Archive for Harrison Ford

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Modern Version of What Fans Have Always Loved

Posted in 8, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2015 by mducoing

SWTFA-IMDBSet to break every box office record that has ever existed in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams’ contribution to the Star Wars universe appears to be a gamble that has paid off in spades. An often stunning, fun, and deeply exhilarating film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is likely as good as it gets in Star Wars, delivering much of the power of the original in a modern, yet somehow nostalgic, incarnation.

Premise: Thirty years after the defeat of the Empire, The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy. With the help of the Resistance, only a reluctant and unexpected group of heroes can stop them. Result: The Star Wars film we have been looking for.

Harnessing the power fanboys everywhere (their hopes, their fears, their terrifyingly obsessive attention to detail), Abrams has created a Star Wars film that is as close to the original in look, feel and result as the original. It is quirky and yet sophisticated, combining action and comedy with the grandeur of a galactic storyline much as the originals did.

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Ender’s Game: Fun. Yeah, Just Fun.

Posted in 6, Action, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by mducoing

Ender's GameDirector Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) has delivered another film that certainly has some good moments but will be utterly forgettable.  Too much crushed into one film forces the story to feel rushed and lacking in necessary depth, although thankfully there are enough thrills to keep observers interested.

Premise: Based on the acclaimed novel, Ender Wiggin grows to become a savior to Earth in a futuristic world where the fate of Earth depending on children. Result: A fun time that spreads itself way too thin, ultimately culminating in a shallow delivery that misses opportunities.

The film begins with the creepy hero Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) who skulks through his academy as half strategic genius, half-social outcast, ultimately bringing on the scorn of classmates.  His terrifying and effectively violent temper shocks classmates yet stimulates Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) who observe and monitor him incessantly.

He seems to be worth the risk and so young Ender is promoted to Battle School up in space aboard a rotating station, accomplishing more than siblings – brother Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) or sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).  There he is placed with rivals like Bean (Aramis Knight), Alai (Suraj Partha), and Bernard (Conor Carroll) spending his days learning maneuvers and a strategic game that becomes the crux for the majority of the film.

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42: Great Story, Poor Film.

Posted in 5, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by mducoing

42Academy Award Winner Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Mystic River) is well known for his writing, often captivating audiences with his unique signature tales.  Yet, ironically, even as he both pens and directs 42, he seems incapable of rekindling that magic.  While the story still largely shines through, it is mostly in spite of, rather than because of,  his efforts, nearly condemning the film to a dark realm of unbearable cliché the likes of which is rarely seen.

Premise: The story of Jackie Robinson’s heroic first step in the integration of Baseball. Result: A film tha should have been made – but by someone else.

Fortunately for audiences, the true story behind 42, the shockingly inspirational Jackie Robinson story, is so powerful as to be beyond reproach and impossibly beyond ruin.  This is proven with this film, where there are so many frightfully novice moments as to cause fascinated wonder as to how anyone could stand to watch until the end.  But based on that strength of story, audiences will.

The film begins with a fair montage of events leading us past WWII and into the period where Robinson’s story began.  But audiences are shuffled rudely past this hopeful beginning into a scene that simply defies logic: Brooklyn Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is speaking to subordinates Harold Parrott (T.R. Knight) and Clyde Sukeforth (Toby Huss) about his wish to bring a “negro” into “white baseball.”

The scene is delivered from somewhere Off Off Off Broadway, where the mood must be exaggerated ad nauseum and dialogue must be written with such a somber lack of self-awareness as to almost collapse onto itself under its own pompous weight.

We are then introduced to Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as he homers his way through the Negro leagues and catches the attention of Rickey and staff.  He is granted an opportunity to play for the Dodger’s farm team in Montreal, and he immediately asks his girlfriend Rachel (Nicole Beharie) to marry him (it should be noted he does this over the phone, despite telling her he can’t tell her about his new job over the phone – hmmmm.)

Ultimately we are confronted with much of what should be expected: a series of inspiring sermons by Rickey, unimaginable self-control by Robinson, intense racism by fans and opposing teams ( Phillies coach Ben Chapman – Alan Tudyk – the most notable), and even near mutiny by his own team.

Despite some unnecessary clichés and cheese, Helgeland does a fair job marching us along, really building excitement through the tension as his team – led by Dixie Walker (Ryan Merriman), Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater), Kirby Higbe (Brad Beyer) and Eddie Stanky (Jesse Luken) – struggle with the blowback of this integration.

Sadly, as the film progresses, Helgeland’s style clashes completely with the story.  What he appears not to realize is that most people watching this film already believe Robinson a hero and wish to be touched by understated emotion rather than a deification that is so skill-less as to evoke images of paper mache shrines and cardboard crucifixes.  On more than one occasion, it should be noted, Helgeland doesn’t simply allude to Robinson as Jesus Christ but basically has characters say that, in almost as many words.

The film drags on painfully as teammate after teammate stumbles into his own epiphany worthy of a Lifetime® Original, lasting what feels like hours past awkwardness and years past touching. There are so many over the top moments as to summon the Mystery Science Theater gods to reign laughter and mockery upon us all.

Worse still is his almost criminal use of children, like a student director with aspirations to work at Taco Bell.  Not only are the scenes with his child actors painfully forced and visually awkward, but what they do is simply mind-boggling.

One boy uses the term “discombobulated” for no apparent reason and then soon after actually places his head to the train track after Robinson’s departing train and utters “I can still hear him.”  Why, why??  And another little boy lifted right from an Awkward Anonymous meeting is used to visually describe both how impressionable children are and also the shame of racism in seconds.  In the end, he looks more like someone Webster used to bully than anything else.

Fortunately, the acting in this film is enough to keep audiences watching, if not enough to mask the pained dialogue.  Boseman is powerful on screen, running the gamut of emotions in both a believable and frankly captivating fashion.  He can be unlikable and hero-worthy in the same breath and for this he at least wins our admiration.  And Beharie is utterly fantastic, managing to use subtlety and nuance as her great weapons as she makes a character that might have faded into the shadows, forefront to history.

Ford starts out the victim of his own diatribes, pontificating like some catastrophic Caesar in danger of suffocation by his own hot air.  Yet, it is testament to his skill that he is grows on us and having an answer for everything, he will likely win over most observers in the end (this, on some level, is a compliment to Helgeland as well considering at least some of those lines, um, hit home.)

The rest of the cast is strong as well although they wilt significantly under Helgeland’s oppressive need for melodrama.  Only Knight seems to work with this deadly current, letting his performance succumb to this cinematic Charybdis, casting doubt on his abilities over all.

In the end, this was not a poor film with aspirations to be mediocre at best.  The poor direction and inconsistent dialogue smother an otherwise strong cast and superb story.  In fact, were it not for this story, this film might have had no one left in the stands midway through.

Rating: 5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio

Cowboys & Aliens: Even with Monstrous Aliens, the Real Danger Was Boredom

Posted in 5, Action, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by mducoing

Director Jon Favreau (Ion Man, Iron Man 2) is finding himself in the strange, surreal slope of steady decline.  After 2008’s Iron Man launched Favreau from respectable actor and invisible director (films prior: Elf and Zathura: A Space Adventure) to a solid, money-making film juggernaut, it seemed that big action films might just be his ticket to greatness.  But after Iron Man 2 did well, but noticeably not as well as the first, there was much riding on his newest box-office gamble: Cowboys & Aliens.  How did that pan out: a box-office dead heat with The Smurfs speaks more to audiences about this film than watching it does.

 Premise: In1873, aliens land in Arizona who try take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. Some pissed-off cowboys are all that stand in their way. Result: A relatively boring film that never really stands a chance to connect with audiences since no one seems interested in fully explaining anything.

To be fair, there are very few completely cringe-worthy moments in Cowboys compared with tragically awful recent blockbusters like The Green Lantern (Read Full Green Lantern Review) or (shudder) the third Transformers ( Read Full Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review). Instead, Favreau’s latest film offers a slow pace, confusing plot, and mediocre delivery by otherwise awesome actors (Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig) to make it utterly forgettable in almost every way.  All too quickly it becomes clear that Cowboys is the boring sex of blockbusters: it has all the right parts to rock your world but only moments in and you are left wondering how long it will take for him/her to fall asleep before you can sneak out the window.  Oh, and yeah, your socks are still on.

Cowboys opens with some promise: Craig is a disoriented, injured amnesiac wandering out in the desert as three filthy riders come upon him and attempt to take him prisoner, suspecting that he is a convict, mistaking his strange, alien bracelet for shackles. Apart from misjudging Craig’s accessory choices, they misjudge his power; within moments he has destabilized all three men, stolen a horse, clothes and weapons, and had time to win the loyalty of their wayward pooch.  It was an awesome few moments that unfortunately are not often revisited.

As Craig wanders through the desert, we are introduced to a small western town that is apparently under the control of a Cattle Barron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who is basically a slightly less crotchety version of Clint Eastwood in Grand Torrino.  The town  is run by figure head Sherriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) who is forced into a confrontation with Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), a dangerous, bratty nuisance of a son that in a sudden (and amusing) altercation with the won’t-kiss-my-butt stranger (I’m talking about Craig) accidentally shoots a deputy and is jailed.

Craig, meanwhile, is recognized, not as a nameless figure, but as Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal.  He is apprehended by the incomprehensible actions of a woman, Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who seems desperate to get his attention and, along with Percy, is set to be taken by Marshalls to await trial in Santa Fe.  We discover that Lonergan is wanted for stealing Dolarhyde’s gold, and just as tensions are set to hit the roof, strange, bright, alien aircraft attack the town.  People are blown up or abducted as chaos spreads through the town like wildfire, engulfing any sense of reason.  Fortunately, Lonergan conveniently realizes that his bracelet is a weapon of some kind and shoots down an alien craft.

The rest of the film deals with Dolarhyde’s desperation to retrieve his son leading townspeople on a journey that eventually includes an alliance between Dolarhyde and Lonergan.  The journey itself, sprinkled with scattered action sequences and minor revelations, is just enough to keep audiences from wandering off: Jake’s gang appears, aliens mount another attack, and an alliance is brokered between a local Native American tribe and the scrappy townspeople. 

Eventually, the alien space craft is discovered and a plan is set in motion to invade and rescue the kidnapped townspeople.  Throughout this excursion, very little is revealed about these creatures other than what they look like (a very bizarre, but somewhat unique take on alien beings), the reason they are there (very, very dumb) and the idea that they have done this before.  In fact, one of the more serious issues in this film is its “Mum’s the word” strategy on plot.  Things seem to happen on screen, but the focus is almost always in the wrong places.

What do the aliens want with our people? Why are they here?  Have they done this before? Why is Swenson walking out of a bonfire?  All these questions pour from the minds of shaken audience members but are met with what feels like a child’s lie: a brief, absurd, unsatisfying response with no hope of additional comment or detail.  Time after time, when serious plot questions arise that could serve to enhance the already bewildering cinematic experience, we are given nothing more than postage stamp explanations sealed within fortune cookie revelations.  By the end, we stop paying attention.  

There is a fun battle at the end as well as a relatively touching sequence between Dolarhyde and Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), a Native American who had been taken in by Dolarhyde after his family’s death  long ago. For a moment, the film allows one of its plotlines to receive sufficient detail to connect with the audience and transforms Dolarhyde from grumpy villain to a man who is honorable and caring, despite his manner.  But largely, this is not enough to connect with audiences, who by this point have likely become deeply interested in the length of their fingernails.

The acting in this film settled somewhere between passable and not bad.  Considering the cast is of relatively experienced status (Ford, Craig, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, and so forth) the acting is surprisingly mediocre.  Ford and Craig seem to do what they need to do to get by; Brown is consistent but ultimately forgettable (something that fans won’t be used to); Rockwell and Dano are lodged somewhere near over-the-top; and Wilde cannot seem to escape roles that make her look interesting but give her nothing else to work with (see Full Tron: Legacy Review).  Half the time we are more interested in her creepy glares than anything that comes out of her mouth. As for the young boy, Emmett Taggart (Noah Ringer), he is so emasculated based on clothing and role, that for most of the time I thought it was the girl from True Grit.

In the end this film fails to make any sort of connection with the audience.  While there is potential, it is squandered in favor of clichés and a poorly thought-out plot.  If this is the best that an absurd genre hybrid can make, I am not looking forward to Lumberjacks & Dinosaurs.

Rating: 5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio


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