Tag Archives: Harrison Ford

Muzzled

The Call of the Wild

by George Wolf

Look, we’re all thinking it, so let’s just get it out there.

Raiders of the Lost Bark.

Happy now? Okay, we can move on.

Truth is, there’s plenty of bark in this latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel, but not much bite to be found.

We’re still introduced to Buck, the sturdy St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, as the spoiled pet of a wealthy California judge (Bradley Whitford) in the late 1800s. Stolen and sold as a sled dog to French-Canadian mail dispatchers, Buck adapts to the pack mentality and the harsh conditions of the Alaskan wilderness, eventually teaming up with the grizzled Thorton (Harrison Ford) for a journey into the Yukon.

It should come as no surprise that Ford is effortlessly affecting as a world weary mountain man. What is surprising is his endearing rapport with a CGI dog (motioned-captured by Terry Notary). Ford’s narration is earnest enough to soften its heavy hands, drawing Thorton and Buck as two kindred spirits, both lost in their own wilderness.

While taking the actual wild out of The Call of the Wild seems sadly ironic, the computer-generated beasts come to fall perfectly in line with director Chris Sanders’ family-ready vision for the enduring tale.

Stripped of any bloody carnage, cultural insensitivities or harsh realities, Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch, The Croods) and writer Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049) fill the gaps with obvious questions, easy answers, and a flesh and blood bad guy (Dan Stevens in full Snidley Whiplash mode) who manages to be the biggest cartoon in a film full of computer animation.

Buck himself – looking fine but landing a notch below the motion capture high water of the last Planet of the Apes trilogy – is often stuck between Lassie and Scooby, heroically loyal while seeming to instantly understand everything from English to drunkenness.

With the sharp edges ground down, this Call of the Wild becomes a pleasant metaphor for the simple life, and for finding your place in it. In short, it’s a PG-rated primer, meant to hold a place until the kids are ready for the real thing.

The Screening Room: Back to the Future

Click HERE to join The Screening Room Podcast, where we hash out our thoughts on Blade Runner 2049, The Mountain Between Us, and what’s new in home entertainment – The Survivalist, A Ghost Story, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Goon 2.





Skin Trade

Blade Runner 2049

by Hope Madden

Who’s ready to go back to the future?

No gigawatts necessary. With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve returns us to the hulking, rain-streaked metropolis of another generation’s LA. We ride with K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner charged, as always, with tracking down rogue replicants and retiring them.

Things get more complicated this time around.

Gosling’s the perfect choice to play dutiful sad sack LAPD blade runner K. Few actors can be simultaneously expressionless and expressive, but Gosling’s blank slate face and long distance stare seem to say something mournful, defeated and rebellious without giving anything away.

It’s no spoiler to mention that Harrison Ford returns. He’s a welcome presence, and not simply for nostalgia. The film toys with the “is he or isn’t he?” debate that has raged for 35 years, and gives the veteran ample opportunity to contribute.

God complexes, sentience and existence, clones – Ridley Scott saw his own longtime preoccupations playing out in Philip K. Dick’s prose and now, with returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and new teammate Michael Green (Logan), Villeneuve gets his chance.

Their take is engrossing, satisfying and impressive, though the group stumbles over a few of their ideas—particularly those that consider the female in this particular universe.

As enamored of the original as we are, Villeneuve weaves intoxicating threads and callbacks throughout—most welcome is Hans Zimmer’s periodic moaning and sighing echoes of Vangelis’s original score.

In fact, the echoes from the Ridley Scott (now executive producing) ‘82 classic almost threaten to overrun the film. There are plenty of differences, though.

Villeneuve carves out a much larger corner of author Phillip K. Dick’s universe—not quite taking us off-world, but far beyond the teeming streets, towering buildings and oppressive rain of Scott’s retro-futuristic noir. The expansive story fills the screen with breathtaking frames and immediately iconic imagery, thanks in large part to acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the top of his game.

Few if any have delivered the kind of crumbling, dilapidating futurescape Ridley Scott gave us with his original. But between the stunning visual experience and meticulous sound design, Blade Runner 2049 offers an immersive experience perfectly suited to its fantasy.

Picking at ideas of love among the soulless, of souls among the manmade, of unicorns versus sheep, Villeneuve channels Dick by way of Scott as well as a bit of James Cameron and more than a little Spike Jonze. There’s even a splash of Dickens in there.

Sounds like a hot mess, but damn if it doesn’t work.





Game Over, Man! Game Over!

Ender’s Game

by Hope Madden

A gawky adolescent plays video games and saves the world. It’s easy to see why Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is so popular with young boys. But the truth is that this SciFi thriller is more than just a simple adolescent male fantasy. It’s an intricately written coming of age story that pulls readers in, not just with the video game storyline, but a video game structure, as the hero defeats certain challenges before moving on to the next level, so to speak.

Though his screenplay is often inelegant in its adaptation, clunking through sections that must have been quite impressive in novel form, writer/director Gavin Hood’s affection for the source material is evident. So, too, is his skill with FX as well as casting.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo) leads the cast as Ender Wiggin, the pinch-shouldered spindle hoping to make it through the ranks of the military academy to help defend earth against an impending alien invasion. Butterfield’s vulnerability – physical and emotional – and obvious intelligence provide the character the compelling internal conflict the role requires.

SciFi legend Harrison Ford shows some effort as Ender’s commanding officer, while the always wonderful Viola Davis gives the film its emotional core, and allows Hood an opportunity to mine this story for some social commentary. “It used to be a war crime to recruit soldiers younger than 15,” she scolds Ford’s Colonel Graff.

Though visually impressive, the film’s cosmic FX pale in comparison to the entirely superior Gravity. Still, Hood knows how to put a crowd in the middle of a video game without giving off the immediately dated feel of Tron.

Though sometimes derivative, (Act 2 feels a bit too much like Top Gun, if you substitute teenaged video game nerds for hot, ambiguously gay volleyball players), the film eventually packs an emotional wallop. The climax is effective, but the resolution is rushed. These issues are symptomatic of the effort as a whole – fitfully entertaining, absorbing and gorgeous, and yet tonally challenged and poorly paced.

Hood’s greatest failing is that he settles for a thrill ride when he was handed a beloved, epic coming of age tragedy. Oddly enjoyable and intermittently wonderful, the film still feels like a mild letdown.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Too Safe at Home

by George Wolf

 

Just this week, Major League Baseball announced the formation of a task force charged with finding ways to reverse the decline of African Americans in the sport.

Even if it wasn’t timed to coincide with the release of 42, that announcement would bring Jackie Robinson to mind.

The story of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier is heroic, inspiring, and uniquely American. So why did news of a movie version bring immediate fears of how that story could falter?

Well, precisely because of some of the aspects 42 incorporates into its brand of storytelling.

To be fair, writer/director Brian Helgeland’s film is solid in areas that will most likely move audiences to cheers and applause. Crowd-pleasing aside, though, Helgeland’s biography too often becomes hagiography, casting Robinson as a near-biblical figure in a way that ultimately does a disservice to his achievements.

Helgeland, though more experienced as a writer than director, displays a nice feel for the pacing of Robinson’s story and for the historical details of the era. Rather than crafting the film as a slow build to Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Helgeland takes the tale from Robinson’s days in the Negro Leagues through his first season in “white baseball” with a speed that is brisk but never hurried. Though clocking in at slightly over two hours, 42 never feels bloated.

For baseball geeks like me, the rosters are familiar, the stadiums look great and the on-field play is competent. On those fronts, which are indeed important in a film such as this, thumbs up all around.

But as good as much of it looks, there is little intimacy.  Chadwick Boseman is terrific as Jackie (looks like him, too) but isn’t given the room to explore anything beyond a one-dimensional saint.  Harrison Ford gives a solid, albeit sometimes scenery-chewing performance as Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, leading a supporting lineup that is stacked with talent. The Tenth Man Award must go to John C. McGinley. His dead-on turn as legendary announcer Red Barber provides a joyous reminder of baseball on the radio.

Reminders are fine, but if that’s all Helgeland was after, he needed to aim higher. We know Robinson is an American hero, but he was human.  We see some of the ugliness he faced (most likely a very small, watered-down sample), but we don’t feel his human struggle to the degree that we should.

This lack of depth is surprising, as Helgeland has penned complex, intelligent scripts before, such as Mystic River and L.A. Confidential. With 42, he is tentative, too afraid to stray from the Hollywood formula for fear of swinging and missing.

Ironic, and disappointing.

      Verdict-3-0-Stars