FS, Contributing Writer
Ron Howard captures the excitement of Formula One racing through aggressive cinematography, whiplash editing and propulsive music in “Rush” (wide release). The footage of cars speeding around the track, very often in inclement weather – and sometimes crashing and burning – is intense, and the shots, taken literally through the visors of the drivers, are amazingly vivid.
Nevertheless, two hours of that would quickly turn boring. Fortunately, the script by Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) uses it as context for a human story – the rivalry between playboy Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and ultra-pragmatic Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) that culminated in their eventful championship run of 1976. It’s a saga that involves not just angry competition, but tragedy and an astonishing comeback.
As sports movies go, this is a good one – literate, well acted by the two stars (especially Bruhl, who must register through heavy makeup), and technically expert. The highest compliment one can pay is that you needn’t be a fan of racing to enjoy it.
The late James Gandolfini gives a superb performance as a divorced man who gets involved with a divorced woman looking for romance in Nicole Holofcener’s dramedy “Enough Said” (wide release).
In a part far removed from Tony Soprano, the beefy Gandolfini plays Albert, an easygoing film archivist who meets Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse, at a party. The two begin to date and hit it off, finding they have a great deal in common – especially the fact that both have daughters just about to leave home for college. Unfortunately, Louis-Dreyfus is no match for her co-star. She mugs her way through the picture, growing ever more irritating.
And the problem Holofcener concocts to serve as an obstacle to their relationship – involving a poetess who’s one of Eva’s new clients – is not only a really dumb coincidence, but something that could easily have been resolved with a few minutes’ conversation.
Still, Gandolfini was such a fine actor that it’s worthwhile putting up with the picture’s imperfections to see his swan song.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed “Don Jon” (wide release) in addition to taking the title role of a muscle-bound lothario who, though adept at picking up beautiful women, nonetheless gets more enjoyment out of images on the Internet than his flesh-and-blood partners.
Most of the characters – who include Scarlett Johansson as the girl he thinks could be The One and Tony Danza as his gruesomely macho dad – are drawn according to the Jersey Shore template and come across as live-action cartoons. But Julianne Moore, as the emotionally fragile older woman who helps Jon develop a more mature emotional attitude in the film’s last act, carries greater dramatic weight.
“Don Jon” begins as a typically gross frat-boy romp, but by the close it’s become something considerably more serious – the story of a person who grows up and finally puts aside childish things.
“Inequality for All”
Robert Reich, the physically diminutive economist who served as Secretary of Labor in the first Clinton administration, takes a page from Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” playbook with “Inequality for All” (Angelika), which is basically an illustrated lecture arguing that the increasing disparity between the incomes of the richest Americans and those of the middle class threatens both the well-being of the nation’s overall economy and its democratic political system.
The documentary basically constitutes a liberal jeremiad against policies that favor the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relative few. But whether one agrees with its point of view or not, Reich presents his position with civility and good humor while personalizing the subject through interviews with two struggling middle-class families and a multi-millionaire who’s not struggling at all, but feels that the system is rigged to benefit people like himself.
Like most such political documentaries, this one will probably be seen only by people who already agree with it. That’s a shame, because it could really encourage a useful dialogue.
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”
The inevitable sequel to the 2009 kidflick, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (wide release), is a real oddity.
The plot, which involves an expedition to clean up the mess caused by the doofus hero’s invention of a machine that turns water into food in the previous movie, is insipid. But the mutant creatures the explorers come upon in the course of their trek are goofily imaginative combinations of plants and animals, and they’re all colorfully animated and situated against a lush, tropical background.
It’s a pity that such engaging critters are stuck in so trite and formulaic a story.