CGB Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rebellions are built on hope.

This is my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!

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This is the story of the band of rebels who went rogue (ba boom pssh) and stole the plans to the Death Star, the ultimate planet-destroying weapon of the Empire.  Leading the charge is Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, the main architect of the Death Star.
I was quite nervous in the months leading up to Rogue One’s release into theaters.
On one hand, I was excited that Felicity Jones was the lead.  Jones wonderfully played Jane Wilde Hawking in The Theory of Everything, one of my favorite films, so I knew she would knock the role right out of the park.
On the other hand, shivers went down my spine when I saw that the director was Gareth Edwards, the same guy who brought us the 2014 Godzilla movie…a movie that I despise as much as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of No Plot–er, I mean–Justice.  Yes, I will rant/review Godzilla 2014 at some point in the future.
Anyway, so how did this movie starting one of my favorite actresses and my least favorite director hold up?….

Rogue One is impressive, most impressive.

The Hits
I really appreciate that this is a more gritty Star Wars flick.  This reminds me of primarily The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 in that it portrays the horrors of war without becoming overtly gruesome.  Despite the absence of Lightsabers, the action itself is classic Star Wars.  Ships going at light speed, guns that go “pew pew” and, of course, Stormtroopers who STILL can’t hit anything make up for this nicely.
Jyn Erso’s traumatic backstory is intriguing to watch unfold.  I love the idea of her being the daughter of the man responsible for the creation of the Death Star.  It adds to the drama and it keeps her from being some chosen-one; it gives a reason for the rebellion to recruit her and promise to wipe her criminal record clean.   As for the character herself, Felicity Jones brings in her A-game.  Grounded yet vulnerable, Jones brings Jyn to life as a ragtag nomad turned reluctant fighter.  Now while the script does rush Jyn’s development into a committed rebel a bit (she decides she’s all in towards the end of the film’s second act), Jones is able to steady that pace by using her facial expressions and tone of voice to sell to us the moment when she decides that the rebellion is right and just.  A filmmaker creates the character, but the right actor can polish and perfect the character they have been given to portray.  Jyn Erso is no Rey, but she does hold her own and has earned her rightful place in the Star Wars universe.  You are one with the Force, Ms. Erso and the Force is with you.
As predicted, there is somewhat of a romance that blooms between Jyn and Cassian, but fortunately it is well-handled.  It is treated less as a romance and more as a relationship based on necessity–no, not a relationship where they use one another–rather a kinship where they have come to rely on each other for safety and mutual respect.
The real show-stealer is Chirrut Îmwe, the blind Force-wielder who has coined the now famous line, “I am one with the Force.  The Force is with me.”  I LOVE his faith in the Force, his reliance on it and his absolute no-holds-barred trust that the Force will guide his path and lead him to green pastures and still waters.  In another universe, Chirut would make an excellent monk–I see him as either a Jesuit or a Benedictine because that’s just how my brain works.  🙂

The Misses
Two major Gareth-Edwards-isms are front and center in this flick: WAY too many locations and weak characterization.   Seriously, we jump to six different locations within the first ten minutes!  Granted, it’s not as bad as in Godzilla, where the film took us to ten different locations before the first act ended, but still it made me roll my eyes.
The actors playing the characters are better than the characters themselves (with the exception of Chirut; he’s awesome).  Except for Chirut, Jyn and Cassian, the other Rogue One squad is pretty much forgettable.  While Jyn’s backstory is fascinating, it doesn’t seem to impact her overall arch.  She makes a comment about, “I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad,” yet there is little indication that she doesn’t trust that people will stick around when the going gets rough.  Except for some hardened glances at Cassian and K-2SO (the forgettable comedic-relief robot) when she first meets them, Jyn gets along with them relatively well from that point on.  I’m not saying she has to be bitter or anything, but some tiny non-verbal example of her trust issue and inner scars from abandonment would have helped.

Despite some annoying Gareth-Edwards-isms, Rogue One is a most impressive addition to the Star Wars universe.  The story of the brave few who risked it all to steal the plans to the Death Star is a job well done thanks to a thoughtful performance from Felicity Jones (like Benedict Cumberbatch, you could cast her as a lamp and she’d still do a terrific job), an amazing representation of what faith is all about given to us by Chirut and classic Star Wars action.  The Force is most certainly strong with this one.

Saint Sebastian, pray for us.

CGB Review/Explanation of The Theory of Everything (2014)

Is it possible for a movie to be so gut-wrenchingly beautiful that it breaks you in the best possible way?

This is my review of The Theory of Everything!

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The Theory of Everything is based on the memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking.  In the 1960’s Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde meet at Cambridge during a party.  They begin an intellect-centered friendship that blossoms into a romance.  However all seems lost when Stephen learns he has a motor-neuron disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 21.  In spite of this, Jane makes the decision to confess her love for him and becomes his wife, vowing to be his staunchest ally in the fight against his disease.

After watching the film, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot use my usual “Hits and Misses” system.  This is the first film I have seen that needs to be reviewed on an entirely different standard.   The reason for this is everything right with the film is objective and everything wrong with the film is subjective, a matter of personal taste.

The Objective Good
Good Lord, the lighting and cinematography is exceptional!  The opening shot of the film is a soft gold color pallate, while the night scenes are a lovely shade of turquoise.  There’s a great scene where Stephen is sitting alone, watching TV and the red color pallate expresses his inner turmoil over the diagnosis.
Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking and frankly, he earned it.  His extraordinary physical performance is heartbreaking, while his vulnerablity and willingness to have other actors carry his body had me sobbing. Eddie Redmayne becomes Stephen, a lover of the sciences.  Fluent in physics and mathematical theory, he pursues an understanding of the structure of the universe with every fiber of his being.
Not only does Felicity Jones have the same gentle beauty as Lily James in Cinderella, but she is also as empathetic as Keira Knightly in The Imitation Game. In the Hawking marriage, Stephen is the head and Jane is the heart.  Felicity Jones brings Jane to life as an angelic flower with an iron will.  She knows what is at stake, but honors her vows by refusing to abandon her ailing husband for her own personal comfort.
If you love the piano and classical music in general, you will want to buy the soundtrack immediately.  The musical score here is just as great as The Imitation Game soundtrack.  It has an epic vibe, illustrating the marriage of Stephen and Jane as a daring, intellectual adventure.
In fact, if you are a fan of The Imitation Game, you might enjoy this movie, as well. The script is very intimate with Stephen and Jane, giving the impression that the director knows these two people personally and wants you to know and love them as much as he does.
I am going to go out on a limb here and recommend this movie to newlyweds and long-time married couples.  The Theory of Everything is the best portrayal of marriage I have ever seen.  It neither advocates nor argues against marriage; it only demonstrates the trials and triumphs that marriage entails in an honest, humanistic way.

The Subjective Bad
If you have endured the trauma of watching a family member decline, this movie will be a very difficult experience.  The deterioration of Stephen’s body is agonizing.  I had to take quite a few walking breaks.
One scene in particular shows Stephen trying to get up a flight of stairs while his toddler son Robert watches.  I don’t want to talk about it for too long, otherwise I’ll start crying again.  This scene is that painful.
Oddly enough, as the movie nears the third act, I found myself becoming desensitized to Stephen’s collapsing body until he gets pneumonia and ends up needing an operation that will make him unable to speak ever again.   My heart was broken in two all over again.
All that being said, to tell you not to watch this movie would be a disservice. Instead, I will advise that you exercise good judgment.  Know your limits in terms of what you can handle to see on screen and go from there.

Guys and gals, The Theory of Everything broke me in the most beautiful way.  I love it and I hate it all at the same time.  With inspired performances, wonderful music and an excellent script, The Theory of Everything is a tragically victorious story of how love really can overcome all obstacles.  This is an exceptional film that I never want to see again, but am sure glad that I gave it a shot.

Saint Jude, pray for us.