“Let Me Give You Some Advice. Assume Everyone Will Betray You And You Will Never Be Disappointed…”
Within the space of just one blockbusting cinematic month, audiences across the globe have been joyously rewarded with big release after big release, with Infinity War and Deadpool 2 both hotly anticipated franchise follow ups which have seemingly succeeded to staggering degrees in terms of both their critical appeal and eye-watering box office figures, particular in regards to the former which has managed to cement its’ place quite rightly into the top five highest grossing films of all time. Another week therefore brings with it yet another Disney backed big budget extravaganza in the form of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off in the ever expanding space opera franchise after 2016’s Rogue One and a movie which explores the early undertakings of Alden Ehrenreich’s (Hail, Caesar!) young, cocky and confident take on the titular space pilot. With high-profile production issues, including the firing of original director’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 and 22 Jump Street fame after “creative differences” and mumbling’s regarding Ehrenreich’s on-set acting ability, a strange rumour if ever there was one considering his superb performance in Hail, Caesar!, Solo seemed doomed to fail from the outset, and with fan expectation an all-time low for a cinematic release with the Star Wars branding after mixed responses to its’ fundamental existence, does Solo manage to fend off its’ many steely-eyed critics?
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the film does exactly just that, swapping the melancholic and controversially bold tones of Rogue One and The Last Jedi respectively for a more conventional science fiction romp, one stuffed full of exhilarating action set pieces, interesting new characters and a youth-infused charm thanks to the steady handed nature of its’ well-formed cast who have gripped tightly the chance to step into the shoes of iconic franchise personas. With Ron Howard taking over directorial duties halfway through the filming process and capturing a reported seventy percent of the finished article on his own say, for a man whose back catalogue varies from greatness (Rush, Frost/Nixon) to outright blandness (Inferno, In The Heart of the Sea), the “steady handed” approach of Howard’s film-making abilities isn’t exactly the first name to spring to mind when attempting to rebuild a reportedly sunken ship, but credit of course should be handed when its’ due and whilst its’ hard to gauge perhaps Howard’s stamp on the final product, Solo is undeniably well made and makes up for its’ somewhat straightforward hero narrative by having the most fun possible with its’ strong points, akin to say the more low-key Marvel releases such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange which play to a sense of familiarity but succeed due to the commitment showed by all involved.
With Ehrenreich easing into the inexperienced, swaggering nature of a hopeful Han Solo, the film begins by presenting the central relationship between Solo and Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) Qi’ra, a fellow low-born survivor who like Han himself, will do anything to survive the perilous world of slavers, gangsters and thieves which the film resides in. With Solo’s journey resulting in introductions to Woody Harrelson’s (Three Billboards) father figure, Tobias Beckett, Paul Bettany’s (Infinity War) scar-ridden criminal, Dryden Voss, and of course, Donald Glover’s (The Martian) charming interpretation of Lando Calrissian, the range of bright, fascinating characters allows the limited amount of time spent on deep, meaningful characterisation to be somewhat overlooked, with Howard at times more interested in a rapid, relentless editing pace which moves from one well designed planet to the the next without ever really having the chance to breathe. Whilst the relationship between Qi’ra and Solo is somewhat generic and functional, the real bromance of the piece is of course between Solo and Chewbacca, the furry, murderous Wookie who is as charming and fundamentally likeable as ever, and with the interactions between the cast effective and wickedly humorous, the Disney stamp which has made most of the entries in the MCU so great is vividly on show to see. With it meant to be the undisputed train wreck of the year, Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out to be anything but, a splendidly ludicrous popcorn fest which ties into the franchise’s space opera mantra with ease, a movie which will hopefully appease the fans left cold by The Last Jedi and one which proves that when in doubt, get the right guys in to get the job done.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’re An Exception. The Rules Don’t Apply To You…”
Whilst Warren Beatty might be best known in contemporary media circles as being lead conspirator in the Best Picture fiasco at this year’s Academy Award’s ceremony, a recent high-profile cock-up more commonly known as “La La-Gate”, the attention comes in a somewhat suspiciously well timed manner considering the release of Rules Don’t Apply this week, a picture directed, produced, written by and of course, starring the cinematic legend, who takes the leading mantle as infamous businessman Howard Hughes within the setting of 1950’s Hollywood, supported by a simply enormous cast featuring the likes of Hail! Caesar star Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and the always superb, Ed Harris. With a cast as vast as this, Rules Don’t Apply is the type of movie you would think on the surface is one which everyone in the current cinematic world seemed to aching to be involved in, particularly with the reputation of Beatty at the helm, yet the finished picture is one of entirely mixed fortunes, one which suffers from a non-existent narrative and some misjudged moments of self-indulgence amidst some basic film-making errors which makes you wonder whether the real Warren Beatty should most definitely stand up.
Of the good things within Rules Don’t Apply, the leading trio of Beatty, Ehrenreich and Collins each give respectable performances amidst a screenplay which doesn’t really offer much chance to break new ground, with Beatty really hitting the zany mark in his depiction of Howard Hughes, taking cues from DiCaprio in The Aviator when needed but strictly focusing on the wilder side of the infamous billionaire, whilst Ehrenreich continues to impress every time I see him perform on screen, gearing him up for inevitable higher levels of stardom come next year’s Han Solo spin-off release. Star of the picture however is Lily Collins as the doe-eyed and wondrous Marla Mabrey, the keen and confident Virginian rookie who although is trying sometime in terms of awkward character quips and decision making, is a real find and completely holds her own against the likes of Beatty in a leading role. As for the not-so good elements of the film, Beatty treats the film as a personal blueprint for himself to engage in exceptional levels of excess, an understandable element when considering the character in which he is portraying, yet the sight of an aged Hollywood legend feeling up an intoxicated young star really didn’t sit well on a personal level whilst some fundamental film-making traits are completely disregarded, with endless questionable edits and narrative trails which simply go nowhere. resulting in a movie which ultimately is a complete drag to sit through and when you consider the talent at hand behind it, Rules Don’t Apply can only be regarded as a monumental disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Squint Against The Grandeur..!”
When it comes to the Coen Brothers, there is no doubting their ability in the art of film-making even if sometimes their films begin to dwell into the realm of complete mayhem, with films such as Burn After Reading showing their tendency to revel in too much kookiness being on similar wave-lines with cinematic sludges such as their remake of True Grit, a film that can be applauded for its’ cast but yawn inducing nonetheless. On the other hand, films such as No Country For Old Men, Fargo and my own personal favourite Inside Llewyn Davis showcase the brothers’ love for cinema, a love that is no doubt reciprocated within their latest adventure Hail, Caesar! a comedic drama focusing on a day in the life of Capitol Pictures fixer Eddie Mannix, portrayed in a near-perfect fashion by Coen mainstay Josh Brolin supported by a mind-boggling rafter of stars including George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlet Johansson, and Channing Tatum as well as Alden Ehrenreich as the “singing cowboy” Hobie Doyle. Stars galore right? But does the film match the greatness of its’ payroll? Not exactly.
Amongst the damsels in distress, replacement actors, an attempt to get a mother to adopt her own child and contemplating a move to another place of working life, all of which encompass one day in the life of Brolin’s Mannix, the core plot-line amongst the many that are brought to life within the film’s magical air of 1950’s Hollywood is the kidnapping of famous star Baird Whitlock, played in full-on comedic fashion by Clooney, by the mysterious cult calling themselves “The Future”. Although this particular plot-line establishes itself as the core of the movie, aside from the involvement of Clooney, it is strangely the weakest within the film, resulting in a through line that attempts to hold the film together but instead results in a film weaker than the sum of its’ parts. It almost feels like a Coenzian (I’m coining that phrase now) wishlist of stars playing their part in the dreamland of a Hollywood in the mid-20th century of which the brothers wished they were part of, something that on the face of it isn’t bad at all, but for some strange reason, the love I wish I had for it just isn’t there and Hail, Caesar! ultimately feels like something of a let down regarding the talent on display.
Among the great things in the movie is the introduction to Tatum’s character with an all-singing all-dancing routine which is bound to capture the hearts of most audiences whilst the story of Doyle is particularly captivating, with his confrontation with Fienne’s Laurence Laurentz easily one of the most quotable of the year so far. Hill barely has two words to say and is just completely wasted whilst Frances McDormand continues to cash in on her marital duties and appears ever so briefly in the husky air of the back-end editing room; a very strange scene indeed. Hail, Caesar! has a few laughs, a variety of chuckles and a tendency to bring out a smile on occasion yet the film just isn’t the masterpiece it perhaps could have been. Better than Burn After Reading? God, yes. As good as Inside Llewyn Davis? Not at all. It’s solid from the Coen’s, just not ground-breaking.