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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rushing Captain Phillips

In case you haven't noticed, I'm trying to catch up on a year of movie reviews in the week of/after the Golden Globes and before the announcement of Oscar nominations.

Lots of people have seen the excellent Captain Phillips.  As well they should!

Tom Hanks is fantastic in this movie.  Unlike in Saving Mr. Banks, you never forget that he is Tom Hanks.  But the much talked about last scene of the movie which is harrowing and amazing (and all the more so for being partially improvised, with Hanks playing against a non-actor) is all the more so for us knowing that if it's Tom Hanks in this situation, it really could be any of us.  It's directed by Paul Greengrass who is a quite perfect choice.  He started out as a documentarian, moved to doing documentaries like the quite excellent Bloody Sunday and United 93, jas done action-oriented feature films like Green Zone and two Bourne movies.  So here, he gets to take a real story which is full of ways to show off his action-shooting acumen.  Screenplay by Billy Ray, whose credits include hte fact-based Shattered Glass.

Alas, far fewer people have seen the excellent film Rush.  It was a pleasant surprise that Daniel Brühl picked up a Golden Globe nomination for Supporting Actor in the film, for a movie that came and went disappointingly at the US box office, and has also gotten nods from the Screen Actors Guild, the Broadcast Film Critics, and the BAFTAs (British film awards).

More to the point, Rush has a lot of people and things in it that I have long admired, doing very good work, in a well-crafted entertainment.  You need to see Rush!  You should stop reading this blog post and go find Rush to stream or rent or whatever!!

The director of Rush is Ron Howard.  As I mention here I think Ron Howard is underrated.  He has a career full of solid films, very few really bad ones, and deserves more of a reputation for doing consistent work for so very very long.

The screenwriter of Rush is Peter Morgan.  The Queen and Frost/Nixon are among his best-known credits, but his The Damned United is an excellent sports film about British football that understandably didn't take the US by storm but is really really good.  So this is another sports movie from him.

Daniel Brühl.  He first came to my eye in 2003 in a film called Good Bye Lenin! about a son trying to hide the fall of the East German regime from his mother.  A German actor, he hasn't done a lot of English-language film acting, but he's been in a Bourne movie and in Inglorious Basterds and I've never been sad to see him in something.

I really liked Thor, the first one, directed by Kenneth Branagh, which spent lots of time showing me Chris Hemsworth in a tight tee-shirt.  I did not like the new Thor movie, which had Chris Hemsworth covered up in a silly Thor uniform the whole time.  Hemsworth is under-rated by critics because he looks fantastic.  He really looks fantastic.  So it's easy to overlook that you don't just watch him on the screen because he looks fantastic but rather because he radiates charm and charisma, and the charm and charisma kind of hide the fact that he can act.  I think I'm saying that because he can act, and not just because I enjoy looking at him enough that I wish it was because he was acting, and not because he's posing.

So with all these things going for it, Rush can't be bad, and it isn't.  It's a darned fine movie.  Like The Damned United, it goes beyond beyond just a sports movie.  There are a lot of moral issues involved about the collision of safety and money in sports that pop their head up through the action.  There's enough going on with the characters and with universality of theme that I enjoyed this Formula One racing movie even though I don't have any interest to speak of in Formula One.

The making of the movie is smooth and unobtrusive.  The thing with Ron Howard is that he gets out of the way, and usually lets his story speak for itself.  So he gets some good actors, he finds a good DP in Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, 28 Days Later, all for Danny Boyle), and the film is attractive to look at.  Hans Zimmer does an amazing score, one of the best I've heard in a long long long long long time, and hopefully to become a masterwork in Zimmer's discography alongside Rain Man.  The overall sound editing and sound design of the film is excellent, so the music co-exists with the dialogue and the sounds of the race cars careening around the turns.

And of course the acting is really good.  You can't tell Chris Hemsworth is acting because he's just radiating charisma as a bad boy race car driver as famous for his sexual rondelays off the circuit as for how he drives the ovals on.  Brühl is one of those drivers who's full of respect for the game and his competitors and by-the-books, and he talks in a weird foreign accent while the driver Hemsworth plays talks nicely accented English.  The two are both very talented, fierce competitors.  And on a rainy day when Brühl is saying it's too dangerous to race, Hemsworth is using his charisma to say the show must go on.  The two pair off one another nicely.

What not to see?  The film is great to listen to, great to look at in every way, an interesting story that gripped me in spite of being set in a milieu I don't default to being interested in.

It would make me very happy to see nominations for sound, score, and in an acting category.  It will make me very sad if the film is overlooked entirely.

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