SOLO: A Star Wars Story

Yeah I need to finish my reviews for the other recent Star Wars movies, but I watched this yesterday and wanted to get this out while the movie was still fresh in my mind.

This will be a pretty short review, but I hope it’s pretty clear that its length doesn’t correlate my affection for this movie compared to other reviews I’ve written. In short, I loved this movie. I FINALLY got a Star Wars movie that isn’t about the fate of the whole frickin’ universe, and there’s no Jedis, no force, none of that!

It’s almost shocking how small-scale Solo: A Star Wars Story is. There’s a few key locations on a few different planets, but there’s no excessive location-hopping and scene cutting back and forth. The movie pretty much focuses on the key character, Han Solo, and only adds a dash of scenes for villains, side-kicks, etc. I think the casting was perfect; Alden Ehrenreich was great as a young Solo, channeling a bit of Harrison Ford but not trying to do an outright caricature. Donald Glover nearly steals the show as Lando, bringing style and swagger. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson also shine in their roles, making the viewer constantly wonder just whose side they are on. Paul Bettany is great as the movie’s key villain, never ever going over the top and is more of a quiet threat that perfectly suits his style of acting.

While this movie evidently had a rocky road on the way to the theater, I think both director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan (how awesome to write a Stars Wars movie with your dad?!) have given us a very strong independent Star Wars movie, and for me it’s not only for sure in my top 3 picks, but it might just be my favorite Star Wars movie!

Adrian Lyne

Introduction

I only discovered Adrian’s movies thanks to playing the Silent Hill video games. After playing them and wanting more of that atmosphere and story, I looked online at similar games, films, and books. One of the first and most common replies, as far as film went, was to watch Jacob’s Ladder. I eventually did, and my mind was blown away. Since then I’ve watched two more of Adrian’s films, and while he hasn’t done much lately he is undoubtedly one of my top directors of all-time.

Fatal Attraction

Quote from Sleepless in Seattle: “Well I saw it and it scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!”

That quote should pretty much sum up this movie. Just as Sleeping With the Enemy was a look at a disturbed and abusive man, in Fatal Attraction we see the same in a woman, albeit in a different situation. This movie covers sexual urges and acting upon them, infidelity, honesty and communication, and much more.

Michael Douglas stars as a lawyer in New York, living the good life with a picture-perfect family. At a publisher’s book release party he encounters Alex Forrest; she quickly starts to flirt with him and he doesn’t exactly discourage it. As time goes on life at home doesn’t seem so perfect and he sees Alex a few more times, and inevitably he gives in to her advances.

Well, Alex is a tad cray-cray. Hence the term bunny-boiler. After Michael comes to his senses he stops the affair and assumes that’s that, but Alex doesn’t accept it’s over. After harassing him and his family, including spending the day alone with his daughter, Michael has no choice but to tell his wife about the affair. He is of course kicked out, but eventually they reconcile, and not too far from a dramatic conclusion to the movie.

As with Adrian’s other movies, what struck me the most was the framing and lighting of this movie, especially the contrast between the lighter and comforting home life and the darker and increasingly-sinister affair. The pacing of the movie is excellent; little things here and there start to go wrong, not seem right, and then it continues to build all the way until the final confrontation in the house.

Jacob’s Ladder

As mentioned above, Jacob’s Ladder was undoubtedly one of the key influences on the Silent Hill video games, and not just because of the subway similarities. In a similar plot to Silent Hill 2, in Jacob’s Ladder a former Vietnam soldier starts to see things that don’t make sense, and through key events and meetings begins to suspect what the true meaning of things are.

Jacob is living with his girlfriend, who also works for the U.S. Postal Service. They share a small apartment, in stark contrast to the large townhome Jacob once shared with his wife and 3 kids. Gabe, the youngest, was killed before Jacob went to Vietnam, and of course it still haunts him after coming back. As time goes by more and more strange things happen to Jacob, and talking with his Army buddies it’s apparent he’s not alone. He sees more and more ghost and demons, and only with the guidance of his chiropractor can Jacob start to realize what the truth might be, as well as what he needs to do to truly move on.

Indecent Proposal

The last of the three movies I watched, I didn’t anticipate the emotion that this movie had, even more so than Adrian’s previous movies. As always beautifully lit and photographed, this movie also had the stellar performances of Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore; Robert Redford also gives a great performance of a confident and cocky rich man.

The premise for the movie, if you look at it on its own, is pretty ridiculous and out there. A rich man proposes to spend one night with a couple’s wife in exchange for a million dollars. While that’s a decent chunk of change, I can’t imagine any well-functioning couple would say yes. But of course this is a movie, and they agree. Harrelson regrets it as soon as Redford picks her up, while Moore is quite emotional but doesn’t show us that she doesn’t want to go along with it. Soon after it happens they fight and eventually separate. Moore does stay with Redford, at least until he slips up about the scheme. This is near the movie, and after leaving him Moore returns to where she and Harrelson met and fell in love, and we’re left with hope of reconciliation.

Somewhat unbelievable plot aside, it’s hard not to get sucked into this movie. Dynamic performances, beautiful lighting and photography, and a perfect music score all come together to make a very good movie.

Soundtracks – Part 2

Three years ago I wrote about my favorite soundtracks, focusing on computer and video games. I’ve discovered a few more since then, and I also wanted to include a few notable film soundtracks. It’s hard to talk about each soundtrack without also going into the game or film that it accompanies, but I’ll try to keep it short. Let’s go!

The 7th Guest



It’s hard to describe the music for The 7th Guest. It’s a weird, jazzy kinda thing. It’s definitely something that’s not heard very often, and I sure wish there was more of it. Checking out their horrifically-designed website, I don’t see a whole lot of material produced since this game. I’m glad I got to discover this music, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Alan Wake

 

The Alan Wake soundtrack is pretty hard to distinguish from a film soundtrack. It’s polished, dynamic, and emotive. It sometimes feels a little too polished and subdued, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best soundtracks for an incredible game. Petri Alanko has worked on several other projects, including Quantum Break and the Nightwish Imaginaerum soundtrack.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

 

During the limited time I played Amnesia The Dark Descent, the music definitely contributed to my uneasiness and encouragement to not explore very far at a time. While I enjoyed watching Markiplier’s playthrough of Amnesia I couldn’t hear much of the music; but when I took the time to listen to this soundtrack composed by Mikko Tarmia, I was very enthralled as well as unsettled. Check this link for a short Youtube video where Mikko discusses his process while creating the Amnesia soundtrack. Along with this soundtrack, Mikko has worked with Frictional Games to create the scores for the Penumbra series of games as well as Fricitional’s latest hit, SOMA. A soundtrack for a cancelled game, Tempest, is now available on Bandcamp as well.

Bastion



The Bastion soundtrack took me by surprise; like the music for The 7th Guest, it’s not what I was expecting at all, which is a good thing. With the use of acoustic guitar I couldn’t help but get a Firefly feel, but there’s still a subtle electronic base to it. Along with Bastion, Darren Korb has worked with Supergiant Games on their latest release, Transistor.

Blade Runner

 

A movie by Ridley Scott with a soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s hard to describe this combination other than monstrous, or even colossal. Using the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, Vangelis crafted one of the most sublime soundtracks ever heard, with notes of sorrow and wonder intertwining throughout. This perfectly fit the movie, blending sci-fi with noir. This is definitely one of those soundtracks you have to have!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

While Bethesda released Fallout 3 between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim, it still didn’t seem that long after Oblivion that Skyrim came out. Every screenshot and preview I saw involved snow. And hills. And tall mountains. Yay, more areas that the player has a hard time if even possible to travel! My experience with Oblivion was mixed, and I wasn’t sure Skyrim would be that much of an improvement, again with so little time seeming to pass between Bethesda’s games. Well, most of my worries were put to rest with Skyrim, and it is much closer to my ideal computer RPG.

As far as the music goes, it can be hard not to compare this soundtrack to Oblivion, Guild Wars, etc. Like Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule does have the ability to craft a certain signature sound for each project, but underneath it’s still the same composer, and for better or worse the listener is going to get a consistent experience in regards to the music. In Skyrim there is a bit more vocal work that fits in well with the Nord motif. We still get the beautiful strings and other soft sounds that help fill the void of sometimes slow exploration in the game, but even that is a bit more subdued and sparse compared to other games.

The Fifth Element

 

Released in 1997, The Fifth Element was one of the biggest-budget sci-fi movies at that point. Directed by Luc Besson, this movie went above and beyond when it came to everything: story, design, and even the music. Tapping the talents of fellow Frenchman Éric Serra, this movie has a very unique soundtrack, often moving from hard, explosive, face-hitting notes and accents to soft and subdued saxophone and keys.

Firewatch



Chris Remo has worked on several game soundtracks, and before the score for Firewatch he was probably best known for his work on Gone Home. Now a full-time member of Campo Santo, Chris worked on Firewatch as a designer, writer, and scorer. Compared to Gone Home, the music for Firewatch is much more subdued, utilizing electric piano and acoustic guitar for its outdoor vibes. Like many game scores each track is painfully short, and I always want more!

The Last Door


The Last Door is a short but excellent retro-style adventure game, featuring creepy visuals and a very emotive soundtrack by Carlos Viola. This soundtrack makes astounding use of cellos and other stringed instruments, and you can’t help but feel sucked in. Along with the soundtrack for the first game/season, Carlos also produced the soundtrack for Season 2.

Mirror’s Edge

 

Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was lauded for its incredible lighting and unique gameplay. The score, by Solar Fields, is an incredible electronic composition. Fitting perfectly with the game’s motif of running and climbing, this soundtrack would make an excellent workout accompaniment.

Mr. Robot



I had heard about Mr. Robot quite a lot before I finally got around to watching the first episode on Amazon Prime, and to say it floored me is an understatement. And the key reason for that wasn’t the acting, story, editing, etc.; not to say all of those weren’t fantastic, because they all were! It was actually because of the music. To say it’s stunning, or even superb, doesn’t serve justice to Mac Quayle‘s work. I would at least put this on par with Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack or maybe even a notch above; it’s THAT good.

Shadowrun Returns

 

While I’ve played Shadowrun Dragonfall on PC, it was the music of Shadowrun Returns that I remember hearing in the game, as well as what’s available to listen to if purchased from GOG. It hasn’t been since the Deus Ex games (as far as being more cyberpunk rather than general sci-fi) that I’ve heard such outstanding music featuring synths and drum machines (but these days just as likely sequenced all via software, who knows!) that elicit the streets, clubs, gunfights, and more that the cyberpunk genre encapsulates so well. If I was to consider running an RPG session in the cyberpunk or near-future genre, this soundtrack would be an absolute necessity!

Silent Hill 2 & 3

 

While the music of the first Silent Hill was very sparse, somewhat atmospheric, and leaning towards industrial, it was the release of the next two games that Akira Yamaoka really upped the ante for video game music. They were also the games that ratcheted up the personal emotions and terrors that made the Silent Hill series such a success at that time. Bringing in more use of synths and electric pianos, electric guitar, and drums and other rhythmic sounds, the soundtracks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 capture the horror and sadness of the games in a unique manner.

The Social Network

 

Anyone my age or older will recognize Trent Reznor first and foremost as the founder and key member of Nine Inch Nails. These days, he’s likely to be recognized just as much if not more for the outstanding film scoring he’s created along with Atticus Ross. The Social Network was the first film scored by this duo, and the first of 3 films of David Fincher‘s they worked on (the others being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). While I can hear some NIN influence in the soundtrack, there’s also a lot more subtlety as a film soundtrack demands. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can still listen to over and over.

Tron: Legacy

 

When it comes to electronic music mastery I don’t think anyone could argue that what Daft Punk did for Disney’s Tron Legacy was nothing short of an astonishing masterpiece. It’s just that good. The movie itself was received with mixed responses (I personally think it’s far better than the first one), but there was no denial that what was pouring out of the speakers was true analog bliss. Utilizing monster modular synths and their decades of experience, Daft Punk delivered in spades. If I could only listen to one soundtrack ever again, I would choose this without hesitation; if I could only listen to one album period, this would be in the top 5 contenders.

Grave Encounters

It’s very rare for a horror movie to truly scare me. There’s been many that have made me uneasy, or even a genuine sense of dread, but not along the line of thinking as holy shit what’s going on, stop moving, don’t go down that hallway! I would say The Descent and Paranormal Activity have succeeded with that, and the most recent to really make me question what in the world was going on is Grave Encounters.

A reality show host and crew lock themselves in an abandoned psychiatric hospital to try to find any activity. The first few hours are uneventful as they move around, setting up cameras and checking out some weird feature explained by the caretaker.

Once evening comes, the caretaker is filmed leaving along with chaining the doors closed. The crew makes a big posturing stand on camera, but as soon as recording is finished they relax and assume it will be yet another uneventful stay at a supposedly haunted location. It isn’t before long while walking around that the crew starts to hear weird things, and then one of them disappears, starting to create panic for the rest.

Coming up to the climax of the film, more and more weird sounds happen, and even sightings start to manifest. No other members disappear, but the greatest things (to me) that really sets up the tension and feeling of dread is when they start to realize that time is not passing as it should, as well as the layout of the building isn’t following what is shown on the map.

Near the end of the film, panic is at full tilt, with the crew yelling and running around. A few more are attacked and killed, with the remaining starting to think they’re going out of their mind. The last scenes are a mixed bag for me, trying to put too much explanation into things that don’t really need it.

All of that being said, Grave Encounters is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a number of years, mainly because it relies more on atmosphere and dread rather than gore. I don’t plan to see the sequel, but I do hope to find more movies similar to this!

Alien/s

The Alien movie franchise stands as one of the longest-lasting and more popular series, started in the golden age of sci-fi movies in the late 1970s. With the incredible photography and suspense of the first movie, it didn’t take long for the success and cultural permeation to bring about additional movies and demand for even more, which continues to this day with not only movies but video games, comics, and more.

Alien

Released two years after Star Wars, Alien couldn’t be any different. Compared to Star Wars’ grand scale, bombastic soundtrack, and action-driven plot, Alien feels cramped and suspenseful. A merchant vessel, the Nostromo, is headed back home when its computer, Mother, picks up a distress signal from a nearby planet. Reluctantly agreeing to check it out, the crew finds more than they could possibly imagine.

Following the pacing of 2001 and Star Trek: The Motion picture, as well as his later release Blade Runner, Ridley Scott takes his time to let the story unfold, as the crew realizes the danger they’re in and how they’ll try to deal with it, all the while dying one by one at the hands (or actually a little zippy mouth and sharp tail) of this unknown creature skulking about their ship. In the end, it’s the wit and courage of Ellen Ripley, played very well by Sigourney Weaver in what will become a defining female sci-fi role, that allows at least for her (and her cat!) to escape the menace.

As it had been awhile since I’d seen this movie, I was curious how well it has held up over the decades. Needless to say any doubts I ever had were put to rest very quickly. By the time the crew was out to investigate the planetoid I was on the edge of my seat, knowing what would happen but the suspense still as high as the first time I saw it. Throughout the rest of the film I still appreciated the set design, sound effects, and the camera work of Scott’s that all worked together to bring such an incredible film to life.

Aliens

Released seven years after Alien, Aliens shares the same universe but approaches it far differently. Director, writer, and special effects wizard/veteran James Cameron used one of his existing stories and adapted it to the Alien universe, putting Ellen Ripley back in the spotlight and taking charge once again, this time with the help (or at least attempted help) of some marines.

Taking place right after Alien, in this movie Ellen’s escape pod is discovered. Unfortunately it drifted right through the main system and wasn’t discovered until well after traveling through the other side some 70 years later. She is alone, struggling to make a living, when the Weyland-Yutani Corporation come to her for help, as her experiences make her the perfect consultant for a mission to rescue colonists on the very same planet that Ellen’s crew discovered the alien ship long ago. Accompanying the marines and a very untrustworthy W-T representative, the group finds far more than they anticipated, and only with Ellen’s experience and initiative will some of them survive.

This movie has far more action than the first movie, and I can see that in some ways it’s a welcome change. Yes Cameron could have tried to keep the same atmosphere and tension that Scott did, but would he have done as well? And even so, would audiences have cared as much, or would they be fatigued by the sheer terror and/or bemoan that Cameron had merely copied Scott? Of course we do still get plenty of tension and terror, but it is in a different light. We get more guns, more aliens, and more bravado. This was the mid-80s, and action films were close to ludicrous levels of machismo, violence, and patriotism. Aliens no doubt brought some of that in, but again in the context of what this film is focusing on it really does work.

Post-Aliens

I haven’t watched any films in the series since Aliens: Alien3, Alien: Resurrection, and Prometheus. From what I’ve heard they’re not anywhere near as good, and don’t really follow the story set by the first two movies. Ridley Scott has a new Alien movie coming out within in a year, Alien: Covenant, and will take place between Prometheus and Alien. Neill Blomkamp has also supposedly been working on a new Alien movie, as a sequel to Aliens. I’ve seen some concept art for Dwayne Hicks, and I like what I see. We’ll just have to wait if this movie does indeed finally come about, and if so how it stacks up both to the existing movies as well as Ridley’s forthcoming one…