Monday, 30 September 2013

Rush

WRITTEN BY: Peter Morgan
DIRECTED BY: Ron Howard
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
RATING: 3.5 stars

If you love Formula One, you will probably love Rush. If not, you might still like it because despite all the scenes full of fast cars and racing jargon, the film is still essentially a human interest story based on true events and real people. In fact, sport has often given Hollywood a great story-telling opportunity. While many have been made about football and boxing, few have dared to venture into the world of car racing. But director Ron Howard has crafted a film that is engaging to both men and women, whether they are racing fans or not. Written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon, Rush only falters a little by being too dramatic in parts and about 15 minutes too long due to all the unnecessarily long speeches.

Set mostly during the dangerously climactic 1976 racing season, Rush chronicles the fierce rivalry between British racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). As they worked their way up the racing ranks, the pair eyed each other off as a main competitor and locked horns over their vastly different approaches to the sport. Hunt, who was rumoured to have slept with 5000 women, was a cheeky playboy who enjoyed his booze and women as much as his racing. But Lauda was an almost humourless mathematician and not nearly as liked by his fellow racers as Hunt. The film also depicts their personal lives and how it effected their careers. Olivia Wilde has a small role as Hunt's wife, while Alexandra Maria Lara plays Lauda's partner.

There are plenty of thrills in the film with roaring engines and the exceptional recreation of several races. The cinematography was particularly impressive in the crash scenes. It was also hard not to gasp and wince at the sight of some of the injuries shown in the film. Rush certainly illustrates the dangers involved in the sport and there are several hospital scenes that are quite gruesome.

Strong performances help make this film worthwhile, particularly from Hemsworth who oozes charm. While some Hollywood hunks try to prove their acting chops by shying away from "pretty boy" roles, Hemsworth has embraced his popularity but has also managed to prove his dramatic abilities through this film. There is a lot more than Thor to Hemsworth, although many viewers will be pleased to know he is naked within the first 10 minutes of the film. Bruhl is also very good, particularly in some of his more emotionally pained scenes.

If you don't already know what happened to Hunt and Lauda, you will find yourself drawn into the story. If you do know their tale, you will be pleased with the depiction on screen. It is a shame the film was not edited tighter to cut out the useless and overly dramatic scenes.



Thursday, 26 September 2013

Runner Runner

WRITTEN BY: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
DIRECTED BY: Brad Furman
STARRING: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie
RATING: 1.5 stars
 
Boring and predictable. They are two of the worst words a film maker would ever want used to describe their film. Unfortunately, those are the exact words to describe Runner Runner. Written by the men who wrote Ocean's 13 and directed by the man who gave us The Lincoln Lawyer, Runner Runner lacks the thrills that those films generated. It is a film about the seedy world of online gambling but there is hardly any suspense at all and no likeable characters. Runner Runner is only 1.5 hours long, and yet, I kept looking at my watch every 10 minutes waiting for it to end.
 
When gifted Princeton college student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is caught breaking college rules with his gambling operation, he bets all of his savings on an online poker game to cover his college fees. But he loses everything in an apparent scam so he travels to Costa Rica to confront the owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Block returns the money to Richie but also offers him a job that is too good to resist. Soon, Richie is submerged in Block's gambling world and falls for Block's girlfriend Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). But as the violence escalates and the stakes get higher, Richie realises there is more to Block's gambling business than he first thought.
 
Affleck has certainly copped more than his fair share of criticism over the years and is these days more respected as a director than an actor - which is why there was such an outburst about him playing Batman - but he was actually the strongest actor in this film. He was at times quite funny, particularly in one torturous crocodile scene. Meanwhile, Timberlake was annoying and his character was totally unrelatable. As the film's hero, audiences should feel sympathy for him, but I could not care less. Arterton was also one-dimensional and her character lacked development. Anthony Mackie plays a hard FBI agent trying to bust Block. He was good in parts but seemed to over-act in other scenes, although the mediocre dialogue could be blamed for that.

Poker is about assessing the odds and taking risks. Unfortunately, Runner Runner had a bad hand and could not bluff its way out.
 
 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lovelace

WRITTEN BY: Andy Bellin
DIRECTED BY: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
STARRING: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Sharon Stone, James Franco, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale
RATING: 3 stars

I really wanted to love this film. Amanda Seyfried gives such a brave performance as Linda Lovelace in a film that tells the shocking story of one of the world's most famous porn stars. Yet, the film also disappointed me in many ways, not least of which was its melodrama. Lovelace's life story is dramatic enough - it did not need to be made to feel like a soap opera. The film was good, but it could have been so much better.

The film is less about the porn industry and the story of how Deep Throat was created - although those things are covered - and more about Linda's abusive marriage to Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Told through flashbacks and re-flashbacks, the story chronicles Linda's life in the 70's when she lived under the strict roof of her mother (Sharon Stone) until Chuck sweeps her off her feet. After they are married, his true personality is revealed and Chuck begins physically abusing her. He also forces Linda into prostitution and the porn industry. Years later, Linda writes an autobiography about her experiences.

There are moments in this film that will leave you horrified at the extent of the abuse such as when Chuck forces his wife into prostituting herself with a group of men to earn some money to level a debt. The scene when Linda's mother asks her what she did to make Chuck angry enough to hit her is also a heartbreaking moment between mother and daughter. The film suggests Linda was a victim of the time, being forced to obey her husband no matter how he treated her. Obviously, the film was written with Linda's autobiography providing the inspiration, but that means Chuck is at times represented as more like a monster than a man. It is a biased story.

Lovelace has a raft of cameos from actors including Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale who play porn film makers, and James Franco who plays Playboy creator Hugh Hefner. All are good, but their roles are so small that they are hardly memorable. Chris Noth has a slightly bigger role as a producer who is kind to Linda. Adam Brody has the funniest small role as Linda's co-star in Deep Throat. Stone was almost unrecognisable as Linda's overbearing mother and she was in fine form. But the film really belonged to Seyfried and Sarsgaard - both of whom were powerful even with the weak script. You could only imagine how much better they could have been with some better dialogue. Still, Seyfried in particular endured some emotional and violent scenes, and she did a great job with the character.

If you think Lovelace is going to be a sexy film about the porn industry, think again. It is brutal, raw and heartbreaking.





Saturday, 14 September 2013

RIPD

WRITTEN BY: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi,
DIRECTED BY: Robert Schwentke
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak
RATING: 2.5 stars

To describe RIPD as being anything like Men In Black is neither fair, nor accurate. The trailer makes it look like yet another Men In Black sequel but it is actually a very distinct story. That is not to say that it is a particularly good story, but at least it is unique. The target audience are probably young teenagers and many of them will enjoy this film.

Based on the Dark Horse series of graphic novels by Peter M Lenkov, RIPD tells the story of Boston cop Nick (Reynolds) who is betrayed by his partner Hayes (Kvein Bacon) and killed on the job. Nick's journey to face judgement is interrupted by the Rest In Peace Department (RIPD) who pair him up with old western lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges) to go back to Earth and arrest those who have cheated death. But when they are on Earth, they have different bodies so Nick looks like an old Chinese man and Roy looks like a blonde bombshell. You can foretell the comedy that that creates. During their investigation, the duo learn that Hayes is a far dirtier cop than Nick thought. Also, it seems those who cheated death are assembling an ancient artefact that will allow them to trigger the apocalypse.

There is some good use of 3D in this film, as well as some special effects and clever use of freeze frames. The technical aspect is probably the best thing RIPD has to offer. It is supposed to be a comedy but it is really a one-gag film and that same joke is repeated more than a dozen times. To be fair, an old Chinese man holding a banana as a gun and running around with a hot blonde woman is quite funny, but it should not have been the only gimmick in the film.

Reynolds has copped a lot of criticism in recent years for being involved in sub-standard films. RIPD will do little to improve that image of him, particularly because he is not very good in it. He lacked the ever so important chemistry needed for a buddy film with Bridges. Speaking of the Oscar winner, he also seems to struggle to create an entertaining character and is more of a caricature. His relationship with Mary-Louise Parker's character, who also works at RIPD, is also unconvincing. The saving grace of this film is Bacon. Can he just be in everything, please?

RIPD is not likely to win any awards and it is not as memorable as similar films of its genre, but with school holidays starting in a couple of weeks, it may be a handy film for parents to send their teenage children to see.