42

42 does precisely what it sets out to do: tell the story of a great baseball player who happened to be black and who had to become a great man in order to live his dream and open the door for others to do the same. It’s well-crafted, well-acted, and altogether a very enjoyable movie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it this weekend.

You’re going to enjoy 42 if you liked:
Miracle
Remember the Titans
Big Miracle
War Horse

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The deets:

Released April 12, 2013

Written by Brian Helgeland

Directed by Brian Helgeland

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Melonie, Alan Tudyk, T.R. Knight, John C. McGinley, and Lucas Black.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Branch Rickey (Ford) is the boss of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he knows that change is coming. He wants to embrace that change and force his sport to do the same. He is sure it’s time to integrate baseball, bring Black players onto the field, and start providing same and equal resources to fans.

So he’s looking for an exceptional Black baseball player who is will to- ahem- step up to the plate. His team’s manager/coach, Leo Durocher (Melonie), is leary but will follow orders and he is soon able to buy into the vision.

Jackie Robinson (Boseman) is an exceptional baseball player who is Black. He can run, hit, throw– and he’s got fire and vim. Branch recruits him, to many people’s ire and shock. And Robinson plays all right, but he’s under a lot of pressure. At the same time, he’s romancing a smart, driven woman named Rachel (Beharie) who, after some soul-searching, throws in with Robinson’s journey. The interaction between these two is very, very good.

Now Robinson needs to learn to cope with the constant vile stuff people are saying, awful fans who want him gone, unsupportive teammates, and still play some good ball. And it turns out that playing ball really can bring people together.

Critique

The performances are the biggest highlight of 42. This movie moves slowly, taking its time to savor the outstandingly recreated time and atmosphere of this racially-tense era. It savors the characters too, giving Branch opportunities to show us why he is so insistent on forcing change. It lets us see Leo, the Dodgers’ manager, steadily come to the conclusion that the institutionalized racism he’s surrounded by is patently immoral.

And it lets us watch the journey, certainly somewhat fictionalized and dramatized, that Robinson has to go on from a simple desire to just play baseball to the certainty that he has a role to play and it will take all he has to break through the walls around him. Boseman is, in a word, perfect.

Great dialogue, great acting, excellent writing, an understated score, and just very well crafted emotional climaxes make 42 a very enjoyable movie experience. It’s not really a sports movie, guys, it’s more of a person movie. And it’s far and away a better movie than Lincoln.

Content warnings: Some salty language- mostly racial epithets, some mild violence.

Writing: 5           Acting: 5           Overall: 5

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Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game had so much going for it, what with a very intelligent story that is intelligently told, along with extraordinary effects, and with deeply affecting characters. Thus, it comes close to having serious impact and is a very entertaining movie.

That said, it was hurried and didn’t spend enough time on Ender’s journey. Granted, there was no real way to do justice to the incredible source material, but there were enough missteps with the film that this fan is a little disappointed.

You will enjoy Ender’s Game if you liked:
Super 8
Inception
Hanna
The Hunger Games

Here’s a trailer:

And the deets:

Released November 1, 2013

Written by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Jimmy Pinchak, Aramis Knight, and Nonso Anozie

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Ender’s Game takes place in a future Earth after the Formics, a race of war-like aliens, attacked and nearly destroyed humanity on Earth. A great hero beat them, but now humanity expects them to return. So they are training people from a very young age to be soldiers in the battle against these critters. Indeed, they are training children.

Ender (Butterfield) is one of these. He is insanely smart and has grown up with his brother, Peter (Pinchak) being constantly cruel to him, and with his sister Valentine (Breslin) being a source of love and friendship.

But Ender is now off to Battle School, where Graff (Ford) believes Ender will flourish. Graff is certain that Ender is the answer. Anderson (Davis) thinks Graff is too hard on Ender. Rackham (Kingsley) is the hero who beat the Formics last time.

Ender pulls together a team, notably including Petra (Steinfeld) and Bean (Knight). These are all incredibly gifted young people and Ender proves their mettle by leading them to great victories in Battle School, particularly in the battle room.

The story of Ender’s training hurtles along until we start seeing that Ender is having odd experiences with dreams and visions that involve Formics. When the climax of the film happens, this connection he’s been having helps him prepare to be in the next movie.

Critique

The filmmakers, particularly Gavin Hood, were in far too much of a hurry to capture the crucial scenes of the book and translate them to celluloid. This resulted in a movie that moves far too fast for us to really ever be in Ender’s head. We also don’t have nearly enough time with the battle room, the single coolest thing about the film. This also means that the arc that Ender goes through doesn’t have nearly the impact it needs to have.

So if the movie had slowed down a little, it would have been better.

Lost in the movie is the sub-plot where Peter and Valentine Wiggin essentially scheme to run the Earth’s political discussion. Also lost is the heart and soul.

Which means we have great, beautiful, awesome scenes that are connected by a character we don’t have time to come care deeply about.

Ender’s Game is still entertaining and at times all kinds of fun. It’s also visually wonderful. The joy in the battle room sequences makes us ache for more and the rest of the movie just doesn’t make up for that lack.

Sigh.

At least the performances are good, with standout work done by Steinfeld and Ford.

Content warnings: Some violence and some salty language.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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Cowboys & Aliens

The premise and story of Cowboys and Aliens is preposterous. It’s easily as outlandish as the premise of Source Code, but Cowboys and Aliens is far better because it doesn’t jump the tracks and try to make the premise more than it has any right to be.

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The deets:

Released on July 26th, 2011

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, and Steve Oedekerk

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Adam Beach, Paul Dano and Sam Rockwell

*     *     *     *

Story

The movie start with Daniel Craig waking up in the middle of a New Mexico wasteland. He doesn’t know he is, has a strange wound on his side, and also has a strange contraption attached to his wrist. He can’t get the thing off.

Within the first couple of minutes, this guy’s toughness and meanness are established, as he finishes off a trio of prairie scum without blinking. He takes their clothes, weapons, and dog.

Soon after showing up in the town of Absolution, he is stitched up by a local preacher and finds out that he is named Jake Lonergan. After standing up to Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the bully son of local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), Lonergan gets a drink in the saloon run by Doc (Sam Rockwell). It is there that a mysterious and beautiful woman, Ella (Olivia Wilde), recognizes that Jake may be the key to some strange goings on.

Then the sheriff arrives, reveals that Lonergan is a wanted criminal, and tries to take Jake in. Jake shows he is a scrapper and is only taken down because he doesn’t see Ella coming. Now the sheriff has Percy and Jake in custody and is going to ship them off to a court in a different town.

Meanwhile, Dolarhyde is trying to find out why a bunch of his cattle have been charcoaled. He finds out from his faithful man, Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), that Percy’s been arrested. So Dolarhyde goes to retrieve his boy.

While all this is going on, Jake has been having flashbacks that allude to his being in love with a woman but that she was taken from him suddenly.

And now the set-up is complete. Dolarhyde shows up to get Percy, sees Lonergan and wants him too because Lonergan and some old cronies stole a bunch of gold from him, and then the aliens show up. A frenzied scene of explosions, wildly cool alien versions of aliens lassoing humans, and Jake finding out that his wrist band is a weapon, ensues. Percy is taken, as are Doc’s wife, the sheriff and many other townspeople.

The menfolk, along with Ella and the sheriff’s grandson and the dog, decide to work together to find all of their abducted people before they die. Add to that the fact that an alien survived having its ship shot down by Jake’s fancy weapon and now the alien is heading back to its headquarters, but it’s also hunting them, and you have some nice conflict.

There is also conflict between Dolarhyde and Lonergan, although that settles down fairly quickly as the two men prove their mettle to each other. The Ella character adds some mystery to the film, as do questions of why the aliens are there and what they want the people for. You won’t be surprised by the aliens’ motivation.

Critique

Cowboys and Aliens is a pleasure to watch. The performances are so very good, with Ford delivering a performance that is easily one of his best. Ever. Craig does an excellent job with his taciturn character, making him much deeper than anger and frustration. Olivia Wilde does a nice job, giving her inhumanly beautiful character humanity and motivation. Finally, Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano turn potentially by-the-numbers characters into interesting people who we want to know more about.

I have to applaud the writers (all of them… whew!) for some restraint. There were times where one-off lines would have been easy to have the characters say. But the dialogue rang true to the characters and there were no cheap shots. What’s more, the screenplay plays it straight, as do the actors. Any goofiness, such as in Galaxy Quest, would have killed the movie on arrival.

Another highlight is the locations. Too often, the towns in westerns are inauthentically laid out. Absolution looked perfect. Plus, the fact that some of the movie was obviously filmed in parts of Utah was pretty cool.

Cowboys and Aliens had the potential to be very silly, or quite schizophrenic. There was a danger that the filmmakers not be able to stay true to both the Western genre and the Sci-Fi genre. Luckily, none of this came to pass. The movie is fun, interesting, engaging and quite satisfying.

Content warnings: Plenty of gunfighting and action. Some explosions too. Some western-style harsh language. One almost-nude scene.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4.5

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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