Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – The “Star Wars” Mostly Works But Drags Though the Ending is Fantastic

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     “Rogue One” is a good movie. It isn’t a great movie…not by a long shot as it has structurual problems and a lot of the characters don’t have arcs and this goes for the overall structure too. If you want an experience in the “Star Wars Universe” though, this is a good experience of that, and for what it’s worth it is better than “Return of the Jedi” but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like that film and only finds it okay.

      The film was directed by Gareth Edwards, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanual.

      The story involves the Rebels getting the plans for the Death Star as told through the eyes of the group that comes to be Rogue One, lead by the extremely rebellious Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of the man (Mads Mikklesen) who designs the Death Star under threat from his former friend Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Star Wars” in that galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…is one that I care about. I am a fan and not just of the Original Trilogy, I love KOTOR, the Thrawn Trilogy, The Clone Wars (3D and 2D) and Rebels. I grew up on the games that are no longer cannon and this is sci. fi. fantasy in it’s base form. This film captures so much of that as we really see the breadth and strength of the Empire and that is one thing that kept me in this film through it all.

The Cinematography – Gareth Edwards knows how to direct and this film is beautiful in the scenes that are shot, especially those of the Death Star and the Space Battles.

The Action – The action is the strongest part as the action has consequences. Characters die and like “The Empire Strikes Back,” we see the consequences of the Rebellion. This can’t be stated enough and knowing that the Rebellion is only going to suffer more in the coming film lends this film strength.

Grand Moff Tarkin as Character – The character of Tarkin is fantastic even if the CGI is really good video game CGI but not quite there CGI. I still enjoyed the things he did even if how he looked was a little distracting. They should have just got a look a like, they did in “Revenge of the Sith.” Beyond that though, his character is a wonderful snake who is using and disposing people to meet his final ends of holding his power and position and destroying the Rebellion. He is the greatest threat outside of Vader through the film.

Darth Vader – We got to Vader’s Palace on Mustafar! The fact that this is even a thing makes me happy as it fits, the “Dark Side” gains it’s power from pain and rage and that is where Vader lost everything so Krennic visiting him here (and getting strangled for trying to assume on Vader) gives us more to Vader’s mystique. He also kills a lot of the rebels and shows why he is one of the only 2 Sith in the Galaxy.

K-2SO – Alan Tudyk is wonderful as the cynical reprogrammed Imperial Droid and he is the only one of the “Rogue One” rebels with an arc. He goes from uncaring from someone who sacrifices for others. I really like how cynical he is and how nihilistic he is about everything. He is very Marvinesque (From “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and it works. It sucks the other cast members weren’t given an arc.

Getting the Plans – Getting the plans is really well done as we see Jyn and Cassian go undercover at the Imperial Intelligence homeworld to get the plans that Jyn’s father implanted in the system. It is really well done and it is this battle and heist that is easily the best part of the film. There is cost, consequences and action…it is a shame we couldn’t have gotten more of this earlier.

The Final – The rebels barely escape Vader with the plans and all of the Rogue One characters die. This is powerful and I like that for the first time since “Empire Strikes Back” the Empire felt like a threat. “Star Wars Rebels” is mostly miss on this issue sadly and most “Star Wars” lore is about the victories…but all that does is make the Empire look weak. This film did some work to change that with the final.

Okay: Rogue One Team – Bunch of guys from a Temple Guardians (a cynic and a blind man) to a rebel intelligence agent (Cassian) to K-2, an Imperial Pilot who joined the rebellion (Bodi) and Jyn. Outside of K-2 most of these folks are just there. They don’t get any arc and are just pulled along by the plot, which is sad as the idea of all of these characters was good, but none of it went anywhere.

The Ersos – The Father and Daughter relationship was supposed to be central but it wasn’t. Mads and Felicity did fine with what little they were given but we didn’t get anything on their relationship to the Empire or Krennic. They were pulled along by the plot rather than shaping the plot. This isn’t a con as it didn’t make me angry and it wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t good either.

Orso Krennic – This dude is just a pawn which for a guy who is the main villain was a waste. I cared about him more than Hux from “The Force Awakens” though as Krennic was fighting against a system that wanted to crush him. Hux was at the head of his game and was still winy.

The Cons: CGI Lore Characters – Leia and Tarkin look like video game characters. I get the look they were going for but it still looks not quite right. It worked in the story but it also took me out of the story. They should have just used look alikes.

Extremely Slow First Half – I felt like I was nodding off early on until the Death Star is finally used. This is due to characters not fully being developed and the film going way to slow. There were so many missed opportunities for character development and growth in the first hour that were never taken.

Character Arcs? – None of the “Rogue One” cast have character arcs…and they need them for us to fully feel their loss. Outside of K-2 I cared way more about Vader and Tarkin since I knew from from prior works…this film needed to develop the main cast and it failed to deliver.

   This was a film that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Star Wars. I enjoyed it even though I wouldn’t call it great, it isn’t “The Force Awakens” (a film with characters that had actual arcs and growth) but it is better than “Return of the Jedi” and easily my 4th favorite “Star Wars” film. There was the potential to do so much more, either making this a complete heist type film (an under appreciated genre) or make this an ensemble film. I wanted to love Bodi, I wanted to care about to Orsos…but I was never given the chance too. We didn’t get exploration of what they really desired and were fighting for and that went for the rest of “Rogue One” which makes the deaths matter not nearly as much as they should.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

Nightcrawler (2014): The Perfect Job for a Sociopath

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    “Nightcrawler” is a wonderfully disturbing film within the same vein as “American Psycho” and “The Good Shepard,” where we follow the rise of a broken person who is unable to relate to others and is a textbook sociopath. It really is fantastic and worth taking a look at. I’ll get into what made it so good in the assessment.

    “Nightcrawler” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Tony Gilroy, Jennifer Fox, David Lancaster and Mitchel Litvak.

    The story revolves around Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an employed man who steals from a construction site and kills and steals the watch of the security guard who discovers him. He tries to get a job with the construction company he is selling to the stolen goods too but is unsuccessful but when he stumbles upon a crash and a nightcrawler recording the event for money for the local news, Lou sells his stolen goods to enter into the business. From here the story unfolds as he gets more obsessed in the creation of the narratives and is his disregard for life beyond a tool to climb the ladder is made more apparent. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is amazing! It keeps the dark feel and captures the world through Lou’s eyes. Events also feel raw too as we see what he sees through the eyes of a camera so the scenes create another form of tension that way. Robert Elwist did great.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a dark tone and feel to it and pervades a sense of danger. In that way it is almost a direct expression of Lou who we come to realize is pretty dangerous in how he knows how to push peoples’ buttons and manipulate them to his own ends and power. James Newton Howard was the right guy for this soundtrack.

Okay/Con: The Minor Characters – Because this movie is through Lou’s eyes we don’t really get to know the side characters that well. We only know them as much as they matter to Lou, which narratively makes sense but I think also shows how this was Gilroy’s first time writing as well as directing so characters like the first Nighcrawler Lou meets could have been explored or the guy on the news who works with Nina but never fully goes against her. They feel lost because they don’t matter to Lou. I also feel this applies to the detective as she only functions as an antagonizing force and not a character in her own right.

Nina – Nina is a cutthroat anchor on the vampire shift of the news and is willing to do anything to get ratings up. She’s a fascinating character as the only one we see push her buttons is Lou who at one point blackmails her into sex because he wants sex and feels set on money. It’s a creepy scene and she fights how she can but in the end he knows her too well. She’s older so we get that from experience she’s gotten cynical where she only wants stories that feed the narrative of “Crime is creeping into the suburbs.” When a home invasion happens she takes that story that Lou records and hides the truth showing in the end she’s as ruthless as Lou as she doesn’t morn Rick’s death except in how it tells a good story and feeds the narrative. Rene Russo is fantastic. Her base philosophy is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Rick – Is a young man desperate for money who Lou preys on for most of the film. It isn’t until the end when Rick begins standing up for himself that it looks like things might change as he could tell the police everything. Sadly he never gets the chance as the story goes south and he gets shot down by one of the home invaders in the street. He was the only one holding Lou accountable and calling him out for his inhumanity…but he gets nothing for it. Riz Ahmed plays this role really well as a man who is at first desperate live and later desperate for respect and for his own morality.

Lou Bloom – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal in. He plays the person who doesn’t understand emotions or empathy well and is always wearing a face. Desperation drives the character initially, but once he’s in control it becomes about keeping that control. From blackmailing Nina for sex, to blackmailing Rick for not resisting the job or hiding evidence from the cops so he can paint his own narrative and story that he knows he’ll profit from. He’s creepy and a clear sociopath but a fascinating character to watch. I kept waiting for the fall that never came, which would be the one thing I’d change. We never saw him with his back against the wall which I think hurt the script and knowing his character. Still a fantastic job on Gyllenhaal’s part.

The Ending – Lou is a successful businessman. I didn’t buy this given the detective suspected him and I fully expected the police to do more to stop him creating stories even if they didn’t have any proof. In this way the ending felt hollow. It wasn’t bad persay since it showed how empty the promises to his employees were given what happened with Rick getting killed but it served no purpose the way the ending to “American Psycho” did where we don’t know what’s real but we know what he’s capable of now.

    This was a really good film, but not a favorite. The tone, setting and music are all done really well…but I didn’t care about the minor characters and I wanted someone to fight and hold Lou accountable. He faced resistance at the beginning, but once he started to rise he never stopped, we never saw him fall. When every good protagonist needs a fall, especially one as despicable as Lou. I liked this movie and would recommend it though. It’s worth checking out and even though it’s not a favorite it is worth the time to see it.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10. Solidly good and a great first film for Dan Gilroy.