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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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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The Last Jedi is a true middle chapter of a trilogy as it has barely what could be called a story, opening not long after the end of The Force Awakens and obviously not wrapping much up by it’s end. The film has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) rousting The Resistance from it’s hideout and following General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) remaining ships in hot pursuit, picking them off one by one as they run out of fuel. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns more about her power while trying to convince reclusive hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) to get off his arse and come save the galaxy…and that’s it.

This chapter is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and is an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens…though not by much for the first two thirds. There are some nice moments and some solid action, though the film seems to drag it’s flimsy story out too long and some sequences, like a silly trip to a casino planet, seem like filler. The last act is when it really kicks into gear and we get the thrills we came for. It was also nice to see Daisy Ridley expand her character of Rey a bit more and that the film sets up an interesting connection between she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who also is given some more depth. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar isaac) aren’t as lucky, given not all that much to do, however, and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) never seems to rise above sidekick status and has some of the film’s weakest lines. The real treat is seeing Hamil, as the conflicted and tormented Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher in an expanded role as Leia. Reminds us why they were so magical in the original (middle) trilogy. The action scenes we get are spectacular, though seem more relegated to the first and last acts, and Johnson has a visual style that gives this a look and feel unlike the previous chapters, but never alienating itself from the series. There are some cool surprises and even if it drags at times, The Last Jedi, overall is a satisfying installment, though lacks the aura of legend that New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi had. Last year’s Rouge One was refreshingly adult and very intense, this one seems to return to the more family friendly tone of cute critters, comical robots and corny moments, with the intensity being only occasional. Too bad, Rouge One is one of the best of the entire series, IMO and felt more strongly like a Star Wars movie than this new trilogy, so far.

As for our cast…Johnson can certainly director actors. As stated Ridley gets to show some real strength as Rey learns to manipulate The Force and become more of a hero. She’s a good actress and gives the role depth even when script weaknesses leave it all up to her. Driver is given some nice conflict to play with within Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and does a good job with it. He’s becoming a solid villain. Serkis is fine as Snoke who is basically an Emperor Palpatine retread. Hamil is great as Luke and gives one of his finest portrayals of the character, as does the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia. She will be missed moving forward and it was a welcome return for Hamil. Boyega and Isaac, sadly are given little to do and their characters don’t really grow that much from when we last saw them. Kelly Marie Tran is a bit bland as resistance mechanic Rose. Her character came across as a bit two dimensional and cliché. She didn’t leave an impression. Rounding out is Laura Dern doing nicely as a tough resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro giving some life to his mysterious scoundrel.

So, overall, chapter eight is an improvement over the weak chapter seven, but still pales when placed up against chapters four through six. It had some good action, some striking visuals and did do some new things with some traditional Star Wars tropes. It’s weaknesses are it’s paper thin story and that it seems a bit dragged out considering it’s 150 minutes long and not a lot is accomplished till the last act. With Chapter IX awaiting us in 2019, there is obviously a lot left open, though it’s not quite an outright cliffhanger like Empire. Hopefully this series can really wrap this trilogy up with a bang for that final chapter, so far it’s not quite hit the mark, lofty though that mark may be.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 Millenium Falcons.

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REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.

Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.

Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.

A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Death Stars.

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY GETS AN AWESOME NEW TRAILER!

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Gareth (Godzilla, Monsters) Edwards’ Star Wars adventure gets a new trailer and this flick looks far better than the mediocre Force Awakens. Rogue One arrives on 12/16/16 and stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker and legendary Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen!

Source: Youtube

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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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It’s been a decade since the last Star Wars movie Revenge Of The Sith, but the beloved franchise is back, powered by Disney and J.J. Abrams, who wonderfully rebooted the Star Trek series in 2009…sadly, he is not quite as successful here.

The story begins decades after the events of Return Of The Jedi with Luke Skywalker disappearing into self-imposed exile after losing one of his star Jedi pupils to the dark side with disastrous results. From the ashes of the fallen Empire come The First Order, who are basically Empire 2.0 complete with Sith Lord leader, his metal masked lackey, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and yet another destructive super weapon…will they ever learn? A droid named BB8 is entrusted with a map that divulges the location of Skywalker (and who made this map if no one knows where he is?) and The First Order wants it in fear his return would bring back the Jedi and halt their evil plot. A young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and an ex-stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) find the droid and try to return him to his owner, resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) with the help of a crotchety old Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

One of the biggest problems that The Force Awakens suffers from…aside from being about 15 minutes too long…is that it feels more like an expensive fan film than an actual Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams certainly incorporates a lot of the elements we expect from this series, but the spirit seems absent. It feels like an imperfect imitation much like his Super 8 felt like a slightly-off copy of a film Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The magic isn’t there. Another thing is the script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt is weak and offers a thin plot that Abrams stretches out over two hours. There is also a disturbing amount of conveniences that move that plot along, like characters who just happen to bump into each other in the vastness of space or characters who just happen to have crucial information that saves our heroes from doing any real work to get it. If you thought the Empire had crappy security, wait till you meet The First Order. Too many characters are also in the right place at the right time too often. Yet another problem is that while I admire Abrams’ decision to use as much practical effects as possible, the lack of enhancement for the settings makes them remain very Earth-like and I never felt it was in a galaxy far, far away. Aside from the actual scenes taking place in space, the film always looked like it took place on earth. Lucas created some interesting worlds even in the worst of the prequel flicks, here it always looks like exactly where it was shot and some of the sets actually look cheap without a little matte painting or cgi background help. Like them or hate them, the prequel flicks had an epic look and feel. This feels like a TV show sometimes. Even John Williams delivers quite possible the weakest of his Star Wars scores with very little memorable aside from the classic marches and themes.

There are definitely some pluses. The action does move, though even all these years later, tie fighters vs X-wings is getting a bit tiresome. I did like Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Boyega’s Finn. They show promise that when the torch is passed solidly, they may be quite engaging in their own adventures and both actors add charm in their thinly written parts. Oscar Issac’s ace fighter pilot, Dameron is less successful and is kinda bland and doesn’t do much. I wasn’t all that impressed with Adam Driver’s Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren, either. He basically seems like a Sith spoiled brat acting out and for reasons I won’t spoil, that’s kinda exactly what he is. As for the much hyped Captain Phasma (Gwedoline Christie), blink and you’ll miss her. Harrison Ford seemed like he was having a good time returning as Han and he is one of the highlights of the film, as is Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). It was also nice to see Carrie Fisher back as General Leia and she looks tired and weary as a character fighting a prolonged war should be. BB8 has a lot of personality as the film’s main droid character and should sell a lot of toys. While C3PO and R2D2 do make appearances, they take a back seat to the new droid in town. There are other familiar faces too, but I’ll leave them for you to discover.

So, overall, the new Star Wars was OK in certain ways, but disappointing in others. There is some nice nostalgia, but Abrams has a weak script and thin plot…which he is partially responsible for…to work with and stretches that thin story out over two hours. There are far too many conveniences to forgive, even when the action gets fun and the film is uneven character-wise as the heroes are engaging, yet the villains are weak and mostly forgettable. There are a lot of holes as to how we got to this point in Star Wars history and certain plot elements, some I won’t reveal, just don’t add up. Hopefully we’ll learn more in the upcoming Abrams-less sequels and maybe that Star Wars magic can yet be revived, but for now Force Awakens is a mediocre return for this beloved franchise.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 Millenium Falcons.

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