Latest Reviews

Entries in Harrison Ford (4)

Friday
Apr122013

42

You know exactly what you’re getting when you go into a sports drama, particularly one where a central theme is racism: an inspirational, moving piece of work burdened by heavy handed melodrama and an ample dose of “racism is bad” shoved down your throat. If you judged a movie based solely on its message, all of these movies would be home runs (or touchdowns or slam dunks…pick your sports metaphor). However, a message alone isn’t enough to sustain a movie. As the late Roger Ebert said, a movie “isn’t about what it’s about. It’s about how it’s about it.” Luckily, this week’s “42” is about it as well as you could possibly hope. It’s not even close to perfect, but it has great performances, some witty writing and a story that knows exactly how to handle itself, meaning it knows that Jackie Robinson isn’t remembered for playing baseball. He’s remembered for the impact his playing of baseball had on the hearts and minds of those who watched him play it, helping, in his own special way, to end segregation and bring equality to African Americans across the country.

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie. He’s a young kid playing in the Negro leagues of baseball, the separate league for black men who aren’t deemed fit to stand alongside whites on the field. His talent is astounding and the executive to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), has taken notice. He wants him to try out for their minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals, and if he does well enough, he’ll be in the running for a spot in the big leagues, potentially becoming the first black man to play the all white game. As we know, Jackie was successful in doing just that, but his inclusion to a previously all-whites club doesn’t sit well with his team, the fans or the country in general. “42” is the story of this time.

Although racism is certainly still present in today’s society, many kids will find the attitudes of certain characters onscreen as foreign and strange, archaic in a way that they won’t understand, which is exactly why this movie, and other movies like it, need to be made. As ridiculous as it seems now, this is how some people treated others, not by their merits or actions, but by the color of their skin. It’s a shameful and embarrassing part of American history that many would like to forget, but absolutely shouldn’t.

This study of racism directed at one man is focused and captivating and will undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings of its viewers. Indeed, that is its very intent, and the movie makes no bones about it. Constantly swelling music, prophetic words of wisdom that exist only in a screenplay and one-liners that feel like they were written solely to be included in the trailer are prevalent in “42.” The bad guys, more often than not, come off more like caricatures than real people, like the baseball commissioner who speaks in a down-home Southern voice with an unmistakable tinge of hate and sits back in his big, comfy chair while his assistant files his nails. Many of the good guys come off like that too, until the movie plays the old switcheroo on the viewer, showing that, hey, maybe that guy isn’t so bad after all. All but the sports drama uninitiated will see right through it.

But there’s a warmness to the movie, a nice balance between displaying the hatred and not overdoing it to the point where all the white characters look evil. Ford, in particular, is fantastic and stands up for Robinson even when those around him refuse to. There’s nothing more entertaining than seeing the smirk on his face as Robinson pulls off his first amazing play while sitting in a sea of angry, hissing racists. Similarly, the movie knows when to make fun of, or perhaps pay homage to, the time period, shown best when listening to the quick talking, metaphor using sports radio commentator calling the play-by-play. As portrayed hilariously by John C. McGinley, the film uses his moments to lighten the mood and provide some great laughs.

But it also succeeds in its quieter moments. Its single most powerful moment comes during a singing of the Star-Spangled Banner before a game. At this time, both blacks and whites on and off the field stand as one, looking to the flag and holding their hands over their hearts. It’s a beautiful scene that disrupts the dichotomy of racist thought. That flag, and the lives that fell to defend it, represent equality and harmony among all Americans, not just the few who consider themselves privileged and better than others. As they stand, remembering the horrors of the war behind them and dreaming of peace for the future, they are quiet and all malice dies, if only for a short time. It’s a great scene that shows that hope can exist, and even prevail, in the face of evil and hatred.

So even though it's hard to look past some of the film's cheese and despite its insistence on pounding you over the head with its obvious message, "42" captures rather faithfully an emotionally turbulent time that caused a lot of pain and suffering. Despite his insistence that he was just a ball player, Robinson was so much more. He'll forever stand as a hero not just among African Americans, but among people of any color who dream of a day when our skin doesn't separate us into groups, but rather our actions. It sometimes seems like that will never happen, but if nothing else, Jackie Robinson, and this film in honor of him, keep that dream alive.

42 receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jul292011

Cowboys & Aliens

The western and sci-fi genres are at odds with each other. Out of all the possibilities movies give us, such a mixture seems strange. One tells its stories entirely in the past while the other relies on futuristic elements. It’s a mash up that is rarely seen, but when it is, it usually breeds interesting and unique results (like Joss Whedon’s wonderful short lived television show, Firefly). This week’s Cowboys & Aliens attempts to do the same, taking familiar western elements and fusing them with conventional sci-fi fare, but it feels half-hearted and, oddly, all too familiar.

The story is simple enough: a race of aliens have descended on a small town in the 1800’s and begun abducting its inhabitants, while the remaining few head off to save them. Where Cowboys & Aliens stumbles is not in its simplistic story, but its simplistic characters. Despite its talented stars, most never rise above traditional western archetypes. Daniel Craig is the tough, hardened outlaw who talks tough but actually has a heart of gold and Harrison Ford is, well, Harrison Ford. Both give great performances, but it means little in a movie that doesn’t take the time to build its characters.

I suspect this may have been intentional, given its succinct title that suggests nothing more than a good popcorn summer blockbuster, but director Jon Favreau is too good a filmmaker to limit himself like that. It’s almost as if his initial intentions were to make a dumb fun movie, but he realized while shooting that such a thing was beneath him, so he tried, unsuccessfully, to flesh out the thin characters he had neglected up to that point. Bad drama is forced into the film where it doesn’t belong and extraneous side characters spout heartwarming monologues that are supposed to instantly change our perception of certain characters, but it doesn’t work because nothing has been leading to these moments.

Perhaps that is because the film’s dialogue is overburdened with exposition, spending far too much time explaining what is happening. When you’re watching a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, the title says it all. What more do you need to know? But it goes on anyway, saying a lot without really saying much of anything at all, attempting to fill in plot holes the screenplay has amateurishly overlooked. One character in the film, it is revealed partway through, is not human and lives “beyond the stars,” but where precisely did this person come from? What is his or her purpose? What does he or she hope to accomplish? Such cryptic language should be fleshed out, giving more narrative weight and emotional meaning to the proceedings, but, aside from a few supplementary lines of dialogue, it is left alone, an insufficient explanation for what should have been a major plot turn.

The screenplay too is packed to the brim with conveniences, disrupting whatever human danger the characters may find themselves in with the impeccably timed arrival of alien spaceships, but take away all its baffling story problems and Cowboys & Aliens still only works for those willing to dumb themselves down for it. It's hard to ignore the fact that these aliens have mastered interplanetary travel and have futuristic weapons technology that far surpasses what we have even today, yet insist on rushing head first and unarmed into battle. Again, their reasoning is briefly explained with throwaway dialogue and again it’s insufficient.

But at least the scene I’ve discussed above is bright enough to see. At times, Cowboys & Aliens is far too dark, like it was shot through tinted windows. Like many cases these days, it could be that the theater I saw it in had previously shown a 3D movie and the projector had not been properly prepared for 2D, but I saw no indications of that. It simply appeared to be an oversight from the filmmakers.

Even with all that in consideration, Cowboys & Aliens still should have been a great, or at least fun, movie. It’s the most interesting use of the classic western setting since developer Rockstar’s great Undead Nightmare video game, but it does little more than prove that an idea is not enough. That idea must become something greater, something that doesn’t rely solely on its title to get audiences in the theater.

Cowboys & Aliens receives 2/5

Wednesday
Nov102010

Morning Glory

As far as satirical films on the news media go, nothing beats Sidney Lumet’s brilliant Network, a movie about sensationalism and how we as a society eat it up. In that picture, a man named Howard Beale announced his plan to kill himself on the air and interest in the television station shot up. As he stood in front of a giant audience, mentally ill from the emotional torment of losing his job, nobody stepped in to stop him. The popularity meant ratings and nobody batted an eye at what they were doing to the man. While not as in-depth, interesting or clever as that film, Morning Glory explores similar sensationalist territory while upping the comedy and giving us a few fantastic performances.

Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) lives in New Jersey. She’s a producer at a small television station on the local morning news show. Things seem to be going fine until she is suddenly fired, finding herself frantically searching for a new job. After many e-mails and phone calls, she finally lands a gig at IBS as executive producer of their daily morning news show, Day Break. Their ratings are suffering and her new boss hopes she will be able to raise them. So she sets out to do just that, though she’ll have to get through her testy anchors Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) and Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) first.

Morning Glory is a good movie; there’s no questioning that. It’s funny, it’s sweet and it has something to say, featuring a commentary on public consumption and how we are more drawn to fluff than news that matters. But it could have been so much more. There’s a great movie hidden here somewhere, but it loses itself at certain points along the proverbial line.

Where the movie succeeds is in Becky. She’s a strong, smart, independent woman who is determined to earn the respect of those around her and bring the ratings of Day Break out of the gutter. It’s a character we don’t see much in movies these days. In a cinematic world where women are normally the helpless ones in peril or treated like an object, it was a breath of fresh air. However, it seems there can’t be a woman onscreen who inhabits these personality traits because she is quickly given a sexual interest and the film falls into the same romantic comedy routine as so many others.

But luckily, it never gets too weighed down by it. Every time it looks like the writers are going to force Becky to succumb to the pressures of society, it quickly switches gears and shows just how tough she can be. Her first order of duty when she arrives at the studio is to fire one of her anchors for the rude, obnoxious oaf he is and begin to pursue a new one in the form of Mike, a seasoned anchor veteran who touts his numerous awards and refuses to do any piece on something he doesn’t consider newsworthy, which is pretty much anything.

He’s a pompous, sarcastic man with a thick shell that Becky has to break and, even though it’s as predictable as the presence of beer at a sporting event, it’s a testament to her character that she can and does. Although she finds love, she doesn’t abandon her career for it. I suspect powerful women all across the country will find something to like in her and it doesn’t hurt that the radiant Ms. McAdams is in those shoes.

There’s a great supporting cast in Morning Glory that includes Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum and a hilarious cameo from 50 Cent, but it’s the script that really shines. It’s rare to find a movie this funny, intelligent and timely that also makes a valid point about the news industry. It may be a more comedic, less important version of Network, but Morning Glory is entertaining all the same.

Morning Glory receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jan222010

Extraordinary Measures

Before the first shot of a bouquet of balloons proclaiming "It's a girl!" shows up in the new Brendan Fraser/Harrison Ford drama Extraordinary Measures, a logo pops up, one I had never seen before: CBS Films. I questioned, when did CBS start their own film production company? Pretty recently one assumes because this is their first big screen attempt and, appropriately, looks and feels like a TV movie. From scene to scene, each passing shot, every line of dialogue, all of it screamed television. Had it appeared on the small screen, it would have been a damn fine adaptation, but theatrical films are held to a higher standard and this amateurish production does little to convince that it belongs where it is.

The story of Extraordinary Measures follows John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a father of three kids. The youngest two, at ages six and eight, suffer from Pompe, a disease similar to muscular dystrophy where the muscles weaken due to excessive build-up of glycogen. Their life expectancies range around age 9, a number fast approaching his two children. After a scare where his daughter almost dies, he decides he must do all he can to try to find a cure. He had been studying up on the disease and reading theories proposed by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a Nebraska scientist who had been working on a solution to saving the lives of Pompe sufferers. Crowley convinces Stonehill to join him, partly through his determination and partly through the huge check he bestows to him. So will they find a cure before it's too late? Well, it's based on a book by Geeta Anand called "The Cure," which flashes onscreen right at the beginning of the movie, so I'd say it's a safe bet.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I honestly thought it was a commercial for a TV movie, and as I mentioned earlier, it follows the exact formula a film appearing on, say, Lifetime would, all the way down to the low angle "person-slides-their-back-down-against-a-wall-in-sadness" shot. The look of the film is simplistic, the dialogue is perfectly suitable for the medium (sans a few FCC deemed dirty words), and it tugs at the heartstrings, as most of these things do.

Besides, who doesn't feel sadness when children are deathly ill and happiness when that one in a million shot to save their lives pulls through? But that's the problem. I've seen this movie played out on television countless times, each one more manipulative than the last. Sick kids are an easy target because even the most hardened of souls wouldn't wish harm on a helpless child. Yes, I cared about the children and I hoped they would pull through, but that was more due to the fact that I'm not a soulless bastard more than it was because the film was of good quality.

Granted, it's not as bad as I expected it to be. The first hour is painful to watch, with transitions from scene to scene where commercials could have easily been placed, but it picks up and the performances are good enough. Harrison Ford, though not quite as youthful and spirited as he used to be, does a fine job in his role as the contemptuous doctor who sometimes lets his anger get the best of him, and Brendan Fraser finally gets to flex his dramatic muscles after three nonsense loony films (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and Inkheart). I like him that side of him and it's the most sincere I've seen him since 2004's excellent Crash.

But that pesky television look and heavy-handed narrative just keep getting in the way. It's funny really because it's a great made for TV movie, but it's not even a good theatrical one. I felt the attempt and I appreciated the uplifting story, but you've got to do better than this to justify your big screen existence. Extraordinary Measures is admirable and has nothing to object to, but nevertheless, you can wait for it to reach cable, where it should have been all along.

Extraordinary Measures receives 2/5