Solo: A Star Wars Story and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Ron Howard
Well I guess we were destined to get one of these sooner than later, and all I can say is… I’m glad we at least aren’t starting with Boba Fett. I mean it looks like we’re getting one of those no matter what, but out of all the characters to get a prequel… Han isn’t dead last? Eh… look. Han Solo is FINE, but what exactly do we need to know about him that isn’t made readily apparent the first time we see him Mos Eisley Cantina? Then again, him being a smuggler almost makes him a perfect candidate for a decent action film as smugglers tend to get in more gun fights than say… a farm boy on Tatooine, but is that enough to sustain a Star Wars movie? Probably, at least for me, but let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Han (Alden Ehrenreich), who will soon be taking the surname Solo, on the planet Corellia hustling for his meals and dodging fellow street rats to keep himself alive. The only thing that keeps him going are his dreams of owning his own ship as well as his one true love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) who is similarly stuck running con games in the back alleys of this crap hole planet, but fortune soon finds its way to them as Han finds something JUST valuable enough to get them both a one way ticket off this planet and to a new life! The good news is he manages to escape, but the bad news is that Qi’ra gets caught JUST at the last second which means that Han has to get a jump start on that whole “getting a ship and making boat loads of cash” thing so that he can come back for Qi’ra and they can live happily ever after! Hm… but what’s the best way to GET a spaceship in an Empire controlled section of the galaxy? Oh hey! Aren’t they CONSTANTLY recruiting new red shirts to take bullets and fail to hit their targets! Sounds like a good way to at least take the first step to earning a livable wage and get the training he needs to survive on his own! From there things get complicated as Han is not what you’d call a MODEL solider, and ends up with a band of smugglers (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Jon Favreau) as well as a new Wookie friend of his named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama). Funny story how they met, but I won’t spoil it here! So now that he has a crew to run with (after deserting the Empire) and a way to FINALLY make all that sweet cash he needs, he can set his sights on going back to save Qi’ra from whatever fate has befallen her in the years that he’s been gone, right? Well not exactly as things are ALWAYS more complicated than they seem, which includes a SUPER gangster named Dryden (Paul Bettany) who has a bone to pick with this little band of misfits, the ultimate fate of Qi’ra which is VERY different from what Han had imagined, and even a slick hot shot named Lando (Donald Glover) who’s always one step ahead and laughing about it the whole time! Can Han survive in this world of backstabbers, sharpshooters, and expert gamblers long enough to get his own ship and start a life with the woman he loves? Just what did the smugglers do to Dryden, and what chances do they have of ACTUALLY making it right again? How the heck do you even play holo-chess anyway!?
THE SECRETS OF STAR WARS YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW!!
Hark! Is it that time of year again!? Yes, it is time for the film critics to have their yearly ritual of ranking the films we saw in order of how much (or how little) venom we can summon up for it, and while I would love NOTHING more than to get this crap-tastic year over with and race towards the future, we can at least afford one more look in the rear view mirror before leaving it all behind. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t get a chance to see all the movies that came out this year like The Florida Project, and there were films that I couldn’t have seen even if I wanted to like The Post, Phantom Thread, and I, Tonya, due to them getting extremely limited releases in the last weeks of the year. If the studios can’t be bothered to let me see the movie, then I can’t be bothered to wait several weeks to finish up this list. This is a 2017 list, so I’m finishing it in 2017!
Sure! Let’s start this off with a pairing so disparate that it’s likely to cause whiplash! Then again, it’s a probably a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the list as I try to find room for a little bit of everything… and by everything I mean legitimately good movies that everyone likes and amazing B movies that only I seem to like. The Big Sick was one of the better comedies of the year as I’m sure it’s been mentioned on several best of the year lists other than this one, and rightfully so! It didn’t quite make my top ten due to a bit of shaky structuring (time is a bit elusive in it) and the fact that it’s hard to overlook how much of this story is coming from only one viewpoint within it (being written by Nanjiani and Gordon who DID end up working out, it feels a BIT antagonist towards his parents who are drawn more broadly than hers are in the telling of this story), but there’s genuine heart in the way that Nanjiani is trying to navigate such an awkward situation where the right thing to do is kind of murky and his feelings about it all are even more so. It’s a situation, like many in life, that could have ended VERY badly for everyone involved but Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is smart enough to walk that line between genuinely trying to express one’s feelings for someone and having a character realize when that’s not enough and when they need to walk away. It ended up working out for these two but only after Nanjiani left her to live her life and to make her own choices which is certainly a worthwhile lesson for many of us to learn and for Hollywood to pick up on considering how much the BIG ROMANTIC GESTURE is still a staple in so many so called romance films. Kidnap on the other hand… look, I just really had a lot of fun in it, alright!? I know it’s not going to be to EVERYONE’S taste (hence why it didn’t make the list) but it’s damn near perfect in being exactly what it wants to be. Calling something a NON-STOP ACTION THRILLER is about the most hack bit of marketing imaginable, but in this case it’s quite literally true and the film’s greatest asset. Halle Berry is chasing after the people who have kidnapped her son and she can’t stop moving. She can’t lose focus, can’t lose momentum, otherwise she’ll lose everything; and she knows that. Yes it’s over the top and barely makes any sense (there’s maybe three cops in the ENTIRE state) but the tension is there and if you’re willing to get behind its rather ludicrous concept you’ll surely stay engaged all the way to the bloody end of her bloody quest to save her son. Yeah, it’s goofy and has a few less than stellar editing shortcuts (why do they keep reminding us how low on gas she is when she NEVER RUNS OUT OF GAS!?), but they did a lot with what they had to work with which is often the sign of a great film more so than a film with many more resources not taking full advantage of them. Not a bad double feature if you ask me!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Rian Johnson
And we’re back for our yearly song and dance to the empire George Lucas created and Disney is rebuilding! Not that Star Wars ever really went away (nor did its fans who were perfectly willing to still spend money on it), but the last few years have been just the shot in the arm the franchise needed in order to make it more than a nostalgia artifact that won’t go away into something that will resonate with audiences today and maintain its throne as KING OF THE BLOCKBUSTERS. Now that we’re at the second installment of the new trilogy, will it be yet another example of Disney getting this formula right, or have we already started hurtling head long into the dark side… by which I mean the movie is not very good? Let’s find out!!
The movie picks up not long after the events of the first film where The First Order is understandably peeved over the destruction of the Star Killer Base and are on a warpath to hunt down the remnants of The Rebellion; more or less whittling them down to a single flagship desperately trying to find a place to hole up until the heat dies down. Unfortunately for them, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) along with his own flagship are right on their tails and are blasting away at the Rebel ship’s shields until they can get a shot in and blow the whole thing up; effectively killing the resistance and all the loveable characters onboard. Said characters include Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who’s having trouble ceding to the Rebel Leadership which is primarily General Leia and Admiral Holdo (Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern), Finn (John Boyega) who’s all fixed up after the fight against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who’s sister recently died in an attack and wants to help Finn in saving everyone who’s left on the flagship. While Finn, Pie, and Rose are working out a way to save the ship while subverting the Rebel Leadership, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is off on Planet Nowhere with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trying to coax the latter into going back to The Rebels and giving her Jedi lessons, while Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)… well he’s keeping the Millennium Falcon warm in case either of them needs it. Need it they might though considering how dire the situation is with The Rebels and Rey can’t exactly wait around for Luke to stop being a grumpy pants; especially with Kylo Ren growing more and more desperate to prove himself which only makes him that much more dangerous of a blunt tool for Snoke’s greater ambitions. Will The Rebels find a way to survive this unceasing onslaught by The First Order? Will Rey find her place in this conflict and become the Jedi Master that everyone can look up to in these trying times? Will Luke teach her all those lessons he kinda sorta learned from Yoda and Obi-Wan!?
“Do, or do not. There is no try.” “What do you mean there’s no try!?” “Huh. You know, I never really understood that part either.”
Star Wars: The last Jedi and all the images you see in this trailer talk are owned by Walt Disney Studios
Directed by Rian Johnson
Sure enough, Disney is going forward with their plan of turning the month of December into Star Wars month (Merry Lucas-mas!!) and they have just released the first teaser trailer for Episode VIII: The Last Jedi! Now The Force Awakens topped my Best of 2015 list, and Rogue One ended up pretty high on my Best of 2016 list, so while the sense of HYPE isn’t really there this time (Disney knows what they’re doing and if this one doesn’t work we’ll have another one in 2018), I’m still rather interested to see where they go with the main story and hope they can build upon the success of The Force Awakens. Anyway, let’s get started with the speculation!!
Now the first thing I noticed is that this trailer is cut EXACTLY the same as the teaser for The Force Awakens which is an interesting choice. Both trailers are narrated by one of the characters in the movie, doesn’t connect to any of the scenes they actually show. Both trailers start with a quite shot where one of the protagonists suddenly enters the frame with an accompanying musical sting. Finally, both trailers are a collection sizzle shots to show off the graphics and incentivize speculation. The only major difference in regards to the style of the two is the pacing. While the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens had a strong sense of energy and movement, this one is much lower key and methodical with makes sense considering what the movie seems to be about. At least partially, this movie is going to be about Rey’s training as a Jedi under Luke Skywalker which will require as much soul searching, meditation, and self-control as it will chopping dudes to bits with a glowing stick.
“And then I’m gonna go WAAAA! HIYAAAAA! FFWWWOOOSHHHH! And then everyone’s gonna go ‘YAAAAYYYYY!’ and then I’ll be all WOOHOOO!!!”
So who else is ready for this year to be over? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who felt that things got pretty rough over the last twelve months, but we’ll get to the Bad list soon enough. For now, let’s try to focus on the things that were GOOD about 2016; namely the movies that you all should have gone out to see when they were still in theaters. Unlike last year, I did manage to see quite a bit more movies which has led to a somewhat more well-rounded list, even if you can probably guess which genres got a lot of love from me this year.
Without further ado, LET’S START COUNTING!!
Honorable Mention: Skiptrace
Now last year I needed an extra spot just to fit an indie film on my list as most of what my local theater got was just the mainstream fare and therefore those kinds of films completely dominated my Best Of list. This time I actually went through the effort of seeing the smaller stuff, and while most of them still didn’t make it on my list, at least there’s SOME representation this time around to help fill things out. Because of that, I figured I’d be less serious with my unofficial eleven spot and would choose a movie that wasn’t exactly GOOD but a hell of a lot of fun. It was a tossup between Skiptrace and Huntsman: Winter’s War, but I’m gonna give it to the Jackie Chan flick just out of sheer nostalgia. It’s a Renny Harlin action comedy starring Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville; basically making this the greatest thing imaginable for the ONE GUY out there that loves Jackie Chan buddy films but also thinks that Die Hard 2 is the best in the series and that Johnny Knoxville is an underrated actor. So basically it was made for me and no one else (Die Hard 2 is criminally underrated). Look, this movie is really sloppy, especially on the production side (why the hell is Jackie Chan subbed, dubbed, and ACTUALLY speaking English all in the same movie!?), but it’s got so many joyful and delightfully stupid moments like Johnny Knoxville being rolled down a hill in a garbage can or Jackie Chan getting in a fist fight while using a Russian Nesting Doll as a shield that it makes up for the cliché ridden script and lack of any real structure. Even the stuff that’s straight up incompetent is hilarious like how the script puts these two on a train for no other reason than to jump off of it two minutes later, or how a woman gets shot three times and there’s ZERO blood to show for it. It all adds to the goofy charm that makes it hard to stop watching even knowing just how bad the plot is that revolves around Jackie and Johnny needing to cross all of China looking for a damn cell phone charger. In the end, none of that ends up mattering all that much when you’ve got Johnny Knoxville trying to dodge bowling balls or when we get to see drunk ass Jackie Chan singing Rolling in the Deep while hanging out in a Mongolian village. If you’re looking for something incredibly silly and nonsensical with just enough sincerity and heart to avoid coming off as too cynically made just on Jackie’s star power, then you’ll definitely have a good time here. Also, if you like watching Johnny Knoxville get the crap beat out of him because that happens constantly!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Gareth Edwards
In what will surely be a yearly tradition until the day we all die, Disney has given us our holiday present in the form of another Star Wars movie. We’re only at two so far which means they PROBABLY aren’t gonna start half-assing these just yet, and in fact this one seems to be willing to take a few more risks than what we would normally expect from franchise features like this. Okay, the fact that it’s a one-time spin off means that they’re only so much damage this can do if it blows up in their faces, but the tone of the trailers and the nature of the story they’re telling at least inspires some hope that the franchise has gotten so big that they’re willing to let it take some chances. Does this experiment in growing the series turn out to be a total success, or will this somehow be the worst prequel yet? Okay, I kind of doubt that’s even possible, but you never know!
The movie begins a long time ago in a galaxy far far away where little Jyn Erso (Beau Gadsdon) has her life completely uprooted when her family is found by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who is a high ranking member of the galactic empire. Why did this guy hunt halfway around the galaxy for them? Well it turns out that Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is an Empire scientist who defected and they need him back to finish some super weapon they’re working on. The good news is that Jyn manages to escape the Empire with the help of a family friend Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). The bad news is that her mother (Valene Kane) got killed in the process and dear old dad got kidnapped. Flash forward to sometime later where we meet grown up Jyn (Felicity Jones) who’s been rebellious youth-ing all around the galaxy and winds up at Rebel headquarters where they have a proposition for her. Go with the rebel agent Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to find her father and stop him from finishing the Death Star as he seems to be looking for a way out once again. Okay, it’s not QUITE that simple, but that’s the basic idea of what they’re trying to do! Anyway, they’ll point her in the right direction in the hopes that her skills and connections will kill two birds with one stone; she gets her dad back and they get to stop the Space Nuke from being completed. Of course, nothing is as easy as it seems and there’s plenty of treachery to go around as the mission becomes only more difficult once the Empire get wind of what they might be up to. Can Jyn save her farther before the Empire find out if he’s been undercutting their progress on the super weapon this entire time? Does Cassian have a hidden agenda that he’s not telling Jyn about? On a scale of one to Vader, how screwed are they?