Movie Review ~ In the Heart of the Sea

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Jordi Molla, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Riley

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I finished the book that In the Heart of the Sea was based off of mere hours before I caught its big-screen adaptation and it’s probably the reason why I didn’t like it as much as I maybe would have had I not recently experienced Nathaniel Philbrick’s well-researched book.  Philbrick’s historical recounting of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex was a straight-forward piece equal parts storytelling and instructional guide.  Details about the whaling industry, on-board dynamics, and deeper looks into the backstories of the characters was something no film could capture fully…so it’s hard to blame the filmmakers for diverting so far away from the truth.

Well…actually…there is some blame to be had here because what was already a storied tale of survival on the high seas has been unnecessarily Hollywood-ized.  Events have been falsified, details overlooked, and certain aspects have been downright made up to serve…who?  Not the lovers of historical fiction that made the book a bestseller, that’s for sure.

Unwisely adding bookends to the piece featuring a young Herman Mellville (Ben Whishaw, Paddington) interviewing one of the survivors of the wreck (Brendan Gleeson, Song of the Sea) as he researches what will become his celebrated novel Moby Dick, the film starts off on the wrong foot by including this imagined meeting.  Historically it doesn’t make sense, just the first of many ill-advised missteps.  The old man recounts his time aboard the Essex (including scenes where he wasn’t even present) which ran afoul of one massive whale that destroyed the ship and set a band of survivors in lifeboats to fend for themselves on the harsh open sea.

After seeing the equally disappointing Unbroken last year, this survival against all odds seems a bit been-there, done-that so screenwriters Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver take some major liberties with the historical facts and add in events that never happened.  In the film, the whale returns several times to taunt/terrorize the men hanging onto life when in reality the massive mammal appeared only once when it originally capsized the Essex.  While the extra whale sightings may add some fairly nice tension to the mix (Silver and Jaffa wrote Jurassic World so they know how to craft a creature attack), knowing that it never happened pushes the film into Jaws: The Revenge territory.

There are other false happenings that I won’t spoil for you here…but the more the story took untrue turns, the less I cared about the film as a whole.  Director Ron Howard (Parenthood) reteams with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods) and the results aren’t nearly as notable.  Hemsworth is a stiff actor and while his physical appearance may have made him an ideal candidate on paper for the headstrong sailor he’s playing, his performance never makes it out of the bilge.  Also feeling a bit lost is Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as the combative Captain, in the book he’s a social leader done in by his inability to lead by example but here he’s a brat at sea.

The film was shot in 3D and it’s used to good effect here.  Unfortunately, much of the film is CGI-d to death so it can feel like you’re watching an animated film at times.  The camera is constantly moving so those prone to sea-sickness may want to take a Dramamine before embarking on this voyage.

When it was delayed from its intended release in March of 2015, many thought that the studio was positioning the film to play big on the high seas of awards season…but the final product is a total land lubber, unable to find its sea legs.

The Silver Bullet ~ In the Heart of the Sea

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Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home

Release Date:  March 13, 2015

Thoughts: I can’t help it – just as they say that man has always been drawn to the sea, so have I always been drawn to films about the sea.  That includes any number of undersea creature features (like, say, Jaws) to deep diving epics such as The Abyss.

Knowing that, you wouldn’t be surprised that the newest film from Ron Howard (Parenthood) caught my eye based just on the poster alone.  Based on the novel by Nathaniel Philbrick which charts the tragedy of a whaling ship ravaged by a sperm whale (which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) this could be a nice little piece of historical action from a director that has experience in both genres.  Teaming up again with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth (The Cabin in the Woods), Howard could get some new wind in his directorial sails from this one.

As you know, I love a good teaser and hate a too-long preview…so I’m presenting you with a few options.  The teaser below is a nice bite while the two below may give away a tad too much.  The choice is yours.

 

Trailer #1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs-JfPjgiA4

Trailer #2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IdfGWfbNYI

Mid-Day Mini ~ Far and Away

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man leaves Ireland with his landlord’s daughter, dreaming of owning land at the big giveaway in 1893 Oklahoma.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Thomas Gibson, Robert Prosky, Barbara Babcock, Colm Meaney

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Though director Ron Howard was already a proven commodity in Hollywood by the time Far and Away rolled around in 1992, the filmmaker had yet to direct a true epic which most seasoned directors attempt at one point in their career.  Coming off another success with Backdraft, Howard (Splash, Parenthood, Gung Ho, The Paper) sidled up with two hot stars for a film intended to be sweeping and grandiose…the type of film that Hollywood didn’t make anymore.

The final product wasn’t received with the same vigor of old Hollywood epics like Gone With the Wind but it was a moderate success…fueled on by the star power at play and the audiences that were starved for an old-fashioned large scale romance (they’d only have to wait five years until Titanic came along though).

I vividly remember seeing Far and Away in the theaters in its opening weekend at a theater that was projecting it in 70mm…a high-resolution film that fits perfectly with a movie as ambitious as Far and Away.  Though many theaters are only able to show films in 35mm, several theaters in my town were showing it the way it was shot and meant to be seen…and it truly was an impressively immersive experience.  Howard and cinematographer Mikael Salomon (The Abyss) capture the time period with great attention to detail and provide the audience with awe-inspiring visuals of the climatic and treacherous final act detailing the Oklahoma Land Rush.

Though Cruise (Oblivion, Rock of Ages, Jack Reacher) and Kidman (Stoker) have the kind of chemistry that comes along once in a blue moon, there’s precious little true heat that develops during the lengthy running time.  Individually they deliver but it’s curious that so many of their scenes together fall a little flat.  Maybe it’s knowing that their marriage would eventually sour that doesn’t allow the audience to truly buy into what they create onscreen…or maybe it’s that the script from Howard and Bob Dolman doesn’t give them much to work with aside from a fairly standard set-up.

Kudos do go to Howard and his team for attempting to mount a project of this size and stature.  Thankfully avoiding becoming a rancid vanity project for the lead couple, the movie is far and away not the best work of anyone involved but still impresses with the skilled contributions behind the scenes.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Gung Ho

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a Japanese car company buys an American plant, the American liason must mediate the clash of work attitudes between the foreign management and native labor.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt. Mimi Rogers, Sô Yamamura, Sab Shimono, John Turturro

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  You really have to keep in mind that Gung Ho was made in 1986 to swallow some of the ideas that the film offers up to you.  The world was in a totally different place with tensions high surrounding the protection of the job of the American worker as many jobs started being farmed out to other countries.  Those that had built their homes and families around a job were suddenly out of work as companies found faster and cheaper ways to keep up with products that were highly in demand.

In Gung Ho, that product is automobiles and the film focuses on a Japanese company that comes to a small town and takes over an automobile manufacturing plant.  The American workers clash with the Japanese management and star Michael Keaton is left in the middle as a liaison between the two.  His loyalty to his friends is tested as he tries to play both sides…to disastrous results.

Man, this sounds like a heavier film than it actually is.  Director Ron Howard (Backdraft, Parenthood, Splash) applies a light touch to the film and populates the cast with solid character actors with familiar faces.  Keaton, in the second of three movies he’d make with Howard (Night Shift and The Paper are the others) is nicely cast in a role that ultimately gets frustrating as written by Edwin Blum, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandell.  You see, Keaton’s character makes so many lame-brained promises and tells so many white lies that he almost solely creates the problems for everyone in the film.  In the hands of another actor, this may have proven interminable to watch…but Keaton is so likable and laid-back that he makes it work.

What doesn’t work for modern audiences are some truly cringe-inducing racial stereotypes that I can’t imagine played well even when it was first released.  Making nearly every Japanese joke known to man without the slightest bit of irony, I’m betting many of the people involved would like to forget these dark points of what is otherwise a very upbeat film.

Stereotypes aside, Gung Ho is a nicely structured film that’s not all together forgettable…but not one that will last in your memory either.  Thanks to a typically Howard-esqe strong supporting cast and Keaton’s leading man, it is a harmless distraction.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Splash

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A man is reunited with a mermaid who saves him from drowning as a boy and falls in love not knowing who/what she is.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Dody Goodman

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Growing up, I think I saw Splash more times than I care to admit (it was the first movie I saw on Beta!).  I think it was the fantasy nature of the film that made it so appealing and I always got a huge kick of John Candy but the romance angle of the movie went right over my head…as it often does for young children.  As I revisit some Ron Howard movies (like Backdraft, The Paper, and Parenthood) I couldn’t let this one slide by because it was a landmark film for several reasons.

First off, though Splash wasn’t the first film that Howard directed it was the huge success of this one that cemented the child actor’s transition to dependable Hollywood director.  Howard became quite in demand, churning out a movie a year for the next two decades.  In addition to making Howard bankable, this was the first role that Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah got major notice for and rightfully so.  Though the film was originally intended for Michael Keaton and Brooke Shields (which would have been interesting), watching the movie now I see how much of the film’s success is owed to the performances of Hanks and Hannah as two people from different worlds destined to be together.

The charm these two exude could fuel a mid-size city and there’s a surprising amount of chemistry on display.  Though Hanks would go on to win Oscars and Hannah would show up in lesser/lighter fare, the star wattage from both is just one piece of Howard’s excellent casting choices here.  Candy, as Hanks’ sweetly crude brother is dynamite and long before he was an American Pie dad, Levy (American Reunion) is goofball gold as a bumbling scientist trying to prove Hannah’s mermaid origins.

Ah…that’s right.  This is, after all, a mermaid tale and the Oscar nominated script manages to not date itself too much but instead works wonders with the star-crossed lovers storyline.  There’s a sense of destiny and fate that surround Hanks NYC businessman and Hannah’s sea-life mermaid that just gels and rises above its marginally silly set-up.

The first film released from Disney offshoot Touchstone pictures, Splash was an unexpected box-office hit (spawning a less impressive Disney Movie of the Week, Splash Too!) and hurtled all involved to instant stardom.  Though I’d seen it countless times, this recent viewing revealed it to be a touching love story with a little bit of magic added to the mix.

Mid-Day Mini ~ The Paper

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Henry Hackett is the editor of a New York City tabloid. A workaholic who loves his job, the long hours and low pay are leading to discontent until a hot story soon confronts Henry with tough decisions over the course of one 24 hour period.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Jason Alexander, Lynne Thigpen

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  In between period pieces Far and Away and Apollo 13, director Ron Howard (Parenthood, Backdraft) delivered this fast-moving and involving comedy-drama that takes place over 24 hours and focuses in on the goings-on at a NYC daily newspaper.   Not a high-class publication like the New York Times but maybe just above the near tabloid nature of the New York Post, the newspaper at the center of The Paper is struggling and its editor (Keaton) is thinking about the future.  With a pregnant wife (Oscar-winner Tomei), a crazed reporter (Quaid who we all know now is crazed in real life), a jaded colleague (Close, Albert Nobbs), and a veteran boss (Duvall, Tender Mercies, Jack Reacher) to juggle on a daily basis he burns the midnight oil thanks to Coke (the drink, not the powder) and gumption.

When a murder takes place and two youths are jailed it seems like any other story…until Keaton’s character begins to do some actual reporting and begins to see that things aren’t as cut and dry as they appear to be.  With a deadline looming and Close’s character breathing down his neck, the film keeps Keaton plowing on without getting much of a breather.

This is a solid film with good, easy performances and a better than average script thanks to David Koepp (Jurassic Park) and his brother Stephen.  Howard does what he does best and lets the movie develop naturally, placing most of the responsibility on his trusted star Keaton who doesn’t disappoint.  Close, too, is very effective as a dragon lady that’s talked about a lot before we finally see her.  When she does appear, Howard presents her in such a way that the first frame tells us everything we heard about her is right on the money.  Duvall and Tomei also turn in fine performances, navigating some cliché material with ease.

Aside from our above the title leads, Howard once again shows strength in casting by filling the newsroom and outside colleagues with strong character actors.  The late great Thigpen has a small role as Keaton’s secretary but makes the most out of her scenes…this is what true renaissance man/woman acting is all about.

Though print news is clearly dying off, The Paper is no period piece when viewed from an online, tech-savvy perspective.  True, some elements are clearly dated but the pursuit of the truth in the face of the grinding engine of economics still has an impact on our society today.  If you’ve never seen this one or haven’t revisited it in a while, check it out again.  It’s no classic but it’s a nice representation of the talent of all involved.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Backdraft

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two Chicago firefighter brothers who don’t get along have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose.

Stars: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Glenn, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

ReviewBackdraft was one of those films that I responded to fairly well when I first saw it at a second-run theater in the summer of 1991.  Already familiar with the work of director Ron Howard (Parenthood) and as the proud grandson of a firefighter, I remember liking the drama created between two firefighting brothers and enjoying a secondary storyline involving an arsonist that seems to know a thing or two about setting buildings ablaze. 

Viewed nearly 22 years later (!),this film which once seemed epic to me now feels a little too soap opera-y, a feeling aided by the fact that it’s filled with some off-the-mark performances.  Don’t get me wrong, Howard stages some still impressive eye-popping sequences involving fire up close and personal but seen now there’s a curious lack of restraint that made the movie feel longer than it was.

Russell and Baldwin aren’t totally believable as brothers but they find some cohesion in their macho roughness that helps color the film  We’re told that Baldwin has flitted around a lot, much to the disapproval of his older brother who has followed their father’s career path and has become a respected fireman.  When the younger brother gets into the family business and is assigned to the same station as his elder sibling there’s some old wounds that re-open…especially when deadly fires start being set that Russell’s character may be involved with.

This being a Ron Howard movie, there’s a lot going on at all times and the large supporting cast of familiar character actors pop up here and there and are generally put to good use.  Sutherland (Ordinary People) has two short scenes as a jailed arsonist but makes the most of his onscreen time.  De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) and De Mornay (Mother’s Day) make the most impressive impact in their roles…the most fleshed out in Gregory Widen’s slight script.  While I appreciate Leigh for some of her more out of the box performances her work here is embarrassingly poor…

If the film has lost some heat over the last two decades, it’s only the fault of some changes in taste.  There was a time when these type of emotion-driven, large-scale films played quite well and there’s still value to be found in the film thanks to some strong performances (I forgot to mention that Russell is particularly good here) and Howard’s trademark immersive production design.  If the script could have been elevated a bit and some recasting done we may have had a film that weathered the furnace of time.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rush

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Synopsis: A biography of Formula 1 champion driver Niki Lauda and the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life. Mere weeks after the accident, he got behind the wheel to challenge his rival, James Hunt.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: What I’ve always enjoyed about the films of Ron Howard is that even though they may not all be winners (I’m looking at you EdTV), he at least likes to keep things interesting where genre is concerned.  No stranger to historical biopics (A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon were helmed with grace), Howard sets his sights on the racetrack for this 70’s set look into Formula 1 racing to tell the story of two rivals bound for glory.  While I’m not yet convinced that Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman) has the chops to pull off a leading role, I trust in Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) to deliver a movie that handle a few dangerous curves.