All posts by Movie Burner Entertainment

The Movie Burner Entertainment Organisation (M.B.E.) was founded in January 2017 by Executive Producers John Walsh (Editor in Chief), Kevan McLaughlin (Head of Development) and Stephen McLaughlin (Head of Programming) as an entertainment platform to provide Movie News and Reviews. “The Movie Burners” expanded the writing team and introduced experienced writers Chauncey Telese, D.M. Anderson, Michael McGeown, Anna-Maria McAlinney, Steven Wilkins, Philip Henry, John Gray, Gianni Damai, Gerry Brown and Elizabeth Brown (The Moviie Couple) and Peter Pluymers on board with a vast knowledge of film and give their view on the latest and retro movie reviews. The Movie Burner Entertainment Organisation (M.B.E.) Official Website (www.movieburnerentertainment.org) hosts the reviews. The Movie Burners Podcast hit the airwaves on SoundCloud and are now weekly shows (Box Office Chat, MBE Heroes, Movie Burner News, The Blog Rundown and The Force Friday Show) that you can find on iTunes & YouTube.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

 

Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Nocturnal Animals, the latest film from Tom Ford, focuses on the beautiful, seemingly rich and successful, Los Angeles gallery owner, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). A west Texas debutant we learn later, she lives an extravagant lifestyle, with artwork aplenty hanging on the walls and other oddities dotted around her modern penthouse. It’s quickly apparent however that she’s deeply unhappy, with trouble brewing below the surface. She despises her job, is crippled with insomnia and her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business decisions, leaving them teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. A strange package arrives at her residence and after giving herself a vicious looking paper cut in the process of opening it, we learn that within this is the manuscript of a new novel penned by her ex-husband. Dedicated to Susan, and having not spoken to him for the best part of 20 years, curiosity gets the better of her and she begins reading it, quickly becoming engrossed.

The focus then flips to the perspective of the novel, becoming a mini film within the larger main story. Following the Texas man, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he sets out on a road trip with his wife and daughter. Driving in the dead of night, on an empty, pitch black highway, they become embroiled in a terrifying cat and mouse chase with degenerate rednecks. The three of them are attacked, the overly timid Tony is easily overpowered and both his wife/daughter are kidnapped and later killed, leaving him questioning his masculinity and power in the aftermath. The novel plays out as a sort of tragic, therapy session on their failed marriage. The events that transpire on screen during the fictitious scenes, a manifestation of the pain Edward felt after his split. He wants to make Susan aware of the suffering she caused him and it appears to work too, as she begins to look sorrowfully into her past.

The film utilises flashback scenes throughout to flesh out Susan’s past and we’re even offered a brief glimpse of the tumultuous relationship with her mother (Laura Linney). The latter prophetically telling Susan that a marriage between the two will be destined to failed and that Edward lacks mental strength, as well as the driven attitude to keep her happy. The highs and lows of her marriage are then played out, the brutal way she ends it giving an illuminating insight into the clear allegory of the novel. She’s seen questioning Edwards artistic ability, before ending their marriage prematurely and even going as far as aborting their baby behind his back. Meanwhile, in the novel, we continue to follow Tony as he enlists the help of gruff detective, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), in an attempt to get justice. They investigate for a year, before finally narrowing in on two of the three the culprits, Lou and Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Quick justice is served shortly thereafter, with Bobby, who we learn is suffering from terminal lung cancer and in no mood for letting the scumbags off lightly, shooting the former dead, whilst helping to lure the ringleader Ray to his end. Tony corners him, and after a short, tense standoff, finally avenges his family’s death. There’s a rather bizarre moment afterwards, when he appears to shoot himself accidentally, before crawling outside and succumbing to his wound.

Following these forays into Edwards past, the true allegorical significance behind his literary doppelgängers tragedy and the wider story as a whole is revealed. The devastation felt by Tony from losing his family within the novel echoing the grief of the author losing his unborn baby and wife. The emotional turmoil, eventual killing of the rednecks and his own death, representative of Edwards grief over the years, the eventual beating of his inner demons and finally being able to move on with his life. The films ambiguous end scene features Susan being stood up by Edward, after requesting dinner with her former husband. A final confirmation perhaps that he has moved on from his troubled past.

Both Adams and Gyllenhaal do a fine job in this film. Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson though, put in the standout performances for me. The former referring to his character as a ‘grotesque sort of angel’. A perfect description for the calm, guiding influence his character provides to Tony. He’s also highly likeable, his devil may care attitude, thanks in part to terminal cancer, giving him an almost humorous brutality when dealing with the murderous rednecks. Johnson is almost unrecognisable in this role as the redneck plumber/rapist/killer. Sporting an authentic southern drawl and long, unkempt hair, not to mention a shaggy beard, that’s every bit as crazy looking as the maniacal look in his eyes. I couldn’t possibly write this review without giving mention to the highly memorable scene involving Ray and an outside toilet. If any further insight is needed into the arrogant nature of the character then look no further.

The film itself is highly stylistic in its visuals. Seamus McGarvey, skilfully providing a stark contrast between the barren, gritty, rural Texas and the lonely cityscapes of Los Angeles. From the artwork on the walls to the immaculate costume. Musically, the score is well refined with clear classical origins. Featuring some beautiful string arrangements. It does a good job of switching things up as the film jumps between the action based novel scenes and the slower, more emotional parts featuring Susan.

Ultimately, I’d love to say sit here and say that it’s a fantastic film, but unfortunately that would be a lie and I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, just merely above average to good. I highly enjoyed the thrilling trips the film took into Edwards brutal world and the acting throughout was fantastic. However, it lacked emotional substance of any kind and whilst I understood the underlying theme of the film. I just wasn’t invested in the two main protagonists enough to actually care.

The Infiltrator (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

THE INFILTRATOR

Director: Brad Furman
Writers: Ellen Sue Brown (screenplay) (as Ellen Brown Furman), Robert Mazur (based on the book on)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger

Robert Mazur (Cranston) Is a U.S. Customs official who uncovers a money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (but more on Escobar in a little while.)

The Infiltrator takes place in the 1980s and gives us a gripping gritty inside look at what life is like for a ones who goes undercover to work with the drug cartel.

Mazur is close to retirement and could easily leave to spend time with his wife and kids, but takes this one last job (thanks to Emir Abreu, played by the excellent John Leguizamo). Which proves to be the toughest one yet as he poses as a money launderer to try and take down Pablo Escobar’s entire drug trafficking empire.

Cranston’s performance is enjoyable and tense (especially in the scenes when he is deep undercover playing his alter ego Bob Musella) you can sense that just one slip, just one wrong word will blow his cover as the Colombians are portrayed as serious paranoid individuals and as a group they don’t trust each other.

The Movie also touches on his personal life in and the impact of his undercover work. As mentioned earlier John Leguizamo gives an excellent performance as Emir Abreu and actor Yul Vazquez in a particularly memorable role. Joseph Gilgun is great as recruited criminal Dominic and Rubén Ochandiano stands out as dangerous, brutal, cocaine-laced Gonzalo Mora Jr. but its Benjamin Bratt (Traffic and Doctor Strange) as Roberto Alcaino who steals every scene. Bratt and Cranston along with Leguizamo and Diane Kruger really sell the contrasting criminal underworld and undercover life.

The only gripe I have with The Infiltrator is tagging Pablo Escobar in the Movie’s synopsis as part of the overall story. Escobar is merely mentioned in this movie and only shown discreetly in one scene. The main focus of the story is in fact is a lot more about what happened with BCCI (the UK’s Bank of Credit and Commerce International), the 7th largest private bank at that time.

Going into this movie, do not expect a high paced action thriller, this movie is more a character study and will keep you interested until the films climatic final scene.

Snowden (2016) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

 

SNOWDEN.pngDirector: Oliver Stone
Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay), Oliver Stone (screenplay)
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

“This isn’t about terrorism, terrorism is the excuse. This is about economic and social control” – Edward Snowden (2013)

Although this movie was released back in September 2016 I have only just got round to watching acclaimed Director Oliver Stone’s Snowden.

The basis of the movie is a special forces dropout and now CIA computer analyst Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt) leaking thousands of illegal and classified surveillance technique documents distributed to the press of the real life events that went down between 2004 and 2013.

Most of the story flits back and forth as Snowden relates his story to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitros (Melissa Leo) a journalist Glenn Greenwald played by Zachary Quinto and Guardian journalist Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) in a hotel in Hong Kong in 2013. Snowden makes it clear to the 3 journalists that the CIA will come after him and accepts the consequences of espionage and warns Poitros,Greenwald and MacAskill they will be coming for them too.

It’s Flashback time – Snowden works on various assignments across the U.S, and learns that the Government is using means to intrude on the privacy of the American people and further afield. Snowden works his way up into the highest circles of the U.S. intelligence community with the force of electronics and surveillance under Corbin O’Brian played by the brilliant Rhys Ifans.

When his revelations are published in the British newspaper The Guardian, which Greenwald and MacAskill worked for. Snowden goes on the run and ends up at Moscow International Airport just a few days after his story hits the Internet and in exile, a fugitive from what passes for American justice in the 21st century.

From what I’ve read online, Oliver Stone was initially reluctant to Direct the Edward Snowden story in any way, shape, or form. But Kucherena (Snowden’s real-life attorney in Russia) and GlennGreenwald themselves convinced  Stone and he agreed to do it, with Fitzgerald assisting him in the writing of the screenplay, and the result is one of the great films of 2016.

I’ll be the first to admit I knew OF the Edward Snowden story but having looked further into his real life you can see the striking resemblance with Gordon-Levitt. We get to see the real Snowden at the end of the film explaining why he did what he did and why coming back to America would  result in him not getting a fair trial.

The movie is a drama and I’m glad they kept this throughout and weren’t tempted to add action (which I was concerned about when Snowden went into hiding) I also have to commend the filmmakers for what looks like sticking to the facts and not “Hollywoodising” the story based on real events.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt did as good a job as any actor could and I was pleased with his performance and he is supported by a strong cast.

Hell or High Water (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

HELL OR HIGH WATER.png

Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine

A classic cop and robbers tale with a modern twist. Hell or High Water is a pacy, and at times, highly absorbing, neo-western drama from talented Scottish director David Mackenzie. We follow the escapades of two brothers, reunited against the bank that’s threatening to foreclose their families oil rich farm. It’s a simplistic story, that packs a punch, questioning the morality of today’s society, the greed of banks and the human effect of the economic decline in south west Texas.

Very quickly, it becomes clear that the dialogue in this film is a star in and of itself. Nigh on every person with a speaking part has a way with words and a level of wit normally reserved for characters with chunkier roles more central to the main story. Following the first heist, one of the bank tellers is asked the question “Black or white?” by the investigating officer “Their skins or their souls?” is her response. An old man complains “This is crazy, ya’ll ain’t even Mexican” before cheekily responding to a question about having a gun. Even a disenfranchised cattle herder gets to have his say a short while later and does it was some panache. Bemoaning his antiquated profession and sympathising with his kids unwillingness to follow in his footsteps.

Chris Pine gives perhaps his best performance to date as the scruffy, unkempt looking Toby Howard. “I’ve been poor my whole life, till my parents and their parents before them. It’s like a disease, passing from generation to generation” we hear him say. He’s a man with a past and he’s looking to make amends. It’s for this sole reason that he enlists the help of his ex-con brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster). They face a race against time to save the family property, which if successful, will provide Toby’s sons with the financial security he never had. It’s Pine’s character that devises the plan to rob the banks and he’s the brains behind the brawn of the older Tanner. Famed for his role as Captain Kirk, he couldn’t be more unrecognisable here.

It would be fair to say that the Howard brothers are not your typical bank robbers, only hitting the registers and stealing fairly low sums of money in each heist. They target the small, local branches of Texas Midlands Bank, spread out across the south west of the state in a deliberate attempt to remain under the radar of the FBI. They are successful in doing so and the chase is left to veteran Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his stoical partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). “You may get to have some fun, before they send you off to the rocking chair just yet” we hear Alberto quip to Marcus as news of the heists break. Just weeks from retirement, the grizzled, wily, old veteran, with all the detective traits of a Colombo and the determination of a Harry Callaghan, is in no hurry to accept the quiet life. He sees a pattern in the robberies and persuades his long suffering partner Alberto to join him. Jeff Bridges incidentally, is able to slip into the character of Marcus with consummate ease. Not many are able to do the hardened, grizzly character better than Bridges and he manages to do so whilst providing plenty of wit and sardonic humour to boot.

Taylor Sheridan and David McKenzie really weave a beautiful story together here. Blurring the lines of morality as the movie goes on, the violence starts to increase and things begin to take a turn for the worse on both the perceived good and bad side of the line. His punchy dialogue really brings the film to life, adding an air of authenticity to the bonds of both the opposing pairs, with some cracking banter at times. Marcus continually jokes about his half Comanche partners heritage and Toby takes delight in telling his brother to “Drink up” after he complains about being given Mr. Pep instead of Dr. Pepper as “Only assholes drink Mr. Pep”.

As the film enters its final act the ‘leading quartet’ for want of a better word continue to share equal screen time and a fantastic synchronous scene plays out to the beautifully, melancholic lines of Gillian Welch’s ‘I’m Not Afraid to Die’. Toby and Tanner spend what could ultimately be their final day together, playfully fighting with each other, drinking beers whilst reminiscing and contemplating the day ahead. Meanwhile, Marcus and Alberto, likewise spend their the day and night staking out a potential heist target in almost abandoned town, that harkens back to the ghost towns of the old westerns. A special mention must be given to the visuals during this scene. They are stunning and amongst some of the best in the movie.

Speaking of visuals. Giles Nuttgens does an incredible job of making the south west Texas landscape every bit as much of a character as any of the stars in the film. The use of a predominantly beige, brownish, earthy palette and oversaturated image really helping to emphasis the harsh heat and dustiness of the arid landscape. Nick Cave and Warren Eillis’ score provides slow, contemplative piano and string arrangements with a healthy mixture of country rock ballads from the likes of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt interspersed between. The juxtaposition between the two creates a perfect balance that really adds some emotional depth to the story.

Arrival (2016) Movie Review By John Walsh

ARRIVAL.png

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Arrival in its most basic concept is a story of Alien ships arriving on Earth. Twelve of them to be precise, dotted around various different locations. It focuses on the ever more frantic attempts of two scientists, one a linguistic expert, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the other, an Astro physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), in their attempts to communicate with two large Alien creatures, before the worlds military declares all out war. Thankfully, at the heart of this sci-fi drama, is a considerably more complicated movie. Language is the key focus here, not the war or violent struggle for supremacy with galactic overlords that we normally see in films within this genre. It’s a wonderfully introspective look at humanity, how it deals with grief, compassion and most importantly communication.

Amy Adams, the standout performer in the film, delivers a confident, impressive performance as the linguistic professor tasked with the unenviable challenge of deciphering the alien language of two ‘Heptapod’, other worldly creatures, that seem resemble a cross between ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family and an Octopus. Louise has been asked to seek the answer to a simple question from the military, headed up by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker): What do you want? It doesn’t take her long to understand that written communication is required, with the Whale like vernacular proving impossible to translate. After a few visits with the otherworldly beings, she even manages to partly decipher their complex, inky circle, writing style. As both she and Ian face a race against time to convey the crucial question to the aliens, we see glimpses at the wider worlds growing uneasiness at the situation. With various news reports around the world flashing up on tv screens, providing regular updates on the ongoings of China, Russia and Pakistan. All of whom seem ready to nuke the visitors on their doorsteps at a moments notice throughout.

Louise is not short on emotional depth either. “I used to think this was the beginning of your story” we hear her narrate at the beginning of the film, whilst several visions of her young daughter, who sadly dies in her late teens play out. These visions reoccur, becoming more regular as her work aboard the shell gathers pace. These prove to be absolutely vital to the story and the key to finally transcribing the alien calligraphy. Adams never resorts to overacting in these delicate scenes, instead settling on using subtle expressions and body language to convey her mood and feelings perfectly. Her characters emotional conflict during these moments creates a deep undercurrent in the film, helping to steer it through a middle act that is often on the verge of lagging.

Bradford Young’s visuals are on point and absolutely spectacular. The black obelisk, shell of a ship is gargantuan in size, as it darts upward from the ground, though never actually touching it, every bit unnatural looking in stark contrast to the natural land that surrounds it, seemingly for miles. The first time it’s revealed is a thing of beauty, as the helicopter carrying the team to the site slips out from the fog that seems to cling to the air. The inside shots of the shell are not neglected either. Whether it be the equally foggy domain of the ‘Heptapods’, the beautiful inked rings they project onto the invisible barrier or the smooth, black alien interior of the walls or floor. It looks every bit an extraterrestrial vessel.

Also, how could I possibly finish talking about cinematography on this film without mentioning the gravity flipping ninety degrees as the team of scientists climb in for the first time? Young’s work on this only further increases my excitement for the forthcoming Han Solo standalone, which will see him apply his outstanding talents to the world of Star Wars. The brilliant visuals are equalled by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful score, which really brings an eerie sense of trepidation to the early encounters in the film and an equally powerful, mellower hit of sadness at the end.

And speaking of endings. The film has been described as ‘thinking persons sci-fi’ and given the slow, deliberate pace it takes throughout, not to mention Villeneuve’s penchant for gradually releasing information to his viewers, it really would be hard to disagree with such an assertion. Arrival has a rather major twist in the final act, which I’d prefer to leave unspoilt, it truly should be experienced in the moment to be fully appreciated.

What I will say is that the ‘eureka’ moment is not too dissimilar in style to Christoper Nolan’s Interstellar. It’s a better film than Interstellar though, succeeding where the former failed in being at once epic, and yet also introspective and intimate. We hear Adam’s uttering the prophetic words “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment of it”. Bringing up the conclusion to the film, with Max Richter’s goosebump inducing music On the Nature of Daylight playing sombrely in the background. It’s a profoundly powerful and moving end to what is an excellent film.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Movie Review By Kevan McLaughlin

ROGUE ONE.png

Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz (screenplay by), Tony Gilroy (screenplay by)
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen

Right, if you haven’t seen it by now then it really isn’t my fault if I destroy your day with spoilers like the Empire destroyed Scariff. Oh, no! Did I just ruin everything? Well, tough luck. The title of this review is ‘A Spolier Story’ so if you don’t want any more you shouldn’t have read this far, although you really should have seen the movie by now.

The first thing we have to encounter about this Star Wars side-adventure (and there are a LOT of new things for us to get our collective heads around) is that we have a whole host of new characters we haven’t seen in the movies before. A Battalion’s worth of new characters. A whole rebellion full of them. Sure, a lot of them are introduced in the much grander Star Wars universe through cartoons, animated series, comics and novels but this is the first time we get to see all of them together in the live-action format. And their names don’t role off the tongue like Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie. But with multiple viewings (and you will be viewing this movie a lot for the next, say… 40 years) Cassian, Chirrut, Baze and co will be just as familiar.

The story, if you don’t know by now, is about how the Rebels obtained the plans to destroy the Death Star. We already know they succeed. So, why bother? BECAUSE, COOL STUFF. Let me elaborate. A New Hope succeeds without an introduction. It has for almost forty years. It doesn’t need Forest Whitaker and Felicity Jones scrabbling around 10 minutes before Leia ejects her bleeping pedal bin stuffed with a hidden message onto Tatooine to make it the perfect movie it already is. And that’s kinda the point. A New Hope doesn’t need the story before the story and vice-versa. Rogue One’s band of tired freedom fighters don’t need to see the fruits of their sacrifices realised by an exiled Jedi, a Princess, a farmboy, a smuggler and his walking carpet. Both of these movies work perfectly well by themselves, but together…well, it’s a thing of flawless beauty. It is actually seemless. Watch Rogue One in the cinema and rush home to watch Episode IV and see for yourself. I guarantee everyone will be doing it when the Blu-ray is released.

In Rogue One we start with Galen Erso, played to understated enigmatic brilliance by the always compelling Mads Mikkelson. Galen is a brilliant scientist and pacifist who has come to realise that his intellect and vision are being exploited by the Empire’s scheming Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to build a gargantuan weapon of global destruction. We join him in his new life on a farm on Lah’mu with his wife Lyra and their young daughter Jyn. Krennic shows up with a smile, a hoard of Death Troopers and a puny argument about how their work on the Death Star is all about promoting peace in the Galaxy because, you know, you should always trust a guy who shows up on your farm with a squad of Imperial killers in slick armour.

Galen lies to Krennic that Lyra is dead right before she pops up, wounds Krennic and he kills her. The well-hidden Jyn evades the Death Troopers ordered to hunt for her and Krennic, the freakishly tall murderers-for-hire and a devastated and dejected Galen leave to continue to work on Krennic’s intergalactic Nobel Peace prize project. And that’s where Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera comes in to rescue the Erso youngling and take her under his wing.

Next we’re introduced to Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Cassian learns from his mate that an Imperial pilot has defected and is telling people that the Empire are making a planet killer using Kyber Crystals and Galen is involved in the construction. It’s here we see how ruthless and desperate the Rebellion have had to become because, in order to escape and avoid detection by the clostraphobic presence of the Empire, Cassian kills a couple of Stormtroopers and his panicky, paranoid pal. Because it had to be done. That’s the real shift in tone in this movie. We don’t have the luxury of the Force morally guiding our heroes to always do the right thing. They do what’s necessary and that includes shooting your pal in the back if you think he might be a liability.

From there we go to Jedha to see this defector pilot (Riz Ahmed) for the first time. He’s looking for Saw because he claims he has this message from Galen. Naturally, Saw’s pals are a little dubious. The pilot, Bodhi Rook, is taken to Saw and is then mentally tortured by a mad psychic squid thing to make sure he’s telling the truth. This is the measure of Saw. Although I don’t be distracted by the larger Star Wars universe, it’s important to note that Saw has been fighting this war for a very long time and he’s become paranoid and dangerous, even by the Rebellion’s standards.

When Saw is interrogating Bodhi he’s revealed to be horribly disfigured through years of fighting and losing. He clunks onto our screen as it’s revealed he’s more machine than man in a not-so-subtle, yet awesome, nod to Obi Wan’s description of Darth Vader in Episode IV. Saw Gerrera continues to mirror Vader by taking a long, deep inhale of his breathing aide whilst looking hard and equally long at Bodhi and his reaction. Bodhi is frightened. Through the fear Ahmed brilliantly portrays, we’re given an idea that Bodhi has seen Vader before and this powerful, radical man in front of him now bares an uncanny air to the Sith Lord.

And then Peter Cushing makes an interesting career move by appearing on our screens for the first time since he was in Biggles in 1986. Bold. Except, of course, this isn’t Peter Cushing but the combination of actor Guy Henry’s motion capture performance, Disney and Industrial Light and Magic creating something wonderfully exciting. To some, using the image of a long-dead and much loved thespian is a step too far. For this piece, I’m not getting into that argument. Nor am I going to debate the Uncanny Valley. I’m not. It’s my belief that Tarkin HAD to be in this film. He had to. And it’s with great effect that he’s in Rogue One. It’s also my belief that the CGI was brilliant. If you can tolerate Binks and Jumping Jack Yoda then you can certainly enjoy this next stage of computer-based technology enhancing our screens. All of these arguments detract from Henry’s performance, which is incredible.

Yes, Cushing made the character his but Guy Henry takes it and runs. He’s still as deliciously sly and arrogant as ever, outpacing the impertinent and overly ambitious Krennic. And that’s the joy of having Tarkin in this movie. He’s a cunning foil to Krennic’s slimy charm, seething jealousy and combustable temprament. Henry nails it and should be applauded for HIS portrayal of this character.

When we meet Jyn again years later it’s clear she doesn’t exactly have a life plan. We find her in the back of an Imperial paddy wagon waiting to be transported to a fresh hell, not that she looks all that bothered by her grim circumstances. Jyn is then ‘rescued’ by a gang of Rebels and thanks them for their efforts by slapping them silly. As she tries to flee, the surprising comedic hero of Rogue One introduces itself by ragdolling her to the ground (I’ll talk more about Alan Tudyk’s amazing turn as K-2SO shortly).

It’s revealed in the subsequent interrogation at the Rebel base on Yavin that Jyn doesn’t know where her father is and hasn’t seen Galen for 15 years and hopes him dead. Mon Mothma (more on Genevieve O’Reilly’s take on this character later) and Cassian question Jyn about her relationship with Saw Gerrera, knowing he has the defected pilot, information about the Death Star and that it was Galen who sent Bodhi. It’s apparent that Jyn is their only way to speak with the extremist, having severed ties with the increasingly erratic and paranoid Saw. If Jyn helps the Rebellion with this meet-and-greet with Saw, Mothma is hoping to extract Galen and have him testify to the Senate regarding the Empire’s dastardly plans and also give Jyn her freedom.

The scene switches tone from an inquisition to a moral barter, with a little bit of blackmail and bribery thrown in. It’s subtly implied that the Rebellion is offering Jyn the chance to atone for her father’s perceived crimes. For Jyn it’s the chance to see her father and, perhaps, finally know the truth about him. Cassian, on the other hand, has no plans to capture Galen safely, not that he’s letting Jyn know that. Galen is the enemy and he must be taken out. And with that Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO are off to Jedha to have a chat with their buddy Saw.

With barely half an hour into the movie it’s apparent that almost every one of the main characters has an ulterior motive. Galen is helping build the Death Star yet he has a secret plan that involves dispatching a pilot with his secret message. Jyn is a wonderful mess of contradictions. She hopes her father is dead but wants him alive to finally get some answers. She doesn’t have the luxury of political opinions but spent her formative years with a man too extreme for the Rebellion. She’s indifferent to the Rebellion but takes on increasingly difficult missions as the film progresses. Cassian is cold. As I’ve already said, he has to be. He outright lies to Jyn about extracting her father. He has one sole purpose and that’s to assassinate the man he thinks is single-handedly responsible for the construction of the Death Star. Krennic is more obvious with his intent. He’s a psychopathic careerist. His aspirations consume him to the point where he’ll almost choke to death to get what he wantsbut he’s not adverse to using his slyness and cunning to advance his position.

This is what makes the movie so compelling in parts. The mistrust. Two of the most honest characters in the film are a guy who used to pilot for SpaceNazi airlines and the neurotic Universal Soldier, and when Bodhi is confronted by the derranged Gerrera he struggles to make his case that he’s not a spy because of the years of espionage, guerilla warfare and doubt within the Alliance. Even when Saw sees Jyn for the first time in years he is unsure of her motives and even asks if she’s there to kill him. Jyn Erso was like a daughter to him and now he’s fearing that she might be the one to end HIS war. This is how insane things have become since the days of the old Republic.

We’re reintroduced to a familiar face in Rogue One. Caroline Blakiston, in her own words, spent a grand total of “twenty-six and a half second” as Mon Mothma in Jedi. And although Genevieve O’Reilly spent a considerable amount of time learning Blakiston’s mannerisms and speech patterns, her role was diminished to a non-speaking part in Revenge of the Sith and a couple of deleted scenes in the DVD and Blu-ray extras. For a character to make such a considerable impact in the Star Wars universe is an outstanding accomplishment, considering most people still don’t know what a Bothan is, or how they died. It’s with enormous relief that O’Reilly had another shot at the role because she is simply excellent. O’Reilly captures the solemn essence of Mothma and makes us realise how vital her diplomacy and rationalism is in this turbulent and fragile alliance. Even when all around her everyone is losing their minds she remains the calm and reassuring voice that’s sorely needed.

As alluded to in Part Two, K-2SO is the comedic foil of the piece. A tad more optimistic than Marvin the paranoid android and not quite as neurotic as C-3PO, Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Imperial security droid is more like The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper in that he has trouble filtering “whatever comes into his circuits”. The scene in which K-2SO pretends to be a not-umprogrammed-Imperial-security-droid slapping Cassian around is genuinely one of 2016’s funniest moments in cinema. In a movie filled with tension, Turyk’s stroppy robot is a much needed boost for the audience and a far cry from Binks. Thank the maker.

It seems unfair to only talk about Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) in relation to each other because both characters are brilliant to watch, but it’s hard to seperate them as they spend most of their screen time together. Donnie Yen does his Donnie-Yenniest since Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. The blind Chirrut is the only glimpse of the Light side of the Force we see in Rogue One and his faith is as beautiful as it is tragic. Chirrut’s mantra of ‘I’m one with the Force; the Force is with me’ as he embraces insane danger is perhaps even more inspiring than Obi-Wan or Luke bending the will of the weak minded or mind-lassoing a lightsabre from a snowdrift. Chirrut has faith. Chirrut and his protector and companion Baze are Guardians of the Whills, protectors of the ancient Temple of the Kyber. Or at least, the were. Now, they’re begging and preaching on the streets of Jedha. Baze is an enigmatic fellow. He works in harmony with Chirrut and Jiang’s performance is more than adequate. But, simply because Yen has more screen time, has a lot more to say and it’s great fun to watch him treat Stormtroopers like piñatas, he’s much more memorable over the course of the film.

Think back to the early 90s. For those of us of a certain age Star Wars had been part of our entire lives. To most of us, it was a huge part. A sizeable chunk. And Darth Vader was the baddest baddie of them all. But it was done. No more on-screen adventures for Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Obi-Wan, the tin-can twins and the man on black.

We could, of course, always stick on the video of Return of the Jedi that we’d taped off the telly at Christmas and enjoy Speeder Bike chases, Jabba’s Palace and not being able to read Bib Fortuna’s subtitles because widescreen TVs hadn’t been invented. In the 1980s George Lucas had been adament that he had no desire to return to the Star Wars universe he’d envisaged whilst creating the first film in the saga.

By the 1990s Star Wars saw a resurgence in popularity, largely because of the Dark Horse comics and Timothy Zahn’s trilogy of novels. There was STILL an audience. We already knew that but it was the confimration Lucas needed to think about returning to his idea of a prequel trilogy. In October 1993 Lucas announced in Variety exactly that – there would be more Star Wars. More Darth Vader.

In the days before the internet was in every home and on every phone (and before it was even useful to most people) information on the subject was scarce. Non-existent would be more accurate. In 1998 we were given a gift in the form of a very simple teaser poster – a young lad on a sandy world, casting an awesome and eery shadow.

It was everything. We were going to see Darth Vader: The Early Years. Two more trailers would follow and they melted many a dial-up modem.

Fast forward through Midi-chlorians, Podracers, Yippeeees, teen-angst, an unconvincing romantic plot, a scene where he doesn’t understand how democracy works, younglings, a pretty awesome, if completely unrealistic (they were 6mm from lava – they would’ve been sitting in puddles of gravy made of their own legs) lightsaber duel and a burned, broken and disfigured Anakin.

This is what we were waiting for. The disillusioned and vengeful young man who lost everything was now fully transformed. Yes, Palpatine had made him a Sith Lord and gave him his new name but THIS was the moment he was truly Vader. And what did we get afte six years of Binks, endless Parliamentary debates, horribly racist stereotypes, a criminally under-utilised Samuel L  Jackson and Boba Fett needlessly shoe-horned into the plot? Hayden Christensen in his Halloween costume.

We could forget the fact that we were promised The Omen on Tatooine but got Little Orphan Anakin. We couldn’t forgive that all we got in the end was a skinny Vader crossing his arms and looking into space. NOOOOOOOOOO!

It feels like Rogue One has finally delivered on some of those earlier promises. We get Vader. With a lightsaber. Being outstanding. We find him on the only unnamed planet in the movie.

Seriously, every other planet is named onscreen but, by omission, we know it’s Mustafar. It’s only right that this is where he’s set up shop, as this is the planet where Vader was born. This planet made him what he was to become. Mustafar is a not-so-subtle- metaphor of Vader himself. It smoulders and rages. It’s violent, not through cruelty, but by it’s nature. Curiously, we also see Vader without the suit, albeit through smoke and steam, bobbing around in an unsettling, vulnerable state in his bacta tank. We’re reminded (however you may feel about him) that this is a disfigured Anakin. That same little boy who built C-3PO.

When Vader summons Krennic to his Castle we’re reminded of his feelings regarding the anything non-Force related. While Krennic is busy worrying about who’ll receive credit for the Death Star it’s clear Vader is irritated by such trivial distractions. The Death Star, to him, is a mere tool. It gets the job done. It gets Vader a step closer to what he wants. Krennic is even less important than that. And he does what Vader is prone to do when he’s annoyed by insigificance.

He chokes Krennic to remind him of his place, like a master rubs his mutt’s nose in it’s own mess. Vader really springs to life in the closing moments of the film, effortlessly cutting his way through a band of infuriating rebels who get in his way with a series of deft swipes of his lightsaber, returning blaster fire like Rafa Nadal and flinging them around like dirty laundry. But, of course, he doesn’t to get those annoying Death Star plans in time.

There is an argument to be made that, perhaps, the person to have the biggest effect on the Star Wars saga, other than George Lucas, is John Williams. His overall contribution to music in film is immeasurable with his majestic and unmistakable scores giving us the soundtrack to our collective childhoods. Williams is synonymous with Star Wars.

So, when it was reported in March 2015 that Alexandre Desplat would be composing the score for the new stand-alone Star Wars adventure some were…curious. Was this the ultimate statement that Disney could make regarding their most recent and expensive acquisition regarding the direction they sought for the franchise?

Maybe not considering that two years prior they had announced that Williams would be returning for The Force Awakens. It was, most likely, their intention to indicate that having a new man in charge of the score would set this new movie apart from the saga. This was a a new movie that just happened to be set in the Star Wars universe.

The proverbial spanner was thrown into the works when in September 2016 re-shoots on Rogue One meant that Desplat was no longer available and Michael Giacchino was to step in.

With the Premiere scheduled for December the clock was ticking and fans were anxious.  This was not inspiring confidence in Disney’s direction for the franchise. In four and a half weeks Giacchino, fresh from composing the score for Doctor Strange, had done it. Maybe this wasn’t such a huge risk after all. He already had a couple of Star Trek films under his belt along with Lost, Jupiter Ascending and Jurassic World.

This is a reknowned and highly respected composer. And he had a vision for the film. He called it a “World War II movie” at it’s heart, and “it was also an incredibly emotional movie as well”. Seemingly, he got the essence of Rogue One and incorporated Williams themes into the movie, so it wouldn’t be the radical departure we feared. Right? Well, yes and no. It becomes apparent that, yes, his score is based on (and incorporates) Williams’ previous work into the film, but he not-so-much pays homage to Williams as hangs on his coat-tails. Some elements of the music are akin to Star Wars parodies such as Space Balls or Ace Rimmer’s theme in Red Dwarf.

Unfortunately, this was always going to be the criticism, no matter who composed the music or what it actually sounded like. It’s even more unfortunate that Giacchino is obviously a hugely talented composer and Disney view him as such as he’s scoring Spider-man: Homecoming.

It seems like Kathleen Kennedy is determined to kill off every fanboy in the galaxy, with either massive coronaries or them choking to death on a combination of disgust and Cheerios.

No John Williams, no Skywalkers and no opening crawl. “We felt that’s so indicative of what those saga films are. Initially, we probably will begin the film in a way that is traditional, with just the title”, Kennedy said in November. This was how serious Disney were taking their stance that this should be a film that stands alone. The lack of crawl doesn’t harm the film but, on first viewing, it’s a little distracting. Uneasy even. But like the score we’ll get used to it. Not that either of these actually harm the film in any way. It’s just that we’ve become SO used to how a Star Wars movie should be.

Maybe it was about time someone slapped us and gave us something a little different. Thanks Kathleen.

It’s clear that Director Gareth Edwards is a Star Wars fan. Even if he hadn’t spoke on numerous occasions about how the original movie inspired him to become a filmmaker, it’s clear how much the saga means to him. It’s not just the inclusion of blue milk, Gold leader or his cameo. It’s the fact he’s comfortable enough to take the existing material and add something without trying to change it entirely. And he’s not just paying homage to the ‘good’ trilogy.

Take the bacta tank scene. Seeing Vader simmering in the tank reminds us that Anakin is an amputee and a burn victim. In a robotic suit. It’s easy to think of Vader just as the shiny black-suited, lightsaber wielding psycho. He’s also that little boy on the sandy planet. The stroppy teenager. And the guy who’s best friend chopped his legs off and watch burn. It mirrors the helmetless scene in Empire so well without trying to compete for its level of shock. It seems ridiculous to consider anyone but Edwards as the logical choice for Rogue One, given his history in visual effects. It’s where he shines in this movie, not in the CGI Tarkin scenes, but in using the effects to tell the story.

Rogue One is its own movie. In fact, without it (in a bootstrap paradox kind of way) we couldn’t have Star Wars. Episode IV would’ve been about an irritating dweeb living on a farm, talking endlessly about power converters. In its essence it’s a tragedy. Yes, it’s science fiction, action and adventure. But it’s ultimately the sacrifices our band of new heroes make that defines this film (if you don’t at least gulp when K-2SO is destroyed you’re a monster). That’s not to say there isn’t brevity, suspense, drama and epic space battles. That’s what we want from a new Star Wars film but it’s the ultimate price our Rebels pay that sets it apart from the saga, not the lack of crawl or the score. Then there’s the realisation of what this film is leading to – Princess Leia about six minutes away from hiding the stolen plans in R2-D2. The transition into Episode IV is flawless. The final seconds of Rogue One leave you with a sense of…hope.