What We Learned This Week: May 13-26

LESSON #1: ARGUE WITH A LEG TO STAND ON— Call it an occupational hazard built by years of fandom, research, and practice, but I tell myself everyday (maybe not to a Stuart Smalley level, but close) that I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders and a better-than-decent eye for the good, bad, great, and ugly when it comes to just about anything movie-related.  That passion gets me in plenty of debates online and across social media on any range of topics (masterpieces vs. classics, best vs. favorite, etc).  Wearing the critic badge on top of that knowledge, I get labeled arrogant and full of hubris.  To me, it’s not hubris when the stances are educated and supported with substance.  I’ve done my homework and I’ve come prepared or I wouldn’t be debating in the first place.  I can’t say the same thing for many other people on the other side of debates.  The language of this lesson is a plea that if you’re going to present an argument or stance, be able to back it up.  The substance of your stance has to be stronger than wimpy likes and dislikes.  The trolls and whiners I meet don’t have that integrity.  For example, see an actor or director’s filmography before making any declarations for or against them in any point of comparison.  Even more egregious, see the actual film you’re debating and labeling before laying judgment.  Bring more to the table than thin personal preferences and clickbait hearsay.  Bring a little more objectivity beyond the surface-level subjectivity.

LESSON #2: MAKE CHARACTERIZATIONS THAT FIT STORYLINES— As if irascible and irrational Star Wars fans had to find more things to hate, pockets of new semi-protests started up this week before the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story when Lando Calrissian actor Donald Glover and screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan declared the character to be pansexual.  There are many angles to consider here from this left-field turn.  Increased LGBTQ+ representation is always a welcome thing in these modern and more progressive times and, secondly, writers/actors are allowed their interpretation of characters they play.  However, reflect on making such a label or change purposeful and not a measure of tokenism.  Consider the fit and don’t shoehorn in LGBTQ+ characters for the sake of doing so without actually having the story to do so.  This one feels like tokenism and a hollow attempt at praise.  That said, this, whether for or against, is not a reason to protest a film or abandon a beloved character.

LESSON #3: KNOWN FATES TAKE AWAY FROM THE SUSPENSE— I have to reprint this irrefutable dilemma from my Solo: A Star Wars Story review from Every Movie Has a Lesson.  This goes for every prequel in existence.  Because the audience knows certain characters have documented futures, there is a perceptible, if not even enormous, storytelling loss in the peril department.  The edge of one’s seat becomes a little more relaxed and more than a bit farther away.  In Solo, no matter what happens to Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the Millennium Falcon, they’re going to be fine.  In equal measure, since a large majority of the side characters present in Solo are never mentioned in the films later down the timeline, you might as well put a red shirt of Star Trek doom on each of them.  Foregone conclusions like that are not spoiler alerts.  Those are plain facts. Ignoring this conundrum is pure gullibility.  The common rewind counterargument is “well, it’s about the journey… blah, blah, blah.”  Sure, but then the impact of said journey better be damn important or move us to pieces.  As hellaciously fun as it is at times, Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing a certain level of that compelling juice.

LESSON #4: JAMES MANGOLD AND BOUNTY HUNTERS ARE A GOOD POTENTIAL FIT— In surprise news on the night of Solo‘s debut, another anthology/prequel backstory was announced by the Mouse House.  Logan, Cop Land, and Walk the Line director James Mangold has been tapped to helm a Boba Fett origin film.  While that film will have the same predicament as Lesson #3, Boba Fett is at least a character with more intriguing mystery and depth to solve than Han Solo, arguably the most iconic character of the whole franchise.  That’s exactly the kind of cult status character that deserves these kinds of standalone film attempts, and, gosh, what a hire.  Just imagine a talent like Mangold crafting a grizzled, borderline space western of a relentless pursuer stalking his prey and taking down all comers who cross his path.  Grow that legend!  Along the same lines, my fingers are crossed that Donald Glover, who steals every scene he’s in from Solo, gets his own film after the inevitable box office success.

LESSON #5: PRE-SCREENINGS CAN DO THEIR JOB IN CATCHING QUESTIONABLE CONTENT BEFORE IT PLAYS TO ALL AUDIENCES— Kudos to the parents who made a stink about some questionable scenes in the upcoming family-marketed film Show Dogs.  You can read the details here here about some testicular inspection scenes (which true to real dog shows or not) that hit a little too close to predatory sexual grooming allusions if the roles were people instead of dogs voiced by people.  The studio is doing the right thing and editing out the poor choices before the theatrical release.  This goes to show that some studios have the wherewithal to seek the right approvals before releasing something willy-nilly.  Sure, scenes like those shouldn’t have made it past the script editor, but it counts as better late than never to not just make the changes, but listen to the paying customers in the first place.
LESSON #6: SOME PULLED PLUGS ARE WHOLLY DESERVED— Speaking of paying attention and judging the landscape, Paramount Pictures dropped the seventh Transformers film from its release schedule.  The off-shoot Bumblebee film is still coming this December, but maybe this long road of Michael Bay trash is finally done.  You can only beat dead horses so long.  Can Disney borrow the same logic soon with Pirates of the Caribbean.  Just as the cited article suggests, this joy might be short-lived (but it is joy nonetheless).  The word “reboot” is being thrown around because once any studio makes several billion dollars, they’re going to want to try and make it happen again.  There are always more horses to flog on the big studio lots.

LESSON #7: THE MIGHTY FALL THE HARDEST— Lastly, I was as shocked as the next person by the CNN report of extensive and multiple inappropriate harassment allegations against Oscar-winning A-lister and overall beloved figure Morgan Freeman.  He is easily the biggest name to be burned since Kevin Spacey. As with each of these stories that have come to light over the course of the last year (and often stated in this column), no matter who it is, my first reactions are patience and sadness long before anger and judgment.  First and foremost, I, for one, refuse to label a man guilty or otherwise on rumors alone until accusations are proven or disproven.  I choose to wait.  Each person deserves their chance to defend themselves, seek the proper contrition, or both.  Until then, disappointment fills me more than anger.  I respect the works of these people too much to ever “ban” or “boycott” their careers and erase them from the proverbial record books.  I just don’t think that’s right.  They existed, their work remains, and it mattered.  It may lose some level of respect considering the circumstances, but it’s never reduced to zero for me.  My policy has always been to separate the person and the performance.  I still watch Kevin Spacey movies and I will still watch Morgan Freeman ones too, only now the impact is softened to a degree.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.