Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm, 2016)

Directed by: Gareth Edwards 

Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a story by Gary Whitta and John Knoll 

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk,  Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikkelsen. 

I’m going to level with you going into this review. I loved Star Wars as a kid. It was like a religion to me. I lived and breathed it. I had all the figures, I devoured the expanded Universe novels, comics, video games and I even read Star Wars magazine. 

Then we got the prequels and my love dimmed a little. It happens, we all have our phases. I still saw them all at the cinema on release day. First showing if possible. My love dimmed, but like how I feel about New Order, Diet Coke and Pop Tarts, my Star Wars love never fully left.

 

Last year’s The Force Awakens re-energised my feelings for Star Wars, as I’m sure it did for the rest of the planet. It was an exciting trip down memory lane with enough new bits peppered along the way to keep you hooked for Episode VIII.  Moving forward! Not back to suffer more needless stories we already knew the end to. 

I was somewhat hesitant about Rogue One, I’ll admit that. We didn’t need more prequels. Except, it turns out being a prequel freed up Rogue One to be it’s own thing. 
By having such a definitive end point, Rogue One has no choice but to make its characters and story interesting. It simply wouldn’t work otherwise. 
The story itself is remarkably streamlined, the engineer who designed the Death Star, Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen as a weary Oppenheimer style character, is forced to return to the Empire and finish his work. 

The villain who abducts him is played rather deliciously by Ben Mendelsohn, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors these days. His daughter, Jyn (A stony faced Felicity Jones), is taken in by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (the incredible Forest Whittaker). After the defection of an Empire shuttle pilot reveals Galen’s plan to destroy the Death Star, a plot is hatched to get the plans and blow that hunk a junk out of the sky. 

The action scenes are huge and more importantly they all serve the story. A Death Star test on Jedha is uncomfortably visceral, while Donnie Yen taking out a platoon of Stormtroopers single handedly, hands a dose of martial arts realism to the Galaxy far, far away. 

Oh, Darth Vader is in it too. But I’m not gonna spoil that. Or any of the other cameos. 

What I liked most about Rogue One,  is that it felt like the Star Wars I knew as a kid. Gritty, dirty, lived-in worlds, characters with depth. This is a movie that works in tones of grey, not all the heroes are heroic and the villains aren’t one note mustache twirlers. 

To see the Rebels portrayed as killers and terrorists was a shock, how many blockbusters would let you see their main good guys murdering people and being devious. Nor would I expect to see one with as much sympathy towards its main villain. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is ostensibly our main male hero, yet is a bit of a dick at first, before winning both Jyn and the audience over. It’s a bold move but it pays off well by the climax. 

The diverse, ensemble cast is another factor in why Rogue One works. From Alan Tudyk as the hilarious (and badass) droid K2SO to Donnie Yen’s blind warrior, who while not being a Jedi is strong with the force, everyone just works. Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, the defecting pilot is also noteworthy. I’m a big fan of Riz, so it’s cool seeing him in a movie this size. 

It’s great seeing different ethnic backgrounds represented in a Star Wars film without them being heavy handed stereotypes. 

 I really felt a bond between the Rebel team, somewhat echoing  Saving Private Ryan. To be a total cliché, it puts the war in Star Wars. Thematically, Rogue One goes back to the World War 2 films that inspired the original Star War and has more in common with the likes of Fury than it does Attack of The Clones. 

A lot has been said about the reshoots Rogue One underwent over the summer, but, it worked. Disney gambled and had another crack at the movie and it’s paid off huge. The story that got out was that Jyn was too arrogant and hard to empathise with. None of her “I Rebel!” stuff from the trailers made it into the finished film so maybe that is the case. I liked Jyn so the reshoots clearly did their job. I found Felicity Jones the right balance between world-weary and vulnerable. Never a princess in peril. Never needed rescuing. 

The creative team at Lucasfilm really do love the Star Wars universe, it’s apparent in all the care taken to ensure every new Star Wars project is perfect. If you enjoyed Rogue One, make sure you catch up with Rebels,  the animated series set around the same time frame.
For me, this is the type of Star Wars film I’ve waited my whole life for, and it goes in 3rd in my ranking of the movies. Behind Empire and A New Hope,  above The Force Awakens and Jedi. But this is on first watch. I feel it could rise on a second viewing. 

It’s a Star Wars film for the die hards, filled with easter eggs and pay offs, but more importantly, it works for people who’ve never seen any of the others. Which is why Disney is going to have huge success with the stand alone films. I can’t wait for Han Solo already. 
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in Cinemas now 

5/5  
The best Star Wars movie since 1983

For Fans Of :

 Fury 

Star Wars Episode IV 

Inglourious Basterds 

Star Wars Rebels 

Rupture (2016)

Directed by: Steven Shainberg

Written By: Brian Nelson and Steven Shainberg 

Starring: Noomi Rapace,  Michael Chiklis, Peter Stormare, Kerry Bishe 

Rupture is a tense thriller that sees the star of Prometheus and former Dragon Tattooed girl, Noomi Rapace as Renee Morgan, a regular woman trying to raise her son as a single parent with an asshole ex-husband. 

While on her way to do a skydive, Renee is taken hostage by a mysterious organisation, seemingly for no real reason. Trapped in their facility, undergoing horrific treatments from creepy doctors played by the always entertaining Michael Chiklis and Peter Stormare, Renee has to figure out why she’s there and how she will survive.  I’m not going to go into too much detail as it would give away more of the plot than I need to and this is a film that relies on its slow burn and reveals. 

Some films are uncomfortable to watch. That’s not always a positive, but in the case of Rupture it is. A dark, tightly wound thriller, Rupture evokes memories of films that they don’t make any more. In a lot of ways, it feels like a European movie. The tension is built as the story progresses,  keeping the audience both guessing and feeling uneasy as we are ratcheted along toward the inevitable reveal. People with a fear of spiders should also be warned going in!

Remember about 10 or so years ago, we had all those sensational French and Spanish horror/thrillers? The biggest compliment I can pay this movie is that it sits right alongside films like Martyrs, REC, Haute Tension, Frontiers and so many others. Claustrophobic scenes in air vents and tight camera shots on Rapace strapped to a gurney show director Steven Shainberg means business. 

The cast, as I’ve mentioned already, is superb. Noomi Rapace gives a good performance, really conveying the terror she’s put through. I feel like Rapace is a hugely underrated actress, for me she’s a highlight in everything she’s in. Since first seeing the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I’ve been a fan. 

Former member of the Fantastic Four, Michael Chiklis shows up to offer mystery and weird experiments, while Peter Stormare pops up to deliver a dose of European weirdness only he can deliver. Argo’s Kerry Bishé plays a sinister nurse or doctor or something, it’s never quite clear what any of these bad guys do. Other than that their motives are sinister. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not everything needs to be spoon-fed to audiences. 

Rupture is a taut, tense thriller , that keeps you guessing until the very end. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected and I would definitely recommend it if you’re into horror, thriller or Sci fi. 

4/5

Available on Amazon by clicking here 



For Fans Of :

Martyrs 

They Live

Hard Candy 

Moana (Disney, 2016)

Directed by: John Musker and Ron Clements 

 Screenplay by: Jared Bush 

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwyane Johnson, Rachel House, Temeura Morrison and Jemaine Clement.

Songs and Music by: Mark Mancina, Lin Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i

Moana is the latest, animated, no doubt soon-to-be classic from Walt Disney Animation. Directed by the two guys behind The Little Mermaid, The Princess and The Frog and Aladdin,  Moana had high expectations laid out for it. 

The tale of a young girl, a High Chief’s daughter, dreaming of being able to leave her island and see the world. Moana herself, is probably Disney’s most well rounded “Princess” in, well, ever. 

Her story isn’t particularly groundbreaking,  but it’s told with such passion and heart, it’s hard not to become enraptured with Moana and her supporting cast. The gist, is that thousands of years ago, a demi-God stole the heart of a  life creating Goddess causing death and decay to spread across the seas. Moana has to disobey her father, find this Demi-God and save the world.

Of course, the Demi-God is the mischievous Maui, played with charismatic swagger by The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson. His chemistry with the outstanding Auli’i Cravalho is what keeps the film so vital and energetic. Their banter and butting-heads makes you laugh and makes you cry, truly wonderful.

Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala, played by Rachel House was my personal favourite character and probably the best representative of the film as a whole, hilarious and bursting with a huge heart. Her songs are meaningful and move th story along. Like Yoda or Obi Wan, she dispenses wisdom to our young heroine.  

I couldn’t talk about Moana without mentioning the incredible songs by Lin Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. I make no secret of my love for Miranda’s Hamilton,  which was why Moana caught my attention in the first place. 

The songs in Moana range from tribal island and traditional Pacific vocals, through Hamilton-esque ensmeble tracks, as well as the phenomenonal “Shiny” by Jemaine Clement from Flight of The Conchords. No spoilers on his part or the song, but fans of FOTC will be very pleased. 

For what most would see as a “kids film”, Moana is filled with sharp wit, great action and astonishing visuals.

In fact, Moana reminded me more of Mad Max Fury Road than it did the likes of Frozen or Tangled, both of which are great movies. You’ll see what I mean when the Kakamora, the little coconut armored pirates show up. Walking out of the cinema I was thinking to myself that it’s almost a Disney version of Clash of The Titans! The old, good, Clash of The Titans of course. 

Moana just feels on that next level. With Dwayne Johnson turning in a Robin Williams in Aladdin level performance, some truly outstanding songs and insanely good animation, Disney have proved they are head and shoulders above their competitors. 
Moana is easily in my Top 10 films of the year, I’m sure it would rank in yours too  
5/5

For Fans Of:

Frozen 

Mad Max Fury Road 

Waterworld

Hamilton 

Flight of The Conchords 

Guardians of The Galaxy (Marvel Studios, 2014)

Inspired by the trailer for GOTG Vol 2, here’s my look back at the original.

Guardians of the Galaxy:written and dircted By James Gunn.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan And Bradley Cooper.

Back in Summer 2014, I sat down in the Liverpool Odeon Imax screen to watch the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was more excited, truth be told, at the prospect of a new James Gunn movie. I expected superhero space warfare, or a Star Wars-esque  pulp space opera, albeit one with Gunn’s unique touch.

I’ve been a comic book reader my whole life, but Guardians wasn’t something I’d really bothered with. I picked up the newest Bendis stuff before the movie arrived, but never the 2008 era comics that inspired the movie. It was exciting not knowing too much going into this film, plus, it looked different to all the other superhero paint by numbers movies we get these days

As the film started, with a little boy looking upset, in a hospital waiting room listening to “Not in Love” by 10CC,  I knew something was really different. His grandfather appears and takes him into a room where his mum is, thin, sallow, bald and obviously dying of cancer.

My stomach dropped. I had not expected this. My own Mum died in December 2003 when I was 18. She had cancer, but died of a heart attack, the week before Christmas. The last time I saw her, she was bald and lying on a hospital bed. It was uncannily similar.  I didn’t know how to deal with it at the time

I’ve never really talked about it since.

If  I would have been able to run away into a space craft,  I probably would have too.

I couldn’t hold back the tears, I was sobbing hard, until a strange thing happened. Something took this movie from heartbreaking to sheer joy

A mysterious, masked figure walks across a desolate wasteland. It’s all very serious until he takes off the mask, switches on a cassette player and begins dancing.

Suddenly I was laughing and smiling. This is a moment of pure joy.

You’re thinking by now , this guy has turned this review into his life story, but that’s sort of my point here.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very emotional and personal movie, it means a lot to so many people for the same reasons it means a lot to me. Which, for a big budget studio tentpole movie,  is practically unheard of. We’ve all been through harsh times. We’ve all lost people. Every one of the main entourage cast has a reason for being lost or alone, and it’s why they’re drawn together.

Rocket Raccoon is a twisted experiment, born into pain. Drax has seen his family murdered. Gamora, stolen from her home and forced to kill. Even Groot, gives off a feeling of needing to be part of a family,  We Are Groot after all. The whole cast dynamic is so perfect and they all mesh so well together. It’s so convincing, you forget two of them are CG creations.

The overall story is your standard Marvel plot, someone has stolen something and wants to use it to destroy the world. Yet this movie manages to make you care so deeply, you don’t mind that it’s one big McGuffin chase. The quirky characters and action spectacles more than make up for it. Plus,  this is a film with a lot of heart.

The  pumping 70’s soundtrack gives you a sense of wonder that you just don’t see in this type of film, lifting it beyond the usual summer blockbuster fare.

The acting and cast are first rate, the comedy timing of pro wrestler Dave Bautista, especially, shocking the world with his note perfect deadpan delivery. Chris Pratt feels like he’s channelling Jack Burton as Star Lord and Zoe Saldana is the consummate bad ass as Gamora.

Since seeing the film, I bought the entire run of graphic novels by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and I highly recommend them if you enjoyed the film, they’re less pop-culture filled but still just as essential. The team uniform is much cooler too, but the logos are the same. I really want to see Pratt rocking the comic book look at one point. Maybe in Avengers Infinity War, what with that film seeming to be the big tie up of Thanos’s story.

By now, of course, you’ve probably already seen GOTG, and with Volume 2 just 6 months away, the Christmas holidays are the right time to rewatch the original.

5/5

For Fans Of:

The Goonies

Ghostbusters (1984)

Iron Man

Big Trouble In Little China

Mascots (2016, Netflix) 

Mascots is the latest Mockumentary offering from Christopher Guest, comedy legend behind This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and Best In Show. Making its debut recently on Netflix, it seems to have passed a lot of people by, which is unfortunate as Netflix is the perfect place for this type of gentle, cult comedy to find an audience.
 A faux-documentary centred around a fictional award ceremony, The Fluffies,  Mascots is chock full of great comedy actors, quirky characters and brilliant set piece gags.

Each Mascot is introduced with a talking head section and a little breakdown of their character. I don’t want to go into too much detail as this truly is a film that relies on the little moments. However, Chris O’Dowd as drunken hockey mascot The Fist, is a particular highlight  

Guest trots out most of his usual parade of collaborators, ( Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Jennifer “Stiffler’s Mom” Coolidge and the ever wonderful John Michael Higgins) but it’s the newcomers who truly shine.  Zach Woods, last seen in the opening scene of Ghostbusters is very funny as Mike Murray, who constantly seems to want to escape his wife. The real stand out for me was Brit actor Tom Bennett as Owen Golly Jr, a Hedgehog football mascot from London, who initially came across as Ricky Gervais-lite,  before really winning me over. 
I feel like Christopher Guest’s movies are an acquired taste, some people can’t stand them, while others love his brand of improvisational mock-doc humour. I fall into the latter category. I enjoyed Mascots, I laughed a lot, I liked all the characters and while not on the level of Best in Show, Mascots is still very much worth your time.

4/5
For Fans Of :

This is Spinal Tap

The Office 

Bridesmaids