FlixChatter Review – ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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I don’t call myself a Star Wars groupie and honestly I was rather lukewarm about The Force Awakens. At the same time I didn’t hate the prequels trilogy (episode 1-3) though I have to admit there were tons of problems. But the more I hear about Rogue One and that amazing international cast, the more I look forward to it. Well, if only all prequels were as good as this one.

The story is set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) which as you might recall opens with Princess Leia aboard her starship with the stolen plans to restore freedom to the galaxy, as she’s being pursued by the evil Empire. The fact that George Lucas never explained just how Leia got those stolen plans lends itself to a great spinoff/prequel and in many ways it’s as intriguing a story as the origin of Darth Vader. At the center of the Rebel Alliance is a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), shown as a little girl sent to flee by her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s about to be captured by the Empire and finish the work he’s started, that is creating the Death Star.

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The rest of the film is quite action-packed, as Jyn tries to break free from the rebels in a rescue mission. I love the first introduction of her with K-2SO (voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk), the droid is definitely a lively character and he’s even more memorable than BB8 with his dry wit. The rest of the rebel group is made up of an awesomely-diverse international cast: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Imwe’s loyal friend Baze Malbus. I don’t even mind there’s no Jedi in this movie. I gotta say Donnie Yen is my fave of the bunch, he’s got the most memorable intro with his martial arts skills, but he’s also got some funny one liners! Who knew he’d be the comic relief of the movie along with Tudyk’s K-2SO.

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Because the plot revolves around a single crucial mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, the story is pretty easy to follow. All the action punctuates the story but never overwhelms it. It’s definitely more of a gritty war action film that offers plenty of dynamic battle sequences, both on air and on the ground. There’s less philosophical dialog nor extensive dramatic scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks substance. At the core of the struggle is always Jyn trying to fulfills her father’s mission… “Save the Rebellion and Save the Dream.” And what a struggle it was. The third act centers on the Rogue One team infiltrating Empires headquarters in Scarif, and it’s a real team effort in order to get Jyn to steal the plans. As if that wasn’t tough enough, retrieving the plans is half the battle, there’s the virtually impossible task of actually transporting the data to the Rebel Alliance!


Director Gareth Edwards did a pretty good job directing this (much better than his last blockbuster effort Godzilla in 2014) and he stages the action pieces nicely. The scene inside the control room where the plans are kept are stunningly-shot. It was certainly a well-staged scene that gives me quite an adrenaline rush, whilst K2SO provides the hilarious bits whilst fighting off the stormtroopers. I never felt dizzy or bored watching the battle sequences and there are plenty of suspense throughout. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy has a good mix of action, drama and humor, with some emotional moments that never resort to melodrama. I really think the movie benefits from a strong ensemble cast with a capable female lead at the center. I’ve been a fan of Felicity Jones in her dramatic performances (Like Crazy, Breathe In, The Theory of Everything), but it’s nice to see her kick some butt here whilst always keeping her character grounded. She never became some action heroine or anything, which would’ve been silly.

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As for the supporting cast, every member of the Rogue One team is solid. They fight valiantly and the theme of sacrifice and hope give the story emotional gravitas. I feel a bit underwhelmed by Ben Mendelsohn as a high ranking Imperial senator though he looks sinister enough in his caped uniform. But his meeting with the big boss is definitely a memorable scene. Star Wars fans might’ve exploded in geekgasm the moment Vader showed up… then THAT voice came out of him, whoa! Who could top James Earl Jones‘ voice… it was glorious! There’s also memorable Vader scene wielding his lightsaber that made even me want to get up and cheer. Yes we’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but man!!!

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[Spoiler alert – highlight to read] My biggest beef is the final scene with horrible CGI-ed face of Princess Leia! It’s so distracting and kind of lessens the impact of that powerful scene. Heh, the X-Men films have done a good job making Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen look half their age, so you’d think with a $200mil budget they could afford to do a better job. They could even opt for doing just a silhouette of her whilst she said the line, that’d surely make it more memorable than showing a bad CGI. Peter Cushing is also back as a CGI character as Grand Moff Tarkin, 

Despite my quibbles, it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is quite beautiful (he’s also the DP for the gorgeous film LION), complemented by the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. I love that every time Vader showed up the iconic John Williams’ theme song came on! I really enjoyed this one and would definitely watch this again on IMAX. I might even follow up with episode 4, 5 and 6 now that the story suddenly feels fresh again.

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So, what do you think of ROGUE ONE? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: Cinderella (2015)

CinderellaPosterGrowing up watching Disney fairy tale movies, I have to admit Cinderella wasn’t my favorite heroine. Over the years though, as there are more and more adaptations of this quintessential underdog story (more so than any other Disney “princesses” it seems), the more I appreciate the animated classic. Lately the cinematic trend is reinvention, giving a classic tale a new twist or perspective, such as Snow White & the Huntsman and Maleficent, and so naturally I thought we’d see the same thing with Cinderella. Well, it turns out that this film stayed true to its classic story, you could even say it paid tribute to the animated film, with some surprises thrown in. But by going the conventional route doesn’t mean it’s dull and boring, in fact the opposite is true. There’s something so lively and refreshing about Kenneth Branagh‘s vision that even some of its most sentimental moments aren’t without charm.

Being that it’s the origin story of Cinderella, the movie begins with young Ella whose blissful existence is cut short when her dotting mother suddenly fell ill. Before she passed away, she instilled in her daughter to ‘have courage and be kind,’ a life motto young Ella takes to heart. And so, as life kept coming at her with one terrible blow after another, especially after the arrival of her stepmother and two step-sisters, Ella never gives up hope. I was skeptical at first about Lily James‘ casting in the titular role, but I quickly warmed up to her. There’s a pleasant countenance about her that makes her believable as a benevolent and sweet-tempered girl equipped with inner strength to face the cruelty inflicted upon her by her new *family.* Instead of running away from her problems, she choose to endure.

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Ella’s no damsel in distress either. I love how the sweet and swoon-worthy meet-up with the dashing Prince, who refers to himself as Kit to hide his true identity, reveals her independent spirit. “Just because it’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” she tells Kit in protest of him hunting deer for sport. The prince was immediately smitten by her, perhaps he’s also impressed that she rides her horse without a saddle! Richard Madden effortlessly steals Ella’s heart, and every maiden in the audience, with his impossible good looks and almost indecent sex appeal. As if the filmmakers weren’t sure of that, they had to outfit him in those distractingly tight white pants! I don’t know why they need to digitally enhanced his blue eyes though, I mean he’s already hunky enough with his eyes the way God made ’em!

Cinderella_PrinceCharming cinderella_prince_firstmeetIn any case, I like that he fell for her whilst Ella’s still dressed as a maid, though I actually think she’s the most attractive this way, so fresh-faced and full of life. Unlike the animated version, the Prince also gets a back-story here, and the father/son relationship depiction is quite moving. The Ella-Kit meet-up is my favorite scene of the entire movie! Yes, more so than the entire ball scene or even the transformation scene. In fact, I’m not too fond of Cinderella’s look for the ball — her hair is huge, the ball gown is huge, it’s just overwhelming. Overall there’s more chemistry between her and the Prince in that brief meet-up.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be Cinderella without the wicked stepmother and Cate Blanchett is an absolute delight to watch in the role. Looking as stunning and regal as ever, the great Cate was scene stealing all the way through with her elegant icy-ness. The Aussie thespian is obviously having fun with the role, there’s a twinkle in her eye and sense of mischief as she relish in being bad.

Holliday Granger and Sophie McShera are ok as the two vile stepsisters, they’re a bit over the top at times, yet not nearly as memorable as Cate was even when she was standing still. It’s fun seeing Helena Bonham Carter being the comic relief as the fairy godmother and the film’s narrator. Derek Jacobi adds Shakespearean gravitas as the Prince’s ailing father, whilst Ben Chaplin is affecting as Cinderella’s doting father. In attempt to making the cast a little more diverse, Branagh cast Nonso Anozie as Captain (who’s in his previous movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and the guests at the ball are racially-diverse.

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The production design is really something to behold. This is easily one of the best looking movie I’ve seen in a while, and I’m not just talking about the beautiful cast. The costume design by Sandy Powell is simply amazing, especially Cate’s jewel-toned, richly-embroidered dresses, blending 1940s with 19th century style. Everyone’s talking about Cinderella’s gorgeous ball dress – and Lily James’ teeny-tiny waist – but I think Cate’s outfits are equally breathtaking to look at. Oh and those glass slippers… well, that’s fairy tale for ya, the funniest bit was when the fairy godmother say they’d be comfortable, ha! Apparently they’re made of real Swarovski crystals fit only for mannequins. So the scene of Cinderella having those on is made possible by the magic of CGI.

Chris Weitz‘s script might seem simple and conventional, but it’s quite challenging to somehow make the story fresh without making it unnecessarily dark or edgy just for the sake of it. I’ve been a longtime fan of Patrick Doyle‘s gorgeous music and Branagh’s longtime collaborator once again delivered! The music fits the genre perfectly, it has that elegant, sweepingly lush feel to it, but also with a bit of whimsy.

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But the biggest kudos has to be given to Kenneth Branagh and his impeccable directing style. He somehow made something *old* feels new again. I think it starts with his vision for the main characters, with an empowered Cinderella who, despite being mistreated, remains true to her moral principles. In this article, “[Branagh] likened it to the nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi.” Ok so that might’ve been a bit of a stretch, but I get the point. The love story feels richer and more emotionally involving because you believe there’s more than just the obvious physical attraction. Branagh’s quoted in the article as saying, “When you watch this film, you see Cinderella is such an amazing woman. My biggest thing was how do I create a man that is worthy of her?” I came away from the movie thinking that Cinderella rescues the Prince just as much as he rescues her.

I enjoyed this movie so much I just might see it again on the big screen as it’s such a visual treat. But I wouldn’t say it’s style over substance, there’s a nice balance of drama, humor, and even action to please the young and the young-at-heart. Though the movie is infused with such an infectious sense of optimism with its bright, lush colors and lavish set pieces, there are genuine poignant moments to keep it grounded. The scene when Ella receives news of her father’s sudden passing is one of those scenes that made me tear up.

If you’re on the fence about this one, I’d say give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised. I think I’d get the Blu-ray as I could see myself enjoying this for years to come.

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Have you seen Cinderella? Well, did you like it more or less than I did?