Wednesday 28 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One is the first Star Wars spin-off film in out post-episode-seven world. It bridges the gap between episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith) and episode 4 (A New Hope), telling the story of how the rebellion gets its hands on the plans for the Death Star.

The first thing to note is that the opening and music are both noticeably different and similar to the core films, helping cement the fact that this is a spin-off.

The film has 3 distinct acts, each of which is focused on a different planet, though there are more than 3, the others bridging or being repeated through the acts.

The first criticism of the film is that I spent a lot of the first act trying to decide which was less convincing - the lead actress, or a particular CG homunculus.1

The overall Nazi imagery has subtly increased again - "They have a child, find it!" cries the villain.
I greatly appreciate the addition to the Star Wars lore that the film provides - e.g. the Empire are mining Kyber crystals (which power Lightsabers) in order to power the Death Star (so is it essentially a moon-sized Lightsaber?)

There is a huge attention to detail evident - from the fantastic sound design of rain pinging off of weapons and armour, to the changing ranks on the uniforms of soldiers over time. There was a lot of perfectionism involved in the production.

The actors are all good (even if some of them take a while to warm up) - the villain is particularly excellent, and it's fantastically refreshing to see Mads Mikkleson cast as a good guy.

The script is a brilliant mix of drama, tragedy, and hilarity. Though everyone gets a fair share, the comedy show is undoubtedly stolen by the droid H2-SO. I don't think anyone could watch this film without laughing.

You may notice that I'm mostly referring to the actors rather than the characters - it is in part because, despite seeing it twice, I can barely remember the character names. I in fact noted that Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang's names are only mentioned a handful of times, and are difficult to hear at those times. Which is a shame, as they were great characters who deserve to be better known.

On the note of Donnie Yen, his fight scenes are particularly impressive and visceral. Unlike some ignorant professional writers, I appreciated that some of those staff blows could shatter bone, even through armour (which was also visibly breaking apart under the barrage of attacks.)

There is some aerial combat, but the vast majority of it is from the perspective of people on the ground. You may recognise this style of direction from the 2015 Godzilla film, which I also liked and was directed by Gareth Edwards as well.

Despite the stellar script and direction, there are some definitely predictable cliches that occur, and on my second viewing I noticed some blatant continuity errors in relation to Forest Whitaker's costume.

Overall this is an excellent film, despite some flaws, with an utterly brilliant ending.

A very strong 8 out of 10.


1The aforementioned CG homunculus is Peter Cushing, evidently being dead is not the disability it once was. It's just a shame that the textures are so completely unconvincing.

Another issue that I feel I have to state is that C3-PO and R2-D2 have a cameo towards the end, on Yavin-4. This means that Princess Leia would have to travel there to specifically pick them up, and then rendezvous with the fleet at Skariff. I'm not convinced that the timing for that actually works. To me, it's a humongous plot hole that could have been avoided by not having the cameo in the first place.

My final major criticism is that there is absolutely no Kyle Katarn cameo, despite the fact that the beginning features a shot that was very reminiscent of the Dark Forces box cover:

0 out of 10.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a Harry Potter spin-off where Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander (who I really want to call Scaramanga) visiting New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures.
Due to a mix up with a wannabe baker (Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler), some of the beasts escape, and Newt needs to get them back.

Also in New York at that point in time is a religious cult, some almost-Amish people, referred to as "The Second Salemers" - as you can probably tell from the name, they claim that witches and wizards exist, and they hunt them.
At the same time, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) have rules to prevent normal people (NoMaj-es) from finding out about the magical community. this division is under threat due to the dark wizard Grimwald and his followers, who are causing havoc that is difficult to cover up.

As such, it's rather critical that Newt finds the beasts, both to prevent muggles finding out about magic, and to prevent the creatures getting hurt by people who don't understand them.

The film has a lot of interconnecting plot-threads, all of which get a decent amount of pacing and development. It's quite full, yet never feels particularly rushed. Rowling did extremely well, thanks largely in part that this was written directly as a film rather than adapted from a book.

The acting is excellent, with both a lot of drama and some extremely funny lighter moments. The special effects are fairly good - as is often the case with CG, it's not convincing itself, but the rest of the film is so enjoyable that my suspension of disbelief was not broken.

The only real weak point, in my opinion, was the ending. It had hardly any foreshadowing, and was blatantly done to set up for the next film.

Overall, it was a very good film. The ending feels like a let-down, but largely because we don't have the other films yet. As a standalone film, the ending is poor, but everything else was hugely enjoyable.