SPEED RACERS — Director Ron Howard dives into the world of Formula One racing with Rush, specifically the 1976 rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and well-to-do German upstart Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). It’s a high-octane racing film that also gives a strong sense of the antagonistic bromance that existed between the two. They may have been fierce competitors, but they held mutual respect for each other’s abilities and pushed each other to get better. Lauda himself was very involved in the film and has praised its accuracy. Howard finds the right balance between racetrack mayhem and personal turmoil, showing how these two men were obsessed with beating the other, although Hunt comes off as the more cavalier and reckless of the two. The bonus features delve more into their real-life story.
AMONG THE LIVING — After homophobic electrician Ron Woodroof (an emaciated Matthew McConaughey) learns he has HIV and has 30 days to live, he seeks to find beneficial medicine that the FDA has not yet sanctioned as the approved drug AZT is incredibly toxic. Surviving longer than anyone expected, Woodroof soon teams up with a spunky transsexual (Jared Leto) to sell alternative medicine to fellow HIV/AIDS sufferers, drawing the ire of the medical establishment and the federal government. Set in the ’80s at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when no one really understood the disease and based on Woodroof’s real-life story, Dallas Buyers Club shares their plight with sympathy and plenty of pathos, with Woodroof learning to overcome his prejudices while proving doctors wrong about his prognosis. It’s a classic David and Goliath story that Hollywood loves to exploit, and this is certainly a moving and well-acted tale. Interestingly enough, the biggest obstructionist to medical progress in a cure for the AIDS, the highly negligent Reagan administration, gets a free pass as it never gets mentioned. It is also disappointing that there are minimal special features on this release. A documentary with news footage looking back at the AIDS crisis of the ’80s would have been very welcome.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME — Speaking of Reagan, he makes a brief TV cameo in Haunter, the latest film from director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice). It’s the mid-1980s, and 16-year-old Lisa (Abigail Breslin), her little brother, and their parents keep reliving the same day over and over again—reciting the same lines, eating the same meals, engaging in the same disputes. She is the only one who notices this and the fact that their house is perpetually shrouded in fog. Once Lisa changes her own routine and begins delving into the mystery of the house, she realizes that there other presences there. Are they alive? Dead? And do they know why she is trapped there? Haunter offers an original twist on the haunted house genre that works best if you don’t learn too much about it beforehand. Breslin plays the beleaguered Lisa with aplomb, and Stephen McHattie appears as a sinister figure inspired by the unnerving chauffeur from Burnt Offerings.
LOST IN SPACE — My favorite film of 2013, Gravity is the closest thing this generation will get to another 2001. And it drives me nuts when people describe it merely as Sandra Bullock floating around in space for a couple of hours. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón, who brought us Children Of Men, takes us on a wild ride as scientist/first time astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her crewmate Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) get untethered from the space shuttle Explorer after a Russian satellite strike hurtles debris around the globe. They must then find a way to another space station and find their way back to Earth. While there have been criticisms about various scientific inaccuracies, the movie is really a metaphor for the journey of Stone from grieving mother of a young child to a woman seeking to rediscover the joy of life after losing her grounding on earth. The film contains some fantastic sci-fi moments, amazing cinematography, and a visceral score by Steven Price that helps drive the movie in spots where the quiet vacuum of space offers no sound. You’d be surprised at how unnerving witnessing destruction in space can be even when you can’t hear the explosions.
HORROR SHOW — I love many of the films by Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, but his latest, Argento’s Dracula 3D, is an inexplicable mess. Altering the story a bit—this time, Jonathan Harker goes to work for the Count as his librarian and soon gets munched on, after which his wife Mina arrives and tries to find out what happened—the movie has the requisite blood and boobs one recalls from vintage Hammer horror flicks, but the performances are generally under or overplayed. Despite some great set pieces and cinematography, the film lacks tension or even a spark. Drac’s transformations into and from an owl and a giant praying mantis are original, but the use of dated Theremin sounds come off as comical, and I can’t get over how much Harker looks like Anthony Kiedis and the Count like a sedated Liam Neeson. Even Rutger Hauer, playing Van Helsing, looks bored. Alas.
LEGAL EAGLES — At long last, season one of Steven Bochco’s acclaimed series L.A. Law makes it to DVD. Starring Harry Hamlin (the original Clash Of The Titans, Mad Men) and Susan Dey (The Partridge Family), among many others, this intimate look at the wrangling within a prestigious law firm, along with intense scrutiny of the employees’ personal lives, tackled many weighty issues in its day—everything from immigration to gun control to substance abuse—and it did so with style and substance. The personality clashes between the various personalities in the firm could get quite heated, and the diversity of characters and dilemmas and verbal repartee kept you watching. There are plenty of ’80s hallmarks here (the show debuted in 1986), from the clothing and hairstyles to the sexual and financial indulgences that defined the decade, but it has still aged well. Nearly two hours of bonus interviews with creator Steven Bochco and the cast offer fresh perspectives on the series (which ran for eight seasons) and personal insights into the profession they explored on screen.
The Awakening (2011)
Rebecca Hall stars as spiritual debunker and author Florence Cathcart. An independent woman living in England in 1921, she likes to expose the shenanigans of fake mediums and is invited to a rural school where the ghost of a young boy has been terrifying the children there. Naturally, she assumes it is a hoax and does catch a young boy pretending to be a spook. The problem is there really is a ghost, and when he makes his presence known, she becomes obsessed with getting to the bottom of the mystery. That opens up a bigger Pandora’s box than she could ever have imagined. Understated at times, appropriately eerie at others, The Awakening is a classic style chiller that features a sterling cast, engaging plot, and an ending with an intriguing metaphysical mystery.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
Ender’s Game — Abigail Breslin also appears in this big budget adaptation of the famous sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, whose anti-gay views generated pre-release controversy.
Sherlock: Season Three — Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) have impressively enchanted audiences with a show whose seasons last only three episodes.
Thor: The Dark World — More Asgardian-inspired superhero mayhem with Rush co-star Chris Hemsworth.