Month: March 2018

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

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The inspiring true story of Burt Munro, the New Zealander who set the land speed motorcycle record in 1967, a record which still stands today.

Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) leads a simple life in the peaceful, sleepy town of Invercargill, New Zealand. For years, he has been tinkering with and perfecting his streamlined Indian motorcycle, which he plans to use to break the land speed record during “Speed Week” at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

While occasionally annoying the neighborhood by revving his engines at 6 AM (and refusing to mow his lawn!), Burt is still well-liked in Invercargill due to his trademark ingenuity and boyish charm. He takes local ladies out to community dances. He lets his impressionable young neighbor, Thomas (Aaron Murphy), help him out around his workshop. And he inspires lots of his friends with his dogged pursuit of greatness.

Once satisfied with the engineering performance of his Indian, Burt decides to go to the States for Speed Week. Although his fellow Kiwis wish him well, Burt draws polarizing reactions when he reaches America. Nonetheless, Burt meets and wins over numerous locals due to his gregarious personality and determination. However, he encounters numerous challenges while driving up to Utah, and needs everything to go right in order to make a positive impression. Can Burt’s unflappable nature withstand unforeseen obstacles?

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The World’s Fastest Indian is a delightful experience. Perfectly-paced and very entertaining, the movie is anchored by Hopkins’s brilliant performance as Burt Munro. Right off the bat, Munro is a guy that we want to cheer for, and the film shows the instant impact that the courageous New Zealander had on everyone he met. The fact that Burt goes over 200 miles per hour on his bike seems almost like an added bonus due to his decency and generosity.

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Kiwi director Roger Donaldson had previously helmed a short documentary about Munro in 1971 and had long desired to make a feature film about him as well. Donaldson was also fortunate to have a relationship with Hopkins, whom he had directed previously in the 1985 version of The Bounty.  Hopkins later recalled that Munro was one of the easiest characters he had ever played, given that their lives resemble each other.

While some aspects of the film are fictionalized, Donaldson elected to go for a sense of realism as much as possible, shooting many scenes on location in Invercargill and using some of Munro’s own tools as props (at the time, most were still on display at Invercargill’s Southland Museum). The movie also shows some of the health issues that Munro experienced — including angina, which led to his eventual death from a stroke in January 1978.

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Upon its release in 2005, The World’s Fastest Indian broke box office records in New Zealand and received hefty critical acclaim as well. Critic Peter Calder of the New Zealand Herald expressed his annoyance that Hopkins, a Welshman, didn’t attempt the “Southland burr” — the Scottish-inspired drawl that is unique to Invercargill — but otherwise loved the movie. “Hopkins gives a generous, genial and utterly approachable performance … he nails the backyard eccentric genius dead centre. He has inhaled the nature of a mid-century Kiwi bloody good bloke and he inhabits the part to perfection.”

Beautifully shot and very well-acted, The World’s Fastest Indian is a fun and spirited adventure. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

  • Written and directed by Roger Donaldson
  • Produced by Roger Donaldson and Gary Hannam
  • Starring Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Murphy, Tessa Mitchell, Iain Rea, Annie Whittle, Greg Johnson, Kate Sullivan, Antony Starr
  • Director of Photography — David Gribble
  • Music by J. Peter Robinson
  • Edited by John Gilbert
  • Rated PG-13 for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference
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The Master (2012)

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A boozy, self-destructive WWII veteran falls in with a bizarre seafaring cult led by the charismatic Lancaster Dodd.

In post-WWII America, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a volatile US Navy veteran who has resorted to sex and liquor in order to feel like himself again. One late night in San Francisco, Freddie drunkenly stumbles aboard a large yacht. When he awakens, he discovers that he is surrounded by members of “The Cause”, a bizarre philosophical and spiritual cult headed by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Part self-help guru, part spiritual father, Dodd immediately takes an interest in Freddie and offers him to join their group. With few options left, Freddie becomes involved with The Cause and undergoes numerous psychological tests in order to progress to a higher state of being. Along the way, he makes the acquaintance of various fellow voyagers, including Dodd’s much younger wife, Peggy (Amy Adams) and his increasingly skeptical son Val (Jesse Plemons).

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The Master was released in 2012 as the brainchild of acclaimed writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie NightsThere Will Be Blood). Controversy followed the film’s release due to the cult in the movie being compared to Scientology, but The Master received hefty critical acclaim — all three of its leads (Hoffman, Phoenix, and Adams) earned Academy Award nominations for their work.

The movie, which premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, underperformed at the box office, but still received rave reviews from Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. Sadly, it was also the fifth and final collaboration between Anderson and Hoffman, the latter of whom died tragically in February 2014 of a drug overdose.

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Anderson is widely known as a courageous risk-taker in the industry, bending the rules of filmmaking to his advantage. To be sure, he’s a director that I respect due to his habit of making innovative, technically proficient projects. The Master has an authentic old-school feel to it, having been shot on 70mm film, and Anderson certainly did his homework on the time period. The Master takes place in a 1950s America where a Navy veteran lacks fulfillment in his life and struggles to re-enter civilian society. The film doesn’t shy away from weighty subjects and features some very powerful performances, smart dialogue, and excellent cinematography and music.

However, The Master doesn’t have enough forward momentum, narratively speaking, to sustain all of its important themes. The film feels more like a series of interconnected vignettes as opposed to a cohesive, traditional story. I’ll give Anderson & Co. credit for taking risks and creating a great-looking movie. But ultimately, The Master doesn’t quite reach masterpiece level due to its own internal contradictions and a labored third act.

Grade: C+

  • Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi, and Megan Ellison
  • Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Rami Malek, Ambyr Childers
  • Director of Photography — Mihai Malaimare Jr.
  • Music by Jonny Greenwood
  • Edited by Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty
  • Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language.