Archive for September, 2013

Rush Is a Rush

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Movies

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Rush makes up in thrills for what it lacks in nuance.  

The story of the 1970’s Formula One race car rivalry between British racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and speedy tactician Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl)) is the stuff of Grand Prix legend.  Director Ron Howard does the story justice by giving it an unexpected moral center.  

Hunt was the playboy in the rivalry, depending on talents, wits and that he could pay a better game of chicken than the other drivers.  Lauda was the craftsman, the one who knew everything about a car and how to race it inside and out, and who honed it to sleek perfection.  

Howard sets up Lauda as the ambivalent villain in the tale, seemingly making Hunt the flawed hero waiting to learn a lesson and become a better man and racer.  But Howard does something better with Hunt.  He makes him human.   Through divorce, loss of sponsorship and personal defeat Hunt defiantly remains the same– dedicated to fun, winning, racing and beating Niki Lauda.  His stubbornness grants him integrity and a grudging admiration in the eyes of Lauda at the end– and eventually chips away the rivalry into a plucky friendship once the obsession to be world champion is removed. 

The tactical Lauda comes off as cool because he is so cerebral, so dedicated to racing and perfecting it.  And if it wasn’t for Hunt, he would be king of the hill.  His skill level was that much greater than anyone else.  That cerebral quality also made Lauda more sensible than the other drivers with their death-defying mantras and bravado.  Lauda would never want to race whenever his self-calculated chance of dying exceeded 20 percent.  Rush has him in one scene trying to have his fellow drivers trying to call off a race that would be held in a downpour because it would be too risky for all of them.  

The defining crash that comes in the mid-point of Rush occurs to Lauda, leaving him a scarred mask with the will to race, but also the need to make something better of his marriage and his life.   It becomes a Beauty and the Beast story about him learning life lessons of integrity, compassion and selflessness that go beyond the track.  Lauda’s heroic moment comes when he learns to win by obeying his 20%  rule, even when it means that he could lose the championship.   To Ron Howard’s credit, it all works without turning into schmaltzy pulp– this oddly genuine story of two men who become champions.   

Sure the racing is thrilling and gorgeously shot– the best ever recreated on film.  Aerials, inside the cockpit, wide-angle and elegiac medium and close-up shots give the racing both immediacy and authenticity.  Still, it is the human angle that gives the movie its Rush.   

Rush gets an A-.   


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Prisoners, a mystery thriller about kidnapped children and the attempts of both police and parents to locate them, gets it shock value by not showing the crime but the brutal lengths one parent would go through to get his child back.

Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover the parent, a survivalist and doomsday prepper ready for any future apocalypse the Lord wants to rain down but unprepared for the banal evil of a human heart that chooses to snatch his little girl away with hardly a trace.   Keller loses sight of the fact that the retribution one must worry about is often of the human kind.  That one slip in his plan tears him apart with guilt and pushes him over the edge of his moral divide–  to kidnapping and torture when a lack of evidence forces the police to release the main person of interest (Paul Dano), an adult with the mental age of a 10-year-old whose van was seen parked near the house where the abduction occurred.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, the rational police officer patiently following the clues and trusting his hunches, his frequent eye twitches hinting a deeper obsession inside him.   The role is a closeted version of the cartoonist/librarian hero, the rescuer of knowledge from powerlessness that he played in David Fincher’s brilliant Zodiac.

Even though Prisoners is set in Pittsburgh, most of it was shot in rural Conyers, Georgia and the creeping in-distinction between forest and suburb that exist in a mixture of decay and abandonment either vacated or left unfinished  is a constant visual theme that is enhanced by veteran  lenser’s  Roger A. Deakins moody and darkly symbolic cinematography.   The town and its people seem to exist in a space where superstition has replaced hope.

Prisoners carefully treads the line between moral exploration and exploitation.   Director Denise Villeneuve (Incendies) spends more time on the moral traps that lead away than the actual mystery of where the kidnapped girls are.  Jackman is the emotional man trying to contain the world with the illogic of fear, hoping it will burst the truth, never realizing that monsters don’t know truth at all.  Once emotion has exhausted itself, logic, in the form of Detective Loki can see the right path.  The irony was that both of them were right, just not close enough.

The ending is pure horror movie contrivance, a bit of a let from the previous 120 minutes of briskly, expertly executed tension.

Prisoners gets a B+ from me.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Birds Trailer Is Awfully Fowl

Posted: September 29, 2013 in Movies

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In an insincere  effort (with giblets, stuffing,  mash potatoes and gravy, and cranberry sauce on the side) to prevent the ever escalating Turkey genocide every Thanksgiving Reel FX and Relativity Media  have produced Free Birds about two Turkeys who travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving in an effort to get the delicious Butterball fowls removed entirely from the holiday table.   Nothing says “gather around the table with friends and loved ones” like “animated birds facing their own mortality,” according to one of the movie’s press releases.  

The poultry patriots are Reggie (Owen Wilson),  an officially pardoned by the Presidential Thanksgiving Fowl living out his life at Camp David eating pizza and watching tv, and Jake (Woody Harrelson), a Turkey Freedom Front fighter battling for fowl liberation from the dinner table.  The pizza reference isn’t entirely coincidental.  Free Birds is the first movie ever promoted by the Chuck E. Cheese franchise.  It is also the the first animated film from Dallas-based visual effects house Reel FX.  

Amy Poehler also stars as Owen Wilson’s lady-turkey friend along with Keith David, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Dan Fogler, Lesley Nicol.  Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who) directs.   

Free Bird by Leonard Skynard is never heard on the trailer soundtrack but there is a lot of Carly Rae Jepson bopping in the background to keep the kids entertained in between the obligatory turkey jokes, cartoon explosions and fowl repartee.  The tagline on the poster “Hold Onto Your Nuggets” lets kids be smug about getting an adults joke.

Free Birds opens November 1st. 

 


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The bankrupt city of Detroit obviously did not have the funds to do it.   Build a statue to the town most famous fictional law enforcement officer, Robocop.   So the citizens of Detroit turned to Kickstarter to get the job done.

The project is one born of civic pride, opportunity and marketing.   The statue started as a twitter idea, turned Facebook page and website, then exploded into a full blown social media campaign with Kickstrarter crowd sourcing and funding angels.  

Fans of the original Paul Verhoeven version of  Robocop and its three sequels proposed the idea in 2011, shortly after the remake version to be directed by Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) and starring Joel Kinnaman (The Killing cable series) was announced.  The remake was shot in Detroit with partial financing coming from a Michigan State film incentive fund.

The remake is scheduled to open February 2014.   The statue is scheduled to be erected summer 2014. 

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“It’s just so amazing just how mind-blowing this whole project has been … ,” said Brandon Walley  in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.  Walley (pronounced Wall-E, just like the Pixar Robot) is the director of development of the nonprofit the Imagination Station, the organizers behind the drive to make the statue.   “Every city has pop-culture references from statues to public art and things like that, so I think this will add nicely to Detroit and the rejuvenation that’s happening here.”

Also,  John Leonard, a Detroit graphic designer, began a Facebook page that later inspired the Kickstarter campaign for the statue.  The Kickstarter campaign raised over $67,000 and is fully funded.  

Over $25,000 of that came from Pete Hottelet.  Hottelet is a graphic designer, and is such a big Robocop fan, that he named his company Omni Consumer Products after the evil mega corporation from the Verhoeven movie. Omni makes officially licensed products for the movies: Brawndo from Idiocracy, Sex Panther cologne from Anchorman and Fight Club soap.

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The 10 foot statue in its final phase of construction is being made by Detroit based Venus Bronze Works and will be fully identical to the one that Peter Weller made famous in the 1987 movie. Venus Bronze works other restoration projects include the Spirit of Detroit statue, the Custer statue in Monroe and a Statue of Liberty replica on Mackinac Island.

The design was created by  Hollywood-based Fred Barton Productions, a producer of  robots for movies and TV show.  Additional help with scanning, digital enlarging,  fabrication and foam,wax,clay and steel  assembly was done by Across the Board Creations 3D in British Columbia, Canada, and Idaho.

The replica model of actor Peter Weller’s costume  has 24-inch feet and 2-by-1-foot hands.  Other attention to detail is displayed in the several intricate gauges and screws in the body along with the “OCP Police” engravings on its thigh and helmet.  The left hand alone is about 16 inches long and 1 foot wide.

“When you look at the armor up close, and you see it’s so big, you really get the understanding of how this character was really inspired by the Motor City,” said “RoboTeam” member John Leonard, speaking to the Detroit Free Press.   “When you look at the chest, it’s like the hood of a car — sort of like a person combined with an auto-chassis.

“You really get to see the poetry of it and see how inspired by the city it really is.  This is larger than even my wildest imagination.”

Leonard and Walley hope that the statue will get a prominent base in Downtown Detroit and become a tourist attraction like those of Rocky in Philadelphia and Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis.  


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If you want see bank caper cliches done with animated squirrels pulling off a nut shop heist than The Nut Job is the film for you. 

Will Arnett plays the head nut cracker, Surly (and yes, don’t call him Shirley) who envisions delightfully  munching away a winter eating gourmet legumes until his stomach bursts. The rest includes his dirty rat friend Buddy (Brendan Fraser), his doe (not a deer) friends Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Precious (Maya Rudolph), his bff’s King (Stephen Lang) and Mole (Jeff Dunham).  Liam Neeson plays a villainous raccoon the gang has to avoid.  

Peter Lepeniotis a veteran television animator, whose short Surly Squirrel was the inspiration, directs.

Frankly, I get my fill of squirrels  whenever a new Ice Age sequel is released.  Nothing beats a good Scrat.  

This nut cracks open in theaters everywhere January 14th. 


The latest poster offerings from Thor: The Dark World have Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) being unmasked and Heimdall (Idris Elba) protecting Asgard.

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 Malekith the Accursed is unmasked and masking himself for battle in this sheet that also features his dark elf minions and his Black Ark Ship, or as its affectionately known, the Fist of Malekith. 

Christopher Eccleston looks definitely cool in his Svartalfheimian armor but still the resemblance to a pissed off Ben Stiller is undeniable.   Is the end going to be that this is all a Walter Mitty fantasy? 

Malekith is not only on a mission to destroy Thor’s Home World,  Asgard, but Earth, and the fabric of space and time itself.   As for why?  Take your pick between the usual suspects.  Childhood playground snub by Thor and Loki?  The unintentional massacre of his entire family in a previous Asgardian fray?   A bad foodie experience at that swanky new overpriced  Andhrimnir (Chef of the Gods) run restaurant? 

It could be all, some or none of the above.  The answer will be revealed when Thor: The Dark World opens November 8th.  

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 Heimdall, the watchman of Bitfrost, only got a few brief scenes in the first Thor and not even a poster.  So by Odin’s blind eye (where ever it is) this foresees a bigger role for Idris Elba. 

The resemblance to an evil Oscar statue with horns is surely unintentional.  Or is it? 

Idris Elba’s  next gig  is doing Nelson Mandela in Mandela.  

 

 


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What is a Princess to do?

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s biopic about the late Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) and her secret romance with British Pakistani Heart and Lung Surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) has met its downfall in scathing reviews from the British press.   The Observer called it “… a film which has neither backbone nor teeth .”  The Daily Telegraph decried it as  “A special class of awful – too frivolous for offence, too epically miscalculated to add to our understanding.”  Empire thumbs down it as  “More terrible and tacky than one could have imagined, it will soon be forgotten and consigned to the True Movies channel to play alongside television movies about Karen Carpenter, Jayne Mansfield and Jackie Kennedy.”

Naomi Watts has gone from giving an Oscar worthy performance to maybe receiving a Golden Raspberry for Worst Female Performance.   Diana has a current 3% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie based on the  international best-selling book Diana: Her Last Love written by Kate Snell, about the supposed love affair between Kahn and The Princess, can’t even get the approval of the supposedly nicknamed (by Diana herself) Mr. Wonderful.  In an interview with the Daily Mail Khan had these remarks.    “It is based on gossip and Diana’s friends talking about a relationship that they didn’t know much about, and some of my relatives who didn’t know much about it either… ” “You could tell from that picture that it is all just presumed about how we would behave with each other, and they have got it wrong.  There wasn’t any hierarchy in our relationship.  She wasn’t a princess and I wasn’t a doctor.”

The poster above is filled with the serene isolation away from a  public life that Diana always seeked but never achieved.

The US trailer comes off looking like a calculated Oscar grab.

The trailer shows Diana as beautiful (true), impulsive (maybe), volatile (maybe in private, but never in public) and tragically flawed (hey, this is a movie and that is almost de rigueur).

“It’s not possible for you and I to go anywhere without a billion people swarming all over us,” Khan warns in the trailer,

“I’m a princess and I get what I want,” Diana notes mischievously, incognito in a brunette wig.

The rest of the trailer similarly offers a balanced mix of PG-13 soupy romantic kissing and over wrought melodramatics.  It ‘s  an equal opportunity offender– too stilted to be taken for high tone and too kitschy to be low art.     
“Diana” opens in theaters November 1.