Declan Burke gives his thoughts on this week's films.
A prequel/spin-off that takes place (in a galaxy far, far away) just before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story centres on Jyn Urso (Felicity Jones), a soldier in the Rebel Alliance, whose father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is regarded as a traitor for helping the Empire to build the ‘planet-killing’ Death Star.
Galen, however, has buried a potentially devastating fault in the Death Star’s design; on receiving Galen’s message, Jyn and her companions — among them Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) — set out on a suicide mission to retrieve Galen’s blueprints.
The ‘Star Wars’ faithful will likely be very pleased with Rogue One, which was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and directed by Gareth Edwards, even if the storyline draws heavily on ‘A New Hope’ for its inspiration.
Arguably the most impressive addition to the ‘Star Wars’ canon from a technical point of view, it’s both a visual treat and a rocket-fuelled rollercoaster ride that segues from one explosive action sequence to the next with barely a pause to allow the audience to draw breath.
The normally effervescent Felicity Jones is in a surprisingly subdued mood here, with the result that the disaffected rebel Jyn Urso has all the charisma and emotional complexity of a sulky teenager, but the large cast provides a host of more enjoyable performances to compensate, most notably from Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, the deliciously malevolent Ben Mendelsohn and Alan Tudyk, the latter providing most of the movie’s humour courtesy of the reprogrammed droid’s deadpan delivery of bad news.
All told, Rogue One is a satisfying addition to the ‘Star Wars’ universe, a new story that is also a throwback to the earliest traditions of the franchise.
Set in 1879, Ballerina is an animated movie that opens with Félicie (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and Victor (Dane DeHaan) plotting their escape from an orphanage, where Félicie is encouraged to bury her dreams of becoming a dancer.
On arriving in Paris, Félicie wangles her way into the city’s best ballet school, but soon finds herself locked in combat with the wealthy Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) for the opportunity to dance at the Grand Opera.
That straightforward set-up leads into a story that remains simplistic throughout, although it’s only fair to point out that Ballerina is pitched at a very young demographic who will instinctively recognise the broad characterisations and familiar themes, as the spirited, winsome orphan Félicie is thwarted at every turn by the mean-spirited jealousy of her social superiors.
Even younger viewers, however, will appreciate that the animation here lacks the sophistication we’ve come to expect from our animated films — the lip-synching is particularly clumsy — with the notable exception of the beautifully rendered dance sequences, when Félicie shrugs off the baggage of her lowly origins and the film explodes into life.
Indeed, and despite being distinctly average in terms of technique and originality, Ballerina is a sweet and wholesome tale overall, one in which the indefatigable optimism of the effervescent Félicie may well end up melting the most cynical of adult hearts.
Movie review: It's a Wonderful Life (PG)
First released in 1946 (to a surprisingly lukewarm reception) It’s a Wonderful Life was Frank Capra’s variation on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story opens on Christmas Eve, with George Bailey (James Stewart), the owner of the local Building & Loan, in suicidal mood.
He believes he has betrayed his family and the good people of Bedford Falls by losing his business’s money, thus allowing the rapacious Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) to take over the town.
Happily – spoiler alert! – his guardian angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) swoops down to lend a hand, offering a bleak vision of how badly things might have turned out if George hadn’t been around to influence events.
Revered today as the ultimate in Christmas movie feel-good fare, It’s a Wonderful Life might prove surprisingly dark in tone to anyone lucky enough to be seeing it for the first time: George’s existential despair is vividly rendered, and James Stewart is in magnificent form as he plumbs the depths.
With Frank Capra at his bittersweet best, and a superb supporting cast in play (Barrymore, Gloria Grahame, Donna Reed), It’s a Wonderful Life is the season’s must-see perennial.
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