Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) lives on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia but longs to escape his life of petty theft under the control of a local crime boss that looks like a giant caterpillar. Han hopes to trade a sample of hyper-drive fuel called coaxium for passage off the planet for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Just as they are walking through the gate Qi’ra is captured. In desperation, Han joins the Imperial Navy with a hope to become a pilot so he can return and save Qi’ra. Three years later Han has been kicked out of flight school for failing to follow orders and is an infantry soldier helping to conquer a planet. There he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is pretending to be an Imperial officer so he and his gang can steal a heavy transport. Han recognizes they aren’t with the Empire and tries to blackmail his way onto their ship but they turn Han in as a deserter. Han is thrown in a pit where it is expected he’ll be consumed by a beast that turns out to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han speaks a little of Chewbacca’s native language and they form a plan to escape. Once out of the pit they jump on Beckett’s stolen transport joining his gang for the theft of a large shipment of coaxium. That heist is broken up by a gang of marauders called the Cloud Riders, the coaxium is destroyed and in the process a couple of Beckett’s gang is killed. Beckett tells Han he was ordered to steal the coaxium by crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to pay off a debt and Vos will likely kill them for failing. While waiting to see Vos on his space yacht Han sees Qi’ra. She works for Vos and in their meeting to explain their failure she helps guide him to a solution to pay off their debt: Stealing raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel. Vos orders Qi’ra to go along and make sure everything goes smoothly. Knowing they will need a very fast ship to get the raw coaxium to a processing facility before it explodes Qi’ra hunts down legendary smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who has the fastest ship in the quadrant: The Millennium Falcon.

During the making of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the film was in the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons: The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into production when Lucasfilm executives were unhappy about the quality of daily footage coming from the set. Star Alden Ehrenreich was given an acting coach because his performance wasn’t what the executives wanted. The directors weren’t shooting enough angles of various scenes that give editors plenty to work with. Script writers Jonathon and Lawrence Kasdan were angry over Lord and Miller allowing the cast to improvise. Lord and Miller were unhappy when Lawrence Kasdan was brought on set as they felt he was a shadow director. Clearly something had to change and since Lucasfilm was the boss, Lord and Miller were let go but given executive producer credit on the film. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, who has a long history with Star Wars creator George Lucas, was brought in to essentially start over. Much of what was filmed was scrapped and reshot adding tens of millions of dollars to the production’s budget. Would this be the first Star Wars film since the prequels to be considered just plain bad? The short answer is a qualified no. It’s qualified because you have to be willing to accept some things that I think most Star Wars fans are unwilling to accept: Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a young Harrison Ford; but I’ll get to that a little later.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” wastes no time in delivering the action as the first scene is a chase through the dingy back alleys of Corellia. Soon we’re transplanted to a battlefield on an alien world then we’re robbing a train on yet another planet. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t let the viewer get bored with any one location as the action is never in one place for very long. I enjoyed the planet hopping as the film tended to bog down whenever the action stopped and the acting kicked in. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often.

Fans of the Star Wars original trilogy saga will find the most to enjoy in this film. We hear familiar names like Tatooine and Hutt and finally understand what “Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means. We see the first meetings between Han and Chewie and Han and Lando. We see Han win the Millennium Falcon in the famous card game we heard about 35 years ago. The Falcon is all white and clean inside and there are more bits of Star Wars history that jump off the screen and into our childhoods that complete pictures we only could dream of. I’m not saying you have to have been a Star Wars fan since the original trilogy came out in theaters to appreciate “Solo: A Star Wars Story” but it helps.

The movie may actually lean a bit too heavily on nostalgia for its own good. While I enjoyed the way Han and Chewie became friends that friendship seems to develop too quickly and too deeply. The newer characters, with a couple of exceptions, are mostly cannon fodder that are quickly killed off despite being entertaining additions.

Then there is the problem of Alden. While he gives a perfectly fine performance he isn’t a young Harrison Ford and even when he’s being a selfish jerk there’s still a little bit of “aw shucks” in his demeanor. I never was able to forget Ehrenreich was playing a role where Harrison Ford was the role. I know it is unfair and impossible for Lucasfilm to have cast a young Harrison Ford impersonator as Han Solo but seeing someone else play the part was a constant irritant that kept me from fully investing in the film.

Yet I still enjoyed the movie. I suppose I’m easily entertained but watching the younger versions of Han, Lando and Chewie (all being played by different actors from the originals) was a huge amount of fun for me. Seeing the basis for many of the references I heard in theaters back in the 1970’s and 1980’s finally being brought to life was something of a thrill. While we know Han, Lando and Chewie will survive no matter how dire their situation might be and that cuts into the tension some, I want to see in future movies the contraband that Han had to dump that got him in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. I want to know if Han and Darth Vader ever crossed paths prior to A New Hope. There are more stories to tell about the life of Han Solo before he met a kid and a crazy old man in a cantina at Mos Eisley and I want to see them even if I have to overlook who is playing the young smuggler.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Chewbacca rips the arms off a guard. We only see him holding the arms not the actual ripping. We also see Chewie slam a guard head first into the ground. There are numerous battles involving blasters and people being shot by them. There are explosions that toss people around. Any foul language is said in an alien tongue.

Probably the most memorable scene in the film is one near the very end where a character makes a cameo appearance via hologram. I had to sit up in my seat and take a very close look at this character to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. For me, that scene alone was worth the two or so hours that preceded it and made me hope that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” makes enough money so we get another film telling us more stories about Han Solo. He might not make me forget about Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich is the actor Lucasfilm and Disney chose to fill his seat at the controls of the Millennium Falcon and as long as they surround him with great visuals and exciting stories I’m willing to accept him for as long as he plays the part.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” gets four stars out of five.

This week three new films hope you’ve seen all the superheroes and space operas and spend your money on something else at the cinema. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Action Point—

Adrift—

Upgrade—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news on movies, TV and streaming entertainment. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—

Minions—

The Overnight—

Self/Less—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.