Newer Hope: Unsolicited Review Of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One occupies an odd place on the Star Wars timeline; a prequel set just a handful of days before the original 1977 Star Wars, this film follows the exploits of the brave Rebels who capture and curry the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shortly before she slips them into R2-D2. It’s a vital juncture in this decades-long intergalactic fantasy, yet it’s also very compartmentalized with no strong connection to the other seven entries. The heroes of Rogue One have never been identified previously. Their harrowing mission is a blip in the distant future during the other three prequels and by the time we meet troubled rural teen Luke Skywalker their exploits are yesterday’s news.

Rogue One is also occurring at a weird moment in our own world—just a year ago we were hit with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the main Star Wars narrative set 30 years after Return of The Jedi. Why walk us back pre-Hamill already? Where’s the ball droid? Where’s Adam Driver? Where the hell are the singing cats?

The arrival of Rogue One may not make a ton of sense, but the movie is so fantastic and gripping it doesn’t matter. Director Gareth Edwards paints with astonishing visuals, using perspective and scale and rich special effects to inject a “wow” factor absent in many of the previous chapters (it is extremely satisfying to watch a space battle that looks like a space battle, not a video game). Rogue One even makes the unthinkable work—the film resurrects Peter Cushing 22 years after his death (digitally, of course) for another turn as Imperial official Grand Moff Tarkin. As other characters interact with the Moff it is difficult to tell they are acting against a cartoon. We must consider the possibility Gareth Edwards is an occult priest who used black magic to literally raise Peter Cushing from his grave.

Tarkin assumes control of the nearly completed Death Star early in the film, which we learn was the brainchild of a morally conflicted architect named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Empire tears Erso away from his family for the home stretch of this space laser project and that surely motivates his decision to leak compromising intelligence about the Death Star’s reactor to the Rebellion. The Rebellion turns to Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is willing to throw in with this galactic coup malarky if there’s a chance her father can be freed. Along the way Jyn builds herself a posse, including a handsome Rebel dude (Diego Luna), an extremely droll robot (Alan Tudyk), a blind holy man who may or may not be Jedi (Donnie Yen), and this sort of space Rambo (Jiang Wen). The group only grows tighter as the game changes around them.

Rogue One’s heroes may lack the radioactive charm of a Han Solo or a Chewbacca but they are resolved and strong and you root for every single one of them in the enormously satisfying (and somewhat heartbreaking) third act. In an era where Hollywood loves nothing more than to hit you with false endings, this venture gives you but one, an audacious and stimulating one, and sews it pretty well to the start of the founding late ’70s passage we all memorized growing up. Rogue One may have single-handedly saved the fate of the word “prequel.”

Also, somewhere in the middle of this adventure, you get to see Darth Vader’s house. It’s not carpeted.

FINAL SCORE: Four fistfuls of ewok fur (out of four).

Six Hours In Brazil [UPDATED]

Let me tell you about something tremendously stupid I did over the weekend. I flew to São Paulo, Brazil without a tourist visa, a document U.S. citizens are required to have if they wish to traipse around that beautiful country. Why did I do this? I was under the false impression an amnesty was occurring. During the Rio Olympics, Brazil waived tourist visas to encourage more traffic to the games. That was in June. I had no clue the policy had been reinstated in September. I thought it was relaxing until January 2017. It’s been a while since I’ve been this wrong about something so important.

I never blamed anybody but myself for this debacle. My brain just atrophied on confirming in the absolute anything beyond my passport. That said, the Brazilian pal who was picking me up from the airport Sunday morning also hadn’t been aware of or concerned with a potential visa problem. That made me feel better. Furthermore, as I was apologizing for my bold stupidity to the Latam employee who was helping me get back to the States, she countered: “No, it’s our company’s mistake. We should include this information in our booking procedure.” Couldn’t argue there.

So this is what happens when a U.S. citizen arrives in Brazil without a tourist visa: they let you stand around customs while they take your passport into a back room (where I imagine they run the numbers on the off chance you’re a known fugitive); eventually customs officials turn you over to a representative from the airline you flew in on, who makes you sign a document saying you understand why you’re not being allowed into the country; then, after going through security, the rep leads you to one of the gates so you can wait with some other airport official while the airline gets you on the next available return flight; once you’re rebooked, you may roam around the airport, thinking about what you’ve done as you wait for takeoff.

All I got to see of Brazil. Carnaval!

This entire episode stretched over six hours. Everyone I encountered at São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport was as personable and professional as you’d expect airport folk to be in the sunrise hours of a Sunday morning when suddenly presented with an out of bounds idiot like me. The worst part, aside from the all-consuming embarrassment, was how badly I had to go to the bathroom while they were reviewing my passport in their office. To be honest, there’ve been far more dreadful mornings for me here in Florida.

So what happens now? Well, in the same breath as her apology, the Latam Airlines employee said the company would make up for their error by flying me back to Brazil for free once I obtain a visa. Fantastic, right? Getting this visa, that’s the new problem. Unless you want to pay exorbitant fees for the help of a third party online service, you must apply for and obtain a tourism visa in person at your local Brazilian consulate. Orlando got Disney, Orlando got the Magic, but Orlando ain’t got Brazilian consulate. The nearest one is half a state away in Miami. Good thing I love adventure.

Remember, friends, when planning a jaunt abroad, take a gander at a dot gov website or maybe this Wikipedia page to make sure you’re not about to fuckin’ bone yourself. Also, watching The Blues Brothers with Portuguese subtitles will not give you enough handle on the language to communicate properly with Brazilian customs officials. No one will care that you’re “on a mission from God” or that you “traded the car for a microphone.”

UPDATE: Following a week and a half of truly Grade F customer service, Latam informed me they would not honor their employee’s promise of free passage back to Brazil. The writing was on the wall before that, though—literally, on Latam’s Facebook wall, an endless stream of customer service complaints. Reading through them, I feel lucky. Some people have stuff in writing Latam won’t honor. Some folks have been waiting for hundreds of days for resolution. So, you know, fly with them at your own risk.

Would have dropped this update sooner but it kinda depressed me. Then I momentarily forgot what life was after the presidential election.

Q: Does Your Book On The Way Punk Rock Developed Outside The U.K. & U.S. Have A Title Yet & If So What Is That Title?

A: Yes. The title is Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you this thing will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in October of 2017. I’m sure!

Thank you for your continued interest and support. I’m working very hard to make this volume like really, really, really good. Many more words than my first book, many more pictures, not as many stories involving pro wrestlers from the sport’s second golden age, but don’t worry—donnybrooks and rigamaroles abound. I can’t wait for you to read it.

New Zealand’s Zero Elliot, who was arrested in 1978 for cussin’ during a gig with her band Suburban Reptiles. Photo by Murray Cammick.

Croker

“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.

No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.

An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.

How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.

So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.

It Actually Happened Again

Just them Lodi boys makin’ some noise at Riot Fest East. Photo by Alf Berg.

Second verse, same as the first: the Original Misfits got up there in Chicago and played the hits like Famous Monsters never happened. Remember when mere mention of this band would send Glenn Danzig into convulsions? Now he’s done two reunion gigs with them, his mood at both jovial. “I bet a lot of you have kids you take trick or treating,” he opined last night. “Scream your ass off if you take your kids trick or treating!”

I wan’t there. I wasn’t at Denver Riot Fest either. The reasons are myriad. I felt skepticism that any of this would really go down, or that it might veer into disaster if it did. The venue struck me as wrong; the Misfits in their glory days were always a club band, and while I’m happy they can command headlining festival slots in 2016, an engagement at Irving Plaza would have been more spiritually authentic. And, of course, this assembly is not really the original Misfits—it is Most of The Original Misfits Featuring Dave Lombardo. Jerry and Glenn must have had a Batman v Superman moment where they both realized they dislike all the actual Misfits drummers with the same passion.

Call me fussy, call me prissy, call me a freelance hillbilly with a snoot full of honeybees. Denver and Chicago aren’t exactly around the corner. Yes, I feel some regret, but I also wouldn’t be having this discussion if the reunion had been Glenn, Jerry, Doyle, and Arthur Googy at the Whiskey a Go Go. Solace is located in the fact that 2017 is the 40th anniversary of the Misfits’ founding. I’d bet my collection of bird skeletons that something auspicious along these lines will occur to commemorate four haunted decades.

If not, there’s always the YouTube. You know, I never saw the Misfits when Danzig was in the band between 1977 and 1983. I’m keeping a streak alive.

Blackheart Acey Slade, Jerry Only, Doyle, & Glenny D. Photo by Alf Berg.

It Actually Happened

And so it came to pass; Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only met between a pair of twelve foot jack-o-lanterns to belt out an hour’s worth of Misfits songs for the ultra devoted. No fistfights or lawsuits broke out onstage. Everyone seemed to be having fun, including Glenn, who is allergic to most forms of humor. In fact, at certain intervals, it sounded like this ferocious hound of hell was workshopping his standup material—and the crowd was loving it.

Part of me wants to chastise Riot Fest organizers for not offering a high quality live stream of these Misfits, something for which I and many other fiends would have paid a nominal fee. A greater part of me understands that cacophonous cell phone videos are more in keeping with the live recording legacy of this band. Even through pigeon shit fidelity you can tell the ‘Fits performed well, holding perfect tempo and pressing their fervor into the music (Glenn especially). A few clips have moved me emotionally.

The million dollar questions now: will Chicago receive a concert of similar character or will the bloom be off the skull in a couple weeks? Will there be future gigs in other cities? Will there be an album? How will all this affect eBay sales of Graves era merchandise?

Dave, Dave My Darling

The rumors were true: former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is the fourth participant in the Misfits reunion scheduled for Riot Fest 2016 (the first show of which is this weekend), overcoming the major obstacle of having never been a member of the band. Namaste, Dave.

Look, I love Dave Lombardo’s work. He’s a monster, an icon, an innovator. I listen to those Slayer records all the time. I’m intrigued to hear what he’ll do with material from Static Age and Earth A.D. It’s just that the original Original Misfits had five or six different drummers, and they’re all still alive. Glenn and Jerry couldn’t bite the kielbasa and get Googy for these two gigs? Make it a true reunion? There’s no way his fee is higher than Lombardo’s.

I get it. The Original Misfits™ have to consider the fact that this reunion could grow legs. Dave Lombardo has more experience than every Misfits drummer combined (some of whom haven’t even looked at a set of drums since “The Jeffersons” was airing). He’s prepared at any time to do other festivals, or a tour. More importantly, he has no pre-existing issues with Glenn or Jerry. Dave’s not gonna make trouble over some shit that happened in 1981.

Also, remember: this episode is mostly a legal resolution, an agreement between Glenn and Jerry so they stop dragging each other to court over pictures of skulls they stole from somebody else in the first place. So how heartbroken can anyone be? Shouldn’t we just be glad these guys have finally stopped suing each other?

Hire Charo as the drummer for all I care—I’m tired of reading legal documents. They started stacking higher than your records years ago.