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“Rogue One”a step in the right direction

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Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”

The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.

Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring.  I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.

Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.

To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.

Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.

When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.

Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a  war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.

Rental Corner: “Hop” dull and lifeless despite bright visuals

One of these things is not like the other...everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn't

One of these things is not like the other…everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn’t

This review opens up with a viewer beware because there is no other “holiday” movie I can think of aside from “The Nutcracker Prince” or “Valentine’s Day” that feels like a complete cash cow. Even Christmas movies have more dignity with nice pretty lights and try to maintain a message even when its bogged down by cliches and boring characters. So imagine how unsurprising I felt when I decided to examine “Hop” after four years of avoiding it like the plague. This little relic comes from a time when film makers were desperate to find a childhood icon like the Tooth Fairy and make a movie out of it. A simple fantasy icon that would get bloated into a slew and slay of pop culture jokes and pandering to the younger crowd. I want to say there is something worse than this movie in terms of what it does, but frankly I can’t think of one on the spot.

Easter gets the “Santa Clause” treatment here as the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) hides away on Easter Island where under all those Moai statues is a bright and colorful factor that looks like it was taken from a commercial for Wonka Candy products. I want to say its cleverly designed but I keep thinking to all the Hershey and Cadbury chocolates that get crafted in front of our eyes. The “Santa” treatment is pushed further with baby chicks for elves who make the candies along with the cute little hares that help out to even the iconic Bunny riding around in a makeshift sled pulled by a team of baby chicks. The “Santa Factor” is so forced that it feels unoriginal. Ever more confusing is a teleporter device that is introduced later proving the sled useless when you can just jump from Easter Island to California and even China in just a mil-second.

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

But all is not well as his son E. B. (voiced by Russell Brand) has dreams of being a core drummer than travel around the world and give out candy baskets. In pursuit of his dream, he goes to Hollywood to see his talent get known. Personally, I had mixed feelings in regards to Russell Brand’s performance. I don’t think he’s a bad actor considering he can do different voices but unfortunately, the only movie I can think of where he did this was for the mad scientist Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me. Next to the Minions, this old-bumbling scientist is one of my favorite characters from that movie and for a while, I didn’t think for once he was voiced by Brand. So there is proof he can be funny and do different characters but the same can’t be said as E. B. Throughout the whole movie, I keep hearing this over-aged rocker personality in a character that would have been more suited if it was voiced by someone younger say 13 or 14. The design of the character is better fitted that way and it feels weird to have Brand’s voice come out of his mouth considering he doesn’t do anything to fit the character aside from giving his own personality which doesn’t do much.

Quiet conveniently, he gets hit in a car accident by Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) who gives into his fake injury and takes the blame. As you can imagine, they both have a common trait as they constantly get viewed by their family as the lower berth and asked to get a real job. It also doesn’t help that Fred keeps on blowing every job opportunity just because the script says he needs to. I found no sympathy for this character and what form they tried to inject into doesn’t work. To describe the relationship between E. B. and Fred is akin to the manic ventures of Alivn and Dave from Alivin and the Chipmunks. Which is ironic seeing Tim Hill lends a direction and it shows with the typical staple of pop culture jokes and buffet of low-brow toilet humor just to keep the kids awake.

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats....

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats….

What form of conflict they have here doesn’t feel fleshed out. Hank Azaria feels added on as a last minute villain with the role of Carlos, a Hispanic accented Chick who is tired of being second banana and plans to take over the Easter holiday. With so much time devoted to E. B. roaming Hollywood, we care little of what happens as the evil spring chick plans to replace Easter goodies with worms and bird seed. But even then we don’t care what happens because of how lazy the script feels and how uninspired everything is. Carlos only exists because “Hop” needs a climax when it still builds to an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels scaled back and anti-climatic as a transformed Carlos tries to fly off but the action plays  safe by having it take place in the factory than do an actual risk.

And that’s the key phrase here, “playing it safe.” This movie doesn’t offer much new outside of being two cliched films for the price of one. By combining all three “Santa Clause” movies and fusing them with the tropes of an Adam Sandler movie, the end result is something that looks nice from time to time but the whole story and batch of characters we get are dull, cliched and feel more like cardboard cut-outs than dimensional characters. Its a shame because there are some unique ideas that could have lived up to potential like a ninja-like group the Easter Bunny has called the Pink Berets which are female bunnies with pink berets. There is an open possibility for making funny characters but all they do is act menacing and grunt a lot. There’s only four animated characters that talk while every other CGI being just resorts to cheeps and noises. Again, so much room to make characters for but instead feel like moving scenery than living things. Most of the time they feel more like Minion clones than actual animals.

So much good animation put to waste...literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

So much good animation put to waste…literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

I feel bad because the animation was done by Illumination Entertainment and their craft really shows here from the feather and fur textures to the composition of these fictional characters into live-action footage. However, the effect wears its welcome as we can tell James Marsden is not in a real set but blue-screened into a CGI background and most of the climax feels like a video game level than an adrenaline pumping finale. To say “Hop” is the next holiday classic for the Easter season is an insult to the eyes and ears of those who wish for something magical and astounding. I’d go as far to say its on par with the 2003 adaption of “The Cat in the Hat” where only the visuals look good but can’t support an under-cooked script. I want to say its a harmless feature but when the only image to take away is an Easter bunny defecating jelly beans to prove he’s magic, there’s really nothing else to say here except there are better alternatives than a soulless picture like this one. Keep this one out of the Easter basket and join me in the next blog post for some “better” alternatives. Trust me, they are far more unique than the pain that unfortunately exists here. And oddly enough, when “Hop” was released to home video, it came out one whole year after its theatrical debut to obviously tie in with the Easter holiday. In that time span, many forgot about it and claimed it to be a lost film. Personally, I feel its better that way.