Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Film Review: Senna

(Directed by Asif Kapadia, running time 102 minutes)

For those of you lacking in the general knowledge of Formula One racing, one thing that always needs to be emphasized is just how dangerous it can be. The amount of real science and physical and mental effort, not to mention the skill it takes to not only win but avoid a serious injury or worse is part of the back bone of the race. Throughout the late 80s and early 90, a Brazilian driver named Ayrton Senna took the worldwide competition by storm. During this time he quickly raced his way through not only each Grand Pix as they came but also all the behind the scenes turmoil and politics that comes with most multi-million pound events, and become three time Formula One world champion and national hero is his native homeland. Despite being at the top of his game he was tragically killed in crash during San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

However unlike many documentaries that may feel the need to dwell on one’s passing, director Asif Kapadia has adopting a style of film making that instead not only takes the audience back to Senna’s heyday of racing but makes us feel as if we were there, experiencing everything as it unfolded. The entirety of film is made of real footage including official races, interviews, behind the scenes of each events, public appearances and even home movies all the while narrated by a substantial variety of figures ranging from managers, fellow drivers and newscasters who were not only experienced these events first hands but even knew the man himself well. No cutaways, no stationary studios interviews, not even shots of what anything looks like today, just footage of the time and place.

At first this approach may appear to be a series of dull stock footage, yet Kapadia has carefully filtered through what must be hours upon hours of footage in order to get down to the core and for it results in a gripping viewing experience that I wouldn’t say is on par with the most tense and dramatic fictional films as it’s a wholly different kind of experience and no doubt will be for many, even better. With this footage the audience can get a close enough picture of the inner workings of Formula One. Senna might have been a top F1 driver, but to make it there it appeared to take plenty of effort beyond just winning races. Even though he raced with McLaren, we quickly became at odds with his fellow McLaren driver the French Alain Prost, also a multiple F1 world champion, which at one point turned into a bitter rivalry. On top of this Senna was very vocal about some of the rules and on and off track issues, in many instances crashing and in another even being disqualified temporally suspended.

Yet even though is may seem this is a documentary made for the Formula One fan, beyond just the structure of the inner workings of the motor-sport we are given an insight to the man himself and those around him, often at times making footage seem almost character driven that while at odds with many, there is still underlying respect. However those who may wonder about his personal life, either due to a directorial decision, lack of footage or out of respect, little is actually known about the man off the track, with the documentary kick starting just as he enters Formula One. On hand this may seem limiting to those less enthusiastic about the motor-sport while on the other hand it doesn’t get bogged down with such details that may make the film appear a little too overly done at times, not being as if its trying to hard make the audience care. Off the track though, the film doesn’t skim on the crisis in Brazil, something that was very important about his public image, that in times of need is what helped make him seem like a beacon of hope in Brazil, in order to show others just why those in the F1 and elsewhere considered him an important figure outside of just being good at his passion. The documentary doesn’t paint him as some messiah, instead just how and why this man had become so popular. The narration itself is accompanied with a brief small subtitle as each give their story. The variety of the narration is what gives the tone legs, in that the contrasting view points allow a little more balance in what is at the end of the day a tribute as well.

Senna was deeply religious but also very much aware of the dangers. In fact, even though there hasn’t been a race related death since 1994, Kapadia also felt the need to portray this by not holding back with footage of other incidents such as Rubens Barrichello literally flying into the sidelines. Despite these occasional harrowing instances, they make the film more real than it already is. In regards to his aforementioned death behind the wheel, it actually (and in all honesty thankfully) doesn’t dwell on it as up to this point the film has been about his life as a racer and anything else might have seemed almost unnecessarily tarnishing. While we do get visuals on the brutal crash and finally his (elaborate) funeral, it is cut up with shots of each of those who attended and them with the man himself. Its pretty emotional stuff.

Without going overly sentimental and getting distracted by the personal details, this may seem less inviting to those other than F1 fans. However I feel Kapadia has not made this case by selecting and structuring the footage and narration that makes Senna inviting yet ultimately compelling. Some may not know much about the man himself, but this documentary does its best to do just that. As for F1 fans, its a no brainer as what we have here is a slice of motor sport history, one that I feel is a great viewing experience for all.

With narration from Ron Denis, Frank Williams, Alain Prost and many others.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Film Review Roundup: May-June

CASUAL NOTE: Busy work hindered any attempts to write up reviews for March and April. However is was somewhat barren anyway. Long story short of those that I saw:

True Grit = Instant western classic, Jeff Bridges always shines.
Source Code = Pretty dam good sci-fi with an unusual approach to science.
Adjustment Bureau = Great concept and well done but nothing special.
Rango = Brilliantly animated and with great characters even with a formulaic story.



(Directed by James Wan, running time 100 minutes)

The “usually” reliable Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a couple of parents who are terrorized from house to house by an unknown apparition. Despite an incredibly stereotypical vintage haunted house meets possessed child premise that has been in bed with film more times than an even more incredibly stereotypical sexual metaphor, a number of well placed heart pounding jump scares and an overall eerily constructed sense of atmosphere gives Insidious a far more legitimate claim to being a “horror” film than most of the poorly scripted torture porn that seems to have fancied itself as such... even if it turns out that the manifestation of evil looks like a cross between Freddy Krueger and Darth Maul.

Also staring Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye and Angus Sampson.


(Directed by Joe Wright, running time 111 minutes)

Action adventure fresh from the United States... and United Kingdom... also Germany, this multicultural ride stars Saoirse Ronan as a teenage super agent “Hanna” trained since birth in secret by a CIA veteran played by Eric Bana, both of which quickly become independently on the run from agency forces led by Cate Blanchett. The national production mixture does lend itself to an entirely unique approach to the action genre to more than just the fact the deadly assassin is a young girl. It’s rather inconsistent style is both its saving grace and downfall at times where on one hand the film can be dark but seedy, action packed but erratic and well scripted but fast to leave plot points and characters. While far from perfect, overall Hanna is definitely one of the most intriguing films of its type, although at times you might even question just what that type of film is.

Also staring Tom Hollander, Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams.

Kung Fu Panda 2

(Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, running time 91 minutes)

Jack Black returns as the voice actor for one of his more likable characters Po the panda in one of Dreamworks’ more enjoyable series. Even though Po has already become a kung fu master, another lesson must be learned, this time finally tackling the issue of his origins that seem to tangle with a current hostile take over of China by a malevolent Peacock voiced by the delightfully over the top Gary Oldman. It’s all harmless fun with simple yet effective gags and some downright beautiful art design and set pieces. This time however Dustin Hoffman’s (in all honesty in-depth) Master Shifu takes a backseat to the less interesting Tigress voiced by Angelina Jolie as the supporting role and the effectively integrated Chinese philosophy of the original has been significantly lessened to make way for more action. Regardless, this is one of those few animated sequels that doesn’t drop the ball.

Plus Jean-Claude Van Dam voices a crocodile.

Also staring David Cross, Seth Rogen and Jackie Chan.

X-Men: First Class

(Directed by Matthew Vaughn, running time 132 minutes)

Following the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the X-Men film franchise appeared close to the brink. Director Matthew Vaughn of Kick-Ass fame saves it from going under with what feels more like a reboot than a prequel. With a fresh young cast, First Class goes to the young adult years of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (Magneto) played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectfully, both being interesting, complex and wholly likable portrayals of the classic Marvel characters. While the side characters may not share the same level of character development, they all do their parts justice with a more three-dimensional Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence and an effective villian of Sebastian Shaw played by the reliable Kevin Bacon as he attempts to kick start World War Three. With a fresh story-arc and more real drama, First Class is a truly well crafted superhero adventure.

Also staring Rose Bryne, Nicolas Hoult and Oliver Platt.


(Directed by Paul Feig, running time 125 minutes)

Yes that's right, I took a gamble.

Co-writer and lead star Kristen Wiig plays a down on her luck single women who is given the role of maid of honor when her best friend played by Maya Rudolph becomes engaged. What follows is a series of hectic and often at times futile attempts at preparation and pre-parties with the other bridemaids who are either desperate or socially suffocated, along with a "best friend" competition with another good friend to the bride to be played by Rose Bryne. There's plenty of unconventional antics on display including some toilet humor more akin to the male-orientated side of group comedy like The Hangover. While this is definitely not a generalization, due to the heavy female cast, there's also plenty of drama and romance thrown in for good measure including a series of "romantic" encounters between the lead actress and Chris O'Dowd IE Roy from The IT Crowd. Even though I will admit the script does occasionally drift beyond one's own personal tastes at times with the heavy handed dramatic moments, many instances seem to be immediately be remedied with some well timed comedy. Most likely better suited for the ladies.

Also staring Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey.

BY THE WAY has anyone noticed that Rose Byrne has appeared in THREE of these films?