Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Walk

Year 8, Day 352 - 12/17/16 - Movie #2,494 - viewed on 9/4/16         

BEFORE: And now, here is Hollywood's dramatic take on the events seen last night in "Man on Wire".

THE PLOT: In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

AFTER: I do remember what it was like being on top of the World Trade Center - I visited the observation deck once, and although the view of NYC was spectactular, there was always that sort of sinking feeling, like people were never meant to be up this high.  That it was irrational and irresponsible to view the world from that angle.  I remember I was nervous the whole time I was there, but I'm usually nervous whenever I'm in a tall building.  

I spent much more time in the building's lobby and basement, there was the equivalent of a shopping mall in the lower levels, lots of stores and little food shops - I used to work about a block south of the towers, and I was at that job in February 1993, at the time of the first bombing.  That was the one where someone tried to blow the buildings up with a van full of explosives, detonated in the underground garage.  Six people were killed, but the building stayed (mostly) intact - the plan was to topple the North Tower and have that knock down the South Tower, like dominoes.  Of course, we now know that would never have worked, the tower would have crumbled before it fell over.  

So this movie was hard for me to watch for two reasons, the first is the vertigo that resulted from the realistic (presumably CGI) backgrounds, simulating the view from thousands of feet up.  Seriously, I'm surprised that I didn't have that recurring dream last night where I'm falling from a large building.  I haven't had that dream in years, but I would have expected the top-floor sequences here to trigger it. 

And the second was being constantly reminded that those buildings are no longer there, that 27 years after this incident took place, those buildings would no longer be there.  I remember watching one of those post-9/11 reality shows that analyzed the attack, and it pointed out that the WTC towers were essentially two metal tubes, with steel skins from which each floor was hung.  This was great because it eliminated the need on each floor for columns, creating more office space, but terrible overall because any piercing of that metal framework would seriously endanger the overall strength of the building's outer shell.  

One presumes and hopes that they never design any buildings like this again, and that the Freedom Tower built to replace the WTC used a different technique.  By building one tower instead of two, they certainly ensured that no one would ever be able to wire-walk across the gap ever again.  After his stunt, Philippe Petit was given a lifetime pass to visit the observation deck of the WTC, which is now a worthless gift, unless they extended his privilege to the Freedom Tower as well.  

As for Petit's story, they softened the ending in the Hollywood version, in this film his relationship ends, shortly after his wire-walking coup, as she decides to return to France.  But those of us who also watched the documentary know that shortly after his arrest, Petit claims to have had a romantic encounter with a fan, a groupie of sorts (assuming that there are groupies for wire-walking) and this, as much as anything, probably signaled the end of the relationship.  So, which is true?  Or was Petit claiming to have had a quickie with a stranger, just to save face and not deal with the break-up?  Or was Petit riding so high after his accomplishment that he felt there must have been a better mate for him out there somewhere?  

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Steve Valentine (last heard in "A Christmas Carol (2009)"), James Badge Dale (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Ben Schwartz (last heard in "Turbo"), Benedict Samuel, Stuart Fink, Mark Camacho (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past")

RATING: 6 out of 10 fake IDs

Man on Wire

Year 8, Day 352 - 12/17/16 - Movie #2,493 - viewed on 9/3/16       

BEFORE: If you look back, you'll see that on Labor Day weekend, I was finally able to link to "Captain America: Civil War" and "Deadpool" - which left me no movies to watch that weekend, at least until Monday.  A few weeks before that, I'd blocked out the rest of my movies for the year on a calendar, and I realized I was setting myself up for failure - the time period between the premiere of "Rogue One" and December 25 was a rigorous one, it seemed like I'd be cramming too many movies into the week before Christmas, and that's really time that should be spent enjoying the holidays.  

But, with two free days on Labor Day weekend, I decided to get a jump on December.  Watching this film then, plus the dramatic Hollywood version of the same story, might allow me to double-up on the weekend of December 17-18, which would give me a greater chance of getting to Movie #2,500 - scheduled to be a Christmas-themed movie, on time.  

This, of course, assumed that I wouldn't give in to the temptation to tear apart my watchlist and re-assemble it for a period of three and a half months - unlikely to say the least.  But let's assume for a moment that I stayed on track, didn't change the list too much, and as I post this review it's mid-December, maybe there's a chill in the air.  Which is nice to think about, considering that it's currently 70 degrees in NYC and Hurricane Hermione is approaching the area.  

And as a bonus, I can watch two films about the World Trade Center in September, which seems more appropriate after 9/11.  Hey, at least I'll have something to talk about next week on the 15-year anniversary. 

THE PLOT: A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974.

AFTER: It's funny, I was rushing around on Friday (9/2) trying to get something shipped out to France via UPS, and everything was going wrong for me - that often seems to be par for the course right before a holiday weekend like Labor Day.  UPS failed to pick up the package as they said they would, so I had to hump it over to the main UPS center on 43rd St., which was open until 9 pm, even on the day before the 3-day weekend.  As I skirted the edge of Times Square, I noticed a lot of people staring up toward the sky, many taking pictures, and I just thought, "Stupid tourists, probably never saw skyscrapers before."  But when I took a second to look up, I saw a plane skywriting a message.  Oh, so THAT'S what everyone's looking at.  You almost never see skywriting any more, it's like a lost art or something, or maybe that's just in New York.  

And this film is all about someone in the air catching the attention of the people on the ground - that time in the 1970's when a tightrope walker managed to get a line across the Twin Towers and walk across and back, eight times in all.  To the people on the ground, he must have looked just like a little speck.  They probably couldn't even see the wire, so it must have seemed like that man-speck was floating in the air, right?  I went to the top of the WTC one time, and from the observation deck I don't think it was possible to see people on the ground, that's how high the towers were.  So what chance did people on the ground have of seeing Philippe Petit thousands of feet up?   Or really being able to appreciate his lying down on the rope?  

Really, this seemed to be more about Philippe himself, proving that this feat could be done - he had previously walked across the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and two towers at the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  So when he saw that two towers were being built in lower Manhattan, he became obsessed with the idea of walking between them.  I guess everyone sees things a little differently, where most people saw two office buildings, Petit saw a gap that could be walked across, and years later, other people saw something that could be turned into a pile of rubble.  

I don't mean to lump Petit in with terrorists, but the fact of the matter is that what he did was illegal.  Oh, it didn't hurt anyone outright, and there may not have been any malicious intent, but laws exist to protect everyone, including the law-breakers themselves.  Even though he clearly had the talent to walk across this wire, it was still an unsafe, foolhardy act.  Maybe I just can't get behind it because I have a rational fear of heights - I don't say it's an "irrational" fear, because I believe it's OK to be afraid of something that can kill you.  And a fall from that distance certainly foots the bill.  

So it's really an "artistic crime" that was committed, right?  Well, not really, because I'm not sure if walking on a high-wire is an art, or just a skill.  Anyway, an "artistic crime" would be something more like a mime performing, or a hipster busking in the subway.  Petit and his crew passed through many of the security protocols that were in place at the World Trade Center, using fake badges and disguises to get their cables, tethers and other equipment into place.  This makes me wonder if they had the decency afterwards to point out exactly where the lapses in security were.  I'm guessing changes were made after this high-wire act took place, and probably some security personnel were sacked - so to me that's not really a victimless crime.  

In interviews, Petit remembers the details of his feat, and his (very French) suggestion is that if he were to die while pursuing his passion, what a "beautiful death" that would be.  I can't really find the truth in this logic, because death is death, and we should all try to stave it off for as long as possible, right?  I mean, who wants to rush headlong into the abyss, just to do the thing that they love?  Doesn't it make more sense to try and stay alive, so you can do the things that you love for a longer period of time?  

This documentary was a mix of interviews, footage from the 1970's of Petit's rehearsal walks, and recreations with actors of events that were never filmed - like the infamous walk itself.  Turns out that one piece of equipment that everyone in Petit's crew forgot to bring was a camera.  There's no filmed footage of the event, which, like the moon landing, now leads some people to believe that it never took place.  Of course it did, there's an arrest record for the man and everything - and we all know that police never lie about anything, right?  

Starring Philippe Petit, Annie Allix, Jean-Francois Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, David Forman, Alan Weiner, Barry Greenhouse, Paul McGill (last seen in "Fame"), David Demato, Ardis Campbell, Aaron Haskell.  

RATING: 5 out of 10 security guards

True Story

Year 8, Day 351 - 12/16/16 - Movie #2,492

BEFORE: It's the time of year when naturally we start to think about endings - the end of the year, the last page of the calendar, the end of our country's Democratic system, the end of the world (whoops, that's next year, spoiler alert...) - and for me, I've worked hard to find a chain of films that will not only get me to movie #2,500 before Christmas, but that will also bring about some kind of resolution, if that's even possible on some level.  I went back and forth on a lot of films that had some connection to "The Night Before" - the big question being "Should I watch "Sausage Party" in December, or save it for January?" First it was a long-shot, then it was in for sure, now I just don't have the slot for it.  It connects to a lot of films coming up, but it's got such a large cast that it will probably connect to a lot of films in January also.  So, that's it then, it's out.

Then nothing seemed to link out of "Rogue One", so for a long while, I planned to just give up, and follow that film with a documentary, like maybe "Jodorowsky's Dune", to keep the sci-fi theme going.  But then a couple of James Franco films came my way, including this one, which also stars Felicity Jones, so I actually DID have a way to link out of "Rogue One".  And naturally, with both Franco and Jonah Hill in this film, it seemed like putting "Sausage Party" back into the mix for 2016 would make sense.  But again, the same problem - I don't have a slot for it.  I watched two films back in September that I simply will not carry over into the next year, and I've got to post those reviews tomorrow.  Publish or perish - and that's my lead-in to "The Night Before", and from there the chain is set to the other Christmas film, so once again "Sausage Party" is out.  Sacrifices have to be made, here at the end of the year, with only 8 slots left after tonight.  Did I make the right decision?  Or did I just make a terrible linking error back when I watched "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"?  I may never know.

THE PLOT: When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo - who has taken on Finkel's identity - his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse.

AFTER: Ultimately, if there's anything we should point to this year as the cause of our troubles, it's fake news - which is an oxymoronic term that shouldn't even exist, outside of "The Onion" and "The Daily Show".  Because if something's fake, then it's not news.  And if it's news, we used to be able to trust that someone had checked it, and it's real and factual.  Because if it's not those things, then it's - what's that other word - oh, right, a lie. And thanks to the interwebs and social media, an alluring lie can spread much faster than the boring facts, and since nearly nobody bothers to take the time to fact-check anything, whether something's true or not now takes a back seat to gauging how many people are talking about it and forwarding it.  This has got to change.  

If you've ever lied, or if you have someone in your life who makes a habit of lying, then you know that one lie can never stand by itself.  You usually have to tell a second lie to explain the first lie, and then a third one to back that one up, and so on.  I've been through enough scrapes to know that honesty isn't just the best policy, it's also the best way to keep your story straight.  The central character here learns this lesson the hard way, after he combines the backgrounds of several men in a news article for the fictional "The New York Times" to make a composite character, and it turns out that's a no-no at the Gray Lady, so he's shown the door.  

After several attempts at finding work and getting back in the game (umm, after you get sacked from The Times, it's probably best to just find another line of work, or so I've heard) he learns that a man accused of murder, Christian Longo, was caught in Mexico while using his name, Michael Finkel, as an alias.  Finkel meets with the man in prison, but in the midst of their bro-bonding, he doesn't think to ask about "why" he borrowed his name - which is weird, because isn't "why" one of those 5 W words that journalists are supposed to ask?  (Let's see, who, what, where, why - yep, it's definitely one.)  

Longo does explain that he's a big fan of Finkel's writing, and he wants to learn to write like Finkel, as much as he wants to tell his story to someone who writes like Finkel, preferably Finkel, if he's available.  Finkel only sees a way to get back into writing, either with a news story about Longo, or a book, or maybe even a movie - sure, like THAT would ever happen.  

The process that follows is somewhat akin to what happens when two people fall in love - they tend to notice only the things they have in common, and ignore the traits that they don't share (umm, like one of them probably murdered his family?).  Finkel pays attention to the similarities in their handwriting, details from their backgrounds, etc. and in a way, he's smitten and starts to believe that Longo is innocent.  It's only later in the court case where we get glimpses of the real reason for Longo's meetings with Finkel, and this suggests that perhaps by using Finkel's name as an alias, that getting in touch with Finkel was part of his game plan all along.  

However, both characters make for unreliable narrators, and as a result the audience may not know who to believe, or when either character has stopped telling lies that are intended to explain their previous lies.  Longo's version of what happened on the night in question is so far from any possible reality that it's not even movie-possible.  So, is the title of the film meant to be ironic?  Is this the nature of the crime story, post "Gone Girl", that we may not get the real story, and on top of that, we're led to believe that we don't even deserve it?  Are we all just going to have to settle for "truthiness" going forward?  That doesn't bode well.

NITPICK POINT: When Finkel is first made aware that someone has been using his identity, he goes right to Google to search on his name.  But this could mean that he'd have to sort through a bunch of genuine stories about himself, or written by himself, before he found any news about the false Finkel.  But he had Longo's name, wouldn't it have been more efficient to search on Longo's name, or their two names together, to get better search results for news about the impersonation?  

Also starring Jonah Hill (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"), James Franco (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Ethan Suplee (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Robert John Burke (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Gretchen Mol (last seen in "Rounders"), Betty Gilpin, Robert Stanton, Maria Dizzia, Genevieve Angelson, Joel Garland, Rebecca Henderson, Maryann Plunkett (last seen in "The Night Listener").

RATING: 5 out of 10 promotional book signings

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Year 8, Day 350 - 12/15/16 - Movie #2,491

BEFORE: Wow, it's been a full month since I watched "Southpaw", and I've abstained from movies for 30 days, except that over the Thanksgiving weekend I re-watched "Magnolia" and "Big Fish" while staying at my parents' house after attending my 30th high-school reunion. (I'll comment more on that event in a few days...).  What's been going on?  

Well, Thanksgiving was fine, we met my parents up in Connecticut, about halfway between their house and mine, and had a spectacular dinner.  Our 2nd year at this restaurant, and they've hit a home run both times.  I got turkey this year, not because I felt I had to, but after abstaining from turkey on Thanksgiving for about 5 years, I was ready to go back to it. (Sure, I could have had prime rib, or seafood, and I'm sure they would have been fine, but I was curious again to have a fine restaurant really nail the sides like cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce.)  Add a fall harvest salad and a bowl of N.E. clam chowder, pumpkin pie for dessert, and I was a happy camper.  

Then after that, we're all kind of whirled into the holiday season, with gift lists and Christmas cards to write, lights and decorations to hang, plus I had to put my annual holiday music CD together, though I wasn't exactly in a festive mood at first, and think about getting together with friends for drinks, work out when we're going to drive up to Massachusetts, where we're going to sleep (looks like a hotel this year), and so on.  December has a tendency to come and go in a flash, so I can't really be watching movies, because every day is critical when there are only 20 or so days until Christmas.  

This is when I have to fall back on the "carrot and stick" method to motivate myself.  Getting the holiday tasks like hanging the lights on the porch and shopping for gifts out of the way then enables me to reward myself, and this year the reward includes a new "Star Wars" film.  OK, so that's the carrot that's been pushing me forward these past few weeks.  So where's the stick?  Maybe it's better to think about this karmically, like on that TV show "My Name Is Earl" - if I do good things, good things will happen to me.  If I get my shopping done and my Christmas cards mailed out, I get a new "Star Wars" film to watch.  (I just peeked back at my review of SW: Ep VII almost exactly one year ago, and I mind was more or less in the same place - new "Star Wars" is here, so I must have done something right.)

Christmas shopping was very easy this year, we drove out to the Tanger Outlets in Long Island on a Wednesday (I earned a day off by working all weekend at an Animation Art Sale...) and only spent about 5 hours on it, start to finish, including lunch.  Walk to the next relevant store, look around, tear out the coupon from the book, and pay the balance.  Repeat as necessary - we drove home with a car full of gifts, plus a few things for ourselves from Old Navy, and felt like we'd cheated, and won Christmas.  Now I'll probably have to spend a whole day wrapping, but that can wait.  My holiday mix CD is another whole story, I'll table that for now and tell that story a little closer to Dec. 25.  

Because new "Star Wars" is here, and that's almost better than Christmas. Let's get the details out of the way - Forest Whitaker carries over from "Southpaw", so I've been thinking ahead for sure.  With just 9 slots left in the 2016 Movie Year, what comes AFTER "Rogue One"?  Well, that's where things get a little dicier.  I've got two Christmas movies on the docket, "The Night Before" and "A Merry Friggin' Christmas".  The perfect acting link between these two films, in retrospect, was "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" (Jason Jones links it to the former, and Clark Duke links it to the latter.)  But I watched that in the John Cusack chain, which was a mistake because only Cusack's PHOTO appeared in the film (how was I supposed to know that?) much like only Judi Dench's photo appeared in "Skyfall".  I can't believe what some people get an IMDB credit for, but that's out of my control.

So, I had to devise a new strategy - and now it will take THREE films to link between those two Christmas films, but this will enable me to clear at least one film off the list that was nearly impossible to link to for a very long time, as well as the two films I watched in September about that guy who tightrope-walked across the World Trade Center.  And if all goes well, there will be just one gap in the linking between here and movie #2,500.

But why not make "Rogue One" Movie #2,500?  Ah, well, I'm glad you asked.  To do that, I'd have to watch the Christmas films much too early, and more importantly, there wasn't a clear path toward working in 9 more films before "Rogue One".  The chain between here and the end of the year makes much more sense to me if I watch "Rogue One" now, as film #2,491.  Besides, I went a few years thinking that "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" was the first film I watched in this project, when after a careful review of Year 1, it turns out it was movie #3.  So since I didn't begin that year with a "Star Wars" film, I don't feel the absolute need to END this year with one.  Does that make sense?  Since I can't bookend the last 2,500 films with similar films, it feels better to bookend Year 8 with similar films, and I'll get to explaining that next week. 

So, on to "Rogue One", and then tonight I really have to get the last of those Christmas cards and holiday CDs packed up for tomorrow's mail.  Hey, at least I got HALF of them out before I let myself have the carrot.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (Movie #2,200)

THE PLOT: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star.

SPOILER ALERT: Which I almost never say, because I never intend to offend, but hey, it's Star Wars and I don't want to spoil this for anyone.  Anyway, go out and see "Rogue One" before continuing, please.  Thanks.  

AFTER: It's early Friday morning, and I just got in from Manhattan, where I caught the 8:30 pm screening on Thursday night.  That's right, Thursday, because I live the Star Wars lifestyle, and I need to know that I saw the film before at least 95% of other people.  Oh, I'll allow for a few star-studded premieres and benefit screenings, but opening night of a "Star Wars" film, I simply MUST be there.  "Star Wars" has given me so much, not just entertainment but a direction in my life, a career and perhaps most importantly, something to discuss with other like-minded people.

And so I want to bring up two discussions I had Wednesday night at the office Christmas party, only one of which concerns "Star Wars" directly, but both are still relevant to "Rogue One".  The first is about the film "Contact", released in 1997.  I had read the Carl Sagan novel it's based on in high-school, and it got me thinking about what it might look like as a film, and I may have made a feeble attempt to adapt it into a screenplay.  I had a vision in my had of what it would be as a film, what music would play during certain scenes, etc.  Maybe a lot of people read books and imagine them as movies, and very few people get the chance to adapt them into movies, but I felt like maybe I had a shot, once I got out of film school, somehow. But after film school I got with other work, and got married, divorced, etc. - long story short, I never figured out how to make a movie out of "Contact", never even got close to having that kind of opportunity.  Someone else did, and then I had to go see that film in the theater, and realize that it was quite different from what I had envisioned, which was probably a good thing for all concerned, including me.

Now, every "Star Wars" fan worth his or her salt knows that the Death Star plans were beamed aboard the Tantive IV (Princess Leia's ship) shortly before the start of "A New Hope", and some eager fans and authors have probably taken stabs at telling that story over the years.  I know I've seen many attempts in various comic books, so there must be a ton of fan fiction about this as well.  Now it's been adapted into this movie, and I think it's better than any other version of it I've seen, so there is that.

My second discussion, however, concerns a Dark Horse comic book set in the Star Wars universe, called "Tag & Bink Are Dead".  I think it was a 2-issue series (followed by another 2-issue series later) about two very unlucky, hapless characters who stumble around locations like Tatooine and the Death Star, somehow managing to be in the background of every famous "Star Wars" scene, though you'd never see them in the movie, even if you were looking.  There was a character in that series who played a major role in getting the plans to the SECOND Death Star, seen in "Return of the Jedi", and his name was Manny.  Manny Bothans.  As in "Manny Bothans died to bring us this information." Now, this was played for comic relief, so allegedly Mon Mothma was mis-heard and seemed to be pointing out the sacrifice of many people from the planet Both, or something like that.

Ignoring the comedic angle, it's hard to see why the story of Mr. Bothans needed to be told - it simply didn't, it was just one author's lark of an idea, resulting from a play on words.  But I'm left questioning whether the story of the Rogue One agents needed to be told, and I'm not convinced that it did.  The reason being, true Star Wars fans already know where this particular story is likely to end up, in fact, where it HAS to end up, so is the method by which it gets there really significant?  Which is more important, the journey or the destination?  I don't know the answer.

Ultimately, it's a heist picture, and carries with it a lot of the tropes and pitfalls of any heist film - namely we end up rooting for thieves, and even if they're noble thieves with good intentions, it's still a little questionable.  Do we root for Billy Bob Thornton's character in "Bad Santa"?  Maybe, I guess some people probably do.  I know people rooted for the protagonists of the "Ocean's Eleven" series, but by the third film I recall the plot had to bend over backwards to make the Vegas heists seem noble.  What else, "The Town", "Three Kings", "A Fish Called Wanda"?   Maybe it all goes back to Robin Hood, and he was a rebel in his own way, right?  Fight the king, fight the Empire, it's all the same.

But now we've got conservatives who are alleging that the appearance of a film focusing on rebels trying to take down the government appearing right after an election is no coincidence, which if you carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion, just means that Vader is Trump and the people who are claiming this are also admitting this connection, despite the fact that a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi film takes YEARS to produce, therefore it must have been conceived and written long before anyone could have predicted the outcome of the 2016 election.  But no, go ahead, keep spreading the rumor because it's only going to make open revolt cool again, and force some kind of social change, or at the very least, help keep people on their toes for the next four years.

I'm going to need to see this film again, in early January, to confirm my feelings, and maybe if the film flows better during the second viewing, I'll feel a little better about it.  As with "The Force Awakens", the first viewing was just to let the plot wash over me, to get immersed in the tone of that universe once again, to have the nostalgic feels again.  I don't want to get too bogged down in the details now, but I'm sure I'll notice many more NITPICK POINTS later, in addition to the big one I saw tonight.

But I will say that if the thing you hated most about "The Force Awakens" was all of the callbacks to the first six films (or echoes, or shout-outs, or whatever you call them) - Hey, another Death Star!  Hey, another desert planet!  Hey, another problem with the Falcon's hyperdrive! - then you're really not going to like "Rogue One".  There are plenty more callbacks to be seen here, especially if you're a sharp-eyed Star Wars expert, like I am.  And they really punch them up, too - they really want you to KNOW that this background character was later seen in a particular place and time in "A New Hope" (I won't say any character names...) and some author's probably already working on a short story that explains how he got from Jedda to Tatooine, and why.

I want to care about these things, I really do, but it's a big, big universe, and it's hard to believe that the central characters of different eras can keep bumping into the same people.  Like the way that "Revenge of the Sith" revealed that Yoda and Chewbacca once defended Kashyyyk  together at the end of the Clone Wars.  Sure, it's a strange coincidence, and maybe that's a little gift tossed in for the hardcore fans, but in the end it doesn't really seem all that important, it's just a little anomaly.  They never encounter each other in Episodes 1-3, so who cares?

My fear is that upon further review, I'll come to regard "Rogue One" as a film centered around the "Star Wars" equivalent of a bunch of IT guys uploading a file to their server.  Which honestly, doesn't sound that interesting, people do stuff like that at work all the time.  OK, so they're not surrounded by TIE fighters or a bunch of stormtroopers with blasters, but the essence is the same.  And I don't understand all these spy or "hacker" movies lately that seem to think that watching a progress bar of a file downloading (or a virus uploading) is somehow a valid substitute for action or suspense.  It's not, it's a lame attempt, plus I can see that happening on any computer, it's really not that exciting.

How much drama can you get out of a simple file transfer, after all?  Wait just a second, the computer's not recognizing my flash drive. (Hurry, the Imperials are approaching!)  Damn, now I need to reboot the server. (Hurry, the stormtroopers are knocking on the door!)  Wait just a second, now my browser's updating the Flash plug-in...  (Hurry, they're blowing up the lock!)  Oh, wait, I want to print a confirmation, but the printer's out of ink, I have to change the cartridge.  (Damn it, they're in the room!)  And....scene.  See, if you take out the parenthetical parts about the stormtroopers, it's just another boring day at the office, and that's where the problem lies.

But let's look at the positives - like "The Force Awakens", this is another SW film where the central character is a strong female - who was also separated from her family at a young age, so Jyn Erso is almost like a rare call-FORWARD to Rey in Episode 7... In fact, if anything highlights the difference between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, it's the realization that the Rebels are equal-opportunity, with lots of high-ranking females, and the Empire still functions like a patriarchy - seriously, it's like 99.9% male, even if you count Captain Phasma, and she won't break the glass ceiling for another 30 years.  So perhaps that's why some people are picking up on this Democratic/Republican thing, because the GOP still works like an old white men's club?  The Alliance is also more racially diverse, which I don't think is an accident either - more minorities are in the Democratic Party as well, and I think that's why it's easy to draw the connections.  Hey, people once thought that Palpatine and Vader were a thinly veiled Reagan + Bush analogy, didn't they?  Or was it that the deceit that Palpatine fostered during the start of the Clone Wars seemed an awful lot like the misleading justifications to invade Iraq?  People are always going to see political things in the "Star Wars" films, I guess.

I reserve the right to update this review later with more NP's after the second viewing.  For now, my rating stands at a number which states that it's a thrilling film, but I've got a few issues.  I know, shocking, right?

Also starring Felicity Jones (last seen in "The Invisible Woman"), Diego Luna (last seen in "Frida"), Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Riz Ahmed (last seen in "Centurion"), Mads Mikkelsen (last seen in "Casino Royale"), Jimmy Smits (last seen in "Switch"), Genevieve O'Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Ben Daniels, Paul Kasey, Ian McElhinney, Jonathan Aris, Fares Fares, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Valene Kane, Aidan Cook, Daniel Mays, Ingvild Deila, with the voices of Alan Tudyk (last seen in "Serenity"), James Earl Jones (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Anthony Daniels, and cameos from Warwick Davis, Angus MacInnes.

RATING: 8 out of 10 Kyber crystals