Rush Review – Speed of Life


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Peter Morgan 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara


Release date: September 13th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, StudioCanal, Universum Film AG

Countries: UK, Germany, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Hemsworth and Bruhl.

Worst part: The under-developed female characters.

To a certain extent, sport is instilled in everyone’s flesh and blood. In an instant, it can send people into dizzying highs or crushing lows. It can represent an entire country’s strengths and weaknesses, and can turn hard working men and women into enviable role models. A sport built on an excess of prestige and power is Formula 1 racing. This enrapturing event is captured seamlessly in Rush – a movie about taking names, becoming a champion, and rolling with the punches.

Chris Hemsworth.

Built on top of piles of money and will-power, Formula 1 is one of sporting history’s greatest accomplishments. This popular sport, as Rush is concerned, attracts people thanks to thrills, chills, and spills. Documenting the search for glory and recognition, Rush presents a brutally honest yet beguiling analysis of this dangerous competitive sport. This pulsating and emotionally powerful sports drama chronicles two drivers pushing themselves to breaking point. Money and power hungry playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) lives for the many highs of his debaucherous lifestyle. Sleeping around first and winning Formula 3 races later, his immense talents are a match for the punishing Formula 1 circuit. His leap from Hesketh racing to Mclaren sets him up for success. Meanwhile, irritable and socially inept Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), after turning down his father’s offer to become an accountant, takes it upon himself to reach his near untouchable goals. His intensity and overblown persona push him from low-level team BRM into Formula 1 powerhouse Ferrari’s line of sight. With both drivers reaching the prestigious event by 1975, their troubling Formula 3 rivalry spills over into their first Formula 1 season. From then on, the opposing forces stare each other down whilst speeding along tracks across the world. Off the track, Hunt’s enviable yet questionable antics hurl him into several regrettable decisions, including a rushed marriage to supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Meanwhile, Lauda’s relationship with the ever understandable Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) will force Lauda into deciding where his priorities lie.

Daniel Bruhl.

Whether Steve McQueen is lighting up the track in Le Mans or Lightning McQueen is zipping through an animated universe in Pixar’s Cars, car races/chases are welcome on the big screen. Tapping into modern sporting culture thanks to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull Racing quarrels, Rush illustrates that sportsmanship is just as important as landing a spot on the podium. Unlike today’s Formula 1 competition, the 70s era relied entirely on sleaze, slickness, style, technological advancements, and greed. It was an era in which Cigarette sponsorship and chauvinistic personalities were far more important than teamwork and determination. Its cultural impact rang true with people escaping their lives to watch celebrity sportsmen glide around a track at breakneck speeds of up to 300km/h. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) potently relays these seminal themes. Known for jumping between genres and extraordinary stories, Howard’s directorial style achieves a sensory and psychological stranglehold over multiple demographics. From crime-thrillers (RansomThe Da Vinci Code),to Westerns (The Missing), and family-friendly adventure flicks (The Grinch), Howard’s film-making dexterity, attention to detail, and persistence continually shine through. Like with Cinderella Man, Howard is unafraid to present the realistic and fantastical elements of this inspirational story. He is brave enough to utilise advantageous sports movie tropes and an efficient docudrama structure. Like his other biopics, Rush highlights the lead characters’ historical importance by presenting a memorable and valuable part of their lives. Despite having not been interested in Formula 1 racing before, I was instantly swept up in Rush‘s subtleties and frenetic narrative. Thankfully, the energetic pacing establishes the thrills and visceral nature of Hunt and Lauda’s bitter rivalry.

The thrill of the race!

The greatest sports movies leave the most alienating aspects of each sport on the sidelines. They swing for the fences to highlight the symbolic intricacies and emotional moments. Like Moneyball and Warrior, Rush focuses on the intense physical, mental, and spiritual training these athletes undertake. The movie’s tension-inducing spectacle, of cars circling round tracks and livelihoods spiralling out of control, delivers a rush in itself. Before it reaches the checkered flag, the movie depicts a sensitive yet dense examination of manliness, egotism, and humility. The lead characters embark upon parallel journeys that strengthen the narrative. Throughout the snarky battle of brains, braun, wits and raw talent, Howard leaves no stone unturned. This invigorating drama lives by the phrase uttered pensively by Lauda: ”A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”. It captures the soaring highs and crushing lows of these characters’ existences. Pushing themselves tirelessly to achieve perfection, their breaking points are expressed in startlingly different ways – Hunt’s through pleasure and Lauda’s through searing pain. Like with Frost/Nixon, Howard crafts a metaphorical boxing match, on and off the track, between two understated professionals. Howard creates a detailed timeline of applaudable life achievements, from the gleeful Formula 3 race to the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, and gently hits the breaks during the tender moments. It’s a tale of sportsmen driven by obsession, manipulation, oneupsmanship, and envy. These men would rather complain to the authorities about petty insults and slight miscalculations than accept defeat. Despite this, these unlikable yet lauded figures transition into empathetic individuals. With explosive arguments spiced up by punchy, profound dialogue, Peter Morgan’s impeccable screenplay is whistled through commendable accents and mannerisms.

“A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” (Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), Rush).

Olivia Wilde.

Rush‘s pulpy visual style, thanks to Howard’s succinct direction and Anthony Dodd Mantle’s kinetic cinematography, punches it into overdrive. Their attention to detail and engaging visual styles capture the era’s bold aesthetic. Mantle’s monumental camerawork tingles the senses and lends this obscure story a bubbly personality. Howard gleefully toys with historical events. Eye-catching montages emphasise the distinct intricacies of the characters’ lives and ostentatious Formula 1 season. Rush gleefully displays every bright, enthralling facet of this valuable and chauvinistic era. Archival footage is spliced seamlessly into certain sequences to emphasise the story’s importance. Howard relentlessly splatters the screen with a vibrant and eye-catching re-creation of the sexy 70s. The immaculate costumes, set designs, practical effects and CGI vistas fuel the movie’s verisimilitude. If that wasn’t enough, Howard’s auteur touch even makes sure the wacky hairstyles, bloated egos/personas, and roaring crowds all put in 110%. The ladies may turn out for Hemsworth’s staggering physique (on display throughout), but everyone will enjoy the kinetic and meticulous race sequences. These tension-inducing set-pieces move blindingly fast and illustrate why 25 drivers risk their lives to compete each year. Mantle puts the pedal to the metal in these sequences, emphasising each joyous and disastrous moment with immersive tracking shots and first-person photography. Crashes and tailspins cap off each race with flawless technical precision, depicting the competition’s baffling cruelty. This is edge-of-your seat entertainment, hitting the audience with car crash-like force. Flashy title cards, freeze frames, and Hans Zimmer’s thundering score rev-up each race and illuminate Rush‘s sweeping scope. The movie accurately presents the cars, pit crew gear and tracks from this memorable era. Shots showcasing oil hurriedly pouring into engines, flames bursting out of exhausts, and intense rumbles continually build to captivating climaxes.

Man and machine!

Despite it’s glorious positives, Rush pulls some awkward skids along the way. Howard’s heavy handed messages are needlessly explained. Philosophical moments, clunky speeches, and metaphors dent this otherwise enjoyable experience. As with most docudramas, the celebrity characters attract large audiences. Formula 1 nuts, in particular, will be pleased to see Hunt and Lauda being treated with respect. Rush‘s objective insight focuses on the well-known wheelings and dealings of Formula 1. Lauda is a fascinating and frustrating character. Ordering a pit crew to stay over night to fix his car, Lauda is a man who, for better or worse, always has his mind on the job. Believing that Formula 1 is, by far, the greatest thing on Earth, this socially awkward character embraces his persistence and rat-like persona. Insults fly left and right when he meticulously inspects other drivers’, managers’ and mechanics’ efforts. Bruhl delivers a captivating and intense performance as, arguably, Formula 1’s greatest machine. His romantic sub-plot develops this multi-dimensional character. On the other hand, Hunt is a god-like enigma and confused, childish celebrity who continually pushes himself to the limit. A spoiled brat fascinated by life’s most pleasurable facets, victory, money, women, drugs, and alcohol may push him to the edge. Hemsworth delivers a dynamic and touching performance as this alluring yet tragic figure, capturing Hunt’s sense of humour and boyish charm. Rush‘s most powerful moments involve conflicts between opposing individuals e.g. Hunt’s violent run-in with an obnoxious journalist. Unfortunately, the sub-plot between Hunt and Miller lacks lasting impact and is only touched upon in three potent scenes.

Faster than a Ferrari, smoother than an Aston Martin, and grander than a Rolls-Royce, Rush is a modern action-drama without the excess, bloat or predictability. With its immaculate attention to detail, kinetic visuals, and powerhouse performances, the movie ultimately suggests that nothing is more exhilarating than the speed of life.

Verdict: A tense, thought-provoking, and emotionally resonant sports-drama.

Riddick Review – Diesel Injection


Director: David Twohy 

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Vin Diesel, Matt Nable, Katie Sackhoff, Jordi Molla


Release date:  September 6th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 119 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Vin Diesel.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

For the past decade, Hollywood has failed to decide who should be the next big-name action star. When studios aren’t looking at international talent like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, they put British and Australian actors in iconic spandex outfits to fight for truth, justice and the American way. Despite this, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have fought tooth and nail to become tinsel town’s biggest tough guys. Judging by their efforts this year, I’d take Johnson’s magnetism over Diesel’s gruff persona any day.

Vin Diesel.

Having said that, Diesel’s screen presence saves Riddick from being a forgettable and puzzling disaster. It’s not simply that this third instalment is unintentionally laughable and uninspired, it’s that there is nothing special here to separate it from other similarly derivative sci-fi action flicks. Unfortunately, this instalment won’t draw any new converts to this inexplicably popular series. This by-the-numbers thriller begins with stern narration and the titular character being thrown into a harsh wasteland and left for dead. Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) travels across the desert looking for any sign of life. Fixing his broken bones whist adapting to his peculiar surroundings, Riddick must regain his immaculate strength and agility. Setting off a distress beacon, he waits patiently for his ‘saviours’ to arrive. Two ships head to the planet with intent to find the Furyan criminal. Looking to obtain a significant bounty, Santana (Jordi Molla) and his crew want nothing more than to put Riddick’s head in a box. The other ship, captained by Johns (Matt Nable), is searching for answers relating to Riddick’s shadowy past. Everyone quickly realises that, on this planet, the hunters can quickly become the hunted.

The monsters of “Not Furya”.

What follows is a contrived and over-the-top action flick devoid of emotional resonance or suspense. The wafer-thin plot can be seen in far greater sci-fi action movies that deliver greatly on what they promise. Diesel bought the rights to his beloved character when he scorched the screen with his cameo in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The charismatic actor’s love for this series’ bizarre universe has turned it into a warped Dungeons and Dragons rip-off (ironic, given Diesel’s love for the game). His influence overshadows this instalment’s slight potential. With Pitch Black launching his career, it’s understandable why he is infatuated with his muscle-bound creation. However, the preposterous and lacklustre sequel The Chronicles of Riddick almost killed Diesel’s once promising critical and commercial prowess. For this third instalment, series director David Twohy has left behind the ridiculous warring factions, video game-like action sequences, and uninteresting characters (sorry, Judi Dench) that plagued the second instalment. Despite his commendable intentions, there is a definitive lack of subtly in this subdued instalment. Riddick kick-starts by looking back on the convoluted Necromonger plot-line from the second instalment. Thankfully, this is only touched upon within the first 20 minutes before Riddick embarks on his next adventure. Despite a brief appearance by Karl Urban, the opening’s overt cheesiness and erratic exposition quickly stall proceedings. Diesel may understand this peculiar backstory, but many viewers will be left scratching their heads. As viciously as Riddick’s attacks, this movie hurriedly throws the one-two punch of repetitiousness and predicability. Following this series’ tradition of deriving from such sci-fi dramas as Mad Max and Blade Runner, this instalment divides itself into three uninspired acts. Scenes and concepts are blatantly copied and pasted from I Am Legend, Predator, and Aliens. A compelling ode to 80s and 90s action/exploitation movies this is not. in fact, nowadays, this type of action movie is ripe for parody.

Katie Sackhoff.

Despite the noticeable plot holes and cliches, jarring tonal shifts, and wavering pace, Riddick is saved by its unique and visceral visual style. The first 25 minutes, in particular, showcase the decrepit landscape this titular anti-hero is stranded on. As soon as Riddick wakes up, everything is irritated by his presence. The Hyena-like wolves and vicious scorpion-like monsters prove to be more cunning adversaries than the gun-toting mercenaries. The cinematography spiritedly captures the sun-scorched nature of this dangerous world and the surrounding planets. Described by Riddick as “Not Furya”, each horizon is peppered with mountainous natural structures, bright yellow and red hues, and bubbling pools. One scene, in which Riddick must hold his breath in a steaming lagoon to escape trouble, emphasises his pressing situation. Coming off of yet another Fast and Furious instalment, Diesel has proven his love for inventive and engaging action sequences. Here, though the hit-and-miss CGI becomes distracting, each set-piece is controlled, shockingly violent, and showcases Riddick’s jaw-dropping talents. Despite stealing visual flourishes from Predator (in particular, the purple-tinged night vision), this movie contains many thrilling sequences. Riddick’s fight atop a mountain, lit by lightning strikes, display shades of the conquering action flick buried underneath this underwhelming final product. The movie’s reach exceeds its grasp in multiple aspects. The production design was obviously battered by the movie’s low budget. Some scenes deliver impressive CGI vistas, while others only deliver cheap, inferior sets. The unconvincing mix of practical effects and CGI illustrate the movie’s rushed production schedule and generic execution. Thankfully, the rumbling score and sound design led tension to this otherwise predictable affair. Since the story and characters are unconvincing, the jump scares and gun-fights are relied upon to deliver the goods.

“Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead.” (Riddick (Vin Diesel), Riddick).

Diesel vs. the rest!

Despite Diesel’s commitment to this flailing franchise, this instalment doesn’t give you a lot of new or exciting information about Riddick himself. The movie wants to have it both ways – presenting a gritty survival story and an ultra-stylish actioner. The movie’s wavering tone affects the character development. At one point, Riddick inexplicably nurses a dying puppy dog back to health – contradicting continual reminders of Riddick’s alarming reputation. Despite Diesel’s charms, this odd-couple friendship is overtly familiar. Having said all that, Diesel’s intriguing performance bolsters the movie despite it taking several silly and confusing turns. Despite the first third’s irritating and useless narration, the gravely voice, charisma and physical presence define his applaudable involvement with the pivotal role. It feels as if we are re-visiting an old friend when the bright blue contact lenses and black goggles are re-introduced. Turning tough guys into kittens as he hauntingly stalks his prey, it’s refreshing to see Riddick toy with his foul-mouthed, over-compensating victims. His murderous methods illustrate that he is as an intense physical and mental force. His clever traps, witty one-liners, and soccer/machete skills establish his an effective and honourable anti-hero status. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are overly macho and offensive to the point of being laughable, and do nothing but become gooey cannon fodder. The baby-oil soaked mercenaries are defined simplistically by threatening poses, impeccable physiques, and silly costumes – turning this instalment into a two-hour pissing contest. The preposterous dialogue doesn’t help. Some characters come off as laughable idiots rather than skilled mercenaries. It’s a problem when the planet’s creepy-crawlies are far more interesting than the humans. Nable and Molla are energetic in conventional roles. Meanwhile, TV icon Katie Sackhoff has her moments as the universe’s toughest female.

Despite its ingenious visuals and solid performances, the ludicrousness of both the premise and execution becomes crystal clear. Plot and character inconsistencies prevent this manic instalment from being the pulsating hyper-kinetic action flick it should have been. The movie is so silly it’s ‘Riddick-ulous’.

Verdict: A sumptuous yet problematic sci-fi action flick.