Film Review: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Solo: A Star Wars Story Poster
During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.


Ron Howard


(The review contains a few plot points. that should not spoil ones enjoyment of the film) 

Han Solo, is the space outlaw made famous by Harrison Ford ever since the first blockbuster STAR WARS wowed the world is.  It would be a treat for Star Wars fans if Ford made an appearance in this movie.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the second of the Star Wars anthology films following ROGUE ONE in 2016.  The film is a stand-alone instalment set prior to the events of A NEW HOPE.  As the title implies, the film follows the adventures of the beginnings of Solo (played this time around by a younger Alden Ehrenreich) before he joins forces with Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.  The film is written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan and directed by Ron Howard taking over the direction after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were let go owing what the studio cited as ‘artistic differences’.  Lord and Miller are still credited as executive producers.

A good exercise watching the film would be to guess which section was directed by Lord and Miller and which were taken over by Howard.  The former made the crazy LEGO MOVIE, which might have been too much for the Star Wars franchise.

The film opens with young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) fighting for survival on a desolate planet while having the dream of becoming a pilot to fly his ship among the stars.  But first he has to get out of the hell hole.  He and his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to but she is captured at the last minute, Solo escaping promising to return to the planet to save her.  This opening escape sequence (with the introduction of great sets, odd creatures and stunning alien landscape) is done really well and sets up the stage for an exciting film, which fortunately director Howard delivers.  The story goes on to Solo meeting with a master criminal, Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who becomes Solo’s mentor.  They eventually embark on a task to aid Master Criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) steal prized fuel from a distant planet.  Along the way, other new characters are introduced including Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo’s Wookiee sidekick and best friend.  

The film introduces new terms like gravity well, hyper fuel, Crimson Dawn just to list a few.  The film reveals (good for Star Wars paraphernalia) how Han Solo got his name, how he and Chewbacca originally met and how he got his first starship to fly.

Alden Ehrenreich, a star in the making, creates an excellent Han Solo,  the new super young action hero, the space outlaw who will gradually grow into Harrison Ford in the later films.  The other new actors like Clarke and Donald Golver as Lando Calrissian also prove their worth standing besides veterans like Harrelson and Bettany.

The film contains all the elements of a good action movie – betrayal, love, sacrifice and exciting action set-pieces.  There is the classic climatic fight between hero (Solo) and villain, Dryden.  The ending includes both a plot twist and a western-like showdown.

SOLO: A STAR WARS film turns out to be another solid action space western in the Star Wars franchise, another winner for director Ron Howard, translating to lots of money for Disney studios.


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Film Review: KAYAK TO KLEMTU (Canada 2017)

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Kayak to Klemtu Poster
14-year-old Ella is determined to travel the length of the Inside Passage, along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest by kayak in order to testify against a proposed pipeline that would …See full summary »


What begins like a documentary eventually turns into a story settling on a teenage girl’s mission.  The words displayed during the opening credits inform the audience of an upcoming native hearing on a judgement of oil tankers passing through their lands that may cause damage to native resources.  The 14-year old Ella, a native, (Ta’Kaiya Blaney), is asked by her Uncle Dave (Evan Admas) before his death to testify at this hearing to be held in the community of Klemtu. 

The title, KAYAL TO KELMTU refers to the trip by kayak undertaken by Ella.  Ella decides to grant her Uncle Dave’s dying wishes – which includes scattering his ashs along the way.  The trip allows Ella (and the audience, obviously) to discover the land and then deliver her testimony at the end of the trip at Klemtu.

This is a film that delivers a strong message for the indigenous people.  Their lands have been stolen and violated.  It is time to stop – beginning at halting the oil tankers from travelling through their inland waters.  One oil spill and the damage will be irreversible. Klemtu, is a tiny community in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, where Ella’s family used to live.  Ella is thrown for a loop when she’s joined by her wacky aunt (Sonja Bennett), wayward cousin (Jared Ager-Foster) and cranky uncle (Lorne Cardinal).  As they make their way up the Inside Passage to Klemtu, not only is the trip a challenge, so too are the family dynamics. 

Despite the filmmakers’ good intentions, the film aimed at a family audience turns out too crowd pleasing, manipulative (like the the bear hunting encounter) and at times unbelievable.  The script also (too obvious) contains some Hollywood-style powerful crowd arousing dialogue.  Ella’s mother says: “That pipeline does not stand a chance, ” as Ella partakes of the trip to the hearing.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film are the stunning scenery of the British Columbia natural landscapes.  The camera lingers from the rocks on the shores of the rives to the forests to the mountains and even the pretty little flowers and vegetation, all part of the greater nature of things.

Young actress Ta’Kaiya Blaney who in real life is an environmental activist delivers a winning performance.  The only trouble is that she always looks too perfect with perfect make-up and tidy hair even after spending 4 consecutive days and nights in a rainstorm. At Klemtu, the audience suddenly sees her and her aunt wearing fashionable coordinated bright new parkas.  

Despite the film’s faults, credit must be given to Hopkins and crew for trying.  The film sends an important message to save native natural resources.  But the more important message is that everyone, whether directly affected or not, should do his/her own to save Mother Earth.  The film, a crowd pleaser, won the audience award at the 2017 imagineNATIVE and Powell River festivals, and took Best Canadian First Feature at Victoria 2018.


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Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami Poster

Larger than life, wild, scary and androgynous – Grace Jones plays all these parts. Yet here we also discover her as a lover, daughter, mother, sister and even grandmother, as she submits …See full summary »


Sophie Fiennes


Directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph Fiennes) who made THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY, this doc on Grace Jones is not the typical biographical doc.  

The doc shares Fiennes’ sense of humour, evident in the aforesaid mentioned film about ideology seen from the point of view of Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek.  In the case of GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI, the doc follows the model, actress and drama queen as she travels to world, particularly to her home country of Jamaica where the audience sees her at home with family.  In short, the doc plays like a Grace Jones reality show.

Many first heard of Grace Jones in the role of bad woman MAY DAY in the James Bond flick A VIEW TO A KILL with 007 Bond Roger Moore.  Of all the Bond secondary villains, only two have survived the test of time – Jaws and May Day.  From then on, Jones has become larger than life, wild, scary and androgynous.  She is now a pop culture icon at the ripe age of almost 70, but still blessed with the good looks of a woman under 40.  

Director Fiennes reveals Jones also as a lover, daughter, mother, sister, and even grandmother.  Filmed over the course of a decade, Grace Jones has become an electrifying journey through the performance, private and public worlds of the Jamaican-born singer. 

Fiennes intersperses the doc with various spritely musical numbers that lifts her film to ecstatic nights as Grace know how to captivate her audience.  Her performances are colourful from the lighting of the shows to her elaborate costumes that include the most outrageous hats.

The film running quite long at almost 2 hours, could have been trimmed.   The best thing about this doc is watching these performances including the song numbers “Slave to the Rhythm” and “Hurricane”.  Still, what is missing that should be included is a clip of Jones fighting James Bond in A VIEW TO A KILL.  (I had to Youtube the film trailer to catch a glimpse of Jones when writing this review.) 

Jones is also shown as a tough cookie.  She only performs when paid in advance.  Once she refuses to perform around surrounding females (in Paris) as she claims she looks like a Madame in a female brothel.  She wants the female dancers replaced by males.  Jones can also speak English with a French accent (she does speak French too) and also with a British and Jamaican accent.

The prize segment of the doc is Grace chatting with her grandmother.  Her grandmother is beyond shy, with her breasts (despite her age) being the best in show.  Her words to Grace are all hilarious.

The film premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival with Grace present as one knows this woman just loves the spotlight.  



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Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat Poster

Exploring the pre-fame years of the celebrated American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how New York City, its people, and tectonically shifting arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s shaped his vision.


Sara Driver


Sara Driver’s doc of THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT is just that.  It is the story of the NYC Graffiti artist pre-fame.  None of his most famous paintings are shown on the screen till the end of the film.

The doc begins with a lengthy History of New York City – when it was run down, ugly and poor with a high occupancy rate.  As the voiceover informs, landlords were aware that they were not going to rent out their places any time soon, so they were burning them to claim the insurance money.  Then-President Gerald Ford announces that he will never ok a bill that will bail out the city by default.  It is almost a full 15 minutes in this hour and 15 minute film that Basquiat is first introduced into the picture.

Director Driver’s aim for her film is twofold – firstly to create the atmosphere and period of the times where street artists of that era touted their wares among the elite art groups.  The second is to reveal Basqiuat’s talent in these difficult and challenging times.

This she accomplishes using never-before-seen works, writings and photographs. Driver herself was part of the New York arts scene, so she knows her stuff and it shows.  She had worked closely and collaboratively with friends and other artists who emerged from that period.

Among them are film director Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field, Luc Sante and many others.  Jarmusch and Sante are given the most screen time, having the most to say.  Those interviewed draw upon their memories and anecdotes.  The film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-recreate the era, drawing a portrait of Jean- Michel and Downtown New York City -pre AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms – before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. 

Besides Basqiuat’s talent, he is also revealed to be penniless and occasionally homeless, crashing at friends’ apartments and even allowing himself to become a rent-boy for a roof over his head for the night.  A lady’s man who would steal anyone’s pretty girlfriend.  According to Jarmusch, he would disappear around the block to steal a flower to present to his friend’s lady.  Basqiuat also indulged with the drugs of the time, like LSD, which explains many of his psychedelic pieces.

An interviewee claimed that Basqiaut would eventually become as famous as Andy Warhol, who everyone respected at the time.  Indeed Basqiaut did.  His famous and most recognized works are shown at the end of the film.  These are the 7 or so years before Basqiaut achieved that status.  An eye-opening film on Basqiaut’s late teenage years.  If he was still alive today, he would be of the age of many of those interviewed, and would provide priceless insight of himself when interviewed.


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Film Review: BIRTHMARKED (Canada/Ireland 2017)

Two scientists raise 3 children contrarily to their genetic tendencies to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature.


Marc TulinMarc Tulin (story) |1 more credit »

BIRTHMARKED is a Canadian/Irish comedy with a good premise but unfortunately falls flat due its script and lack of direction.

The film begins in 1977.  Two respected scientists, Ben Morin (Matthew Goode) and his wife Catherine (Toni Collette) quit their jobs at the university to conduct an experiment they think will revolutionize our understanding of human identity, after they are inspired by a speech on scientists making a difference in human beings.   The project aims to raise three children contrarily to their genetic predispositions to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature. They want to prove that everyone has the same potential to become anything. Maya, a newborn girl adopted from two feebleminded parents, is raised to be smart, while Maurice, a newborn boy adopted from two anger-prone parents, is raised to be a pacifist.  Finally, their own biological son Luke, who comes from a long lineage of scientific brains, is raised to become a revered artist.  The film’s message is the importance of family above all.  The experiment will reveal little scientific truth, leading Ben and Catherine to discover the true value of family.

BIRTHMARKED’s script by Marc Tulin is the sloppiest script this year for a variety of reasons, a few of the more noticeable ones mentioned below.

The film begins in a 1978 setting.  For one, the script never ever mentions where it is set. Being an Irish/Canadian co-production, one can imagine the reason the filmmakers the setting ambiguous, so that the film will be marketable in the U.S., Canada and Ireland.  Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais takes great pains with the music, wardrobe and props (vehicles) in the creation of the ’77-’78 setting, but the script completely blows it with one character using the phrase “most importantly”, a term that was never used till after 2010.   Nothing is mentioned of the other two adopted kids’ parents – who they are or why they would allow their children to be a part of human experiments.  The ethics of the experiment is never discussed.  The ending is also unsatisfactory with no closure.  Characters like Dr. Julie Bouchard (Suzanne Clement) and Mrs. Tridek (Fionnula Flanagan) appear out of nowhere.  One is played by a French Canadian and the other an Irish, to be fair.  For a film about there children, one would expect the children to be super cute with each one memorable for their own peculiarities and perhaps even stealing the movie from the more experienced actors.  No such luck as the children’s roles are underwritten.

One wonders the reason British actor Matthew Goode (hardly recognizable) has ditched his good looks, hiding under a beard and spectacles for the role of the scientist, after all he kept his good looks as a mathematician/scientist in THE IMITATION GAME.  Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais gives himself a cameo as a fellow scientist.  Toni Collette assumes another quirky role after the recent MADAME.

The main subject on nature vs. nurture is is never debated or concluded resulting in the film’s good intentions being insufficient to save it. 


Film Review: SHOW DOGS (USA 2018)

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Show Dogs Poster

Max, a macho, solitary Rottweiler police dog is ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog in a prestigious Dog Show, along with his human partner, to avert a disaster from happening.


Raja Gosnell


Watching the first 15 minutes of a film’s opening can usually determine what can expected from the rest of the film.  At the start of SHOW DOGS, Max (Ludacris ), a talking Rottweiler that works as a police dog mistakenly takes down an undercover cop while three talking pigeons explain what is gong on to each other and the audience as if the scene needs to be explained.  The baddies have a British accent, of course and the camera tilts sideways for no apparent reason.  The antics include the dog unimpressively tumbling around and dodging vehicles.  Max bites the cop in the butt.  This is a sequence that is neither funny or exciting or worthy of mention.

So, in this world where humans and sentient dogs co-exist, the macho but lonely Rottweiler police dog named Max has bungled his duty to save a kidnapped baby panda.  Max promises the panda that he will return to save her.  Max is eventually ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog at a prestigious dog show with his human partner Frank (Will Arnett), the one he bit on the butt earlier in the film.

An impressive cast of celebrities voice the canine characters.  RuPaul voices Persephone, 

Gabriel Iglesias, Sprinkles, a Pug, Shaquille O’Neal, Karma, Stanley Tucci, Philippe and Alan Cumming, Dante.  One wonders the decision for Tucci doing a French accent, thus making his voice hardly recognizable for the Belgium dog, Philippe.

There are no shortage of jokes in the film.  The trouble is that they are only mildly funny at best.  The best example is the fast sloth joke, humorous a little, but laugh-out loud, it is not.  To illustrate how good the jokes are, I did not laugh once during the entire comedy!  The film is also not short of ass-hole and gross jokes.  It is easy to calculate the jokes hit/miss ratio for this film.  Zero!

The film contains many show dogs that are perfectly groomed that are great to look at.  Still, this is insufficient to lift the film out of the doldrums.  Max, the Rottweiler looks sloppy compared to all the other dogs, kind of dirty looking an always drooling.  It does not help that the script insists on having a romantic angle between Max and Daisy (Jordin Sparks), a Border Collie.   To make matters worse, there is also a hint of romance between Frank and another dog handler, Mattie (Natasha Lyonne).

The script by Max Botkin and Marc Hyman, at best makes reference to better dog films like TURNER AND HOOCH.  At one point, Max calls his partner, Hooch.  Again, a little humorous at best!

2018 has so far seen the best and worst dog films of the decade.  Wes Andersons’ ISLE OF DOGS is so far the best dog film this year.  SHOW DOGS, lands on the other end of the spectrum. 



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Film Review: BOOK CLUB (USA 2018)

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Book Club Poster

Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.


Bill Holderman


The BOOK CLUB is made up of Diane, Vivian, Sharon and Carol played by veteran stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen respectively, and listed in order of both their popularity and importance of their roles in the film.  All four have had their hey day, Fonda with her Oscar Winning KLUTE, breaking into fame with CAT BALLOU (I have seen this film 7 times), Keaton with ANNIE HALL, REDS, Bergen with 11 HARROW HOUSE, THE HUNTING PARTY and SOLDIER BLUE and Steenburgen with CROSS CREEK and DEAD OF WINTER.  Watching them on screen is the best thing about the film.  Unfortunately, they are unable to save this sorry feminine old farts comedy.

The film’s premise is simple enough with the script stretching it into a tired full length feature.   Four older women spend their lives attending a book club where they bond over the typical suggested literature.  Each member takes her turn to suggest a book.  One day, they end up reading Fifty Shades of Grey (with Christian Grey and his sexual frolics) and are turned on by the content.  Viewing it as a wake up call, they decide to expand their lives and chase pleasures that have eluded them. 

With four and not one character, the audiences has to sit through all four and not only one story as they sort out their lives. 

When the club first meets, it is a long drawn out affair of introductions.  One by one, they appear, each apparently trying to outdo each other in wardrobe and appearance.  The dialogue is obviously written by a team of comedy writers (though only mildly funny).  One liners and punch liners come out of the members’ mouths instead of authentic everyday dialogue.  

Later on in the film, the audience sees Keaton wearing all her ANNIE HALL outfits from male jacket, to loose tie to beret.  It is clear that the film pays more attention to wardrobe, the  mansions with their interior design and stuff that make the elders look good that more urgent matters like script and direction.  Choice of popular songs at appropriate parts of the film is ‘cute’ at best.

As the film progresses, it appears that this is a film that shows only one side of the American life – that of the wealthy.  All the characters are white and wealthy, with for example, Diane’s boyfriend, Mitchell the pilot (Andy Garcia) owning a mansion with his own private plane or Vivian’s Arthur (Don Johnson) rich enough to miss airline flights at a whim.  Even the supposedly middle class couple Carol (Steenburgen) and Bruce (POLTERGEIST’s Craig T. Nelson) has a house to die for.  An Asian is shown at one point in the film, but she is only the server of ice-cream sodas.

Of all the 4 stars, the most watchable and most amusing is Bergen playing the judge Sharon, prim and proper but trying to get a date on her dating site.  She is best known to the younger generation for her TV role in MURPHY BROWN though this one, in my opinion was the true beauty in her younger days.  Her match with Richard Dreyfuss (JAWS, THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ, AMERICAN GRAFFITI) is the one that brought the most laughs in the audience in the promo screening I attended.  Her other match up with Wallace Shawn falls flat.  The audience seems to love (though this has been done before) the segment with Bruce with a uncontrollable hard-on, the result of his wife spiking his beer with a Viagara.

The script underwrites certain characters, which is understandable as there are too many characters in the film.  Alicia Silverstone (CLUELESS) is largely wasted as Jill, one of Diane’s daughters who is not given much to do.

BOOK CLUB is merely an excuse to watch 4 stars come together.  If watching them is all that matters, the this film might be for you.  BOOK CLUB aims low as a glossy, standard senior product with nothing fresh to offer.  The film achieves its aim.


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