Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

24 12 2016

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Five years ago, you could have never told me a Disney standalone Star Wars spinoff movie would be a good thing. That sentence alone would have conjured up images of the wonderfully nightmarish Star Wars Holiday Special. Plot twist: Rogue One delivers a story worthy of the Star Wars universe, and one that can stand right up there with the original trilogy (I’m giving a stink eye to you, prequels). By the way, if you’re new here- the chances of spoilers ahead are high, very high.

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The Rebels standing in a base, probably built on hope.

While some of the official posters for this movie look like a Celebrate Rebel Diversity Day promo flyer, each one ended up helping make Rogue One memorable (except maybe Forest Whitaker- didn’t really get his character). Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso fantastically anchored the movie with the right amount of grit and heart, and it’s difficult to imagine any other actress filling her role. However, the highlight for me was the darkly sarcastic K-2SO, due to Alan Tudyk’s  timed delivery. Donnie Yen was essentially a blind samurai, which yes, we’ve all seen before, but hey we haven’t seen it in Star Wars! His bro time with Wen Jiang‘s Baze Malbus was great to watch (even their bro deaths), which brings me to the biggest downer. Rogue One‘s all like, “Here’s your new favorite characters! Now they’re all dead. Haha!” This wasn’t really a plot twist (otherwise where were these people later?), but at the same time I’m surprised nobody at all made it out to, I dunno, some far planet to help the Rebellion from there. In the end, it was the right decision.

It was great to get back into the world of the original trilogy- the Rebellion vs. the Empire. We got Mon Motha and Bail Organa, Admiral Ackbar’s extended family, classic Rebel ships, X and Y-Wings, and plenty of screaming Rebel deaths, just like old times. In the absence of any Jedi, the Empire is indeed more formidable, and it was fun to see the plucky Rebels ever-so-barely come out with a (costly) victory. Also, the Death Star eclipsing a sun and nuking a city was terrifyingly epic.

 

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Pew-Pew-Pew-Yaaaay!

 

Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic was memorable, but his character seemed to consistently fail throughout the movie, and didn’t seem that menacing anymore by the end. He didn’t spot Galen’s treachery, he lost the plans, lost the base, even lost the reward for his part in the Death Star creation, and got fried by the Death Star (should this movie just be called “Krennic’s Really Bad Day“?). He also had the cards stacked against him whenever he appeared in scenes next to more iconic Imperial villains such as Vader and Tarkin.

Speaking of Tarkin (how about that segue?), his CGI resurrection has brought mixed feelings among  fans. I for one had no idea he would appear (since Peter Cushing has passed on), so his reveal in the movie was initially a shock, but a happy shock. Grand Moff Tarkin is a notorious villain and is inherently tied to everyone’s memory of the first Death Star. But it was also wildly distracting for me, as the CGI technology (although impressive) took all my focus. Is it, as some people state, disrespectful to bring back an actor from the grave? It wasn’t a perfect replica, but it was far, far better than other posthumous creations I’ve seen, and seemed to be in line with Cushing’s original portrayal. A hologram might have done just as much justice (and in a meta sense felt like a ghost), or they could have gone full prosthetic on a similar actor, but would that have been any more respectful by giving his role to someone else, or would the recast even have been less distracting? I’m not sure.  That said, by all accounts Peter Cushing would have loved to have been in more Star Wars movies (ironically unlike Sir Alec Guiness), so all things considered, we didn’t really answer this question at all.

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My favorite character, and the main character.

 

Now let’s talk some Darth Vader!  Basically, he was fantastic, and brutal. As in, “I probably shouldn’t be cheering for Vader as he murders the faces off all these heroes, but isn’t this awesome?!” With just two appearances in the movie, they redefined Vader. His massacre moment aside, this is someone who gets cut up and burned on a volcano planet and years later builds a freakin’ castle on it, because he can. Joking aside, I liked the trip back to Mustafar because it gave a glimpse into Vader’s psyche. He either views Mustafar as his true birth place, or he prefers to feed off the anger and emotions it gives him, or both. His character has always kicked butt, but this movie provided a wonderful reminder why he’s the most feared in the galaxy. Gone are our memories of Anakin not liking sand, because “it’s coarse and rough, and gets everywhere.” That said, Vader DIDN’T get out and fight on the Scariff beaches…

My list of drawbacks for the film is quite short. Some of the easter eggs were a little too on the nose, mainly the Ugly Face Duo from the Tatooine cantina, who just happened to be on a different planet across the galaxy at the right time. Also, to put on my nerd glasses, but Darth Vader originally mentions plans being beamed onto Leia’s ship, vs. handed over in the world’s scariest relay game of Pass The Plans Along Before Vader Chokes You To Death (still working on that name). Oh, and CGI Leia was FAR worse-looking than CGI Tarkin. Besides those few things, there were a few cringe-worthy lines that were in the trailer (Jyn’s “I rebel” line) but were removed from the movie, so kudos to you, Disney.

 

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When you barge into the boss’s sauna.

In the end, Rogue One does a better job at setting up the original trilogy than Revenge of the Sith did, and I immediately felt a strong urge to watch A New Hope (I still haven’t, but it was a nice feeling). Disney/Lucasfilm effectively kept this separate from the numbered episodes (no opening crawl, no John Williams, texts over locations), and it paid off by feeling fresh. The creators of this film did a great job of using familiar toys in the Star Wars playground in new ways, giving us a slightly darker, more unique take on their universe- one filled with hope, sorrow, and star dust.

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The Martian- Review

14 10 2015
Mark Watney Astronaut NASA

Dr. Mann’s Return!

First things first- to enjoy The Martian, you have to separate it from Interstellar. Forget about the shared cast members and space cinematography. We aren’t supposed to despise Matt Damon here, and he’s not out for revenge on Matthew McConaughey’s daughter. However, it is another sci-fi storytelling and visual treat with an almost-too-large cast.

Matt Damon carries the movie, which is good because he’s the bulk of it. It’s easy to cheer him on through his optimism, ingenuity, and sarcastic humor in the face of overwhelming odds. He’s supported by a talent-filled cast who are criminally underused, due to there being so many of them. But it was fun to see Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Jeff Daniels in the same film. During the Earth scenes, I regularly forgot who had what title (besides the head of NASA), but luckily it didn’t really seem to matter. That pleasant feature can be said for much of the movie- most of us won’t understand all the science babble all the actors spout out (it’s not like they really get it either), but the story doesn’t demand we do to enjoy it.

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Pretty.

As I mentioned, the effects and scenery are gorgeous and approach the beauty of last year’s space blockbuster Interstellar. The rugged, hostile beauty of Mars contrasts perfectly with the corporate, structured box of NASA. Come to think of it, practically everything contrasted between those two settings- Mars had Damon, while NASA had what felt like a dozen characters, plus background workers. The only real bridge between the two were the clever uses of models of the rover and explorer that NASA brought for hands-on research.

Any drawbacks were due more to personal taste for me- I basically squinted the entire scene where Damon un-impales himself because I’m squeamish. But dang, that scene was detailed, unflinching, and a bit long for my side. We get it, doctoring yourself on Mars is bloody and sucks, ok?! The other drawback I had was the soundtrack didn’t stand out in any way, at least compared to other space movies that seemed to catch the wonder of space with music (Gravity, Interstellar) . This isn’t a huge deal, since some would argue that the best soundtrack props up the movie without standing out and getting in the way (I would disagree though).

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It’s still hard to take Kristen Wiig seriously.

Side note here, but that whole Project Elrond bit was comedic gold for those inside the joke.Sean Bean and The Secret Meeting caused my theater to erupt in laughter (yay fantasy nerds!). Surprisingly, this whole scene almost didn’t make it into the final cut, but a higher-up in the studio liked it so much he demanded it be kept. Weird, a demand from the studio that actually improves the movie, right? Anyway, The Martian is a tense but entertaining ride through the unknown, and it looks great on the big screen.

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One does not simply go to Mars.