One of my Christmas treats was seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I’m glad I had my chance because it was an excellent movie.
Now just a reminder to you all, this is not part of the nine-episode Star Wars saga we all know. This is part of the Anthology Films of the Star Wars franchise. Actually this is the very first Anthology film to be released. The film is a triumph for writers of ‘fan fiction’ or ‘fanfic’ as it’s commonly called on the internet. However bringing fanfic like this to wide release on the big screen was no easy task. We all know how Star Wars has become a cinematic phenomenon like no other. George Lucas knows about it. Lucas himself is comfortable with ‘standalone’ films based on the Star Wars stories but wanted to make very clear that any standalone stories could not carry characters between the Saga films.
Here we have a story that is to take place between Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith and the very verse Star Wars film that’s now referred to as Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s a pretty lengthy amount of time between when Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker seeks to become a Jedi. Nevertheless it does make for ample time for any Star Wars fan to create a story of what happens in between. Storywriters John Knoll and Gary Whitta aren’t just any Star Wars fans. Knoll has done camera operations and visual effects supervision for many science-fiction films including four Star Trek films and the three Star Wars prequels. Whitta is a scriptwriter for The Book Of Eli and After Earth.
The adaptation of the story to screenplay had to fall into the right hands as well. Scriptwriter Tony Gilroy may have had his biggest renown with 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton (for which he himself was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) but his he’s also made his biggest impact in writing the scripts for all four Jason Bourne movies. Chris Weitz has an eclectic resume of writing and directing from Antz to American Pie to About A Boy to The Golden Compass to one of the Twilight films. Then there’s the film being directed properly. Gareth Edwards may have not had the most experience in directing but he has developed his reputation in recent years upon films like 2010’s Monsters and 2014’s Godzilla.
Then there’s the story itself. There are possibly loads of Star Wars-inspired stories. The story would have to be true to the Star Wars saga without it being a rip-off. There’s lots of that and even professional writers can make something that’s a Star Wars rip-off. Most Star Wars fans will not go for something insulting. True, there are a lot of people that are Star Wars-crazy but most will not go for something if they sense it’s a rip-off. Don’t forget many felt insulted by the prequels so that’s a reminder.
They succeeded. They provided a very good story about the completion of the Death Star and the family behind it and the rebellion attempting to steal the plans leading to the hope in the end. The story had to be well-researched in order for it to make the right connection between Episode III and IV. Any new characters like the Ursos, Cassian Andor and K-2SO had to fit with the story as well as include original Star Wars characters like C3P0 and Darth Vader properly. On top of that, it had to have the right action scenes and the right battles done. Basically the whole movie had to have it all to work. The story could not be compromised despite the action sequences. The acting also had to be top notch from Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker. Even the theme of the story of heroism has to be present. It’s there, but in a way like no other Star Wars saga film does it. For the first time, self-sacrifice is needed for heroism.
The story worked very well. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave a total percentage of 85% approval. Many praised it for its depth in the Star Wars mythology and for breaking new narrative and aesthetic ground while paving way to a potential future for other blockbusters. The film scored well with crowds too as it would become the 20th movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not just an excellent movie. It’s an accomplishment. It’s proof that Star Wars standalone movies can not only be a hit but be excellent in their own right.
Remember Hope And Glory from 1987? The sequel to it, Queen And Country, came out this year and it’s a good film on its own even for those who didn’t see Hope And Glory.
Seven years have passed since the end of World War II. Billy Rowan is now 18 to 20. Since the war he and his family live on an island surrounded by the Thames River which has become a popular spot for filming. Billy however is still a bit of a sissy for his age. However being commissioned for military service may just change that. Before he arrives for training, he meets another young man his age named Percy Hapgood on the train. However he also meets an older woman named Ophelia in the town nearby his training base.
During military service, he goes from simply training to actually having positions of authority, albeit in typewriting class. Both he and Percy do not take well at all to their general Redmond whom they feel to be a hard-heart with no sense of humor at all. Also at their age, they want to have fun with the ladies. A certain girl at the local pub Sophie fancies Billy but he’s off pursuing Ophelia.
Over time Billy gains the respect of the elders and the friendship with Percy grows to the point he helps Percy to steal an office clock Redmond values. Billy even makes returns to the family, one time bringing Percy along whom younger sister Dawn fancies and another time bring Ophelia. Despite all the fun, realities do settle into Billy. The age of Ophelia will prove to be an unavoidable factor. The truth about the prank to steal the clock will come to light for both Billy and Percy as one head officer had already been stripped of his title. And the reality of war becomes more and more eventual for Billy as Britain enters the Korean War. This paves the way for an end that’s both happy, sad and funny for all who are involved.
The best thing about the film is that it is excellently made and it is entertaining. Seeing a young male of 20 being drafted with the British armed forces and all the irresponsibility and shenanigans that come with it does make for an entertaining show. It’s also a treat for those who saw Hope And Glory to see Billy now all grown up and now being placed into the possibility of fighting in a war himself. Whatever happens all turns out for the humorous and things do work out in the end despite paying the consequences.
It also makes one question if this film is autobiographical from Boorman just like Hope And Glory. I will admit it doesn’t have the same special uniqueness Hope And Glory had. For those who remember, Hope And Glory was World War II through a child’s eyes. It was actually one of three films in 1987 that showcased World War II through a child’s eyes. The other two being the French film Au Revoir les Enfants and Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun which starred a 14 year-old Christian Bale and a not-yet-famous Ben Stiller. Queen And Country was not as unique as there have been other stories before. Nevertheless it’s very entertaining and more comedic than Hope And Glory.
This film is not too heavy of a political statement. However it does have some political messages with the potential of fighting in the Korean War. Another notable underlying message is the change of power after King George dies and the monarchy is transferred to Queen Elizabeth. We forget that Elizabeth was a mere 26 when she came onto the throne and a lot of people were not that confident in her at first. Interesting because she would be the one who turned the British Empire into a Commonwealth. Even British attitudes of what’s ‘manly’ also add to the theme of the film.
My big dilemma is I wonder why Boorman took so long to make a sequel to Hope And Glory. Queen And Country takes place at least seven years after the setting of Hope And Glory. It’s a wonder why such a film was not released back as say 1994. In fact I think that has to be the biggest weakness of the movie, its late release. I’m sure the movie can attract people who saw Hope And Glory back when it was first out but twenty-seven years is a long time to release such a follow-up story. Also I’m sure most of today’s movie crowds may not be familiar with the story of Hope And Glory. If it was released as say 1994 as I suggested, I’m sure there would be more of an audience interest especially since a lot of them can remember the adventures of Billy Rohan and would want to see how Billy grows up.
John Boorman again delivers a film of excellent direction and writing. Calum Turner did a very good job playing the grown-up Bill Rohan both in his character and as a young adult getting in trouble. Caleb Landry Jones was a scene-stealer as Billy’s partner in crime. Tasmin Egerton was very good as the seductive but confused Ophelia. Pat Shortt however did the best character acting as the shrewd Officer Redmond. The supporting actors also added into the film even if their parts were minor.
VIFF Note: The Vancouver International Film Festival is where Queen And Country made its North American debut. Aren’t we lucky?
Queen And Country is an excellent sequel to Hope And Glory, albeit badly timed. Nevertheless it was entertaining and worth watching.
It’s funny that when the original Godzilla first took the world by storm back in 1954, who would have thought it would ‘inspire’ two remakes? One was back in 1998 and the other was just last month. But how do they fare as entertainment?
For the record, I have not seen the original Japanese version of Godzilla. This movie comparison is based from what I have witnessed in the two remakes and their entertainment value. In fact even as I read the story of the original movie, I won’t compare it to the stories of the other two on whether it’s ‘true to the original.’
Some of you may remember the 1998 remake starring Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and Michael Lerner. I remember it well too. One thing I remember most about the movie is that it relied too much on the special effects and action moments. That is probably the areas where it most delivered. Elsewhere it completely went downhill. At first it seemed like the right thing to hire Independence Day writer/director Roland Emmerich as director and co-writer along with Dean Devlin. However what the audience received as far as a story turned out to be a lot of ridiculous fluff. The story was typical and cliched. It stars off as a lizard-like monster is making its way to New York. A Japanese man knows it was warped that way by nuclear testing. Meanwhile in the Big Apple, Audrey, a news reporter who’s too nice to succeed over her backstabbing assistant meets her ex-boyfriend Nick, who’s now an agent. Once Godzilla attacks New York, everyone’s involved. Nick tried to get the case solved, the armed forces try to kill it, Audrey tries to get a big break out of it and win Nick back. The acting was very stockish and added to the ridiculousness of the movie. Even casting Maria Pitillo as Audrey turned out to be a bad choice because it made her look too ditzy and bimbonic, almost like a Minnie Mouse persona. Overall it was a ‘quantity not quality’ picture. It’s no wonder it was nominated for five Razzies including Worst Picture and won two including Pitillo for Worst Actress. Even today I cringe whenever I remember scenes from that piece of idiocy.
The craziest thing about it was its huge marketing campaign. The film featured a CD which hit platinum and spawned a #4 hit for P. Diddy (then known as Puiff Daddy) with Jimmy Page ‘Come With Me.’ It also featured songs from some of the top hitmakers at the time like Green Day, The Wallflowers, Rage Against the Machine, Jamiroquai and the Foo Fighters. Taco Bell contributed $20 million to the campaign and even featured a special meal advertised by the Taco Bell chihuahua. There were even Godzilla toys marketed by Trendmaster which included a 11-inch Godzilla and a 22-inch Godzilla. So overall it was an overly hyped up movie intended to content for top box office honors. The hype machine behind Godzilla was spoofed in a Sprite commercial the following year shown in movie theatres where Hollywood execs are discussing marketing the movie ‘Death Slug’ with the script not even completed. The movie did succeed in making the Top 10 box office hits of the year with $136.3 million but it was only slightly over the $130 it cost to make and market. Internationally was slightly better with an additional $242.7 million. Congratulations, boys. Your hype-machine paid off.
One thing to note is that the movie ended with a hint of a possible sequel coming. Fortunately it did not happen. Another couple things to note: Maria Pitillo retired from acting a few years later and Roland Emmerich would write and direct another piece of idiocy in The Day After Tomorrow.
This summer came with the release of a new remake of Godzilla. Funny how there are a lot of movie remakes done these past few years; some remakes of movies done just ten years earlier. Before it was released, I kept thinking to myself: “I hope it’s not like that hideous remake from 1998.” When I saw it was certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes (73% it cureently stands at), I decided to give it a chance.
This features a new story with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Joe, the lead protagonist with Elizabeth Olsen playing his wife, Bryan Cranston playing his father, and Ken Watanabe playing the Japanese doctor. The story starts with a hydrogen bomb trying to kill a mutated creature in 1954. In 1999 a nuclear power plant in Japan ruptures which Joe’s father attemted to control. Fifteen years later, Joe, one of the sons of a rescue worker from that accident, is a naval officer living in San Francisco with his family because he was arrested in Japan for entering the disaster area trying to get the truth. Joe witnessed his father die as they discovered a large winged creature. It’s later learned from Naval officers the attempt to kill Godzilla forgot there were eggs and two hatched. One of the children has grown and is on the prowl. Not only that, two other large creatures names MUTO with the potential of mating. Godzilla first arrives in Hawaii and causes a devastating tsunami. The male mutant creature fights Godzilla temporarily while the female wreaks havoc in Vegas. The MUTO arrive in San Francisco and Joe is separated from his wife and son in the mayhem. Then a sign the two MUTO will mate as the two make a nest out of submarines and nuclear warheads in downtown San Francisco. However some in the military feel Godzilla might stop the MUTO. Once Godzilla hits Frisco, he battles the MUTO smashing the male and breathing fire into the female’s face. Joe is reunited with his wife and son. Godzilla is thought to have died in the ocean but he returns to the sea with the media labeling him ‘king of the monsters.’
Unlike the 1998 remake, it doesn’t try to be a comedy-drama. Instead the story is much more dramatic, way more sensible and way better acted. Both the actors and writer Max Borenstein worked to deliver a movie that was very watchable for both the action scenes and the story lines. It actually worked in being a thriller. There were a few times in which I was waiting for a ‘fluff moment’ to happen. Okay, I’ll admit I hadn’t fully recovered from the phobia I had after the original remake. I found it very hard to remember a time during the film when I was left displeased. I won’t say that I was head over heels astounded with the movie but I was impressed with it to say the least. Oh, did I say that the Godzilla here looks way scalier too?
I will admit there were times in which I was confused by the story or wondered if it was getting confusing. Both previous Godzilla movies strictly focused on Godzilla the creature in which he’s killed at the end. This was bizarre as Godzilla was not the only mutant creature but there were two others. I thought that was awkward at first. However I will give the writers and directors credit for developing a new unique story to the Godzilla franchise. Also good to see is that this new take to the story didn’t come off as corny as it could have ended up as.
I won’t really say that this new Godzilla movie ‘did Godzilla right’ in comparison to the 1998 tripeload. Mainly because I haven’t seen the 1954 original and also when looking back, I think of areas it could have been done better. Nevertheless I will say this remake ‘did Godzilla better,’ way better than the 1998 schmaltzfest. And the best thing is there was no hype-fest with a CD or with a restaurant deal. If you remember back in the late-90’s, it was common for fast food restaurants to take part in the summer movie hype-fest by promoting movies with special meals that included images and ads of the movies on the packaging. I still remember Burger King doing promotions for 1999’s Wild Wild West and 2009’s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: two over hyped dribblefests. Nowadays I don’t see restaurants hyping movies up anymore or not as often. That’s a relief. Let the summer movies sell themselves! As for the biz of this new Godzilla, it cost $160 million to make, was hyped up way less obviously and has done well at the box office so far with almost $195 million to date and still stands in the box office Top 10 at #9 with $1.9 million last weekend.
The most recent Godzilla movie is a much better remake than the 1998 fluff-piece in almost every way. Goes to show you that less can be more even during the summer movie season.