Rush

Rush is loud and fast and tremendous entertainment.

High praise coming from one who, in spite of what one of the characters in the film utters as a universal truth, is a man who doesn’t like cars.

It tells the story of the Formula One 1970s rivalry between Austrian genius by way of scientific engine redesign and risk analysis Niki Lauda; and British superstar, playboy and dicer-with-death James Hunt. The film builds towards a climactic brush with death (I’ll avoid spoilers here) and its aftermath. It’s an old-fashioned rivalry story in a conveniently foreign time.

I am a sports fan but not especially fond of Formula One. As I said, I don’t like cars so there’s a limited appeal to watching them drive the same course several times for two hours. I may watch occasionally but it’s not something I choose to engage with. I knew this story, though. I grew up in a sports-following house in the UK, so I knew it as much by osmosis as anything else. In that context, I’m a far from ideal market for this film – not particularly interested in the sport, but knowing how it ends.

Add to that Ron Howard films tend to … well … at their best they entertain and divert but rarely, if ever, touch me. I see him as solid, not exciting; as good, but not great; as thinking but not thoughtful. Rush ticks all those boxes – the performances in the leads from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl are good; the support cast fade in and out of attention obediently and effectively. There’s a pretence at trying to understand the psychology of rivalry in the context of the risk of death. It’s touched on throughout the film and finds an awkward crescendo in a well-played by unconvincingly scripted exchange between the two leads in an airplane hangar. The script all round, by Peter Morgan, is very shallow; a mile from the depth and insight and economy of his other work like The Last King Of Scotland or The Damned United.

So much for the faults. It’s great fun, it’s exciting and shocking. The race scenes are brilliantly staged and shot; the noise is tangible, the adrenaline drinkable. It passes so fast, so engagingly, so wholeheartedly that you don’t have time to miss the depths. You’re having too much fun in the shallows.

Off the big screen the film’s power will, I suspect shrink and deficiencies will shine brighter. See it where it belongs and enjoy it for what it is.

I rated this film 7/10 on imdb.com and 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com

Angels & Demons

This is it. Dan Brown has won. The plot he instigated with the Da Vinci code book is finally bursting into horrible flower. This has shaken my deeply held faith in the goodness of God. I may never recover.

It’s not theological, you understand. Neither is it about Jesus having a wife or a son or anything like that. It’s in the success. Books, films, this bad, this lazy, this insulting to the intelligence of viewer or reader – that’s what shakes your faith. This isn’t as bad or as boring as the previous one. But it’s still utterly hopeless.

Don’t do it. Don’t see it. You’ll only hasten the end of days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Frost/Nixon – Could have been, should have been….

So I saw this film a few days ago, and have been meaning to blog on the subject for a while. Problem is, whenever I sit down to write something I can’t quite find a way to start, a line to take.

Everything is in place for something genuinely good. A gripping story, with surprising amount of suspense for a story that we all know the end of. Great performances, just the right side of impersonation (why hasn’t Michael Sheen received equal recognition with his co-star….they depend on one another). A story that has a significance and casts a long shadow over political history since.

But there’s the rub. That’s just the problem. It’s all taken for granted. It’s assumed in the direction and the script that we all know and understand exactly the scale and get the significance. Which if you are not my age (35) or younger, you do because you lived through it and you know it intuitively. But for someone like me, who knows it but doesn’t feel it, then you end up feeling impressed, maybe gripped but strangely empty.

The problem is the direction of Ron Howard, framing the story (adapted from a stage play) around a series of talking head interviews with the main players (the actors, not the actual people). The characters are too busy being, doing but not actually really developing. And what’s clearly supposed to be the moment of central significance (a late night phone call from Nixon to Frost before the last interview) is openly admitted to be fabricated.

It’s a good film; there is much to admire. I want to love it, for it to be special to me. It would do wonders for my cool liberal sensibilities. But I can’t.

The sad thing is, it just falls short.