Category Archives: Directed by Ron Howard

Solo (2018, Ron Howard)

Solo: A Star Wars Story is juvenile, which might be what manages to save it. It’s got nothing but problems—a troubled production (director Howard took over from fired “executive producers” Christopher Miller and Phil Lord and shot seventy-percent of what’s in the film), an uninspired screenplay (by Empire and Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and his son), the worst Star Wars music since A Day to Celebrate (“courtesy” John Powell), and a hilarious miscast “lead,” Alden Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich is playing young Han Solo, almost forty years after Harrison Ford originated the part and became a megastar. Howard never directed Ford in anything—they did fight over Shirley Feeney in 1962 Modesto—and maybe it would’ve helped if Howard had any experience with him. But the script is so talky—the Kasdans write Ehrenreich is a cocky jabberer (and I’m not sure they realize with juxtaposing him with whiny Mark Hamill from the original Star Wars is a bad idea)—and Ehrenreich so bland he can’t even figure out how to get his hair to do the acting for him, which means he couldn’t have worked in the seventies, it was never going to work. Solo tries to ignore itself instead of embrace itself and ends up rotting on the vine.

The only performance the film needs to have right and has right is, arguably, Donald Glover, who’s playing Billy Dee Williams playing Lando Calrissian. Glover doesn’t mimic Williams’s mannerisms, but the voice inflections are spot on. And Glover manages to have a sincere subplot. Not in the script, but in his performance.

Miscast or not, Ehrenreich shouldn’t be getting shown up as far as sincerity goes. Especially not after now bad girl ex-girlfriend Emilia Clarke tells Ehrenreich he’s secretly the good guy. If we’re finding out Solo is going to come back and save them at the Death Star, we need to see it. We don’t see it anywhere.

Though Solo’s particularly bad at showing things. Cinematographer Bradford Young is anti-contrast; everything looks a little muddy, a little muted. Whatever Young and Howard thought they were doing with the colored lighting doesn’t work either. Especially not when the movie starts pretending it’s Empire Strikes Back, which leads to some okay spaceship flying shots and some really bad attempts from composer Powell to integrate John Williams music for nostalgia’s sake.

But at least they’re trying something.

And the trying is what “saves” Solo; albeit conditionally.

The movie opens with thirty year-old teenagers Ehrenreich and Clarke growing up in a Star Wars version of Oliver Twist. When they finally get to escape, only Ehrenreich can make it. He’s going to come back for her, he promises.

Fast forward three years and Ehrenreich hooks up with Woody Harrelson’s intergalactic thief crew. It’s Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Jon Favreau voicing the CGI action figure. Harrelson initially seems like he’s having fun and it’s not translating to a good performance. Then it seems like he’s not having fun and it’s still not translating to a good performance. Newton’s okay but she’s got the nagging girlfriend part–Solo goes out of its way to fail Bechdel and its “equality for droids” subplot is problematic and the slavery stuff is icky too. It’s not malicious, just exceptionally thoughtless.

Though, obviously, the whole thing is exceptionally thoughtless. It’s not like there’s some gem of a chase sequence or the big redeeming action set piece.

In not trying, however, Solo manages not to fail. Occasionally. There’s the broad fail of the concept, the broad fail of Ehrenreich, but Glover’s… captivating in his impression or performance or whatever. Clarke’s got a thin part written a piece of fortune cookie paper but she’s sympathetic.

Even if she apparently said no to Star Wars costumes and just wears a dress.

Paul Bettany’s villain isn’t… good but Bettany’s not sleeping through the performance. He’s not Harrelsoning it. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s droid activist really does seem to be there for a bunch of White men to laugh at civil rights, but Waller-Bridge’s great. And her comedy timing is better than anyone’s, though she presumably recorded the droid’s voice in post-production and didn’t have to suffer the set.

Solo is bland, long, boring—the first act is particularly dreadful, mostly because Ehrenreich’s so prominent and so disappointing—but it’s also not… predictable. The Kasdans’ script does make a lot of bad narrative decisions but they are decisions. And there are a lot of them. Event-based plotting might be the way I’d have described it as a teenager in an effort to justify liking it.

Plus there’s an Elder God.

Also… and I didn’t manage to work this anecdote in anywhere because I didn’t trend mean enough… Ron Howard? Bringing in the guy who infamously failed with Willow is a choice. Bringing in the guy who caped for Jake Lloyd’s performance in Phantom Menace is a choice.

And none of it even matters: Solo never had a chance. You might be able to recast Harrison Ford, but you can’t recreate Harrison Ford as Han Solo.

Though maybe they should’ve let Donald Glover try.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Bradford Young; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by John Powell; production designer, Neil Lamont; costume designers, David Crossman and Glyn Dillon; produced by Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, and Allison Shearmur; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Emilia Clarke (Qi’ra), Woody Harrelson (Beckett), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), Jon Favreau (Rio Durant), Linda Hunt (Lady Proxima), and Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos).


Rush (2013, Ron Howard)

Rush ends with such a cop out, all it does is draw attention all the other cheap things Howard and writer Peter Morgan do to make the film exciting. Technically, it’s fine. Howard’s direction is good, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is great, Hans Zimmer’s music is fine, Morgan writes okay scenes… it’s just mundane.

Howard does get great performances out of Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth as the leads. It’s a shame Morgan can’t create a real relationship for the two men; he can’t even adequately juxtaposition them. The scenes where Morgan tries to point out their similarities and differences are, well, pointless.

A lot of the problem is Howard. He doesn’t have any approach to Rush. It’s sort of a biopic of the two men, sort of a look at the 1976 Grand Prix season, but the film starts too early in order to establish the characters through amusing scenes. Brühl is a sensible Austrian jerk, Hemsworth is a hard-partying ladies man. Maybe if the picture had focused on the racing season–with the other racers being something other than background–Rush would have turned out better.

Alexandra Maria Lara plays Brühl’s love interest. Hemsworth goes through a handful of love interests, with a stilted Olivia Wilde playing the most serious one.

The real stars of Rush are editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. The races aren’t exactly exciting as much as endlessly dangerous.

Too bad Howard didn’t follow the lead and take any risks. Rush stalls.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Mark Digby; produced by Howard, Morgan, Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver and Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt), Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda), Alexandra Maria Lara (Marlene), Pierfrancesco Favino (Clay Regazzoni), Stephen Mangan (Alastair Caldwell), Christian McKay (Lord Hesketh), Alistair Petrie (Stirling Moss) and Olivia Wilde (Suzy Miller).


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Splash (1984, Ron Howard)

Splash has a strange narrative structure. The front’s heavy, likely because the filmmakers make a real effort to establish Tom Hanks as a listless young (well, youngish) man. Of course, Hanks is a listless man with an apparently great job as a produce whole seller, an amazing Manhattan apartment and limitless funds. Then the end’s light, which is probably because Atlantis wasn’t in Splash‘s budget.

Strong writing from Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman–not to mention great direction from Howard and a mostly outstanding performance from Hanks–makes the first act sail through. Some of it’s so good, it takes Splash a while to recover from not pursuing those story threads.

The film’s often a slapstick comedy, especially when it follows Eugene Levy around. He’s in pursuit of Daryl Hannah, who’s the mermaid Hanks is unknowingly dating. Well, he knows he’s dating her but not the other bit.

Hannah’s got the most important role in the film. She doesn’t just have to be the ideal combination of sexy and sweet, she’s also got to be able to pull off being a genius. Apparently mermaids are all geniuses. Mer-people. It’s never explained; Howard and company offer just enough to make it passable without raising too many questions.

Levy’s okay–his role in the script is the weakest–but John Candy’s supporting turn more than makes up for him.

Howard expertly handles the film’s various tones, with excellent photography from Donald Peterman.

Lee Holdridge’s score is nice too.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman, based on a screen story by Friedman and a story by Brian Grazer; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Grazer; released by Touchstone Films.

Starring Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer), Daryl Hannah (Madison), Eugene Levy (Walter Kornbluth), John Candy (Freddie Bauer), Dody Goodman (Mrs. Stimler), Shecky Greene (Mr. Buyrite), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ross), Bobby Di Cicco (Jerry), Howard Morris (Dr. Zidell), Tony DiBenedetto (Tim, The Doorman), Patrick Cronin (Michaelson), Charles Walker (Michaelson’s Partner), David Knell (Claude), Jeff Doucette (Junior), Royce D. Applegate (Buckwalter), Tony Longo (Augie), Nora Denney (Ms. Stein), Charles Macaulay (The President), Ronald F. Hoiseck (Dr. Johannsen), Lou Tiano (Bartender), Joe Grifasi (Manny) and Rance Howard (McCullough).


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Apollo 13 (1995, Ron Howard)

While Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon’s characters are the only ones in danger in Apollo 13, they remain calm for almost the entire runtime. There’s no point to panicking, something Hanks points out in dialogue. Instead, director Howard focuses on an exceptional assortment of character actors–as the NASA Mission Control–for the dramatic parts. Even Kathleen Quinlan, as Hanks’s wife, has to keep it together for the most part.

Otherwise, regardless of how it actually happened, the film’s dramatics wouldn’t work. Apollo 13 isn’t a disaster movie, it’s a science and engineering drama. Howard creates a genre with the film; I don’t think anyone has attempted to follow in his footsteps.

There’s no history synopsis at the start, so unless an unknowing viewer paid attention to the opening titles, the finish might be a surprise. Howard has to keep up the tension for both kinds of viewers, informed and not. He and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill probably had a hell of a time putting the film together; they make it appear seamless and organically flowing

Wondrous photography from Dean Cundey and fine music from James Horner assist.

Hanks and Bacon have the most to do, with Paxton and the earthbound Gary Sinise providing sturdy support. Great work from Quinlan. Ed Harris binds the Mission Control scenes.

Of the outstanding character actors, Loren Dean, Clint Howard, Gabriel Jarret and Christian Clemenson stand out.

Apollo 13 is assured, masterful work all around… but especially from Howard.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, based on a book by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (Gene Kranz), Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Jean Speegle Howard (Blanch Lovell), Tracy Reiner (Mary Haise), David Andrews (Pete Conrad), Chris Ellis (Deke Slayton), Joe Spano (NASA Director), Xander Berkeley (Henry Hurt), Marc McClure (Glynn Lunney), Ben Marley (John Young), Clint Howard (EECOM White), Loren Dean (EECOM Arthur), Tom Wood (EECOM Gold), Googy Gress (RETRO White), Patrick Mickler (RETRO Gold), Ray McKinnon (FIDO White), Max Grodénchik (FIDO Gold), Christian Clemenson (Dr. Chuck), Brett Cullen (CAPCOM 1), Ned Vaughn (CAPCOM 2), Andy Milder (GUIDO White), Geoffrey Blake (GUIDO Gold), Wayne Duvall (LEM Controller White), Jim Meskimen (TELMU White), Joseph Culp (TELMU Gold), John Short (INCO White), Ben Bode (INCO Gold), Todd Louiso (FAO White), Gabriel Jarret (GNC White), Christopher John Fields (Booster White), Kenneth White (Grumman Rep), James Ritz (Ted) and Andrew Lipschultz (Launch Director).


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