened and I was blown away. It’s such an amazing film. I feel so lucky to have been a small part of it.

For Jedi, I really only did design maquettes for some of the alien races in the film. I set up the creature shop for ILM, but then I left to pursue other projects. It was very nice to be included in the credits on that one!

 

KH: You have a number of diverse entries among your credits like Deep Star Six, Arachnophobia, Hot Shots and Virtuosity. Were these genres you sought after or were the film’s concepts interesting or was it simply the want to be constantly working that brought you to these projects?

CW: After Gremlins, I had set up a genuine facility with a great crew who knew what they were doing and so I had to take what projects I could to keep the shop going. But some of the projects were favours; Deep Star Six was for Jim Isaac, who was striking out on his own after being on my crew for a number of years. House II was for Ethan Wiley, who had also been a member of my crew on Gremlins and others. Some films were projects I really wanted to do; ANYTHING David Cronenberg was doing. Anything for Amblin, Spielberg’s company. But in between those projects it was a matter of trying to choose what projects seemed like they might be good films as well as keeping the shop going as long as possible.

KH: You’ve been a writer, director and producer having a film you co-wrote come out in 2016. Did you ever want to make more of your own pictures and do you, like so many people in the industry, have dream projects that might have come close but never saw the flickering light of the silver screen?

CW: I would have loved to have done more directing.  But it just wasn’t in the cards. I have a number of projects I would love to see resurrected someday. One of my favourites is a project called “Dathulgon”, which is a steampunk combination of characters and plot lines from Jules Verne and other early steampunk writers mixed with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. That project was humming along nicely when the big market crash ruined a lot of financing for films.  I have a whole list of projects I would still like to see happen!

KH: Well sir, as a long-time fan this has been a very large pleasure, and though we were not able to conduct this interview via recording I care not, for as I said I am honoured to have met you and am humbled that you have taken this time to be interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly?

CW: It’s been a pleasure. It’s fun to reminisce and I really appreciate knowing that there are people out there who look back fondly and remember the work kindly. Thanks!

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So there you have it. Chris Walas folks. Applause is totally necessary for this talented man and his amazing career.

 

I’ll just take a moment to let you know some other interviews I have coming up. I’ll be bring you chats with Mike Marvin (director of The Wraith), Chris Olen Ray (Two & Three-Headed Shark Attack), The Outlaw film critic VERN, Scott Rosenberg (creator of Cowboys and Aliens). Prior to the release of SHARKNADO 5 (because that’s the kind of nerd I am) I’ll be presenting a double feature that week prior to August 6th of my interviews with Steve Alten (we discuss the long cinematic gestation of Meg) and the man himself Anthony C. Ferrante (director of the SHARKNADO series). So as ever, thank you for checking out podcastingthemsoftly.com, and watch this space…

Cheers

Kent

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Ben Cahlamer

War.  Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive.  In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek.  For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful.  Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.

Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces.  Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion.  Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.

The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series)  is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.

It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads:  the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed.  The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care.  The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.

The characters service the script effectively.  However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative.  Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.  Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path.  It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader.  Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic:  their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear.  Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined.  Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters.  Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.

Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters.  Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.

From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe.  In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.

Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie.  From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task.  Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.

Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.

As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat.  It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form.  In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further.  Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.

“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way.  Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down.  Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous.  It is Recommended.

Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly.  Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films.  He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.

Disney’s Frozen: A Review by Nate Hill 

I avoided watching Disney’s Frozen for a long time, no lie. I hate overblown hype despise maniacal product placement, and unfortunately kid’s movies suffer through the worsr of it (remember Tangled? Ugh). I did finally get around to seeing it though, and it’s an utter delight. A little thin in the plot department, mind you, but that’s where the Disney wizards compensate with stunning visuals, effervescent voice acting and of course that legendary, now iconic song, belted out by Idina Menzel’s  Elsa high atop a snowy peak. I heard that song played into oblivion before I ever saw the film, and didn’t ever think I’d be able to enjoy it again without getting the ol’ eyelid twitch, but seeing the real thing in the context of the film, with a little help from my home theater system, well…. let it go indeed. Menzel and Kristen Bell are touching as the two sisters, Anna the doe eyed princess with the world at her feet, Elsa the fierce and independent rebel who doesn’t fit in. Her magical abilities with snow and ice allow for some unbelievable computer effects, and the ice palace she creates is a gem of a set piece, intricately woven and detailed to the max. Their castle down below is designed with traditional Germanic decoration in mind, a nod to the inspiration they have no doubt received from Hans Christian Anderson’s original storybook, The Snow Queen. Like I said before, what’s there in plot is spread pretty thin, but it’s no matter, because this one is fuelled by visuals. Sweeping mountains packed it powdery snow drifts, ornate castles, beautifully designed costumes, sleds, dresses and animals, including Sven the rambunctious reindeer. It’s a jewel of ocular achievement. Oh and I might add, that Swedish sounding dude who runs the little shop way up the mountain is probably the funniest character Disney has created in years.