Solo: A Star Wars Story Has Lots to Show, Nothing to Say

Solo: A Star Wars Story Has Lots to Show, Nothing to Say

Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca in Solo: A Star Wars Story

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story is out in theatres
  • It’s set before the events of 1977’s Star Wars
  • Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke star in Solo

Last year, George R.R. Martin – the author of A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels that have been adapted at HBO – said that of the several Game of Thrones spin-off ideas in development, not even one touched upon the period immediately prior to the current saga. “There would be no surprises or revelations left in such a show, just the acting out of conflicts whose resolutions you already know,” he added. Instead, Martin wants them to show parts of his universe that haven’t already been talked about.

On the other hand, the powers that-be at Lucasfilm – under Disney’s ownership – are more than happy to take the safer route and expand on events and characters we already know about, as it guarantees a financial windfall by drawing most if not all existing fans of the franchise. Partly thanks to Harrison Ford, Han Solo is one of the most famous characters in pop culture, let alone Star Wars. Telling his origin story, as the new standalone Star Wars film – Solo, out May 25 worldwide – does, is the definition of low-hanging fruit.

What makes that problem worse is that even before it starts, the big pieces of the puzzle are already in place. Owing to the original trilogy – now retroactively titled Episode IV, V and VI – that ran from 1977-1983, we know Han will meet Chewbacca, the two will then encounter Lando Calrissian, from whom Han will win the Millennium Falcon in a bet, with which he’ll make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. That’s not a lot of room to create a meaningful story – written by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan – in addition to the fact there’s no stakes for our heroes.

 

On top of that, Solo: A Star Wars Story is also dealing with a limited arc for a young Han, since he has to end up as the cocky and overpromising guy Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet in the Mos Eisley cantina. And that means the film can’t attribute qualities to him that you wouldn’t normally associate with him, even though he’s about a decade younger in this than in the original trilogy. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t try; Solo has moments where it pokes fun at his ill-advised bravado, but it’s still filling in the portrait of a guy who thinks he can do everything himself.

Solo: A Star Wars Story begins by introducing the pair of Han (Alden Ehrenreich, from Hail, Caesar!) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, from Game of Thrones) on their homeworld of Corellia, who are in love and languishing in slum-like conditions. Years later, Han enlists in the Imperial forces, meets a criminal of dubious morals named Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, from War for the Planet of the Apes), and then takes on a job for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, from Avengers: Infinity War). That sets Soloin motion and brings other characters into the picture.

What unfolds from there is a part heist and part Western film, as Han and Co. go about achieving their mission – it involves stealing something ultra-valuable and getting it somewhere else as quickly as possible – while making new friends and new enemies along the way. The former involves Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the captain and original owner of the Millennium Falcon, and his first mate, a hilarious and outspoken droid called L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, from Fleabag). There are bit part roles for Westworld’s Thandie Newton and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) as well.

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Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

 

Like the previous standalone chapter Rogue One, there’s nothing about the Jedi and lightsabers here, and even less about the Empire or the Force. Similarly, all the new characters Solo: A Star Wars Story introduces are ultimately dispensable too, since none of them can show up in later entries. But unlike Rogue One, the film, seemingly with an eye on potential sequels – Ehrenreich has a three-picture deal in his contract – creates subplots that aren’t tied up properly by the end. It’s here that Solo even connects to the prequel trilogy from 1999-2005.

Unfortunately, there’s little justification for a second visit, when the first is rather unimaginative. Save for a few scattered moments, the film doesn’t grab you until an hour in. And though it’s got the makings of some unique action set-pieces, they aren’t handled in a way that would make them memorable. Even when the Millennium Falcon is being attacked by TIE fighters late-game, there’s no sense of the excitement that was apparent in J.J. Abrams’ 2015 soft reboot The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson’s 2017 follow-up The Last Jedi.

Part of this stems from the botched handling of the production. The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), were fired over four months into filming, after clashing with Lucasfilm execs including Kasdan over their directorial approach. They thought they were hired to bring their comedic flavour to Star Wars, but their heavy improvisational technique – the duo sometimes shot a dozen takes that weren’t always in line with what the script said – didn’t sit well with Kasdan, and they were replaced by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), who’s seen as a safe choice.

It’s a testament to Howard’s experience that he not only managed to keep the film on track for its scheduled release, but that Solo: A Star Wars Story feels cohesive despite being the product of two entirely different visions: according to a behind-the-scenes report, 70 percent of the finished film is Howard’s, with the rest being the work of Lord and Miller. But because Howard was hired last minute to simply bring the script to life, the film lacks an authoritative touch and ends up feeling like a by-the-numbers bland heist film.

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Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

 

Moreover, less than six months after Star Wars took some of its boldest steps courtesy Johnson – including a welcome dressing down of why trigger-happy hotshots can cause more harm than good – Solo is happy to play it easy. A few unexpected twists towards the end, and the work of its top-notch cast – Waller-Bridge is excellent and powers some of the film’s best moments, Glover is instantly charismatic and a scene-stealer as the trailers promised, and Clarke lands the note she’s asked to play, that of an intriguing yet enigmatic female lead – simply aren’t enough.

Despite how damning the preceding paragraphs may sound, Solo isn’t a bad movie per se. It’s just fine. The film will help buff up the encyclopaedia pages in a certain period, give Disney another chance to sell more Star Wars merchandise, and lays the groundwork for sequels leading up to Episode IV – A New Hope (“Star Wars” for the purists). But it never takes off in a fashion that would please its titular hero – John Williams’ iconic soundtrack is also on a leash for the longest time, unfortunately – mainly because it’s too predictable to make any wild manoeuvres.

We’ll never know what Lord and Miller would’ve done with Solo: A Star Wars Story, even as the underlying story would’ve been the same. It’s also possible their version would have been horrible, and that Lucasfilm was right in removing them before it was too late. But if Star Wars is going to keep swinging the pendulum back even as its world expands – reports abound of more standalone chapters with Obi-Wan and others, alongside all-new stories from Johnson, Favreau, and Game of Thrones creators – the least it can do is not be borderline cynical about it.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Netflix’s Bright Is a Will Smith Action Flick, and Nothing More

Netflix's Bright Is a Will Smith Action Flick, and Nothing More

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in a still from Netflix’s Bright

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Bright hits Netflix on December 22
  • The film stars Will Smith, Joel Edgerton
  • David Ayer (Suicide Squad) is the director

Netflix has made a name for itself in the television department over the last few years, thanks to the likes of Stranger Things, BoJack Horseman, and the various Marvelshows. But it doesn’t have that kind of credibility on the movies front yet, where it’s fighting studios with much deeper pockets, and also always pushes for a same-day release on its platform as in theatres. 2017 has been a big year for Netflix though, with the Cannes-premiere of Korean adventure Okja, the major deal for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and now the release of its most expensive film to date, Bright.

The film takes place in an alternate reality where humans, orcs, elves, and fairies have lived beside each other since the beginning of time. Will Smith stars as a human LAPD cop named Ward, who’s been reluctantly paired with an orc cop named Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton, due to a diversity hire programme initiated by the department. This bit is slightly reminiscent of Zootopia’s opening, which also features a diversity-hire police officer, and both films talk about society judging individuals on their appearances, rather than seeing them for who they really are.

But following two cops is also reminiscent of most films written and/or directed by David Ayer – he’s best known as the man behind last year’s dumpster-fire Suicide Squad (which also starred Smith) – whose background as a naval officer has seen him pen or helm several movies about law officers, starting with his Hollywood-breakout Training Day in 2001, lean years in between that gave us Dark Blue, S.W.A.T. (both in 2003), and Street Kings (2008), followed by his most critically-acclaimed venture, End of Watch, in 2012. Each of those films have also incorporated street gangs, morally dubious cops, and flashy gun violence.

The first official trailer for Netflix’s Bright

Bright is similar in that regard, embedding real-world LA crime problems and the distrust of police into its narrative, but it’s also got fantasy boots to fill. That means weaving in lore about an almost mythical past that saw humans, orcs and elves at each other’s throats two millennia ago, which involved a Dark Lord, powerful beings, and magical items. The plot riffs on Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in a foregrounding way, just enough to convince you that stranger things have happened, but is still restricted to give Smith’s character – a human – a fighting chance.

The premise of Bright centres on a young elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry), one of a select titular few who has the ability to hold and use a magic wand – an object that can grant wishes, (seemingly) has the power of a nuclear weapon, and kills any non-Bright who holds it – and ends up in the custody of Ward and Jakoby after they are dispatched to an address. Ward’s call for backup from his precinct doesn’t go as planned, and he’s forced to go on the run with Jakoby and Tikka to keep the wand away from the hands of literally everyone: corrupt cops, street thugs, and criminal organisations.

That gives Ayer the licence to stage his film like a video game, comprising of ridiculous shootout routines one after the another where the fleeing trio is always under-powered, be it a car chase, bar evacuation, dance club hold-up, gas station face-off, or a fist-fight in an apartment. Through it all, the film explores the budding friendship between Ward and Jaokoby, spliced with gallows-type humour – Smith is natural at infusing comedy into the direst of moments, and he keeps denying that they’re becoming friends – and intercut with scenes that develop Bright’s fantasy world.

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Noomia Rapace as Leilah in a still from Netflix’s Bright
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

That involves introducing Noomi Rapace as Leilah, a dark elf who is part of an Illuminati-type group that’s trying to bring back a Dark Lord, alongside some of her expert close-quarters combat followers, plus two detectives who work for the FBI’s magic division, an elf (Édgar Ramírez) and a human (Ike Barinholtz), who are supposed to be in-charge of any wand-related troubles. The latter two are there to service the lore and hence don’t feature much, but even though Rapace is supposed to be the main villain, she’s hardly part of the film.

Bright’s choice to feature Ward as the chief protagonist and keep Jakoby as his sidekick in-training is also misguided. Zootopia worked precisely because it chose to stick with the diversity hire, the one’s who discriminated against. Jakoby is hated by his own kind because he’s not Blooded – having a pair of lower jaw teeth that jut out like fangs – and works with humans in the police force. Orcs look down on him, and humans revile him for belonging to another side, assuming he’s orc first and cop second.

Bright instead follows his slightly specist partner, Smith’s Ward. He isn’t as open about his distaste for working with an orc unlike some of his co-workers, but that doesn’t mean Ward doesn’t repeatedly try to get rid of Jakoby in the early going. Ward and Jakoby’s relationship is also tainted by an earlier event, and the film would benefit if it gave more emphasis to Edgerton’s orc. That would allow the film to be more powerful in what it’s trying to convey, but Bright fails to understand that.

One big obvious reason would be Smith’s casting, who is a much more recognisable star. Edgerton has as much screen presence as Smith, but Jakoby doesn’t get the necessary build up moments that help you connect and relate with the character. Those are reserved for Ward, whose family and background situation is given ample time in the opening minutes.

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Joel Edgerton as Jakoby, Lucy Fry as Tikka, and Will Smith as Ward in a still from Netflix’s Bright
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

The film also grapples with a lot of social themes, which aren’t really addressed. There are multiple parallels and allegories here, but in many ways, the problems faced by African-Americans today have been grafted onto orcs. They have it much worse in the film in many ways, being openly reviled in a way that wouldn’t fly in our version of 2017. At the same time, the film’s actual African-Americans don’t seem to have it any better than our reality, implying that humans have kept themselves divided through the ages, even while living alongside two other sentient species on Earth.

Mistrust, class struggles, and social mobility appear to be important themes for Bright in the early going, and it indulges the idea of exploring the symptoms and consequences of that for the first half hour. But it eventually gives that up, and turns into a Will Smith-movie, which is to say a generic guns-blazing action thriller. Bright could make for a fascinating Netflix TV series if it was more interested and serious about its themes, but Ayer doesn’t seem to have those ambitions. It also doesn’t help that his vision for gun violence resembles that of a 7-year-old, with characters needlessly emptying entire cartridges as scare tactics, causing more pain for the set designer than our protagonists.

After an opening half-hour that gave us hope that the film wouldn’t descend into a bullet-a-minute adventure unlike some of Ayer’s previous dubious work – the posters designed by Netflix are putting Suicide Squad front and centre, which is hilarious and sad because it depletes confidence, instead of inspiring any – Bright turns into a chase story that keeps throwing new unimaginative problems at our heroes, and never bothers to deepen any of its themes and allegories.

It’s perfectly happy in being a big budgeted action flick – Netflix reportedly spent $90 million (about Rs. 577 crore) to produce it – but it doesn’t have the goofy swagger of Men in Black, nor the grittiness of End of Watch, and ends up just wallowing without saying much.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Trump slams Yates hearing: ‘Nothing but old news’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

 

President Donald Trump said allegations of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia are “a total hoax.” | AP Photo

President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted his first reaction to testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, dismissing her comments as “nothing but old news” and asking “when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

Trump also said allegations of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia are “a total hoax.”

The series of tweets came as Yates Senate testimony, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, dominated cable coverage and the days news in Washington.

“The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” the president tweeted after Yates and Clapper testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism earlier Monday on the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“[Former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump,” Trump added.

Clapper reaffirmed during his testimony that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, while Yates declined to comment on the subject, citing concerns that she’d reveal classified information.

“Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!” Trump said.

Yates told the Senate panel Monday that while serving as acting attorney general she had informed the Trump White House in January of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian operatives.

She added that Flynn being compromised could’ve made him susceptible to blackmail by the Russians.

Her testimony served as her first public comments on the controversy since Flynn resigned from his post in February.

[“Source-politico”]

 

Light Phone: A Mobile Phone that Only Makes Calls, Nothing Else

There’s another way to go in the mobile technology race. In a market full of feature-rich smartphones, Light Phone offers something different — it lets you do nothing but make and answer calls.

Light Phone is a mobile phone that only makes calls, plain and simple. (OK, it keeps time, too.)

It has no browser, no NFC, offers no games or apps, and doesn’t even text. What it does promise is simple contact without the distractions and added hassles of “unwanted rings, dings, and pings,” as the company puts it.

The phone’s minimalist design matches its functionality, for sure.

Light Phone is about the size of a credit card and is practically blank. The front display has no buttons or even what would look like a screen. Instead it lights up to reveal a touch module so you can dial a phone number, see the time, and view incoming calls.

And man, can it hold a charge. The company claims Light Phone can go for 20 days straight before needing to be charged. It’s just one more thing that can cut down on the frustrations common with most mobile phones.

On its own, Light Phone is a pre-paid GSM cell phone that can work independently of your carrier. Each phone comes with its own SIM card and phone number. And for an added perk, the phones come pre-loaded with 500 minutes.

But Light Phone can also work like an extension to your existing smartphone. The phone’s one and only “app” is pre-installed. What the “app” does is allow you to have incoming calls made to your smartphone forwarded to Light Phone. This way, you can have the option of leaving your main phone at home without being completely cut off from the rest of the mobile-ready world.

For more information on Light Phone check out the Kickstarter video below.

The flexible options offered by Light Phone may be especially helpful for those small business owners who need a simple phone for calls. And with its $100 price tag, it can be a cheap, prepaid standalone phone or an extension line.

Designers Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang met at Google’s 30 Weeks incubator in New York City, where they put their heads together to create Light Phone. They say on Light Phone’s Kickstarter page:

“We aren’t creating new technology, we’re using the best existing technology in a new way. We have stripped away everything but the phone itself, the only essential connection that the user needs.”

The duo is currently crowdfunding to bring their product to market. Their Kickstarter campaign has thousands of backers and more than $269,000 in pledges.

But backers will have to wait a while to get their phones. Light Phone won’t be shipping until June 2016.

Image: Light Phone

More in: Crowdfunding

[“source-smallbiztrends”]