Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review

Whenever I go into a Star Wars movie, the first thing I expect is to be entertained. Not some deep meditation on life or whatever, just a good entertaining movie to engross me for a couple of hours. With that in mind, I’m pleased as punch that Solo: A Star Wars Story met those expectations.

Taking place roughly ten years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is trying to get back to his homeworld of Corellia to return to his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) when he gets embroiled, along with the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), with a smuggler named Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who has to deliver cargo to crime boss Dryden (Paul Bettany). Having then recruited Captain Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the heist, this sets in motion the events that came to shape him as the scoundrel we know and love.

Origins are a tricky thing to pull off; by the end we know what’ll happen. But director Ron Howard knows how to balance new events to keep us surprised while also showing us events that we actually want to see. The meeting between Han and Chewie didn’t happen the way I would’ve thought it did, but that’s a great thing. It manages to fulfill a lot of those childhood questions that I had, but in a way that was organic to the plot, and not just some checklist of shit that has to be in the movie.

Ehrenreich’s performance as young Solo manages to hit just the right notes. When he gives that smirk, or a bit of that swagger, I thought, “There’s Han” and believe me that is no easy feat. The movie completely shines when he’s with Chewie giving off that same chemistry that was in the original films. And its completely entertaining seeing how Lando and Han met. It even fits with their interaction in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s just a lot of love and joy in these performances.

But if there were any faults with Solo I’d say is that there are some scenes that attempt to illicit an emotional response that just manages to fall flat; some death scenes that I knew I should feel sad about but I just didn’t. Some work, and are crucial to the character of Solo, but others just felt exploitative. Speaking of which, that’s also how I felt with a cameo in the 3rd act, that made me roll my eyes; I just saw it as fan service, having no real purpose to the plot or the development of Han.

With those qualms aside, Solo is just a fun, entertaining movie. It accomplished what it set out to do, which was to be a fun swashbuckling adventure. Its paced wonderfully, seriously it left me wanting more, the performances are first rate, and I actually got to see events that I always wanted to know more about. Look, this isn’t the best Star Wars movie ever made but it is one of the most endearing ones.

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Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

It’s difficult to review a movie like Deadpool 2. It’s like that with most comedies anyways, but it still needs to be done. It basically boils down to this: if you loved the first one, then you’re sure as shit going to love this sequel which accomplishes everything a good sequel does.

After going through some shit, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is having a bit of an existential crisis. After trying to help a kid with mutant powers, Russell (Julian Dennison) and being sent to Mutant jail, a guy from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) goes through time to kill the little bastard. Deadpool puts together a team that includes Domino (Zazie Beetz) to stop him.

Pretty much everything you loved from the first movie is back this time around, but with a budget. The in jokes are more meta, and even scathing (the DC Universe quip gets me every time). At times, the movie seems even bolder than before, like there was something more to prove this time around; like their not a fluke.

At times it even feels like the Deadpool films are fearless in the characters that they show. Look, as much of a fan as I am, I kind of gave up on seeing Cable, much less Domino, on the big screen. But there they are. Causing shit.

While the only criticism I had for the first film was that the origin section came off to dark and tonally inconsistent, this time around its even darker, but manages to find the balance with the humor. Really, everyone here, especially Brolin’s Cable, give weight to their characters and don’t see it as a joke. That’s Wade’s job. For me in that respect, this sequel is better than the original.

You really can’t go wrong with this movie if you love any of the characters in this movie. It’s more of the same (but with a budget) and honestly, who wouldn’t want more of that?

Cobra Kai (2018): Nostalgia Done Right (A Review)

YouTube Red’s new series, Cobra Kai has no business being this good. At all. Especially from a long dormant franchise like The Karate Kid, I mean we all know how the fourth one turned out (sorry Hillary Swank). Those films while classics of their genre, aren’t regarded as high class cinema. With the recent glaut of revival shows, and films in their own right, Cobra Kai does something crucial that many of these other properties seem to forget.

It treats it’s mythology with respect.

It’s been over 30 years since Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) suffered his humiliating defeat by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). He’s down on his luck, constantly reminded of his defeat by seeing billboards everywhere for LaRusso Motars. One fateful night, he says a young kid named Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) get picked on by bullies, and Johnny rescues him, inspiring him to revive the long gone Cobra Kai dojo.

What unfolds over the course of ten episodes is nothing short of a miracle; turning the Karate Kid films into something of a Greek tragedy. I’ll tell you, I was expecting something of a parody, like the 21 Jump Street movies, but I was so wrong. This series is not only unashamed of its source material, but embraces it lovingly. The “flashback” scenes are clips from the first film, and are so skillfully woven into the narrative that it hits the emotions perfectly if you’ve seen them. That is how this is supposed to be done.

The acting here, is just nothing short of top notch. Macchio and Zabka add actual fucking depth and layers to their characters. While the movies may have a basic view of good and bad, here it’s not that simple. Johnny has a lot of anger that stems from his childhood, while Daniel has let arrogance muddy up his balance. Both men are on a journey to better themselves, even if its actually making them into bitter men.

The nostalgia factors in heavily into Cobra Kai, and no shit it would. You even see Daniel performing his moves from The Karate Kid Part III. I mean, who the fuck would remember that? It gives it’s audience exactly what it wants, but not in the ways that they’d expect it. Yes, the season climaxes with a tournament, but holy fuck is it done differently, with conflicting emotions. Yeah, it was difficult to find a villain here, it’s that good. This is all because of the memories of the films; they compliment each other, they find that perfect balance.

It’s amazing how much love and respect when into this series. Truly. This is not a jokey self aware parody of itself, but merely the tragically logical continuation of its story. If you’re even remotely a fan, you owe it to yourself to see this series, and show it to others. Not since a show like Mr. Robot have I been so invested in the emotional (low) stakes that drives Daniel and Johnny.

I never thought I’d ever write this, but Cobra Kai is one of the best shows on television.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Review

This has been 10 years in the making; the promise of a shared universe between films finally reaches it’s apex with Avengers: Infinity War. This is everything that I always dreamed of when I was a child; just an unrelenting battle against a seemingly unstoppable foe.

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is the Mad Titan and he has been searching the Galaxy far and wide for the Infinity Stones, six gems that represent all of existence: Time, Power, Reality, Mind, Space, and Soul. If the six stones are brought together than the wielder controls the universe. This forces all of the universe’s heroes to band together including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and so on.

This flick is a dream come true for comic book fans. Almost every single character from the previous entries make an appearance here. This is the cinematic equivalent of a company wide crossover. And speaking as a fan, I loved it. Great care was taken to ensure that all the heroes spoke with all their distinct voices and that is where the fun truly lies. I mean come on, didn’t you wonder how Iron Man would react to meeting Star Lord (Chris Pratt) with all that sass? You just chuckled at the thought.

Alright, no more tip toeing around this: the film has no real plot as a single entry to the franchise. If you, or someone you know is thinking of making this their first Marvel movie then that is a huge mistake. There is no set up to the conflict, the movie just jumps right in and doesn’t fuck around. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. This is the accumulation of 10 years of movies that have been slowly setting up this movie. You don’t have to have seen every movie, if you have a favorite character then the movie works, but it does help to feel some sort of emotion.

And this movie is emotional, and powerful. No spoilers here, obviously, but I can’t imagine a single fan not being shocked by what happens in Infinity War. I was shaken up by the time the credits rolled, and it left me excited for the next one. Yes, even Ant-Man and The Wasp. This is how superhero films should be made; with humor, love, excitement, and devastation.

Isle of Dogs (2018) Review

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is an incredible feat of filmmaking. I have seen possibly hundreds of animated films throughout my life and I am still in awe of what I saw on the screen. Something so unique, so inspired by classic fables and stories that just resonate with you even if you don’t even love dogs.

In a near future Japan, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has declared that all dogs be sent to an island in exile as a “dog flu” runs rampant throughout the town. As the dogs make a life for themselves, a group of dogs find a little boy named Atari (Koyo Rankin) lands on the isle to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Lead by Chief (Brian Cranston) they set out on a trek that could lead them to a shocking discovery.

Isle of Dogs is quite simply, extraordinary. The acting, which is subtle, almost soothing, to the animation that just let my jaw drop. I have never seen a movie seamlessly integrate different styles of animation like this before. The film is just a feast for the eyes, the fantastical Japan that is depicted is detailed so meticulously that I’m certain that you could find something new every single time you watch it.

As per your usual Wes Anderson film, the dialogue and acting are subtle in every which way. I can’t imagine how many jokes slipped past because because I’m laughing and just fixated on the screen. That’s not to say there’s no heart to the story, far from it. Atari’s journey with Chief and the the other dogs will tug at any animal lovers heartstrings without getting bogged down in it’s own sentimentality.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the reason I go to the movies; to see other worlds, other cultures, and get immersed in it. It’s just such a lovely movie, so rich, stylized and beautiful. Not only is this one of the best films of the year, thus far, but it’s one of the best animated films of the decade. I forgot that films can be this good.

Ready Player One (2018) Review

If you were born in the 80s, then pretty much director Steven Spielberg raised you. Everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T., to movies he produced like Back to the Future and The Goonies the man helped to craft 80s pop culture.

Ready Player One is an ode to that wonderful era from things like movies, music and especially video games. It’s a buffet of pop culture that may seem to be overcrowded, but isn’t overwhelming. It’s actually quite sweet, and Spielberg’s best film since Minority Report.

In the year 2045, 18 year old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in an impoverished area named The Stacks. He dreams of a better life for himself and escapes into a virtual reality called The Oasis, where you can be whoever you want to be. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away and leaves a will detailing a contest; whoever solves the clues and obtains the 3 keys, wins the Oasis.

Along with other players, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lana Waithe), the race is on to obtain the keys before the head of a cooperation (Ben Mendelsohn) gets his hands on it and destroys it.

If the plot sounds like it’s Willy Wonka meets The Matrix that’s because it totally is! And man is it so much fun to watch! Knowing Spielberg, the film is vibrant and stunning to behold. I can’t remember the last time I was immersed in a cinematic world.

The acting is on point for every single performance, but the scene stealer is Mark Rylance as Halliday. It was known that Spielberg wanted Gene Wilder to play the part, bringing the Willy Wonka motif full circle, but I can’t imagine a better performance. It so layered, nuanced, and even heartbreaking that he becomes the heart of the movie. Rylance is now not only one of my favorite actors now, but he’s one of the best actors out there.

If you have a casual knowledge of Spielberg’s films, you know that John Williams has composed the score to almost every film that he’s made. Due to schedule conflicts, Williams couldn’t score the movie, being replaced by Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri. Jesus Christ this is his best score since Forrest Gump. He keeps the music pumping during the action, throws some cues from his earlier work that doesn’t distract at all. It felt like Halliday chose this music for his easter egg hunt.

Steven Spielberg has made some incredible movies as of late, but he has veered away from the rousing popcorn flicks that he built his career on. I have never seen such an amazing return to form, and it just proves that the man still has a thing or two to show us.

Black Panther (2018) Review

There has never been a more relevant time for the Black Panther film to come out. With the issue of representation in film being such a hot button issue, nothing made me happier to see a film starring a black superhero, especially one with this much joy and rich character development.

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the mantle of King of the technologically advanced African country of Wakanda. As T’Challa comes to grips with being king, a foreigner by the name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) lays seige to Wakanda, forcing the King to relay on his former flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his tech savy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) to protect his kingdom and all of its secrets.

Since a lot of people are making a big deal over a black superhero, which is all well and good, it doesn’t mean shit to me if the movie sucks. Thankfully it doesn’t. Marvel has it’s characters down to a science, and that’s where Black Panther truly shines. T’Challa is a fully realised character with empathy and a sense of duty. He goes on a spiritual journey that many of us have been on, and it gives him a true sense of history.

The MCU has been know to have some underwhelming villains for most of its run, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in the series. Much like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, you get a clear understanding of Killmonger’s motives, hell I even found myself sympathizing with him. He was just captivating to watch every second he was on screen.

Black Panther continues Marvel’s Phase 3 overarching theme of fathers and sons. Here is a man who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while trying to be his own man, his own king. It even goes deeper into it’s theme; can a son forgive the sins of his father? Should he have to pay that price?

Of course the action is first rate, and you will find yourself in awe of the spectacle, but there is more than that. The issues of race, heritage, and legacy are all there to be absorbed and discussed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it still gets to me that a character, up until a few years ago, was considered to be a B-lister at best, has been given a treatment that is usually reserved for more prominent characters. King T’Challa is a character I can’t wait to see again.

Coco (2017) Review

Pixar has always managed to be a beacon on just emotional, original pieces of work that dive into other areas of human culture. Coco is wonderfully one of those movies that show that love, and family are universal cultural bounds that everyone can relate to.

Little Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a household where music is forbidden. But the boy has the music in him, and he sets out to follow in his great-great grandfather’s footsteps. Lo and behold, Miguel finds out that Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), famed deceased singer, is his ancestor. While attempting to take his guitar, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead. With the help of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a spirit who is soon to be forgotten, they both set out to make it to the world of the living, before it’s too late.

Coco is the prime example of the beauty that can be achieved by the art of animation. The beautiful use of color and vibrancy in its shades is so refreshing to see. Most studios think that the world of spirits is some kind of Tim Burton-esque realm, but not in Coco thankfully. I felt like I was seeing something a little new; something that has been grossly underrepresented in cinema today.

Breathtaking visuals don’t mean jack shit if the characters and story aren’t up to par, and it sure is. Dare I say, that this could be one of the darkest Pixar movies to have been released. It’s not violent in a conventional sense, but it is emotionally. The mere concept of souls being wiped out of existence for being forgotten by the ones you left in the living world is equal parts morbid and macabre. I think it’s something every single one of us can connect to, either intellectually, or emotionally.

Don’t get me wrong; this is Pixar’s most beautiful, emotionally satisfying movie since Inside Out. The existential portion of the movie is something adults will understand, while the visuals and humor are perfect for children. The themes of love, remembrance and family hit me a lot harder than I anticipated. I have come to expect nothing less from Pixar, and is not only one of the best films of the year, but will be remembered for generations to come.

The Shape of Water (2017) Review 

     Director Guillermo Del Toro has always been an astonishing visual director, even when it comes to a few of his lesser films. Even then the man has had a love for everything horror and fantasy, but even then there has always been a subtle fairy tale quality to his work. The Shape of Water not only embraces these attributes, they have come together to bring a different type of film that is clearly one of his most personal movies. 

     In 1960s America, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a government facility with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) when an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought in for experiments overseen by Dr. Hoffstetler (David Stahlbarg). Elisa and the creature form a deep bond that is threatened by Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) and his need to protect America. 

     Let me get this out of the way and say that it’s pretty obvious that this is just Del Toro’s version of the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Of course, it’s much more lyrical, even poetic than the earlier film. Even though the movie takes place in a bygone era of America, it feels like an entirely different world. The color schemes, with their hues of greens and blues, come off as a fairy tale. Even the musical score by Alexandre Desplat just reinforces the point, almost like something out of a French New Wave film. 

     If Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer for that matter, don’t get Oscar nominations for their work, then clearly fantasy horror have no place at the Oscars. Hawkins has to give a performance entirely in pantomime, and has to rely on just her face and body movements to convey her emotions. Trust me, this is fucking hard to pull off and Hawkins makes it seem way too easy, she’s so good in this. Even Doug Jones underneath all that make-up gives such emotions, the chemistry between the two actors is better than most big budget movies that have tackled a similar romance. 

     Spencer manages to take an almost thankless role and gives depth to emotion to a woman who’s living at the height of the civil rights movement. Through the vile character of Strickland, Del Toro manages to touch on the issues of racism and sexism without getting preachy, but enhances the themes of isolation and rejection, even within our own civilization. 

     Del Toro has crafted a deeply personal work of art here, one that, yes, does pay homage to old school monster movies but that has its own qualities, it’s own take on the outcast monster story that we all grew up on in some form or another. It is just without question that this is one of the best films of the year, and needs to be seen. 

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) Review

     Man has this franchise come a damn long way; I remember when Pitch Perfect was a coming of age take that used the power of song to over come adversity. Now, Pitch Perfect 3 still has some of those key elements, but it’s pretty damn clear that if this series doesn’t end with this installment, then we’re going to have the Fast and the Furious of a cappella singing. 

     Beca (Anna Kendrick) has just quit her job for a record label, and she reunites with the other Bellas, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and even Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) who go on a USO competition for DJ Khaled. Things hot a bit of a snag when Fat Amy’s father (John Lithgow) shows up at an inopportune time. 

     I have actually enjoyed the first two Pitch Perfect films with their sweet simple stories of self-esteem and pretty fun song covers. Sure they all seem to use the same plot as a crutch, but they work due to the chemistry amongst the actors. 

     Man, did this one try way too hard to be different. 

     While there’s still a competition to be had, it feels shoehorned into the plot, and instead we get some international intrigue involving Fat Amy’s dad, which left me wondering if this was truly necessary. It does appear that the writers ran out of ideas so soon, and that maybe a ten year gap between films would have been beneficial. 

     Don’t get me wrong; I did laugh during the movie, catching myself while realizing that the story was fucking ridiculous. As a tip, think about how the first one started off, then look at what’s on the screen. You won’t be able to help yourself from laughing. Even then, the music was enjoyable, although a bit lacking, the Bellas still have that charm that we should come to expect by now. 

     There have been worst trilogy cappers, believe me, but the story needs to end here. If it goes on any further, then everything charming and lovely about the series will be lost.