Woody Harrelson

REVIEW: Midway (2019)

The story of the soldiers and aviators who helped turn the tide of the Second World War during the iconic Battle of Midway in June 1942.

The first 20 minutes or so of Midway are honestly thrilling as the film opens with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Unfortunately, that sense of urgency and pace doesn’t continue for the rest of this almost two and a half hour-long film.

There are a lot of military characters and names to keep track of. The main pilot is cocky Dick Best (Ed Skrein) whose cavalier attitude towards death puts his superiors including Rear Admiral Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) on edge, but naturally when things are at their breaking point he’s just the kind of guy they need.

It’s a pleasant surprise that the film spends time with the Japanese characters, the admirals and soldiers who planned and carried out the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Midway, and tries to elevate them from just being the Bad Guys. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) is the main character we follow on that side of the battlefield as he tries to bring glory to Japan without taking undue risks. In fact, the Japanese are almost three-dimensional characters, especially compared to their American counterparts that are largely comprised of clichés and strong accents.

The most interesting character is reserved intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) who had warned the Japanese were planning something big before the attack on Pearl Harbour, but his superiors failed listened to him. Now with Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) taking command, he is charged with predicting the Japanese’s next move. Their working relationship, as Nimitz slowly puts his faith into Layton and his team of codebreakers, some of whom are a little eccentric, is perhaps the most compelling element in this sprawling account of military underdogs.

The last third is full of aerial battles that are a sight to behold – seeing the pilots dive headfirst towards aircraft carriers in order to drop a bomb on target are nail-biting moments – but the spectacle becomes overwhelming and the various characters, the majority of which you know little about to care about them, are hard to follow in the carnage.

Midway does it’s best to offer a respectful account of events that took place and the men, both Japanese and America, who took part and risked their lives. The action is big and bold but that doesn’t allow any room for nuance. 2/5.

REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

The story of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) who joins a group of smugglers and thieves led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to take on an almost impossible heist for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original Star Wars films, showing us how Han Solo became the Han Solo we know and love. Is this film needed? No. Is it a good film? I’s alright and its downfall is that it has the same problems that so many prequel films have no matter the genre. You know the characters who you’ve seen in films that are set later on survive this adventure and you know any characters you’re introduced to in this film who you haven’t seen before will either die, turn evil, ride off into the sunset or just generally not have a big role in this film. Sometimes it’s a combination of more than one of these potential outcomes. The new characters are mostly decent but aren’t particularly fleshed out or, in the case of Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are suddenly given multiple different facets towards the end of the film that it feels a bit like whiplash.

Alden Ehrenreich does a great job as a younger version of Harrison Ford’s jaded Han Solo. This Han Solo is a guy who doesn’t really know where he fits in, he tries being good, he tries being bad and a lot of the time he’s just very lucky. Donald Glover is also very charismatic as a young Lando Calrissian and seeing how Han and Lando meet is great and the two of them bounce well of each other. Another great first meeting is Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) seeing the friendship grow between these two was wonderful and any of their interactions or the scenes that featured the two of them were the best. Chewbacca probably has the most well-developed and interesting character arc in this film to be honest.

The action and fight scenes are good with the heist on a train being a standout moment. However, the pacing of Solo: A Star Wars Story leaves much to be desired. The first thirty minutes or so is a bit of a slog, but it does pick up once Han meets Beckett and his crew. The first thirty minutes or so were also incredibly dark. I honestly found myself squinting at the screen a few times as it was difficult to make out characters reactions to events that were happening around them. While scenes that take place at night or on grimy planets will naturally be darker, it seemed like everything was so poorly lit that when something interesting did happen, it was hard to actually see it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly fine film. It’s mostly fun and the characters you’ve already met are great. There’s a few surprises in Solo: A Star Wars Story and a lot of references to the franchise as a whole (some of which are eyeroll-inducing and really aren’t needed). Overall, it’s a film that doesn’t add much to the Star Wars mythos but it’s a mostly fun adventure featuring some much-loved characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Nadine’s (Hailee Steinfeld) life gets a lot more complicated and frustrating when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).

The Edge of Seventeen is a sweet and funny coming of age drama. Nadine is such a flawed and frustrating yet sympathetic character. She is quite self-centred, thinking that she is the only one who has any problems in their life, yet she’s still a teenager who fears she’s losing her one and only friend to her cooler brother. You get where she’s coming from even if the way she deals with it sometimes is incredibly cringe-worthy – I definitely got some second-hand embarrassment from this film but this made Nadine feel more real and relatable.

Nadine’s relationship with her teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson) is wonderful, and it’s also where a lot of the comedy comes from. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) has her own problems and is never available for Nadine to talk to or ask for advice so Mr Bruner becomes almost a surrogate parent in her eyes.

The Edge of Seventeen is a great film. With its clever script, it both embraces and subverts the typical high school clichés. It’s funny and heartfelt and Hailee Steinfeld is brilliant – it’s her performance that gets you to like Nadine even when she’s doing crazy things and pushing people away. 4/5.

REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the human military comes to kill Caesar (Andy Serkis), he must wrestle with the fact that the ever-looming war between apes and humans is finally here.

If you are expecting an out-and-out war film here, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, there are soldiers and there’s conflict between the apes and humans but the film is more than that. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful look at humanity and at a group of creatures who just want to be left alone. The conversations between Caesar and The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are really interesting because they are two smart, capable leaders who have their own kind to protect.

It kind of goes without saying but the motion capture and computer work in War for the Planet of the Apes is phenomenal. The actors performing as the apes do incredible work as do the digital artists – you really feel and understand the emotions that play out on these creatures faces. It’s easy to forget that they aren’t really “there”.

War for the Planet of the Apes is an incredible film. It builds on the previous two films and adds more depth to the characters we already know and interesting dynamics with new ones. Caesar feels so much older and battle-worn compared to when we last saw him but then there’s a new character like Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who’s weird quirks brings some much needed humour to the film. Because War for the Planet of the Apes is often a bleak and tough film. The characters, and the audience, go through so much that those moments of humour are needed to break the tension.

The relationship between Caesar, fellow chimp Rocket (Terry Notary) and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) is delved into even more in this film. It’s fascinating to see not just Caesar’s growth across the trilogy but theirs, along with the community they’ve built in the woods.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a solid, poignant story of hope, conflict and loss. There’s a sense of tension and foreboding throughout the film and it puts your emotions through the wringer. It is an amazing end to a trilogy that just got better and better with each instalment. This trilogy is up there with the best of them. 5/5.