Movie Review: 42 [2013]

42 [2013]

42 [2013]
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Running Time: 128 minutes

Jackie Robinson will always be known as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, but many seem to forget that he was also a damn good player. In a ten year career, he was a 6-time All-Star, an MVP winner, Rookie of the Year, and a World Series champion. In the new biopic, 42, his excellent career is only glossed over in favor of taking a look at his tumultuous first season.

First, we begin in 1945. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is looking to improve his team and comes up with an unfathomable idea — why not sign a talented African American player? While there was no rule against letting minorities play Major League Baseball, there was an unwritten code that every team adhered by. After taking a look at several of the big names in the Negro leagues — including Roy Campanella and Satchel Paige — Rickey settles on the then 26-year-old Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), citing his strong demeanor and ability to withstand verbal abuse.

42 [2013]

Jackie, accompanied by his lovely wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), spends a season in the minor leagues before hitting the majors in 1947. As soon as he steps on the field on Opening Day, Jackie is surrounded by reporters. This is commonplace, as is the racist heckling from the crowd, written death threats and even petitions against him from his own teammates. It’s hard to believe that just over 60 years ago, the U.S. was so heavily segregated. Toilets, water fountains and even baseball stadiums were divided, with different lines for “whites” and “colored” patrons.

Many of the character interactions in this film are downright disgusting, and sadly enough, most of them actually happened. The most notorious example is when Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) attempts to rattle Robinson while he’s at the plate by spewing racial epithets at him over and over again. Chapman is relentless, and this is when Jackie reaches his breaking point. Is he really ready to do this? Can he continue to handle all of the pressure bestowed upon him as MLB’s first African American player, essentially a trailblazing pioneer? Of course, we know the answer to this.

42 [2013]

It’s somewhat disappointing that 42 only focuses on Jackie’s first season, simply because he had an impressive career with many noteworthy moments. This makes sense from a film perspective since it gives director Brian Helgeland a chance to portray Robinson in the brightest possible light (which I have no complaints about), but it still feels like there is just so much more to tell.

The film is given the full Hollywood treatment with tried-and-true cliches, dramatic music and a number of heavy-handed scenes (I half-expected Steven Spielberg’s name to be attached to the project), and it concludes with notes on what later happened to Jackie and a select few teammates. While I was fully expecting this “where did they go?” epilogue, it was bizarre to see notes given on players who weren’t even named in the film. Much of the supporting cast (re: teammates) are briefly acknowledged by a first name, if we’re lucky, and they all just blur together. While it’s nice to know Ralph Branca played for three different teams in his career, why should the audience care when he was given maybe a few lines in the movie?

42 [2013]

Regardless of these head-scratching end notes, it should be stated that the entire cast did a hell of a job with their roles. Chadwick Boseman perfectly nails Jackie’s baseball mannerisms, and Harrison Ford hits one out of the park with his scenery-chewing performance as the cigar-chomping old codger running the Dodgers. An impressive array of character actors fills out the supporting cast, led by John C. McGinley as the legendary announcer, Red Barber, and Alan Tudyk as the racist manager, Ben Chapman.

42 is a serviceable biopic, and it hits all of the proper emotional notes. It is an important film, one that deserves to be seen, even though it may be too “Hollywood” for its own good. Jackie Robinson’s legacy is undeniable, and at the very least this film has deservedly brought him back into the forefront.

7/10

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Poll Results: Best Harrison Ford Film

In a career full of iconic films, Harrison Ford’s best is quite clear for most:

Raiders of the Lost Ark

THE RESULTS:
– Raiders of the Lost Ark: 21 votes
– Blade Runner: 16 votes
– The Empire Strikes Back: 8 votes
– Star Wars: 5 votes
– Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 3 votes
– Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 3 votes
– The Fugitive: 3 votes
– Air Force One: 1 vote
– The Mosquito Coast: 1 vote
– Patriot Games: 1 vote
– Presumed Innocent: 1 vote
– Witness: 1 vote

While Raiders of the Lost Ark is clearly a juggernaut that can’t be stopped, that was a hell of a job by the Blade Runner fans to make this a close contest. I’m honestly surprised that the Star Wars films didn’t get more votes — Raiders of the Lost Ark received nearly twice as many votes as the Star Wars trilogy combined!

This Week’s Poll: Changing gears this week. Tom Cruise’s sci-fi film, Oblivion, won out at the box office over the weekend, and we have already covered his career before. Let’s discuss video games instead — what is your favorite era for gaming? Are you an old-school NES fan who wishes for the early days of Mario, Contra and Castlevania? Do you prefer the SNES/Genesis era and their impressive selection of RPGs? Or perhaps you are enjoying the latest generations? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Have a great week, folks!

Movie Project #31: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Action/Adventure
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody
Runtime: 127 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom pretty much back-to-back, but over a year has passed since then. Perhaps my general disdain for Temple of Doom had something to do with it — after that subpar effort, I was skeptical that the third entry could achieve the greatness of the original. Little did I know that I would enjoy the hell out of the finale, which in some way even surpasses its legendary beginning.

Set in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), now teaching at Barnett College, is informed that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail. Knowing that his father must be in trouble, Indy travels to Venice, Italy to meet with a colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). After a thrilling trip through rat-infested catacombs, the duo learn that Mr. Jones was abducted by the Nazis and is now held in a castle near the Austrian-German border. This soon becomes a globe-trotting endeavor in which Indy races to find both his father and the Holy Grail, all while fending off those evil Nazi bastards.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

At this point, it’s Indiana Jones 101, but the Last Crusade is most enjoyable thanks to its near-perfect casting. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery have terrific chemistry, and they are a lot of fun to watch together. Although Connery is only twelve years older than Ford, he looks much older in the film, and he does a great job adding comic relief to the non-stop adventures on screen. I’ll take him over Short Round or Willie any day. Old favorites Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) make welcome returns, and the new love interest Elsa is enjoyable as the icy cool blonde.

The Last Crusade has a number of memorable moments as expected. Two obvious highlights are the aforementioned trip through the catacombs, and the epic tank chase en route to the Holy Grail. Also, who can forget the absolutely ridiculous (and awesome) cameo from Adolf Hitler? This is a film that revels in its over-the-top adventures and has a good time doing so.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

I feel I would need to revisit Raiders of the Lost Ark to determine which I liked more, but to say I enjoyed the Last Crusade would be an understatement. This film blew away my (admittedly reserved) expectations, and it’s one that I feel I may enjoy even more on subsequent viewings. Now, the question is, dare I risk tainting these memories by watching the fourth movie?

9/10

Movie Project #27 and #28: Blade Runner [1982] and The Night of the Hunter [1955]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young.

I was already somewhat familiar with Blade Runner thanks to the countless samples that have been used in the worlds of industrial and electronic music. The film’s gritty cyberpunk setting is simply awesome, and the intricately detailed environments are what impressed me most. This is one of the first “neo-noir” films that I have seen, and I really enjoyed it. It’s clear that this has been VERY influential to media of all types, and one of the first examples to come to mind recently is the much-loved video game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That simply would not have been possible without Blade Runner.

I loved the replicants, especially Rutger Hauer’s character. It was a lot of fun seeing him play someone so deranged and unbalanced, and his final battle with Ford’s Rick Deckard was of epic proportions. I also developed a fond likeness for Darryl Hannah’s character and her odd-yet-sexy fashion selections. One minor issue I had was with the occasionally slow pacing, but I remained enamored with the stunning dystopian city of 2019 Los Angeles regardless.

I watched the theatrical cut, and didn’t mind Ford’s voice-over narration, though I can see how that would annoy some. I am pretty curious to check out the alternate versions now, and I get the feeling that this movie is one that will get better with each viewing. 8/10

The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish.

Three words: Robert freakin’ Mitchum. His role as the “Preacher” Harry Powell is the stuff of legends, and he is easily one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history. This is a guy who has “H-A-T-E” and “L-O-V-E” tattooed on his knuckles, and doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to murdering women and children. He is a sadistic man masquerading as a reverend, and he is played to perfection by the charismatic Mitchum.

Equal parts horror and thriller with a touch of Film Noir, The Night of the Hunter is very tense. Watching the two children run away in terror from their new stepfather is frightening, and there were several moments that modern horror films have clearly copied over the years. It’s a shame that Charles Laughton didn’t direct another film because this one is truly remarkable. This is one of my favorite selections so far from this project, and it is unlike anything else I have seen from this time period. Magnificent. 10/10