‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’: Review

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*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.

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: Review

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*Spoilers obviously ensue if you somehow haven’t seen it yet*

The seventh Star Wars film, the first in a decade and a kickstart to what will be the most oversaturated years of this universe to come, is a successful ton of fun that doesn’t disappoint like the last trilogy did because of how it balances the new and old elements of the film’s canon and how it sets up the future films along the line. The film isn’t very inventive, in fact it takes LOADS from the original trilogy, specifically A New Hope, and packages it around some new characters.

Sure, it was all well-and-exciting to have a new Star Wars trilogy under any circumstances, but the black hole left by Episode 1-3 rightly had people worried. So what did they do to try and mitigate that, they thought, “hey, you guys loved the characters of the original trilogy, and they’re, like, 40 years older now, but we’re bringing them back!” And that was enough. Thankfully, original players like Han, Chewbacca, Leia are just their on the outskirts of the film to help install these new characters the film introduces and to frame these films and characters around the original trilogy and distance it as much as possible from the early 00’s one. Not to say that the new characters of Rey (our lead female protagonist, stuck on the planet Jakku until she gets raveled up in Finn and Poe’s shenanigans and hey, might just be infused with the force), Finn (a reformed stormtrooper who just up and realizes this dark side stuff may not be as great as it was cracked up to be), Poe (the slickest X-wing fighter pilot the Resistance has seen) are bad or anything, they’re not at all, but putting them against the backdrop of the familiarity of these characters and plot constructs certainly helps their cause. The throwback characters definitely tow the line of being too much and overtaking too much of what really shouldn’t be their story, I would expect and imagine that they should not be major part of the series going forward, besides a small scene or so and the resolution of the cliffhanger ending with Rey and Luke. It’s a fun nostalgia to see these characters, but they’re on their way out and they’ve helped usher in some worthy new era Star Wars characters to create their own legacy.

Circling back around to the plot of this thing, I guess it makes sense that this thing works because they kept things simplistic and copied a majority of the original trilogy’s beats. We start the film off with a droid carrying a message that needs to be delivered that holds the key to expected peace and overcoming of the dark side in the whole galaxy, we have a character living in the doldrums of a planet with seemingly exceptional skill with little future prospects until pulled up in to inter-galactic war, we have a hotshot x-wing pilot whose job in the climax entails flying into the First Order’s (bad guys) base and going in-between cramped spaces to destroy the small core, we have the main villain which is like a teenaged Darth Vader who has severe daddy issues, said daddy being Han Solo, who he confronts in a grand moment a top a catwalk where he subsequently betrays his father’s wishes and sends him off the edge to his grave death. I mean, I could go on, but you get the picture, the film takes a ton from the earlier movies, and so much so that it seems like some weird psuedo-remake. I’m not necessarily harping on the film for this, there’s still enough surrounding it that it doesn’t feel like a total retread, but you can’t help but seeing how intentionally safe they took this thing by relying on old standbys that they new would work, just with subbed in new characters and with the old ones just standing around waving on the sidelines.

I think what helps a lot in keeping this film a retreading and in injecting the new blood is the fidelity of the new cast members and how real to this universe and lived in they already feel. It doesn’t take you long to understand the plights and position of Rey, Finn and Poe in this world and how their each unique view shades in a different area of the film. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a particularly interesting casting choice, largely based out of the fact that a guy who looks like a pre-eminent un-assuming and un-opposing New York hipster and who is largely famous from playing one on TV for the past few years on Girls, was cast as this generation’s Darth Vader and tasked with being the large and encompassing villain of a dang Star Wars movie. I still couldn’t help but laugh when Kylo Ren’s badass helmet/mask was removed and Adam Driver’s svelte face with his curly hair bobbing out greeted me. At first I was at odds with him as the character and my believability of what kinds of evil should be coming from this guy who looks like what you would describe a prototypical millennial as. But, then the film progressed, I saw what they did with this character, having him be at such odds with his parents and what he saw around him that he regressed from everything they taught and preached and what they built their lives on and turned to the dark side. Sure, they’ve done this same storyline to an effect like dumb un-assuming Anakin turning into Vader, and Driver does much the same in his own way where he kind of gets in over his head, but you’re supposed to hate him for how he looks and just how easy it is for someone, anyone, to be so consumed by power and revenge that they make such decisions.

On the good guys side, things couldn’t really be in any better of a place. Daisey Ridley is excellent in playing this independent badass woman who is a fast-learner in this new world that demands fast learning. Finn, is literally thrown into a new world, having abandoned his storm trooper ways and is in his own fish out of water situation. I enjoyed how they played the Daisey/Finn relationship, hitting strongly on the friendship vibes over the romantic ones, something that wasn’t needed and would really only serve to cheapen both characters if they went that way and had them kiss or something like that.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. This thing was exactly what I expected and really thought it should be, and I imagine the creators though the same way. It was an easy, succinct way to re-introduce and re-establish this whole world, roping in all those characters you grew up loving all the while bringing in this new generation who look more than capable to continue the story. The old and new were balanced as well as one could expect, now let’s see what happens when the leash gets reigned in further and they don’t have the familiar crutches to lie upon.

‘Dungeons & Dragons’: Review

Dungeons & Dragons Review

I can’t believe this actually got made, but I’m insanely grateful that it did. Oh, no, I’m not referring to any degree of good quality, of course not, this movie is so bad in so many numerous ways that it’s incredible that it even got made to this degree. I’m not familiar at all with the role-playing game that it was of course based off, but I can no doubt that the fans of the game were fuming in their parents’ basement when they saw the movie. It’s so terribly awful, but yet so goddamn watchable in how many ways it manages to be a horrible movie. Let’s highlight some of them.

There is no plot to this movie, or any that I could discern. I’m very sure that it doesn’t follow any Dungeons & Dragons plotline or famous story, as the titular dragons and dungeons don’t even show up until the climax of the film. It apes so many successful and actually good films that it’s incredible that they weren’t sued on some kind of plagiarism clause. There’s numerous Star Wars copying, from the young matriarch, the “epic” town hall meetings with the counsellor types, idiot sidekicks, and the reflective score. Indiana Jones is not saved from plagiarism, with the main characacter being a younger Indy, a main scene of temple with several booby traps draw from every  Indiana Jones film. It seems like writers and director were all like, “Hey, what if we copied all the good parts from the best fantasy and adventure films of all time, wouldn’t that make a movie?” No, it wouldn’t and clearly didn’t, it’s sad how low this movie stoops to try and be relevant.

Dungeons & Dragons does have the honour of having the first ever side-kick to somehow be even more annoying than Jar-Jar Binks. Marlon Wayans gladly takes this honour, playing “Snail” the most stupidest, and stereotypical black character ever. It’s insanely sad and pitiful that they make him fall into every bad black stereotype and incessantly make him an idiot. “Did you see Marlon Wayans do that pratfall? HAHAHAHA that was so funny.” That’s basically a breakdown of the level of humour in this movie. If Marlon Wayans is the benchmark of humour in your movie, then I think you might have a slight problem. He is almost quite literally Jar-Jar Binks in live-action form, and it’s just so-so-so bad. I’m going to spoil that he eventually dies in the movie, but forget about a spoiler tag, because I don’t care. The scene is supposed to play with how sad it is that he got got, but it’s just incredibly hilariois in how schlocky it is, and also relief in not having to deal with him for the rest of the runtime.

Let’s actually talk about the only good thing about this movie. Jeremy Irons. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jeremy Irons is wholly terrible in this, but in doing so this is his greatest performance, and I’m not being funny. Yes, Jeremy Irons is a great actor, with several amazing performances, but nothing compares to how watchable he is in this. Irons is having so fun in being terrible that it’s infectious watching him eat up the scenery that he plays in. Everything is overacted, yelled and PERFORMED that he steals every scene he’s in and whenever he’s not in the scene you’re just waiting for him to pop up. I’m still trying to make sense of him being in this movie in the first place, but I guess he had a castle to pay for, so, hey, easy pay check. Jeremy Irons is the only reason to watch this, and yes you must watch this because of how incredible he is.

Oh my god, this movie is insane how bad it is, have I vocalized that yet? Just incredible. Watch it half-heartedly on YouTube during class or work, that’s how I did, seems like the best way to reward its awfulness.

1.5/10