Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Review: 2001 - A Space Odyssey





2001: A Space Odyssey
Cert: U / 134 mins / Dir. Stanley Kubrick / Trailer


Well, then. I haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey since the early 1980s, when I was allowed to stay up especially to watch it on TV (I was only little, I'm not that old). At that point I was obsessed with Star Wars (no change there), which had led onto an interest in broader sci-fi as well as real-world space travel. This movie, while not a swashbuckling fantasy with accompanying action-figure line, was nonetheless a fusion of experience and speculation; exploring the possibilities of the future while echoing warnings from humanity’s past. 2001 is pure Science-Fiction™.

And the mind of a child is arguably the perfect environment for these ideas to grow, largely unencumbered as it is with notions of social realism, engineering limitations and years of structural film analysis. So the opportunity to watch Stanley Kubrick’s seminal, influential masterpiece in the environment for which it was originally made was just too good to pass up. 2001 is half a century old and I’d be seeing this cultural touchstone afresh, almost for the first time, but still effectively sitting with my younger self and reminiscing all the while.

And what a load of self-indulgent old tosh it is.

The central plot-conceit seems to be that everyone was living happily in the Garden Of Apeden until the space obelisk turned up and gave them the idea of hitting each other with sticks; that it didn't so much spur evolution, as corrupt things it came into contact with. But then, HAL-9000 (ostensibly the film's 'next step' in evolution) turns into an absolute murdering space a-hole and he hasn't met the slab, he was just programmed to think for himself by (admittedly flawed) humans. So the idea of the obelisk as a recurring catalyst seems redundant.

The near-perfect storm of 1950s b-movie and 1960s disaster flick, 2001 is sloppily written, hammily acted drivel. Humanity's future is represented by everything in the minimalist sets having either explanatory labels, huge buttons or both, whereas the past is brought to life by a range of differently-skilled actors in ape-suits which must have looked atrocious at the time, never mind now.

Like a Stewart Lee routine, each new development in the film seems designed to push the audience to the limits of their patience. Except that in a Stewart Lee show, you're supposed to laugh.

The intriguing production design, fluid cinematography and deftly chosen soundtrack pieces are undercut by blasts of tinnitus-aggravating hard noise and bad acting. That scene in the pod where it's heavily telegraphed that HAL-9000 is lip reading? They're not even trying to simulate an interactive conversation, that's just a pair of actors waiting to recite their lines.

The known laws of physics apparently only extend as far as the effects would allow, so the floating pen on board the shuttle at the film's beginning looks great (albeit massively showboated as a shot). Then a flight attendant walks in and the audience think 'so wait, why isn't she floating as well? Oh, I see. Grip Shoes™. Right.'*1. And there's full gravity on the moon, apparently. Not just on the base there, but also in the shuttle seen skimming over its surface. But hey, this film was released the year before Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle module, so obviously nobody knew about that then. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins rocked up with a load of housebricks in the boot, 'just in case'.

Naturally, we were lucky*2 enough to get the complete version of the film with the full orchestral overture, where nothing appears on-screen after the vintage BBFC card and the house-lights stay up for three minutes. Oh, and the intermission. Because how could an audience possibly be expected to sit for two and a half hours without a ten-minute break in the middle to stretch their legs, go to the toilet and sit in the foyer trying to work out what the first half had been about?

But even accounting for 2001 as an historical piece, the fact remains that it's wilfully obscure chin-stroking, like a sixth-former musing "but if I put in a bit with an old man and a baby, people will think it's cyclical and I won't have to write an ending". This is why we got Interstellar, isn't it? The emperor's new clothes have never looked so old.

Still, Kenneth Kendall and Leonard Rossiter turn up, so that's pretty cool.

Best line, from HAL-9000: "The 9000 Series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, fool-proof and incapable of error".

Mate, why would you even say that? I's like answering the door to the police with 'oh hello officer, are you here about the backpackers I definitely haven't killed?'.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Yep, Interstellar.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Oh probably, I mean you probably love it, right?


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you want annoy guest coming round your house to chill out and watch a movie, absolutely.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Yep.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Del Goren is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Grip shoes.
Not even joking, mate.
Welcome to the future. [ BACK ]

*2 Tested. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (third-pass)





Solo: A Star Wars Story (third-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer


Previous reviews: 1 | 2

This is your spoiler-break. It's the chunk of text at the top of the post which doesn't contain any spoilers, acting as a buffer for those of you who've clicked a spoiler-review by accident, or the various online platforms which pull through a bit of the article as a preview. I mean, there's enough bumph at the top of the post which means that shouldn't happen, but this should make sure.

This is your last chance to look away.

There are spoilers after the bump…

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Still here? Smashing.

Well, this is proving to be an odd film. I absolutely love Solo, let there be no doubt about that. I went in with a ton of baggage, but an open mind, not really knowing what to expect from this second anthology movie. The only real precedence for non-Saga Star Wars features we've had so far has been Rogue One. And while that did a lot of things its own way, that's obviously not an indication that any of the visual or thematic formatting would follow verbatim into Solo.

And so it proved. After the standard-issue 'A long time ago' card, Ron Howard's movie gets its own unique style and cuts a swath into the backstories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And the key word here is stories. Plural. Although this movie is named after just one character, screenwriters Jon and Lawrence Kasdan have used the good captain to hold the door open, giving the audience a glimpse into other tales just itching to be told. Because as much as I love Solo, upon a second-pass it feels like Han's story itself isn't inherently interesting.

There. I said it.

Now, I'll admit that I've still got 40 years' worth of Expanded Universe material rattling around in my head. And that's fine, there's room for both (for now, at least). But while I'm certainly not making direct comparisons between those books/comics and the new movie, what remains is that the story-foundations are reliably similar to what's come before. The two loosely dangling carrots throughout Solo's marketing campaign have been a) How did Han meet Chewie? and b) How did Han win the Falcon from Lando?

So as we see, Han met Chewie when he was thrown into a duelling-pit on Mimban. They escaped and decided to stick together. That's about it, really. The whole 'wookiee life-debt' thing is (so far) a little more fuzzy in the Story Group continuity, but if there's some defining moment where Chewbacca decides to throw in his lot with Han until the very end because of some undying gratitude, I don't think we see it in Solo. In one of the film's few 'quiet' moments, where the pair are having a conversation on the gantry of Beckett's stolen AT-Hauler, Han effectively bargains for Chewie to stick around. While the wookiee undoubtedly appreciates not having a coat full of mud, he's hardly pawing at the Corellian's ankles for a place in the gang.

Similarly, how did Han win the Falcon in a game of Sabacc? Well, he just won the Falcon in a game of Sabacc*1. And if I'm being entirely honest, the segment in which the ship is finally won feels both tacked on and slightly rushed. The film's first gambling sequence, in The Lodge on Vandor, is a perfectly solid way of introducing Lando Calrissian to the proceedings and his love for the Millennium Falcon. And while it's full credit to Kasdan and Kasdan for not feeling the need to try and explain Sabacc, the screen-time allocated to game itself is short and without fanfare - certainly not enough that the audience seriously expects Han to win the ship at that early point. So although the re-match at the end of the movie is both welcome and expected, it doesn't stand to reason that it's presented as even shorter than the previous round. The pacing feels almost like one of Marvel's after-credits scenes.

The hero pair-up and the card game are, or at least should be major plot-points in Solo. These 'key' events pretty much top-and-tail the film, so they're not exactly dragged out, but don't turn out to be particularly raucous bar-stories in the telling. Neither is presented with any real emotional build-up, and while the former should be the 'heart' of the movie with the latter being the triumphant finale, there's probably more depth in Lando and L3-37's relationship. Which brings me (eventually) to my rambling point...

Structurally, Solo is not a Star Wars film which will blow you away.

It's arguable that it was never really trying to be, of course. While the external production and internal timelines are separated, let's not forget that Solo lands only six months after the film where Luke Skywalker dies at the end. How do you top that? Would you want to?

And in a not-unrelated observation, the prequel trilogy struggled against a similar narrative setback - telling a compelling life-or-death story where the audience knows who's alive a few movies later. With Han, Chewie and Lando all having cinematic history on their side, it's left to the supporting players to carve out the drama. Rogue One achieves this admirably. We all knew the Rebels would get the plans to the Tantive IV, but the heroic death toll in that movie goes against cinematic type.

The Kasdans create a great series of scrapes for the young Han Solo, but there's little in this particular movie that'll throw new light on the original trilogy. Seasoned veterans of the Expanded Universe were probably expecting the end-credits to see the Corellian's youthful exuberance crushed, no doubt with his heart broken by Qi'ra, and the cynic we know from A New Hope arriving kicking and screaming into the galaxy at large. But that's not where we are. Sure, he's learned a few lessons (hopefully), but Solo definitely feels like the opening chapter in a longer story. And while this younger hero's adventures will no doubt be continued across various media, this raises the question - do we want an anthology-sequel? Or more to the point, do Lucasfilm want to make an anthology-sequel?

Personally I'd rather they didn't, but that's only because I'm a structural traditionalist. The rumour-de-jour about a Boba Fett movie could fit the bill nicely, expanding the criminal underworld of the GFFA while keeping Han and Chewie as supporting characters, rather than in the spotlight. But since the Hollywood Reporter article at the heart of all this provides no actual citation for its claims, let's not get too carried away with wish-listery just yet.

Don't get me wrong though, with regards to the worlds, characters and organisations we meet here - and especially the film's final holographic conversation - I definitely want more of that. I'm just not convinced it's a thread which needs Han Solo attached…


So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Yes.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, all.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's one bit where I think there might be a cut-off Wilhelm (which was the case for Rogue One, but at this point I'm still not sure…


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo stars Emilia Clarke, who performed voice-work on the Futurama episode 'Stench and Stenchability', as did Phil LaMarr, who was a vocal participant in The Emoji Movie along with Matthew Wood, who also worked on Smurfs: The Lost Village with Dee Bradley Baker, whose dulcet tones can be heard in Postman Pat: The Movie, as can those of David Tennant, who starred in the 2013 TV series Spies Of Warsaw along with Julian Glover, who has 'previous' on that Game Of Thrones, alongside... Emilia Clarke.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And hello to The Inquisitor, Jason Isaacs. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (second-pass)





Solo: A Star Wars Story (second-pass / 2D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer


Previous reviews: 1

As is so often the case, a second-pass of a new Star Wars film is what's needed to lend a little more clarity to the proceedings, especially when the pacing is as frenetic as Ron Howard's Solo. And once the story's larger events are comfortably filed away, the web of sub-plots can be more properly digested. And while I'll go into this further with my next review, Solo is a movie of sub-plots. Not so much one big idea, but lots of smaller ones. It's the cinematic equivalent of one of the Star Wars novels, full of supplementary information, yet still teasing that there's more to be uncovered.

And this itself is a task which could take quite some time, on a visual level at least. Solo is dense with 'stuff', from background characters to props and scenery. Nothing is there by accident, and much of it means more than just its superficial presence. But Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young has thrown an extra challenge into the mix, with many of the locales being absolutely thick with grime or dust, and anything other than the pleasure yacht and the film's final planet being presented in low-lighting conditions. Having first seen Solo in 3D, notorious for its light-loss, it was surprising to note that there's not actually too much difference once the glasses are off (although it is still clearer).

But what's more interesting is watching Howard's focus shifting gears from scene to scene. While it's not yet known how much of the final film was shot under the auspices of Lord and Miller, word on the street indicates that Ron's reshoots were 'extensive'. And yet, there's still a marked unevenness in tone throughout film, as Howard clearly has more enthusiasm for the film's action setpieces over the dialogue-driven scenes. But speaking of 'driven', it's the race-and-chase sequences where the director of F1 biopic Rush and 1977's Grand Theft Auto really shines. Flaring afterburners stand in for squealing tyres, and you can feel Howard's yearning for speed as a variety of vehicles show what they've got when a decent pilot is at the controls.

The majority of moviegoers would probably tell you they never want to see another cinematic pod-race as long as they live. I'm wondering why the hell we didn't get one in here.

But despite my tonal grumblings here, Solo is still an incredibly solid Star Wars film, and continues to intrigue and excite. But this will be the last time I can write about it without wading into spoiler-territory…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Yes.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, all.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time, and future Star Wars projects, will tell.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Y'know what, I'm starting to think there's not and that Matthew Wood's only gone and bloody done it..


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo stars Alden Ehrenreich, who was in 2016's Hail, Caesar! along with Clancy Brown, who has provided various bits of voicework on Phineas and Ferb, alongside one of the show's lead performers, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who appeared in 2011's Death of a Superhero with Andy Serkis, who starred in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which also featured Ralph Ineson, who was in 2012's Great Expectations alongside Sally Hawkins, who rocked up in Blue Jasmine with... Alden Ehrenreich.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…




DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (first-pass)





Solo: A Star Wars Story (first-pass / 3D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer



Much like another film recently, as I sat through the ads and trailers aimed at people who come out to the cinema at midnight, it occurred to me that after the BBFC card had shown the film title and rating, I actually had no idea how Solo was going to open. As an 'anthology' film, the Star Wars rulebook is more flexible, as Rogue One demonstrated. The card came and went, the feature began. And no spoilers, but I started smiling and pretty much didn't stop for the next two and a quarter hours.

I had no solid expectations or demands for the new movie; I rarely do for any of them. As long as it 'feels' like Star Wars. Solo did not disappoint.

On a tonal-level, Ron Howard's film dovetails with the Galaxy Far, Far Away pretty seamlessly. There's a distinct 'Disney-era' feel to the production as a whole, but there's a level of Original Trilogy dirt and grime which we haven't seen… perhaps ever. Rogue One had its fair share of course but in Solo, the audience's concern for hand-washing facilities is almost constant.

Alden Ehrenreich more than holds his own in the title role, but there's still a sizeable gap between his and the young Harrison Ford's performances. In some scenes Alden has it note-perfect, a nod or a flinch taking us right back to 1977; but for the most part, the audience are going to have to meet him half way. Then again, a little resistance is only to be expected, since this is the first time anyone other than the iconic Ford has portrayed the smuggler on-screen. Donald Glover has a slightly easier ride as the galaxy's biggest smoothie, Lando Calrissian, threatening to steal each scene he's in until Ron Howard reins him back in (he's still great). Joonas Suotamo's Chewbacca is as fantastic as we've seen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 may be the most relatable Star Wars droid to-date.

Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany's new characters are… well, not a mixed-bag exactly - the characters themselves fit into the Star Wars universe well enough - but it's a slightly jarring feeling seeing such familiar and long-established performers in such central roles. We'll see how they bed-in with further viewings.

On a broader story-level, this is a veritable treasure trove of cross-referencing, as you'd expect. Not only are there strong character-ties to the OT-era, but also to the wider Star Wars movie timeline and the canon across other media (fans of the animated TV shows will grin widely at several points). But these nods are, for the most part, woven in subtly enough that they shouldn't clang too loudly for the audience members not picking them right up. And for those of us who've paid their dues in the 'Legends' continuity, there are also a handful of Easter eggs thrown in there, too. But again, they rarely feel like fan-service (even though they almost certainly are). Some of the traditions of Star Wars film-making are upheld, some aren't, and some can't really be. It's all good.

Given the troubled production of Solo (namely the switchover from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Ron Howard), it's a surprisingly even affair. What's more, there's probably slightly less humour in there than you'd expect, given Han and Chewie's previous penchant for bickering. There are smiles to be had and a few wisecracks thrown over the top, but for the most part this is a case of 'faster, more intense'.

While I don't imagine this latest anthology-installment will be anywhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi, there will undoubtedly be those who feel a little cooler toward it. The film probably won't blow you away, but you'll feel at home in the galaxy from the very first scene. While Lucasfilm seem determined to keep mining the OT-era for content, this doesn't feel like it's been made to appease the fanboys. Yet at the same time, it's a Star Wars film which exists solely to be A Star Wars Film, and really isn't too concerned about winning over the undecided. While Solo obviously isn't as frantic as Rogue One, they share a lot of DNA in terms of 'ambiguous-expendability'.

Speaking of which, do try and see this before any spoilers come flying your way. Obviously the Corellian, the Wookiee and the gambler make it out alive, but the rest is a ride best enjoyed without knowing where the tracks lead, and where you're never sure what's going to lurch out of Hyperspace next.

My SOP since 2005 has been to walk out of a new Star Wars film half-excited, half puzzled, as my brain tries to piece everything together. The early hours of this morning were no exception. But I didn't see anything I disliked in Solo, and I know for a fact that my love-affair with this film begins here.

Well played, Mr Howard, well played.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Yes.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, all.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell, let's not commit to that just yet.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Disagree? Unlikely. But I will talk your ears off about it anyway.
(as anyone who's ever been in a pub with me and mentioned Star Wars will attest to)
.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one on first-pass, but that's not unusual. And if Matthew Wood is good to his word, there may not be (although he's got previous form for talking about retiring the effect, and he hasn't up until now).


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo was directed by Mr Ron Howard, who starred in 1977's Grand Theft Auto alongside Clint Howard, the man who put in an appearance in Leprechaun 2 with Warwick Davis, who was in the Comic Relief British Airways Safety Video reel with Thandie Newton, who appears in the upcoming The Life And Death Of John F. Donovan, as does Jo Wheatley, who was in Now You See Me 2 which starred Woody Harrelson, who also cropped up in 1999's Edtv which was directed by... Ron Howard*1.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Obviously.


*1 Yeah, the long-links are back, bitches! I've done them all in advance this time, like an actual writer would. They take a while. And be warned, I've done a dozen of them which basically means I have to watch Solo at the cinema twelve times, otherwise I'll have wasted my time. Also, this first one is my favourite for reasons which should become clear when you look at Solo's IMDB page[ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.