Aloha

Writer/director Cameron Crowe’s movies, whether good or not so good, are always interesting and always have entertaining soundtracks. Aloha his both those marks and turns out to be an enjoyable film with characters who are hard not to like. It may not be as quotable or memorable or funny as some other Crowe films, but Aloha has a number of good things going for it.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is ex-military, now a civilian, returning to Hawaii on a private sector gig. Upon landing he runs into ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and finds she’s married with two kids. Gilcrest’s Air Force liaison is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a hardcore type-A.

Among Gilchrist’s objectives is to work out a deal with local natives to acquire land. He and Ng meet with the native leader. Gilchrist is the tough negotiator but Ng charms the natives with her personality and appreciation of Hawaiian culture.

As Gilchrist and Ng continue a low boil flirtation, Tracy and husband Woody (John Krasinski) invite Gilchrist and Ng over for dinner. Though they are not quite as intense as Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca, in a kitchen conversation, it becomes clear that Tracy and Gilchrist still have strong feelings for one another, even though she’s spoken for.

Other players in Aloha include Bill Murray as rich guy Carson Welch who provides private rocket launches for anyone with money, but with support from the military. Alec Baldwin is General Dixon, Gilcrest’s former commander, who’s on hand to help foster the deal making. It is always encouraging to see a strong younger actor who has great screen presence—Danielle Rose Russell is impressive playing Tracy and Woody’s daughter Grace.

Crowe has handed Cooper a character with a good backstory and an appropriate level of self-disgust. Stone is at her charmingly perkiest as Ng, a woman with loads of drive and ambition. McAdams’ Tracy is happy and but also frightened by the return of her ex. Krasinksi’s Woody is a quiet man who’s not oblivious to what’s happening. I like these characters.

Gilcrest’s interactions with these two women are the heart of the movie but Crowe does a neat job of stitching the private space mission story into the fabric. Aloha’s touching final scene may cause tears.

In the Cameron Crowe oeuvre, Aloha is no Jerry McGuire but it beats the heck out of Vanilla Sky.

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a beautiful Japanese anime by the master, director Hayao Miyazaki. Mixing historical reality with imaginative fantasy, Miyazaki delivers another gorgeous animated film. Miyazaki has said that this will be his last film.

My experience is with the original version which has Japanese voices and English subtitles. This original version is set to play at the Tivoli. The dubbed version (playing elsewhere in St. Louis) features the voices of actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci and Mandy Patinkin, among others.

Miyazaki’s films have a mixture of reality and fantasy. His most famous film Spirited Away is mainly fantasy. The Wind Rises is rooted in reality with a smaller amount of fantasy.

This story of real life Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Gordon-Levitt) begins when he is a student in the early days of the 20th century. He is obsessed with aviation. After completing his studies, he works in the industry in Japan and goes on to design the Mitsubishi Zero, the plane that his country used against America in World War II.

Jiro’s life story features the devastation of an earthquake, a trip to Germany to study their techniques and various personal relationships. But always, his focus is on designing airplanes. Many of the film’s fantasy segments involve his muse, Italian designer Caproni, voiced by Tucci.

For true anime fans and fans of Japanese culture, The Wind Rises is a “must see.” If you’ve never seen a Miyazaki film, you may appreciate the fact that the film is a fictionalized version of true events. (Some of his other films have a dreamy weirdness.)

As an American who has seen the films and heard the stories of the Pearl Harbor attack, it is odd to see Jiro depicted as a hero. But Jiro’s life’s work is designing planes, not ordering military missions.

The Wind Rises moves at a leisurely pace. The film is longer than most U.S. animated features, just over two hours. Some viewers, especially restless youngsters, may find it too slow. (Its rating is PG-13 for disturbing images and smoking.) For me, this movie’s gorgeous images and creative storytelling manage to overshadow any pacing issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Promised Land

If you enjoyed last year’s negative political ads, you’ll love Promised Land. Except, when you saw the ads, you were told who paid for them.

The messages of Promised Land concern obtaining natural gas via the process known as “fracking.” Message #1 is that the natural gas companies are ripping off farmers by offering lowball payments for the gas beneath their properties. Message #2 is that fracking is an environmental threat.

Promised Land features Matt Damon and Frances McDormand as gas company agents who descend on a small Midwest farm town. At a town meeting, a local geezer played by Hal Holbrook rains on the parade of riches the farmers and the townsfolk anticipate by mentioning the dangers of fracking. John Krasinski appears as an environmental activist who opposes the gas company. He also is also Damon’s rival for a bit of romance with a local barfly/schoolteacher, played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

The script, written by Damon and Krasinski, presents its messages in an entertaining fictional narrative. Promised Land will likely reach a larger audience than would a message documentary such as those made by Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock.

But with any message movie that is totally one-sided (like Promised Land), my suggestion is “be skeptical.” Things are rarely as black and white as they are sometimes presented. (Another incidental message of this movie is “beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”)

Damon and Krasinski deserve credit for bringing attention to what may or may not be an issue worthy of your consideration. On the other hand, the manipulative story telling is so heavy handed that it has the feel of a negative political TV ad.

Who is behind this movie? Who benefits most should its messages resonate with a significant number of citizens? The coal industry? Electric utilities? The Sierra Club? Farm communities? Monsanto? People with existing natural gas wells? Stay tuned to find out.

Promised Land had the opportunity to open the country’s eyes to a possible environmental danger. But because the message is so clumsily delivered, the film is likely to resonate mainly with those who are already tree huggers and not so much with a general audience.

“Big Miracle”—(Whale Tale)

Many things are going on in “Big Miracle.” Animals are in peril. Ways of life are threatened. The environment is at risk. Media are swooping in. And a relationship may or may not be rekindled.

As with movies like “Apollo 13” and “Titanic,” you know pretty much how things will turn out. It’s the telling of this real-life story (with some fictionalized aspects added in to make it more dramatic) that gets you to the resolution in an entertaining way.

This is an excellent family film. No sex, violence, nudity or profanity. Take the kids. Take Grandma.

The crisis occurs in October, 1988, when early cold weather freezes the surface of ocean waters near the northern tip of Alaska, trapping three whales who need to surface often for oxygen. The whales need to get to open water to begin their annual migration to Baja.

Help comes from many sources: the native Eskimos (who initially consider harvesting the whales), Greenpeace (Drew Barrymore plays an activist), Big Oil (Ted Danson is the oil mogul), the military (Dermot Mulroney is a National Guard commander), the USSR (a Soviet naval vessel chips in) and the media (John Krasinski is the TV news reporter who breaks the story which soon gets national attention). You can read my blog post about the Public Relations lessons this movie offers on my PR blog: “Big Miracle” Movie Has Useful PR Lessons

The talented cast also includes character actors Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins and Tim Blake Nelson—if you don’t know their names, you know their faces. Ahmaogak Sweeney makes a nice movie debut as Nathan, an Eskimo youngster.

The underwater shots of the whales are spectacular. The archival video of network news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather reminds us that this was a real event.

“Big Miracle” is entertaining and will make you feel good. One more thing: the depiction of extreme cold in “Big Miracle” will make you appreciate our current mild winter weather even more.