Yes, it's a 'Rush,' plus a preview of KIFF 2013

Like the best sports movies, the 1970s-set Formula One racing drama “Rush” doesn’t just use its sport as a backdrop. Instead, courtesy of its go-for-broke cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, it conveys the thrill of the sport and the glamour of the lifestyle, while screenwriter Peter Morgan explores the drive of two men who took it to new levels.

Ron Howard is the director who puts it together, and although passion and energy are not two things usually associated with most of Howard’s films (which beyond his lifeless Dan Brown adaptations have been at least narratively sturdy), but “Rush” is dripping with both. It’s a two-hour film that never feels long, even when it slows down for a pit stop.

Neither of the two warring main characters of “Rush” are traditionally likeable, and each is assigned their own defining traits for the purpose of the film, leaving its actors to breathe full life into them. Englishman James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) is a risk-taking womanizer, and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) takes a calculated approach to everything, from romance to engine torque.

Their rivalry already the stuff of legend, “Rush” brings it to dynamic life, giving us just enough background on their personal and professional journeys up to 1976 — and then focusing the remainder of the film on their race for the Grand Prix title that year, which has enough drama for an entire miniseries. If anything, Morgan had to pick and choose which mini soap operas to dramatize and which to leave out.

“Rush” already has a tightly focused theme of how rivalries can raise competition to unheard of levels — and the lengths to which people will go to achieve their goals — so it is especially frustrating in the film’s final scenes when this is explicitly spelled out for the audience with some redundant dialogue. Then again, subtlety isn’t its strong point.

Mantle’s colorful, high-contrast images evoke the period beautifully while never seeing like a parody of the '70s. The racing scenes are dizzying. Quick-take point-of-view shots alternate from various spots inside the car and on the track, while engines roar away. The stakes for each race are clearly set out, and the result is thrilling.

The 13th Annual Kansas International Film Festival is showing over 50 films from around the world in one week, including some locally produced work and early screenings of sure-fire Oscar bait.

The Glenwood Arts Theatre in Overland Park is the site for all screenings, and $60 passes are available for the entire festival, as well as individual tickets for any movie not already sold out, at regular admission price. Here are some highlights:

“August: Osage County” is a darkly comic family drama set in Oklahoma and based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play by Tracy Letts. Just look at this pedigree: It stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and Sam Shepard and it’s produced by George Clooney and The Weinstein Company. The only trouble is, it's directed by John Wells, whose overwrought 2010 economic-crisis drama “The Company Men” wasted the talents of Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, and Kevin Costner.

“Destination: Planet Negro,” directed by and starring KU film professor Kevin Willmott, pays tribute to the low-budget sci-fi movies of the 1950s. George Washington Carver and other black luminaries launch a secret mission to help blacks who want to escape Earth — by traveling to Mars. A time warp lands them in a “present-day Midwestern metropolis,” and the scientists bear witness to things that will blow their mind. I’m not sure how this fits in, but a Robby the Robot-lookalike (1956’s “Forbidden Planet”) is also in their midst.

Also showing:

“Blood Brother” — This moving film won the 2103 Sundance Documentary Grand Jury Prize and its Audience Documentary Award as well. A disenchanted young American drifts through India until he finds purpose at a hostel for HIV-infected children.

“Great Expectations” — This British adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 19th century literary classic stars Jeremy Irvine as the orphan-turned-gentleman Pip and is directed by Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”). Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter round out the adult roles.

“Kill Your Darlings” — Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg in this biopic of his early years with the Beat poets and his time at Columbia University. Jack Huston plays Jack Kerouac and Ben Foster — who can disappear into any role completely (see “3:10 to Yuma” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” where he’s virtually unrecognizable) plays William Burroughs.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” — Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela, who rose up from a rural childhood to become and imprisoned civil rights leader and eventually the first democratically elected president of South Africa. This is based on Mandela’s 1994 autobiography.

“Salvation” — This thriller was shot in Hutchinson, Kan., and appears to involve betrayal, sex and possibly murder, all revolving around a guy who comes to town to restore an old stove. The kicker is that the poster says “inspired by actual events.”


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