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Josh Reviews Solo!

Solo takes place in the years prior to the original Star Wars, when the galaxy is still under the thumb of the Empire.  Young Han and his friend Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira, which makes me think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) have grown up in the slums of Corellia, scrounging a meager existence as thieves for an alien criminal called Lady Proxima.  When an escape attempt goes awry, Han manages to hitch a ride off-planet, but Qi’ra is left behind.  Han vows to return for her, but his plan to join the Imperial navy and become a pilot is thwarted when he’s kicked out of the flight academy for, as he puts it, having a mind of his own.  The result is that Han winds up as a Stormtrooper grunt, fighting the Empire’s wars in the dirt of a nameless world.  But when Han discovers a group of thieves, led by a man named Tobias Beckett, hidden among the Imperials, he sees at last his ticket to freedom.  And so the story of Solo begins.

Ever since plans were first announced, years ago, for a Young Han Solo movie, I thought it was a bad idea.  As a rule I am not a fan of prequels — I’d prefer the story go forward rather than backwards.  And while Rogue One, for instance, expanded upon a part of the Star Wars story about which I was eager to know more (just how DID the rebels get their hands on the Death Star plans in the first place?), I have never craved to know what Han Solo was like as a kid or young man.  The beauty of the character as introduced in the original Star Wars is that I feel we knew everything we needed to know about him.  What was interesting to me was not where he’d been, but how his crossing paths with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Leia Organa would change his life, and vice versa.

Having seen Solo, I still feel that way.  This is not a movie that needs to exist.  I have never needed to know the origin of Han’s blaster, or those dice on the Millennium Falcon, or how Han got the last name “Solo,” or exactly how and why Han first met Chewie, or how Han acquired the Falcon from Lando, etc.

That being said, though, I was pleased by how much I enjoyed Solo.  It’s a fun, fast-paced movie with some great action, some nice character work, and lots fun connections to the broader Star Wars saga.  I still think the basic concept of the film is a bad idea, but if Lucasfilm was going to make a Young Han … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews The TV Set (2006)

As with Death at a Funeral (which I reviewed last month), The TV Set is a film that I’ve been wanting to see ever since it was released.  It was one of those films that sounded really interesting to me, and was very well-reviewed, but I just never got around to catching it.  I keep a little notebook with a long LOOONG list of all the movies that I want to see someday.  Any time I read about a film that sounds interesting, I add it to the list.  I’ve been very busy lately, but I’m really happy that I’ve been able to cross some great films off of that to-watch list lately, thanks to Netflix!

The TV Set stars David Duchovny as Mike Klein, a TV writer.  Mike has written and sold a script for a new TV pilot called The Wexley Chronicles, and over the course of the film we follow the process of casting and filming the pilot from Mike’s well-liked script.

I am a big fan of television, and as a result, The TV Set is difficult to watch at times.  That’s because this film dissects, with surgical precision, why so much television is so terrible.  Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and produced by Judd Apatow, the film is based on Apatow and Kasdan’s experiences making the brilliant-but-quickly-cancelled TV series Freaks and Geeks.  Over the course of the film we, along with poor Mike, watch with horror as the network takes his script — which they liked because of its originality — and, through a thousand small compromises that they force Mike to make, set about to eliminate all of the project’s uniqueness in order to create something that will offend no-one and appeal to the widest audience possible.  The process is summed up in an awkward confrontation between Mike and the network head-honcho Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), in which she tells him flat-out: “originality scares me.”

The cast is superb.  Duchovny is perfect as the talented but also sort of sad-sack Mike.  We can see, in his eyes, the quiet desperation with which Mike is trying to hold on to his vision for the project, and the anguish that each little compromise causes him.  Sigourney Weaver kills as the tough, take-no-prisoners Network boss Lenny.  She is a riot, and to describe Lenny as a formidable presence would be a grand understatement.  Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower from USA’s series, and perfectly cast but then stranded by the execrable Fantastic Four movies) plays Lenny’s right-hand man Richard, brought over from England to head up the network’s TV development.  Whereas Lenny only cares about … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the few films from the past several years that Judd Apatow has had a hand in (he co-wrote the film and was one of its producers), that, despite his involvement, did not receive a lot of love from audiences upon its release.  My own recollection of seeing it in theatres was that it was sort of funny but not fantastic.  However, upon a second viewing on DVD last month, I must say that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this film!

Walk Hard is, first and foremost, an evisceration of a very specific type of film: the Oscar-bait musical bio-pic (like Ray, Walk the Line, etc.).  In scene after scene after scene, the film mercilessly sends-up every single ridiculous cliche of those types of movies.

We meet young Dewey growing up in a ramshackle farm down South, enjoying an idyllic life.  But a day of fun with his brother (“ain’t nothing horrible gonna happen today!” the doomed tyke promises) ends in tragedy after a machete-fighting accident.  Out of that grief, Dewey discovers his musical ability, playing the blues (“I got the blues… cut my brother in half…”).  A few years later, a nervous Dewey performs at a High School concert.  (Starting here, Dewey is played by John C. Reilly, despite the fact that the character is only 14 in this scene.  As Apatow and Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan note in their DVD commentary, they were interested in poking fun at  “just how young the lead actor THINKS he can play” in these sorts of movies.)   Despite the innocuousness of the pop ballad Dewey performs (entitled “Take My Hand”), the concert erupts into a frenzy of sexualized dancing (as, you know, Rock and Roll is wont to cause).  After being condemned by the local priest (“You think we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say take my hand?!”) and his father (“The wrong kid died!”), Dewey decides to leave home and set out on a musical career.

What follows reads like a crazy check-list of the types of scenes one could expect in these sorts of films, charting our hero’s rise and fall and eventual redemption.  Dewey gets an opportunity to perform his music for a disinterested record company executive (played brilliantly by John Michael Higgins, who proclaims: “You have failed conclusively!  There is nothing that you can do, here in this room, to turn that around!”) but, of course, once Dewey plays one of his own songs (the titular “Walk Hard”), the executive is blown away, as are his Hassidic Jewish backers (Harold Ramis — yes, Harold Ramis — Phil Rosenthal, and Martin Starr in delightfully over-the-top Hassidic get-up … [continued]