[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.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Dear Basketball (2017)

Director: Glen Keane

Cast: Kobe Bryant

Screenplay: Kobe Bryant

6 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Short Film [Pending]

 

Yes, Kobe Bryant (Daddy’s Home) is an Oscar nominee. So there you have it.

In this short film directed by Glen Keane and narrated by Bryant from a poem he wrote, we see important moments in Bryant’s past that led him to his love of the game, carried him through his career, and led him to his decision to walk away from it.

Bryant announced his retirement in 2015 with a poem entitled “Dear Basketball.” In this short, nothing is cut from the poem. It’s displayed in all its glory here. Even though the poem is great, though, had anyone else but Bryant read it, the short may not work. It is precisely because Kobe wrote it and reads it that the story works. Without him and the emotion flowing through him, the short doesn’t work nearly as well.

The animation is gorgeous, a flowing fever dream of past events led by the emotion from Bryant’s voice. It is stunning to watch. The sketching of the animation seems to work well with the memories coming out of Bryant’s poem.

I have to say something about the tremendous score from, yes, John Williams. His music here is inspirational and full of wonder.

Overall, Dear Basketball is an incredible short film, and incredibly worth your 6 minutes. Please check it out if you can find it.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

The 2016 Oscars! Your thoughts?

Okay, everyone, last night, Chris Rock hosted the 2016 Oscars, and it was full of surprises and controversy! But amidst all that, how did it go? Well, I have a few bullet points thoughts on the matter:

  • The opening was great, but that was about all I needed on the controversy, an entire night of Oscar Guilt was a bit much.
  • Did Chris Rock pull an Ellen when he sold Girl Scout Cookies during the show?
  • I enjoyed the thank-you scroll on the bottom of the screen, but I don’t think the winners got it. Most of them continued to thank people when they arrived on stage. The idea of the scroll was to save time and make the speeches more memorable, but the only ones that really served that were Adam McKay, Emmanuelle Lubezki, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pete Docter, and Ennio Morricone.
  • Another thought? All the time spent on the controversy could have been better served to add more spectacle to the show. One year they did a presentation on horror films, and another year on Bond films. Could they not have spent time on John Williams and his 50th nomination perhaps? There just wasn’t enough presentation to make last night The Oscars.
  • Maybe have all five nominated songs perform, eh? (Even if I did hate Earned It)

Those are my thoughts on the show, but I want to hear yours, both on the awards show and the winners! Did Spotlight deserve the win? Did Leo? Why was Abe Vigoda missing from the In Memoriam? And seriously, did David O. Russell think everything was that hilarious last night? Let me know!

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

Jurassic World (2015)

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Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

It has been 22 years since the events of Jurassic Park, and now John Hammond’s vision has been fully realized. Jurassic World has been up and running for about a decade, and has been run by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, 50/50) to great success. Now, though, with declining numbers, the park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man) wants something new and bigger to boost attendance. He has enlisted Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Mulan, Focus) with the task of genetically hybridizing a new dinosaur species called the Indominus Rex, but this new species is much smarter than they could have realized, and now a raptor trainer named Owen (Chris Pratt, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) must help Claire find her nephews, Nick (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey, The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, Insidious, Iron Man 3), who are missing in the park.

In this third sequel to the Jurassic Park franchise, we see something that has been almost promised for just as long: a fully functioning theme park, exactly what John Hammond would have wanted. It is a completely new experience for fans of the series, and it offers a cadre of new set pieces for director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) to completely destroy.

Chris Pratt gives another leading man performance that proves he has the chops to continue raking in the dough. Now Owen isn’t played as well to Pratt’s strength, and he comes off rather wooden at the beginning of the film before really finding his character beats as the film progresses. His chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is pretty strong, though the developed romance between feels way contrived in the grand scheme of the story.

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The supporting players all mostly give in to the conceit of the film and perform admirably. Our child actors Robinson and Simpkins do enough to get by, though Simpkins underwhelms when compared to previous work in the Insidious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Run All Night) is great as the slimy Hoskins who wishes to use Owen’s raptor skills to train the beasts for militaristic purposes. He is matched perfectly by Irrfan Khan’s Masrani, an eccentric billionaire very similar to Hammond and who wishes to follow in his footsteps and do right by him. The term “Spare No Expense” comes to mind several times.

B.D. Wong returns to the franchise from the original film as the genius Dr. Wu, a character much expanded upon from the original source novel by Michael Crichton. In this film, Wu defends his place in the history books as the clever mind behind many of the park’s greatest attractions.

Now the dinosaurs here as missing much of the Stan Winston touch that made them so magical in the 1993 film. They still look amazing from the terrific visual effects work, and some of them, like the mighty aquatic Mosasaurus, but it is something I missed. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s original film, I still look in wonder at the magic on the screen, whereas here I know I am seeing CGI.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also a great feature of the film, subtly using John William’s original themes while adding notes of grandeur and chaos to reinvent it. When we first see the gorgeous set pieces accompanied by the original music, it made my heart skip a beat.

Flaws? Yeah, there are several. The use of the Gyrospheres being completely controlled by the attendees? Yeah, no safety features required there…not! This film makes several of the same mistakes that we’ve seen before, making the characters seem like they paid no attention to the mistakes made in previous installments.

JURASSIC WORLD - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: The Indominus rex dominates all creatures in her path - Photo Credit: Universal Pictures   © 2014 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thankfully, the film is much saved by how great the wins are. There are several faults at play, but overall this is the best film in the franchise since the original. The little pieces of homage to the T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Mr. DNA, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm help validate this film as a strong installment in the series that holds its own and opens new avenues for the future of the story.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen Jurassic World? What did you think? Did this film’s life find a way or go extinct in the process? Let me know!

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Eighth Day… Home Alone (1990)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara

Screenplay: John Hughes

103 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Somewhere in My Memory”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Growing up, I was not a major fan of Home Alone. I can’t really say why, but perhaps I feel like the film was oversaturated and existed in such a wide capacity that it was just too much. Every year with this film, and I often confused the events of the first film with those of the second which was very jarring.

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At the behest of my mother, who adores the film, I took a look back on it a few years back. My feelings were very different that time around.

Kevin McAllister (Macauley Culkin, Richie Rich, Sex and Breakfast) doesn’t connect with his family. In fact, he wishes he never had a family. When he awakens one morning to discover that his family is gone, he is overjoyed that his wish came true. Kevin’s family has gone to France without him, but now he is home alone while two criminals named Harry (Joe Pesci, GoodFellas, The Good Shepherd) and Marv (Daniel Stern, TV’s Manhattan, City Slickers), known as the Wet Bandits, try to break into his home. It is up to Kevin to protect his home and himself while his mother (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) attempts to get back home to spend Christmas with her son.

I like this movie much more as an adult. There is something about returning to the imagination like a situation like this actually happening. I didn’t have the growing up experience where I wanted to get rid of my family. I enjoyed Macauley Culkin’s ability to carry this movie and the great supporting work from Pesci and Stern certainly help. John Hughes (Vacation, The Breakfast Club) knows how to write a screenplay, and this is one drastically different from his 1980’s teen comedy work. Then there’s Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who isn’t so much a good director as he is a capable one. He does fine work here assisted by a powerful and unsettling score from John Williams.

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Looking back, Home Alone was a fun time to watch a movie. It has the insane premise which amazingly works quite well, it isn’t derailed by a less-than-amazing Chris Columbus or the bumbling thieves or even the quite rude family members. Still a fun time; still a Christmas miracle.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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