Tag Archives: Ron Howard

Apollo 13 (1995) Movie Retro Review By John Walsh

Apollo 13.png

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jim Lovell (book), Jeffrey Kluger (book)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon

The late 1960s to early 1970s must have been both an exiting and terrifying time to be alive. The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was the catalyst for mankind’s exploration of the Moon, albeit with the added caveat of an impending nuclear armageddon lingering at the back of everyone’s minds. The US still continued to plow ahead with their lunar missions and space program, even after they had won the sabre rattling, glorified flexing contest that was the space race. 

If you ask me, it wasn’t about scientific studies or advancement. The US were determined to establish utter dominance in the field whilst giving their Russian counterparts a regular reminder of who was boss at a time when both were arguably a genuine match for each other. Regardless though, NASA’s achievements, their advancement of technology and daring can’t be overlooked or downplayed. I know there’s people out there that still think the Moon landings were faked, but they’re tin foil hat wearing, loons with a predisposition for eating Cheetos and sitting in darkened basements. 

Overwhelming success and the meeting of JFK’s wish for getting a man on the moon by the end of the 60s aside though, it wasn’t all plain sailing for everyone’s favourite boffins. As the brilliant Ron Howard film Apollo 13 highlights all too vividly, they were never far away from potential human tragedy. The state of the art technology at that time is now looking rather simplistic to say the least and not at all the kind you’d want to be reliant on taking you the 384,400km distance required to reach our nearest celestial neighbour. It’s this story of near tragedy that Howard portrays with exceptional detail. 

It follows a quartet of astronauts, though primarily Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), a man who was a member of Apollo 8 and became one of the first people to orbit the Moon. He was originally intended for the Apollo 14 mission, but the original commander for 13 was deemed too inexperienced and therefore his big day in the lunar sun was brought forward. Sadly, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise), one of the original trio, contracted measles and was replaced after some protestations from Lovell. The two other men were Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). I’ve mentioned this before in a profile we did of Bacon, but this is one of the best leading quartets that I’ve seen in a film. 

The story pretty much tells itself at this point, such is the infamy of the doomed mission. But if you’ve been hiding under a rock for forty odd years then I’ll do my best to summarise in the briefest of manners.

The Apollo 13 mission was originally scheduled to land on the Moon, like the two that preceded it and the four that followed, but as anyone with an eye for history will already know, that didn’t happen. They encountered a few technical difficulties, including a second stage engine prematurely cutting off before leaving the Earths atmosphere, but the fatal blow to the crews hopes of tanning on the lunar dunes with a bud light came when a liquid oxygen tank exploded. This left the other tank leaking, with attempts at containing it failing, sparking off a frenetic attempt to hatch up a plan for their safe return home. 

As you can hopefully tell, that is a pretty spectacular story for a Hollywood period drama. Though, as I’ve often noted, it’s not the traditional hoorah, USA, chest thumpathon that they could’ve opted to make. It’s a delicate story of hope, disappointment, human strength and ingenuity, but more importantly its understated in its application. The plot is gripping, full to the brim with tension, exhilarating highs and crotch kicking lows, and despite already knowing the outcome, it has you willing them to the Moon and praying for a safe return when it’s cruelly snatched from their grasp. You care for these characters and that’s down to a combination of factors. 

Firstly, as I mentioned before, the acting is fantastic across the board. Tom Hanks is already an established acting great and was even at this point in 95. This performance came off the back of Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and he even had Toy Story in the can too. It’s his film, make no mistake about it, but Bacon, Sinise and Paxton are all superb too. Kathleen Quinlan as Jim’s wife Marilyn and Ed Harris as Gene Kranz also deliver standout performances. We even get the customary appearance from Clint Howard. Secondly, the brilliant score from James Horner. I absolutely love the music in this film, it’s stirring, pulls on the heart strings in points and drives the drama perfectly. 

Finally, the cinematography, attention detail and research that went into making this feel real was off the scale. Dean Cundey has worked on many a great film and he brings all of that expertise to the table in Apollo 13.

They built scale model replicas of the actual crafts used on the mission, cutting them in half to allow the cameras to get up close and personal. Not only does this immerse the viewer into the film, because you almost feel like you’re there, but it captures the cramped environment these guys had to work with perfectly. Then you take into account them going up in special planes, to get zero gravity shots, each lasting twenty odd seconds a time, just to capture the actual floating the astronauts experienced and you get a sense of the dedication they had in making this feel as authentic as possible. No wonder it nabbed the Oscar for best editing. 

There’s truly inspirational moments to be had too. The sequence where the NASA officials frantically try to deduce a plan for fitting a square object into a circular opening, using just the things available to the guys in space. A perfect example of human ingenuity. The sight of Mattingly spending hours in the test module, going through every possible way to get his friends home. The solemn acceptance from Lovell that he’ll never get a chance to walk on the Moon as he looks down upon its surface and just experiencing what these poor buggers had to go through, knowing fine well it actually happened and they managed to overcome unimaginable adversity to get back in one piece. 

This is one of my favourite films from the 1990s. I have nothing but great memories of watching it as a young boy, it’s a nostalgia trip and it explores a necessary message that some could do with learning. That even in subjective failure or moments of crisis, there’s something to learned. It explores much more than that though. But fundamentally, it’s just a great watch. It’s a period piece, which I love anyway, it’s a biopic based off Jim Lovells own experiences, so you can’t get any closer to the real events if you tried and it’s got some fantastic actors bringing their A game. 

I can’t not recommend this one. 

Rating: 5/5

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Movie Review By John Gray

Solo

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover

Solo, a movie I neither needed nor wanted. Why demystify one of the most iconic characters in movie history? Does everybody need an origin story? Sufficient to say I walked into my local cinema with managed expectations, not just because I thought the movie was a bad idea, but because of its troubled production.

I needn’t have worried. Like Han swooping in last minute to aid Luke during the trench run, director Ron Howard arrived late to a tension- filled set and saved the day. Solo is an old- fashioned adventure movie in many ways, and that’s part of its charm. On the other hand Howard wisely strips away the main saga’s gravity and bombast. Those complaining Solo didn’t ‘feel like Star Wars’ are missing the point of these standalone films. They’re supposed to play with tone and genre a little. Rogue One was a gritty war film (although it was supposed to be far grittier) and Solo is perfectly pitched as a kind of heist- movie- space- western. 

Of course none of it would have worked without a good cast. When Alden Ehrenreich was cast he faced a Daniel Craig type backlash, and I’ll admit being skeptical myself. One doesn’t simply replace Harrison Ford’s effortless charisma and screen presence. Thankfully Ehrenreich doesn’t try, and gives us a performance rather than an impersonation. There are moments- facial expressions or vocal inflections- when we see and hear Ford, but these moments are wisely sparse, just enough to help us believe we’re really watching a young Han Solo. 

The rest of the cast are just as good. Donald Glover’s Lando almost steals the show. Amelia Clarke brings disarming charm to her part as Han’s first love, Kira. Woody Harrelson is great as world weary thief Beckett, and Paul Bettany manages to bring real menace to his limited role as villain. 

Aside from being immensely fun, its also rather funny, although this is perhaps the greatest weakness here. The humour, like the Falcon, doesn’t always land. What does land for the most part is the emotion. While the film’s twists and turns are hardly unpredictable, you feel for the characters involved. Oh, apart from that one twist that almost made me spit out my popcorn. That, I did not see coming.

Enjoyment rating: 4/5 

Quality rating: 4/5

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Movie Review By Anna-Maria McAlinney

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover.

Plot: Star Wars side story. We get to see Han Solo as a young man, learning about the empire, becoming a pilot and meeting his frenemy Lando Calrissian.

Review Summary: Pleasantly surprising.  Actually worth going to see.

Review: I was totally prepared to actively dislike this film.  I was actually a little bit disappointed by how enjoyable if I am honest.  The characters are quite relatable and there is a good balance of action, comradery and romance.  I was worried that with a young and attractive cast that there would be an overkill of longing staring and fleeting eye contact but they actually mingled the romance in with the action in an appropriate way.

Negatives:

  • We have a whole wave of new characters introduced and I don’t feel that they were all needed.  I would definitely argue that the wrong ones were given the more screen time.

Positives:

  • They clearly examined the original trilogy source material closely and got a few ideas from it, but they didn’t just replicate the Han we know.  That makes sense because adult Han was clearly the product of some interesting stories and a whole heap of experience so the younger version would be a little more naive .

Generally speaking, I enjoyed the direction that they went with this.  Solid performances from the main cast and thematically spot on for the time period in the franchise.  I am looking forward to seeing how they spring on from this into Boba Fett and Kenobi.

Enjoyment Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 4/5

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Mark Monroe, P.G. Morgan (story consultant)
Stars: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr

A highly entertaining, upbeat, nostalgic trip back to the height of Beatlemania in the early half of the 1960s. Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years is a documentary from Ron Howard profiling the stratospheric rise of The Beatles, and as the title suggests, primarily focusing on their short, but ultimately pioneering touring career.

Beginning in 1963 with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ taking the charts by storm and the band landing to a huge, expectant crowd in New York City. It goes over old ground initially for a super fan like myself, who’s seen the Anthology, focusing on their Ed Sullivan appearances and brief nine day tour of the US. McCartney’s comment, “By the end it was quite complicated, but at the beginning it was quite simple” is an early indicator that the deeper intricacies of their relationships and antics will not be delved into in any great detail. As an official Apple release though, I wouldn’t have expected anything else. There is some interesting commentary provided, however, with a different perspective of the Beatlemania portrayed. Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Larry King and several other guests tell their personal stories and the effect the Fab Four had on their lives. Whoopi somewhat shockingly mentioning that “they were colourless and fucking amazing”.

There’s the briefest of looks at the bands troubled manager, Brian Epstein, described as ‘Liverpool class’ and one of the main factors in their early fame. In audio excerpts from old footage, he discusses the bands initial scruffy appearance, factoring it down to their youth, before Paul reminisces about them being taken to a tailor for new suits, mentioning that “the suits were the simplest idea, they made us one person. A four headed monster.” It’s perhaps not surprising then that the combination of catchy beat music, matching suits, iconic haircuts and rapier sharp, Liverpudlian wit made them a real force of nature, propelling them to the forefront of pop culture. The Fab Fours propensity for sarcastic, one liners and comedic timing, shown in all it’s glory, most times in response to inquisitive foreigners probing questions, helped them connect with the rebellious, anti-establishment views of 1960s youth culture, particularly in the US.

Howard then firmly brings the attention back to the bands touring and live shows. Starting off in relatively small venues that are absolute packed to the rafters with screaming, hysterical girls, it’s here that the boys futile attempts to be heard over the ear piercing, pubescent, din quickly becomes an omnipresent struggle. The hysteria isn’t being contained to inside the venues either with a report shown of hundreds being left devastated in queues stretching back half a mile and a news bulletin about 240 fans being crushed outside in the desperation to see the four wondrous lads from Britain flashing across the screen. The police at the time were unable to handle the bustling crowds, which had reached an unprecedented level, not likely to be seen again in the modern era. Beatlemania transcended the racial barrier too and with the civil rights movement waging and segregation still very much a regular occurrence, The Beatles weren’t afraid to voice their disgust on the matter, demanding that no segregation be in place during their Gaterbowl concert or the show would be cancelled. African-American historian, Kitty Oliver, shared a very poignant memory of being part of a mixed crowd and all of them sharing their love of one thing together for the first time in her life.

Yet despite their growing popularity on the back of their first successful film, A Hard Days Night, and the continuing mania surrounding them, the question on everyones lips in 1964 was still “when will the bubble burst?” Dick Lester, the director of the aforementioned film, summed this uncertainty up with his recollection of the rush to get the film out in case the popularity faded. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that The Beatles were nowhere near being done in 1964 and it wasn’t long until their second film, Help, was released. The band were slightly less enthusiastic during their second experience of making a film, however, despite having their demands of flying to the exotic Bahamas to film granted and being high on pot for much of the production.

As the documentary progresses into 1965 and begins following both the bands maturing musicality and mentality, we see them return once again to the US, this time selling out stadiums. The Beatles essentially led the way for future bands with the first massive stadium tour, which brought the obvious financial rewards and also more problems. The struggle to be heard was becoming a greater issue as the venue size increased, with the screaming masses engulfing them to the point were Ringo was forced to keep time by watching the frontmen. The culmination of this historical tour was the Shea Stadium concert in New York, playing to a sold out, 60,000 capacity. Even with specially designed 100 watt Vox amps, the sound issue remained and the horrible, thin, distant sound played from the stadium PA system was barely worth the admission fee. This amongst many other growing issues was what signalled the beginning of the end for The Beatles as an active touring band. Although, they continued touring, completing a worldwide trip to far flung places like Manila and Australia, their creative talent were stagnating with the inability to hear themselves play and the excessive demands on their time was becoming tiresome.

And so when the ‘Beatles are bigger than Christ’ remark from Lennon was published completely out of context stateside, the endgame was sped up significantly. Sure they still played to 80% full stadiums on the subsequent tour, but with the growing threats of violence in a not long, post-assassinated JFK, USA and with the amateurish nature of the touring arrangements, discontent between the band was reaching boiling point. This was further exacerbated by their abandoning of simpler melodic song structures, turning to more experimental sounds that weren’t easy to replicate live. The final properly live concert came at the end of the very same tour at Candlestick Park and there’s some fascinating new footage served up of this concert. There’s a very cool little montage that flies through their recording years following a short look at the recording and release of Sgt. Peppers, and the documentary ends with the rooftop concert on top of their Savile Row office building.

As a massive Beatles fan, I loved this documentary. Did it share anything new that blew my mind? Not for the most part, no. It did however give a different perspective on a few things and there was enough new footage and photos, not to mention some excellently restored film in there to keep me happy. The sound was pretty phenomenal too. I liked the pacing of the whole thing, with it never dipping at any point and although I’ve heard most of the archival interviews from Lennon and Harrison, the new tidbits from Paul and Ringo were decent enough. I highly recommend this to anybody that loves or is interested in The Beatles.