Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Dir: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany.
Runtime: 2hr 15min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there.

After facing a (rumored) fraught production, during which the original directors were fired due to “creative differences” and replaced with Ron Howard in the eleventh hour, which led to significant portions of the film being re-shot, expectations for Solo seemed to be teetering between “bad” and “disastrous.” My own hopes for the film were decidedly low as negative rumors swirled in the lead up to release, but after seeing it, I can safely say that I should not have had such a bad feeling about it.

Solo_A_Star_Wars_Story_posterSolo follows the young titular character (Ehrenreich) as he breaks free from his life on the streets and pursues his ambitions to become the best pilot in the galaxy – though, along the way, he gets sidetracked by a heist or two and learns a few important lessons about who to trust, the price of loyalty, and the weight of betrayal.

This romp of a film capably blends nuances from various genres – space opera, noir, western, thriller – and the result is a well-crafted, if somewhat overlong jaunt through space that chronicles young Han Solo’s life and achievements prior to Episode IV: A New Hope. Though Solo features such iconic moments and fanboy fodder as Han’s first encounter and blossoming partnership with Chewie, his infamous Kessel Run (in under 12 parsecs) and and his acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, it (surprisingly) does not over-rely on nostalgia and fan service to tell its story and weave an original, if occasionally predictable narrative. Overall, Solo is a worthy addition to the Star Wars Anthology series and an enjoyable space adventure that offers thrills and a compelling look into the backstory of the galaxy’s favorite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Asking Alden Ehrenreich to live up to the legacy of Harrison Ford in the role of Han is like asking a guppy to fill the fins of Jaws, or a tennis ball to pack the same emotional wallop as Wilson the volleyball – it’s an impossible task. BUT, that is hardly Ehrenriech’s fault, and he delivers enough charm and charisma to convince the audience to root for him and have faith in his burgeoning career and confidence as an outlaw, and his developing camaraderie with Chewbacca (Suotamo) is an emotional high point of the film. Ehrenreich certainly has the infamous smirk and the stance down pat, and seeing Han and Chewie sit in the Falcon together for the first time with the iconic theme playing is almost worth the price of admission alone.

As far as the rest of the supporting cast goes, Woody Harrelson as the outlaw Beckett is… well, Woody Harrelson. In the best way, of course. Thandie Newton is great as Val, despite limited screen time. Our new Chewbacca, Joonas Suotamo, warbles and fights and interacts with Han in a way that would make Peter Mayhew proud. Glover – predictably – offers a convincing impression as the debonair Lando Calrission and plays off Ehrenreich exceptionally well. Bettany is somewhat underused as the villainous Dryden, though what we do get from him is enough to prove how sinister and vicious his reputation as the Crimson Dawn ringleader implies. Clarke is lovely as the enigmatic Qi’ra, Han’s old friend from his time on the streets in Corellia, and it will be a shame if we don’t see more of her in future installments. Plus, that “little” cameo at the end – which made my jaw drop – has made me excited to see what the next anthology installment has in store. But perhaps the most compelling new addition to the growing Star Wars cast list is the mysterious Enfys Nest – I sincerely hope we see that character again, because Enfys has the potential to become f*cking AWESOME.

However enjoyable this film is, and how it may well have crawled back from the jaws of potential ruin after the crisis of losing two directors, it is far from perfect. One major drawback is the lack of humor – there are jokes scattered here and there, and a few of them might earn some genuine chuckles, but a significant portion of them fail to land as intended. It didn’t need to be a comedy film, but Han’s one-liners could have been stronger and the humor we did get was lackluster. The character of L3, for me, was also a massive miss and I disliked most of her scenes. The whole “equal rights for droids” schtick is a worthwhile thread to follow, but in this film, it comes off as a silly parody instead of a sincere focus on what could translate to a relatable and genuine issue. Much of the cinematography is dark and muddled, which, during some action scenes, makes it difficult to peg who is who, though – in true Star Wars fashion – the creature effects are stellar.

It is unfortunate that Solo comes on the tail of The Last Jedi, which is perhaps the most polarizing Star Wars film of them all. Fans who disliked Episode VIII might feel less inclined to indulge in the latest space adventure from Disney’s rejuvenated Star Wars franchise, and I was stunned that the theater I went to had only about six other folks in it on the second Saturday of release. Even if you dislike the new main trilogy, I’d say it’s worth taking a chance on Solo, if only to go off on a new adventure without the burdensome weight of the often frustrating mythos to bog it down. Perhaps, if it can fill more seats in the coming weeks, Solo can give some jaded fans new hope in the franchise.

Overall Rating: 8/10

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Not Mad, Just Disappointed

I think every film fan has a title or two that they were eagerly anticipating, but wound up being disappointed by. So here’s a list of films that didn’t necessarily make me mad, though the reality did fall short of my expectations. Not saying these are bad films, per se – they just weren’t to my taste for the reasons listed below.

1.) Justice League (2017)
Whooo boy, starting out with a major one. I have been rooting for the DCEU to take off since Man of Steel (which I actually liked quite a lot) and, considering Batman is my all-time favorite hero, I always go into DC films with high hopes. Unfortunately, this team-up adventure fell massively short of expectations, was a pacing nightmare, had the worst CGI mouth in film history, and though there are some hopeful glimmers – the cast, and I’m a fan of the fight scenes – Justice League was far more of a mess than a triumph, and I came out of the film wondering and longing for what could have been had this film not faced such a troubled production. If those bright fragments of the DCEU can all come together and be expanded on with improved writing and a centered focus, then I have confidence that the franchise can get on the right path, but Justice League didn’t help much in getting DC back on track. Thankfully, Patty Jenkins will be at the helm for Wonder Woman 2...

2.) Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters (2010 and 2013)
I’m listing both of these, though my quibbles are predominantly with the second. I am generally lenient with book-to-movie adaptations, but some efforts are worthy of reproach, and the attempt to adapt the popular YA book series following a young demigod boy and his friends as they embark on a series of mythical adventures had little to no payoff for fans. The first film already eschewed several important factors, such as casting older teenagers instead of preteens and stripping away some vital characterization presented in the novels, but the second took that stance and made the film nearly unrecognizable from the source material, so much so that I doubt the folks who made the film even read the book. As a big fan of Rick Riordan’s book series, I was sincerely disappointed that the transition to screen was not so much seamless as it was a bumpy, uneven ride, and I hope we might get a miniseries of the books someday instead. At this point, I can rewatch the first one with minimal cringe, but the second is a no-go.

3.) Iron Man 2 (2010)
This is one of only two Marvel movies I have only seen once, along with Thor: The Dark World… however, I am also one of few Marvel fans who consider the Iron Man films as a whole to be the weakest of the original crop, but that is mainly due to 2 and 3. With an underwhelming villain and plot, even the bright spots of Iron Man 2 (Downey, the introduction of Black Widow) did little to fend off a creeping sense of disappointment while I was watching it. RDJ makes a compelling and convincing Tony Stark, but in this case, it just wasn’t enough, and didn’t live up to the legacy the first film has garnered.

4.) Spectre (2015)
I’ll preface this explanation by saying that I do not like James Bond films, and the short of it is that I don’t like the character and certain behaviors that these films and his character perpetuates. THAT SAID, I know there is a lot of merit to be found in the material, spy stuff is fun, and I don’t dislike any of the actors or whatnot, yet I usually don’t see these movies because I am predisposed to a negative opinion. I gave the Craig movies a shot, but after disliking Casino Royale and Skyfall and skipping Quantum of Solace entirely, I went into Spectre with higher hopes, considering Christoph Waltz was cast as the villain, and I’ve never been disappointed by one of his performances. Well, now I have. But his performance wasn’t the only disappointment – the plot dragged and much of the film came across as underwhelming, so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing any future Bond films, unless the right name is cast in the 007 role. I will say, though, that the opening sequence is extremely impressive and an amazing visual accomplishment.

5.) Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (2001)
I mean… do I need to explain this one?
Jar Jar Binks. Enough said.
Seriously… this film was a huge let down for me, and for many Star Wars fans throughout the galaxy. Of the litany of reasons I was disappointed by this film, I think the main factor was the criminal under-utilization of Darth Maul. Never has such a badass villain been so unfairly treated by limited screen time. But while I was merely disappointed by this film, many other fans were enraged by it, so I guess my reaction could have been a lot worse. I also just don’t watch the film anymore and avoid it at all costs, so my disappointment has not has much time to progress to hatred or a more extreme level of anger.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Expectations vs. Reality

Last week, I went into Star Wars: The Last Jedi knowing nothing save for the scenes included in the two trailers. Sure, after three viewings of The Force Awakens in 2015 I had concocted some theories about what was going to happen in the next installments. Though I’ve never been an active member of the fandom (as in, I don’t participate in any discussions online, but I am a big-time lurker on forums and such) I had a general knowledge of some of the more intense fan theories, and had a few ideas of my own rattling around about Rey’s parents, Supreme Leader Snoke’s true identity, what the return of Luke Skywalker would entail, and all the other questions that have been plaguing both die-hard and casual fans for the last couple of years.

Though some of my theories were wrong, a couple were confirmed, and some remain unanswered, I genuinely loved The Last Jedi. I had a couple of quibbles with it as far as the plot goes (no spoilers) but all in all, I felt that it was a strong film with excellent performances and some moments and scenes that I consider the best to ever feature in a SW film.  So, when I broke my social media ban and discovered that a vocal part of the fandom had major issues with the film (to the point of making a petition to have it struck from the canon, apparently) I was surprised. I mean, last I checked, the RT score for the critics was hovering in the low 90’s, but the audience score is in the 50’s, even lower than all, or most, of the prequels. Reading through the litany of complaints and the diatribes about all the things that “went wrong” with the film, I do see and understand how folks didn’t like it. Obviously not everyone is going to love a film – I know folks who didn’t like TFA, either, so I’m not trying to invalidate those who genuinely didn’t like TLJ. But with such a polarizing reaction to a film with such a passionate, dedicated fan base (for the better and the worse) behind it, It leads me to wonder; how much do our expectations of something color our opinion of it once we experience the reality? Does over-hype and rampant speculation lead to lukewarm reception?

I mean, I may not actively participate in the SW fandom, and my experience with the media outside of the films (novels, comics, the EU stuff, etc) is limited, but I am invested in it nonetheless. But there are folks out there (not a criticism, btw – I admire people with this level of dedication so long as it doesn’t interfere with life) who spend a lot of time to crafting theories or speculating about what is to happen next in a galaxy far, far away. So obviously, these die-hard fans might have crafted some theories or grown attached to ideas about TLJ and the new characters and plots in the SW universe that Rian Johnson and the creative crew behind the film have effectively taken a lightsaber to.  But just because it isn’t what fans expected, does that necessarily mean it’s “bad?” Or is it just a jarring contrast between expectations and reality that sours the experience for some fans? And while that perspective is valid – and people levying criticism at the film are justified – I think it’s important to separate folks who simply didn’t like the film from people who claim TLJ is “bad” because it didn’t go the way they thought it would.

Game of Thrones is another prominent fandom that suffers from this expectations versus reality mentality, and it makes me dread the reaction to season 8, which is pretty much guaranteed to debut before GRRM releases the final book. Fans of both the show and the books have grown so invested in the character journeys and the overall story and for years have come up with countless theories about “Azor Ahai” and who will marry who and who the “valonqar” is that I cannot fathom an ending that will satisfy everyone. There will be backlash, no matter what, because folks are attached to certain pieces of speculation that, if proven false, might affect the way viewers will perceive the ending. I think there are so many theories that if none of them turn out to be true (as unlikely as that is, a good number of them are going to turn out to be nonsense) a certain strain of fan will be incredibly disappointed. But it’s the nature of the fandom beast.  I know how I want the story to end, and which pieces I want to fall into place, but even if it doesn’t go the way I’ve theorized it would, that doesn’t mean I’m going to write it off as “bad.”

The closest I’ve come to this mentality this year was when Justice League came out a couple of months ago. After the resounding success of Wonder Woman, I was all in for JL, expecting the DCEU to finally turn itself around and prove that it can produce a well-balanced, engrossing ensemble film… which didn’t exactly happen. I did make the mistake of looking at the RT score beforehand, which dampened my excitement. I still enjoyed it, and it had some compelling strengths, but my expectations definitely weren’t met; and yes, that’s disappointing. That’s not the easiest thing to stomach, as a fan who is attached to the characters and the lore. But there’s nothing else to do but accept it, appreciate the good parts, and continue to have optimism for the future.

Honestly, the more popular something becomes, the more passionate and dedicated the fanbase is, and the more disappointed fans are bound to be with the outcome of the next installment, whether it be a book or film or episode. It’s the double-edged sword of popularity and fandoms, and the intrinsic nature of the idea that “you can’t please everyone.” But “different” doesn’t have to mean a “let down,” and “unexpected” shouldn’t automatically equate with “disappointment.” Unless it’s the finale of How I Met Your Mother, because that was straight up garbage and I literally can’t even watch reruns anymore without the shadow of that disaster looming overhead.

That’s why I’m more grateful than ever that I went into The Last Jedi with virtually no expectations and no idea what to expect, because I had no preconceived notions or outside opinions of the film to color my experience while watching. I may have had some theories kicking around in my head, but I was not so attached to any particular outcome or potential theory confirmation that I was disappointed when the reality strayed from how I’d imagined it would go. I have hopes for the future of the franchise and Episode IX, a spark that will not be snuffed out, but I don’t let my hopes get so high that they will inevitably come crashing to the ground and shatter when the outcome is unexpected.

This is my last post of the year; we’ll kick off January with a new Manga Monday!

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If you’re in need of a new read, or need something to spend your holiday money on, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

It Feels Like Christmas

When I think of Christmas, I think of the candlelight services at church on the 24th, with friends and family coming together to celebrate in the birth of Christ. The Christmas hymns, the haunting thrum of the organ and sailing voices of the choir. Over a hundred tiny candles glowing valiantly through the darkness as Silent Night pours from the congregation. Then, leaving the service and stepping out into the cold winter night, breath clouding through the air as departing friends share goodbyes and good tidings. A steam whistle in the distance, playing some cheery seasonal tune, announcing the arrival of Christmas as the clock chimes midnight.

I have long since ceased to believe in many things, and I don’t attend the Christmas Eve services anymore. I don’t want to go into detail about my loss of faith, but I bear no grudges or animosity toward those who believe, so long as they do not use their beliefs as a weapon, or as a way to push their agenda onto the unwilling.

Despite this, I still think of those nights, standing on the church steps as flurries dance in the sky, when I think of Christmas. They are memories I hold dear, and find comfort in, and I know the church doors are open for me should I have need of them, even though I no longer believe. The place is full of Christmas memories. Being the donkey in the Christmas pageant, then being promoted to narrator. Serving as an acolyte for several years, fearing I would accidentally light a wreath on fire. The beautiful Christmas hymns, my favorites being “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I still, and will always, contend that religious Christmas songs are far, far superior to secular ones, though I admit that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a jam.

Now, I attend a different sort of service on Christmas Eve each year. One that takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. New traditions have grabbed hold. Frozen pizza for dinner, a latte or two, and Star Wars to round out the night. And though it’s only been in place for a couple of years, that tradition is starting to feel a bit like Christmas, too. Because really, those nights at church and the nights in the movie theater are not so different. One just has more popcorn.

Family, friends, and a feeling of calm, and of belonging. That’s what Christmas is, for me. In the face of all the things I dislike about the holidays – and there are several – there are some ideas and values that are close to my heart this time of year. Even though traditions might change, memories of old remain.

Happy holidays!

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If you’re in need of a new read, or need something to spend your holiday money on, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Do Trailers Ruin Movies?

Over the last few months, I have been actively avoiding any movie trailers or clips for the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in an attempt to avoid spoilers. I won’t be seeing it until Christmas Eve, per family tradition, so I try to avoid as much info as possible until I finally get to view it on the big screen. That all blew out the window when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok and it was too inconvenient for me to leave the theater when a Star Wars trailer began, so I just sucked it up and allowed myself to be dazzled.

Though the trailer hinted at some things, made some allusions, and showed what are sure to be key moments, it didn’t reveal anything groundbreaking or show anything too spoilerific. It created intrigue without making anything too obvious, and made me all the more excited to see the film later this month. That is what a trailer should do; it should generate interest and lure audiences without blowing all the important info or all the humor in a 2 minute teaser. You shouldn’t be able to guess the entire plot of a film from a trailer, unless it’s a series you are already familiar with or you’ve read the book an upcoming movie is based on.

On the other hand, I recently saw the first trailer for the upcoming Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, and was instantly compelled to see it. The trailer presented a unique and interesting plot, showed some humor, and offered images and clips that made me wonder how characters got into a certain situation or what would happen next. And then the second trailer came along tacked onto Murder on the Orient Express, and it totally gives away what I perceived to be a pretty major plot point, which was not presented in the initial trailer. It dampened my enthusiasm a bit, as it allowed more pieces of the plot to fall into place, and chased away some of the allure. I’ll still see it when it comes out, but I was bummed to have something spoiled in the trailer that I wish I could have seen for the first time during the film itself. The same thing happened with the second Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer. Watching it, I felt like I could predict the entire movie, and I ended up being pretty close, though, thankfully, it was still a great film and I was not disappointed. Films can often fall into the trap of having too many trailers, as well, and I hold the belief that a film only needs 2 trailers max, and 1 will typically suffice. If I’m not drawn in by the first trailer, I probably won’t be swayed by another.

Trailers can be deceptive, as well – they can show a snapshot that is nothing like the completed picture, and effectively “trick” viewers, for the better or the worse. Trailers for Zack Snyder’s films are some of the best out there – I can still imagine just about every frame of the brilliant Watchmen trailer in my head, almost a decade later – but his films tend to have a polarizing reaction. Regardless, the trailers make you want to see his movies. 2012’s Brave offered a trailer that made the movie seem like it would follow a certain narrative, but it went off in a direction that my best friend and I totally didn’t see coming, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Trailers also make me not want to see movies, sometimes. I’m a big fan of the original Jumanji, and was skeptical of the remake/sequel, but when I saw the first trailer, I was tentatively hooked. There were some decent jokes and it looked like, if not a direct successor, a spiritual successor to the original. Since the first time I saw the trailer, I have  now seen it 5 or 6 times, and the second trailer 3 times. I’m kind of burned out on it, at this point, and I can probably quote the entire thing. “I’m an overweight middle-aged man!” “We’re in other people’s bodies!” “I’m missing the top two feet of my body!” Again, if the reviews are okay, I’ll probably still make the effort to see it, but I’m now worried that the funniest moments are all in the trailer, as is often the case. I’ve got The Greatest Showman, TLJ, and a few others to see before it, and it I must suffer through the trailer again, I might shelve my Jumanji plans until it’s available for streaming. Oversaturation can, unintentionally, kill the interest in a movie instead of building it up. I felt the same about last year’s lackluster Warcraft film. I saw the trailer every time I saw an IMAX film for months, and all it did was make me not want to see the movie. I actually did leave a theater after the Warcraft trailer began for what must have been the 10th time, and that remains the only time I have ever left a theater during the previews. I LOVE previews, but I hated that trailer, though Transformers: The Last Knight sure gave it a run for its money this past year. If I so much as see an Autobot onscreen, it is an insta-groan.

So that creates a question; do trailers ruin movies? After all, the big wigs behind a film’s production have no idea how many times you are going to be forced to see a trailer. They just want to put butts in seats. But they do have control over how much info goes into a trailer, and it’s a fine line; give too much away and risk scaring people off, or don’t offer up enough and fail to hook viewers. Avoid trailers, and you might fall behind on what movies are coming out, unless you monitor them religiously (as I do). I may love previews, and eagerly anticipate trailers for films and film series that I’m a fan of, but nothing ruins a movie for me like a trailer rife with spoilers.

 

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.