DVD

DVD review: Rush

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The 1976 Formula One season saw the simmering rivalry between lothario James Hunt and the disciplined tactician Niki Lauda reach its gripping conclusion and the fascinating true story now has its deserved cinematic adaptation, directed by the acclaimed Ron Howard. ‘Rush’ tracks their bitter clash of personalities on and off the grid, from when they first met as amateurs but focuses its attention on the season in which they both had to endure personal hurdles in their determined battle to the top. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) juggles his playboy lifestyle with his racing ambition whereas Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is forced to overcome severe personal trauma in his plight to succeed, both paths hurtling towards the finish line in this gloriously tense biopic of two of the sport’s most memorable figures.
  The race sequences are extremely well put together, the vintage cars giving a brilliant sense of authenticity, accompanied by an orchestral score composed expertly by the veteran Hans Zimmer, bringing audiences to the edge of their seats even if they know the outcome. The film starts at the suspenseful build up to the fateful German Grand Prix with an establishing voiceover from Lauda then jumps back six years to tell the story from the beginning, which is a rare misstep plot-wise, making it a rather long six years to wait to get back to where you want to be. Aside from this diversion, the structure remains traditionally chronological. From there, we get the 007-esque introduction of Hunt, James Hunt as he smugly seduces us with his charm, enjoying women, cigars and champagne in excess. His character arc, fun as it is to watch, is much less interesting than that of Niki Lauda who we see disregarding his family history for a career in motor sport. The scenes they share are very strong, the script excelling with believable fighting talk passed between the two, trading verbal blows, helping to create a compelling screen chemistry early on which continues to soar until the final moments.
  When the narrative, which by all accounts is said to be incredibly accurate, finally returns to Nurburgring, the stage is set for a rainy encounter. Lauda, who calculates risk by the percentage, thinks the wet surface is unsafe and dangerous to drive on. A vote takes place to see whether or not the race will go ahead  and Hunt’s popularity sways the decision in his favour leading to a horrific incident which propels the film forward taking an interesting turn. Hospital scenes following the crash are magnificently done, the medical staff surrounding the damaged frame in the bed reminiscent of a team of engineers repairing a car, dehumanising the driver in what could be seen as an extended pit stop in the season. This creative approach of comparing man to machine, emphasises the mechanical methods of being the best and stopping at nothing, not even a near death experience, to achieve greatness.
  The performances of Hemsworth and Bruhl are colossal, highlighted by use of archive footage of Hunt and Lauda, showing the uncanny likeness between the drivers and the fictional counterparts. Hemsworth seems confident in the role of the cocky womaniser, and what initially comes across as arrogance quickly becomes likeable as the back-story and his relationship with Lauda develops, though I am unsure why Olivia Wilde was needed for the part of his wife Suzy Miller. The character was underused, presented as a glamour piece with no real acting required. Alexandra Maria Lara has a lot more to do as Lauda’s other half Marlene Knaus and their blooming romance is genuinely touching. Bruhl, for me impresses the most as Lauda, his accent and mannerisms are spot on, and he really makes you root for his character who on the surface has a lot less appeal than the charismatic Hunt.
  ‘Rush’ avoids the Hollywood standard, refusing to categorise a hero and villain, but giving us two very real endearing characters who each have flaws but possess tough competitive qualities and have a visibly mutual respect for one another. This is certainly not just one for the Formula One fans, but is a very human story about two extraordinary individuals that is impossible not be completely drawn in by. An exhilarating thrill ride that can appeal to anyone that has ever wanted to win, and this film wins by a margin, taking its victory lap in style.
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DVD

DVD review: What Maisie Knew

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A modern adaptation of the Henry James novel of the same name, which looks at the break up of a dysfunctional relationship through the perspective of their neglected  young daughter. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan star as rowing rich couple Susanna and Beale, an ageing rocker and wheeler art dealer respectively, going through a turbulent marriage where their six year old girl Maisie (Onata Aprile) is used as a bargaining chip, passed from pillar to post. She only finds occasional solace through nanny turned stepmother Margo, expertly portrayed by Joanna Vanderham, and surprisingly also with Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) who Susanna marries soon after the divorce in a selfish ploy for sole custody. Directed by  Scott McGehee and David Siegel, ‘What Maisie Knew’ is beautifully made, full of top drawer performances, great humour and has a heart wrenchingly touching narrative.

Maisie’s isolation is shown effectively through the cinematography, by putting her petite figure in gaping wide shots, a microcosm highlighting her minor significance in the sensationalist lifestyles of her parents. Also, when holding hands with a grown up, we, as the audience, are continuously placed at Maisie’s head height, the faces of her elders often left unseen, illustrating the flimsy nature of her upbringing and letting us into her world. This is a recurring theme, the story allowing us into Maisie’s way of life, through use of neat close ups of her drawings, toys and games of tic-tac-toe, but not shying away from her inner trauma, the built up sadness and torment expressed perfectly in a memorable scene with one single tear. There are zoom fixations on Susanna and Beale, as if the camera represents her gaze and what makes her tale so heartbreaking is that she clearly adores her parents yet her love is unrequited. There are one or two tender moments in which we see that she may well be loved by her mum and dad, but not in the right way.

What aids this success are the magnificent performances from all concerned. Veterans Moore and Coogan are both great in the parenting roles. We see a lot more of Moore’s reckless rock mum which she has down to a tee but Coogan is equally effective in a very Coogan-esque smug but funny role. As with all the actors, they excel in scenes with the amazing Onata Aprile. With shades of Mara Wilson in Matilda, Aprile is impeccable in the titular role. Co-star Vanderham stated that even when Aprile is in neutral mode, her facial expression suggests sadness which works brilliantly, giving off an effortless aura. She not only plays sadness well, she brings a lot of humour, delivering excellent observations on the people around her. Scenes at the school really help to offer a nostalgia of childlike humour, in particular in a hilarious moment when she introduces her new step dad Lincoln to her class like a show-and-tell piece. Vanderham and Skarsgård are really good and their characters are also mistreated and used by Maisie’s parents and through this neglect they form a bond with Maisie.

I have nothing but praise for ‘What Maisie Knew’, and was instantly drawn into the story and the likeable, and relatable characters. Onata Aprile steals the show, evoking a hugely emotional response and the clever direction and camera work links us to her viewpoint. It is interesting to see a feuding break-up film through the eyes of the child, who is inevitably affected the most, their outlook deserving of its showcase. Last year, nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis was showered with award nominations for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, showing young stars can now be recognised in the same way as adult actors. It is easy to fall into the trap of saying she was amazing ‘for her age’ but she was incredible for any age and makes this film a faultless masterpiece.

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