Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany

A young Han Solo finds himself getting involved with a criminal gang planning to steal from the Empire, as he tries to get together enough money to buy a ship. Through several twists of fate he meets Chewbacca, soon becoming his co-pilot, and the untrustworthy Lando Calrissian with whom he forms an alliance of convenience.

As everyone keeps saying, this is the Star Wars prequel that no one asked for. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that back story of Han, as his mystery is all part of the allure, but actually the story is quite enjoyable and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I mean, I started with very low expectations so that probably helped, but on the whole I think it’s a good film.

Starting with the good points, Solo is a good stand alone film without have any prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe. I think that’s why it’s unfair for people to criticise it- on it’s own, as a film there’s not much wrong with it and it’s a fun family adventure. Obviously it’s no The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s not part of the central Star Wars saga so it’s not fair to compare it. Alden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo- at some moments I could see that he was going for some of the classic Harrison Ford mannerisms, and although he slightly misses the mark, I can justify that in my head as because he’s a younger Han Solo he’s no going to be exactly the same as the fully developed Han Solo of the original trilogy. I really liked the story of how Han and Chewie meet, and their friendship has enough screen time so that you can properly see it develop. There were lots of great little references to the original films- but not so much as to make it not work as a standalone film- such as the Kessel run (settling once and for all the Great Parsec Debate), Han’s lucky dice, his legendary blaster and of course the classic issue of Han shooting first.

As I mentioned, most of the references to the originals are subtle enough for it not to matter to new viewers but long-time Star Wars fans will appreciate them. However, without wanting to give away any spoilers, the final scene with Qi’ra (Han’s love interest) and the big reveal of who she works for may not make a lot of sense to those new to the franchise and might seem a bit random. It definitely needs expanding on and I think that’s why there are rumours circulating that Solo will be trilogy.

Solo is an enjoyable yarn, and I’d probably place it mid-table in the list of all the Star Wars films. For people who aren’t into Star Wars it’s a good entry into the franchise, and is fun and light-hearted but with well-developed characters and a storyline that makes sense. Don’t let the bad reviews put you off and miss out on seeing it at the cinema!

4 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth… ok they’re all in it. Everyone minus Antman and Hawkeye.

After lurking in the background for several movies, Thanos makes his play for all the infinity stones and instigates his plan to fulfil his plans for universal dominance. When he encounters Thor in space, the Avengers become alerted to his plan and are forced to reunite to try to stop him.

Admittedly, I’ve always enjoyed the Marvel movies but would never consider myself a full-on fan. However I thought Infinity War was brill. There’s definitely a novelty factor in all the characters including the Guardians of the Galaxy gang coming together once again, but the film brings all of them together really well, and not just for the sake of having all these huge names in one movie. There are so many different missions and sub-plots going on, but it never feels like the film is bitty or jumpy; everything flows in an orderly way and it’s well-paced. It’s the longest Marvel film yet but honestly it felt like the time went really quickly.

There’s also a lot more character development and general emotions and feelings and stuff. The previous movies haven’t really focused much on this (everyone generally operates at a high gung-ho level) aside from Iron Man’s PTSD from the events of Avengers Assemble, but this film shows the effects on everyone and it was much easier to feel more involved in their personal journeys. Also as a warning, prepare to come out feeling ever so slightly like you’ve lost a close friend.

All the characters are in it apart from Antman (sadly) and Hawkeye (honestly not bothered). Thankfully, seeing as Black Panther was so good, most of the cast from that are in it, and Thor seriously ramps it up in a major way. I enjoyed Spiderman again and especially his and Iron Man’s relationship. I didn’t really like the Doctor Strange movie (I fell asleep in it for a good half hour) but I liked him in this- he’s a useful character all round and the other characters kind of tone down his grating personality. Plus I think he’ll have a major role in closing the events of the next movie…

I would absolutely suggest you go and see this film, although probably worth catching up on the recent previous Marvel movies for a recap (especially Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther). Finally, as an FYI the post-credits scene is right at the end of the credits, not halfway through like they usually are, so don’t run away too quickly.

4.5 stars

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Director: Barry Levinson Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, Tung Thanh Tran, Robert Wuhl, Chintara Sukapatana

Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is shipped into Vietnam to take over a slot on the Armed Forces Radio. He quickly starts to make his mark, however, while popular with the regular troops, it doesn’t go down well with his superiors.

Although I love Vietnam War classics like Apocalypse Now, generally speaking it’s a genre that is pretty hard-going (understandably). Good Morning, Vietnam however makes for much lighter viewing while still making its point. From the outset, I was laughing out loud: the first scene in which Robin Williams’ character appears on the radio is brilliant, and it’s joke after joke with barely pausing for breath. Robin Williams is ideal for the role, as he perfectly fits the character of weird and totally in his own world without caring what other people think. A lot of it is also pretty politically incorrect, which is certainly refreshing in this day and age. The 60s pop soundtrack is also great, and I like the way it forms part of the story as it’s used as a contrast against the boring approved radio station music.

The film is really funny and I laughed a lot, but it also has its serious parts. The plot surrounding the radio station is that the news is massively filtered and censored so that the troops don’t hear about anything bad going on- particularly with relation to the likelihood of the war dragging on, which in hindsight we know it most definitely did- and Cronauer struggles with not being allowed to tell the truth. There’s a very sad scene where he’s driving about the town and they meet a bunch of soldiers about to head out to where the war is properly taking place, and while Cronauer is entertaining them there’s a look on his face that he knows they’re probably not coming back.

The one downside, and it’s not a major downside, is the plot with Cronauer and his Vietnamese friends. I just found it unconvincing, and the climax of the storyline revolves around this (without wanting to give away any spoilers) but it’s not particularly hard-hitting simply because I was unconvinced by it. Reading that back it doesn’t make much sense, but probably will if you watch it! Overall though I did enjoy the way it portrayed the tragedy and ridiculousness of the war and a lot of parts were very moving.

This is a great film and is light enough but while still having a strong message. It’s probably not suitable for kids (a fair amount of strong language and violence) but as far as war movies go it’s not bad at all, so I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

4 stars

Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain

As a gift from his father for Christmas, Billy receives a “mogwai” called Gizmo as a new pet. He’s given three rules for looking after him: don’t let him out in sunlight, don’t let him near water and don’t give him any food after midnight. Of course, with Billy being a stupid boy he breaks the rules almost immediately, and chaos ensues.

Now, you may have noticed I’ve put this down as one of my Christmas Crackers. While I am 100% certain, no doubt in my mind, that Die Hard is a Christmas film, Gremlins falls into that same category of debate but is a little trickier. My usual two factors for deciding are 1) The setting of Christmas is vital to the plot; and 2) It contains Christmassy themes such as family, redemption and coming together. While I would say that Gremlins fulfils the first criteria (Billy receives Gizmo as a Christmas present, so Christmas provides key context to the plot) it doesn’t really contain any of the key Christmas themes. So it’s still up for debate but as it’s the Christmas season I’m feeling generous.

The film itself is a good caper, but it’s not really hugely gripping from beginning to end. The first half is good, with the mystery of the mogwai and finding out more about them, but once the mogwai have become “gremlins” the film is basically just scenes of the chaos they cause with a bunch of random characters coming in and out chasing after them. The final climax is over quickly and there’s not much suspense. So it starts well, but after a while I got a bit bored and I think it could have done with reaching the end quicker.

I’ve mentioned that the film doesn’t contain the classic Christmas themes of reconciliation or redemption. Billy is completely useless and he doesn’t seem to learn anything at all by the end. He’s terrible at looking after Gizmo- he forgets the rules straight away, and when Gizmo has water splashed over him and he starts writhing in agony, Billy just ignores him. He doesn’t manage to kill any of the gremlins by himself either- his mum kills loads and then he only manages it with the help of his love interest. Then at the end, he thinks he’s responsible enough to keep looking after Gizmo?! No lessons learnt or character improvement whatsoever. Billy, you’re just the worst.

What I did like was the mogwai/gremlins themselves. There’s something sinister about the puppets they use which is really effective (as they actually are pretty sinister- they actually kill a few people…), and I’m glad that this film came out before CGI as I don’t think CGI creatures would have had quite the same creepy effect. Overall I would say it’s a family film but certainly for small children it could be pretty scary.

From the 1980s Golden Age of cinema, this isn’t one of the best but is worth a watch. Gizmo is very cute (and marketable…) and it’s an interesting concept before the mayhem gets a bit over-the-top. I’m slightly leaning towards the side of not a Christmas film, but perhaps worth watching earlier on in the season before going full-on Christmas.

3 stars