Bro-Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lost in space.

It bears reminding that Disney’s quest to take over the world came into great focus after they purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion back in 2012. This purchase came with the promise that not only would there be a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, but also spin-off films of some of our favorite characters. One of the more beloved characters who was announced as getting his own Solo adventure was Han Solo, which was met with a resounding meh. Throw in the casting of Alden Ehrenreich and the firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller of the “Jump Street” movies fame, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” seemed doom from the start. The opening weekend results haven’t been pretty, as “Solo” had the worst opening of the new “Star Wars” films, but the rumors of pre-production problems and box office competition doesn’t mean the film is a bomb, right?

“Solo” sees a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) attempting to escape orphanage on the planet Corellia with his first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After separating during their escape, Han vows to return for Qi’ra but joins the Imperial Navy to escape capture. After being expelled for insubordination and becoming an infantryman for the Empire, Han meets a group of criminals, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who plan to steal the valuable resource known as coaxium for the evil crime syndicate known as Crimson Dawn for their leader,  Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along with the help of a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo joins the gang the origin of Han Solo’s legend is revealed.

It needs to be said that perhaps no one could aptly portray a character made so legendary by Hollywood stalwart Harrison Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich is no Han Solo. Ehrenreich doesn’t have much charisma or screen presence, making him a dud as Han Solo. A resounding 90 percent or so of his jokes fall flat, and his sweet talking in negotiations nowhere near matches that of Harrison Ford. And call it nit picking, but the man is barely taller than his female counterpart in Emilia Clarke, so how are we to believe this guy is the legendary space cowboy Han Solo? 

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Aleden Ehrenreich in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.

Speaking of Ehrenreich’s female counterpart, Emilia Clarke barely resonates as Han’s first lover, and her arch is beyond predictable. Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian, seems to be doing a bad impression of Billy Dee Williams, who was the original Lando. Any hype surrounding Glover’s portrayal of the 2nd most sleazy space cowboy next to Solo is unwarranted, as his performance disappointments. Paul Bettany is an afterthought as a villain, and when your best characters are secondary ones such as the always likeable Woody Harrelson and a character who cannot speak English in Chewbacca, your film more than likely has a tremendous problem on its hands.

It doesn’t help the dialogue is bad, and the actors cannot bring it to life or rise above it. Most of it is exposition, and the cracks of preproduction definitely show in the films’ script. The action in “Solo” isn’t inventive or imaginative, a crushing blow to a film that is surprisingly boring throughout, making this “Star Wars” story a slog to get through. 

The only positive in the film revolves around a cameo appearance from one of the most under appreciated villains in “Star Wars” lore. I found myself nerding out at the appearance of this character, but to have to sit through two hours of the film just to get a two minute cameo is torture.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a Solo venture that should have never been greenlit. Its preproduction problems undoubtedly seeped into the script, its action never excites, and the casting falls incredibly flat. If not for the one easter egg towards the end of the film, “Solo” would be a colossal waste of time. As it stands, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the worst “Star Wars” film since “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and gets lost in space. 

Rating: 1 out of 4 Stars. Skip it. 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” stars Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany. It is in theaters now.

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Bro-Reviews: Rampage

Arcade button mashing is more thrilling.

Earlier this year, the video game movie genre stumbled with the arrival of Tomb Raider, an uneven, overlong slog that received mixed reviews at best and disappointed at the box office. Hollywood can’t seem to get the video game movie formula down. But their was hope, as such films never had as big a movie star as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sure, he had starred in the film adaptation of the popular video game “Doom” back in 2005, but he wasn’t a bona fide star then like he is now. Throw in the high concept idea of the video game “Rampage”, a game in which you play as giant creatures going around the world destroying everything in your path, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun, and possibly even first good video game movie, right?

Rampage sees Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who prefers the company of animals rather than humans. His favorite animal/ friend George (* motion captured by Jason Liles*), an albino gorilla he rescued, one night becomes infected by a pathogen that causes him to grown in size and increase aggression. After numerous cases of other animals being infected by the pathogen arise, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Noami Harris), a genetic engineer, teams up with Okoye to try and find a cure before the evil Energyne Corporation, led by Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacey), unleash even more hell upon the world with their experiment: Project Rampage.

Obviously, the glaring difference from the game and this adaptation is actual animals become infected with the pathogen in the film whereas it was humans being turned into giant animals in the game. This was probably a wise decision, and it lends itself well to the relationship between George and Johnson’s character. This is surprisingly one of the best aspects of the film, as while Johnson isn’t exactly known for his acting abilities, he’s able to convey his concern for his friend and vice versa. Of course, the giant albino gorilla, giant crocodile, and giant flying wolf wrecking havoc on the city draws parallels to the game, and at times is a delight to watch. It even lends itself well to an interesting horror element that makes the film one of the most violent PG-13 rated films ever released.

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Dwayne Johnson in Rampage.

Unfortunately, for a film that’s main selling point is monstrous destruction, Rampage is confoundedly mute during some of it. Sure, there’s plenty of destruction, but it doesn’t sound or feel like you get the full brunt of the carnage unfolding. The obliteration in the film never escalates to what should be disaster movie levels, and this could be due to the fact that the film struggles to balance tones during its slog of a second act. At times, the film takes itself seriously as if it’s trying to sell us that this could actually happen, and at others it stops to be meta and lighthearted, a combination that does not mix well. The second act is the main area where we see these jarring tonal shifts, and after countless male posturing confrontations, mistimed comedy, and failed attempts at developing characters, Rampage unforgivably becomes a bore.

While Dwayne Johnson may have the desire to be the next global action star, al la Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s no Schwarzenegger. Jeffrey Dean Morgan should change his name to Jeffrey “Lean” Morgan, as his performance consists of the tendencies of his Negan character from The Walking Dead combined with an impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. The result is an awkward cowboy persona that feels like he’s in a completely different movie. Naomi Harris and Joe Manganiello are utterly wasted in the film and barely even resonate, while Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy come across as Team Rocket from Pokémon and also feel out of place.

Rampage is yet another missed opportunity for the video game movie genre. A film boasting the talents of Dwayne Johnson, a blockbuster budget, and a high concept like the “Rampage” video game should have at the very least been fun. The result we get is an uneven disaster movie that hopes it can save itself by recklessly button mashing its way through its climax. You’d better off going to the arcade and doing that with the game the movie drew its inspiration from, at least you might get some thrills attempting to beat the high score.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars. Rent it.

Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin  Åkerman, Jake Lacey, Marley Shelton, and Joe Manganiello. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: A Quiet Place

Quite the surprise.

Horror films have been lacking originality these days. Most rely upon teenage tropes that only unassuming audiences can enjoy, or recycle the same premises or old franchises ad nauseam. However, when trailers dropped for the new survival horror film A Quiet Place, people were instantly intrigued by its unique premise of using the ever so underappreciated use of quiet as a means of survival. Even more shocking was the reveal of the talent behind the camera, Jim Halpert himself, John Krasinski. With all of the intrigue and positive word of mouth for the film coming out of the South by Southwest Festival, A Quiet Place couldn’t land in theaters soon enough for the general public to see and judge for themselves.

A Quiet Place takes place in the year 2020, where a blind alien species with supersonic hearing has arrived and wrecked havoc on the earth. One of the few survivors consists of a family having just experienced a tragedy: a mother and father, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), their son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), and their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds). The family must live in silence and band together to avoid the seemingly invincible creatures in order to survive.

A Quiet Place gets plenty of mileage out of its selling point and biggest asset: quietness. With the premise established in a fashion in which you fear for the characters at every turn, A Quiet Place has you paralyzed in suspense and at the edge of your seat throughout the film. The premise lends itself so well you begin to feel frightened for just squirming in your seat too loudly, as the film transports you to its world so well you too feel as if you’re living under the dire circumstances established in the film. Much of this credit must be given to director John Krasinski, who also co-wrote the film. With so little innovation in the horror genre, A Quiet Place is a welcome change of pace. A rare jewel in the genre that is not only tense, but undeniably frightening as well.

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John Kasinski in A Quiet Place

In regards to the performances, one must highlight the actor’s abilities to convey real emotions while still maintaining the logic of the premise. The strongest of the bunch has to be deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, whose character comes across as sympathetic and brave, and is a testament to the wonders of properly casting a role. Blunt also delivers as a caring yet strong mother, and her encounters with the other worldly species are undeniably jumpy. While some may laugh at his attempts to shed his Jim Halpert persona in favor of a ripped bearded mountain man in the hopes of reminding us he was almost Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, John Krasinski also does a splendid job as the family patriarch and protector.

If there’s anything to gripe about, the film’s premise does render its first half-hour somewhat slow. Yes, it’s all to establish the environment and setting, but even after the first sequence we get the point. Also, you can’t help but question some of the logic behind the film’s premise, such as day to day functions. Call it nit-picking, but the film doesn’t answer some of those questions as well. Most films at a certain point have to cheat their premise, but it would’ve been nice to see some of those burning questions resolved as well.

A Quiet Place is an edge of your seat survival-horror thriller that will leave you jumping at every sudden move. When a film can absorb you into its world to the point the happenings around you make you feel terrified for the potential consequences set up in the film, one must give kudos to the filmmakers for creating such an uneasy atmosphere. Considering its quiet rise to the public’s attention, A Quiet Place is quite the surprise.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

A Quiet Place stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinsku, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Can we just get the Godzilla crossover already?

Back in 2013, visionary director Guillermo del Toro directed every anime fan’s ultimate live action dream featuring giant Gundam robots battling Godzilla-like creatures, Pacific Rim. The film received mostly positive reviews thanks to its visuals and delivering on its premise, and Idris Elba’s “cancelling the apocalypse” speech, while very akin to Bill Pullman’s “Independence Day” speech in Independence Day, remains iconic. The film wasn’t much of a financial success domestically, but fans craved a sequel. However, thanks to high box office receipts from our friends in China, a sequel titled Pacific Rim: Uprising has finally found its way into theaters.

Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place 10 years after the events of the first film/ “The Battle of the Breach”, where Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of “Battle of the Breach” hero General Stacker Pentecost, lives life as a scavenger for Jaeger parts after being kicked out of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC). During one of his illegal dealings, he and young Jaeger enthusiast Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) are arrested by the PPDC and are given an ultimatum by General Secretary of the PPDC Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Jake’s half sister: either join the academy or go to jail. At the same time, Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) and Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) have developed new drone Jaegers to take on the Kaiju should they ever appear again. However, when a rogue drone Jaeger wrecking havoc is discovered, it’s up to Jake and his crew of young recruits to solve the mystery before the possible return of the Kaiju.

For a movie whose essence is giant robots fighting monsters, the film has a bit too much plot and familiar thematic elements for its own good in an attempt to not be mindless entertainment like the Transformers film series. The redemption story for John Boyega’s character is fine, but the film focuses on it for the first third of the movie with awkward interactions with Scott Eastwood, who appears to be trying to hard to emulate his legendary father. On top of that, the scenes of Amara and the young recruits not getting along are contrived as well, making the first third of the movie a slog.

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Pacific Rim: Uprising

It also doesn’t help that the film is only produced by Guillermo del Toro, as while the first Pacific Rim had familiar elements to its set-up, in the hands of a talented director it can be forgiven. In the hands of first time film director Steven S. DeKnight, they come across as awkward and unnecessary, especially when the reason you bought a ticket was to see giant robots battle giant giant monsters. When you factor in the fact the ending to the first film leaves it in a place where the story didn’t need to continue, this sequel does reek of “be careful what you wish for” sentiment and falls into unneeded sequel status.

It’s not until the 2nd and 3rd acts you get what you paid the price of admission for. The battle sequences with the Jaegers and the Kaiju are still very epic and enthralling. This time you can also see a lot of the action since most of the sequences take place during the day, a welcome change after some complained about the dark, rainy settings of the battles in the first film. There’s also a killer twist in the film that is unexpectedly intriguing, and there’s no denying there’s life after Star Wars for John Boyega, as his charisma and leading man potential is on full display.

Pacific Rim: Uprising is a perfect example of why not every movie needs a sequel. Its first act renders the movie lifeless and is a chore to sit through, muting the main attraction of giant robots fighting giant sea monsters. While it does deliver enough of the elements that made the first film great, Pacific Rim: Uprising reminds us to be careful what we wish for, and that we need to get to the Godzilla crossover with Jaegers already.

Rating: 2 out of 4 Stars. Rent it.

Pacific Rim: Uprising stars John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Jing Tian. It is in theaters now.

 

Bro-Reviews: Ready Player One

The ultimate 80s video game.

It’s been discussed here before, but it bears reminding; adapting popular books into films is a tall task. Not only do you have to please the fans of the source material, but also make it accessible for general audiences to enjoy as well. The latest book to get the big screen treatment is Earnest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, a futuristic science fiction novel published in 2011 that gained “unfilmable” status as soon as the idea was brought up. Of course, the only man willing to tackle this challenge head on was legendary Hollywood blockbuster director Steven Spielberg, as the film became a passion project of his that took years to develop and film. Now, the “unfilmable” Ready Player One has arrived in theaters, hoping to capture the attention of the novel’s fans and reignite the imaginations of general audiences everywhere like the director has done for decades upon decades.

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, where much of the earth’s population now lives in slum-like conditions due to overpopulation, climate change, and corruption. To escape the hardships of reality, people spend most of their days in a virtual reality platform called OASIS, created by the late innovator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before his death, Halliday created a game within OASIS called “Anorak’s Quest”, wherein easter eggs are hidden throughout the virtual reality world, and the person who collects all the easter eggs gains control of OASIS. This attracts normal everyday users of the platform called “Gunters”, including Columbus, Ohio resident Wade Wilson (Tye Sheridan), and an army of soldiers called “Sixers” controlled by the leading creator of virtual reality equipment, Innovative Online Industries, and their CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). With such high stakes on the line, it’s a race to find all of the easter eggs and gain control of not only OASIS, but also potentially the world.

There’s no doubt Ready Player One is a blast from the past, an 80s type film for the present generation’s enjoyment. Spielberg, when he doesn’t want to lecture a history class, still knows what puts butts in the seats: a good story, relatable characters, and blockbuster thrills. In regards to most of those categories, Ready Player One delivers on an epic scale. OASIS is a full blown spectacle of special effects, with animation so rendered and crisp you feel as if you too are part of this virtual reality. The action scenes that occur in this realm are nothing short of jaw dropping, whether it’s a race featuring King Kong standing in ones path to the finish line or the films’ the final battle sequence, only a true craftsman like Spielberg could handle such awe inspiring action.

One of the more intriguing aspects to the film is its dependency on pop culture references. There are so many easter eggs and nods to the 1980s, a decade Spielberg directed films dominated, throughout the film. It definitely draws a parallel to today’s pop culture obsessed world, somewhat of a biting commentary that our current habits will only be expanded to new levels in the future and in the soon to be virtual reality driven society.

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Ready Player One.

While the film doesn’t boast any A-list stars, the ensemble cast delivers. Tye Sheridan makes for a compelling protagonist in the film, and his chemistry with Olivia Cooke is apparent. Ben Mendelsohn may be somewhat of a generic villain, but he’s having a blast in the role of a corporate suite. Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg appear to be attached at the hip these days, but Rylance once again does a remarkable job embodying the spirit of a film. The rest of the ensemble, consisting of Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, and Lena Waithe, also hit their marks, making for a diverse, well rounded cast.

While the story definitely sets up for great visuals and special effects, it does take a little getting used to the visual dependent film, and could be overwhelmingly vibrant for some. The story itself has also been explored before not only in other science fiction novels, but in other films as well. This means its general themes can be pinpointed quickly, and audiences get a general feel for where the film is going over its 140 run time.

Even with the aforementioned faults of the film, Ready Player One is old school blockbuster filmmaking from a director who keeps finding ways to out-do himself. It’s a visually striking triumph that should not only please fans of the novel, but also general audiences deprived of such good quality films. Ready Player One is the ultimate 80s video game, a great reminder from the legendary Steven Spielberg that he’s not slowing down anytime soon, and a reminder of why we go to the movies; to escape the plight of reality for a short period of time, only this time it’s not just to theaters, but to OASIS as well.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

Ready Player One stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe,Win Morisaki, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. It is in theaters March 29th.

Bro-Reviews: Annihilation

A thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction tale.

While science fiction films have been a staple of Hollywood since its inception, it appears as if the novelty of the genre has seemingly lost its luster. No longer are the days of original works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars that marked the height of the genre. Presently, most science fiction films are the result of adaptations of popular written works. One such example is the recent film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 science fiction novel “Annihilation”, as the book captured the attention of a young upstart direction in Alex Garland of Ex Machina fame. Throw in once of the few survivors of the Star Wars prequels, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, and Annihilation was surely bound to capture the attention of genre purists and moviegoers alike.

Annihilation sees former Army soldier turned professor of cellular biology Lena (Natalie Portman) struggling to cope with the disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a co-vert soldier. When Kane suddenly re-appears and reveals to be fatally ill, Lena and Kane are taken by a government security force to Area X, a secret government compound nearby a mysterious force-field called “The Shimmer”. The lead psychologist of the compound, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) reveals to Lena Kane and a team of soldiers went into “The Shimmer” to investigate the area, and she and a team of scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny) plan to do the same. Lena joins them on this expedition in an attempt to discover the source of “The Shimmer’s” power, not knowing the horrors that lie within.

Director Alex Garland has become somewhat of a critical darling after the rave reviews his directorial debut, Ex Machina, earned. Clearly Garland has an eye for science fiction, as he is able to take a fairly low budget and make Annihilation into one of the more imaginative sci-fi films of recent memory. The special effects are nothing short of breathtaking, and the realization of “The Shimmer’s” environments and the creatures that inhabit it are an achievement in the genre. Garland’s screen writing talents are also put on display, as the film constantly leaves viewers pondering what exactly is occurring and leaving it up for their own interpretation instead of spoon-feeding them. While some may find this frustrating, others who prefer their movies with a little bit of smarts to them are in for a treat.

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Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation.

The performances also lend themselves well to the film. Natalie Portman has become a stalwart actress in Hollywood, and Annihilation is another example of her emotional acting prowess. Jennifer Jason Leigh has somehow revived her career, and her supporting performance in the film serves as a reminder of how talented of a performer she has been in her relatively unnoticed career. Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez also stand out in the film, and show they have bright careers in their futures as members of the crew on the expedition.

The film does get off to somewhat of a slow start, and while most of it is due to developing characters and the story, some may find the film’s pace slacking. While the film should be commended for its mystery and ambiguity, it does leave viewers in a confused state. Certain reveals in the film aren’t explained thoroughly and have the potential to leave audiences dumbfounded walking out of theaters, and that lack of explanation will leave them wondering “what was that?”. It’s a daring risk for the filmmakers to take, but not all may find it to be a rewarding experience.

Annihilation boasts a game cast and a director furthering his career en route to becoming one of the few auteurs in Hollywood due to his visual style and provocative ideas. However, the film’s lack of resolution definitely leaves much to be desired despite its intriguing premise and ideas presented. Annihilation is a visually rich, thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction thriller that is sure to please genre enthusiasts, but also more than likely leave general audiences scratching their heads as the head for the exits at the same time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars. Pay low matinée price.

Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Issac, and Benedict Wong. It is in theaters February 23rd.