Anthology One

Last night, the first of its kind, Rogue One, a Star Wars Anthology film-- a film set in the Star Wars galaxy, but not immediately focused on the Skywalker family saga, hit theaters. In many ways Rogue One is quite the experimental journey for a Star Wars film...some of which pays off and some of which doesn't. But the question is, after my major disappointment in last year's The Force Awakens, did Rogue One leave me just as cold? Thankfully the answer is no, and I enjoyed the film quite a lot more than The Force Awakens. Was it the flawless film that some hype would have you believe? No. It was far from perfect and in some ways had just as many flaws as The Force Awakens... they just weren't the type of flaws that left me fuming this time.

As you may have heard, Rogue One is all about a group of rebels banding together to attempt to steal the plans to the newly built Death Star. Rogue One is not a sequel to The Force Awakens, but takes place immediately before the events of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Specifically it follows the tale of a young woman named Jyn Erso, whose father was a brilliant scientist captured by the Empire to complete their ultimate power of destruction when she was just a child.

Rogue One decided against having the traditional theme and crawl to open the film, which as a traditionalist, I didn't really care for. The opening scenes set during Jyn's youth were nice setup to her character, but the transition to her adulthood is jarring. In fact, that's kind of the problem with the first act of the film in general. Scenes on their own are fine but don't flow together well. There are so many characters to introduce us to that the beginning feels a bit clunky. Unfortunately, with so much to juggle, no one is given too much depth and the beginning fails to properly set up and earn the emotional moments in the second half of the film. I think there's some dead weight with some of the characters here, that if they focused on a smaller group and let their personalities shine a bit more the film would have had more character depth and camaraderie between everyone. Also.... I know I'm contradicting myself when I'm saying less characters should have been shoehorned in... but more Vader would have been nice. And a Palpatine cameo.

Now let me get back to the positive to assure you that I did enjoy this film. The final act is absolutely thrilling (although I'd love to see an alternate cut of this film, because from the trailers it looks like the ending was almost entirely reshot.) The thing I hated the most about The Force Awakens was creating something completely unoriginal when you had a galaxy of potential storylines at your fingertips. Rogue One hasn't been done before (at least in Star Wars,) and it feels fresh. Best of all to me, it felt like a film that truly tries to tie all trilogies together and bind the galaxy together....and for a pretty divided fandom I feel like that's a very wise thing to do. I thought Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were likable leads who just needed some more small personal moments. Maybe if Rogue One had given more to that and less to CGI characters the film could have been a bit more well-balanced. In the end, though it's not a perfect or flawless film by any means....it successfully got me a little excited about Star Wars again. And that is a very good thing. EMILY RATING: 8/10 


Oscarbait Biopic #5874

Every winter a serious biopic comes out featuring a show-stopping performance by a talented actor or actress hoping to nab Oscar gold. Out today is one such film called Jackie with Natalie Portman already having buzz of an oscar repeat in her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. Is her performance awards worthy and more importantly, is Jackie as a film good?

In a similar structure to my all-time favorite film (500) Days of Summer, Jackie is not told chronologically, but rather in a series of memories shared randomly that reveal more and more of the woman behind the image. These memories are recounted to a journalist (played by the always reliable Billy Crudup) enquiring for a story after the death of her husband JFK. Jackie recalls all kind of memories of her time during the White House to being forced to pack up all her belongings after the assassination. 

At the beginning of the film, Natalie Portman doesn't quite fit as seamlessly into the role as one would expect, as the narrative framing scenes where she recounts the story to Crudup's character seem to be the weakest. You can see her just trying to get the role just right and it doesn't feel effortless. But once the audience gets further into her memories it seems the more Portman got lost in the role and thus the more fascinating the film, as well as her performance becomes. Some scenes are gut-wrenching and incredibly raw, and on on the whole she does a pretty admirable job.  Aside from Portman, the acting all around is strong and another performance worth talking about here is Peter Sarsgaard who plays Bobby Kennedy. He's always a welcome presence and does a solid job here. Also among the film's strengths are the haunting score and the fabulous costume and production design. Natalie Portman, as well as everyone else in the film perfectly fits the 60's aesthetic.

Jackie is definitely a movie to be seen more for the performances than a plot you'll desire to watch over and over. Certainly the plot and the depictions of famous scenes in history are incredibly well done, but it's more of the type of movie to be admired than loved and embraced. That said, I much preferred the way this biopic was handled as compared to say The Theory of Everything where they didn't take a clear side of whose story was being told and played it safe. Here we know that everything we're seeing is coming out of Jackie's lens which makes the story far more interesting. and she as a figure much stronger. Jackie might not be one of my favorites to come out this year or a movie I will want to rewatch again and again, but is a must see for the performances that will likely be nominated in a couple months. EMILY RATING: 8/10