September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), redeems himself after his last few downfalls (“The Dilemma,” “Angels & Demons”) with “Rush,” a perfectly-paced and exciting action-drama starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. The film follows two racecar drivers who create a rivalry with each other in the 1976 Formula One racing circuit.

In “Rush,” Howard introduces his audience to racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl) and the competitive and money-driven racing world they both want to control. With stellar cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) and the strong script by screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/ Nixon,” “The Queen”), the intricately developed relationship between James and Niki pushes “Rush” across the finish line and crowns it a champion of good cinema.

The conflict begins when James finds himself trailing behind Niki, Formula One’s world champion, during the 1976 racing season. When they arrive to a race in Germany, aptly nicknamed “The Graveyard” for its treacherous track, it is pouring rain. Niki calls for a drivers’ meeting with the intention to cancel the race. However, when he is outvoted by his fellow racers, he is forced to race on the dangerous track. In a horrific accident later that day, Niki almost loses his life when he hits a wall and his car bursts into flames, thus putting James in the perfect position to catch up and clench his title. Although Niki is confined to the hospital undergoing treatments and surgeries, he allows his competitive spirit to get the best of him as he watches James chip away at the leaderboard.

Delving deep into each character, Hemsworth and Bruhl bring to life this amazing historic rivalry. On the surface, they are polar opposites – Niki, a stark and meticulous German racer, and James, a sex-crazed British party boy. As their backstories and common underlying desire to be the best racer emerge on screen though, so does their respect for one another. Bruhl draws you close with his first-rate performance while Hemsworth’s physical stature reinforces his “ladies man” persona.

As a high-risk sport, moviegoers experience the thrill of Formula One racing during the most climactic parts of the film, all of which feel like you’re right there on the track. Close up shots of speeding tires and turning engines leave you at the edge of your seat, and intensifies the movie’s pace and audience’s adrenaline.

Movies like “Rush” remind us that topical cinema, relevant or irrelevant to our interests, can be inspiring and sometimes great if given the chance. Race fan or not, “Rush” is a must-see, even if only for its character-driven plot line and almost flawless lead performances.


October 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Ceclie de France, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Invictus”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”)

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”) has such a gentle way of telling a story, even when the narrative experiments with darker themes Eastwood rarely strays from his comfort zone. But in his new film “Hereafter,” the two-time Academy Award-winning director shows he can’t always create affecting scenes through subtle storytelling. Beneath its restrained tone, the supernatural drama actually becomes lethargic.

In “Hereafter,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) collaborates with Eastwood to tell the story of George, a former psychic who can communicate with the dead but no longer practices because of the emotional toll it has taken on his life.

“It’s not a gift, it’s a curse,” George repeats as if he were some kind of comic book superhero questioning his newfound abilities to spin webs or become hulky and green when he gets angry.

George is drawn back into his work as a psychic when he meets a French TV reporter (Ceclie de France) whose near-death experience in a tsunami has changed her overall outlook on things. George is also moved by a young British schoolboy who is persistent about contacting his twin brother in the afterlife. The question on everyone’s mind: what happens after we die?

It’s a familiar theme we’ve all seen before on the big screen, but the way Eastwood confronts it is unoriginal and hokey. The same grim style Eastwood used in past films like “Gran Torino” and “Million Dollar Baby” has become his calling card, but without providing a true connection to the characters involved, we’re left with profound questions lingering in a screenplay that merely skims the surface.

What we know midway through “Hereafter” is that these separate stories will intersect and somehow make a type of philosophical statement about life and death. Nothing, however, comes as close to being as powerful as the impressive computer-generated tsunami that hits a village in the film’s opening scene. You know you’re in trouble when the best parts of an Eastwood movie are the special effects.

The Damned United

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall
Directed by: Tom Hooper (TV’s “John Adams” miniseries)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”)

It’s one thing to see a sports obsession coming from rowdy fans in the stands of a soccer match, but it’s an entirely different story when the mania is coming straight from the sidelines in unhealthy doses. In “The Damned United,” two-time Oscar nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) adapts author David Peace’s nonfiction novel about English soccer coach Brian Clough and his desire to prove his worth in the professional English football league no matter how many enemies he makes.

Brian (Michael Sheen) has always been a cocky son of a gun, but when he gets the opportunity to coach the top-rated soccer team Leeds United after he leads a once-lowly second division soccer club out from the bottom barrel, his claws come out. The problem is, up until actually accepting the offer to coach Leeds, Brian was a strong critic of the championship team and their iconic longtime coach Don Revie (Colm Meaney). Not only does Brian hold a grudge with Don for an unintentional snub in the past, he publicly voices that he thinks the team only wins championships because they cheat. When he gets to Leeds, he intends to bring “good, clean, attractive football” to the area.

It won’t be as easy as it sounds, however. The players aren’t thrilled that one of their biggest detractors is now their coach and is trying to change the way they play the game. Brian has also never coached a team without his scout and assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), who is angry with his friend for sticking his foot in his mouth one too many times. His outspokenness is one of the reasons his last boss Sam Longson (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent) never supported him when Brian would go behind his back to recruit players and act like he owned the team.

As Brian, Sheen does a masterful job turning this talented coach into a hybrid character. There are times where Brian’s sheer enthusiasm for the game is contagious. Other times, Brian’s “mad ambition,” disregard of humility, and his ongoing rivalry with Don make it hard to sympathize with him. “Fire is good,” someone tells Brian, “but sometimes fire destroys everything.”

Still, this is what the character calls for. Sheen, who also portrayed characters written by Peace in “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen,” really accentuates the ugliness of the sports world through his personal vendetta with everyone who chooses to disagree with him and his inattention to his own faults as a human being.

Along with his performance, “The Damn United” is an engaging film that isn’t just for fans of soccer. It could have followed any other sport or other life situation and built these strong characters and themes around that and it still would have been a relatable story. Credit Morgan’s script and director Tom Hooper (“John Adams”) for crafting something that could have been ordinary into an unbeatable sports drama.

The Other Boleyn Girl

February 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Justin Chadwick (“Sleeping with the Fishes”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)

Based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory, “The Other Boleyn Girl” gets all glamed up with nowhere to go for the same reasons as 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha.” All the literary pieces seem to be there in some fashion, but cinematically they evolve into a film less historically savvy and more melodramatic and unreal.

It is the early 16th century and King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is growing weary of having to wait for his queen, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), to give birth to his heir to the throne. When her last pregnancy ends with a stillborn, the king ventures out to find a mistress to provide to him with a son.

He meets Anne Boleyn (Portman), a pretty daughter of the Boleyn family who is loosely connected to the royal court. Knowing this, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), who is brother of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), sees an opportunity for the family to take advantage of the power that would be bestowed upon them if King Henry were to choose Anne as his lover. “Would you accept the challenge?” the king asks Anne, as if she was about to enter some sort of sexual gauntlet.

Henry’s attention, however, is diverted to Mary (Johansson), the other Boleyn girl, who quickly strikes his fancy without doing much. But could a man actually come between Mary and Anne as it does in this instance? In the opening sequence, screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) attempts to set up the idea that these two sisters are very close to one another. This thought is forgotten once both women flex their claws and do everything they can to seduce the king, who spends all of his time worrying about who he’s going to bed and no time actually doing anything a king would do.

Who believes Bana as the king anyway? He is a sore thumb and terribly miscast and Johansson, this generation’s most overrated actress, swoons enough for author Gregory’s next five novels. When she doesn’t, she situates herself behind simple dialogue and brilliant set design to blend into her surroundings. Only Portman, at least in the final act, is able to escape some of the formulaic scenes to prove there is actually blood pumping through one of the character in habiting the castle.

Still, there is direction missing in “Boleyn Girl,” which might not be so apparent if Morgan hadn’t written the script right after going on a Danielle Steele book-reading marathon. Where there should be passion there’s tacky love affairs. Where there should be strength from the crown, there’s a schoolboy crushing. Make no mistake about it, “The Other Boleyn Girl” will be an easy period piece to forget once the credits (and heads) roll.