Masters of the Universe (1987)

Director: Gary Goddard

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles, Meg Foster

Screenplay: David Odell

106 mins. Rated PG.

 

So there’s going to be a new Masters of the Universe film in a few years. With that, I figured it was time to revisit the infamous 1980s incarnation starring Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Aquaman). There are a lot of films that you can revisit years later and find a silver lining to. This will not be one of those reviews.

On the planet of Eternia, the villainous Skeletor (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon, TV’s Kidding) have kidnapped the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull (Christina Pickles, The Wedding Singer, TV’s Break a Hip). He-Man (Lundgren) and his friends have a plan to save her, but when they fail to rescue the Sorceress, they escape using the Cosmic Key to a mystical place…called Earth. Now, they must recover the Key, return to Eternia, and defeat Skeletor once and for all.

This is not a good movie. It’s not good at all. Let’s start with literally the only thing that I think works in the film: Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. The two villains are pretty solid, even if they don’t get much to do. Langella is terrifically cheesy as Skeletor (his makeup effects are terrible, though) and Meg Foster (They Live, Overlord) is menacing as hell when adorned in her Evil-Lyn costume. I felt something almost Shakespearean in their portrayals, and in fact, they both site Shakespearean influences: Richard III for Langella and Lady Macbeth for Foster. While they both don’t have enough compelling dialogue or really much of anything to do in the film, I believe that they both put forth a solid amount of effort in elevating the material.

Now, onto the bad. First of all, I hate stories like this, where we take fantasy characters and remove the world, throwing them at Earth instead. Earth is boring, that’s why we go to the movies. Outside of Thor, this idea of traveling to Earth never works. It seems, for most of the film, that screenwriter David Odell (The Dark Crystal, Supergirl) knows nothing of the mythology of He-Man, and so removing Eternia from the equation makes us not have to worry about the mythology. Nothing that happens on Earth is interesting, whereas at least the stuff on Eternia has the ability to be engaging.

Then, there are distinct portions of the story that just don’t work. One of those elements is Gwildor, who replaces Orko from the source material. I just don’t understand why Orko is missing and this new incredibly annoying character has entered the mix. Gwildor is flat-out terrible.

The same can be said of this cosmic key device. Why is it necessary to the story to have the cosmic key played like a shitty synth musical instrument by everyone in the film? Why is this part of the story? It’s dumb and boring and serves no purpose.

I’d like to tell you that Dolph Lundgren plays He-Man well, but that’s not the case, and he’s the poster child for the lesson that you can look the part but you can’t always play the part. Lundgren survived most of the 1980s without any acting lessons, and if he’d taken the time to learn to perform, I think it would have served his career so much more than the brooding and the fighting.

Yes, just about everything in this film doesn’t work outside of Langella and Foster, and they’re doing their best. The studio had great faith in this film, and they had already prepped a sequel before this film under-performed. That sequel became the 1989 film Cyborg, but don’t ask me how that film was originally a Masters of the Universe sequel. This is a forgettable 80s film that should stay forgotten. Here’s hoping the new Masters of the Universe looks to this film for a case study of how not to handle the IP. Here’s hoping.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

All the Way (2016)

alltheway2016c

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Stephen Root

Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan

132 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

In the newest film from HBO, Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad, Get a Job) takes his award-winning performance from the stage to the screen. But does the play become a movie? Let’s find out.

alltheway2016a

All the Way, from director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Trumbo), covers the role that Lyndon B. Johnson (Cranston) played as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Events from Johnson’s work with Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War) are shown as well as Johnson’s bid for reelection during the following campaign.

All the Way has so many great performances. In fact, it’s what holds the entire film together. Led by the powerhouse work from Bryan Cranston and the incredible makeup work done to bring the President to life is stunning. He is nearly matched by Melissa Leo (TV’s Wayward Pines, The Fighter) as Lady Bird Johnson. I also liked Frank Langella (TV’s The Americans, Frost/Nixon) as Senator Richard Russell and Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as J. Edgar Hoover.

For flaws, All the Way suffers one of the most common issues of translating a play to the screen. It loses a lot of momentum as it moves. Jay Roach, an extremely capable director, struggles to keep the pacing up and moving throughout, and it shows near the final act of the film.

alltheway2016b

Overall, All the Way is a perfect showcase for its cast (I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Bradley Whitford’s work as well), but it just can’t stand on its own legs as a true film. Not enough was done to properly adapt the work as Robert Schenkkan (TV’s The Andromeda Strain, The Quiet American) adapted his own work. Thankfully, the performances keep the film strong and evocative for most of the film. Still worthy of viewing? Most definite.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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