Diego Luna

Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Sadly, the Writers Guild of America does not publish their arbitrations for writing credits, because the one on Rogue One has got to be a doozy; I desperately want to know how they go to this script. Did it actually start as a video game or did director Edwards really have no idea how to do action scenes not out of a video game? Was there ever a satisfying conclusion to the various characters or was it always going to be amid the biggest Star Wars action sequence featuring the toys—sorry, spaceships–from the Original Trilogy ever mounted.

Because you know how they do all the rest. They do it with CGI. They even bring Peter Cushing back in CGI and credit some guy named Guy Henry who… stood in? Got CGI’ed over? Cushing doesn’t look real, he doesn’t even look alien (though the alien designs in Rogue One are like sixty percent good and forty percent perplexingly odd). He kind of looks like a video game character but maybe a little better… whenever he’s on, I wish I was just watching CGI further adventures of the Original Trilogy cast. I mean, probably not anymore because I wouldn’t want to see what the do with Carrie Fisher but still. There’s a novelty in it.

There’s no novelty in CGI Cushing in Rogue One because they still haven’t gotten the acting down. The face makes expressions but pointlessly. Kind of like the James Earl Jones cameo. His inflections make no sense. Partially because the exposition-full dialogue plays worse onscreen than George Lucas’s. Again, that Writers Guild arbitration has got to be some great reading. Like who wrote the Darth Vader cameo, which I’m not going to consider a spoiler because you should be able to get a “Rogue One Darth Vader” playset, complete with the bigger looking, Darth Helmet homage perhaps helmet.

The reason the dialogue is so bad is because they’re targeting a younger audience. There’s this really silly “Rosebud” running throughout the movie and it gets repeated time and again before it finally comes into play and then they even explain it. Because they’ve got to hit the eight year-olds, which is nice, right? It makes an eight year-old feel smart… which is kind of Star Wars in a nutshell.

Anyway.

The big space and land battle plays with all the good toys. There are ships from various movie periods fighting each other and whatnot, there’s AT-ATs, there’s… a samurai. There’s everything you could want. And lots of callbacks to the original movies, both in shots and dialogue.

As bland as the action direction, Edwards does pretty well with the pseudo-main plot, involving the creation of the Death Star (the first one, so pre-Star Wars; the movie assumes you’re very familiar, because otherwise why would you be watching Rogue One). Empire scientist Mads Mikkelsen tries running away but gets brought back by bad guy Ben Mendelsohn (who’s great but has to play second-fiddle to CGI Cushing, which is a choice); Mikkelsen’s wife dies and their daughter is rescued by Forest Whitaker. Jump ahead fifteen years and now the daughter is Felicity Jones and Whitaker’s an old man (so they can make prequels to this prequel, which would still be sequel to the prequels), and they’re estranged. Blah blah blah, needlessly complicated plot to get Jones and Whitaker reunited, bringing in Rebellion spy and secretly soulful assassin Diego Luna, who, with his trusty reprogrammed attack droid (voiced by an over-enthusiastic given the writing Alan Tudyk), will reunite father and daughter and hopefully save the universe.

Along the way Luna and Jones team up with Jedi Temple protectors but not Jedi Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. They’re like Jedi groupies. Yen gives what’s probably the best performance… and there are good performances. Not just Mendelsohn. Luna’s a strong lead until Jones takes over for… ten minutes or so. She’s good. It’s a silly part, but she’s good. Riz Ahmed’s really good as the Imperial spy. Forest Whitaker’s good. Until they get to the direct prequel to Star Wars stuff, it certainly seems like it might add up to something for its cast. But once Threepio and Artoo show up… it’s just a countdown to their suicide mission overtaking them and clearing the board for the actual heroes to show up.

The ginned up martyrs all get their big exits but they play trite, mostly because the script, some Edwards. Michael Giacchino’s score almost, almost, almost finally makes it work but then he doesn’t because he never makes it work. Giacchino’s score is middling when it’s not aping or anti-aping John Williams and much worse when it does.

Rogue One is a successfully executed Star Wars prequel slash midquel, which says nothing about it as a good use of $200 million or two hours and ten minutes…. In those terms, it’s an abject, even desperate fail and a complete waste of its (human) actors’ time.

I assume CGI Peter Cushing has nothing better to do.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, and Jabez Olssen; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont; costume designers, David Crossman and Glyn Dillon; produced by Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, and Allison Shearmur; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa), Alistair Petrie (General Draven), and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma).


Open Range (2003, Kevin Costner)

Because I’m a cynic, I have to point out the following–in order to revive the Western, that most American of genres (sort of), Costner had to film Open Range in Canada.

It’s hard to think of a more traditional Western than Open Range. But the way Costner films it, it’s nouveau-Technicolor–the sky impossibly blue, the prairie impossibly green. There’s a subtle thread running through Range about progress and participating in it and not participating in it… but the film’s not about that collision.

Instead, it’s a straightforward Western–some drama, some action, some comedy. There’s even Costner putting in an unexpected Waterworld reference, as Michael Jeter swings around.

Most of the film takes place over a day and a half. It’s not real time, but there’s a deliberate pace and Costner’s able to keep every plot development significant. It makes the film speed through its two hours and twenty minutes. The first act, with this delicate introduction to Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna and Abraham Benrubi, is exceptional filmic storytelling.

The acting’s all great. Costner and Annette Bening have their gentle romance–the most un-Western thing about the film is Costner casting someone his age as his love interest. Then there’s Costner and Duvall’s friendship–these two awkward, asocial men bonding–it’s all very thoughtful and very special. Luna’s good as their sidekick.

Plus, James Russo is fantastic as the corrupt marshal.

Open Range is a quietly spectacular film; it’s tragic Costner’s not recognized for it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Craig Storper, based on a novel by Lauran Paine; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Michael J. Duthie and Miklos Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Gae S. Buckley; produced by David Valdes, Costner and Jake Eberts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Robert Duvall (Boss Spearman), Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Annette Bening (Sue Barlow), Michael Gambon (Denton Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy), Diego Luna (Button), James Russo (Sheriff Poole), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Dean McDermott (Doc Barlow) and Kim Coates (Butler).


Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

As Milk‘s opening titles ran, it occurred to me Danny Elfman scored it. It doesn’t sound anything like Elfman’s norm–you know, the modified Batman music–but it sounded like the kind of score Danny Elfman should be doing (and should have been doing for years). Milk‘s a biopic–and always feels like one, thanks in great part to Van Sant’s reliance on contemporary news footage for storytelling. It’s a solid move, but it makes me think of Good Night, and Good Luck–which isn’t a bad thing, since Milk‘s an entry in that same genre. The dramatic, filmic biography… but not quite biography, since none of Harvey Milk’s life before the present action begins gets covered. Milk‘s Harvey Milk spends the eight years of the film’s present action becoming someone the man in the opening couldn’t have imagined. Where Milk succeeds so greatly is in the surprise–even knowing the story (or some of it, or just paying attention to the news footage at the beginning of the film), it’s impossible to forecast how the film’s Milk is going to develop.

It’s not Sean Penn’s best performance, but it’s got to be the only one of his best performances where he’s likable. He creates an almost magical character–the scenes with him giving speeches for unions or handing out a bouquet of flowers in a black barbershop–these should be unbelievable scenes (even if the real Milk did exactly the same things), but Penn makes them work. But the character is far from perfect–Van Sant could have easily approached Milk with some kind of destiny angle, but he doesn’t. Penn’s character is a human being, full of mistakes, full of regret, even if he does have a positive disposition. Penn’s played lots of protagonists–he hasn’t done anything in a long time–but in Milk, he plays a hero (his first?). No shock, he’s great at it.

Van Sant’s got an amazing supporting cast. Milk‘s got a huge cast, but the principal supporting actors–Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna–all standout. Hirsch and Brolin probably have an easier time (though both of them have a couple fantastic scenes), but only when I list them next to Luna, who’s got the film’s most difficult role. He plays an annoying, clingy drama queen (sorry, is there a PC term for drama queen); he’s got to irritate the viewer, cause some eye-rolling, but still be a sympathetic person. It’s a very difficult performance and, at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like Luna’s going to pull it off… but then he does.

Actually, a lot of Milk is in a similar situation. It’s always a solid motion picture, but it doesn’t skyrocket until after the halfway mark. The quiet introduction of Brolin, the deepening of Penn’s character, it all takes off. Before, Van Sant feels like he’s experimenting, trying to get the tone right. As it turns out, he is getting the tone right (presumably, it’s not an experiment, but a procedure to get the film to the right place). It’s easily Van Sant’s best film, but Dustin Lance Black’s script doesn’t hurt at all–the script’s mostly passive, but Black has a couple great approaches. Brolin’s place in the plot, for example, is great.

I haven’t mentioned James Franco yet. He deserves a better paragraph than this one will be. He’s astounding–it’s hard to imagine eight years ago I dreaded the very sight of his name–he keeps getting better as an actor. At its most successful, he and Penn make Milk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features.

Starring Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).


Criminal (2004, Gregory Jacobs)

Chris Rock once lamented Jim Carrey’s attempts at drama, pointing out Hollywood has plenty of actors who can do the Tom Hanks roles, but only one who can do Ace Ventura–and I agreed with him. Seeing John C. Reilly in one of last actor roles, I finally realized Rock’s wrong, at least somewhat. Yes, there are other actors for the Tom Hanks roles… but there aren’t for the John C. Reilly roles. Criminal is one of Reilly’s most dynamic performances, maybe because the role gives him more to do–and Reilly’s had some amazing parts–than ever before.

Lots of Reilly’s performance is monologue, as he explains the con man trade to protégé Diego Luna. These sequences given Reilly the opportunity to shock, yet endear himself to the viewer. The later scenes, when Reilly thinks and feels… those are his best moments in Criminal, since he’s playing a despicable person who discovers it doesn’t feel good to be despicable.

Being a con movie, Criminal has a big surprise at the end. I wasn’t actually expecting it at the beginning, simply because Criminal‘s got a weird narrative format. It’s a continuous present action–not real-time, but it takes place over about twenty hours. The format allows for the film to distract the viewer from examining it as a con movie, having to follow certain rules. After a while, it becomes clear there’s going to be some twist at the end. Then, in the denouement, it goes through three periods (the final being the actual revelation). By generalizing, I can avoid spoilers (I hope). The first period is a beautifully paced three minutes–the film only runs ninety minutes and it’s very tight–when it’s entirely possible, while there’s obviously a twist, the viewer might never find out what it’s going to be. Then is the period where Criminal, for about ninety seconds, hints it might never have been a con movie, but a young man becoming an adult movie, also rather strange. Both these periods suggest Criminal as an innovative, singular entry into the genre. Then the actual conclusion. It’s a good conclusion, maybe not as cool as the second period… but it’s solid.

Besides Reilly, the cast is excellent. Luna is good, especially given how he’s responsible for keeping the audience interested in the narrative. Peter Mullan is great (little shock there). I was surprised by Jonathan Tucker’s fine performance, given he’s usually unimpressive. Maggie Gyllenhaal, however, is only okay. She has some fine moments–in terms of craftsmanship–but her character is in the story too much to be so poorly drawn.

Gregory Jacobs mostly works as co-writer Steven Soderbergh’s assistant director and it shows a little. There’s a minor Out of Sight reference and Jacobs masterfully applies some of Soderbergh’s vérité techniques to the film while still making it his own. Jacobs never lets Reilly run the show, which is a major achievement, given Reilly’s fantastic, mesmerizing acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory Jacobs; screenplay by Jacobs and Steven Soderbergh, based on a film by Fabián Bielinsky; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jacobs, George Clooney and Soderbergh; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring John C. Reilly (Richard Gaddis), Diego Luna (Rodrigo), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Valerie), Peter Mullan (William Hannigan), Zitto Kazann (Ochoa) and Jonathan Tucker (Michael).


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