Tag Archives: racing

Movie Review: Need for Speed (2014)

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I love Aaron Paul, but I’m fairly certain I prefer him as a meth cook than a racing car driver.

Need for Speed (not the drug, of course, as Aaron Paul prefers blue meth), based on one of the most successful video game franchises of all-time, tells the story of Toby Marshall (Paul), a former professional racer who turns to tuning performance cars to make a living. Tragedy strikes, as it usually does, and Toby is made to suffer for it, but soon after he’s plotting his revenge. And that revenge somehow entails driving in a racing car across the country with an attractive British lass (Imogen Poots) while lots of people try to kill him.

Video game adaptations that aren’t utter crap are hard to come by these days, and I guess you could make an argument that Need for Speed is not utter crap. It’s certainly not great, and not even particularly good, but it’s passable entertainment. And its box office success (US$186 million on a US$66 million budget) means there could be more entries. That said, the status of Fast & Furious as the definitive Hollywood car racing franchise remains safe.

The most positive thing I can say about the film is that its driving sequences are done pretty well. I personally don’t care much about cars but even I have to admit that the vehicles look very pretty, and they look even prettier driving at 200+ miles per hour while weaving through traffic, escaping gunfire and evading the police. I didn’t see the film in IMAX or 3D, but I can imagine it being quite a visual feast (the IMAX at least, not so sure about the 3D).

Everything else is where I struggle to come up with positive things to say. The plot, of course, is preposterous. You know that just from the short description I gave above. None of it really makes any sense, and if you think about it too hard your brain might explode. Revenge through racing in an underground competition? — I still can’t get my head around it. The motivations of the characters and their reactions are all over the place, and it’s best if you try and treat it like a video game for the sake of your sanity.

Unlike the Fast & Furious franchise, the characters are bland. Even with an actor the calibre of Aaron Paul, the lead character of Toby Marshall is weak. There’s just nothing about him. The same can be said for everyone else, from Imogen Poots’s obvious love interest to the boring and one-dimensional villain played by Dominic Cooper. As for the radio DJ played by Michael Keaton, who spends the entire film commentating, I don’t even know what to say. It weirded me out, to be honest.

And that’s where the film falls apart — it’s inability to connect with audiences with anything other than action scenes. It sure tries, with plenty of attempts at “emotion” and a hefty running time of 130 minutes, which is just ridiculous, though ultimately there is nothing memorable about it. The really pathetic attempts at humour, even of the cheesy kind, also bothered me, though I was pleasantly surprised that they did not try to sexualise the movie with a lot of scantily-clad ladies or obligatory sex scenes, which I thought were a given in flicks about cool cars. On the other hand, there was no shortage of cringeworthy “whoa”, “yeah”, “cool”, “awesome” moments which I’m sure the younger (and dumber) generations will love.

Overall, more or less what I expected. Nice car racing scenes and a dash of Aaron Paul intensity, but that’s about all that’s got going for it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Rush (2013)

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I don’t get or know anything about Formula One or car racing, or even cars for that matter – which is why I am surprised to say that Rush, based on the real life rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, is one of my favourite movies of 2013.

This sports biopic follows the careers of the British prodigy Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and the Austrian genius Lauda (played by Daniel Bruhl from the time they were lowly Formula Three drivers until their meteoric rises to the F1 circuit, with the majority of the focus placed on their epic 1976 season.

I always say know as little about the plot as possible when seeing a movie, and in this case I would implore you to avoid all spoilers. Even though it is a true story (one which Lauda says is very accurate), Rush is full of dramatic turns (no pun intended), and knowing as little as possible will significantly improve the experience. I’m still stunned that some of the things in this film actually happened in real life.

Intentionally filmed by director Ron Howard with a gritty 70s feel, Rush offers intense racing sequences that don’t feel like they’ve been aided by special effects at all. I used to always scoff at F1 racing whenever it came up on TV because to me it was just a bunch of people driving cars around in circles. The presence of a live crowd was even more baffling considering the cars speed by so fast that you can’t really see anything, not to mention that it can be pretty dangerous too. But Rush has given me an appreciation for racing and an understanding of how much skill, discipline and risk-taking is involved at the top of the sport.

In some ways, the film’s drama away from the racing is even more thrilling. Hunt and Lauda are polar opposites who push each other to the limit. Each live by their own rules – Hunt is the wild, arrogant and charismatic playboy who thrives on natural talent and instincts, while Lauda is the disciplined, mechanical and calculating engineer who is afraid to let emotion affect his driving. There is a mutual dislike but also a deep respect and complicated sense of envy between the two, and their clash of personalities is what makes the movie so compelling from start to finish.

I’ve always considered Chris Hemsworth an average actor at best, but in Rush he is absolutely magnetic – it’s by far the best performance of his career. Daniel Burhl (who has received a Golden Globe nomination) is more understated and the lesser known name, but he is in every way Hemsworth’s equal, both in terms of screen time and performance. Both characters, despite their obvious flaws, are likable due to the crafty script and the performances, and because of that, you feel like you are rooting for both them despite the fact that there can only be one winner.

In all, Rush is my surprise hit of the year, and even without the surprise it’s still one of the best movies of the 2013.

4.5 stars out of 5