Solo (2018)

solo1While watching Solo, I was reminded of something I read a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away- in 1978, infact, and inside the pages of the Star Wars official collectors magazine that Marvel published back then. At least I think it was in that mag, it was a long time ago after all, but anyway, it was some comment referring to a review that cited Star Wars as being the first Western filmed in outer space. Solo is just that- a space western.

So in the spirit of laboring the space western allegory, lets look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this Star Wars movie titled Solo.

First, the good. Well, its okay. If that’s damning it with faint praise, then so be it: its no disaster (In the words of fellow blogger Gregory Moss, it could have been worse) and certainly nowhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi proved to be. Solo doesn’t usurp franchise tropes or chronology as TLJ did-  Lucasfilm has (eventually, considering this films troubled production) crafted a stable, steady adventure with typically workmanlike direction from Ron Howard’s exceedingly safe directorial hands.

While some of the action stuff such as the opening speeder chase was fairly mediocre at best, I thought the train heist in particular was great -the strangely reduced colour-palette of the film actually helps the CGI enhancements look all the more real. Some of the imagery of the windswept characters on the roof of the train reminded me of the Frazetta covers for the Battlestar Galactica paperback novelizations of the late ‘seventies. I’m also glad that the finale was rather low-key, it was a refreshing thing for a Star Wars movie, I thought, especially as the CGI-fest Kessel Run was so boring.  If we’d cared more for the characters it might have been all the better, but that post-Kessel Run stuff was fine and suggested a second movie (which we’ll now never see) might have been worthwhile. Maybe Solo should always have been a mini-series rather than a movie?

Alden Ehrenreich is okay as a young Han, albeit never really convinces. I would have preferred to have seen Anthony Ingruber (already cast as young Harrison Ford in The Age of Adaline) or Ansel Elgort, who looked like a young Solo in much of Baby Driver, at least they might have physically matched Ford better. Although he performs well considering all the pressures and baggage placed upon him (its pretty thankless signing on for a role like this), Ehrenreich is clearly no Harrison Ford- if anything, he’s more a young Dennis Quaid, particularly whenever he smiles or turns on the charm (which reminded me, ironically, of watching Inner Space back in the cinema and thinking how Quaid could have played Han Solo back then). Although he never really convinces as Han Solo, thankfully this young Solo is not an obnoxious and irritating infant re: Jake Lloyd’s Anakin of The Phantom Menace. The art direction is okay (I always get a kick out of seeing original Star Wars-era Storm Troopers), the music feels like that of a Star Wars movie (indeed even is Star Wars movie music as it re-uses themes from the original scores).

solo2Now, the bad. Its all a bit ‘meh’ if I’m honest. Not once does it genuinely shock or surprise or shake expectations of what a Han Solo movie could be. Indeed, it largely spends its time ticking boxes: Han meets Chewie, Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, we get a game of Holo-Chess in the Falcon lounge, we get to witness the Kessel Run. Han is a scoundrel yes but at heart he’s a good guy and does the ‘Right Thing’. Nothing new that happens in Solo can really be important as it cannot retro-actively effect the cannon- nothing new in Solo can ever be referenced or name-checked in The Empire Strikes Back or The Force Awakens. Han doesn’t make some mysterious comment about someone named Beckett in The Force Awakens, for example (and if these new films were being masterminded properly, maybe he would/should). So we never really get any dramatic suspense. Which leads us to-

The ugly? Misguided. Cynical. A production nightmare that was always doomed to fail, whatever its success at the box-office (is it really fair to saddle this finished film with the purported $300 million cost of combining its production with the abandoned original shooting of the previously fired directors?). A salient lesson to Lucasfilm of how to make/not make a Star Wars movie.

Well, that is the whole thing with prequels, isn’t it? Dramatically they are always flawed because we go in with knowing how things end up. Han can’t die, Chewie can’t die, the Falcon may get some dents but it can’t be destroyed, etc . Prequels inherently are hamstrung by the Magic Reset button- whatever happens during them they have to leave the status quo in place for subsequent editions in order to maintain continuity. And likewise, they are weighed down by unfair expectations, comparisons to better films back when Star Wars was new and fresh and exciting, better directors, better actors, all looked at through rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia.

Disney’s Star Wars films have a problem, and it isn’t competing against fellow franchise juggernaut Marvel- its the ravages of time. Star Wars is now in its fifth decade and the world has moved on. The Matrix films, good or bad, were a Star Wars for a new generation, and maybe the Jurassic Park films were too, and while the jury is out on James Cameron’s Avatar films, I suppose it could well be argued that the Marvel Studios films are indeed a Star Wars for today’s generation of film-goers. Lightsabres and Jedi and droids and everything else wrapped up in Star Wars dates back to the days of Disco and can leave some of us original fans labelled as dinosaurs.

I have no issues with Disney shaking things up with its Star Wars films- its just that The Last Jedi, in my mind, was the wrong place to do it. If you’re going to have Luke Skywalker in a Star Wars movie then he has to act for good or ill as his established character would. For instance, if Han Solo were alive in The Last Jedi, would Rian Johnson have gotten away with making him a craven coward? Whatever Rian Johnson eventually does in his proposed future Star Wars trilogy is fine by me as long as its genuinely new and seperate from the established canon. I do feel that Disney might have been better off leaving the Skywalker saga and the Jedi etc well alone and not making Episodes  7-9 at all.

In anycase, returning to Solo, these standalone prequels of course cannot do that- by their nature they have to play safe with continuity and what constitutes a Star Wars movie. I’m a big fan of Rogue One and think its a neat film from a neat idea. Solo– well, we never really needed a Han Solo movie, did we? Maybe the whole prequel thing lacks sufficient ambition- maybe they should have looked further back to the days of the Old Republic and then been freer to play looser with chronology if only because the distant past is vaguer.

Solo is what it is. I would have preferred a different lead. I would have preferred a different arc- why not have made young Han a genuinely bad guy and used the prequel story to redeem him, perhaps explain why the smuggler in the 1977-1983 trilogy has a decent streak deep down? Otherwise, whats the real point of a prequel, other than showing us what we know and have come to expect?

As it turned out, few people really wanted a Han Solo movie and it largely turned out as mediocre as everyone feared it would- albeit better perhaps than the production woes would have suggested. Its box-office failure means it will likely lead to a rethink at both Lucasfilm and Disney, and that might be a good thing in the long run. That does return me to a question I raised earlier- maybe it should never have been a movie, but rather a mini-series instead? After all, Disney will have its streaming service/channel next year. Maybe that is where the future of these standalone Star Wars movies lies, in mini-series form.

 

 

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Woody Allen and the Autumn List

Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of my all-time favourite films, and I have been intending to buy it on Blu-ray ever since Arrow’s edition came out individually as well as part of a box-set. Maybe this is one of those instances where it pays to wait things out. Recently Amazon had a discount on Arrow’s third  Allen box-set; at just over £20 with Crimes and Misdemeanors accompanied by another six Woody Allen films, it seemed a bargain, especially when the single edition of Crimes and Misdemeanors was priced at just six pounds less.The box has since sneaked up to about £30, which is still pretty good value. Includes a pretty substantial hardback book too (I just hope I can resist adding the first two boxes).

So now I have seven Woody Allen films placed on my list of films to watch this Autumn. Other than Crimes, the set contains just one other Allen film I have seen prior, the excellent Hannah and Her Sisters, which I now realise (to my horror) I last saw nearly thirty years ago. The other films are Radio Days, September, Another Woman, Alice and Shadows and Fog. Maybe there are some great films in there, maybe a few clunkers, but I won’t complain. Expect reviews to be posted over the coming weeks/months (before Christmas, at any rate).

Regards that Autumn list, its already piling up. Deadpool 2 and Solo arrived recently, and there’s also outstanding discs including Witness For the Prosecution (a Billy Wilder film I haven’t seen), Missing, The China Syndrome, one last film in that third Hammer box from Indicator, and a few 4K double-dips I still have to go through such as Sicario (before its sequel arrives the end of this month hopefully) and the mighty CE3K. 

If anyone has sufficient interest to nudge me in any particular films direction let me know and I’ll bump it up the list. At any rate, we’ll see how I get on this Autumn. Typically its just that time of year, with some 4K John Carpenter films, 2001 and the Matrix trilogy all coming up the end of the month, I’ll need to get busy sooner than later. I’m not complaining, mind, it should all be pretty great and I’m looking forward to it all.

Meanwhile I’ll be posting a backlog of reviews over the coming week for films I’ve seen over the past few weeks while I was up in the wilds of the wet and windy land of kilts and lochs. Likely a few more pics of a certain Westie, too, no doubt.

Rachael 2049

Since I was posting those paintings earlier, lets complete this mini-topic with images of the CGI Rachael created for BR2049. I’m sure this creation was no small part of the film being awarded its Oscar for visual effects. While not completely flawless, its success seems largely subjective- individual suspension of disbelief is largely dependent on personal taste, and I admit being utterly entranced when I first saw BR2049 last October. I believe I groaned and my jaw dropped, as I was totally ‘into’ the film at that point. I still buy into it whenever I watch the film, even in less-forgiving 4K, which tells me that its not just what you do effects-wise, but how its applied and how it is supported by the rest of the film.  If you are ‘into’ a film, you’ll forgive and accept anything, really, whether it be dodgy matte-lines/bluescreen or wholly cgi characters.  Film is all make believe, ultimately.

rachcgi1rachcgi2rachcgi3rachcgi4rachbr2049arachbr2049brachbr2049crachbr2049d

This is not a dream…

prince1This is not a dream… not a dream. We are using your brain’s electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing…

So you wait for what seems like years but might be even longer for a UK Blu-ray release of Prince of Darkness... and then out of the blue it transpires that such a release is indeed coming but also on 4K UHD, which is even better news for someone who’s stepped up to the format.

Suppose what your faith has said is essentially correct. Suppose there is a universal mind controlling everything, a god willing the behavior of every subatomic particle. Well, every particle has an anti-particle, its mirror image, its negative side. Maybe this universal mind resides in the mirror image instead of in our universe as we wanted to believe. Maybe he’s anti-god, bringing darkness instead of light.

But possibly because of interference from the Prince of Darkness Himself, while three Carpenter films are released as boxsets and widely available for preorder, this particular film, by virtue, it seems, of rights issues with the soundtrack album, is released seperate from the others as a steelbook, and it then transpires that said steelbook, by the intervention of the Prince of Darkness’ Arch-Demon, Zavvi, is quite likely not only a limited edition but also a retailer exclusive.

The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. You’ve already managed that for two thousand years.

Its really not fair.

Hello… Hello… I’ve got a message for you… and you’re not going to like it.

I mean really, its like some John Carpenter Meta-Reality is going on or something.

The hardest thing to hear… for any of us… is something we don’t agree with.

Blade Runner 4K UHD

br4kAutumn. Its the perfect time of year to watch Blade Runner. Summer? Horrible. All that sun and heat, its just the wrong time to sink into the rain-soaked neon of LA2019.

Which is my way of excusing the long delay from buying my 4K set-up (and my Blade Runner 4K edition) and actually sitting down to watch it. Anyway, I’m right of course- if only the studio execs who mistakenly thought Blade Runner was a summer blockbuster back in 1982 had thought to actually watch the film and realise it was not a summer movie, the film might have gotten a bigger audience with a release put back to the Fall of 1982. Might have given Ridley a bit more time to get the edit right too, and saved us decades of tinkering (even though the tech of 2007 ensured we got a better film in the long run).

So anyway. I watched the disc last night with the lights down and the cool damp Autumn night gathering outside the window. How was it? Well, rest assured, Blade Runner has never looked better.

The subtlety is the thing that struck me. Sure, the film is sharper, details more pronounced, and most of the visual effects actually more convincing than ever.  I wouldn’t have thought that last bit was even possible, but it is, which only increases my admiration for the effects guys behind the film and their achievement. The shot of the blimp hovering over the Bradbury roof as Deckard looks up, the lights piercing through the metal frames of the skylights, is really suddenly quite extraordinary and an utterly perfect effects shot. This is partly enabled by the HDR, which adds depth to the visual field, making lights and the neon signage really  ‘pop’ (the opening with Deckard sitting reading his paper with the screens behind him really does startle).

br4kcBut the real improvement, as I’ve noted, is the subtlety. Thanks partly to that HDR but more due to the WCG, the film has an added beauty from the play of light, the added colour range and gradient of tone. Every shot of Blade Runner looked like a painting on DVD and Blu-ray, but now we just see more of that painting. And, naturally, yes, we do see more details, in clothing fabrics and props and decor. The craft this film demonstrates is just breathtaking, even for a seasoned fan like myself. At one point I just had to stop looking and just enjoy the movie for what it is, and leave some of that detail-noting and visual exploration for subsequent viewing.

Some of the visuals won’t please everybody. There is a lot of grain, which is mostly down to the nature of the photography, but also the film-stock used too. Some shots are indeed problematic. Deckard’s reverie of the unicorn in the woods is pretty ugly, some of the grain buzzing like static, and his examination on the Esper machine has a few moments with issues. But any fan of the film from the VHS days will be used to stuff like that and on the whole it is what the film is. Any noise from grain is countered by the terrific gains in detail and depth from the wide colour field.

br4krachSo away from the 4K bells and whistles, a note about the film itself. This is, afterall, the first time i have watched the whole film since the release of BR2049 and I have to say its an interesting experience. Knowing what lay ahead for Rachel and Deckard can’t help but inform the experience of the film, and really does make Rachel a more tragic character. Knowing that Tyrell has tinkered with her to perfect the final Frankenstein-like goal of authentic biological reproduction makes him all the more of a monster (who ironically never learns of his final success).  And of course, Batty’s death and his very human act of saving Deckard mirrors the actions of Officer K in the sequel. Deckard is saved in both films and both experiences seem to transform him.

How exciting, then, that after all these many years, Blade Runner both looks better than ever and benefits by being informed by its miraculously faithful sequel. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought any of this would be possible, but here it is, and so close to the ‘real’ 2019 too.

I can only add that I really cannot wait to rewatch this film again- nothing new there really, as I’ve always loved it, but still, its pretty exciting.

And yes, it is definitely an Autumn film. No way is this a film  for the summer.

Superman: Der Film!

supsderForgive me one of my ‘moments’, but I thought this was really funny: ‘Superman: Der Film!‘ I hadn’t noticed the German version of the Superman: The Movie title before, but when I saw news had leaked of a UHD release this coming November via a German website, I thought it was funny when I saw the German artwork with its title.

Don’t know why I’m laughing, its another UHD catalogue title that I’m going to find awfully hard to resist. I don’t know how well the soft-focus ‘glow’ of the film will translate to UHD (it will hardly ‘pop’ like new titles do) but how can one resist a possibly definitive edition of this classic movie? answer: you can’t. Take my money.

Here’s a curious fact: the cinematographer for Superman: Der Film was Geoffrey Unsworth, who also shot 2001: A Space Odyssey for Stanley Kubrick which is itself getting a UHD release the month before. Imagine, both of these movies in UHD this Autumn. This may be my last new format but its going to be fun while it lasts, I think.

Second curious fact: I still haven’t watched my UHD of Blade Runner. Something is very wrong with the world, I think, and Trump isn’t the half of it.

Ready Player One (2018)

The problem with Ready Player One is that it is, essentially, four different stories, and the film-makers concentrated on the wrong one.

rp1aStory one: Its 2045, and its a dystopian world of economic collapse and (presumably) environmental disaster. People seem to be mostly poor and living in over-crowded shanty-towns, and unemployed. Everyone -and I mean, seemingly everyone– seems to spend their waking hours in a virtual world called The Oasis. Reality is so desperately depressing that escape is everything, even if its only virtual. But that, pretty much, is all we know about 2045. We don’t know any details of the social-political climate, who’s in charge, who’s paying the bills. The company behind The Oasis is the richest on the planet, worth trillions, but its not clear how it makes any money, because The Oasis seems to be free. The film doesn’t not examine why everyone feels the need to escape into a virtual world or how that might mirror our own current preoccupation with our ‘escapes’ be it films or television or video games. We see nothing of any counter-culture that might perceive The Oasis as a threat or blight on society and the world, or if humanity escaping to this virtual haven means it has given up on reality and we are all doomed. The Oasis is there, and everybody’s playing it- that is the world of 2045.

rp1bStory two-  genius recluse James Halliday (Mark Rylance), in the mid 2020’s creates a virtual world, The Oasis, that in a bleak and downward-spiraling world becomes a bright haven for a desperate humanity. Halliday was a solitary child who grew up a secluded life in the 1980s and whose only comfort was predominantly the 80’s pop-culture of that decade, and so The Oasis is dominated by that culture. Somehow this obsession seduces everyone who experiences The Oasis. It becomes a 1980s Heaven.

READY PLAYER ONEBut Halliday, although the richest man on Earth at this point, is deeply unhappy, sinking into morose regret for what he considers is his biggest mistake- not having the courage to have a relationship with the one love of his life- KIra, who ended up marrying his one-time business colleague, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). His obsession in creating a virtual world seems to have stopped him from living properly in the real world, and he only realizes in his old age that reality is better than virtuality. Perhaps it finally dawns on him that his invention overtaking the world is detrimental, humanity obsessed by his virtual world and not dealing with reality’s problems. But instead of shutting down The Oasis or sharing his wisdom, he instead creates a magic virtual quest to find an Easter Egg hidden within The Oasis, involving three magic keys and clues and riddles that er, might do something like making someone fabulously rich. The he dies.

rp1d.pngStory three- Nolan Sorrento during the mid-2020s works as a lab/office assistant to Halliday and Morrow at Gregarious Games, the company that makes The Oasis. A lowly assistant who fetches the coffee, somehow this downtrodden rat becomes the CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the second biggest company in the world and rival to Gregarious Games, as if his whole life has been one hellbent on revenge over his old bosses who didn’t care for his coffee. Seriously, his rise through the ranks to lead a rival company sounds a better story than anything else in Ready Player One. I want to see how he did it, because he’s patently a jerk and an idiot, but at least it’d be interesting to see the snake on his corporate climb and see the trail of misery in his wake.

rp1eStory four- uber-geek dead-end orphan Wade Watts spends all his time in The Oasis, his virtual alter-ego Parzifal trying to decipher the clues/riddles that will lead to the keys to Halliday’s fabled Easter Egg. He befriends Art3mis, a beautiful girl-avatar who fortunately is also a  girl in the real-world (and hey, incredibly pretty too although she doesn’t think so and she secretly seeks self-validation and the love of a good guy so you can guess where that goes) but she is also cool at videogames etc and together with his own group of teenage virtual super-heroes they go on a great adventure in The Oasis and try to thwart the attempts of IOI to secure the Egg and control of The Oasis for its own nefarious corporate ends. BIt like Harry Potter for videogame geeks.

So they went with story four and shoved the rest into dull exposition/skimpy background details. Maybe they went with the right choice. It looks pretty.

The thing is, all the attention seems to be on The Oasis and its spectacular CGI effects and all the nods to pop-culture references (there’s Robocop! look there’s Valley Forge from Silent Running! Look there’s a pod from 2001 hiding in the background! He’s driving a goddam Delorean! etc etc) and its really very boring surprisingly quickly. And as you might expect, its so full of crazy shit being thrown on-screen its hard most of the time to tell whats going on. I was surprised because I thought Spielberg would have demonstrated more control and keyed things back, but he seems too enamored of his CGI toys that he gets quite carried away. Bit like how Pete Jackson lost his shit on The Hobbit films.

Meanwhile in the real world there’s possibly a more interesting story or stories to tell but this isn’t that movie. This is Tron x100 (even though, ironically,I can’t recall an actual Tron reference, funnily enough) full of cartoony extravaganzas that made me yearn, funnily enough, for the Matrix films.

So its not a bad film. Its just pretty dumb. But I guess its just that kind of dumb spectacular blockbuster entertainment with one-dimensional characters and simple plot-lines and a comfortably-predictable story. But this is Spielberg. He made Minority Report, Close Encounters, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark– as far as pop-culture/ sci-fi/fantasy movies he’s much better than this. Maybe I should cut this film some slack instead of it bugging me for what it isn’t.

But deep down, I wish Joe Dante had made this movie. My God it would have been bloody incredible, I’m sure. Crazy, irreverent, clever. Everything that this film really isn’t, unfortunately.

(But it looks nice).