Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ron Howard's RUSH

You all missed a good movie directed by Ron Howard.  Many of us in a certain age category feel like we've grown up with him.  We watched him as a child and young adult actor in hit movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and in hit sitcoms on TV.  The young actor became a director. One of Howard's first major assignments behind the camera was a made-for-TV movie starring the formidable Hollywood screen legend, Bette Davis.  Skyward (1980) was an inspirational drama that featured Davis as a senior flight instructor helping a wheelchair-bound young female who refuses to be limited by her disability.  Howard's Splash, Cocoon and Parenthood were popular box office hits of the 1980s.  His dramas based on real-life people and events were Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  They were Apollo 13 (1995) and Frost/Nixon (2008).  Another, A Beautiful Mind, won Oscars for Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly) and Best Picture of 2001.  Ron Howard won Oscars for Best Director and for producing the Best Picture.  Come 2013, he released another drama based on real-life people and events that I thought, for sure, would take him to Oscar night again.  Top movie critics across the country raved about RUSH, the story of a fierce rivalry in Formula One racing between handsome British playboy driver James Hunt and the more serious, not-so-photogenic Austrian Niki Lauda.  The action begins on a racetrack in August 1976.  There's tension on the track and there are threatening clouds in the European skies.
We are focused on "rebels, lunatics, dreamers" -- men who are desperate to make a mark and are willing to die trying.  That was the golden age of Formula One racing.  From 1976, we flashback to six years earlier.  We see sexy champion James Hunt, played quite well by Chris Hemsworth, charm the blouse off a young nurse when he needs a minor wound stitched and dressed.  He digs life in the fast lane.  He loves champagne, a little cocaine and casual sex with lovely ladies.
His rival is not a babe magnet.  Niki Lauda isn't even popular with his own father.
Daniel Brühl just about races off with the movie thanks to his excellent work as Lauda.  Rush was a fast-paced departure from the kind of films we associate with Ron Howard.  Directors, like actors, need to exercise some new muscles from time to time.  Despite the terrific and well-deserved reviews Ron Howard got for Rush, it had engine trouble at the box office.  Audiences weren't drawn to his racing movie.  I rented it last weekend.  Wow.  I was thoroughly entertained.  The Formula One racing sequences in the second hour were so intense and action-packed that I gasped.  Rush is a Ron Howard high point.

Both drivers are driven men.  Hunt and Lauda are opposites in personality and looks but, in their need to make a mark in the sport, they share a common bond.  We see two different kinds of passion for the sport.  Two different mentalities.  The possibility of death raises the stakes on the sport and their performances.  Hunt says, "The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel.  The more alive you are."  There's the human connection.  You don't have to be a sportscar driver to know the truth of that remark.  Many years ago, when my late partner was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I felt more alive taking care of him that I did performing on television.

At first you think you're in for an Amadeus on wheels.  There's the golden boy who's a hit with fans, the press and the ladies.  He's more naturally gifted than disciplined.

You have the somewhat jealous rival, a blunt and temperamental man who is very disciplined, has to work harder and does not have the face desired for magazine covers and TV ads.  Unlike Hunt, he will not be wearing a patch on his racing uniform that reads "Sex. Breakfast of Champions."  Hunt is a party animal who wisecracks to a reporter about his "big balls."

Later, you get the vibe that the movie will be sort of a Quiz Show on wheels with the popular handsome winner and the plain-looking, cranky rival out to show that the golden boy is tarnished.  Well, it has a touch of both -- Amadeus and the Robert Redford's film about a famous 1960s TV game show scandal.  But Rush gets even more interesting when you notice an attitude of "looks count more than talent and character" in the sports coverage.  It's a statement on society that's relevant today.  Look how rigid media outlets have been in presenting images of women as desirable and prized.  They were constantly young, slim and pretty.  Women over 40 and 50 and full-figured women were not presented as beautiful.  The same thing happens with men.  He may not be handsome, but love comes into Lauda's life.  At first, he's nervous about it because he feels that "happiness is the enemy."  He thinks that happiness will remove his competitive edge.  Here's a trailer for Rush.
The two rivals come to need each other in an odd way.  I was not familiar with this sports story and those two men, but I was fascinated to see where their relationship would go.  I've seen Hemsworth as Thor in comic book character action movies but I never really saw him with material that challenged his acting muscles more than his pecs and biceps.  He's good in Rush.  And good to look at.  In the first half of the film, I noticed that Ron Howard gave Chris Hemsworth the old school Hollywood male lead treatment.  When you saw Cary Grant, Tyrone Power and Clark Gable in classic movies, there was no guy in the movie as handsome as the male star was.  What guy was hotter than Gable in Red Dust and Gone With The Wind?  None.  What man is better looking than Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife, Notorious and An Affair to Remember?  None.  There's no other driver, there's no friend, there's no sports reporter as handsome as Hemsworth in his scenes.  That's the way Hollywood used to shoot movies in the classic film days.  But it underscores the point that comes up about looks versus character in the second hour.  Even Hunt confronts the ugliness of that attitude after his respected rival suffers a disfigurement.  What will be the outcome of their final match?
Rush directed by Ron Howard.  It's worth a look for your weekend entertainment.

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