Movie Review ~ Ford v Ferrari


The Facts
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Synopsis: American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Stars: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Ray McKinnon, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe

Director: James Mangold

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 152 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  With authors, historians, and filmmakers having greater access than ever before to archival materials for events throughout history, it isn’t long before we’ll have an easy way to bring up a certain important milestone that occurred and research it’s significance.  In the meantime, we have to rely on those who seek to preserve these cultural touchstones and explore the work they do to bring that information to the general public.  Maybe it’s an art exhibition of a painter that died before their time and was never known for their technique in their lifetime.  Perhaps it’s a long-lost book of essays from a famous writer that was found in a safety deposit box of their former lover.  Or it could be something as simple as a movie documenting the rivalry between two car companies seeking to win a world famous race and pushing each other to build better vehicles in the process.

That’s how I choose to look at Ford v Ferrari, the dandy new racing drama zooming into theaters this weekend.  Sure, it looks like that late in the year release that feels like a perfect film for your dad to enjoy while you’re shopping for the holidays at the mall but it’s far more than a mere ‘Dad Film’ and you should consider riding shotgun for this one as well.  If you do, you’re going to find a film gassed up and ready to go from the start, with A-list talent in the driver’s seat and a fine supporting cast of venerable characters actors admirably doing stellar work in the pit crew.  Though I know over the years I’ve come across a number of them, the last racing movie I can remember seeing (and liking) in a theater was a whopping 28 years ago with the (still great!) Days of Thunder – so it was high time to get back behind the wheel and try out this model that had some history to go along with it.

As a barely casual Formula 1 viewer, the only races I had any familiarity with were the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 so learning about the 24 Hours of Le Mans that plays such a major role in this movie was a real eye opening experience.  According to Wikipedia, it is “the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France. It is considered one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and has been called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency.”  I had always thought cars went around the track for a while and eventually whoever had the best time after a certain amount of laps won.  It totally blew by me that there was a strategy and skill involved in endurance racing, especially when you consider the length of time of Le Mans and how specifically the car has to be made to survive those conditions.

By 1963, the Ford Motor Company was in trouble.  Business wasn’t great and their production line wasn’t appealing to a younger culture that were becoming more enamored with the European cars they were seeing in films.  These foreign cars, driven by the likes of James Bond, were sleek and sexy, not boxy and chaste like the types Ford was churning out.  Inspired by his Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, The Accountant), Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, Lady Bird) makes an offer to buy the cash-strapped Ferrari who had steadily been losing business after investing so much money into their countless efforts to win Le Mans.  Hoping to claim a Le Mans victory for his company, Ford II or “The Deuce” as he was called behind his back, thought that by buying Ferrari he was guaranteeing himself a win.  When Ferrari balked, The Deuce made it his mission to destroy Ferrari by gathering a team of his own and winning Le Mans as a way to get a kind of revenge against Ferrari.

At the time, the best man to go to about cars was designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, The Martian) who had previously driven a car to a Le Mans victory in 1959.  The brusque Texan knew the right people to gather together to get the job done but also knew the corporate red tape that would ultimately get in the way – yet he soldiered on, eventually bringing in unpredictable British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale, American Hustle) to test the car and steer it to victory.  Miles was known for his brilliant knowledge of cars and his talent behind the wheel, but also for his hotshot attitude and aversion to authority, a problem that comes into play when a ego-centric Ford company man (Josh Lucas, Thinner) gets promoted to oversee the racing team.  Under his penny pinching corporate eye, Shelby and Miles collaborate on a revolutionary automobile though and field test it endlessly to prepare for the legendary race.  The road to Le Mans is filled with potholes, though, and over the next years Shelby and Miles would have their professional relationship and friendship tested on multiple occasions as they navigated a company that wanted to win but with compromise and a leader who valued personal victory over loyalty.

Based on the 2009 book “Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans” by A.J. Baime was adapted by Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), John-Henry Butterworth (Get on Up) and Jason Keller (Mirror, Mirror) into a well-oiled screenplay that, while heavy on car talk, doesn’t leave us non-car people in the dust.  In doing my research I’ve found that by and large Ford v Ferrari sticks fairly close to the events as they happened, taking few liberties with the real people that lived it.  As always, a movie can’t concentrate on every member of the larger team that led to success and I think focusing on Shelby and Miles was a good idea, mostly because the roles are so different yet complement each other so nicely.  Most agree that Shelby and Miles were key figures in Ford’s development of a racing car for the Le Mans race, though it’s well known it was a large team effort that wasn’t just accomplished by grease monkeys and the non-corporate type.

Director James Mangold (Logan) and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) make the non-racing scenes look absolutely stunning, whether it be a conversation Miles is having with his son (Noah Jupe, Suburbicon, in another winning performance) or when The Deuce is throwing a tantrum in front of his executive staff.  It’s the racing footage that’s truly, incredibly, awesome.  Putting you right into the drivers seat without the shaking camera that often accompanies these views, whether we are looking in, out, or around the car Papamichael makes sure we know where we are and who we are following at all times.  With several races to go through before Le Mans, it allows audiences time to get a rhythm for the racing before the big one that takes up a large part of the last hour of the movie.  Having no knowledge of this event beforehand, I didn’t know the ultimate outcome of the Ford/Ferrari match-up and I’m so glad – it helped make the movie that much more enjoyable to be in some suspense as we near the finish line.

There’s already been a lot of talk about Ford v Ferrari around the performances of Damon and Bale, questioning if one actor should put himself in the running for Best Actor and one for Best Supporting Actor.  If we’re being fair, both are leading actors of the movie but I’d argue that Bale has the larger and more pivotal role…which is of course why many are saying he should campaign as Supporting Actor (??).  Even so, it appears both actors are going for the leading category now and I worry that it will either leave both out of the nominations or allow Damon to get in instead of Bale.  Nothing against Damon because he’s very good in this, I just responded more to what Bale was putting out onto the screen.  I also greatly enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Letts as the obnoxiously pompous son of Henry Ford.  Wait for the scene where Damon’s character takes him on his first ride in a true racing car…it’s worth the price of admission.  As the lone female in the film with any kind of significance (the film’s one true drawback), Caitriona Balfe (Now You See Me) is stuck with the Wife That Is Supportive Above All Else but makes it less saccharine than it could have been.  If only the script had allowed her a few more dimensions, Balfe would surely have been up to the challenge.

Some movies are easy to skip in theaters and wait until they arrive for rent at home.  This is not one of those movies.  I’d advise to see this on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system available.  It can only enhance what is already a thrilling film experience, a history lesson brought to considerable life by a crackerjack team of professionals at the top of their game.  I’ve had this one on my mind quite a lot over the past week and feel as if it’s one I’ll revisit sooner rather than later.  Definitely worth your time to see it in theater.

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
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Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.

Movie Review ~ The Wolverine

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen

Director: James Mangold

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to imagine it now but audiences very nearly had a different actor playing Logan/Wolverine when the original X-Men movie was released back in 2000.  Though several A-List stars were sought for the role, their fees provided intimidating and newcomer Dougray Scott was cast as the mutant hero with the Adamantium claws.  When Scott’s work on Mission: Impossible 2 ran long he was swapped out for total unknown Hugh Jackman and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Thirteen years later Jackman (Les Misérables) has suited up again, marking his sixth appearance as the man with the questionable sideburns and some serious anger issues.  Though he stumbled with 2009’s misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman isn’t one to throw in the towel easily so it was back to the drawing board.  After several stops and starts his mea culpa is here, simply called The Wolverine and it’s a much more enjoyable outing, taking the character into some needed dark territory which gives Jackman a chance to infuse a fair amount of gravitas to a character born from a comic book.

Still…a little bit of brooding goes a long way and ever since Christopher Nolan re-invigorated the Batman franchise by giving The Dark Knight a dark arc it seems like every superhero action film since feels the need to follow suit.  That resulted in a troubling Man of Steel but The Wolverine just makes it out from the heavy pathos unscathed…though often times the Man with the Iron Claws gets dangerously close to being dragged down alongside the Man of Steel.

What helps the movie immensely is the nice amount of distance from everything else in the world of X-Men.  Though I love a good mash-up of characters as much as the next geeky fanboy, Jackman’s haunted character needed some room to stretch his claws.  Taking place largely in Japan, the script from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank feels more like a moody crime drama than it does a large-scale action film – don’t be scared by that statement because trust me, the film works more often than not.

That’s mostly thanks to Jackman who also seems more invested in the film this time around. Jackman is an engaging presence both on and off screen but in this film he doesn’t shy away from letting his dark side show, especially as Logan continues to be haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  When he’s located by a mysterious woman (plucky newcomer Rila Fukushima) and brought to Japan, he gets neck deep into trouble over unsettled scores and family secrets that turn out to involve him more than he thinks.

Aside from Jackman, the women in the movie are the most memorable.  I was pretty fascinated with Fukushima as well as model-turned actress Tao Okamoto as the daughter of a man from Logan’s past.  Though both actresses are very early in their careers, they acquit themselves nicely…even if Okamoto is somewhat clumsily thrown into a “I saw that one coming” romance with Jackman.  As a viper-like villainess, Svetlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) looks the part right down to her perfectly placed evil mole but her voice is unfortunately awkwardly dubbed.  This makes most of her work fairly distracting and one wonders why director James Mangold couldn’t have figured out a better solution.

Perhaps a tad overlong and lacking the larger than life action sequences that the franchise would seem to dictate, The Wolverine begins to run out of steam around the 90 minute mark.  With about 40 minutes left, that isn’t great news but thankfully several batteries are recharged near the end and through a not-to-be-missed-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you credits sequence.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really mind the last stand-alone Wolverine film.  Yes, it wasn’t the right movie for anyone involved but it wasn’t a disaster like many that have come before and after it.  I know that Jackman wanted to get it right this time and for the most part the film accomplishes what it wanted to.  It corrects some past mistakes and sets up future installments for not only more Wolverine films but other X-Men adventures in the years to come (X-Men: Days of Future Past is set for release in May of 2014).  Is it the best film that could have been made…no, it’s not.  Still, it’s an entertaining entry that rates high on the popcorn scale.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine – Trailer #2

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: While some wrote off 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely as a missed opportunity, I did enjoy parts of the film but not enough to have made a return visit to the movie since I saw it in theaters.  Going back to a story that’s been floating around star Hugh Jackman’s wheelhouse for a while, this new film featuring the adamantium clawed anti-hero is supposedly a darker affair than we’ve seen before.  Consciously moving the action forward to a time when Wolverine is all alone the filmmakers have given Jackman (Les Miserables) and company the chance to right some past mistakes and make the first step in really moving this character and franchise forward.  Let’s see if a refreshed story and directing from James Mangold will do the trick.

                                                                                        View Trailer #1 here

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: After 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to ignite the kind of box office that Marvel Studios and Twentieth Century Fox had hoped, plans were scrapped for future installments of similar X-Men Origin films.  But you can’t keep an appealing superhero down and of all the X-Men that have graced the screen, Hugh Jackman’s haunted hero Logan/Wolverine has always been the most appealing to me.  After the huge success of 2011’s X-Men prequel, Fox decided another go ‘round was worth it.  With gritty director James Mangold (Cop Land, Knight and Day) on board and coming off of Jackman’s Oscar nominated turn in Les Miserables, expectations are once again high for the franchise.  I didn’t mind the previous stand-alone Wolverine film but did find it a tad uninspired…so I’m curious to see where this film will take us.  It certainly looks to hit all the right notes for a successful run but if it doesn’t another X-Men prequel is on its way in 2014.