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.

 

 

The Age of Adaline (2015)

ada1Run for the hills, guys, this one isn’t for us. The Age of Adaline is a thoroughly condescending love story, I appreciate that as its deliberately fashioned as an adult fantasy/fairy-tale  I should perhaps cut it some slack, but really, this kind of stuff is just really nauseating. A beautiful young woman, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) is involved in a car accident in the mid-1930s which through a miracle of chance leaves her ageless, staying 29 years old for the remaining decades of the century while her family and freinds age around her. In order to hide her immortality, she changes her name, job and home every decade- only her  ageing daughter knows the truth and shares her secret. Adaline’s only other companions in life are her beloved dogs; other than that, she stays distant from the people around her to avoid creating ties of friendship and love which might reveal her ageless condition over time.

The fact that the guy she eventually falls in love with is a handsome hunk and an internet millionaire with a father, WIlliam (Harrison Ford) that himself once loved Adaline back in the 1960s when he was a young man, just raised my blood pressure and indignation. I know, I’m some kind of spoil-sport and should be more of a romantic. But this stuff is as patronizing as Pretty Woman, the epic film that delivered the modern myth that prostitutes are good girls deep-down who will be rescued/marry a millionaire someday.

The Age of Adaline is frustrating, as it could have been something much more- it wastes its central conceit, that it might have had something to say about living a life of eternal youth in a world that has to be distant, of watching freinds and loved ones, human and canine, age and pass away. Of what that might cost an individual emotionally and intellectually. Humans are a social animal, we like to belong, have attachments- what happens when you take that away and are forced to live forever in such a world/life?

ada2Instead it just maximizes the typical feminine wish-fulfillment of Adaline one day finding her True Love and that he turns out to be both wonderful and fabulously rich, and with added benefits (Harrison Ford as a father in law and ex-love, every woman’s dream).

As if living forever wasn’t good enough. Cue the ‘deep and philosophical’ lesson that True Love having been found, she can then become mortal again through another accident of chance and live a normal life like the rest of us (albeit one of beauty and riches). I appreciate its a romantic fantasy, but really, there would be a more important lesson had the True Love been a poor guy with a heart of gold, or a guy overweight and balding (beauty deeper than skin-deep). Instead she ends up with it all, the American Dream writ large.

You may well be wondering what on Earth I was doing watching this. Well, I came upon it on Netflix, noticing that it featured Harrison Ford. Call me a fool, but I come of that generation where Harrison Ford appearing in a movie meant something, or promised the possibility of something decent. Yeah, maybe that old Hollywood ‘Star system’ isn’t wholly dead and buried, and knowing most of Ford’s filmography I should have known better, but anyway, I gave it a shot not knowing what the film was about. As it was, it was mildly enjoyable and the central premise promised much (although, as I’ve said,  it actually turned out to be a different movie to that). I still remember with fondness the David Fincher film The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button and it did, for a while, seem to be going that way… you know, an adult fairy-tale with a moral, life-affirming and poignant and all that.

The film isn’t a total loss. Harrison Ford is actually quite good, and I was impressed by the casting choice for his young-man flashbacks, Anthony Ingruber, who looked like young Ford and coupled with Ford dubbing his voice, actually worked very well and might have suggested an alternate approach to the recent Solo movie. Ingruber’s similarity to a young Ford/Han Solo/Indiana Jones was quite startling. The music score by Rob Simonsen, is as might be expected, rather manipulative but its well-written and emotionally engaging, somewhat akin to early James Horner, certainly elevating the film, with rich strings, piano and chorus. The production design is very good, the period pieces convincing.

So my issues with the film are really its politics/life-lessons about giving up immortality for love and finding a true love that is fabulous and wealthy. Maybe I’m just a grouchy old bugger, clearly this nonsense isn’t intended for me. On the surface this film was well-crafted I guess but thinking back on it, ugh, its just nauseating and condescending. One for its target audience, certainly, but cynics like me should stay well away.

 

Listening to: Solo Original Soundtrack

soloIn some ways this is a tricky one, as I haven’t seen the film yet, so I’m reviewing the soundtrack album not knowing what happens in the film or how well the music fits in it. As a totally seperate listening experience, it sounds pretty fine and seems to be one of the better scores of the Disney Star Wars era.

This is no doubt helped by original Star Wars composer John  Williams being involved, even though the score itself is written by John Powell. John Williams wrote a main theme for the Han Solo character  and discussed with Powell the score that he would compose around it. Also, Powell made use of several Star Wars themes for the Original Trilogy composed by Williams which sounds like the wrong approach but actually works rather well. How it works in the film itself of course I cannot say, but as a musical experience on its own its surprising and at moments even exhilarating. There is one track in particular – Reminiscence Theory – which had me grinning like a Cheshire cat and caused me to buy the album. I have no idea at all what is going on during the movie but I would imagine it has Original Trilogy fans whooping for joy- its pure Star Wars. There’s sections from the A New Hope score -like TIE Fighter Attack– with moments from The Empire Strikes BackThe Asteroid Field– that has me wondering if I should have seen this film at the cinema after all. I know, it sounds ridiculous buying a score album for just one six-minute track but its like some kind of Star Wars greatest hits medley and is so joyous and brimming with energy, its great.

Fortunately the rest of this fairly generous 77-minute album is of a high standard. It is decidedly old-school symphonic writing with a serious nod towards Williams original trilogy scores in style and approach- which helps with those old themes being weaved through it. It must have been a tricky thing to pull off, but while it has a sound all its own it also shares so many traits of the old scores that it sounds like a Star Wars score in ways that perhaps the last few Disney-era scores haven’t (even those two composed by Williams). Some may think this is not a good thing and in fact a step backwards, and they might be right, but when a film score is as much fun as this its hard to complain, surely.

Coming up…

Hey, a quick glance at whats coming up over the next several weeks (I love this time of year, its like a second summer for movie buffs as consolation for when the rain comes).

rp1uhdReady Player One (UHD)- out tomorrow. If ever a film was screaming ‘vacuous eye-candy’ then this film is it. Have been looking forward to this for some time but expecting to be disappointed. One of those cases of declining the cinema visit figuring I’d use the money to buy the disc instead, as its likely got re-watch appeal if only for the visuals and 1980s easter-eggs. In the meantime I bought my new television and upgraded to a UHD disc over the standard Blu-ray. So hey, even prettier eye-candy. Review later this week no doubt.

Missing (Indicator)- Sept 1st. Another Jack Lemmon film and one I’ve only seen in pan and scan television airings many years ago (remember those? Blade Runner‘s was really funny). This one has a lovely Vangelis score, too, so I hope the sound is as improved as the image. I have faith in Indicator (which reminds me, I still haven’t caught up with my The China Syndrome disc…)

Avengers: Infinity Wars (UHD)- Sept 3rd. While I enjoyed this at the cinema I’m feeling a bit ambivalent towards the disc release. Maybe it was that CGI-fest ending. Just looking forward to all the scenes with Thor in, to be honest. The less said of Spider Man’s horrendous pseudo-Iron Man suit with those bloody metal arms the better. No, looking back at this movie hasn’t made me grow any fonder- on the contrary. We’ll see if it sweeps me up for a second time, though- those Marvel guys are like a machine and hard to argue with ‘in the moment’ watching the stuff they do. Its just afterwards in the cold light of the day that you feel a little like you’ve been taken for a mug…  hey, that’s entertainment…

Deadpool 2- Sept 17th. Aha, another film I haven’t seen/deferred for a disc release that has been upgraded to UHD (the first film on UHD is a peach, too, which has gotten me really excited for this one). We even get a longer cut, to. I thought those extended cuts were something akin to an endangered species now? Nice to see there’s life in alternate cuts yet, though it may just be a curio, we’ll see. I’ve avoided spoilers for this one and haven’t seen any of the later ‘proper’ trailers so hopefully it’ll surprise me in a good way..

solouhdSolo (UHD)- Sept 24th. So yeah, September seems to be the summer blockbuster season in Ghost Hall. Gives me a warm nostalgic feeling, its just like 1982 all over again when we used to get films late. So Solo is possibly the most interesting title of all of these upcoming releases. Was it as bad as some said? Was it better than many claimed? Did it unfairly suffer a post –The Last Jedi backlash or was justice finally done to the Disney Star Wars juggernaut? One things for sure, the cover art is unfathomably ugly- ugliest artwork of the year, no doubt. Why couldn’t they just go with the cinema artwork featured on the soundtrack? (more on which later…)

Night of the Demon (Indicator) – Oct 27th.  Only recently confirmed, this one could be something special. Its a great old fave of mine which I’m surprised to say I haven’t seen for years- and this one might actually offer something new, as there’s different versions on it.

2001: A Space Odyssey (UHD) – Oct 29th. There’s still plenty of worrying on forums that Warner are going to mess this one up. For one thing, the extras are hardly anything to sing about- imagine if Arrow or Indicator got hold of something like this. I will never forgive Warner for stopping Doug Trumbull from making his documentary about 2001 a few years back. That would be so perfect for a release like this. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in a format that promises better image quality than I have ever seen the film in (I did see it theatrically a few years back, but that wasn’t exactly any revelation, unfortunately) so this could be the release of the season.

Other stuff on the radar: How will I resist A Matter of Life and Death on Blu-ray? The Matrix films on UHD? Candyman from Arrow? Westworld Season 2 on UHD? I’ll probably need to import The Expanse season 3. There’s sure to be a few surprises, too. Hopefully Mission Impossible: Fallout will make it out before Christmas. Over in Germany there’s some UHD releases of John Carpenters films- Prince of Darkness (which I really rather love), The Fog and They Live that look tempting.

swarcAnd of course there is the monster (600 pages? I need to go work out in the gym just to carry the damn thing) Star Wars Archives book from Taschen that is due next month (lets hope it slips into October, September is getting a little nuts already). Also on the book front, there’s a new REH book from the REHFP that I need to catch up with.