Tag Archives: Woody Harrelson

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Review

Solo – A Star Wars Story should bear the ‘Alan Smithee’ logo. It is not the sole work of director Ron Howard, who was brought in to rescue the film after directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) were fired by the producers – to quote a line from the original, ‘this is some rescue!’ Yet his is the name on the end credits of this bland, inert Star Wars ‘origins’ film which ought to give the producers pause for thought. I was wowed by The Last Jedi but this is more of a checklist than an adventure. And to think that Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Jeffrey Boam explained the young Indiana Jones in a ten minute prologue to The Last Crusade (facial cut, fear of snakes, the bullwhip); Solo takes two and a quarter hours.

Essentially, it tells the story of young Han Solo, smuggler extraordinaire, how he met Chewbacca, acquired the Millennium Falcon and ended up on Tattooine, the planet on which he eventually met young Luke Skywalker, the moisture farmer’s nephew who became the second-to-last Jedi, if my calculations are correct. For some cinemagoers, this is utter nonsense. But for others – this reviewer included – it fired our imagination as young people, giving us a love for cinema that expanded to Kurosawa, John Ford, Leni Riefenstahl and all the directors who inspired Star Wars creator George Lucas.


Han was originally played by Harrison Ford, the sometime carpenter whose association with George Lucas and Francis (The Godfather) Coppola led to his being cast in Star Wars and having his career blasted into hyperspace. Ford earthed the movie. His weary cynicism was a strong counterpoint to Mark Hamill’s Luke. The actor playing his younger self has some waistcoat to fill. Alden Ehrenreich, who also has an association with Coppola (the little-seen Tetro) – you can start the game ‘Six Degrees of Star Wars’ any time you like – isn’t bad, but he was let down by the script, credited to Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan. Someone should have told the producers that fathers and sons don’t do so well in the Star Wars saga.

It is not Ehrenreich who doesn’t fill the screen, rather the characterisation. I don’t believe that Star Wars fans are anally retentive – although I did complain watching Rogue One that the Death Star doors didn’t move fast enough. However, not every child in the Star Wars universe is enslaved by a tyrannical ‘ethnic’ alien as teen Han is here. I’m sure there is other literature that the writers can reference besides Oliver Twist. The film starts on the wrong foot, positing Han as another Anakin Skywalker, sent off to do a man’s work and coming back with some hyper-fuel worth 600 credits (don’t blame the transcriber). Han tries to leave his home planet of Corellia with his childhood friend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). In a nod to Uncle George [Lucas], there’s a car chase and quite a neat ‘oner’ if you appreciate continuous takes. But circumstances divide them and Han signs up to join the Empire. If you want to know why Stormtroopers shoot so badly – a Star Wars trope – it is because the recruiters don’t ask too many questions.


When Han ends up fighting for the Empire, the film blossoms with promise, but then we get another Star Wars trope (from Return of the Jedi), with him thrown in a pit to face ‘the Beast’ and we know what’s coming.

In the interest of spoilers – hey, this film is a spoiler, it soils the Star Wars universe – I won’t say what happens next, but the checklist also includes meeting Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his co-pilot L3-37 (a motion capture performance by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Star Wars’ history reflecting ethnicity has never been great – witness Jar Jar Binks  in Episode One – but I found it insulting that charismatic (black) Lando doesn’t have a non-droid girlfriend. Is this the only way the Star Wars universe can depict black people – by emasculating them? Waller-Bridge is amusing for the time she is on screen, although behind L3-37’s actions is the worrying message that, after years of mistreatment and ‘restrainer bolts’, artificial intelligence will turn against humans – but, hey, this is Star Wars, so it doesn’t matter. Part of the problem with Solo is that the new characters have so much more life than the established ones, yet get short shrift – Thandie Newton also makes an appearance, adding a third franchise to her name after Mission: Impossible and James Bond.

Eventually, we have to talk about Woody Harrelson as Becket, a soft-hearted criminal in the employ of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). When we see Becket sitting in Luke Skywalker’s gun turret in the Falcon firing at TIE fighters, he makes it seem like everyone can use those things, not just those with the Force, the mystical energy source that certain biologically engineered people can tap into like Gatorade. Harrelson brings too much baggage to the role, and though he is doing his best work in this stage of his career – he really impressed in War for the Planet of the Apes as a nuanced rather than ‘mad’ general – he highlights the paucity of the characterisation.

Solo is the first Star Wars movie to lack the Force, the quasi religious underpinning to the whole saga; I felt its absence as a counterpoint against which other characters react. In Star Wars lore, the Force actually gives the Empire its mandate to rule, having tapped into its dark side. It’s like democracy. The film also perpetuates the stereotype that all women in the Star Wars universe have an English accent – and not regional ones either. Millions of galaxies and only one finishing school – I don’t buy it.

Without the ambition to expand the Star Wars universe – there’s a Syndicate and ‘Crimson Dawn’ but I started not to care – Solo comes across as a footnote. Ehrenreich has charm in the Leonardo Di Caprio mode but towards the end I started to compare the film unfavourably to Baby Driver, a film that also had a baby-faced lead with dreams of leaving his life behind. There is no excitement and exhilaration or even relish in Solo. Whatever ambitions Miller and Lord had for the film have been tempered by a ‘safe pair of hands’, Howard, who had his first lead in a George Lucas film, American Graffiti. There is no ‘wow’ factor here. At one point, I was so disengaged, I thought I was watching a Pirates of the Caribbean movie – there’s even a large space octopus in this one, with a thousand eyes but nothing to watch, clearly a design fault.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out in on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Review

In a small town in Missouri, Mildred (McDormand) takes out advertising on three billboards that ask the local police chief why there have been no arrests in the case of the rape and murder of her daughter. It’s a small act of defiance, and yet it has some big repercussions.

From the writer/director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh, it’s a fine return to form for a man whose films tend to have serious tones, violence and yet also humour and some heart felt moments. Taking on the subject of small town America, of incompetent police, dysfunctional family relationships and of course, the deep sadness of losing a child to violence, this film could have been a very different story in the hands of someone else. Because whilst it explores the grief of Mildred, it focuses on her strength and her ability to act, her toughness and determination. It’s an underdog story.

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It’s also a story that is bittersweet and darkly funny, but manages to hit you right in the feels.

Part of what amused me about this film is that in small towns, everyone knows everyone. So when one character enacts violence and physical harm on another, here we see it forgiven, but you also know that the story will be all over town and also repeated for years to come. Everyone knows everyone’s business, and yet, since you have to live with them, it’s also easier to forgive than live with a grudge. It also means that if you put up a billboard demanding answers and action from the local police, everyone will have an opinion on it.

The police in question fall into two camps, personified by Chief Willoughby (Harrelson), the kind who care but have their own problems, and Officer Dixon (Rockwell) who feels the badge entitles him to do whatever he wants and who has a reputation for violence towards anyone of colour. When it comes to light that beloved Willoughby has cancer, there’s a sense that Mildred should go easy on him, as opposed to him not being able to do his job, which I found interesting. Whilst Willoughby is a calm voice of reason, Dixon is a man who lashes out. And the billboards have both men upset.

Though many people in the town of Ebbing Missouri are drawn for the viewer, and we see a little into their lives, it’s Mildred’s film. She’s a complex person. While clearly bowed under the weight of her grief, and yet she isn’t breaking. While she’s a mother who has lost a child, she’s not drawn as a perfect parent either. She can’t let go, and yet her strength in holding on makes her quite impressive. She pugnacious, argumentative and takes action.

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Which is impressive considering some points, this is a town where in this film: a girl has been raped and murdered and no one has been arrested, Mildred’s marriage was abusive and her husband is still violent towards her, her dentist tries to drill her teeth without anaesthetic in order to get her to comply with how he’d like her to behave, a cop punches a woman in the face and knocks her down and it’s never mentioned again, a woman is arrested and held without bail on trumped up charges because she is Mildred’s boss, and Mildred’s son is comfortable calling her a c-word. And both the police chief and Mildred’s ex-husband have partners who are a great deal younger than them. These are all moments taken out of context of the plot, but my point is that it’s not a safe place for women, the consequences of acting out are high. But Mildred punches, kicks and swears her way through, unabashed.

Her pain is hard to watch sometimes, and yet this film is heartfelt, warm, and has a lot of love and humour at it’s heart. It’s hard not to love Mildred, and even the people around her who on the surface may not be nice, but who show their solidarity, their vulnerability or demonstrate forgiveness in a way that is never cheesy or dramatic, but it simple and kind. It’s a beautifully shot film, showing the beauty of the Missouri, and the music gently supports the emotions of the films moments. The performances in this film are brilliant, not just McDormand, but Harrelson and Rockwell (who manages to be awful, funny, terrifying and vulnerable all at once), but the side characters too. It’s lovely to see Caleb Landry Jones and Peter Dinklage given roles that are more diverse than what they’re usually given. In a year when a lot of films were big shiny spectacles with not a lot of heart (of course, we love those films too), this film manages to be beautiful and heartfelt, as well a darkly funny. A wonderful watch.

Three Billboards is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

LBJ – Brand New Trailer!

Lyndon B. Johnson is not a President who is often talked about in schools in the UK. His time in office is largely overshadowed by that of his predecessor and successor, yet he is still an important figure in American history nonetheless.

LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson, tells of Johnson’s time in the White House as both Vice-President to JFK and his time as President after November 22nd 1963.

This will be a biopic that will help shed some light on an otherwise unknown President for those of us across the pond, but for those in the United States, it will help remind them of another leader of their country.

LBJ is out in cinemas November 5th!

Wilson – Review

The problem with Wilson, the second of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novels to be turned into a motion picture – his Ghost World was filmed by Terry Zwigoff in 2001- is that its curmudgeonly hero, known only by one name and played by Woody Harrelson, is essentially unrooted in recognisable reality. Wilson lives alone with his dog and has rejected the idea that life can deliver upon the promise of youth. Instead, he mocks strangers who pet his dog instead of talking to him and seats himself next to people just to start a conversation. Wilson was married once but his wife, Pippi, left him and had an abortion. Wilson only has one friend, but he is moving away to St Louis. Wilson bonds with a disgruntled shopper at a pet store and bumps her car to get a date. She rejects him, but then he gets another date, Alta (Margo Martindale) whom he prejudges on the basis of her looks. He would rather be with a beautiful person who is screwed up rather than an adjusted person who has made her peace with life.

There is no shortage of incident in Wilson as he sits by his father’s death bed and watches him pass, tries to connect with an old school buddy, Olson (David Warshofsky) who is more screwed up than he is and drives in the middle lane in an old station wagon, annoying fellow motorists. Wilson doesn’t like the internet – though he doesn’t read books or watch TV either. However, Alta shows him the benefits of the triple-w, finding his ex-wife’s sister and starting him down the path of locating his ex-wife (Laura Dern) whom he imagines is still turning tricks on the street.

When he meets Pippi, who has changed her name to Lynn and is working in a restaurant, he makes a life-changing discovery, one which I am not tempted to spoil.

Wilson’s desire to connect drives the film along – it packs a lot into 94 minutes – and it gets him into trouble. However, it plays like a false concept. Why can’t Wilson be properly counter-cultural? How does he pay for food and utilities? If he doesn’t need to work but loves both company and community, why does he not volunteer in a soup kitchen? Wilson’s narration book-ends the film but he is unreliable. Although he doesn’t admit it, he enjoys being a provocateur and is addicted to upsetting the people around him. Even when he tries to be convivial, it sounds like an insult.

Appearing in almost every scene, Harrelson tackles each set piece as if gnawing vigorously at a chew toy – and he gets through quite a few, metaphorically speaking. It is a committed performance – critic code for saying he doesn’t ever make Wilson seem lovable – but he doesn’t have much competition. At one point, we see Pippi-Lynn fight with her WASP-ish sister (Cheryl Hines) – punches are thrown, crockery broken – and we ask ourselves ‘is this entertainment?’

Director Craig Johnson has greater tonal control over this material than he showed in his previous film, The Skeleton Twins, but at best the film is only good for a few mild chuckles. Wilson is given a second chance – he loved his dog unconditionally, after all – and the film goes into interesting darker territory in the fourth act. The weird message of the movie is that for non-violent folks with boundary issues, prison can work wonders. This is not feel-good stuff.

Wilson is out 9th June

The Glass Castle – Brand New Trailer & Clips!

Nothing affects us more than our parents. Maybe high-school, but the problems of our family are also the issues we carry in our life.

For The Glass Castle, the film tackles this issues with great heart.

The film is based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls and stars Brie Larson & Woody Harrelson. It depicts Jeannette’s life affected by her alcoholic father who moved them across country when he couldn’t hold down a job.

Oscar winner Brie Larson is genuinely a grace to every  film that she is in so this is terribly exciting and Woody Harrleson truly looks impressive here. What do you think?


The Glass Castle is out later this year! 

Now You See Me 2 – Brand New Trailer!

It does seem like there are a lot of sequels and reboots out there. Yawn. It’s as though Hollywood has run out of ideas and is piggy-backing off ideas they’ve already made successful. There is a magical fountain of original ideas that Hollywood to pool ideas from but it’s like they have no faith in unique ideas and new writers that they have tokeep churning our sequels like this.

Exactly one year after outing the BFI, The Four Horseman are back as special illusionists (except Isla Fisher has been replaced by Lizzy Caplan, which is a cracking!) After exposing the unethical practices of a tech magnate, they are threatened by a tech prodigy, they are pushed into their most difficult heist yet!

Now You See Me 2 looks kind of fun and exhilarating like the prior film and has a fantastic cast at the centre of it. It may not be a completely necessary film but could be some mindless magic.

Now You See Me 2 is out June