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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Our casting picks for Robert Ludlum’s ‘The Parsifal Mosaic’ Film Adaptation

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The recent news that one of Robert Ludlum‘s novels is getting a big screen treatment got me curious and excited. Ludlum is best known by movie goers for his Bourne series, which was one of the most successful spy franchise in Hollywood.

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It’s one of Ludlum’s better books and also with big name talents behind the scenes, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are producing while Chinese film director Yimou Zhang will be in charge of bringing the book to life; I do hope we get to see a great spy/action thriller without the names James Bond or Jason Bourne attached to it. Also, this will be Zhang’s first American-produced film, I wonder if he can handle the pressure of producing a tent pole type of picture without losing his artistic integrity. I know many foreign born film directors just couldn’t handle the work environment in the Hollywood system.

For this post I’m just going to gloss over the plot of the book, pretty sure it won’t be a direct adaption since the book came out in the early 80s and dealt with the current political climate at the time. I’ll also give my thoughts on who should be cast the main leads and how they can make the story more relevant to our current events. I read the book in college so it’s been a while, I’ll just go over the main storyline since I don’t remember much of it and don’t worry I won’t give out any spoilers, the book has lots plot twists.

The book starts out with an intelligence officer named Michael Havelock witnessing the execution of his partner and lover Jenna Karas in Costa Brava, Spain. Havelock works for the US black ops division called “Consular Ops”, think of the group as the IMF from the Mission: Impossible films or MI:6 in the James Bond flicks. Karas has been marked for execution because she’s apparently a KGB double spy. After witnessing this tragic event, he left the intelligence world and trying to find her killers and seek revenge. He traveled all over Europe and while in Rome, he met up with a top director of the KGB named Pyotr Rostov. Havelock wanted to know why the KGB decided to execute Karas but Rostov denied that she’s even an agent of the KGB. Later he saw Karas at a train station alive and well, but when she saw him, she looks frighten and flees before he can get close to her. He pursues her but she’s nowhere to be found. Now confused and angry, he decided to reach out to his intelligence colleagues so he can find her. While on this search for his lover, he got involved in some political conspiracies, which involves assassinations, shoot outs and everything you’d expect from a spy novel.

ZhangYimou_ParsifalMosaicThe book’s storyline is obviously out of date since it dealt with the cold war of the early 80s. So I’m curious to know how they’re going adapt it into a film that would fit into our current world events. Comparing to other of Ludlum’s books, this one was more a of suspense/romance/thriller than the other books he wrote, most of them were straight up action/adventure. As mentioned earlier, this will probably be Zhang’s first Hollywood film and I think he can incorporate his talents into this movie. He’s done a lot of dramas but also he can do action scenes. Although I don’t recall the book contains any huge action scenes like the Bourne series, but I’m sure the screenwriter will come up with something. After all I’m assuming this will be a $100 mil+ action summer flick. I do hope they make into something different than another James Bond or Jason Bourne rip off, like I said the book was more of a romance and suspense than straight up action thriller.

Casting wise, I would love to see they cast Richard Armitage as Haverlock, if you’ve seen the show MI: 5 or Spooks then you know he’ll be a perfect fit as a spy. But since this is a big budget production, I don’t know if his name is well known enough to get him an audition.

Ruth’s note:

It’s at times like this that I wish I were a casting director! I absolutely concur with Ted’s pick here (natch!) and we both agree that Armitage would make a fine Bond, the ultimate super spy.

I’m re-posting this badge I made for that Bond casting article [he’s now 42]:

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I think the fact that he’s played Thorin in The Hobbit makes him a bit more well-known to mainstream US audiences (he’s pretty famous in the UK for his various BBC/Sky TV roles). Besides, I actually think that casting a non mega-star would work better for the role as there’s less *baggage* associated with a movie star.

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Richard as Lucas North in ‘Spooks’

It’s not just his brooding good looks that make me a fan, but Richard’s got an undeniable screen presence, versatility and that *tough guy with a heart* persona that would suit the romance angle here. I’m absolutely convinced Richard is more than capable to carry the role of Havelock, described per Wiki as “…an exhausted and embittered veteran operative … Brought over to the United States, he proved an invaluable operative for US intelligence.” So he’s basically a brilliant spy, not just an action guy, with a chip on his shoulder.

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Richard in ‘Spooks’ and as SAS soldier in ‘Strike Back’

Here’s a couple of clips from Spooks that prove he’s got the versatility for action as well as dramatic scenes.


Now, if they’re going to cast someone with more fame, then I think Hugh Jackman can play Haverlock. I just hope they don’t go with someone like Tom Cruise, I love Cruise but he’s already Ethan Hunt and Jack Reacher, so there’s no need for him to be consider for this role.

The book has a strong female lead and I would love if Rachel Weisz gets the role of Jenna Karas. If not her then maybe my current actress crush, Rachel McAdams.

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The main villain in the book is Arthur Pierce, described in Wiki as Ludlum’s most fearsome villains. I think Gary Oldman would be perfect. Oldman’s been playing too many good guys lately, I would love to see him as a villain again.

I’m a sucker for spy thrillers so I’m looking forward to seeing this book comes to the big screen. Of course a spy movie without the names James Bond or Jason Bourne is a hard sell, for example the latest Jack Ryan movie was a massive failure, so hopefully this one won’t suffer the same faith. Now since project is still in early stages, I don’t know if we’ll get to see it on the big screen anytime soon. I mean two other projects that are based on Ludlum’s books has been announced before and they’re still stuck in development hell. One of them is The Matarese Circle which MGM hired David Cronerberg to write and direct while Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise were attached as the leads. The other project is The Chancellor Manuscript which director Marc Forster acquired the rights to direct it and Leo Di Caprio was attached to star in it. Those are two good books that I would love to see the movie version but again they’re still stuck in limbo and I don’t know when we’ll get to see The Parsifal Mosaic. Hopefully sooner than later.


Have you read The Parsifal Mosaic? Whether you have or not, based on the info above, what do you think of our casting choice?

Double Mini Reviews: RUSH and The Fifth Estate

These two films are both in the BOATS category, that is based on a true story. Whether it’s close or loosely based on the real deal is up for debates of course, especially in regards to The Fifth Estate as Julian Assange himself doesn’t support the film, though given his secretive nature, it doesn’t mean what takes place in the film isn’t true, either. In any case, both of these are not documentaries, so I don’t judge either film based on accuracy, but on the merit of the work as an art form.

RUSH

RUSH_PosterI have to admit that I hadn’t heard of either Hunt or Lauda before this film, who were fierce rivals during the 1970s Formula 1 racing period. I grew up with a brother who was into F-1 racing in the late 80s – mid 90s, so I was more familiar with the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. By focusing on the rivalry between the two racers, RUSH is more of intriguing character-driven thriller instead of an all-action racing movie.

The beginning of the film shows the stark difference of not just their lifestyle, Hunt is the free-spirited playboy compared to the focused but reclusive Lauda, but also how each approaches the sport. The British Hunt is all about instinct whilst the Austrian Lauda is all about precision, he’d methodically and meticulously scrutinizes the technicality of his car before he climbs into it. Though the film has some thrilling racing sequences that really lives up to the title in giving you a boost of adrenaline rush, what really gets me is their relationship off the track. As someone who don’t normally follow this sport, it’s the characters and their stories that made me enjoy this film and what makes it memorable in the end.

Just as you’d expect in an extreme sport like this, a major incident occurs halfway through that’d make you gasp. I’m not going to spoil it for you but let’s just say there are some very uncomfortable scenes to watch here that seemed to go on forever. The attention to detail achieved by the cinematography and sound editing truly create an authentic feel of the racing experience. The car, the helmet, even the views of the drivers as they’re racing definitely get your heart pounding. The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix in torrential rain is especially gripping and the way the race is filmed is phenomenal. Yet the slower moments are also effective in showing the persona of the people risking their lives behind the wheel with every race.

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The two leads are excellent. Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda share an effortless chemistry as both friends and foes. Hemsworth has a natural cocky-ness about him as he displayed in THOR, but he shows some emotional depth and vulnerability when the moment calls for it. Brühl is especially impressive in that he’s not only made up to resemble the real Lauda in his younger years, but he’s got the intensity and mannerism down perfectly. I was much more taken by his character overall and it’s largely a testament of Brühl’s compelling performance. He’s definitely an actor to watch for and I hope he gets a leading role in the future. There are not much to speak of in terms of supporting cast as the films are ultimately about Hunt and Lauda. Olivia Wilde and Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara are both pretty good as Hunt and Lauda’s love interest.

Overall it was a satisfying thriller that also packs an emotional punch. It’s fascinating to see the incredible drive of these racers, and in the case of Lauda, his will to not just excel but to survive is inspiring. Kudos to Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan for crafting a balanced look of visual prowess and intriguing drama. Combined with Hans Zimmer‘s dynamic score, RUSH is one of the most invigorating thrillers of the year.

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4 out of 5 reels

THE FIFTH ESTATE

A fifth estate is a group within a society that is seen as operating outside of the society’s normal groupings in terms of their roles and viewpoints, especially a group that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those other groupings. – per Wikipedia

TheFifthEstatePosterThis film traces the origin of perhaps 21st century’s most controversial organization Wikileaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. It’s interesting that the promo of this film asks us whether Assange is a hero or a traitor? Now of course it depends who you ask as you’d likely find a polarizing view on either side.

One thing I’ll say about the Australian-born Assange is that he’s quite a fascinating man. The master computer hacker is a tech whiz who’s well-traveled, having lived in Europe when he started working on WikiLeaks, as well as Nairobi, Tanzania, Iceland, etc. The film opens with him meeting a journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (whose book is one of the source for this story) in Germany, who was drawn to the seemingly noble enterprise of Wikileaks. Their first mission was to take down this huge bank that’s been doing illegal activities. He also admired the charismatic but elusive Assange as a mentor initially, though later it’s easy to see how their relationship became strained.

As I hadn’t been following the whole WikiLeaks scandal too closely, some of the events depicted here went over my head. At times it was hard to follow some of the details, more on that in a bit. But the one thing that interested me was the character study of Assange himself, which I thought was portrayed quite well by Benedict Cumberbatch. There had been reports that Assange himself emailed the British actor to ask him to not to participate in the film. How much that incident affected Cumberbatch’s performance I’ll never know, though he certainly doesn’t paint Assange as a likable man here. He’s brilliant to be sure, but his arrogance and ruthless nature who doesn’t care who gets hurt by his actions. No matter how good his intentions were, what he did with WikiLeaks has gone too far, but obviously the defiant Assange didn’t see it that way.

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Both Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl as Berg share about a similar amount of screen time and both are wonderful to watch. Once again Brühl proves to be a capable and versatile actor. I didn’t realize just how great the supporting cast are, but it’s nice to see the likes of David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and Dan Stevens as the Guardian newspaper staff, and playing US Government offials are the immensely talented character actors Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. Seems like such a small role is a waste of their talents but as always they’re excellent to watch.

The direction by Bill Condon and Josh Singer‘s script leave much to be desired however. To say the pace is uneven is putting it mildly, but the narrative structure is the main issue here. It’s tough enough that there are complex issues being presented, but the haphazard editing makes it even more confusing. It makes me appreciate David Fincher’s brilliant direction of The Social Network even more, and it shows that sharp execution is key when dealing with a story such as this. I do commend the fact the film raises a lot of intriguing ethical and legal issues without necessarily portraying Assange as an evil figure or otherwise, hence the traitor vs hero argument. But it could’ve been a heck of a lot more riveting instead of just mildly interesting and even somewhat tedious. I suppose it’s still worth a rent if you’re a fan of the cast, and I really can’t pick fault with their performances. I feel that if it hadn’t been for the cast though, I’d probably better off watching Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks instead.

3 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on either one of these films? I’d love to hear it!

Music Break: Apollo 13 Main Title – RIP Neil Armstrong

I learned of Mr. Armstrong’s death this afternoon as I was on my computer break all day yesterday. He died from complications from a heart surgery, he was 82.

I felt a sudden loss of words reading that the first man on the moon has now passed on. Though I hadn’t been born on July 20, 1969, I had always been fascinated by that event and real-life heroes like Mr. Armstrong.

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Who could forget those words. Though Armstrong later admitted that he missed the ‘a’ in the sentence, I think we all know what he meant and those famous words certainly still gives me goosebumps!

Mr. Armstrong even made a cameo on Apollo 13, one of my favorite historical dramas directed by Ron Howard based on the ill-fated 13th Apollo mission bound for the moon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t embed the exact clip here but you can watch it on the metacafe site. It’s an awesome scene where all the families of the astronauts, played by Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and Bill Paxton, gather in front of the TV to watch the moonwalk. It’s a great scene, and boy don’t I wish I were right there with them watching Walter Cronkite expresses his amazement at the pictures from the Moon and Armstrong stepping down from the ladder. In that very moment Armstrong spoke those words LIVE on TV, the camera zooms in on Hanks’ face and you just knew how significant that historical moment meant to him… and the rest of us. I love this movie, great performances all around, including in supporting roles from Kathleen Quinlan and Ed Harris.

So for this edition of music break, I thought it’d be appropriate to highlight the astounding music from that film, composed by James Horner. I had planned on showcasing this Oscar-nominated score at some point anyway, so here it is as part of my small tribute to Mr. Armstrong.

Per People.com, Armstrong’s family requested that people do this to honor Neil… “Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

We sure will, Mr. Armstrong. May you rest in peace.


What’s your fondest memory of the first walk on the Moon? Do you like Apollo 13 and its music?