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.
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.
After the dark and dismal days of ‘The Canyons’ and ‘The Dying of the Light,’ writer-director Paul Schrader is back in a big way. “Return to form” may be the biggest cliché in film criticism, but I’m hard pressed to find a more apt description for ‘First Reformed’. The religious drama, starring a superb Ethan Hawke as a small town chaplain living a solitary life following the death of his son, takes everything that makes ‘Taxi Driver’ and Schrader’s other work so fantastic—the psychological complexity, calculated risk-taking, and darkly humorous tension—and catapults into a 21st century narrative with immediate, real-world consequence.
High school summer breaks are a lot like Lana del Rey albums: romantic and bittersweet when you wistfully look back on them, but tedious when you’re in the middle of one.
With a title that recalls lyrics from del Rey’s Great Gatsby ballad “Young and Beautiful,” Hot Summer Nights is interested in the former interpretation, offering a rearview mirror perspective on a life-changing summer of 1991 full of sex, drugs, crime and betrayal. Although its an undeniably bold and stylish debut from writer-director Elijah Bynum, Hot Summer Nights, like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and everything Lana del Rey has ever written, struggles to break through the confusion of its own excess. It’s a fun vehicle for strong performances by Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe, but what, exactly, is it trying to say?
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.
The first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones was something of a miracle for superhero television programming. Jessica is not your typical superhero — in fact, she rejects the label altogether. She drunkenly stumbles her way through one night stand after one night stand as a distraction from the trauma she experienced under the hands of Kilgrave. David Tennant’s unsettling villain repeatedly raped Jessica and forced her to follow his bidding with his mind control powers. The show’s first season was one of the most compelling pieces of television as an honest depiction of the psychological pain that comes with rape and abuse, coloured by the accessible premise of a pseudo-noir superhero tale.
If there’s one thing that Love, Simon succeeds at, its giving us something new in a genre that is characterized by the regurgitation of the same tropes and clichés. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of teen romcoms, so I walked into my advanced screening last Tuesday with cautious optimism. I was immediately surprised to see how packed the theater was with plenty of young faces and couples, and as soon as the movie started they cheered and filled the theater with so much delight and energy that can only be beaten by a crowd of a Star Wars movie on opening night. It was in that moment I knew that I was about to watch something very special for my community. Love, Simon is a heartfelt, positive, and inviting romp through the personal journey of a closeted gay teenager, and being that it is a mainstream studio film- that in itself is an honorable achievement.
Adapted by the 2015 young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon tells the story of a teenage boy dealing with the struggle of embracing his own sexual identity whilst also wanting to also fit in and be treated normally by his family, friends, and peers around him. It was directed by Greg Berlanti, the writer-producer of other teen-aimed movies and shows such as the D.C. network shows and was produced by the same people who brought you films like The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. This is a good indicator of what kind of film to expect going in, but Love, Simon does offer some very substantial subversions of traditional romantic comedy fare, including a character that serves as a callout to the obnoxious white knight archetype you see in a lot of these films.