Friday, May 25

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Dir: Ron Howard

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany

“You know, sometimes I amaze even myself.” The epitome of cool, the tough guy, the rebel in the original Star Wars universe has always been Han Solo. The character is an icon of pop culture, a science fiction superstar that brought charisma and attitude into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon alongside a furry companion named Chewbacca. Han Solo’s journey into the Star Wars universe was always one of mythic proportions; a history only partly introduced with off topic remarks or unexpected meet-ups with past foes/friends. Amidst battles between galactic forces and duels with light saber wielding Jedi’s, Han Solo was consistently one of the most intriguing and appealing characters.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story”, directed by Ron Howard and written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan amidst a troubled production, takes the viewer back to the beginning of the journey; back to understand how Han Solo became a pilot, how he won the Millennium Falcon, and how Chewie became his partner in crime. Unlike other films in the “Star Wars” canon, the stakes aren’t world or life threatening, the mythology doesn’t boast a battle between light and dark forces, but instead the film focuses on a young man wrapped up in a world of loners, thieves, backstabbers and smugglers. 

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a juvenile delinquent, stealing speeders and running scams for bad guys who don’t like failure. Han is trying to escape his life of crime, leave the planet Corellia, and start a new path with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Things don’t go as planned and Han is separated from Qi’ra; he promises to return for her one day. This leads Han to enlist in the military only to leave and join the gang fronted by a thief named Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Qi’ra finds her own path, secured in service to a scarred gangster named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Director Ron Howard handles the material here with delicate hands, perhaps a little too delicate considering the film struggles to make the wild stories of Han Solo resonate with the kind charisma and coolness associated with the savvy star pilot seen in “Star Wars: A New Hope”. It’s the bits of forced nostalgia, the intentional callbacks to the past (or future depending on how you look at the timeline), which create a rift in the tone of the story. Han’s character has always had the benefit of the doubt; his stories about winning spaceships and accomplishing challenging feats in 12 parsecs were legends told through word of mouth, many times the mouth of Han Solo himself. Still, they were stories given the bare minimum of information and told through the vessel of a character that oozes confidence. When these stories come to life it’s amusing yet altogether unnecessary and somewhat insignificant.

Still, Mr. Howard populates the film with some interesting characters. Woody Harrelson is good as Beckett, the lifetime thief whose sage words of advice are “Assume everyone will betray you”. Mr. Harrelson’s calm and natural demeanor fits this particular universe of loners. But the scene-stealer here is Donald Glover playing Lando Calrissian. Mr. Glover has a suaveness that shines through even when the character may not handle all the situations with the same kind of self-assured personality one might expect. Unfortunately Alden Ehrenreich, and this is no fault the talented actor’s ability, just doesn’t evoke the same quality of the character Harrison Ford composed. Trying to emulate the nostalgic sentiments of a character like Han Solo is nearly impossible considering the stranglehold that time and the ever growing grasp of pop culture hold over these beloved characters. Mr. Ehrenreich’s choices feel out of sync considering the character that will eventually come to the aid of the Resistance and Luke Skywalker in a few years to come. 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is mixed with moments that want to have fun, want to provide fan service, and want to prepare for the eventual return of the character for another adventure. It doesn’t always work. Still, in some places everything just fits so nicely that it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself. When Chewie and Han meet in a muddy pit during a chaotic war scene everything clicks for a moment, everything feels right knowing the future progression of these character’s intermingled storyline. It’s when the film actually resonates most like a Star Wars story. 

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Friday, May 18

Deadpool 2 Review

Deadpool 2

Dir: David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, and Briana Hildebrand

“Deadpool” arrived into theaters in 2016 during a time when comic book movie fatigue was beginning to settle in. It arrived at the the perfect place; the raunchy comedy, the explicit language, and the bloody bits and pieces were unlike the superhero films viewers were getting comfortable with in the cineplex. At the core of the film was a court jester with dual ninja swords and an itchy trigger finger; Ryan Reynolds, with his comedic swagger and verbal lambasting, shook up the structure of what a comic book movie could be. In the world of movie roles perfectly suited for a particular actor,  Deadpool was made for actor Ryan Reynolds.

 “Deadpool 2”, amidst the amped up gore and explicit language, is very much a comic book comedy that is funny enough that you’re bound to miss numerous jokes because of the laughter in the auditorium. The breakneck style of comedy here is also reflected in the action scenes, it’s kinetic to the point of chaos throughout the entirety of the film. But that’s what makes this franchise so much fun, it doesn’t play by the rules. 

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), aka Deadpool, has expanded his vigilante ways into global markets. But Deadpool is trying to change his deadly ways, and with the help of some superhero friends he is given an opportunity to try a new, less violent, form of justice. This introduces Deadpool to a young boy named Russell (Julian Dennison) who is trying to escape a reform school for young mutants. Unfortunately some one else takes an interest in Russell, a time-traveling mercenary named Cable (Josh Brolin) wants to destroy Russell before he grows into an unstoppable super villain. 

“Deadpool 2” has a charming and mischievous quality that keeps the film entertaining from the start until the final frame. It’s also quite funny, everything from sight gags to foul-mouthed banter populate every inch of the film. The film understands exactly what it is trying to achieve, which is a playfulness amidst some of the more serious comic book movie franchises out there. Through its self-deprecating style, fourth wall breaking moments, and knowing nods to every comic book universe present and past, these qualities have been turned up to eleven, “Deadpool 2” is bound to please anyone who loved the first film.

But through all the fun and laughter it’s hard not to question why the journey feels so unsatisfying. Deadpool’s super power is regeneration, the character functions as somewhat indestructible throughout the film. While we are given a moment to see Deadpool without powers, the fact that the character can lose limbs and get riddled with bullets without much consequence never makes any of the foes in the film feel threatening. Even Cable, who shows up with a big weapon and a mechanical arm, is a non-consequential bad guy who shows up mostly for amusing banter and to introduce time travel into the narrative of the film. 

Because “Deadpool 2” never functions within any set boundaries, it’s easy to forgive the obvious lapses in storytelling. Convenience becomes a narrative weapon to wield to get from one scene to the next, and when the audience begins to question the details the film takes the red suited character and turns him to the audience to express, “that’s just lazy writing”. Yes, it’s acceptable, but it’s still flimsy storytelling.

Ryan Reynolds is fantastic throughout the film, Josh Brolin should be in more of these types of films because he adds such gravity to these characters, and young Julian Dennison sells the aspect of a character on the verge. 

“Deadpool 2” will please those who enjoyed the simplistic entertainment and adult humor of the first film. Unfortunately, while the character can be amusing in all his rage, violence and humor, there is far less of a complex composition to the character and more of a one dimensional aspect. While this may be what the character, and writers, are ultimately aiming for, it may also be what keeps the franchise from building this character into something more substantial. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to see the foul-mouthed superhero every few years.

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Saturday, May 12

Life of the Party Review

Life of the Party

Dir: Ben Falcone

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Molly Gordon, Luke Benward, and Maya Rudolph

Nearly every college dorm room, way back when I wandered the campus, had two posters; the John Belushi “Animal House” poster with the “college” sweater or the poster for the movie “Old School”. Higher education comedies have been around since the early days of cinema, the Marx Brothers tackled the topic with the film “Horse Feathers” in 1932 and it seems like nearly every year since the early 1990’s we have seen a school comedy in the multiplex. 

“Life of the Party” is the latest, and one the tamest, college comedies to come around in some time. Most of these specific school comedies fall into the realm of raunchy subject matter with heavy levels of explicit language. And the storylines either follow a group of underdogs in some capacity fighting against the college elite or follow a character who is on the verge of getting kicked out of school. It’s seldom the stories that make these college comedies memorable but rather the way the stories compose the reality, ordinary or outlandish, of the college experience. “Life of the Party” unfortunately takes the most basic characteristics of the college comedy, throwing in a lively Melissa McCarthy to make the most of it all. 

Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) is a college dropout, mother of a college senior (Molly Gordon), and recently divorced. She regrets never finishing her  degree, archeology, and decides to enroll to finish. Deanna, now going to school with her daughter, utilizes this return to campus to sow some stowed away wild oats. She goes to big parties, dance battles some bullies, and finds herself a young man to get romantic with. 

Everything college movies have taught viewers over the years is on display in “Life of the Party”. The familiar college “fish out of water” storyline, the comedy setups like a wild party that ends with regrets of too much alcohol, and the obvious bullies that try to stall the progress of our protagonist throughout her journey. While the similarity to other films is immediately recognizable it’s not the problem, it’s the execution of themes that sours the experience. 

Melissa McCarthy’s character is the underdog throughout the film, but her journey throughout the different college triumphs and trials are never given the attention in order for them to really mean anything pertinent for the character. Most of the young people accept her without question, the mean girls are never really that threatening, and the actual reason she returns to college in the first place is given one scene that may cause a minimal amount of distress for her journey towards the final goal. The stakes aren’t high enough, but even this could be overlooked if the film executed the comedic aspects better. Unfortunately, even though Melissa McCarthy completely owns the character, the funny parts rarely hit like they should. With the exception of one scene that absolutely killed, to the point that it was really difficult to hear the jokes that followed the big punchline because of the laughter, the other jokes were simply unmemorable. 

“Life of the Party” survives because of Melissa McCarthy. The actress works overtime to make the most of the character and the jokes throughout the film. Unfortunately the familiar angles and timid comedy keep this film from becoming the new poster for the college dorm room. 

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00