REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.

Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.

Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.

A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Death Stars.

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REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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Doctor Strange is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the latest character of theirs to be adapted for film. The story tells of brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose career comes to a shocking halt when a car accident destroys the nerves in his hands. He tries every medical solution possible, until he learns of a man (Benjamin Bratt) who overcame his paralysis using the mystic arts in a place called Kamar-Taj. Traveling there, Strange is reluctantly taken in by a sorcerer named Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who studies under The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). In a short time, Strange shows great mastering of the mystic arts and not a moment too soon as a former follower of The Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has stolen a spell which can open up a portal to let a great evil into the world.

Doctor Strange isn’t a bad movie, but it is a rather mediocre entry in the Marvel film series as directed by Sinister’s Scott Derrickson. Derrickson directs from a script and story by he, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill and is never able to give it that sense of fun or excitement that has made this Marvel series such a consistent success. The film is rather moderately paced and seems far longer than the 115 minute runtime. It’s not a boring film, but it just it never really gets exciting and the action seems very by-the-numbers and repetitive. The FX sequences have a very heavy Inception-esque feel and overuses certain imagery to the point of redundancy. Only so many times you can watch buildings morph and multiply before it stops impressing. Derrickson also doesn’t seem to have the deftness to mix in the trademark humor that these films have and a lot of the attempts at such humor come across as awkward or simply fall flat. There are some interesting visuals and while repetitive, the FX are orchestrated quite excellently, but the film never really feels like part of the universe it’s supposed to and we never really endear to Strange much like we did Tony Stark, Thor or Steve Rodgers. He’s just not that interesting. Ironically, while Dr. Strange may be one of the weaker heroes in the canon, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is one of the stronger villains and we actually wish he had more screen time as this is a Stephen Strange origin story and much of the film focuses on him, leaving Kaecilius to sporadic appearances.

As we are on the subject of the cast, sadly this is one of few times it could be said that the versatile Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t quite seem right for a role. His Stephen Strange is kind of a dull hero and his transformation from arrogant surgeon to gallant sorcerer, is not nearly as impressive as, say, Thor’s transformation from arrogant prince to champion of the universe in that film. His attempts at humor mostly fall flat both in the writing and in Cumberbatch’s delivery. He just didn’t seem as comfortable with the one liners as he was with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo. Chiwetel Ejiofor was noble and a bit more endearing as Mordo. He was charming and likable and charm was something Strange was lacking. Swinton certainly fits the role of The Ancient One, who, if knowledge serves, was male in the comics. She is mystical and exudes power and wisdom and works well as the Master Po (Google it, kids) of the Marvel Universe. Mads Mikkelsen is a bit stronger villain than we’ve seen in this film series and had a sense of menace and power that the actor conveyed well. Too bad his screen time is limited as we could have used a bit more time to really get to know Kaecilius. Rounding out is Rachel McAdams, who is spunky and fiery as Strange’s ex-grilfriend and a doctor in her own right. Again, limited screen time hinders a likable character who isn’t given all that much to do.

After delivering so many entertaining and fun flicks…with some spot-on casting to boot…Marvel was due to stumble a bit and this unimpressive flick isn’t nearly bad enough to do the series any real harm. Derrickson has a strong visual style and made this a bit grittier than some of the previous flicks, but wasn’t able to give it a sense of fun, or excitement. His attempts at humor never really hit the mark and the action seemed very routine despite being surrounded by a lot of overactive visual effects. Cumberbatch didn’t seem to fit quite right, either, as hero Strange, who was never charming or endearing enough to really warm up to. We did get a strong villain, but lack of screen time didn’t help there either. A mediocre entry in an otherwise fairly solid series of movies. Not quite as disappointing as the schizophrenic Iron Man 3. Obviously, stay during the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Doctors.

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY GETS AN AWESOME NEW TRAILER!

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Gareth (Godzilla, Monsters) Edwards’ Star Wars adventure gets a new trailer and this flick looks far better than the mediocre Force Awakens. Rogue One arrives on 12/16/16 and stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker and legendary Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen!

Source: Youtube

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