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Arts & Culture

Cinema Junkie Separates The Good From The Bad At Cinemas

Annette Bening plays Senator Dianne Feinstein and Adam Driver is Daniel Jones in "The Report."
Amazon Studios
Annette Bening plays Senator Dianne Feinstein and Adam Driver is Daniel Jones in "The Report."

It's 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'The Report' and 'Warrior Queen of Jhansi'

Cinema Junkie Separates The Good From The Bad This Weekend

There are a number of new films besides Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman" in theaters and here's the best and the worst of them.

'Ford v Ferrari'

"Ford v Ferrari" serves up a fascinating true story about two iconic car companies facing off at Le Mans in France. In the 1960s, Ferrari (Remo Girone) owned Le Mans and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is encouraged by one of his executives, a young Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to take him on. The film is less about those famous brands of the title and more about the two men — car designer Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (a wonderful Christian Bale) — who designed and raced the Ford car that would challenge Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans in France.

The film is well-acted and compelling in its portrait of all the players, showing how the corporate world of Ford Motor Co. needed the talents of gearheads Shelby and Miles but had a hard time dealing with their inability to toe the company line. The film conveys the infuriating sense of control and carefully curated brand image that Ford wants to maintain so while you want to see Shelby and Miles succeed, you also feel some regret that they have to work for Ford.

Director James Mangold is good at coaching performances from his cast but he doesn’t quite put you in the driver’s seat and make you feel the grease in the pit. Someone like George Miller always makes you feel the speed and danger of fast cars in his "Mad Max" films, but Mangold doesn't have that same sensibility of knowing where to put the camera to make you feel what the driver feels hitting the track at 200-plus mph and facing dangerous curves in dark, rainy conditions.

"Ford v Ferrari" is an entertaining film that captures the corporate world better than the racing one. It does give us some insights into what goes on in the pit as crews during the 24-hour Le Mans play mind games with each other, but the film needed more of that to lift it to a higher plane.

'The Report'

An engrossing true story provides the basis for "The Report" and it begins with a question, "Why would the CIA torture people, lie about it and then hide it from history?" The film and actor Adam Driver as Daniel Jones then bury their heads in millions of pages of documents to try and deliver the answer. The film is a kindred spirit to "All the President's Men" in terms of being a political procedural, but instead of reporters investigating it is a senate committee looking into the activities of the CIA in post 9/11 America.

The film is earnest and impassioned as it serves up a story people need to be more familiar with. But on a certain level, it feels a little like eating your vegetables. It's not that the film is badly made but it doesn't have the intensity of Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" or the dark humor of Adam McKay's "Vice," both of which expose us to some of the same material. It's a film that preaches to the converted and will not change any minds on the topic but it is good to have a film like this to remind us how fragile truth can be in an age when documents are readily destroyed and new technology is changing how we hold on to or lose our history.

"The Report" (playing through Nov. 28 at Digital Gym Cinema)is a film worth seeing to appreciate the long battle to get the Torture Report out and into the public record.

The poster art for "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi."
Roadside Attractions
The poster art for "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi."

'The Warrior Queen of Jhansi'

And finally an epic true tale of "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi" recounts an amazing chapter in history but sadly director/co-writer Swati Bhise and co-writer/star Devika Bhise don't have the skill to bring Rani Lakshmibai's story to vivid life.

The film plays like an afternoon school special designed to inspire young girls but with a weird message. At one point when the queen (wearing pearls and without a hair out of place) is training women to fight she says she wants them to look beautiful so they will turn heads before decapitating the enemy and making heads roll.

But the film feels as real as a Disneyland ride. It never feels authentic or lived in. Bhise's direction is obvious in every way, be it moving a shot from the queen plotting legal strategy to a chessboard conveniently placed in the foreground or pounding in her feminist message about how Rani surprised both the British and her own people.

Then there is an awkward sense of trying to connect this celebration of a violent warrior queen to Gandhi's picking up the baton of resistance in the 1940s. But the film fails to point out that he chose the very different route of non-violence.

"The Warrior Queen of Jhansi" (screens through Nov. 21 at select San Diego theaters) is disappointing because while I am glad it opened my eyes to this warrior woman of the 1800s who dared defy the British, I'm frustrated that the filmmakers failed to find a way to bring the story to life with more artistry.