Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sports and Spectacle

42: Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; starring Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman) and Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca) (2013): Enjoyable biopic of Jackie Robinson -- the player who broke major league baseball's colour barrier in 1947 -- stays mostly faithful to the facts. Other than a bit of swearing, 42 could have been made in the early 1960's by Stanley Kramer.

Chadwick Boseman is fine as Robinson, selected by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to become the first African-American major leaguer of the modern era in part because his character suggested that he could take the stress that would result without beating the crap out of somebody or breaking down himself. And Harrison Ford probably deserved an Oscar Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work as Rickey -- he's very good in a movie for the first time in a long time. Alan Tudyk also shines as the virulently racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Nicole Beharie is also solid as Jackie's wife. Recommended.


Monsters University: written by Dan Scanlon, Daniel Gerson, and Robert L. Baird; directed by Dan Scanlon; starring the voices of Billy Crystal (Mike). John Goodman (Sullivan), and Helen Mirren (Dean Hardscrabble) (2013):

What's apparently the first prequel from Pixar (to Monsters, Inc.) is a fairly breezy, light-hearted affair that isn't the equal of Up or Wall.E in terms of emotion of inventiveness, but is nonetheless a much more enjoyable and smoothly engineered movie than Brave or any of the Cars movies. A relative lack of engagement in what happens to anyone led me to a number of moments in which I spent more time scrutinizing the animation than engaged with the characters, but the animation is terrific, so as an aesthetic experience, Monsters University doesn't disappoint. Why Disney doesn't have Pixar do a Marvel movie is beyond me. Recommended.



Thor: based on characters and situations created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Walt Simonson; written by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne; directed by Kenneth Branagh; starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Selvig) and Colm Feore (Laufey) (2011):

One thing we inadvertantly discover during the first Marvel Thor movie is that the movie's Asgardian gods/super-aliens/whatever have apparently never read any of Earth's mythology about them. If they had, the plot of this film would be about 20 minutes long. Oh, well. On TV, Thor plays like a handsomely mounted made-for-TV movie, the movie style of Marvel Studios movies being that there's almost no style at all. The actors are all quite likeable, Odin is as dopey here as he is in the comic books (and as prone to going into regenerative comas at the worst possible moments), and the whole thing goes down smoothly. Lightly recommended.


White House Down: written by James Vanderbilt; directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Channing Tatum (John Cale), Jamie Foxx (President Sawyer), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Agent Finnerty), Richard Jenkins (Speaker Raphelson), James Woods (Walker) and Lance Reddick (General Caulfield) (2013):

Holy Moley, is this movie 40 minutes too much of an action movie. There are more false climaxes than a dozen porn movies. The dominant structure is Die Hard; scenes and shots are synthesized from more films than I can think of. I bet you never thought you'd see an homage to Nick Cage's emergency flag-waving in Michael Bay's The Rock. Well, you will. Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx do a lot of work to sell this, and it's certainly interesting, if only as a look at some of our current action-movie obsessions and their larger real-world implications. Also, tucked in amongst the 2+ hours of sturm-und-drang is a really bizarre use of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Lightly recommended.

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