Solo

James and I went to see this today in the early afternoon at Nagano’s only multiplex theatre, which today was the best place to be as it was extremely hot outside. This film is titled “Han Solo” here.

I went into this not sure what to expect as there are mixed reviews around, and the talk about it being a box office disappointment didn’t help. But, as I walked out of the theatre later, I just didn’t care what was said about it. I thought it was very entertaining, maybe not quite as good as Rogue One, but it was still very worthwhile.

Ron Howard did a pretty good job of taking over the direction. There is a good article here explaining what went on with the change of directors. It sounds like Ron did things a lot more efficiently, and did things “the Star Wars way”. It mentioned that Paul Bettany took over from Michael K. Williams, who could not finish the film due to other obligations. All of his scenes had to be completely re-done with Paul.

Before seeing this I had read criticism of Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Hana Solo, some saying that he was a bit wooden and didn’t capture the character well. Well, I disagree. I thought he did a pretty good job of it. No one could ever play Han as well as Harrison Ford did, but Alden was not a disappointment at all. He did a good job of recreating Harrison’s mannerisms, and Harrison himself gave his seal of approval to Alden.

Woody Harrelson was great as always, Emilia Clarke was stupendous, Danny Glover was fabulous, and I think Chewbacca had the most fun he has ever had in a Star Wars film.

Every Star Wars film needs a new droid character and with this one we got L3-37, a sassy female who loves equal rights for droids, and freeing other robots from slavery. She was very entertaining, and I would rank her as one of my top three fave’s (along with C3-P0 and R2-D2).

There were a lot of references to previous Star Wars films, they really packed them in this time. And everything you wanted to know about Han, such as how Han met Chewie, all about the Kessel Run, how he won the Millenium Falcon, how Han shoots first, and how he procured his blaster were all there and neatly explained. A lot of the back-story originates in the Star Wars comics and animated series, neither of which I have consumed. The story of Darth Maul prior to this film is long and very involved. This video explains it all.

Solo is a worthy addition to the Star Wars series, and I am looking forward to the sequel. As I said before, this was entertaining, and that is all that really matters to me when it comes to this kind of film.

Something that you will notice when going to a film in Japan is that the audience is completely quiet throughout the whole film, no matter how exciting a scene may be, or how funny a joke is…perhaps a quiet titter from those brave enough to make a sound. Another thing you will notice is that most of the audience will remain in their seats until the very end of the film. They all sit there quietly and just read the credits, no talking at all. Even the theatre lights don’t go back on until the film has finished and the screen has gone black. Yep, going to a film in Japan is quite different. The theatre though is perfectly clean both before and after a session.

Date watched: July 16th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 45

Gary Numan: Android In La La Land

This is a 2016 documentary mostly about Gary Numan’s (real name Gary Webb) career, problems, his move from the U.K. to L.A., and the release of his 2013 album “Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind”.

The thing we learn the most about Gazza is that he is nothing like his music persona. He is a shy dude who does not like social interactions and heavily relies on his wife when out in public for events etc. He also has a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. He is a family man, but for a few years fell-out with his parents for reasons that were not clearly explained in the documentary, but all seems good now.

And we learned that he loves making music, which for quite some time he lost interest in, especially when he became depressed. But again, thanks to his wife by playing him a Nine Inch Nails album, and her encouragement, he got himself together and started making music again. He was in such a bad way that record companies would not even sign him, so he released some albums himself. We also learned that Dave Grohl, Trent Raznor, and Marilyn Manson all consider Gazza to be an influence. There was some footage of him joining Nine Inch Nails on stage to sing one of his songs.

So he seems like your typical musical genius really; troubled to some extent, kind of a recluse, and obsessive. But he is also just a very nice guy who loves his family and drinking Coca-Cola…we saw a lot of that throughout the film.

Recommended watching for music lovers.

Here he is at Amoeba…

Next: Another music documentary about the Runaways…more learning about bands that I know little about.

Date watched: May 12th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 33

Until the Light Takes Us

This is a 2009 documentary about the beginnings of Black Metal in Norway, available free to watch on YouTube.

While I do like my metal, I am not into black metal at all, it just don’t grab me. But, I was intrigued enough to want to learn more about it, so when I came across this on YouTube I gave it a go.

It turned out to be quite an eye-opener as the fellows interviewed in this were very interesting, and not what I was expecting. The main interviewee was “Fenriz”, one of the OG’s of black metal and a very friendly guy with some interesting things to say. He is basically the John Jydon of black metal, he doesn’t like the direction black metal took as punk did in the 80’s, especially how it became satanic, but he is very mellow and not angry at all, unlike Mr Lydon.

Things get nutty though when we meet Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnackh, the sole member his influential band “Burzum”. He was tried for the murder of his friend “Euronymous”, another black metal musician in 1993, with the interviews taking place inside his very nice looking prison cell (curtains over the windows and a computer on a desk). He was released from prison on bail not long after actually, he served only 14 years of his 21 year sentence. At one point he very matter of factly describes the murder which up to a point seemed to be in self-defense. But, the description takes a dark turn when he describes the actual stabbing, and well, from then he seemed more than just a bit odd. He is though a very well-spoken and obviously intelligent guy with strong convictions. He now lives in France with his wife and son, and has a regular YouTube channel. I watched one and was again impressed by his intelligence, and he seems very like-able. However, his nonchalant way of saying “After I had killed Euronymous…” (2:51) it makes you wonder if releasing him was a good idea. He was also convicted for burning three churches back in the day.


Varg reacting to his guilty sentence.

A lot of the film is quite dark as it was filmed in the Norwegian winter, I don’t know if I could stand that. I guess the constant darkness partly explains how black metal came about, but there are obviously other factors. Norway seems to be a very conservative place.

There is some criticism that the film makers did not question or push their interviewees on why they did what they did which is fair, it was all very one-sided really. But even so, it was a very fascinating look at a genre of music that I still have little interest in, but at least I know a little more about.

Next up: a documentary about Gary Numan.

Date watched: May 11th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 32

Hacksaw Ridge

I always like to watch films about World War Two as I have an interest in WW2 history, so I was looking forward to this.

And it was pretty good stuff, especially as it was based on a true story, and apparently most of it was accurate. Mel Gibson directed, and I must say he did a good job. It was slickly made and the action sequences were very well done, and it did not use a lot of CGI trickery, Mel wanted to keep it real. He had a budget of 40 million bucks, with the film making 175 big ones at the box office, so he will be in the film studio’s good books again. His next project is a sequel to The Passion of the Christ.

My only criticisms would be that perhaps the portrayal of the Japanese soldiers was a bit stereotypical, and that it got just a bit too sappy at times. The ridge in question in real life was a whole lot smaller than in reality, but Mel knows a thing or two about spectacle.

There are better war films, but this is still a very good watch.

Date watched: March 31st
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 27

Bubba Ho-Tep

I had seen this many years ago, before this blog started, but I wanted to see it again as I had forgotten a lot of it and anything with Bruce Campbell is always pure gold.

The story was slow moving, but Bruce’s portrayal of Elvis Presley held the whole thing together, as well as Ossie Davis as a fellow who thought he was John F. Kennedy. Add in an Egyptian mummy who is slowly picking off the old people where Elvis and JFK live by sucking their souls out through their behinds and you have quite a unique story at least. The story is also about growing old and just how much it sucks, as well as the pitfalls of fame.

I haven’t seen many films about Elvis, if any, but I would say that Bruce’s portrayal of him is the best ever and will never be topped. He was in no way mocking Elvis, and his Elvis accent was spot on. One of the greats is Bruce.

The film cost a million bucks to make (and made 1.2 million), but it did not feel too much like a low budget film. It was shot well and the supporting cast were not B-grade actors. The only disappointment is the mummy which just looked like a zombie wearing a cowboy outfit.

Another classic Bruce film, not his best, but still well worth a watch.

Date watched: March 30th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 25

The Devil’s Backbone

This is a 2001 Spanish/Mexican film directed by Guillermo del Toro.

The story is of an orphan boy taken to an orphanage where he discovers it is haunted by a boy ghost. The villain of the story is a helper who grew up in the orphanage, and who knows that the people who run the orphanage have some gold bars somewhere in the building, and he will do anything (mostly dastardly) to get it.

It is set in Spain towards the end of the civil war (1936 to 1939).

The story was reasonably original, and there were a few surprises, but it was also quite predictable at times. The acting was superb, especially from the young boys, and it was nicely shot.

I liked the way the ghost was portrayed. I won’t go into detail, but I thought it was better than the usual scary ghosts we see in most films.

A very worthy ghost tale.

Date watched: February 15th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 15

The Man Who Would Be Polka King

The title of this film got me hooked, especially the “polka” part because I like a little polka every so often.

This is the true story of Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who wanted to make it big in America, so he decided he was going to be the Kurt Cobain of polka (without the drugs and attitude).

The story though turns bad as he basically starts a ponzi scheme to fund his polka world domination plans. It is actually another very depressing story of a musician who goes off the rails a bit, but at least he doesn’t die (although he almost did in jail).

It is hard to feel sorry for him even though he seemed to be a happy and genuine guy who just wanted to realise his dreams, but he just went in too deep. It is also hard to feel sorry for some of the people, mostly retired persons, who invested a lot of their money into something that was obviously a bit dodgy right from the start. It was pure greed. When asked in interviews by the director about what happened in prison to him (he was shivved and barely survived), they just got plain nasty and wished openly that he had died.

The whole thing was shot in a kind of 1980’s style video-taped look which suited the story, and at only 69 minutes it is an easy watch. There is a comedy film based on this story on Netflix starring Jack Black, so with the background story fresh in my mind I will watch it next.

Jan is now out of prison and is back into his polka, I would say very much on the straight and narrow this time.

Date watched: January 26th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 6