Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

***SPOILER-FREE REVIEW***

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker

Music by Michael Giacchino

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Rogue One follows a group of Rebel spies on a mission to steal design schematics for the Galactic Empire’s new superweapon, the Death Star.

My Opinion:

This is going to be really short because a) I have a headache & want to go to bed and b) I’ve realized that no one actually reads anything that I write anyway. Ha! 😉 So I’m more interested in having a discussion about this movie with all of you in the comments instead of me rambling on about the movie for ages. So spoiler-free review but spoilerific in the comment section once you’ve all seen this. Here are my initial thoughts:

I might come back to this movie in a week and give some further thoughts on it here like I did a few days after my initial review of The Force Awakens (review HERE). With The Force Awakens, I wanted to re-visit it a few days after my excitement died down to see if I really DID like it as much as I seemed to (my initial reaction was right – I still love it). Rogue One is quite different in that I don’t instantly love it in the same way I did The Force Awakens. Not even close. I think it’s known by now that this is a very “different” Star Wars movie and I can confirm that that’s indeed an accurate statement. This one is going to take some getting used to. Will I like it more after some time has passed? I honestly have no idea. I hope so…

This isn’t your typical “family” Star Wars movie. This isn’t your straightforward black & white, good vs evil type of story. So many shades of gray to these characters, which is great & very grown-up. But that will also make for a much more divisive movie. And, no – your kids probably aren’t going to like this one very much. If at all. Do NOT let this one be their introduction to the Star Wars universe! FYI – the proper way to introduce kids is to show them in release-date order in my humble (and correct) opinion. If you don’t start with A New Hope, you’re doing it wrong! 😉

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is another strong female lead, which I’ll never complain about. I’m loving this current movie trend! She’s no Leia or Rey, though. I didn’t have the instant connection with her like I did with Rey. With Rey, I was shocked to find by the end of the film that I cared about her just as much as I do the original trilogy characters. Same with Finn & BB-8 – these characters ARE Star Wars to me and I absolutely cannot wait to see them again in the next movie. Unfortunately, I can’t say I felt any connection like this with any of the Rogue One characters. I enjoyed watching the story unfold and lead up to A New Hope, my favorite of all the films. But I just felt a bit empty by the end. I didn’t really care about these people. Oh man… I don’t want to say that about a Star Wars movie!

Okay – I did like two characters a lot. Don’t get me wrong – I really did like Jyn Erso but she wasn’t my favorite character in the end. The two who really stole the show were Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe & Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus. Actually, I loved these guys! Great characters, but they didn’t feel like “Star Wars characters” (not that anyone really did). I’d happily watch a standalone movie with these two characters, though – they were fantastic. They kicked ass, were super cool, and had great chemistry. Without them, I’d probably rate this movie quite a bit lower to be honest. I was thankful they were in it as the movie seriously picked up once they showed up.

Sorry – I said this would be super short. I’m going to end here & see how I feel about Rogue One a week from now. I certainly didn’t hate it but I also know I don’t instantly love it the way I did with The Force Awakens. I’ve not read any reviews yet to avoid spoilers but the one thing I kept seeing on Twitter was that it “feels like Star Wars!”. I’m not sure I agree with that statement. Sorry….

My Initial Rating: 7.5/10

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Arrival (2016) Review

Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Based on Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

My Opinion:

YES!!!! This is good sci-fi. This is what I wanted when I watched Interstellar & was left extremely disappointed. This is intelligent sci-fi that doesn’t feel the need to dumb things down for its audience but also isn’t up its own self-important arse (like, you know, Interstellar). I didn’t look at my watch once while watching this & wonder if the movie was in fact five hours long (like I did with, you know, Interstellar). Okay – I’ll shut up about the massively overrated Interstellar now (I promise!). I’m just happy that Arrival is a great high-concept sci-fi film that can easily stand alongside some of the best classics of its genre (unlike a 2014 Christopher Nolan-directed, Matthew McConaughey-starring sci-fi film that shall remain nameless).

Arrival is a movie of two parts (like all the very best science fiction films): The cool alien shit and how humanity deals with their arrival as well as the more personal “human story” (involving the character of Amy Adams) at its heart. I’m not one for overly-sentimental stories in films as they so often feel contrived but Arrival handles the story involving Adams and her personal life beautifully & I found it very moving and not at all cloying (like I may have found with another film I won’t mention but that starts with the letter I).

I’m not great at handling these emotional films! Between Arrival, Room & Nocturnal Animals (although that Amy Adams film, which I reviewed HERE yesterday, was emotional in the completely opposite way), 2016 has been quite a year for movies that had me reeling with their sheer intensity. By the way – Room was 2016 in the UK so don’t correct me. 😉

Anyway, my “reeling” comment sounded corny. Sorry! But I’m not sure how else to describe that feeling you get from those films that are so well-made, through I suppose a combination of great directing, acting, cinematography, story, atmosphere, music, etc etc, that you end up fully immersed in the world of the film. It’s weird – movies seem to be getting worse & worse in recent years but the GOOD ones are actually getting better & better. There’s a huge divide now between the (many) bad films and the (sadly far fewer) films that are so amazingly good that they almost transcend reality. Okay – that really did sound corny.

My point is this: Arrival is possibly one of the transcendent ones. I knew I’d struggle writing about it but I’ve thought about it a lot since seeing it a week & a half ago. With movies like these, I don’t like to write about them until I’ve had enough time to sort out my thoughts. I currently have this ranked just below Room on my 2016 list as it still didn’t manage to move me quite as much as Jacob Tremblay’s scarily good performance in that. However, Arrival is the better film overall. The look, the story, the relationships (particularly the main one involving Amy Adams), the message, the aliens(!)… There’s nothing I love more than a good alien film! I loved Arrival & movies like these are what keep me watching & loving them despite having to sift through so many bad ones.

I’m not great with words (making this blogging thing a massive struggle) so I’ll just leave it at this: Arrival is a damn good film. I’d love to hear from anyone who feels the same. Or even anyone who feels differently and prefers science fiction movies starring Anne Hathaway & directed by Jonathan Nolan’s brother. And, please oh please, will you discuss Nocturnal Animals with me in the comments of that review if you’ve seen it??? That movie absolutely floored me. You’ve had one hell of a month, Amy Adams!

My Rating: 9/10

Platoon (1986) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from John of 501 Must See Movies Project . He also reviewed Amadeus HERE. Thanks for the reviews, John! 🙂 Now let’s hear his thoughts on Platoon, IMDB rank 144 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. I’ve stopped receiving so many guest reviews now so if you send yours soon, it should post soon. I only have enough for the next month.

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The first casualty of war is innocence.

Charlie Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a green, fresh to arrive recruit in Vietnam.  Platoon follows Taylor and his company as they cope with the hardships of war, and the film brings back the reality of what went on over there to the big screen for the first time since Apocalypse Now (1979).

The unit breaks into two contrasting camps: one with Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), who believes in total war and winning at any cost, and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), who is battle-tested but gracious in contrast to Barnes.  Each side as plenty of support, and they battle,  as Taylor puts it, “for possession of my soul.”

Platoon features a whole slew of familiar faces (Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Mark Moses), many of which were at the beginning of their careers.

A couple of things added to the authenticity of this film.  Oliver Stone’s experience in Vietnam, woven throughout the characters Taylor encounters, and the preparation the actors went through in making this film.  They trained for two weeks before filming began, building camaraderie as a unit, digging foxholes, encountering “night attacks” to get used to the special effects that would be used.  The familiarity these actors had with their weapons made the actions and emotion seem genuine.

The acting in this film is top-notch.  The characters evoke strong emotions in the audience: you either really like or really hate what a person says or does.  I found myself completely disgusted with some of the men in the Barnes camp as they abused and mistreated both Vietnamese peasants and their fellow soldiers.  An interesting commentary on this came from Taylor as he was airlifted out at the end of the film.  He describes that the Vietnamese weren’t the enemy, instead we were our own enemy.  There is a lot of killing, granted, but more of it being American killing American than one would expect.

I believe I’ve said it before, but Willem Dafoe is probably one of my favorite actors.  This film is one of the reasons for that opinion.  He is a strong, committed character whose performance I felt stood above all the others. I also found it interesting that he never wear a helmet.  Ever.  Tom Berenger, though I don’t agree with his characters outlook and way of carrying himself, brings that type of soldier to life and it fully committed to his character.

Charlie Sheen does very well in this movie as well.  The contrast and how quickly his idealized or unaware outlook at the beginning of the film is quickly shredded and almost gone by the end of the film.  He quickly loses the label of ‘new meat’ and becomes one of the guys.  His judgement and discernment remain, though, which is refreshing and relieving.

It’s interesting seeing John C. McGinley in a role like this after watching him at Dr. Cox on Scrubs, but hey that might just be me.

Platoon is considered one of the best films of the 1980s, it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1987.  It’s authenticity and superb acting both contribute largely to its success.  It’s one I enjoyed, and I’d definitely recommend seeing.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.