Tag Archives: franchise

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW

**THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS**

los-alamos-poster-tall-1536x864

After the biggest budgeted fan film of all time was released last year with The Force Awakens (2015), I approached Rogue One (2016) with a sense of scepticism. After all, JJ Abrams directed Star Wars movie was essentially a block-to-block remake of A New Hope (1977) but this time substituting Luke Skywalker for a young woman, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) and Darth Vader for a younger more angst-ridden version in Adam Driver. Abrams spectacular epic delighted fans on emotional and aesthetic levels despite the sandcastle plotting, gaping story holes and illogical incompetence of the First Order. For example, why build a ‘Death Planet’ with the SAME weaknesses as the Empire’s Death Star?  It did not make sense to me.

Nonetheless, JJ Abrams safety guaranteed reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with bland leads and a nostalgic mix of familiar and new characters. The action was breathless and pristine but the weaknesses in the story ruined the enjoyment of The Force Awakens for me. While it made sense to focus the narrative on the children of the original trilogy, and it was great to see Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo, I wasn’t as impressed by Abrams blockbuster as many were. Of course, compared to George Lucas’-rise-and-fall-of-Annakin-Skywalker-prequel-trilogy it was pure cinema gold.

Talking of prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that – Star Wars: Episode 3.5 as it were.  The action takes place after Revenge of the Sith (2005) but just before A New Hope.  We open with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic pursuing Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘farmer’, Galen Erso, on the planet Lah’mu. Krennic is an Imperial executive working on the Death Star and he requires Erso’s expertise to complete the work so kidnaps him, leaving behind his young daughter Jyn Erso, alone and abandoned.

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up.jpg

As per many other stories in the Star Wars galaxy themes relating to war, family, loss, orphans and hope propels the characters in Rogue One. None more so than Felicity Jones’ grown up Jyn Erso, who inhabits her character with a credible depth and pain throughout. She has clearly had to fend for herself and has become world-weary for one so young, yet she is also tough and very handy in a fight. Against her will she is thrust into the rebellion fight and embarks on a last-ditch mission to locate the plans of the Death Star. Here the story harks back marvellously to the derring-do of WW2 movies such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). That was when I knew this was my kind of movie.

Accompanying Jyn are a ragtag bunch of characters who could arguably been given more backstory but are cast very well. My personal favourite was Donny Yen as Chirrut Imwe as the blind, elegant and formidable ‘monk’ and Diego Luna’s battle-drained rebellion officer who refuses to go down without a fight. With the plot thrusting along at some pace we still have time for reflection by the characters, especially from Luna and Jones. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Ben Mendelsohn gives an intriguing performance as a middle manager unable to grasp the power he so craves.  Darth Vader’s scenes too were fantastically handled in my view and while initially jarring the CGI appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing was a curious treat.

ben_mendohlsen

Whereas JJ Abrams skilfully emulated the emotions of the original Star Wars films, Gareth Edwards (and apparently re-shoot director Tony Gilroy) really imbue a sense of menace and doom to the Rogue One mission.  The stakes are incredibly high, and while we know the outcome, most of the characters are given enough purpose to make you care for them. From the stark landscape of the opening scenes to the stunningly bleak midpoint set-piece on the base facility of planet Eadu, pathos, shadow and death inhabit the film’s core. Indeed, it reflects the darker side of the franchise like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so succinctly.

Of course, the story is all building to an incredible final act where Jyn and her crew seek those darned plans which are inconveniently kept in an impossible-to-breach fortress protected by battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids and weaponry. As our heroes battle for their lives and the future of the rebellion, we cut breathlessly between the space dogfights we have come to love and the explosive conflict on the planet surface. Do they complete their mission? Well, you know the end; however, amidst the fast-paced action and special effects there is time for a sense of loss and a series of spectacular and heroic deaths.

donnie_yen_rogue-one-donnie-yen-20161217.jpg

Where, in my opinion, A Force Awakens was Disney playing it safe, this film takes a few more chances within the corporate conservatism of the movie market. While it has a darkness in its’ heart Rogue One still meets the classic Hollywood “standardization and differentiation” model which has served big business since the dawn of time. Overall this isn’t just a great Star Wars film but a brilliant movie too. It’s very much in the vein of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), as it transcends the franchise while delivering a pulsating, heroic and emotional experience. While the canonized Skywalker arcs continue to concentrate on expanding the Jedi family tree, the stand-alone anthology series, of which Rogue One is the first, offer an opportunity to perhaps go darker and experiment with form, character and themes.

LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS

LICENSED TO THRILL: SOME MEMORABLE 007 MOMENTS

With SPECTRE (2015) looming on the horizon I’ve picked out some memorable Bond bits which make this one of, if not the best, genre franchises ever. I knocked this up during my lunchtime so it’s by no means definitive but there’s a mix of deadly, funny and sad moments. If you have your own please do nominate.

**THERE BE SPOILERS!**

THE GUN BARREL OPENING

As the classic music kicks in and the Agent points his gun and fires, literally “killing” the audience, you’re immediately hooked!

DR NO (1962) – “BOND, JAMES BOND”

With the suave delivery of one simple line Connery’s Bond eases into cinematic folklore. Much imitated but never bettered.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) – FIGHT SCENE ON THE TRAIN

Henchmen/women have played a massive part in the series and peroxide-blonde Robert Shaw was a worthy adversary for Bond. This is a great fight: dirty, realistic, confined, brutal and full of suspense.

GOLDFINGER (1964) – THE THEME TUNE

The GREATEST Bond theme song EVER! Probably!

GOLDFINGER (1964) – “NO, MR BOND – I EXPECT YOU TO DIE”

Love the cat-and-mouse plot of Goldfinger as Bond hunts the megalomaniac while getting into a number of scrapes and close calls; the laser set-piece being one of the most memorable.

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) – THAT ENDING

George Lazenby was the David Moyes of Bonds inasmuch as he had an impossible job following an icon. But O.H.M.S.S is a really good spy/action film with all the elements of a great Bond movie. Lazenby is wooden as hell but the brave ending is a dramatic humdinger! Bond cries! Bond cries!

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) – THE UNDERWATER CAR

Wow! Just wow! Watching this as a kid you think Bond is done for during this pursuit – but NO! Have some of that baddies – this car can swim!

MOONRAKER (1979) – “JAWS” FALLS IN LOVE

I’m not a big Roger Moore fan as his legacy was besmirched by some dodgy later films plus they became TOO jokey for my liking. However, in his films he had some great gadgets, humour and henchmen to face. None more so that “Jaws” – the metallic-teethed giant who proved impossible to kill. I loved the moment when the writers gave “Jaws” a romance. It’s very silly but just hilarious.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1983) – THE CITROEN CV2 CAR CHASE

After the comic-book-sci-fi-over-the-top-ness of Moonraker the franchise was brought back to Earth with a grittier and more realistic treatment in For Your Eyes Only. Despite the 80s hair and dodgy score the Yellow Citroen car chase is executed with much wit and suspense by the impressive stunt-team.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – THE PLOT

Dalton was a great Bond and this is one of my favourite stories as it feels like a proper thriller rather than a series of set-pieces and chases held together by a flimsy plot. Blonde cellists/assassins, Soviet defections, KGB villains, triple agents and the general air of espionage and boys’ own spy stuff make this one of the best plots in the series in my humble opinion.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – BUNGEE-JUMP OPENING

Bond was back with a bang AND a new face. Pierce Brosnan was a very charismatic Bond and this is his best film. The makers needed to make their mark and did so with an incredible bungee-jumping stunt, followed by explosive shoot-out with the bad-guys! Damned perfection!! Sorry.

GOLDENEYE (1995) – “THAT’S MY LUNCH!”

Q and Bond’s scenes were always a treat like a Headmaster showing a schoolboy the ropes. Bond’s insouciance was always a treat and the zinger in this is terrific.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – THE PARKOURING

So Bond was back with a real proper actor in Daniel Craig and while he lacked the suave look and cheeky humour of Brosnan he made up for it with steely toughness and physical force. This was ably demonstrated in a brilliant opening scene which popularized the “Parkour” phenomenon of the time.

CASINO ROYALE (2006) – “I’M THE MONEY”

Vesper Lynd is my favourite female Bond lead. Played brilliantly by the enigmatic Eva Green her character is no pushover and more than matches Bond verbally during their first meeting. Later in the story she steals and breaks his heart adding an emotional depth to their relationship not often witnessed in other Bond adventures.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – THE OPERA SCENE

Stylistically speaking Quantum of Solace is a cracking film filled with tremendous set-pieces. While it lacks a decent story/villain it works pretty well as a kind of sequel to Casino Royale. The Opera scene is stunningly shot and edited; the form bleeding into the action to create pure cinema at its finest.

SKYFALL (2012) – THE TWO FACES OF RAUL SILVA

Javier Bardem really brought a wonderful performance to the Bond table in Skyfall. Initially he plays and flirts with Bond revealing a technological brilliance and homo-erotic slant; THEN he switches to full on monster mode displaying horror at M’s lack of “maternal” instinct when he was captured in the field.