Solo: A Star Wars Story review

For inSing

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany
Genre : Action / Adventure / Fantasy
Run Time : 135 mins
Opens : 24 May 2018
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

            Before he was the gun-slinging scoundrel who always shoots first, he was young, scrappy and hungry. This is the man we meet in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), a street urchin from the backwater planet of Corellia, enlists in the Imperial forces with dreams of becoming a pilot. Stuck in the infantry, Han chances across a group of smugglers and sees a way out. He ingratiates himself with the group’s leader Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and becomes acquainted with the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han finds himself entangled in a web of warring crime syndicates as he sets off on a mission to steal a shipment of the valuable and highly volatile fuel Coaxium.

Tobias and his crew must deliver the Coaxium to the dangerous crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), head of the Crimson Dawn syndicate. Along the way, Han runs into his boyhood sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who has fallen in with some unsavoury characters. Han also crosses paths with the dashing smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and sets his heart on acquiring Lando’s beloved ship. As he launches head first into adventure, Han takes his first steps into a larger world.

Solo: A Star Wars Story has mainly been greeted with cynicism. You’ve probably heard murmurs about how this is an unnecessary endeavour, or how Disney is milking its cash cow. Look at it this way: the Star Wars galaxy is a vast playground for filmmakers to explore. It makes sense that the first anthology movies, Rogue One and Solo, cover not entirely untrodden ground, before future instalments branch off into further reaches and farther away from what we’re familiar with.

Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures book trilogy and Ann C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy explored Han and Chewie’s adventures before meeting Luke and Obi-Wan. A movie covering similar ground seems logical enough.

This film has had a rocky journey to the screen, with initially-hired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired and then replaced with Ron Howard. Yes, it’s tempting to imagine what might have been, but all things considered, Solo does not feel like a movie that was taken apart and hastily reassembled. It might not work as tightly as Rogue One, which similarly underwent reshoots under a different director, but Solo hangs together well enough.

The general criticisms about Solo, in addition to how its existence is not exactly vital, are that Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t match up to Harrison Ford and that the movie is formulaic and going through the motions. We’ll get to the leading man in a moment. This reviewer will argue that being formulaic is not a bad thing if the result is entertaining, and Solo is supremely entertaining. After all, the Star Wars movies are often formulaic, following patterns established in mythology and storytelling across the ages. This is a movie that hits the ground running, is bursting with energy, and while there are times when it seems like a corporation-mandated product, there is a bit of welcome eagerness and scrappiness to it.

Like Rogue One before it, Solo works to bridge the Prequel and Original trilogies, with references to characters and events from both. Solo feels tactile and lived-in, with our characters visiting various dusty, windy, grimy, muddy locales. The creature effects are supervised by Neal Scanlan, who worked on The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi. There is a reliance on puppets and prosthetics, and while there are computer-generated or enhanced creatures and sets, nothing in Solo feels entirely synthetic.

The set pieces are executed well and are generally enjoyable. There’s a daring train heist which is genuinely pulse-quickening sequence, and we get to see Solo and co. undertake the risky Kessel Run. Just as with Rogue One, this reviewer was initially worried that Solo “wouldn’t feel like Star Wars”. To us at least, it does. The design elements could’ve done with a little more creativity, though.

Solo’s narrative must hit certain mile markers and portray all the important moments that made him who he is. Despite this requirement, it never feels like things are on autopilot. Howard has been decried as a “safe” choice, but there’s still liveliness and humour to the proceedings. This does not come across as a movie that was narrowly plucked from the jaws of death, limping into theatres.

Few people are going to give Ehrenreich a fair shake. The actor visibly tries his best to capture the essence of the iconic scoundrel, and while he’s not Harrison Ford (because really, who else is?), he’s better than most will give him credit for. Ehrenreich is not effortlessly cool, but that works here, because we’re meeting a Han who is finding his footing and who has yet to be moulded into the man audiences know him as. He’s about on par with Sean Patrick Flanery, who portrayed a younger version of that other popular Harrison Ford character in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Woody Harrelson plays the mentor figure with a trick or two up his sleeve, and the Tobias character plays very much to Harrelson’s strengths. It’s nothing we haven’t seen from Harrelson, but it makes sense that this is the guy that taught Han Solo much of what he knows.

Donald Glover is a fantastic Lando – vain, charismatic, smooth and owner of a walk-in closet filled entirely with capes. There’s a subtle inflection that is very reminiscent of Billy Dee Williams without feeling like an SNL impersonation, and there’s just enough of Lando in this that this reviewer wants to see what else Glover can do with the role.

The supporting characters introduced in this film are not as memorable as those in Rogue One, but still fit well within the narrative. Emilia Clarke is fine as Qi’ra and there are times when this reviewer was really hoping she and Han would end up together, before realising that it’s a foregone conclusion that they won’t. Since The Force Awakens and Rogue One both cast young English brunettes in the lead, perhaps a leading lady who’s a little different from that mould would have been a little more interesting.

Suotamo does a lot of physical work as Chewie, and the film’s depiction of how Han and Chewie meet is an absolute hoot and one of the best moments of the film.

Bettany’s crime lord is archetypical but still sufficiently commanding. The character was intended to be an alien played by Michael K. Williams, and the character was reworked and recast when Williams was unable to make the reshoots.

Alas, Thandie Newton is criminally underused, and what seems like an interesting character isn’t given much to do.

There’s joy to be found in Star Wars movies that are layered and philosophical, but there’s also joy to be found in a straightforward, exhilarating adventure, which Solo is to a tee. There are flaws, there are places where it could’ve been a little wilder and freer, but as a detour from the main series, it has its charm.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

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Deadpool 2 review

For inSing

DEADPOOL 2

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Stefan Kapičić, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni
Genre : Action / Adventure
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 17 May 2018
Rating : M18 (Violence & Coarse Language)

The Merc with the Mouth is back and mouthier than ever, and he’s brought along friends.

Maybe “friends” is too strong a word.

Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the wise-cracking, nigh-indestructible killer for hire, is settling down with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), in between a busy schedule of hit jobs around the world. Wade has his already topsy-turvy life turned further upside down by the arrival of an unexpected guest. Nathan Summers/Cable (Josh Brolin), a grizzled cyborg from the future has travelled to the present with a mission. His target: Russell “Rusty” Collins/Firefist (Julian Dennison), a young mutant who will grow up into a murderous tyrant if his impulses are left unchecked. Rusty has been raised in an orphanage where he and the other mutant orphans have been abused by the principal and orderlies.

Deadpool realises he’ll need the help of allies old and new, including former roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), bartender and pal Weasel (T.J. Miller), taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), the metal-skinned Piotr Rasputin/Colossus (Stefan Kapičić), who is still trying to recruit Deadpool to join the X-Men, and Neena Thurman/Domino (Zazie Beetz), a mutant with the power of preternaturally good luck. Wade also tries assembling his own mutant superhero team called the ‘X-Force’, to mixed results.

The first Deadpool film faced an uphill battle in getting made and proved to be wildly successful among critics and audiences. That film faced countless behind-the-scenes bureaucratic issues stemming from the Fox top brass and had to work around the resulting budget cuts, but Reynolds’ pet project finally came to fruition.

Deadpool 2 faces a similar situation as Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – the underdog has triumphed, resources are being thrown at the sequel, and now’s the time to prove there are more tricks up the filmmakers’ sleeves. There’s also a deeper dive into the source material, with long-anticipated characters making their big screen debuts.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are back for the sequel, with Reynolds credited as the third writer. The first film’s director Tim Miller has been replaced by David Leitch, veteran stunt coordinator and one half of the John Wick directing team.

Deadpool 2 gets a lot right, and is a movie that’s comfortable in its mottled, sore-covered skin. Many of the self-referential jokes are brilliant, the action sequences are more elaborate and involved, the casting for new characters is excellent, and Reynolds settles further into what has become his signature role. However, all this doesn’t quite fit together as well as it should have. There are times when the editing feels choppy, and characters enter the plot inorganically, coming off more as plot devices than actually developed characters.

The irreverent, tongue-in-cheek tone of the movie is a double-edged sword. There are plenty of funny comic book movies, yes, but none that so freely and frequently take shots at other, specific films. It’s intrinsic to the Deadpool character, but the barrage of snarky quips can wear viewers down. It’s also a little tricky to decide when the film is trying to be genuine and when it’s trying to be ironic, the side effect being that any moments that are potentially emotional get robbed of their effect. Deadpool’s motivation in this film is one that’s been seen a lot and nullifies the emotional drive of the first film.

Beneath the violence, swearing and fourth wall-breaking humour, the first Deadpool film had a very traditional origin story structure. Deadpool 2 almost doesn’t have enough of a structure, which some might argue suits the character. However, when the jokes take precedence over the story, the stakes are blunted and everything feels inconsequential. While the humour in the Guardians of the Galaxy films sometimes stepped on the emotional beats, those movies did a slightly better job in juggling the jokes and the heartfelt moments than Deadpool 2 does.

Brolin is an ideal Cable, and yes, we do get a line about how he doesn’t quite match the stature of the character in the comics. Brolin is shredded and plays a great straight man to Reynolds. Beetz has the kick-ass attitude that’s key to Domino, and after seeing her performance, it doesn’t matter the character doesn’t look like she’s usually drawn. The film is dedicated in memory of Sequana Harris, the Domino stunt double who died in an accident on set.

Leitch is no stranger to large-scale action set pieces and the central prison truck chase is staged with energy and finesse. A lot of the close-quarters combat looks great and the canvas has been increased from the first film. However, one character who is completely rendered in CGI looks incredibly awkward and difficult to buy as occupying the same space as the other characters.

Deadpool 2 strains to subvert expectations and deliver more of what everyone came for but suffers from a lack of focus. It’s all one big joke, as it should be, and on that level, Deadpool 2 is entertaining. It’s calibrated to reward fans who’ll catch all the references and whisper in their friends’ ears “Rob Liefeld, the artist who co-created Deadpool, is terrible at drawing feet”. However, as much as the movie wants to be shocking, the films winds up being pretty lightweight, enjoyable without making as much of an impact as it could have.

The mid-credits scene is an absolute hoot, but perhaps jokes about a certain entry in Reynolds’ filmography are wearing a little thin by now.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Love, Simon review

For inSing

LOVE, SIMON

Director : Greg Berlanti
Cast : Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg, Miles Heizer, Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Tony Hale
Genre : Comedy, Drama
Run Time : 1h 50m
Opens : 03 May 2018
Rating : R21 (Homosexual Themes)

On the surface, Love, Simon looks like your typical high school romance, a light-hearted throwback to John Hughes movies and other defining coming-of-age films from the 80s. However, the protagonist Simon Spiers (Nick Robinson) has a secret: he’s gay.

Simon is hesitant to come out, even though he has a supporting family comprising dad Jack (Josh Duhamel), mum Emily (Jennifer Garner) and sister Nora (Talitha Bateman). Simon also has close friends in school, including Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Ledenborg Jr.) and new student Abby (Alexandra Shipp).

Simon sees an anonymous post from a schoolmate online, in which the writer, whom he only knows as “Blue”, says that he’s gay but hasn’t come out yet. Simon begins a correspondence with Blue and finds himself falling for the mystery schoolmate. Simon finds himself in jeopardy when a would-be blackmailer discovers the emails and threatens to announce Simon’s secret to the whole school. Simon’s friendships are thrown into disarray as Simon figures out who he truly is, while trying to ascertain the identity of his mystery suitor.

Love, Simon is based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. The film is directed by Greg Berlanti, the writer-producer behind Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale and the DCTV series including Arrow and The Flash.

This is a sweet, warm-hearted film that’s honest and often funny. Like many high school movies, it comes across as heightened and there are moments when Love, Simon is too convoluted for its own good. It’s not particularly in-depth in its exploration of coming out as gay and the mental toll that keeping a secret like that can take on a teenager, but it’s the closest thing to a mainstream gay rom-com we’ve seen.

Here in Singapore, films are almost automatically slapped with an R21 rating if LGBT characters and issues figure heavily into the plot. In the U.S., Love, Simon is rated PG-13. There still are large sections of moviegoers here who might be apprehensive about watching a film with a gay main character. Love, Simon seems almost as if it was made with those audiences in mind. It’s gentle and accessible, and the relationships are easy to relate to if a little over-the-top.

Nick Robinson feels like the right choice to play Simon. Robinson is a little sullen and isn’t really bursting with charm, but that fits a character who’s unsure of himself and is trying to lay low. The dynamics within the friend group are fun, and these are characters who are a delight to spend time with.

Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why fame is sweet and amiable as Leah, while Alexandra Shipp is bubbly and radiant as Abby. Logan Miller’s Martin Addison, the nominal antagonist of the movie, is more layered a character than he first appears. Sure, he’s annoying, but there are elements of him that are relatable too.

Clark Moore is a scene-stealer as Ethan, the only openly gay student at the school. Simon feels a little jealous at how comfortable Clark is in his own skin, and it seems a bit of a shame that the two characters do not interact more.

Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner play the stock parent characters who thread the line between embarrassing and cool. Gay characters in films are often portrayed as coming from fractured families or having endured abuse, so it is nice to see Simon’s family being so loving towards him.

Any high school movie must have authority figures, and Tony Hale displays wonderful comic timing as the awkward vice-principal Mr. Worth, who tries desperately to relate to his students but it hopeless at it. Natasha Rothwell’s Ms. Albright is this reviewer’s favourite character – she’s the exasperated, sarcastic drama teacher trying to wrangle less-than-talented students who are performing a production of the musical Cabaret.

The film emphasises how there is nothing wrong with Simon at all, and hopefully the film’s non-threatening presentation will help audiences who might be uncomfortable with LGBT subject matter gradually learn to see things from other points of view.

There have been many gay-themed coming-of-age films, including Mysterious Skin, Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name. However, these are often arthouse movies that might alienate casual viewers and tend to be deliberately uncomfortable. Love, Simon’s winning mass appeal makes it an important film, even if it abides by many teen romance tropes.

There’s an earnestness and likeability that make Love, Simon more than your average high school movie. It’s a movie about love and acceptance that is entertaining rather than overtly preachy. Regardless of sexual orientation, most audiences will find at least some elements of the film easily relatable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong