Archive for June 16, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

KA-BLAM! Talk about the lead balloon that gave the classic band Led Zeppelin their name. In my arrogance that wants to believe that my positive write up on Solo: A Star Wars Story would have any effect on how the movie landed with the audience…if only I’d posted this review when it mattered two weeks ago. Yeah, right. Anyway, except for that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? A fun movie if obviously snake-bit.

Young Han Solo is back. Han Solo steals stuff. Han Solo meets and befriends Chewbacca. Han Solo meets and befriends Lando Calrissian. Together everybody makes the Kessel Run shaving two parsecs off the average distance. Lando’s favorite droid incites a droid/slave riot on Kessel before merging her consciousness with the Millennium Falcon. Han Solo confronts the old girlfriend left behind on Corellia. Han Solo plays sabacc with Lando acquiring the Falcon. Things move and blow up. Oh, Han Solo shoots (Han always shoots first) first killing a mentor, an act that said mentor approves of while dying.

Now that I’ve listed the bullet points of the plot, I can see why some people hated Solo. The simple act of paying attention to the Star Wars universe, even at the remove of Wookieepedia, says everybody knew the above plot points in one form or another were coming and completely unavoidable. And I suppose choosing annoyance over “that was actually sort of fun” probably says more about the commenter than anything about the movie that landed on screen. As in, if you hated the movie you’re probably the kind of person that gets suckered into chowing down a bad breakfast burrito. And if you liked the movie (I’m your huckleberry), maybe you had pancakes that morning.

Anyway, Alden Ehrenreich plays young Han Solo opposite Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra (pronounced Kira for those who care). The young friends, grifters on Corellia with highly visible callbacks to Oliver Twist, are separated. And Han goes to the Imperial Starfighter academy only to land in the infantry.

Thus begins a high-speed rollercoaster for the intrepid rogue in training that’s all about stealing vials of hyper-fuel. Han begins to shine soon to earn the title “best smuggler in the galaxy.” We learn about the many criminal organizations that seem like Emperor Palpatine lets them exist to do business because nothing kills the spirit of a people faster than getting caught between Space Hitler and Space Al Capone (of course if it had been Space Lucky Luciano maybe the galaxy wouldn’t be so bad…read a book to understand).

We find Qi’ra ensconced with the Crimson Dawn mob with constant offscreen references to “a gangster on Tatooine putting together a crew.” There is the romantic tension of the old girlfriend and the – “whose side is she really on?” – question. In the midst of this, Han takes on debts incurred by previous people agreeing to find more coaxium proposing the Kessel Run probably because Crimson Dawn frontman Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) is in a kill them all mood.

As good as Mr. Ehrenreich is at playing Han Solo, Donald Glover as young Lando steals every scene he’s in. Especially any scene in which he has a sabacc card dispenser up his sleeve (all the time), or the loving looks given to his droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Or his pain seeing the droid fail at her side mission of freeing the droid slaves on Kessel. Generally, I liked the whole cast and don’t see why the characters that lived can’t come back in other Young Han Solo movies. Stories that wouldn’t be dependent on filling all the obvious backstory squares in favor of awesome heist movies, but no one actually asked me.

I will say that if I hadn’t been the uber-geek that will see a movie twice to give it the fairest chance possible, I might have really hated the movie. The first screening seemed extremely dark to me in the same way that if I’d stopped watching with the 3D version of Rogue One, I would’ve hated that movie. The cause being the same, lots of foggy scenes. Luckily, the second screening happened at another theater where the projectionist seemed to turn up the lamp on the gizmo and we’re good.

Upon the second viewing, I couldn’t find anything overtly wrong with this movie even though the Star Wars franchise has done better. They’ve also done worse (Phantom Menace, anyone?) and I guess I’ll just have to let the movie slightly pancaking hopefully to be rediscovered on home video remain one of those mysteries of, as screenwriter William Goldman put it – “no one knows anything.”

Yes, the imaginary movie where director Ron Howard gets the job from jump as being the sort of artist that actually fits with Star Wars might have been just as entertaining and less expensive. That unfortunately the necessity of firing the first team would cause a feeding frenzy of – “Oh, my God they just fucked up a beloved piece of my childhood” – or worse – “that sea hag left in charge of Lucasfilm has got to go!” Seems to me that the audience had several reasons for punishing Solo for the perceived sins of previous movies and let fly with all their toxic fury. Or it really was too soon to put movies out five months apart. Time will tell.

So anyway, Solo: A Star Wars Story was to this movie fan a good solid movie that could give us really cool Han Solo sequels of the Han Solo tries to steal X while romancing hot space princess Y (not named Leia Organa) and Lando saves the day with cool maneuver Z formula. I think if Lucasfilm doesn’t panic they could get three movies doing just this. Again no one asked. And because I liked this film and might be the only one in the country that did…when’s the disk coming out?

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! All the pull quote anyone will ever need. To steal from Yoda, A Quiet Place a great movie is.

A family survives the initial invasion of hostile and hungry aliens that hunt by the slightest change in sound by hunkering down on their farm in upstate New York and tries to hang together with the impending birth of a new baby.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish mostly because I found the adaptations to the new circumstances fascinating. Good thing it also had good acting and directing, especially on the part of John Krasinski playing Lee Abbott (and director). And the monsters eat people…

We start on an empty small town. The Abbotts follow lines of sand previously laid down to provide noise dampeners on known routes to town to scavenge supplies. They don’t wear shoes.

In the general store the youngest boy, Beau (Cade Woodward), wants a space shuttle toy, the one with the lights and sounds. Dad quickly takes away the toy signing in ASL that it is too loud. Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds), the older sister gives the little boy the toy without batteries, but the boy being too young to fully comprehend the danger grabs the batteries on the way out. At the bridge nearer home, the boy puts in the AA cells and turns on the toy and doesn’t live long enough to cry for Mommy.

A year or so later, the world has settled into an awful equilibrium highlighted by newspaper clippings where the government and press finally cooperate to instruct the populace how to survive the monsters. Daddy checks the shortwave radio every day listening for other people; he also climbs to the top of his corn silo to set fires to see if any of his pre-invasion neighbors are still alive. And Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) is noticeably pregnant as in due soon.

While my overall thoughts run to the “great fun Monster in the House movie” variety, whether it’s the cool experimentation in the script where everyone speaks in American Sign Language. Or that nothing about these actors gets in the way of the intended emotional takeaways of a family that could probably be like any of our families. I really felt for Ms. Simmonds as the middle daughter bearing the guilt of the kind of mistake that scars lives for decades in the absence of years of therapy: letting your little brother climb up to the hot stove or, in this case, giving him the toy that kills him right before the family’s eyes.

And Ms. Blunt plays the mother in ways we wish all mothers would be in similar hopefully imaginary circumstances. Especially during the scenes when the birth finally pays off, which we know from everywhere is simply going to be the noisiest thing in that environment where silence is life. She hides in an upstairs bathtub that might provide enough armor to buy time to run out the back door…or lock and load the family shotgun and we see it on her face. Call the Oscar voters…or not.

And I will shout out for the script written by Brian Woods, Scott Beck and Mr. Krasinski, mostly for using a great trick possibly last seen in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator that when you absolutely need to have silent characters speak they should say the most important words in the movie. Mister Chaplin broke the Fourth Wall and reminded us to be wary of real dictators, some of whom shared his mustache. Here Lee and oldest son Marcus (Noah Jupe) trek to the nearby waterfall where the noise blocks out the monsters’ hearing. Sure enough, Marcus tells his father to actually tell Regan that he loves and forgives her because people make mistakes and that she beats herself up even harder.

My favorite adaptation in this movie has to be the fireworks carefully prepared for the birth. Yes, mothers cry loudly giving their new child his or her life and so will the child. So, anesthetize the child with oxygen and ether or something and fire off a display worthy of the Gruchi family, works for me…mostly.

Now for the questions, Mr. Prime Minister. While I found myself totally engrossed with this story and the cleverness of most of the adaptations shown, I did wonder about certain things. Starting with the no shoes concept. I sometimes go barefoot around the house and down the carpeted hallway, except when there are dead bees to step on (see post).

Now allowing for the fact that the barefoot and those who wear old-timey (pre-1600) soft leather shoes are actually supposed to walk on the balls of their feet to avoid the dangers of the normal heel-to-toe gait instinctively learned when we wear good shoes, does going barefoot over trails of soft sand or concrete powder actually provide more silence than good rubber soled hiking/combat boots or even cross-trainers?

No, I’m not I’m not using the Socratic method like a lawyer having the chapter and verse answer with citations up my sleeve. Other than to say that over thinly carpeted floor on the way to the coin laundry at the end of the hall, I can feel huge vibrations that should make lots of noise meaning my life expectancy might be nil when these monsters show up for dinner.

The Abbotts walk heel-to-toe despite a year and a half of the new reality of the monsters. And perhaps this line of questioning also relies on watching a bit too much Discovery Channel military shows where the soldiers wear good boots that spread out the surface area of the footfall. And they also learn how to walk slowly and carefully, sometimes on the balls of feet despite the hard rubber soles, to avoid twigs and other possible noises that draw snipers, let alone awesome Bug Eyed Monsters. Which is better? Obviously, if the old Mythbusters show were still a thing, I’d send an email…needs testing. And it matters because, yes, Virginia, there is a rusty nail at a key moment in the movie…nuff said.

Another set of related things that just occurred to me about the fireworks display that covers up Mama Abbott’s birthing cries, fireworks are basically black powder explosives optimized for pretty colors and lots of noise, the point of the exercise. But, black powder, nitrocellulose and many other classes of explosive require proper handling and storage because they degrade over time. Depending on when the family scavenged the mortar shells, we have a question about how long they could store the display before replacing them. And this is before we ask the next question about the fact that pre-invasion fireworks are tightly regulated by local governments which might limit their availability when the monsters attack.

All of these are questions for the next time we hang out with movie fans with lots of beer. Fun to discuss and consider while still enjoying a good monster movie where they run here and there avoiding getting killed while discovering how to fight back.

My next concern actually does land a little on the story opposed to the underlying science. I wonder if the screenwriters may have drawn the character of Lee Abbott a little too perfectly for survival in this movie. He is a tinkerer and engineer which allows him to jigger his deaf daughter’s cochlear implant that provides a key element of the movie’s solution where there is a ray of hope at the end. I wonder if we saw a dog eared copy of How Things Work or some other book about technology, carpentry and/or plumbing prominently displayed on his workbench, just to show a man that might have sold insurance before the monsters came and had to learn on the job. As it is, he has the perfect skill set for this story.

However, these questions don’t get in the way of a good family survival story with lots of running, self-sacrifice and emotional cleverness designed to make us think about how we interact with things that make small amounts of noise that we block out on a daily basis. Whether it’s a slow dance to Neil Young on the shared earbuds, or the warm feelings between all of the cast.

In short, when this disk lands on Amazon…I hope I have the cash.