The Rover

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Release: Friday, June 13, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

People often are products of their environment. In the case of The Rover, it seems to be the other way around.

If that sounds like a call for the environmentally-minded to flock to their nearest indie/arthouse theater to see this flick, I don’t believe I could be more misleading. This unrelentingly bleak drama about a desperate man in search of his stolen vehicle in the middle of the sprawling Australian Outback has as much to do with environmental sustainability as Twilight has to do with vampires sucking blood.

Random reference? Sure, it might seem so. I’d be lying to you though if I said The Rover doesn’t rely on a moving performance from one Robert Pattinson (of said sugar-coated vampire-tale fame).

You know what, I actually did just lie. Well, only slightly. While the film provides ample screen time for Pattinson’s Rey — a homely and somewhat dim-witted young man whose backstory isn’t very clear — its gut-punch is delivered through the tension building up between both its leading males, that of Pattinson and the brutal role Guy Pearce has once again been saddled with. This time he plays Eric, an enigmatic loner seen in the film’s open taking a long pause in his car before stumbling into a shack and pouring himself a large drink.

Eric is no sooner tipping the glass back in an extended gesture of despair — welcome to the unforgiving realms of the place those on the outside (i.e. me) like to simply call ‘The Land Down Under’ — when he hears his car being stolen. The event is both dramatic and beautifully understated, playing out as a seemingly singular event from which we ought to recover soon. We don’t. In fact we go tumbling down the rabbit hole instead, as Eric quickly goes in pursuit and subsequently as things go from bad to vile.

The Rover can hardly be accused of overcomplicating things. Here’s a very simple premise that may even border on the pointless. Yet to dismiss the narrative as such would be to grossly overlook the startling themes that are presented. Set in a world a decade after the fallout of society as we currently know it — a subtitle before the movie gets going contributes to a sense of disorientation very early on — we are forced to confront a reality that has been teetering on the edge, only now pushed beyond it and here is the aftermath. What better location in which to film in order to convey this idea than in the unforgiving deserts of the Outback. Each scene featured in The Rover emphasizes a lack of humanity and an abundance of misery.

Each one also categorically confronts us with the truth about the power of currency and how powerless society could will be without it. A myriad of camera angles lingers on many a broken and decrepit edifice, on dirt floors and people existing in squalor — ordinarily stuff that wouldn’t be very compelling to watch on their own terms. But there’s a larger plot at work here, beyond the search for Eric’s car. Michôd’s story, an effort resulting from the collaboration between himself and Aussie native Joel Edgerton, attempts to reduce humans to their material possessions when faced with the alternative of having absolutely nothing at all. That it does very well through the winding plot of Pearce going after the one thing he can’t stand to lose.

The Rover ought to be viewed as a straightforward drama whose personality only gets slightly confused when it attempts to break from its oppressive shackles of physical and emotional brutality. Scenes such as the tumbling SUV as viewed through a window, and a particularly sensitive moment for Rey as he sings along to an American pop tune jut out but only distractingly. There aren’t any other scenes like these, which may prove more problematic for some viewers than for others. Alternatively, they may be looked at as welcomed oases from the misery.

Featuring another turn for Scoot “my middle name is Bleak” McNairy, who plays Rey’s conflicted brother, this is a film that most definitely supports the cliché ‘it’s really not about the destination, but the journey in getting there.’ Fortunately there’s slightly more to the affair than that, such as the evidence Pattinson provides for his case that he can, in fact, affect drama significantly.

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3-5Recommendation: The Rover is likely to prove too uneventful and even more conceivably, far too dark for many. This isn’t a film that cares to celebrate humanity. However there is enough drama and suspense to satisfy a more niched audience, and Aussie audiences are bound to find the use of the unforgiving reaches of the Outback compelling cinema. Bolstered by solid work from a consistent act in Guy Pearce and further buoyed by Pattinson’s odd but affecting support, this film won’t be as impacting as the director’s previous effort, Animal Kingdom, but it is intensely watchable and that’s good enough for me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Your brother left you to die. He’s abandoned you out here to me.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Lone Survivor

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Release: Christmas Day 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Before we dive into an analysis of this film, let’s first get one thing straight: this is no Saving Private Ryan. The critic who made that comparison probably made it in the (understandably) dizzying buzz after experiencing an early screening of Peter Berg’s war film and felt compelled to give it the highest of accolades to kick off the onslaught of promotional efforts that was to come. In so doing, he was pretty successful in spreading the fire. There has been almost no end to people calling this a modern Spielbergian masterpiece.

Here are a few things the two films have in common: blood. Bullets. Blood. Excessive swearing. Blood. Gut-wrenching deaths. Blood. Blue skies. Blood. Americans and their red blood. But there the commonalities run out.

Lone Survivor is a grisly look at the botched Operation Red Wings, a mission undertaken by four Navy SEALS in an effort to track down and eliminate a high-priority member of the Taliban in the hostile hillsides of Afghanistan. Over the course of roughly 72 hours, the fates of Navy Lieutenant and team leader Michael P. Murphy (here portrayed by Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officers Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), and Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) would be decided by a combination of poor communication and even worse luck. As the film’s title blatantly informs the masses, only one would be living to tell the tale of these extraordinary days. That man was Marcus Luttrell.

Director Peter Berg (Battleship, Hancock) bases his film off of the written accounts penned by Luttrell in 2007. He apparently benefited from the technical support of former Navy SEALS, including Luttrell, to stage a good chunk of the action sequences. The director set a precedent by becoming the first civilian to become embedded with a Navy SEALs team in Iraq for a month while he wrote the script. As a result, Lone Survivor is more than likely technical perfection. But taken as a filmgoing experience, there is simply something missing from the equation that would have earmarked his film for not only inspirational but educational purposes. For reasons that are about to be explained, and though it’s far more graphic, Saving Private Ryan still seems like the go-to option for classroom use.

This really isn’t intended to be a compare-and-contrast review; it’s coming across that way because the claim that this is “the most extraordinary war film since Saving Private Ryan” is an overly sensationalized marketing strategy for Berg’s picture — one that needs to be put into perspective.

The first thing that should be noted in the differences column is that Lone Survivor severely lacks character development and enough chemistry between these Navy SEALS to make the circumstances truly horrific. In the line of fire they call each other brothers but that word is in the script, not in their hearts. We enter the field with machines, not distinct human personalities that we easily can attach life stories to. However, Berg believes its possible to empathize with the performances since this is based on a real occurrence. Based on his direction, the patriotism on display should be more than sufficient to make an audience care. In actual fact, it’s just barely enough. There’s no denying the emotional impact of the film, yet the question still lingers. If we got to know these soldiers as more than just the rough, gruff American heroes that they most certainly are, the aftermath would be even more devastating.

Berg also can hardly be described as the master of subtlety. Lone Survivor ultimately feels like a blunt instrument with which he may bludgeon us over the head, and the lack of character development makes the proceedings even more numbing. During the protracted (read: violent) sequences of confrontation with members of al Qaeda, bullets and bodies fly at random, and often times it’s not the fact that 180 cajillion bullets pierce through flesh that’s painful to watch so much as the environment is unforgiving. Several times over watch in agony as the four guys tumble down the mountainside, smacking into trees, rocks, animals — you name it.

During any one of these excruciating slow-motion edits it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see Berg pop out of a bush, break the fourth wall and ask those in the audience who are still dubious about our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Well what do you think of our soldiers now?!” We get it — war is hell, and the sacrifices these people make are enormous. If that’s the main take away from the film it’s hardly an original one. We can get the same effect by watching the news. More often than not live footage of what’s occurring is more affecting than a movie can ever hope to be.

A third, and lesser flaw revolves around the casting of Mark Wahlberg. The marquee name is just large enough to ensure the others get shoved to the background and that as many tickets to this event are sold. Marky-Mark’s a likable enough actor, but where Spielberg’s epically sprawling film can get away with so many big names (Hanks, Sizemore, Damon, etc.) Lone Survivor‘s disinterest in developing characters or even a great deal of camaraderie between the guys makes Wahlberg’s presence seem awkward and misjudged. Contrast him to Hirsch, Foster and Kitsch — still relatively known actors but at least these three are relegated to the tragic roles that they play.

This is not a terrible film, but it’s not going to end up being the definitive story about what happened during Operation Red Wings — although that may not be possible. There was so much chaos on this mission, as evidenced by Berg’s storytelling here. Truth be told, it’s probably impossible conceiving a film that truly renders the nightmare experienced by this lone survivor. Though Luttrell was on set, often providing advice to Berg on how to best depict what he saw over these few days, the others sadly weren’t able to offer their input. It’s realistic, sure. But a classic film it most certainly is not.

Film Title: Lone Survivor

2-5Recommendation: Though patriotism bleeds through the film reel, there’s not enough here to show why this disastrous mission really mattered. For those who haven’t heard about this mission (or anyone still undecided about seeing this film), the best route to take would be to track down Luttrell’s written account (of the same name) where, presumably, no detail should be spared. There’s detail aplenty in Berg’s film, too, but much of that pertains to the gruesome way in which some of our beloved soldiers have fallen. That’s not noble; it’s just sickening.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Nebraska

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Release: Friday, November 15, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

“Back in my day, sonny, black-and-white films were all we had. You had no idea if it meant a film was going to be good or not. But you always knew that corn was going to be.”

With Nebraska being the great Alexander Payne’s follow-up to The Descendants — a gorgeous film which happened to snag an Oscar trophy for Best Screenplay in 2012 — it’s natural to assume it will be a product of the utmost quality. That’s a safe assumption to make, by the way, because this 2013 effort from the Nebraska-born director — one that provides a beautiful yet somber cross-section of life in the corn belt — is, for the lack of a better word, brilliant.

Every film has its own rubric for how it shall be remembered. No matter how effective or ineffective these are, there’s always going to be that one element that sticks out like a sore thumb, the one thing that the overwhelming majority of filmgoers will remember about their experience. Some works like to boast their visual effects (what’s that one movie that Alfonso Cuarón just did. . .I hear it was a good one), while others tout their A-list cast as if it were a banquet of performances on which worldwide audiences shall feast (American Hustle; Out of the Furnace; Lee Daniels’ The Butler being some of the prime examples this year). Others still bank on the strength of their screenplay to achieve a desired effect. In these cases, the talent of the cast can range from questionable to award-winning, but ultimately the performances will fall second place to the story at hand as characters function more as chess pieces on a massive game board (The Hobbit, anyone?).

While films certainly will have great strength in other areas — the second installment in the Hunger Games franchise is a great example of a strong cast executing a spectacular story (even if it’s not an entirely original one) — at the end of the day, one element tends to outweigh the rest, becoming the take-away, ultimate last impression. Especially when talking about the casual movie goer. In the case of Nebraska, while it’s no journey to Mt. Doom or Battle Royale, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern)’s mission to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize money of one million dollars in any way possible is very much a moving story that uses actors who don’t necessarily jump off the screen but are perfect fits for the narrative at hand.

Never before has sleepytown U.S.A. seen such excitement. When Woody comes rolling through Hawthorne, Nebraska on his way to collecting what he thinks are his earned winnings via some random sweepstakes, he finds himself quickly becoming the talk of the town. Old friends, family members and neighbors alike come out of the woodwork to “congratulate” Woody on this news. Fortunately his sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) reflect our concerns about his delusion. However, after seeing his father on multiple occasions walking dangerously down busy roads in an attempt to reach his destination on foot, David reluctantly drives the fragile, stolid man to Nebraska, fully aware this is a wild goose chase. In an attempt to divert Woody’s attention for just a brief bit, he stalls in Hawthorne and the family has a big get-together, mostly to see Woody. Considering his deteriorating mental and physical state, David has no clue how long his old man will be around for and figures a family reunion could end this obsession with the sweepstakes coupon.

It is in this ever-eroding town, a culture that is ingeniously enhanced by Payne’s decision to shoot in grayscale, where the problems begin to arise. It’s one thing for Kate, David and Ross to be concerned (read: frustrated) by Woody’s ignorance here, but quite another for an entire town to be let in on the secret. Despite David’s best efforts to keep it quiet, the least perceptive viewer should realize that it’s a matter of inevitability before everyone knows about Woody’s sudden good fortune.

The story is deceivingly complex, and equally so enriched with humanity. While the primary thread is about Woody trying to get his cash, this is more importantly a study of a way of life in the American mid-west that seems to be on the verge of extinction. In multiple beautifully captured shots, one can sense the dust and cobwebs climbing up and over everything, burying underneath it a longstanding history of humbled tradition, one that prides itself on its dedication to manual labor and small-town mom-and-pop business. Obviously, corn is a priority. But that’s not what the big picture is here. What’s more startling than anything is how much these places seem to have fallen by the wayside with the advent of technology in the 21st Century. This is a film set in present day, but it could just as easily have been set in the 1960s; the forties. There’s something about Payne’s choice of location that is timeless — not in the romantic sense, per se, but more so in the dog-with-three-legs kind of way.

But that last paragraph is more extrapolation than anything else. What really runs deep is the journey to discover what makes the Grant family tick.

In a place where gossip spreads like wildfire due to a lack of other avenues of entertainment, the biggest challenge facing the Grants concerns the town’s potential reaction to what we all might assume is the reality of his situation: he’s not a millionaire. He’s just a sad, confused man, desperate to cling on to something, anything in his last years. In the process of getting to Lincoln, there is so much to be discovered about the relationships between father and son, between wife and husband, and perhaps most troublingly, that of the one between Woody and his friends. . .namely, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a man he enlisted in the Korean War with.

Payne continues to refine his ability to balance gloom-and-doom with comedy in this Bruce Dern-led drama. This film brings tears to the eye as effortlessly as it wrings laughter from a deadpan script. A great deal of the comedy stems from Squibb’s disproval of her husband, but these moments never feel anything less than genuine. The same can be said about the particularly low moments. There is heart ache abound in this low-key drama about the true despair of aging and the importance of family. At the end of the day, Nebraska is one great example of a film relying on the strength and authenticity of its storytelling. Audiences are going to latch on to many aspects of this movie (the performances are truly excellent), but in this case, the most resonant aspect is the crushing blow to the ego that lotteries and sweepstakes provide more often than not. The money (especially the lack thereof) doesn’t necessarily make the man.

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4-5Recommendation: While it helps to be a follower of the Alexander Payne school of film, Nebraska is a thoroughly well-made film that deserves a wider audience than it’s getting. Quiet, unassuming and surprisingly emotional (surprising, given the setting), the story of Woody Grant is extremely touching. One of this reviewer’s favorites of 2013 to be sure. Go see it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “C’mon, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Dallas Buyers Club

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

AIDS sucks. Rednecks’ treatment of animals sucks. The government sucks. For everything else that doesn’t suck, there’s Dallas Buyers Club.

Ron Woodruff would probably approve of my spin on the Mastercard jingle. Well, all except the part about the treatment of animals, as he’s a cowboy himself and couldn’t care less about a raging bull’s balls.

To go off on a little tangent here (because rodeos really make me upset since I think the sport epitomizes the term ‘pointless’) bullriders are mysterious creatures to me. Well, sad really. They sit atop an animal more than five times their size, an animal they’re about to make feel half the size of human beings because the whole point is to dominate the animal for eight seconds; an animal that’s recently and intentionally been enraged by getting its genitalia vice-gripped by some retard rodeo clown. Riders ironically then have this look of terror on their face as soon as the ride begins. When they either succeed or fail at maintaining that short period of time professionally molesting the animal, they run away (or get trampled). Game over. They get points and recognition out of this somehow.

Though the redneck quota may be sky-high, thankfully this film from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée doesn’t focus too terribly much on this grim aspect of certain cultures. Interestingly enough, it errs on the side of the inhumanity towards other humans. In the mid-1980s the height of the fear and misunderstanding surrounding the HIV/AIDS virus had reached its pinnacle. Those who had it were the quote-unquote undesirable types — homosexuals, intravenous drug users, losers, etcetera. This was a disease generally viewed as one that people ‘deserved.’

So when rowdy old Ron (McConaughey) collapses in his trailer home one day and finds himself in the hospital when he next wakes up, the news that he has HIV and hence why he’s so weak lately comes as a great shock. His level of ignorance and intolerance at first matches that of the nation’s in this decade. He can’t stand the idea that he could possibly get a disease like this: “There ain’t nothin’ that can take Ron Woodruff down in 30 days.” While his T-cell count may be down to nine, his brain cell count has to be even lower. However, he’s not so stupid as to avoid researching his situation. And sure as hellfire he discovers that indeed, having drunken and unprotected sex in the filth and squalor of a trailer park with ghastly-looking whores, well shucks. . . that’d sure do it.

That I started off not having high opinions of this character of McConaughey’s speaks to the quality of his performance. After seeing him earlier this year in Mud, it seemed the standard had been set then and there for Best Male Lead Performance, and since then there’s only been maybe a handful of others who might give the titular character a run for his money. But I have a feeling come the Oscars the conversation will oddly not include that role; instead it will focus on his skinny-jeans Ron Woodruff. You will start out hating this man and all of his ridiculous insecurities and phobias, yet come the end of the film you may or may not be weeping for him. Depends on how sturdy you are as a filmgoer, I suppose.

That we end up feeling anything for Woodruff at all, though, is credited to Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and their superb writing — writing that brings rough-around-the-edges characters front-and-center and making them compelling to watch. Woodruff may be a bit of a misanthrope (aren’t all rednecks?) but his motivation for staying alive makes who and what he is that much more complex. While he almost can’t stand being around gay people or transexuals or what-have-you, everything he does in Dallas Buyers Club post-doctor visit is for the betterment of not only himself, but for those who he deems worthy of a fighting chance of survival (anyone who can afford to be in his Buyers Club, that is).

Inspired by events he’s heard about happening in other parts of the country, he starts up a highly illegal Buyers Club of his own in a hotel in Dallas, with the sole purpose being to serve as an alternative treatment center for those with the disease. His experiences with hospitals and advanced medical care — stuff that hasn’t been working at all — has led him to this point. Enlisting the help of a vivacious transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodruff’s rusty exterior slowly starts to peel away, revealing a softer man who is far more altruistic than his environment might otherwise suggest.

Speaking of Leto, it’s good to see that his band 30 Seconds to Mars allowed him to take some much-needed time off, so he could starve himself down to 114 pounds for this role. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club might actually top a career-defining one from his co-star. At the very least, what Leto had to do to get into character here was a bit more complicated. On one level, he’s playing a man who seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, and on another, he’s a man stricken with this horrible disease that is wasting his body away. Some of the more powerful imagery in this film stem from scenes in which Leto’s present. Coupled with an infectious attitude that his Rayon has, Leto might well be more memorable than McConaughey here, though that’s not to say one truly outweighs the other. Combined, the two put on a most transformative show and are fully convincing, in every sense of the word. They keep this rather sad affair afloat.

Jennifer Garner is also quite spectacular, playing the conflicted Dr. Eve Saks, who is one of the first to tell Woodroof he has a mere 30 days left to live. The doc’s role is a particularly tricky one, what with having to tow the line between policies and procedures set forth by her institution, as well as showing that she truly cares about her patients with a terminal illness. Deftly balancing her character’s professionalism with some strong emotional moments, Garner, while never being an actress I’ve kept an eye on, suits the scene just fine here and in many cases she bears too much of the burden herself. In some ways she is as tragic as the people who are physically suffering.

The sum total of Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t end up arriving at the most profound conclusions that the dedication of its lead actors here more often than not suggests. The story arc, unpredictable as it is, is sort of a one-way street, which in some ways makes the concept feel limited. But it’s within the performances where this movie really lies. Its cast is dedicated to providing physically accurate renderings of this brutal illness, which is enough of a basis to recommend this film on alone. Getting into the personalities behind the Dallas Buyers Club, however. . .well that’s another story entirely.

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4-5Recommendation: This is a performance-driven piece, so if you are into that sort of thing, Dallas Buyers Club should have you covered. More specifically. . . McConaughey seems to have hit his stride as a dramatic actor. Between this and his fugitive from this spring, he has this year alone turned in some of the more compelling anti-heros that I personally can recall in years. But I would like to again emphasize this isn’t just the McSkinny-hey show. Leto gives it his all here as well, humanizing a kind of person many typically turn a blind eye to. After a four-year hiatus, it is good to see him also returning in fine form. . .even if his physique here betrays the concept of ‘fine form.’

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Rush

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Release: Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Theater]

2013 finds Ron Howard operating well within his comfort zone again, returning to construct the definitive racing film.

A gripping, polished and thoughtfully-crafted drama piece, Rush delves into one remarkable season of racing which would ultimately define the careers of two top performers in Formula 1.

Howard and comedy, it would seem, mix about as well as bald race tires on wet pavement (in case that’s not clear, not well). The unnecessary detour we took in 2011 with The Dilemma serves as a painful reminder that sometimes straying from the course carries more risk than reward. But perhaps it’s the fact that the man is coming out of the shadows of that terribly confusing, un-funny film that makes this particular movie such a euphoric experience.

Rush compares the passions of two fierce competitors in 1970s Formula 1 racing. The film is equally an action/drama as much as it is a cleverly constructed biopic;  red-headed Richie Cunningham devotes as much time and material to the British playboy James Hunt (here portrayed by a thoroughly entertaining Chris Hemsworth) and the starkly more disciplined and straight-edged Austrian, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), as he does to the critical developments on the racetracks.

I suppose seeing the film on an RPX screen helped bring the story to larger-than-life proportions. But that’s more of the icing on the cake, really. Peter Morgan, who also wrote Frost/Nixon and The Queen, is responsible for us feeling as though we have injected ourselves with extra adrenaline; that we’re trapped inside the claustrophobic cockpits of these exquisite automobiles. The only thing missing is the smell of burning motor oil, the cigars and the expensive perfumes and colognes. Morgan’s brilliant writing provides the sexy cast fully-realized characters that Hemsworth and Brühl simply run away with. (Or drive away with, if that metaphor suits you better.)

In the 70s, perhaps no rivalry was as bitter and as intense as the one dividing Hunt and Lauda, and Howard was keen to prioritize this aspect over the many other intricate details that comprise this project. One of the more compelling reasons to see this film is the simple fact that Howard does his damn research. Time and again he’s proven himself a director who pays attention to the details, no matter how technical the subject matter. In this case anyway, the material is as complicated as anything he’s ever dealt with (the adventures of Jim Lovell and company being a close second), yet you feel completely immersed in a world that is a near perfect-reflection of reality. Those who have come to love Howard’s style also trust in his earnestness.

Arguably the most rewarding aspect of Rush is the replication of the drivers’ less-than-pleasant relationship. Howard realizes its critical we know the personalities before we know their abilities; that we know what motivates each for taking the actions that they take. Consequently, when such decisions are made and certain events transpire, we care that much more for the people involved.

James Hunt bumps into the dark-haired, brusque Austrian racer one afternoon during a Formula 3 event — a lower-level form of the top-end race car circuit — and immediately there is tension between them. From the beginning its clear that Lauda is a technical perfectionist while Hunt enjoys bearing the fruits of his labor. . . and his good looks, of course. He’s the party animal; the one to be spraying a huge bottle of champagne after one race and puking minutes before the next. He’s the one to be bedding women like Olivia Wilde’s Suzy Miller. However, it is Lauda who is consistently described as “a genius in the car,” and given that Lauda’s generally unlikable persona made it more difficult (more like next to impossible) for him to get picked up by a team on his own merits, he has to struggle much harder to get in. Fortunately his efforts eventually pay off and in fact Ferrari signs him to their team.

Hunt’s lack of focus on (read: important) matters off the track results in his lack of sponsorship for the upcoming 1976 season, and though he jokes that all he needs on his car is something about cigarettes and condoms, its clear Hunt knows he’s in trouble.

Howard’s films typically are imbued with historically accuracy, and this one’s certainly no different. He accounts for every last detail surrounding racing as not only a sport, but a culture. A way of survival, even. From Lauda’s mechanical crew looking more than irritated having spent an entire night completely rebuilding his car to his exact specifications, to Hunt failing to attract new sponsors; from the quick, tight shots of the driver inside the car pushing down the pedals and switching gears, to slow-motion shots of the tires spinning in heavy downpours, Rush is almost poetic in its visual beauty and technical prowess. It could be Howard’s most immaculate project yet.

No moment in the film might exemplify the reality of driving for a living better than what happens to Niki Lauda one fateful day in Germany. Infamously referred to as ‘The Graveyard,’  the incredibly harrowing Nürburgring track is responsible for many, many serious accidents, a good number of which have been fatal. On the day of the race, the weather was anything but ideal. Heavy rains and low visibility prompted the incredibly intelligent Lauda to call a meeting in an attempt to boycott the race. Citing unreasonably high danger levels, Lauda was virtually alone in his position, as Hunt (at least in the film) points out that this would likely guarantee his (Lauda’s) win for the season, since cutting out the German Grand Prix would provide everyone else one less racing opportunity to catch up to him in the total points standings.

Later that day, Lauda’s car would be converted into a raging fireball after he overcorrects through a turn which inadvertently pierces the car’s fuel cell. The driver sat in a blistering inferno of over 800 degrees for about sixty seconds, causing irreparable damage to his face and lungs. He would spend roughly a month in the hospital recovering from horrific burns. Howard handles this pivotal moment with all the grace one could ever expect from him, and its really quite the gut-check time for both the other racers and us, the audience. It’s not an easy scene to witness.

This is a pivotal moment not only for the real-life champion, but relative to the film as well. Even if it’s a two-hour affair, this film simply flies by in no time at all. The film following the accident becomes twice as compelling, given the turn-around time for Lauda returning to the sport. Within four weeks, he’s back in the car, much to everyone’s amazement — particularly James Hunt’s. The film begs the question, what exactly separates the will to win versus the will to survive? In sports/careers in which the danger levels are directly proportional to the risks those individuals take, often the two overlap. Winning often means outlasting death. Losing means you played it too safe, or simply weren’t good/fast enough. And with Howard’s visionary style of directing, this is only part of the picture.

More than anything, Rush honors the legends that are Niki Lauda and James Hunt by shedding light on both their personal and professional lives (it doesn’t hurt either that the actors portraying them are strikingly similar in appearance) while never forcing the drama that came with the territory. Indeed, this develops as naturally as Howard’s confidence behind the camera has over a protracted career.

Formula 1 racing certainly approaches the top of the ladder in terms of the danger and the intrigue. Having experienced the United States Grand Prix in 2003 in Indianapolis, I can vouch for both, though fortunately me and my friends did not bear witness to anything near as dramatic as what happened to the formidable Austrian. It’s an interesting thought to entertain to consider what this film might have been like in the hands of anyone else other than those of Hollywood’s favorite ginger-haired director.

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4-0Recommendation: Race fans and Ron Howard devotees unite! Rush delivers upon almost everything promised by its enticing trailers, though it lacks a bit in some areas regarding the women who were behind the great drivers. Neither Wilde nor Alexandra Maria Lara (who plays Lauda’s wife, Marlene) are given much time to develop as characters at all. All the same, this is a wholly engaging experience that will have you whiteknuckled for most of its duration, and if you enjoy learning about the subject matter as much as you do witnessing it, this might just be the perfect movie for you. On that note, I fully expect this film to do far better in Europe than in America since the market for Formula 1 is nowhere near as demanding in the States unfortunately.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Descendants

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Release: Friday, December 9, 2011

[Redbox]

How the Oscars chose a black-and-white film over this now seems absurd. Old-school film noir is a pretentiously nostalgic stance to take when approaching the 84th presentation of the Oscars. When it became clear that taking such risk would eventually merit a Best Picture, The Descendants, then, quickly and unfortunately descended into a stack of lesser (though still quality) DVDs-to-be. (It also did go on to win Best Adapted Screenplay, from the novel of the same name penned by Kaui Hart Hemmings, which was a thoughtful acknowledgement.)

“Don’t be fooled by appearances. In Hawaii some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen.”

That line effloresces the casual motif presented in The Descendants. What a nourishing experience; an intelligent and humane bit of film roll doled out to us upon a serene Pacific palate. Though for all the beauty of the locale, it’d be an idea to keep a tissue handy, as well.

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a rather wealthy if not detached Honolulu resident with a large stake in his family’s land inheritance — 25,000 acres of unspoiled Kaua’i utopia. It’s a perfect backdrop to serve against such a dramatic and heartfelt story about a middle-aged man coming to terms with some of life’s more unappealing offerings. King is married and a father of two rambunctious daughters, but as Clooney eloquently states in the narrative that whisks us into the story, appearances are nothing what they seem.

King’s life is a summation of lawyering and land-holding, of biding time at the office and not so much on sunset-dappled beach walks or with his kids. That’s until the day of Elizabeth’s boating accident, where she “hit her head a bit too hard,” as Matt reassuringly tells friends and family time and again. But here’s how this movie and, though I hate to bring up the cliche, life works: nothing’s certain. In fact what’s certain is its unpredictability. We’ve got that in spades during the course of this exotic adventure of finding truth and clarity, and ultimately, forgiveness in times of such despair and tragedy.

There’s yet another link in the chain of unfortunate events when 17-year-old daughter Alex (excellently portrayed by Shailene Woodley) admits that mom’s infidelity was the source of their quarreling. Understandably enraged by the fact that he’s having to learn that his love life was not without flaw and also that his daughter has to be the filter for such information, King embarks on a journey, determined to find the man responsible for wrecking things. Inexplicably, he’s also going to give the guy a chance to say goodbye to his summer fling, for good.

Along the way virtually everything we encounter is sublime. The morning jog on the beach; the dashboard bobbling hip-shaking hoola dancer in Matt’s cousin’s jeep; the spurts of conversations peppered across the beach as per the script; even the confrontation between Matt and Brian Speer — the man with whom Elizabeth had purportedly slept with. As crucial as it is for Matt to find these things out about his wife and the life he led to this point, there’s a surprising lack of tension, given that the source of a majority of his frustration lies comatose in a hospital bed.

It seems that under the direction of one Alexander Payne, what needed to be created emotionally within this movie had already been done when John Jackson recruited the cast. Clooney is a fairly polished actor, it’s safe to say, and with as big a reputation as he’s been endowed with, the man’s suitably understated as Matt King. Combined with brilliant deliveries from precocious, young actresses like Woodley and Amara Miller (the fifteen-year old Scottie King), plus a script that doesn’t call for weighty and wasteful dialogue, The Descendants may even accomplish something a great many films cannot: matter.

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4-0Recommendation: It’s very easy to get swept up by the breeze. Every character — even one you would not expect (without giving spoilers away…) — becomes endearing to us, thanks to superb acting. The setting is serene. Plus, it boasts a man who continues to age and gray handsomely. What excuse, exactly, can you conjure to miss seeing this masterpiece? (Speaking of, anyone seen Sideways…?)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com