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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Since 1977 the ‘Star Wars’ series has been an enormous money-spinner. From films to the plethora of merchandising, it has made a bundle for all involved. Considering how many dollars it’s made, it was inevitable the ‘Star Wars’ franchise would return to screens. Last years’ 7th entry ‘The Force Awakens’ re-ignited passions for the movies. In between instalments, we now get stand-alone prequels of which ‘Rogue One’ is the first. Although a cynical cash-cow, ‘Rogue One’ is a more than worthy addition to a seemingly never-ending space opera.

Jyn (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help in its fight against the evil Galactic Empire. Wanting her to steal the plans for their latest weapon, the Death Star, she is joined by Cassian (Diego Luna). Prepared to battle Stormtroopers and the mysterious Darth Vader, Jyn and her team arm themselves with a myriad of weapons. Facing the might of the Imperial Army, led by Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Jyn aims to do her bit to destroy the Empire’s satanic grip on the universe.

‘Rogue One’ puts the ‘wars’ in ‘Star Wars’. A gritty, dirty and exciting adventure yarn, it ticks all the right boxes. No one will be disappointed if they want to see tons of battle scenes, incredible CGI wrapped in a package of drama and tough humour. Whilst the characters aren’t as strong as hoped, the energetic story doesn’t allow the viewer to ponder on this for too long. ‘Rogue One’ is an opulent spectacle in the grand ‘Star Wars’ tradition perfectly slotting into the established mythology.

Jones and Mendelsohn are the strongest in the cast, giving performances of true depth. Their co-stars do their best in somewhat under-written roles. The CGI rendition of some characters is a little off-putting although in all other areas ‘Rogue One’ amazes. Director Gareth Edwards embraces the epic scale the series demands with relish. He maintains excellent rhythm and manages to unearth some genuinely exciting surprises even though fans know events shown in subsequent instalments.

‘Rogue One’ is not always perfect but effectively captures the original films’ majestic feel. Effort has gone into crafting an action extravaganza for which this definitely qualifies. After the disaster of the other dreaded prequels, the series is back on track to delight ever more enthusiasts for decades to come.

Rating out of 10: 8

La La Land

Los Angeles usually gets a bad rap. Often depicted as a seedy place where dreams die and careers vanish, it’s a wonder why it’s still popular. The lure of fame and fortune is its driving force with the chance of making it big as addictive as gambling. ‘La La Land’ explores the city where Hollywood resides with glee. A musical about love and desire, it may not change anyone’s thinking about the area but the film makes it look as glossy as any big movie coming from it.

Living in Los Angeles in the hope of making it big, Mia (Emma Stone) aspires to be a famous actress. Waiting tables to earn a crust, she hopes to be discovered by the many power players she serves. Her routine is brightened by the appearance of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). A jazz musician playing dingy bars while waiting for his big break, he falls for Mia’s charms. As their romance blossoms so do their growing careers. While enjoying the trappings of success, their love is tested in ways that only a strange city like Los Angeles can create.

‘La La Land’ is a throwback to the glossy musicals of the 1940’s/50’s. Whilst set in modern day, it has a classic feel echoing past melodic spectacles. The staging and vibrancy of the dance/music numbers are superb, perfectly capturing the wondrous energy of the leads. The romance between Mia and Sebastian isn’t anything new, going through the clichéd motions of many romantic dramas. What it succeeds in is the performer’s genuine chemistry and the effective blending of mundane reality and sparkling set pieces.

Damien Chazelle’s direction isn’t always perfect with the pacing dragging the narrative. Like so many recent films, he doesn’t know when to stop. But he does, however, show much flair in the stylised look and structure in the lover’s romantic entanglements. Los Angeles has never looked so enticing as it captures Mia and Sebastian’s imaginations but potentially destroying them too. The mix of music, drama, humour and some fantasy make for an engaging package.

Although slow in places, ‘La La Land’ maintains a consistency in tone and colour. The music is great with the actors diving into their roles with gusto. The movie musical genre always re-invents itself with ‘La La Land’ another fine addition sure to further enhance its reputation.

Rating out of 10: 7