In May the Force Be With Solo

This month features the newest Star Wars offering, a classic Western on 35mm and a donkey-centric French flick.

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Around Town

This column is a success if it can convince one person to see a film in 35mm (projected from actual film stock, not a digital copy). It’s become difficult to see films this way, but the difference in picture quality is immediately obvious, and I always jump at the chance to see films in 35mm. Circle Cinema keeps 35mm projection alive in Tulsa, and this month the movie house showcases a classic Western in this format on May 6.

Nine years before he became a breakout star in Stagecoach, John Wayne made his lead debut in The Big Trail, from one of the great directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Raoul Walsh. Set along the Oregon Trail, the film has wide-screen shots that make it an excellent choice to view on actual film stock.

At Home

“Object narrative” is a fancy term for stories centering not around humans, or single events, but the circulation of material goods. It’s a strange, refreshing type of storytelling, and one of the weirdest, most successful entries in the style is Robert Bresson’s 1969 Au Hasard Balthazar, in new release from the Criterion Collection.

Revolving around a donkey transferred from owner to owner in the French countryside, the film is a strange blend of animal fable and religious allegory. Bresson’s films are famous for stripping away of affectation, and the performances are suitably minimalist, which only heighten their emotional impact. As odd as it is to write about a movie with a donkey in the lead role, this film is a tearjerker.

In Theaters

There are plenty of reasons to be cautious about the upcoming release of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced partway through filming because of a culture clash with their Disney overlords. Ron Howard, hired to replace them, is (in this critic’s opinion) best known for films that exert great effort to rise just above mediocrity. On top of this, rumors swirl that Alden Ehrenreich, so charming in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, has been uneven at best in taking over the role of Han Solo from Harrison Ford.

But, let’s be honest: You and I are going to see the film anyway because we can hardly resist at this point, and there’s still enough going for it to make the risk worthwhile. The coup de grace is casting Donald Glover, who steals every production he’s in, as the young Lando Calrissian. The compulsively watchable Woody Harrelson, playing Han’s mentor, should also boost the level of acting, even if Ehrenreich isn’t up to snuff. And Disney’s emphasis on quality control means that, while the film’s ceiling isn’t as high as it might have been, it’s floor is quite a bit higher than it could be.

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