One of my earliest entertainment memories is watching The Andy Griffith Show on TV, early 1960s black and white episodes, that still hold up today with the best television comedies. What I didn't realize is that one thing that made it so good was that it was both comedy and drama, a tricky balance held together by impeccable, effortless actors, including Ron Howard playing the part of Opie Taylor. One episode I particularly remember, because my dad liked it so much, was when Opie was being bullied by some kid, and his dad, Andy, told him that he just needed to stand up to the bully, who was probably a coward. It worked, and Opie learned a valuable lesson. Then, another bully, and Opie stood up to him, and this time the bully kicked the shit out of him. Opie came to his dad and said, “What the fuck?” (in so many words), to which Andy responded, “Opie... it doesn't work every time.”
My dad loved that, and I always remembered that as a valuable lesson, too, about how you can't count on something that worked once, when repeated, to yield the same results. I bring that up because my dad also said, “See that kid, Opie? When he grows up he's going to be a movie director, and in 2018 you'll go see a movie he directed, sit in a theater seat with power adjustments like a Buick, it'll cost you about ten bucks, and you'll find the whole enterprise quite enjoyable.” My dad didn't really say that, nor did he talk like that, but if he had really seen the future I don't know what I'd have found harder to swallow—not that Opie wasn't real, but an actor, Ron Howard, a total pro, who would grow up to be a movie director?—no, the future I wouldn't have imagined was that this particular movie cost 250 million dollars, for what's essentially a spin-off, like Joanie Loves Chachi. But the most baffling thing of all is the title (not to be confused with Salò: Pasolini's 120 Days of Sodom—especially if you're taking the kids!), because the title has a colon (:) in it! Never mind that two movies firmly in my top ten of all time have punctuation in their titles (that would be Ali and Aguirre—but those are made by crazy Germans)—colons are for the world of academia, and never, ever popular movies—it's not like you need to announce it as a story—it's not like someone's going to confuse it with a documentary (Solo: The Journey of a Disposable Cup). All that title is going to do is bum out the potential audience and make them think of Tony Roma's: A Place for Ribs.
I had heard that the original director(s) of this movie were fired/quit, which is a disastrous turn of events on a project this enormous, which was maybe the thinking in calling in Ron Howard, since he was the director of Apollo 13 (1995), about a real life outer space disaster (unless you believe the conspiracy theorists who say Stanley Kubrick directed the “original,” in which case it would technically be a remake). It also means, for Solo, that there's some great “making of” footage out there, and possibly a hilarious documentary coming soon. There is also already news about it being a box-office disaster, which just means that it didn't make the most money in the history of the world on the opening weekend. The movie is fine. It's a fun sci-fi action adventure; I was able to follow the story of multiple betrayals, intergalactic politics, power struggles and alliances, and outrageous capers and shit no one should ever try. More important, I warmed up to all the characters and the actors playing them immediately. Of course, you're always going to hear about someone having some problems with the story, because the Star Wars universe has entered the realm of mythology, and there are hundreds, maybe billions of geeks out there who are never going to be happy with the version of this made up world, how it ends up on the screen and differs from their extended internal mental fantasy version. And that's the way it's going to be until the movies evolve so that each and every dweeb can craft his personal, custom version like you're “building your own omelette” (which will happen soon enough—wait it's happening now?)
My problem with this movie is exactly the same as with all the action/adventure movies I see (and I'm guessing, the ones I don't see) and that is, I find the following (in order!) to be the most boring things in the world: 1. Hand to hand combat. 2. Sword fights. 3. Gunfights. 4. Large scale, multiple participant (and casualty) battles. 5. Car chases (and that includes flying cars and spaceships). 6. The “ticking clock” action plot. 7. Reading about box-office statistics. But maybe the most frustrating thing about this movie is that I don't see myself in there anywhere—a self-doubting, neurotic, excessive perspirer who crumbles under pressure. It's like every character in this movie, from delinquents to hustlers to Wookiees, are able to, while being shot at, expertly pilot unfamiliar craft, handle unfamiliar weapons, even do some version of desktop nuclear fusion while someone's yelling, “Five, four, three... now!” I guess a real man will confidently get under the hood of anything, even if he has no experience with fuel-injection, and if a fire starts somewhere down the road, hey. What this movie ultimately made me think about was how, at my job, which is in an office where I've learned quite a few procedures that I don't use every day, if ever, I often struggle with even typing my user name(s) correctly. And if someone if hovering over me, forget it. You forget to click that box, or forget to hit enter, or hit enter too soon, and your'e screwed! I can't remember the letters in a lifeless three letter abbreviation like WBS code, so how am I going to handle an IED or stand up to an SBD? For me, that next email might bring on the cold sweats. God help us if we ever go forward with arming school teachers. Hell. Hell.
Randy Russell 6.6.18