Tag Archives: Dennis Quaid

Over the Hills And Far Way

Strange World

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

So, one of the main characters here looks exactly like John Krasinski, but is voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal?

Strange World, indeed, but that’s just an amusing footnote in Disney’s latest animated feature, an enjoyable family adventure with a straightforward message and commitment to inclusion.

Jake is the voice of Searcher Clade, a contented farmer still dealing with the ghost of his famous father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid). Twenty-five years ago, Jaeger vanished during the family’s quest to discover what lies beyond the mountains of Avalonia. But while Jaeger was lost on the expedition, Searcher brought back a vital new resource for his homeland: the Pando plant.

Pando now provides the energy that drives almost everything in Avalonia, which is all fine until the crops show signs of a serious infection. Putting aside a vow not to follow his father’s adventuring path, Searcher, his wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union), their son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) and their three-legged dog join President Mal (Lucy Liu) on a mission to cure the Pando plant and preserve their comfortable way of life.

Writer Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon) joins his co-director Don Hall (Raya, Moana, Big Hero 6) to craft an ecological allegory seemingly inspired by the union of a role-playing board game and one of those cute posters you pass while waiting in the lines at Disney World.

The animation itself is stunning, whether snowy peaks, verdant village or trippy, drippy otherworld. Strange World lives up to its title, delivering a visual feast.

But there’s more on Nguyen’s mind than eye candy. His story offers a world where generations do not have to be defined by what they always believed was right, where masculinity has no concrete quality but is a term owned by the individual. More importantly, this Strange World is one where creature comfort is not more important than survival.

Often the film feels like it’s trying too hard to correct the stereotypes nourished by generations of children’s entertainment. But there’s a kindness and a sense of forgiveness throughout the movie that does make you yearn for a world like this one.

Bombs Away


by George Wolf

After Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and more, the book on Roland Emmerich is fairly easy to read: expect spectacle over storytelling.

Midway is Emmerich’s latest, and that checks out.

A grand production respectfully dedicated to the American and Japanese forces that fought the legendary battle, the film does have heart in all the right places. But too often, it feels more inspired by war movies than the real thing.

Patrick Wilson is Edwin Layton, whose description as “the best intelligence officer I’ve ever known” gives us an early introduction into screenwriter Wes Tooke’s plan for character development.

“I told you she was a firecracker!”

“He’s the most brilliant man I know.”

“Best pilot in the world!”

“Knock off the cowboy b.s.!”

Layton still feels guilty about the intelligence failures of Pearl Harbor, and he pleads with Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) to trust his prediction of an upcoming Japanese invasion of Midway Island.

Names such as Nimitz and Halsey (Dennis Quaid) may be the only ones familiar to non history buffs, but no matter, none of the characters feel real anyway. They’re just humans who pose nicely while spouting the dialog of actors explaining things to an audience.

So much for the storytelling, now for the spectacle.

It’s pretty damn thrilling.

When the battles are raging, especially in the air, Midway soars. Constructed with precision and clarity, these extended set pieces allow Emmerich to indulge his showy instincts for maximum payoff.

Director John Ford famously filmed on Midway Island while the battle took shape. Emmerich and Tooke don’t ignore that fact, a not so subtle reminder that this is their movie about war, and they’re going big!

And about half the time, that’s not a bad thing.

When it needs to be big, this film is huge, detailed and epic. But when it needs to be small, and make this history breathe again through intimate authenticity of the souls that lived and died in it, Midway just can’t stop flexing.

My Lives as a Dog

A Dog’s Purpose

by George Wolf

Dogs sure are cute, and they can teach us many things. Apparently, though, subtlety and the tenets of reincarnation are not among them.

A Dog’s Purpose, based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, follows the various lives of a pooch first known as Bailey, a Michigan farm dog growing up happily in the 1960s after young Ethan rescues the Retriever pup from a hot car. From there, Bailey becomes a Chicago K9 Shepherd named Ellie, then a cute Corgi in 1980s Georgia, and back to Michigan as one of those unfortunate dogs tied to a tree all day.

The dog’s soul (voiced with overdone preciousness by Josh Gad) remains constant throughout, and constantly serves as an eager-to-please Captain Obvious. Imagine walking by a man vomiting as his sad-eyed dog remarks, “oh, he must be sick.” Now imagine it for ninety minutes.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) and writer Cathryn Michon draw each character and every situation with the most broad, most one-dimensional brushes available, efficiently plowing through a checklist of contrived plot points seemingly chosen for utmost manipulation potential. Even a modest farmhouse isn’t complete without a picture perfect crescent moon above it, situated like the northern star in a cloudless sky.

Framing the story through the simplicity of a canine viewpoint may have been a worthwhile goal at some point, but the mix of melodramatic schmaltz and slapstick comedy (dog on the loose at a fancy dinner!) quickly becomes overbearing. Yes, the pets are lovable, but ultimately a film aimed at dog lovers develops the foul odor of exploiting what it claims to celebrate.

The recent video alleging animal abuse during filming is also a concern (trainers have claimed the video was falsely edited), but trust me, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid A Dog’s Purpose.