Solo: A Star Wars Story

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Solo: A Star Wars Story  (C-).  I saw the original Star Wars when I was about 10 years old, so I should be the perfect audience for an origin story about the coolest dude in a galaxy far, far away: the one and only Han Solo.  Sadly, I was bored.  I think Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is probably a good actor, but his Han is unfortunately bland.  Emilia Clarke (TV’s Game of Thrones) is pretty but otherwise makes no impression as Solo’s love interest.  Donald Glover (The Martian) does a little better as a suave Lando Calrissian, but I could never forget I was watching Donald Glover, who was so funny on TV’s Community.  Woody Harrelson adds another major franchise to his collection (Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes), but he doesn’t really give the story any juice either.  In sum, Solo is a forgettable movie.  My favorite pop culture podcast, The Weekly Substandard, has devoted two whole episodes to Solo, and I’m looking forward to hearing what those critics have to say about it.

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Annihilation

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Annihilation  (B-).  This new sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman (Thor) is loosely based on a novel from just a few years ago.  I think I liked the book better (see my review here).  As in the novel, a weird phenomenon kind of like a dome has descended on some remote, swampy area (Florida maybe?), and weird stuff is going on inside.  The government occasionally sends a team into the mysterious area to investigate.  (Almost) no one ever comes back.  Portman plays a soldier–biologist named Lena who joins the latest mission, a five-woman expedition led by psychologist Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding).  Once they venture into Area X, it turns into sort of a horror movie, so don’t go if you’re squeamish!  Anyhoo, I didn’t like it as well as director Alex Garland’s previous effort, Ex Machina, but Annihilation still held my attention.

I saw Annihilation at a new Alamo Drafthouse here in Dallas, and I caught most of the pre-show.  It included a couple of old music videos of a children’s rock band that featured . . . a nine-year-old Natalie Portman!  It was pretty entertaining.

Black Panther

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Black Panther (C).  I don’t know, maybe it’s just comic-book-movie fatigue, but this flick left me feeling like I’d just watched a 135-minute-long video game.  Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War) stars as King T’Challa of the poor African nation of Wakanda.  Only it’s not really poor; it’s sitting on a mountain of an alien metal called vibranium and has mastered all sorts of advanced technology, including some sort of cloaking device to conceal it all from the outside world.  But bad guys in the outside world are trying to get a hold of some vibranium, so T’Challa (who is also superhero Black Panther) and a few sidekicks leave Wakanda to stop them.  And then they have to deal with another bad guy after the first bad guys.  It all felt so weightless that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it.  Also stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and features Angela Bassett (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), Forest Whitaker (Rogue One), and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  (C).  Ugh!  I’m on Day 10 of a cold.  So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season.  According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad.  I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was).  It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there.  Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars.  It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels).  They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world.  The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there.  And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that.  Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Movie Snob heads for a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  (B-).  Okay, Episode VIII in the ongoing space/soap opera about the Skywalker family is here, and the critics are generally loving it.  Put me down with the small band of dissenting critics.  On the plus side, it is better than the last installment, The Force Awakens, if only because it is not a slavish remake of an earlier movie.  On the down side, it is still somewhat derivative of its predecessor The Empire Strikes Back, with an evil empire on the march, a rebellion on the run, and a would-be Jedi seeking training from a wise mentor.  Worse still, it is a solid two-and-a-half hours long, with as many false endings as The Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Still, I appreciated that writer–director Rian Johnson did try to throw some new wrinkles at us.  Mark Hamill (Star Wars: A New Hope) is a surprisingly crotchety Luke Skywalker.  The late Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally) presents a stoic Rebel leader but doesn’t really have that much to do.  And our quartet of new main characters (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron) gets split up for most of the movie, which means a lot of jumping back and forth.  I think the movie would have been much better if the first half had been trimmed a bunch, and the exciting stuff at the end stretched out a bit.  But it’s already made almost a billion dollars worldwide, so what do I know?

Justice League

The Movie Snob checks in.

Justice League  (C).  Yep, even the presence of the beauteous Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) couldn’t save this piece of cinematic bombast from dull mediocrity.  As we recall from the last movie, Superman is dead.  This makes everybody sad, which somehow summons up yet another cosmic CGI super-villain bent on global domination.  Although said villain has the unlikely name of Steppenwolf, this movie is neither Born to be Wild nor a Magic Carpet Ride.  Instead it’s mostly about Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl) looking for new super-recruits like Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, City Island) to help him and Wonder Woman beat the bad guy.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, Six Pack) drop in for a few seconds.  And the gorgeous ex-Mrs. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill), has maybe a minute of screen time, as some relative of Aquaman I think.  Ultimately, of course, there’s a humongous battle that’s about as exciting as watching your little brother play a video game for forty-five minutes.  This is a yawner.

Thor: Ragnarok

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Thor: Ragnarok  (B-).  Of the making of comic-book movies, there is no end.  But, if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than seeing the third movie focused on second-tier Marvel hero Thor of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman).  The story is the usual fare—a rising supervillain threatens massive destruction unless the heroic guy and his sidekicks can somehow save the day.  And the fight scenes, spaceships, and explosions are also the usual dull, video-game-looking affairs.

So what’s to like?  In a nutshell, it’s the comedy.  I laughed out loud more times during this movie than in any number of straight-up “comedies” I could name.  Fanboys may not appreciate the meta-jokes that poke fun at the silliness of the whole enterprise (like an offhanded joke about Loki’s goofy headgear), but I laughed every time.  Weaselly Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) is back and always fun to watch.  Jeff Goldblum (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is a hoot as the flamboyant impresario of a planet that looks like a giant garbage dump.  As the villainous Hela, Cate Blanchett—a two-time Oscar®-winning actress for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator, don’t you know—chews the CGI with a vengeance and sprouts some mighty impressive antlers whenever she gets ready to kill a bunch of people.  Plus there are fun cameos to watch for, and some other Avengers put in small or not-so-small appearances.  This movie was directed by Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who also directed and starred in the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.  This movie was even funnier.