What happens when you open a star-studded Christmas drama against one of the most anticipated movies of the year? I don’t know the specifics, but it certainly won’t be pretty.
Last year, Disney’s resurrection of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise pleased most moviegoers, but left others disgruntled due to its recycled formula. This week, the studio puts the continuation of the expanded universe to the test with ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story‘, a new(ish) entry in the saga that’s completely unlike any of the other seven feature films in the series.
Think back to the original 1977 ‘Star Wars’ film that kicked off the franchise. Remember why Princess Leia was on the run? She possessed stolen schematics for the Empire’s planet-killing weapon. Playing out like ‘Suicide Squad’ in space, ‘Rogue One’ tells the story of the unlikely team that stole those plans for the Death Star. While it’s filled with adventure and tension, this prequel/spinoff is bleak. It’s a war film. It’s gritty and dark. And with this adult take on the ‘Star Wars’ world, it doesn’t spoon-feed you its story. Instead, it’s complex and requires you to pay attention to all the dialogue and details. I went in as a casual viewer and walked away sorely disappointed at first. However, after a second viewing, I did the work and walked away more satisfied. I still have some qualms with the film overall (which I’ll let you discover on your own), but I now find more entertainment in it than just the third act.
After ‘Rogue One’, the movie that friends and co-workers have asked me about the most this winter is ‘Collateral Beauty‘. After seeing its stirring, sentimental and charming first trailer, they’re all hooked. They’ve taken the bait and can’t wait to see it. When I saw the trailer, I too anticipated its release. It looked unique and promising. Having now seen it, it’s a shame that the final product isn’t the movie it was advertised to be.
‘Collateral Beauty’ kicks off with a corporate meeting that introduces us to the company’s inspired leader. Will Smith is just as lovable as ever. Cut to three years later. Following the passing of his six-year-old daughter and the dissolution of his marriage, he’s a mess. He doesn’t speak to his friends, peers or clients. His company is going down the drain, so three fellow executives (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena) plot to fraudulently get him kicked out of his own company so they can sell it. They hire three actors (Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Jacob Latimore) to play ghostly characters like those from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. With a private investigator (Ann Dowd) filming the interactions of Smith with the “ghosts,” they plan to doctor the footage to make it appear like he’s a madman unfit to lead the company. Somehow, we’re expected to like his three co-workers and friends through their fraud. Set during Christmas time, the movie uses no aspect of the holiday season to its favor. All emotion derives from the death of children (not just his own), which makes it super manipulative. Even if you can’t get into a sold-out ‘Rogue One’ showing, I wouldn’t recommend ‘Collateral Beauty’ unless you’re in the mood for some shameless sugary sweet sentimentality.
It’s been several years since Denzel Washington directed a film, but thanks to Paramount, his latest hits four screens this weekend. The Oscar hopeful ‘Fences‘ tells the story of a black American working-class man in the mid 1950s. You don’t need to be told that it’s based on a stage play in order to know it because it’s extremely obvious by the way the film plays out and the dialogue unfolds. Washington stars with Viola Davis in a wonderful supporting role. The first half works very well, but the second half is completely disconnected and unlikable. Both actors made it onto my nominations ballot for the Utah Film Critics Association year-end voting, but those are the only accolades that I can give ‘Fences’.
It’s also worth pointing out that ‘Manchester by the Sea’ has expanded again and is now playing wide.