Tag Archives: ron howard

Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

dfn-solo_a_star_wars_story-720A high-flying adventure, Solo: A Star Wars Story deftly navigates any number of potential disasters. It’s never quite thrilling, though, or even occasionally unpredictable; instead it’s a safe, steady, and professional journey to a known destination.

This appears to have been the plan all along. Lucasfilm executives, led by Kathleen Kennedy, are evidently most concerned with protecting an extremely valuable franchise. Still, defying any past fan concerns about his casting, Alden Ehrenreich creates a young Han Solo who is distinctive from the archetype that Harrison Ford inhabited.

Han has been lovestruck at an early age by Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). They grew up together in the lower reaches of Corellia, a well-populated planet where the only means for advancement appear to be off-planet. Their plans to escape together are dashed at the last possible moment, which leaves Han wandering by himself, with his only goal to reunite with his beloved Qi’ra and realize their dreams.

In the meantime, he’s a drifter and a scavenger. When he encounters a criminal group led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), he falls easily under a new sway of possibilities: adventure awaits!

Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who kickstarted his career by writing The Empire Strikes Back, Body Heat, and Return of the Jedi, here collaborates with his son Jonathan Kasdan to fashion a narrative that borrows from classic Westerns while cloaking them in updated stylings, as the older Kasdan did with Silverado. It forms a very solid backbone to the story that is told, while allowing for a good degree of humor.

And the latter point may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting the eventual firing of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. To be fair, we may never know what, exactly, led to their directorial demise — was it their working methods? Was their footage unsuitable? — but it’s become apparent that Lucasfilm and Kennedy have a very definite, fixed perspective on what they want the new Star Wars films to be.

Ron Howard is an experienced craftsman, though it’s been quite a while since he made anything truly exciting or surprising. So it’s not a shock to see that he has done similar work here. It’s fine, it’s somewhat above average … it’s pleasing because it’s not a disaster.

As someone who has seen every Star Wars film during its original theatrical release, Solo: A Star Wars Story falls solidly in the middle range of achievement. Perhaps that is all that should be expected at this point in the life of the franchise.

The film opens in theaters throughout the known galaxy, including Dallas and Fort Worth, on Friday, May 25.

Review: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

dfn-in_the_heart_of_the_sea-300Hale and hearty as it aims to be, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is still not very nourishing. It endeavors to be as authentic as possible, yet wages a losing battle against artificial whales and waves.

Chris Hemsworth is front and center as veteran sailor Owen Chase, whose wife is expecting their first child. First mate Chase is about to head out to sea in 1820 New England, confident he will be made captain of a new whaling vessel, as his superiors had led him to believe. Instead, he is told that the inexperienced George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), scion of a wealthy shipping dynasty, has been appointed as captain, with Chase again promised a promotion at the successful completion of the voyage.

Before all that happens, of course, a framing device is required, one that will make abundantly clear that In the Heart of the Sea is drawn from a true story. Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) shows up on the doorstep of grizzled Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), declaring that he will write a book entitled Moby Dick and requesting that Nickerson tell him the true story behind a legendary disaster at sea.

Eventually, the whaleship Essex is underway, with a minimum goal of 2,000 barrels of whale oil mandated.. Aristocratic Captain Pollard and earthy first mate Chase are at odds, with the ship’s crew lining up solidly behind Chase. With the water in the North Atlantic fished out, the ship heads to the South Atlantic, and then, as the months pass and whales remain difficult to find, the Pacific Ocean beckons, where a fateful encounter with a giant, vengeful whale awaits.

Now, if all this sounds terribly pedantic, that’s because it is.

The source material, Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, is a wonderful read, as I recall. (It was published in 2000 and won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.) Charles Leavitt’s screenplay struggles to give it dramatic life; what works so well on the page — the episodic nature, the digressions, the details — bog the story down on the screen.

Howard is no stranger to visual effects; his most recent effort, Rush, nicely integrated them with period drama and auto-racing thrills. But as advanced as visual effects have become, it’s still too obvious when they’re employed in place of real-life whales and waves.

If the drama in the foreground was more compelling, then the mismatching effects wouldn’t be an issue. Howard’s compositional skills and framing preferences work against that, however, and as inherently dramatic as the disaster was, it doesn’t play like that in the movie.

In the Heart of the Sea aspires to be the behind-the-scenes story of Moby Dick. It’s a respectable telling but falls short in providing fresh insight or exciting action.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas on Friday, December 11.

Opening: ‘Rush’ Revs Engines, Hearts, and Minds

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in Ron Howard's 'Rush' (Universal)
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ (Universal)
It all starts with the script, and Peter Morgan (‘The Last King of Scotland,’ ‘The Queen’) has crafted a storyline that is easy to follow, especially for those not familiar with the 1970s, or Europe, or Formula 1 racing, or automobiles.

It consists of a series of episodes detailing the growing rivalry between British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), but under the direction of Ron Howard, ‘Rush’ never feels choppy or episodic. (The writer and director previously teamed on 2008’s Frost/Nixon.) It all flows together marvelously, driven in no small measure by the pervasive period details (that never feel forced or mannered) and Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, which brims with 70s flavor.

Hemsworth and Bruhl give juicy star turns, playing outsized characters who are perfectly aware of their outsized nature, and embrace it. Hunt is the extroverted one, a friendly fellow who seeks wine, women, and song to accompany his adventures on the race track, while Lauda is more intense and focused on the mechanics of his chosen sport. The sparks fly between them.

Howard has cast his supporting players wisely. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara shine as primary love interests for the drivers; Natalie Dormer burns up the screen in her all-too-brief appearance.

Most of all, Rush is a smart thriller. It’s aimed at mainstream audiences, but those of us whose hearts race at the revving of an engine will get a special kick out of it.

The film is now playing in theaters across the Metroplex.