Solo A Star Wars Story Review

The Plot

The film charts the adventures of a young Han Solo, before he became an intergalactic hero. Finally revealing how his dreams of escaping to the stars helped turn him into the galaxies most infamous space captain. Along the way he encounters his faithful first mate Chewbacca, notorious hustler Lando Calarissian and the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy the Millennium Falcon.

The Good

With a reported $250 million budget Solo is definitely a full-fledged addition to the Star Wars Saga featuring a parade of familiar and much beloved characters. The film showcases some typically magical creature effects work and the usual array of immersive worlds. Whatever it’s other flaws and failings, Solo does at least look like a Star Wars story.

Given the well-publicised production nightmare that saw original directors Miller & Lord replaced last minute by Ron Howard, prompting major reshoots of the nearly completed film, it’s fair to say that it’s not immediately obvious from the final film that such a messy transfer of storytelling power took place. There’s no mismatched plot points or abrupt visual shifts that would suggest that the script and finished film was actually stitched together from radically different ‘artistic visions’.

Despite some criticisms of casting choice for the Young Han Solo, Donald Glover is at least one undeniable piece of major casting success. He vocally channels Billy Dee Williams perfectly as swaggering swindler Lando Calarissian. Clad in garishly jaunty capes and shamelessly well-groomed facial hair, young Lando is a much needed jolt of genuine comedic charm. A solid supporting cast of earnest character actors such as Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany also give credibility to some of the film’s new introductions. The film at least attempts to venture into some new territory, rather than just entirely relying on lazy homage to familiar characters.

Star Wars fans with a particular passion for completism will enjoy seeing details of how Han Solo became a dashing space scoundrel, befriended loyal Wookie companion Chewbacca and ended up as Captain of the Millennium Falcon all finally revealed. As one of the most popular and layered characters in the galaxy far far away, Han Solo was an obvious biopic choice in the ever expanding Star Wars franchise.

The Bad

Harrison Ford’s performance as Han Solo catapulted him to superstardom and showcased the absolute peak of his raw charisma and instantly iconic screen presence. Finding a young actor capable of delivering a compelling original performance whilst also channelling Ford’s familiar mannerisms and good looks was always going to be a predictably impossible task. Despite reportedly auditioning over 3000 actors for the role and getting personal advice from Steven Spielberg, sadly the film failed to satisfy the unfeasibly high standards required for this crucial lead role.

While with plenty of obvious help Alden Ehrenreich occasionally manages a brief passing physical resemblance to Ford, sadly he never comes close to matching the appealing screen presence Ford delivered in one of his most iconic roles. His flat delivery frequently lacking sincerity and intensity, does little to elevate an already lacklustre script.

Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke also struggles to transfer her small screen appeal to a bigger setting. As with the awful Terminator Genisys, she once again proves sadly lacking in both range and screen presence. It’s becoming increasingly clear just how reliant she has been on Game of Thrones perpetually hyping her character. Without a barrage of ‘mother of dragons’ memes to forcibly enthuse audiences her actual performance is left cruelly exposed.

Beyond weak central casting Solo suffers from many of the common issues plaguing prequels. The storytelling feels frequently redundant and fails to live up to the high standards of the well-established characters and their already familiar adventures. Sadly Solo offers little in the way of new dimensions to existing characters or memorable new action sequences. The film flies through a mostly predictable plot that delivers few moments of genuine consequence or entertaining surprises.

The Ugly Truth

Solo is a mostly unnecessary prequel that does little to enhance the existing Star Wars universe. Disappointing central casting combined with a deeply troubled production history delivers a mostly satisfying but forgettable addition to the increasingly stretched franchise. The most ardently devoted Star Wars fans may still find moments to enjoy and revel in a chance to celebrate some of the most beloved figures from the original trilogy, but this sadly isn’t the film it could have been or the one they’re looking for…

Review by Russell Nelson

Red Review

The Plot

Iconic contemporary artist Mark Rothko and his young assistant Ken work together over the course of several years on a series of iconic paintings that would prove to be one of Rothko’s defining artistic achievements and tragically significant. Along the way the pair exchange fiercely passionate ideas about the true power and purpose of art.

The Good

Alfred Molina is a veteran actor widely celebrated for his varied and accomplished work on both stage and screen. It’s testament to his truly impressive range as a performer that he is just as comfortable playing a robot limbed Spider-Man villain as he is portraying one of the most complex icons of serious contemporary art. Having originated the role of Mark Rothko in the original production nearly a decade ago Molina has only grown more into the piece. Consequently this latest production sees Molina imbued with even more gravitas and wizened intensity.

Opposite Molina, young Harry Potter star Alfie Enoch has a daunting task as Rothko’s young and initially overawed assistant Ken. The role had previously bene played by Eddie Redmayne and Jonathan Groff, leaving impressive shoes to fill. It’s a credit Enoch that he never feels overshadowed by his predecessors and manages to stand toe to toe with Molina’s commanding performance. In particular he does well at playing both a timid student and emboldened idealist.

One of the play’s most rewarding features is the genuine chemistry between this talented new pairing, in a fiery relationship that evolves frequently throughout a brisk 90 minute running time. Crucially the New York Studio setting of their fractious debate is bought to life frequently with the very real activity of paint splattered canvases. It’s easier to understand and lend credence to their discourse on artistic theory while witnessing the actual creation of art.

Beyond the personal dramas of Rothko and his young apprentice this production carries a simple message that art in all its varied forms is important. This is a timely reminder in a world which is largely more cynical about celebrating this fact than it perhaps once was.

The Bad

Those that struggle to find meaning and emotional significance in the world of modern art will perhaps be less receptive to the production’s lengthy musings and unashamed celebration of art’s self-declared importance.

While Molina is an undeniably charismatic performer, it’s also fair to say the Rothko is a complex, turbulent and at times difficult figure. His stubborn drive and single minded focus are a key feature of his genius but it is sometimes daunting and perhaps even off-putting. Especially for those that struggle to share that same sense of desperate urgency over a paint drenched canvass.

Indeed while the production is insistent on showcasing the actual work of being an artist. Those who don’t find a sense of wonder in the end results will be left less enchanted by the relative mundanity of paint mixing and frame assembly.

The Ugly Truth

This fresh revival of John Logan’s acclaimed and award winning production gives London audiences another chance to experience a visceral performance from Alfred Molina and examine the explosive passion behind one of the seminal artists of our time.

Review by Bernadette McIntyre

Deadpool 2 Review

The Plot

Indestructible, foul mouthed and morally flexible anti-hero Wade Wilson aka Deadpool finds himself very reluctantly caught up in a messy series of blood soaked events that pits him against fellow mutants, time travelling super soldiers and common decency.

The Good

Ryan Reynolds remains the perfect human embodiment of Marvel’s most gleefully anarchic creation. After failed attempts and a long wait in development hell the first Deadpool film saw him finally deliver on what fans always knew was going to be a very special combination of raw comedic charisma and ultra-violent mayhem. Reynolds unashamedly relishes the role and is once again relentless in doling out wise cracks and maniacal buffoonery. His abundant enthusiasm makes him the most enjoyable foul mouth machine gun you can imagine. While sequels tend towards diminished returns he at least has lost none of his shameless potency.

Expanding the Deadpool universe to include fan favourite characters like luck powered Domino and time travelling hard ass Cable  goes a long way to making this sequel an even more worthwhile crowd leaser. Josh Brolin does a good job of playing the surly cyborg straight man to Wade Wilson’s relentless provocations. Likewise the much debated casting of Zazie Beetz proves effective. Her Domino may look a little different than the iconic comic book incarnations but it’s otherwise hard to fault her suitably smug and self-assured performance.

Without spoiling any of the less advertised surprises the sequel continues to pack plenty of in jokes and 4th wall breaking delights into a generally action packed trail of death and destruction. Familiar faces from the first film make welcome returns and all of the new additions serve to set up memorable moments. Those that loved the first film will no doubt welcome a super-sized second helping which sticks to much the same template.

After an attention grabbing opening the film at times flails erratically on its way to a final third that delivers many of the film’s more satisfying comedic punches and delivers the winning combination of characters that just might be enough to carry the franchise forward for further misadventures.

The Bad

The first big screen outing for Deadpool was a long awaited delight that provided a perfect antidote to the increasingly serious and decidedly family friendly comic book blockbusters. Unfortunately it’s tough to stretch that novelty factor into a second film. Audiences are already less easily shocked and know exactly what to expect from Deadpool’s distinctive dark comedy. While as expected Deadpool 2 throws plenty of CGI blood, one liners and new characters at audiences; this clearly improved budget can’t quite buy back the novel impact of Deadpool’s modest but well-crafted debut.

As an unlikely franchise Deadpool has plenty of slapstick sadism and knowing in jokes to dish out, where it falls a little short is in finding an urgent and coherent plot to tie things together. It’s obviously ironically hard to offer up fresh character arcs, new faces and more elaborate action sequences without resorting to the very blockbuster clichés Deadpool so wilfully seeks to lampoon.

The Ugly Truth

Deadpool 2 gives fans of the first film another chance to bask in the gleeful glory of Ryan Reynolds perfect casting. It also adds a shamelessly pumped up budget, expanded cast and plenty of senseless comedic violence. While far from perfect, or nearly as unexpected as its underdog predecessor, it’s a mostly satisfying slice of madcap mayhem.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical Review

The Plot

A talented but arrogant ballroom dancer finds himself without a partner and shunned by the stifling rule makers when he dares to dance his own imaginative new steps while competing. Forming an unlikely team with a left footed amateur dancer, the mismatched pair set out to change the sequin clad world of ballroom dance forever.

The Good

Strictly Ballroom the musical is based on the cult classic film that opened Baz Luhrmann’s iconic Red Curtain trilogy and introduced the flamboyant director to global audiences. Preserving all of the visual charm and musical magic of the big screen version, this new musical is an absolute delight, transferring the all the film’s most iconic characters and moments effortlessly to stage.

From its opening moments this production sweeps audiences away in a tsunami of sequin soaked charm. Oscar winning costume designer Catherine Martin has recreated all the iconic style and camp glamour of the original film production. Every moment on stage drips with glitter and an unashamed explosion of colour. The shows dance numbers are a twirling rainbow of extravagant ruffles, slick cat suits and comically bouffant hair. There is an undisputed charm to the show’s ostentatious silliness. It’s simply impossible not to be won over by the look and feel of a world that is so uniquely fancy and fun.

Of course music is essential for dancing and this musical boasts all of the iconic songs that made the original film such a memorable pleasure. Will Young does a simply magnificent job breathing life into each classic track. His renditions of songs such as Love Is In The Air are breathtakingly brilliant. Backed by a skilful live band he is a reliable one man jukebox. His performance as the moustachioed compare leading audiences through the story with gentle narration is equally accomplished and welcomed.

The shows two leads are both equally sensational in demanding roles that require emotional range and dancing perfection in equal measure. Jonny Lambe is a perfect fit for Scott Hastings, the fleet footed wannabe dance champion with undeniable natural charisma but a self-destructive chip on his shoulder. Likewise Zizi Strallen is amazing as Fran, the dowdy and downtrodden dance studio lackey finally stepping out of the shadows and into a transformative spotlight.

It’s impossible to heap enough deserved praise on both these relentlessly talented performers. Their abundant chemistry and dramatic evolutions gives the production heart and subtly beneath all its glitzy ballroom diva antics. A stellar supporting cast also add plenty of laughs along the way, making this show the near perfect combination of everything people hope for from West End entertainment.

The Bad

While there’s little negative that can possibly be said about this truly five star production, obviously the shows flamboyant kitsch visuals and unashamed dancing passion won’t appeal as much to those that hastily reach for the remote to change the channel whenever Strictly Come Dancing comes on TV. For everyone else with a less sullen and cynical demeanour, this show remains sensational fun.

The Ugly Truth

Audiences will fall helplessly in love with this audaciously wonderful new addition to the West End. Fans of the original film and newcomers alike will be caught up in a magical world of sequins, song, love, laughter and dance. An astonishingly brilliant cast, iconic songs and charmingly camp visuals make this a truly five star night of theatre magic.

Review by Russell Nelson

I Feel Pretty Review

The Plot

Renee Bennett is a woman struggling with self-doubt and physical insecurity who finds her career, friendships and love life dramatically transformed when an accidental blow to the head leaves her suddenly convinced of her own ‘undeniable beauty’.

The Good

I Feel Pretty is a watchable guilty pleasure that demands little from audiences other than casual attention and mild amusement. It’s also clearly a massive improvement on Schumer’s poorly reviewed recent Netflix stand up special. Further proof that Schumer is at her comedic best in cringe inducing situational comedy as opposed to when she’s left on stage alone for a lengthy crass monologue.

Those that appreciate Schumer’s typical self-deprecating antics will no doubt enjoy seeing her dive enthusiastically into another bucket of big screen shame. The wince inducing embarrassment of her slapstick physical comedy is at times excruciatingly awkward and legitimately amusing.

An enthusiastic and competent supporting cast also helps ensure that the film remains effortless viewing. Providing a steady backdrop of people and situations for Schumer to be humiliated or empowered by. Rory Scovel in particular does fine work as an understated and refreshingly plausible love interest for Schumer’s character, giving the film so much needed sweetness and heart.

The Bad

Like almost all of Amy Schumer’s past comedy offerings I Feel Pretty is an awkward combination of crude slapstick and wildly contradictory social messages. The fact that entire film opens with a joke centred on her vagina sets a trademark tone that obviously won’t have universal appeal. Though in truth the film is actually at its most watchable and amusing when it sticks to shameless pratfalls. It’s the film’s confused attempts at social commentary and moral subtext that have predictably attracted the fiercest criticism.

The film’s central premise has prompted inevitable comparisons with Jack Black’s 2001 comedy effort Shallow Hal. That film saw his looks obsessed character hypnotised to only see inner beauty, leaving him with a comically skewed perspective on how attractive people physically are. Given well documented allegations of plagiarism and ‘joke theft’ that have dogged Schumer in recent years it’s perhaps especially unfortunate that I Feel Pretty has been so swiftly dismissed as ‘unoriginal’.

The biggest problem is that the chronic punchline of I Feel Pretty is essentially how ‘delusional’ Schumer’s newfound arrogant self-confidence is supposed to be.  Audiences are expected and fully encouraged to laugh at the ‘brain damaged’ disconnect between Schumer’s unchanged appearance and her overly inflated self-pride.  The film can’t claim to offer a body positive message behind this trick of self-confidence because it’s overwhelming greeted with confusion, mocking and amusement by the other characters Schumer encounters on screen.

This has long been a fundamental problem with Schumer’s brand of aggressively self-deprecating humour. It’s impossible to deliver a sincere message about empowering self-confidence whilst relentlessly degrading yourself. Schumer’s comedy has a deeply schizophrenic quality that directly relies upon the very social, sexual and physical stereotypes that it claims to challenge.

Ironically the plot of Schumer’s previously abandoned live action Barbie movie was supposed to feature her leaving the Supermodel perfection of Barbieland and confronting body image issues in the real world. It’s hard to avoid the sense she was hastily attached to the first script available that featured the same themes. Whether it’s a product of Schumer’s self-crafted ‘brand’ or Hollywood pigeonholing her remains unclear.

The Ugly Truth

I Feel Pretty is a predictable comedy effort that manages to produce at least a few genuine laughs amongst a mostly muddled mess of meditations on body image and self-confidence. Though made with presumably good intentions and easy viewing, the film generally misses it satirical targets.

Review by Russell Nelson