Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Written by Nelson Cumming

This review will have a lot of spoilers as my sources of praise and criticism involves the final act. I say this because I am a nice, swell guy.

Rogue One: A Star War Story is one of the most epic-looking spin-offs that I have ever seen. I stress the term “epic-looking” here. That is because it has enough visual effects and good moments combined to make Rogue One a good film. However, there were things that bugged me while watching it.

Rogue One is set between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star wars Episode IV: A new Hope. It is a spin-off story that focuses on the destruction of the Deathstar (a weapon that can destroy planets) and the subsequent plans that Erso attempts to steal from the Galatic Empire to give to the Rebel Alliance.

Let’s Start Positive

 

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Me after seeing the special effects on Rogue One.

 

The two best things about Rogue One are the special effects and the final third of the movie. The special effects in Rogue One are as good as any movie I have seen this year. Rogue One went for huge set pieces and made a blockbuster look epic. There was one shot in a birds-eye view of two massive rebel ships that collide in mid-air which was the best shot in the movie. It is a vivid picture in my head. For a movie to have a moment like that is a huge positive.

 

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The penultimate battle on the beach, in my opinion, was the best scene in the film.

 

The final act in which the Rebel Alliance set off to destroy the Deathstar from the Galatic Empire is by far the best section of the movie. From the espionage of Jyn’s father to the Deathstar’s destruction was nearly all well choreographed and shot. The battle sequences from the supporting characters had a smooth pace and the final battle between Jyn and Orson Krennic was thrilling.

The origin story of Jyn Erso was fine but not great. It would have been noticeably better had I been able to decipher what Forest Whitaker was saying (he spoke very hoarsely and gives the weakest performace of the cast). They developed that origin story into a major plot development. It also helped give Jyn Erso a third dimension to her character when it was needed later on.

Now onto some negatives.

Rogue One really suffers from underdeveloped supporting characters. In one scene, they really bite off more than they can chew. I believe that in Rogue One, the ultimate goal was for us to like all the characters because they have a quirky personality trait or a single moment of depth. This can only get a movie so far and where they wanted to take them was so much further than what was given to them.

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Donnie Yen plays a character equivalent of a fun friend who is not a close friend. So it does not help when the film expects you to be his close friend.

A prime example is Donnie Yen’s character, a blind Asian warrior. He has the personality quirk of being able to fight while blind and he has repeats the one line “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me” From that I am supposed to feel a sense of sadness when him and all the other supporting characters (who are just as underdeveloped) when they all die in quick succession.

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Instead, I went to my friend and said “Jesus! are there any more people who want to die. This isn’t Game of Thrones you know” That statement was not premeditated. That was my first reaction. After that was when I realized how little I care for the huge stakes the movie was going after. The characters themselves were not terrible but they were not worth the huge threat that was thrust upon them.

Rogue One really suffers from the dragging second act and taking itself too seriously when they didn’t have the characters that could sustain that level of drama. There were lots of little moments throughout Rogue One that worked such as the Darth Vader scenes and the lines the new quirky droid K-2SO says. Since those little things permeated throughout the movie, added with a really good third act, it was enough for me to like Rogue One. ***1/2.

 

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Arrival- A Thematic Pool

Written by Nelson Cumming

Arrival had a lot of promise. So much so that I paid a lot extra to see it on a wider screen, thinking I would get overwhelmed by the grandiose mis en scene. That didn’t happen. Despite this, Arrival is a very interesting and highly original film.

Oddly, the movie it reminded me of was The Tree of Life by Terrance Malick although it is not anything like it. To use a book title from Douglas Adams, The Tree of Life concerns itself with “Life, The Universe and Everything” whereas Arrival explores the inner-workings of communication, language and pre-determinism. The latter of which I didn’t get until much later after I saw it.

Unpacking the Plot- A headache that was worth it

Adam’s using her linguistic powers to understand the alien language. Initially this was my favorite part of the film.

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t get the subplot of the movie at all until I did a bit of research. After looking it up I thought “Damn, Arrival was going for the gold” The main plot and subplot are completely non-linear (like The Tree of Life) and I was wondering why the subplot even existed for a while. I’ll outline both the plot and subplot before explaining further.

So the main plot involves Amy Adams who plays a professional linguist sent by the US military to communicate with these aliens that have bordered earth. A lot of the film involves Adams and Jeremy Renner (who plays a theoretical physicist) decoding the language and understanding why the aliens have come to earth.

As Adam’s learns of the aliens language, Adams has visions of her daughter which serves as the subplot of the film. When the twist comes, I was wondering why she was having visions of her child in the first place. The movie raised more questions than it answered for me. It didn’t seem to add up.

That is a broadly specific as I can be without ruining it. You need to know the subplot to fully understand the meaning of the film.

The Tree of Life analogy

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The subplot felt a little spinny to me. It messes with time and space. Only after I saw it did I understand it.

I saw Arrival as more of an atmospheric film about how the intricacies of communication changes meaning and how you need to get both linguistics and the meaning behind language to reach understanding. The best moments for me were when Adams were decoding the alien language, trying to understand their purpose of existence.

Only until after I saw it I realize I was only scratching the surface. It’s like the Tree of Life in that both the plot and subplot are non-linear and one of the plots have to do with the world around us and the other side of the story revolves around a family and with Arrival, the two didn’t stories did not connect well enough for me to understand.

That was until I realised why Adam’s character has all these visions. Once I knew that all of Arrival’s ideas just seemed to connect and fall into place. It really is a thinking movie and I might like it more if I saw it again. It explores the philosophical concept of pre-determinism vs. fate. Unlike most films, Adams choose with her final word in the film when she is asked a very abrupt (almost comical) question.

However, I can only judge based on what I saw initially and I liked it for the cinematography, Amy Adams performance and how the lead characters slowly develop an understanding with the aliens. If I see it again, now knowing the movie fully, I would like it even more. That I am certain of. However, I must rate it based on what I was feeling at the time and while I liked it overall there were a lot of moments I was scratching my head on how she has the conceived of her visions in the first place ***1/2