Tag Archives: Racing

“FORD V FERRARI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Two men, a Mustang, and a wrench.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those epic underdog stories not unlike David and Goliath – and despite what the title suggests, Ford is not David and Ferrari is not Goliath. No, this story is about innovators versus CEOs, workers versus corporations, creators versus the companies who own creators. Five decades ago, two men, a Mustang, and a wrench beat not one, but two million-dollar corporations on the race track and in life. Yet, to this day the names we see imprinted on the side of cars are Ford and Ferrari, not Shelby and Miles.

If you ever met these men in real life, you’re prone to either love them or hate them, depending on whether you work on the creative or corporate side of the race track. Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a 40-year-old automotive designer and former race car driver who was forced to retire early after developing an intensified heart condition. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a hot-headed Brit who has just as much of Shelby’s talent behind the wheel and twice the temper. If these two were parts in a car, Shelby would be the pistons and Miles would be the fuel – when you put them together, combustion is imminent.

These two men are recruited by Henry Ford II (yes, that Henry Ford, portrayed by Tracy Letts) for one purpose: to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans Grand Prix, a 24-hour race held on a wildly turbulent track in France. Any other man would think Ford was out of his wrinkly, white-haired mind. But Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are not most men. They take the challenge head-on, and they have to get past not just Ferrari, but Ford to build one of the fastest race cars in automotive history.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those classic American stories you should have learned at some point in high school – a classic longshot tale, not unlike Rocky battling it out with Apollo Creed or Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes. Yet, I have never heard of either Carroll Shelby or Ken Miles. I suspect you may not have either. That’s part of what makes their story so surprising, because they’ve contributed a big part to America’s industrial innovation. Not only did they develop the vehicle that would later become the GT40 Mustang, but they also helped unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Champions, a title they’ve held onto for nine years before Ford entered the race.

If nothing else, Ford v Ferrari illustrates a story of the everyman – the American innovator who wants to push boundaries, pave paths, and create new ways forward, but are constantly hindered by the people wanting to be stuck in the past. I was surprised to find that this film’s biggest antagonists were not Enzo Ferrari or his driver Lorenzo Bandini, but rather Henry Ford II and his scumbag senior executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Rarely do you see a face in film that is as punchable as Josh Lucas’. His character is as scuzzy and as filthy as they come, a greedy, self-centered cretin that cares only about the bottom dollar and not much for the people that helped get him there. If Jacob Marley ever saw this man in real life, he would give Ebeneezer Scrooge a pass on Christmas Eve and would send the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on him instead.

As much as I despise his character, however, Josh Lucas serves a vital role in the conflict of Ford v Ferrari – it’s not the industry we’re fighting, but often the people who control the industry and the people within it. When Shelby and Miles are knee-deep into engineering their Mustang, they’re artists perfecting their craft. When Shelby and Miles are driving at dangerously high speeds, they’re in Heaven. When they’re arguing with a snobby auto exec on who belongs in the driver’s seat, their brakes are punched to a screeching halt.

These characters are very relatable not just because of their situation, but because so many of us have found ourselves in circumstances similar to Shelby’s and Miles’. Their conflict is not just written very well, but also portrayed very well. Christian Bale, in particular, can’t help but outshine the rest of his talented cast. He has the physique and the fighting spirit from his Oscar-winning performance of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, but in the same sentence possesses the same introversion and comedic timing as Michael Burry in The Big Short. Whether he’s exchanging jabs with Carroll Shelby at a pit stop or sharing a sentimental moment on the road with his son, you’re invested in Miles’ story and his constant desire to go against the grain.

This film is directed by James Mangold, who has been on a winning streak as of late with some of his most recent projects. He previously directed the Academy Award-nominated Walk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma, and he more recently wrote and directed the last entry in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine trilogy, Logan. Ford v Ferrari possesses all of the grit his previous films have with even more relevance and authenticity. It doesn’t surprise me that the film feels like an industrial western, because when Ken Miles steps out onto race track and gets in his car, it has the tension and anticipation that builds up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to take on the outlaw with a draw of his pistol.

Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, exciting, riveting, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from the exhaust pipe. If I had one criticism, it would be that the first act takes too much time to build up its stakes and doesn’t move as promptly as I felt it could have. But I would rather a film have too much interest in its subject rather than too little. Most men in life, like Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari, are most interested in winning the race that’s ahead of them. Shelby and Miles are just grateful to be on the race track.

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“NEED FOR SPEED” Review (✫✫)

Needs more brains if you ask me.

Need For Speed is one of those movies that feels like pressing on the gas pedal. You get a good kick out of it at first, but it doesn’t take long for it to run on empty.

Based loosely on the video game series of the same name, Need For Speed stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) as Tobey Marshall, a car mechanic whose prowess at street racing precedes that of Dom Toretto from Fast and Furious. When Tobey’s closest friend Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) is killed in a race against his wealthy rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), Marshall sets out in a race across the country to find Brewster and make him pay for what he has done.

Directed by Scott Waugh, the filmmaker behind the 2011 war drama Act Of Valor, Need For Speed is a typical Hollywood sports car movie with the typical ingredients you’d expect: a lot of action, few brains, even less wit and an over-dependence on formulaic Hollywood cheese

The screenplay is unbearably generic, to the point where groaning in disbelief is almost a reflex. In the first 20 minutes, we get every racing movie cliché you could possibly find in the handbook, from the underdog street racer stereotype to the prolifically rich and jerk of a rival to the underdog getting framed for a crime that he didn’t commit, seeking revenge on his transgressor. I wonder where we’ve seen that before?

Oh, is this movie bad. From the movie’s first scenes to its very last, it’s a predictable farce that can be easily foreseeable if you’ve seen any street racing movie ever. Case in point: Would I be really giving away any spoilers if I offer that A) Marshall makes it into the final race, B) He beats Brewster in a tedious scene that’s supposed to be the climax and C) He gets a beautiful girl in his arms? Please look at that, and tell me that doesn’t remind you of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

The movie might have been decent if the performances were worth anything more than a ukulele pick. Look at all of the names that are in this movie: Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Aaron Paul. All great and talented actors, whose versatility of projects range from Batman and 28 Weeks Later to Captain America: The First Avenger and “Breaking Bad”. Their roles in this movie are wasted because they are mostly shoved aside for the (dis)pleasure of preposterous stunts, relentless engine revving and unbearably bad CGI animation. The fire effects that can be seen in one scene are so laughably bad that the video game looks more realistic.

The only thing I give the movie credit for is its third act, which is surprisingly affectionate. Dare I say that it may be poetic? No, that would be giving the movie too much credit. Still, it carries a very humble message about it, a grounded and reassuring statement that everything is going to be all right, even if things don’t initially seem that way. This end scene was surprisingly touching and relevant, elevating the movie above its mediocrity, although temporarily.

That still doesn’t change what we have here, though. Need For Speed is a predictable, standard, run-of-the-mill action farce with no surprises or original ideas. It’s almost like playing a video game, except you’re watching the filmmaker play it for you.

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It’s Aaron Paul and Scott Waugh, Yo

Straight off the wheels (pun intended) of his award-winning role as Jesse Pinkman in Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” actor Aaron Paul’s followup to film is that of street racer Tobey Marshall in Need For Speed, an action movie produced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg loosely based on the video game series of the same name. After attending an early screening of the movie before its release on March 14, Paul and director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor), sat down with myself and the audience to talk about the movie and what it was like filming the high-octane action thriller.

Question: Before this movie was even made, it was a video game franchise. It was kind of a blank slate for you guys. How did you come up with the story?

Scott Waugh: We just really wanted to come up with a really compelling, really human story that we could develop and really take the audience along for a thrill ride. We just got so lucky enough to get a man like Aaron Paul to play the lead and really put ourself on the map that we’re a different movie and trying to do a throwback to the films that I grew up on, like The French Connection and Vanishing Point.

Q: What exactly were you looking for when you cast Aaron Paul?

SW: Man, I was so pumped when we were trying to cast the movie, and we were literally saying, “Look, I want to find the next Steve McQueen.” His name came up, I never watched “Breaking Bad,” so I didn’t know who the hell Aaron Paul was. The funny part was when his name came up, it was to play Dino. I was like “Really? Let me see some tape on him.” I saw some tape on him. I was like, “Man, this kid is for real. He is so good. Forget Dino, man. This guy should play the lead.” They said no, the studio would never go for that. So they talked me out of it, and then they put Aaron up in front of Spielberg to see which guys he wanted to play around the kid that we thought was going to play Tobey. He saw Aaron’s tape and goes, “Man, this Aaron Paul kid is really fantastic. Why aren’t we considering him for the lead?” And that was it. Long story short, 24 hours later, Aaron Paul was cast.

Aaron Paul: Yeah, it’s such a surreal thing. I never knew about the whole Dino conversation, literally until this press tour, but when it was sent to me on my desk, I always thought that they were always interested in me with Tobey. I read the title page. It said Need For Speed, you know, what is this movie really going to be about? Is there going to be a really solid story there? I read it, and I was just so invested in these characters from the very beginning, and when I talked to Scott, he told me he wanted to do a throwback to the classic car culture films, such as Bullet and Vanishing Point. I’ve been such a huge fan of Steve McQueen forever, and that just got me very excited about jumping on board.

Q: How did you go about training, getting ready for the role, Aaron?

AP: That was the thing. When I talked to Scott, when we first had conversations about this project, he said, “Now listen, if you want to jump on board, I’m going to really need you to learn how to drive.” And I knew how to drive before, but nothing like this, and so he was like, “If you want to do this, I’m going to get you some serious seat time in these cars.” Really, the first day working on this project was on a racetrack, a closed down racetrack, from sunrise to sunset, just really learning how to get out of problematic situations and then learning how to drive around corners, do reverse 180s. Just madness. Just so much fun.

TS: What was the best stunt you got to do during the shoot?

AP: All the freeway stuff. I was weaving through traffic, most of that was me, so I had to drive at pretty high speeds. We closed down freeways for five to seven miles, but it had to be that long because we were going so fast, so we were eating a lot of the road really quick. There’s a shot right when Pete went over the bridge, Tobey flips around and goes back for him. Scotty wanted me to fly directly at the camera and slide and get inches away from the camera that is attached to a cameraman that was him. That was very terrifying for me because to get it to slide the way that he wanted it, I needed to be going 65-70 miles an hour and then use the brake and then slide and get this far away. The first take we did it—

SW: He pussed out on the first two, got like 15 feet away from me. I came up to him after the second one, and I was like, “All right bro, here’s what you need to do. Don’t worry about me. I’ve been hit by a car several times. I’m cool with it. Just come in and hit your mark, and if you hit me, I’ll just flip over the top of it.”

AP: Which did not make me feel any better about the situation.

SW: It was pretty funny, so he’s coming in around 65-70 miles an hour. And I can tell, because he shifted into fourth. And I was like “Oh shit, now he’s coming in really fast.” He came in, started sliding towards me, and I will be the first one to say I pussed out and closed my eyes. The tires stopped, and I was still standing, and I opened my eyes and he’s literally two inches away from my camera. And I was like “Did I get it?” I didn’t even know if I got the shot.

Q: Scott, you used the cameras that you used to collaborate with your dad when you were younger, right?

SW: Yeah, I was so lucky, I grew up in this crazy household. My father was the original [stunt coordinator of] Spiderman in the ’76 TV show, he was a stuntman and a circus performer, and I had a trapeze in my backyard, a bunch of crazy stuff like that. My dad became a director, and he always wanted to put the audience in the movies, rather than sit back. He came up with this device in the ’80s called a helmet camera, which is like a film camera on your head. So, it’s not like a go-pro, it’s like 30 pounds on your head. So, take a dumbbell when you go to the gym, set it on your head and go walk around. I used to tell my dad, “This is going to kill somebody,” because it’s too heavy. And, of course, my dad would put it on my head, and that’s why I don’t do stunts anymore, because my neck is stretched all the way to my chest. But what happened was because of my dad. It really gave me the insights to come up with the new technology to do first person so you can drive. The audience gets to drive in this movie, kind of like Act Of Valor. You got to actually participate in the Seals’ escapades. It’s just that I’ve been able to fortunately do what my dad always aspired to do because technology has finally caught up with us.

Q: Aaron, to finish this off, what was your favorite car, and can you call me a bitch?

AP: First of all, my favorite car had to be the Gran Torino. I mean, all those cars are so much fun to drive, but I just wanted to take the Gran Torino home with me. We were fighting for the Gran Torino during the entire shoot. We had two identical Gran Torinos. One got totaled by accident during one of the races, so there was one remaining, and we would just look at each other and just mess with each other during the rest of the shoot. Neither of us won because DreamWorks has the keys.

Oh, and also, you’re a bitch.

-David Dunn

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“RUSH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Don’t think.  Don’t pause.  Just drive.  

I couldn’t have thought of a better title for the movie Rush, because that’s exactly what it is: an unstoppable and uncontrollable rush of energy, excitement, and gravitas, a movie that starts on a high note and simply refuses to let up all the way through.  I hear a lot of complaints that there are biographical movies that are more concerned with cashing in on people’s legacies rather than making an authentic account of a person’s true story, such as Jobs or The Iron Lady.  Here is a break from all of that, a refreshing and ideal account of two racers who live every moment of their life trying to figure out how to beat the other guy, while understanding that their symbiotic relationship is what made them both great racers in the first place.

Focusing on the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix season, Rush follows the story of two different racers, both with polar opposite personalities and complexions.  James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a hard-headed racer who races with passion instead of brains, and a playboy who drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and sleeps with beautiful women, a lot.  Nicki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) is a intelligent, smart, and crafty german who is just as focused and analytical as he is rude and ignorant. The film chronicles the contempt they feel for each other and the mutual respect that makes them strive to be better than the other man.

Before you go and see this picture, I encourage you to go online and google the names “James Hunt” and “Nicki Lauda” and look at their images.  Got it?  Okay, now that you’ve done that, go and watch the movie.

If you actually took the time to open up another tab and look at the images, you will be just as shocked as I was.  Comparing the sight of Lauda and Hunt with that of Bruhl and Hemsworth isn’t comparing them at all: they look exactly like the same characters, from the red jackets around their back to the color and hairstyles that we see on their heads.

I love it when movies do this: when movies are so accurate to the real-life figures that they copy their appearance so accurately, it is nearly impossible to differentiate from them.  We’ve seen this from The Fighter in 2009, and recently from Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.

Here is yet another example of a movie that is compelled by truth and driven by accuracy, pun intended.  Rush is exhilarating.  Exciting.  Edgy.  Anticipative.  Emotional.  True.  Everything about this movie is a heart-pounding, sweat-pouring adventure, and what’s truly impressive is not that the movie makes us feel this way: its the fact that it really happened, and that really director Ron Howard is just documenting it rather than retelling it.

One of the highlights in the film are easily its lead actors.  Not only do Hemsworth and Bruhl look exactly like the people they are portraying: they act like them too, with their rivalry and their edginess apparent in every fraction of a scene.  Sometimes their clashes are funny, like the dialogue bits between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, while at other times its strikingly serious like the James Braddock/Max Baer rivalry in Cinderella Man.  Whatever the situations, these actors do well at remaining in tense situations and they never, ever break their character.  Hemsworth is energetic, lively, and egotistical as Hunt, a man whose only loves are beautiful women and racing.  Bruhl is equally as egotistical, but he’s got a sly smartness about him you can’t help but appreciate.  There’s one great scene where Hunt calls Lauda a rat and he responds by saying “You think I’m hurt that you call me a rat, Hunt?  Rats are ugly, but they are smart.  Intelligent.  I am proud of that.”

The film doesn’t slow down at their performances, however, and filmmaker Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) are quick to follow up on the pace of these two fine actors.  The guys who made Fast And Furious could take a hint or two from this movie. Morgan and Howard not only succeed in making the movie exciting and suspenseful through key moments in races, press conferences and private, vulnerable moments when these racers are all by their lonesomes: they’ve managed to make it gripping and relevant, a grounded drama thats equal parts and insightful into these two men’s lives that we feel like we’re witnessing their story upfront in the pit, not viewing it from far away on the sidelines.

Oh, I could go on all day praising this film and how all the elements culminate into a near masterpiece.  The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is tense, unsettling, and noble, defining these men’s relationship just as well as the movie does.  The editing is tight, crisp, and clean at the hands of collaborators Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill.  For Pete’s sake, even the cinematography by Anthony Mantle was so good at capturing emotions and details so intimate, Howard would probably have missed some of them if Mantle wasn’t there to point them out.

Bottom line: Rush is entirely, unforgettably awesome.  It’s a strong and powerful tale about two passionate racers who knew what they were after and were willing to sacrifice whatever they could to go after it.  We see why they want to beat each other.  We understand who they are and why they are racing.  We know what makes them tick and we want to see them make it through every pulsating moment of the film in order to accomplish their dreams.  Trust me, you’re going to want to sit in on this race.  Oh, and bring your seatbelt.  You’re going to need it.

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