It’s Fine: Solo


I’m a casual Star Wars enjoyer. I like, but have no strong opinions or ties to, Star Wars. I enjoyed both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and I thought Rogue One was ok.

I felt lukewarm about Han Solo as a character pre-Solo, and post-Solo I still feel lukewarm about him. That might be the biggest disappointment of this film: it didn’t convince me to feel any differently. It didn’t make me feel strongly about anything Star Wars related.

While I can’t promise that you, o moviegoer with more emotional ties and opinions about Star Wars, will come out feeling as unmoved as I will, I think the overwhelming safeness of Solo is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with a well-told, well-directed, well-acted movie. That is what director Ron Howard delivered. But if any franchise can take risks, it should be Star Wars, which is now owned by Disney. Disney and Star Wars are massive conglomerates that have generous fan and critic support, and are unparalleled in financial success. Every movie Disney makes now is a “tentpole” flick, aka a film that can be advertised as a must-see blockbuster. They can take some hits. They can also change the game, if they are willing.

But if they won’t, then Star Wars is not going to evolve. It has all of the advantages one could ask for, so if it won’t take risk, then why should any other franchise?

Walking out of the theater, my father and I discussed why the original trilogy was so powerful, particularly to those who grew up with it (outside of nostalgia). Why do those movies hold up so well, and why aren’t the new ones as impactful?

He basically said that it was because George Lucas knew how to tell a mythological story through use of archetypes and symbols. His original stories felt epic and deep and fresh. These new films don’t make much use of those same storytelling foundations, and when they do they mainly rehash the plot points of the originals (with The Force Awakens being a virtual remake of A New Hope).

So, the trap the Star Wars movies are in is one of its own making. The new films need to be fresh, despite being part of an established franchise, and they need to tell new stories while not abandoning the foundations and brand recognition.

That’s a tall order. I personally  don’t know how to create a Star Wars movie that everyone will like. But out of all the newest Star Wars films, I actually think Solo is the closest to making a film that, while not great cinema, does try to expand on the world of Star Wars, introduce new characters, and pay homage to the past. It isn’t a complete remake of A New Hope like The Force Awakens, but it isn’t as daring and therefore divisive as The Last Jedi. In theory, it should be a good new Star Wars film. This is ironic though because before its release Solo was already divise and hated by the fanbase. But if people would stop #BoycottSolo and give it a chance, I think they would find that:

  1. Alden Ehrenreich is actually a good Han, and
  2. Meh.

The story is fine, the extended worldbuilding is fine, and the nod, easter eggs, and add-ons to the Star Wars canon are fine. Everything is fine. It’s bland and solid, which after The Last Jedi, seems to be what hardcore Star Wars fans want. Personally, I would prefer a film like The Last Jedi, which made decisive creative choices and wasn’t afraid to alienate some of the audience. That is a movie that was made as a movie. Solo feels like an olive branch extension, an “I’m sorry for making a movie you didn’t like” on the part of the Star Wars franchise to the fans.

But to reiterate, Solo is fine. Just alright. Nothing to boycott or be upset about. It’s a pleasant romp. But is that fine? Should the movie equivalent of a shoulder-shrug be encouraged?

-Madeleine D

The Best Superhero Movie of the Summer: RBG

Meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and internet meme:
Image result for notorious rbg                Related image                Related image

Many in the larger public can recognize her face, but not the extent and influence of her work. The documentary RBG is here to change that. This sleek doc has interviews with Ginsburg’s friends, children, fellow lawyers, President Clinton, and Ruth herself. It also has plenty of promo-ready clips of her watching Kate McKinnon’s impression of her on SNL (she likes it), working out (I wish I could do 25 pushups), and admiring her own nickname, “Notorious RBG.”

It’s an entertaining look at the life of a powerhouse who is more known for keeping quiet and thinking than yelling. It also makes good use of its interview subjects in illuminating the legal genius behind her strategy in the 1970s to make a legal and moral foundation for ending sex discrimination. This film gives a mini-class in legal activism, and how long-term vision and strategy is necessary to change minds and hearts. So while watching Ginsburg is fun, hearing her speak is even more powerful. The sheer force and precision behind her words remind us all that screaming matches can never stand up to the power of well-wielded language.

The documentary also touches on Ginsburg’s personal life, particularly her beautiful romance to her husband Martin. Martin Ginsburg was a man ahead of his time, supporting his wife completely in her work and unashamed to take on roles typically associated with housewives. It was a mutual partnership that led both to have successful careers and make a mark on American history.

One thing I also really enjoyed in the film was the discussion about the friendship between Ginsburg and Justice Scalia. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and would consistently vote against one another, yet had a sweet friendship. This example of personal relationships across political lines shows they are possible and necessary. While the film tries to speak to the Trump presidency, this seems like the most timely thing about it, showing the need to make relationships outside of one’s bubble.

If you know much at all about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then this documentary will not reveal much of anything new except give you more time with the icon. It provides a summary, not a revelation, about her life. It is a little repetitive in the points it hits and refuses to criticise its subject in any way.

But for someone who did not know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this was the perfect introduction to her and her enormous body of work and influence. I walked out not only wanting a “Notorious RBG” mug, but also with hope. Hope that individuals can change the world. Hope that institutions can be changed by smart people with vision. Hope that people across political lines can put aside their differences and have relationships. Hope that one day I will find a man as good as Martin D. Ginsburg. So not only is it a film that depicts a real-life superhero, but it leaves its viewers with the feeling a superhero film should give you.

-Madeleine D

A No-Brained Adaptation That Should Have Been a No-Brainer: Cargo

Image result for cargo 2017 martin freeman

A new release from Netflix, Cargo is the story of a father (Martin Freeman) in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland, who, when his wife dies, becomes infected with a zombie virus and has 48 hours to get his infant daughter to a safe place. It’s the perfect high-concept pitch that became a short film in 2013, which then became a finalist in the Australian Tropfest festival and was a hit after it was uploaded onto Youtube (you can view it at the link down below).  

However, I am here to report that feature-length Cargo confirms that not everything can be well-adapted. This is a shame, not only because the source material is so good, and is adapted by the same directors as the short film (Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling) but extending a short into a feature-length film can work, like in the case of 2014’s “Whiplash,” where the longer run time was used to highlight the music and escalating tensions of the film. Cargo has so much potential that it seems like it would be a no-brainer (zombie movie pun intended ) on how to translate it into a longer runtime. All you have to do is heighten the tension, flesh out the characters, examine the different moral conundrums, add some actions, and get a great emotional climax out of all of the buildup. Cargo stubbornly refuses to do any of that, and not to its benefit. 

Cargo and this year’s earlier A Quiet Place have a lot in common. The monster aspect, the parenting metaphor, the scruffy-bearded dads trying to lead their families to safety, and babies born at really inconvenient times. A Quiet Place though knows exactly what it wants to portray thematically, and it boils down to a fairly simple message. The film is then elevated by its perfect tension building and trim script.  Therefore, it is a wonderfully effective film. Cargo, on the other hand, doesn’t know what it wants to say thematically, and so it doesn’t use filmmaking techniques to say anything either. Instead, the film wanders and is as broad as the themes, doing a lot and yet not much at all. A Quiet Place is more simplistic, but it is better to say something effectively than say nothing.

Cargo wants to meditate on parenthood, survival, fixing this world for future generations, and something about the Australian Aboriginal people. It also wants to stubbornly reject any kind of cliche, so it refuses to raise the stakes in any Zombie-movie style, which results in no stakes and no tension. A better film could be able to avoid cliches and meditate on those themes, but Cargo is not that film.

The film’s only momentum (besides the basic setup) is its star.  Martin Freeman shines in his second role this year about a distressed British man in a previously-colonized country. He is the best in the biz at playing disgruntled characters thrown into unusual circumstances, and he does it here with gusto and commitment. It’s exciting to see an actor like him in a genre film like this, and if Cargo was a better movie, I’d hope this would be a catalyst for that change. 

I love Cargo in concept. There were so many aspects of it that seemed like it would be my kind of movie. But throughout, I kept waiting, anticipating investment and feelings. By darned Martin Freeman tries, but even he can’t overcome the stifling blandness and brainlessness surrounding him.

Cargo short film: