Weekend Roundup & Review of ‘1976: Hunt vs Lauda’ Documentary

Ok, I’m hoping I won’t have to talk about Minnesota weather on every Weekend Roundup but this is truly ridiculous! Schools are canceled today nationwide, ordered by the Governor, and every forecast says things like “Limit or even eliminate time spent outside today” and “It’s truly dangerous out there.” My brother in Jakarta thought business would be closed too, but not a chance, though I did opt to work from home today. I’m coming in to work tomorrow though as temp is slightly better, but man, I sure hope this is the last arctic blast we’re gonna see in a while. This is brutal!!

Naturally, I hibernated all weekend. We finally caught the sci-fi drama Contact for the first time, thanks to my pal Ted for lending me the DVD. Another film we saw was 1976: Hunt vs. Lauda (Thanks The Revolver Group, for sending me the dvd), which was dramatized in the Ron Howard film RUSH. Here’s my review:

1976HuntVsLauda_DVD1976: Hunt Vs. Lauda

As I quite enjoyed RUSH, I was definitely curious to see this documentary about the first Formula 1 superstars and perhaps the greatest sports rivalry. Sometimes a film took a lot of liberty and over-dramatize the story, especially something THIS sensational, so I wanted to see the real story of James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda. The documentary is only 60-min long and it focuses primarily on the races in the year of 1976. So we didn’t quite get the background of each of the racer which would’ve been nice to see.

What strikes me is how close the portrayal of both Hunt and Lauda in the film version, especially German actor Daniel Brühl as Lauda where he totally nailed the mannerism and way of speaking on top of being made up to closely resemble the Austrian racer. In this film, it’s also Lauda who gives us a bit more insight into his character and also the drama that went on in those dangerous races. I guess the fact that Lauda is the only one still alive today gives him the edge, but the flamboyant Hunt was pretty short in his past interviews as well. We do get a glimpse of Hunt’s ambition from his sister in one of the interviews, how he’s got this single-minded drive to win the world championship.

We’ve got talking heads such as Lauda’s Ferrari manager Daniele Audetto and Hunt’s manager at McLaren Alastair Caldwell, providing eye-witness account of the event. It’s interesting to see that throughout the film, it appears that despite the rivalry, Hunt and Lauda are pretty good friends. Even Lauda himself was happy when Hunt won the World Championship after he crashed his car, and Hunt was one of the first at the scene of Lauda’s crash as well. Caldwell said that Hunt said this following the accident, “Niki, you re the only person I know who could have been in a fire and come out better looking.” Despite the difference in character, they seem to really like each other, so RUSH somehow made it look as if there were more animosity between them.

Top: Lauda & Hunt  Bottom: Lauda with his Ferrari manager (in blue jacket)
Top: Lauda & Hunt
Bottom: Lauda with his Ferrari manager Audetto (in blue Goodyear jacket)

The racing footage was pretty thrilling to see, especially that rainy day in Japan where it obviously looked too dangerous to race on. It showed how the World Championship race was very tight, Lauda was way ahead initially but by the end it was neck and neck. It’s fascinating to see Lauda’s determination to race merely six weeks (2 races later) after his accident, and he was so nonchalant about it when the press asked him about it. It did affect his decision to withdraw from the Japanese Grand Prix as by then he had faced a near-death experience and he simply couldn’t go through it again. I’ve come to really respect Lauda and find him to be immensely sympathetic. He barely has anything bad to say in his later interviews and he doesn’t seem to have any regret despite the major scar he received from the accident.

NikiLauda_ThenandNow
Lauda – then and now

One complaint I have is the audio issues with the disc, which makes the narrator’s voice sounds so dim at times that it was tough to hear. Fortunately the sound from the footage and interviews are fine. It was worth seeing the real story of Hunt and Lauda, especially if you’re a fan of sports documentaries. Hunt had the looks and the glamor, but Lauda’s got the heart and technical precision that made him a racing legend. Though he lost in 1976, he went on to become world champion again in 1977 and 1984. As I said before, I wish there were more backstory here before the real rivalry began. These guys certainly have incredible stories worth-telling.

threereels
3 out of 5 reels


The DVD is available starting tomorrow on Amazon.com


That’s my weekend roundup folks. What did YOU see this weekend!

Double Mini Reviews: RUSH and The Fifth Estate

These two films are both in the BOATS category, that is based on a true story. Whether it’s close or loosely based on the real deal is up for debates of course, especially in regards to The Fifth Estate as Julian Assange himself doesn’t support the film, though given his secretive nature, it doesn’t mean what takes place in the film isn’t true, either. In any case, both of these are not documentaries, so I don’t judge either film based on accuracy, but on the merit of the work as an art form.

RUSH

RUSH_PosterI have to admit that I hadn’t heard of either Hunt or Lauda before this film, who were fierce rivals during the 1970s Formula 1 racing period. I grew up with a brother who was into F-1 racing in the late 80s – mid 90s, so I was more familiar with the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. By focusing on the rivalry between the two racers, RUSH is more of intriguing character-driven thriller instead of an all-action racing movie.

The beginning of the film shows the stark difference of not just their lifestyle, Hunt is the free-spirited playboy compared to the focused but reclusive Lauda, but also how each approaches the sport. The British Hunt is all about instinct whilst the Austrian Lauda is all about precision, he’d methodically and meticulously scrutinizes the technicality of his car before he climbs into it. Though the film has some thrilling racing sequences that really lives up to the title in giving you a boost of adrenaline rush, what really gets me is their relationship off the track. As someone who don’t normally follow this sport, it’s the characters and their stories that made me enjoy this film and what makes it memorable in the end.

Just as you’d expect in an extreme sport like this, a major incident occurs halfway through that’d make you gasp. I’m not going to spoil it for you but let’s just say there are some very uncomfortable scenes to watch here that seemed to go on forever. The attention to detail achieved by the cinematography and sound editing truly create an authentic feel of the racing experience. The car, the helmet, even the views of the drivers as they’re racing definitely get your heart pounding. The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix in torrential rain is especially gripping and the way the race is filmed is phenomenal. Yet the slower moments are also effective in showing the persona of the people risking their lives behind the wheel with every race.

RUSH_stills
The two leads are excellent. Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda share an effortless chemistry as both friends and foes. Hemsworth has a natural cocky-ness about him as he displayed in THOR, but he shows some emotional depth and vulnerability when the moment calls for it. Brühl is especially impressive in that he’s not only made up to resemble the real Lauda in his younger years, but he’s got the intensity and mannerism down perfectly. I was much more taken by his character overall and it’s largely a testament of Brühl’s compelling performance. He’s definitely an actor to watch for and I hope he gets a leading role in the future. There are not much to speak of in terms of supporting cast as the films are ultimately about Hunt and Lauda. Olivia Wilde and Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara are both pretty good as Hunt and Lauda’s love interest.

Overall it was a satisfying thriller that also packs an emotional punch. It’s fascinating to see the incredible drive of these racers, and in the case of Lauda, his will to not just excel but to survive is inspiring. Kudos to Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan for crafting a balanced look of visual prowess and intriguing drama. Combined with Hans Zimmer‘s dynamic score, RUSH is one of the most invigorating thrillers of the year.

fourreels
4 out of 5 reels

THE FIFTH ESTATE

A fifth estate is a group within a society that is seen as operating outside of the society’s normal groupings in terms of their roles and viewpoints, especially a group that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those other groupings. – per Wikipedia

TheFifthEstatePosterThis film traces the origin of perhaps 21st century’s most controversial organization Wikileaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. It’s interesting that the promo of this film asks us whether Assange is a hero or a traitor? Now of course it depends who you ask as you’d likely find a polarizing view on either side.

One thing I’ll say about the Australian-born Assange is that he’s quite a fascinating man. The master computer hacker is a tech whiz who’s well-traveled, having lived in Europe when he started working on WikiLeaks, as well as Nairobi, Tanzania, Iceland, etc. The film opens with him meeting a journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (whose book is one of the source for this story) in Germany, who was drawn to the seemingly noble enterprise of Wikileaks. Their first mission was to take down this huge bank that’s been doing illegal activities. He also admired the charismatic but elusive Assange as a mentor initially, though later it’s easy to see how their relationship became strained.

As I hadn’t been following the whole WikiLeaks scandal too closely, some of the events depicted here went over my head. At times it was hard to follow some of the details, more on that in a bit. But the one thing that interested me was the character study of Assange himself, which I thought was portrayed quite well by Benedict Cumberbatch. There had been reports that Assange himself emailed the British actor to ask him to not to participate in the film. How much that incident affected Cumberbatch’s performance I’ll never know, though he certainly doesn’t paint Assange as a likable man here. He’s brilliant to be sure, but his arrogance and ruthless nature who doesn’t care who gets hurt by his actions. No matter how good his intentions were, what he did with WikiLeaks has gone too far, but obviously the defiant Assange didn’t see it that way.

TheFifthEstate_Stills
Both Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl as Berg share about a similar amount of screen time and both are wonderful to watch. Once again Brühl proves to be a capable and versatile actor. I didn’t realize just how great the supporting cast are, but it’s nice to see the likes of David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and Dan Stevens as the Guardian newspaper staff, and playing US Government offials are the immensely talented character actors Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. Seems like such a small role is a waste of their talents but as always they’re excellent to watch.

The direction by Bill Condon and Josh Singer‘s script leave much to be desired however. To say the pace is uneven is putting it mildly, but the narrative structure is the main issue here. It’s tough enough that there are complex issues being presented, but the haphazard editing makes it even more confusing. It makes me appreciate David Fincher’s brilliant direction of The Social Network even more, and it shows that sharp execution is key when dealing with a story such as this. I do commend the fact the film raises a lot of intriguing ethical and legal issues without necessarily portraying Assange as an evil figure or otherwise, hence the traitor vs hero argument. But it could’ve been a heck of a lot more riveting instead of just mildly interesting and even somewhat tedious. I suppose it’s still worth a rent if you’re a fan of the cast, and I really can’t pick fault with their performances. I feel that if it hadn’t been for the cast though, I’d probably better off watching Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks instead.

3 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on either one of these films? I’d love to hear it!

Weekend Viewing Roundup and PARKLAND review

Happy Monday all! Hope you had a nice weekend. I see that a lot of you saw GRAVITY, glad to see that Alfonso Cuarón’s film proves to be a critical AND box office hit with over $55 mil this weekend. If you’ve read my review, clearly that’ll be the film I’ll be rooting for come Award season!

I finally got around to seeing RUSH on Saturday night and it was aptly-titled as it’s quite an adrenaline rush! I enjoyed the rivalry between 1970s Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, especially Daniel Brühl’s performance. Is it the best Ron Howard movie to date? I’m not sure, but surely it’d make my Top 5.

WeekendRdp_RUSH

The rest of my weekend viewings are from Netflix. I finally completed Dark Knight Returns Part II and I must say I’m really impressed by the Frank Miller’s graphic novel adaptation. Our pal Jack Deth commented on the Five for the Fifth post that it’s his most-emotionally gratifying film he saw this year, and I could see why! Check out his in-depth review.

Last night I was feeling nostalgic so I watched a couple of episodes of two of my favorite shows: FRASIER and MOONLIGHT. Before Vampire Diaries and True Blood, there’s MOONLIGHT on CBS. I actually dedicated a post for the vampire series as it’s one of my all-time TV guilty pleasures!

FRASIERTVseries

MoonlightTVseries

Yes the writing isn’t stellar but I have a soft spot for Aussie’s Alex O’Loughlin as the sexy & romantic vampire Mick St. John, and British actress Sophia Myles as his love interest Beth. She’s clearly the best actor in the whole series, I also like her in Spooks Season 10 with Richard Armitage. Lucky gal! 😉

Now here’s my review of…

Parkland

Parkland_Banner

Parkland is a historical drama that recounts the assassination of JFK in Dallas and the four days following that devastating event. Now, there have been countless films and documentaries on that but what sets this film apart is that it gives us the perspectives from a handful of ordinary people who are suddenly thrust into the this extraordinary circumstances: the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital (hence the title), the Secret Service, the FBI agents, as well as those outside of the presidential circle. The two characters I’m fascinated by the most from this film are Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert, and Abraham Zapruder, the man who inadvertently filmed what became the most-watched and scrutinized 8mm film. These are two ordinary people who never thought their lives would change drastically that very day.

The assassination itself wasn’t re-enacted on screen but the film actually used the footage from the Zapruder film. Most people probably have seen that very clip by now as it’s all over Youtube, a bunch of them have been edited in slo-mo so you could see every detail when the motorcade passed through Dealy Plaza. But this time, we see the reaction of the people behind the camera, especially the clearly-shaken Zapruder the second the shots hit the president. The concept of the film is intriguing and even refreshing, but I think writer/director Peter Landesman is way too ambitious with the scope of the film. There are so many parts he’d like to cover but in the end, it sort of went all over the place. The scenes at the hospital seems to go on forever, especially the part where the doctors were trying desperately to revive Mr. Kennedy. One thing that really struck me was the moment Jackie Kennedy handed a piece of her husband’s skull (or brain) to the lead nurse (Marcia Gay Harden). For some reason I just realized what it was that Jackie retrieved when she jumped on the back hood of the presidential limousine!

Parkland_stills

The worst part of the film for me is the shaky camera movements and constant blur effects which made me VERY nauseous. It’s hard to concentrate on the film, any film, when you struggle to keep from throwing up. I also find the extreme close-ups on the characters’ faces are excessive and distracting, which is another stylistic miscalculation. But the detrimental factor of the film for me is the lack of emotional involvement with any of the character as each only have a few minutes on screen. In fact, Tom Welling who got top billing according to IMDb basically only have a cameo here as as secret service agent Roy Kellerman. He only had like three lines in the film, and so was Billy Bob Thornton as lead of Dallas secret service, Forrest Sorrels.

Zack Efron is actually pretty decent as the young resident doctor at Parkland Hospital. I haven’t seen enough of his work to say that I like him as an actor but at least he seems to give a good effort to escape his High School Musical persona. The two actors who made an impression on me were Paul Giamatti as Zapruder and James Badge Dale as Robert Oswald. Both are interesting characters in their own right, but the two actors did a compelling job portraying them. Oh and Australian double Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver is fantastic as Marguerite Oswald, she really knocked it out of the park even in her brief scenes. It makes me want to check out the Aussie drama Animal Kingdom even more.

Overall Parkland is better in concept than execution. In fact, if you’re curious about the subject matter, I’d just rent it. It’s not a terrible film but its in-cohesive narration and nauseating shaky-cam style made this quite unbearable to watch for me. Though it did make me curious enough to want to read more about the most-scrutinized event in history, the film itself is ultimately forgettable. Or worse, I’d only remember it as being the film that made me [literally] want to vomit.

twoandahalfreels
2.5 out of 5 reels


That’s my weekend roundup folks. What did you see this weekend?