Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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Blu Tuesday: Arrow, The Jungle Book and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: After defeating Ra’s al Ghul in battle, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) leaves behind his vigilante persona and moves to the suburbs with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) to live a normal life. But when Star City is threatened by a terrorist organization called H.I.V.E., Oliver returns as the newly dubbed Green Arrow to stop the group’s leader Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) – a man with mysterious magical abilities – from destroying what he’s worked so hard to protect.

WHY: The fourth season of “Arrow” is a real low point in the show’s history; it’s as clunky and poorly conceived as Diggle’s awful new helmet. Though past seasons have certainly had their share of criticisms, it’s never been quite this bad. The flashbacks are more pointless than ever, persisting with a plot device that’s no longer necessary, while the Oliver/Felicity romance is horribly mishandled. Even Damien Darhk’s involvement doesn’t seem very well-thought-out. Not only is he too powerful for Oliver and his team, but he only appears when it’s convenient for the plot, going through the same motions over and over until his lame defeat in the finale. However, the biggest problem with “Arrow” (and to a lesser degree, “The Flash”) is that there isn’t enough story to warrant 23 hours of television, resulting in a lot of unnecessary filler. That’s never been more true than in Season Four, and with any luck, it’ll lead to the show receiving a much-needed reset, or at the very least, a return to its grittier, humbler roots.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con panel, there’s a trio of profiles on Damien Darhk, Vandal Savage and Hawkman and Hawkgirl, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Star Wars and Mojave

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

WHAT: Three strangers from different backgrounds – orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) – join forces to stop the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

WHY: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the cast table read, featurettes on creature design, visual effects and shooting the climactic lightsaber battle, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mojave”

WHAT: After melancholy filmmaker Tom (Garrett Hedlund) has a dangerous encounter with a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert, he’s pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when the stranger follows him back to Los Angeles and continues to stalk him.

WHY: William Monahan may have an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” but you wouldn’t know it based on this pseudo-intellectual thriller, which is both a giant waste of time and talent. Though Oscar Isaac keeps things mildly interesting with a performance that’s so over the top it feels like he’s in a completely different movie, the rest of the cast looks absolutely bored out of their minds. Mark Wahlberg must have owed Monahan a favor; Walton Goggins has maybe five lines of dialogue; and Garrett Hedlund proves yet again why he’s one of the most overrated actors of his generation. The real faults, however, lie in Monahan’s aimless script and some poor pacing. It’s not that the film’s philosophical ideas are lost on me, either – “Mojave” just doesn’t do a very good job of presenting them in an engaging or coherent manner. Perhaps something got lost in translation along the way, but as writer and director, the only person Monahan has to blame is himself.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Starring
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis
Director
J.J. Abrams

Resurrect a beloved name and attempt to relaunch a franchise? No sweat. Extreme pressure was riding on co-writer/director J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Expectations are more than high for the film, and while this sequel doesn’t quite recapture the glory of the old days, if often comes very close.

“The Force Awakens” is both a retread and a callback to “A New Hope.” Rey (Daisey Ridley) follows in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): she’s an orphaned scavenger on a desert planet, Jakku, and she’s torn between her home and exploring the galaxy. Her life changes when she meets the adorable BB-8, a droid hiding a secret for the best damn Resistance pilot in the sky, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). A conflicted Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) crosses paths with both Poe and Rey, but most of “The Force Awakens” is about those two, as well as the pair of recognizable faces they team up with along the way: Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Even before Han and Chewie appear – and what a wonderful reveal it is – “The Force Awakens” is undeniably a “Star Wars” movie. The film recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy, as it should. The tangible environments, practical creatures and stakes are “Star Wars” through and through, but more than that, it’s the sense of joy, pain and adventure that Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, bring to this sequel that makes it “Star Wars.” This series has always been about friendship and family, and “The Force Awakens” doesn’t forget that, even if some of the relationships aren’t very well defined.

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“Disney Infinity 3.0″ is the best installment yet

disney_infinity_3-1

Just like the Marvel Universe was a natural fit to headline last year’s edition of Disney’s “toys-to-life” video game franchise, it was a forgone conclusion that the “Star Wars” universe would play a key role in “Disney Infinity 3.0,” especially with the new film coming out later this year. But while George Lucas’ space adventure saga is undoubtedly the main draw, there’s a lot to love about the latest installment, which makes some big strides towards improving the game’s all-around experience, as well as its future potential.

1) Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars

“Star Wars” is sort of like the cinematic version of The Beatles – everyone likes it, but we all have our favorite movie/album and character/band member. Thankfully, that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team at Disney Interactive. Though it’s a little strange that the original trilogy isn’t featured in the game’s official Starter Pack – instead, you get prequel characters Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano along with the “Twilight of the Republic” Play Set – Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia will be getting their own playable adventure (“Rise Against the Empire”) at the end of September. In addition to those four characters, you can purchase other figures individually, including fan favorites like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Darth Maul, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and most of the “Star Wars Rebels” crew, all of which are compatible with any “Star Wars”-themed Play Set.

Those with a PS4 or PS3 don’t even have to wait to play “Rise Against the Empire” thanks to an exclusive Saga Bundle that includes both Play Sets and an advanced copy of the Boba Fett figure, but if you’re in the Xbox One or Wii U camp, don’t fret, because “Twilight of the Republic” is still loads of fun. In fact, it’s a marked improvement upon the Avengers Play Set from “Disney Infinity 2.0,” with more exciting gameplay and improved combat mechanics, that basically operates like a greatest hits of locations and characters from the prequels and “Clone Wars” animated series.

2) Upgraded Toy Box features

One of the biggest complaints about previous iterations of the Toy Box was that, despite trumpeting all of the great things you can do with the software, it was incredibly confusing to use. Version 3.0 fixes most of those issues by including a central hub with specialized guides that help you along the way, as well as introduces some new tools, like farming crops that give your sidekicks abilities; a Path Creator that can be used to build theme park rides, parades and more; and a Toy Dispenser that provides instant access to toys you would otherwise have to unlock through gameplay. Additionally, there’s a new online matchmaking system located inside Flynn’s Arcade, as well as an in-game access point at the famous El Capitan Theatre for uploading and downloading customized Toy Boxes.

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