‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’: Review

rogue-one-banner.jpg

*Nobody reads these things, but mad spoilers ensue*

Rogue One works because it knows when to be a Star Wars movie and when not to be a Star Wars movie. The film is billed as a standalone movie in the franchise, and technically it is seeing as the cast is 90% new characters. It’s really Episode 3.5, as it provides a connective link between the two sets of trilogies and shows how the Death Star came to be.

The thing I hate more than anything else in movies deep into a franchise, spin-offs or whatever of the like is the cute little winks and nods to popular characters of the past just for the simple sake of getting a quick rise out of the audience just for mentioning them. This film has them, of course, but it’s done in such a small scale and organic way that it never feels like the film is stepping aside from its story to focus in on these elements. It bridges the gap between the two trilogies so it makes sense to shade in element of Darth Vader’s rise and fill out the story of how the Death Star came to be and what exactly lead to the moments at the beginning of A New Hope, the place we all originally were thrust into this world. Every other nod is treated as more of an easter egg where if you’re just watching the movie on face value (and/or you’re just a casual fan) you might not get it, but nothing will seem wildly out of place, but for more heedy viewers all the little references are there.

This is all in contrast to The Force Awakens where they pretty much just copied A New Hope and had a heavy presence of characters from the original trilogy. I mean, sure they kind of had a different mission to accomplish with The Force Awakens compared with Rogue One, where the former movie had to re-instill and reboot this franchise in people’s mind by playing to the broadest sensibilities possible to a. ensure the movie and subsequent franchise would be a success and b. to have a connective vessel point for these new characters. Whereas Rogue One is in the wake of the success of that movie and can follow a more niche guide because they knew it was going to be a one-and-done film rather than a direct sequels that had to follow in the story wake of The Force Awakens.

But, mostly Rogue One works because it makes sense and its chief example of this is that every damn body dies in this thing. It makes sense that since we’ve never heard of any of these people in the original trilogy that probably a lot of them wouldn’t be around at the conclusion of it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting it at first, of course some people were going to die, but then the body count started rising and it all clued in for me and I hoped they would go that sensible route, because it made sense, and they did. I’m still amazed that Disney green lit this movie where literally the whole main cast dies, good and bad. Sure, they had in their back pocket the up note of an end scene where Princess Leia gets the Death Star plans and we see her in all her CGI glory, kicking directly off into A New Hope. But still, damn, I keep scrolling through the main cast on IMDB and I’m just like, “Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.”

Honestly, I was just as excited about getting a new Gareth Edwards film than I was another Star Wars movie. I absolutely loved his first film Monsters which is almost a masterpiece for me. I was less enamoured with Godzilla, as I thought it was just fine and didn’t really do anything new. But, what I knew with both of those movies is that he obviously has a flare for staging epic battle scenes, but his sensibilities also extends into a passion for smaller human elements. I felt that Rogue One was actually pretty skimpy on the dramatic emotional beats, outside of the Galen Erso and Jyn Erso father/daughter stuff, but it served the film well in that there wasn’t an overabundance on any of that (not that it was bad or anything, it just picked and choosed well what it wanted to accomplish), as the film clearly wanted to focus on the larger battle aspects. And I thanked the high heavens that they didn’t do anything with a Jyn Erso/Cassian Ando romantic relationship because few things are worse than shoehorning a romantic relationship into a movie just because that’s what 95% of them do.

I gotta say I was pretty lukewarm on the movie for about the first 80%, but they really stuck the landing on the last section of the film and were seemingly allowed to do what they wanted and pulled everything off. Like I said earlier, I think this film was allowed to succeed in that it was operating inside of this area between the two trilogies where they knew this would be a one-and-done movie and could go all out and tell a story that didn’t need to be extended or have the end set up sequels (because they’re already made!) or have characters do unnecessary things because they needed to bank on them for the future. I don’t know fully where this stands for me in regard to the whole series, although I do find people thinking this is the best one pretty ludicrous, but I do know if they keep giving these films to auteur action/genre directors like Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson then we’ll be in more than good hands.

‘Arrival’: Review

arrival-banner-1-final

Dennis Villeneuve has fast become one of my favourite filmmakers and one of those people who I’ll see his name next to a project and know I’ll be seeing it as soon as possible. So much so that I’m now looking forward to his reboot/sequel/whatever of Blade Runner, and I could not have cared less about the original one. Incendies first launched him into the limelight, and with his four year run from 2013-2016 of Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival, Villeneuve has proved that he’s no fluke and has a ton to say through a variety of film genres.

A common thread through all of Villeneuve’s films, and one that becomes abundantly clear watching Arrival if it wasn’t already, is that he’s chiefly interested in the human condition. How people react in increasing times of physical, psychological, and even extraterrestrial avenues of stress and how this informs them as humans. How these feelings are intrinsic to each person around the world whether you’re confronting family strife, emotional instability, high pressure job situations or just some damn aliens.

Arrival works because Villeneuve is so skilled at balancing everything this film needs to be, from sci-fi to a character drama to a philosophical study. Because this is a Villeneuve film he takes something standard (at least in sci-fi fare) like an alien invasion and doesn’t just go the simple route of seeing them lay waste to our society or set everything up for an epic 30-minute space battle, instead the film takes a step back and thinks about what REALLY might happen if aliens descended upon our world tomorrow. Villeneuve makes the reality of this situation shine so bright and dim that it makes the otherworldly aspects that much more starker, and scarier, because of what its implications mean on us everyday humans.

Amy Adams is the perfect vessel for all of this because she, like Villeneuve, is so skilled at portraying a wide variety of person for the job that needs to be done. She is believable as an expert communicator trying to decipher what these aliens are trying to get across, she is believable as a mother with grief, hardship and confusion seemingly informing her every move and she is believable as someone who isn’t just content with seeing things at face value.

The film features a clever twist on the idea of a “twist” where I even hazard to really even call it a twist. We find out that Louise’s visions she’s been having throughout the movie (including of her dead daughter) are flash-forwards and that the presence of these aliens is to reveal that time can be literally viewed as a flat circle, changing the idea of time.

When we first view the film chronologically we interpret what we assume are flashbacks, but only later realize that they are flash-forwards. Just as in the narrative film universe where the characters discover that they can view time as a flat circle, us viewers of the film now unlock that ability and retroactively feel the same experience of the characters and click into this mindset of seeing everything at once, even if we didn’t know it and were confused by it at the time.

I feel like it’s almost too lazy to call this a “thinking man’s” sci-fi film, and I mean it is, but it still feels like too much of an easy brush to paint it with. It works much like Villeneuve’s other films because it puts you in the situation because it feels so real and lived in no matter how fantastical, makes you try and answer the questions being posed to the characters in the film and actually provokes thought and emotion that sticks with you. Arrival isn’t interested in tricking you and making you out to be a fool, but rather taking a roundabout way in showing you how things you might have thought looked so concrete and definitive are often always anything but that.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 4 Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.40.23 PM

Season four and the series ends with a drive towards the finish line from the start of the episodes and never lets up until all is revealed, for better or worse. I’m happy to say that what I hoped this season would be, in that it was a season of television focused on wrapping up and explaining what it had been building to this point with few distractions, was exactly what I got. Unlike in previous seasons there was less of the one-off episodes that just seemed to fill a hole or expound upon the ideals of a certain character, with this season focusing on the overall narrative of the series and attempting to wrap it up. Not that makes things particularly easier or anything, as this show had seemingly more storylines and mythology than I can easily recall at a glance, not limited to what the heck is ever up with Starbuck and her returning from the dead, the final five mystery Cylons, whatever is ongoing with Number Six and Baltar, Adama/Roslin, and then of course the whole thing about finding an “Earth” to settle on and whatever “force” is driving them to find it.

Ultimately, I kind of didn’t realize until they were on the downwind of things that the show indeed had a ton of mysteries and plot all going at once and driving headwards into a conclusion at the same time, which felt kind of clustered with a lot of reveals or explanations just thrown to the side or explained away in the most base way possible. I mean, like it or not you got explanations to overall mysteries, but the payoffs with how the Kara Strace character was revealed and the prominence of the Final Five did not seem to be equated to how they were built up or brandished to how important we were supposed to perceive them as. In the end the show bit off a bit more than it could chew, and like I’ve mentioned before, a more toned back and focused show (in both episodes and narrative content) would’ve made things work a lot better and allowed their main ideas to breathe and be developed more.

In the end it’s not like I was totally offended by how things ended so abruptly or without too much concern to being faithful to its buildup. As well, I was only committed to this show for a few weeks, compared with people who watched over years and had realtime commitment and expectations in a show that carried them this long with these mysteries only to underwhelm in explaining what largely the whole point of the show was. The majority of these endings being explained with some religious connotation whether some characters were “angels” or the entire fleet was being directed and influenced by some kind of god didn’t really alienate me or feel cheap to me because it still felt very much like a key tenant that this show believes in. The show from day one was always more interested in ideas of religion or spirituality in driving characters, being a framework for human civilization in whatever format (ie. on Caprica, Battlestar, new earth or whatever), and just largely being something that hung over the machinations of plot and any of the science fiction devices. It goes back to knowing that the show was far more interested in doing something beyond prototypical “science fiction” means, and sure near the end they compounded things too much, but it still remained faithful to what the show was, just that it seemingly came out of nowhere and became the forefront of answering away many of the show’s mysteries.

Coming away from the show I definitely have a greater appreciate for not only the show itself, but what can be done not only within the science fiction genre and within any genre where you take the basic tenants of it and either build something new off of it or use its typical framework against it. It managed to not only be a good science fiction show, but also a show that would’ve been just as good with the sci-fi elements devoid and removed from its fantasy metaphor and put in a real-world situation. I can’t say that I completely fell in love with the show or anything like that, but it was consistently good throughout its run where I can’t pick out a stretch or season that was particularly bad, but indeed it was quality from the outset. Battlestar Galactica was a show with a sci-fi backdrop that never intended to settle with being just that, and in doing so pushed it to become something that took elements from shows previous to it and morphed it into genre faire that was more about seeking answers and trying to understand what it means to be “human” and the relationships that falter or strive from this pursuit.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 3 Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.39.38 PM

Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica sees the show in unfamiliar territory with the main action not taking place on the Battlestar, but instead shows the imprisonment on New Caprica and the efforts to escape. I enjoyed this little mini-arc that served as a nice breather as the show used to do more frequently in the beginning with placing the characters off the ship, so it was a nice change of pace to see the characters having to deal and interact with this new space. I would’ve even liked to see them stretch out this time on New Caprica and parse it a little more, but I understand them not wanting to dwell too much on this and get back to their status quo with adventures on the ship. Really, the whole idea of putting them on New Caprica was just a nice cliffhanger for the second season finale and something they easily remedied early in the third season, and not an actual game changer in the landscape of the show like I thought it would be, but one does wonder how it could’ve played out more largely to the overall end game of the show and not just a quick roadblock for an easy cliffhanger.

The rest of the season falls into a similar pattern from the second season. There’s a mix of bottle-esque episodes where a story will be largely self-contained within one episode mixed in with the episodes that push the series long storylines forward with their pursuit of earth, they mysteries behind Starbucks and what she possibly possesses in their quest for freedom and the quelling on inside and outside Cylon threats. Immediate Cylon attacks and confrontation seem to be a bit mellowed in this season where there is less one-on-one battle and meetings with them in their physical form, yet the show still manages to portray their threat in the continually wracked nerves and sanity of the crew, who seemingly keep getting stressed piled on top of them until it breaks. Thus, the show further explores the relationships between Starbuck/Apollo, Adama/Roslin along with Baltar/Number Six, which all work fine enough, but the way the show handles its relationships all seems very “high school” and immature at times with me. As a matter of fact the show feels like some teen drama at a high school at times with its petty dealings between the populous and dalliances between the crew.

While I enjoyed the switch between stand-alone episodes and series storyline pushing episodes, it felt very stop and start and by the end of the season there wasn’t all THAT much accomplished in the 20 episodes that really felt getting any closer to unlocking the what the show is supposedly driving toward. Really it was only the last couple of episodes that really pushed things along, with the Baltar trial (which was really good and my favourite stuff from the season possibly) and Starbuck’s disappearance. Its that sometimes the feels a lot more of a hangout-type of show with the stand-alone episodes seeming rather pointless and often feel just-like stop gaps or episodes the show had to fill until they could get back to the ones that pushed the plot forward. In that aspect I would’ve love to have seen the season episode orders shortened to 10-13, so the show could focus on moving the story along at a nice clip, without having to add in these filler episodes that stunted the momentum of the season.

I’m looking forward to season four, though, because they’ve done a pretty good job so far in teasing all these mysteries and secrecies behind finding earth and possible special forces living in certain characters pushing them to these certain places (BSG loves its religion analogies) and I’m sure we’ve still got more things to learn about the Cylons. I’m really hoping for a mad dash to the finish line with the show perfectly set up to wrap things up, especially with them not having been on for so long that they’ve worn out their welcome or haven’t compounded their mystery and complicated it by putting it through the wringer so many times that it doesn’t make sense anymore *ahem*Lost*ahem*, so basically don’t screw up this ending is what I’m saying.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 2 Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 1.54.37 AM

Battlestar Galactica is the exact same show as The Office. I’m serious. Alright, not completely, but I couldn’t help but think of similarities between the two as I made my way through the second season of Battlestar. I knew coming in and from what the first season laid out that it was less going to be a “science fiction” show in the classic sense you might expect of them visiting new planets each episode, battling aliens (Cylons in this case) in epic battles all the time and just generally combating with various fantastical concepts and beings. Yes, there is a portion of that in the show, but largely a lot of this season concerns just the goings on on the Battlestar ship and all the drama, tension, fights and so on that would just naturally occur from these people basically creating a new world on this lone fleet that are constantly in danger, heightening all the emotions.

Where The Office gives you a comedic take on the slice of life and inter-office happenings of a local paper company, Battlestar Galactica gives you a dramatic (and sometimes comedic) slice of life and inter-office happenings of the last remaining humans on a spaceship trying to find refuge and avoiding the cyborg beings that eliminated the majority of their race. Both take on the same concept, just in slightly different ways. Battlestar doesn’t need to be visiting a new planet each week and encountering new races and having epic dog fight battle each week, they do have them, but it’s connection and building of these characters, their values and relationships actually make these moments when they are in peril from Cylon attacks or encounter something new and revolutionary to their cause mean that much more because of how well all the character and inter-relationship ties are woven together. I mean, sure, this show was on Sci-Fi after all, so it’s not like they had the budget to be going all out on epic science-fiction-y thing each episode, but even still the show’s not really about that.

It’s no secret and is largely what this show was founded on, but the science fiction backdrop of the show is really superfluous when you really get down to it, with all the themes and storylines the show develops so easily able to be lifted and placed onto any other real world dramatic show. Sometimes I feel the show hits it a little too on the head, largely with the whole analogy of the Cylons being some kind of invading sect like “foreigners” from another country and the danger they pose, like being compared as terror threat. The science fiction aspect on the other hand gives it a good dimension to explore societal topics like abortion, which doesn’t seem too shoehorned in just to give them an excuse to debate the sides of the issue. The world of the show that has been set-up allows this abortion debate to actually mean something within the show with the deepening debate of whether they should keep a baby alive because it’s a live being, going against the fact that it’s a Cylon (the things out to kill them). A lot of the societal parallels are very blatant and on the nose, and I mean it’s hard not to be because if you just subtract the presence of the Cylons and the establishing shots to show this is in space, the show just looks like any government drama you see dealing with real world problems, because these are all real world problems, they just sometimes have to deal with cyborgs. Also, the show makes no qualms that it’s a lot more interested in telling stories of power struggles, political dealings and how the human condition reacts in extended periods of peril over the constant shoot ‘em up alien fights you might expect from some a show like this without knowing much about it.

Season two works well because it balances all of its elements quite well. There’s a lot of episodes just concerning the inner-goings on of the ship and the dueling powers, that largely just develops the people and their motives, which sometimes comes close to spinning its wheels, but then they’ll throw in some episodes that push the plot along, or begin to unravel or reveal things that’ll play out in full later. The ending of the season does well to highlight this and also assure that they’re not content with keeping the status quo that was maintained throughout the season of being removed from a huge Cylon threat. As soon as we think the people have found a worthy planet capable of habitation the Cylons are right on their track, taking over the planet and imprisoning all of our characters as the season ends. That’s something I continually love about this show, how it constantly gives the characters a brief moment of happiness or satisfaction and then the rug just gets pulled right out from under them. It does well to establish and further the condition of these people and how much of a constant threat the Cylons are even when they think they are free and clear. It’s just like any normal life really, just a series of highs and lows and learning to enjoy when you’re on top because the bottom could just be around the corner, and who knows what it will hold.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 1 Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 6.46.47 PM

I’ll never contend to be the biggest sci-fi fan, I tend to like my fiction grounded in reality without the additions of the fantastical like time traveling, clones, aliens, new worlds and so on. I especially don’t like these elements when they’re solely used off their gimmicks alone, while yes in certain context I may like some of these elements, but when they’re just added for a “cool” factor and have no bearing on the “real world” of the piece’s story, it remains just a gimmick for you to watch it and has no real value outside of that. Battlestar Galactica treats its science fiction smartly and allows the show to feel very much like a grounded in reality fiction story that just so happens to feature these elements.

Now I know Battlestar Galactica isn’t the first science fiction show to reflect or highlight real world ideas and concept through the eyes of a sci-fi world, but it certainly does well to exemplify that as a major tenant, but still includes base science fiction tropes because that’s what kind of show it is after all. The plot itself is very straightforward and basic, where the Cylons (a cyborg group of bad guys) destroyed the Colonies (planets where humans lived aka the good guys), and the Battlestar Galactica ship, one of the last remaining ships, takes upon itself to lead the survivors to a new safe haven and fight off whatever Cylon threats get in their way.

The mysteries and unknown of the Cylons is really well done, with the show positioning this creepy element to start the series mentioning how the Cylons had been unheard of for years until the day that they decided to destroy civilization, leading hanging questions of why and why now. The Cylons also have the ability to become fully humanoid where many of them are seen as clones to the actual human version of a person, adding another mysterious element and an easy move in the back-pocket of the show as they could reveal pretty much anyone as a undercover Cylon, so that always lurks in the background.

What truly makes Battlestar Galactica stand out is its very real world happenings and many different layers of a genre show that’s not always just a science fiction show. The battling members in charge between the commander of the Battlestar Galactica William Adama and the president of the Twelve Colonies Laura Roslin posits this struggle for power between the two where they try to play nice as much as possible, but their contention is always bubbling underneath. As such the show plays a lot of the time like a political show like The West Wing where it concerns much finagling and political discourse to enact measures and figure out what to do with these people when they’re not only on the run, but nobody is truly in power under any “legal” means.

Along with both leaders, pretty much everybody in the show is portrayed as being very strong, especially the female characters which you don’t often see, with Starbuck being our defacto underling protagonist as a badass pilot who doesn’t take orders from anyone. Number Six is our view into the head of humanoid Cylons who is as cunningly dangerous as she is beautiful, where they never really cheapen her by using her seduction as anything more than her trying to get her nefarious means any way she can.

Something that I love about this show, too, so far, is that it’s not really about happy endings so much and continues this underlying theme of depression throughout. If something happy happens be sure that within a few moments something will pop up to upend that. It’s refreshing to see a show that doesn’t consistently put their good guys on easy street and for every mission to be a cake walk, where here everything at least seems to be of more of an importance given the true underdog stakes that the Battlestar Galactica always seems to be facing against the Cylons.

The first season does a good job of setting up this world, posing questions, outlining the stakes and positioning characters and ideas to where things might go. It seems like a framework so easily susceptible to tension and upheaval which would exactly seem par for the course about a political show in the midst of an alien-cyborg attack. This world and story is wrought for deepening in not only the science fiction aspect, but also the human and societal aspect where both sides are so intrinsically tied it’s only guaranteed that aren’t going to get any easier in the increasingly changing landscape of Battlestar Galactica.

‘Lost’: Season 6 Review

lost-final-season-banner

Welp, here we are at the end of Lost and I can’t help but feeling underwhelmed with similar feelings to how season 5 left me. It really sucks watching this show that I dug so much in the first three seasons fall apart so much to this degree that it literally doesn’t feel like I’m watching the same show anymore. Legit, the first few seasons of the show feel like such a different more focused and engaged show, while these last few seasons have felt so aimless and broad to a fault. I think episode to episode the season doesn’t work that well, but at least in the grand picture it works better than the previous season as there’s definitely more of a defined plot line and goal since they knew this was the last season and they had to wrap things up as best as possible.

The mysteries and how the show wrapped up was fine enough for me, especially with how deep they dug themselves into this hole, but they still had too many balls in the air and made things way too convoluted with parsing out the history of the island and how everything came to be, especially because all this stuff had really been introduced this season, while having it been throughout the show would’ve been a different story, now it just feels like adding on unnecessary layers to an already deeply layered show. The flash-sideways things were an interesting tactic to take in their format that they’ve always had, and really just seemed like a device for them to have their cake and eat it too with a way to have these people whose relationships were broken up be rekindled or redeveloped through these “magical” means.

The thing I enjoyed the most was finally cemented Locke as the pre-eminent bad guy, or at least his physical body, as the show has been teasing the whole series the many sides of Locke and the lengths he’ll go to do whatever he feels need to be done. So, it felt very natural and a nice progression and pay off for him to finally slip into that role and actually not only be a skilled bad guy, but someone who had history with the entire group, creating some more serious meaning with his place as the antagonist. It could’ve been worked better and not be so abrupt and been parsed a little better over the last few seasons, but that’s the biggest problem with this season (abruptness and throwing things at the wall before the show’s done for good), so it’s understandable in the grand scheme of the season since that effected everything.

I really didn’t want it to, but two seasons is a lot to ignore when shaping my thoughts about how much I enjoyed a six season television series. I really enjoyed the first three seasons, thought the fourth season was okay, especially with it being put under the writer’s strike constraints it did, but really didn’t like the fifth and sixth season due to how unnecessary they were, how much they spun out and convoluted the mythology and narrative of the show and how much they seemingly through out the window or just invented that totally undermined what the show previously was, thus making the show feel like something completely different and unrealistic to what it started as. I firmly believe this show could’ve been wholly fantastic and should’ve ended with three seasons if they tinkered things, or just as great with a little bit of re-structuring to fit in four seasons and make that fourth season really mean something. I realize there was outside pressures, and it was a popular show that people demanded more of, but it’s a shame that the original conceit of the show only happened to fit in about three seasons it seemed. Where the first seasons felt so naturally of a show building slowly up off the last one, using ideas and slowly elevating the show in its narrative, mythology and character relationships, the last few seasons just felt like a tornado of busyness and trying to get everything in that it felt like them trying to synthetically make this show great again in a small amount of time where the greatness of the show in its original sense was the slow burn and layering of all these elements until they would naturally combust. I’ll still think fondly on the show, albeit with some reservations, and it’s possible the last few seasons could play better with some distance. The strength of the former part of the series over the latter and how well it was executed remains some of the best television I’ve seen in world-building and guarantees that the missteps of the final seasons will hurt my thoughts of the show as a whole, but not entirely damage the grand heights it achieved throughout its run.