9 October 2013

Big Bottle Of Catch-Up

Heyy, how are you? Doing well? Really? OK, shut up, I don't really care, I'm back now. I know, I've been busy for the past few weeks. We're due another catch-up, especially as I've been reviewing movies elsewheres, on that pesky Den Of Geek. In varying amounts of detail, this post will cover my thoughts on Rush, White House Down, Prisoners, Sunshine On Leith and Runner Runner.


After the bad-will generating blip known as The Dilemma, Ron Howard sinks his teeth into another true story movie with Rush, his second collaboration with Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan. While the acclaimed documentary Senna made extensive and excellent use of Formula 1 stock footage, director Ron Howard sets himself the slightly harder task of capturing the look and (more importantly) the noise of the sport in the later 1970s.

Set over the course of the 1976 season, Rush is about the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. While one is a playboy who introduces himself as "Hunt... James Hunt", the other is a serious man, and a consummate professional. The main thing that the two drivers have in common is that they're both ferociously determined to win the Formula One World Championship, and as they rise through the ranks, the personal stakes have never been higher for either of them.

Despite the billing, Daniel Brühl's Lauda is inarguably the lead character, in a film that slightly exaggerates the tensions between the two drivers. A post-film Wikipedia search shows that the real Hunt and Lauda were even flatmates for a while, whereas Howard and Morgan opt for a more Top Gun-style male rivalry. The real meat of the story is Brühl's for the taking, as Hemsworth is left with the slightly easier, maverick type of character. Lauda, by contrast, is much more complex, making social life difficult for himself as he continues his single-minded but completely tactical pursuit of greatness, and this is a real breakthrough role for Brühl.

Aside from that lead performance, the film is really more impressive on a technical level than it is with story or character. The sheer noise of the race sequences is rattling, almost to the point where you wonder why they bothered with a Hans Zimmer score, even as good as it is, and Howard brings a grisly, dangerous edge to the action from the earliest scenes. Rush is a heavily fictionalised but no less compelling sports movie, with an unusually deep lead character and some extraordinary action scenes- as Oscar season revs up, this stands up amongst the best dramas of the year so far.

Rush is still showing in cinemas nationwide.

White House Down

How can the same shit happen to the same house twice? It's surprisingly common for Hollywood to release two movies about the same subject within a few months of each other. Most famously, Armageddon and Deep Impact collided like the giant asteroids of melodrama in the summer of 1998. In recent years, we've had pairs of casual sex comedies, aliens-attacking-LA movies and Snow White adaptations, but it's tough to think of a crossover as specific as two movies following the logline "Die Hard in the White House."

Coming to the UK a few months after April's Olympus Has Fallen, Roland Emmerich's White House Down doesn't really have the element of surprise on its side. John Cale is a divorced father who's angling for a job with the Secret Service when the White House is taken over by paramilitary invaders, and winds up teaming up with President James Sawyer to try and liberate the house, and rescue Cale's young daughter. It's not like the two movies are beat-for-beat identical, but Olympus Has Fallen may not necessarily have been better for coming out first.

This one has better special effects, for instance, which is the benefit of not racing to get released ahead of the other one. This is also a 12A/PG-13 affair, so there's far less head-stabbing in Emmerich's film than in Antoine Fuqua's, but that also allows for a much lighter tone. Channing Tatum, who's going from strength to strength as a leading man, brings his own charisma without aping early Bruce Willis, and Jamie Foxx's president is much cooler and likeable than Aaron Eckhart's generic commander-in-chief. Both films fall down when it comes to the villain, but James Woods and Jason Clarke are better villains, even if there's some sorely missed potential for Woods to let loose with a Hans Gruber style character.

The other negative should be readily apparent by now- that whichever film comes out second immediately has its dick measured against the other. I can say that I laughed more watching White House Down, because Olympus Has Fallen took itself more seriously than Emmerich has ever taken anything, but the lesson is still to get out first. As impossible as it is to separate the two, in the context of having seen both within a few months of one another, I would still say that this is also a better Die Hard movie than A Good Day To Die Hard.

White House Down is still showing in some cinemas nationwide, but also comes to DVD and Blu-ray on January 20th 2014.

Rather than repeat, or copy and paste what I've posted on Den of Geek, I'll summarise the rest of my thoughts and also link to my full reviews.

I didn't hate Runner Runner, but on the Den Of Geek 5 star scale, I realised that there was nothing in it that dragged it up to being worthy of two stars. Even if I didn't hate this tepid thriller, in which the usually solid Justin Timberlake once again fails as a leading man, and future Batman Ben Affleck phones in some hours as a brash billionaire, we can safely say that I really didn't like it. Even aside from wasting Gemma Arterton as mere eye candy, this feels incredibly dated, and won't feel at home until it's circulating on Channel 5 on a Sunday evening.

As impressive as Rush was, I wasn't quite as bowled over by Prisoners, even if it's a much more disturbing and thought-provoking picture. Although the cast is roundly excellent, the script unfortunately seems to lose its nerve at the climax, as if we were always meant to think this was a whodunnit instead of a whutthehelldowedonow. I would still strongly recommend it, because aside from some terrific performances and Roger Deakins' amazing cinematography, its skin-crawling sense of foreboding lends to some of the most purely intense sequences I've seen in the cinema this year.

And finally, Sunshine On Leith should be the essential accompaniment to Filth, as part of an ideal downer-upper double bill of Scottishness. Dexter Fletcher's adaptation of the Proclaimers-based musical could stand to have a few more jokes, but it doesn't overreach into embarrassing comedy for the sake of it, and it comes with a brand of refreshingly unsentimental sentimentality that catches you unawares in the film's more moving moments. The young cast are delightful, while Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks threaten to steal the show throughout (one of them perhaps more surprisingly than the other) and it's generally all-around wonderful.

Runner Runner, Prisoners and Sunshine On Leith are all showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen any of these films, why not share your comments below? Normal service should resume shortly...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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