Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (dir. by Ron Howard)


solo-poster-1I feel like the Grinch, standing high on his mountain and looking down at all the Who’s in Whoville. Look at them, enjoying Solo – A Star Wars Story. Look at them, geeking over Chewie, the Millenium Falcon and the Kessel Run. Look at them smile at Lando Calrissian, still cool after these years. From where I stood, I had fun, but not nearly as much as they all did. Did we all watch the same film?

I think I’m a little jealous for not feeling that, and somewhat sad.

Granted, I didn’t outright despise Solo. I adore heist films like Thief and Heat. Perhaps it’s because the cast is fun to watch on-screen. You have the seedy side of the universe, and frankly, I’ve love to see more of it in future installments. This was closer to what I originally hoped to see with the Prequels, or even The Force Awakens. Not every Star Wars tale has to be an Empire vs. Rebellion / Jedi vs. Sith one (though lightsaber battles are always appreciated).

On the other hand, I had the same experience here that I did with Rogue One. The film almost lost me until it started to induce some nostalgia. With the exception of a few key scenes, I had a tough time feeling anything for most of this film. Boredom slapped me in the face for a little while here. Maybe I’ve just reached the age where I can put Star Wars on the shelf and maybe move on from it altogether. Judging by the number of people who chose to check their cell phones rather than watch the movie, I don’t think I’m alone there.

I initially bought a ticket for the 10:15pm Thursday IMAX showing, and then realized I wanted to come home early. I purchased a 7pm 3D showing, which is where this review is coming from. I didn’t feel the need to stay for the IMAX. Maybe that’s the best way to sum it up.

The movie was originally helmed by The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but due to creative differences, they were taken off the project and replaced by Ron Howard. Howard’s familar with Lucasfilm, having worked on Willow back in the late 1980’s. The result of this is that you have a very safe film. Howard dots the I’s, crosses the t’s and make the movie everything the writing duo of Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan need. Since we know where Han & Chewie are going to end up, it’s just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B, without any real worries about the characters. I’m somewhat curious of what we could have had if Lord/Miller stayed on.

2121 Jump Street, perhaps?

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Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra, from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

While we’re on the topic of the writing, the Kasdans manage to drop a few bells and whistles that many fans will enjoy. There’s a line that Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra utters about her abilities that left me smiling and slowly nodding like a person who just received a toast. Lucasfilm is learning from The Last Jedi’s mistakes, that much is certain. It’s a tight script that rarely goes off tangent.

The movie finds a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures, Hail Casear) looking to acquire some Hyperfuel, a power source that most smugglers pay a handsome price for. He dreams of becoming a pilot, someday having his own ship so that he can be reunited with an old flame/partner. This leads him to eventually join up with a heist crew and a task that needs to be fulfilled. I won’t give away any more, but it’s a great thing to see all of the pieces fall into place.

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Han and Chewie, not caring about the odds.

The supporting cast in Solo is wonderful. That was something that felt right. Between Donald Glover’s scene stealing Lando Calrissian (which eerily sounds like Billy Dee Williams sometimes), Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 , everyone in Solo gives a good performance. Aldenreich, I’m not sure of. I didn’t expect him to be Harrison Ford, but he seemed a little generic, for want of a better word. You could have plucked him out, dropped in someone else and it might be the same. At least, that’s how I felt. Still, he doesn’t give a bad performance. Han felt like the supporting character in his own film, the cast is that good.

From an effects standpoint, there are a number of creatures and various new ship tech to behold. It all looks and feels great (especially the Millennium Falcon flight sequences), though I should point out that the 3D presentation isn’t really necessarily. In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film are so dimly lit that the sunglass effect of 3D shades feels like you’re just watching silhouettes on-screen. Howard does a good Job of setting up scenes and keeping everything flowing. It’s a pretty tight production, overall and you’ll be suprised at how fast the film seems to move.

John Powell (X-Men: The Last Stand, The Bourne Trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon) takes on the musical responsibilities since Michael Giacchino’s doing everything else for Disney these days. It’s a great score, though if there is a particular theme for Han, I can’t say I caught it. I do plan on picking up the soundtrack when it comes out next week.

Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t one you have to run to the theatre for. It’s not a terrible film by any means. It just didn’t hold me the way I wanted it to. I feel that’s more a reflection of myself than of the film overall. Still, if you can wait the three months to catch it digitally, you might be better off doing so.

Of course, as the Dude from the Big Lebowski says “That’s just like, your Opinion, man.” Go out there, see the film and form your own.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

The Too Old to Die Young Teaser


Here’s one for the cinemaphile’s glossary.totdy.jpg

In cinema circles, an Auteur is described as “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie” (Wikipedia). I’ve looked at films as a three-way set of responsibilities. You have the writer, because without the story, there’s nothing. You’ve the Director, who takes that Writer’s vision and presents it on film, and then there’s the cinematographer, who makes sure that the Director’s work is well-lit and shot. I feel all three roles can tip the ownership of a film in anyone’s favor. A great story can be damaged by a bad director, and a good director can try to the make the best out of a bad story. On top of that, you could also have bad movies that look really good.

There are a number of directors out there who fit this designation. Brian DePalma, Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, Terrence Malick (who shows up every half a decade with a film) David Cronenberg, Richard Linklater,  Jean-Luc Godard (who I’m learning a lot about lately), the list is a large and heavily argued one. Each person has their own picks and favorites.

For me, Nicolas Winding Refn fits that role. With films like Valhalla Rising, Drive , Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, it’s hard not to recognize the color contrasts and flow of his stories. In writing this, I also found out that Refn is colorblind, which makes what he’s done so far more amazing for me.

Refn’s latest project for Amazon Studios is a series called Too Old to Die Young. The most anyone really knows is that is supposedly “explores the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles by following characters’ existential journeys from being killers to becoming samurai in the City of Angels.”

Here’s a teaser starring Miles Teller, Callie Hernandez, Jena Malone, John Hawkes and William Baldwin. It appears to still carry that wild color scheme and may possibly be just as dark and brutal as his previous work. I’m curious as to whether they’ll stick with a standard approach or follow True Detective’s style of a single writer/director pair for all of the episodes. Either way, we’ll find out when it releases next year.

Film Review: Alien (dir. by Ridley Scott)


AlienPosterToday is 4.26, also known as “Alien Day”, and named after the planet in James Cameron’s Aliens (LV-426 / Acheron). It’s a celebration of the entire Alien Franchise, but I’m only focused on the first film as I finally saw it in the theatre in 2017.

This isn’t so much a review as it’s just my history with Ridley Scott’s Alien. You can find actual reviews all over the internet, and I know very few people who didn’t enjoy the movie. This piece assumes you’ve seen the film and are familiar with it. There are also spoilers within, though with a nearly 40 year old film, I’m not sure if it can be classified as such.

When I was little, my older brother and I shared a room in my grandmother’s house. Below our bunk beds was a open space that contained a set of boxes and each box contained a collection of our toys – board games, knick knacks, things like that. If you needed something, you went under the bed to fetch it. Only thing is, I always reached into those boxes with my eyes closed.

I have a vague memory of when my older brother received 3 toys that affected the way I looked at things. The first was a board game for the movie Alien. On it, you had a map of the Nostromo, about 3 Astronaut pieces and one for the Alien. I can’t recall the exact nature of how it was played, but I do remember it having to do with finding a way to reach the Narcissus – the escape ship – before the Alien reached your character. Each player also had their own Alien they could use to hunt the other characters before they could escape.

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The Alien Board Game. Fox marketed toys for Alien (an R rated film), possibly fearing the mistake they made with Star Wars.

The second was a movie viewer. I had to do some hunting around the net to find it, and thanks to The Toy Box, I was able to locate one. These viewers (made by Fisher Price and by Kenner) were really popular, especially after the Star Wars boom. You loaded it with a tape and it would play out a scene. For the Alien tape my brother had, it would play out the egg opening face hugger jump sequence. I rewound that too many times, and perhaps it’s the reason I’m afraid of spiders. I don’t really know for sure. The tape used below goes through most of the film’s plot, so if you haven’t watched the film by now, consider yourself spoiled.

The last toy was the reason I never went into the toy boxes. My brother owned an 18 Inch tall Alien figure, complete with a glow in the dark headpiece and a functional second set of teeth. It was one of the scariest things I’d seen as a kid.

All of this was thanks in part to Star Wars. With the mistake Fox made in giving the merchandising rights for Star Wars to Lucas and Lucasfilm, Ltd., they missed out a major chunk of revenue. So when Alien was set to launch 2 years later, they greenlit an entire toy line for the film, even though the movie was rated “R” and the toys demographic couldn’t really see the movie without parental supervision. For the time, that was a pretty amazing thing.

Back in the early 1980s, my father invited my older brother and I to his place to see Alien. I was about six or seven years old at the time, with my brother a few years older. My parents worked nights, so we pretty much lived with my grandmother. He was always into movies and he acquired a RCA Videodisc Player, along with that film and First Blood. Although I was sick, I still went and watched it. I vomited twice during the playthrough, but it was so worth it.

I’d come to find out years later from my Mom that my Dad really didn’t need to invite us. He was just too scared of the movie to watch it alone. According to family legend, Alien was a date movie for my parents, and halfway into the film, my Dad (along with most guys, I’ve heard), was using my Mom as a shield. Mind you, this was a guy who kept multiple firearms in the house and knew how to use them.

Alien was the brainchild of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Having worked on Dark Star for John Carpenter, O’Bannon wanted to create another space film, but with a more serious tone. They came up with the story, inspired by 1958’s B-movie classic It! The Terror From Outer Space and decided to roll with it. The feel for their story would be more like a set of space truckers hauling ore and picking up a stowaway space possum in their cargo.

And that’s Alien in a nutshell. A crew of seven astronauts heading towards Earth in their mining vessel are awakened from hyper sleep when their spaceship – The Nostromo – picks up a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. They are given orders to investigate the signal, but when one of them is incapacitated by an alien life form, it brings trouble to the rest of the crew once they all return to the ship. Can they survive?

The casting for Alien is damn near flawless. There isn’t a single person that feels out of place. The characterization for everyone is straightforward, from the wisecracking pair of Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto to the very systematic Ian Holm as the Nostromo’s Science Division expert, it doesn’t take long for one to get to know them or at least wonder if they’ll make it through the story unscathed.  Whether it’s Veronica Cartwright’s Lambert, who is nervous and jittery mid way through the film (and with good reason) or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley who sees the potential threat before it gets out of hand, everyone here plays their part well.

Ridley Scott was a young director brought on board to create the film. Now, normally, this is where the movie would be made and that really would be that. Scott’s visit to an art gallery in Paris would change the make up of the movie, according to the behind the scenes documentary. What set Alien aside from other space/horror fanfare were the influences of two major artists at the time, Jean Giraud and H.R. Giger.

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Concept Art by Jean Giraud, a.k.a. Moebius.

Having seen his work in France, Ridley Scott felt that Giger had to be brought on board. Giger agreed to use some of his designs for the film and actually helped create the entire Space Jockey set. For the late 1970s, Giger’s look – elongated bones with sexual undertones – had to be a shock to audiences. Giraud, known to many fans as Moebius, was one of the greatest illustrators to have lived. Giraud was previously brought on to work on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune, but after that fell through, he ended up working with Scott for a bit, mainly coming up with the designs for the suits in the Nostromo. Together, both their designs would be used to bring something entirely new to audiences at the time. Also on hand was Carlo Rambaldi (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dune), who helped design the Alien’s mouth and motor features. In the effects department, Dennis Ayling, Nick Allder, and even Batman’s Anton Furst had a hand in setting the atmosphere for the Nostromo and LV-426. The result is a sense of claustrophobia. The Nostromo’s hallways aren’t the immaculate ones you’d find on board the Enterprise or the roomy ones on the Millennium Falcon. They’re tight, dimly lit with an obvious function over form factor to them. It’s a space rig.

With older monster films, the creature usually is just one form. Giger’s Alien had three distinct forms used, which has always made me curious for the initial audience reactions. The first encounter is with a the Facehugger, an arachnid like creature with a tail that restricts the breathing of its potential victim. Add to this the notion that it uses molecular acid for blood. How do you even fight such a thing? Imagine thinking this is the “big bad” you’re going to see throughout the movie. Scott was particular in having the advertising reference as little as it could about the Alien itself (though the toy line kind of ruined that).

Just when you’re comfortable with the possiblity of facehuggers crawling around, the movie switches gears and introduces us to the Chestburster, a phallic snake of a creature (thanks again to Giger). . The scene was fantastic. Although the cast was told what was supposed to happen with Kane (John Hurt), they weren’t completely filled in on how it was supposed to occur. It was a two part process. The first involved trying to hold down Kane, and the second was setup with John Hurt in the table to have the “push through”. So, when Kane lets out that one big scream, everyone’s reactions are real. You can see that both Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Dallas (Tom Skerritt) are completely stunned. Veronica Cartwright (and her character Lambert) caught the worst of all this and also had the best reaction. When the Chestburster appears, the effects blood pumps caught Cartwright full on and it was all kept on film. I’m told that the scene in its initial run had people curling in their seats, standing to move to the back of the theatre (for some distance) or walking out altogether. What I wouldn’t give for a Time Travelling DeLorean and an Opening Night movie ticket to that.

So now, there’s a snake running loose on the ship. The film spares very little time before our newborn becomes an adult. Mostly sleek and skeletal, the adult Alien is the stuff of nightmares, but thanks to Scott, and Cinematographer Derek Vanlint, we don’t see much of the Alien until the last act of the movie. Like the Batman, we only see it pounce, and that’s a testament both to the lighting used and the editing of shots. Scott’s close-ups on the Alien’s mouth and forehead doesn’t give anyone enough time to fully make out what it is entirely. Credit also goes to Bolaji Badejo, who portrayed the Alien. At 6’10”, Badejo was perfect for the creature sense of stature and movement, particularly with Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett having to stare up at him in shock.

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The production wasn’t without an issue here or there. Giraud’s suits – which had a samurai feel to them – had problems with the ventilation, so some of the actors nearly experienced exhaustion while working in them. This was later remedied, of course.

Alien remains one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores, though it’s also a simple one. The music isn’t so much horrific as it just classical. The music in Alien isn’t really used to imply any kind of horror (save for perhaps one sequence), but perhaps that’s a good thing. The music lets the movie do the talking instead of throwing zingers. There’s very little I can say about the score outside of that.

Alien would go on to spawn seven extra films, though personally, only James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) are the two worth seeing. Alien 3 (1992) is beautiful, thanks to David Fincher and Cinematographer Alex Thomson, but also kind of damaged the timeline.

So, turn out the lights, settle in with the food of your choice and enjoy Alien Day.

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The Space Jockey. Much of Giger’s designs looked like bone.

* – A thank you goes out to Kevin Carr of Fat Guys At the Movies. He once featured It! The Terror From Outer Space years ago during the weekend Live Tweets he used to host. It was a treat to watch.

Film Review: Pacific Rim Uprising (dir. by Steven S. DeKnight)


Moving to directing isn’t always smooth

Pacific Rim Poster

.Duel was a success for Steven Spielberg, and Alex Garland had a wonderful success with Ex Machina. Conversely, Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s Transcendence wasn’t as well received. Though he has worked on TV, Pfister hasn’t had a motion picture follow-up (though I’m eager to see him do so). Everyone moves in different directions and at their own pace. Steven S. DeKnight is well-known for his work on Daredevil and the Spartacus series on Starz. He makes the leap to directing with Pacific Rim Uprising, the results of which are a mixed bag for me. I saw the original four times in the cinema. Uprising has some fun moments, most of them with John Boyega (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Cailee Spaeny (The Shoes), but it wasn’t particularly memorable for me. I don’t know if I could actually say I hated it. That doesn’t mean that the kids won’t love it. There are some good moments of action that are reminiscent of Saban’s Power Rangers, and the movie provides exactly what it advertises – Jaeger on Kaiju action.

Uprising takes place ten years after the end of Pacific Rim, focusing on Jake Pentacost (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) son of the now legendary Stacker Pentacost. The world has moved on from the Kaiju crisis in various ways. When a new threat looms on the horizon, Jaeger pilots are needed once again. Jake would rather not get involved, plowing his trade as Jaeger tech smuggler. When he meets up with Amara Namani, a young hacker (Spaeny), both are brought into the newest rendition of the Jaeger Program. This also leads to a family reunion of sorts with Jake’s sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who now heads the program. We even have our favorite scientist duo returning in Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, Game of Thrones) and Geiszler (Charlie Day). With all this familarity, you’d think that more of the same is the perfect recipe for a sequel.

The plot could have used a little more development, at least in comparison to the first firm. Uprising does stand on its own, and I could see some interesting arcs develop in future films. My problem with it was just that I didn’t feel a sense of worry for anyone. In the first film, there was this sense of escalation. Every incident was increasingly more dangerous for everyone involved. I didn’t quite feel that this film, but it makes up for it for having some interesting action scenes. DeKnight keeps the scenes short and sweet, and the flow of the movie is quite good, despite the lack of fights. Those moments are few and far between, which kind of left me a little drowsy waiting for them.

From a character standpoint, the real gems in Uprising are Jake and Amara. Boyega and Spaeny are great in just about every scene they’re in. Scott Eastwood isn’t bad either, actually, though he really isn’t given much to work with. Everyone else appears to be filling in roles. While it would’ve been nice to see more characterization in the rest of the crew, they do what they need to in order to keep the story moving.

Visually, Pacific Rim Uprising hits all the right notes. The Kaiju are strange and the Jaegers are impressive. The action moves in such a way where you’re not too lost with what you’re viewing. If there are any problems in this area, it’s that they appeared too clean (and that’s just a nitpick, really). Where the Original used nighttime or rainy shots to mask the effects (much like the first T-Rex encounter in Jurassic Park), most of Uprising’s effects are in broad daylight. It looks great, but also had a HDR quality to it that (for me) felt like you were watching a high end demo reel. The 3D also helped with the effects there.

Overall, I’d easily catch Pacific Rim Uprising again once it hits the digital circuit. It might be worth the viewing on an IMAX screen or even in 3D, but it isn’t anything anyone needs to rush to see.

The Deadpool 2 Full Trailer


Unless we’re dealing with a story like The Lord of the Rings, where the second film is just a placeholder for the more epic finale, a sequel usually comes with a great deal of responsibility. It has to be larger in scope, with more of everything. If we’re lucky, the audience will be fully invested in the story arc as we watch our favorite characters return to face greater challenges.

Or sometimes, a sequel just needs more of what worked for the first film.

Deadpool 2 ups the ante, building on 2016’s promise to include Cable (played by Josh Brolin, doing a lot of work for Marvel these days), more gunfire, swordfights and explosions. Ryan Reynolds returns as our favorite Merc with a Mouth, with a new trailer free of unfinished special effects.  If the first movie made DMX’s “X Gonna Give It To Ya” or Salt ‘N’ Pepa’s “Whatta Man” its theme songs, this new trailer will do the same for LL Cool J’s classic “Mama Said Knock You Out”. YouTube is already chock full of “Deadpool 2 brought me here.” comments for the song.

Reynolds and Company know what they’re doing.

This time around, it appears that Deadpool has to protect a child (much like Logan) pursued by the time travelling mutant Cable. Though we don’t know the reasons behind this, we see Deadpool is forced to create a fighting team of his very own in X-Force. I can imagine Deadpool’s creator, Rob Liefield, is definitely proud of seeing his characters from the 1991 comic series finally brought on to the big screen.

In addition to Brolin, Deadpool 2 adds Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz as Domino. Most of the cast from the first film are back – Morena Baccarin (Vanessa), TJ Miller (Weasel), Leslie Uggams (Blind Al), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead), and even Karan Soni (Dopinder, who I hope has progressed in his relationship with his love interest, Gita).

David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) takes over the directing duties from Tim Miller. I’m personally excited for that, having enjoyed his previous films. This should give the movie a different feel from the original.

Deadpool 2 premieres in cinemas on May 18th, 2018, giving audiences enough time to come off of their Avengers: Infinity War highs and enjoy.

 

Teaser Trailer – Venom


You’ve heard of Venom, haven’t you?

Remember Spider-Man 3, and that weird character Topher Grace played? Or maybe you’ve read the comics over time, played the character in countless videogames? With the latest teaser trailer for Venom, Sony is betting that you already know the character so well that they don’t have to show him or his name. He’s just that popular, and you should already know. Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t that thrilling (not to me, anyway). It’s not a teaser unless you tease something, and all I’ve truly seen are tidbits that could be pulled from any other movie Hardy’s ever done. I feel like Venom pulled on purpose what the Deadpool 2 Teaser joked about, with the CGI not being ready. I sure hope that isn’t the case.

Of course, we’ll need to get a little more and hope that some of the basic questions are answered here. Former Daily Bugle worker Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) will don the suit made from an alien symbiote, but will Spider-Man be seen or mentioned? The worst mistake they could do here is to give Venom a story without at least touching or hinting on Spider-Man’s existence. Still, it’s just a teaser, and perhaps way too early to form any conclusion.

Venom, starring Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams will be released in theatres this October 5th.

Deadpool, Meet Cable (A Teaser)


“Well, that’s just lazy writing.” Ah, good old Wade Wilson.

Fox just dropped a teaser trailer for the Deadpool Sequel (which doesn’t really have a name at this point other than maybe Deadpool 2). This one focuses on Cable and shows off some of his combat abilities. It looks like everyone’s back on board here, with Deadpool breaking the 4th wall, as usual.

Deadpool 2 will be in cinemas this May.