Ford v Ferrari (dir. by James Mangold)


fordvferrari posterIt’s rare for me to say that I enjoyed a film so much that I didn’t want it to end, but James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari hits all the right notes. A fantastic cast, impressive visuals on the races, scenes that flow without any time wasted and sound that begs to be heard on a surround system. It’s no surprise that the film earned Four Oscar Nominations – Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing and Best Picture, all of which are well deserved. If the lineup this year wasn’t so stacked, I’d say that Ford v Ferrari would score quite a bit. It can go any way, but It may end up like The Shawshank Redemption – A great film that could be eclipsed by giants.

Based on a true story, Ford v. Ferrari focuses on the Ford Motor Company in the mid 60’s, down on its luck and looking for a way to stay ahead of the game. Henry Ford II, played by a scene stealing Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), asks his workers to come up with an idea. A young Lee Iacoccoa  (Jon Bernthal, The Punisher) feels the best way to do so is to attempt to win the famed 24 hour race at Le Mans in France. The LeMans is dominated by Ferrari, who hand manufactures their machines to be legends in the racing circuit. If Ford could win, it would put them in a better light to consumers, but winning requires more than just a fast car.

Ford enlists the help of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, The Martian), along with his brash and skillful driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma), Ken has a few issues getting along with others, but his knowledge of cars is brilliant. Shelby continuously goes to bat for Miles, who isn’t exactly poster boy material in the eyes of Ford.  Together, they work on building a competitive vehicle. The poster may suggest the story is about the cars, but at its heart, I felt that Ford v. Ferrari was more about the friendship between Shelby and Miles than anything else. Their mutual love of cars and racing is what ties it all together.

When it comes to the technical points of racing, Ford v Ferrari’s script doesn’t ask you to know much about cars going in. Just about everything you need to about the LeMans and the abilities of the cars is explained through the characters over time. Car gurus may find areas where liberties are taken, but casual watchers should find themselves entertained.

Kudos goes out to the casting for Ford v. Ferrari. Josh Lucas (Poseidon) plays the heavy in the film as a Ford businessman who would love to see Miles out of the spotlight. Caitriona Balfe (Starz’ Outlander) has some good moments with Bale as Miles’ wife, Mollie, though she happens to be the only woman in the film with many lines. Given that the story takes place in the 1960s and its guys building cars, it made sense. Playing Miles son, Peter, Noah Jupe (Honey Boy, A Quiet Place) is that character that helps the audience understand the nuances of racing. I kind of wish Bernthal had more to do here, but he’s cool when he’s on screen and carries his weight easily.

The film belongs to Damon and Bale, though. Damon’s Shelby is full of attitude. He knows what he wants to get done, what needs to happen and just does it. Damon carries this with ease, and it’s easy to forget that the actor is there at times (for me, anyway). Bale does the same, but is on a different level, with his Ken Miles being both focused and a little wild, perhaps even cynical. There’s a great mix of comedy and drama between the two actors.

The sound quality of Ford v. Ferrari is amazing. If you had the chance to see it in the cinema, consider yourself lucky. The rev of the engines are crisp, the shifting the of gears sublime. I’d be somewhat shocked if the film doesn’t walk away with the Sound Mixing / Sound Editing Oscars. From a visual standpoint, the races themselves offer some nice tracking shots, though there may be one or two scenes that particularly stand out.

Mangold and Phedon Papamichael (his Director of Photography for Walk the Line) perform some interesting tricks with the camera. With the races themselves, the cuts are smooth. You have dynamic tracking shots of cars  in some cases while others are lit enough to be comfortable. One of my favorite scenes involves a play on shadows that makes it appear like you’re watching a race, complete with the sound of the cars in the background. It’s subtle touches like that make me wonder why it wasn’t nominated for Best Cinematography. I should also note that for a 2:30 minute film, it flies by. I found very few (if any) moments where I felt a scene wasn’t particularly needed to push the narrative along. You can thank Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) for that screenplay.

I can’t say I have any real problems with Ford v Ferrari. Overall, it’s an entertaining film right from the start that gets you into the story and behind the wheel.

Fast 9 – The Fast Saga revs things up with a trailer.


When it comes to the Fast and Furious franchise, Tokyo Drift is my favorite, followed closely by Fast Five. I thought the franchise should have ended at 7 with the death of Paul Walker, but the show went on with The Fate of the Furious. They managed to close off all of the loops between the earlier movies, After a bit of a spat between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, Johnson branched off with his character Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw on their own film, Hobbs & Shaw. 

Not to be left behind, we now have the ninth entry in the franchise. F9 reunites director Justin Lin with Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, and Nathalie Emmanuel. John Cena (Bumblebee) plays the villain this time around, as a thief with personal ties to Dominic Toretto.  With this trailer, we see a few very familiar faces, including Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black and Sung Kang. How Kang’s character Han is still alive, I don’t know, but we’ll find out this May when the film releases.

Enjoy.

Music Video of the Day: Cars by Gary Numan (1979, directed by Derek Burbidge)


One of the first great hits of the new wave era, Gary Numan’s Cars was inspired by an incident of road rage.  As Numan explained in an interview

  “I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them. It’s kind of to do with that. It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world… When you’re in it, your whole mentality is different… It’s like your own little personal empire with four wheels on.”

From this humble beginning came the song that not only became synonymous with post-punk new wave music but which also inspired an untold number of teenagers to switch from learning how to play the drums to wanting a keyboard for Christmas.  Cars may have been about something as modern as road rage but its futuristic sound and video made it a science fiction anthem.

(Sorry, you’re probably going to have to go to YouTube to actually watch this video.)

Cars starts with what I like to call a Doctor Who shot.

Anyone who has ever seen classic Doctor Who or really any science fiction movie from the late 70s knows how important neon was to decorating any villain’s intergalactic lair.  When Gary Numan approaches the microphone, he could easily be mistaken for a militaristic alien who had made the mistake of falling under the influence of the Master.

Once Numan starts to perform, it becomes more obvious that he was more inspired by David Bowie than Doctor Who:

The video features several close-ups of Numan’s tambourine.  The effect may seem cheesy now but in 1979, it undoubtedly blew a lot of minds.

Of course, no new wave video would be complete without some synthesizer action.

Cars became an unexpected hit and remains popular today.  Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City knows the pleasure of fleeing the police while listening to Cars on Wave 103.

Cars 3 Extended Sneak Peek


It’s been 11 years since Disney/Pixar released Cars. The audience has grown up, and from the looks of it, the story tied to Cars 3 is trying to grow with them. Another trailer was recently released, this time featuring Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) new nemesis, the ultra modern rookie sensation Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). It also introduces Cruz Ramirez, another character that appears to be a new trainer for McQueen. Most of the favorites will also be returning for this installment. Lightning is now standing in the same spot as the legendary Doc Hudson when he first met him. Is Lightning finally at the twilight of his career, or does have one more good race left in him?

Brian Fee, who’s worked on the other Cars films as well as a number of other Pixar projects , gets to sit in the Director’s chair this time around. I just hope it’s as dark as Toy Story 3.

Disney/Pixar also released a profile trailer, showing off some of the new characters.

Lightning McQueen:

Jackson Storm:

Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo):

Quick Review: Mad Max – Fury Road (dir. by George Miller)


image

When Mad Max: Fury Road was first announced, I was skeptical. We saw what happened when a director returns to a franchise they excelled at. Neither Ridley Scott’s Prometheus nor Lucas’ work on the Star Wars prequels were as amazing as the originals. Fury Road may be the exception to that rule, at least when compared to The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The visuals are bright and colorful, with chase sequences that left me smiling through it all. The 3D adds a nice touch, particularly in the chases (without giving too much away), the movie feels as if it was built for a 3D showing. I’m not sure how it comes across in a regular format.

Without looking at those films, Fury Road hits the ground running (almost literally) and continues to do so for most of the film. While the title of the film belongs to Tom Hardy’s character, Max takes something of a back seat to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is the true heroine here. Max is the character that introduces the audience to the Wasteland, a world left barren after war and where Gas, Water & Blood are the richest commodities around. While I liked Hardy in this, I had the feeling that they could have put anyone in the role of Max and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Furiosa is the one that carries the bulk of the story.

Fury Road’s plot is simple & thin, but given that it all takes place in a Wasteland made mostly of desert, it worked out okay for me. I wasnt expecting a whole lot on the story front, but was happily surprised with it. Imperator Furiosa is sent out with a crew for a Gas run, but decides to follow her own agenda, putting into motion the pursuit from the Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and one of gis up and comimg lackeys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

From a pacing standpoint, Fury Road shifts it’s gears often while managing to still keep the engine purring. Some of the chases are chaotic, with cars flipping through the air and wanton destruction all over the place. You even have cycles riding over dunes and speeding through salt flats. However, it never reaches a point where you can’t see what’s occurring. The film has just one moment that I thought was slower than it should be halfway in, but it also serves to set up the 2nd act. The movie is mostly one big truck chase, but it’s done incredibly well. If you’re looking for something incredibly deep, this might not be the film you’re looking for, though the movie does try it’s best to accommodate with the script.

Another standout is the music. I’m used to hearing Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) as the remix track maker for most of Hans Zimmer’s scores. With Fury Road, Holkenborg has a number of pulsing drum rhythms and guitar pieces that fuel the chases. While it may sound a little like his work on 300:Rise of an Empire, the music fits. Note that I if you’re looking to buy the score, there’s a deluxe version with extended tracks, perfect background music for motorcycle rides on your favorite highway.

Fury Road is rated R, though I’ll admit that it wasn’t as violent as I expected it to be. It can get bloody at times, but the film never becomes a gore fest or anything along those lines. As far as nudity is concerned, there are only two instances of this and both are related to the story. In my showing, we had full families, but there didn’t seem to be any kind of reaction (as far as I can tell).

So far, we’re on track for an interesting summer.

Quick Review: Need for Speed (dir. by Scott Waugh)


Need_For_Speed_New_Oficial_Poster_JPostersMy Short Take on Need for Speed –

Reasons to see it:

+ Fast cars doing interesting stunts that don’t feel like a CGI stunt reel. Take the Mustang chase from Drive and stretch it out.

+ It’s a tightly shot film. The chances of saying “Come on, go somewhere.” Are small and the driving camera work does its best to invoke a sense of being in the scene.

+ Imogen Poots steals practically every scene she’s in, and the cast overall seemed to enjoy themselves. Michael Keaton may be the most animated he’s been since Beetlejuice. Aaron Paul sounds like a mix between Charlie Hunnam and Solid Snake.

Reasons to hold off for now:

– It’s not the tightest story in the world. You’ll probably be able to easily call out plot angles as the movie progresses. There is also one scene in the film that never connects to anything after it, leaving something of a hole there. Overall, the film gives you just enough to understand why everyone’s doing what they’re doing, but don’t search for a whole lot of character growth here.

– The Air support moments seem a little implausible, given air traffic rules and what not.

The Long Take: 

Ever since The Fast and The Furious hit the big screen in 2001, you’ve had a number of race related movies. I think the worst I can recall was 2007’s Redline, which tried to throw some wild extortion theme into the mix. The movie adaptation for Need for Speed may actually be a better movie than some of Electronic Arts’ games. It may not be Hamlet, but it handles itself just fine.

The premise for Need for Speed is very simple. A young racer (Aaron Paul, whose voice sounds he’s channelling Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller) seeks vengeance against a former business partner (Dominic Cooper, Howard Stark from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) by way of a dangerous high speed race known as the Deleon. He assembles a team of friends, and goes about trying to reach his goal. There you go, all you need. It might sound as bad as this year’s Robocop, but at least the audience laughed along with this one.

Although many know Aaron Paul from his Emmy winning run on Breaking Bad, but he isn’t new to movies. He’s had a great turn in Smashed with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and worked previously with co-star Imogen Poots on The Long Way Down. Here in Need for Speed, I felt he did really well with what was given as racer Tobey Marshall, granted that it wasn’t a whole lot. Still, he sells it as best he can. Poots, on the other hand is as much the bright light in the film as Hayley Atwell was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Overall, the casting was okay here. Dominic Cooper plays the rival role well, though doesn’t come off as sinister in any way and Michael Keaton seems to enjoy himself in this as the host of the Deleon, a high stakes private race. He channels his inner Beetlejuice and is one of the high points of the film. Between he and Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi to those who know him musically), they have the best scenes apart from the main cast.

The car scenes themselves are okay. You may find yourself leaning back in your seat in some instances, but they don’t quite have the tight feel of say Ronin. Still, you won’t see anything happen in these cars that go beyond the extreme. Truth be told, it’s almost similar to the first Fast and the Furious, save for all the wavy speed lines in the high speed chases. One of the remarkable things about Need for Speed is that it tries its best to avoid throwing too many CGI driving moments. It has a feel that’s similar to Tarantino’s Death Proof or, as the film highlights in the beginning of the movie, Bullitt. This being only his second major film (Act of Valor being the first), Director Scott Waugh gets away with making the racing moments as intense as they can be without getting too crazy…well, almost. It’s cut quick, and there are very few lag scenes as far as I could notice.

If the movie has any bad points, it’s that almost everything happens in a bubble. The plot has someone who is effectively on the run, and yet I would have imagined there’d be more of a police presence, especially given the exposure. Then again, this is Need for Speed, where you only need to avoid the cops or 2 minutes before being given the chance to hide in a cooldown zone (in NFS: Most Wanted, anyway). Fans of the games will see some of those elements in play during the film and they are functional here, if not realistic.

Additionally, there’s one other scene that involves the recruiting of a reluctant team member that goes almost no where. The reason for bringing the person along (having to do with a car issue) never appears to be addressed either visually or verbally. This left me asking, “Well, was it fixed?” and then shaking my head later on. It’s not a terrible mistake to have while munching on popcorn ( you won’t choke for not getting an answer), but someone really could have taken the time to dot that particular “i” on George Gatins’ script.

Overall, Need for Speed is a fun ride. It’s predictable in a lot of ways, and you’ll see some of it coming, but you may also find yourself smiling and swerving in your seats with the traffic.

Quick Review: Fast & Furious 6 (dir. by Justin Lin)


url-6Thinking back on the original Fast & Furious film, I still find it hard to believe it’s done so well over the years. The longevity of the films owe a lot to the Saw series, which seems fitting considering that the original director of that film will take over the reigns for the next installment. Both series have managed to take events from all of their films and weave this strange tapestry with it. Once you think one story is over, the writers somehow jump back to an earlier scene and pull out a new thread for everyone to follow. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it works, at least for this tale.

To sum up Furious 6 in a nutshell, Dominic Toretto’s team has to help Hobbs (the lawman who was after them in Furious 5) stop a former SAS agent who is using cars to facilitate his acts of terror. Why get involved, one asks? Hobbs sweetens the deal by showing Dom that his formerly believed dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is…wait for it….not dead, and is working with these bad guys.

It’s like General Hospital with Cars. I’m such a sucker for this franchise.

If you’re new to the Furious films, the opening credits sum up the last 5 movies in a Spider-Man 2 like montage. You have your main heroes, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), who are kind of like criminals only they take down bad guys to better others (or themselves). Along with them is Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), who is the mother of Brian’s baby boy, Jack (not to be confused with Jack Jack from The Incredibles). Then there’s the crew, made up of most of the characters from all of the Furious films leading up to 6:

From 2 Fast 2 Furious, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson return as two friends of Brian’s. Tej (Bridges) is the team hacker (wouldn’t be complete without one) and Roman (Tyrese) is the comic relief.

From Tokyo Drift (the 3rd and my personal favorite) comes Sung Kang, who plays Han. While he met his end in that film, every movie after the 3rd takes place somewhere before this film, believe it or not. This makes the ending of Tokyo Drift a little baffling when you see Toretto at the end of it. No matter what the writers decide to do with future installments, they’ll eventually have to circle back to how Dom got there.

From Fast & Furious. (No. 4) – We have Gal Gadot as Gisele, a former IDF member who was an accomplice to a drug cartel leader. Ironically, Gadot actually did some work with the Israeli forces, which I found interesting. She is the only member of that film to come back to the series as Don Omar and Tego Calderon sat this one out.

And finally from Fast Five, you have Hobbs (The Rock) and his former partner from Brazil, Elena (Elsa Pataky).

So, you have the setup. One of the things to understand about this (and some of the earlier ones) is that you’re working in a “Popcorn Reality”. The action’s all well and good, but in the course of all the driving, you’ll almost expect to see at least one or two action scenes or stunts that just don’t make any kind of practical sense. These GTFO moments are in great supply in Furious 6 – A runway chase that lasts a good 15 minutes, yet seems impossibly long for any plane to actually use for a take off. A “flip” car with the ability to send other cars launching into the air. In any other movie, most people would scoff and walk out. For this, it’s almost the norm and if you don’t care, it’s actually fun. Lin has been able to take the chase scenes about as far as they can possibly go, and I can’t really imagine what else they could try to push things, really.

Of particular note is Luke Evans, who plays the villain, Shaw. I didn’t really care for him in Tarsem’s Immortals, but  was good here, trying to be as much a Bond baddie as he can. Another addition is Gina Carano, who takes the place as Hobbs partner this time around. She’s a bit more light hearted here than she was in Haywire, and gets to showcase her fight skills. However, in a movie that’s already packed with stars performing particular roles, she doesn’t really have much to truly do other than to be Michelle Rodriguez’s sparring partner. Not a terrible thing, just something I noticed.

Is it worth it? Well, considering that most of the movies that came out since Fast & Furious 6 was released haven’t fared too well (Yes, I’m looking right at you, After Earth), it’s a safe bet if you also understand that this all revolves around cars driving very smooth and fast with near unlimited shift points. If you don’t like cars or racing, this might not be your cup of tea. There’s a lot of shooting at some points, which might  round things out for action fans. It’s a quick way to burn 2 hours. If you also managed to see at least the last film in the cinema, then this is a given – though you’ll probably be able to put 2 and 2 together before the story’s half done.

Also, do stick around once the credits start, as there’s a scene that will come up to help lay the groundwork for the next installment.