Since my first Duets post got a pretty positive response, I’ve decided to give it another whirl! Slightly different parameters this time though: instead of restricting myself to reviewing two films still in theaters, I’ve decided to open it up to new (or at least somewhat new) DVD releases. Basically, it’ll be whatever I can snag at the library…which is often a free-for-all, but I’m pretty scrappy, so I managed to come away with a couple good ones this time: Rush and Dallas Buyers Club. Let’s begin, shall we?
Synopsis: “The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.” –www.imdb.com
The high notes:
- Chris Hemsworth. The man has more charm than a human being should be allowed to have. As Formula One racecar driver, James Hunt, Hemsworth plays a cocky, stubborn, slutty character that we probably shouldn’t like, but we totally do. Also, he is super pretty. And did I mention that we get to see his butt? Oh, yeah, I forgot—the whole world noticed that. But yeah. We get to see his butt.
- The relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). I’m not sure how closely it resembles their real-life “frenemy” story, but it’s pretty interesting. In many ways, they’re polar opposites, but they have a mutual obsession with racing and, frankly, with each other. Hemsworth and Brühl bring this out well, and watching their relationship evolve is fascinating.
- The visuals. I’m not very good at identifying technical stuff, particularly anything involving cameras, but it seemed to me that everything was filmed in a way that accentuated cooler shades of color. Maybe they used some kind of filter? I don’t know. Whatever they did to produce that effect, it worked for me. And there are plenty of interesting shots at the racetrack. The one that sticks out to me the most is a slow-motion scene in Tokyo when the rain is pouring. Very cool.
The low notes:
- Not being a fan of any form of racecar driving, I found it a little hard to get into that aspect of things, particularly in the beginning. As I grew attached to the characters, I was able to get past this, but for a little while I wasn’t sure I was going to care for this one.
- The female characters are not developed. Like, at all. I realize this story is supposed to focus on Hunt and Lauda, but when you cast Olivia Wilde as a main squeeze, you should have more “umph” behind the character. In the case of both Hunt’s wife, Suzy (Wilde), and Lauda’s wife, Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara), we basically meet them, watch them get married, and then learn almost nothing else about them. Um. ‘Kay.
- The themes are way too heavy-handed. Hunt and Lauda are different but kinda the same? Yep, I get it. Death is ever-present on the racetrack? Uh huh, get that, too. Hunt is addicted to the rock-n-roll lifestyle and that’s not good? OKAY, RON HOWARD, YOU ARE MAKING YOUR POINTS. Give the audience some credit! We can figure all that out without having it shoved in our faces.
The staccato version: Rush is a fast-paced, thrilling look into a fascinating rivalry that shook up Formula One racing. Keyword: “fast-paced.” The first half of the film clips along so rapidly that it might be hard to get into for awhile, but once you get to know the two leads and find the true heart of the film, it’s pretty darn solid. A little cheesy in the end and not without flaws throughout, but an enjoyable ride.
My Grade: B+
Dallas Buyers Club
Synopsis: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.” –www.imdb.com
The high notes:
- The performances. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto definitely earn their Oscars in this film. McConaughey completely embraces the determined, slightly abrasive character of rodeo-cowboy-turned-buyers-club-initiator Ron Woodroof. Between this and True Detective, McConaughey has been knocking it out of the park lately. I haven’t seen Leto in much, but he is certainly no less impressive as sassy transgender woman Rayon. You ache for these characters as the film goes on, and it’s a powerful feeling.
- Ron and Rayon’s relationship. Things start off pretty frigid, and Ron’s homophobic tendencies keep them that way for some time, but the rapport that these two develop is wonderful. Gradually, Ron becomes more open-minded, recognizing Rayon not only as a valuable partner but a friend. It’s not a dramatic transformation, but it feels like what a real-life relationship would be.
- Seeing the HIV/AIDS outbreak from the perspective of both those infected and from doctors/drug companies. Honestly, it’s a part of history I don’t know much about, so to learn about these buyers clubs that popped up all over the U.S. during the ‘80s was pretty fascinating.
The low notes:
- I find it hard to find big things to pick on in this film, so I’m going to mention a few scenes that I found random and kind of unnecessary. Random scene #1: Ron has sex in a bathroom some woman. Everyone can hear it. Um. ‘Kay.
- Random scene #2: Ron enters a room filled with butterflies, and it’s really, really cool and beautiful, but also really, really random. I didn’t dislike the moment—it just felt like it was a moment from a completely different film.
- Random scenes #3 and #4: the opening and the ending. The opening, which involves…well, I won’t ruin it for you. It’s just kind of weird and random, though I guess it does introduce us to the kind of person Ron is. As for the ending, it felt fairly abrupt and, at one point, even a little cheesy. Not a bad ending, per se, but I had hoped for a little more impact.
The staccato version: My qualms with this film are almost nonexistent. Anchored by strong performances from McConaughey and Leto, Dallas Buyers Club is a raw, moving film that provides a new look at the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The story is gripping and the characters feel completely real. This one definitely has my recommendation.
My Grade: A