What Movie Have You Seen Today?


#101

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It’s tricky to post a negative review of Star Wars based on its merits. Full disclosure: I liked The Last Jedi. But I found Solo to be a weak entry in the franchise. Even back when they first announced a young Han Solo movie, I wondered … uh, why?

The scripted story was rather derivative and linear, moving from one set piece to the next without much suspense. The visuals are quite impressive, however. Donald Glover had Lando Calrissian down, but that being said he wasn’t that likable a character. Alden Ehrenrieich never quite pulls off the Harrison Ford impersonation, but that’s more on the script than his acting. There’s not much of an arc here. Han Solo is pretty much presented fully formed from the first scene. So his bravado comes off as unearned arrogance. And some of his schemes result more from dumb cockiness than loveable rogue, especially with him being the one boasting about his achievements. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is the most interesting character here, having gone through some sort of development that we are not privy too, which adds to her mystery. And her final scene involves a spoiler where if you haven’t seen the animated series, you’re wondering, “isn’t that character dead?” (I had read spoilers and so found myself explaining to my buddy how that came about.)

Its villains aren’t particularly menacing or threatening, Dryden Voss lacking the cold calculating malevolance of Rogue One’s bureacratic Director Krennic. There is a nice callout to Scariff, linking these two “Star Wars Storys” together. But where as Rogue One cleverly explained the Death Star’s weakness as a plot device, I’m not sure I need every Star Wars foible explained. Being able to goof on it is part of what made the Original Trilogy so much fun to repeatedly watch and talk about. Now that I’ve seen a Wookie rip someone’s arms off, or how he learned hologram chess, or especially how the infamous Kessel run was done, it takes away from the myth and mystique. And the card game was awfully reminiscent of Casino Royale’s.

There are a few sub plots that don’t go anywhere. Disney seems to be trolling the trolls by having a droid calling for droid rights to be actually named L3-37. Chewbacca has a similar arc with Wookies, but it all felt like Canto Bight’s fathiers quest redux. This is set only 10-15 years after Episode III, but already there are Imperial Star Destroyers and Storm Troopers everywhere. The Republic’s fleet seems to have been discarded rather quickly, as were the clone army and their uniforms. How that came about might be a more interesting story. Instead we get more on the dice.

It’s this world building that seems like a missed opportunity. The resigned cynicism of the low ranking Imperial officers, such as the recruiting official Han faces, would be an interesting thing to explore–how ordinary people caught up in this environment work and react to an Empire. They can’t all be courageous rebels or all be driven evil-doers–like Clerks’ epic discussion of the construction workers from Return of the Jedi.

One other nitpicking note: if you’re introducing a movie with three title cards after "A long time ago … ", why not just have the opening crawl? And the actual title comes too soon, it should have been after the opening scenes set three years before the rest of the movie, after we learn how Han gets his surname.

You can see where Disney was hoping to set up a sequel–Han’s job for Jabba would have clearly been the next entry. But if there is another Star Wars story, it won’t be a Solo movie. Since we know where all these characters end up, there’s no point to it either. That could have been said about this entry in the universe as well.


#102

Great review!

I really would have preferred to not see Han´s origin story but an earlier adventure with Chewbacca, like the expanded universe novel “Han Solo on Star´s End”.

If it was up to me I would let the Skywalker saga really end with Episode IX and then move on with new stories completely. Leave the old characters alone and save the rest of their mystery about them.

Backstory is important, yes. But even more important is to keep it to an absolute minimum. The mystery is the biggest asset for a character.


#103

Part of the reason why I was okay with the explanation for Rey’s parents in The Last Jedi. Not everyone needs to be a Skywalker or a Solo.


#104

I’m actually astonished how Disney ignores the expanded universe entirely, there were a number of intriguing branches they could have explored now that they have to replace the old stars anyway; that Black Sun Syndicate, the early Jedi machinations of Knights of the Old Republic, even adventures ‘inside’ the Empire.

I dimly remember the Han Solo adventures; I believe it was first mentioned there that Han was supposedly a former pilot for the Empire. Might have been better to leave all that to the imagination and concentrate on other characters. Rogue One did that rather well.


#105

Well, they don’t so much ignore it as cherry pick the bits they liked. Lars Mikkelsen’s character in Rebels for example was a much (over)used character from the eu. I get why Disney has gone for this approach, using the nostalgia angle for films, then the more blatant “things only a fan would know” in their own expanded universe stuff. The Last Jedi obviously plays with that in a way to make you challenge assumptions but it’s marketing still played on the nostalgia angle.


#106

Then again, one should allow for mistakes. It seemed to be the natural approach to bank on nostalgia and choosing SOLO as another film.

Now that it backfired I hope that Disney will reconsider and also not make movies about Boba Fett (who I never thought was interesting at all) or Kenobi and Yoda (both of which have already fulfilled their narrative goals).

Instead of looking backwards they should really move forward. Something the Bond films also could profit from.


#107

Their commissioned films would suggest they’re aiming for best of both - Boba Fett and Obi Wan for nostalgia - Kenobi I’d be curious, but I don’t think there’s enough to prop a whole film. Fett is just a cool suit, definitely not enough for more than the prequels already covered.

On the other hand there is Rian Johnson’s commissioned films for those who want to see new things with more complex narratives, thematic themes with moral complexities and can cope with more women (the snide joke just tells itself doesn’t It)

Speaking of - https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/arts/star-wars-last-jedi-producer-ram-bergman-interview-new-characters


#108

It’d be curious to see what Solo’s reception would be if it and Rogue One were released in the 90s/2000s instead of the prequel trilogy. Maybe the expectations would be different.

I too don’t really care to see a Fett movie. And while Ewan McGregor in another turn as Obi-Wan is promising, what’s he gonna do, fight Sand People? Maybe get amnesia and not remember R2 D2, Anakin’s twins being born, etc.?

Disney sort of had to make the EU non-canon, or at least treat it as such, to tell new stories. Author Timothy Zahn introduced a lot of cool characters–Admiral Thrawn who is in Rebels now, Talon Karrde and especially Mara Jade. She’d be a cool entry in a movie. But they had to do away with certain aspects of the Expanded Universe (Han’s and Leia’s offspring) if they wanted to feature them in the sequel trilogy. By calling the EU “Legends” instead of just treating those novels as a universe that happens in the books, and there’s a cinematic universe which is different, ended up insulting a lot of hard core fans. There are loads of Star Trek books that get negated by the official films, and that’s just accepted. Funny how Marvel doesn’t run into this problem between their comics and MCU, which are quite often different. But Star Wars can’t seem to escape the “head canon” of its fans.


#109

Infinity War has indeed outgrossed BP by $650 million so far worldwide, but domestic US still trails BP by about $45 million. And Black Panther is still playing in some theaters.

Infinity War passed $2B Monday.


#110

Not sure if this counts as movies, but I didn’t see a TV thread in the new platform. But it does have connections to movies because I’ve been catching up on…

Agents of SHIELD

I hadn’t seen it since the midway point of season 2. So when I heard season 5 started with them in space in the future, I figured that was a good place to jump back in again. And it was. The first half (10 episodes) of the season set in the future is pretty independent of the other seasons. It was a good reintroduction, though more familiarity with new and old characters does help. The second half nicely sets up events in the background to Infinity War. In fact, AoS kind of retcons the MCU. Basically, they have to prevent Earth’s destruction (which they do), hours before Thanos’ snap. But that begs the question—if Earth is destroyed right before the snap, doesn’t that save the rest of the universe in the process?

Another subplot is that a different group of aliens knew Thanos was coming to Earth, and so contacted Hydra (the presumed lead group of Earth) to offer protection. This triggers Hydra into action in The Winter Soldier which not only shakes up the rest of the MCU, but also sets the Agents of SHIELD show on a better story telling narrative from the end of Season 1 onward. It’s a nice bit of writing that enriches both the show and the movies, without necessarily being required viewing for the films.

Season 2 introduces the Inhumans, of which Skye/Daisy Johnson is one. This was Marvel’s answer to mutants (since Fox owns them for at least a few more weeks!) The episode “Melinda” is my favorite here as it not only centers on my favorite character but also explains her nickname “the Cavalry” and Melinda May’s conflict with her own history. Throughout the series she talks of moving on despite the scars because as humans “that’s all we can do. And so we move on.” She’s the most emotionally resonant character and we see time and again how she learns that lesson and lives by it. After a tangential tie in to Age of Ultron, the season builds to a satisfying two-episode conclusion. Then the third season blew the whole thing wide open.

This was 2016, pre-election, and AoS had an episode about tenuous relations with Russia (“Parting Shot”), but the irony being it’s an American trying to stage a coup of Russian leadership. That episode also had a very emotional sendoff for two of its best characters, Hunter and Bobbi Morse, whose spinoff series was later canceled (thanks, ABC!) The episode “Watchdogs” foretold the rise of online hate groups, this one being against Inhumans. But there are economic acknowledgments (underwater mortgages, unemployment) that illustrate why some people fall for these groups’ initiating arguments. The show deftly opens its metaphoric umbrella to include race, sexual orientation, and religion by openly including a gay man, a Christian, and adding Hispanic agents to SHIELD. The show is much stronger in diversity, especially with Asian and Hispanic roles, than the films are. These characters have strong connections to the main cast so that the themes land convincingly with real world relevance. This is an odd takeaway for a show based on comics, but many of their episodes and themes recall the best work of classic Star Trek episodes. Its topics also cover the environment (you’ll think twice about fish oil vitamins), sanctuary cities, corporate influence, Artificial Intelligence, arms races, living in a surveillance state, and the roles of free will and fate. As it is also a spy show, the fight scenes are spectacular. There are many parallels to Bond as SHIELD is basically MI6, and agent Leo Fitz is an even more resourceful Q, developing gadgets Major Boothroyd would be envious of.

The season also had a spectacular villain whose origins indicate Hydra began millennia, not just decades, ago. By having the alien Hive control his followers not unlike the Borg while inhabiting the body of the series long running villain and former agent Grand Ward (006 anyone?), the show manages to have its cake and eat it too. HIve’s machinations for hypnotizing Inhumans via dopamine develops a theme on the pitfalls of addiction, mirrored by another character’s own prior alcohol and present temper issues. It manifests itself in one of the lead characters making bad decision after bad decision–repeated behavior despite negative consequences. While there was chemistry lacking in the romance between Skye and her Inhuman love interest Lincoln, Chloe Bennett’s performance in the climactic scene of the season finale convinces viewers the relationship was real to her character and moves one to tears.

I must also mention Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson. His resurrection from Avengers is deftly explained (and provides a subtle Guardians connection.) He’s a character committed to duty, but doesn’t always follow orders. As a father figure to the group, especially Skye, he’s part M but also part James Bond. He’s often direct and sometimes has the best punchlines. Gregg plays the role like a character starring in his own fan fiction. This reminds us that it is fun entertainment despite its occasionally weighty themes and propensity to put all its characters through the ringer physically and emotionally. Speaking of which, Coulson’s character arc on revenge is perhaps the best meditation on the subject I’ve seen onscreen. Once he gets it, he finds it an unsatisfying journey down a rabbit hole of unintended and sometimes devastating consequences. When Daisy cries of a character’s sacrifice that “he’s paying for my sins,” Coulson replies, “no, he’s paying for all our sins.” There is no reset, no reboot, just paralyzing regret. But we move on because as May said earlier, “it’s all we can do. So we move on.”

I have yet to watch Season 4, which I hear gets even better. If you’ve indulged me by reading this far, I recommend you give this show a viewing. It’s got a great cast, compelling guest stars (Kyle McLaughlin, Blair Underwood, Edward James Olmos, the late Bill Paxton and Powers Boothe), good music, sense of humor, solid writing, and thematic relevance. The first half of season one isn’t as compelling as the others, so if you’re impatient start with the episode “Turn, Turn, Turn” which is their Winter Soldier tie-in. If you start with Season 5 as I did, revisit seasons 2 and 3 before finishing season 5’s back half as it is filled with nods and easter eggs (especially episode 100) that would have been more rewarding viewed in the proper order.

Despite season five’s ending being written as a possible series finale, and a very satisfying one at that, ABC has renewed 13 episodes of this show for a sixth season which won’t air until next summer after Avengers 4. It’s a nice companion piece to Phases 2-3 of the MCU, but also works independently of it despite their occasional cross overs. It may serve as a fitting denouement to the first 22 MCU films.


#111

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 7/10. It was okay, but nothing spectacular.


#112

Pretty much sums up the entire franchise.


#113

After the first one


#114

I love the first film. It’s nostalgic, has memorable moments, a fantastic soundtrack and a great atmosphere. There’s only so far you can push the franchise, though. The Lost World already did the ‘dinosaur in the city’ concept. The San Diego sequence was enough for me. The series could’ve very easily ended there, removing any sense of repetition. But as we know, they couldn’t help themselves.

Jurassic Park III was absolute filler. Jurassic World left us another ruined theme park, and more dinosaurs being shipped off to civilisation in Fallen Kingdom. And the latter trope doesn’t do much for me. I greatly prefer the jungle and the vibe that gives. I get they’re trying new things, but I find the trained raptor and general concept of intelligence too much to swallow. Pack hunting tactics? Sure. But being Dino friends? That’s where I draw the line. It’s a goofy suspension of disbelief and I prefer dinosaurs as wild animals.

So yes - okay but not spectacular.


#115

Absolutely! It democratised the mythos so that any young viewer can imagine themselves a Jedi; an intention underlined by the wonderful…

SPOILER ALERT…

…The wonduful end shot of the anonymous boy using the force to gather his broom.

On a side note… I wonder, is the writers choice of a ‘broom’ an allusion to notion of ‘witches’ being in fact laden with the force?

And as to TLJ’s most controversial moment… Obvs I’m in the rather large camp of finding Snoke’s fate a huge slap in the face of the audience. He was alas a red herring, but red herrings that play such pivotal roles in the story could more accurately be called lazy writing that employs cheap tricks to keep the audience engaged without any real idea or care for that thread’s ultimate place in the conclusion…

Well, doesn’t that sounds mighty like Bad Robot’s most frustrating and subsequently reviled tv series Lost? Thus I’m guessing Johnson inherited Snoke from Abrams without any notes on who the character was. Abrams simply wanted a ‘Big Bad’ in the mood of The Emporer.

Further, I’d guess that instead of trying to continue Abrams superficial BS he instead gave Abrams the bird by giving his story-less villain an ignominious fate.

I applaud Johnson if that’s the case, but in doing so he also gave audiences the bird, which was very naive indeed.

I think the issues with TLJ are very much about the problems Johnson inherited from Abrams. I think he’ll do far better with his own trilogy, having full control from the offing.


#116

No bird-giving there at all. Lucasfilm was absolutely in constant contact with Abrams who is considered a real guiding force for these sequels, and Johnson was given Abrams´ blessings to continue any way he wanted.

Personally, I think the Snoke-Decision was fantastic because it was a real surprise and it threw out the “been there done that”-structure which would have made Episode IX just going through the motions.

IMO, Johnson did Abrams a huge favor, and I’m sure Abrams therefore was absolutely okay with that.

I also think that Kathleen Kennedy encouraged Johnson to go against the cliché because she wanted to serve the fans who expressed disappointment with Episode VII being too much like the original trilogy.

Now, of course, fans do want the same meal again and again. They just like to complain when they get what they want.


#117

JJ was a producer on The Last Jedi, he clearly was ok with Rian Johnson’s choices, as was Kathleen Kennedy, as they have demonstrated that no-one is indispensable if they don’t agree with their route.

I do think Lucasfilm are damned either way given this oddly compulsive need to give attention to the ones who hate something, so The Force Awakens gets criticised in publications for being reverential to the original trilogy whilst The Last Jedi gets criticised in publications for not being reverential.

Given The Last Jedi was 2017’s most successful film at the box office and did very well critically, I’m sure Lucasfilm feel justified in that.

On a side note - how crap would you feel releasing a film that doesn’t do as well as HUGE BOX OFFICE BOMB Solo (it was no.1 at the box office that week)


#118

I saw Diamonds Are Forever again for the first time in a long time, and I am flabbergasted how Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger, could have possibly directed this boring mess. And that’s the problem with the movie: no, not its campiness, but just how BORING it is. Imagine, to go from the volcano and Piz Gloria battles to Bond simply sitting down and using a crane to save the day.


#119

That’s the problem nowadays. SOLO did absolutely terrific business for a “normal” blockbuster. But for these mega-conglomerates it is a disaster.

Oh, the days when a blockbuster only needed to do 100 millions on the first weekend. Now, it needs to do at least 150 or 200. And 1 billion dollar worldwide is the mark that has to be reached in the end if one wants to satisfy all the stockholders.

Ridiculous.

Also, that’s what obviously any Bond film now has to put up with.


#120

Indeed I think Abrams would give his blessing to whatever Johnson wanted to do with Snoke because Abrams had no real plans of his own for Snoke, which is my point.

Of course that’s speculation on my part, but then so is the idea that Abrams gave his blessing, since if he or Johnson had any issues with the direction taken neither would advertise the fact. Being both invested in future sequels, they’d present a united front.

If Kennedy encouraged johnson to kill Snoke because he was a cliche then why did she allow Abrams to include him in the first place? It’s not because she’s a pushover, as shown with her ruthless treatment of Solo’s original directors and the reshoots on Rogue One.

To me this says that Snoke was a problem because Abrams never had a provenance or plan for him, which is often Abrams MO.

The issue is not killing off Snoke, which was indeed an thrilling surprise in isolation of the larger narrative. The issue is the lack of snokes provenance. Such a major character needs a backstory and a plan to motivate his actions. Perhaps this will come in ep IX and all will be right with the world. But if not it will leave Snoke as an aboration in the list of major characters in the SW canon with virtually nothing known about a pivotal character and dying prematurely before anything is learned.

It says something about storytelling rules that you break at your peril judging from the fan reaction to those stories; The audience will accept a ‘Big Bad’ such as the emporer who has no real back story (at least none in the original trilogy) so long as he plays a pivotal role up to the finale of the narrative. The audience are far less keen to accept a big bad who is snuffed out without backstory of any attempt at explanation halfway through the narrative.

It’s pretty obvious imo that Snoke was lazy writing; ‘we need a big bad…

what’s his name: snoke
what does he look like: really big and ugly
who is he: don’t care
how did he come to be supreme leader: see above (don’t care).

The critical public reaction to Snoke shows that the audience are smart and don’t fall for these lazy writing short cuts.

It reminded me of Abrams equally derided Star Trek into darkness ending. He wants to raise the dramatic stakes by killing Kirk but can’t be bothered thinking up an equally dramatic way of bringing him back to life. So instead he has Tribble blood revive him; set up (or should I say telegraphed) earlier in the film. It was a ploy so transparently lazy that it was laughable when it transpired in the epilogue.

Lazy ass writing: what’s important to him is to up the stakes with the arch mystery of Snoke just like the arch death of Kirk. But when it comes to paying off those dramatic devices he falls far short of what audiences, and anyone with half a brain, will accept as satisfactory.

For all of his strengths and Abrams has many, lazy ass writing is his Achilles heal.

His movies are directed for adult fans, but written for people with IQs in single figures.