September 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
Confidential to Shane and Harvey: the time to make changes is after the festivals, not during the commercial run. This only makes you look desperate.
September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
The trouble with car racing movies is that they’re never just about racing: if they were, audiences would be better off watching Speed Channel. So the plots always focus on off-track matters, usually love, which is where they usually go wrong. Who really cares about the non-racing problems of a professional speed demon? Apparently the directors of such varied car movies as “Grand Prix,” “Winning,” “Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Days of Thunder.” “Rush,” the new Formula One film from Ron Howard, veers into decidedly non-automotive territory as well, by depicting the courtship of the Austrian driver Niki Lauda and his wife Marlene. Fortunately, the main story revolves around Lauda’s professional rivalry with James Hunt, the British playboy who challenged him in the 1976 World Championships.
The script, by Peter Morgan, takes us from the two drivers’ beginnings in Formula Three to the heart stopping final race of the ’76 season–the rain-soaked Japan Grand Prix. On the whole, Morgan tells the story accurately, taking us through the year, race by race, after setting up Hunt and Lauda’s compelling back stories. He takes liberties mainly in painting the two rivals as polar opposites–the untelegenic, humorless brainiac versus the sexy golden party boy–which is too simplistic to be entirely true. As Lauda has said in interviews, he wasn’t as “strict” his grim, monkish portrayal by Daniel Bruhl (How could he have been, in the world of Formula One?) More significantly, the script’s lighthearted portrayal of James Hunt glosses over his disturbing dark side. A compulsive substance abuser and pioneering sex addict, Hunt was mercurial on and off the track, and was said to have had sex with 5,000 women. His death at 45, from a heart attack, is attributed to decades of heavy drug use, despite his sobriety during the last few years. In a libertine era, Hunt’s behavior went far beyond that of his wildest contemporaries. Already notorious for taking drugs and having sex immediately before jumping into his racecar, he prepped for the Japan Grand Prix by having sex with 33 British Airways stewardesses in a drug-fueled two-week orgy at the Tokyo Hilton. (Unsurprisingly, this escapade doesn’t make it into the film.) Another thing that Morgan shows only belatedly is that Lauda and Hunt were friends–comrades in arms who, for all their differences, admired one another. But that wouldn’t have made such a good story, would it?
The acting is uniformly wonderful, although one can’t help feeling sorry for Bruhl, whose prosthetic overbite makes him an unflattering doppelgänger for Lauda. It’s particularly unfair that the real-life Hunt paled in comparison to Chris Hemsworth, who plays him. Hemsworth, who isn’t English but Australian, is a 6’4″ golden god best known for playing the lead in “Thor.” His dazzling half-moon smile and effortless charisma far outstrip James Hunt’s, who in archival interviews and television appearances displays a wry charm and better-than-average-looks, but nothing off the charts.
As far as the racing goes, I can’t fault the film at all. Ron Howard, whose previous films (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,”) have been solid entertainment but not works of genius, shoots the sequences beautifully, combining flawless esthetics–I especially loved the bright reds and blues that made the crowd scenes pop–with the nuts-and-bolts thrills of spinning wheels and moving pistons that owe a debt “Grand Prix.” Not previously known as a racing enthusiast, Howard shoots the track as if he’s lived there. He also puts an aficionado’s emphasis on sound recording and mixing, achieving an aural result that matches the dynamic visuals. It’s a career best, and if “Rush” doesn’t popularize Formula One in the United States, I don’t know what will.
September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
As readers of this blog might remember, a couple of years ago vandals stole the pair of bronze plaques marking the Hollywoodland gates. Yesterday, their replacements–generously donated by Time Warner–were unveiled in a festive ceremony that brought together various officials and neighbors. Our ubiquitous City Councilman, Tom LaBonge, quipped, Hollywoodland is a special neighborhood–so special that you don’t even like your City Councilman. Titters ensued.
Now, onward to our centennial!
September 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
September 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
Reading and hearing the reviews of Shane Salerno’s misbegotten documentary “Salinger” has been more of a revelation than anything contained in the film. It’s not often you hear critics retching in print, but they do over “Salinger,” and it’s amazing to see. Here’s a roundup of reactions:
A.O. Scott, The New York Times: “…less a work of cinema than a byproduct of its own publicity campaign.”
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “…make sure you bring a barf bag when you watch this doc’s tacky re-enactments, hear its cheeseball score and endure literary posturings so florid they’d embarrass Baz Luhrmann of The Great Gatsby.”
Dana Stevens, Slate: “[Th mystery of J.D. Salinger] is certainly hardy enough to withstand the voyeuristic onslaught of this self-aggrandizing, lurid documentary, which leaves the viewer feeling that we’ve been given a tour of Salinger’s septic tank in hip waders….”
Julia Turner, Slate Culture Gabfest: “The single worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Turner’s remark was particularly striking, not because I think she’s exaggerating but because she obviously hasn’t been to enough film festivals. Festivals specialize in assaultive movies, and it’s not unheard of for viewers to faint or vomit during screenings. More commonly they walk out. Fortunately, the Palais des Festivals, the main theater of the Cannes Film Festival, offers an effective revenge on badly received films and their directors. Whenever someone leaves early, the unusually tight springs on the seat make a loud pop. A mass exodus sounds like gunfire.
I’ve walked out of a lot of bad films at festivals, but the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life is one I saw in a studio screening room in the late 90s. To protect the hapless director, I won’t mention its name but the film was shot on an island and involved a crime of some kind. (I’m foggy on the plot not because it was a long time ago, but because I didn’t understand it at the time.) As I recall, there was a lot of driving and an exploding car on a bridge. After the explosion the film abruptly stopped–not because it was over, but because the producers had run out of money and couldn’t afford an ending. I wanted to laugh but the director was sitting an arm’s length away, still hoping that the necessary funds would be forthcoming. They weren’t, and the film was never released. I don’t know what happened to the director, who had mortgaged his house to finance the project, but last I heard some of the footage was sold for stock.
Compared with this, “Salinger” is not half bad, though it certainly doesn’t deserve its high-octane release. It occurs to me that if the documentary makes money, Salerno might be encouraged to make another feverish literary tell-all, in which case Thomas Pynchon should lawyer up immediately.
September 12, 2013 § 6 Comments
You would think that with the notoriously reclusive author of “The Catcher In The Rye” as his subject, Salerno would have more faith in documentary technique, but you would be wrong. In a desperate attempt to hold the audience’s interest, he gooses his too-long film (129 minutes) with overly dramatic music and a truckload of re-enactments, most of which are so literal that they insult the intelligence of everyone who has gone beyond pre-school. (Not sure what, exactly, a writer does? Don’t worry, Salerno will show you, via a Salingeresque actor who types reams of paper over the course of the film.)
As far as re-enactments go, the typing just the beginning. When Salinger’s former teenage crush (she was 14; he was 32) Jean Miller talks about their chaste walks on the beach in Daytona, you’ll see actors playing Jerry and Jean walking on the beach. After Salinger exiles himself to Cornish, N.H., Salerno not only shows the bunker where he holes up to write but stand-ins for his wife Claire and daughter Peggy who, forbidden to enter, must gaze forlornly at it. Inside, the Salinger impersonator types up a storm, throwing piles of paper around to show us his creative anguish. Nothing is left undramatized, let alone unsaid.
In Salerno’s defense, he had very few photos of Salinger to work with, and even less moving footage. The photo above, which appeared on “The Catcher In The Rye” and is certainly the best-known image of the author, is used at least fifty times. The few other photos he has–of Salinger with his Army buddies and leaving the Cornish, N.H., post office–are repeated many times as well. Given the lack of Salinger photos, re-enactments are a legitimate way of filling in visual gaps. But the sheer number of them, and their obviousness, is an annoyance. Rather than letting his interviewees simply talk, Salerno is forever cutting away–to the farmhouse, the bunker, the beach. It’s especially odd given the care with which he stages the interviews, most of which are set in rooms with sweeping and varied views–of New York City, the Santa Monica Mountains, the waters off the Malibu Pier.
But there is a reward for the viewer: after nearly two hours, you finally get the details about Salinger’s secret manuscripts, including a memoir and two novels, as well as a timetable for their publication. That brief segment is thrilling, in part because Salerno couldn’t do it as a re-enactment. But the overall effect of “Salinger” is a curious one: you’re left with considerable sympathy for a strange, unlikable dead writer who–for all his faults–deserves a better documentary.