MoviefiedNYC reviews Rush

Rush, Ron Howard’s latest film delves into the high octane world of Formula One racing.  Based on a true story, it focuses on the 1976 season and the spectacular rivalry between showy British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and abrasive but talented Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

Disliking each other from almost the beginning of their careers in Formula Three racing, the rivalry came to a head during the 1976 season.  Through love, sex, affairs, death, and injury, Lauda and Hunt’s main focus is always on their unending feud.  Ultimately, as they continue to battle, they realize that they not only respect one another, but the rivalry has brought out the best of their abilities. 

It has been a while since Howard has created such an in-your-face life or death drama.  In recent years, Howard has explored the worlds of schizophrenia (A Beautiful Mind), Dr. Seuss (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and religious mysteries (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons); however, he has not lost a step in creating the same suspense that he expertly produced in 1995’s Apollo 13.  Knowing almost nothing about the actual events, I found myself clutching the armrest of my chair and even grabbing my neighbor during the last quarter of the film.  (Luckily, my neighbor was a friend, so it wasn’t as weird as it sounds.) The racing sequences, in particular, are filmed superbly, both from the point of view of the driver and of the spectators.  For the briefest of moments, you feel as if you are in the car with Lauda and Hunt, going for the gap and hugging the inside.  

While Rush doesn’t pander to the audience, it does explain the events vividly.  Screenwriter Peter Morgan fleshes out the motivation of the main characters so well, that you don’t know whose side of the rivalry you are on.  The characters are surrounded by lovers, wives, colleagues, and other drivers, but they seem to always be slightly detached, almost defying the old adage that “no man is an island.” By the time of the final race which will determine the World Champion, the audience is caught knowing that while there will be great joy for the driver who wins, the joy will be dampened and tinged with melancholy for the runner up.  The champion will have victory on his island while the defeated will remain unfulfilled.  Regardless, the audience still went on a great ride.

[Grade: A-]

-Ariadne Ansbro

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Throwback Thursday: Love in the Workplace

Work: the necessary evil that can be barely tolerable or completely self fulfilling. In order to keep the daily grind from getting the best of us, we begin to bond with our coworkers, even going as far as having “office wives” or “office husbands”. Through these fun and platonic relationships, love can occasionally bloom, making that necessary evil as romantic as a stroll through Central Park. Ok, I might have exaggerated that last bit. So, for this edition of Throwback Thursday, I give you The Office: Love Edition.

1. His Girl Friday (1940)

This Howard Hawks gem follows newspaper “man” Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her editor/ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy has decided to re-marry and start her life as a housewife, however, Walter needs his best reporter for one last story. Let’s face it, he also still has a thing for her. Grant and Russell play off each other in such a brilliant fashion that Hawks kept their rehearsals to a minimum, just to capture true ad-libbed moments between the two. Journalism never looked so exciting.

2. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Mikóls László, this was the first American incarnation of this story. Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is an assistant manager at a gift store in Budapest. It is there that Klara Novak (Margaret Sullivan) undermines him with the boss to get a job at the store. With that auspicious beginning, Alfred and Klara are constantly sparring about everything from the schedule to the shop displays. Unbeknownst to each other, they are falling in love as anonymous pen pals. This classic story was so well received that it was re-adapted as a movie musical (In the Good Old Summertime), a Broadway musical (She Loves Me), and simply updated (You’ve Got Mail).

3. Broadcast News (1987)

News producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is torn between two men: the handsome new anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) and her friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), the talented but unlucky anchor for the same station. Hunter, Brooks, and Hurt masterfully create a tense love triangle in the midst of reporting the news. Not to mention the beauty in the unconventional ending of this film that is true, romantic and fulfilling. While the romance in the film is quieter than the others on this list, it is no less effective.

4. Working Girl (1988) 

When Staten Island secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) begins a new job with Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) she is promised that her ideas will be heard and she may actually be promoted. When Katharine breaks her leg skiing, Tess finds out that Katharine is trying to pass off one of Tess’s ideas as her own. Sick of being walked on and passed over, Tess assumes Katharine’s job in order to put together the deal with the help of Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford). As they follow Tess’s unconventional path to business dealings, Jack and Tess find themselves falling for one another. What could seem like a very thin story idea is expertly directed by Mike Nichols and acted by all three of the leads with great supporting performances by Joan Cusack and Alec Baldwin. This movie went on to be nominated for 6 Academy Awards.

5. Pretty Woman (1990) 

In this “hooker with a heart of gold” story, Hollywood Boulevard prostitute Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) is hired by millionaire business man Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) to be his escort for the week. As she makes efforts to fit into the roll he needs her to play, Edward is moved by the lust for life that Vivian has, just as he shows her that she is worth much more than $3,000 per week. This film made Julia Roberts a superstar and inspired many romantic comedy clichés. The difference is, this one did it right.

-Ariadne Ansbro

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Review: Touchy Feely,Not so Touchy Feely

Not so Touchy Feely

Lynn Shelton’s new film, Touchy Feely, explores the bond of a brother and sister and their relationship with touch.  Abby (Rosemary DeWitt) is a free spirited massage therapist, beloved by her clients for her healing touch. Her practice is thriving, her boyfriend, Jesse (Scoot McNairy), has asked her to move in with him, and all seems perfect in her world.  Paul (Josh Pais), Abby’s brother, is a type A, emotionally stunted dentist, with a teenaged daughter (Ellen Page) and a failing practice.
All of a sudden, things begin to change for Paul and Abby.  Abby develops an aversion to touch.  She cannot stand to be touched by Jesse, she recoils when forced to touch her clients, and even hesitates to touch herself.  Meanwhile, Paul inadvertently cures a patient’s TMJ during a routine cleaning and suddenly everyone is coming to him to be healed.  Due to these developments, Abby and Paul’s lives begin to switch.  Abby becomes reclusive and defensive while Paul becomes more open to new ideas and the teachings of Eastern medicine. Their lives change dramatically as do their relationships with others.
On paper, Touchy Feelyseems like the perfect indie film.  Award-winning cast, critically acclaimed writer/director, and slightly quirky story and characters.  Unfortunately, it falls flat.  The story just never truly comes together in a satisfying way.  The audience is constantly questioning what is going on and their patience is never rewarded.  Walking out of the theater, we feel as though there are far more questions than answers.  Normally, a movie that makes you think is not a bad thing, but this one just makes you ask yourself, “What the hell just happened?”

There is also a major problem with the two main characters.  Abby feels like a very full of herself, new-agey person who is constantly pushing her philosophies and agendas on everyone she meets.  Paul is a rigid, annoying character unable or unwilling to listen to what those around him really want.  In theory, the switching places aspect of the film should make both of these characters more likeable, yet it never does.  At the end, we are still annoyed by Abby’s smugness and Paul’s withdrawn indifference. 

What keeps Touchy Feely from becoming an unwatchable film are the secondary characters and their storylines.  Ellen Page plays Jenny, a young woman on the brink of starting her life but not wanting to disappoint those around her.  Slowly developing an inappropriate crush on Jesse, she and McNairy expertly navigate the characters through the awkwardness of emotion.  Allison Janney also appears as a friend of Abby’s who is a Reiki master.  She gives Abby advice and attempts to draw Paul out of his sheltered world while trying, quietly, to put herself back together.
While Touchy Feely has been hailed as a darling of the Sundance Film Festival, one wonders if it is only because of its pedigree.  This is one of those films that people seem to like because they feel they should like it. Sadly, it fails to live up to the hype and leaves us feeling unfulfilled.  
-Ariadne Ansbro

Twitter: @moviefiednyc

Guilty-Pleasure Movie: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Over the past year and a half, I have been doing some dating. During the initial “get-to-know-you-and-ask-you-inane-questions” phase, it comes out that I am a cinephile (aka movie nerd).  Should my date not ask for the check at that precise moment, vowing to never pick up random strangers standing in line at Shake Shack again, the obvious follow up question is, “What is your favorite movie?”  I have a few stock answers: Chaplin, Gone with the Wind, Rear Window, etc, however, this is not quite accurate.  My favorite movies really depend on my mood.  When I am sitting at home and I want to escape the real world for a couple of hours, I do not automatically reach for the “highbrow” cinema.  I head straight for the trash.  Twenty minutes later, you will find me sprawled on my couch, wearing my ripped jeans, eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream right out of the container, and watching, um…Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of those movies that is just so ridiculous that I walk away smiling every time.  This mockumentary follows a local beauty pageant turns deadly in a Minnesota town.  The cast includes: Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Brittany Murphy, Denise Richards, Amy Adams (in her film debut), and Allison Janney.

Dunst plays Amber, a poor, “trailer trash” girl from Mount Rose, Minnesota, who is following her dream to become the next Diane Sawyer.  As a part of that dream, she signs up for the American Teen Princess pageant.  Her biggest competition is from Becky (Richards), the daughter of the richest, and possibly the most offensive, man in town (Sam McMurray) and the head of the pageant committee (Alley).  While she prepares for the pageant that may get her out of Mount Rose (“Guys get out of Mount Rose all the time.  For hockey scholarships.  And prison.”), misfortune seems to befall Amber and those who try to help her.

Obviously, from the synopsis above, this film has the depth of the half-deflated kiddie pool that sat in my backyard every summer.  However, it seems to have that quality that makes me double over laughing every single time I watch it.  What makes me love a trashy movie is that one glimmer of greatness that shines through the shit; in Drop Dead Gorgeous, it is the cast.  From the comic genius of Allison Janney to a pre-anorexic Brittany Murphy making even throw away lines giggle worthy.  Then again a lot of the lines are really hilarious simply for the fact that they are all said with a Fargo-esque Minnesota accent.

“Well, yeah, Tammy liked to drive her dad’s thrasher, but…I mean….she said the heavy vibration helped her think. But I know for a FACT, Tammy only smoked after a good drive.”  Seriously, it’s so much better with a Minnesota accent.

While movies like this seem to have little impact on the public and less on film critics, it is still worth something.  When my mind is going 4,000 mph and I start over-thinking everything from my dinner order to my career, watching this kind of movie allows me to just sit back and tune it all out. Lovable trashy movies are necessary for us to decompress and find a moment of stupid funny in a tension filled existence. These movies are cotton candy: totally devoid of any nutritional value, but sometimes you just got to have it.

Ariadne Ansbro

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