The wholesale euphoria that Star Wars: The Force Awakens created around the globe this time last year was only calming down when fever for all things Jedi re-erupted with news of this stand-alone addition to the franchise. Rogue One, we were told, would be set before the events of George Lucas's 1977 first chapter Episode IV: A New Hope and blend new characters with a peppering of those from the main storyline.
Being genetically related while looking to plough its own furrow works both for and against this instalment from Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla). Those in search of mystical, light-sabre operatics may not find enough here to be swept away with teary nostalgia as so many were 12 months ago. What they will find is beautiful, bellicose, widescreen sci-fi and agreeable new faces stepping up to help take on the Empire.
From the planet-hopping opening scenes, the pace is breakneck. A young girl is orphaned on a far-off outpost. This is Jyn Erso, whose mother is killed and engineer father (Mads Mikkelsen) taken by Ben Mendelsohn's nasty Imperial chief to oversee work on the Death Star. Years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is co-opted into the Rebel Alliance who want to find her father and get info on this planet-destroying weapon. She is joined on the mission by Diego Luna's rakish agent, a monastic disciple of the Force (Donnie Yen) and the obligatory comic-relief droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They go from one technology puzzle to the next while battles rage in skies and on the ground.
Jones, Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker (as a militia leader) stand out in a strong cast. Using dead-eyed CGI renderings of 1977 cast members is criminal, however.
Hilary A White
Cert G: Opens tomorrow
Now that Frozen has wrenched every last shilling from besieged parents, the market is open for another sprinkle of animated catnip for the little princess of the family. This French-Canadian production from co-directors Eric Summer and Eric Warin should prove utterly irresistible to the demographic, taking as it does the oft-trodden Cinderella template and sticking a Gallic tutu on proceedings.
Parking the cynicism for one moment, Ballerina is not only a very effective, fit-for-purpose confection, it also survives on production merit as well. The animation — some apparently based on the moves of actual Opera de Paris dancers — is expressive, vital and immaculately rendered on a level just below Pixar quality. Paris in 1879 makes for a gorgeous backdrop too.
Here we find 11-year-old Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) who has escaped her rural orphanage with crafty pal Victor (Dane DeHaan) and come to Paris. Her dream is to train at the Opera de Paris but the best she can do is scrubbing floors with surly caretaker and former ballerina Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen). A window of opportunity gets her an audition but once in, she has snooty classmates and a lack of finesse to overcome if she’s to succeed.
Yes, it’s entirely unoriginal and is littered with ghastly bubblegum pop songs, but when the “official merchandise” van rolls into town, don’t say you haven’t been warned. ★★★★
Hilary A White
Club Cert; Now showing IFI
Howard Brookner’s parents hoped that their son would become a lawyer and marry a woman. He came of age in the 1970s and they were disappointed when he chose a different life, he was keen to become a filmmaker and he was gay. Howard died of AIDS in 1989, just as his career was taking off and just before his 34th birthday. This documentary about him is made by his nephew Aaron, the clue is in the title, on whom Uncle Howard made a lasting impression. He interviews his grandmother, Howard’s mother, for the film and she says that, parental hopes notwithstanding, she is happy that in his short life her son got to do what he wanted to do. That sentiment sums up the entire doc which although inevitably a little sad, is a celebration, personal but not prurient, of a short but apparently happy life.
The first major film project that Howard Brookner undertook was a documentary about beat writer William S Burroughs. Together with the project sound recordist Jim Jarmusch he shot many hours of footage and it’s the rediscovery of that raw footage in poet John Giorno’s home with which the documentary begins. It’s a good find. Burroughs has cult status and the footage also illustrates the time — NY in the late 70s, the influences and atmosphere. It felt a little tangential in the beginning but the doc comes together properly when it is more about Howard and it does give a strong sense of the man and his work.
Club Cert: Now Showing IFI
Although set during the Nepalese civil war (1996-2006) Min Bahadur Bham’s feature debut feels pertinent to current events in Aleppo and demonstrates how the tentacles of destruction ravage even the lives that are not ended. Set during a temporary ceasefire, the film centres around two boys, Untouchable Prakash (Khadka Raj Nepali) and village headman’s grandson Kiran (Sukra Raj Rokaya) whose different castes mean nothing to them yet do to many adults.
The boys are used to war and to the hard society in which they live, they have to be tough but their grief and uncertainty is still very present, as illustrated by dream sequences. Also, when Prakash’s sister buys him a hen before she joins the Maoist rebels the hen has extra meaning so, after his father sells it, the boys are determined to get it back. The simple life and gorgeous setting are beautifully shot. Some of the acting is amateur but it works, leaving a sense of damage that honours the thousands of known casualties of the war.