November 16, 2019
Ford v Ferrari (2019) Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe Directed by James Mangold
"We’re lighter, we’re faster, and if that don’t work, we’re nastier.” Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby)
Ford v Ferrari is a movie about triumph, tragedy, friendship, and fast cars...and practically nothing else. It is a wonder that gifted filmmaker James Mangold (Logan) chose this approach when crafting this film, he really doesn’t delve into the lives of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles outside of the racetracks and car garages where they hang out. It’s actually a genius decision not to really humanize the protagonists much, it keeps the action going (that’s needed with a 2 hours and 32 minute run time), it allows us all to have more fun and it puts more focus on the cars (which are really f**king cool). The one problem with that choice is that it undercuts the emotional moments a bit. My guess is Mangold knew we would all care about Damon and Bale no matter how much time he spent on their home life or friendship, and he was dead right. Earlier this year we saw Tarentino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood bring two Tinseltown heavyweights together in Pitt and DiCaprio, now Mangold gives a badass canvass for Damon and Bale to go to work: buckle up, cause it’s a hell of a ride.
Director James Mangold is no stranger to biopics or historical dramas (Walk the Line), and frankly I’m happy he is hanging up his Wolverine claws for something Hollywood is dying for more of; the expensive, well crafted, adult drama. Ford v Ferrari is the story Henry Ford II (a strong performance by Tracy Letts) and Lee Iacocca’s (a surprisingly understated Jon Bernthal) crazy idea that they could develop a race car (Ford’s GT40 MK I) that could beat the dominant Ferrari race team owned by Enzo Ferrari (played well by Remo Girone) at Le Mans. To accomplish this seemingly impossible task Iacocca recruits former Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby (Oscar worthy performance by Damon) who has since given up racing due a heart condition. Shelby knows he will need a great driver to have even an outside chance at winning, so he turns to his friend, old racing rival, and struggling auto mechanic, Ken Miles (full British accent Christian Bale). These two alpha’s butt heads at every turn with each other until they discover another enemy, the suits at Ford who don’t share the same passion for oil grease and RPMs as they do. The film actually paints Ford motor company in a somewhat negative light, too concerned with churning out uninspired Ford Falcons and not passionate about making a car that grabs the attention of America’s youth. Even though the film really makes you root for Shelby and Miles, you don’t root for Ford until we actually go to France for Le Mans. Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama) shows up as a smarmy Ford Exec hellbent on getting rid of Miles and replacing him with a “Ford” man.
The Music and sound mixing really play an important role in this film, similar to how Damien Chazelle wanted to put you in the shaky and loud NASA rocket, in 2018’s First Man, Mangold wants you to feel the tight turns and down shifting of the GT40 MK II. It works really well as you will slide around in your theater seat in between the straightaways of Le Mans. The car crashes make you jump, while Mangold even manages to successfully physically exhaust you as his 1966 Le Mans third act goes on for nearly 40 action packed minutes. It is reminiscent of 2018’s #1 film (on this blog anyway) Bohemian Rhapsody which elected to show nearly the full 17-minute set at the 1985 Live Aid concert, a decision I thought saved the film from mediocrity. Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari needs no such saving, but the third act is a masterclass in filmmaker, delivering a wonderfully entertaining and adrenaline pumped competitiveness that is rarely seen in today’s comic film saturated world. After another ho-hum sort of year in film, I needed Ford v Ferrari to be good, to at least restore some faith that a film can succeed without being part of existing IP or part of a larger expanded universe (with seemingly infinite timelines and phases), and thankfully Ford v Ferrari is very good. With a projected 30 million dollar opening weekend this 95 million dollar film might actually prove lucrative for 20thCentury Fox as well (how about that). SEE IT!
(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Ford v Ferrari is the best film of 2019 so far, in fact it’s the best film in nearly 2 years, not since 3 Billboards and I, Tonya have I had this much adult fun at the theater. Damon and Bale are a great combo and Mangold makes great storytelling choices all around. Ford v Ferrari earns a very respectable 7.0 on The Shawshank Scale and I suspect several Oscar Nominations will come from this effort.
November 10, 2019
JOJO RABBIT (2019) Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi Written and Directed by Taika Waititi
"Jojo: Nothing makes sense anymore.” Yorki: Yeah, I know, definitely not a good time to be a Nazi.” Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Betzler) and Archie Yates (Yorki)
I said on the podcast Talkingflick.com several times already how cool it is that Writer/Director Taika Waititi (Ty-Key Why-Tea-Tea) parlayed his Thor: Ragnarok success (853 Million Worldwide) into a film about a Nazi obsessed boy with an imaginary friend: Hitler (and Disney made it!), that’s hutzpah. Obviously, I wasn’t sure if it would work, especially in the PC age, and it goes without saying people are certainly allowed to have their own feelings about what may or may not be acceptable, however I found the film refreshingly original with equal parts heart and comedy. Taika Waititi is quickly becoming a “must-see” director of mine, his previous efforts (Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and What We Do in the Shadows) are all captivating if not incredibly rewatchable. Hollywood needs original content, it is desperate for it, even if it takes controversial chances in its effort to be original. I tip my hat to an unafraid director and look forward to his next work (Coming Soon from Taika: Thor Love and Thunder and Flash Gordon lol, yes please!).
Writer/Director Taika Waititi brings his unique style to an anti-hate satire film like only he can. Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (A sweet performance by Roman Griffin Davis) is a German boy, brainwashed into blind nationalism in part by his involvement with Hitler’s Nazi Youth Groups, so naturally this lonely boy, whose father is missing under mysterious circumstances, has an imaginary friend, in this case it’s the man who ruined the name Adolf for everyone, Hitler himself (played in a light and interesting way by Waititi). His mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has taken in a Jewish girl Thomasin McKenzie (A New Zealand actress last seen in Netflix The King) and when Jojo finds out about it, it turns his world upside down. The movie had to be a hard pitch to Disney of all companies, but I personally applaud it for tackling themes and ideas rarely explored in this kind of recently social media oversaturated, satire scared world. Several co-stars shine and add needed comic-relief to this at times awkward tale. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards and Gentleman Broncos) as always, shines in his performance as Captain Klenzendorf the reluctant leader of the Nazi Youth Group. Rebel Wilson and Steven Merchant, both mess up the German accent, but add several laughs and young newcomer Archie Yates (who plays Yorki) steals several scenes, I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the future (get him a Marvel film!). JoJo Rabbit does an impressive job of balancing the horror that was WWII with a lot of really goofy comedic moments, it is an incredibly fine line to walk and at times it produces awkward or guilty emotions, but satire is supposed to do that isn’t it? The film tackles a lot of themes and I found that its main through line, how people change, how that is a messy process, and how it doesn’t happen all at once, works well enough. Jojo’s journey is a mixed bag through the film that at times seems reluctant to push the envelope as much it wants to, however its pushes enough that its hard to criticize it for that. Waititi is a fearless director that really tries to layer JoJo Rabbit with sincerity and sweetness in a similar fashion to his beautiful 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople (perhaps a slightly more complete film), I think it is worth noting that some of the goofball comedy, especially with imaginary Hitler does defang some of the horror that surrounds this time period, but there is enough real tragedy involved that I found it not worth complaining about. I was really uneasy while watching the film enter its third act, not really knowing how it was going to wrap up and worried that if it wasn’t able to end in a satisfactory and honest way, the “trolls” were going to unleash on it, well have no fear Waititi does enough to celebrate life as he dances with the current state of the world and the importance of understanding the past so not to repeat it. SEE IT!!
(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Waitit’s JoJo Rabbit nods films such as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Brooks’s The Producers in the most earnest way. You will skootch around in your seat for the full 108 minutes while your body experiences the full gamut of emotions in what is truly a unique film experience. I give JoJo Rabbit a very solid 6.5 on THE SHAWSHANK SCALE.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY RECENT GUEST APPEARANCES ON TALKING FLICK! We cover the lackluster Terminator: Dark Fate and the Timeless thriller The Silence of the Lambs!
Talking Flick on iTunes (The Terminator: Dark Fate Episode)
Talking Flick on Anchor (The Terminator: Dark Fate Episode)
Talking Flick on iTunes (The Silence of the Lambs Episode)
Talking Flick on Anchor (The Silence of the Lambs Episode)