FlixChatter Review – SOLO: A Star Wars story

Another year, another Star Wars movie. Now that Disney owns pretty much everything, it’s to be expected that they’re going to milk the lucrative SW and Marvel franchise for all its worth. Honestly I haven’t been following much about all the behind-the-scene dramas, apart from the fact that the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired after several months of production. They still get producing credit but ultimately it’s Ron Howard who gets directing credit as he was brought in for reshoots and finish the movie.

As a casual SW fan, I have enjoyed the newer movies (The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi). So after seeing this one, my favorite is still The Last Jedi, but I really quite enjoyed SOLO. The movie opens with the traditional “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” line and we learn that the galaxy is in disarray, ruled by organized crime syndicates competing for the valuable hyperfuel known as Coaxium. On planet Cornellia, Young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to escape planet Cornellia for good and we’re treated a pretty thrilling chase scene. Soon we learn how our titular hero gets his name, in a scene that’s treated rather nonchalantly to make any real impact.

The rest of the movie takes place three years later on another planet. Han (sans Qi’ra) encounters a gang of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrleson) and his cohorts Val (Thandie Newton) and a four-armed alien Rio (Jon Favreau). Soon we learn how Han first meet his hairy BFF Chewbacca. Not quite a meet cute but a hilarious and fun intro to the most famous bromance in the galaxy. I have to say the relationship between Han and Chewy lends to a lot of favorite parts of the movie. There’s such a rush of nostalgia the first time Han and Chewy are on the cockpit together.

Everyone pretty much already loves Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian even from the trailer and he delivers! Glover is an effortlessly charismatic actor, but he also didn’t overshadow Alden and the movie is still about Han’s journey. I do enjoy the banters and rivalry between the two, especially involving their most prized possession the Millennium Falcon. Lando’s droid ‘friend’ L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is quite the scene stealer. A feminist, sarcastic robot with a mind of her own, she’s definitely light years away from the cute and submissive droids we’ve seen in the galaxy. There is one particularly hilarious moment between her and Qi’ra that got the whole theater laughing.

Now, how about Alden as Han? There are reports an acting coach had to be brought in to help his performance. Well, I don’t know if swagger is something you can teach, but I certainly think Alden’s got enough charisma and that devil-may-care smugness you expect from the role. I know he’s got comedic chops from what I’ve seen in Hail, Caesar! but I think he’s versatile enough to be an action star. I think it’s unfair to expect him to behave exactly like Harrison Ford as he’s not yet the Han we saw in A New Hope. There is a moment in the movie where I’m like, ‘yeah I can see how he becomes the sexy scoundrel we know and love.’ I’m glad Alden made the role his own instead of just an imitating Ford verbatim. I also like the fact that the movie gives just enough background story on Han without overwhelming us with details.

The supporting cast are pretty good too. Harrelson is always a fun actor to watch and he’s got that unpredictability the role requires. I haven’t seen Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones, but I can see why she’s cast here. She may seem like a sweet, demure girl at first but there’s also whole darker side of her. Unfortunately the romance between her and Han isn’t particularly memorable here, I mean it’s serviceable at best, not even half as interesting as Han’s relationship with Chewy or Lando. Paul Bettany is suddenly everywhere (like Josh Brolin!) as he was also in Avengers Infinity War, here he plays crime lord Dryden Vos (some cape action going on here as well) who has a history with Beckett. I quite like Rio too, and I wish he had more screen time in the movie.

Overall I had a blast with this movie. It’s a proper space adventure, you can even call it a space heist flick. I enjoyed the high-octane action scenes, specifically the chase scene in Falcon. It’s fun and nostalgic. Howard may not be Hollywood’s go-to action director but I remember enjoying the car scenes in Rush, and I think he did a great job here balancing the action and humor. The story might be on the light side and lacking the profound emotional moments like in The Last Jedi, but I think it fits well in the SW universe.


Well, what do you think of SOLO: A Star Wars Story?

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Everybody’s Chattin + Trailers Spotlight: Jeff Nichols’ LOVING + Warren Beatty’s ‘Rules Don’t Apply’

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Happy almost Friday everyone! It’s been quite a busy week for me, in and out of work, so I’m glad the weekend is just around the corner!! I’m going to see Captain Fantastic tonight so very excited for that.

Ok, about those links…

Keith posted his Blindspot review on A Man Escaped

Dell posted his thoughts on Steve Jobs movie

Meanwhile, Courtney argued that Swiss Army Man might be the most uplifting movie yet

I love birthday tributes and Margaret just posted a massive one on the legendary Harrison Ford

Steven posted a review one of my brothers’ favorites, Smokey and the Bandit

Well, we can’t agree on everything but that’s what makes blogging fun, right? Eddie reviewed Midnight Special and Jordan reviewed Sing Street, they feel quite differently than I did about each movie.


Trailers Spotlight

This week I’m highlighting two movies that deal with forbidden romance, relationships that break the rules of sort, though both are set in very different circumstances. Whether it’s society’s rules of the time or rules mandated by strict employers, the couples in these films face challenges to stay together. Both films are released in November.

LOVING

Release: November 4, 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton

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Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

Check out the brand new trailer:

“I know we have some enemies. But we have some friends too.”
– Mildred Loving

This beautifully-shot film is poised to be a real tearjerker. I love Nichols’ work, as well as Joel Edgerton and Nichols’ muse Michael Shannon. But it’s Ruth Negga‘s performance I’m most looking forward to seeing. I cried just watching this trailer, it’s certainly a timely film, especially in light of recent events in my state as well as in Texas. As a non-White person who have many friends who married people outside of their own race, this is certainly a topic I’m intrigued by. In fact, before I met my hubby who shares my Southeast Asian heritage, back in college I’ve gone on dates with a Latino, as well as Caucasian guys. I remember feeling a bit uneasy walking or dining with my White boyfriend in the small town I lived in, as some older people would stare. I don’t think they meant any harm though, so I can’t imagine what the Loving couple had to go through endure living in 1950s America!

Director Jeff Nichols was able to tell the story of the Loving family as accurately as possible by relying on Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story (2011), which captured many details of their private lives: “We had this beautiful documentary footage unearthed from the mid-’60s where we got to go into their home and see them and watch them,” Nichols said. “It’s an unusual thing to have access to.” (per IMDb)

RULES DON’T APPLY

Release: November 23, 2016
Produced and Directed by: Warren Beatty
Screenplay by Warren Beatty; Story by Warren Beatty and Bo Goldman
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Haley Bennett, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Lily Collins, Steve Coogan, Alden Ehrenreich, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt and Martin Sheen
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An aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire (Warren Beatty), who they work for.

It’s Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress.

This one seems to have a similar comedic vibe as Hail, Caesar!, and hey, the new Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich is in this, too. Hopefully this one will be a better movie though. It’s also got has an amazing cast, interesting to see Bening & Beatty working together again (after Bugsy & Love Affair in the 90s), haven’t seen either one of them in ages. I haven’t seen Matthew Broderick in a long time either, he looks pretty funny here.

Apparently Warren Beatty first pitched a Howard Hughes biopic as early as 1973. He continually tried to get a film involving Hughes off the ground every year or two since then. One can say it’s a film 40 years in the making. (per IMDb)


What do you think of either of these trailers?

Double Reviews: Trumbo (2015) & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I generally love movies about making movies. Yes it’s like Hollywood taking a giant selfie and we all know there are no shortage of narcissists in the business. Nevertheless I enjoy watching movies about the tales of how a picture got made, especially set in the Golden Age of Hollywood where the behind-the-scenes drama is likely more intriguing than what’s on screen.

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These two films take place in a similar era and boast quite an ensemble cast. One is based on a true story and the other is a work of fiction that feels true, so I thought these two would make a perfect double review.

TRUMBO

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I was familiar with Dalton Trumbo’s story for some time but I never knew the details. As a huge fan of Roman Holiday, I knew he’s a great screen writer, but it turns out he was the best in the biz. At one point he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood and well-respected by studios and peers alike. The film started out in the late 40s with Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) at the height of his career, but then his life took a downward spiral when he’s subpoenaed for being a Communist, accused of using the movies to corrupt democracy and overthrow the nation. He’s later sentenced to a year in federal prison and the scenes of him being humiliated in prison is really quite heartbreaking.

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But what’s even worse than the jail sentence is that Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 writers were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, and not only that, they were kicked out of the Screen Writers Guild as well, which they themselves helped built. Now, I don’t think the film is all that political, it’s more focused on the character of this extraordinary talented man and his journey in Hollywood. But he’s also not perfect, obviously he’s an eccentric man who spent most of his writing in the bath tub and he practically ignored his family unless he needs help with delivering a script discreetly to the studios. The film is quite fascinating and kept my interest throughout, all the quirks of Trumbo and his friends & foes are played wonderfully by a great ensemble of actors.

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My faves are Louis C.K. as screenwriter & Trumbo’s BFF Arlen Hird, John Goodman as a B-movie studio honcho, both had some of the funniest scenes. Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas and German actor Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger are also pretty memorable here and O’Gorman whom I knew from playing the Fili in the Hobbit movies, had a surprisingly canny resemblance to Mr. Douglas.

I love Helen Mirren in general but here I didn’t think her performance was all that great, to be honest she made a better impression in the Hitchcock film which is of similar genre. Diane Lane is quite good as Trumbo’s wife though she’s not on screen that much, as was in that era, it’s the male cast that really got to shine in this film. In any case, the real star here is Cranston and I’m not surprised he’s nominated for an Oscar. I think his performance carried the film and made it worthwhile. It’s incredible how he captured the voice and mannerism of the real life Trumbo, but more than than, I think he captured his genius as well as his eccentric personality.

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Despite the serious subject matter, the film’s tone is pretty light and fun. There were dark moments to be sure, but director Jay Roach made sure it never lasted for too long. I don’t think it undermines the story however, especially the speech at the end that made you really reflect on the whole ordeal Trumbo and his friends went through. For a film about the greatest screenwriters, the script by John McNamara (based on a book by Bruce Cook) was thankfully quite sharp. The costumes, set pieces, cinematography, and especially the performances, really brought the story to life and made me appreciate Trumbo, and screenwriters in general, even more than I already do.

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Hail, Caesar!

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Now, when the trailer first dropped, I must’ve watched it half a dozen times in one day. It’s a satire of Hollywood big studios and their big stars, told in a day-in-the-life format of a Hollywood fixer called Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is a fixer who works for Capitol Pictures in the 50s, he’s the man tasked with cleaning up after the biggest names in the industry. Ruthless though he may be, Mannix is a tormented person, so ravaged by guilt that he goes to confession more often that the priest himself care to hear. The movie pretty much picked up when the studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set of one of a huge epic movie modeled after Ben-Hur (it even had the same tagline, A Tale of the Christ). Now, the set up promises a lot of intrigue and hilarity but in the end it only partly delivered.
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There are some genuinely hysterical moments, especially the exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (as an Laurence Olivier-type director) in a film set which had me in stitches. Despite being the least known actor in the cast, Ehrenreich actually had a pretty big part in the movie and he acquitted himself well here. Heck, I think he’s better than Clooney as I actually believed him as the character, instead of just an movie star basically just playing a variation of himself. Whitlock seems like a caricature instead of a real person. I’m not sure whether or not it’s because of Clooney’s own stature and star-wattage or the way the script played out. The plot about Whitlock’s kidnapping would likely amuse (or irate) the real Dalton Trumbo, though the twist played out like something out of an SNL skit.

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Brolin’s Mannix is the most-developed character in this movie and the only one with a real arc. Thankfully Brolin was good in the role and made me care for his plight, but the rest of the ensemble cast filled with the ‘who’s who of current Hollywood establishment’ wasn’t given much to do. I feel like the fun moments peppered throughout just didn’t quite gel as a cohesive film. Many characters came and went without leaving any mark, and SO many actors were underutilized, even Tilda Swinton who played a dual role. Jonah Hill is basically in a blink-and-you-missed-him role, he’s only on screen as much as he was in the trailer. Those who love Channing Tatum‘s dancing will be pleased with him here, but the musical numbers here don’t make much of an impression to me. Now, the Coens’ regular Frances McDormand‘s part is basically a cameo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable scenes.

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In the end the film seems too random and frivolous, and despite those hilarious moments, ultimately it’s a rather forgettable affair . Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a big disappointment as I’m actually not a huge Coens fan if I’m honest. I actually think this could be one of their most accessible films, and the light tone made it pretty enjoyable, it just lacks the gravitas one expect from the talents involved. The ending also felt anticlimactic to me, and the emotional connection is lacking overall. On a technical level, the film is gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ masterful craft, and the retro costumes are nice to look at. If you’re a big Coens fan, this one is still well worth a rent, just don’t expect this to be another one of their classic hits.

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So, have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

New Releases Reviews: A Good Day to Die Hard and Beautiful Creatures

Happy President’s Day! I’m blessed that I get a day off today, woo hoo. Nobody likes Mondays so it’s always nice to get Monday off 😀

I’ll reserve my weekend roundup until tomorrow, but instead I’ve got a couple of new release movies for you. Perhaps those of you who get today off are considering to see either one of these. Are they worth a watch? Well, read on.

A Good Day to Die Hard

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Well, where do I start? If only the studio and everyone involved take the film’s title to heart and put a bullet right in its head and kill this franchise once and for all!

I’m actually a big fan of the Die Hard franchise mind you, Bruce Willis is always fun to watch as the reluctant action hero. The first three Die Hard are fun to watch, and I even like the fourth one (despite the silly Justin Long casting) and the internet-terrorism theme was quite timely. Now this time, our wisecrackin’ John McClane travels to Russia on a mission to save his estranged son. John hasn’t even made it to his hotel yet from the airport and he soon gets caught in a building explosion and shoot out. It turns out the rebellious Jack McClane is a CIA operative who’s on a mission to prevent a nuclear-weapon heist from happening. The plot involving a high-ranking Russian politician Viktor and a government whistle-blower Yuri (I’m surprised neither one is named Ivan!) is really stretched thin, as the movie is far more concerned with explosions and shoot-em-ups.

You know how young boys like to crash their match cars and destroy things? Well I feel like watching an 8-year-old boy playing with his toys here, except that the boy here (director John Moore) was given close to $100 mil worth of playthings to smash as he pleased. Within the first twenty minutes there’s a huge explosion, guns blazing like there’s no tomorrow, followed by a relentless car chase that never seem to end. I haven’t seen sooo many cars being smashed, crushed, mangled so much so quickly. At first I was laughing at its inherent preposterous-ness but the amusement doesn’t last long. All the deafening clanging and bullets wheezing grow more and more tedious by the minute and I’m afraid not even Bruce Willis self-satisfied smirk can’t save this movie.

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It certainly doesn’t help that Jai Courtney has zero charisma and the father/son dynamic between him and Willis are ridiculously lame. Forget ‘under developed,’ as the screenwriter never even bothered to make any effort to imbue any sense of wit or fun in their dialog. Willis’ usually amusing wisecracks are frustratingly repetitive as he keeps saying over and over again that he’s on vacation. It’s just so stupid as John wasn’t really on vacation as the reason he went to Moscow was to get his son back. Even his famous ‘yippikayay’ line was so uninspired and was delivered kind of under his breath that some people around me didn’t even realize he even said it. Poor Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely wasted as McClane’s daughter, but did she even read the script??

Now, I have to give it to Willis that at the age of 57 he still looks good enough to run around, jump, leap from tall buildings and blazing semi-automatic weapons at bad guys. But it’s getting to be a bore to see him playing himself over and over again. I can’t even tell the difference between his role here and in RED, yet another action franchise that’s fun initially but will likely overstay its welcome.

I get it that a certain ‘suspension of disbelief’ and escapism is to be expected from a Die Hard movie, but I think this one fly waaay past my tolerable threshold. Seriously, the McClane duo are apparently made of rubber as no matter how far down they fall or how hard they smash into things, they both manage to come out unscathed with not even a twisted ankle!!

Director John Moore hasn’t directed anything since 2008, which was the equally dreadful Max Payne (funny that they both got 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I sure hope he takes a much, much longer directing hiatus after this one for all our sakes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this tired franchise as it once again tops box office! 😦

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Beautiful Creatures

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When I first saw the trailer of this film, the first thing that came to my mind is ‘oh not another Twilight!!’ Here’s another supernatural teen romance based on a popular young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and of course they’re trying to capitalize on the Valentine’s Day weekend to suck lure young audiences in.

Instead of a rainy small town on the West Coast, this time we’re taken to a small town in South Carolina called Gatlin where there are “twelve churches, one library and no Starbucks.” That’s what narrator Ethan Wate tells us as the film opens. Ethan is a 16-year-old cool kid who likes to read ‘banned books’ and he’s been having a recurring dream that torments him. Suddenly there’s a new schoolgirl in town, a gloomy 15-year-old Lena Duchannes, known as the niece of the reclusive Macon Ravenwood whose family line been living in that town for centuries. Ethan immediately takes a shine to the new girl who reminds her of the girl in his dreams, and soon learns that she’s a witch, or ‘Caster’ as her family prefers to call it. Well everyone in school finds out who she was the day she uses magic to shatter the glass window of their classroom when she was bullied. It turns out that the reason for Lena’s angst (beyond the typical teen angst that is), is that on her sixteenth birthday, she will be claimed for either Light or Dark. The whole film largely focuses on how Ethan could save Lena from going Dark and also figure out how he is connected to her.

Good thing I read Wikipedia before I went to the screening, so at least I know just who the heck are Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson playing in this movie, as those two are the main draw for me in seeing this. Well, Irons plays the debonair-looking Macon whilst Thompson was in scenery-chewing mood the entire time — complete with her amusing Southern accent — as Serafine, Lena’s mother who’s an all-powerful Caster but takes the form of Mrs. Lincoln, the mother of Ethan’s BFF. Viola Davis also has a small but important part as Ethan’s governess of sort who’s a seer who can communicate with the dead. Emmy Rossum on the other hand, seemed to have too much fun with her role as the rebellious Ridley, Lena’s cousin who’s turned Dark for some time, that she overacted in most of her scenes.

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Now, I find the whole black magic stuff quite repulsive, not to mention baffling as so many things just don’t add up. Not having read the books, I’m willing to wager that there are perhaps more depth in them than what’s depicted on film. But that’s just speculation, I’m not that interested in this story to ever find that out. Thankfully, the movie is not devoid of some wit and humor, albeit some of them are quite campy. Director Richard LaGravenese (who also co-wrote the script) infuse some comical aspects into the characters and there are some references to some famous works like To Kill A Mockingbird that I find quite amusing. Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan is actually quite likable and nowhere near as morose or vapid as any of the Twilight boys, though he also likes to stare creepily at the girl he fancies quite a bit (is that what teenagers do these days?? I wouldn’t know). Australian Alice Englert (apparently she’s director Jane Campion’s daughter) could’ve been more captivating as Lena, but at least she doesn’t annoy the heck out of me.

Though I enjoy some of the performances and the beautiful Gothic set pieces and cinematography (the snow scene is quite lovely), I feel that the word I use to describe this movie is laborious. The long drawn-out exposition threatens to grind the movie to a halt by over-explaining things instead of focusing on crafting a love story worth caring for. The young actors have decent chemistry, but their relationship descend too much into melodrama and insipid melancholy. I think the more mature actors are having more fun in this, especially Emma and Emmy, relishing on the chance of being oh so evil.

Overall, I don’t find this adaptation would appeal much to those outside of the young adult demographic. There is a good message of sacrificial love at the end of the film, which I thought is quite refreshing to see. But unfortunately it was soon dampened by an eye-roll inducing cliffhanger finale set up for an inevitable sequel. Heh, I guess it’s too much to ask these days to just have one good movie, but no, the studio seems set to give us (I’m going to use the dreadful words again) sequels that overstay its welcome [sigh]

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Have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?