REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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Latest Star Wars flick is an unnecessary origin story for iconic pilot Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). It gives us brief glimpses of his life as a street thief, to his days as an imperial trooper, to meeting Chewbacca and finally his start as a smuggler, including his legendary Kessel Run. And as far as a story, that’s kinda it.

Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the film was a troubled production that saw original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller leave the project to be replaced by Ron Howard, who did a lot of re-shoots. While the resulting film is not the mess once might anticipate, it’s also an underwhelming flick that never finds it’s footing or feels like the making of a legend it should. First problem is that actor Alden Ehrenreich never evokes Han Solo. If not for Chewbacca standing by his side and eventually getting in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon, he could be any generic space hero. Secondly, with all the iconic moments that are presented, such as getting his name and his gun and meeting his famous furry co-pilot, none of them are presented with much weight. The story also seems to be a bunch of set pieces strung together and thus we have no emotional involvement as the rebooted Han goes from place to place, meeting scoundrels like Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), villains like Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his sweetheart turned criminal arm-piece Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). It’s almost like they were making it up as they went along. None of it has any emotional resonance and aside from a few fun action scenes, none of it is very memorable. It rarely feels like a Star Wars film though having a bit of a different look and a grittier tone, was, at least, refreshing.

The cast all try hard, but no one really shines in what probably was a difficult shoot. As stated, Alden Ehrenreich never evokes the legendary character he plays and is a bit too much of a pretty boy to be the space pirate we all know and love. Harrelson phones in his Tobias Beckett, which is a shame as Woody is usually the one to add life to a movie. Clarke is pretty, but doesn’t generate much heat or make her character very memorable. She’s a generic love interest trying and failing to be a bit of a femme fatale. Her character just comes off as flat. Bettany is also very bland as villain Vos. He could be a generic gangster from any movie. The only person who generates some life is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and he, sadly, isn’t given all that much to do.

So, it’s not quite the disaster early word was predicting, but is still disappointingly mediocre. Rebooting a character this iconic has to be done just right…like J.J. Abrams Star Trek casting. Here Alden Ehrenreich falls short. The rest of the cast, Glover aside, phone in their performances and the story is too thin to get one emotionally involved. There is some fun action, though the film fails to make it’s iconic moments…well, iconic. A disappointing attempt to prequelize one of cinema’s most beloved scoundrels.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 Millennium Falcons.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EAT MY DUST! (1976)

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EAT MY DUST! (1976)

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A year before Smokey And The Bandit and a good three years before The Dukes Of Hazzard, Ron Howard led a cross county chase in this Roger Corman produced action/comedy. The story is simple…teen Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) wants to impress beautiful blonde Darlene Kurtz (Christopher Norris) who has a love for fast cars. Hoover steals the fastest stock car on the track, belonging to local legend Big Bubba Jones (Dave “Mr. Kincaid” Madden) to take her for a ride. This joy ride turns into a hot pursuit as his sheriff father (Warren Kemmerling) leads the chase, followed by a posse of drunken stock car racers and inept deputies!

Car chase flick is written and directed by Charles B. Griffith who wrote a lot of scripts for Corman during the 60s, 70s and 80s, including many of his classics. It is a light, fun and fast paced effort that made a lot of money for Corman and New World Pictures. The film was part of a deal with Ron Howard, who had star power from Happy Days and was looking to direct. If he starred in this, he could make another film for Corman from the director’s chair, which would become Grand Theft Auto. The result is a good time with a lot of slapstick comedy and an almost non-stop chase with young Hoover outwitting his dad’s deputies and Big Bubba’s drunken buddies. As with most Corman films, there is a lot accomplished with a little and Griffith brings a light, breezy fun to the proceedings and keeps things moving quickly. It’s silly and goofy, but energetic and there is plenty of stunts and crashes for car chase enthusiasts to enjoy.

Howard plays Hoover much like a grown up version of his Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. He’s a bit of a country bumpkin, but is clever enough to outwit his pursuers. Howard has charm and is very likable as the rebellious teen willing to do anything for love. Christopher Norris is pretty and spunky as the object of Hoover’s affection, Darlene. The two make an endearing pair as they outwit the nitwits in their county. The supporting cast all have a good time playing their roles with over-the-top, slapstick efficiency, too and it’s fun to watch them. The film also stars Howard’s brother Clint, a known cult favorite character actor himself.

This film is now considered a cult classic and in an indirect way got Ron Howard started on a career as a prolific and highly regarded director. It’s silly, funny and loaded with plenty of chases and crashes. It was a successful film for Corman’s New World Pictures and predated the “redneck” car chase craze started by Smokey And The Bandit by a year. A fun little movie and another example of Roger Corman’s craft as a producer.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 rebel caps.

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BARE BONES: ENDER’S GAME, RUSH and AMERICAN GHOST STORY

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ENDER’S GAME (2013)

Based on a book by Orson Scott Card and written and directed by Gavin Hood, Ender’s Game actually surprised me a bit and was a lot better then expected. The future set story has a young boy nicknamed “Ender” (Asa Butterfield) being recruited and trained by the hard-nosed Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to lead an attack against an alien world whose occupants tried to colonize Earth decades earlier. The film is fairly solid on all levels, has some very well orchestrated SPFX and would have been a lot more entertaining if it wasn’t basically about turning young children into soulless, genocidal killers and includes some disturbing scenes of young children engaged in acts of violence. Obviously the film is a statement against such, but, is no less easy to watch.

3 star rating

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RUSH (2013)

You’d think that a film based on the true life rivalry between formula one racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 70s would be an exciting and highly dramatic film considering the 2 men’s contrasting personalities and the fact that the rivalry led to an accident that scarred Lauda for life. But, usually reliable, though play it safe, director Ron Howard brings very little of the passion and energy this story really needed to bring it to life. The performances are good with Hemsworth proving his star power as the playboy-like Hunt and Brühl giving us the straight-edge, by-the-book Lauda but, Howard let’s us down with a choppy narrative that jumps from place to place and by shifting the story perspective back and forth between Hunt and Lauda instead of taking the two men’s tale head on. It makes a film that is hard to endear one’s self to as we keep shifting the point of view. The film can’t decide whether it’s about Hunt or Lauda and can’t decide from which man’s point of view he is telling this, as we get narration from both. And it’s jarring. Also stars Olivia Wilde as model Suzy Miller who Hunt married then divorced.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (2012)

I’ll give credit where credit is due, director Derek Cole does give this low budget haunting flick some legitimate atmosphere and mood with some very effectively spooky scenes but, only to have it sunk by a cliche’ filled script that blatantly lifts scenes from other haunting flicks and by having it fall apart with a very silly last act. This derivative tale has a writer Paul (Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story idea with Cole) staying in a supposedly haunted house to write a book about the murder of a family that lived there and their supposed haunting of that home. But, it’s hard to enjoy the movie when the script is so familiar and even outright copies scenes from other flicks such as piling up chairs on a kitchen table a la Poltergeist and having all the kitchen cabinets blast open at once a la Paranormal Activity 2. That and it’s climax ruins all the atmosphere Cole has set up by having Paul chased through the house by a malevolent spirit which is literally wearing a sheet (didn’t we see that in Paranormal Activity 3?) and has powers of levitation that would make Carrie White envious. A sad case of a director who shows potential but, can’t come up with an original idea to use it on or at least some original set pieces within his been-there-done-that story.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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