One would expect that a film should be critiqued on its own merits, but sometimes outward factors force the film to be observed in a new light. In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, its troubled production history is impossible to ignore. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Kathleen Kennedy over their shooting style—their improv-heavy methodology not exactly sliding with the well-oiled machine of Lucasfilm. Rumours were also circulating that an acting coach was hired for Alden Ehrenreich—a painfully ironic mirror to the actor’s role in Hail, Caesar! as a young movie star struggling to give a good performance. Its reputation as an unrivaled disaster occluded the final product itself. Would that it were so simple.
Walking into the Grand Lumiere for a repeat gala screening—and feeling more glamorous than I ever will—what I was thinking (other than “DO NOT FALL OVER”) was: “Can they really salvage a good film out of this?” Replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard seemed like the safe option—and it really was. Ron Howard’s career as a director is dominated by films that are generally well-liked but are rather unremarkable. He’s prolific too, and so his films maintain a middling quality that means they leave the cultural conversation as quickly as they entered (does anyone actually remember In the Heart of the Sea?). My expectations with Ron Howard at the helm were met, but I was still disappointed. Star Wars films shouldn’t just be solid, they should be exhilarating, but emotionally resonant—and that is nowhere to be seen with Solo. What is revealed by this replacement is that the puppet masters over at Lucasfilm prefer a director who won’t step out of line over a director with a fresh, innovative perspective. Solo: A Star Wars Story is so concerned with playing it safe and appealing to the masses that the end result is wholly underwhelming. To put it bluntly, Solo is downright bland.
A standout scene from Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War involves a simple song and dance. No words are spoken, but nothing needs to be said—the actions speak volumes. Zula (Joanna Kulig) is looking defeated at the bar, embittered by her lover Wiktor (Tomsz Kot) ignoring her. The smooth baritone of Bill Haleysuddenly blares through the club’s speakers. Zula quickly gets up and drunkenly dances with feverish energy, moving from man to man, and then on top of the bar, much to the chagrin of Wiktor. Music becomes a source of liberation. If Zula is drifting from the jazz leanings of her lover, is she drifting from him as well? The scene unfolds in a transfixing single take—a fleeting moment of chaotic serenity.
If there’s any film that defines the paranoid, conspiracy theory-obsessed times we live in — where groups of thousands of faceless identities believe Kubrick faked the Moon landing, the Illuminati controls the world, and Beyonce is a lizard — it may just be David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake. The follow-up to the wildly successful It Follows is a delirious head-spin into the seedy underground of Los Angeles; a baffling acid-trip of imagery attacking you from all angles. It emulates the LA-set noirs that are more successful in their execution like Mulholland Drive, but the film still has something new to add the table — some would say too much, but you can’t fault it for its ambition.
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has always seamlessly incorporated his love for classic cinema into the band’s music — even back in the day when they were singing about drunken nights out in Sheffield. Ennio Morricone, in particular, has been a sort of muse for the songwriter, discernible from the organ sample in 505 which is lifted directly from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the orchestral flourishes of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But Arctic Monkeys’ newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, may be their most overtly cinematic output yet. The record is an ambitious and stunning piece of world-building. The sound — laid-back, Bowie-esque, piano-heavy tunes, reminiscent of jazz lounges and hotel lobbies — is light years away from the catchy guitar hooks that have dominated their oeuvre. Tranquility Base is a giant middle finger to the weighty expectations following the astronomical success of AM; a liberation from being pigeonholed as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sprawling retro sci-fi odyssey that George Lucas could’ve concocted himself — imagine Finn and Rose taking a detour to a casino on the moon instead of Canto Bight and you’ve got the vibe nailed.
Classic films can be a bit daunting when you don’t know where to start. French New Wave? Italian Neorealism? German Expressionism? What do they all mean? Sometimes you don’t need to jump in the deep end with the 6-hour epics — there are classic films that are just as accessible as those made today, with the added bonus of operating as an easy gateway into the world of classic film. All it takes is that one movie — so we asked our regular writers: What film got you into classics?
In the post-credits scene of Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury approaches Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about the Avengers Initiative. “Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe — you just don’t know it yet,” Fury says. Moviegoers were also being introduced to a bigger universe they didn’t know of yet. This one scene incited a tidal wave of change within pop culture — the superhero genre no longer had its nerdy reputation and the shared universe seemed entirely possible, no longer constrained to the pages of comic books. Back in 2008, no one could’ve guessed that 10 years later, a Norse god flying through space with a talking raccoon would practically be commonplace.
This is a review of season two, episode one (“Chapter Nine”).
Marking the return of television’s weirdest superhero show, a familiar voice that sounds a lot like Jon Hamm announces itself over a black screen. “There is a maze in the desert carved from sand and rock,” he says. “A vast labyrinth of pathways and corridors — a hundred miles long, a thousand miles wide, full of twists and dead ends. Picture it. A puzzle you walk, and at the end of this maze is a prize, just waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is find your way through.”
This is a metaphor for madness, he eventually explains. The maze is in your mind and it is inescapable and all-consuming. But it is also an apt descriptor for Legion itself — the show is its own conundrum. Taking place from the perspective of David Haller (Dan Stevens), an incredibly powerful mutant who mistook his abilities for schizophrenia, Noah Hawley’s mind-melter goes to some audaciously trippy places. When you think one of your many, many questions will be answered, the story takes a 180 and leaves you hanging with even more questions to ponder over. It has an unreliable narrator, no one is trustworthy, and you can never even be certain that what you’re seeing is real. With all of that in mind, this show shouldn’t work — but season two’s first episode builds on the brazen visual bravado of season one to create the most uniquely mesmerising show on television.