THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN – movie review

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
20th Century Fox
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Simon Curtis
Screenwriter: Mark Bomback, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Garth Stein
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Gary Cole, Kathy Baker, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Martin Donovan, voice of Kevin Costner
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 8/1/19
Opens: August 9, 2019

[ ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN POSTER ]

The novel’s first line is “I knew I was different from other dogs,” which may be true but I doubt it. Enzo, a Labrador retriever picked up by race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), is smart but not necessarily brainier than other dogs. We simply do not know how our best friend thinks, what any pup knows, what he is capable to learn about life. We do know, however, that we learn a lot from our dogs, perhaps justifying the bumper sticker I saw once on a humble Kia “The more I know people, the more I love dogs.”

One of Denny’s friends wonders how he can be there for the dog when he’s out of the house zooming down the track at Daytona or some of the lesser locales, a point which comes up painfully past the half point of this film when he stands to lose custody of his daughter, but we’ll get to that. Following the best-selling novel by Garth Stein, Simon Curtis, who directs this adaptation, is in his métier, his last movie being “Goodbye, Christopher Robin,” which deals not with a writer’s inspiration to create a dog movie but close: the writer’s relationship with his son evokes the creation of an anthropomorphic teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh.

As with the novel, Denny picks up this dog, names him Enzo after Enzo Ferrari, Italian motor racing driver and entrepreneur, the founder of the Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix motor racing team, and later of the marque Ferrari. Enzo (the dog) knows that life is not simply one day after another like Groundhog day but something that moves forward like a racing car and eventually sputters out. To this dog, death is not a problem since he is believes in the Mongolian legend that a dog who is “prepared” will be reincarnated in his next life as a human. (One wonders what a really really good dog can become instead.) Enzo is committed to his human since he is not often left alone in Denny’s modest quarters but is taken with him in the racing car, looking out the window, and loving everything about life.

His days as an “only son” are limited as Denny meets, courts, and marries Eve (Amanda Seyfried), they have a beautiful daughter Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), though Denny is considered a poor match by Eve’s parents, Trish Swift (Kathy Baker) and especially her dad Maxwell Swift (Martin Donovan). Maxwell believes that race car driving is dangerous, that his son-in-law could be injured or killed on the track, all of which makes it ironic that Eve is the one who develops a serious illness (the word “cancer” is never mentioned), looks really bad after chemo treatments (if you believe that Amanda Seyfried could ever look bad), and will die.

After Eve’s death, a lawsuit is pursued by Zoe’s grandfather asking custody of the girl since he is rich and could give the girl the kind of life she presumably deserves. Though Denny’s lawyer suggests that his client compromise and accept part custody, Denny has learned a lesson that he picked up through his racing career. Don’t panic. Never Quit. Life has its ups and downs just as drivers can win some and lose some. By the time that Enzo is fifteen years old, the dog has learned more about the human condition from observing his human beings who love him that most people ever do.

The result is a comedy drama which may or may not be suitable for children. It has a PG rating, presumably because there’s no sex or violence, but you can judge whether your small fry is up to seeing a mighty pale Amanda Seyfried and observe an old dog just lying around, ball-chasing days over, close to death. The tale is based on the true experiences of Garth Stein, who was inspired to write after watching the 1998 Mongolian documentary “State of Dogs,” then hearing poet Billy Collins give a reading of “The Revenant” told from a dog’s point of view. Stein was himself a race car driver who left the field after crashing while racing in the rain, and director Simon Curtis, using a script by Mark Bomback that pays due respect to the best-seller, turns out a sentimental, two-hanky movie with several comic turns, but one which might tempt the child who accompanies you to the multiplex to cry until you get him a dog.

The narration throughout by Kevin Costner emphasizes dog as philosopher in a film that does not condescend but rather one that has ample entertainments even for arrogant humans who think they are smarter than Enzo.

109 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

GAVAGAI – movie review

GAVAGAI

Shadow Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Rob Tregenza
Screenwriter:  Kirk Kjeldsen, Rob Tregenza
Cast: Andreas Lust, Mikkel Gaup, Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Joakim Nango, Kim Robin Svartdal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/18
Opens: August 3, 2018 in NY.  August 10, 2018 in L.A.
Gavagai
“Gavagai” is an invented word in an imagined language that is subject to different interpretations. The term comes from the book “Word and Object” from W.V.O. Quine—a major philosopher whose Wikipedia article challenges us to understand his point of view.
“Gavagai” the film is from an American director, Rob Tregenza, using an Austrian actor, Andreas Lust as the principal character, a Finnish girl in the role of a woman being courted, and a Norwegian, Mikkel Gaup, who serves as a safari guide to Norway’s elk country.  Written by the director with co-writer Kirk Kjeldsen, the film adds class in the form of frequent quotes from the poetry of Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970).  The spare dialogue is mostly English though the tour guide speaks to his countrymen in Norwegian.

This is a most unusual film, one that is boldly original and exceptionally lyrical, rejected by several film festivals including those in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and London perhaps because it is too highbrow even for the judges.  Yet it is in no way a complex puzzle of the sort that makes people wonder, such as “Last Year at Marienbad” and “Veronique,” but is for the patient viewer who  revels in the type of cinema that penetrates life as shown by the contrasting personalities of a grief-stricken foreign tourist and his earthbound guide.

This is a road-and-buddy movie, the buddy part coming alive during the concluding moments when the two travelers for the first time laugh out loud at a mishap in the Mercedes.  The German businessman who is not named (Andreas Lust) carries an urn with the ashes of his recently departed wife, a woman who appears as an apparition as though stalking her ex-lover.  He is on the way to Vinje, Norway, the home of the poet Tarjei Vesaas with the elite project: to translate the poet’s works into Chinese. But he does not know how to drive.  In a village in the Telemark region of Norway, he hires a guide who advertises elk safari tours, offering 3000 kronas ($367) each way if he would take the grieving fellow to a remote destination unreachable by other means.  For most of the trip the traveler keeps to himself, even refusing the invitation to share the front seat with the guide.  In one scene, the guide takes a break to try to reconcile himself with an angry girlfriend (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), bringing her flowers but achieving nothing.

Doubling as cinematographer, Rob Tregenza unfolds the beauty of Norwegian heartland, hilly and green, indicating how few people live in the small towns that each house is remote from its nearest neighbor’s.  Mari (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who is being courted, hangs her wash outside barely paying attention to the entreaties of her lover, with whom she has obviously had an argument.

Tregenza’s most notable previous feature, “Talking to Strangers,” found the American developing nine incidents in the same non-jazzy style of his current offering, which will appeal to an audience that does not require either bursts of melodrama or whodunit mystery.  The rewards are there for such people, though you would not expect this to open in many areas outside New York (August 3, 2018) and Los Angeles (August 10, 2018).

Tarjei Vesaas would be thrilled by the film.  His poems deal with the big issues: death, guilt, angst, intractable grief, all artfully embedded here.  Among his quotes, one that would apply beautifully to this film is: “Anyone who absolutely has to understand everything he sees misses a lot.”

Unrated.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+