Rush 2013

This has to be the best race car driving film I have ever seen. Based on the true story of the British James Hunt and the Austrian Niki Lauda, whose rivalry fed many a media story in the 1970s, Rush focuses on this very phase of their careers and lives.

 

Born to wealthy parents, both Hunt and Lauda went against their families to pursue their car racing careers, and through their own narrative voices, both men’s fears and motivations are unraveled through the film. They are as distinct from each other as an outgoing playboy can be from a reclusive geek, and the manner in which they pursue ultimate victory is also very different, but they are both driven by ambition and passion, qualities which unite them. And somewhere along the way, mistakes are made – mistakes, which cost them both heavily (although the price Lauda pays is far more obvious).

 

Hunt is played by Chris Hemsworth, who has never looked better and has most definitely never acted better. He slips into the character effortlessly and surprises in many a moment with priceless expressions and excellent delivery of dialogue. He is instantly likable as Hunt, which is exactly how it is supposed to be. Lauda is played by Daniel Brühl, an actor who has never disappointed me in any films of his that I have seen (from Good Bye, Lenin! and The Edukators a decade back to the more recent, and more American, Inglourious Basterds). Brühl makes Lauda a difficult one to like, but an easy one to respect. He grows on you through the film, as he must have grown on Hunt in real life. Watching them both on screen is a pleasure and every scene is perfectly acted, directed, edited and timed.

 

Peter Morgan‘s screenplay is very well-balanced – and offers just the right proportions of drama, comedy, style and above all, the rush of the races. The driving scenes are well-shot but are also at times interspersed with actual footage, to push the adrenaline just that much more. The film is ably directed by Ron Howard, who I have always considered a very hit (Apollo 13, Ransom, Frost/Nixon) and miss (Far and Away, The Da Vinci Code and even *gasp* A Beautiful Mind) filmmaker. Here, there isn’t a note out of place, a scene too long, an emotion too high-strung. Definitely one of the best films he’s been at the helm of.

 

I wouldn’t say that Rush is so good that it can not be missed – though in a year when film after film has disappointed me, this comes as a breath of fresh air – but I can say that it should not be missed. For pure entertainment and a lesson in sports history, I highly recommend it.

 

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Blades of Glory

Blades of Glory (2007) DreamWorks Distribution LLC

1 hr. 33 mins.

Starring: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, William Fichtner, William Daniels, Nick Swardson, Romany Malco

Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

 

Pointless formulaic silly-minded comedies—they must be the rage these days because they keep popping up more than a stubborn zit on a high school computer geek’s forehead. As for the manic master of these moronic farces—Will Ferrell—he’s simply safeguarding his investment as he continues to strut around in these redundant throwaway laughers. Much like Ferrell’s fellow Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler, they both enjoyed a cult following on Lorne Michaels’s long-running and groundbreaking NBC sketch comedy. Of course, the popularity of these comics stuck with them as they headed for greener pastures on the big screen.

 

The riotous Ferrell has milked situational movie comedies with moderate success. In Anchorman, Ferrell found satire in pompous newsmen and local news television. Talladega Nights poked wicked fun at the NASCAR circuit and its rabid fans. Now Ferrell explores the competitive nature of figure ice-skating in the wacky laugher Blades of Glory. Predictably goofy-minded and off-centered, Blades is a desired guilty pleasure for Ferrell fans that want to park their funny bones at the nearest skating rink. Although relentlessly ridiculous in its twirling figure-8 foolishness, Blades of Glory is a frozen, freakish farce that constantly tickles the numbing noggin.

 

Co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (along with co-screenwriters Jeff and Craig Cox) concoct a display of infantilism that strangely works on the scale of wayward hilarity. Blades of Glory doesn’t measure up on the “hearty hoot” charts in comparison to some of the other mindless free-spirited fare that Farrell and co-star Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder have been involved with previously. Still, Ferrell and Heder give Blades the nonsensical and nutty allure to persist as an empty-minded vehicle for off-kilter gags. So if you don’t mind the inevitable scenario of watching “Ricky Bobby and Napoleon Dynamite lacing up their skates” then it’s suggested that you check your brain cells at the door.

 

Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Heder) are rival skaters that end up teaming together in the long run. First, both men are subjected to being banned from the men’s singles competition after their well-known personal conflicts escalate into public feuding. Resorting to menial jobs that involve skating on a low level the guys eventually get back into the ice-skating game on a technical loophole—they can actually compete in the pair’s division. The question remains this: will the overly aggressive pot-bellied Chazz—a former world champion figure skater—learn to co-exist with his effeminate blonde choreograph-loving partner Jimmy? Clearly, the two combatants play like The Odd Couple meet the Ice Capades.

 

In order to ensure that Chazz and Jimmy click in championship form they are being trained by Jimmy’s tough-as-nails former coach (Emmy-winning actor Craig T. Nelson). In fact, the Michaels-MacElroy connection must prevail if they are to face the music and challenge the presence of a fanatical championship-proven brother-sister act (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). Can Chazz and Jimmy conquer their differences and concentrate on the ultimate prize at large? Will this one-joke premise of a movie rise to the climatic occasion? How will our troubled tandem hilariously take on the self-absorbed skating siblings?

 

For the sake of offering a lazy conclusion, Blades of Glory is what it is…meaningless mockery meant to impishly ridicule the conventional nature of figure ice-skating. This is yet another sports-oriented chuckler where the random high jinks are thrown in to see if anything sticks to the wall of blind wit. Invariably, Blades of Glory certainly has its fair share of arbitrary gay-induced jokes and the smirking ice-skating sight gags are frequently palatable. The reaction to Ferrell and Heder basically playing the familiar schtick is a mixed bag—on one hand, it is a welcomed slaphappy occurrence to behold. However, Ferrell and Heder also flirt with grating on the nerves, too. The movie can be cheap and insulting at times but also surprisingly inspired in its inane presentation.

 

Figure skating enthusiasts will probably get a kick out of the cameos of ice-loving icons such as Nancy Kerrigan, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Sacha Cohen as well as old school vets Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming. The supporting players contribute to the loopy spirit as intended. Nelson is gleefully menacing as the demanding coach that is determined to whip the boorish Chazz and anal retentive Jimmy into shape. Jenna Fischer (from NBC-TV’s “The Office”) effectively sparkles as Jimmy’s love-interest-to-be. Current SNL cast member Poehler and Arnett are deviously fun-loving as the vile opponents. As for the leading lunatics in Ferrell and Heder they convincingly ham it up as they only know how to do in delightfully dimwitted, free-wheeling fashion.

 

This is not what one would call a high concept comedy. Nevertheless, Blades of Glory offers a big finish on the ice as the sideline judges (mainly the audience) will ultimately decide the scoring on the cards. Hey, one can never get enough of watching Ferrell parade around in his briefs while screeching the catchy tune “My Humps”, right? Curiously for some, this may even sweeten the pot more. Go figure, huh?

 

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Movie Review: Transformers (2007)

A review of the 2007 live-action movie version of the popular 80s cartoon, Transformers. 3.5/5

Millennia ago, a battle waged on the planet, Cybertron – a planet of bio-organic robots. The heroic Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, battled the evil Decepticons, whose leader, Megatron, wanted to capture the Allspark, a cube that gives unlimited power to whoever possesses it. The Autobots managed to launch the Allspark into space, but Megatron chased after it. He tracked it to Earth but crashed into the Arctic Ocean, freezing his system into lockdown. He lied there under the ice until 1850 when Captain Witwicky came across Megatron’s body during an expedition. His crew dug it up and the U.S. government took possession of it all the following years.

 

It is now the present day and we find Spike Witwicky, the great-grandson of Captain Witwicky, in high school. His father helps him buy his first car from a scrupulous car dealer. Spike finds a beat-up sports car and buys it. The car later turns out to be the Autobot Bumblebee, who was sent to protect Spike and Captain Witwicky’s glasses, which have the coordinates to the Allspark imprinted on them. The Decepticons show up to get the glasses, Allspark, and free Megatron. Optimus Prime and the Autobots land on Earth to join Bumblebee and regain possession of the Allspark before the Decepticons do. Spike and a girl named Mikaela join forces with the Autobots to outrun the U.S. defense department without harming any humans, battle the Decepticons, capture the Allspark, and save Earth from enslavement.

 

Director Michael Bay brings Transformers once again to the big screen, but this time it is live-action! Fans from the 1980s cult classic cartoon series, with a line of toys that has never ceased production ever since have long-awaited the time when their beloved cartoon would be given the live-action treatment. It took twenty years for the technology to become advanced enough to give an adequate portrayal of the robots. It was well worth the wait!

 

Hardcore, old school fans of the 1980s show and toys were against some of the changes in the live-action movie. Many of these changes had to be made based on trademarks, corporate red tape, age of the voice actors, technology, and other logistics. While some of the changes will not sit well with some fans, none are that bad as to ruin the movie experience.

 

To get the most enjoyment out of this movie, it is best not to compare it to the original series. In addition, it is best that the movie is seen in the eyes of an alternate universe unto itself, where the story is separate from that seen in the 1980s show. If that can be done, the movie will be a more fun ride.

 

The story is simple enough to be thoroughly enjoyable, yet complex enough to have some depth. It offers a fair balance to entertain everyone. The sci-fi element is enhanced by the fact that this more of a “them versus us” theme, similar to “War of the Worlds.” It has a bit more depth than the show of the 1980s.

 

Since the main characters are giant robots, it makes sense that a considerable amount of the $147 million budget is mostly spent on the robot effects. A mix of CGI (by ILM) and ten close-up props (by KNB Effects) is used, including Optimus Prime’s head, Bumblebee’s robot mode, Megatron’s legs, and Blackout’s feet.

 

The robots do look very good. For the diehard fans, the new designs of the robots are vastly different from their original counterparts. While the 1980s robots looked blocky, the new robots have more organic and humanoid bodies and faces which creates more of a wiry, alien appearance. It might take some getting used to by some viewers. Overall, the robots do look more alien-like, which is a positive considering that they really are aliens. The vehicle forms are updated with modern vehicle alternate forms based on present-day civilian and military vehicles.

 

The voice actors are a serious point of contention with diehard fans. Producer Don Murphy listened to feedback from Transformers fans and set out to hire some of the original voice actors from the cartoon. What we got were just two of the original voice actors. The biggest positive is that Peter Cullen once again voices Optimus Prime! We also got Charles Adler to voice the Decepticon Starscream. He voiced the Autobot Silverbolt in the show.

 

The biggest negative is that Frank Welker was not chosen to reprise the voice of Megatron. He and Cullen were auditioned personally by director Michael Bay, who worried that their aged voices would be noticeable. Welker’s voice was deemed to have aged too much and did not suit Megatron’s new alien look. Hugo Weaving received the role. However, Welker does reprise his role as Megatron in “Transformers: The Game” (2007). Welker’s Megatron is greatly missed.

 

The rest of the voice cast gives an adequate performance but no one stands out.

 

The human cast boasts several big names. Shia LaBeouf is the starring actor who plays young Sam Witwicky. Megan Fox plays Mikaela Banes. Veteran actors Jon Voight plays Defense Secretary, John Keller, and John Turturro plays Agent Simmons. Bernie Mac plays Bobby Bolivia, the used car salesman. And Anthony Anderson plays Glen Whitmann, a computer hacker.

 

The cast gives a great performance without many negative comments to be made.

 

At over two hours and twenty minutes, this is a very long movie. About a quarter of it is used on two side stories. One is Sam’s romantic interest in Mikaela and the comedic goings on related to that. The other is the small side track of Glen Whitmann, a computer hacker. The movie would have run smoother and faster without these two side plots. Also, there are quite a few humorous parts tossed in that detract from the Transformers side of the movie, which should be its focus. The humor is not overdone, so it is not entirely unwelcome. After all, it is based on a toy! There is some sexual innuendo but it is very small in retrospect and no nudity. Very few curse words are used in the film. It maintains a PG-13 rating, in case the parents out there are concerned.

 

Overall, “Transformers” (2007) is a fun and entertaining ride that provides plenty of action, sci-fi, and thrills that are sure to please old school Transformers fans as well as the younger generation of future Transformers fans.

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