1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney, 4,157 Theaters, 134 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 85% Fresh [252 Reviews]): If a Star Wars film can be risky, this is a risky Star Wars film. Disney bought a rich shared universe when it bought Lucasfilm, but it wasn’t truly explored much outside of the Skywalker Family and their allies. This film takes small steps beyond that sandbox and explore the larger world. Disney needs this film to be a success so it will have more options for its film-a-year plan for the franchise, so there is a lot riding on it.
The film is a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope and details the band of rebels who stole the plans for the Death Star that were the driving force for that film. Felicity Jones plays the one person who might be able to get close to the designer of the Death Star. That’s because the designer is her father.
The film has gotten some pretty good reviews, including one from FBOL Head Honcho Rich Drees. Hopefully audiences respond the same way.
2. Collateral Beauty (Warner Brothers/New Line, 3,028 Theaters, 97 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 12% Fresh [81 Reviews]): Will Smith plays an advertising executive who suffer the tragic loss of his daughter. In order to make some sense of her death and to make himself whole, he starts writing letters to Time, Love and Death, (And that’s Time in the ethereal sense, not the magazine, just so you know). He thinks that it is just a form of therapy, but something strange happens. Time (Jacob Lattimore), Love (Keira Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren) get back in touch with him and start answering his letters in person. Are these really the living embodiments of these intangible concepts, or is it someone close to him trying to make him seem crazy?
This kind of film is tricky. Marrying a grim subject such as the death of a child with an almost whimsical concept as being able to talk face-to-face with love can go bad real quick.
The cast is phenomenal (Michael Pena, Kate Winslet, and Edward Norton also star in it) which might give hope to the filmmakers being able to pull it off. However, the reviews are awful and if a film like this fails, it fails badly. It might be more fun to read the critics venting their actor at the film than watching the film itself.
3. Manchester By The Sea (Opening Wide, Roadside Attractions, 1,208 Theaters, 137 Minutes, Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 97% Fresh [160 Reviews]): Once upon a time, you had to wait until January to be able to see Oscar contenders in you local cineplexes. Now, we are lucky to live in a time when they go into wide release before the nominations have even been given out.
Casey Affleck plays a Boston janitor who becomes the guardian of his nephew after his brother dies. He is immediately hesitant, not only because of the awesome responsibility the job entails, but also because it would mean his moving back to Manchester By The Sea, his hometown and the place where many of his skeletons and ghosts he wants to avoid reside.
The film has received great reviews and has serious Oscar buzz around it. If you are an Oscar fan, see it as soon as possible to see for yourself.