Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars

Jumanji (1995)

jumanji

Director: Joe Johnston Cast: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Jonathan Hyde

A young boy somehow finds himself pulled into the world of  magical board game, and ends up stuck there for 26 years, until a couple of kids start playing again and release him. But he’s not the only thing they release from the world of Jumanji…

With a sequel coming out December 2017, I thought I’d give this childhood terror another whirl. And, yes, I mean terror- this movie used to absolutely scare the pants off me, hence why I think this must be the first time I’ve watched it since I was about 8.

Fortunately for my sanity, I’ve grown up a bit since then and it’s not so scary anymore. Watching it in 2016, the graphics are unsurprisingly quite terrible, but the animatronics are still pretty good and I think actually much more effective than the CGI. It’s not as rip-roaringly hilarious or as comedically clever as some of Robin Williams’ other films (all time fave: Hook), but it’s standard family humour and is easy to watch. Let this be said though, there is still something very foreboding about those drums when the game is out to get you.

Having watched this movie as a child soon after it was originally released, I think I appreciated Jumanji for its nostalgic value. Watching it for the first time today however might not have quite the same impact, and it’s just another family film among many others. That said, there’s nothing bad about it particularly, it’s just fairly standard. It’s inoffensive and will probably be enjoyed by most audiences: solid.

3 stars

The Santa Clause (1994)

Ⓒ Walt Disney Pictures
Ⓒ Walt Disney Pictures

Director: John Pasquin Cast: Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson

Divorced dad Scott Calvin (Allen) accidentally kills Santa Claus, and due to a clause found on a business card in Santa’s jacket, he has to become Santa himself. Although reluctant at first, he gradually settles into his new role and enjoys the respect he gets from his son, the only person who believes that he is the real Santa. However, others (including his ex-wife) think he’s going crazy, leading to some difficult choices.

I don’t think I have ever despised a child in a movie as much as I despised the one in this, Scott Calvin’s son Charlie. He whines all the time and is unbearably spoilt- it’s no surprise Scott doesn’t relish looking after him. Yet somehow this annoying kid becomes the hero of the story, and manages to end up getting his own way. Add this to the generally crap storyline, and this is probably one of the worst Christmas films I’ve watched in recent memory. None of the parts of the story seems to flow into the next, nor does the setting: one minute we’re in America and the next we’re in the North Pole, with the same main characters but it’s like it’s a different film. I don’t know what it is, maybe the set design, the writing, or something, but none of it seems to fit or really make sense. The film isn’t funny, heart-warming, and it doesn’t teach a lesson- it doesn’t really fit into any of the usual Christmas film moulds. Not fitting into a particular mould isn’t necessarily a problem, but it is when the film ends up being unsure of quite what the point of it is.

I would not recommend this film. I like Tim Allen in general, and the few moments written for his character in the script make a small step towards saving the film, but overall it’s boring and the characters are annoying and pointless. There are many more far better Christmas films to watch this festive season.

1 star

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Ⓒ Lucasfilm
Ⓒ Lucasfilm

Director: J. J. Abrams Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill

The long-awaited seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise finally arrives, introducing a new generation of characters taking on a new threat (The First Order) with the help of a new Resistance. After seeing merciless killing carried out in the name of The First Order, a stormtrooper (Boyega) becomes disillusioned and escapes his position, and bumps into a lonely admirer of the old Rebel Alliance. Together they join up with the resistance, enocuntering some of the original characters on the way.

At 12.02 am on Thursday 17th December, I was nicely settled into my seat wearing my Star Wars t-shirt and my 3D glasses at the midnight showing of The Force Awakens. With all the hype surrounding it, I had tried to go in with no expectations, but having grown up with the series (A New Hope being the first film I ever remember watching) it was difficult to not get excited. Right from the outset, I was taken back to the world of my favourite franchise, and I was not disappointed. With so much pressure on him, Abrams has done so well to keep aspects of the original films as well as introducing the new characters without feeling like they’re intruding. The music, the sounds, the landscape shots, and pretty much every other detail was in keeping with the originals, which made me feel like I was seeing old friends again (I’m trying not to sound like a weirdo here). We don’t see any of the original cast for a while, which works well since we get to know the new generation first; we settle neatly into the new storylines rather than them being placed alongside characters that we already know so well, which I think would have made the new bunch seem like they shouldn’t be there. The new actors do very well and bring great touches of comedy, which the original series benefitted from too; they fit excellently into the style of the original series, which was probably a highly daunting task.

Of course however, seeing the original cast was probably a highlight for much of the audience. Not just the main characters like Han and Chewie, but also minor ones (and this isn’t really a spoiler) like cult figure Admiral Ackbar bring a welcoming sense of nostalgia. And what about the actual storyline itself, you say?! Well, I liked it- I suppose with all the hype around the film it’s hard to have a perspective of how good it actually was, but it made sense and leads clearly into a new phase of the Star Wars story. There were many parallels with the original trilogy, (and these may be spoilers) such as a disillusioned youth living on a sandy planet, a Death Star-type thing, a mysterious baddie leader who only appears by video link, and someone discovering they’re a jedi. And, like I say, the structure of introducing the new characters first was a good move.

So all in all I think this film was brilliant. It was full of risk to take on this task, but it is done very well and I wasn’t at all disappointed- in fact, I’m already planning to see it again, and going to the cinema twice for a movie is something I virtually never do. It’s not for everyone, of course: after all it is sci-fi, and people who haven’t seen any of the originals (do those people actually exist, though?) would miss a lot of the references to the old classics. But for any Star Wars fan, go and see it, you won’t be let down!

5 stars