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Mini-Reviews: Rush, Prisoners, Battle of the Year 3D

Rush:

In Ron Howard’s Formula One biopic Rush, the operative word is formula. Rush delivers no surprises and boasts no exceptional style. It’s diverting enough, thanks to the strong lead performances and frenetic music by Hans Zimmer, but you may find it all to feel overwhelmingly familiar, even if the setting is new. We follow two Formula One drivers in the 1970s: the first is James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), a well-liked party machine who lives recklessly; the second is Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), a curt disliked loner who is averse to anything resembling risk. They find themselves in a fierce rivalry, as Lauda takes an early lead in the standings after several races, but Lauda suffers a horrible accident, giving Hunt time to catch up. It all comes down to the final race: who will win? Surprisingly, there’s very little action in Rush: only two real races are shown in the two-hour run time, and while capably shot, they’re far from standout. Following the terrific Frost/Nixon, it’s a surprise that this Ron Howard/Peter Morgan collaboration is so relatively one-note, spelling out themes for us in broad statements and keeping the characters confined to their Odd Couple archetypes. Most unfortunate of all is the use of dueling voiceover narrations, slamming the door on any nuance that tries to sneak in. Hemsworth does well considering the stagnant nature of his role, but Bruhl is the real star, underplaying the role and drawing us in to the internalizing nature of Lauda. Ultimately, despite the efforts of the actors and the score, Rush doesn’t add up to much more than “fine”: it falls short of Howard’s better biopics (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, the aforementioned Frost/Nixon) and falls short of expectations.

Prisoners:

To paraphrase MacBeth, Prisoners is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It boasts some incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins and an all-star cast all working extremely hard, but the story itself never adds up, with characters who act inconsistently when the plot mandates it necessary, a slew of religious imagery that implies depth but never effectively creates it, and a series of red herrings that desire to create shocking twists but primarily only succeeds to stretch out the run time. We follow two families (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello one family, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis the other), whose daughters disappear in a rather harrowing opening sequence, and the detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) assigned to the case. An early suspect (Paul Dano) is released when his intelligence is so low that he couldn’t possibly have successfully gotten away with it, but Jackman’s character has reason to believe that suspect is involved. He responds by kidnapping and torturing the young mentally challenged man for information.

Denis Villeneuve creates many individual scenes of tension, aided by the gorgeous and moody visuals Deakins paints, but there’s too much going on to keep our interest. Jackman, Dano, and Howard scream and cry at one another in scenes, Gyllenhaal remains stoic through his mostly-dry procedural beats, Bello and Davis are mostly under-utilized, possible suspects come and go. Villeneuve commits to the slow pace, but by the big reveal in Act 3 on the heels of so many red herrings, we wish the film would race home with urgency. The actors all do strong work (Jackman in particular), but because everything is so melodramatic, Gyllenhaal stands out from the pack; it’s a perk playing the one character amidst all the screamers asking people to try to remain calm. His ticking time-bomb character generates more tension than any number of anguished shouts and loud sobs. By the film’s mostly unsatisfying end, I wondered if the film would’ve been better without dialogue: just Johann Johannsson’s unnerving score and (I can’t emphasize it enough) Deakins’ brilliant cinematography. That’s not a good thing to think leaving the theater. Prisoners is almost technically excellent enough to recommend it in theaters on that alone. Almost.

Battle of the Year 3D:

“I am an unrepentant fan of dance movies. I’ve seen every Step Up, You Got Served, Save The Last Dance, Stomp The Yard (does that count?), and everything in between– usually on opening day. They are unquestionably predictable, unrepentantly silly, and star blandly charming pretty people who let their moves make up for the utter lack of characterization. You know exactly what you’re going to get with a dance movie… yet it’s important for dance movies to not be hyper-aware of that fact. Unless a dance movie is earnest in its approach and execution, it will fail. Battle of the Year 3D is certainly earnest in execution, sporting some of the overly-serious instant gem quotables I’ve come to embrace in the genre. However, the approach is anything but earnest. The script seems to respect product placement above character, the editing puts dialogue on something resembling fast forward, and the camera work emphasizes the speed of the choreography instead of the grace and skill. In short, it doesn’t feel interested in making a dance movie– it feels interested in making the money that a dance movie can make. Josh Holloway tries his hardest, God bless him, but Battle of the Year 3D can’t even be enjoyed as a blissfully dumb entry in its genre; the best I can say is it b-boys its way toward “so bad it’s good.””

Read the rest of this review at Movie Mezzanine here.

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~ by russellhainline on September 24, 2013.

One Response to “Mini-Reviews: Rush, Prisoners, Battle of the Year 3D”

  1. Rush looked alright, but it looked like it was trying a bit too hard to be “slick” if you get my meaning. Great reviews

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