Knee-jerk review: "Rogue One"

1. Best Star Wars movie since 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
2. Much of the geekdom is up in arms about the CGI recreation of the late actor Peter Cushing, resurrected here to again play Grand Moff Tarkin.  Film nerds (who do love to complain, thereby showing off their own brilliance, you see) are complaining about how horrible the animation is.  We expected some kind of horrible Polar Express-level phoniness.  But to us, the CGI looked pretty flawless.  Ms. Fry had no idea the Tarkin character wasn't played by a living actor.  A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
3. It's about as satisfying and big a climax as you'd want in a movie.  We love it when the heroes' plans go wrong in as many ways as possible, forcing them to frantically improvise.  James Cameron's movies (e.g. Aliens, Terminator 2, The Abyss) are the gold standard.  Rogue One aspires to that high bar.  Nothing is easy for our rebels.
4. Add tropical paradise planet Scarif to the list of awesome Star Wars planets-with-memorable-weather (see also: desert plant Tattooine, ice planet Hoth, swamp planet Degobah, volcano planet Mustafar, rainforest planet Endor).
5. A pretty genius premise, don't you think?  The whole franchise begins with the "Help us, Obi Wan" hologram from Princess Leia and the stolen Death Star plans.  Why not rewind to see how those plans got stolen?
6. Also bonus points for offering a completely logical explanation for the Death Star's exhaust port weakness.  It only took 40 years to get one.
7. Star Wars may appear to be simple black and white, good versus evil allegories, but there are always political complexities baked in (the prequel trilogy was essentially a treatise on how dictatorships arise).  One man's freedom-fighting rebellion, after all, is another man's terrorist insurgency.  It's all relative.  Fascinating here that the Rebel Alliance looks down on "extremists" like Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera, whose followers like to throw bombs into crowds.
8. Captain Cassian Andor.  If that's not a classic Star Wars name, we don't know what is.  We're sure by now you've seen the Star Wars Name Generator.
9. It always comes down to disabling a forcefield, doesn't it?
10. What happens to two Star Destroyers may be one of the coolest things we've ever seen.
11. If we had to find a flaw, it may be the characters.  Compared to the exuberant charisma of the characters introduced last year in The Force Awakens (Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron - another perfect Star Wars name, Kylo Ren), the new characters here are a little limp.  On one hand, it's nice that Diego Luna and Felicity Jones' characters are platonic no-nonense colleagues, but a little chemistry between them might have added another layer to their interactions.
12. Also a little vague on what turns Jones from reluctant participant to a rah-rah leader.
13. Overall, though, it's pretty fantastic, but it's also quite dark.  It's a war film.  Lots of good guys die.  Lots of innocent people die.
14. You'll love the way this movie clearly ends moments before the opening shot of 1977's Star Wars.
15. It's the Star Wars movie you've been looking for.  Move along.


A few words about the 2016-17 TV season

"American Housewife" (ABC) makes us laugh.  It's "sitcom-my" in that it feels assembled and engineered to crank out punchlines whether the situations all feel completely plausible or not.  But when it's done this well - anchored by a manic, sideways-glancing performance by Katy Mixon - it works.

"The Big Bang Theory" (CBS) offers a textbook example of "habit-viewing" - we watch it because we've always watched it.  The completist in us needs to see it through to the end.  It's mostly enjoyable, often amusing, but rarely hilarious.  [We can say the same thing about ABC's "Modern Family" - a show that does still sometimes hit a home run, but mostly at this point coasts on past success.]

"Black-ish" (ABC) may seem at first like a 21st-century spin on "The Cosby Show."  Upper-class African-American parents try to raise their oddball kids.  But this is a show with satirical bite, an affection for the surreal, and big ambition for social change. Sharp and smart.

"Blindspot" (NBC) remains completely wack in its second season, packed full of twists and double-agents and ridiculous plot leaps and a computer tech who can literally do anything with a keyboard and a mouse and those dumb tattoos.  It's implausible in so many ways.  But we keep watching it.  [For the record, the two-twists-per-episode screeching melodrama of "Empire" (Fox) and "How to Get Away with Murder" (ABC) are equally insane but we gave up on those shows after the first season.  It was just too much.]

"Code Black" (NBC) offers a spiritual reboot of "ER."  That either excites you or it doesn't.  We didn't realize how much we missed that "ER" mix of strange medical jargon, workplace politics, guest stars looking for Emmys, and shocking medical tragedy packed as densely as possible into 50 minutes.  Plus, Luis Guzman as a worldly nurse.

"Designated Survivor" (ABC) provides a fictional president that some Americans may be desperately craving: humble, measured, thoughtful President Kirkman (Keifer Sutherland) isn't the type to blast people on Twitter at 3:00am.  The show is very well made and very compelling... but thanks to the efforts of a tireless FBI agent, who's all alone (of course) figuring out who blew up the Capitol, the audience is way way ahead of poor Kirkman and his staff.  This is creating some serious narrative frustration.  This is a show that needs to get things out in the open and kick it up a notch.

"The Good Place" (NBC) may not be the funniest show on the air, but it is without question the most creative and inventive show one the air, taking place as it does in heaven and involving a clerical error that sends there an undeserving person.  Genius all the way around.

"Superstore" (NBC) is quickly evolving into a worthy blue-collar retail companion to NBC's brilliant "The Office."  Quirky characters, workplace setting, snappy dialogue, plus those curious little B-roll vignettes.  It's fantastic.

"Survivor" (CBS) continues to deliver the goods, exploring fascinating social dynamics - you're voting people out who will ultimately decide if you deserve the prize - amid ever-changing gameplay and strategy.  The season that just wrapped was particularly strong.  Yeah, we can't believe it either.

"This Is Us" (NBC) delivers manipulative, contrived schmaltz about the everyday dramas of an extended family.  But it benefits greatly from a clever, time-shifting premise and a surprisingly strong cast.  We hate ourselves for liking it as much as we do.