Thursday, March 8, 2012

Frenetic Friday -- At The Movies Edition

Reading over my posts of the past week or so I have realized that I took a really serious turn, and trust me, people who know me know I sure as hell am not THAT serious! So with that in mind I figured I would celebrate the start of the weekend with some lighter fare.

I have to admit, I am a huge movie fan, and have been since I was little. There are few things I enjoy more than grabbing some food and watching a good film in a theater. And since I'm a night person, too, I end up watching a lot of movies over and over late at night. Thank goodness for DirecTV and 200 channels.

I've had the chance to see some of the best and most popular movies of the last 40 years in the theater, and then watch them another several dozen times (yes, seriously) at home. I would guess that there are a few movies out there that I have seen more than 100 times. Rocky and Hoosiers being two of them.

And for the record, my favorite movie is Bourne Identity. Like me some action flicks.

I like sports movies, especially the way they have been made lately, where a film like Friday Night Lights is about football but isn't a football movie.

Unfortunately, it's been a long time since a good movie about racing has been made. One that is authentic and isn't reliant on dumb race sequences or ridiculous cliches. More on that in a minute.

I want to see a racing movie made that is like many sports movies now, where racing is the center of a good story but is secondary to the people and traditions that make it great. I have an idea for one, actually, so if anybody knows how to write a script, let me know! For what it is worth, my girlfriend Darcy thinks my idea is stellar.

Anyway, here is a list of a few racing-themed movies that I have seen over the years, and my thoughts on them.

* Grand Prix (1966). James Garner is an American F1 driver who is fired from one ride after critically injuring a teammate and then joins another team, but not before he hooks up with his ex-teammate's wife, who justifies what she is doing because she was going to leave him anyway. Yves Montand plays an aging driver who is facing the end of his career but wants one last triumph. The racing scenes are good and the ending has that kind of 1960s and early 70s vibe where the movie just...ends, usually not very happily. The racing scenes are excellent, and Garner gets props for doing his own driving. In fact, according to the imdb.com website, the movie used Formula 3 cars and Garner held his own in pickup races between filming. It was also a reflection of the times as 10 of the 32 drivers in the movie, including Jim Clark and Bruce McLaren, were killed in racing-related accidents over the next decade.

*Le Mans (1971). Steve McQueen starred in this one, and stayed true to himself, not saying much and staying in badass form the entire movie. (I say that with a lot of awe, by the way. McQueen didn't need to say anything to totally take over the screen.) McQueen plays Michael Delaney, an American driver who the year before had been involved in a fatal accident that had killed a fellow driver, something he was still haunted by. There are several plotlines and twists, but the racing and the cars are the stars of this film. The movie relies heavily on footage shot from the 1970 race, and the depiction of the tense moments before the race starts and the frenzy in the first few minutes as the car take the track are awesome. The in-car footage is great. Again, according to imdb.com, there is no dialog from the major characters in the first 37 minutes of the movie. They just filmed the cars and let them do the talking.

*Days of Thunder (1990). This movie is just bad, but I catch myself watching it every so often. Tom Cruise plays an up-and-coming driver named Cole Trickle, who immediately locks horns with Rowdy Burns and drama ensues. They are both involved in accidents that make Burns unable to race, and Trickle takes over his ride for Daytona. His new rival is Russ Wheeler, who took his old car and is the new flavor of the month. By the way, Wheeler's girlfriend -- is that really a man? Anyway, Cruise faces his fears and wins Daytona and they all go home happy. And then he marries Nicole Kidman, who was also in the movie. Robert Duvall is the highlight, because he is just an incredible actor regardless of material, and has two of the funniest dialogs in the movie, first when he explains the concept of "rubbin' is racin'" to Trickle, then tells him to hit the pace car "because you've hit every other goddamned thing out there and I want you to be perfect!".

*Driven (2001). This sits behind Leonard Part 6 and Showgirls as the worst movie I have EVER seen! I don't only give this movie two thumbs down, I give it the double bird, Will Power-style. How CART ever signed off on this is beyond me. Cliched and utterly predictable, the movie relies on huge, unrealistic crashes and special effects to try and make the racing scenes exciting. Tip to movie people: you don't have to go with CGI to make race sequences good, just film them and let them speak for themselves. I'm not even going to summarize this movie because then it would give it more credibility than it deserves.

*Talladega Nights (2006). Will Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, who lives the "if you ain't first, you're last" credo in all areas of his life. Like Driven, the movie is utterly funny and ridiculous, but unlike it that's because it was really written that way. Ricky ascends to superstardom in NASCAR with the help of his sidekick Cal Naughton Jr. (ever notice there are a lot of Juniors in stock car racing?). Like Days of Thunder, Ricky loses his ride and his confidence after a horrible crash, then comes home from the hospital to find out he has lost everything else as well (even his wife, who leaves him for Cal because as a racing wife "I...don't...work). Living at home with his mother and delivering pizzas, Ricky hits the comback trail with the help of his long-lost father (played to the hilt by Gary Cole) and his tough love driving lessons, and teams up with his PR chick Susan to face his fears and former F1 driver Jean Girard in a really, really bizarre finale. But after watching this year's Daytona 500, I actually could see it happening.

Nights is funny as hell and is chock full of movie quotes that I use on a regular basis. And who names their kids Walker and Texas Ranger? Brilliant. Still, one pet peeve bothers the heck out of me. Why when Ricky and Cal are going to pass cars, they downshift? That bugs me like you would never believe! Nobody does that, especially in a stock car where doing that at speed would put a piston through the hood of the car. I guess you need some sort of trigger for the audience when you are going into beast-mode, so that might be the explanation. Whatever.

So there it is, my list of movies with a racing theme. Now, I've only listed movies I've seen, knowing there are others out there. If you have a favorite, let me know!


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