Wednesday, November 20, 2019


Rated:  PG-13

STARS:  Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
GENRE: Action-Adventure/ Drama

It's The Little Old Lady From Pasadena! Go granny...go granny...go granny go! I thought I saw her in the audience on the edge of her seat, enjoying this one immensely. She's part of the target audience, along with teenage boys who love anything that is loud and fast (which explains some of the poor choices we make in choosing mates later on in life). For the rest of us good citizens who fall somewhere in the middle, driving defensively and observing the rules of the road, the testosterone fueled Ford v Ferrari is just a wild fantasy about what it would be like to be a high profile race car driver--where you're not even obligated to flash the middle finger while driving like a maniac, an everyday scenario out on the roadways of every city. A (mostly) true story of big rich boys and their toys. 

We all like an underdog, and this is your classic underdog tale, focusing on the 1966 Twenty-Four Hours Of Le Mans where Ford had employed all of its ingenuity and technical know how to develop a car that would challenge the long standing dominance of Ferrari. 

The principal players are Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to that point to win at LeMans, now retired from active racing. And hotheaded Brit Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the best race driver around, but he comes with lots of baggage in the trunk. The familiar talented rebel versus the corporate suits scenario. Shelby becomes the intermediary between Miles and the corporate stiffs--headed by Henry Ford II, played with icy disdain by Tracy Letts-- in his efforts to get Miles accepted as Ford's lead driver at LeMans.

This is Christian Bale's movie. He nails his tough-as- nails character. On the other hand, Matt Damon is always going to have that baby-faced boy next door look even when he's ninety. It's a problem, because his mug doesn't show the depth of character required for playing some of these tough (physically or mentally) guy roles. 

Irish born former model Caitriona Balfe (with a name like that she's got to be good), who plays Ken Miles' wife, gets to shine in a scene where she is driving her husband in the family wagon and decides to show him a thing or two about taking chances at the wheel. (She's really pissed off!) Ironically, it's the most harrowing scene in the movie.

Ford v Ferrari is LOUD! The screech of the tires...the roar of the engines...the smell of the crowd (I saw the IMAX version). I sat there with my thumbs in my ears for 90 percent of the film, and it's two and a half hours long. But the adrenaline rush you'll get may be worth it. The racing scenes are among the most breathtaking that I've seen on film.  

Back in the day, there was always some semi-knowledgeable gear head who would stand there with a cig dangling from his lips who would tell you that Fords were crap. Ford v Ferrari seems to disprove that notion. At least for one magical moment in time.

Grade:  B +


This movie proves one thing to me: I can be wrong. Before seeing Ford v Ferrari, I had serious misgivings. How was I going to stand watching fast cars whir around hairpin turns for 2½ hours? Since I've always been partial to Christian Bale – except as Dick Cheney in Vice and Michael Burry in The Big Short – figured I could suffer through the racing bits.

That was my first wrong assumption: those 'racing bits' were mesmerizing! Even for an anti Nascar person like me (who assumes anyone who's into that sort of nonsense is brain dead), I was hooked. Every time that speedometer needle went into the red zone, my heart stopped. I don't know how director James Mangold filmed those racing sequences but they made me—and everybody else in the audience—feel like I was behind the wheel. Truly great cinematography!

My second wrong assumption was about Matt Damon who has never turned my crank. (I figure a motor metaphor is apt here.) His asymmetrical nose bothers me for some reason. But in this movie, I bought his character's love of racing, his commitment to the sport, and his total respect for Ken Miles. He seemed totally authentic. I would've preferred fewer yes men around Henry Ford II. And fewer shots of mechanics changing tires. But on the whole this is one helluva movie. (I was glad they showed the real people it was based on at the end.)

The fellow I went with is a fan of car racing. He felt there was too much personal stuff in the movie (i.e. the fight between the two main characters, the family subplot, etc.). For him, it took away from the action. For me, it added to it. But to paraphrase an old saying, "That's what makes car races!"

I don't think Bale or Damon will be nominated for Oscars but I do think Tracy Letts (who also wrote August: Osage County) could be.

Grade: B+


Thursday, November 14, 2019


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

When I saw the previews for Last Christmas I thought great, here's a perfectly timed romantic comedy for the holidays inspired by the songs of George Michael! I like the holidays and I like George Michael--especially the now classic song from whence the movie takes its name. So I was looking forward to seeing it. I even thought it might have a Love Actually vibe to it (one of my all-time favorite films). But any similarity between Last Christmas and Love Actually was strictly the product of my overly optimistic and misguided imagination.

Last Christmas is a Lifetime channel movie all the way--except instead of being on your TV it's up on the big screen and you get to pay for the pleasure of luxuriating in its vacuous millennial-ness.

Emilia Clarke is Kate, who works as a Christmas elf in a year-round holiday themed shop in London. She's estranged from her family, and is homeless by choice, crashing wherever she can wangle a place for the night--male accompaniment (but not batteries) sometimes included. It gets her (and her wicket) in some sticky situations. She's spinning her wheels, much like the go-nowhere plot during most of this movie.

Then along comes Tom (Henry Golding) who takes a persistent interest in her. Before long he has broken down her wary resistance, imploring her to always LOOK UP! When she does, a bird craps on her face, much to the delight of the sniggering adolescent who lives on inside of me.

There is something off about Tom. He shows up, then repeatedly disappears, much to the chagrin and frustration of Kate. That's tied in with the BIG TWIST near the end, which I didn't see coming because I nodded off a couple of times and missed a few things. 

Clarke is just eye candy here, she's not going to win any acting awards. Emma Thompson, however, who co-wrote the screenplay, is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. So you wonder why she'd want this stinker on her resume. She plays Kate's mother, with a sincere but not terribly convincing Balkan accent (the family are immigrants from the former Yugoslavia).

In the numerous ways that Last Christmas is disappointing, the biggest is that we only hear a snippet of the title song by George Michael over the opening credits. It returns near the end, performed in heartwarming fashion by Clarke and a cadre of "lovable" bums and eccentrics who frequent the homeless shelter where she volunteers. It's all warm and fuzzy, and it's the high point of the film, inspiring me to raise my rating one notch above what I could have given the movie. Because's Christmas!

Grade:  D


In all six years that I've been contributing to this blog, I don't believe I've ever graded a movie with an "F." Until now. Emma Thompson – a fine actress who has won 2 Oscars: Best Actress, Howards End, 1993; Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Sense and Sensibility, 1996) –should be dipped in a vat of Christmas pudding for her involvement in this 'badbuster' bomb. Not only did she act (overact, really), she co-created the story (such as it was), co-wrote the script (such as that was) and produced the bloody film.

Inspired by George Michael's lyrics from Last Christmas, the words are worth quoting: Last Christmas...I gave you my heart...But the very next day you gave it away...This year...To save me from tears...I'll give it to someone special

Clearly Ms. Thompson and her English cronies thought taking those words literally would make an instant hit. (In cardiac circles, maybe.) But give me a break. Just for the hell of it, I looked up "Movies Based On Song Titles." Would you like to take a guess how many have hit the big screen? 138! That's right. Here are a few that built their film foundation on Christmas ditties: White Christmas (1954), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), All I Want For Christmas (1991), I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998), Deck the Halls (2006), to name a few.

My advice? If you're looking for a mistletoe high, rent White Christmas. You sure as snowballs won't get it from Last Christmas!

Grade: F