Review – Rogue One (2016) – Spoiler Free

The Force Awakens was very much a moneymaker, designed to appeal to the widest possible audience and re-establish Lucasfilm as a brand name that many had lost faith in.

Rogue One feels like a film made specifically for the die-hard fans, a loving “thank you” to everyone who stuck with the franchise, despite its controversial moments.

The story answers the following question brought up by A New Hope: how did the rebels get the Death Star plans?

This film is an absolute delight. Aside from a slower first act (which has to introduce a great deal of new characters and make the audience care about them) the film culminates in one of the most satisfyingly insane, edge-of-your-seat finales I’ve experienced in a long time.

The characters are fantastic, especially the newest droid, who’s a sassy throwback to HK-47, the meatbag-loathing companion droid from the Knights of the Old Republic games. It’s an ensemble of folks whom you wish you could see a whole movie’s worth of backstory for.

It looks incredible, especially in that we REALLY get to see what life under the Empire was like. The sets feel real and organic, and the diverse cast really makes that galaxy far far away feel less like a mythological playground for legends, and more like a real place.

There are many Easter eggs, such as visual references, cameos, and in-jokes that delight viewers without taking the viewer out of the movie, but it’s never just cheap fan service. It’s a loving “thank you” to fans.

My only complaint was that Michael Giacchino didn’t really give us any new memorable themes in his score. He did a marvelous job of conjuring up John Williams’ musical landscape (soaring strings, delicate woodwind statements, and moody brass abound) but there weren’t as many iconic thematic statements as we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. The score is still excellent, but I think it could’ve been better.

But overall, it was a fantastic experience, and I hope to see it again before it leaves theaters. It really blew me away.

Gareth Edwards has done the franchise proud!

You should go see it!


Itty-Bitty Review: Suicide Squad


Suicide Squad (2016)

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe)  has had a troubled life so far. Man of Steel had stuff that was fantastic and also stuff that was not. Batman v Superman was clumsily assembled but occasionally entertaining. And now we have film number three in the franchise, Suicide Squad, which marks a promising step in the right direction for the franchise, despite its fluffy simplicity.

The story: Following the death of Superman, the government is unsure what to do in the face of a future crisis. One government individual, Amanda Waller, decides to assemble a team comprised of some of the most dangerous criminals around. When the unpredictable Enchantress, whom Amanda held in thrall, manages to escape, it’s up to the team of unhinged criminals to save the day.

I legitimately loved this film, which means that most critics are going to hate it. There were some editing issues here and there, and the plot had a few moments where things happen “because…uh…the plot requires it!” but the fun stems not from it being an especially complex, thought-provoking movie, but from its cast of zany characters.

Though El Diablo does a decent job of capturing the audience’s sympathy, it’s Deadshot and Harley Quinn who steal the show. Will Smith does a fantastic job of giving the character a suitable helping of likability while still letting everyone know that he’s not a very nice person. And Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is completely compelling as both a hilarious and tragic character. She’s brutalized and damaged by the Joker and yet she spends the whole film trying to return to him, her plucky façade hiding the damage within.

It’s colorful and explode-y, but it has a personality to it that has been missing from previous DCEU films, so I’m eager to see how things progress.

Review: Star Trek Beyond


I’m not a huge fan of the first two rebooted Star Trek films. The cast is mostly great, but the scripts seemed determined to aim for the lowest common denominator, losing the heart of what made Star Trek so good in the process. Star Trek Beyond still has lots of lens flares, shaky cameras, and the same trouble properly naming natural phenomena that the first film had, but surprisingly, it feels a lot more like Star Trek thanks to Simon Pegg’s influence on the script.

The Story: During a five year mission of space exploration, The Enterprise is suddenly attacked by a mysterious enemy who captures the crew. Stranded on a planet littered with downed ships, Captain Kirk and friends must make do without any technology as they try to rescue the crew and find out what their mysterious attacker really wants.

I got flashbacks to several existing Star Trek episodes such as TNG’s “Disaster,” DS9’s “Armageddon Game,” and Voyager’s “Basics Part II,” and “Gravity,” which was fun. The colorful sets were a beautiful homage to any number of TOS-era planets with their foam rocks and desert landscapes. There were also a few thematic nods to The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, which I thought were handled well. Unlike Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, which seemed more like parodies rather than actual Star Trek films, Beyond genuinely feels like it was written by someone who understood the source material.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t without its issues. A big plot point in the beginning is a “nebula” (that doesn’t look at all like a nebula…more like the remnants of a shattered star system) that has never been explored even though it’s literally right next to a gargantuan space station the size of a small planet. I find it hard to believe that the Federation would devote that much time building this magnificent place and not at least send a probe or something to see what the big scary phenomenon right next to it is all about, at least to guarantee the safety of all the folks who live there. Think of how Deep Space 9’s whole purpose changed once Sisko discovered the Bajoran wormhole. I find it hard to believe that such a thing would just be ignored, especially since it seems sort of ominous. If a big ship like the Enterprise can cross this asteroid field (it’s not a nebula. I don’t care what they say) easily in about ten seconds, then a smaller ship would have had an easier time of it. In this continuity, Captain Archer’s Enterprise still existed in the previous century, and Ensign Mayweather wouldn’t have had any issues traversing this thing, so I just don’t buy the whole, “Well it’s unexplored space, so we don’t know what’s beyond it” thing. It just felt like a super lazy plot point, something this trilogy has really struggled with.

Despite that, as well as a few other moments where it’s clear the writers said, “And…uh…they escape! Because reasons!” it was an entertaining film. It’s still fluffy and superficial, but it did feel like it was heading in the right direction in terms of marking a return to the heart of what Star Trek is. The main theme of strength through unity was very Star Trek, as well as the concept of advancing towards the future as result of cooperation and mutual understanding as opposed to conflict.

Plus, there are a few moments that die-hard fans of the series, even those who hate the new movies, will react to. I won’t spoil it, but I will say there’s a moment right near the end that got me a bit misty-eyed.

I’d recommend it to Trek fans only in that we need to show studios that we want them to continue on this path towards recapturing what made us all fall in love with Gene Roddenberry’s universe in the first place.

Review: The Legend of Tarzan


The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

I loved this movie too much for it to get the Itty-Bitty treatment, so prepare for some rambly gushing!

In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of the greatest action-adventure writers in America, gave us Tarzan, a wild man raised by apes and brought back to civilization to claim his title as the Viscount of Greystoke but who then rejects society and returns to his home in the African jungle. Tarzan has the distinction, along with Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula, of being one of the most frequently portrayed character in pop culture, and this year, we get another such adventure, directed by David Yates of Harry Potter fame. Continue reading

Itty-Bitty Review: Independence Day: Resurgence


Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

It’s been twenty years, but in Hollywood-land, that’s not too late for a sequel, especially a sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of the 90’s. Independence Day: Resurgence sticks so close to the feel of the original that it’s sure to please die-hard fans, though the cheesy 90’s optimism may be off-putting to new fans who wanted a gritty, depressing sci-fi flick with lots of hardship and suffering. There’s none of that here. Continue reading