Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Release date: 24th May 2018/Watch the trailer here

To call the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story ‘troubled’ would be an understatement: original director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller left six months into filming amid rumours that they had been fired over ‘creative differences’, and they were subsequently replaced by Ron Howard. So it would be fair to say that fans’ hopes and expectations for the latest ‘Star Wars Story’ – the franchise’s series of standalone anthology films, started by Rogue One in 2016 – were far from high. The good news is that Solo is nowhere near to being as much of a disaster as it could and probably should have been – but the bad news is that anyone hoping for Solo to reach the highest heights of the Star Wars saga will likely be left disappointed, too.

Set sometime between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Solo explores the adventures of a younger version of a fan favourite character: ace pilot and smuggler Han Solo, with Alden Ehrenreich stepping into the considerable shoes of Harrison Ford. On the world of Corellia, aspiring pilot Han and his friend (and romantic interest) Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) long to escape the clutches of the local criminal gangs. After they are left separated, Han vows to return for her, joining the Imperial navy as a flight cadet in the meantime. Three years later – after being expelled from the flight academy and meeting a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – Han joins forces with a smuggler crew led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), leading him on a mission to steal a shipment of expensive fuel for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the head of a criminal syndicate known as Crimson Dawn.

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All of the chapters of Han’s notorious past that were expected to make an appearance do so in Solo: meeting Chewbacca; the story of how Han came to win his beloved ship, the Millennium Falcon, from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover); and, of course, making the infamous Kessel Run in just twelve parsecs – and not to mention the countless fan service moments, from subtle references made in passing to a far less subtle (and completely unexpected) cameo. But while Solo may be short on surprises for the most part, this is by no means a bad thing. In fact, the biggest surprise of all might be that another actor took on such an iconic role amid doubt and uproar from a very vocal fanbase, and ended up being one of the best parts of the entire film.

The reason that Ehrenreich’s performance works so well is because he’s not doing a poor imitation of Harrison Ford – and that’s a good thing. He may not look or sound much like Ford, but he’s embodied the attitude, charisma and enough of the mannerisms for him to still feel unmistakably like Han Solo. Glover, too, does an impeccable job of capturing the spirit of Lando (played by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy), and Solo is at its best when Ehrenreich and Glover are on screen together. It’s not just the familiar faces that are a success, however – Solo is filled with an assortment of likeable new characters, and while it might uphold the Rogue One tradition of not giving some of the better characters enough screen time, it’s the cast (highlights are Clarke and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid and well-timed comic relief L3-37) that make Solo worth watching.

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The problem with Solo is that, if it belonged to any other franchise, it would be difficult to give it enough praise – but, being a Star Wars film, the standard for the franchise has already been set impossibly high, and Solo simply cannot hope to meet it. Ultimately, it’s a film that’s best enjoyed as nothing more or less than what it is: a perfectly entertaining space adventure that’s good fun from start to finish (if not fifteen minutes too long) with exciting action set pieces, great characters, and lifted by a score that’s impressive, despite not having John Williams’ name attached to it (aside from the main theme, John Powell took over composing duties for this film).

Solo: A Star Wars Story might not be a particularly necessary addition to the saga – nor does it ever do much to prove otherwise – but it exists, and both similar standalone origin stories and direct sequels to Solo are certainly to be expected at a later date. It might not feel all that much like Star Wars, but that’s not necessarily a criticism – and perhaps this proves that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing for the future of the franchise, either.

★★★★

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Deadpool 2

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Release date: 15th May 2018/Watch the trailer here

After the huge success of 2016’s Deadpool led it to become the second highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time (a statistic which Deadpool 2 is quick to reference), a sequel was inevitable. What was less certain, however, was whether Deadpool 2 would be able to recreate all of the magic of its predecessor that helped it to become such an undeniable hit. Thankfully, the answer to that question is ‘yes’ – and not only does Deadpool 2 dare to be bigger, it also succeeds in being better.

Ryan Reynolds reprises the role he was born to play: that of foul-mouthed, wisecracking, mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool). After the unexpected arrival of a time-travelling, cybernetic soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin), Deadpool assembles a team of fellow mutants known as X-Force – including Domino (Zazie Beetz), who has the ability of manipulating luck – in order to protect Russell (Julian Dennison), a troubled teenaged mutant whose powers allow him to generate fire from his fists. As well as introducing some newcomers to the franchise, Deadpool 2 also sees the return of some familiar faces: including Wade’s fiancée, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin); Wade’s closest friend, Weasel (T.J. Miller); scene-stealing taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni); X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand); and Wade’s elderly roommate, Blind Al (Leslie Uggams).

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Much like the first film, Deadpool 2 is relatively light on plot, but it has the advantage of not being weighed down by its own origin story this time around. While Deadpool had a straightforward, good versus evil/hero versus villain plot, the sequel has more than a few surprises up its sleeve – and although the first fifteen minutes of Deadpool 2 contain the expected amount of bloody violence and meta humour (there’s a joke about Wolverine’s fate in Logan and the first of many jabs at the DC Universe all before the opening credits) there’s also a shocking moment that sets the tone for the rest of the film that’s to follow.

There was always the danger that Deadpool 2 might start to feel stale, especially now that the novelty and shock factor of an R-rated superhero movie has worn off, but instead it’s a film that understands exactly what did and didn’t work about the original. The humour is a little less juvenile and a tad more intelligent this time, while also remembering that it’s possible to be funny without an over-reliance on gimmicks such as frequent fourth wall breaking – meaning that the jokes flow fast and effortlessly, without feeling as forced as they sometimes did in Deadpool. There’s also a surprising amount of emotion and occasional darkness to be found here, giving the sequel just a little bit more heart and depth (although not too much, of course, this is still a Deadpool movie). Furthermore, as is to be expected from a film with David Leitch – stuntman-turned-director of John Wick and Atomic Blonde – behind the camera, the action is expertly choreographed and never anything less than consistently exciting and entertaining.

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Another strength of Deadpool 2 is its strong cast of fun supporting characters, most of whom will hopefully make an appearance in any future sequels (of which there are sure to be plenty). Brolin, playing his second comic book character of the month (and Thanos jokes are to be expected in Deadpool 2), also makes for a compelling antagonist and a far more complex and morally grey character than the classic bad guy stereotype of the first film.

Truthfully, it’s far from groundbreaking; the constant pop culture references will leave it feeling dated within a couple of years; and, as with Deadpool before it, it’s a film that will probably get worse with each subsequent viewing – but it’s also well aware of all of these things. The joy of Deadpool 2 lies in just how much ridiculous good fun it is to spend two hours in this world with these irresistibly likeable characters. It’s hard to deny that this is simply more of the same – but when the same is as unashamedly entertaining as this, then where’s the sense in complaining?

★★★★

Tully

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Release date: 4th May 2018/Watch the trailer here

From director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the AirYoung Adult) and writer Diablo Cody – a frequent collaborator of Reitman’s, also known for Jennifer’s Body – comes Tully, a drama-slash-comedy about the friendship formed between an exhausted mother of three, Marlo (Charlize Theron), and Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny Marlo hires to help with her newborn daughter.

At least a third of the film’s runtime has elapsed by the time the titular character makes her first appearance, but this allows Tully time to paint an honest portrait of motherhood – the highs, the lows and everything in between – in a manner that feels both sincere and warmly, darkly amusing.

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The role of Marlo is far from a glamorous one, but Theron gives a remarkable performance without a trace of ego or vanity. While she’d be more than deserving of any awards that come her way, there’s no sense of her reaching for them in the first place – just a truthful, heartfelt performance that carries the entire film on its back. It helps that Marlo is such a well-written character, of course – Cody’s screenplay ensures that Marlo is more than just a mother, more than a wife, more than her postpartum depression. She feels like a three-dimensional, complex human being, and Theron brings her to life with ease.

Davis, too, is simply radiant as Tully, and she and Theron play off one another perfectly, with chemistry that feels real and natural. This sense of authenticity continues, even as Tully enters uncharted territory and begins to toy with some more fantastical elements than one would expect – and it’s because of this that Tully’s feet manage to remain firmly on the ground until the very end, rarely missing a beat along the way.

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It’s thanks to this unexpectedness that Tully continues to surprise, consistently refusing to be the film that you think it’s going to be at the start. The second you think the story is about to go in a certain direction, Cody’s screenplay dares to follow an entirely different route, and it’s a film that keeps audiences on their toes from beginning to end. Although the risks Reitman and Cody take in the final act may not quite work for everyone, for most they should hopefully act as a satisfyingly surprising conclusion to the duo’s best work since Juno.

★★★★

I Feel Pretty

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Release date: 4th May 2018/Watch the trailer here

Following the success of 2015’s Trainwreck (but the less said about last year’s Snatched, the better), Amy Schumer’s latest film is I Feel Pretty. Schumer stars as Renee Bennett, a woman struggling with insecurity and lacking in self-confidence – until, following an accident at a SoulCycle class, Renee regains consciousness and, after catching sight of her reflection, believes that she has been transformed into the most beautiful and capable person in the world. Her newfound confidence empowers her to live fearlessly, finding both a boyfriend and her dream job in the process, but sooner or later, she has to come to the realisation that her appearance never changed in the first place.

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I Feel Pretty works hard to attempt to convince its audience that it’s a feel-good movie, all about the importance of loving yourself and finding your inner beauty (blah, blah, blah), but all of this faux-positivity is soured by the fact that the film’s funniest joke (or so it likes to think) is that a woman who’s not a size zero could only possibly believe that she’s attractive after suffering a head injury. As if that’s not insulting enough, I Feel Pretty also tries to promote the message that if you are fortunate enough to be thin and conventionally attractive, then you automatically lose the right to feel insecure – so, really, you can’t win; at least not according to Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the film’s writer and director duo.

The problem is, I Feel Pretty still isn’t a good film, even in spite of these flaws – nor is it a decent film, or even a particularly entertaining one. It’s clichéd and stale enough to be able to accurately guess the entire plot before it’s even started, and – most worryingly for a film that’s marketing itself as a comedy – it’s almost offensively unfunny. Schumer may be an acquired taste as a comedian, but even her fans will likely be left disappointed by I Feel Pretty, which feels like a more watered-down and family-friendly version of her usual fare – and the film loses any edge which it might otherwise have had as a result.

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Still, it’s not a complete disaster – I Feel Pretty is a rom-com, and while it might fail entirely at the comedy element, the romance between Renee and her love interest, Ethan (Rory Scovel), is sweet-natured enough. This is largely due to Scovel’s performance, however: Schumer has an even greater struggle when it comes to selling the dramatic elements of her role than she does the comedic side of things (although the honour of the worst performance in the film goes to Michelle Williams as Renee’s boss, Avery LeClaire) – and ultimately, I Feel Pretty is the furthest thing possible from the empowering, laugh-out-loud comedy smash hit that Schumer, Kohn and Silverstein were evidently hoping for.

★★

Avengers: Infinity War

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Release date: 26th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

There’s no denying it: regardless of the quality of Avengers: Infinity War, the fact that it’s a film that even exists in the first place is an incredible achievement that simply cannot be understated. The Marvel Cinematic Universe first began with the release of Iron Man in 2008, and now – ten years and eighteen films later – our heroes are coming together to face Thanos (Josh Brolin), the villain who’s been teased as the ultimate antagonist since his first cameo in 2012’s The Avengers. Well, the good news for fans – both devoted and casual alike; it seems as though everyone is excited about this movie – is that Infinity War doesn’t just merely live up to our high expectations: it far surpasses them.

For six years now, Thanos has been on a mission that has spanned almost the entirety of the MCU: to collect all six Infinity Stones, allowing him to impose his twisted will on the entire universe. Though our heroes are scattered throughout both Earth and space, they must now unite in order to battle their most powerful enemy yet. With the fate of existence itself hanging in the balance, everything that the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment.

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Fan-favourite director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo return to direct Infinity War (and, after having previously directed both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its sequel Civil War, the MCU top three is now more or less dominated by the Russos) – and what’s perhaps most impressive about their work with this film is their ability to make a 180-minute movie feel like five hours’ worth of storytelling that still seems to fly by in the space of an hour. Their solution to juggling more than twenty different superheroes is to divide them into three or four teams and to spend the film’s runtime cutting from group to group: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) find themselves pursuing Thanos to the alien planet of Titan; also in space is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who joins forces with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy; while back on Earth, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads a faction of the Avengers – including Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) – to reunite with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in the African nation of Wakanda. It would be all too easy for Infinity War to feel overstuffed and in many ways, it probably is – yet the Russos pull the whole thing off masterfully, with each major character receiving equal amounts of screen time and – while some characters may be the star of the show more than others – every hero receives their own moment to shine.

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Infinity War has everything we’ve come to expect from an MCU movie: surprisingly, it’s one of the funniest Marvel entries so far, not falling into the trap of misplaced humour ruining the serious moments and with every joke landing with often hilarious results. It also has some of the most impressive action set pieces of any superhero film to date, and there are more than enough heroic instances here that are sure to elicit cheers from an audience. The real joy of Infinity War, however, comes from the character moments: this is a film that features an awful lot of characters that audiences have come to know and love over the years, but many of them have been yet to meet until now. Star-Lord’s attempts to one-up Thor; the clash of personalities when Tony Stark and Doctor Strange first meet; the Guardians coming face-to-face with the various Avengers for the first time: the dialogue in these moments is sharp and witty enough to be worth the price of a ticket alone. Even Thanos avoids the usual Marvel villain pitfalls, which is just as well, considering that he carries the weight of six years’ worth of hype – but he is well-written, well-developed and utterly three-dimensional; as much of a character (and occasionally even a sympathetic one) as any of the heroes.

Yet if there was one thing above all others that Infinity War needed to achieve in order to be a success, it was raising the stakes for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By avoiding permanent deaths for any of their characters in the past, the MCU has left a lot of their films without a palpable sense of threat – the audience never truly believes that the heroes are in any real danger, knowing that they’ll make it out unscathed at the end to fight again in the sequel. This is not the case with Infinity War: for while it may be the funniest Marvel movie to date, it’s also by far the darkest. We see from the opening scene that Thanos and his henchmen are capable of genocide and torture, and this sets the tone for the film that is to follow. For the first time, audiences are faced with a film in which we have no idea who’s going to survive until the end – and throw your fan theories out of the window, because Infinity War’s cliffhanger ending is a surprise that no one will see coming. Don’t let the spectacle fool you: this is not your typical summer blockbuster.

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While the MCU can almost always be counted on to provide audiences with consistently entertaining popcorn movies, Infinity War goes one step further: this is an entertaining popcorn movie with lasting implications that will dramatically alter the future of the franchise. For every gleeful hero moment and every laugh-out-loud joke, there’s another moment that will shock you, and probably more than a few that will bring a tear to the eye of even the most cold-hearted of Marvel fans. The simple fact that a film on the scale of Infinity War even exists is incredible enough in itself, but the fact that a film that’s ten years in the making, with a cast made up of more than twenty superheroes and an even greater number of A-list actors not only exists, but is also as utterly spectacular as Infinity War, is quite simply remarkable. Marvel have done it again – and with a whole year to wait until the story concludes in Avengers 4, the only way they have to go from here is up.

★★

Ghost Stories

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Release date: 6th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

Co-directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson and adapted from the writer duo’s own stage play, Ghost Stories is a chilling British horror film centred around Phillip Goodman (Nyman), a sceptic who has built his career around debunking fraudulent psychics on television. One day, he receives an invitation to visit a famed 1970s paranormal investigator who inspired Phillip as a child, and he is asked to investigate three incidents of supposedly real and inexplicable hauntings: a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) terrorised by the spirit of a young girl, a teenager (Alex Lawther) whose car breaks down in the middle of a woods haunted by a sinister horned creature, and a financier (Martin Freeman) whose home was plagued by an apparent poltergeist.

Ghost Stories automatically achieves the two most important factors that so many horror films frequently fail to achieve: it’s both a good film, and it’s genuinely frightening at the same time. It’s comprised of three fantastically entertaining supernatural stories, but it’s set apart from the rest by just how uniquely and beautifully well-crafted it is. The film cleverly plays with familiar genre tropes and the audience’s expectations and, as a result, the jump scares never feel cheap or overused, but well-earned instead.

Good performances also serve to elevate Ghost Stories: Nyman makes for a sympathetic figure in the lead role, but the standout is Freeman, playing against type by being utterly unlikeable, and evidently having a lot of fun with it in the process. As a horror anthology, it’s immensely satisfying – particularly when the pieces of the puzzle finally start to fit together, building towards a plot-twist ending that’s just surprising enough to be rewarding, making the entire experience feel worthwhile: there’s enough attention to detail to be found here for Ghost Stories to be picked apart for hours afterwards.

It may not attempt anything particularly new with the genre – but then again, it isn’t really trying to. There’s a lot here that might feel familiar to horror movie aficionados but, seeing as Ghost Stories is something of a love letter to old-school horror films at heart, that’s probably Nyman and Dyson’s intentions. Witty enough to provide a few laughs among the frights and just disturbing enough to be bone-chillingly creepy, Ghost Stories makes for an intelligent and hugely enjoyable addition to the horror catalogue, breathing a touch of fresh air into an oversaturated genre.

Thoroughbreds

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Release date: 6th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

With a script that was originally intended to become a play, Thoroughbreds also marks the directorial debut for its writer Cory Finley. Set in suburban Connecticut, the film sees two upper-class teenage girls, Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. What begins as tutoring sessions for Amanda – whose mother is concerned about her following a troubling incident and an unspecified mental disorder that leaves her emotionless – soon evolves into something more when Lily enlists Amanda’s help in dealing with the problem of her wealthy, cruel stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks).

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The fact that Thoroughbreds was originally meant for the stage is evident in how sharply-written it is but, while the script is the high point that the rest of the film must live up to, Finley has still crafted an impressive film around it. It helps that the dialogue is so well-delivered: Thoroughbreds makes for a notable addition to the ever-growing résumés of Cooke and Taylor-Joy, who each deliver the best performance of their career so far in Finley’s film – which also features the final performance of Anton Yelchin following his tragically untimely death in 2016. Yelchin, as ambitious but somewhat pathetic drug dealer Tim, is another of the film’s many highlights.

With a runtime of just ninety minutes, Thoroughbreds is already short and sweet, but it’s still surprising how fast-paced it manages to feel despite being predominantly dialogue-driven. The writing is unpredictable enough to keep the audience on their toes, and the film’s bleak, violent climax feels like the perfect pay-off to a film that constantly keeps you guessing as to what could possibly happen next.

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Thoroughbreds makes for a surreal viewing experience, and its dreamlike qualities are only made more striking by its unusual score and cinematography choices which, while initially jarring, only serve to elevate the film more and more as it goes on. The sound design, in particular, is noteworthy – and it’s these various little details, combined with a captivating central relationship and its strange portrait of female friendship, that work to make Thoroughbreds so much more than just a perfectly entertaining black comedy – although it happens to work wonderfully in that respect, too.