Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds


An automotive definition of beauty and style.

(2020) Documentary (VisionNick Mason, Sterling Moss, John Surtees, Alfieri Maserati, Adolfo Orsi Jr., Giorgietto Gugiaro, Carlo Maserati, Harald J. Wester, David M. Williamson (narrator), Paolo Pininfarina, Nino Vaccorella, Alexander Fyshe, Bruco Male, Doug Magnon, Matteo Panini, Andrea Bertolini. Directed by Philip Selkirk

If you want to talk about successful branding, you have to talk about Maserati. The car company has come to symbolize sports car performance and luxurious elegance at once. Nothing quite says “you made it” like owning a Maserati…except owning a fleet of them.

This documentary feels less of a labor of love than corporate training film, something you would show to salesmen on the showroom floor on their first day of employment. It looks at the history of the company, starting out with their 1914 founding by four Italian brothers, only three of whom survived to lead the company into becoming one of auto racing’s most prestigious names. It wasn’t until industrialist Adolfo Orsi bought the company that they started manufacturing cars for consumer use.

Their early race cars were primitive affairs but gradually, the innovative Maserati brothers developed engines that would hurtle their vehicles at unheard-of speeds. An interesting fun fact; the chassis of their cars have never been designed in-house; Maserati has always relied on outsourcing design to independent car designers. It is a strategy that has served them well.

As the title implies, the company didn’t have an easy path to success. Financial woes and changing tastes put the company on the brink of bankruptcy a good half a dozen times, but they always seemed to rebound at the last moment and find an investor to lift them out of their doldrums, or a new design that takes the world by storm.

This is absolutely going to appeal to car enthusiasts, and for them this ought to be required viewing. The film is heavy on technical specs for the various engines and cars, and those who understand the minutiae of performance car engines will likely be sucked in. The movie is a little light on the human side of things; at one point, Maserati dropped out of auto racing because of a tragedy involving a Ferrari vehicle careening into a crowd and killing ten spectators, including four children. The incident, which deeply affected the company, is literally glossed over, mentioned in passing and the ramifications left unexplored.

It is also worth noting that of all the talking heads interviewed, not one is female which I suppose is meant to appeal to a certain audience but certainly ignores the fact that there are female auto racers, female car enthusiasts, female designers and female automotive executives. That’s a little troubling. Some of the interviewees are delightful; Formula One racing legend John Surtees and Sterling Moss, one of the greatest of all time, are entertaining storytellers; Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, one of the most intense Maserati lovers in Christendom, also talks lovingly about the cars and what they mean. Surprising to me, former company CEO Harald Wester is articulate and informative about the corporate aspect of the company.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those that the film is meant for it is a very rewarding experience. From the nearly century-old racing footage to the footage of the introduction of the Maserati Alfieri, one of their more recent models, there is plenty for those who delight to the sound of an engine revving to sink their teeth into.

REASONS TO SEE: Will certainly appeal to car enthusiasts.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very much a niche film.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers secured the cooperation of the Maserati corporation and was given extensive use of their archives.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Racing Scene
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Rush


Another day at the office.

Another day at the office.

(2013) Biographical Sports Drama (Universal) Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer, David Calder, Alistair Petrie, Colin Stinton, Augusto Dallara, Ilario Calvo, Patrick Baladi, Vincent Riotta, Josephine de la Baume, Brooke Johnston, Hannah Britland. Directed by Ron Howard

Race car drivers are a breed unto themselves. While here in the States our focus tends to be on the NASCAR circuit, the Formula One drivers have the attention of the rest of the planet and for good reason; Formula One cars are, as one character in the film puts it, essentially coffins strapped to bombs. In the era this film took place in, 25 drivers would start out the racing year and two of them would die sometime during the year without fail. Why would anyone sane do something like this?

James Hunt (Hemsworth) is the kind of star that makes the sponsors salivate; handsome, irreverent and talented, he is fearless on the track and will make moves that would give even veteran drivers pause. Niki Lauda (Brühl) on the other hand is an Austrian with cold, technical precision and focus. While Hunt loves the spotlight, Lauda prefers solitude. Whereas Hunt drives for the thrill, Lauda drives for the victories. They are both ultra-competitive and it was inevitable that the two would become rivals.

In 1976, the two were vying for the Formula One championship – Lauda for Ferrari, Hunt for McLaren. They drove the best cars in the world and it seemed that Lauda, the defending champion, had the upper hand but after a horrific accident in Nürburgring for the German Grand Prix, Hunt had the golden opportunity to make up lost ground and pass the hospitalized Lauda, whose lungs were so badly burned after being trapped for nearly two minutes in an 800F inferno that they had to be vacuumed out while he was conscious. Against all odds and against doctor’s advice, Lauda returned to the track two months later to set up a head-to-head battle that would grab the attention of the world and make for a legend that endures today.

Howard is one of the best storytellers in Hollywood today and at his best his movies not only pack an emotional punch but stimulate the intellect by giving us something to think about. Here, Howard uses the rivalry between these two men (who actually respected each other a great deal and were friends after they retired from racing) to try and get at the mindset of men who risk their lives by driving in circles around a track for a trophy and a check.

Hemsworth is sometimes regarded as a handsome muscle boy who is best known for playing Thor  and very likably at that but the kid can act. He gets the look and mannerisms of the infamous bad boy of racing down to a T but also shows some insight into the insecurities that often drove Hunt. When his racing team collapses under a mountain of debt, Hunt turns into a bit of a prick and eventually drives his wife, supermodel Suzy Miller (Wilde) into the arms of actor Richard Burton. Under the wisecracks and the braggadocio there is a ferocious competitor who is out to prove to the world that he will live on his own terms and nobody else’s.

However, I think that the movie might just launch Brühl to the next level of stardom. He is mesmerizing as Lauda, wearing a dental device to simulate the overbite that earned Lauda the nickname “The Rat” among his fellows. Lauda was thoroughly disliked and didn’t care that he was; all he cared about was wringing every ounce of performance out of his machines and at that he was a master. He’s arrogant and charmless – his marriage proposal to Marlene (Lara) is “if I’m going to do this with anyone, it might as well be you.” Makes a girl’s heart beat faster, doesn’t it?

It is his intensity that Brühl captures best however. The nightmarish injuries that Lauda endures, the unimaginable pain of the burns is captured not only by the body language and the screams but in the eyes. Brühl looks like a man suffering the agonies of the damned – none worse than having to sit on the sidelines and watch his insurmountable lead erode race by race. For a competitor like Lauda, there could be no torture more terrible.

Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay, did it on his own; no studio commissioned it so the movie was deliberately written with few racing sequences just in case that the film was made on a non-major studio budget. Some lament that this is a racing movie without racing but in true point of fact it is not; this is a movie about people, not cars. Be aware that the movie is loud and intense however – the race scenes that are in the film accurately capture the noise and chaos of an actual race so that you might imagine you can smell the rubber and the asphalt. However, once the cars are moving I have to admit that the sequences aren’t anything to write home about.

Howard will no doubt be in the Oscar conversation again this year for the first time in five years, and I don’t have a problem with that. This is intense entertainment sure but more it is an examination of what makes people like Hunt and Lauda tick, and with performances at the level that Hemsworth and Brühl deliver, they are the first salvo in the 2014 Oscar race. Gentlemen, start your engines.

REASONS TO GO: Hemsworth and Brühl are impressive. Focuses on the differences that made them rivals.

REASONS TO STAY: More of a character study; the racing sequences are few and unimpressive.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of cussing, some pretty disturbing images of the aftermath of a fiery crash, sexuality and nudity and brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second collaboration between Howard and writer Peter Morgan; the first was the Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grand Prix

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: In a World…

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby


Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

For Ricky Bobby, winning isn't just the only thing, it's something else entirely.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Leslie Bibb, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Amy Adams, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Greg Germann, Molly Shannon, Andy Richter, Houston Tumlin, Grayson Russell, Pat Hingle, Ted Manson. Directed by Adam McKay

I will admit to not being much of a NASCAR fan. The thrill of auto racing is something that has never really wrapped itself around my spine. I do get why people go gaga over it but it’s just not my thing so when I heard that Will Ferrell was making a NASCAR-themed movie, it wasn’t something I was particularly excited about.

Ricky Bobby (Ferrell), however, would undoubtedly be absolutely smitten with a movie about going fast. He was born in the back of a car doing 100 MPH with his ne’er-do-well drug dealing dad (Cole) at the wheel. The one bit of paternal advice he would give his son before disappearing out of his life entirely is this – if you don’t finish first, you’re last. They would be words that would drive Ricky Bobby his entire life.

It’s no surprise, then, when he becomes part of a pit crew for a sad-sack NASCAR racing team that has become the laughing stock of the circuit, with a driver who stops mid-race at the concession stand to enjoy a chicken sandwich. When opportunity knocks, Ricky Bobby leaps into the drivers seat and his innate ability to go real fast – and drive without fear – makes him the hottest thing in NASCAR, with the help of his best friend Cal (Reilly) who is content to play second fiddle to Ricky Bobby’s diva.

He marries a hot-looking NASCAR groupie named Carley (Bibb) who gets his attention with a timely boob flash, and the two create a family with two demonic kids named Walker (Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Russell) who torment Carley’s dad (Manson) and everyone else. He wins race after race, but irritates the head of the race team (Germann) because he never wins the points championship because he gets penalized for unsportsmanlike-like conduct so often, but that’s just Ricky’s obsession with winning – anything else just doesn’t occur to him.

Bobby’s on top of the world, but it begins to unravel with the arrival of French Formula One driver Jean Girard (Cohen), who wants to prove himself better than his cocky American rival. Girard turns out to be even more ruthless on the track than Ricky Bobby, and the inevitable happens – Ricky Bobby gets into a crash. He walks away from it, convinced at first that he is on fire but later on, convinced that he is paralyzed. Neither is true, of course, as Cal and Ricky’s harried crew chief (Duncan) try to convince him. The truth is, Ricky Bobby has lost his nerve.

He winds up losing a lot more than that, as his sponsors drop him, the race team fires him and his wife leaves him for his best friend. Ricky Bobby is reduced to moving in with his mom and delivering pizzas on a bicycle. Fast is a distant memory.

That’s when Ricky’s dad re-enters the picture, and if ever he needed a father figure it’s now. Of course, Ricky’s dad is something of a whacko, so battling the fear that still lives inside him is no easy task. Everyone he’s ever counted on has left him – can he ever count on himself?

I have to admire the instincts of Ferrell and McKay, who also co-wrote the movie. This movie plays to Ferrell’s strengths without getting so over-the-top that the audience gets lost. Ricky Bobby is not unlike Ron Burgundy had Ron been born in an Alabama double-wide.

Also wisely, the movie never makes fun of racing itself, only some of the things that go on within it – the bitter rivalries, the pressure brought on by corporate sponsorships and the sometimes eccentric personalities of the drivers, crew and fans. NASCAR fans will probably not take too much offense, although there might be a few who find the movie crude.

This is as good a cast as you’re going to find in a comedy, with Oscar-nominated actor Reilly once again playing second banana, but doing it as well as anybody. Baron hams it up as the nearly indecipherable Frenchman and Cole shows a surprising comic talent in his part as well. Blink and you’ll almost miss Amy Adams’ turn as a loyal assistant, although she figures much more in things near the end of the movie – and she does a great job in a role which others might have phoned in.

The laughs are plentiful – if I’m laughing out loud during a movie when I’m supposed to, I figure the filmmakers are doing their job. While you don’t need to be a big NASCAR fan to enjoy the movie, a lot of in-jokes undoubtedly went whizzing by me. I liked this movie a bit more than I thought I was going to – which is turning out to be a theme in this week’s newsletter and that is the kind of theme I can get into.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s laugh-out-loud funny, certainly one of Ferrell’s better efforts to date. Some of the most iconic comedy sequences of the decade can be found here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like most comedies, it can be pretty scattershot. Those who really cannot stand NASCAR or auto racing in general may not find much in the movie to grab onto.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the jokes are a bit on the crude side and the language occasionally drifts into the foul lane but by and large reasonably acceptable for younger crowds.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Blu-Ray Discs of the movie were included with the first 400,000 PlayStation 3 units sold.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As you might expect, there are a plethora of them including a gaggle of fake interviews with the cast members in character, the now-standard Line-o-Rama feature that is included with most Judd Apatow-produced DVDs as well as a commentary track that is a spoof of DVD commentary tracks with the director acting pretentious and giving out facts that are patently untrue.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fantastic Mr. Fox