Solo: A Star Wars Story has been plagued by production problems for almost a year now. The original directors were fired over creative differences well into principal photography. Ron Howard was brought in to take over and reportedly reshot most of it. There has been rampant speculation that the lack of a trailer was a sign of impending disaster. Now, finally, less than four months before release, we have our first trailer. You can see it for yourself here. It is not at all encouraging.
It would be easy to confuse this with a fan-made effort. You would expect more polish from a studio giving the public their very first look at a film scheduled for release over Memorial Day weekend. Take “Star Wars” out of the title, and you have a generic, pedestrian sci-fi movie – possibly entertaining in a mindless way, but nothing special. Put “Star Wars” back in the title, and you have a crass Disney cash grab.
Alden Ehrenreich has none of the cool cockiness we expect from Han Solo, unless you envision young Solo as a smug, insufferable millennial. Emilia Clarke has just enough screen time to remind us that she can’t act to save herself. This thing has train wreck written all over it.
Paddington 2 opens with Paddington settled into a nice life with the Brown family. His Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday is coming up, and he wants to give her a present fit for the occasion. Her dream had always been to visit London, and when Paddington finds an old popup book of London landmarks, he becomes determined to find a job, earn some money, and buy the book. Unfortunately, the book is stolen, Paddington is wrongfully blamed, and suddenly the loveable little bear is doing hard time in a British prison. But within days, the perpetually cheerful and optimistic Paddington has converted the prison kitchen into a fancy bakery. Seems a lot of the prisoners remember their grand mum’s recipe for one pastry or another. Hey, it’s a kid’s movie, and that’s simply the sort of thing that happens. Back at home, the Brown family tries mightily to find the real thief and clear Paddington’s name.
When the celebrated Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Spirited Away, among many others) halted production in 2014, Yoshiaki Nishimura founded Studio Ponoc along with several Studio Ghibli veterans. The name is said to derive from a word meaning “midnight,” signifying the end of one day and the beginning of another. Mary and the Witch’s Flower, directed and cowritten by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There) is Studio Ponoc’s first feature film.
It tells the story of Mary, a young girl sent to stay with her Great Aunt Charlotte in the country while her parents are away for some unspecified reason. Bored out of her mind, she follows Tib the cat into the woods and discovers a rare flower that temporarily gives her magical abilities. She activates a long-forgotten broomstick and finds herself transported to Endor College, a school of magic, where she is mistaken for a new pupil. She soon discovers some unsavory experiments going on behind the scenes. Continue reading
Finding the theater packed with hipster millennials was my first hint that something was about to go terribly wrong. The fact that many of them seemed to know each other was an ominous sign. Then a clip of Tommy Wiseau doing a semi-coherent live question and answer session in front of a theater packed with adoring fans appeared on screen. Then a mashup video of what turned out to be some of the stupidest dialogue in the movie started playing, and the audience sang along. And then someone started passing out plastic spoons. I knew The Room had achieved something of a cult status, but nothing had prepared me for a theater full of millennials making a pathetically lame attempt to recreate The Rocky Horror Picture Show. More on that later.
The Room was released in 2003, and the numerous criticisms published since then vastly understate the magnitude of its awfulness. The basic idea is that Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a successful banker engaged to Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Depending on which section of dialogue you’re listening to, they’ve been together for 5 or 7 years. And no, 2 years do not pass over the course of the film. Lisa has inexplicably gotten bored with Johnny and decides to cheat on him with Mark (Greg Sestero). Mark is Johnny’s best friend. We know this because Johnny, Lisa, and Mark explicitly state this dozens of times. Johnny finds out multiple times and eventually decides to freak out about it.
The biopic, Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright), follows Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) through his early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As the film begins, “Peace for our time” Neville Chamberlain’s (Ronald Pickup) disastrous policies have come home to roost, Hitler is threatening all of Europe, and Chamberlain is forced to resign as Prime Minister. Unpopular among his own party but considered acceptable to the Opposition, Churchill is summoned by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) to become the new Prime Minister.
Darkest Hour is primarily a character study of Churchill, and Oldman clearly relishes the role and fully immerses himself in it. He gives the audience an admittedly flawed Churchill, hopelessly politically incorrect by current standards, who nevertheless possesses a passionate loyalty to the British Empire and an unbreakable determination to see the British people through what seemed an almost hopeless situation at that stage of the war.