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By midlandsmovies, Jun 5 2018 08:30PM



SOLO (2018) Dir. Ron Howard


With a troubled production you have to ask is it all Happy Days at Disney as it releases yet another new Star Wars movie? As Ron Howard stepped on board the galactic train after original directors Lord and Miller were ditched, many wondered if we would be getting a Suicide Squad/Fantastic Four chop job. Well, from first glance Howard has done stellar work in bringing a film back from the brink of collapse where the cohesive whole shows no sign of the multiple hands at work.


Solo is another Star Wars “Story” film – originally called Anthology films, Disney has done a great job in convincing everyone that this is expanded universe territory – but make no mistake that this is pure prequel fare. With huge reservations after the dull and misjudged Rogue One (another SW film with production woes), I had very low expectations for a narrative filling in a back story that I had no interest in.


That said, Howard (with sci-fi and fantasy skills honed with Apollo 13 and Willow) does a pretty solid job at the helm as we are introduced to Han, who is part of a gang of youths under the protection of slimey space worm Lady Proxima. But he soon wants to leave his home planet for a new freedom with his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). However, whilst Han escapes to join the Empire’s war, Qi’ra is captured and returned home. Moving forward in time we catch up with Han as he tries to escape the violent war by selling his skills as a pilot to Woody Harrelson’s gang of outlaws. They intend to grab some McGuffin power sources to fulfil a contract to Paul Bettany’s facially scarred baddie Dryden Vos.


The film actually keeps things simple in the main and is all the better for it as we follow a likeable and active protagonist (unlike the charisma-free Jyn Erso) who takes his life decisions into his own hands. Alden Ehrenreich is very alluring as a young and cocky Solo – some hints of Harrison Ford’s legendary charisma are present – but mostly avoids a direct impression of the actor as he blags his way through risky plans and double-dealing hunters. If anything, in seedy caverns and bars, he at times will remind audiences of Indiana Jones rather than Han. Which is no bad thing.


The subtler nods to the franchise and the muddy-brown battle scenes feel a far better attempt at a Star Wars “war” film than Rogue One and I thoroughly enjoyed the real location work given my constant struggle with dodgy CGI. The light-hearted banter was fun, the characters were broad but understandable and although not hilarious, the dialogue avoided the under-cutting Marvel quips to make the characters well, actually, likeable.


But it’s not all good right? Well, yes there are some problems. It’s ultimately not needed as an entry into Star Wars lore, that much is true. Also, the Starship Troopers-style Empire recruitment video was a mess alongside (in the same scene no less) a reveal about the origin of Han’s surname so heavy handed it will draw groans.


Emilia Clarke returns later in the film and is passable after some worrisome performances (her stilted Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys still grates) but Donald Glover certainly delivers as a young Lando. His space gambler is a mixture of sleaze and, strangely, sexuality that has him build more than a just a friendship with sarcastic freedom-fighting robot L3-37. It was also great to see Ron throw some romance back into the galaxy after the amicable friendships of the last 3 movies with a bit of frisson between Han and Qi’ra. And he also gives cameos both to his brother Clint and his Willow (and Star Wars) star Warwick Davis.


On a technical level, a slightly strange vignette-sepia colour palette with backlighting that sometimes drowned out the foreground characters was an enjoyable aesthetic but I predict some may think it doesn’t ‘sit’ well in the SW universe. The small sets were intimate yet underwhelming but they did remind me of the matinee style of the original films and this more compact story was a nice change from planet-destroying space battles.


As Han inevitably meets Chewie in a fun, if again unnecessary, prison break scene, the film ticks off its obligatory story beats whilst some surprises arrive in a lack of a Jabba appearance and a rather shocking Lucas-prequel reference. And after a rollicking rollercoaster heist on snowy mountainside (especially fun in 3-D it has to be said), the film heads towards a more interesting final third act with plenty of double-crossing character beats.


Solo is not perfect and as a prequel (yes, it is!) it just cannot compare to the forward-thinking joys of The Last Jedi but it is far more fun than Rogue One’s deathly hellscape of non-characters and forced fan service. Howard has done more than an admirable job with a production that was deep in trouble and his classic filmmaking style gives Solo some intimacy and old-fashioned movie making gloss. It won’t set the world alight – and I’m dreading the inevitable internet backlash – but ignore the haters as this is a fun, if a little undistinguished, family blockbuster.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Oct 5 2017 11:22PM



Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Dir. Denis Villeneuve


Let’s cut to the chase but I’ve never been a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir original – even going so far to include it in my top 10 overrated films of all time back in 2012 – so I approached this film with some trepidation. I come at all films with an open mind however, and with such highlights as Sicario, Prisoners and the lauded Arrival in his catalogue of successes, director Denis Villeneuve certainly has the sci-fi and visual chops to take on the belated sequel.


Ryan Gosling (K) is now the LAPD blade runner who hunts down older artificial humans known as “replicants”. He soon stumbles upon the discovery of a skeleton which appears to be that of a replicant woman who died during childbirth, a situation until then thought impossible. Linking the bones to the missing Deckard, K is ordered to destroy the evidence by his superior Joshi (a superb Robin Wright) but soon a set of clues leads him to question his own “implanted” memories and his reality.


Blade Runner 2049 takes the themes of the first – humanity, memory, one’s purpose in life – and adds the dazzling cinematography of 13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins who not only recreates the look of the original rain-soaked streets, but expands the digital noir influences ten-fold. Shadows lurk everywhere as Villeneuve and Deakins work together to create phenomenal shots, with some of the best of them composed simply in pure silhouette, keeping the characters (and us) ominously in the dark.


Ana de Armas provides great support as K’s artificial partner Joi – a hologram who ironically infuses Gosling’s character with the only emotional attachment and is a great addition to the Blade Runner mythos. Yet, the lack of emotional connection between the audience and the film is one of its sad flaws. To me the original had a sense of detachment but it is practically nihilistic in tone here – the future is death – to humans, to children, to androids and even to holograms.


In spite of that, Harrison Ford gives a great performance when he eventually returns as Detective Rick Deckard but don’t expect to see him in the first 2 hours. However, Sylvia Hoeks as Luv provides a feisty antagonist, much more so than Jared Leto whose Tyrell replacement Niander Wallace is underused and missing from half the movie.


An amazing first hour which sets up the tone, the vision and the look of the world works brilliantly alongside an amazing synthesiser score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch which is fantastic and truly groundbreaking. This beginning also provides us with a set of interesting characters (at first) and Gosling even throws in a joke – confirming a balance of components that works so well.


But like a malfunctioning android, the film begins to fall apart at times and although its style never falters once, it often fails to cover the cold tone and the incredibly slow pacing. At its best, its perfect visionary sci-fi yet at its worst it harks to Only God Forgives with repeatedly boring shots of a moody Ryan Gosling moping around a neon city at night in a drama-vacuum. The film makes sluggish progress and its script’s heavy-handed links to creation and A.I. are a result of further hackneyed garbage from Michael Green, the scribe of the awful Alien: Covenant.


In many ways it’s the perfect sequel – if you enjoyed the original I guarantee you’ll find the expansion and nods to it more than satisfying and for those who feel the original had flaws then this film clones them to a fault. Blade Runner 2049 therefore ends up being a truly technical tour-de-force but as cold as a glacier and moves about as fast.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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