Tag: james mangold

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

I don’t care for cars. I can admire one, if I try, for how it looks or how fast it is. But why does a brand, or make, or model matter when the point of the thing is to get you somewhere? I knew nothing about Ford or Ferrari, even less about their rivalry in the 1960s, but director James Mangold has helmed a sports drama involving race cars in a way that is human, entertaining, and accessible. It is not about cars but the people behind them: drivers, designers, businessmen who finance the endeavor of creating the greatest race car the world has ever known.

There is an excitement in Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller’s screenplay. It is quick to establish why Ferrari must be crushed: These Italians are conniving, stuffy, up themselves. Reductive but an effective way establish a bar that must be met and then surpassed. The irony: The more we get to know the American executives working at Ford, we realize many of them are not unlike the Italians they are attempting to defeat. Quicker still is its skill in communicating who the central players are and why we should care for their stories, within and outside of the company they work under.

Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, a World War II veteran who fixes cars for a living. Miles’ other half is not his wife (Caitriona Balfe) but a friend, former race car driver, and current car designer Carroll Shelby portrayed by Matt Damon. Notice the way these characters are introduced. They are more stubborn than two mules. Because of this, Miles and Shelby clash but they remain friends because they have learned to respect one another. So, it is critical that when we see them together on screen for the first time we feel there is already history there.

I certainly did and everything else after that, when it comes to the duo, is convincing. Sure, their partnership is challenged at times, which is expected from a drama, but the trials never feel so big as to be insurmountable. More often than not, their interactions are played for laughs; this approach works because Bale and Damon choose to play their characters with a certain cool. “I am this way, take it or leave it.” One is less stubborn than the other. But only because this person has a better strategy in playing the long game.

Less impressive are fake Hollywood moments designed to stir up emotions. Particularly memorable is when Mollie, Miles’ wife, decides to drive so recklessly, as if she were on a race track, because she knows her husband is not being honest with her about his desire for wanting to race cars again. This, and a few others like it (will the Ford executives allow the unwieldy Miles to race and represent their company in the 24 Hours of Le Mans?—we know the answer to this, so just get on with it), is not a convincing exchange because the attention is on the busy aspect of the action instead of the content of what is being discussed. (Will they hit a fence? A mailbox? A person crossing the street?) It would have been a different scene altogether had these two adults been talking in their living room or kitchen and there is only silence and disappointment between words. I did appreciate, however, that Mollie is written to be an understanding wife who knows her husband inside and out instead of a shrew who serves only to get in the way of her partner’s professional goals or desires.

The centerpiece of the picture is, of course, the showdown between Ford and Ferrari. The 24-hour race at Le Mans could have been so tedious—how many times can two vehicles pass one another over the course of a day without getting… tiring (it’s easy picking)?—but the filmmakers are correct to underscore the drama of what happens outside of the race cars. The title may be “Ford v Ferrari,” but the juice is the in-fighting between company men and the outsiders they hired in order to lift these company men and their image so products can be sold and their bank accounts get fattened even further. That is what this movie is really about.


Logan (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

An argument can be made that “Logan,” directed by James Mangold, is not just for fans of the previous “X-Men” and “Wolverine” movies. The plot does not revolve around attempting to save the planet from destruction in the hands of Mutants or non-Mutants nor does it center upon fighting for the future of those with special abilities. It is not about finding one’s identity outside of one’s Mutant abilities either. Instead, the picture is about aging and mortality. Thus, its target audience skews toward a later age group, which makes sense because viewers who are likely to find meaning and establish an emotional bond with the film are those who have grown older alongside the aforementioned series, especially fans of Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine. If this project is truly Jackman’s final turn as Logan, it is a strong exit because it stands out from the movies that came before.

There is an enveloping late ‘70s minimalist vibe to the project, fascinating because the story takes place in 2029. There is a whole lot of yellow dirt, western films playing on television, focus on unpolished areas of towns. But upon closer inspection, futuristic elements can be found in the background. Ostentatious special and visual effects are kept at a bare minimum which creates a gritty and natural feel. It is essentially a raw chase picture where Logan, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and a mysterious girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) make a handful of stops along the way, but the journey serving as a giant metaphor toward our impermanence. There just so happens to be action sequences placed in between.

The decision to amplify and show the violence straight-on is a fresh take on the genre. Although Tim Miller’s “Deadpool” employs violence as a source of humor from time to time, this work utilizes violence to underline the idea of maiming and killing others, whether it the hands of a Mutant or non-Mutant, being a brutal thing. Eventually, around the halfway point, I caught myself not wanting to see any more metal claws being shoved through someone’s skull or a person’s throat being slashed clean. This artistic decision provides more gravity to an already layered and textured material.

Perhaps least intriguing is its portrayal of villains. Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his leading errand boy Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) do not get enough scenes, or richly-written scenes, to show their motivations. We learn only how monstrous they are through a video flashback. Outside of this recorded video, when the antagonists come face-to-face with Wolverine, there is a noticeable lack of intrigue. I wanted to have a chance measure Dr. Rice’s cunningness and intelligence and to determine Pierce’s personal motivation. Even the company they work for remains a mystery.

“Logan,” based on the screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, serves both as strong entertainment and as an insightful exploration of how it might be like to notice one’s physical and mental deterioration. During the final third of the picture, well before the expected final battle, I felt as though the story of the remaining X-men was complete. Here is a movie that underscores a distinction between closure and an ending.

The Wolverine

The Wolverine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

At this point you might be thinking, “Oh, great. Another ‘Wolverine’ movie.” But retract those adamantium claws. “The Wolverine,” directed by James Mangold, is an installment worth seeing because it strives to show us something new: a Wolverine that, for the majority of the picture, is not indestructible. This haunted mutant gets exactly what he has been yearning for: a chance to become human again–and all the fragility that comes with it.

Logan (Hugh Jackman), living in isolation on the snowy mountains of Canada, gets a visit from a Japanese red-haired woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who says that she has been given the task to find and take him to a man he saved in World War II, Yashida, formerly a soldier and now the leader of a tech giant in Tokyo (Ken Yamamura and Hal Yamanouchi, respectively). Yashida is dying and this might be Logan’s final opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend. During their meeting, the old man claims that he has a gift that is equal to the life Logan had given him so many years ago: mortality.

For once, I cared about Wolverine as he is shown running toward a fray. While many of his enemies know how to defend themselves with martial arts and various weapons, the battlefield is even in that, like the men he faces, Wolverine is capable of sustaining wounds for a long period of time. He bleeds. He stumbles. He slows down because of severe pain. At one point, we see him get stitches because bullets remain inside his body and gashes cease to close on their own.

The picture makes use of its Japanese setting. I enjoyed watching our protagonist and Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s beloved granddaughter and Logan’s potential romantic interest, running all over the streets and inside establishments of Tokyo in an attempt to escape from the vicious Yakuza. This extended chase sequence culminates atop a bullet train where the most dangerous enemy is not a man wielding a weapon but sturdy objects that just happen to be in the way. I believe the best action scenes are the ones that demand so much attention that I end up not knowing what I would do if I were put in the same situation.

Urban areas tend to be places of physical confrontation while rural places is in accordance with contemplation. There are a number of conversations that touch upon topics like bravery, honor, and sacrifice–staples of the Japanese culture. This is where the pacing begins to feel a little slow, but they are necessary for us to understand why it is so important for Logan to consider himself as human again, not just in the way he feels inside but also in what can hurt him physically. He wants the entire package. I did, however, have a hard time buying completely in Okamoto and Jackman’s chemistry. Their characters’ friendship is enough to carry the picture and anything more feels forced.

For a while, it is difficult to pinpoint the main villain because several characters are thrown at us right when Logan arrives in Japan’s capital. However, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank gives each character enough time to capture our interest even though they are not necessarily multi-dimensional. I must say, however, that the one actor with whom I cannot help but look at even if she is simply standing on one side of the frame is Svetlana Khodchenkova, playing a biochemist in charge of Yashida’s cancer treatments. I wished the scientist had been given more depth and screen time.

Jackman is in the middle of this sci-fi action-adventure and he, as usual, holds his own. The sheer physicality required to play a convincing Wolverine is not easy achieve. And without the ability modulate hard and soft facial expressions while maintaining that there is constantly something going in the character’s head is equally challenging–if not more. Jackman does it exceedingly well and I hope he will choose to play Wolverine for years to come.

Knight and Day

Knight and Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

June (Cameron Diaz) bumped into Roy (Tom Cruise) at the airport on the way home for her sister’s wedding unknowing of the fact that he was a spy and fellow government agents (Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis) were after him. Before she knew it, June got caught in the middle of two camps but eventually it seemed like she was more than happy her life made a drastic turn because she finally found excitement, love and adventure. “Knight and Day,” written by Patrick O’Neill and directed by James Mangold, offered nothing new to the action-comedy genre but it felt refreshing because the actors were having fun, the filmmakers were having fun and so the audiences couldn’t help but have fun as well. Comparisons to “Killers,” starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, could not be helped because the two were released at just about the same time and both pretty much had a similar concept, but “Knight and Day” was lightyears better because it had energy from start to finish. More importantly, it was actually funny. I was glad to see Cruise starring in a film that somewhat spoofed his more serious roles because it showed me that he had a sense of humor. It was also nice to see Diaz being her usual charming sunny self. Her character’s reactions to unbelievable and often dangerous situations amused me in so many ways. In a way, I felt like she was just playing herself and I appreciated that. The movie worked for me even though it did not attempt to have any sort of character development because I was thoroughly engaged. Each passing scene had a higher level of danger and adrenaline from the one before and I was curious about what creative action sequence I would see next. There was a lot to choose from but the three scenes that put a smile on my face were when Cruise informed Diaz that everybody on the plane was dead and it was about to crash but she thought it was all a big joke, the train scene with a lethal assassin who could easily have been taken right from the “Bourne” series and the motorcycle chase in Spain with the bulls. It is definitely easy to judge the movie before seeing it because we are all aware of Cruise’s controversial life. I say give it a chance because “Knight and Day” is a bona fide, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, globetrotting adventure that never runs out of fuel. It’s a good movie to see with the family especially those familiar with Cruise’s golden days.