SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY**** Ron Howard in fine form

Solo: A Star Wars Story is Ron Howard’s exhilarating entry into the Star Wars alumni with this swaggering Western (complete with low slung gun holsters, high-tech stage coaches, honkey tonk saloons and high noon shoot-outs)…all set in a galaxy far far away, a long long time ago.

It’s everything Star Wars:The Last Jedi wasn’t: the characters, led by the swaggering Alden Ehrenreich (from “Hail Caesar”) as Han Solo and the rakish Donald Glover as Lando Clarissian are charismatic and engaging, unlike the dour, boorishly angst-riddled Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The story is straightforward and focused (unlike the multi-tiered confused narratives of …Last Jedi, that wander forever aimlessly like drunks). The yawningly dull aerial battles are kept to a minimum and there are elements of genuine tension and excitement.

In short, compared with the leaden …Jedi, Solo… is fun. It levitates. More than this, it’s visually spectacular. There’s a big-screen, epic feel about director Howard’s stunningly realized wastelands of dingy equipment and ragged cities.

The story hangs around a love affair. Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia, mother of dragons, Clarke, who convincingly transforms from the ingenue to the imperious) are young lovers (juvenile delinquents really) who attempt to bribe their way out of the light and freedom deprived city of Corellia. There they’re indentured to a vast aquatic centipede. Han escapes, but not Qi’ra. As is only right, he makes it his mission to return and rescue her. It’s a long return journey that takes him via a stint as a fighter-pilot (thrown out for insubordination), a thrilling heist onboard a high speed, abyss-clinging train, near death from a black hole type vortex and encounters with a wide range of (mainly unsavory and unscrupulous) characters including the 190 year old Chewbacca.

But the Qi’ra he finally reunites with only seems the loving girl he once knew. Much has changed. And not for the better.

Father/son writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan offer enough plot-heavy excitement to keep you gripped while feeding out those many ‘origin’ storylines that perhaps only the die-hards would ever have wondered about, but which are nice the discover…such as how Han met Chewie (He’s thrown down a muddy cave to face Chewie aka ‘the beast’, whose guttural language he understands), the origin of his name (He belongs to no tribe and is thus dubbed “Solo”), and his first encounter with a rag tag group who evolve into the Empire-defying rebel forces.

While these origin myths are being spooled out, we’re introduced to an eclectic group of engaging characters: among whom are Woody Harrelson’s untrustworthy Beckett who becomes a sort of thief mentor to Han; the slick, smooth voiced gambler/hustler, Lando (in the person of the protean Danny Glover) from whom Han wins the famous Millennium Falcon; Beckett’s kick-ass girlfriend Val (a wasted Thandie Newton almost unrecognizable under a large wig) and the most fascinating of them all, a hip-swinging, sassy female droid pilot, LD-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) convinced that Lando has the hots for her.

Thing is, Lando, Han and Beckett are really only expressions of that archetypal lovable rogue, Brett Maverick. His slick, wise-ass, gunslinging spirit hovers like a blessing over this joyful enterprise


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. Dir: Ron Howard. With: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Brettany. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Raiders of the Lost Arc)), Jonathan Kasdan. Cinematographer: Bradford Young (Arrival), Production Designer: Neil Lamont (Edge of Tomorrow; Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens)


BREAKING IN***B Movie Master Class

Every so often, a body needs some calorie rich, sugary, finger-lickingly luscious junk food to escape from the daily starvation diet of Trump and Brexit. And this smartly plotted, fast-paced story of suburban mom turned protective lioness delivers its B movie delights in spades. This isn’t just a case of woman power, but Black Woman power.

Said powerful Black Woman, Shaun (Gabrielle Union) is a typical middle class mom with two sassy kids (dad’s stuck in the office) who has to make the long journey upstate (I assume it’s “upstate” as everything seems to happen there). She’s meeting an estate agent who’ll help her sell her, estranged, father’s country pile. 

And what a pile it is: multiple rooms including a panic room, state of the art multi-screen security, bullet proof glass windows further reinforced by remote controlled steel shutters. Oh, and there’s a drone that can glide around the house spying on all and sundry. This is country pile as fantasy fortress.

It also has a vault with $5M in cash. (her dad was up to no good)

And the knowledge of all that cash is ample enough motivation to warrant a break in. It’s potentially a simple enough job for a small team of thieves: break in to an empty house, find the vault, crack it open and steal the money. They’re the typical team of thieves: the soft-spoken leader, Eddie, whose blood has long turned to ice (Billy Burke from the TV series “Zoo”), the experienced lock-smith un-fussed about slicing throats (Mark Furze), the naive ex-con panicked that a simple heist is turning into murder (Levi Meaden from “Pacific Rim:Uprising”) and the truly wild-eyed desperado hungry for blood (Richard Cabral whose entire movie CV is that of killer types).

Why did mom and two kids need to turn up? They’ll just have to deal with them.

From the moment she arrives, bickering kids in tow, all awed by the high tech luxury of the house, mom begins to notice that things aren’t quite right. There’s an empty unwashed coffee cup, a smashed photo and was that a noise in the basement?
All the elements are there to unleash the frenzy of action that follows. No element in the spare plot is irrelevant. No observed object in the home, from the drone to the wonderful surround-sound system to various knives, will not find a small starring role in the unfolding story.

So the (mainly) thought-through plot from writer Ryan Eagle (“The Commuter”, “Rampage”) makes it clear why mom, who’s locked out of the house doesn’t just run to the police, why there are only ninety minutes to get the job done, why the thieves don’t simply kill the kids etc. OK, most moms simply can’t take down four ruthless killers. But hey, you never know. Some moms can simply transform into Jason Bourne when their kids are in danger. And this one in the hands of experienced B movie director James McTeigue (“Survivor”) sure does it in style.

You won’t fall asleep.

Two wonderful pieces of dialog bookend in movie: At the beginning when one of Eddie’s team commits a particularly nasty murder, his take on the mother, Shaun, is prescient: “Shit. Now she’s gone from being a frightened mom to a desperate woman,” he says. “And that’s dangerous”. Her words at the cathartic finale offer a marvellous (if clichéd) wrap-up to it all: “You picked the wrong fucking house to rob”

If you need a quick shot of anti-blues adrenaline, this is the right f-ing movie to see.

It joins a noble list of B movie masterpieces: “No Escape” with Owen Wilson, “Deep Blue Sea” with LL Cool J, “The Foreigner” with Jacky Chan, “Anaconda” with J Lo, “The Shallows” with Blake Lively, and “Run All Night” with Liam Neeson etc.


Of course, in the real world, when the cops arrive and fine four black persons in a wealthy person’s house with five white persons dead…their troubles will only now have begun


BREAKING IN. Dir: James McTeigue, with: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke. Written by: Ryan Engle. Cinematography: Toby Oliver (“Get Out”)



AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR*** Packs a powerful Punch

IF YOU WERE ever minded to ask, “How many superheroes does it take to screw in a light-bulb”, Avengers: Infinity War provides the dizzyingly delightful answer. There are superheroes every which way…tumbling out of the sky, beating around the bushes and appearing out of thin air. It’s an overflowing cornucopia of gorgeous, scantily clad, quarrelsome, prickly mega beings reluctantly banding together to fight off the Ultimate Baddie.

This is Thanos (Josh Brolin), an existentially powerful titan who eats superheroes for breakfast and who has arrived on earth in search of some hidden, glowing, infinity stones. They will nicely complete the trim of the designer necklace on his superhero gown. With a full collection of said stones, no hodgepodge assembly of avengers (not to mention The Earth) will ever stand a chance. OK. Whatever

How can they possibly win?

The clever trick that (Marvel veteran) directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War etc) and writers Christopher Markus (Captain America etc.) and Stephen McFeely (Thor etc.) pulls off is that despite such a stellar collection of superegos and super clashes, the forward momentum of the plot remains clear and propulsive. And, more importantly, we get to tarry long enough with each of the heroes that matter to enjoy their very un-super hero frailties and quirks. Each megastar (and the directors err on the side of the really larger than life characters) is given enough screen time to charm, entertain, amuse and tittilate us.

Indeed, the joy with Avengers etc is that, though it’s still about thirty minutes too long, we get just the right amount of time with the likes of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Dr. Strange etc. whose charms are never quite strong enough to last the length of a full movie.
And it is visually quite spectacular, especially the mega battles in Wakanda. This is the twenty first century’s epic equivalence of Ben Hur.

And as to my snide question, “How can they possibly win?”…We’ll all have to wait until Part 3 lands in a cinema-plex near you sometime just in time for Blockbuster Season 2019. All bets are off


AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Dir: Anthony and Joe Russo. With: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Evans, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cummberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Hiddelston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Vin Diesel etc etc. Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch (Captain America, Elysium), Production Designer: Charles Wood (Dr. Strange)