ROGUE ONE, PASSENGERS ZERO: Movie Reviews of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Passengers by Howard Casner

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rev-1In film, Sci-Fi has often been divided into two categories: adult science fiction, stories that capture the mind and are more philosophical and questioning in nature; and pop culture Sci-Fi, stories that are more escapist and less challenging where the grey cells are concerned.

Perhaps no better year can define this dichotomy than 1977 when the original Star Wars was released the same year as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Critics often claim, or have a prejudice, that adult sci-fi is inherently superior or preferably to pop culture sci-fi. And I do have to admit, if truth be forceably told, I tend to prefer the former to the latter. But there is never a guarantee that one is going to be better than the other. In fact, in the end, the one that is better is simply the one that is better, and the reason why it is better is because, when all is said and done, it’s the, well… better one. Read the rest of this entry »

REEL MEN, REAL MEN, PART TWO: Movie review of Mr. Turner, Saint Laurent and The Theory of Everything by Howard Casner

First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99.



mr turnerI continue now with my reviews of the sudden spate of movies based on real people that are arriving late in the year because, well, we’re entering awards season, and what awards season would be complete without an overabundance of inspired by true event stories.

First up…

Early on in Mr. Turner, writer/director Mike Leigh’s latest film about the famed 19th century land- and seascape artist, his servants prepare a pig’s head for a meal.

What is so interesting about this, and the reason I draw attention to it, is that the porcine’s pate bears a remarkable resemblance to the great painter himself with the artist constantly snorting and grunting as if Babe was his mother (or father, I can’t remember whether that famed shoat was a boar or a sow).

In fact, one might say that, Timothy Spall, a member of Leigh’s stock company of actors and who plays the title character here, does one of the greatest, if not greatest, imitation of a sus scrofa domesticus I’ve ever encountered in cinematic history. If someone is planning a remake of Animal Farm, I think we have our Old Napoleon.

It may be a dubious distinction, but a distinction none the less. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review of CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR A WEDDING by Howard Casner

Halfway through the movie Cheerful Weather for a Wedding, the new veddy, stiff upper lip dramedy from writers Mary Henely-Magill and Donald Rice (who also directed), there is a scene that takes place at a country dance.  Nary a word is spoken, but the emotions are palpable.  And it’s in this scene where we finally realize how the two central characters, Dolly (don’t worry, no one says hello to her) and Joseph, really feel about each other.  It’s also in this scene that I thought the movie might finally coalesce into something.  But alas and alack, ‘twas not to be.  Soon after, the film returns to its somewhat bland, unfocused story about a wedding day.


The real problem with Cheerful Weather… is that it is two movies in one.  Half of it is a somewhat mild farce on the order of Somerset Maughm and Noel Coward, about a bunch of people gathering at a country house for some approaching nuptials (how veddy BBC/Merchant-Ivory can you get?).  The other half is an introspective character study about two people, the bride (Dolly, played by Felicity Jones) and her ex-lover (Joseph, played by Luke Treadway), who can’t figure out how they feel about each other, or, if they could figure it out, what to even do about it.  These two halves never really fit into a whole, and in fact work against each other, getting in each other’s way and constantly tripping over each other’s two left feet.


The most successful of the two halves is the demi-farce.  It may not reach the manic energy of Death at a Funeral or even Four Weddings and a Funeral or any other comedy that revolves around a casket, but it does get its laughs.  It also has the two most interesting characters,  Nancy Dakin (Fenella Woolgar, who played Agatha Christie on a Dr. Who episode, and who looks like she should play Agatha Christie every chance she gets) and David Dakin (Mackenzie Crook, appropriate name that since he played Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as Gareth on The Office) as a middle aged couple who have reached that point in holy matrimony where they simply can’t stand each other, but can’t stand each other in such a way that you know, like those venerable lovers of Shakespeare, Beatrice and Benedict, that they really, deeply care for each other.  It’s the resolution of their relationship that is the emotional high point of the film (for those who like movie references, they’re like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio; Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn in Without Love; and Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally…, relationships that are far more interesting and effective than the leads).


But oh, hello Dolly and Joseph (okay, I couldn’t resist).  Unfortunately, Henely-Magill and Rice have failed to give us any compelling reason to care whether the two non-star crossed lovers end up together or not.  But how could the authors, since they didn’t leave themselves enough time for it.  So much of the plot is devoted to the hi-jinks of the rest of the gathering, that we’re never given a convincing explanation as to why the two knuckle heads didn’t get married in the first place or why Dolly’s mother (a somewhat mannered Elizabeth McGovern—I’ve a feeling we’re not in Downton Abbey anymore, Toto) is so against Joseph as a prospective bridegroom.


The technical aspects of the film are first rate.  Everyone is tailored to within an inch of their lives with all the men looking like models in an arrow shirt ad and the women looking like Erté sketchings (costumes by Camille Benda).  The mansion the whole thing takes place in is a model for BBC miniseries everywhere (production design by Anna Lavelle).  But the highlight is the lovely score by Michael Price which often did what the writers couldn’t—convey the emotions necessary to understanding what was going on between the characters.  It was so effective that when my friend who accompanied me commented on it, I agreed, saying it’s unfortunate that people so often talked over it.