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Posts Tagged ‘Ron Howard’

Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Viggo Mortensen

“THIRTEEN LIVES” My rating: A (Amazon Prime)

147 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Thirteen Lives” may be the most engrossing, satisfying film of Ron Howard’s career.

It’s a virtual masterclass in dramatic construction and emotional massaging; moreover it is one of the few films I can think of that contains not one misstep, one wrong performance, one phony moment.

Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave (the screenplay is by William Nicholson and Don MacPherson) manages simultaneously to be a deeply emotional experience and a clear-eyed recreation of actual events. 

 It is modest to a fault, tempering overwhelmingly dramatic material through the lens of a measured docudrama style. Clearly, Howard’s recent forays into documentaries (“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week,” “Pavarotti,” “Rebuilding Paradise,” “We Feed People”) proved invaluable in finding just the right approach for this massive effort.

The payoff is nothing short of spectacular.

In many regards Howard’s 1995’s “Apollo 13” provided the model for this sort of fact-based historic recreation; “Thirteen Lives” is even more successful in capturing the tension between individual human drama and big, overwhelming events.

Though the film features Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton as cave rescue specialists from the UK, there’s no actorly showboating, no obvious star turns.  Everyone seems to be foregoing their moment in the spotlight in favor of a group dynamic.

In this the performances reflect Howard’s overall message that while there certainly were heroes at work (including two Thai Navy Seals who died in the rescue efforts), this is  a tale of literally thousands of individuals who came together to accomplish the impossible.

Howard has never been a director who flexed his stylistic muscles; his approach here is straightforward, even impersonal. This allows us to concentrate on the story itself, which has been presented with marvelous economy and insight.

In the film’s opening minutes we meet the kids and their coach on the practice field.  They decide to treat themselves to a visit to the nearby Tham Luang, a spectacular cave nearly four miles long.  We see them park their bikes at the entrance and eagerly race into the darkness.

We won’t see them again for another hour, or 10 days in real time.  They go missing, their bikes are discovered, and immediately the authorities launch a rescue effort.

Tham Luang completely floods during the monsoon season, and the boys have been unlucky enough to enter the cavern just as an early storm is pouring millions of tons of water into the subterranean system.  It is presumed that they have been trapped by rising waters and forced to retreat ever deeper into the darkness.

While Thai military divers search for them in a labyrinth of submerged stalactites and passages so narrow they must remove their oxygen tanks, an army of volunteers descend on the mountain above the cave with shovels, pumps, pipes and chutes fashioned from split bamboo in an effort to divert water off the hillside and away from the cave.

on Howard

Local officials meet with local farmers to explain the process.  Will their crops be ruined when their fields flood? a woman asks.  Yes they will.  The farmers exchange glances and nod. Those 13 lives come first.

The cave rescue specialists played by Farrell and Mortensen arrive on the scene virtually without portfolio and by virtue of their independent status (they’re not part of the Thai military or government) have the freedom to take extraordinary risks. 

But discovering the boys alive doesn’t end the crisis.  The rain that trapped them was only a preview; within two weeks the full-fledged monsoon will fill every air pocket in the cave with water for several months.  They cannot wait out the weather; they must find a way out.

Several experienced divers have almost panicked and drowned in the treacherous waters.  There is virtually no safe way to guide the boys through several kilometers of cloudy runoff; none of the children have used scuba equipment and several cannot swim.  

That’s where Edgerton’s character comes in.  In addition to being a cave rescue diver, he’s an anesthesiologist; maybe they can suit the children up in scuba gear, knock them out with drugs and pull them to safety? 

“They’re packages,” one of the rescuers explains. “We’re just delivery guys.”

The second hour of “Thirteen Lives” is a step-by-step look at how the rescuers pulled it off. This is an exquisitely timed, bite-your-nails adventure that will have viewers shaking their heads in disbelief.

By film’s end audiences will feel nearly as battered and worn out as the kids and their saviors.  But it’s a good ache.

| Robert W. Butler

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“REBUILDING PARADISE”  My rating: B

95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The first 10 minutes of Ron Howard’s “Rebuilding Paradise” employ TV news footage, cell phone videos and audio communications between emergency workers to recreate the notorious Camp Fire that in  2018 consumed the northern California town of Paradise, killing more than  80 citizens.

No horror film of recent years is as terrifying as this masterfully edited depiction. You’ll watch with your mouth open in disbelief…that is, if you’re not already reduced to tears.

The ghastliness of those opening minutes are reinforced by the immediate plight of the fire’s survivors. Citizens quite literally got away with only their lives. Everything else — homes, possessions — has been reduced to smoking cinders.

“Rebuilding Paradise” chronicles the first year or so following the disaster, as individuals and the overall community come to grips with the extent of their loss and make tentative first steps toward returning to some kind of normalcy.

It’s not an easy process…or an easy one to watch.  But Howard’s film is at its core a paen to the resiliency of the human spirit (or, if you’re jingoistically inclined, to can-do Americanism)…which means that you leave the experience with a deep appreciation of and a sort of elation about the possibilities we all share.

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Luciano Pavarotti

“PAVAROTTI” My rating: B+ 

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

One needn’t be an opera fan to be swept up in Ron Howard’s “Pavarotti,” a sympathetic but never sycophantic documentary about the man (1935-2007) widely regarded as the greatest tenor ever.

Sure, the film’s two hours are crammed with great music, but perhaps even more importantly, “Pavarotti” provides an indelible study of an outsized personality who, at his best, showered joy on just about everyone he encountered.

Through liberal use of archival footage and photos, Howard’s film describes Pavarotti’s rise, fueled by that incredible voice (he could  hit a high C that would raise the hair on the back of your neck).

It describes how he became a phenomenon in the U.S. giving recitals in small towns (William Jewell College in Liberty MO hosted the tenor on several occasions), how he teamed up with manager Herbert Breslin (often described as the most ruthless man in opera), who promoted his client from mere singer to world-recognized figure. (“A nice guy needs a bastard,” one talking head observes.)

Indeed, Pavarotti appears to have been a genuinely nice man, which is not to say he was perfect.

We learn that he was capable of bad moods and could be demanding. He traveled with a huge entourage — not out of ego (he appears to have been disarmingly modest) but because he hated being alone on the road.

That in part explains the joy he felt as one of the Three Tenors, sharing the stage with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras for innumerable concerts and recordings.

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Joonas Suotamo, Alden Ehrenreich

“SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” My rating: B- 

135 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

For one who has felt smothered by the solemn pomposity of recent “Star Wars” releases, the prequel “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a palate cleanser, an origin yarn about two of the franchise’s most beloved characters in which the words “The Force” are never uttered.

Yeah, it’s overlong. And as is par for the course for “Star Wars” films,  and the plot is mostly a series of mini-quests providing plenty of opportunity for f/x and action overkill. But at its best “Solo” reminds of why we fell in love with a galaxy far, far away in the first place.

Directed with assurance if not much personality by veteran Ron Howard (taking over after “Lego Movie” creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller were dismissed…who can tell who directed what in the final cut?), “Solo” follows Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) from his youth through his first big adventure(s).

Along the way father-and-son screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan take the opportunity to fill in seminal but never-before-seen moments from Han’s bio:  How he got his last name in an “Ellis Island” moment, his first encounter with the towering Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), his acquisition of the Millennium Falcon and that distinctive blaster in the low-slung holster, and his early partnership/rivalry with gambler/smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

Our yarn begins on a planet where young Han and his girl Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are among the orphans in the gang controlled by Lady Proxima, a huge caterpillar voiced by Linda Hunt (think “Oliver Twist’s” Fagin.) Already a conniver, Han absconds with a vial of a priceless energy source called coaxion, a few ounces of which should allow him and Qi’ra to bribe their way off the planet.

But things go bad and Han finds himself on his own, vowing to return for Qi’ra.

He enlists in the Imperial Air Force with dreams of piloting his own ship, but a few years later is a mere grunt knee-deep in trench warfare on a mud planet.  There he encounters not only Chewbacca, but crosses path with a band of mercenaries run by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who at the behest of the shadowy criminal syndicate Crimson Dawn steals materiel from the Imperial forces.

Pushing his way into Beckett’s group, Han participates in the film’s action highlight, the highjacking of a freight train speeding through a mountainous ice planet.  A mashup of “Snowpiercer” and a “Mad Max” movie, this sequence finds Beckett’s band battling not only the train’s Imperial guards but a rival crew of bandits intent on stealing their prize. (more…)

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beatles_592x299“THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK — THE TOURING YEARS”  My rating: B+ (Opens Sept. 15 at the Tivoli)

106 minutes | No MPAA rating

There have been plenty of Beatles documentaries and no doubt there will be plenty more.

But if I had to explain to one of today’s teens what Beatlemania  was all about, I’d sit them down to watch Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years.”

The doc focuses on the first five years of the Beatles’ timeline, ending with the 1966 concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park that ended their live performances.

Employing endless archival footage (some of it shot by fans and never before disseminated) and cleaned-up audio tracks that prove just how terrific a live band the Fab Four were (even if concertgoers couldn’t hear much because of all the screaming), the movie is more than just a factual document.

It is an emotional one.  Want to know what it was like to be young in 1964? Watch this movie.

What’s really amazing is how well the four Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr — kept their shit together in the madhouse of Beatlemania.  They were bemused and not a little awed by it all, but tried to keep their heads on straight with cheeky humor and a what-the-hell attitude.

Asked if they saw themselves as pioneers of a cultural revolution, the Beatles said they were having a good “larf.” Who knew when it might end?

Ringo reveals how they had an entire floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel and still couldn’t get any privacy.  The four lads ended up hiding in a bathroom, laughing over the insanity of it all.

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heart-of-the-sea-trailer-10162014-073506“IN THE HEART OF THE SEA”  My rating: C+  

121 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“In the Heart of the Sea” is a romantic title for a most unromantic film.

The latest from director Ron Howard is based on the real-life tragedy of The Essex, an American whaler that in 1820 was rammed and sunk by a huge sperm whale. Surviving crew members were adrift in longboats for more than three months before being rescued.

By that time they’d begun eating their dead comrades.

Happy Holidays!!!!!

The story of the Essex inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, and Charles Leavitt’s screenplay begins in 1850 with a visit by Melville (Ben Wishaw) to the whaling center of Nantucket MA to interview the last surviving member of the Essex’s crew.

Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) was the Essex’s cabin boy and 30 years later is still reluctant to discuss his experiences. He’s a depressed drunk; only financial desperation forces him to accept  Melville’s offer of cash for a night’s conversation.

As the two men drink and talk, the doomed voyage unfolds in flashbacks.

It all plays out like a variation on Mutiny on the Bounty/Men Against the Sea. 

The Essex’s experienced first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), is a farmer’s son who rose through the ranks. He was promised his own ship but the owners have reneged.

Instead the command goes to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who lacks Chase’s skill but has the social connections that come with being a member of one of Nantucket’s great mercantile families.

So there’s class conflict and professional resentments brewing.

Of course, personal issues are irrelevant when you’re battling a furious behemoth of the deep. Once the Essex has gone to the bottom the men in the longboats face weeks of thirst, hunger and madness. Simple survival is all that matters.

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