Solo: A Star Wars Story

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/25/18;
Disney/Lucasfilm;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $213.75 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
Stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau.

The idea of exploring what Han Solo was up to before he encountered Luke Skywalker in that dusty cantina at the edge of the galaxy is certainly not a new concept in the realm of “Star Wars” fiction. No fewer than six novels have been devoted to the subject. A young Han was even considered for a cameo in Revenge of the Sith before that ill-conceived idea was scrapped. Still, the idea of a live-action prequel film devoted to the character was not something most fans would have considered to be in the realm of possibility prior to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm.

In retrospect it’s easy for some fans to say they always thought such a movie was a bad idea, that exploring the backstory of the popular rogue would take some of the shine off his mystery and charm. But really, the prospect of a Han Solo origin movie, in the right creative hands, wasn’t without a certain appeal. It’s just, ask the average “Star Wars” fan what they would want to see covered in a spinoff film, and Young Han probably wouldn’t have been at the top of their list.

But it was at the top of the list of Lawrence Kasdan, the Hollywood veteran who in his own youth wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and was pretty familiar with the character of Han (he also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, a playground for Harrison Ford’s other most famous character). So if anyone was the right choice to write a young Han movie, it would be him (joined by his son, Jon).

That he didn’t sign on to direct it, too, may very well have been at the nexus of what the public would come to perceive as a very troubled production.

Now, two names you won’t hear mentioned throughout any of the bonus materials on a packed Solo Blu-ray are Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo originally hired to direct the Kasdans’ script. They ended up leaving the project under curious circumstances very late in the production, reportedly due to their comedic sensibilities not meshing with the studios’ intended tone of the film. (They ended up with an executive producer credit on the final film.)

Arcane union rules blocked Lawrence Kasdan from taking the directing reins, leaving the studio to turn to another Lucasfilm veteran, Ron Howard (who directed 1988’s Willow), who supposedly re-shot much of the film.

The only reference made on the Blu-ray that even hints at what happened before Howard came on board is the mention of a “hiatus,” brought up during a 22-minute roundtable discussion between Howard and the cast that segues into an anecdote about “Star Wars” creator George Lucas visiting the set of the Millennium Falcon just as the new director had come on board. Lucas apparently offered some key advice on how to portray Han on screen.

As for Lord and Miller’s influences that carried over into the finished project, fans should check out some production notes posted by Jon Kasdan on his Twitter feed.

The finished movie is hardly the mess it could have been — Howard is too skilled a director to let that happen. But it’s not exactly a masterpiece, either. It’s really just a serviceable “Star Wars” movie — a slick, fun adventure that doesn’t probe much beneath the surface of Han’s backstory beyond showcasing a rundown of some of the key events we had heard about in the original trilogy.

Think of it as the “Star Wars” equivalent of the Young Indy flashback at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stretched to feature length. Of course, that Last Crusade sequence would go on to inspire “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series. So, maybe the prequelitis in the air from the similar efforts to present younger versions of two iconic Harrison Ford characters has contributed a bit to Solo feeling more like a solid episode of a “Star Wars” anthology TV series, or even a TV movie with top-notch production values. It fits in with the saga, but it’s more like something you can watch to fill in the blanks. It does cast a few scenes from the original trilogy in a new light, so it has that going for it.

Some of the initial concern about the project stemmed from the idea of trying to find an actor to embody the young Solo without drawing too many comparisons to Ford. While Alden Ehrenreich may not have been many fans’ first choice, he’s quite capable in a role that, if given the chance, he may have very well made his own. The problem, alas, is that lackluster box office might limit his chances of playing Han in further prequel adventures. And if this does turn out to be his only chance in the cockpit, then his performance is liable to be viewed in the same vein as George Lazenby’s was in his one-and-only chance trying to replace Sean Connery as James Bond.

This Lazenby effect is the biggest stumbling block to the notion that Ehrenreich’s Han is the same character Ford played, an awkwardness that may well be alleviated if audiences ever gets the chance to get used to him from several appearances that in turn retroactively improve the perception of him in his first.

This is much less of a problem for Donald Glover as Lando, who handles the chores of personifying a young Billy Dee Williams rather effortlessly. Really, though, the whole cast came to play, and the character dynamics are really the biggest strength of the film, particularly between Han and Chewbacca once they finally meet (in a fun sequence that lets the two future partners fight each other).

The story involves Han trying to escape his Dickensian upbringing as an orphan in a street gang, vowing to return to find his lost love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After joining the Imperial military to learn how to fly, he ends up deserting his post to take up with a crew of thieves looking to steal high-grade spaceship fuel for one of the galaxy’s roughest criminal syndicates. When it turns out Qi’ra is a top advisor to the syndicate boss, Han is given a crash course on the intricacies on life in the underworld.

Viewed within the larger context of the saga, this is really the first film to focus on the criminal underpinnings of the “Star Wars” galaxy hinted at in the other films. Thematically, then, the film is of a kind with the franchise’s other prequels, each tied to the role the original trilogy’s three main heroes — Luke, Leia and Han — represented to the story of how the Rebellion defeated the Empire. The Jedi backstory, which Luke came to embody, was explored in Episodes I, II and III. The military and political aspects of the Rebellion symbolized by Leia were fleshed out in Rogue One. And with Solo we get the flavor of the underworld and the shadier dealings of the scoundrels who might not necessarily care who’s in charge.

In addition, composer John Powell’s score imbues the film with a sense of whimsy, meshing fresh material with recognizable cues from the previous films, anchored by a new Han Solo theme composed by the maestro himself, John Williams.

The film takes a few steps to place itself within the larger shared “Star Wars” universe, with references and connections to other movies and TV shows that hardcore fans will notice and are clearly meant to set up larger storylines to pay off in other films that may or may not be direct sequels. Regrettably, the film’s underwhelming box office results caused Disney to pump the brakes on the rapidity of production of future “Star Wars” spinoff films, which would be a real shame if it meant they never made the only potential spinoff the fans actually seem to want, which would be an Obi-Wan movie with Ewan McGregor back in the role).

In addition to the roundtable discussion, the Blu-ray also includes about 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing various subjects such as the writing process, the visual effects, executing key action sequences, and re-creating and re-imagining elements familiar to audiences from the original trilogy.

There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes, including some interesting looks at Han at the Imperial Academy and an extended version of the fight between Han and Chewie.

‘Ocean’s 8’ Displaces ‘Deadpool 2’ From Top Spot on Home Video Charts

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s Ocean’s 8 debuted at No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended Sept. 15.

The heist comedy, a female-driven spinoff of the “Ocean’s” trilogy with Sandra Bullock as the sister of George Clooney’s character, earned $139.4 million at the domestic box office.

Deadpool 2, which had been the top seller for the previous three weeks, slipped to No. 2 on both charts. The superhero comedy is distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Disney’s Avengers: Infinity War, the runner-up to Deadpool 2 the previous three weeks, slid to No. 3 on both charts.

Disney’s Hocus Pocus slipped a spot to No. 4 on both charts. The 1993 film typically enjoys a sales spike in the fall lead-up to Halloween, aided this year by a new 25th anniversary Blu-ray.

Rounding out the top five on the overall sales chart was Warner’s The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Eleventh Season. The No. 5 Blu-ray seller was a two-pack of both “Deadpool” movies.

Blu-ray Disc accounted for 50% of first-week Ocean’s 8 sales; 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray contributed 8% to the film’s unit sales total.

The Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Sept. 16 also saw Ocean’s 8 debut at No. 1, pushing Warner’s Tag to No. 2.

Deadpool 2 slipped to No. 3, followed by Sony Pictures’ Superfly debuted at No. 4, and Universal’s Adrift slipping to No. 5.

Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 09-15-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 09-15-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 09-16-18
Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 09-15-18

 

Amazon’s ‘Mrs. Maisel,’ HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Lead Way at 70th Emmys

For the second year in a row, a show from a streaming service won the Emmy for best series in its category.

While last year Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” won Outstanding Drama Series, this year it was Amazon Video taking the top prize in the Outstanding Comedy Series category with the first season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

“Maisel” ended up with eight Emmys, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Rachel Brosnahan as the title character, and Outstanding Supporting Actress for Alex Borstein (who won another Emmy this year for her voiceover work on Fox’s “Family Guy”).

The 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced Sept. 17 at a televised ceremony in Los Angeles and at the Creative Arts ceremony a week earlier.

Netflix and HBO ended up tied as the top networks with 23 wins apiece.

Outstanding Drama Series again went to HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” this time for its seventh season, which is readily available for digital download or on Blu-ray and DVD.

“Game of Thrones” previously won the Best Drama Series Emmy in 2015 and 2016 for its fifth and sixth seasons, respectively, but a quirk in its production meant the show didn’t air during the 2017 eligibility period, opening the door for “Handmaid’s Tale” to win last year.

“Thrones” won nine Emmys this year, including Peter Dinklage winning his third trophy for Outstanding Supporting Actor for the role of Tyrion Lannister (previously won in 2011 and 2015).

FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story won seven Emmys, including Outstanding Limited Series. The nine-episode miniseries is available for digital download.

Among some other notable categories, HBO’s “Barry” (on DVD Oct. 2) won Outstanding Actor and Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Bill Hader and Henry Winkler, respectively. Matthew Rhys won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the sixth and final season of FX’s “The Americans,” coming to DVD Oct. 23 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Claire Foy won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for playing Queen Elizabeth II in the second season of Netflix’s “The Crown.” And Thandie Newton won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for season two of HBO’s “Westworld,” which will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Dec. 4 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

For a complete list of 2018 winners, visit Emmys.com.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 9/18/18;
Universal;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $415.98 million;
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 3D BD, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom really cements the notion that the “Jurassic Park” films are perfect metaphors for the creative approach to the franchise as a whole. In particular, an overriding premise of the “Jurassic World” movies is that the more people see the dinosaurs at the center of them, the less awe-inspiring they become. So, the powers that be make up new dinosaurs to entice the audience, and when the theme park idea runs its course, it all gets blown up in order to change the setting.

The formula is so ingrained in the DNA of the franchise that the Fallen Kingdom Blu-ray even offers a featurette detailing all the tropes it borrowed from the other movies.

In this fifth “Jurassic” movie and the second of the “World” brand, the island that housed the dinosaur-themed amusement park in the previous film (and the 1993 original) is experiencing a catastrophic volcanic eruption that will wipe out all the genetically engineered dinosaurs that have been roaming free there the past three years.

As the U.S. government debates whether or not to rescue the animals (and decides not to, thanks to some prodding from fan-favorite character Dr. Ian Malcolm, played again by Jeff Goldblum in little more than a cameo), a private dinosaur fanatic recruits the two main survivors of the previous film, Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), to help rescue some of the creatures and move them to a sanctuary island.

Little do they know that the mission is a ruse to capture a selection of the dinosaurs and sell them for nefarious purposes at auction at a massive Northern California estate. The centerpiece of the auction is the Indoraptor, which was designed with military applications in mind.

And, of course, one thing leads to another and the dinosaurs get loose and start killing everyone.

Just as Jurassic World revisited some of the core premise of the original film set at the theme park, Fallen Kingdom takes a few cues from the 1997 sequel, The Lost World, in that the first half takes place on the island, only to have greedy entrepreneurs send mercenary teams to capture the dinosaurs to bring them back to America to make money.

The movie also seeks to evolve the film’s ethical questions about cloning and genetic engineering by advancing the storyline off the island, something hinted at by the end of 2001’s Jurassic Park III but never followed up on until now. The filmmakers have called this the middle chapter of a trilogy so there are a few plot threads left to explore in the third installment.

The visual effects are of course top notch, and the film looks great in the first half as it shows off more of the island (now with volcanic ash and lava). By this point in the franchise, there are even recurring dinosaur characters, in the form of Blue the velociraptor (introduced in the last movie) and Rexy the T-Rex (the big beast from the original film).

The island sequences culminate in one of the most spectacular and emotionally charged shots of the franchise.

The second half of the film is much darker by design, as deadly dinos stalk their prey within the confines of a mansion as the human heroes try to keep them from escaping.

The Blu-ray includes a dozen or so short featurettes totaling about 75 minutes in behind-the-scenes material.

Among the most notable of these are a roundtable discussion with Pratt, Howard, Goldblum, director J.A. Bayona and executive producer Colin Trevorrow. This is the only part of the disc, the movie included, where you’ll get to see the film’s stars interact with Goldblum.

Another section offers 12 minutes of Chris Pratt’s production diaries, as he introduces us to various members of the production crew.

While most of the bonus material is on both the DVD and Blu-ray, about 22 minutes is exclusive to the Blu-ray. These include the featurettes “The Kingdom Evolves,” a discussion of the story; “Return to Hawaii,” about the state’s history with the franchise; “Island Action,” which looks at two specific action scenes from the island; “Aboard the Arcadia,” about working with animatronic dinosaurs; and “Start the Bidding!,” a look at the auction scene.

The remaining featurettes are similarly focused mostly on visual effects and stunts. One of the most interesting aspects of all of this is seeing how much the visual effects to depict the dinosaurs has advanced in 25 years while still remaining faithful to some of the tried and true methods of the past.

Ocean’s Eight

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Comedy;
Box Office $139.32 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.
Stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitage. 

Ocean’s Eight is pretty much exactly the movie one might expect from the premise of making a female-centric version of an “Ocean’s” heist movie.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s character from the “Ocean’s” trilogy, who gets out of prison and gathers her former cohorts for a scheme to steal an expensive necklace during the Met Gala.

Their plan is to convince a famous actress (Anne Hathaway) to wear the jewels, and through the franchise’s usual series of complicated maneuvers find a way to swap it for a fake and sneak off with the goods. Debbie also might want some revenge against a former boyfriend who got her sent to prison in the first place.

So, naturally, the plan seems to get more out of control with every detail while the twists and turns become more far-fetched. It’s best not to think too much about the logic of all of it.

True to the franchise, the film is mostly just an excuse to spend some time with the quirky and likable personalities of the all-star assembly of talent involved. There are even a few cameos from some of the characters from the earlier trilogy (but, alas, Matt Damon’s rumored cameo is nowhere to be found, not even the deleted scenes).

The Blu-ray offers a couple of short deleted scenes totaling less than two minutes.

There are also three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 38 minutes in total. One focuses on the cast, one focuses on the caper, and one focuses on how the filmmakers re-created the Met Gala for the story.

‘Deadpool 2’ No. 1 on Disc Sales Charts for Third Week

The ‘R’-rated superhero comedy Deadpool 2, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, spent a third consecutive week atop the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended Sept. 8.

Likewise, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, from Walt Disney Studios Entertainment, took No. 2 on both charts for the third time, after debuting in the top spot the week before Deadpool 2 arrived on store shelves.

In its fourth week, Infinity War sold 89% as many copies as Deadpool 2 did in its third. On Blu-ray, Infinity War sold 96% as many copies.

Landing at No. 3 overall was Disney’s Hocus Pocus, buoyed by the coming Halloween season and a new 25th anniversary Blu-ray release that pushed the title to No. 5 on the Blu-ray chart.

Similarly, a 25th anniversary Blu-ray of The Nightmare Before Christmas pushed that Disney title back to No. 8 on both charts.

No. 4 overall and No. 6 on the Blu-ray chart went to Paramount’s Book Club, in its second week. It was third on both charts a week earlier.

Hereditary, a horror film from Lionsgate, debuted at No. 5 overall and No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart after earning $44 million at the domestic box office.

Rounding out the top five on the Blu-ray chart, at No. 4, was a Blu-ray collection of both “Deadpool” movies.

The only other newcomer in the top 10 was Universal’s Adrift, which landed at No. 9 overall and No. 10 on the Blu-ray chart. It earned $31.5 million in U.S. theaters.

Blu-ray Disc accounted for 61% of Hereditary‘s first-week unit sales and 47% for Adrift.

On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Sept. 9, Deadpool 2 held onto the top spot for a second week, while Warner’s Tag was again No. 2.

Hereditary and Adrift debuted at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, pushing Avengers: Infinity War to No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 09-08-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 09-09-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 09-08-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 09-08-18
Sales Report for Week Ended 09-08-18

‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’ on Digital Oct. 9, Disc Oct. 30

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the animated superhero spoof Teen Titans Go! To the Movies digitally Oct. 9 and on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 30.

Based on the Cartoon Network series “Teen Titans Go!,” the movie finds Robin leading the Teen Titans to Hollywood on a quest to get a superhero movie of their own.

Reprising their roles from the series are Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Scott Menville as Robin, Khary Payton as Cyborg, Tara Strong as Raven, and Hynden Walch as Starfire. The voice cast also includes Will Arnett and Kristen Bell.

The Blu-ray and DVD will include “Time Cycles” and “The Final Battle” storyboard animatics. The Blu-ray will also include the Lil Yachty music video “Teen Titans Go! Rap”; a sing-along with Silkie “DC Super Hero Girls: The Late Batsby” mini-movie; “Red Carpet Mayhem”; “WB Lot Shenanigans”; exclusive deleted song “Everything is Fake”; and “Teen Titans Go!: Translated.”

Fox Releasing ‘Sorry to Bother You’ on Digital Oct. 9, Disc Oct. 23

Hip-hop artist Boots Riley’s directorial and screenwriting debut Sorry to Bother You will be released digitally Oct. 9 and on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 23 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film takes a surreal look at capitalism, corporate greed and fractured workplace dynamics when, in an alternate version of present-day Oakland, Calif., a struggling telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe.

The cast also includes Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer.

Bonus features include a gallery, a commentary from Riley and the featurettes “Beautiful Cutter,” “The Cast of Sorry to Bother You” and “The Art of the White Voice.”

‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ Coming Home in October

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp digitally Oct. 2 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 16.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man, the superhero with the power to shrink and grow, in the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. In his latest adventure, Ant-Man teams with The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) in an effort to rescue her mother from the mysterious Quantum Realm. Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen also star.

The film is the 20th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and earned $214.8 million at the domestic box office.

Blu-ray and digital extras include an introduction from director Peyton Reed; deleted scenes with commentary by Reed; a gag reel and outtakes; and the featurettes “Back in the Ant Suit: Scott Lang,” “A Suit of Her Own: The Wasp,” “Subatomic Super Heroes: Hank & Janet” and “Quantum Perspective: The VFX and Production Design of Ant-Man and The Wasp.

Extras exclusive to the digital version include the featurette “10 Years of Marvel Studios: The Art of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” and a commercial called “Online Close-Up: Magic University.” Digital extras will vary by retailer.

Best Buy will offer an exclusive collectible Steelbook edition of the film, while Target is touting a 4K UHD Blu-ray with a 40-page filmmaker gallery booklet.