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Non-Review Review: Pavarotti

Pavarotti is pretty much exactly what one might expect from a Ron Howard documentary looking at the life of Luciano Pavarotti.

Howard is often overlooked or dismissed as a filmmaker, in large part because he never cultivated the same sort of auteur persona associated with other great American directors like Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. Indeed, it’s often quite difficult to pin down what exactly makes a Ron Howard film distinctly his own, which is something of a compliment. Howard has a versatility and adaptability that makes him one of the most enduring and successful major American film directors, with his filmography including films as diverse as Splash, Willow, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind and The DaVinci Code.

Nailing the high note.

However, there are certain recurring motifs that can be spotted in his work. In particular, Howard has something of a minor fascination with competence, returning time and time again to the idea of people who are very good at doing what they do. Some of Howard’s best films read as odes to competence, simply watching highly capable people in tense situations, demonstrating their skill and craft; Apollo 13, Rush and even Frost/Nixon. It is tempting to read far too much into this, to ask whether Howard sees something of himself in his subjects, the skilled craftsman who delivers exactly what’s needed more times than not.

This perhaps explains the shape of Pavarotti, Howard’s latest effort. It is a film that is very much interested in the how of its subject, more than the why. The film largely avoids trying to explain the eponymous tenor, and comes alive when discussing the maestro‘s technique, craft and organisation. There is a genuine appreciation of the skill and technique on display in Pavarotti, which is very engaged in the mechanics of how the singer accomplished so much of what he did – both in terms of actual performance, but also in terms of business management. The only problem is that this doesn’t leave much room for Pavarotti as a man.

Scoring highly.

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134. Rush (#206)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Grace Duffy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Ron Howard’s Rush.

In the early seventies, the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda was the stuff of legend among Formula 1 enthusiasts. Two very different men competing for every different reasons, Hunt and Lauda formed an unlikely bond that sustained and motivated both of them to push themselves further than their limits.

At time of recording, it was ranked 206th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #20!

We’re continuing to work through a bit of a backlog on the Scannain podcast.

This episode from early June finds myself, Grace Duffy and Jason Coyle discussing the week in film news, Irish and international. Along the way, there’s time to discuss the joys of Mamma Mia, the complicated relationship that we have with Ridley Scott and which Ridley Scott appears to have with Alien: Covenant, along with the massive controversy over Roseanne. Oh, and the box office returns on Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s a relatively quiet week for new releases including Book Club, Lamont Double and My Friend Dahmer.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Non-Review Review: The Heart of the Sea

The Heart of the Sea is well-made, and full of all manner of interesting dynamics and clever set-ups. Pitting man against nature is always a sure recipe for drama, and stranding a bunch of people in the middle of the ocean adds all sorts of unique tensions. Survival drama is powerful, resonating with key themes about man’s endurance and limitations. Putting a bunch of talented actors in boat together under the eye of a talented director will get you half-way to a good film.

The problem with The Heart of the Sea is that it lacks focus. It is a film that is never entire sure what it is about, or how it wants to be about it. Is it an environmentalist fable about mankind’s hubris and arrogance? Is it the tale of the lengths to which a man will do to survive? Is it a tale of two competing egos and the live entrusted to their care? Is it a secret history of Moby Dick, the great American novel? The answer is that The Heart of the Sea tries to be all of these things, but never quite consistently and never entirely thoroughly.

Good Whale Hunting. (Courtesy of Niall Murphy.)

Good Whale Hunting.
(Courtesy of Niall Murphy.)

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My 12 for ’13: Rush & Picking Sides

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 3…

Rush is something of a companion piece to Frost/Nixon. Writer Peter Morgan re-teamed with director Ron Howard to offer a definitive take on another contest of wills, documenting the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda across the 1976 Formula One season. An account of a rather famous piece of sporting history, you could accuse Rush of being a bit formulaic, but the key is the skill with which Morgan and Lauda manage to execute that formula.

rush2

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Non-Review Review: Rush

In many ways, Rush quite resembles the last collaboration between director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan. Both are built around contests between two larger-than-life personalities. One is old-fashioned and conservative, averse to risk and obsessed with victory; the other is young and impetuous, arrogant and self-assured without the experience to back that up. However, while Rush lacks the screen presence of performers Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, it benefits greatly from the fact that it refuses to choose a side.

As much as Frost/Nixon might have offered a slightly more sympathetic-than-usual Nixon, it was clear that the audience was intended to root against the corrupt former president, and champion the ascension of young up-and-comer David Frost. Rush manages a more delicate balance, firmly refusing to favour one protagonist over the other. Both the reckless young go-getter and the safety-conscious number-cruncher are portrayed as sympathetic and well-developed characters.

This makes Rush that rarest of sports movies: the one where the audience is rooting for both contenders.

Not quite to Formula...

Not quite to Formula…

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Done in 60 Seconds: An Interview with Andrew Norton

We might not be the best team in the world at soccer, we might not be the favourites to take home a record-shattering amount of gold medals in London, but the Irish have always had a bit of a cultural charm. This year, we were lucky enough to be represented at the final of the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds competition, with Andrew Norton’s condensed spoof of the iconic District 9 landing a place among 29 international contenders on a shortlist including entries from Kazakhstan, Russia, Latvia, Israel, Sweden and the Ukraine, among others. I had the pleasure of chatting very briefly about putting the sixty-second clip together, breaking into short-film making and the perils of looking like a security guard on the red carpet.

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