Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

 

After several major production issues plaguing its release, Solo: A Star Wars Story finally arrives to cautiously optimistic audiences everywhere. With directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired (replaced by Ron Howard), an editor canned, half the original film scrapped, and acting coaches galore, Solo was a ticking time bomb of disappointment. And after viewing it in a half-filled theater with not so excited fans, I can in good faith report that yes, the production issues showed. Boy did they show.

Solo: A Star Wars Story details the origins of the beloved smuggler Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). From his humble beginnings of poverty, to his service in the Empire, and finally to his days of smuggling, we see Han go from point A to point B. And, that’s about it. Along this all too familiar journey we meet his mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), as well as his first love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Both of whom help to shape Solo into the man we know him as today. Kind of.

While I was personally dissatisfied with both Rogue One and The Last Jedi, never has a Star Wars film felt this dirty. While plenty of problems with the film can be contributed to the rocky production, many creative choices made felt just like a tug at your wallet. Even the special cameo of a long lost Star Wars character felt like cheap gimmick, and honestly a tad corny too. A good general description of the entire flick.

The bottom line for Solo is that’s a generic sci-fi adventure, full of poorly written characters, a terrible portrayal of Han Solo, and even a ridiculous social justice warrior robot (unfortunately pulling Star Wars into the 21st century culture).

If there was a saving grace of Solo, it was definitely Donald Glover and his portrayal of Lando Calrissian. Everyone is praising his role in this film, and there’s good reason for it. Glover was a phenomenal choice for the smooth-talking space pirate, and the role felt tailor-made for his personality.

Despite the great performance of Glover, emotional investment was far from Solo‘s forte. With characters coming and going throughout the picture without the slightest bit of care or concern coming from the audience. Not once was I sad or surprised about a character’s death. And from observing the dead silent crowd I watched Solo with, I don’t think anyone else was concerned either.

Perhaps the biggest infraction in the whole film, the true reason this fundamentally doesn’t work as a Star Wars film, is that they portrayed Han Solo incorrectly. When we first meet his character in A New Hope, he’s a genuine narcissistic jerk. All he cares for is money. Period. Contrast that to this film, where he does care about others and not just money. The filmmakers put up this front like he’s a conflicted antihero, but we the audience know better. They couldn’t end the film portraying Han how he is in A New Hope, because that wouldn’t wrap the story up in a nice package. Instead, fans must now reconcile the inconsistent personalities of Han Solo between the two films. Oh joy!

On top of that, numerous double crosses and betrayals from several characters will leave you asking the simple question, “What was the point of all this?”. The double crosses are so strange and frequent that it may leave some young viewers confused and repel others (like myself) from ever watching Solo again.

I guess those with an unwavering love for all things Star Wars will probably find only minor inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that hinder their viewing experience. For those not as indoctrinated, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a venture into completely unnecessary territory. What was supposed to be cool and exciting was underwhelming, and what was supposed to make Han look like a badass was just cheesy in the worst way imaginable.

In my mind, how I imagined the Kessel Run went down (as well as how Han got his blaster, and how he met Lando and Chewbacca) is much more creative and entertaining than what’s portrayed here. In fact, I’d rather pretend that this isn’t even cannon to the Star Wars Universe, like how Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is to Indiana Jones. A cash grab farce.

There are so many great stories you could tell in a universe as vast as Star Wars, so why waste the time on something like this that’s best left to the imagination?

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Space Cop (2016) Review

Probably my biggest inspiration for pursuing film criticism (as well as one my favorite pastimes) is watching the film review-based web series of Red Letter Media. Often noted for their sardonic and hypercritical tone, Red Letter Media has helped to shape the way I view movies. The creators of RLM (Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklassa) have directed several of their own independent films in the past, most notably their 2016 sci-fi schlock picture Space Cop.

Space Cop stars the internet’s very own Rich Evans as the inept and careless police officer from the future, Space Cop. Space Cop travels back in time to the present to stop a renegade team of aliens that threaten the extinction of humanity. In the present, Space Cop must team up with a cryogenically frozen cop from the past who’s thawed out in the present. With two different cops from two different time periods on the same case, they’ll have to learn to work together to save the day.

Space Cop is as strange and awkward of a film as the title and plot clearly suggest. Average Joe moviegoers having the foresight to see this, you’re probably not watching Space Cop because you found it at the local Family Video or while browsing Netflix. No, you’re watching because you’re a fan of the popular web series by Red Letter Media.

Humorously referred to as “hack frauds” by their core audience, RLM shares a cordial love-hate relationship with their fans and peers. Space Cop is a wonderful extension of this sentiment. Plenty of fans seem divided on the quality of the film, despite its purposeful attempt at absurdity.

Some scenes are hilarious and get a good chuckle. Other scenes are just painful to sit through and carry on for too long. Some sets are designed with an intentional cheapness that felt self-aware, which I kind of admired. Other sets felt a little too lazy, as if they were crunched for time on the production (like bad 80’s movies). The acting from our leads was overly theatrical in a lot of places, but occasionally was more distracting than humorous.

Despite all these conflictions, I believe the film stays true to its intended purpose, serving as a nice sendup to 80’s schlock films that the makers of Space Cop obviously took inspiration from. Schlock films of the past made little logical sense, had corny dialogue, and included over-the-top protagonists that loved to ham it up. All these aspects are confidently showcased in Space Cop, either to the enjoyment (or agitation) of the moviegoer.

Space Cop is a sci-fi schlockfest with as niche of an audience as humanly possible, mostly because it was made with the intent to be terrible. Therefore, it’s ill-advised that a traditional moviegoer watches Space Cop, unless they take masochistic pleasure in viewing bad movies (of forcing friends to).

Red Letter Media is at their funniest and most clever on their internet review shows Half in the Bag and Best of the Worst, where they often discuss terrible, long-forgotten films. RLM’s honest reactions to bad movies are infinitely more entertaining than the scripted puns and gags of Space Cop. Those who decide to venture into Space Cop territory would benefit greatly from listening to the commentary track, as you might get more out of the experience doing so.

-Zachary Flint

The Verdict: B-

Annihilation Review: The Best Science Fiction Film In Years

Based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is the latest movie endeavor into the science fiction genre.

Starring Natalie Portman as Lena, she plays a biologist and former soldier whose military husband (Oscar Isaac) goes missing. Reappearing twelve months later as a shell of a man, Lena discovers that he embarked on a secret mission into a secret scientific anomaly known as the shimmer. Landing here from space only a few years back, the shimmer continues to grow in size and swallow everything it touches. Multiple expeditions into it have proven to be failures, with Lena’s husband being the only one to have ever returned. So, with her extensive knowledge of biology, Lena decides to join the latest expedition into the shimmer and hopefully find a way to heal her husband.

The fear of the unknown is one of the most visceral and scary feelings a human can encounter, and it’s something everyone deals with at some point. Some may even grapple with it on a day to day. And it’s this exact feeling that Annihilation portrays with such explicit and alluring detail. Our protagonists are thrust into a domain they, nor we, fully comprehend. Alone and isolated, the unsettling tone sets in for the audience very quickly, and never leaves. As soon as you start to feel like you’re grasping the complexities of the shimmer, something new is thrown into the mix that chills as well as intrigues.

With all this focus on isolation and the unknown, I’m automatically drawn to make comparisons to the film Alien (my favorite movie of all time). Some scenes were intentionally reminiscent of Alien, as I believe the writers must’ve taken inspiration from. And what a wonderful film to be influenced by, as Annihilation is nearly as effective in its pacing, build-up, and satisfying payoffs.

The cast of Annihilation matched the quality of filmmaking quite well. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and many others work to make Annihilation the provoking film it is. Each moment shared between the characters was strongly performed and executed, perfectly conveying their inner-burdens and the slow psychological decent they undergo.

The environment of the shimmer is, on a visual and artistic level, as diverse as it gets. We are first greeted to a dense, colorful forest that surrounds our disoriented protagonists. And as they trek further and further into uncertainty, the film flaunts its ability to increasingly delve deeper into imaginative content, especially at the stylistic and mesmerizing climax. A climax which gives very few concrete answers to the events depicted, leaving the audience to put the fragmented pieces together themselves.

Among all the well-developed and sometimes perplexing themes of self-destruction, what remains clear is how powerfully poignant Annihilation is. Director Alex Garland transports us to this seemingly horrifying world and not only shows the beautiful side of it, but by the end of the film makes us reevaluate are preconceptions about that world. We see the beauty, terror, and everything in-between that this world has to offer, which is the mark of a truly wonderful science fiction film.

There’s no way getting around it, Annihilation was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in. Everything from the guitar-laden soundtrack to the thought-provoking climax was perfectly orchestrated. All compiling into one big sci-fi/horror masterpiece. I loved Annihilation in all its visual and emotional beauty, and I will continue to ponder its meanings for some time.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review (No Spoilers)

Opening to thunderous applause from audiences everywhere is Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After what I feel was a strong predecessor (not including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I felt was rather underwhelming), I was very excited to see what direction Star Wars would be taken in.

With the Resistance on the ropes and the First Order hot on their trail, things become increasingly desperate for the Rebels. Prepared to make one final retreat, the Resistance places its hope on Rey (Daisey Ridley), who desires to be trained in the Jedi ways by a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

The Last Jedi attempts to integrate many various characters (new and old) and side plots, which ended up feeling more like a juggling act. There are even some plot points established by the preceding film (The Force Awakens) that are completely blown off here.

The acting was mostly strong from the rather large cast, but the characterization varied. Poe Dameron (a highly skilled pilot for the Resistance) gets a lot of screen time and development, which was very nice to see. Our up-and-coming Jedi character of Rey gets lots of attention too, further solidifying her as a pivotal piece in the franchise.

Unfortunately, a lot of previously strong characters are inevitably thrown to the back-burner for the majority of the film. Take one of my favorite new heroes, Finn (played by John Boyega), for example. He’s given a not very important side plot with little to no further development on his character. A real shame.

Oftentimes I found the humor to be out of place and frankly miscalculated. Moments that could’ve and should’ve been more emotional are thrown away by quick little gags. I’d even go as far to say that the oversimplified humor interfered with some of the characters and their behavior. Which made everything feel less like a Star Wars film and more like a Marvel film pulling for laughs.

The characteristics that felt most consistent with the other more recent Star Wars films were the designs of the sets and creatures. Locations like Supreme Leader Snoke’s (voiced heinously by Andy Serkis) throne room

The designs of the creatures that inhabit The Last Jedi are pretty imaginative and cool. All except for the porgs (plush, penguin-looking animals), which frequently hijack the movie to needlessly remind you that they exist. They might as well put an ad for toys and stuffed animals in the film itself. Regardless of my disdain for these annoying characters, a lot of the creatures were brought to life through costumes and puppets, which is something I highly respect in a film nowadays.

The truly magical, awe-inspiring moments are few and far between in The Last Jedi, but are well worth the wait when they do arrive. One of my favorite scenes is where Luke Skywalker meets up with an old friend, who teaches him an important lesson on where to place his values. Not only does this scene look great visually, but at its core I believe it represents and understands Star Wars far better than anything else in the film.

And while these scenes like this are wonderful, I don’t think Rian Johnson and Disney were able to capture the passion and creativity that made the original Star Wars films so enjoyable.

On the surface it seems to have everything. The exciting space battles, witty characters, newly designed creatures, and intense lightsaber duels. And while all these aspects are genuinely fun to experience, I still feel that a few ingredients are missing. Perhaps it’s the gross overcalculations of Disney trying to mathematically appeal to all fans of the series. All the while unintentionally ostracizing some individuals who dare call the mass-marketing of Star Wars excessive.

I’m glad I saw The Last Jedi, and I enjoyed my time watching it too. However, it’s by far not the best Star Wars film, as I don’t think the writing, or the characters were as clever or powerful enough to warrant such a bold claim.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Blade Runner 2049 Review

As a lifelong follower of the science fiction genre, Blade Runner has always been revered as a classic. Pioneering many awe-inspiring visuals that films today look to for guidance. While I respect Blade Runner for its visual achievements, emotionally the film has done very little for me. I find it a bit mundane and heavy-handed, with little going for it other than the artistic style.

In many aspects, Blade Runner 2049 is very similar.

The film takes place about thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner. Since then, the world has fallen into somewhat of a dystopian mess. With a new era of blade runners (hitmen, essentially) hunting down replicants (a term for bioengineered humans) of the past.

Blade Runner 2049 follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a particularly skilled blade runner on a mission with enough significance to throw what’s left of the world into complete chaos.

Beautifully crafted sets, enticing visuals, and monumental sound design all blend together to make Blade Runner 2049 artistically stand out. Concepts and knowledge only briefly mentioned in the previous film are expanded here tenfold. Scenes are shot and crafted with such delicate precision that viewers like myself will be left completely spellbound. The level of imagination in its design is on par with the Star Wars trilogy, and the perfectionism in the lighting and set pieces is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, it is here where I’d argue the film does too much expanding, to the point where it exhausts itself. Dramatic scenes that, overall, carry very little weight last for ten to fifteen minutes, when they could be summed up with two simple lines of dialogue. Instead, the film goes for this melodramatic, philosophical dialogue so that it may beat its themes and messages into the viewers head.

And unfortunately, the themes are all recycled from the first Blade Runner. “What does it mean to be human?” Boiled down, that’s the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the audience. Only it takes them three hours and way too many dialogue pauses to say it.

With so many needlessly lengthy scenes, the conclusion of Blade Runner 2049 felt all too rushed by comparison. Plot lines that needed more depth and discussion get no such thing, which leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers.

So, while most of Blade Runner 2049 was still entertaining to watch (mostly due to the visuals and Goslings straight-faced performance), I think the story and themes have very little to offer viewers.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Dark Tower Review

Based on the dark fantasy book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower takes audiences on an all too brief journey into a very creative and unique universe.

The film stars Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, the last on an elite group of marksmen, who is constantly at war with an evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It’s the Gunslinger’s duty to prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower, the key to holding the universe in balance. When the Gunslinger meets a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), he discovers Jake has the power to take him to the Man in Black. Because of this, the Gunslinger teams up with Jake to exact revenge on the Man in Black, and perhaps save the Dark Tower in the process.

For reasons beyond my understanding, The Dark Tower felt the need to cram all eight of Stephen King’s novels into a single, ninety-minute film. And for this reason, the film is unevenly paced and condenses too much complex material that needed more time to develop. Character arcs, logical plot progression, and even necessary background information is all completely ignored due to limited time constraints. What should have been at bare minimum a three-part trilogy is instead just a CliffsNotes guide to The Dark Tower, which is sure to upset most fans of the novels.

The only actor to give a serious, respectable performance in The Dark Tower happened to be Idris Elba. Elba’s role as the Gunslinger carried the film through its roughest and most emotionally void scenes, giving the audience one aspect of the film to take seriously.

Even more memorable then Elba, we have the wonderfully miscast performance of Matthew McConaughey, who was already hamming it up by the first scene in the movie. There were many moments where he’d get real close to another character and whisper his lines in this creepy, perverted way. It didn’t help that he was dressed like a 90’s boy band singer for the entire film, which made it impossible for me to take him seriously.  Everything from his facial expressions to the way he carried himself was comical, making McConaughey an absolute delight to watch.

Overall, I can easily see why so many fans of the book series have expressed anger and frustration at this adaptation. To take a series so dense with lore and boil it down to a single ninety-minute adventure film feels needlessly disrespectful.

I, never having read the books, was able to look past this issue and enjoy the flick for what it was, a typical action-adventure movie. The few action sequences that The Dark Tower did sport were very well shot and a lot of fun to watch. It also had some pretty amazing visuals, and managed to hold my attention for the entire runtime, which is more than I can say for many films of this genre.

So, if you’re a fan of the books this film was based on, then I’d stay far away from The Dark Tower, as this adaptation will probably just upset you due to how unfaithful it is. If you’re someone like me with little knowledge of the book series, than I’d go ahead and check out The Dark Tower. Its action scenes, creative set locations, and oftentimes comical demeanor will keep you entertained the whole way through.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint