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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

21 Dec

It’s been about 5 days since I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Last year, we saw the return of the franchise to the big screen with The Force Awakens, which to me felt like new life being breathed into it that was lost during the prequel trilogy. Rogue One is trying something new by telling a story that takes place between two of the main episodes instead of continuing the main story. This left me feeling kind of skeptical and a little nervous that it wouldn’t pack the kind of punch that I expect from a Star Wars movie. As the credits began to roll and I left the theater, I was ready to sit down and watch it again.

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Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been labeled a criminal by the Empire after breaking their laws and giving them trouble time and again. She has every reason to have such animosity towards them because when she was young she saw the villainous Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tear her family apart when he forced her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to come with him to help develop a new superweapon for the Empire. Years later, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance for a very important and secret mission to obtain a secret message sent by Galen through a defecting Empire pilot, Rook (Riz Ahmed). Jyn, along with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), begins her adventure to find this message, rescue her father, and stop the Empire from unleashing its new superweapon, the Death Star.

Rogue One introduces a lot of new characters to the Star Wars universe, but it also introduces a new director to helm the project, Gareth Edwards. Edwards got his recognition with his 2010 independent film Monsters and went on to direct the 2014 American version of Godzilla, which people had differing opinions on. Either way, it’s safe to say he is a fantastic visual director, and this vision is one of the best parts of Rogue One. This is easily the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made with a unique blend of CGI, location shooting, and practical make up and effects. There’s so many beautiful scenes that show how great Edwards is with size and scale. From the AT-ATs coming through the fog to the Star Destroyer hovering over a city to that jaw dropping shot of the Death Star coming out of hyperspace. This is just such a beautifully crafted film in terms of its visuals and its sound and I give Gareth Edwards a lot of credit for creating a very unique looking Star Wars film.

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With all of this praise I’m throwing at Rogue One for its impressive style and beautiful cinematography, I have to also say that this is not a perfect movie and there are some flaws that are more apparent than others. The first 20-30 minutes of this movie are really rocky and often times confusing. We see Jyn’s backstory first, but after that we are forced to bounce back and forth between multiple different planets to introduce a plethora of characters really quickly. This feels messy and it’s hard to remember a lot of these characters this fast. As they are more established later on it was fine, but the first part of this movie was so scattershot. While Jyn and the rest of her crew are come pretty cool characters, only a few of them really get the attention that they deserve. Jyn gets plenty, but someone like Baze and Rook get next to nothing. It sometimes felt that these characters were pushed a bit too far into the background for a movie that is based on a team of heroes. Finally, there are a few CGI effects that happen for a certain character that is kind of weird. I understand and appreciate what they were trying to do, and on some levels it’s pretty cool, but it’s also really distracting to look at.

So while this movie does have faults, it’s still a really entertaining movie that stands alone as well as acting as a springboard for the original trilogy. It combines lore deeply engraved in the Star Wars universe while also giving us all these new characters and ways of seeing characters we already know. The story takes us to all these different planets, each with their own feel and design. Star Wars has been known for its many different planets, and Rogue One uses its settings really well. When I say that this movie stands alone, I mean that it feels like a very different kind of movie in this franchise. This is a war movie with just a little bit of mysticism in the rare times that the Force is mentioned. There’s something about how this story is told that often times gave me goosebumps. It just feels like such a perfect fit into a universe that we all know and love.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great addition to the franchise and it really is a relief to say that. This is a beautifully crafted film that looks, sounds, and feels very unique while also fitting into the established universe very well. There’s some weird pacing issues and not all of the CGI choices work as smoothly as the film makers seemed to think they did, but all of that is overshadowed by how much fun I had watching this movie. If you want to go into this movie and nit pick it so much that nothing is left of it, then go right ahead, but if you are a Star Wars fan and are ready for another trip to a galaxy far, far away, then brace yourself for Rogue One.

Final Grade: A-

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The Theory of Everything – Review

17 Jan

Stephen Hawking is a man with more accomplishments than I can even list. His theories on the time, the beginning of the universe, and what we will become may be enough to make you head spin, but at the same time, it has always been easily accessible to people who want to learn. Surprisingly, there aren’t more biopics chronicling moments in Hawking’s life, with the only other I can think of being from the BBC. This one is The Theory of Everything, a movie that features some really stand out performances and a figure that is well worth the attention, but it falls a little flat in the storytelling department and just doesn’t feel as full as it could have been.

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In 1963, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying at Cambridge, working on getting his PhD in astrophysics. At a party one night, he meets a girl named Jane (Felicity Jones), and the two strike up an automatic friendship which turns into so much more. As Hawking is struggling with getting his thesis in order, he also begins struggling with smaller motions to get through the day. Soon after getting an idea, he discovers he has a type of ALS which will slowly render him unable to move, speak, or even swallow. Stephen and Jane soon get married, and despite the news of his disorder Stephen creates revolutionary theories that scientists have been working on for years. Soon, the name Stephen Hawking is known around the world, but to him, the battle for his health and relationships rage on.

When trailers for this movie were first released I was like, “Oh, shit. That guy playing Stephen Hawking looks insane.” I had no idea who Eddie Redmayne was at the time, but I just knew that this performance was going to be one to be remembered. That combined with the fact that the movie’s about Stephen Hawking was more than enough to make me want to see the movie. Here’s the thing, I’m gonna compare this to The Imitation Game since it’s another movie about a genius that I just saw and is being nominated all the same. The Theory of Everything has a performance in it that makes the movie worth seeing, it’s just so damn good. The Imitation Game has great performances, but the overall story is stronger and more hard hitting. Way more. That’s where The Theory of Everything loses its footing.

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To be fair, this movie covers many years, more than I initially thought that it would. It’s also only a two hour movie, so it isn’t some grand, epic biopic that has all of this time to kill with character development and padding for the plot. I will say that Hawking’s disease is shown well over time, with it getting progressively worse and worse, up until Stephen has to use a speech program to talk. One really annoying part in this movie is a part in the middle section where another, albeit important, character is introduced. All of a sudden, it seems like this new character becomes the plot, and not the life of Stephen Hawking. When Hawking does come back on screen for an extended amount of time, I almost forgot the movie was actually about him.

What makes the movie more impressive than it would have been is the performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. These two have great chemistry together onscreen and it is a fascinating relationship to watch. Just think, this movie was filmed out of order, so Redmayne had to keep track of how to use his body for certain scenes, depending on how far along the disease has gotten. He definitely deserves the Best Actor award for his performance in this movie. Jones is an even match for him, with her strengths showing at times of hardships when she literally seems to be staring problems right in the eye and not backing off. It’s a strong, but quiet performance.

Simply put, The Theory of Everything is a vessel for the best performance of the year. Redmayne simply kills it as Stephen Hawking and it is literally impossible to keep yourself from admiring his talent. Other than him and Felicity Jones, this is a pretty average biopic that follows a pretty rote formula. It’s certainly isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty darn good movie, but it really wouldn’t be anything special if it wasn’t for it’s two main actors. That’s a pretty rough thing to say about a movie that’s getting so much buzz, but that’s simply how it is. See it solely for the performances because everything else is simply just ok.