Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Scott, it looks like the Star Wars franchise has returned to its roots.
Rogue “won” my heart, Greg. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is her father and the lead designer of the Empire’s new weapon – the Death Star. She was separated from her father at youth and raised by elite rebel Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker). The Rebellion needs Jyn, now 28, to find Saw and determine what he knows about a message her father sent about the new weapon. She meets him at Jedha only to find that the Empire is there and is about to destroy the city – and Gerrar with it.
Jyn learns that Galen has sabotaged the design of the Death Star so that it can be destroyed, so she devises a plan to steal the star’s schematics. The schematics are located on the highly secure tropical planet Scarif. With the assistance of Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind spiritual leader, Jyn and rebel intelligence officer Cassian (Diego Luna) infiltrate the planet with the goal of altering the balance of power in the Empire.
Scott, Rogue One is a sort of Episode 3.5 in the Star Wars lineage. While it is billed as a standalone film, it fits nicely between Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith and 1977’s Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope. The ending of Rogue One is the natural beginning to Episode 4.
And herein lies the first of many problems with this film: we know how it must end. We know that the rebels must get the plans because Episode 4 starts with Princess Leia sending the plans to the dusty planet of Tatooine. And so, there is no real tension in this story because we know our heroes will succeed.
Another problem is a large number of so-called Easter Eggs. We see characters from Episode 4 pop up randomly and inexplicably throughout Rogue One. The cameos are intended to delight those of us who have watched Episode 4 since 1977 – but for me it was a distraction as I tried to remember where the characters came from and how they merge with this new film.
And the epic nature of the film causes the first half of the film to be a series of vignettes rather than proper scenes. We are delivered first from planet to planet where snippets of the story are told. But we have very little time to get invested in any of the characters. This “set up” took nearly half the film and was quite dull.
If you’re looking for Rogue One to move the great Star Wars story arc forward, you’re in for a disappointment. Rogue One is a prequel that introduces new characters whom we never seen in later installments, so we pretty much know these characters are going to have to die. So not only do we know the outcome of the story, we know what has to happen to our heroes. The only thing we don’t know is exactly how it will happen.
I would say that Rogue One is one of the better films in the Star Wars universe. I wasn’t dazzled by this movie but it did several good things. For starters, Rogue One stars Felicity Jones who does a fabulous job portraying a multi-faceted hero. I was impressed with how she demonstrated the physically heroic traits of strength and courage, and combined them with a softer, gentler side — as evidenced when she saves a young child’s life. For me, this is an important step forward, showing that stereotypically masculine traits need not be the only defining characteristics of heroes.
What the movie industry now needs is male heroes who are portrayed in this same fuller way. The same hero can both kick ass and show a nurturant quality, regardless of whether the hero is male or female.
I’d like to say that Jyn undergoes a heroic transformation, but she only goes through the motions. Aside from the prologue where we meet her as a child, we meet Jyn as a fully formed rebel soldier. She’s already been trained by her mentor Saw Gerrera and is recruited by the rebellion to find her father. But she’s a loner. And the lesson she must learn is to depend upon others.
The key word in Rogue One is “hope.” Her new sidekick Cassian Andor tells her that rebellions are built on hope. And then, when the senate won’t support an attack on a remote base, she repeats this new lesson. But we never see Jyn undergo the transformation that shows us that she believes in the rebellion. She simply changes her tune because it makes for a convenient plot twist.
And the moment you mention, Scott, where she saves the little girl is just inserted into the middle of a battle scene with little context. In writing circles we call this the “save the cat” moment. If you have a rough character and you want to soften her, you have her save a cat from a tree (or some other such thing). And this is precisely what Jyn’s saving the child does. However, it’s the only such scene we see – and it is antithetical to the rest of her personality as displayed in the story.
Her ultimate transformation from a loner to a leader doesn’t occur so much from a series of events that lead her inexorably to this new state – but by the writers simply putting her in the position of making an impassioned plea. There are no scenes that show her growing into this new leadership role. She simply becomes a leader because the story required it. It was a very disappointing presentation.
Well you’ve put your finger on some of the perennially dissatisfying elements of the typical Star Wars film. They usually feature overly simplistic characters engaged in the classic battle between good and evil. For me, Rogue One has a bit more depth and nuance than most Star Wars movies. Even the robot character, K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk), is more interesting than past robots in this franchise.
But the evil characters are monolithically pure evil, which renders them uninteresting. They even manage to laugh at the carnage they wreak on the rebel forces. Psychological research on evil has shown that evil-doers typically do not enjoy performing their evil acts (click here for an interesting article on the psychology of evil by Roy Baumeister). I did enjoy seeing some mentoring, especially from the spiritual Imwe, whose blindness channels the ancient Greek archetype of the blind soothsayer in classic mythic tragedies. Interestingly, this is the second movie we’ve seen of late involving spiritual mentors, the other one appearing in Doctor Strange.
I think we see a true mentor in Saw Gerrara, but we never see the actual mentoring. Otherwise, there is little mentoring going on here. Cassian offers an example of what the hero can look like – but he doesn’t really give Jyn advice and gifts that help her manage the new situation she’s in. Imwe is an interesting character. He seems like a failed Jedi as he doesn’t quite channel the Force but does rely upon it. Again, he offers some examples to Jyn on how to be a good hero, but doesn’t actually instruct her.
Rogue One is a visually beautiful movie with stunning CGI effects and memorable characters who captures the spirit of the Star Wars universe. Still, I was less than dazzled by the story, as it could only lead to one known final outcome. It also telegraphed the unhappy demise of our heroes. I hope that future Star Wars movies focus on advancing the story rather than giving us prequels that box themselves in artistically. I award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.
Our main hero, Jyn Erso, traverses the hero’s journey, but as you point out, Greg, some key elements of the journey are implied as having taken place off-camera rather than shown to us. Jyn does receive assistance from friends and companions along the way, and although we never see it, she does undergo a transformation between her childhood and adulthood. Despite these disappointments, I enjoyed seeing a hero who combines masculine and feminine qualities. I give Jyn a rating of 3 Hero points out of 5.
As you emphasize, Greg, the mentors are shown to occupy key roles in our hero’s life, but we don’t actually see much mentoring. The two main mentors, Gerrara and Imwe, are memorable characters but ultimately suffer from an unsatisfying emptiness in this story. I give them 2 Mentor points out of 5.
Rogue One is a skillfully crafted CGI fest that nestles nicely into the Star Wars universe. While I found it entertaining, I was left feeling that good storytelling gave way to fan-boy fantasy. Just as with Star Wars: Episode 7: The Force Awakens we’re given a female hero who has been left without her parents. It seems you can’t be a Star Wars hero unless you’re an orphan of some sort. The performances were fine but the script lacked originality and tension. I give Rogue One just 3 out of 5 Reels.
The hero’s journey is mostly off-screen and often implied when for the bits that are on-screen. Jyn does transform from a loner to a leader, but it seems mainly as a result of the writers’ needs rather than anything that Jyn experiences. I can give Jyn only 2 out of 5 Heroes.
And the mentorship here is lacking or non-existent. Saw Gerrera trains Jyn, but it is only related to us in backstory, never something we see on-screen. The other characters act as descent examples to Jyn but never step up to true mentors. I give only 1 out of 5 Mentor points to Rogue One.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams
Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: November 4, 2016
Strange that we haven’t yet reviewed this movie, Greg.
Here’s one film that doesn’t need a script doctor. Let’s recap.
The movie opens with the villainous sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) stealing a documented ritual from a book and murdering the librarian of ancient mystical texts in Kathmandu, Nepal. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) tries to prevent the theft but is unsuccessful. We then meet Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant and cocky neurosurgeon who lives a swanky lifestyle, and his former lover and fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who is turned off by Strange’s egocentricity.
Strange goes for a ride in his sports car and is distracted by his cell phone while driving. He goes off a cliff and in a near-death accident loses nearly all the functioning of his hands – which are his bread and butter. He attempts every operation and seeks the help of every surgeon, but none can help him. Finally he travels to Nepal and becomes a student of The Ancient One – who begins to tame his arrogance.
Greg, Doctor Strange tells the origin story of a spiritual superhero, Stephen Strange, played with great flair by Benedict Cumberbatch. In some ways, the story is predictable in showing us a man of science who is skeptical of the spirit world yet must immerse himself in that world if he is to transform himself into a heroic entity. The film works largely due to the performances of Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton, who plays Strange’s mysterious and powerful spiritual mentor. We’re also treated to some nice CGI effects that depict many wondrously wizardly visuals.
If The Matrix, Inception, and Harry Potter had a baby, it would look a lot like Dr. Strange. I was favorably impressed with Doctor Strange. I’m not prone to enjoying stories dealing with mysticism – as they too often call upon spell-of-the-moment to solve a problem. But Doctor Strange takes great care to build the rules of the mystical universe – and then takes great pains to work within those rules.
If I were to name a complaint, it’s that the powers that Doctor Strange and his cohorts rely upon are channeled through a device called a “Sling Ring.” It smacked too much of Harry Potter’s wand and for such an advanced mystical realm, seemed too limiting. But of course, the Sling Ring made for convenient plot disruptions when a character loses their ring and cannot perform magic.
Another nod to the Harry Potter universe is the way certain magical objects “choose their user” rather than the other way around. Strange’s iconic cape selected him during a fierce battle and saved his life. I’m not familiar with the Doctor Strange comics, so I can’t say which universe used the idea first. But it was a distraction that pulled me out of the story.
Strangely, that cape assumes the unusual role of mentor to Strange. It guides him to the metal straightjacket that stops Kaecilius during the fierce battle that you mention. Have we ever before seen a lifeless prop serve as a mentor? Of course, in a world of spells and spirits, nothing is really lifeless with every object holding the potential for magic.
The Ancient One is the primary mentor of the story, although she is a flawed one in deriving her energy from the dark side. One of the strengths of Doctor Strange lies in the development of her character and the evolution of the relationship between her and Strange. It’s a complicated alliance that ebbs and flows. Kaecilius may serve as a dark mentor to Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who seems to have been influenced by the villain’s dark, twisted logic.
Doctor Strange is an interesting hero because he undergoes a dramatic transformation. He starts out self-absorbed, falls into despair, becomes so humble that he throws himself to the mercy of The Ancient One, then rises to take his place in the hierarchy of the mystic realm and a protector of the Earth. It’s a rollercoaster ride that delivers a very satisfying resolution.
Strange’s relationship with The Ancient One is one we’ve seen before. He goes seeking the mentor whereas usually the mentor finds the hero. As with The Karate Kid. the mentor here does not initially accept the hero as a student. The hero must convince the mentor to take on the role. However, The Ancient One suffers the same fate as mentors past – she must die for the hero to feel the full force of the stakes of the story. It was a predictable albeit poignant moment.
Another thing to notice about The Ancient One is that she is a past hero. We often see mentors pass along their heroic lessons to up-and-coming heroes. We’ve seen this in The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Star Trek 2009 and so many other stories. Our mentor character has been to battle and back. And now the hard-won lessons learned are gifted to the new hero.
Doctor Strange introduces us to a new superhero in the Marvel universe, a gifted physician who loses his hands and can only recover his functioning by undergoing a dramatic spiritual transformation in an exotic location. The film owes its success to some powerful performances, most notably by the ever-versatile Benedict Cumberbatch and the enigmatic Tilda Swinton. I enjoyed Doctor Strange and award it 3 Reels out of 5.
The hero’s journey is rich and complex. Strange’s accident brings him to his knees and like most heroes, Strange undergoes a significant transformation with help from Mordo and especially The Ancient One. One of the themes of the story is the struggle between arrogance and humility: Will Strange allow his massive ego to turn him to the dark side of Kaecilius or will he remain humble enough to use his powers wisely? Strange is tested in this area and appears to pass the test, albeit barely. Strange’s heroic development earns him 4 Hero points out of 5.
The mentoring in the story is strong and fascinating, as it involves a cape who assists our hero in making wise choices and a powerful spiritual guru who employs tough love in imparting great wisdom to our hero. As I’ve noted, the relationship between Strange and the Ancient One is complex, dynamic, and commands our attention throughout the film. I give the mentorship in this movie 4 Mentor points out of 5.
Doctor Strange was a surprise offering from Marvel films. It’s unusual for a film to premier in November and continue to run through December – and rank consistently high in box office sales. Doctor Strange does this by offering a unique world filled with strong characters and even stronger performances. While the film owes much of its appeal through masterful special effects, it’s the presentation of a superhero the likes of which we haven’t seen before that makes Doctor Strange worth seeing once and again. I give this film 4 out of 5 Reels.
Stephen Strange’s origin story is just what we’d expect from Marvel films. Strange is immensely gifted but is completely self-centered. His debilitating accident doesn’t change his egocentric nature. But when he begs to be taught the ways of The Ancient One, he enters a world of mysticism at complete odds with his scientific training. He has to reevaluate everything he knows. It’s a great set up for a hero’s journey and Doctor Strange delivers a hero’s genesis story that kept me wanting more. I give Stephen Strange 4 out of 5 Heroes.
There’s a lot of mentoring in this film. Even before Strange meets The Ancient One, he has years of training in the sciences that make him a successful surgeon. We’ve talked about the unseen mentors before. But it isn’t until he enters the world of mystical realms that we see the kind of mentoring that truly changes our hero. The Ancient One shows Strange what *can be* and so opens the door to new realities. She then gives him advice, teaching, and magical gifts that allow him to transcend the limits of his scientific mind and become a true hero. I give The Ancient One 4 out of 5 Mentor points.
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall
Screenplay: Jared Bush, Ron Clements
Animation/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 2016
Well it looks like we’re going to review the latest Disney princess movie.
No reason to piss and moana about it. Let’s just get to it.
We’re introduced to young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho). She’s an eight-year-old girl living in the Peloponnesian islands. Her father is the chief and she’s the heir to the throne. Daddy wants her and her people to stay on the island where it’s safe. But Moana wants to journey out past the reef. Her father keeps her at bay until one day the islanders find that their island is dying.
Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) encourages Moana to follow her heart and shows the young girl a secret cave containing large seafaring vessels that their ancestors used to explore the vastness of the ocean. Tala gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti to which was stolen by Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and Moana’s calling is to replace the heart to restore life to the dying islands.
Moana was a surprise. I expected a pretty typical Disney princess damsel in distress movie. But Moana is a strong female hero with a mission to save her people. She’s not someone to be saved, but someone to save everyone else. The movie knows it is an atypical story because Moana repeats at least twice “I’m no princess.”
This film surprised me, too, Gregger. What a delight it is. I felt like I visited a set of Polynesian islands and mingled with the indigenous people. The craftsmanship of this movie is unparalleled, with ocean waves and vegetation springing to life in vivid detail. Most importantly, Moana raises several timeless themes of human existence, most notably the theme of the importance of maintaining a connection with nature and the theme of discovering one’s true identity. The film’s treatment of these themes is creative, original, and inspiring.
As you point out, our hero Moana is a wonderful character with whom both girls and boys can identify. She is drawn to the sea and becomes obsessed with the idea of venturing beyond the safe confines of the island lagoon. This movie challenges us all to look within our hearts to discern our true calling in life — a theme of heroism that is explored at length in the recently released Handbook of Heroism and Heroic Leadership. What impresses me is how Moana encourages us not only to discover our true individual calling, but to also discover the calling of an entire community of people. Who are we and what are we meant to do with our lives? This film dares to ask such big questions.
Moana is aided in her quest by the demigod Maui. Maui also has a goal – to find his magic fish hook. He believes it is what gives him his power. But in fact, he already has his power within him. Maui shows Moana how to pilot a canoe, how to navigate the waters, and how to be a voyager. It’s his guidance that ultimately allows Moana to save the islands and restore the goddess to her rightful place.
Yes, Moana’s two main mentors are her grandmother Tala and then, later, Maui. Tala helps her discover her mission, whereas Maui helps her execute it. Interestingly, Maui himself is mentored in a unique way by one of his tattoo images, which reveals to Maui what the “right” choice is in any given situation. Moana’s dad plays an interesting role in discouraging his young daughter from following her heart. I wouldn’t call her dad a dark mentor, but his tendencies toward “playing it safe” suggest an anti-mentoring role for him.
The father plays the role of the oppositional force, or antagonist. Not quite the villain, but he’s the voice in Moana’s head who keeps her back. He’s not a bad guy. He wants to protect her and his people. But his energies are misdirected. So, I wouldn’t call him the dark mentor, but he does offer the initial resistance that the hero needs.
I enjoyed Moana much more than I expected. After a string of successes that include The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, directors Clements & Musker have created a new kind of hero that boys and girls both can admire and aspire to. I give Moana 4 out of 5 Reels.
Moana has everything going for her. She’s smart, brave, adventurous, virtuous, and beautiful. She starts out uncertain in herself and grows to find the voyager within her. I do have a problem with Moana – she’s too perfect. A little darkness in a hero is a good thing. It’s a force to overcome and control. I give Moana 4 out of 5 Heroes.
Finally, the mentoring in this film was just wonderful. Her first mentor is her grandmother who helps Moana discover who she can be and sets her on her journey. Then Moana trades up to Maui who is in need of some assistance himself. Maui shows Moana how to be voyager she was born to be and ultimately to be the leader her people need. I give these mentors 5 out of 5 Mentor points.
Moana is one of the best movies of 2016. The film explores grand, sweeping themes of human yearning, and is equally grand and sweeping in its visual effects. We learn from watching this film that playing it safe in life is not an option as it only leads to death and decay. This is an especially important message for young girls in the audience who historically have not had as many worthy role models in the movies as boys have had. This movie will become a classic “must see” film for generations to come and thus earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.
Our hero Moana is an inspiring character and terrific hero in every sense of the word. I don’t see her as being too perfect, Greg. She is naive about the world and thus needs mentoring from her grandmother. She lacks seafaring skills and thus needs help from Maui. Her arduous journey compels her to acquire courage and resilience, and she not only transforms personally, she also transforms her people. Moana’s great heroism merits the full 5 Heroes out of 5.
The mentorship of the hero is exemplary, as we’ve both pointed out. Everything in this film is pretty much textbook, including these helpers and guides who shepherd our hero through life, assisting her in her mission to discover her identity and save her island. These mentors easily earn the full 5 Mentor points out of 5.
Greg, will you join forces with me in reviewing this next movie?
Only if my fears about Allied can be allayed. Let’s recap.
The movie opens with Canadian spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into French Morocco during World War II. His mission is to team up with French allied spy Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in a plot to assassinate a German ambassador. Vatan and Beausejour pretend to be married, and during the pretense they find themselves falling in love.
After the mission, Max invites Marianne to move to London to be his wife. After some weeks of vetting, she’s cleared and they proceed to have a child. About a year later, Max is called into his commander’s office. They suspect Marianne is a German spy and want Max to lay out some fake secret info. If the info leaks out, they know Marianne is a spy – and Max must kill her.
Greg, Allied represents a noble attempt to weave a love story into wartime drama, and I would say that director Robert Zemeckis has partially succeeded. There are some stylish elements to the movie, as when Vatan and Beausejour make love inside a car caught in a sandstorm. There are also some memorable performances, most notably by Marion Cotillard who oscillates skillfully between smoldering vixen and ruthless killer.
Allied tries to be a great movie but only attains the status of ‘good’ movie for several reasons. First, there is the understated performance of Brad Pitt. Frankly, his onscreen charisma is missing here and pales in comparison to that of co-star Cotillard. Second, we have the problem of predictability. We know that the assassination of the ambassador must succeed early in the film, otherwise there would be no film. And we also know that Beausejour must be a spy or there could be no dramatic ending.
The film is basically split in half by the meeting of the spies and the execution of their mission, and the “blue dye” indictment of Marianne. I thought the first half of the film dragged. There was too much time spent in the “getting to know you” segment of the film and the ultimate execution of the ambassador. I kept waiting for something to happen and I had to wait a full hour of the film before it did.
The second half of the film was actually entertaining. We witness Max trying everything he can to clear his wife’s name. Finally we had a goal and some conflict, rather than dinner parties and brunches.
I see this as a “buddy” story with Max and Marianne taking equal parts in the telling. Both are interesting heroes. They are professional killers and good at their jobs. They are also deeply devoted to their causes. And, in the end, deeply devoted to each other.
I actually thought the first half of the movie was important not just for character development but also for relationship development. We need to discover who these two people are, and we need to witness the blossoming of their love. Plus our two heroes do have a goal in the first half, which is to kill the ambassador. For me, the first half was necessary although I do wish it had been executed with more pizzazz from Pitt and from Zemeckis.
As we have two halves to the film, we have two separate hero’s journeys. I consider Vatan to be the main hero of the story. He’s first sent to the dangerous world of Casablanca to complete a mission of killing a man, and then he’s sent to London with the mission of discovering his wife’s true identity. We often see dual journeys in the movies, with the second journey usually being far more dangerous and painful than the first.
The question I have is: Did Vatan undergo a personal transformation? It’s hard to say. The fact that we don’t know makes him less than a memorable hero. He’s certainly put through the wringer and shows remarkable tenacity in the pursuit of the truth, but he probably had this tenacity already. Vatan has no clear mentors, other than perhaps Frank Heslop (Jared Harris) who counsels him to take the charges against Beausejour seriously. Vatan’s skills as a spy and as a killer suggest a number of implicit mentors who trained him well in the past.
I think Max Vatan does have a mentor in the first half of the film: Marianne. She instructs him on the finer points of Parisian French accents. And guides him through the new world of life in Casablanca. She’s the one who has laid the groundwork for the mission by creating social contacts that Max would be challenged to build. Once they return to London, her mentoring ends – as all good mentor / mentee relationships should.
Allied is a slow-moving film at first which picks up in the second half. I was bored for the first hour and felt a bit more engaged in the second. I can’t say I’d want a second look – or even recommend this film to friends. I give Allied just 2 Reels out of 5.
Max and Marianne are a good “buddy” hero duo with a common goal and strong skills. I think Max and Marianne do undergo a transformation since they both start out jaded regarding relationships – especially relationships between spies. I give them 3 Heroes out of 5.
Finally, there is a small amount of mentoring going on here with Marianne coaching Max in the ways of Casablanca life. Otherwise, we have the unseen mentors of the training that both received. I give the mentoring just 2 Mentors out of 5.
Allied aspires to be a great movie in the spirit of Casablanca and even ends in a dramatic airport scene like the iconic Humphrey Bogart film. But unlike the original Casablanca, this World War II romance story fails to soar in terms of character development and dramatic build-up. This doesn’t mean the movie isn’t worth watching. Marion Cotillard gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and Zemeckis succeeds in bringing some stylish elements to the big screen. Overall, I give Allied 3 Reels out of 5.
I see Vatan as the main hero; the story begins with him and ends with him. He endures two dangerous hero journeys with minimal mentoring and minimal transformation. Vatan’s heroic qualities are his courage and tenacity, and we admire his determination to uncover the truth about his wife, however painful that truth may be. Brad Pitt’s understated performance falls flat for me and hence he falls short of being a memorable hero. I award Vatan 2 Heroes out of 5. And because of the paucity of mentoring, I can only muster a rating of 2 Mentors out of 5 as well.