Martin McDonagh reunites his In Bruges cast, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, and also adds to the Aran Islands mythology of his plays The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in his new black comedy. Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon costar. Eagerly anticipated and arriving in US theaters on Oct. 21.
Ron Howard bounces back from the disaster of Hillbilly Elegywith this tense, involving drama that re-enacts the 2018 rescue of a dozen youths and their coach from a flooded Thai cave. With the focus on some of those most involved in the effort to save the stranded thirteen before a monsoon would certainly drown them as well as the challenges the cave presented, Howard provides an entertaining drama that illuminates the event and acts as kind of a companion piece to Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s award-winning documentary, The Rescue.
Howard quickly sketches the start of the disaster. On June 23,2018, the boys, aged 11-16, members of the Wild Boars youth football team, and a 25-year-old assistant coach entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, 6.2 miles long and full of tunnels and narrow passages. With monsoon season still a few weeks off, it should have been an uneventful adventure but the rains came, trapping them.
As the story spirals into a global news event, would-be rescuers spring into action. There are practical matters: No one knows where the group is within the labyrinth of tunnels. Water has to be diverted from the mountain to keep from further flooding the cavern. There are also political considerations: The region’s governor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) notes that his stay in office has been extended – in the event lives are lost and there is a need to place blame. The film also capture the circus-like atmosphere that such a story engenders: news crews and reporters jostling one another for stories and space, that families in a fish bowl as they await the fates of their loved ones, the crowds of curious onlookers.
Though the trapped youths attracted would-be rescuers from around the world, including Elon Musk, whose idea of conducting an operation using a miniature submarine was deemed unworkable, Thirteen Lives settles on mainly two groups: Thai Navy SEALS, who are challenged by murky waters that made visibility near zero, and a group of cave divers, led by two Brits, a retired fireman, Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), and an IT specialist who is the father of a young son, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell). Three others join them, Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson), Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), and an Australian doctor, Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton). Stanton, the cynic, is not even sure rescue is possible – but like everyone else, he is not willing to surrender to the seeming inevitable.
What Howard does exceptionally well, aided by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and production designer Molly Hughes and her team, who designed the facsimile of the real cave, is show us the conditions facing the rescuers: the lack of visibility, the narrowness of some of the passages, and the way the cave system snakes off in different directions. On the screen, Howard marks off distances in meters, another indication of the challenge in getting any of those trapped out alive.
This is one of those historical dramas where unless you have lived your life under a rock or off the grid, you know how the story ends. The pleasure in the film is watching, step by step, how the tale reached its famous conclusion. Acting by the international catch is top-notch, double Oscar nominee William Nicholson’s (Shadlowlands, Gladiator) script finds the intensity in even tiny details, and what the film lacks in suspense from the foregone conclusion it makes up for in tension by its immersion in the divers’ experiences and decisions. Thirteen Livesis old-fashioned, grand entertainment, and that is Howard’s strength as a filmmaker. –Pam Grady
As boxer Roberto Duran might say, no mas, Tim Burton, no mas. A director whose films used to be greeted with excited anticipation now only summons dread. Somewhere along the way, Burton lost his mojo. Dumbo is merely the latest evidence that he is not getting it back anytime soon, a banal exercise in faux sentimentality and overdone CGI. He doesn’t shoulder all the blame. Disney needs to stop using its back catalog of classics as a springboard for films that lack anything resembling the enchantment of the original films.
Scarcely over an hour long, the 1941 Dumbo is one of Disney’s most tear-jerking features. Humans barely exist in this colorful, musical cartoon about a baby circus elephant who is made a laughingstock because of his extra-large ears before he becomes a star when those ears act as wings allowing him to fly. Adding to the baby’s woes is the separation from his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, locked away from the other pachyderms as a mad elephant. But from Dumbo’s tragedy comes triumph and within that short running time is a scene of sublime brilliance in “Pink Elephants on Parade” as surreal imagery dances before the eyes of a drunken Dumbo and Timothy Mouse.
Burton’s Dumbo pays homage to that number in a scene involving pink soap bubble elephants, but all that does is emphasize how bereft the new film is of inspiration and magic. The now CGI elephant, who has curiously empty eyes, is more or less a supporting character to a cast of humans that include motherless children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins); their one-armed, WWI vet and sidelined circus trick rider Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, who really needs to stick to independent fare; his Hollywood movies tend toward the terrible); and Max Medici (Danny DeVito), owner of the threadbare tent show to which Dumbo is born.
As in the original film, Dumbo is separated from his mother, leaving him a grieving elephant, but he also seems to be the key to emotionally repairing the heartbroken Farrier family, and once his aeronautic talents are discovered, to insuring the financial health of the circus. But then big city impresario (and megalomaniac sociopath) V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, whose reunion with his Beetlejuice and Batman director only serves as a reminder of what used to be) and the star of his show, trapeze artist Colette Marchand (Eva Green), sweep in with their own proposal to unite the two enterprises at Vandevere’s Dreamland (think Disneyland meets Coney Island, both on steroids).
There are a lot of “toos” here: The children are too precocious to tug much at heartstrings no matter how much they refer to their dead mother (who seems more of a plot device than someone who actually lived). Their father is too passive to be a true hero (an odd wrinkle in that that missing arm suggests valor to spare). Medici and Vandevere are too cartoony. (And Alan Arkin, in a cameo as a banker who holds Dreamland’s fate in his hands, steals his scenes from DeVito and Keaton with his impeccably dry delivery.) And Dumbo is too CGI. (His 1941 cel animation counterpart seemed far more real).
As usual, Burton seems to have paid most attention to his production design, the rendering of the tatty Medici circus and its sideshow and Dreamland. Dumbo is overstuffed visually and undernourished narratively. The clunky script credited to Ehren Kruger (whose credits include Scream 3, Reindeer Games, and three Transformers sequels) is charmless and prosaic. There is precious little within the movie to delight and enrapt children and even less to keep their parents awake through the long slog. Where Dumbo and its story of a flying elephant ought to soar, instead it crashes and burns. –Pam Grady