Tag Archives: James Mangold

“FORD V FERRARI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Two men, a Mustang, and a wrench.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those epic underdog stories not unlike David and Goliath – and despite what the title suggests, Ford is not David and Ferrari is not Goliath. No, this story is about innovators versus CEOs, workers versus corporations, creators versus the companies who own creators. Five decades ago, two men, a Mustang, and a wrench beat not one, but two million-dollar corporations on the race track and in life. Yet, to this day the names we see imprinted on the side of cars are Ford and Ferrari, not Shelby and Miles.

If you ever met these men in real life, you’re prone to either love them or hate them, depending on whether you work on the creative or corporate side of the race track. Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a 40-year-old automotive designer and former race car driver who was forced to retire early after developing an intensified heart condition. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a hot-headed Brit who has just as much of Shelby’s talent behind the wheel and twice the temper. If these two were parts in a car, Shelby would be the pistons and Miles would be the fuel – when you put them together, combustion is imminent.

These two men are recruited by Henry Ford II (yes, that Henry Ford, portrayed by Tracy Letts) for one purpose: to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans Grand Prix, a 24-hour race held on a wildly turbulent track in France. Any other man would think Ford was out of his wrinkly, white-haired mind. But Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are not most men. They take the challenge head-on, and they have to get past not just Ferrari, but Ford to build one of the fastest race cars in automotive history.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those classic American stories you should have learned at some point in high school – a classic longshot tale, not unlike Rocky battling it out with Apollo Creed or Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes. Yet, I have never heard of either Carroll Shelby or Ken Miles. I suspect you may not have either. That’s part of what makes their story so surprising, because they’ve contributed a big part to America’s industrial innovation. Not only did they develop the vehicle that would later become the GT40 Mustang, but they also helped unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Champions, a title they’ve held onto for nine years before Ford entered the race.

If nothing else, Ford v Ferrari illustrates a story of the everyman – the American innovator who wants to push boundaries, pave paths, and create new ways forward, but are constantly hindered by the people wanting to be stuck in the past. I was surprised to find that this film’s biggest antagonists were not Enzo Ferrari or his driver Lorenzo Bandini, but rather Henry Ford II and his scumbag senior executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Rarely do you see a face in film that is as punchable as Josh Lucas’. His character is as scuzzy and as filthy as they come, a greedy, self-centered cretin that cares only about the bottom dollar and not much for the people that helped get him there. If Jacob Marley ever saw this man in real life, he would give Ebeneezer Scrooge a pass on Christmas Eve and would send the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on him instead.

As much as I despise his character, however, Josh Lucas serves a vital role in the conflict of Ford v Ferrari – it’s not the industry we’re fighting, but often the people who control the industry and the people within it. When Shelby and Miles are knee-deep into engineering their Mustang, they’re artists perfecting their craft. When Shelby and Miles are driving at dangerously high speeds, they’re in Heaven. When they’re arguing with a snobby auto exec on who belongs in the driver’s seat, their brakes are punched to a screeching halt.

These characters are very relatable not just because of their situation, but because so many of us have found ourselves in circumstances similar to Shelby’s and Miles’. Their conflict is not just written very well, but also portrayed very well. Christian Bale, in particular, can’t help but outshine the rest of his talented cast. He has the physique and the fighting spirit from his Oscar-winning performance of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, but in the same sentence possesses the same introversion and comedic timing as Michael Burry in The Big Short. Whether he’s exchanging jabs with Carroll Shelby at a pit stop or sharing a sentimental moment on the road with his son, you’re invested in Miles’ story and his constant desire to go against the grain.

This film is directed by James Mangold, who has been on a winning streak as of late with some of his most recent projects. He previously directed the Academy Award-nominated Walk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma, and he more recently wrote and directed the last entry in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine trilogy, Logan. Ford v Ferrari possesses all of the grit his previous films have with even more relevance and authenticity. It doesn’t surprise me that the film feels like an industrial western, because when Ken Miles steps out onto race track and gets in his car, it has the tension and anticipation that builds up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to take on the outlaw with a draw of his pistol.

Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, exciting, riveting, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from the exhaust pipe. If I had one criticism, it would be that the first act takes too much time to build up its stakes and doesn’t move as promptly as I felt it could have. But I would rather a film have too much interest in its subject rather than too little. Most men in life, like Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari, are most interested in winning the race that’s ahead of them. Shelby and Miles are just grateful to be on the race track.

Tagged , , , , , ,

“LOGAN” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

The greatest X-Man that ever lived.

Out of any actor to ever inhabit their roles, I don’t believe there has ever been one as committed as Hugh Jackman has been to Wolverine. The guy is 48 years old now. He’s played the superhero for 17 years for a total of nine films. Now he returns one last time as an elderly Logan for a film that is equal parts violent, action-packed, emotional, heartbreaking, and powerful. What a finale.

Taking place far into the distant future in the year 2029, James “Logan” Howlett (Jackman) is no longer Wolverine or an X-Man. Now he’s just old man Logan, taking care of himself and an aged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a world where mutants no longer exist. Neither of them are in their prime state of health. Charles is facing a degenerative brain disease that causes daily seizures, which in combination with his mutation sends out psychic shock waves that can kill anyone within a 100-yard radius. Logan himself is barely even healing anymore, and he self-medicates with a bottle of Jack to cope with the pain. Both of these men are at the end of their ropes. This is not a place where we expected either of them to be.

Enter a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who Charles discovers is one of the last remaining mutants alive. On the run from a squad of cybernetic hitmen called the Reavers, Laura turns to Logan and Charles as her only hope to escape. While Charles is eager to help, Logan is done with the hero days and just wants to be left alone. But as he keeps getting roped into this pursuit, Logan discovers how he’s connected to Laura and the Reavers and how everything he’s ever been through has lead him up to this moment.

First and foremost, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Logan is rated a hard R. No, this is not a passive R rating like The King’s Speech with a small string of curse words. More like a Hacksaw Ridge, Deadpool, Hateful Eight R rating packed with bloody violence, gratuitous gore, dismembered limbs, exploding body parts, decapitated heads, and F bombs the size of Nagasaki. And I thought the mansion raid scene in X2 was rough. If the X2 Wolverine went head-to-head against Logan in this movie, Logan would literally shred him into a pile of bloody red meat. Period.

As someone who is a strong advocate for the PG-13 rating, I didn’t know how I was going to feel about the R-rated violence in Logan. None of the other X-Men movies would have improved if the violence were increased one bit. Not even the Wolverine films, which fans have been advocating for more mature content for a long time now. Yet strangely enough, the heightened violence worked very well for Logan and didn’t feel forced or unnecessary. Why is that?

I think it’s because in context to this film, it makes sense for Logan’s story. By this point in his life, he’s well over 100 years old. He’s literally seen decades of violence, both committed to him and committed by him. He’s seen friends, enemies, and innocents fall to the blades in his body. He’s lived a long, tired, blood-soaked life filled with tragedy and regret.

By the time we get to Logan, he’s not allowed to shy away from all of the violence he’s experienced in his life. So why should we? Logan is very confrontational in what the character has had to face all by himself, and for the first time ever in the series, it won’t allow us to look away from the violence Logan has had to struggle with. As one character points out in the film, killing is like a brand. And a brand sticks.

This is a brilliant entry by writer-director James Mangold, who previously directed The Wolverine in the X-Men saga. Instead of the action and the visual effects, Mangold chooses to focus on something more practical to Wolverine: his humanity. More than almost any of the other X-Men films, Logan is the most emotional, the most vivid, and the most grounded story told in Wolverine’s saga. Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, Logan relates to us on a more human level as opposed to a fantastical one. In one of the greatest moments of the picture, Logan turns to Laura and tells her “Don’t be what they made you.” I wonder how hard he wishes someone told him that same thing when he was Laura’s age.

As this is one of Wolverine’s most emotional adventures, so too is this the best demonstration of Hugh Jackman’s talent. The more I watch him, the more impressed I am by his range as an actor. This is a guy who has performed numerous roles besides Wolverine, from The Prestige to Les Miserables to Prisoners. How he can bounce from those roles back to Wolverine constantly impresses me, and the fact that he comes back and gives a performance as powerful and demanding as this shows how seriously he takes his roles as an actor. Patrick Stewart also gives a heartfelt performance and displays Professor X in his most vulnerable, broken appearance to date. Keen was also fitting in her role as Laura, although most of her scenes required nothing more than just fiercely death-glaring at everything she looks at.

I won’t tell you how Logan ends, although I’m sure you’ll have already guessed it. I will say that the thing that stays with you most is not how Logan ends, but of the smaller moments that lead up to it. I caught myself remembering how Logan first met the X-Men in the earlier movies, how the stray loner found a family, how he has lost the ones he’s loved most, how many friends he’s seen die, and how every small, intimate moment he’s kept close to his heart has lead him here. Take note of the last thing Logan says to Laura, the last thing Laura does for Logan, and the last shot that Mangold chooses to linger on. Time will remember Wolverine for the hero. I will remember Logan for the man.

Tagged , , , ,

“THE WOLVERINE” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Snikt, snikt.

If there’s one good thing about sequels, it’s that it gives studios a chance to redeem themselves if they failed the first time around. With that in mind, I’m thankful that 20th Century Fox has redeemed themselves from X-Men Origins: Wolverine with its sequel The Wolverine, a vicious and riveting action-fest that features perhaps the most impressive performance from Hugh Jackman to date. Is it very original? No, but it’s loads of fun, and that’s one thing this film has over its predecessor.

A follow-up to both the X-Men trilogy and its failed prequel, The Wolverine features an older, more weary Logan (Hugh Jackman), who’s tired of all of the years of fighting and struggling as an X-Man. Now rescinded in the Canadian woods, he’s tracked down by a female samurai named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who delivers some downtrodden news to Logan: Yashida is dying.

You see, back in WWII, Logan was held prisoner by a Japanese camp close to Nagasaki. After the notable atomic bombing, Logan pulled down a young soldier into his ditch and protected him from the blast. That soldier was Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), and he’s now succumbing to cancer.

So Logan is brought to Japan, where he once again meets with Yashida to say his goodbyes. But upon seeing him, Yashida instead makes him a ludicrous offer: surrender his healing factor to him, and become mortal. Settle down. Live a normal life, just like Logan has always wanted.

Logan ends up refusing and Yashida dies later that night. But the next few days, Logan notices something strange. After a few skirmishes with the local Yakuza, Logan notices that he’s not healing like he used to. When he gets shot, he’s blown back. When he gets stabbed, he bleeds. And when his claws come out of his hands, they leave holes where they used to be. Now left as an ordinary homosapien, Logan needs to traverse through Japan to discover what happened to his powers and once again become the Wolverine.

I’m going to get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Hugh is as great as Wolverine as he always is. That in itself isn’t a surprise to anyone. This is his sixth time portraying the character, the second time in his own film. He knows what he’s doing. Wolverine has always been the ultimate anti-hero of superheroes. He is a mean, ferocious, aggressive, untrusting, violent lone wolf who hacks, slashes, and cuts his enemies to pieces. He is not supposed to be a likeable fellow. Were it not for his slight sense of empathy, he could very easily be a villain if he wanted to be, and that’s what makes the character so fascinating. He exists on both sides of the superhero spectrum, and Jackman has always done well in contrasting the two sides of the character.

But an outstanding actor can still exist inside a mediocre movie. As demonstrated in the previous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a performance by itself is worthless unless a good director can guide it in the right direction. Luckily, James Mangold does exactly that. Previously helming films such as Walk the Line and 3:10 To Yuma, Mangold combines action with relevance in The Wolverine, making it not only an exciting superhero blockbuster, but also an introspective character study on a man fighting his own immortality.

First, the action. While I still believe that X2 sports the best action scenes in the franchise to date, The Wolverine is definitely a worthy runner-up and is incredibly creative in constructing its action. In one of my favorite scenes, Wolverine is fighting against a slew of Yakuza on top of a bullet train with a base speed of 200 mph. If that just sounds ridiculous, imagine what it looks like seeing these guys fighting each other on top of it. While Wolverine and the Yakuza are desperately stabbing into the hull to maintain their grip on the train, they keep slashing at and fighting each other, all while the wind is slamming against their faces and they’re dodging signs and advertisements speeding past them. In another scene, Wolverine is fighting a samurai inside of a dojo, and the editing was so well interwoven together that I felt like I was watching a swordfight not unlike Gladiator or The Last Samurai. The Wolverine is an excellent blending of genres, and seeing Wolvie fighting in this new feudal environment gives a unique spin on the character’s regular hack-and-slash action.

But it’s not just the action that’s so enthralling. For the first time in any X-Men movie, Wolverine’s immortality is brought into question as a personal conflict for the character. It’s funny how I’ve never considered Wolverine’s healing factor as a weakness for him. But thanks to how cleverly constructed this movie is, it does bring up a valid question: if it were possible, would you want to live forever? I know I wouldn’t. What sane person would want to stomach Justin Bieber for the rest of their lives?

Wolverine, however, has much more serious consequences to face for his immortality. At this point in his life, he’s a weathered soul. He’s killed people. Watched as his friends were killed. Fell in love. Lost love. Found a family. Lost a family. For someone who has lived and lost as much as Logan has, I don’t blame him one bit for being tempted by the peace of mortality. As Yashida points out, if he gave up his powers, he could grow old, settle down, have a family, and die happily in peace, just like any other normal man. After everything he’s been through, “normal” is a gift Logan deserves at the very least. Yet, the gift evades him.

I enjoyed The Wolverine very much. The action, the conflicts, the performances, they all get back to the roots of the character and why they make Wolverine so interesting. A few of the film’s villains might be flat and uninteresting, and while the plot is unique with its themes, its execution fails to impress as much as its predecessors do. That still doesn’t change the fact that this is a fun action movie, a meaningful display of Jackman’s talents, and a worthy redemption from the haphazard failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s good to have you back, Logan. Snikt, snikt.

Tagged , , , , ,