A Faster Horse


All the kings horses.

All the kings horses.

(2012) Documentary (Film Rise) Dave Pericak, Tom Barnes, Hau Thau Tang, Hal Sperlich, Gale Halderman, Edsel Ford II, Art Hyde, Jack Telnack, Prakash Patel, Julie Rochner, Kemal Cucic, Frank Davis, Steve Denby, Bob Fria, Carroll Shelby, Arjay Miller, Bob Kreipke, Henry Ford II, Marcy Fisher, John Clor. Directed by David Gelb

Americans love their cars. It’s an affection that borders on obsession with some (and crosses well past the line for others). It’s true that for a fairly significant segment of the population a car is a conveyance, a means of getting from one place to another. It’s a machine and most don’t obsess over their toasters or vacuum cleaners, am I right?

But for many, a car is an extension of themselves, their souls made steel. It isn’t necessarily just a means of getting from one place to another but a style of getting there. For many Americans, the Ford Mustang represents the pinnacle of cars.

The Mustang came into being for a lot of reasons. One was the Edsel, a massive failure that put the Ford Motor Company into a tailspin. When a young Lee Iacocca approached Henry Ford II with the idea of the Mustang as a performance car that was fast, fun and affordable, Ford was at first not impressed; this went against all the established thinking in the automotive industry; cars were then massive monstrosities in which bigger is better and the more metal the better. Innovation was not Job One at Ford back then.

But Iacocca, a master salesman, persisted and eventually Ford grudgingly agreed to give him half the normal seed money for bringing a car to market. Iacocca turned the project to Donald Frey and history was made. The release of the Mustang would be the most successful launch for Ford since the Model A. It continues to be maybe the most well-known model in the line; it certainly has some of the most cache.

When Ford decided to redesign the car (only the fifth in the model’s history) to celebrate the Mustang’s 50th anniversary this year, they turned the project over to Chief Engineer Dave Pericak. Documentary filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) was given unprecedented access to Ford’s design labs, testing facilities and production facilities. We become flies on the wall as the new model is designed and slowly shaped into being.

Gelb gives us a great deal of context, showing the Mustang in all its incarnations using car commercials, home movies and iconic clips from movies like Bullitt (whose iconic car chase helped make the Mustang Steve McQueen-cool). He also gives us a sense of how important the car is to the American self-image. In many ways the Mustang symbolizes American freedom, American strength and American individualism.

The distinctive engine sound of the Mustang is used to great effect here, merging with the Philip Glass-like score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans to make an eclectic noise. By the time the movie finishes up you’re bound to have an emotional reaction – in fact Pericak discusses the emotional response to the release of the car at length.

It is mind-boggling at how much has to be done for a car to make it from the drawing board to the dealership, but you get a sense of it here and of the pressure that the Chief Engineer is under. Ford invested an enormous amount of money to make this car at a time when America was in its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and car companies were being bailed out by the U.S. government. Even now, seven years later, Detroit is still suffering but Ford is one of the shining lights in the automotive industry, thanks largely to the success of the new Mustang.

Even those who don’t love cars – and I’m one of those – will find this a fascinating film. I can only imagine those who are car enthusiasts will find this to be catnip. Either way, this is a terrific documentary that is definitely worth your time to seek out and view.

REASONS TO GO: Gives you a sense of what it takes to get a car from concept to market. Underscores the importance of the Mustang to the American psyche.
REASONS TO STAY: Bogs down a little bit in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing really that should disturb anyone.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2015 Mustang is, as of this writing, a finalist for Car of the Year from Motor Trend.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BEYOND THEATERS: Vimeo
COMPARISON SHOPPING: How It’s Made
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Sleeping With Other People

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Need for Speed


Let's race bitches!

Let’s race bitches!

(2014) Action (DreamWorks) Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Scott Mescudi, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson, Steve Ray Dallimore, Alan Pflueger, Brian L. Keaulana, Logan Holliday, Carmela Zumbado, Jalil Jay Lynch, Nick Chinlund, Chad Randall, Buddy Joe Hooker, Rich Rutherford, Tara Jones. Directed by Scott Waugh

Video games are fun. At least, that’s the general point of them. What could be more fun than playing a racing game, driving expensive cars you could never afford in cross country races and causing motorcar chaos in the form of multiple crashes? Why, doing it for real of course.

Tobey Marshall (Paul) is a brooding young man grieving for the recent passing of his dad. Dear old dad owned a high-end auto shop in bucolic Mt. Kisco, New York where Tobey makes a reputation for being a crackerjack racer. He and his crew – tech-savvy Finn (Malek), boyish daredevil and hero-worshipper of Tobey (not to mention occasional psychic) Little Pete (Gilbertson), worldly Joe (Rodriguez) and high flying Benny (Mescudi) – fix cars, hang out and watch the shop slowly wither away.

In comes Dino Brewster (Cooper), a rival of Tobey’s once upon a time who stole Tobey’s girl Anita (Johnson) who also happens to be Little Pete’s sister and went on to leave Mt. Kisco to drive for NASCAR. He’s since left the NASCAR circuit for reasons never fully explained and has gotten hold of a Mustang that legendary car customizer Carroll Shelby was working on prior to his death in 2012. If Tobey can finish the car, he’ll get a 25% split of the sale which Dino thinks will be in the $2 million range. Although Tobey doesn’t trust Dino as far as he could use him as a wrench, he needs the money so he and his crew get busy.

The car turns out to be more than anyone expected and Dino easily finds a buyer, wealthy Bill Ingram (Dallimore) whose representative, Julia Maddon (Poots) turns out to be a cheeky blonde Brit with a preference for Gucci boots. They agree to pay $2.7 million for the car. Everyone’s happy, right?

Wrong. Dino and Tobey are still bickering and decide to settle it behind the wheel. Little Pete wants in on the action. The three go street racing in identical Koenigsegg Ageras that Dino happens to have. During the ensuing race which Tobey looks to win, Dino purposely bumps into Little Pete’s car, sending it flying through the air and off a bridge, sending Little Pete off to a fiery grave.

Dino manages to convince the cops that he wasn’t there and of course the dozens of motorists who nearly or actually get into crashes because of the racers don’t notice the flaming red sports car so Tobey is sent to jail on a vehicular manslaughter charge for two years. When he gets out of jail two years after the fact, he’s lost everything. All he has left is vengeance masquerading as justice and the only way to do it is the De Leon, an underground street race run by an eccentric billionaire (Keaton) in which he can prove he’s the better driver once and for all.

To do that he’ll need a car and he gets one – the Mustang. However, Ingram insists that Julia accompany the car. After all, what billionaire wants to risk putting a car worth $2.7 million into the hands of an ex-con so he can run an illegal street race, right?

Look, this is based on a videogame, not an Oprah Book Club selection. Logic was never going to be the strong suit here, but  even so this movie is riddled with holes that even the least sensible of viewers is going to scratch their heads and say “But..but…” over. All I ask for in a movie is at least a little bit of common sense. There are so many elephants in the movie that are ignored that you can’t help but question how much respect the filmmakers had for their intended audience. Gamers aren’t idiots after all.

There are some saving graces to the film though. Paul, for one. While Tobey is a brooding, taciturn hero who doesn’t have a whole lot to say, Paul has all the charisma you would want a big screen leading man to have. He has the cred of his Breaking Bad work to keep the target audience from rejecting the film version out of hand.  Poots is a terrific actress still searching for a role deserving of her talents and once again she is wasted here. Someone needs to find the woman a better agent.

Likewise the movie gets points for doing their car stunts with practical effects rather than through CGI. Cars fly through the air, speed through city streets and country roads and crash into each other willy-nilly. Some of the stunts are pretty spectacular although there are only so many things you can do with a car that haven’t been done before. It sure is fun watching the filmmakers turn multi-million dollar cars that thee and me could never possibly afford to drive into oversized paperweights which seems to be the main attraction to this movie. Sadly, it doesn’t break the streak of really bad videogame adaptations from Hollywood. You’d think that someone somewhere could make a decent movie out of a videogame that isn’t a horror franchise. Just sayin’.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty racing sequences. Great cars. Paul shows he has what it takes to be a lead actor on the big screen.

REASONS TO STAY: Lackluster logic-challenged plot. Overly long and repetitive.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of foul language, some disturbing car crash scenes, nudity and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Paul was originally being considered to play Dino Brewster but after executive producer Steven Spielberg and Waugh binge watched Breaking Bad they both decided he would be more suitable as the lead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fast and the Furious

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Tim’s Vermeer