Tag Archives: James Mangold

Nice Guys Finish Last

Ford v Ferrari

by Matt Weiner

Director James Mangold has a knack for turning the comfortable biopic formula into something genuinely gripping, even when it’s not surprising. In the case of Ford v Ferrari, the film manages to be both.

Anchored by contrasting performances from Matt Damon as the legendary racer and auto engineer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as his prickly driver of choice Ken Miles, Ford v Ferrari condenses the staid American automaker’s quest to challenge Ferrari’s dominance in sports car racing as a way of injecting the company with a shot of glamor for younger car buyers.

The site chosen for that showdown is the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, a grueling endurance race that no American-made car had yet to win. Shelby previously notched a victory with an Aston Martin in 1959 before retiring as a driver due to health problems.

Although Shelby and Miles were accomplished designers and engineers, the story (by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller) uses a light touch when it comes to detailing the actual car building. There’s almost as much time spent in the boardroom as there is on the racetrack.

And the film is all the better for it, as the conflict turns out to be less about Ferrari and more between the misfits Shelby and Miles and the rigid executives at Ford. (The exception is Lee Iacocca, archly portrayed by Jon Bernthal as a budding Don Draper of Detroit.)

But Ford v Ferrari is still a racing movie, and Mangold delivers when the action moves onto the track. In fact he probably deserves extra credit for heightening the tension during a 24-hour endurance race. How many tea breaks were there in Days of Thunder?

There are also the requisite glimpses of danger (this is a biopic), but the script—and especially Bale’s giddy Miles—bring out the meditative joy as well. It hasn’t been this entertaining to hear Bale yell at people in his accent since Terminator Salvation.

Miles and Shelby get a bit of the tortured artist treatment, but just a bit. The film is after something that in its own small way is more subversive: the friendship, love and respect these men have for each other. (Yes, the focus is almost entirely on men, boys and their toys, but at least Caitriona Balfe gets to do more than sketch the faintest outlines of a long-suffering wife. Barely.)

The film builds to the race in France, but Mangold is in top form when he’s remixing and interrogating Americana, from country in Walk the Line to the western in Logan. Ford v Ferrari continues these reflections on our most storied icons, and the world-weary characters who must bear those burdens for the myth to survive.

I Hurt Myself Today

Logan

by Hope Madden

At the close of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) gazes with befuddled joy at his beloved colleagues (one more beloved than others), his own ugly history and the dire fate of his breed now expunged. Remember?

Expect nothing so precious from James Mangold or Logan.

Set just a handful of years into the future, the film sees the most haunted of the X-Men – a guy around 200 years old by now – really beginning to show some wear and tear. Limping, scarred, drunk and mean, Logan no longer heals quite the way he used to. His beard is grey, his hero days long gone.

The last mutant was born more than 25 years ago. Nowadays, Logan drives a limo and uses the cash to grab dementia meds he brings across the border to his old father figure, Charles Xavier.

Bloody and bleak, tossing F-bombs and the franchise’s first flash of nudity, Logan is not like the other X-Men.

Or is he? A little girl claws her way into his life, and suddenly it’s evil scientists, armed goons and genetically enhanced villains all over again.

The villains won’t leave an impression, but the film will.

Logan relies on themes of redemption – a superhero’s favorite. Mangold pulls ideas from Children of Men and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but his film reminds me more of The Girl with All the Gifts. (If you haven’t seen it, you should.)

The point? The children are our future and Logan’s real battle has always been with himself. Almost literally, in this case.

He fights others, too, don’t fret. Indeed, you will see those claws tear into more flesh in this film than in all previous efforts combined. The violence in Logan is more unhinged, bloody and satisfying, too.

Even more startling is the behavior of Logan’s tiny feral beast, Laura (Dafne Keen). Oh, this movie has a body count – at least two of them headless.

It has an emotional center as well – which is not to say Logan works on all fronts. It’s lacking as the family drama it flirts with becoming, and can’t hold its own as a road movie, either. The narrative can’t find momentum.

But as an opportunity for Hugh Jackman to put his most iconic character to bed, it’s sometimes amazing.





Sideburns and Samurai

The Wolverine

by Hope Madden

The Wolverine seems invulnerable, but on the inside, he’s a heartbroken, wounded mess. Doesn’t that make him dreamy?

Ever since he had to go and kill Jean – the psychotic, clairvoyant killing machine and love of his life – he hasn’t been the same. He just exists, just goes on, pointlessly … kind of like this movie.

The latest in the X-Men franchise is certainly a let down from 2011’s exceptionally fun and clever X-Men: First Class. This episode finds Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) holed up in a cave, living the life of a semi-boozy hermit, befriended, or at least tolerated, by a neighboring grizzly. But he’s lured out of hermitage by some dangerously incompetent hunters and a sword-wielding young woman with a request from Logan’s past.

Come to Tokyo, she says. I’ll have you home tomorrow, she says.

Wolverine is quickly sucked into yakuza/ninja/samurai/mutant/romantic intrigue.

In Japan we’re treated to too  much sentiment, not enough action, and not nearly enough opportunity for Jackman to break out of Logan’s morose romanticism and crack a few jokes. Director James Mangold’s preoccupied with honor, courage and love – solid enough staples for a samurai-tinged action film, but a humorless Wolverine is just no fun at all.

The film takes a comic book hero, casts him as a routine vampire cliché (the tragic-romantic immortal who wishes to be human), then paints everything with a mixture of several eras of Japanese crime cinema. But vampires and samurai tales require blood, and lots of it. Comic book movies – even when the hero slashes through everything with metal claws – are bloodless. The combination just doesn’t work.

Mangold continues to take the X-Men path less traveled by supplying so very few mutants. One common weakness of late-franchise superhero flicks is that they throw dozens of villains at you in the hopes of drawing your attention away from script weaknesses. Mangold has the bravery to avoid this gimmick, supplying only on mutant villain, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova – whose name is exponentially more interesting than her character).

The result? We can see how weak his script is.

The Wolverine does boast some cool action sequences – especially that bit on top of the train – and Jackman has more than enough talent and brawn to keep the movie interesting. But mostly the film dives into Logan’s internal scarring and seeks to help him appreciate his immortality and his purpose. Maybe next he can rediscover his sense of humor.

Verdict-2-5-Stars