Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One A Star Wars Story

It is never easy satisfying the fan base of Star Wars while expanding the fan base.

Warning: Anything beyond could warrant spoilers.

Last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a very good movie introducing new characters and re-visiting old ones. The quibbles from a few fans was that it was a re-hash of the original movie which it so was. Most people didn't care as it was a great romp with an old friend. Still, the hope was the new tales might be told from a different perspective of a much loved as well derided space opera.

Rogue One was to a be movie that was a one-off story that fit the pieces and director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was to ensure it was a more adult story. While some humour was incorporated there was no attempt to embed marketable cute characters into the storyline that appealed to children. The list of writers associated with the story is an indication of struggle.

The visual effects producer for the prequel Star Wars John Knoll series pitched a story more than a decade ago that aimed to tell the story just prior to Episode IV.  By 2014, it was announced that Gary Whitta (Book of Eli) was writing a script. He parted ways after first draft it although he and Knoll share a story credit. Taking over was Chris Weitz, a screenwriter who wrote the Golden Compass and the Twilight series. This became the shooting script and once the movie was made Disney called in Tony Gilroy (Bourne) to help with re-writes and edits.

Sadly, re-writes, over budget and re-shoots are in keeping with Star Wars movies. This is all well and good if it serves the movie but often too many cooks spoil the broth. In this case, the movie is highly entertaining but flawed in ways obvious and in other ways not. The Disney purchase of George Lucas's Star Wars franchise ensured more stories in that universe and different visions of how to tell tell those stories. However, the balancing act often means doubt. Hence, the re-shoots.

In terms of the Star Wars saga, Rogue One takes place literally five minutes before the original movie of 1977. The opening crawl of Episode IV A New Hope is the real spoiler as it states that the rebel ships have scored a victory in an attack on the Empire. In the battle rebel spies stole the plans for the Death Star which was described as capable of destroying a planet. In a nutshell, the story of this new movie is about the spies and the battle that delivered the plans to Princess Leia aboard her ship on the run from Darth Vader.

Rogue One follows a similar path of Force Awakens with female leader a but its heroine in a bit older, jaded and sadder. She doesn't count the days she has been separated from loved ones. In fact, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds it better to think that her father is dead. She already knows that stormtroopers killed her mother as she was eyewitness to it before fleeing and hiding at her father's behest.

Little does Jyn know that her farther Galen Erso (Madds Mikkelsen) has been taken by the empire and forced to produce the Deathstar against his will. Her own life has been marked by a decidedly different turn as she is raised till her teenage years by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), one of the most violent resistance fighters in the galaxy. Eventually, even he abandoned her for her safety but by then she was was too used to living on the fringes and our introduction to her in the story is as a prisoner of the empire. She is no rebel but a mere criminal.

Our first encounter with Jyn is inside an empire prison cell. She is freed from captivity by the rebels intent on using her to locate her father. Her rescuers are rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They take her back to the hidden base made famous in the original movie and leader Mon Mothma (reprised by Genevieve O'Reilly) appeals to her help find and extract her father who apparently lives and who is at work with the empire.

A new villain named Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) from the empire's weapon division is the man who killed Jyn's mother and took her father. While Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin play roles in Rogue One, it is Krennic who is the primary baddie. More on the other two villains in a bit.

Cassian takes Jyn to the planet Jedha to seek out her former protector Saw Gerrera. It is there that Imperial defector Rook Bodhi, a pilot, is being held after delivering information to extremist rebel. Along the way Jyn and her companions pick up a number of people to help them accomplish their mission. Those allies include a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his mercenary friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

If this sounds all a bit confusing, it is. The story jumps to several planets and follows numerous characters both old and new with breakneck action interspersed throughout the film. Contrast with Force Awakens where a good portion of the story takes place on Jakku. The abundance of planets is excessive and for no reason. Much the same can be said about the characters. The screen time for Vader and Tarkin takes away from Krennic who looks weak in comparison. Moreover, Peter Cushing who played Tarkin has long since passed away. He has been brought back to life using a stand-in actor and animated with CGI.

The CGI is very good but extended shots with it focusing on Tarkin feel a bit creepy and unnatural. Just because they could do it doesn't mean they should have. A few other human characters are animated as well but none so noticeable as Tarkin.

The special effects, costuming, make-up, editing, cinematography, sets and score are all not notch. Michael Giacchino's music is excellent and a real credit to John Williams who created as much of the emotional heft in the previous movies as the storyline and acting did. In Rogue One, we have so much action that we don't have nearly enough time to get to know Jyn, Cassian or anyone. Most of the grim story is devoid of any levity at all save the droid K-2SO.

This is a war movie and since the story is Star Wars that is okay. However, war movies with real emotion such as the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now had characters we came to know and follow. Rogue One is an entertaining movie for adults in the Stars Wars universe. However, the talented cast might have been better served with a tighter focus on a smaller group in a bigger war.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jolliibee's Opens Today in Winnipeg

At 7 AM on December 15, Jollibee's will officially open in Winnipeg. This will be the first location for the Philippines-based franchise that rivals McDonald's in popularity in the Pacific. As the representatives of Access Winnipeg, myself and photographer Matraisa Klippenstein joined a very large gathering to see what the new entry to Winnipeg was all about.

The media was invited to preview the Polo Park location on Ellice on Wednesday. Senior executives from Jollibee's were present to oversee the preview and to highlight other cities where the restaurants will expand to. Those cities are Edmonton, Mississauga and Scarborough.

Maribeth dela Cruz, vice-president of Jollibee Foods Corp. North America, told the assembled guests that any question of why they came to Winnipeg was addressed by seeing Filipinos at every turn when she came to the city.

Maribeth dela Cruz
The Winnipeg store at 1406 Ellice will be the first for Canada and 35th for the restaurant company in North America according to Jose Minana, Jollibee Foods Corporation Group President for North America in from California with the opening team. Another Jollibee's at Northgate Plaza at McPhillips will be Canada's second and opens in spring of 2017.

Jose Minana, second from  left about to toss coins and candy with guests
In keeping with a faithful country of origin, a blessing by a priest was read and the Jose Minana, execs and honoured guests threw chocolate and and coins in the crowd.

The Philippines Honorary Counsel Ronaldo Opina and St. Norbert MLA Jon Reyes were among guests which included builders, supplier and media.
Philippines Honorary Counsel Ronaldo Opina

Full staff were in attendance including some managers who are now residents in Winnipeg but worked for a total of nearly a 100 years of experience between them at Jollibee's in the Philippines before emigrating to Canada.

Very experienced managers at Jolibee's Ellice
The one location at Jolllibee's hired 100 staff members for what they believe will be a very busy restaurant for the company.

The Jollibee mascot showed up at the end and a massive bucket of chicken was distributed to guests who exited into a cold afternoon with their Jolly Crispy Chicken.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The De-Malling of the Northgate Mall Winnipeg

The Northgate Shipping Centre on McPhillips owned by a family outside of Manitoba seemed to be content for many years to slowly decline. The closure of the Zellers years earlier left a 120,000 square foot hole. Target snubbed it as a location and there it stood a testimony that the mall had seen better days.

It is difficult to say whether the take-over of the Zellers by Save-On-Foods was the impetus for rehabilitating the mall or whether the owners decided to make a change. Whatever the reason, $20 million has been allocated to de-mall Northgate Mall.

The first step was to find a replacement for the Zellers and that came in the form of the largest Save-On-Foods in Winnipeg. At 65,000 square feet and the added title of International to its names, it carries more products that any of the other stores of that company built thus far.

But that wasn't all.

The next step was to get tenants already on the mall to buy in to the full upgrade and attract new original stores. One of the notable add on will be Jollibee's, a Philippines-based fast food franchise that opens next week in two locations including Northgate. They will be Canada's first.

A new Tim Horton's will also be up to accommodate the coffee lovers of the area.

The enclosed part of the the L-shaped mall comes to an end. In its place will be the first location of Fit 4 Less by Goodlife, the discount arm of Goodlife Fitness. At first it was thought that Winnipeg first location for this division would be the Grant Park Mall but plans have since changed. Grant Park will get a large Goodlife Fitness and the Fit 4 less will occupy 25,000 square feet of Northgate Mall.

The city's only discount theatre Cinema City will continue to be an anchor in the mall and several longtime loyal tenants will get upgrades. Royal Bank, Reider Insurance and Medicine Shoppe pharmacy all factor into the re-furbished mall.

The northeast quadrant of the city has many people living it, lots of traffic down McPhillips but largely absent landlords in the last numbers years. Not a lot of love in terms of investing in the property in compared to Grant Park Mall, Charleswood Mall and along Pembina Highway.

It would seen that Northgate's investment has spurred Garden City Mall to action after years of neglect. Still, it would take quite a bit to beat the millions being spent at Northgate.

It is true that commuters will travel some distance to places like Polo Park but the need of good local grocers, pharmacists and coffee shops is always there. The danger for Northgate was that if they didn't invest, more and more stores and services would have left. Now, they might have the right mix and the un-mall style to rejuvenate retailing in the region. In fact, they have stores now that people will make a special trip for.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Long and McQuade Pembina Highway Opens

This past week saw Long and McQuade make the massive move from their location at 851 Stafford to 1854 Pembina Highway. The massive new store near the University of Manitoba will be an improvement over their rabbit warren old location that was just north of the Pembina underpass.

Long and McQuade started in Toronto in 1956 but one of their first moves of Ontario was to Winnipeg in 1971 when they bought Winnipeg Piano on Osborne Street. It was the third store for the entire company at the time. By 1975, they have moved to Corydon and it was there for many, many years that they supplied and taught so many artists in the province. By 1997, they were bursting at the seams and moved to 651 Stafford until this past week.

The musical instruments and lessons store also has a second location on Wall Street from the time they took over Gorden Price/Mother's Music in 2011. Long and McQuade did a complete reno on that shop in 2014. Mother's will long be remembered for their location on Portage Avenue near the University of Winnipeg before they moved to Wall Street in 1993.

The location at Stafford served the store well but the building was soon bursting again with rentals, repairs and sales work. It was obvious a building that was tailor made was in order.

This week near the University of Manitoba, Long and McQuade has opened their new store and by the looks of it, is a beauty. Anyone driving down Portage Avenue can't miss the pass with huge sign up.

Long and McQuade is all across Canada but this store for Winnipeg has to be the most prominent address they've ever taken up. One can imagine a whole generation of artists will pass through their doors.