Monday, 10 February 2014

Rush (2013) Movie Review

This week, I strapped on my 5-point harness (ok, my seatbelt), put on my racing helmet (ball cap), did some cool foot-hand-clutch-gear-shifty-stuff (which is weird as I drive an automatic) and raced to the video rental store to check out Rush (2013) starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. It's directed by Ron Howard.

Rush (2013) is, at it's heart, a fairly simple film. It tells the true life story of the 1970's Formula 1 racing rivalry between British born James Hunt and Austrian born Niki Lauda. There are, of course, deeper layers to the film. At it's core, though, it really comes down to the racing and the commitment these two men made to the "sport".

According to the still alive Lauda, the film is a very accurate retelling of events. This is a refreshing change from the norm in Hollywood where you get to see things like "inspired by" instead of "based on". Ultimately, though, this ended up being the weakest point in the film for me.

But first, let me heap a little bit of praise on it. It's beautifully shot, well acted and incredibly easy to follow. Hemsworth turns in his best performance to date. I hadn't seen Brühl in anything prior to this, but loved his performance as Lauda. The movie plays out exactly as you'd expect with Hunt and Lauda starting their rivalry early in the film and chasing each other throughout. There's never a time where the film gets so deep or complex that you can't follow what's happening. The locales are shown off to great effect and the racing footage itself is nothing short of amazing.

There we go. Now I'll feel better about picking what's left apart.

My biggest issue with this film is the lack of a protagonist. The portrayals of Hunt and Lauda are, apparently, spot on. That being the case, you should count yourself fortunate that you weren't hanging around either of these guys in the mid-to-late 1970s. Hunt is a self-destructive, pretty-boy jerk who treats everyone around him as a means to an end. He laughs in the face of danger while throwing up all over it. Bedding woman after woman, all while married to the beautiful Olivia Wilde, Hunt takes almost nothing seriously. He's self-centred and self-destructive. You can't root for him just because he's good looking because he's such a d-bag. Lauda, on the other hand, is the exact opposite (a point I'll get to in a minute). He's the smartest guy in the room and he makes sure everyone always knows it. Smug, arrogant, even the other characters in the movie call him an asshole throughout. He spends all his time looking down on anyone he feels is inferior and makes everyone else feel stupid for even existing. It doesn't help that his face resembles that of a weasel's.

So where does that leave us? A movie about two guys who are competing for a racing championship and an audience who doesn't want to see either of them win it.

Granted, director Ron Howard tried to turn it around somewhat later in the film. For me, it was too little too late. By the time the final race was underway to determine which of these two competitors was going to take home the trophy, I just didn't care. That's not to take away from the performances. As I said, they were spot on. But you can't spend 3/4 of your movie making me hate your two guys then try to win me over with the same 2 guys in the final 30 minutes. It just didn't work for me.

I mentioned the fact that Hunt and Lauda are opposites. This is readily apparent early in the film. Unfortunately, Howard must have thought we wouldn't pick up on this as he spends way too much time driving this point home. Not only does he establish this during the individual story arcs of Hunt and Lauda, but nearly every single interaction between them (of which there aren't really that many) takes the time to reinforce their wildly different outlooks on life. By the end of the film (yes, there's even one more scene at the end to drive this fact home), I was saying in my head "Yes, we get it. They're opposites. Please stop trying to make this extremely simple point."

For me, these two issues, nickpicky though they might be, took me out of the movie more times then I'd like to admit. It didn't detract from the technical aspects of the film. It just killed all the emotional payoffs for me.

All in all, a good film and an accurate record of what happened. And that's about it.

3 out of 5 stars

Rush (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Feb 10 2014
Rating: 3

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Rivalry to End All Rivalries: Marvel Vs. DC

I know, I know. It's supposed to be a movie review blog. I just had to get my two cents in on this particular issue, though, as it's becoming more and more prevalent as it relates to the movie going public as a whole. Bare with me while I ramble on for a bit.

I remember a day, not that long ago, when you couldn't be a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek. You had to pick one. No, really. You did. Oh, you could appreciate them both. But you had to single out one or the other. If you were a Star Wars guy or gal, you had to put it to the Star Trek guy or gal in your social circle. They, in turn, would need to expound upon the merits of their choice and explain to you why your choice was crap. Around and around we'd go.

These days, you get to say you like both as long as everyone agrees to hate Jar Jar.

I'm starting to see a similar trend developing with fans of the Marvel movie universe and the DC movie universe. For the uninitiated, let me give you a brief rundown.

Marvel and DC are the top two comic book publishing companies in the market. There are several smaller outfits putting out books as well, but most of the big guns are housed at these two companies.

Marvel Comics has brought to life heroes like Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, Captain America and more. Mostly in the game since the early 1960's, they have spent decades dominating the comic book market.

On the other side of the fence, there's DC Comics. Since the 1930's, they've created such heroes as Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and more. They put together the first team of heroes and called them the Justice Society of America. In short, DC was the first to put out a comic book with a guy in tights and a cape stopping crime and saving the world. They called him Superman.

Ok, that's your brief history lesson of comic books. A couple of things to note, though. While these two companies compete for the same market share, they are constantly bouncing talent back and forth between them (writers, artists and the like) and, more importantly, have actually worked together and co-published comics starring heroes from each company on several occasions. They seem to have a healthy respect for each other's work.

Now, on to the movies (I swear, I'm getting to the point of this article).

Supeman the Movie was released in 1978. It was the first big budget superhero movie of the modern era and it was a smash hit. Several sequels followed (the first one better than the original, the rest all dreck) and likely lead to Tim Burton getting his hands on Batman in 1989. And then that was a smash hit. It also followed nearly the same formula as the Superman franchise with 3 sequels, though this time each was weaker than the last. At this point, Warner Brothers (the parent company of DC Comics) let both of these properties have a rest from the big screen and turned to other projects. Enter 20th Century Fox.

Fox put out X-Men in 2000. No, not Marvel. Fox. See, Marvel had actually sold the movie rights to several of their properties throughout the years, never dreaming they would actually be getting into the business of making movies themselves. Properties like The Punisher, Blade, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and, their flagship and most popular character, Spider-Man were sold off to other movie studios who developed those properties into (mostly) success movie franchises. X-Men was the first to market and set the tone for what was to come.

Marvel, to their credit, saw where the winds were blowing and decided to capitalize on their large catalogue of B and C list heroes by making individual movies, starting with Iron Man in 2008, to introduce these characters to the general public. Fans ate them up. Since then, Marvel has built a cohesive movie universe where several heroes have been brought to the silver screen in their own franchises, then all brought together to battle evil alien invaders in The Avengers in 2012. And oh, how the money rolled in.

DC, on the other hand, is owned by Warner Brothers. This means that every single character that's ever appeared in a DC comic is available to WB to build a franchise around. That's 75 years of publishing history with, literally, hundreds if not thousands of characters to choose from. So, naturally, they've only ever really tried to build around Superman and Batman. In 2005, DC rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins. Directed by Christopher Nolan, it was a fresh and realistic take on the origin of The Caped Crusader. Both financially and critically successful, this lead to two sequels, both earning in excess of a billion dollars each worldwide. Thinking they'd cracked the formula, DC tried to reboot the Superman franchise as well with Superman Returns in 2006. It didn't go so well. A rather dull movie, the film failed to score great reviews and, more importantly, didn't exactly light up the box office. Green Lantern in 2011 also failed to connect with audiences.

Now it was back to the drawing board. And they drew up Man of Steel in 2013.

Man of Steel is the first in a connected series of movies for DC. Similar to Marvel, DC wants to team up their heroes on the big screen and watch some serious dollars roll in. Man of Steel only had Superman in it, but hints were dropped throughout that our plucky hero wasn't alone in the tights wearing business.

Man of Steel 2, it was announced, would have Batman starring alongside Superman for the first time on the big screen. Soon, Wonder Woman was added to the mix. More rumours abounded that other heroes might also make an appearance. Should it be successful, this would put DC right beside Marvel with a big movie universe starring several of their heroes all connected.

And the fans were outraged.

For reasons that still escape me, we're right back to the whole Star Wars vs. Star Trek thing again. The majority of fans (yes, I'm generalizing) are split right down the middle, hating one while loving the other. To those fans, I have one simple question:


Both of these companies publish comic books. Both of these companies are spending ridiculous amounts of money to bring those comic book heroes and villains to life on the big screen. While I understand they're competing for your dollar, why is it up to you to hoist the flag and champion one or the other? Why can't we, as fans of the genre as a whole, love both?

As a movie reviewer (delusions of grandeur be damned), I try to take the time to read movie news and rumours as they're published along with fan reaction to said same. No other genre has so completely divided the fan base like comic book movies. There are people absolutely hating Man of Steel 2 and Avengers 2...and those movies haven't even begun production yet.

In their blind loyalty to their particular product or brand, they can't see the good in the other. Ever met someone that only drinks Coke and refers to Pepsi as something akin to liquid death? That's the kind of people I'm talking about. Personally, I don't taste much difference between the two (I've taken the Pepsi challenge half a dozen times and I think I'm around 50/50) and enjoy both.

I love watching dudes and dudettes running around in tights kicking other dudes' and dudettes' collective butts. Do I really have to slap a label on my forehead, only cheering for one side or the other?

Don't get me wrong. I haven't loved every movie produced from comic book source material. Far from it. But I haven't singularly loved or hated any of them just because of who was producing them.

To the fandom, I say this: Let each film stand on it's on merits. Don't blindly follow one company or another like sheep. Make up your own damned minds.