Auto racing pictures like “Days of Thunder” and “Driven” really aren’t my bag, baby. My favorite drive-fast movies are “Death Race 2000” and “The Love Bug.” James Mangold’s “Ford v. Ferrari” (2019, Fox, 152 min.) grabbed me right from the get-go because it’s a fascinating slice of automotive history that I knew nothing about, and because it tells the surprising story of auto designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). (I found out after seeing the movie that there are two Netflix documentaries that cover the same ground.)
Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) convinces Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) that Ford Motors should get into the auto racing game by participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford proposes a partnership with Fiat that ends up imploding. Shelby and Miles are hired by Ford and given a blank check to get them a place at the starting line.
I like James Mangold because he makes movies for adults, muscular yet emotional pictures like “Logan” and his remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” Because Ford v Ferrari is a great true tale, Mangold is the right guy to craft an auto racing movie that may indeed have visual effects from one end to the other and yet still feels real, raw and in your face. And Damon and Bale are the right guys to lead one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. You can practically smell the burning rubber and oil.
λ λ λ
Director Jay Roach made his bones with the raucous and raunchy “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Fockers” film franchises, but in the last 12 years has shifted to pointed and sardonic political films made for HBO; my favorite is “Game Change,” the Sarah Palin film starring Julianne Moore. Roach’s latest, from a screenplay by Charles Randolph, is “Bombshell” (2019, Lionsgate, 108 mins.), about the Roger Ailes sexual harassment case in the runup to the 2016 election as seen through the perspective of Fox News personalities Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil – a composite character (Margot Robbie).
At first, Bombshell doesn’t feel focused, as the first third of the film concentrates on Donald Trump’s Twitter war with Kelly. But from the moment we meet Kate McKinnon as a lesbian news producer – another composite – the film’s Rashomon structure regarding what awful things may have happened in Ailes’ (John Lithgow) office coalesce and become sickeningly real for everyone involved. McKinnon’s engaged and spontaneous supporting performance sets the tone for the cast, which includes veteran character actors Stephen Root, Alison Janney and Brooke Smith.
It’s good to have a smart and barbed picture like Bombshell out there, not just as a document of the Me Too movement, but to point out the ugly truth that Ailes and Bill O’Reilly left Fox News with bigger golden parachutes than the accusers combined.
One step forward, two steps back…
λ λ λ
There I was, all set to watch “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019, Sony, 109 mins.). I hope the people sitting next to me weren’t weirded out when I swapped my suit coat for a sweater and changed from my dress shoes into sneakers. To say nothing of how I managed to get a piano into the theater.
That’s Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers on the poster, but the beloved PBS icon is really a supporting character in this movie. Actually, he’s more like the Wizard of Oz. Based on a famous 1998 profile in Esquire, the film is about a cynical writer (Matthew Rhys) coming to terms with his family after being assigned to profile Rogers.
I was a Mr. Rogers kid as far back as I can remember, and sure enough, the combination of Hanks’ performance, the letter-perfect recreation of the sets and puppets, and Rogers’ utter lack of guile left me weeping at least four times during the film. And there are visual surprises related to the way Rogers sees the world that bowled me over because I suppose I was expecting a much more conventional film. I’ll leave them as surprises for you.