Tag Archives: Sports

“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.

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“CREED” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Donnie’s, not Apollo’s, legacy.

I find it interesting how much Creed lives in the shadows of its predecessors, just like its main subject does. Creed is not trying to be a movie like Rocky, and likewise, Donnie Johnson-Creed (Michael B. Jordan) isn’t trying to be a boxer like Rocky. Creed really isn’t even a movie about Rocky’s rival, Apollo Creed, and it’s just as well because Donnie doesn’t want to be remembered as Apollo Creed’s son. Both the movie and the character are aspiring to leave their own marks on a world where pretty big marks have already been left by key figures from their past. The fact that the movie is trying to do this with Sylvester Stallone reprising the role of Rocky Balboa makes its challenge all the more difficult, but Creed pulls it off with plenty of emotion and style to spare.

You know exactly how Creed is going to play out. Or do you? When the movie begins, you think this is going to be another rags-to-riches story similar to Rocky or The Fighter, and indeed, the opening scenes makes it look like it’s going to play out that way. But Donnie starts his story with the riches, then backtracks to the rags in order to train and become a pro boxer. Why would he sacrifice all of his money and his high-class lifestyle in order to become a fighter? His motivation is not explained until much later, but when it is, it’s nonetheless heartbreaking.

He moves to Philadelphia and seeks out Rocky for training, who as you remember from his last film quit boxing and now owns an Italian restaurant. He insists to Donnie that he doesn’t do that anymore, and he doesn’t even want to be involved with fighting from the ringside. Yet, he eventually suspends his discontent and commits to training this new kid for the ring. Why? He never says why in the movie, although I suspect it’s for the same reasons that Micky decided to train an Italian nobody in the original Rocky.

Creed is a hot-blooded sports drama, ripe with all of the adrenaline, action, and emotion that you’d come to expect in boxing movies. Like its main character, it works independently from its inspirations, despite having very deep ties with the rest of the Rocky franchise. When I first heard that this movie was coming out, the one thing I did not want it to be was another Rocky picture. Of course, it’s going to sell itself as a spinoff, but as a film, I did not want it to focus on Rocky, nor did I want it to try and mimic the franchise formula. It’s called Creed. I wanted its emphasis on that character’s story specifically.

Luckily, so did writer-director Ryan Coogler, who approached in telling this story not as a sequel to a popular franchise, but rather as an intimate, personal story about one fighter’s deep aspirations. Does the movie fall for some of the genre conventions? Of course it does, but the conventions don’t matter as much as the intentions behind them. When Donnie steps into the ring, you don’t want him to win the fight because he’s the main character, but because of all of the hurt and pain he’s gone through up until this point. When he and Rocky talk, you don’t want the conversations to be meaningful because he’s talking to the Italian Stallion, but because the words they’re exchanging are genuine, honest, and real to each other. Coogler succeeds in not only making a powerful fighting drama, but a powerful drama period. He throws quite a few emotional punches in there that I wasn’t expecting.

Of course, for this dynamic to work, Jordan and Stallone need to have the chemistry to make these characters feel real. They have it in spades, and I would even challenge this dynamic to be as likeable as the one between Rocky and Mick in the original. Jordan is electric as Creed, a young rebellious sort who is full of energy, vigor, and passion, not letting any punk young or old telling him what he can or can’t do as a fighter. Do we need to go into Stallone? He’s done the character for years now, and he’s just as great now as he was nearly 40 years ago. Again, he throws a few emotional jabs I wasn’t expecting, but I’ll stop there so that you can experience it for yourself in the theater.

This is simply one of the most motivating films of the year, let alone one of the best Rocky films, if you can call it that. It takes its characters and their emotions seriously. The actors service their roles well and make them believable and real. My only complaint is that this movie has to suffer for being called a “franchise film”, but what do you expect? Let’s face it: the title wouldn’t have been as interesting if it was called Johnson.

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“TRAINWRECK” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Trainwreck-Amy-Schumer-and-Bill-Hader 2

Not as much of one as you thought.

I wonder how many women will look at Amy Townsend in Trainwreck and relate to her from personal experience. If any of them do, I question how they are still breathing, or speaking in coherent sentences. Amy is the opitamy of a disaster in this movie. She’s a woman who drinks a lot, smokes a lot, lies a lot, and has sex a lot, with way too many sexual partners for comfort. If this woman was an airship, she’d be the Hindenburg.

There’s only one person to blame for Amy’s behavior besides herself: her father Gordon (Colin Quinn), who humorously compares sexual partners to toy dolls while explaining to Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) why he’s getting divorced with their mother. He tells them to repeat after him as if he’s conducting an orchestra: “Monogamy isn’t realistic! Monogamy isn’t realistic!”

Twenty years later, Amy is practicing her father’s advice. Our first glimpse at seeing Amy Schumer as the character involves her making out with a man and taking her clothes off, only to see him take his pants off and realize she’s taking on too much for her own good. This isn’t Amy’s first rodeo. She’ll hit-it-and-quit-it with guys like she’s skeet-shooting clay at a shooting range, and she’s an expert marksman. Once she’s had her fill, she dumps them quicker than Sunday’s recycling. Her excuses after being asked out: “Oh, I’m sorry, but I have plans!”, “Sorry, but I don’t think you’re my type.”, and “Sorry, but I’m not really into that.” That last one is true.

Suddenly, she meets this one guy that seems completely different. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) is a sports doctor who tends to players such as LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire. Amy gets assigned by her magezine to write a profile on Conners, but she ends up taking Conners home instead. But when she does, she also does something she never does with another guy: she stays the night. Now questioning her own lifestyle and what she really wants, Amy decides whether or not she wants to remain a trainwreck for the rest of her life.

I’ll start with the best thing about this movie: Amy. No, not the character, the actor. Amy Schumer not only portrays the lead role in the film: she wrote her. Schumer is credited for the film’s concept just as much as she is for the film’s character. In a way, I think she wrote this film for herself. The script is written with an honesty and integrity that is rare with most of Hollywood’s screenplays, but with a humor and lightheartedness to it that is equally as rare and refreshing. I asked a friend of mine what the movie was about before going in to see it. Was it a love story? Was it a cautionary tale about substance and alcohol abuse? Was it about the struggle of being a middle-aged woman in America?

My friends response was “Yes.”

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The movie is incredibly profane and inappropriate. It deserves it’s R rating in every sense and fashion of the word. F words fly out as frequently as oxygen does. Drug use and excessive drinking follows Amy everywhere like a bad, never-ending hangover. Cleavage is the movie’s guilty pleasure. Sex, even more so.

If this were any other movie, I would knock off points for this movie’s unabashedly loose image and dirty humor. I do the same thing with excessive, over-the-top action and unnecessary violence. Yet, I raved about Mad Max: Fury Road a few months ago for the very things I usually hate in films. Here is another movie subverting my expectations and surprising me in ways that I wasn’t expecting.

How exactly does it do that? Well, the language is bad, definitely, but it’s honest. It’s reflective of this day and age’s mentality, and the clever and genuine dialogue shows that the script is smart enough to substantiate the bad language. The drugs and alcohol usually imply a bad mentality, but does it really when it shows us how much of a toll it takes on its main character? Other movies use drugs and alcohol for offensively comedic effect: this one uses it to show another side to it that is less funny. And the sexual content, while inappropriate, also has something important to say about human relationships. I.e. what would you rather have: multiple temporary romances, or one lasting affection?

This is what is so special about this movie: it pretends to be dumber than it actually is. It disguises itself as a stupid and obnoxious comedy, like The Change-Up or The Hangover, but then you watch it and you see the many truths that it carries with it. It’s not only funny and entertaining to watch: it’s also morally and emotionally binding. To me, that’s the most important kind of entertainment out there: the kind that leaves an impact.

This is, of course, a romantic comedy. What’s all in romantic comedies? Cheesy endings, that’s what. And just like all romantic comedies, this movie is just as guilty for having one as well. But the movie itself is not cheesy, and it’s main star carries the weight of the film well all by herself with both heart and humor. Trainwreck is a good title for this movie. Beautiful disaster would be another.

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“RUSH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Don’t think.  Don’t pause.  Just drive.  

I couldn’t have thought of a better title for the movie Rush, because that’s exactly what it is: an unstoppable and uncontrollable rush of energy, excitement, and gravitas, a movie that starts on a high note and simply refuses to let up all the way through.  I hear a lot of complaints that there are biographical movies that are more concerned with cashing in on people’s legacies rather than making an authentic account of a person’s true story, such as Jobs or The Iron Lady.  Here is a break from all of that, a refreshing and ideal account of two racers who live every moment of their life trying to figure out how to beat the other guy, while understanding that their symbiotic relationship is what made them both great racers in the first place.

Focusing on the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix season, Rush follows the story of two different racers, both with polar opposite personalities and complexions.  James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a hard-headed racer who races with passion instead of brains, and a playboy who drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and sleeps with beautiful women, a lot.  Nicki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is a intelligent, smart, and crafty german who is just as focused and analytical as he is rude and ignorant. The film chronicles the contempt they feel for each other and the mutual respect that makes them strive to be better than the other man.

Before you go and see this picture, I encourage you to go online and google the names “James Hunt” and “Nicki Lauda” and look at their images.  Got it?  Okay, now that you’ve done that, go and watch the movie.

If you actually took the time to open up another tab and look at the images, you will be just as shocked as I was.  Comparing the sight of Lauda and Hunt with that of Bruhl and Hemsworth isn’t comparing them at all: they look exactly like the same characters, from the red jackets around their back to the color and hairstyles that we see on their heads.

I love it when movies do this: when movies are so accurate to the real-life figures that they copy their appearance so accurately, it is nearly impossible to differentiate from them.  We’ve seen this from The Fighter in 2009, and recently from Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.

Here is yet another example of a movie that is compelled by truth and driven by accuracy, pun intended.  Rush is exhilarating.  Exciting.  Edgy.  Anticipative.  Emotional.  True.  Everything about this movie is a heart-pounding, sweat-pouring adventure, and what’s truly impressive is not that the movie makes us feel this way: its the fact that it really happened, and that really director Ron Howard is just documenting it rather than retelling it.

One of the highlights in the film are easily its lead actors.  Not only do Hemsworth and Bruhl look exactly like the people they are portraying: they act like them too, with their rivalry and their edginess apparent in every fraction of a scene.  Sometimes their clashes are funny, like the dialogue bits between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, while at other times its strikingly serious like the James Braddock/Max Baer rivalry in Cinderella Man.  Whatever the situations, these actors do well at remaining in tense situations and they never, ever break their character.  Hemsworth is energetic, lively, and egotistical as Hunt, a man whose only loves are beautiful women and racing.  Bruhl is equally as egotistical, but he’s got a sly smartness about him you can’t help but appreciate.  There’s one great scene where Hunt calls Lauda a rat and he responds by saying “You think I’m hurt that you call me a rat, Hunt?  Rats are ugly, but they are smart.  Intelligent.  I am proud of that.”

The film doesn’t slow down at their performances, however, and filmmaker Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) are quick to follow up on the pace of these two fine actors.  The guys who made Fast And Furious could take a hint or two from this movie. Morgan and Howard not only succeed in making the movie exciting and suspenseful through key moments in races, press conferences and private, vulnerable moments when these racers are all by their lonesomes: they’ve managed to make it gripping and relevant, a grounded drama thats equal parts and insightful into these two men’s lives that we feel like we’re witnessing their story upfront in the pit, not viewing it from far away on the sidelines.

Oh, I could go on all day praising this film and how all the elements culminate into a near masterpiece.  The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is tense, unsettling, and noble, defining these men’s relationship just as well as the movie does.  The editing is tight, crisp, and clean at the hands of collaborators Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill.  For Pete’s sake, even the cinematography by Anthony Mantle was so good at capturing emotions and details so intimate, Howard would probably have missed some of them if Mantle wasn’t there to point them out.

Bottom line: Rush is entirely, unforgettably awesome.  It’s a strong and powerful tale about two passionate racers who knew what they were after and were willing to sacrifice whatever they could to go after it.  We see why they want to beat each other.  We understand who they are and why they are racing.  We know what makes them tick and we want to see them make it through every pulsating moment of the film in order to accomplish their dreams.  Trust me, you’re going to want to sit in on this race.  Oh, and bring your seatbelt.  You’re going to need it.

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“42” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Thanks, Jackie, for showing us white folks how its done.

You’re not watching a movie when you watch 42, you’re watching a legacy.  You’re watching one man’s story as he started from the bottom, as a black baseball player living during the accursed segregation era of our country, who is suddenly called to greatness and is demanded to be a bigger and better person than he thinks that he is.  It isn’t entertainment as much as it is a retelling of one man’s life, and everything he had to go through during the turmoil and cruelty of the 1940’s.

This man, of course, is Jackie Robinson, the black man who did to baseball what Rosa Parks did to buses.  Portrayed here by newcomer Chadwick Boseman, the movie starts off showing the beginning of  Robinson’s career with the Kansas City Monarchs, a primarily black baseball team who gets treated the same way at a gas station in the way a homeless man would be.  Robinson doesn’t stand for it, but it doesn’t matter: he is soon recruited by a man in a black van asking him to come with him to meet with baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who wants to be the first man in American history to recruit the first African-American ballplayer onto the Brooklyn Dodgers.

His assistants are baffled.  “A black baseball player on a white baseball team”?  What are his reasonings?  Rickey makes multiple excuses, from the financial benefits to simply being different.  It isn’t until later in the film where a much deeper reasoning is found in Rickey’s baseball history, though I dare not spoil it just for the sake of you being able to experience it yourself.

Eventually, Robinson has his meeting with Rickey, and he’s surprised when Rickey tells him that he wants to recruit him on the Brooklyn Dodgers.  There’s only one condition Rickey has for Robinson: he wants him to control his fiery hot tempter when white players act out unfairly against him.

“I don’t want a man who has the guts to fight”, said Rickey.  “I want a man who has the guts not to fight”.

There are two things that make this movie stand out from the typical baseball-biography picture: the director, Brian Helgeland, and its lead, Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman, who is mostly a no-name actor, dives headfirst into his character, and inhabits the role so well that it is impossible to think of anyone else replacing him.  You just need to see this guy in action: the way Boseman puts himself out there is just like how Robinson would have played on the field, from digging his hands in the dirt to firm his grip, to stealing second, third, and home bases like he was taking candy from children.  It’s especially funny watching him getting ready to steal bases: he jogs his legs together and shoots a look at players with a face that says “Come at me bro” to which pitchers get obviously frustrated at him.  Jamie Foxx couldn’t have done better than Boseman did.

But its just not the movements, the pitches, and the home-run hits Boseman delivers that makes him a convincing actor: his expressions are flawless, his dialogue delivery spot-on, and his performance so affectionate, with his every spoken line coming across truthfully and genuinely from the heart.  I could name multiple scenes in the movie, on the field and off, that genuinely touched me.  Perhaps the most memorable with Boseman was when he was out on the field ready to bat when a baseball manager starting shouting racial expletives at him.  I’m not even kidding: if every other word he was shouting wasn’t a profanity, it was the N-word.

This scene was powerful, frustrating, and maddening all at once, and we could feel our anger channel through Boseman when he had to hold his tongue, when he had to walk off the field, and when he screamed in the locker room, breaking his bat against the walls in furious anger.

Oh yes, many emotions were felt in this movie, and writer-director Brian Helgeland does a great job at expressing all of them.  Surprising, I think, that the same man who wrote and directed the tonally inconsistent A Knight’s Tale was able to make a movie this sincere and heartfelt.  I’m being unfair though: I forgot that Helgeland also wrote the screenplays behind movies such as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River, and here he brings that same sense of grounded realism from those pictures into this one.  Throughout the course of the picture, Jackie Robinson grows as a person and as a player, and so do the people around him.  Relationships become bigger.  Bonds become stronger.  Intimate details are revealed through each character to Jackie, and through his stressful, agonizing, and roller-coaster emotion journey Jackie becomes the hero that nobody expected him to be: not even himself.

If a weakness exists, I’ll admit that 42 is straightforward storytelling, with little room for originality or surprises.  That’s only because we already know the history though.  What 42 lacks in innovation, it makes up for in emotion, in gripping and well-written storytelling with a great cast compelling us through it, with especially one of the performances being completely unexpected.  The best moment of the picture comes after Jackie grows closer to one of the players, the player encourage to not feel fear when openly associating himself with a black man.  As they run back out to their respective places in the field,  the player calls out to him: “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear the number 42.  That way they won’t tell us apart”.

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