Cary, NC – Rogue One tells the story of how a group of rebels got the plans for the Death Star to Princess Leia and the build-up to Star Wars: A New Hope. More of a side story than anything, Rogue One is an excellent deviation in the Star Wars saga that gives us new characters and a rousing adventure sure to please even the most casual Star Wars fan.
An Excellent Prequel
Prequels can be a tricky thing. For starters, the outcome is already known, so stakes are almost automatically thrown out the window. And while that can be said of Rogue One the film more than makes up for it by introducing new and likable characters into the universe, as well as delivering an impressive sense of scope from director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla).
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) plays Jyn Erso, a key player in the rebel plan. Jones has been on the cusp of a breakout for a while now, and if there was ever a movie to boost her into superstardom, this is it. Erso is an incredibly strong and self-sufficient character, tough as they come, and Jones has just the right charisma and bravado to bring her to life.
Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed (The Night of, Nightcrawler) and action superstar Donnie Yen help fill out the rest of the crew. Yen in particular is a standout. His character, a blind warrior, is sure to be a fan favorite for years to come, as he has numerous “raise your fist in the air!” moments, while also lending the film a spiritual center, specially with the Force.
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodlines, The Dark Knight Rises) is also excellent as the film’s main villain. Mendelsohn has this unique ability to be quietly terrifying while not physically imposing. It’s something the actor has been displaying for a few years now, and in Rogue One he really gets to have some fun with.
Special mention must truly be paid to director Edwards though. He has a true eye for scale, and Rogue One feels absolutely epic in scope. He also meticulously recreates some of the most iconic imagery from A New Hope in a way that still feels fresh and exciting and not too much like fan service. I’m really hopeful this guy continues with big movies like this because we have precious few directors that work on this scale with such a good eye.
Epic, Rousing, Well Worth The Trip!
Rogue One is also filled with some exciting cameos and nods to previous films, but what really makes this one special is its sense of hope. The film takes place during one of the darkest times in the galaxy, and it comes down to this ragtag team to restore hope in the rebel alliance. As I mentioned before, being a prequel, you already know the outcome, but Rogue One is so good at the build up and making sure you are invested in the characters that it doesn’t matter, and what follows is a rousing and excellent adventure.
Cary, NC – The holidays can be an opportunity to use your free time to find a movie you might not have looked for. So try and see The Handmaiden, a complex mystery that manages to be both beautifully intimate and horribly disturbing, all with the composure of a gorgeous master painting.
Plot To Keep You Guessing
The Handmaiden, one of 2016’s biggest movies out of South Korea, tells the story of an early 20th Century scam by a criminal network of poor Koreans to steal the estate from the daughter of a rich Japanese family and her overbearing, obsessive uncle. It’s the stuff of Victorian-era comedies: a young girl impersonates a maid to make the rich heiress fall in love with the handsome stranger to take her money, with an unexpected romance blossoming in the process.
But if you’ve seen Oldboy or other films by director Park Chan-wook, you’ll know it can’t be that quaint. There are twists and turns in the plot, getting you confident you know more than the characters until, whoop, the rug has been pulled out from under you. Again and again.
And while the romantic elements – between the heiress played by Kim Min-hee (Very Ordinary Couple, Hellcats) and the “maid,” played by Kim Tae-ri in her debut film role – feel genuine and touching, there is a much more unsettling sexuality that slowly reveals itself throughout the movie, particularly on the part of the billionaire uncle played by Cho Jin-woong (Deep Rooted Tree, A Hard Day).
Top Level Filmmaking
Park Chan-wook should be considered an international star in filmmaking. That much is clear after you watch The Handmaiden. Every shot and scene looks amazing, due in part to the wonderful sets of European castles, Japanese fortresses and lush forests and gardens. But Chan-wook’s skill with a camera cannot be understated. The way this movie looks and flows, you will be hooked for every second.
The cast is also given a considerable burden to carry and all pull it off to a tee. Min-hee as the heiress has the most difficult role, going between her various duplicitous natures while also acting out some explicit and nearly exploitive material. The next biggest praise goes to the final piece of the puzzle: the con man played by Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser, Take Off) sent to marry the heiress. He is hilarious, pretending to be a foppish rich guy while also arguing with the maid behind the scenes to not ruin their plans. Tae-ri and Jin-woong are both excellent as well, with Tae-ri giving a very natural, believable performance and Jin-woong chills the audience every time he shows up as the stern and creepy master of the estate.
If you can stomach some challenging material, The Handmaiden is one of the best movies of the year, from any country. You can see amazing scenery, get wrapped up in a lurid mystery and find yourself rooting for the leading ladies to successfully fall in love.