Impressions – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story soundtrack – Music by Michael Giacchino

In keeping up with all things Star Wars, I wanted to give my impressions of the film’s score. I spoke briefly on this in my review of the movie. The film was originally set to be scored by prior Gareth Edwards collaborator Alexandre Desplat. Once he was no longer available, Michael Giacchino was called in and only had four weeks to get the music done for the film. The time frame had people concerned that the music would feel rushed. Obviously it would have been better if Giacchino had more time, the product put forth is a solid effort in Star Wars musical canon.

I will admit it still gets me to not hear the iconic theme to open things up. However this isn’t the typical Star Wars film so it makes sense that this isn’t a typical Star Wars score.

The music is thankfully in order as it’s heard in the film. Similar to John William’s score for The Force Awakens there aren’t big, bombastic themes that you can instantly identify. It works Best as a whole as opposed to something you can pick and choose such as the score for A New Hope. 

The first half of the score is similar to the structuring of the film’s first 2 acts. Things move quickly and it seems that Giacchino is trying to get his footing in where to give the film its own musical identity, but still making it Star Wars. Throughout the music you will hear those motifs just to remind you where you are. There’s a great inclusion of The Imperial March that gives me goosebumps.

Once the music shifts the scene to Scarif, like the film it picks up significantly. Giving a beautiful audio mixture of in the trenches war themes and Star Wars familiarity. You hear the evolution of the sound leading up to when the 1977 original comes into play. So as the music goes on, it improves.

Like the film, Rogue One’s music is a good start to this new era of cinematic Star Wars. If Giacchino is to do more music for the series, I am pleased with this effort and look forward to his and other composers to leave their mark on this iconic franchise.

Final Score (3.5/5) Rogue One’s score plays to your ears like the movie does for your eyes. Takes a moment to get itself situated, but once it does, it’s pretty darn good.

Film Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One is the first Star Wars anthology film. These movies are intended to further flesh out the lore of Star Wars while not being a part of the main numbered films. Gareth Edwards, director of Monsters and Godzilla, takes the helm for this first installment. Rogue One tells the story of the Rebel Alliance’s mission to steal the plans of the Galactic Empire’s new superweapon, the Death Star.

Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) stars as Jyn Erso, a young woman whose recruited into the Rebel Alliance to locate her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), an Imperial engineer who is forced to work on the Death Star. Once it is discovered that the battle station has a flaw in its design, Jyn decides to lead a team to steal the Death Star’s plans from a based controlled by the Empire on the planet Scarif and give the plans to the rebellion.

Rogue One is a solid start to these anthology films in the Star Wars saga. I like that these films will be used to not only give us new stories in this series, but give us more perspectives in terms of the filmmaking aspects. Edwards does a good job with his direction. Although Rouge One presents a story we hadn’t seen, the events of this film tie in so closely with George Lucas’ 1977 original that aesthetically there had to be some similarities. Colors of ships, sound designs and even certain shots are made to connect the audience to the world of Episode IV. Especially since Rogue One see the return of an important Star Wars character and the technology used to do so is pretty impressive. It isn’t 100% yet, but once the kinks are ironed out it may do wonders down the line for future films. 

One of the aspects of Rogue One I was impressed with was it’s more traditional take on warfare. No it’s not Saving Private Ryan or any of the Great War films. However there are some scenes, particularly in the third act on Scarif that give us a real sense of what the rebellion goes through apart from the main saga. The script by Chris Wentz and Tony Gilroy is pretty focused and keeps this thematic element present throughout the 2 hour and 13 minute runtime. We do get our X-Wings and TIE fighters though, this is still Star Wars.

I also enjoyed the casting choices and the characters they portrayed. Jones gives Erso a steely determination. Once given the chance to turn the tide, she jumps at the opportunity. Diego Luna plays Cassian Andor, a rebel officer who has both seen and done a lot of things in the name of the Alliance. Ben Mendelsohn is Director Orson Krennic, responsible for overseeing the Death Star’s completion and also having to deal with leaks within the Empire and his power being undermined. There were two standouts of the cast for me were Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior who believes in the Force. I am imigining younger audience members being as excited after seeing him, as I was in 1999 after seeing Darth Maul in The Phantom Menance. The other is Alan Tudyk as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid who is the polar opposite of C-3PO. He speaks his mind and isn’t afraid to let you know it.

My criticisms of Rogue One have to deal with the pacing and structuring of the first 2 acts. There is a bit of jet setting going on similar to a James Bond film and while you know what is going on, it doesn’t feel like it’s totally advancing the plot. It does, but it really gets the movie off to not quite the briskest start. Once we get to Scarif however we are treated to some of the best Star Wars action yet. Another criticism may be leveled at the characters. I know I said that I enjoyed them and I believe most people will, however there isn’t a whole lot fleshed out with them for people to connect with them. It worked well enough for me in the context of the film, but it may not for others and I just wanted to point that out.

You can’t mention Star Wars without mentioning the music. Here we have Michael Giacchino taking over for John Williams. Since this film is “smaller” in terms of its presentation than the main films, the score doesn’t force itself to stand out. Yet over the course of the film, I felt it evolve to that classic Star Wars sound we all love. I do plan to listen to it separately and review it. If Williams were no longer able to score Episode VIII, I feel comfortable with Giacchino taking the torch.
In closing, Rogue One was a really decent start to this anthology series for Star Wars. It fills in the gaps for an important part of the mythos as well as excite and entertain. I look forward to future Star Wars stories that focus on elements away from the main storylines and also invite more varying filmmaking perspectives.

Final Rating (3.5/5) Pacing issues in the first 2 acts slow it down a bit. Also some potential issues with character development depending on how you take on the film. Other than that Rogue One is a promising start to the Star Wars anthology series.

DeaconsDen’s Favorite 10 Episodes of The Simpsons

I was 4 years old when The Simpsons debuted in 1989. This animated sitcom has continued for over 600 episodes across 28 seasons and one feature film and has no signs of slowing down. Funny, irreverent, smart and sometimes even touching, The Simpsons has cemented itself as a cornerstone of American entertainment and pop culture. The show is important to me as it was my first “adult” entertainment as well as my initial exposure to the concept of satire. So many references that I did not understand as a child and would not comprehend until my teenage and adult years. A joke that I saw at 8 or 9 years old would instantly make sense years later. I even credit The Simpsons for exposing me to the work of Stanley Kubrick, one of my favorite directors.

Coming up with a list of 10 favorite episodes from a series with hundreds is not a simple task. The good thing is, with a show that has so many quality installments, there’s no right or wrong answer. A heads up, a decent amount of the episodes will be from season 6, as it is my favorite season of the series.

So let’s dive into the DeaconsDen 10 Favorite Episodes of The Simpsons!

10) The Twisted World of Marge Simpson – Season 8, Episode 11

Typically it’s Homer who comes up with the schemes to make more money, but in this installment it’s Marge who takes the lead. She starts her own pretzel business after she’s kicked out of an investment group for being adverse to risk. This episode has some really good references to Glengarry Glen Ross, Goodfellas and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

9) Who Shot Mr. Burns – Season 6, Episode 25 and Season 7, Episode 1

The only two-part episode of the series, this was a huge deal for me. The cliffhanger through the summer was excruciating to wait for. It’s almost like it was as big as another tv moment when a rich man no one liked was shot. Oh yea and it introduced me to the greatness of Tito Puente. There also was a Twin Peaks reference that I had no clue about until a couple days before I wrote this list becuase I have never seen Twin Peaks. Still discovering things.

8) Homer Badman – Season 6, Episode 9

Homer is accused of sexual harassment by the kids babysitter and must clear his name. Some brilliant spoofs and cultural references are in this episode that include the OJ Simpson murder trial, Bruce Willis action movies, Hard Copy and even Disney’s The Little Mermaid. And to top it off we get a guest spot by Dennis Franz playing Homer in a made for TV movie.

7) $pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling – Season 5, Episode 10

Mr. Burns opens a casino and everyone flocks to the idea of gambling in Springfield. Homer becomes a dealer, Bart opens his own in his treehouse and Marge becomes a gambling addict. This episode contains some inspired references to Howard Hughes, Rain Man, Kubrick’s 2001 and of course Dr. Strangelove which inspired the title of this episode.

6) Radioactive Man – Season 7, Episode 2 

Hollywood comes to Springfield when a film adaptation of the Radioactive Man comic is greenlighted. The whole episode is a poke at Hollywood movie making with some nice moments involving Bart’s friend Milhouse who is picked as the sidekick in the film and witnesses the effects of stardom firsthand.

5) A Star is Burns – Season 6, Episode 18

Another good episode that sees Springfield hosting a film festival. The highlight of this installment is Jon Lovitz,  playing the role of Jay Sherman this crossover with his show The Critic. I think my favorite moment is the screenings which include Mr. Burns and Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.

4) Mr. Plow – Season 4, Episode 9

Homer buys a snowplow, but so faces completion from Barney. I always find myself singing the “Mr. Plow” jingle and didn’t know until researching that it is based on the Roto-Rooter jingle. This episode also has some obscure references, such as Kent Brockman’s reporting which is similar to Walter Cronkite’s reporting of JFK’s assassination. This works more as a great individual episode for Homer as opposed to the more standard satirically themed episodes.

3) Marge vs. the Monorail – Season 4, Episode 12

In this spoof of The Music Man, salesman Lyle Lanley comes to town and convinces Springfield to build a Monorail system which Marge is opposed to. This episode has a few highlights. One being the late Phil Hartman as Lanley. Even though you know it’s his voice he manages to give him enough sleeziness to separate him him Lionel Hutz or Troy McClure. Another is the fantastic Monorail song sung by the residents. The icing on the cake is the guest appearance by the late Leonard Nimoy.

2) You Only Move Twice – Season 8, Episode 2

Homer accepts a new job in a new town. What follows is a hilarious episode that pays tribute to James Bond films and gives us one of the best one shot characters in the show in Albert Brooks’ Hank Scorpio. Another positive about this episode is that Marge, Bart and Lisa each get their own storyline about adjusting in the new town. Also one of the best jokes I’ve seen in the series is in this episode when Homer asks Scorpio for some sugar. From start to finish, this episode pays off.

1) Itchy and Scratchy Land – Season 6, Episode 4

My favorite episode of the series. The family travels to Itchy and Scratchy Land for vacation. Not only are the adventures of the family hilarious before they arrive, once they do get there we get some inspired parodies of Disneyland, Walt Disney, Star Wars, Witness, Alfred Hitchcock and the works of Michael Crichton. Particularly his film Westworld and Jurassic Park. Having been to a Disney theme park, it resonates well and allows you to understand why it means so much to Bart and Lisa. The references to Crichton’s work I also loved becuase I loved the Jurassic Park film and would soon begin to read his novels not much later. Itchy and Scratchy Land is prime Simpsons and is a great showcase as to how well the creative team implements these cultural references that still feel fresh years after the episode first aired.

So there you have it. My 10 favorite episodes of The Simpsons. I look at my list and I know there is another 10 I left off that probably could be on this list as well. For all the fans out there, are any of these on your list? What are some of your favorites? Feel free to make your choices known!

Film Review: Suicide Squad

The Squad has arrived. 

This is the 3rd film in the still developing DC Extended Universe. Written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, Sabotage, Fury), Suicide Squad follows the exploits of a team of criminals as they are used by the government to carry out dangerous missions in exchange for lower sentences.

The Squad consists of hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), the psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), ex-gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and cannibalistic Killer Croc ( Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). The team is under the command of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and assembled by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).

If I were to sum up Suicide Squad in one word it would probably be hectic. The film starts with pretty quick summaries of each inmate and from there it basically jumps right into the action. The events that follow are pretty standard comic book movie fare, but like its core cast, Suicide Squad is far from perfect, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time with these criminals. 

First, the positives. Suicide Squad is a fun film. It reverses one of the major criticisms of its predecessor from earlier this year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Check out my review for that film). And it has a pretty damn good cast who do a good job capturing their respective character. There are a few acting highlights here. Will Smith as Deadshot reminds us of the charisma and cache he brings to these summer blockbuster roles. Margot Robbie brings great energy and unpredictability to Harley Quinn and Viola Davis brings absolute ruthlessness to the screen as Amanda Waller. Jay Hernandez as Diablo brings some tragedy to the role and his redemption story is pretty nice to watch.

One big question is, how would Jared Leto fare as the Joker? While it’s no question Leto has the acting chops, his Joker didn’t leave much of a mark here. It also didn’t help that he wasn’t in the film much at all despite marketing saying otherwise. 

Other positives include the way the action scenes are shot and choreographed as well as moments in between the action where the team gets to experience some comraderie. For me the team dynamics is pretty much the point of films like this anyway. 

On the negative side, not all the characters get time to shine. Katana, Killer Croc and Boomerang may have some individual team moments, but not too much on their histories as others get. Another downside is the story itself. The team’s first mission is a pretty large scale one. If it had been a situation a little more contained such as in the animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham, it would have worked better for their first tme out. The film has a nice soundtrack, but it can at times insert itself a little bit too much into the film where score would have been much more appropriate. Suicide Squad also suffers from some wonky editing. Scenes seem to jump around quite a bit. Sadly it is not by design. Characters appear suddenly, sometimes you get what feels like a gap in the action. It can be jarring at times and there is no excuse for it.

I feel that some of the negative reviews that Suicide Squad received may have been a bit hyperbolic. This isn’t one of the year’s worst films. It has it moments and brings us some really dynamic characters to the screen for the first time. Despite its flaws I had a great time with Suicide Squad and I want more films with these characters. Honestly I hope that they are just standalone films and not part of the bigger picture. Let these guys do the dirty work of the DC Universe. I’m down for it.

Final Rating (3/5) Suicide Squad brings us some dynamic new characters to the screen, but suffers from some story and editing issues that keep this from being all it can be. Still a fun time for me.

Film Review – Moana

Moana took me back to when I was six years old again. Allow me to present some context.

In 1991, I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and it was the first step in my developing love of movies. The animation, the emotional resonance  of the story, the music and the characters opened my eyes to the idea that animation is not just kids stuff. These aren’t kids movies. They are films same as anything else. Disney’s newest animated staple reignited that fire and put my film loving mind in a space I hadn’t been in quite a while.

Moana is the 56th Disney animated feature. It is directed by veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements. The duo is responsible for bringing us classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. The film stars the voices of  Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson.

Moana tells the story of Moana Waialiki. She’s is the daughter and heir of a chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. After the island’s resources begin to become scarce and die, Moana resolves to sail to the island of Te Fiti to save her people. However to do so, she needs to find the demigod Maui who may or may not have something to do with what has happened. The two embark on adventure that will take them across the world in Lord of the Rings fashion, however that reference does not make Moana by any means a carbon copy.

Moana contains many elements that make it a great film for me. One of those elements is its 2 main characters. Moana is a proactive individual who is automatically willing to cross the seas to save her island and her people. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho brings eagerness, heart and compassion to Moana. Maui on the other hand is a demigod who as we see has his heart in the right place, even if he does come off as pompous. Dwayne Johnson just continues to prove that he is a movie star and embues Maui with humor and sensitivity once we learn more of his backstory. 

Another element I loved is the animation style. I’ll be honest, I miss 2D animation being the prominent style for animated films. The leap to 3D is what moved me away from Disney animation for a period of time despite how much I wanted to see it. Moana’s style while 3D, feels like an 2D film in how the characters move and speak. 

The last element I loved about Moana was it’s music. Both score and lyrics. Cravalho has a powerful voice that lets you feel Moana’s passion and you just let it bring a smile to your face. The biggest surprise to me was Johnson who I never knew could sing. I didn’t follow wresting much so if he has before, it’s new to me. Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with veteran composure Mark Mancina and Te Vaka member Opetaia Foa’i capture the essence of the Polynesian culture. If I had one complaint, there is one song that I would have cut, but other than that, it’s superb. After taking this musical adventure, we’ll all want to see how far we’ll go.

Moana is a grand adventure that continues Disney’s animated success. It’s beautiful, fun, touching and thrilling. It has two main characters you love to watch and is backed by great visuals and fantastic music. It felt like the 90s again for me. 

Final Rating (5/5) With the exception of one song I would have cut, Moana works well from beginning to end. A great lead character, supporting character, setting, visuals and music make this one of 2016’s best films. Animated or not.