Monday, December 26, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Major Spoilers.

In the first non-Episode Star Wars film, we jump back in time to just before the legendary events of Episode 4, where Jyn Erso () an every-girl with a tragic childhood and a cold attitude shaped by it becomes a key piece in the Rebellion's increasingly desperate attempts to fight back against the evil Empire.

Directed by Godzilla's

Testing the waters outside of the lines that have been in place for so long, there's bound to be a misstep or two. Rogue One hits all the checkpoints of a successful, entertaining film, but going deeper, it gets more complicated. There are some undeniably great aspects, and some arguably bad ones, and it's all mixed together.

As I see it, the foundation of the movie's main problems is this: it's an emotional and personal story, but is told too much like it's an action blockbuster. For comparison, that was the appropriate way to tell The Force Awakens. Even though it had many important, personal aspects to it, it was, at heart, a space epic, and was told as such. Rogue One is at heart an intimate story; a character journey. On a larger scale we already know what will happen; what we need to see is Jyn, her emotional journey and the things that she cares for.

...the people she cares for.

And when the film does focus small, it's exactly what it should be, inherently darker, but never less than the Star Wars level of engaging. But it doesn't always do that, getting distracted, giving in to the temptation to be big, and epic, and then using the characters only to drive the plot. Then useless things start to fill the run time. Like cameos and winking references. Some of them fun additions, but narratively they gunked up the works. Even Darth Vader, who I enjoyed seeing again in spite of apprehensions. CGI Leia and Tarkin could have been cut completely, and not only because the effects (impressive as they were) were distracting. Even the excellent battle scenes could've been cut back, when not relating directly to the individual characters.

And unfortunately, when the film forgets about its heroine, she doesn't come across well. When we don't get to focus on understanding her, she comes across as one-dimensional; just a tough girl in a bad mood. I loved the brief glimpses we got of her vulnerabilities -- her nightmares of being abandoned, her cynical resistance to feel anything, or the scene where her father dies. But those things weren't developed to complete her arc. The framework was all there, especially in her fear on abandonment, but it wasn't explored and filled in enough for us to feel the full impact when her friends never abandon her. To show her issues resolve.

Forget the action; I want to see some relationships growing.

I'm being hard on character with this movie because all the characters die. It would have been different if they had lived. Even without a sequel, we would know that they continue to grow and change. At the very least Jyn's death needed to be the final piece of closure for her arc. In retrospect I can see that her journey was completed technically, if you fill in some gaps with assumption, but it felt unresolved at the time. I should be able to go back a second time and experience everything properly, but that doesn't mean it's not a flaw.

Normally, I'll guard myself from emotion in films, but I expected the deaths going in, and was constantly preparing myself to embrace the sadness; ready to be moved. I wanted this film to break my heart but, busy and distracted, it didn't linger in the sadness long enough to fully affect me. Every time I'd start to tear up the scene changed to something not sad. That being said, the sadness that was there didn't feel manipulative, but natural, and easy to fall into. It is a sad movie, and I can't fault it for not going as far as I was willing to go.

It is much sadder now, thinking about it with my own filter in my head.

And I don't want to fault it either. There a quite a few details about the way this film was done that I wish had been different, but at its core it got everything right. You can see a good story there. A story that maybe wasn't told as clearly as it could have been, but was told nonetheless, with dedication, a lot of heart, and a great sense of darkness and gritty beauty. My biggest question going into the movie was "will the story be truly worth telling?" and I felt that the answer and my opinion of the film would coincide. Well I was right, and the answer is undoubtedly yes.

I knew it going in and I was happy with my choice coming out: Cassian () was my favorite. I definitely think he could have used more development, like almost all the characters, but my initial impression was a pleasant surprise at how developed he was... fairly quickly followed by a wish for even more. He was very compelling to me; a worn soldier who follows his orders, knowing that the end will justify the means. And I could have watched a full two hours of just him and Jyn having heated arguments. Their relationship was built up really well for a while before speeding along to the conclusion, and had a lot of great potential; if I could reorganize the film's focus, I'd put the spotlight directly on them.

I love that he has to suppress emotion in order to work for the rebellion, and Jyn does the same to keep herself out of it. 

Nothing but love for K-2SO -- he was the best comic relief (basically the only comic relief) as a droid with no verbal filter. Nothing but an endless supply of excellently unique humor, delivered in the perfect way that only can supply. (He also performed motion-capture for the character on set.) But of course, that led to an equally great amount of heart from him as well... and a surprising amount of badassery. His death scene was the best and maybe the most affecting of them all.

The other three rebels of the group (pilot Bhodi (), blind guy Chirrut () and blind guy's friend Baze ()) sadly didn't have time to make a huge impression before the end, but I was attached enough to them to feel significance at their deaths. They all were good for the screen time they received, and I'm sure the future will see me more familiar with and attached to them. as Jyn's father Galen is very cool, and his character expertly done. No complaints at all -- he got everything done with limited time and drama and style to spare. was good too, but in the end, unimportant.

This scene was so beautiful...

The film's villain Krennic was overshadowed by the bigger, arguably unnecessary villains above him, which was too bad, because made him a great, stylish, and easy to hate villain, and he could have owned the screen alone. I really wanted the climax to be more just him and Jyn in an epic personal struggle instead of the whole epic-in-scale one we got instead. That moment on the tower lasted a mere fraction of the time it could have.

I get the feeling that Rogue One was a little... disconnected. Or misinformed. I don't think it understood what we wanted out of a Star Wars spinoff film. All the things I didn't care for seemed like the stuff they thought was fan service, and where I wanted to go deeper was often casually glazed over or cut short. Maybe that's only me though. I know they wanted to cater to the broadest audience possible here, and to do that the movie had to find a balance between its inherit personal nature and a widely appealing blockbuster one. The balance is awkward, but it may be the most ideal, considering the circumstances.

Not a perfect film... but a great story.

I don't mean to cut this movie any slack where it doesn't deserve it, but, in the end, my view of it can't help but be overwhelmingly positive -- in spite of my complaining and wishing for more out of the characters. I wouldn't wish for more if I hadn't loved them, after all. A little misguided perhaps, but Rogue One's Star Wars story is a story worth telling, and a brave and beautiful plunge into the ever-expanding reaches of a galaxy far, far away.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - December

In November I went to see Doctor Strange, and it was everything I didn't know how to hope it would be! A wonderful surprise, and a fun and original origin film from Marvel. And then in an unexpected turn of events, I also went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with some friends. And I thoroughly enjoyed it, in spite of a handful of less-than-great aspects. I said in November that I didn't want to invest in a new long series, but I'm afraid I might have done accidentally.

And now -- December. The end of 2016! So tell me, what is your favorite film of the year so far? And are there any movies releasing in December that you think might displace it?

Here's what's interesting me...

La La Land
Dec 8th; PG-13
Honestly, all I need to know concerning this film is that it's from Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of Whiplash. And, equally as honestly, if I didn't know it was from him, and watched this trailer, then THAT would be all I need to know. So, at this point, I already know too much. I even know that it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. I have a lot of questions, like is it a legit musical, or is the "musical" moments just fantasy? Or daydreams? Cause you know -- La La Land. And there's some weird stuff going on in the trailer, but I kinda want it all to be real. But anyway, that doesn't really effect that fact that I want to see this movie! It looks so beautiful, in every sense of the word. I seriously doubt this could be anything but excellent.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Dec 15th; PG-13
It's hard to put my finger on what exactly excites me about this movie. First, it's Star Wars, so I have to see it. There's no way I won't. But also, it's a smaller scale story. It's not about the Jedi, with their chosen ones and prophesies and such, it's just average people caught up in the rebellion. It's a neat opportunity to be different. Like, they go undercover in the Death Star, so is it going to be more of a spy film? A Mission: Impossible kind of thing? And then there's the cast. I've always liked Felicity Jones, so I'm ready to love her character, and I can already feel a little crush developing on Diego Luna's character, just from the trailer. (I just realized I've seen him before, in Elysium! He was the dude with the pigtails. No wonder I like him.) There's also Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker, and Alan Tudyk voicing the robot! And then, there's the look of it. I mean, good grief, you could play the trailer, pause it anywhere randomly, have it printed and it'd be the most gorgeous piece of art. If the entire movie looks like that, I might be so distracted that I don't even notice the story. And that seems like that is the only thing that's up in the air right now. But seriously, if Episode 7 could be so fantastic just by copying Episode 4's plot, there's not much to be worried about. All they have to do is come up with something original that fits inside the preexisting narrative, and I'm there. Well, I'm there anyway, but there you go.

Assassin's Creed
Dec 20th; PG-13
NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! Ahem. So, I'm not a big video game person, and the only reason I even knew about this movie is because everyone else does. My brother has lots to say on the subject of this movie, but for me, it boils down to this: It's an action movie, so is the story there, and, are the visuals there? From the trailer the story is ambiguous. That could be a good thing, if they're just trying to not reveal too much, or it could simply mean the story is not there. Same thing with the visuals. It seems to promise good things, but if what we see here is the very best they have, the movie won't be able to stand on visuals alone. Personally, I'd really like it to end up on the positive side. I like Michael Fassbender, he can handle action well, and the sci-fi side of it is interesting to me. But honestly, it'd be the bigger surprise if it wound up being truly good.

Dec 20th; PG-13
From the moment I saw that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were going to star in a space sci-fi movie together I was on board. And, well, I still am, but my expectations have slowly been diminishing since the original announcement. Like, I'm all for a little romance with my sci-fi, but this is more "a little sci-fi with the romance." The only news I've seen concerning the film is about the sex scene. Not a great sign, even if it is PG-13. And something I'd opt to cut out completely -- I like the actors too much. Maybe it'll surprise me and wind up being a great sci-fi story as well after all, but I'm not confident. The premise is very neat, and the look of it is great -- just my kind of thing. I love how as the trailer goes on they slowly morph from clean and pristine to panicked and dirty. It one of those times where I'll just have to wait and see, but man, I'm really hoping here.

Dec 20th; PG
This animated movie as about a singing competition with animals, and is stuffed full of big names. Too full, I think. I saw a couple different trailers for this, and the one I have here made me pretty interested to see the movie, but the other one tried very hard to cancel that out. The first trailer gave the impression that the movie was focusing mainly on one story -- that of the kid gorilla voiced by Taron Egerton -- and letting all the other characters be more in the background. But it's clear now that all the characters will be basically equal. It's a kid's version of Love Actually with animals! So now I bet that a lot less than average effort is going to be put into each story. It's a kid's movie, so for them that hardly matters, but for me the only appeal left is hearing the actors sing. And we don't even get to see them sing.

Dec 22nd; R
The latest from Martin Scorsese is based on a novel, and about two missionaries -- Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver -- who go dangerously and illegally into Japan in search of one of their own, Liam Neeson. It's getting a bit of Oscar talk, and looks serious and intense but also highly artistic, and I just hope that it isn't only existing to be Oscar bait, but actually existing to tell its story. It's definitely a different story that we haven't seen before, and I'd love to see it find success if it's as good as it looks even without the help of the Academy.

A Monster Calls
Dec 22nd; PG-13
A fantasy coming of age story that has Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver surrounding the newcomer in the lead. From the trailer, this doesn't look super interesting to me, though it does look neat and uniquely dark for a movie where the lead is twelve years old. The critics seem to think it's worth our time, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye on it.

Dec 27th; R
Just this trailer leaves me feeling so relaxed and happy. I love the tone. And it's got Adam Driver in it, and that's pretty much all I need to know! Definitely need to see this one. It's limited release only leaves the question of "when?"