So far the summer has given us one worthy blockbuster (Star Trek) sandwiched in between two disappointingly mediocre ones (Wolverine and Angels and Demons). The critical consensus on Howard and Hank's second trip to da Vinci country is that it's a more streamlined action-focused picture, but its 138 minutes still find plenty of room for chuckle-inducing exposition ("a bunch of hooey," Hanks has called it) regarding everything from Illuminati theories to "God particles." And for such an old-fashioned potboiler of a premise (Vatican City will explode at midnight!), the film never builds up a lot of sustained suspense. Still, if you just want to see Ewan McGregor as a potential future Pope parachuting in like he's Obi Wan Kenobi (again) to save the day, you might be sporadically entertained. But avoid seeing it at Southwind 12. The fucking roof leaks. And if you're looking for less self-important but similar "hooey," Cage's National Treasure flicks are far more entertaining. I'll take Cage's puzzlemaster over Hanks' "symboligist" anyday. Or, better yet, team them up for a future "crossover" summer blockbuster!
"Wherever you live, when this film opens, it will be the best film in town." --Roger Ebert on Goodbye, Solo
Goodbye, Solo's premise sounds, at first glance, as contrived as Angels and Demons. An aging man offers to pay a cabdriver a thousand bucks to pick him up in one week for a one-way fare and deposit him two hours away, on top of a mountain, presumably so he can kill himself. But the film settles into a fascinating character study that largely avoids the kinds of sentiment you'd expect, and its vision of Winston-Salem, North Carolina (not so often seen on-screen) possesses a real sense of place, similar in some ways to how Jim Jarmusch's early films (Down by Law; Mystery Train) inhabited their respective cities of New Orleans and Memphis. Solo, the cabbie, is from Senegal, and he seems an eternal optimist despite the fact that his marriage is rocky and his job has seemingly become less than satisfactory. When William (played by Red West, a character actor and former Elvis bodyguard in real life!) makes Solo the strange offer, Solo soon becomes determined to prevent it, to convince William that life is worth living. He arranges to become William's sole driver for the week as he sells his place, closes out his accounts, and moves into a hotel. The film drops hints (and eventually answers a few questions) about how William's past led him to his current crisis but, as the title suggests, the film is really Solo's story and I assure you, my three or four possible readers, you'll care more about their eventual trip to the mountaintop than you will about whether or not Hanks saves the Vatican!
The film is directed by Iranian-American Ramin Bahrani, his third film following Man Push Cart and Chop Shop (I've only seen the former thus far). Ebert calls him "the great new American director." Too early to say? I suspect so. But there's no question I'll watch closely for his next film.