Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS. 

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Hardened Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and newbie Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)

We know there are a set of Star Wars superfans who simply CANNOT take criticism of their beloved franchise.  However, I’m NOT one of those viewers!  This prequel has a female lead in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as we saw in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Jones does the best she can w/ the material given.  There is a LOT of racial diversity among Jones’ male co-starts.  However, this film sorely lacks character development!  Sorry, BUT it’s rather tough to care about characters if we don’t get to know their much re: personalities, motivations, histories, etc. 

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The Death Star was built by a team of engineers headed by Galen Erso (Jyn’s father)

I wanted to see a BIT more of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his wife; we don’t how/why they got on the wrong track of working for The Empire.  Also, why does Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) have such a big chip on this shoulder?  I wanted to know a LOT more re: his past, aside from the (obvious) fact that he’s been fighting for a long time.  It was cool to see Luna after MANY years!  He still has that youthful face and slim body.  There is a new droid working w/ Andor, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who provides some snarky humor.        

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Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed)- the pilot who defects from The Empire

Social media (as well as a FEW people I personally know) were esp. excited to see Riz Ahmed, a British-Pakistani/Muslim actor on the big screen.  Sure, he’s part of the rag-tag Rebel band, BUT doesn’t get to do much!  Donnie Yen’s character (the blind/deeply spiritual warrior) was  more effective, thanks in part to his badass martial arts skills.  Guess we STILL have to wait for a desi brother to get a (bigger) break…

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Orson Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn) oversaw the building of The Death Star

The new baddie, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), is pretty interesting; I think it’s b/c the Aussie actor takes relish in being a villain (check him out on Season 1 of the Netflix drama Bloodline).  I esp. liked the scene where he got called to meet w/ Darth Vader, then got (painfully) put in his place.

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Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) meets with Krennic

I was impressed by the scenery, action sequences, and the “bringing back to life” of several actors from George Lucas’ original Star Wars films (thanks to technology).  Speaking of the original films… This film’s last scene (featuring the young Princess Leia) has taken on a special/poignant significance following the sudden death of actress Carrie Fisher.     

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Stranger Things: Season 1 (Netflix)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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We looked at 1,000 kids. Most kids, you can turn off their auditions after five seconds, because there’s nothing authentic about it. -Matt Duffer, co-showrunner (w/ his twin brother, Ross)

There’s this idea of this Cold War, this looming threat, and everyone’s going about their business with their families and living their lives.  When we were kids, the reason we responded to this stuff so much is because we could relate to these characters, these families, the kids.  -Ross Duffer, co-showrunner

I wanted to see this show for a LONG time; I finally binge-watched ALL 8 episodes today (w/ my little brother).  I highly recommend it, even if you’re NOT a big fan of sci-fi!  It’s mainly a character drama, BUT w/ doses of suspense and danger.  The actors did a GREAT job, esp. the pre-teen boys (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin) who go out looking for their close friend, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), after he goes missing in the wood of their small Indiana town. (FYI: The show was shot on location in Jackson, Georgia.) 

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It was cool to see Winona Ryder (who plays distraught single mom, Joyce Byers) after a LONG time; she’s now 45 y.o. BUT still a petite dynamo of an actress.  The actor who played Joyce’s responsible, quiet, older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) was a standout among the older (high school) kids. 

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I liked the character development of the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbour); before I’d seen him in Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit playing shady/villainous guys. Veteran actor Matthew Modine has a pivotal role, too.  

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The Showrunners: Twins Ross & Matt Duffer (NYT)

…tribute to classic ’80s fantasy, sci-fi and horror, with nods to “Alien”; “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”; “A Nightmare on Elm Street”; and Stephen King’s 1986 novel, “It.”  -New York Times

If there is one word to describe this show, it’s be “authentic”- note the hairstyles (yikes), clothes (pastels, cords, etc.), bikes, and houses.  The kids/teens are dealing w/ real-life issues (bullies, confidence, dating, parties, parental/school rules), yet also deeply concerned re: the disappearance of one of their peers in such a peaceful, tight-knit community.  Try and check it out SOON, b/c there are spoilers everywhere out there re: this show!  I heard MANY positive things this Summer/Fall (on Twitter and several podcasts), BUT I wasn’t spoiled much.      

Black Mirror: Season 3 (Netflix)

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

FYI: The term “black mirror” is a reference to the effect of a TV or computer screen when switched off, giving a dark reflection of the onlooker. (You can read my previous review of Seasons 1 & 2 here.)  If you have a LOT on your current watch list, then check out the two eps below! 

Episode 1: Nosedive

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This was my fave ep, besides E4 (see below); it was directed by Joe Wright (Atonement; Pride and Prejudice).  The scenarios depicted are NOT too far from what’s going on in our (current) society, which makes the story funny, relatable, and a BIT scary!  Every interaction (incl. brief chats, purchases, accidental run-ins, heartfelt convos, etc.) is rated by each individual living in this fictional world.  

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So in terms of quality, you could use a punch up right there. Ideally, that’s up votes from quality people.  -Hansen

Quality people? -Lacie asks

High fours. Impress those up-scale folks, you’ll gain velocity on your arc and there’s your boost. -Hansen explains

It stars VERY likeable American actress- Bryce Dallas Howard (Lacie), Brit James Norton- star of Grantchester (Ryan), another young Brit- Alice Eve (Naomie), and respected American theater veteran- Cherry Jones (Truck Driver).  Lacie, who has a positive/go-getter personality, is working hard to boost her rating, so that she can move into an exclusive housing community.  Her younger/slacker brother, Ryan, thinks that this is a stupid idea (BUT he has a mediocre rating).  Lacie constantly compares her rating and posts to others in her social circle, esp. Naomie (a conventionally pretty childhood friend).

Episode 4: San Junipero

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Black Mirror has been a great show from the start; for me, it’s main draw is the human stories it focuses on in the midst of some mind- blowing technological what-ifs. Although in other episodes, it has focused on the darker side of technology, this one focuses on how technology could connect people instead.  -Excerpt from IMDB review

I consider this episode to be a movie. It felt like one. The lighting, music, choreography and acting gave it a vivid tone which truly involves the viewer. It felt like more than an hour run but didn’t drag on one bit. -Excerpt from another IMDB review

This is THE ep for those of you who love romance, time travel (I’m a big fan of Quantum Leap), &/or the 80s- fashion, hair, & music (here is full list of songs).  There is a fun fashion montage that is influenced by Robert Parker’s song Addicted to Love (I learned that from a pop culture podcast, though it did look familiar when I saw it).  The lead characters are shy/socially awkward Yorkie (Canadian MacKenzie Davis) and vivacious/outgoing Kelly (British-Nigerian Gugu Mbatha-Raw, most recently in Free State of Jones).  BOTH actresses did great in their roles, BUT I’m a big fan of Mbatha-Raw (her character has more of the emotional heavy lifting to do in this story).  This is a character-driven story and it takes time to get to know what exactly is going on.  Nothing is spoon-fed to the viewer!