Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Poster) (Credit: Lucasfilm)

STARRING - Felicity Jones: 'Jyn Erso',
Diego Luna: 'Cassian Andor', Alan Tudyk: 'K-2SO',
Donnie Yen: 'Chirrut Imweƒ', Wen Jiang: 'Baze Malbus',
Riz Ahmed : 'Bodhi Rook', + Ben Mendelsohn : 'Orson Krennic'

WITH - Mads Mikkelsen: 'Galen Erso', Jimmy Smits: 'Bail Organa', Alistair Petrie : 'General Draven',
Genevieve O'Reilly: 'Mon Mothma', Guy Henry: 'Governor Tarkin'
+ Daniel Naprous/ James Earl Jones: Darth Vader

AND Forest Whitaker: 'Saw Gerrera'

 Music By: Michael Giacchino, 
                Screenplay: Chris Weitz  + Tony Gilroy,

     Story By: John Knoll + Gary Whitta,

  Based On Characters Created By: George Lucas,

         Directed By: Gareth Edwards 

Released: December 2016 by Disney/ Lucasfilms


Please Take Care As Significant Spoilers Are Featured:

This prequel to Episode IV of the saga centres on Jyn Erso (Jones). As a child, she lives with both her parents in a small rural residence, on the planet Lah'mu. Then Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), demand that her father Galen (Mikkelsen) resumes his duties as a top engineer. In the struggle, Jyn's mother is gunned down, but the little girl manages to escape. She eventually is rescued by Gerrera (Whitaker), an extremist militant. As she grows up, Jyn learns many combat skills, and develops a heavy edge of cynicism, in no small part due to being abandoned by Gerrera, when he has to make a choice for 'the greater good'.

In the meantime, Galen begrudgingly helps the Empire with work for the Death Star, overseen by both Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin, with powerful Sith Lord Vader lurking in the shadows.

As an adult Jyn is accosted by rebel agent Cassian Andor (Luna), and a struggle begins to take advantage of Galen's deliberate design of a small flaw, that can allow the lethal battle station to be destroyed. Along the way a tactless droid called K-2SO (Tudyk) lends his strength and skills, as do some human fighters, including a renegade imperial pilot (Ahmed), a blind monk with some Force powers (Yen) and a bearded strongman (Jiang).

Eventually a tumultuous struggle will occur on planet Scarif, where the forces of the Empire are amassed in great number. Yet, even with a Rebel fleet hovering in space above, this may turn out to be one gambit too far, and the Death Star plans may remain suppressed.

The second film under the helm of Disney interests, in that its climax is inevitable for anyone familiar with the classic original film that first introduced the world to Star Wars. Yet it is no less involving, as the sequence of events presented do ultimately tie in with the victory of the Rebellion, over the forces of the supremely confident (but fallible) Tarkin.

The main protagonists are a lot more flawed, and decidedly less charming than those from the various (completed and in-progress) trilogies. This is a brave move, and helps sell the darkest slice of cinematic Star Wars to date. The downside is there is a lack of charisma in general, and dialogue - often a hindrance in these movies - is particularly unmemorable. The back stories, apart from Jyn's, are also very rudimentary. Thus the film has a challenge in making cinema-goers care about the Rogue One team's fates.

The chief villain, Krennic, is despicable and we do very much wish his comeuppance. He however is - perhaps deliberately - far from scary, being more a creepy and grubby person, who is out for his own glory. There is that classic visual motif of an impeccable uniform, and a cape that swirls around him, as he marches onto his next agenda item.

Rather dramatically, Krennic dares to cross Tarkin, seeing him as someone in higher authority for the present moment. Later on he is rather more obsequious to Vader. In the end though he does  indeed "choke" on his "aspirations".

Director Orson Krennic (Credit: Lucasfilm;

 It is good to have Vader in brief scenes spread across the narrative, and the classic movie villain has  great presence and the trademark sardonic wit. However it is also a little disconcerting to see yet  another face-mask reimagining, as well as a performance from James Earl Jones that feels strangely  off. The link between the suit/voice, and the Vader in A New Hope, is thus not quite what it should be.

 For me the key scene-stealer was K-2SO, (who vaguely resembles the creepy EV-9D9, from Jabba's  Palace, in Return Of The Jedi), but is programmed to aid the Rebellion. He does have perhaps rather  arch humour at times, but it usually works as light relief in such a generally grim story. (Despite its  intentions, Revenge Of The Sith did have both intentionally and unintentionally funny sections.)

 I did find the film a bit inconsistent in keeping my interest throughout the two hours-plus duration. This  was despite there being plenty of potential in the premise of the movie. Some of the plot threads do not  quite feel relevant enough, and the sense of both re-writes and re-shoots is inescapable.

Whilst more original in story terms than The Force Awakens, a lot of the highlights do feel deliberately included as crowd-pleasing moments, and for Star Wars fans in particular. Although I enjoyed the thread with Tarkin, it was rather unnecessary to give (an admittedly solid) CGI effect/actor quite so much screen time. Maybe another character linked to the Death Star, who was not quite as iconic as the one played by the late Peter Cushing, would have been a better choice.

Perhaps the difficulty securing John Williams hurts the film, somewhat too. However the legendary composer is rather elderly now, and cannot produce the amazing quantity of soundtracks that he once could. The actual music score was completed in a matter of weeks, but on its own terms is decent enough. Also jarring is the lack of an opening crawl, alongside a subdued appearance for the Rogue One title caption.

The human resistance fighters of 'Rogue One' (Credit: Photo by Jonathan Olley and Leah Evans - 2015 - Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)The very most accomplished actors - Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen - are somewhat underused. All the same, what little screen time they do have is certainly worthy material. Felicity Jones was a perfect casting choice in The Theory Of Everything, but perhaps any number of actors could have done an equal job, even a superior one, for this rather more venomous heroine. Luna is more than convincing as a morally grey and ruthless agent, but I never quite felt the inner turmoil that someone facing so many difficult choices would have to contend with. The supporting players, however, are great fun - in particular Tudyk, who provided a (now genre standard) motion-capture performance.

One thing is for certain, and that is how expensive-looking and polished the production comes across, with many stunning SFX shots. There is a plethora of detail, and this truly is a proper war film. Of course it is also less gory than some, so as to enable a huge turnout at the box office.

Almost every single battle, of which there are many, is utterly stunning. Both the close-up, hand-held shots of action, and the more traditional, vast space opera sections (ideal for big screens and IMAX) stand up as well as anything in the war or sci-fi film genres.

The final sequences, with Vader totally impervious to an onslaught of Rebel fighters' blaster fire, and slashing with his ruby-red lightsaber, are some of the best moments of any blockbuster film in recent memory. These fleeting seconds also help amp-up the tension over whether the Death Star plans will make it into Rebel hands.

At the time of writing, the tragic death of Carrie Fisher at age sixty in our home Earth dimension, means that the cameo digital recreation of Leia feels bittersweet, rather than the resounding counter to the downbeat final reel that Edwards and his team clearly intended.

This is a very enjoyable film on some levels. It ties in with the timeless 1977 film undeniably well. But something is missing and most of the main character's fates just do not resonate as they might do, when all the stars are in alignment. There is the disadvantage of this being a one-off, whereas the much-anticipated 'young' Han Solo movies will be able to take a bit more time. But ultimately this film was made to be seen on the big screen, and for some that includes 3D or IMAX variants, and it does enough good things to more than justify the massive amount of money Disney has put into it.

The force is strong enough with this one, but it sits firmly in the middle of the pack of (ever growing) entries in the saga.

Final Score: Three Lightsabers Out Of Five


The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 January 2013 - Reviewed by Kieron Moore
Reviewed by Kieron Moore
The Hobbit: Poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Written by JRR Tolkien
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson
Directed by Peter Jackson
Released on 14 December 2012
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK release of the film.

After Peter Jackson’s critically and commercially lauded The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was only a matter of time before he returned to Middle Earth and gave us his take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s other much-loved novel. Set sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins, a conservative Hobbit who is reluctantly drawn into a company of Dwarves on a quest to defeat a dragon and reclaim a lost kingdom. The first of three films that make up this latest adaptation, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is in cinemas now.

One of the most interesting things about this film is the medium itself. Decrying traditional 24 frames per second, 2 dimensional cinema as a thing of the past, Jackson shot The Hobbit in 48 frames per second, in 3D, and in high resolution, enabling IMAX screenings. What this all comes down to is a plethora of ways to watch the film. The HFR (high frame rate) 3D version, which is the version I watched, is causing different reactions from different viewers. Some say that the higher frame rate makes them feel nauseous, some say it makes the sets look like they’re clearly sets, some say it improves the experience. Here’s the experience I had – Bilbo Baggins’ house, which many people are saying looks fake in HFR, looked absolutely fine to me. Many other areas, such as caves, Goblin cities, and the like, looked constructed. I also found that it somehow felt wrong when either the camera or something in front of it moved quickly. It’s hard to describe how it felt wrong, other than it seemed unnatural. The point is, it was noticeable, which distracted me from my immersion with the story, which is not a good thing. Regarding the 3D, I’ve heard it said that the higher frame rate makes 3D effects less distracting and more real. For me, this was not the case, and the third dimension only took me further away from enjoying the film’s story. But not everyone agrees with me; different people have had different experiences of the new technologies at work behind The Hobbit, and you should choose to see it the way you want to see it. The high frame rate technology is in its early days and I don’t want to say it’ll never work on the basis of one film, but, for me, Peter Jackson is wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with watching films in 24 frames per second and two dimensions, and neither the higher frame rate nor the third dimension added anything to my enjoyment of An Unexpected Journey.

But that’s not the biggest problem with the film. The biggest problem is that it’s too long. Which, frankly, isn’t a surprise given that it’s the first of three nearly three-hour long films from one children’s book. Some critics have said that the first half hour of the film, in which Bilbo meets the dwarves one by one and they throw his kitchenware around, needs to be cut down heavily. I agree that this could be shortened, but actually felt more strongly that some sequences towards the end of the film were losing my interest and would be better off left to a director’s cut. The company encounter obstacle after obstacle, monster after monster, and, by the encounter with a group of stone giants, as expensive as the effects must have been, I was thinking – what is this scene adding that couldn’t have been incorporated into other scenes? A general rule of mine is that if I notice the temperature in the cinema, I’m losing interest. Wow, was it warm in that cinema. Two films of two hours each could easily suffice. Admittedly, I’m not a Tolkien fan – I gave up six pages into the book when J.R.R. was still describing Bilbo’s front door – and I know devout fans of the series who appreciate the detail and care put into the world of The Hobbit, so have less of a problem with the length. Jackson himself is a fan and the impression is given that he is not making three long films, as some may accuse him of, in order to exploit as much money from the public as he can; rather, it feels like he is making three long films because he loves the source material and believes he is making the best films he can. A large amount of the audience, including myself, finds this dreary and indulgent, but, if the fans disagree, good for them.

So, how good is the content making up those three hours? Jackson was insistent on getting Martin Freeman to play the title role of Bilbo Baggins, even rescheduling filming around the star’s Sherlock timetable. Indeed, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Freeman is the perfect choice for the role. From The Office’s Tim to Doctor Watson via Arthur Dent, Freeman has made a name for himself as the actor of choice for straight man roles, for the character reluctant to take part in the adventure, who acts as a grounded, ironic commentator on the surreal madness unfolding around him. Which is a pretty good description of Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit who hates adventure and would rather stay in his hole with his furry feet up. Freeman does indeed show a lot of acting talent in An Unexpected Journey, but I never felt that it’s one of his best roles – in fact, his talent is underplayed. Given that the story is meant to be more light-hearted than that of The Lord of the Rings, the film could be more engaging if it played more for comedy, both with the script and with Freeman’s comedic talents. I’m not asking for ironic looks to camera or for outright send-up, but would have liked to have laughed more and would point to Avengers Assemble as the model for this – a film which brought lots of humour and great one-liners out of its subject matter without ever losing the action appeal or becoming parody. For me, The Hobbit could have been stylistically more like that.

On the plus side, the action itself, though there’s too much of it, is often very well put together, as anyone who’s seen a Lord of the Rings film would expect. While a chase through a Goblin city and an encounter with Azog, the Orc equivalent of Captain Hook, are thrilling and unpredictable scenes, a highlight is certainly Andy Serkis’ cameo as the creepy Gollum, in which his confrontation with Bilbo takes the form of a riddle competition. Though tangential to the main storyline, this is undoubtedly one of the defining scenes of the film and one that’ll stick in the mind. Outside of Mr Freeman, the cast contains a number of recognisable faces, with the ever-reliable Ian McKellen returning as Gandalf, among other returning characters. The new cast members, though none particularly stand out, seem mainly known from British television – there’s SpooksRichard Armitage as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, who has an interesting back story of his own, plus appearances from Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, and, proving that being a classic Doctor Who doesn’t necessarily put you out of business, Sylvester McCoy as the manic wizard Radagast.

All in all, An Unexpected Journey is a film mainly to be enjoyed by the fans. It’s not an awful film, it’s not badly paced for its length and it has many enjoyable sequences, but it isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings, it’s too long and it often loses the interest of those who aren’t really bothered about the finer details of Bilbo’s front door. I can’t say I’m looking forward to another six hours of this.

FILTER: - Cinema

Life of PiBookmark and Share

Sunday, 23 December 2012 - Reviewed by Kieron Moore
Reviewed by Kieron Moore
Life of Pi: Poster
Life of Pi
Written by Yann Martel
Screenplay by David Magee
Directed by Ang Lee
Released on 21 November 2012 (USA)
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK release of the film.

Released in 2001, Yann Martel’s modern fable Life of Pi was a literary hit, winning the Man Booker Prize and the hearts of readers worldwide. It was, however, deemed by many impossible to translate to the screen. How could the sense of spirituality and adventure be brought to cinema? How could a story set almost entirely on a small lifeboat be made watchable? How would they get the tiger to do all that without eating the crew?

Step in Ang Lee, a talented director whose filmography, encompassing Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Hulk, can only be described as ‘eclectic’.

Sticking close to the novel, Lee frames the story through a visit to a middle aged Indian man named Pi (established Bollywood lead Irrfan Khan) by a writer (Rafe Spall, who’s now broken free of being merely "Timothy’s son" and has a pretty good career going for himself). The writer has been told that Pi has a story which will make him believe in God. "I cannot tell you what to believe," says Pi, "I can only tell you my story."

And so Pi embarks on telling his eponymous life, and it truly is a fantastical life. Raised in a zoo in Pondicherry, Pi was a spiritually greedy child, wanting to follow all the religions and coming into conflict with his scientifically minded father when he tried to see emotion in the eyes of tiger Richard Parker (named through a "clerical error"). Pi’s family are forced to move the zoo to Canada when faced with financial difficulties, but their ship is hit by a storm and Pi finds himself stranded in a lifeboat with an angry hyena, an unhappy orang-utan, an injured zebra, and his old acquaintance Richard Parker. It’s no big spoiler to say that three out of four of these animals don’t last long and the heart of the story is Pi’s relationship with Richard Parker as the two drift the Pacific together.

What keeps the film going during this long period of Pi’s isolation is the two main performances and the beautiful look of the film. Though newcomer Suraj Sharma, as the younger Pi, hasn’t yet mastered quieter, more reflective emotion, in the more active sequences he energetically captures the anger, the confusion, and finally, the determination that Pi goes through on his journey. As Richard Parker, and as a whole host of other creatures, the CGI in the film is remarkable. The film has a magical realist feel; nothing ever looks out of place, and Claudio Miranda’s cinematography brings the vast ocean to life with a series of gorgeous tableaux. Shots such as a bird’s eye view of the lifeboat as a whale passes below it were obviously devised with 3D in mind, not to mention the tiger jumping at the screen and the enormous horde of flying fish. For fans of 3D, it’s an experience to be immersed in, though for sceptics, it’s still an amazing looking film in two dimensions. I have to go off track slightly and mention the title sequence, a journey through the Indian zoo, bringing in flamingos, a hippo, one of those monkeys with the funny noses, and much more. The sequence is beautifully shot, with vibrant, lush colouring, and sums up the relaxed, spiritual ethos of the film.

This is a mindset that continues through Pi’s time on the boat, as, like at several points in his childhood, he takes the opportunity to connect with God. As an atheist, I would have personally liked a little less rumination on the nature of God and a little less of Pi’s stern belief that, whenever something remotely fortuitous happens, he is being saved by a divine being, but it is worth noting that the film does counter this with the scepticism of the writer and of Pi’s father. Also worth noting is the way the film deals with Pi’s relationship with nature – despite what you may foresee from Pi’s childhood experience with Richard Parker, the human-tiger relationship is never overly sentimentalised; Richard Parker is clearly a dangerous creature, there’s always a conflict going on, and Pi’s side of the relationship is most definitely concerned with not getting eaten. The tiger is vicious and entirely believable as a tiger, but through the careful storytelling and the way it highlights the beauty within that vicious nature, we end up caring for it anyway.

In the end, that’s what Life of Pi is about – storytelling. Pi’s story is a fable told through his recounting to the writer and, though I don’t want to give anything away, the final part of this framing dialogue rounds off the story in a way which made me reassess the rest of the film and, in fact, reduced some of my issues with the overly spiritual tone of the piece. It’s an intriguing ending which will make you question the nature of storytelling.

Life of Pi, to sum up, can be very spiritual at times, which may not be to some tastes, and, perhaps contrary to that, it ‘s not exactly cheery in its depiction of nature, but it makes that roughness of the world into a visually stunning film with a sad, iconic and elegantly told story at heart. It’s a treat for the senses and one to get you thinking.

FILTER: - Cinema