Holiday movie season shifts into high gear this weekend as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theatres around the continent. Hyped as a stand-alone adventure, the plot of Rogue One is based on a single line from the opening credits of Episode IV: A New Hope: "Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans from the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star."
So it's a prequel, but not to the main story of the Kenobis-Skywalkers-Jedi that we are used to. It's still all tied in to that story, but no one is supposed to talk about that yet, as per a specific request from the Disney empire.
This is fine with me. If I ran the galaxy, there would be no pre-screeners for anything and trailers would never exceed 30 seconds — everyone would walk into every film untainted by outside opinion or the dark arts of marketing. I'd probably be out of a job but it would be a better world.
But we live in this world and I need the job so here you go: Rogue One is not total shite. It's way better than the kiddie-fare in episodes 1 to 3, but like we saw in The Force Awakens, Disney plays this one safe and banks on giving us slightly new angles on the familiar. Thankfully, the action is stellar, the cast shines and Rogue One rocks a heist-flick and war vibe rather than the political arena crap we saw in the other prequels (which isn't to say there isn't still some of that). There are starship battles, high-consequence warfare, really good martial arts, loveable droids, a decent female lead, Forest Whitaker (!), and lots more to be stoked on.
Unfortunately, the script is not that noteworthy and for all the spectacle I fear there's still something missing, that piece of the original Star Wars that could stick in children's imaginations and give them hours of ideas to build on back home with a handful of action figures and a houseplant. Rogue One is fun and exciting, but it doesn't really explore any new creative terrain. It doesn't inspire. And for a "stand-alone" sci-fi adventure set in one of the largest cinematic universes ever conceived, that's a bit disappointing. The forces of consumerism are strong in this one... but a masterpiece, it is not.
Also opening this week at the illustrious Village 8 (and also not a masterpiece), Collateral Beauty stars Will Smith (The Fresh Prince, Ali) as a successful urbanite who loses his daughter in a terrible tragedy and is so overcome with grief that he starts writing letters to abstractions like Death, Love and Time... and then those abstractions show up as anthropomorphic personifications to help him. Or do they? They might just be actors hired by his business partners to help get him back on track, or to remove him from the floundering company altogether. But that sounds pretty dark for a holiday movie and this one ends in hugs and has super uplifting music in the trailer so who knows?
I haven't seen Collateral Beauty but it's getting shat upon by almost every other critic and the only positive quote I could find was someone said it's got an old-school-traditional-values vibe similar to holiday classics like Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life, both of which sucked ass hair, so be wary with Collateral Beauty. The cast has a high pedigree and I guess you have to give credit to someone in Hollywood for trying to do something that sounds so bafflingly stupid on paper, but it didn't seem to work for anyone. Avoid!
The punk-rock documentary of the week is Salad Days, a super in-depth look at the extremely rich, nuanced and influential Washington, D.C. hardcore scene of the 1980s. Slickly written and directed by Scott Crawford, this one features tons of classic concert footage and contemporary interviews with members of '80s punk bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, The Teen Idles, Void, Faith, Fire Party, Fugazi and Dave Grohl, one of the key links between '80s hardcore-DIY punk and the worldwide commercial grunge-alternative explosion of the 1990s.
One of the legacies of punk has always been the democratization of art, music and culture. The D.C. scene taught the world that creativity is normal and anyone was capable of making anything happen. Find Salad Days on iTunes and go make your last-minute Christmas gifts with a can of spray paint, a stencil, and some couch cushions.