Star Wars

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. 

Ten of My Favorite Movies in 2015

I didn't seen as many films in 2015 as I should have, which is why my New Year's Resolution is to see more films in 2016. But I was fortunate enough to see most of the films that I wanted to see during 2015. Here are ten of my favorites, in (sort-of) reverse order:

Creed
The old king is dead, long live the new King. Rest in peace, Apollo Creed.

I love all of the Rocky movies. My favorite Rocky movie is Rocky 2. This movie is basically Rocky 7. It’s not as good as Rocky 2, but it’s better than Rocky 3, 4, and 5. It’s definitely as good as Rocky Balboa (6), but probably slightly “worse” than Rocky 1. Michael B. Jordan is really good. And Sylvester Stallone gives an all-time performance.

The Martian
A funny, kindhearted survival story about a well funded American space program that cooperates with China? Please sir, may I have another? This is Ridley Scott in full-blown mercenary director mode and it works like a charm. What I've said all along is this: Scott isn't a particularly adept storyteller without a good, clear narrative to work with (and yes, I know I’m not the first to say it). But here, working off Drew Godard's adaptation of Andy Weir's novel (still unread by your's truly), he's got what he needs to get the job done. Was this the palette cleanser for those who choked on and spat out the insanity that was Prometheus? I hope so. Let's go back to when Scott was one of the best in the biz.

Steve Jobs
Apple Cultists scare me, but their prophet Steve Jobs--blessed be his name, amen--scares me more. As much as I would have loved to see Christian Bale's take on this rich asshole genius, we've already drunk from that cup a few times. Fassbender is electric here, and somehow manages to imbue Steve Jobs the Movie Character with a spark of humanity, despite his utter failings as a member of the human race. Steve Jobs wasn't an inventor, he was an artist who painted with MP3 players and tablet computers, and he was paid handsomely for it, both with stock options and the blind adoration of millions of people who are now addicted to slave-made consumer products. This movie shows us why that's a bad thing, despite its unearned "happy" ending. 

Straight Outta Compton
As a Jewish teenager growing up on Long Island, I, of course, pretended to enjoy my fair share of hip-hop. Now that I'm older and hang out with slightly fewer Hebrews, I'm okay admitting that I don't love rap. But I do understand that NWA's power came from more than just their songs, even though I think "I Ain't Tha 1" is a work of lyrical genius. It was the persona that each NWA member crafted for himself that gave people something to tap into, and those personas are on display with ferocity in this film, especially those belonging to Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre. The performances in Straight Outta Compton took me by complete surprise, and I look forward to seeing what these talented actors show up in next.

Bone Tomahawk
This was easily the most disturbing film I saw this year. When you consider the pacing of this film—the “action” doesn’t really start until you reach the final half hour—and that the majority of the narrative involves a group of men walking through the desert chit chatting, Bone Tomahawk becomes even more impressive. The violence visited upon the characters in this movie is at times surreal, but somehow always nauseatingly realistic; it functions like an exclamation point on a very well written back and forth between disparate personalities at a dinner party. The film’s antagonists, a group of mutated Native Americans called “Troglodytes,” appear from off-screen like ghosts, and unceremoniously attack their prey with unmatched brutality. I screamed like a little baby boy and had to turn my head from the screen more than once. 

The End of the Tour
Three of the movies on my list are, at their cores, long conversations between characters (with two of them being punctuated with primo ultra-violence). This is one of those films. As an adult, I’ve avoided and feared Infinite Jest, as one might, but I’ve had a nagging interest in David Foster Wallace: the Man. I’ve read some of his essays and thought them quite good, but I just don’t think I’ll ever have it in me to spend 1,100 pages delving into the convergence of tennis and addiction. Plus, I find footnotes disdainful. But Wallace seems like an interesting man, and The End of the Tour, creative liberties aside, highlights the reason why. A deeply conflicted, action-movie-loving genius, Wallace hungered to be both famous and obscure simultaneously. That’s a pathology I can’t wrap my head around, but it’s great to see Jason Segel try it on for size. I’m not familiar with director James Ponsoldt’s work, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him.

The Hateful 8
Clue
for people who don’t care about Clue. John Carpenter’s The Thing in the Old West. Call it whatever you want to call it. This is Tarantino stripped down to his most basic, yet most powerful elements. It’s a goddamn masterpiece. 

I think some critics and moviegoers alike have a hard time with Tarantino as a human being. I know at least one person who is now boycotting his films because of his “anti-cop” attitude. Some people take umbrage with the casual use of the word “nigger” in his films. It’s strange, but indicative of an increasingly simplistic appreciation of film nowadays: filmgoers are coming into these movies politically pre-conditioned, ready to tear the thing to shreds if it doesn’t meet their internet-PhD criteria or their blue-collar American exceptionalism. 

Look, I’m not saying that the people who talk during movies or tap away on their cellphones in the midst of a crucial sequence are right-wingers, but I am saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if the correlation between Fox News fans and people who don't appreciate film was pronounced. 

Mission Impossible: 5
This movie is the manifestation of destiny. 

Christopher McQuarrie is the kind of action director we need, but not the one we deserve right now. There's an art to the shootout, the car chase, and the fistfight that certain filmmakers simply don't know how to capture and express. But McQuarrie knows how to shoot that type of movie magic, and he's working with Hollywood's greatest special effect in this one: Mr. Tom Cruise, disciple of Xenu and SP shattering extraordinaire. Historically, MI films have taken on a new director with each subsequent entry, but I’m okay with the guy who gave us Mission Impossible 5 mainlining the secret truth of the universe directly into our collective brainstem for a second time.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The problems of the Prequel Trilogy are myriad. This is known. But one of the biggest issues with Episodes 1-3 is that they're Star Wars films with a lot of the pulp strained out. They aren't "Star Wars-y" enough; they don't contain that essential element, a cinematic fluid that is defined by the mixture of expansive world-building and hokey doodle-in-the-margins-of-your-childhood-notebook wizardry. J.J. Abrams (whom I was very disappointed in after that In2 Darkness debacle) brought the juice back. Yes, yes, it’s a remix of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but after having my innards ripped out by the rotten apple that was late-period George Lucas, I was in no position to turn away fresh fruit. 

If I were forced to pick a favorite new character, I must admit that Adam Driver steals the show as new baddy and Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren.

Mad Max: Fury Road
At first I was more than a little disappointed to see the immense cloud of chatter surrounding Fury Road devolve into a single live-or-die-by-it political utility for either the Feminist Cause or the Men’s Rights Activists, but I have now arrived in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. Multiple viewings of this masterwork will produce that effect, so if you’re still unsure, go ahead, have another helping.

As a person who unabashedly awaits for the return of the Mel Gibson, it’s hard not to acknowledge that his trio of Mad Max performances lack a certain…madness. Tom Hardy has no such problem. He spends the first half of this film grunting like a rabid dog, scratching at himself, and gnawing at the unconscious form of Nicholas Hoult.

And for all of those people who claimed there wasn’t enough meat on Mad Max’s bone, I have only one thing to say to you: MEDIOCRE! 

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Two Movies I Absolutely Refused To Watch on Sheer Principle: Jurassic World and Terminator Vaginasys
In 2013 I had my childhood murdered right in front of me when I was DP’ed by Star Trek: In2 Blah-Ness and Man of Steel during one very long summer of unfiltered cinematic barbarism. These were two movies created by people who fundamentally misunderstood the tenets of the mythologies they had inherited, and these mythologies happened to be the two I cherished the most. 

After that, there are a few other tales that defined my childhood and gave me the sensibilities I bring to every film I watch now. Jurassic Park and Terminator (and to a certain extent Terminator 2) are two of my favorite movies of all time. So factoring in the trauma of watching The S Stands for Suck and Scarf Fest: Into Ass-Ness, and the PTSD that followed, I determined to never voluntarily submit myself to Cretacious World and Termagenysis: This Time It's Terminal, unless there was a way to actively hurt the filmmakers involved. As of this writing, I have yet to figure out a way to enact my fiery vengeance.

But I shall wait...