'Solo': The making of a legend

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 02, 2018
Photo by: Lucasfilm Chewie and Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) fly the Millennium Falcon in "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Owls Head — Solo: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Buena Vista, 2 Blu-rays or 1 DVD, PG-13, 135 min.). Box office records show that "Solo" was the least performing Star Wars movie, which I believe can be attributed in large part to the fact that a different actor was playing Han Solo. Audiences grew up with Harrison Ford as Han, so no matter how good a job Alden Ehrenreich does as the younger Han, it simply is not the same. The film also had some production trouble as, midway through, Oscar-winner Ron Howard ("Apollo 13") was brought in to direct, after the firing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (helmed "The LEGO Movie" together).

The film had to include many of the key moments of the Han Solo legend, even if portraying some slightly different. Among them are his winning the Millennium Falcon, meeting Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca ("Chewie") and doing the Kessel Run. Probably the best moments of the film are when Han and Chewie meet: having a mud fight in an underground cage. The most exciting new moments is the train robbery sequence on a snowy planet. Overall, the movie is filled with excitement, humor and iconic moments. It is a successful ride, even if audiences did not take to it in the theaters.

We first meet young Han (Ehrenreich of "Hail, Caesar!") on the mean streets of the industrial, spaceship-building planet of Corellia, where he has been forced into servitude -- mostly thieving -- by Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt in prosthetics). Han manages to steal a speeder (a scene that shows off his early piloting skills) and he and girlfriend Qi'ra (Emily Clarke) have plans to emigrate off-world. At the last minute the pair are separated and only Han makes his escape by enlisting in the Empire's army. Along the way, Han is booted from pilot school and sent down to the infantry, where he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") during the battle of Mimban. Soon, Han is part of Tobias' criminal band, which also includes Val (Thandie Newton of HBO's "Westworld"). When a job for the ruthless Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, who plays Vision in the "Captain  America" and "Avengers" films) goes awry, Tobias' crew has to pull off a heist of dangerous, unstable coaxium from a train on Kessel.

Among the new characters is the wonderfully wacky droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge via voice and body movement, enhanced by special effects to look more like a robot). While also Lando's (Donald Glover) co-pilot, she has her own mission of freeing droids. Ehrenreich and Glover are both excellent as younger versions of established characters, giving hints of how their character's will develop, and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) is, as always, wonderful Chewie.

The Blu-ray version has an extra disc of very good bonus features, while the DVD is a single disc with no bonus features. The first bonus is a sit-down roundtable with director Howard and the cast recalling stories from making the film, including the circumstances when each actor learned they had a part in the film (21:44). The next looks at the father-son screenwriting team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan (7:50). Lawrence previously wrote "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." There also are interesting looks at remaking the Millennium Falcon ((5:36) with set director Lee Sandales and others, plus a brief tour conducted by actor Glover; accomplishing the speeder chase on Corellia (9:59), the train heist (14:30) that was partially filmed in Italy and creating The Lodge at Fort Ypso (8:02). Fascinating to watch is how the Kessel Run was accomplished (8:28; walrus sounds were used for the space monster). Other featurettes look at Team Chewie (6:41) and Waller-Bridge becoming L3-37 (5:06), a heavily modified R2 droid, including added arms and speaking ability. Finally, there are five deleted and three extended scenes (15:13), including more of the Han-Chewie mud fight. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 4 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Hot Summer Nights (A24/Lionsgate, DVD, R, 107 min.). Although released afterwards -- writer/director Elijah Bynum in the audio commentary says he wrote the film at 23, filmed it at 27 and was doing the commentary at 31 -- this is the film Timothee Chalamet made prior to his Oscar-nominated performance in "Call Me By Your Name." Chalamet is definitely a reason to see this film, which is set on Cape Cod, Mass. in 1991, the year Freddie Mercury of Queen died and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was released (the latter visible in a couple of drive-in theater scenes; Bynum says it cost $11,000 for 4 seconds use).

Chalamet plays Daniel Middleton, a wild-eyed, naive teenager spending the summer on the Cape. He is neither a Townie (local) nor a Summer Bird (rich kid from away). However, he is impressed by Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe of "The 5th Wave," TV's "Siren"), he of the red Camaro and hot sister (Maika Monroe as McKayla, aka Kay). One day, Daniel helps Hunter hide his drugs from cop Sgt. Frank Calhoun (Thomas Jane of "Boogie Nights," "The Predator"), leading him to hanging out with Hunter, who calls him Danny because it is cool, and getting high. Soon the mismatched pair of friends are dealing drugs together, as Danny has connections through a cousin that enables them to move more weed than Hunter was previously able to.

The two keep big secrets from each other though. Despite Hunter's warning to keep away from McKayla, Danny starts dating her. Hunter starts dating Calhoun's daughter (Maia Mitchell as Amy). The film, loosely based on a drug-dealing mismatched couple Bynum knew of in college, has an interesting dynamic as bad boy Hunter becomes more of a good guy, while Danny gets deeper and deeper into dealing, even trying to expand to cocaine behind their marijuana supplier's (Emory Cohen as Dax) back. This brings in William Fichtner for a striking, done-in-one-afternoon performance as strung-out cocaine dealer Shep, located in Portland, Maine.

The film features a very nice selection of songs, featuring Beck, Can, Roxette, Harry Nilsson, Martin Rev, The Zombies, Mott the Hoople and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Bonus features include audio commentary by Bynum, producer Ryan Friedkin and actor Cohen; and a making-of featurette (21:12) that tells how it was made in Atlanta -- far way from Hyannis -- using 65 locations, 75 speaking parts and, of yes, recreating Hurricane Bob. In the featurette one sees some scenes being filmed, including what appears to be two deleted scenes, one of which would have severely altered the movie's ending. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Uncle Drew (Summit/Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 103 min.). The movie's humor is probably better than I expected and the film does have a lot of heart, but I had a hard time getting past the less-than-convincing old age make-up on several of the characters.

The film center around "loser" Dax Winslow (Lil Rel Howery of "Get Out, TV's "Friends of the People"), an employee of Foot Locker (lots of free advertizing here) who keeps trying to win the Rucker Park street ball tournament, held every year in Harlem. He has posted the $5,000 entry fee in hopes of winning the $100,000 prize. However, his arch rival (Nick Kroll of "Sausage Party" as Mookie Bags) steals his whole team, including star Casper Jones (Aaron Gordon), and then, after girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish) kicks him out, Mookie steals her too. In his own basketball past, Dax missed a critical shot that cost his team a championship.

After Dax accidentally meets urban legend Uncle Drew (Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving) -- we know he is a legend by all the brief praising bits testified to by real-life basketball legends -- Drew agrees to play for Dax, as long as he selects the players. Then, a good 30 minutes is spent rounding up the team, which includes Preacher (Chris Webber, ex-NBA center), blind Lights (Reggie Miller, ex-NBA all-star), wheelchair-bound Boots (Nate Robinson, ex-NBA point guard), whom they have to break out of a psych ward at an old folks home, and Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal, ex-NBA all-star; this is his 20th film). Preacher's wife, Betty Lou, who eventually gets to play, is played by Lisa Leslie, ex-WNBA player. So, ultimately it is young versus old on the court. (Strangely, the main actors have basketball stand-ins listed in the end credits.)

While the ending, especially, and the overall arc is very predictable, the film is amiable throughout. Especially fun is a dance-off sequence in a night club. However, there is one shot of O'Neal's naked behind that I could have lived without.

During the end credits, there are make-up application scenes and outtakes. Blu-ray only extras include audio commentary by writer/director Charles Stone III ("Drumline, "Mr 300"); a "Dear Drew" animated short (4:03; Irving has played Drew at least three other times, including Pepsi Max commercials); a look at the characters (10:38); and seven deleted scenes (10:48), including a long sneaker-selling scene. Both Blu-ray and DVD have a look at Uncle Drew's custom orange van (2:47) and a look at the younger actors in the film (3:23). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The X-Files: The Complete Season 11 (20th Century Fox, 3 Blu-rays or 3 standard DVDs, NR, 437 min.). This second, longer revival season may be the show's last, at least as we know it, as star Gillian Anderson has said she no longer wants to play Dana Scully. If so, we were left with a good season of 10 episodes, several of which deal with Scully's son William (Miles Robbins of the new "Halloween"), first known as Jackson Van de Kamp. She still is partnered with Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).

Creator Chris Carter bookends the season with mythology episodes. Among the stand-alone episodes are one dealing with child abductor Mr. Chuckleteeth, a return of one of the Lone Gunman (now just a bit of communicating computer code) and, best, the episode that recasts key moments in Scully and Mulder's history through the eyes of Reggie Something (Brian Huskey), a forgotten character who apparently was always present, albeit not noticed. Walter Skinner (Mitch Pilaeggi) also gets an episode and there is plenty of CSM (Cigarette Smoking Man, played by William B. Davis).

Blu-ray extras include audio commentaries on two episodes; a solid look at 25 years of "The X-Files" (44:57; among other things we learn that Anderson often stood on a board to make her taller in scenes with Duchovny); a gag reel (5:29);  a look at constructing the season (50:10, including how Reggie was fitted into old scenes); the effect the Scully character has had on female viewers and their career choices (16:31); a conversation on the Fox lot between Duchovny and Anderson (14:31, including how they found the characters again and how their own aging affected their performances); and a look at the production being "green" or environmentally friendly (5:18). Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Supernatural: The Complete 13th Season (Warner Bros., 4 Blu-rays or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 969 min.). The Brothers Winchester --Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean -- continue to delight, with much of this season dealing with trying to reconnect with devil's spawn Jack (Alexander Calvert of TV's "Arrow," "The Returned") and rescuing their mother (Samantha Smith as Mary) from an alternate, apocalyptic world that also has trapped Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino). For much of the season, Castiel (Misha Collins) is out of touch. The season is highlighted by the mostly animated episode, "Scoobynatural," in which the brothers find themselves in the world of Scooby, Shaggy and the Gang. Early in the season, Asmodeus, the new Prince of Hell, tries to get control of Jack and his emerging powers. Rowena returns from "the dead" to help the Winchesters with a spell case, and the brothers find a Men of Letters bunker from the 1920s and a hungry god from another dimension.

Extras include five featurettes: a look at the alternate world (9:33); making the Scooby episode (22:12); nature versus nurture as it relates to the Winchesters and Jack (19:33); Kansas performs "Wayward Son" at the 2017 Comic-Con (8:55: includes interview snippets); and the 2017 Comic-Con panel (41:52), with seven participants, including the three main actors. There also are two audio commentaries; deleted scenes from 10 episodes; and a gag reel (10:32). Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars

The Flash: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Bros., 4 Blu-rays or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 1,096 min.). The main focus this season is first to rescue Barry Allen/The Flash (Grant Gustin) from the Speed Force and then face the consequences of that action, which created some new metahumans, whose powers are sought by the Thinker, aka Clifford DeVoe (Neil Sandilands) and his almost equally brilliant wife (Kim Engelbrecht as Marlize, aka The Mechanic). DeVoe is always several steps ahead of Team Flash and even manages to frame Barry for his own "murder." A new member of the team is Ralph Dibny, aka Elongated Man (Hartley Sawyer), a private eye turned metahuman.

Extras include all four of the DC Crossover "Crisis on Earth X" episodes, as well as a featurette on making the crossover. There also are looks at the Elongated Man, Flash Time on Amunet Black and The Thinker. Additionally, there is the best of the DC TV Comic-Con panels from 2017. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Supergirl: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., 4 Blu-rays or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 1,100 min.). This season, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) grapples with the personal sacrifices she has had to make while saving National City as Supergirl. She even considers giving up her human identity altogether, when she discovers her parents are still alive. The show brings back Mon-El (Chris Wood) -- hooray! -- only to have it be from the future, where he is married and thus cannot be with Kara -- and then the show sends him back to the future and out of the series!

In addition to Supergirl's "identity crisis," there is a lot of personal relationships second-guessing going on with her human sister (Chyler Leigh as Alex), who basically breaks up with her girlfriend because she wants to be a mother. However, the main threat is the Krypton-spawned super-villains Morgan Edge, Reign, Purity and Pestilence, collectively known as the Worldkillers. Meanwhile, James Olsen has been put in charge of CatCo Worldwide Media, but is thinking of revealing to the public that he is the Guardian.

Bonus features include all four of the DC Crossover "Crisis on Earth X" episodes, plus the making-of the crossover. There are also deleted scenes, a gag reel, the best of DC's Comic-Con panels and a look at Reign. Grade: season 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars

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