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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FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?