Tag Archives: Ron Howard

Rising from the Ashes 

Rebuilding Paradise

by Brandon Thomas

It’s an indisputable truth that we’re living at a time when the effects of human civilization are having a massive impact on the environment. Climate change is all around us. From stronger hurricanes and cyclones in our oceans, to half of Australia burning, the catastrophic change we’ve caused is something that’s become impossible to ignore. 

While climate change and humans’ impact on it continues to be a political lightning rod, there are real people all over the world suffering the effects. Rebuilding Paradise tells the story of one such town and its residents. 

On November 8th, 2018, an enormous wildfire overtook the small northern California town of Paradise. The Camp Fire, as it became known, destroyed most of Paradise and much of the surrounding area. Many residents were left without homes and jobs. Most of the city’s schools were either destroyed entirely or severely damaged. Eighty-five residents lost their lives that day.

A lot of people would’ve left and never looked back. For many of the residents of Paradise, turning their backs on their community wasn’t an option.

Finding Paradise opens with a harrowing series of videos shot by Paradise residents. As they flee, the footage shows nothing short of an absolute hellscape. Propane tanks explode in the distance as panicked families try to decide the safest route. At one point a resident asks another, “Are we going to die?” As a viewer, this devastating footage makes it all the easier to understand the PTSD that residents felt in the weeks and months following. 

In the last decade, director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) has started to dabble more and more in the documentary field. His first two efforts, Made In America and Pavarotti, showed an already confident filmmaker finding his groove in a new genre. With Rebuilding Paradise, Howard’s confidence is solidified. 

It would’ve been easy to make Rebuilding Paradise an exercise in tragedy porn. Instead, Howard builds the film as a tribute to the strength and the resiliency of the people of Paradise. The utter devastation at the beginning of the film is beautifully bookended by extraordinary acts of kindness. A community bends over backwards to make sure the few graduating Paradise seniors get to walk across the football field at their own high school. People open their doors to estranged family members who lost everything in the conflagration.

Howard’s insistence on focusing on the people of Paradise allows the film to stay deeply personal. Some of the worst that nature has to offer allows us to see just how decent, hardy, and inspiring people can be when pushed.

Space Cowboy

Solo: a Star Wars Story

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Are Han and Chewie your favorite characters from the Star Wars franchise? And if not, why not?

They were the cool kids in a galaxy of nerds, and if any single Star Wars offshoot deserves the edgy, thought-provoking, dare-we-even-say dangerous treatment, it’s the origin story of this duo.

And nothing spells danger more than director Ron Howard.

Actually, most everything does, but Howard does manage to steer Solo in satisfactory, though not quite thrilling, directions.

The film catches the scent of a young street rat, in love and in need of a ticket out of his home planet. Complications arise, friends are lost, found and lost again, there’s gambling, smuggling and risk-taking and a future legend finally getting his wings – plus a big, furry co-pilot.

Aldren Ehrenreich makes for a fine young Han. He mixes enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms (and the scar on his chin – nice touch) with an unvarnished naivete that suits the effort. He’s more than matched by Donald Glover, whose Lando is a smooooth amalgamation of Billy Dee Williams, youthful swagger and some sweet capes.

Fun new characters, including a rebellious droid who steals the show, round out a rag-tag group of misfits to root for. Woody Harrelson cuts exactly the right figure to be the mentor Han needs, while Paul Bettany’s brand of slippery villain (Josh Brolin busy?) offers an excellent foil.

Howard famously picked up the Solo mantle after executive producers canned Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the charming rogues behind The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

He’s working from a script by the father and son team of Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan the Elder, of course, penned Force Awakens, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

All of which sounds perfectly calculated and terribly risk-free. And it is, but it’s also a lot of fun. The imagery (speeders, desolate planets, weapons, casinos) looks simultaneously retro and futuristic, beat up but cutting edge. And there are plenty of warm nods to Han and Chewie’s future that will bring a knowing smile while honoring our long investment in these characters.

So what’s missing? The rogue spirit that let Han steal scenes in A New Hope so easily.

It’s a film that takes no chances, which feels ill-at-ease with who Han is as a character. After a couple of installments in the Star Wars saga that were unafraid to make dangerous decisions, chart new courses and stir up the fanboys, this one just feels too safe.

Solo‘s got plenty of space, just not enough balls.

Abandon All Hope


by Matt Weiner

Good versus evil. Heaven versus hell. The first 15 minutes of Inferno versus the last 105 minutes…

Director Ron Howard’s latest Dan Brown adaptation reprises Tom Hanks as the clearly tenured Professor Robert Langdon, once again caught up in a global conspiracy that will require his knowledge of symbols, art and religious icons to solve a series of puzzles.

And this time, it’s not just Catholicism that hangs in the balance—Langdon soon learns he’s tracking a deadly virus that, if released, would wipe out much of the world’s population.

Langdon spends the first 15 minutes of the film recovering from a bullet wound and massive head trauma, with no memory of the last few days. He hears voices and suffers violent hallucinations plagued with visions of medieval horror. The quick cuts are unsettling, as if Jason Bourne dropped acid while watching The Omen.

The Dantean grotesques invading Langdon’s head and complete lack of plot coherence also hinted at the chance that maybe, just maybe, Howard would pull off the greatest conspiracy of all and turn a lavish studio tentpole into an unhinged Italian horror send-up.

And then Langdon’s memory starts to come back. That’s when the rest of the film segues from Dario Argento to standard thriller. (You can reliably track the dullness of the movie with the sharpness of Langdon’s puzzle skills.)

It’s not that the thriller portion of Inferno is bad, although it is equal parts frenetic and nonsensical. Based on the source material, though, the relentless pacing is probably for the best, or else you’ll start to wonder when the World Health Organization started building up lethal military commandos without the United Nations getting concerned. Or why nobody is too bothered by the existence of a secret multinational security company that almost destroyed the world. (Or why the movie wastes the electric Irrfan Khan as the group’s leader.) Go in with the right expectations, though, and Inferno won’t disappoint.

Where Inferno really misses the mark isn’t so much its tiredness as a thriller but its complete lack of relevance. Paranoid classics like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men oozed 1970s zeitgeist like blood on bitumen.

But in 2016, at the climax of the United States election—of this election, in these times—Inferno opts to menace us with an asocial Silicon Valley businessman (played by Ben Foster) whose views on humans are just a hair to the right of some actual Silicon Valley CEOs and venture capitalists.

Forgive the plot. Forgive Robert Langdon’s haircuts. Forgive Foster, whose face earns infinite goodwill by reminding you that he also spent 2016 onscreen in Hell or High Water.

But in a movie that, including the end credits, makes rational sense for maybe 20 minutes, the biggest unsolved mystery is how little feels at stake—and how unimaginative the film thinks about what the end of the world as we know it might look like.




Ship Slidin’ Away

In the Heart of the Sea

by George Wolf

Proud, sturdy men head off to sea, promising their women they will return, only to be humbled by nature as they fight for their lives.

It wasn’t such well worn territory in 1851, when Herman Melville kept readers rapt with the tale of Moby Dick. In the Heart of the Sea gives us the actual ordeal behind Melville’s inspiration, but can never muster anything more worthwhile than some randomly impressive 3D visuals.

Director Ron Howard does himself no favors by setting his film as a storytelling flashback. A young Melville (Ben Whishaw) has ambitions of writing a book on the whale ship Essex and its legendary encounter with a massive white whale, but fears that “If I write it, it will not be as good.”

He seeks out the ship’s last living survivor, and after much cajoling and a wad of cash, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleason) begins his tale, and we climb aboard the Essex with him as a young boy excited to join a whaling crew for the first time.

His captain (Benjamin Walker) and first mate (Chris Hemsworth) are at odds with each other, almost as much as they are with that tricky Boston accent, making lines such as “sailing to the edge of sanity” sound even more awkward.

The integrity in point of view also becomes troubling. Our window to events is young Tom, yet we regularly witness pivotal exchanges where he is nowhere close, erasing the chance he could be recalling them to Melville.

Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt adapt the best-selling book by shifting intermittently between Nickerson describing the events, and flashbacks bearing them out, giving neither approach the chance to build sufficient dramatic heft.

Quint’s first hand account of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in Jaws was entirely gripping without any dramatic flourish, and though that speech was only a few minutes, it’s hard not to remember it each time In the Heart of the Sea thinks the story needs a breather.

Howard is more successful at delivering smaller details about both the ship above and the whales below, as well as a few sequences worthy of an IMAX 3D spectacle. The search for an emotional anchor to this fabled story, though, remains fruitless, and Melville’s early fears finally come to fruition.




For Your Queue: Two that are…”Hemsworth” a look!


The needlessly underseen Rush – one of director Ron Howard’s very best films – gets a second chance at an audience today as it’s released to DVD and BluRay. So do yourself a favor and see it. Character driven without sacrificing sport spectacle, the film proves an engrossing drama and boasts an award-worthy performance by Daniel Bruhl. Plus you get to look at Chris Hemsworth, which is never a bad thing.

Speaking of non-Thor Hemsworth, we’d recommend pairing this with a fun and surprisingly well written if little seen 2009 thriller A Perfect Getaway. The film follows Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich on their Hawaiian honeymoon, where tourists are being murdered. It’s a slick, well-paced and fun flick with great turns from Zahn,  Hemsworth, and the always reliable Timothy Olyphant.

Drama and Spectacle


by George Wolf

Yes, it’s clichéd irony, but here goes:  Rush, a movie steeped in the world of Formula One (F1) racing, excels because it downshifts, taking the time to examine the intricacies of a rivalry between two very distinct personalities.

Those two are James Hunt and Niki Lauda, legendary drivers who rose through the ranks together, ultimately waging an epic battle for the 1976 F1 championship. In the midst of that battle, Lauda suffered a near fatal accident, then subjected himself to the accelerated, painful rehabilitation needed to get back in the car before season’s end.

Rush is the latest in a line of historical dramas from veteran director Ron Howard, and thankfully, it’s one that favors the insightful subtlety of Frost/Nixon more than the overwrought melodrama of Cinderella Man.

That shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan, who penned Frost/Nixon (as well as The Queen and The Last King of Scotland) delivers another thoughtful, character-driven script that supplies Howard with the sharp dialogue and wonderful themes necessary to develop the engrossing drama Rush ultimately becomes.

While Morgan again proves himself a master wordsmith, Howard displays a deft command of the pacing and camerawork needed to balance the human drama with the sports spectacle.

There are stories floating around that the film became a dual character study only because Howard didn’t have the budget necessary for all the racing he wanted to film. True or not, what matters is we get the best of both, with some truly pulse-pounding race sequences amid a faithful recreation of the international F1 scene during the swinging 70s.

Still, a  superior drama requires superlative lead performances, and Rush offers those as well. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) puts his charisma to good use, painting Hunt as the cavalier playboy who drifted through life looking for something, or someone, that could give him the high he got from his race car. Hemsworth’s looks and movie star status make him an easy choice for the Rush poster, but while his turn is strong, it his co-star who drives the film.

As Lauda, Daniel Bruhl creates a persona that becomes utterly fascinating, especially when pitted against his rival. While Hunt is raw talent, charm and bravado, Lauda is brainy, meticulous, blunt and socially inept. In a commanding performance that needs to remembered come awards season, Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) makes an “unlikeable” character both sympathetic and compelling, drawing you into how Lauda views Hunt, and the world.

Exciting, enlightening, heartfelt and humorous, Rush flat out delivers, on all pumped-up cylinders.