REVIEW: Rogue One (2016)

 rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 15th December 2016

Running Time: 134 minutes

Director: Gareth Edwards

Genre:  Sci-fi, Action

Starring: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn

So, I was quite sceptical about this when I first heard about it. For one thing, the posters and trailers brought the expression, ‘Star Wars does The Hunger Games,’ inescapably to mind. But I was still excited to see it.

I was very favourably surprised. Last Christmas, I enjoyed watching ‘The Force Awakens’ in the cinema with my family, but I couldn’t honestly say I thought it was a terribly good film. In fact, I have to admit that one year on, I can’t remember most of it, which is never a good sign. ‘Rogue One’ is very much the better film, in my opinion. In fact, Rogue One is a pretty good film.

Although it has over eight stars on IMDB (so most people agree with me) some people do seem to be hating it. They seem to be divided into three groups:

  • People who hate it because the heroine is… well, a heroine, not a hero.
  • People who hate the fact that there aren’t any American white male protagonists in the film. Which I have to say I totally failed to notice whilst watching. I mean, why does it matter?
  • People who hate the ending.

Now, the third category have a more valid point. I don’t agree, but I can understand why some people may not like it. I really can’t specify what it is about the ending without giving a total spoiler, so I’ll just say I found it refreshing, and realistic, and felt it fits with and flows very well into the next (chronological) film, ‘A New Hope’ (the very first film to be made).

There is also a moment of absolutely wonderful poetic justice at the end, in the way in which the main villain receives his come-uppance. Obviously, I’d rather he’d repented, but all the same… 🙂

The film has a large and diverse cast of characters, including a blind man who is some kind of former Jedi/monk. The Force stuff takes on somewhat Buddhist overtones in this film, sadly, but it’s not particularly overt. There is a lot of fighting, but it’s bloodless.

However, the male protagonist, Cassian, commits a terrible crime in the very first scene in which we see him. This was important when it came to my reaction to the ending but I think it was actually potentially easy to miss, or to misunderstand what happened. So if you’re thinking, ‘Who shot the guy?’ yes, I’m afraid it was Cassian. And that’s shocking. Why will be clear if you see the film. There’s a tendency in films—and life—nowadays, to think that in a good cause, evil actions are okay. It’s a grave ethical error and the proliferation of this idea is deeply harmful to our society. Fortunately, in this film, although the fact that it is not morally permissible to commit an evil action even to attain a good result is not made as explicit as it should be, overall there is at least an emphasis on redemption, which carries the implicit message that what has been done is wrong, no matter what it was done for.

I would hesitate to say there is a full-out ‘romance’ in the film, but there is a very satisfying thread of refreshingly pure romantic feeling which is nice to see.

On a more technical note, the benefits of CGI are very visible in this film. First film made in the 70s, want to have the same character but, uh-oh, the actor’s now dead? No problem. Just CGI the character in. If I hadn’t known it couldn’t be the actor in question, I might not even have noticed! (I’ll leave the ethical discussion of this to someone else!) Anyway, Princess Leia even makes a brief appearance right at the close—and the audience clapped as the film ended. Because of Leia, or because they just really liked the film? Not sure, but it was charming!

Overall: I think this may well be one for my shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sexual content. Lots of bloodless violence. No profanities. Probably not for younger children, though.

REVIEW: Jurassic World

Jurassic_World_posterUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 11th June 2015

Running Time: 124 minutes

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Genre:  Action, Sci-fi

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, Nick Robinson

Well, after being traumatised by ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World’ as a child (I didn’t even go to see ‘Jurassic Park III’, although I was well into my teens by the time it came out) my first inclination was to give this a miss as well. But the whole ‘raptor whisperer’ thing in the trailer was just too intriguing. I borrowed my Mum’s ‘Jurassic Park’ boxset to see whether watching ‘Jurassic World’ in the cinema was going to be a good idea, and was pleasantly surprised to find that whilst still excellent films (1 & 2 at any rate), they were no longer off-the-charts terrifying. I suppose after almost 20 years of CGI, we would be far more shocked if the dinosaurs didn’t look real.

For this reason, they would probably never have been able to make a film as scary as the original two, and (wisely, in my opinion) they don’t seem to have been trying. What they have made is a thoroughly enjoyable family film that has very much the ‘feel’ of the first film, with a bit more romance and action, and rather less terror. Although the scenario is pretty similar – nasty carnivorous dinosaurs get loose on the island – the way things play out is fresh and imaginative enough that it never feels like a pale imitation of ‘Jurassic Park’.

I’d caught the odd headline about sexism in the film, but came out scratching my head. The heroine, Clare (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a high heel and suit-wearing, hard-nosed business woman, and clearly no Lara Croft. But most women aren’t, so I can’t see what’s sexist about that. She’s out of her element, but does extremely well, saving the life of Owen (Chris Pratt), the hero, on at least one occasion. When her nephews, Zach and Gray, say, ‘We’re staying with you!’ and Clare says, ‘Don’t worry I’m never going to leave you!’ only for them to say, ‘Not you, him!’ pointing at Owen, one knows exactly where the boys are coming from. But it’s ultimately Clare who orchestrates the final victory while Owen’s hiding in a souvenir shop with the kids. So what’s so sexist about the film, I can’t make out. The high heels were an odd decision by the filmmakers, I will agree. Yes, they would have broken, and no, she couldn’t have outrun anything in them. But if you start looking for weak spots in the plot, there are worse ones than impractical shoes – it’s not, after all, a watertight-plot type of film.

It’s the first film that has a military-trained – rather than pure scientist – hero. Owen is a former Navy man turned dinosaur behavioural specialist. With his dual spheres of experience, he’s is definitely a good guy to have around when a super-dinosaur runs amuck. He has his own little pack of velociraptors – Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo. They’ve all imprinted on him at birth and think he’s their alpha. He has a strong bond with them and has them well trained – but he still prefers to keep his deadly friends on the other side of a good strong fence if he can. Which shows he understands them much better than Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), the closest thing to a human ‘bad guy’ the film has. Hoskins is convinced the raptors would serve the US army better than drones (yes, you did read that correctly). Needless to say, he’s criminally stupid rather than outright evil – although the idea of loosing a velociraptor on anyone is pretty unpleasant, it isn’t really any worse than any other means of killing.

Unfortunately this is yet another family film where the film makers choose to add a little more angst by having the parents of Zac and Gray in the middle of a divorce, once again contributing to the ‘normalising’ of divorce for younger (and older) viewers. However, this is the only significant moral quibble with the film. Though I did find Clare’s decision to charge off and look for her nephews in person slightly dubious, seeing that she seemed to be in charge of the park, and thus the safety of the other 20,000 people who were also in danger.

As with the other films in the series, there is a clear warning about humans playing God mixed in with all the mayhem. Although it is tremendous fun seeing all the different attractions at the park, there is never any doubt that it is all a Very Bad Idea.

My only other niggle was that Irrfan Khan’s very likeable character was rather under-utilised, as, to a less glaring extent, was Omar Sy’s character – twice the shame, since they were the two main non-white actors. But…

Overall: I enjoyed the film tyrannosaurously and would like to see it again. I suspect it may be the first Jurassic Park film to make it onto my shelf!

A few rules learned from the Jurassic Park films:

Rule 1: Don’t bring back dinosaurs.

Rule 2: If you break rule 1, don’t genetically engineer a new super-dinosaur.

Rule 3: If someone breaks rule 1 or 2, do not go to the island where the dinosaurs are. Ever. For any reason.

Rule 4: If you break rule 3, and there is an announcement – ‘Due to an unusual Asset containment situation, take cover’ – drop your coke and take cover immediately!

I’m tempted to add, Rule 5: Never, ever, ever let out the velociraptors – but that wouldn’t quite be fair, would it? 😉 Now you’ve got to watch it…

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sex scenes. Mild innuendo and a couple of kisses. Threat and moderate violence. Blood but no graphic shots of wounds. Quite a few deaths. I don’t remember noticing any strong language – which is probably the most unrealistic thing in the film!

REVIEW: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge_of_Tomorrow_PosterUK Rating: 12

Release Date: 30th May 2014

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: Doug Liman

Genre: Action, Sci-fi

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendon Gleeson

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.” Ernest Hemingway (Farewell to Arms)
As the Catholic News Service Review puts it, “it’s hard to imagine that anyone has ever undergone the multiple demises due the lily-livered quite so literally”.

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an unusually intelligent and emotionally satisfying war film with a sci-fi twist. Although the central premise of the film is that the earth has been invaded by an alien species, ‘Mimics’, it has very much the feel of a World War Two film and the main action centres around a D day type battle on the beaches of Normandy.

Major Nicholas Cage (Tom Cruise) is the face of the army’s recruitment campaign – and, disappointingly, a coward. Despite his best efforts, he finds himself on the Normandy beach and rapidly meets his end… only to awake at the beginning of the day he has just lived, and have to live it again. And again. And again. Hence the film’s tagline, ‘Live. Die. Repeat’. However, the film deftly and humorously avoids the potential boredom of watching such a time loop.

The film’s emotional satisfaction comes as much from watching Cage grow from coward to true hero, as it does from his relationship with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a formidable female soldier who has been tempered in the same fire – or time loop – that Cage now suffers. The film isn’t perfect, especially the ending, which one definitely feels could have been made clearer with a little extra effort on the filmmakers’ part (though it does makes sense if you think about it long and hard enough). It is, however, an extremely satisfying ride, and not without its challenging moments. “Why does it matter what happens to me?” demands Rita at one point, with a selflessness that certainly left this viewer feeling overawed.

In a nice touch, it is the song that accompanies the closing credits that supplies the final line – keep your ears open!

Look out for the film under the name: ‘Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow’, available to rent or buy now.

I published the above review in the Advent edition of my parish magazine .

Overall: I have a copy on my DVD shelf. Thumbs up.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sex scenes. Threat and moderate violence. Infrequent strong language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?