By Robin E. Simmons
SOLO: A Star Wars Story
Is Disney going to keep breeding and then beating to death the iconic Lucasverse sci-fi fantasy mythos until there’s no longer an audience that loves it? — or worse, hates it? Word has it that Lucasfilm is developing a slew of movies around Star Wars characters including a Boba Fett story (James Mangold is already set to direct) and another one around Obi-Wan Kenobi. Will it ever end? Is enough ever enough?
Is there an over-riding meta story or theme we’re still waiting to experience? I’m not sure where or even if this new chapter best fits in the chronology of previous SW films. My guess is that Solo takes place after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope. But there remain many paradoxes and a question regarding that gap in time between the aforementioned chapters, like how old is Solo in this latest episode?
Memorable, finely crafted action sequences and new characters make this new trip to a somewhat familiar place far, far, away a fun ride if you don’t mind the recycled tropes and clichés. However, if you love all things Star Wars no matter what, then director Ron Howard’s nicely directed prequel of sorts will certainly be satisfying. Especially if you experience it on the biggest screen you can find.
At it’s heart, this new adventure is the back story of how, during a series of daring escapades in a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, the beloved scoundrel Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious Lando Calrissian (is he an Armenian?)
The episode sets the course for what we already know is to come. But, that said, I miss the input of Lucas (he did visit a location and made a minor suggestion to director Howard), but still, the difficulty of accepting Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo/Harrison Ford is a stretch. However, the eye-catching production design and cool action set pieces, along with the fine cast (Emelia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Joonas Suatomo and Tandie Newton) more than makes up for any disappointment in the casting of Solo. Now playing at Mary Pickford’s D’Place Entertainment.
NEW BLU FOR THE HOME THEATER:
HILDA CRANE (1956)
A classic and mostly forgotten “woman’s picture” about getting a second chance at finding love in spite of small-town – and small-minded – disapproval gets a shot at rediscovery on a gorgeous hi-def Blu-ray edition. Fiery Jean Simmons (a distant relation) stars and screenwriter Phillip Dunne directs (in stunning Cinemascope). Simmons is great and so sympathetic as a misunderstood, divorced, modern woman making a bid for romantic happiness. Evelyn Varden reprises her Broadway role as an interfering matriarch.
This old school emotional drama about a surprisingly liberated, independent woman (for her time) returning from New York to her conservative home town – she’s got nowhere else to go. There she soon finds trouble ricocheting between an aggressive French lover (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and a nice local boy (Guy Madison) while the whole town gossips. I liked the delicious tension that rises due to the controlling mothers of the lovers.
The beautiful score by David Raksin (Laura) is available on an isolated track.
A watchable and welcome extra is an A&E “Biography” episode on the charismatic and beautiful Jean Simmons. Twilight Time Movies. Blu-ray (Limited Edition, only 3,000 units).
BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
D.W. Griffith’s controversial landmark film will astonish you with its visuals and possibly repulse you with its content.
This incredible, disgustingly racist film is not to be missed since it is a record of what “once passed as history.” (Danny Perry, Guide for the film Fanatic.) It is also a foundation stone of cinematic realism, even though admittedly created to pass lies off as reality.
This film of monumental scale and ambition is relevant today as a potent reminder that even our deepest convictions can be seduced by the power of the moving image.
Film scholars and social historians have called this film among “the most influential in history.” We can never really censor the past nor should we, now contemporary audiences can see and judge for themselves.
The generous extras on Disc 2 includes, among additional featurettes and essays: Outtakes and original Camera Tests, Still and collections Gallery and several silent features (“The Coward”), “Stolen Glory” (directed by Mack Sennett), “The Drummer of the 8th Original Edit.” (Edition limited to 3,000 units.) Twilight Time Movies. Blu-ray.
A perfect film to see and consider before watching Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansmen. Recommended. This is one for the digital library.
Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff Vander-Meer’s novel stars Natalie Portman as a stressed scientist who joins/leads four other troubled women specialists to investigate an ominous bubble-like burst of energy — the “Shimmer” — that’s rippling across a remote part of the country.
When the women penetrate it, they experience strange and violent hybrid mutant creatures as they each confront disturbing elements of their personal pasts. If you missed this terrific film in theaters, please don’t dismiss it for the home theater. It’s a treat that already has a significant cult following. It’s certainly among the best movies of the year. Smart, provocative and memorable. Paramount. Blu-ray.
Also newly available: 30th anniversary editions of DIE HARD (20th Century Fox 4K Ultra HD) and COMING TO AMERICA Paramount.