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Rush

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****½

That wind you can feel is me breathing down your neck. Next time, I’ll have you.

This was a great film. In general I could care less about the world of car racing, but Ron Howard made it seem fascinating and exhilarating. The Formula 1 driving scenes were actually better than those in Furious 6. Yet, impressively the main characters herein were generally unlikable. One, the Austrian Niki Lauda—Goodbye Lenin’s Daniel Brühl, had the people skills of an asshole; the other, the Briton James Hunt—Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth, had the looks and devil may care attitude of an asshole. Yet together their faults make them palatable together, in a way that glamorizing just one of them would not have.

Rush

Alexandra Maria Lara and Daniel Brühl, Rush 2013, © Imagine Entertainment.

My only criticism of the film was that Niki’s wife Marlene stopped having things to say, and instead just had concerned or meaningful looks on her face. But perhaps that was the nature of their relationship. I still loved how we got to see a bit of their honeymoon to show that Niki and Marlene were sexual people too. This was one of those rare films that was both great entertainment and a great movie.

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The Spy Who Loved Me

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In 50 Years of Bond I said, “I do not know why [The Spy Who Loved Me] gets so much credit, it seems like a good Bond movie with cool locales in Egypt, but besides Roger Moore’s callous killing to a man who is holding onto Bond by his tie and the beauty of his Russian counterpart all it has is Jaws.” Reading that again, I think that is a run on sentence that does not make much sense. But besides that I was totally right.

Roger Moore as James Bond with Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova, © MGM at this point, I think.

Roger Moore as James Bond with Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova, © MGM at this point, I think–look in the left hand corner.

I recognize that Barbara Bach does not have a good Russian accent, but she sounds damn sexy, and that is truly the point of a Bond girl. That and having enough credibility to believe that she can do what the movie asks her to do—this was the problem with Denise Richards’ performance as, like, a nuclear scientist, or what-ev-errr. And I think that Bach pulls that off. While her character has a human being’s name, they call her Agent XXX. I mean, it was the 1970’s, and this was a Bond movie, so, what choice did they have? It’s still more subtle than “Octopussy,” right?

Denise Ricards as Dr. Christmas Jones, © MGM 1999, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Denise Ricards as Dr. Christmas Jones, © MGM 1999, The World Is Not Enough.

***

All those feathers and he still can’t fly!

The Bang Bang Club

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***

They’re right. All those people who say it’s our job to just sit and watch people die. They’re right.

This movie presents an interesting view of 1990–94 South Africa. By focusing on white photographers who went into the townships the movie got to show white people the most intimate—although still white—view of the African on Zulu-African violence. The narrative is a refreshing one from the simple Black vs White.

Frank Rautenbach, Taylor Kitsch, Malin Akerman, Neels Van Jaarsveld, and the back of Ryan Phillippe's head, © Foundry Films 2010.

Frank Rautenbach, Taylor Kitsch, Malin Akerman, Neels Van Jaarsveld, and the back of Ryan Phillippe’s head, © Foundry Films 2010.

From a cinematographic standpoint this is very well shot, and featured excellent locations. The acting is generally good, especially Taylor Kitsch as a photog named Kevin Carter. It truly looks like they were in early 1990’s Soweto. My major criticism of the movie is two-fold. First, it did what it set out to do, which was to tell the story of four reckless photographers. Yet what it set out to do was not as interesting as the underlying background of what they were photographing. Second, It did not have enough Malin Akerman.

The To Do List

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****½

No! Not the back door, never that door. In this family we use the front door!

Rachel Bilson and her father Clark Gregg. © 2013 3 Arts Entertainment (The To Do List).

Rachel Bilson and her father Clark Gregg. © 2013 3 Arts Entertainment (The To Do List).

At first I was shocked to see that this was writer/director Maggie Carey’s first movie as either a writer or as a director. Yet on some level, I think it makes sense. This movie has such different attitudes that it must have come from someone who did not know better than to create something like this. It is simultaneously very new and heavily influenced by the movies of Carey’s young adulthood—the late 1980’s.

Fiona, Brandy, and Wendy—Alia Shawkat, Aubrey Plaza, and Sarah Steele, respectively. © Mark Gordon Co.

Fiona, Brandy, and Wendy—Alia Shawkat, Aubrey Plaza, and Sarah Steele, respectively. © Mark Gordon Co.

Because of that approach, the setting—summer after graduating high school, and the age/look of the actors this movie reminds me of Wet Hot American Summer. Like WHAS this has been largely ignored by mass audiences, but I hope that this will grow to have a similar cult following. This movie has a cast of “high schoolers” who all—except Wendy, who is 25 in real life—look like they are in their twenties, but this is fine since they all look that way. Unlike WHAS this is not played for a laugh, but just populates a fictional world that makes sense. Similarly, this movie deals with sex, and the emotions attached to it, directly and indirectly, i.e. how it affects the ones you love.

“Parks & Rec’s” Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy Klark, the valedictorian who gets called a virgin during her commencement speech. Shocked to learn that college freshmen in 1993 are expected to be well versed in sex she tries to prepare for college with one of her signature lists once she finds a guy she wants to have sex. Brandy works at a pool with the guy and her non-threatening best male friend works there too, etc… I found that Brandy’s moral of the story was that she had no regrets with the sex or the boys, but only with how such things affected her friendships.

Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) accidentally making out with Brandy. © The See.

Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) accidentally making out with Brandy. © The See.

I loved how in this movie there is no boy trying to lose his virginity, nor one trying to take away a girl’s, instead the situation is almost flipped. Brandy wants to have sex, more than she wants to lose her virginity. She has the control over her own sexuality, even if she does not have as much sex appeal as female leads in most teen comedies have. So instead of inventing a world without slut shaming or without guys who want to laid, this simply has both men and women with sexual autonomy and presents them all while leaving the judgment in the hands of the audience.

Amber and Willy (Bill Hader) before the magic happens. © 3 Arts Ent.

Amber and Willy (Bill Hader) before the magic happens. © 3 Arts Ent.

Another piece of respectful filmmaking is that instead of ending with a cute, glib message about growing up the movie once again has Bill Hader’s boss character Willy and Brandy’s mom—Connie Britton—show that even predictable setups can lead to great laughs and varying degrees of career advice. Although Britton’s seems oddly touching, whereas Hader’s seems pleasantly depressing. And all done in wonderfully awful costumes! Lastly, this manages to have a female orgasm without receiving a dreaded NC-17. If that does not seem noteworthy, then you do not know about the MPAA’s double standard on male/female orgasms.

Rent

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My favorite scene in this adaptation was “The Tango Maureen.” It did not have the big stars in it—Jesse L. Martin, Rosario Dawson, or Taye Diggs. It barely advanced the plot, but it stemmed from a very real place, with a twist. It has the current girlfriend and ex-boyfriend meeting for the first time when the lady who connects them is nowhere to be seen. From this relatable point singing and dancing erupt with a dream sequence, or head trauma induced hallucination sequence, featuring fancy costumes and music. By itself it could have made a nice short-film.

Tracie Thoms and Anthony Rapp dancing "The Tango Maureen," © 2005 1492's Rent.

Tracie Thoms and Anthony Rapp dancing “The Tango Maureen,” © 2005 1492’s Rent.

Taken as a whole I do not really approve of the plot. But it did raise awareness of AIDs. And it showed the variety of people who have contracted AIDs. On the other hand it showed characters who were pleased that other characters had AIDs for sexual and relationship reasons, but failed to explore how disturbing that reaction is, while also being an honest and human one. This could have been something a lot deeper and more interesting instead of what it was. What that really is, or what its creators wanted it to be, I still do not know.

**

Oh, no. Please, no. No. Not tonight. Please leave.

As a post script, the above was spoken by the Life Cafe Manager as he fails to keep the main characters out of the Cafe. I sided with him. I imagine that the creator did not want the audience to root against his characters but look at the facts. They pay infrequently, take up space, dance on tables, yell, fight, stand on the bar, and erase the specials. The fellow patrons seemed to like it, but had I been in that cafe I would have been so annoyed. And then would have felt guilty when I learned that most of them had AIDs.

The World’s End

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It kills me to give this film only ***½, but despite how entertaining and enjoyable it was, I honestly walked out feeling a bit disappointed. It was the opposite reaction I had to Clerks II. Both of those films trafficked in showcasing groups of friends played by familiar faces, all of whom could deliver laughs or grimaces based on relationships that felt lived in. Except in this story everyone but the main character has done all right for himself and everyone speaks with an English accent.

We’re going to see this through to the bitter end. Or… lager end.

I bet you readers did not expect me to compare this to Clerks II, instead I bet people expected This Is the End or Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. So here is giving in to expectations. Much like This Is the End I laughed a lot and enjoyed watching this, and left feeling a bit odd. I guess this one was a little less stupid and much less creepy, but I laughed more frequently at This Is the End. Both films had great casts who played familiar type characters who had complicated relationships based on long term friendships.

Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), and Eddie Marsan (Peter Page) in Focus Features' 2013 film The World's End.

Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), and Eddie Marsan (Peter Page) in Focus Features’ 2013 film The World’s End.

As far as comparisons go with the first two films of the “Cornetto Trilogy”—so named for the characters fondness for that delicious English version of the Drumstick ice cream cone—this one will probably improve upon multiple viewings too. That was the case with Hot Fuzz, a film I have seen at least eight times. Its improvement over Shaun of the Dead set me up to expect that this would be an almost perfect film. The co-writer/director, Edgar Wright, made the best film of 2010 Scott Pilgrim vs The World, since his last team-up with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And the reviews have been so positive for this that I just got caught up in my own unrealistic expectations.

I hope that in a couple of years I look back and cringe for not appreciating the greatness that this film probably has. Unfortunately right now this is just a very good film that left me wanting more.