Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)


Don’t get cocky, kid!

Lucasfilm maybe should have taken Han’s advice, because while Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a bad film, it isn’t a very good one, either.

One of the main challenges for Lucasfilm in making this film was finding the person who could fill Harrison Ford’s massive shoes. Han Solo is an iconic character and it was going to take someone special to step into the role. They settled on Alden Ehrenreich, which wasn’t a bad choice. Ehrenreich does a pretty good job encapsulating the swagger and snark that is Solo, and by the second half of the film, I bought it. Whether or not that stands the next time I pop in the original trilogy remains to be seen.

Visually, the film is beautiful, which isn’t surprising. The action set pieces are what you would expect from Lucasfilm at this point, although I could have done without all the non-humanoid creatures that kept popping up. We get it. There are weird looking aliens in this universe. It just feels like, at this point, that every film is trying to one-up the last with what kind of strange creatures will pop up next. And without going into spoilers, I’m sort of done with the droids, too. The film also falls into Marvel territory in regards to its villains. Underdeveloped and with a couple of twists that sort of made me shake my head and go, huh? Was that really necessary? The film almost felt as if it were a couple of different films pieced together, which isn’t surprising given the behind the scenes stuff that went on.

There are a number of bright spots, however, that pull the film from terrible territory. The cast is one of them, and this is where the movie really shines. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is interesting, with just enough of mystery to make you take notice and Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is exactly what you’d expect. As noted everywhere else on the interwebz, Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian is next-level incredible. He embodies Billy Dee Williams perfectly, and then ramps it up a notch. I won’t be surprised, given the reaction to the character, if Lucasfilm announces a Lando spin-off film in the near future. Although, the opening weekend numbers of Solo might put a damper on those sorts of notions.

The main problem with the film, besides the pacing which was all over the place, is the same problem that plagues all prequels. There are no real stakes. We all know the overall outcome before the movie starts. Both Han and Chewie are going to survive, and there is not enough development of any of the new characters for us to really care about what happens to them. It was the same problem I had with Rogue One. And yes, I know that Lucasfilm provides a lot of extra content and backstory in the tie-in materials, but unless you’re a hard-core Star Wars fan, it’s unlikely that you’ll seek this information out just to fill in any gaps.

Overall, the film is okay, bordering on good. But that’s not what I want from my Star Wars films. I want fantastic, amazing, I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-it incredible. And I’m not sure that that’s what we’re going to get while Lucasfilm keeps going back to the same old well for story ideas. (The exception to that is an Obi-Wan film (or trilogy) because that is the story I most want!). In this vast and varied galaxy, there have to be other stories to tell. Let’s hope that the studio realizes this sooner rather than later.

6/10 STARS

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Welcome home, Spidey.

On the big screen, Spider-Man has had a bit of a tumultuous ride. For the character, there have been really high highs and really low lows… so much so, in fact, that things were looking grim for Sony there for a while. They didn’t seem to know what to do with the character and his gallery, and after a couple of failed attempts, seemed to be floundering. Spider-Man is the only character that the studio holds the rights to, so they needed to make sure that they had something viable and usable, and preferably something they could build a cinematic universe on.

Enter Marvel Studios.

It’s been a long-time dream of comic book fans to see Spider-Man back in the fold and on the big screen with the Avengers. Nerd tears were shed back in 2015 when it was announced that Sony had finally made a deal with Marvel Studios to bring Peter into the MCU. And make no mistake about it, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an MCU film. And a solid one at that.

There is no radioactive spider bite and no tearful goodbye to Uncle Ben. The film picks up where we last saw Peter, in a delightful little montage (because I avoided the later trailers, I wasn’t spoiled by this bit), at the airport in Germany during the Captain America: Civil War battle. But just as Peter thinks he’s hit the big time, he’s sent back to the minors and expected to just go about his everyday teenage life back in Queens. Which includes attending high school and all the stuff that comes with it when you’re a nerdy teenage boy.

This is where the film really shines. John Watts has done a fantastic job of balancing the everyday stuff with the superhero aspects of Peter’s life, and how these things weigh on the character. And the idea that Peter is going to—and does—make mistakes give the story a real world feel, with consequences and all. Previous iterations of the character had a tendency to gloss over this aspect of Peter’s life, but this film dumps you head first right into the deep end of all that teen angst. It’s a refreshing change to recent superhero fare.

What really makes this film stand out, however, is both its hero and its villain. Michael Keaton shines as Adrian Toomes, also known as the villainous Vulture. Toomes has agency, motivation and a credible backstory, which is rare for a Marvel villain. He’s also rather terrifying, and that’s never a bad thing in a bad guy. But that only adds to the incredible performance by Tom Holland. He is both the quintessential Peter Parker and Spider-Man and seemed to be born to play this role. His brings a real naivety and vulnerability to the character, which is something that was lacking in previous iterations. It’s going to be fun to see him grow with this role, and there is no doubt that he will easily be considered the perfect Peter when all is said and done.

Overall, the film is what I wanted in a Spider-Man film and is the perfect vehicle to bring the character into the Avengers fold. While no means perfect, it still captures the magic and wonder of the character and the world he lives in, growing pains and all. Sure, it’s fun to see him interacting with the rest of the Avengers, but it’s these smaller, neighbourhood stories that truly bring the character to life. Hopefully we’ll get a few more before Spider-Man takes over the Avengers, because we all know that’s where this is headed. Just maybe not so soon.

8.5/10 STARS

Review: Baby Driver (2017)

They say that sometimes you have to let go of the good things to make room for the great things. These pearls of wisdom have never been more apt than with the whole Edgar Wright/Ant-Man falling out with Kevin Feige and Marvel a few years ago.

While Wright’s Ant-Man would have been something interesting, the fact that he stepped away from the project looks to be the best thing to happen to all parties involved. Not only did we get a gem of a film in Peyton Reed’s final version of Ant-Man, but the move also opened the door for Wright to set his sights on a more personal project… which just happened to be the incredible Baby Driver.

Baby Driver follows the story of Baby (the fabulous Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver for a master-of-the-heist crime boss, Doc (a mustache-twirling—but in the very best way—Kevin Spacey). Baby’s goal is to get out, but we don’t often get the things that we want in life, even with the best laid plans.

The film is brash and bold and brazen. So unique and distinctive that it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Cinematic Universe fare that seems so prevalent in cinemas these days. An incredible score and soundtrack, mixed with a great script, fantastic action and a fabulous cast will easily send the film to the top of many Best lists. And deservedly so. Wright not only gets incredible performances from Elgort (who, based on his performance here, is a bonafide movie star) and Spacey, but also his supporting cast. Jamie Fox and Jon Hamm shine as not-so-nice partners in crime, but Eiza Gonzalez is the real breakout here. Her take on Darling is something special, and when added to the chemistry that she and Hamm have, she virtually leaps off the screen and right into your lap.

Overall, this film is exactly what I wanted it to be. Fun, loud, incredible and a little unexpected. Wright has taken an interesting, if trite premise and turned it on its head. The film is neither a sequel, a requel, a prequel nor a remake. Hopefully that, coupled with the awesome word of mouth that it’s been getting, will send audiences flocking to the theatre. A girl can dream, can’t she? Oh, and if you haven’t already done so, GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

9/10 STARS

New-To-Me Review: The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years (2014) is a film adaptation of the Off-Broadway musical of the same name by Jason Robert Brown. The film was written and directed by Richard Lagravenese and stars Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up In The Air) and Jeremy Jordan (Broadway’s Newsies, TV’s Smash).

The story follows the rise and fall of the five-year relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hiatt and novelist Jamie Wellerstein. Like the musical, the film is sung through, which means that the story is told entirely through song. The film (unlike the musical, which I have not had the pleasure to see) does have a couple of spots where there is brief dialogue, but they are absolutely minimal. And here, unlike in the stage production, the characters actually get a chance to interact with one another, which adds another bit of depth to the material. (On stage, they each tell their side of the story directly to the audience and only interact once).

What sets the story apart, however, is that it is not told in chronological order; Cathy’s arc begins at the end of the relationship and moves backwards, while Jamie’s arc starts at the beginning and moves forwards. The viewpoints alternate throughout the film, with the two stories intersecting in the middle, at the point where the characters get engaged and then married.

Overall, the film is beautiful… and heartbreaking. The score is modern and poignant, and a few of the tunes are the kind that have a tendency to stick with you. I will definitely be buying the soundtrack to the film later this week. And there is no doubt that the beauty of the film lies in the performances of the two leads. Especially when it comes to light that the performances were all captured live. No lip-syncing here.

To steal a line from Jordan’s Bonnie And Clyde on Broadway co-star, Laura Osnes, Jeremy Jordan can sing the crap out of anything and doesn’t disappoint here. The emotion that he brings with just his voice alone is incredible, and there is a reason that he is considered one of the top talents on Broadway (and is completely wasted as sidekick Winn Schott on The CW’s Supergirl. But that’s a rant for another day!) His rendition of ‘Nobody Needs To Know’ makes you want to both hate him and hold him, all in the same breath. Kendrick is excellent in the flashier role of Cathy (she gets the more memorable songs of the bunch) and proves that she is the whole package once more. The nuance and subtlety of her performance makes it a must see.

The only problem I had with the film was that it seemed to get a little muddled in the middle. A couple of times I felt myself a little lost as to where exactly we were in the timeline, which is one of the issues with having the leads on screen together. It was a mad scramble to see if they were wearing wedding rings to try and place the scene. This is a minor complaint, however and will probably work itself out during rewatch.

The film doesn’t fit in the happy, all-is-right-with-the-world box that most musicals find themselves in. Neither character is exceptionally likeable, and yet their inevitable end still breaks your heart. It’s raw and real and oh so resonant to anyone who has ever made the wrong choices, for reasons that they felt were right, in a relationship and had their heart broken in the process.

8.5/10 STARS