Tag Archives: Ron Howard

Hot to Trot

Tom Hanks runs down another cryptic puzzle in ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks;Felicity Jones

Inferno
Starring Tom Hanks & Felicity Jones
Directed by Ron Howard
PG-13
In theaters Oct. 28, 2016

“Dante—Dante again,” says Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he gazes into the “face” of the late, great Italian poet of the Middle Ages. “Why always Dante?”

Well, it’s not always Dante—but it is this time. And it’s always something involving cloaks, daggers, art, religion and old, cold Mediterranean white guys, as fans of Dan Brown know. Brown is the author who wrote the books Inferno and its two predecessors, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which were also turned into movies with Hanks in the starring role. Brown created the lead character, Langdon, as sort of his own fictional alter ego, a globetrotting, puzzle-solving “symbologist” and professor of religious iconography who repeatedly uncovers conspiracies, solves murders and peels back the layers of other murky mysteries.

In Inferno, Langdon wakes up in hospital room in Florence, Italy, with amnesia and a bloody head wound. Soon he and his nurse, Sienna (Felicity Jones), are running for their lives from a Terminator-like policewoman (Ana Ularu) and connecting the dots from Renaissance-era painter Sandro Botticelli’s painting of hell, inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, to a plot by billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who just committed suicide. Zobrist’s radical idea of overpopulation control was “cleansing” the planet by wiping out most of the people on it with a viral-pathogen bomb, which he has timed to go off—tomorrow!

Langdon must find the bomb before it’s detonated, and before it’s located by anyone who might try to turn it into a weapon of war, ransom or terrorism.

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study 'The Map of Hell'

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study Botticelli’s painting of ‘The Map of Hell’

Director Ron Howard, who was also behind the camera for Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, keeps things moving, literally. As they put together the clues that will lead them to the bomb, Langdon and Sienna are constantly on the go—dashing through crowded streets, ducking in and out of cars, taxicabs, trains and planes, and across a gigantic attic, through a garden, over a wall, into side doors, back doors and hidden passageways.

Who can Langdon trust? What’s the deal with that dude from Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World and The Life of Pi (Irrfan Khan) and his drawer full of knives, and that mystery woman (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, currently starring in HBO’s Westworld) in Langdon’s unsettling flashbacks? Who knew there were so many unlocked doors in Italy?

 And the movie never stays put, either. It’s filled with beauty shots of recognizable tourist highlights from all the places Langdon’s search takes him. In Florence, he visits the Baptistry of Saint John and the palatial Palazzo Vecchio; he runs through Boboli Gardens and the Vascri Corridor. A side trip to Venice lets our characters linger on the steps of St. Mark’s Basilica, pontificating about the history of the four bronze horses standing guard there. In Istanbul, we’re treated to a lovely shot of the walls of Constantinople and the movie’s soggy, splashy climax, which takes place in the subterranean 6th century Basilica Cistern.

It all feels like a ridiculously expensive, high-stakes reality-show scavenger hunt, with a preposterously contrived plot twist. And like all of Robert Langdon’s adventures, it takes place in one tidy, 24-hour period.

Kids, if you want to grow up and see the world, by all means, see the world. If you want to solve puzzles, there are plenty of books of Sudoku and there’s always a daily crossword. I’m just afraid I can’t recommend becoming a symbologist—there’s far too much running involved, it’s very dangerous, and Robert Langdon seems to have the market cornered.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Thar She Blows

‘In The Heart of the Sea’ is one whopper of a whale tale

HEART OF THE SEA

In the Heart of the Sea

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson & Tom Holland

Directed by Ron Howard

PG-13

No one who’s read Moby-Dick can forget when the stunned first mate, spying the great white whale for the first time, turns to captain Ahab, like he’s just seen a ghost. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he informs him.

No, wait—I’m confusing my culture and my pop culture. It’s easy to do. Director Ron Howard kinda-sorta mixes it up a bit, too, in telling the story of the (true) story that inspired author Herman Melville to write the (fictional) story that became the (familiar) story we all know as the biggest, baddest whale tale of all time.

Ben Whishaw as budding novelist Herman Melville

In the Heart of the Sea begins with a young Melville (Ben Whishaw, who plays gadget-master Q in the new James Bond movies) coming to visit crusty Tom Nickerson (veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson). The fledgling writer wants to coax from the old salt the truth about a doomed whaling ship, the Essex, its encounter with a legendary monster from the deep—an alabaster-white demon of a whale—and the adrift-at-sea horrors endured by the surviving members of the crew before they were finally rescued.

Chris Hemsworth

Nickerson was an orphaned lad (played by Tom Holland) when he shipped out on the Essex, to which we’re introduced as the movie switches into flashback mode as it prepares set sail in 1820. The capable Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was promised he’d be put in charge, but a squeeze on whale-oil supply-and-demand pressure Essex company men to appoint their benefactor’s under-qualified, over- gentrified son, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as captain. So Chase reluctantly signs on as first mate, promising his pregnant wife (Michelle Fairley) he’ll be home soon—maybe a year instead of two, in 19th century whaling terms.

Once the Essex hits the open water, the movie hits its stride—especially if you’re a fan of old-fashioned seafaring-adventure epics. The heavy canvas of the sails swells with the wind; ropes whip, whap and whoosh; metal clangs; swarthy men holler, hustle and clamber; and, of course, there’s water, water everywhere.

The whaling scenes are special-effect marvels. Howard melds the rush of adrenalized excitement, the ever-present, life-or-death danger, and the existential melancholy of slaying such magnificent creatures to provide oil to “fuel the machines of industry and move our great nation forward,” as a clergyman prays.

And heaven forbid you get stuck with blowhole-reaming detail.

When the gigantic white whale finally makes an appearance, well, it’s very bad news. And then things just keep going from bad to worse, to unspeakable.

It’s hard to look at Chris Hemsworth and not see Thor, the movie role with which he’s most associated, especially when the drama takes a deep, desperate dive into darker places. (Forget the harpoon—just break out your hammer, dude!) It’s hard not to sympathize with, or root for the whales, after seeing them impaled and bloodied with iron toggles, spikes and spires, and knowing that some of them have now been hunted now to near extinction.

And it’s impossible to miss the movie’s undertone, which eventually becomes its overtone: Yesterday’s whale oil is today’s petroleum, and humans are still driven to the ends of Earth to get it. Howard’s history-based high-seas yarn has a contemporary message about hubris, greed and resource exploitation that resonates today by land or by sea.

“We are kings, circumventing the globe,” boasts captain Pollard. “To bend nature is our right.” His first mate disagrees—we are but mere “specks,” Chase counters, compared to the vastness of the world, the unfathomable mysteries of the sea, and the monstrous majesty of a creature that can smash a ship into splinters.

They really do need a bigger boat—and sometimes, don’t we all?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Life in the Fast Lane

Director Ron Howard’s ’70s racing rivalry is a hip, sexy crowd pleaser

Rush

Rush

Blu-ray + DVD $34.98 / DVD $19.96 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Director Ron Howard’s thrilling recreation of the real-life rivalry between two 1970s professional racecar drivers, English daredevil playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and straight-laced Australian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser set in the daring, dangerous golden age of Grand Prix racing. Olivia Wilde has a knockout supporting role as a globetrotting fashion model, and generous bonus features on the Blu-ray combo include a several mini-documentaries, including one on how Howard and his crew created the illusion of filming all over the world while shooting mostly in the United Kingdom, and another on the movie’s sexy flashback style.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Life In The Fast Lane

Ron Howard’s real-story racing movie is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser

RUSHRush

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde

Directed by Ron Howard

R, 123 min.

Released Sept. 27, 2013

The rivalry between two professional racers becomes the driving force in Rush, director Ron Howard’s dramatic depiction the 1970s competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The racing world was captivated, back in the day, as Hunt and Lauda became superstars of European-based Formula One racing and vied for championship trophies in the first half of the decade. Not only were they passionate, prickly competitors, they also represented polar opposites: Hunt was a dashing, daring blonde-haired British playboy; Lauda was a straight-laced Austrian with an obsessive, calculating mind wired for speed—and a face, as Hunt used to remind him, like a “rat.”

The media loved them, the public loved them, and they loved—well, they loved racing, even though they knew it could kill them. There was a part of them that loved it because they knew it could kill them.RUSH

As Lauda (Daniel Brühl) points out, every time he climbs into his car’s cockpit, he’s aware there’s a 20 percent chance he won’t make it out alive.

“Staring death in the face, there’s nobility in that,” says Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “It’s like being a knight.”

Brühl and Hemsworth are both outstanding, and it’s especially good to see Hemsworth break out of his Thor tights. Olivia Wilde shines in her role as the globetrotting fashion model who becomes Hunt’s wife…until another playboy, this one a famous Hollywood movie star, enters the picture.

RushMoviegoers who might be put off by the idea of a “racing” movie should know that while Rush revs up its story, it’s much more than a flick about fast cars. At its core are two men who happen to be racers, and the drama that builds around them as the years unfold. We learn how both Hunt and Lauda came to be both rivals and admirers, and how they were both “hulk-headed kids, scorned by [their] families, headed nowhere,” before finding their futures behind the wheels of the low-slung, super-fast cars on the Grand Prix circuit.

And we see how Lauda finds the will to recover from a horrific accident, and return to the track, by watching videotapes of Hunt continuing to win races.

Howard, the former child actor who grew up to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, adds another winner to his resume with this hip, cool-running crowd pleaser that’s also a terrifically made movie all-around. Each scene is meticulously constructed with careful detail, from the burnished, Kodachrome-esque glow cast by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire), to the parade of ‘70s fashions and the soundtrack of retro tunes from David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Thin Lizzy.

8D92_FPF_00305R.JPG_cmyk

The racing scenes, whether on sun-dappled pastoral country roads in England or dark, rain-lashed sections of do-or-die championship track under the imposing shadow of Mt. Fuji in Japan, are thrilling, taking advantage of everything that modern movies can do with seamless integrations of live action and digital effects.

But the thing that Rush does best, however, is never let you forget about the two men—the two real men—who did the driving.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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