Review: Rush

poster rushRush is a based on real events story directed by Ron Howard and scripted by frequent Ron Howard collaborator Peter Morgan.  The film attempts to explore the infamous rivalry between two Formula One racers during the seventies.  As a period piece it is composed rather well with costumes and set pieces consistent with the time, but not as flashy and obvious as, say the upcoming American Hustle.  This may have been a deliberate choice, perhaps in order to not distract the audience from the story.  Unfortunately, the story lacked balls and could have done with some style and a little more TLC from Howard.

I say balls, rather than boldness, guts, tenacity, or fearlessness, because that is the way I think the characters in the movie would express it.  For all the mandatory rhetoric about passion and heart that you are bound to find in a racing movie, I found none of that in the composition.  Whenever a driving sequence got on the verge of becoming a thrill it was cut short.  It is also uneven with most of the longer race scenes weighing down the end of the film with very little payoff.

One of the flaws of the film is that by attempting to shed light on Hunt and Laude (both characters involved in the rivalry) they fail to give the audience someone to root for.  The point is not the rivalry or who wins, the point is that they push each other to be better.  It’s an interesting idea, but its not a movie and it failed to arouse true interest as the stakes supposedly mounted, because I had no investment in one character over the other.  It was so passive, and thusly, boring.  It might have been a good character study if more attention were paid to dialogue and creating scenes that we could dwell in and enjoy without feeling the need to trudge forward, but trudge it does, from one uninspired scene on to the next, creating a sense of impatience for it to all be over.

Despite the noble attempt to not chose sides, or rather to expose the virtue of both sides beneath the surface, and the desire of the producers to stick to the actual events that inspired the film; I think the fair and balanced approach was a failure.  If Rudy hadn’t made the new Notre Dame coach the villain in the third act, the whole spirit of the story would have suffered.  In the end, these two very different, but very driven racers had nothing to fight for but to beat each other.

The events of the past are little more than a blip in history that most people won’t even recognize and this movie will do little to change that fact.  It too will soon be forgotten.  Renny Harlin  captured the pulse pounding action of Indy racing much better in the Stallone film Driven twelve years ago.  I recommend that for good racing action, or even Cars, or The Dukes of Hazard.  As a sports movie with a historical context it may be of interest to some people, but I believe it fails as an adaptation to be a fully developed story and the direction is not what I expected from Ron Howard.

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Influential Directors: Quentin Tarantino

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“I’m all about my filmography, and one bad film f—s up three good ones.”

When I was a young movie obsessed teen my passion for learning how movies are made continued to push me behind the scenes, even as my love for the spotlight took full bloom.  The thrill of the stage was all I cared about and the prospect of stepping into any number of characters and situations and exploring the possibilities was too exciting for me.  I loved saying things I wouldn’t normally say.  I loved making people believe I was who I said I was.  Mostly though, I loved making people laugh and I was always thinking up ways to squeeze out another reaction from the crowd.  No one had to tell me there are no small parts.  Those were the ones that always intrigued me the most, but the responsibility to carry a show as the lead was also something I thankfully got to have a taste of.  When I wasn’t in reheasals I spent a lot of time on my family’s brand new Gateway computer, playing a game called Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair.  I learned so much about the process by experimenting with the game, which lets you make a movie from script writing to production, editing, foley, scoring, and finally screening.  The game was also my very first introduction to an actor whose work in film would change me forever.  He was the funny, charismatic, and brilliant Quentin Tarantino.

I can’t say enough great things about Quentin Tarantino.  I love to hear the man speak.  He is so positive and almost always has something constructive to say.  He is a champion of the art of directing and also of screenwriting.  He has an uplifting and productive attitude about what others are trying to accomplish.  Meanwhile, he can take the most basic formula and elevate it to its most extravagant form.  Tarantino is a man who understands potential and taps into the simplest truths that flow throughout the most complicated compositions.  His work is art, a feat quite difficult in the entertainment industry, especially in regards to such consistency of quality and value.  Quentin Tarantino is an incredibly talented writer and a remarkably skilled director.  His latest film Django Unchained shows seasoning on a filmmaker whose directorial debut Reservoir Dogs helped to begin a revival of independent film, and whose award winning sophomore effort Pulp Fiction became an instant classic.

The man can be a bit awkward.  There is a sense of something sort of alien about him– Like he studied everything about our planet by watching movies– and yet he seems so warm and enthusiastic and has genuinely interesting things to say.  I love to hear Tarantino talk about anything.  Whether he is defending his movie against ignorant, ratings hungry vultures, talking simply about what interests him, or threatening paparazzi, a youtube search always gives me the fix I need.  Tarantino belongs in the spotlight.  He provides terrific interviews and deserves to be a star.  He can do just about any thing he wants and yet has not lost his way as a filmmaker.  Success is a killer.  You either get your way all the time and lose track of what works, or you become paralyzed at the thought of making a false step and do only what you think will be accepted.  Tarantino has shown himself to be neither timid, nor arrogant in his pursuit to make beautiful, smart and enjoyable films.

Even Hitchcock, “Master of Suspense” has his duds.  He’s really only known for about three movies.  If you really like him you know of three more.  Even great film makers who always turn out really good movies, rarely achieve the timelessness and sophistication that Tarantino always brings to the table.  Whether he’s really great at listening to the right people, or just a naturally exceptional self editor.  He manages to always make his movie, the way he wants to see it, and it always comes out a hit.  Lots of names will draw me to a theater, many with high expectations: But not only am I never disappointed with the work Tarantino puts out, I savor it with joy.

Before I even appreciated him as a director I was drawn to him as a writer.  The whole idea of Tarantino as this defiant screenwriter out to change the way movies were written didn’t quite match up with my perception.  When I was first studying screenwriting it seemed like everyone around me was determined to learn nothing in an attempt to be original.  When we got an assignment to examine structure in one of our favorite movies I chose Reservoir Dogs, just to show how textbook it was when viewed through the right lens.  Like every other assignment in the course, I passed with flying colors.  It was one of the few situations I found myself in where my odd way of looking at things finally paid off.  I once had a writing teacher, who tried to say Longfellow was wrong to use the metaphor of footprints in sand for A Psalm of Life to symbolize leaving ones mark in history, because sand gets washed away and has no permanence.  I was the quiet kid who (let’s face it) usually wasn’t paying any attention, but I couldn’t let it go uncontested.  I explained “my take” on the poem, to which she quite seriously replied that I had given the author too much credit.  She was the embodiment of the minds over the years that I refused to let shape me.  If Tarantino had taken any college courses in writing, I wonder if he would have been discouraged,  But that defiance, that rebelliousness so readily attributed to a high school drop out serves only to undermine the genius of an artist who has seriously done his homework.  A true student of film from all over the world, Tarantino jeopardized a possible acting career by taking a steady job at Video Archives, a rental store in Manhattan Beach, California.  There his expertise grew and flourished as he soaked up inspiration that would fuel one of the brightest burning talents the film industry would ever know.  It’s also where he met the Co-writer of Pulp Fiction, Roger Avery.

My first introduction to Tarantino as a writer, was From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, directed by his friend Robert Rodriguez.  If Hitchcock is the Master of Suspense, I strongly believe Tarantino should go down in history as the master of Tension.  It may not go noticed because he has so many strengths in structure, dialogue, visual style… but take key scenes from Inglorious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs, and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.  Even if it’s just two people talking, you know something is going to happen.  You may not know what, but something big is about to go down, and Tarantino knows, more than anything else, how to build on that until the perfect moment.  In the first scene of my first movie written by tarantino I was scared.  It’s just a Sherriff chewing the fat with a convenience store clerk, but it’s eerie as hell and before anything even happens you know something is going down.  The prologue to Reservoir Dogs is the same way.  It’s uneasy.  All these guys sitting around the table, they’re bad guys and they don’t really know each other, when Mr. Blonde playfully shoots Mr. White, you get the distinct impression he might actually do it for realsies.  It sets a remarkable tone for the rest of the film.

Prior to his meteoric rise to stardom and international acclaim he penned the scripts for True Romance (which came out the year after Reservoir Dogs with a star studded cast featuring appearances by Christopher Walken, Bradd Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman and Balki from Mypos) and Natural Born Killers.  both were reworked but the first (directed by Tony Scott) was truer to Tarantino’s vision than the latter.

Still an actor at heart, Tarantino wrote the part of Mr. Pink for himself, even warned Buscemi that his audition better be “really good”  In the end, Buscemi is just pasty skinned awesome sauce and Tarantino had to admit defeat, he still got a part, though, and still likes to give himself those little cameos which endears him to me even more than if he had subtle appearances as an extra or withdrew from the stage altogether.  As a director, he is able to effectively translate his own writing for the audience, better than anyone else could.  He pushes boundaries, fuses genres and is very visually dynamic, which compliments his vast content and well defined characters.  His one adaptation, Jackie Brown, came hot on the heels of Pulp Fiction and though it was different from Pulp Fiction in the sense that Unbreakable was different from The Sixth Sense, It is was considered by Elmore Leonard to be the best adaptation of his work out of 26 films.  A fan of Leonard, Tarantino was able to be true to the author’s work and make it undoubtedly his own in the process.

Clearly He has fun at his work and at the same time, takes it seriously and wants it done right.  I don’t know how he strikes that magical balance of whimsy and restraint.  There has been a lot of talk about his retirement, partially, due to the rise of digital projection.  So dedicated is he to film that he bought a building housing the New Beverly Cinema to save it from redevelopment and ensure the theater will continue to use traditional projectors.  He has said he plans to retire from film and become an author after the age of sixty, which would give us ten years and possibly two more films; But he also said he could stop at any time, though he thinks ten films provides a nice aesthetic for his filmography.  He’s very dedicated to his own resume and doesn’t want to make a film that doesn’t belong there.  You have to respect that.  He seems to believe a director ages like wine– in terms of vinegar.   I value that insight, except Django Unchained really showed off the fact that Tarantino has not only still got it, he’s better than ever.  I can see how that sort of diligence and commitment to making an exceptional film would lead someone to thoughts of retirement, especially in interviews immediately following the film’s release.  I know the Kill Bill films were something Quentin kind of thought of as a book and he has been interested in making a Volume 3, though he eventually said another film in the series is unlikely.  Perhaps, when he does make the transition to author it will take the form of a novel.  Since Michael Crichton passed, I have been on the lookout for a new author.  I can’t say I won’t be sorry for the loss as far as film is concerned, but I will always celebrate his contributions with much enthusiasm and I view Quentin Tarantino as the greatest inspiration and his career the height of cinematic achievement.

Blu-ray Review: The Rescuers and the Rescuers Down Under

Buy The Rescuers: 35th Anniversary Edition double feature Blu-ray/DVD combo

The Rescuers Down Under has the distinguished honor of being the first ever sequel from Walt Disney Animation Studios and it even had a much deserved theatrical release.   It also had the difficult task of following the smash hit The Little Mermaid which marked an amazing come back for the studio.  Mice in animation have always been popular but The Rescuers is a uniquely Disney franchise filled with adventure and fun characters.  From a bayou diamond hunt against Madame Medusa to tracking a poacher in Australia, The Rescue Aid Society sends their best mice, Bernard and Bianca to save children in peril and meet lots of fun and interesting characters on the way.  From the inventive and classic artistry of The Rescuers to the Stunning layouts and CGI enhancements of The Rescuers Down Under, the two films boast the state of the art technology and top-notch storytelling that Disney has always been known for.

Featuring the voice talents of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, the stories follow two brave mice dedicated to helping children in need– one, a young orphan named Penny abducted by a wicked pawn shop owner in search of a diamond, the other an animal rescuer named Cody,  kidnapped by a poacher who is hunting an extremely rare golden eagle–  The two award-winning films are packaged together as one of Disney’s recent release of Blu-ray double features and include a True Life Adventure titled “Water Birds”, a sing-along video of the Oscar nominated song “Someone’s Waiting For You”, and the classic cartoon “Three Blind Mouseketeers”, plus a great behind the scenes look at the animation of The Rescuers Down Under.