Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars story (2016)

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Image is property of Lucasfilm Ltd and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rogue One: A Star Wars story – Film Review

Cast:  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmad, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whittaker

Director: Gareth Edwards

Synopsis: Telling the tale of the brave rebels who upon hearing about the Empire’s construction of a deadly weapon capable of destroying entire planets, set out on a brave mission to find and steal the weapon’s plans.

Review: “There will be no episode 7” the words of one George Lucas back in 2005, and for a long time that looked as though Lucas’s stance would not change. This is of course until Disney came calling to the tune of 4 billion dollars, and last year Episode 7 did arrive courtesy of JJ Abrams and Disney. Of course Disney had no plans to stop at Episode 7, with as well as two films to complete the new trilogy, there would be as of right now, three anthology films to come as well, giving Star Wars fans across the galaxy one new film every year until 2020.

Of course, as Lucas himself found out, making a prequel or three can be a risky endeavour, so the new creative faces behind the resurgence of Star Wars decided to pitch a story that would not touch the existing saga, but one that would sit nicely between say a couple. In the case of Rogue One, it sits between Episodes III and IV, the focus is on a rag-tag group of rebels led by Jyn Erso (Jones) who make a daring move for the plans to the lethal Death Star weapon. The franchise has boasted plenty of great action down the years, but rarely have they ever felt like it was truly Star WARS. Well enter director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy who really put the war in Star Wars and then some!

Edwards proved he could handle action well like he did in 2014’s Godzilla reboot, and here he demonstrates his considerable talents once again. The action particularly in the third act is utterly compelling and just brilliant to watch in all of its glory. It’s almost like Saving Private Ryan, but in Space! Much like what Abrams did with Awakens, the world Edwards has also created just looks and feels like Star Wars, with a few familiar faces in there brought incredibly to life by the wonder that is CGI but of course some new characters, all of whom are compelling to watch, but some are more developed than others. The cinematography too is tremendous, and much like Awakens, there is a great emphasis on the use of practical sets, and not relying on Green Screen, bonus points if you can spot the use of a London Underground station as an Imperial base!

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Image is property of Disney.

Jones is excellent as Jyn Erso, a character who has had a difficult past, but after a big discovery becomes personally connected with the story, she’s the lead and the most well developed, because she is a key part of the Imperial’s plans for reasons that will not be disclosed here, but there are others who absolutely shine as well. Cassian Andor (Luna) is excellent as the main support for Jyn, with Donnie Yen as a blind Rebel warrior at one with the force, and an absolute badass! Comic relief characters often come in droid shaped sizes, and this void is filled excellently by newbie K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Beyond these guys, the rest of the crew are a little bit light on character development, but the aforementioned trio certainly aren’t. On the flip side there’s one key new villain in Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, almost your typical pantomime villain, who sneers at just about everyone and anything. Of course one Darth Vader makes his presence known once again, largely thanks to James Earl Jones’s booming voice and it’s an absolute joy to see one of cinema’s best ever villains back on the big screen.

Many took aim at Awakens  for being too similar to A New Hope. For sure there are some obvious visual nods and throwbacks, to please the fans, but ultimately given the poor reception of the prequels it was the safe route to have taken to launch the new trilogy. Of course Rogue One does do something similar with neat little visual nods to certain characters but by the time the enthralling third act arrives, gone are the Star Wars familiarities, it’s all out war in every sense of the word, with reminiscent shots of World War II and epic battles occurring on the beaches of this planet, and the CGI remains at a very high standard, with Michael Giacchino stepping in as a late replacement for Alexandre Desplat, delivering another superb score, the first not composed by John Williams.

For Disney, their colossal investment to take control of this franchise is certainly looking to be a wise decision, and one that is looking set to pay off big time. The studio raked in the cash following the release of Force Awakens. Although it’s unlikely that Rogue One will make the 2 billion The Force Awakens made, there’s every chance that Rogue One will make some serious cash. Right now, The Force is strong with this franchise, and the all powerful Disney machine in many ways resembles the Galactic Empire in terms of its sheer power, but Disney certainly doesn’t seem to have any plans to build a giant planet killing weapon!

This is everything the prequels should have been but really weren’t. It manages to strike a great balance between everything you know and love about this franchise, whilst also going in some exciting new directions.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Arrival (2016)

arrival
Image is property of FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment and Paramount Pictures

Arrival – Film Review

Cast:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: When 12 alien ships mysteriously appear in places around the world, a team of experts are gathered to assess the extra terrestrial visitors, and to determine: just why are they here?

Review: Alien invasion, a classic trope of the science fiction genre, One that so often delivers films where you sit back and just watch a load of mayhem and destruction with cities getting blown to smithereeens and the aliens must be stopped at all costs. While these can be fun and very enjoyable, science fiction is a genre that has the potential to go really deep and provide the audience with a thought provoking piece of story telling that gets the brain working and leaves its audience in awe and spectacle, and this latest film from director Denis Villeneuve ticks that box, and then some.

Adapted from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, we focus on Dr Louise Banks (Adams) a brilliant linguistics professor who is called in by the US military to help deal with the mysterious alien invaders and to understand just who are they, what do they want, and above all are they a threat to humanity? Aiding her in her quest is physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) and together these intelligent academics must decipher what these extra terrestrial beings are up to. Heisserer’s screenplay is excellent, exploring some really interesting themes that we have seen before in science fiction. Yet these are told in such a brilliant and engaging way that it keeps your eyes firmly transfixed on the screen. The mystery is maintained throughout the film’s running time as for a while, the craft of the visitors is not revealed, and it brilliantly keeps the viewer engaged. It is smart and very thought provoking story-telling that keeps you hooked from the very first shot, all the way to the last shot.

The centrepiece of this story is of course Adams’s Dr Banks, a wounded soul who has suffered some terrible tragedies in her lifetime, and yet, she remains strong willed, determined to do all she can to understand what the alien visitors are after, and not to bow to the will of her military superiors, most notably Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber. Adams has had a very distinguished career, earning five Oscar nods, and another one could very well be coming her way next year. She carries the film on her shoulders, and reinforces her reputation as a very stellar actress. Renner also gives a very grounded and superb performance, who does his best to sprinkle a bit of humour here and there into the story, but the limelight belongs to Adams and she absolutely bosses it.

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The directing from Villeneuve is masterful in its execution, aided by flawless cinematography from Bradford Young. The wide shots of the alien craft as they appear in the sky are truly something to behold. The flawless cinematography is aided by outstanding visuals and magnificent visual effects. The aliens themselves feel so real and authentic, you don’t see it as a computer generated image. Similarly with the alien crafts, though they do resemble pieces of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, are beautifully designed and like their inhabitants feel very real and authentic. Re-teaming with Villeneuve after Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is mesmerising to the ears, as Villeneuve’s visual brilliance is appealing to the eyes.

Language and science are two subjects that rarely go hand in hand, but here they most certainly do and the results are a joy to behold. The mystery will hook you in and will not let go. With the Blade Runner sequel being Villeneuve’s next film, fans of Ridley Scott’s classic can rest assured knowing that project is in very safe and capable hands.

A beautifully refreshing take on what is a very common sci-fi trope, with thought provoking themes and ideas, anchored by a powerful performance from Adams.

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