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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 Martian – Review

7 Oct

Ridley Scott is known for his ability to craft some of the most epic movies in modern film. GladiatorKingdom of Heaven, and even the crime epic American Gangster all fit nicely into this category of huge films. Now we have a movie based off of a novel by Andy Weir, and in my opinion, this is a pretty absurd choice of book to make a movie out of. Not because it’s a bad story, but it’s actually too great of a story with different story lines that not only spans continents, but planets. If I was a major Hollywood film maker, a project like this would intimidate me, but leave it to Ridley Scott to take the source material and make it into one of the stand out movies of 2015.

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In the not too distant future, NASA sends a group of scientists to Mars to learn more about the desolate, red planet. When a violent storm cuts the mission short, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead. NASA releases the news, but are then shocked to learn that Watney is alive and well and has been stranded on Mars. Watney knows that it may be up to four years before the next mission can arrive to rescue him, so he begins working to make the dead soil of Mars into a place that he can live on. Meanwhile, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Ares III mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) start devising multiple different plans to not only provide food for Watney, but also find a way to rescue him from Mars as soon as possible. This may ultimately fall on Ares III commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of her crew, forcing them to turn back around and get Watney home.

I can’t stress it enough that the story of The Martian felt absolutely enormous. Not only does it cover over a year of time, but also involves so many different characters that each have very important jobs to do throughout the entire ordeal. There isn’t one character that felt wasted throughout the whole thing. It was also cool to see that even for some of the most minor roles, good actors would still fill their shoes. For example, one of the people that completely changes how NASA approaches the whole problem is astronomer Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. This character is only in a few scenes for a few minutes, but they still casted a great actor to fill that role. Other than the people I already mentioned, there’s other actors like Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Benedict Wong, and Sean Bean. It’s one of the best casts that’s been assembled in recent memory.

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What seems to be surprising most critics and audiences is how lighthearted this movie actually is. Sure, it’s very dramatic and some of the scenes can get really intense, but I found myself laughing through a lot of the movie. The character of Mark Watney is literally what this story needs. Instead of letting his situation get the better of him, he remains optimistic and cracks jokes throughout the entire movie. If it wasn’t for him keeping his good humor, this would be an unbearably depressing movie. It’s also cool to see how his optimism affects the other characters and keep them from throwing in the towel before something can be done. Pretty much, this movie keeps you feeling great the whole time, and never did I feel like the situation was absolutely hopeless.

I can’t really find anything to complain about with The Martian. Not only is it very well written and acted, but it’s also a beautiful looking movie. In order to get the perfect look for his Martian landscape Scott and the rest of his special effects team filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red desert. That location shooting combined with excellent special effects makes this film visually immersive. Harry Gregson-Williams’ low key score also accentuates the drama very nicely.

While Ridley Scott hasn’t made perfect movies and has recently slipped a little bit, The Martian is proof that he is still able to take huge stories, compress them, and successfully put them on film. This film is an achievement of special effects, but also stands out with it’s quick writing, believable characters, and feeling of hope and good humor that spans the entire two and a half hour run time. Nothing in this movie feels wasted, which means everything feels important and that isn’t easy to do. This is an outstanding movie.