Tag Archives: Bryce Dallas Howard

Rock and Roll Fantasy

Rocketman

by George Wolf

So, Elton John won’t be singing in the movie about Elton John?

Seems weird, until you see how well Rocketman incorporates decades of indelible music into one vastly entertaining portrait of the iconic rock star who stands second only to Elvis in career solo hits.

Driven by a wonderfully layered performance from Taron Egerton – who also handles his vocal duties just fine – the film eschews the standard biopic playbook for a splendid rock and roll fantasy.

Kudos to writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher for knowing we’ve seen this rise/drugs/fall arc before, and knowing how to pool their talents for an ambitious take.

Hall wrote Billy Elliot and Fletcher is fresh off co-directing Bohemian Rhapsody. Their vision draws from both to land somewhere between the enigmatic Dylan biopic I’m Not There and the effervescent ABBA glitter bomb Mamma Mia.

Narratively grounded in Elton’s first visit to rehab, Rocketman cherry-picks the hits for resplendent musical set pieces that accompany the blossoming of a shy English youngster named Reginald Kenneth Dwight into the flamboyant global superstar known as Elton Hercules John.

Wounded by an uninterested father (Steven Mackintosh) and an adversarial mother (Bryce Dallas Howard – never better) Reggie sought acceptance through his musical talent. A happenstance introduction to lyricist Bernie Taupin (a quietly effective Jamie Bell) brought unexpected success and then, the obligatory wretched excess.

Even without Fletcher’s involvement, comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody (now the most successful music biopic to date) were inevitable, but Rocketman leaves the stage as a vastly superior film.

While the close-to-the-safety-vest nature of Queen’s trajectory rendered every artistic license ripe for scrutiny, Rocketman‘s R-rated frankness and fantastical tapestries leave ample room for crowd-pleasing maneuvers.

Of course the kickers-clad schoolboy didn’t pound out “The Bitch is Back” on his living room piano, the aspiring songwriter didn’t sing “Sad Songs” at a 1960s audition, and the overnight sensation didn’t “Crocodile Rock” at his legendary 1970 stint at The Troubadour.

But in the world of Rocketman, anything is possible. And even with all the eccentric flights of fancy, the film holds true to an ultimately touching honesty about the life story it’s telling.

And, oh yeah, the songs are still pretty great, too (no matter who’s singing them).

Puppy Love

A Dog’s Way Home

by George Wolf

After the sledgehammer schmaltz of A Dog’s Purpose last January, director Charles Martin Smith takes over for the latest adaptation of a W. Bruce Cameron canine tale and chooses wisely by making a straight up kid’s movie.

Martin has the two Dolphin Tale films on his resume, so he knows his way around a family film, and I’m guessing he knew the only chance this one had was to aim it squarely at the youngest in the house.

Just think of it as Bryce Dallas Howard reading a big screen picture book to your kids for 90 minutes, as cute puppy Bella (voiced by Howard) over-explains all the goings on from the moment we meet her as a stray.

She’s adopted by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mom Terri (Ashley Judd), and things are great until Bella runs afoul of the overly strict dog laws in Denver (who knew?). She’s taken in by friends in New Mexico until Lucas can sort it out, but homesickness leads to a backyard jailbreak, and Bella sets off on the long journey back to Colorado.

Bella gets into plenty of adventures along the way as her path crosses friendly people, mean people, CGI animal friends, predators and an amusing picnic-basket stealing or two.

Like A Dog’s Purpose, everything is painted with the broadest brush available. It is Martin’s altered viewpoint that makes this one much less painful to endure, even providing subtle teachable moments concerning diversity, veterans, homelessness and even same-sex couples.

Pretty good dog.

And, really, Denver, what gives with those outdated laws?





Dinosaur Poetry

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

by Hope Madden

If you don’t know director J.A. Bayona, that’s unfortunate. His first three feature films—The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls—emphasized storytelling skills that were equal parts visceral and poetic.

He picks up the Jurassic mantle with the latest in the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The visceral part seems likely, but dinosaur poetry? Sadly, no.

It’s been a few years since toothy, carnivorous hell broke loose on the island theme park Jurassic World. Though the un-Jurassic world has left those dinosaurs alone on their island—mostly—the island itself seems to be self-selecting extinction for the beasts, its now-active volcano an immediate threat to their very survival.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to save them. But how? I mean, dinosaurs are really big. Many of them bite. Interacting with them has proven dangerous and silly four different times. What’s a girl to do?

Well, put on some sensible shoes, for once, and take a deal from a dying old billionaire with a Hogwarts-style estate and a guilt complex. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), one-time partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough from the original film), wants to bring as many beasties as possible to a secluded island he owns where they’ll be safe.

Or is this just another example of idealistic lefties falling prey to greedy capitalists and scientists with their cadre of guns-for-hire?

It’s basically The Lost World with more volcano and less Vince Vaughn.

Howard’s Dearing—point of such contention in the previous installment with her severe hair, white pumps and icy demeanor just waiting to be melted by a real man—is simultaneously softer and stronger this time around. Howard, though, is mainly just dewy-skinned and earnest.

Chris Pratt returns as the real man in question, and he is as charmingly Chris Pratt as ever.

The real problem, besides the hackneyed and derivative story penned by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who both penned Jurassic World, which Trevorrow directed), is Bayona’s tired direction.

Though he does not shy away from showing human carnage, there is not a fresh or compelling set piece in the film. What doesn’t feel directly lifted from earlier works plods along blandly, the only tension coming from the real curiosity about why the character hasn’t yet a) closed the door, b) climbed the ladder, c) run.

Yes, the sight of a volcano exploding on Hawaii (location for the filming) does generate some anxiety, and the sound of a child crying out near images of anything being caged against its will is even more horrific. It’s hard to credit Bayona for having his finger on the pulse of current events, though, given that he’d have completed shooting at least a year before our latest American shame.

Hell, dinosaurs would be a welcome change of pace at this point.





Sit. Stay. Breathe Fire.

Pete’s Dragon

by George Wolf

Just a few months after a triumphant re-imagining of The Jungle Book, Disney heads back to the vault to give Pete’s Dragon a similar live action/animation reboot…with less magical results.

Much has changed from the 1977 cartoon, starting with the surprisingly tragic depiction of how a very young Pete becomes an orphan. Losing his parents in isolated woodlands deep in the Pacific Northwest, Pete is promptly befriended  by the very dragon whose legend has been passed down for decades in local song and story.

Pete will call his dragon “Elliot.”

Well, we’re told it’s a dragon, but here he or she is more like a big, green dog with wings. Look at it chasing its tail and fetching a stick!

Six years later, park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) encounters an injured Pete (Oakes Fegley) in the forest and takes him home, where stories of a dragon best friend intrigue Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford), who may have his own history with Elliot. These stories also catch the attention of local meanypants Gavin (Karl Urban), who quickly assembles a hunting parting with an aim to “put himself on the map” by bagging a giant green trophy.

Director/co-writer David Lowery makes a monster-sized pivot from the poetic desperation of his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and while Pete’s Dragon is rife with gentle sweetness, it’s lacking in both depth and wonder.

After the bracing prologue, characters and situations are broadly drawn, as if to never challenge any viewer older than Pete himself. It’s a curious approach for a PG-rated film, and the less than subtle, too often sappy treatment undercuts later attempts to resonate on a more metaphorical level.

Does Pete’s desire to stay with Elliot represent that wish to escape adult responsibilities and hold tight to childhood wonders? Maybe, but that Neverland remains out of sight.

We do get perfectly acceptable, albeit generically feel good lessons on the importance of family, and that’s fine. But despite those wings, Pete’s Dragon never quite soars.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 





Roar

Jurassic World

by Hope Madden

Three years ago, director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly teamed up to breathe new life into a tired SciFi concept with the almost miraculous bit of time travel fun, Safety Not Guaranteed. They re-team this year, with a host of other writers, to see what they can do with dinosaurs.

The often clever script for Jurassic World laments their position as the creators of the 4th installment of a franchise that jumped the temnodontosaurus back in ’97. The park – a successful, viable island resort some 22 years after the initial disaster – needs to constantly evolve to maintain public interest. Having learned nothing, they’re cooking up more dinosaur DNA stew and they’ve concocted something a little scary.

What follows is a mish mash of fine, viable genre tropes: militarization meets mad science and greed with lessons to be learned all around. What is at the heart of every creature feature worth its screen time? The arrogance of believing that we are in control.

Uptight control freak Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose nephews are unaccompanied in the park because she decided to work, needs to take charge when the new Frankensteinosaur breaks free and rampages the island.

She’ll need the help of beefcake Navy Seal/velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to save her nephews, the park, and the world. He will first need to remove that stick from her ass.

Pratt’s easy going charm brings a little Indiana Jones swagger to the role, but the chemistry between him and Howard is nonexistent. Perhaps that’s because of their wildly stereotyped odd couple role – something so outdated by this point it is itself a dinosaur.

Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson offer fine turns as the youngsters in peril while Jake Johnson delivers enjoyable meta-commentary as the requisite computer nerd back in the control room.

Like it’s the acting you’re looking for.

The dinosaurs still look very cool, and Trevorrow shows real skill in balancing concrete with computer generated effects. He wastes little time getting us into the action and ensuing carnage and finds fresh ways to embrace and ridicule theme parks, blockbuster franchises and creature features simultaneously.

For a filmmaker who made his name by utterly retooling genre tropes from the ground up, it’s interesting the way his next feature celebrates them. From the original Jurassic Park to Aliens to Godzilla and every major action/SciFi/creature feature in between, Jurassic World benefits. It doesn’t bring anything new, but sometimes summer calls for some mindless monster munching.

Verdict-3-0-Stars