Solo (2018)

Han Solo is not a complex character. He's a scoundrel who becomes a hero. We've seen his arc play out. We know who he is. His psychology, his backstory, his hopes, his dreams--they don't require much in the way of elucidation. We don't need his every why or wherefore explained to us. 

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But Disney, for some reason, has some splainin' to do. And they're going to do it hard with their newest feature-length fan fiction.

Over the course of the two hour and fifteen minute run time of Solo, viewers will get explained at so aggressively that their eyeballs may roll one full turn, or more, in their sockets. What I mean by that is that their eyeballs, at the start of the film, will be aimed forward--in their customary orientation--and then their eyeballs will rotate a full three hundred and sixty degrees during the film, to then return back to their original forward-facing orientation, almost as if nothing had even transpired. But trust me, something has transpired.

By the end of this film you will know exactly how Chewbacca and Han met for the first time (Chewie was going to eat Han), where Han got his signature weapon (someone threw it to him), how Han acquired the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (in a card game, exactly as we've been told previously), what exactly occurred during the infamous Kessel Run (too boring to detail here), and most importantly, you will discover how Han Solo...got his last name (someone gave it to him because he was unaccompanied).

There's a point where "connecting the dots"--something that George Lucas took to new heights (or lows, rather) with his Star Wars prequel trilogy--intersects with "paint by numbers". That intersection occurs in Solo. But it's not so much an intersection as it is a collision. Instead of taking you to new places with the character and his cohort, the film collides with what you already know about him over and over again, and then after it's done doing that, it lets you know that it knows that you know. Every wink, every nod, every little in-joke to the millions of Star Wars fans the world over, stops this film dead in its tracks (and that's when the eye rolling happens too). One sequence in particular, a cameo so baffling in both its execution and its implication for the larger Star Wars mythos, might as well have been replaced with an in-person press conference headed up by Kathleen Kennedy herself.

But when the movie gets out of its own way and allows its characters to breathe, and shoot, and fly, hints of cinematic adventure bloom on the screen. The much televised train robbery sequence is a thrill. Woody Harrelson's Beckett and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 are standouts, eclipsed only by Donald Glover's sublime Lando. Even Aiden Ehrenreich, for all his non-Harrison Fordness, occasionally delights as (a sort of faithful version of) the half-witted scruffy-looking nerf herder.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room. Spoiler alert: Harrison Ford does not play Han Solo in this movie. One might think that after tricking a portion of audience members into believing that Peter Cushing was alive that the techs at Disney might try and revive Harrison Ford's younger Han Solo with a eldritch combination of face and performance capture wizardry. But recasting the beloved smuggler was the path they chose to walk down. And in 2018, when Han Solo has become a cinematic archetype donned by performers in not one but two ongoing franchises, it almost seems pointless to have yet another version of the character who is not Harrison Ford. 

The Weekend in Review; May 22, 2018

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How will I ever be able to look my film school friends in the eye and say that I didn't love Federico Fellini's 8 1/2?

I did however love the idea behind it. The concept of a semi-autobiographical film about a film that interweaves plot with the inner workings of the main character's mind is an appealing one. Fellini & co. exteriorize protagonist Guido Anselmi's (Marcello Mastroianni) private thoughts, hopes, and dreams in a seamless and oftentimes beautiful way.

Oddly enough, this is also something video games can do very well. One of the best example in recent memory are the myriad flashback/hallucination sequences in Batman: Arkham Knight.

After I finished the film I found myself wondering if this kind of thing has been done in comics before. I'm sure there are more than a few ways to inject memory/thoughts/dreams directly into the visual fabric of an individual comic panel or a series of them. It's something I'll chew on going forward.

(You can see what else I've been watching lately over at my Letterboxd page.)

***

New York City is crumbling. In many different ways. When I was young and would visit Manhattan with my parents, I thought I had arrived in Metropolis: City of Tomorrow. Now that I'm older and have sampled a variety of its locales and living situations I can say with confidence that New York City is a great big rotting organism shot through with shiny luxury condos. People run around the shell on its back, attempting to fix its disintegrating infrastructure and build skyward, but the skeleton that supports it all will one day turn to dust.

"....an examination by The New York Times has found that Mr. Lhota’s reach as a power broker has grown with new board appointments in Manhattan and on Long Island, giving him extraordinary sway over some of the most important aspects of New York life. But while Mr. Lhota remains a respected official, his growing web of jobs has led to potential conflicts of interest and competition for his time, complicating the still-flailing effort to resuscitate a transit system used by millions of people every day." -- NYT

"These apartments — seen as the scourge of landlords and the salvation of struggling New Yorkers — are at the center of a housing crisis that has swelled the ranks of the homeless and threatens to squeeze all but the affluent from ever-wider swaths of the city. But even as Mayor Bill de Blasio has made adding more affordable housing a signature pledge of his administration, the system that protects the city’s roughly one million regulated apartments is profoundly broken, a New York Times investigation has found." -- NYT

***

That's all for now, folks. Stay sharp--that is definitely not me standing outside your window.

Witness (1985)

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Peter Weir makes it seem super easy in Witness. Everything, from communicating just what kind of detective Harrison Ford’s John Book is to establishing the (admittedly simple) good cop vs. bad cop plot, is done with such economy that it can easily be taken for granted. Weir also knows when to rachet the tempo up. Book and Kelly McGillis’s Rachel fall in love slowly, gracefully, their feelings accumulating over time, so that when they finally embrace it causes an explosion of passion on screen (it helps that Ford is one of the best looking leading men in cinematic history). The final showdown works much in the same way, only with shotguns instead.

But it’s John Seale’s camera work that sets this film apart. His compositions, like Weir’s direction, are the result of a light touch. Door frames, windshields, exposed beams in a simple Amish kitchen—Seale uses the shapes created by these unassuming items to frame his figures in a way that makes it seem like that’s what the items were designed for in the first place. He opts for intense close ups whenever he can, as Ford and McGillis’s performances verge into nonverbal territory often. Seale excels at capturing the nearly imperceptible gestures and stolen glances  that seem small onscreen but in fact do a great deal of heavy lifting for plot and performance alike.

“Capturing” is the operative word. In many scenes, especially those that examine the day to day life of the Pennsylvania Amish, Seale exhibits the skills of a documentarian, his eye focused on his subjects without bias nor judgment.

 

The Weekend in Review; April 30, 2018

Wow, The Weekend in Review is back? That's crazy!

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I, like all 7 billion people on planet Earth, saw Avengers: Infinity War. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Post-credits sequences are a form of terrorism. I understand the idea behind them--it's important that the mouth breathers understand that their favorite punchy-punch, talky-talk movies are made by an army of invisible artists and technicians--but, predictably, it doesn't work at all. As soon as the credits role, those savvy filmgoers looking for that "second screen experience" pull out their phones to check and see if anyone has sent them an image of their engorged genitalia on Snapchat. They only look up from their poorly-lit anatomy lessons after the last Eyelash De-Aliasing Supervisor has disappeared from the screen. So just play the stupid commercial for the next movie right after the marquee names roll off the screen.
  2. Why is Chris Pratt billed as "And Chris Pratt?" Have those shitty Jurassic Park sequels turned him into a young "And Anthony Hopkins?"
  3. STRANGELY enough, Doctor Strange was the MVP in this movie. When he took on his multi-armed form I gasped with STRANGE delight.
  4. When and how did Bruce Banner get Hulk-tile dysfunction?
  5. Approximately 25% of those in attendance during my showing got up to go to the restroom at various times. Since missing the famous "Living Manifestation of Destiny" speech in Mission: Impossible 5 for urine-based reasons, I no longer leave movies for any reason, ever. In order to pull this off I have developed a patent-pending dehydration technique that is 100% effective. Step 1: Stop fluid consumption no later than 2 hours prior to a film's start time. Step 2: Urinate repeatedly leading up to film's start time. Step 3: Once the film has begun, slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, rehydrate out of the film with the beverage of your choice (now that I'm 30, it's Diet Coke for me). Step 4: Enjoy. (Also works for air travel).
  6. Having Peter Dinklage play a giant "dwarf" was certainly a choice.
  7. The Russos have a knack for realistic action in their superhero films. By that I don't mean that everything looks real, because it certainly doesn't, but rather that characters behave and perform their superhero karate chop action in a way that seems realistic. Case in point: Captain America's shield never bounces quite as convincingly outside of a Russo Brothers Joint. The fisticuffs in Captain America: Civll War, namely the Cap/Bucky/Black Panther 3-way chase and the Iron Man showdown in the finale are bone-crunching, kinetic displays of violence. While Infinity War leans too heavily on the CGI for the fights to feel as hard-hitting as they do in some of the previous outings, that illusion of realism still powers most, if not all, of its action.
  8. Carrie Coons voicing Lady Voldemort was a meta-joke on the whole Leftovers-style ending of this movie, right?
  9. From a purely technical perspective, this movie is an unmatched feat in story engineering. I was delighted to see how a film featuring 30 characters, 6 magic rocks (that each perform a specific task), and the loose threads of a dozen movies worked so well. However, because of the sheer amount of characters, each picking up little bits and pieces of the narrative along the way, the film lacked emotional focus in a broad sense. 
  10. Marvel has been eating DC's lunch for 10 straight years. That must really smart.

Data, Join Me in Stellar Cartography: Part 1 (Film, 2017)

I present to you Part 1 of my notes on every single thing that I watched, read, listened to, played, and wrote in the year of our Holy Space Lord Jesus Henry Christ Two Thousand and Seventeen. It is the only way I know how to truly tell you something about me, the only way I can explain what a year looks like from my little corner of the universe. I hope it leaves an impression.

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Everything that I watched, read, listened to, played, & wrote in 2017

1. Film

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(2017)

Silence; d. Martin Scorcese, w. Jay Cocks, Martin Scorcese 

John Wick: Chapter 2*; d. Chad Stahelski, w. Derek Kolstad

Get Out; d. & w. Jordan Peele 

Logan; d. James Mangold, w. James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green  

Kong: Skull Island; d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, w. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly 

Power Rangers; d. Dean Israelite, w. John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney 

The Fate of the Furious; d. F. Gary Gray, w. Chris Morgan 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; d. & w. James Gunn 

Alien: Covenant; d. Ridley Scott, w. Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, Dante Harper

Wonder Woman; d. Patty Jenkins, w. Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs 

The Big Sick; d. Michael Showalter, w. Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani 

Baby Driver*; d. & w. Edgar Wright 

Spider-Man: Homecoming; d. John Watts, w. Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers 

War for the Planet of the Apes; d. Matt Reeves, w. Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves 

Dunkirk; d. & w. Christopher Nolan  

Atomic Blonde; d. David Leitch, w. Kurt Johnstad 

Wind River; d. & w. Taylor Sheridan

Logan Lucky; Steven Soderbergh 

Ingrid Goes West: d. Matt Spicer, w. David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer 

Good Time*; d. & w. Benny & Josh Safdie

Human Flow; d. Ai Weiwei, w. Chin-Chin Yap, Tim Finch, Boris Cheshkirov 

It; d. Andy Muschietti, w. Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman 

American Made; d. Doug Liman, w. Gary Spinelli

Jerry Before Seinfeld; d. Michael Bonfligio, w. Jerry Seinfeld 

Blade Runner 2049*; d. Denis Villeneuve, w. Hampton Fancher, Michael Green 

Spielberg; d. Susan Lacy 

The Babysitter; d. McG, w. Brian Duffield 

Brawl in Cell Block 99*; d. & w. S. Craig Zahler 

The Lost City of Z; d. & w. James Gray

Thor: Ragnarok; d. Taika Waititi, w. Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost 

Lady Bird; d. & w. Greta Gerwig 

Justice League; d. Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon, w. Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder 

The Disaster Artist; d. James Franco, w. Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Star Wars: The Last Jedi; d. & w. Rian Johnson 

(*Top 5)

 

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(1974-2016)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre; d. Tobe Hooper, w. Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper 

Barry Lyndon; d. & w. Stanley Kubrick 

All the President's Men; d. Alan J. Pakula, w. William Goldman 

Midnight Run; d. Martin Brest, w. George Gallo 

Sex, Lies, and Videotape; d. & w. Steven Soderbergh 

The Fugitive; d. Andrew Davis, w. Jeb Stuart, David Twohy

Tombstone; d. George P. Cosmatos & Kevin Jarre, w. Kevin Jarre 

Before Sunrise; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan 

The Game; d. David Fincher, w. John Brancato, Michael Ferris 

Out of Sight; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Scott Frank 

The Thirteenth Warrior; d. John McTiernan & Michael Crichton, w. William Wisher, Warren Lewis  

The Limey; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Lem Hobbs 

Traffic; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Stephen Gaghan 

Before Sunset; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan 

Shaun of the Dead; d. Edgar Wright, w. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright 

Memories of Murder; d. Joon-ho Bong, w. Joon-ho Bong, Sung-bo Shim 

Pulse (Kairo); d. & w. Kiyoshi Kurosawa 

Marie Antoinette; d. & w. Sophia Coppola 

Hot Fuzz; d. Edgar Wright, w. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright 

Super; d. & w. James Gunn

Before Midnight; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke 

The Mermaid; d. Stephen Chow, w. Hing-Ka Chan, Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Miu-Kei Ho, Ivy Kong, Si-Cheun Lee, Zhengyu Ly, Kan-Cheung Tsang 

Swiss Army Man; d. & w. Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert 

Train to Busan; d. Sang-ho Yeon, w. Joo-Suk Park, Sang-ho Yeon 

The Magnificent Seven; d. Antoine Fuqua, w. Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk 

Dr Strange; d. Scott Derrickson, w. Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill 

Moonlight; d. Barry Jenkins, w. Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney 

Edge of Seventeen; d. & w. Kelly Fremon Craig 

Nocturnal Animals; d. & w. Tom Ford 

La La Land; d. & w. Damian Chazelle 

20th Century Women; d. & w. Mike Mills 

 

2. Television

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(Arranged by air date of most recent season)

The Knick Seasons 1-2; Jack Amiel, Michael Begler & Steven Soderbergh 

Big Little Lies; David E. Kelley 

Rick and Morty Season 3; Justin Roiland & Dan Harmon 

The Leftovers Seasons 1-3, Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta 

Silicon Valley Season 4; Mike Judge, John Altschuler & David Krinksy 

Master of None Season 2; Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang 

Game of Thrones Season 7; David Benioff & D.B. Weiss 

Stranger Things Season 2; The Duffer Brothers 

 

3. Literature & Comics

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Childhood's End; Arthur C. Clarke 

The Stars My Destination; Alfred Bester 

Time and Again; Jack Finney 

The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made, Revised and Expanded Edition; David Hughes 

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography; Glen Weldon 

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nahisi Coates 

But What If We're Wrong?; Chuck Klosterman

Normal; Warren Ellis 

The Wild Storm #1-5; Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt 

PayWall; Joseph P Kelly 

Grand Theft Imagination; Benjamin Andrew Moore 

 

4. Music

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Greatest Hits; Fleetwood Mac 

On Avery Island; Neutral Milk Hotel  

Cage The Elephant; Cage The Elephant  

Humbug; Arctic Monkeys 

Thank You Happy Birthday; Cage the Elephant  

Suck It and See; The Arctic Monkeys 

AM; The Arctic Monkeys

Melophobia; Cage the Elephant  

To Pimp a Butterfly; Kendrick Lamar 

Tell Me I'm Pretty; Cage the Elephant  

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions; Bruce Springsteen  

Damn; Kendrick Lamar 

 

5. Videogames

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Wolfenstein: The New Order; MachineGames 

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood; MachineGames 

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Nintendo 

 

6. What I wrote/created

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Red's Journey; ClearVision Optical

Rabbit Hole #1; Self-published

World War Terminus; Self-published

The Cycle; Self-published

The Redemption of Super-Champion Barron Drumpf Parts 1 & 2; Study Group Comics

The Drakul Wedding; Self-published

Whatever Happened to the Superhero Writers of Tomorrow & Other Articles; Paste Magazine 

5 Rick and Morty Mind-Bending Season 3 Mysteries; Quidd

The Cycle on Comixology

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Written by: Jakob Free
Art by: Jon CairnsDaniel IrizarriJD FaithJoseph P KellyMark Pearce
Colored by: Michael Lee MacdonaldSloane LeongRenee Keyes
Lettered by: Nic J Shaw
Price: $9.99

The Cycle tells the story of Tommy Centro, your Average Joe working in finance in downtown Manhattan. Tommy's got a girlfriend named Telli Goldstein, an apartment in Chelsea, enough money in his pocket to get by and--oh yeah, a best friend named The Roman, who just happens to be New York City's premier disgraced former superhero.

Buy now on comiXology!

The Weekend in Review; July 10th, 2017

Homecoming has so much of what makes Spider-Man the best Marvel hero of all: the conflict between being a normal kid and a friendly-neighborhood avenger, the perils of great power without responsibility, and of course, hot Aunt May jokes (kidding for sure, but there are quite a few in this film). And impressively, Marvel Studios is able to deliver these essentials without ever mentioning Uncle Ben and his signature catchphrase. That would be like making a Batman movie without referencing the Wayne Murders, which is something filmmakers have proven incapable of doing.

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The Weekend in Review; July 3rd, 2017

Baby Driver (2017) is the kind of movie we need more of. It's that mid-budget cinema that we're always talking about being dead and gone. But this movie is very much alive, thrumming and careening around the corners of the mind well after you've left the theater.

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The Weekend in Review; June 19th, 2017

Would you sanction the use of a taxpayer funded program in which a city or state employee piloting a powerful robot suit arrives on scene and literally kicks the two cars off the road, presumably into the shoulder, to allow for the flow of traffic to resume? 

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The Weekend in Review; June 12th, 2017

I recently made the mistake of trying to read three books at the same time. Well, four, if you count Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1 as a book, and you know I do. Instead of allowing me to read more books in a shorter span of time, I just wound up reading them slowly, without making much progress in any of them. So lesson learned there.

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The Weekend in Review; May 30th, 2017

This one was a real doozy, folks. A genuine three day weekend. The Holy Grail. This time because of a holiday called Memorial Day. Which, as I understand it, is like Veterans Day, only for dead people. It's a great opportunity for those among us who blindly support the military-industrial complex to stick a bunch of flags in things and to use a variety of hashtags to show they care about those poor souls who gave their lives to secure our freedom, which now manifests itself in the form of an overwhelming sense of existential dread. Smell that, son? That's freedom!

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007 Racing (2000), The Fate of the Furious / Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    If you're at all familiar with the recent The Fast and the Furious movies then the reason why I found myself remembering this game should be obvious. You'd know that any and all conflicts in the F&F world, no matter the scale, must be solved through vehicular combat. The rule is that if a problem can be solved simply with a conversation then the problem must be solved stupefyingly with a car. This is the exact principle underpinning the premiere James Bond video game of the year 2000. And I imagine it's why people love the F&F movies but have completely forgotten 007 Racing.

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