Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Hello my fine readers! Let me take you back to a simpler time. A time when Stars Wars: The Force Awakens had been released and it was one of the most memorable and exhilarating theatrical experiences of my life. I know many have since found flaws with the film, but I still love it. It is what I like in a Star Wars movie. I want pulpy space adventure. The kind of film where you get out of your seat and cheer at the end. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want gritty war stories or fantasy sagas with hologramming and other magic. This is why the original Star Wars film (now called A New Hope) was always my favorite. It is a pulpy space adventure that I cheer along with when our merry group of rebels defeat the bad guys. It’s as simple as that. Empire Strikes Back is the best made of the Star Wars movies but if we are just talking about my favorites, I prefer the original Star Wars.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to explain why I enjoyed the saga’s latest offering Solo: A Star Wars Story. This rather light diversion may be a disappointment to those who enjoyed the more heady previous 2 films, but for me this was a welcome return to the Star Wars that I love. (For the record I did not like Rogue One and I was mixed on Last Jedi).

Most of us know about the rocky road that Solo: A Star Wars Story had in production, but I think it was a good move hiring Ron Howard. He is what I would call an ‘old school director’: meaning he isn’t trying to be edgy or groundbreaking. He knows how to make an entertaining, crowd-pleasing blockbuster, and that’s who I think needs to be making Star Wars movies. That’s what I want at least, and that’s what he has done with Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich has the unenviable task of taking over for Harrison Ford in the lead role of Han Solo, and I must own I never bought that he was the Han Solo I know and love. I didn’t feel that way for any of the returning characters except for Chewbacca who is portrayed by Joonas Suotamo instead of Peter Mayhew.

However, this was not a barrier in my enjoyment of the film. I kind of look at it as various actors playing Ebeneezer Scrooge. They are all very different, but I can still enjoy the basic character of Scrooge and his reformation (I have reviewed over 30 versions of Christmas Carol if you doubt me on that!)

The main appeal of this film is the heist action set pieces that clip along with just enough fan service to be enjoyable. Han Solo is kind of like Aladdin in a way. He lies and steals to survive but is loyal and sweet at the end of the day. At the beginning of the film he is with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke- who is way better in this than in Terminator Genisys!). They get separated and then are back together throughout the film. Then he meets Chewie, Lando Calrissian played by Donald Glover, Tobias Beckett played by Woody Harrelson and a crime lord named Dryden Vos played by Paul Bettany.

I won’t give any spoilers but it is pretty simple. The team are asked to steal something for Beckett and the movie is a series of misadventures around the theft of those items. The energetic action sequences entertained me and were boosted by terrific music by John Powell and beautiful production design and cinematography by Bradford Young.

Sadly there are major problems with Solo: A Star Wars Story I must address. First of all, it is way too long. This movie should be under 2 hours. The original Star Wars movie was 121 minutes and that had to set up an entire universe, mythology and lore. This is does not have near that burden and is 135 minutes! As you can imagine from that run time the pacing is an issue. The beginning feels drawn out and a bit choppy and then when we get to the various action set-pieces it picks them. Then there is a point where the Kessell Run is done and they have delivered the stolen goods. The movie should have ended there. It was a natural stopping point and would have left our heroes on a victorious note. But it goes on for another 35 minutes and even introduces new characters at that late point, which did not work at all.

Also, there is a problem with a droid named L3-37. She is presented as a companion droid for Lando, but she bothered me greatly. I have no problem with messages or activism in Star Wars but it has to come from an authentic and natural place. If it doesn’t it comes off as forced and patronizing. Unfortunately L3 was the latter. She is a droid concerned with equal rights for droids (think Dobby in Harry Potter)- a worthy goal. The problem is she yelled and screamed her case in times that any sensible character would know is fruitless. You are not going to be able to fight for equal rights in the middle of an action scene. This makes it feel, like I said, inauthentic and forced. And when a character preaching social justice is inauthentic and forced, it is very grating. As a woman it doesn’t make me feel represented to have a character that is unbelievable, cloying and one-note. In fact, it is kind of insulting when writers feel the only way to portray a minority viewpoint is in such a shrill, awkward way.

To make matters worse they make L3 a permanent part of Star Wars canon in a very meaningful way, which I was not a fan of. (Also it kind of undermines her entire message and makes her a slave for all of the history of future Star Wars films, which is weird). I also found it hard to believe a character like Lando would be attached to a droid like L3.  For all the praise Donald Glover is getting, we don’t see him that much (he doesn’t make an appearance until an hour in). And I did not think he even liked being around L3 (I mean who would want to be around such a droid?…) and certainly not have a deep and meaningful connection. Despite Donald Glover’s charm, there was no chemistry between the two characters.

I can appreciate wanting to have an activist droid and wanting to make Star Wars more socially conscious but it has to be written with more of a deft hand for it to be effective. Jar Jar Binks is a super annoying character but at least he has a role and purpose aside from being an activist. He ends up getting his people, the Gungans, to fight with the rebellion and takes the Jedi to meet them. L3 was just a sidekick fighting for equal rights! That’s not enough to make an interesting character. Plus, Jar Jar was an attempt at comic relief and some kids found him funny. There is nothing funny about L3. So yes, I think L3 is the worst character in the history of Star Wars. Worse than Jar Jar Binks. Boom!

But all that said, I walked away from Solo: A Star Wars Story having had a pretty good time. It was the pulpy space adventure I had been looking for and hadn’t gotten for the last 2 films. I look forward to seeing it again. Something I also couldn’t say about the last two films. Flaws and all, this is my type of Star Wars movie.

PS. There is also a reveal at the end, which was very groan inducing and if you watch Rebels or Clone Wars will not be much of a surprise.

What did you think of Solo? Let me know in the comments section.

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Book Club Review

One trend I have noticed recently is movies are being made for older demographics both male and female. Whether it is an action movie like Red, a drama like I’ll See You in My Dreams, or a light romcom like The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, these films have an audience, and I think it is great they are being made. Many theaters have senior citizen discounts and it is not uncommon for me to see many retired men and women there enjoying films. Some I see so much I recognize them and they wave hello.

Anyway, the latest entry in this demographic is the romantic comedy Book Club and going into it I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy it. First of all, I love romantic comedies. You don’t have a Hallmark podcast and not love romcoms! LOL. I also love the cast with Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Stenburgen- some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood today. Finally, I am a huge fan of book clubs. For pretty much all of my adult life I have been a member of a book club. It is such a welcome release to have a guaranteed monthly social interaction and the mental stimulus of group discussion and debate. My book club this month is this upcoming Thursday and even though the book was a bit of a chore I am eagerly awaiting it!

So, I  was primed to like this movie and sure enough I did! It’s not reinventing the wheel, but I consistently laughed throughout and thought the 4 women had great chemistry. They all felt like legit friends who were loving and yet sassy with one another. Some of my more conservative readers will struggle with the 50 Shades of Grey references and frank talk about sexuality, but I found it funny and kind of refreshing. It reminded me of a good episode of The Golden Girls (which I love) where mature women were allowed to talk about their frustrations, desires and passions. That’s a good thing!

In truth, the 50 Shades element is just the beginning to get things rolling and most of the movie is about their various dating escapades, which were hilarious and sweet. Diane Keaton is recently widowed and struggling with children who think she’s ancient. Candice Bergen is a judge who is trying online dating for the first time. Jane Fonda is a confirmed bachelorette who has no interest in settling down with a man and Mary Steenburgen is dealing with a lull in her marriage that started once her husband retired.

All the men they got for the ladies are top notch and great. Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfus are all great but my favorite was Andy Garcia. I think I might have a crush on him after this movie. He was soooo charming!

Book Club is not perfect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if critics are very harsh on it, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There is some wonky green screen work that looks dumb and it is all very predictable and silly. Also the 50 Shades references would probably have been funnier several years ago. It seems like the trend has basically faded now that the movies are done, so it makes the movie feel a little dated.

But none of that mattered to me. I had a great time watching Book Club. It’s rated PG-13 but will not be for everyone because of sensuality, so just make sure you check various resources before to make sure it is something you feel comfortable with.

I also really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club if you are looking for something to stream that is more of a drama. More book club movies please! 🙂

Blind Spot 29: Gallipoli

This month’s Blindspot pick, 1981’s Gallipoli, is an interesting one because it is my best movie buddy Phaedra’s favorite movie. She is a blogger just like me but at least with prestige pictures we often have very different tastes. We can both have fun at silly films like 47 Meters Down (she went with me and enjoyed it!) but let’s just say our picks at Sundance are quite different. LOL. So knowing Gallipoli was her favorite film and that it was a war movie I prepared myself for some intense stuff. What I got was very surprising. Gallipoli is more of a coming of age film than a war movie and despite a very sad ending is surprisingly hopeful.

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Gallipoli stars a very young Mel Gibson (you can definitely see how Gallipoli influenced Gibson’s Braveheart and Hacksaw Ridge) as Frank and Mark Lee as Archy. They are young men in 1915 Australia who meet sprinting together. Archy yearns to go to the war where Frank is more blasé about it but eventually agrees to go along for the ride.

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After a long walk through the desert the boys enlist and are sent to Cairo and eventually to the Gallipoli Peninsula at Anzac Cove.  Surprisingly we don’t see much of the war or any fighting until the final act. Most of the time is spent getting to know Frank and Archy and their friends. In many ways it reminded me of Chariots of Fire in the slice of life portrayal of young boys trying to figure out what they believe in.

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When we get to the ANZAC attack it is quite devastating because the characters have been built up so well. The most frustrating part of the bloodshed is that it is based upon a miscommunication between 2 officers, not on any actual need to fight. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but Frank desperately tries to stop the advancement as a messenger in the final scenes and it is very intense.

In many ways it makes sense that Peter Weir directed Gallipoli. He always has a way of bringing out sincere and moving performances from young actors (Dead Poets Society, Witness) and this is probably his best movie. I was really engrossed in the story and felt attached to Frank and Archy as their journey progressed. There were light moments where you got to know them as people that made the losses of war feel all the more real and devastating. It was very well done.

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I also thought all the production values were strong in Gallipoli. The cinematography was striking capturing the dry, deserts of both Australia and the Anzac Cove. It also had fantastic music featuring both modern electronic and classical orchestrations. The war scenes felt convincing, which helped build the tension well and drew me into the story. I recently watched a WW1 movie called The Journey’s End and it was so dull, so I know this is not an easy task to achieve.

What makes Gallipoli a hopeful film is promise and potential we see in Frank, Archy and their friends. Yes they were put in a war and that is awful but seeing that potential and getting to know these characters is still a good thing. Hopefully we can see the joy and dreams in young people today and do a better job at not snuffing it out far too early. Even the imagery of Archy running throughout the film (and in the closing shots) is hopeful.

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Gallipoli is a great movie, and it should be talked more about as such. I think it is even better than Saving Private Ryan to be honest (both good films). It develops its characters better and builds up to the battle instead of starting with it. This makes you more invested (and devastated) with what is happening. There was a humanity in Gallipoli that moved me because it wasn’t just a clinical exercise but a story of 2 young men who wanted to run but ended up being unable to outrace the foolish decisions of their generals.

smile worthy

 

Maya the Bee: The Honey Games Review

Back in 2015 I was one of the few people to praise Maya the Bee. It is an adaptation of the 80s animated TV show, and I thought they did a good job making a sweet, adorable film for little children. Now 3 years later we have a sequel, Maya the Bee: The Honey Games, and I once again found it charming and adorable.

In this adventure cute little Maya gets in over her head when she challenges a neighboring bully queen to a series of games called the Honey Games (the hint at Hunger Games is merely coincidental). Maya must then gather a group of lazy bugs together, motivate them to practice and deal with a mean girl bee named Violet. If they lose than Maya’s hive will have to give up all their Winter pollen which would be disastrous.

If you are looking for something new and exciting this is not your movie. It is completely predictable in every way. It is honestly about the same story as Aardman’s recent film Early Man. The difference is my expectations are higher for an Aardman film and the character designs here are much cuter than the weird pig noses in Early Man. Maybe it’s just me but I really find the character designs in this series to be super cute and well done.

It’s also a series which should appeal equally to little girls and boys and that is always nice for parents. Maya’s best friend Willi is a sweet character who learns to deal with his jealousy and be a loyal friend. They are very cute together.

The cast of professional voice actors does a nice job and they even have a decent score with some nice violin playing from the grosshopper character Flip. It makes Maya the Bee: The Honey Games a pleasant-enough watch for parents watching with their kids.

Maya the Bee: The Honey Games does not reinvent the wheel but for little kids it is cute, positive and a brief 85 minutes. If you can find it on blu-ray and you have kids, give it a purchase. I think you will like it.