Blink of an Eye


The King and I.

(2019) Sports Documentary (1091 Media) Michael Waltrip, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Childress, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Helton, Ty Norris, Buffy Hawthorne, Larry McReynolds, Ken Schrader, Brooke Hondros. Directed by Paul Taublieb

 

In the annals of auto racing, few names inspire the passion that Dale Earnhardt’s does. Known during his career as “The Intimidator,” he was known for his aggressive driving style. His fans adored him and in general, all racing fans at the very least respected him.

Michael Waltrip in 2001 was on the other end of the racing spectrum. The younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, the affable Michael was best known for a stat he certainly wished wasn’t the case; 462 races without a win. Most drivers would never have gotten the opportunity to drive 462 races without winning, but he had the cache of his brother’s last name and was well-liked by owners and fans alike.

Waltrip became good friends with Earnhardt following a crash in which Waltrip’s car essentially hit a concrete wall and disintegrated around him; Waltrip was miraculously unscathed. Following the crash, Earnhardt looked in on Waltrip and declared him “one tough son-of-a-bitch!” The two often hung out together and Waltrip was often a guest on Earnhardt’s boat the Sunday Money. When Earnhardt decided to put together his own racing team together, he wanted his son – whom he was grooming to be his heir – and Waltrip to be his teammates.

=This documentary, based loosely on Waltrip’s own memoirs, looks at Waltrip’s early career, his desire to be a driver from a young age, and his relationship with his brother Darrell which was perhaps one that wasn’t as close as it might have been; the older Waltrip here admits he only helped his younger brother out “when it was convenient” and expressed regret that he wasn’t a better brother.

But in a larger sense, it’s about the unlikely friendship between Earnhardt and Waltrip and the moment that forever links them; the 2001 Daytona 500, which Richard Petty, the most successful NASCAR racer of all time and an early mentor of Waltrip, calls “Our Super Bowl.”  On February 18, 2001, the Intimidator was out to win but not for himself; he wanted to see his son or his friend cross the finish line first and ran interference, blocking the cars that might have overtaken the two of them in the final laps of the race. As Waltrip crossed the finish line, Earnhardt was involved in an accident on turn four when Sterling Martin made contact with his car and knocked it into the path of fellow driver Ken Schrader.

It looked like a minor accident at first but there were signs that something was seriously wrong. As Waltrip was celebrating his first win on Victory Lane, he received the awful news; his friend and teammate was dead. “We’re all capable of handling the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Waltrip muses, “But I don’t know many who have had to handle both within seconds of each other.”

Even if you’re not a Dale Earnhardt fan or even a NASCAR fan (and I’m neither), the movie still packs quite an emotional wallop. Waltrip, 18 years later, is still devastated by the events of the 2001 Daytona 500 and often tears up when discussing some of the highlights of his friendship with Earnhardt. Waltrip tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve anyway but he is an engaging subject and at one time interrupts an interview with Petty to tell the NASCAR legend how much his advice and support meant to him. It’s a part of that Southern chivalry thing, I think.

What the documentary doesn’t do is ask hard questions about how Earnhardt died; while end-credit graphics mention that following Earnhardt’s death safety changes were regulated and there have been no fatalities since. What the film doesn’t tell you was that NASCAR resisted those changes for more than a year after Earnhardt’s death, and that Earnhardt had been the fourth driver in eight months to die in a similar fashion. It can also be said that little background is given to the life of Earnhardt but this is Waltrip’s story, after all.

Earnhardt is a bona fide legend, one whose shadow continues to loom over NASCAR 18 years after his death. His fans remain among the most rabid in NASCAR and number 3 decals (Earnhardt’s car number) continue to adorn the cars of his fans to this day. Waltrip has since retired from racing and works as a commentator for Fox Sports as his brother does. This movie might not appeal to non-racing fans but I would encourage them to see it anyway; at it’s heart this is a human story as all great sports stories should be.

The film is currently in limited release but Fathom Events will be hosting nationwide screenings on September 12th, 2019. If you are interested in catching this in the theater, please heck your local listings for the theater carrying it nearest you.

REASONS TO SEE: Gives us a peek behind the NASCAR curtain. Packs an emotional wallop. Michael Waltrip is one of those guys you just naturally root for.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit soft when it comes to exploring the causes of the accident and the repercussions of it.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some racing action and scenes of horrific auto racing crashes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A dramatic feature based on the documentary is currently in the planning stages.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Senna
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Brittany Runs a Marathon

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Cars 3


A couple of rivals get personal.

(2017) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington, Bob Costas, Margo Martindale, Darrell Waltrip, Paul Newman, Isiah Whitlock Jr., John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin, Katherine Helmond, Paul Dooley, Jenifer Lewis. Directed by Brian Fee

 

It’s generally agreed that the Cars franchise is the weakest in the Pixar line-up, especially after the godawful sequel Cars 2. That film seemed to exist mainly to sell merchandise and indeed the Cars franchise has consistently been one of the top merchandise sellers for the Mouse House over the decade plus since the first film debuted. It is also, not uncoincidentally, one of the few franchises in the Disney animated firmament that seems deliberately targeted at young boys rather than the princess-wannabe crowd.

The new film is absolutely a big step up from the first sequel, leaving the incomprehensible spy movie elements behind and concentrating on the things that did work in the first film; the clever and engaging world of the anthropomorphic autos, the clear love for Americana and of course, Paul Newman. In many ways, the movie exists as a tribute to the late icon and he figures heavily in the plot; in fact, Newman’s voice is featured in the film utilizing stories Newman told that were recorded in between takes of the original Cars as well as unused dialogue. Newman’s fans will get a kick out of hearing his voice one last time.

The plot seems heavily influenced by Talladega Nights as well as other racing movies with the hero Lightning McQueen (Wilson) who played the young upstart in the first film being overtaken by younger, faster cars in this one. His rival is an arrogant high-tech machine who reminded me a great deal of the Sacha Baron Cohen character in the Ferrell film only without the European accent and gay overtones. The ending is heartwarming but a bit on the “really?” side.

Like the other Cars films, I got the sense that the really young children (particularly the boys) were much more into it than their parents were. As an adult, I generally don’t have a problem with Pixar films who have something for everybody which further distinguishes them from their animated competition; however, I could see why a lot of parents in the audience had a glazed over expression on their face. Maybe if we were a little more in touch with our inner toddler we might have appreciated it more but all in all this is definitely a big improvement over the last one.

REASONS TO GO: You really can’t complain about a love letter to Paul Newman. The world created here continues to be clever and engaging.
REASONS TO STAY: While the really wee kids were digging this, their parents were less entertained. Some of the plot elements seemed to have been lifted from Talladega Nights.
FAMILY VALUES: The film is completely suitable for family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All three Cars films were released the same year as a Pirates of the Caribbean film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/10/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cars
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wonderstruck

Logan Lucky


Logan Lucky gives you the most Joe Bang for your buck.

(2017) Heist Comedy (Bleecker Street) Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Daniel Craig, David Denman, Farrah Mackenzie, Seth MacFarlane, Charles Halford, Hilary Swank, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, LeAnn Rimes, Macon Blair, Ann Mahoney. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

 

When Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from directing Side Effects in 2012, a lot of film buffs – this one included – were disappointed. Soderbergh had been for more than 20 years one of the most fascinating and interesting directors ever since emerging from the indie ranks. He’d directed huge blockbusters and small intimated films but the time had come for him to hang it all up.

Thankfully, he couldn’t stay away for very long and his retirement only lasted five years. He’s back with this stupid entertaining film that can best be described as Elmore Leonard by way of The Dukes of Hazzard or the unholy lovechild of Oceans 11 and Talladega Nights.

Jimmy Logan (Tatum) is a former football star whose NFL dreams were derailed by a knee injury. Since then, he’s worked whatever jobs he could find, be them in the mines of West Virginia or a construction gig in North Carolina. Through it all he makes the time to be a dad to Sadie (Mackenzie) who lives with her mom Bobbie Jo (Holmes) and her new husband Moody (Denman).

The Logan clan has always been the poster children for the adage “If it wasn’t for bad luck they wouldn’t have any luck at all.” Jimmy’s bum knee comes to the attention of the insurance company who deem it a pre-existing condition and the construction company that Jimmy is working for in the bowels of the Charlotte Motor Speedway has to let him go. To make matters worse, it turns out that Moody is opening up a new car dealership in a distant part of West Virginia and Jimmy is likely not going to see his daughter hardly at all. Moving to be close to his little girl is something he simply can’t afford.

So he decides that he is going to have to finance his life the old-fashioned way – by stealing, and he has a whopper of a plan. He’s going to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a car show when the attendance is low and security is lax. Jimmy can’t do the job by himself so he enlists his war veteran brother Clyde (Driver) who lost his arm in Iraq, and his hairdresser sister Mellie (Keough).

Even that won’t be enough however; he needs a demolition expert and there are none better at it than Joe Bang (Craig). Unfortunately, Joe has had a disagreement with the law and is currently in residence at the West Virginia state penitentiary.. Jimmy and Clyde are going to have to break out Joe so his absence isn’t noticed and sneak him back in so that it’s like he was never gone. Why not just stay out? Because he’s close to his parole date and he doesn’t want to mess it up. Jimmy’s got a plan for that too, however.

Heist movies, when done properly are maybe the most entertaining of all movie genres. Fortunately, this one is done properly. It has a large cast but not too large; it’s got some fairly impressive names in it and a director who knows how to make use of them. The writing is taut and smart and even though much of the dialogue is delivered in thick Mountaineer State accents the pacing moves at lightning speed. There is literally never a dull moment in this film.

I have to admit that early on in Tatum’s career I was not a fan. I’m happy to say that I am now however. He has worked hard and improved almost with every movie; he has learned to improve where he can and on those things he hasn’t improved upon (yet) he makes sure he chooses roles that don’t accentuate his flaws. He has enough onscreen charm to make Leona Helmsley smile through a toothache and of course just about any lady (and quite a few men) will tell you that he’s not so hard on the eyes.

Daniel Craig is a revelation here. Generally he plays tightly wound characters but here he seems to let absolutely loose and have more fun than I’ve ever seen him have with a character, well, ever. With his bottle blonde spiky hair and cornpone accent so thick that it might have been laid on with a trowel, he inhabits the character without fear or inhibition. I would be happy to see a Joe Bang spin-off movie.

Soderbergh excels at these sorts of movies. His Oceans series is proof of that but he knows how to pace a movie to leave the audience breathless. This is about as high-octane as a NASCAR race and the viewer never has to wonder for a moment what’s going to happen next because Soderbergh wastes not a moment in this film. He also infuses it with a jet-propelled soundtrack of roots rock, country and high-octane rockers that hit the audience like a dose of jet fuel.

Now those of a Southern rural background might take offense to this and I can’t say as I blame them. The movie really plays to Hollywood stereotypes as the Southern rubes that are street-clever and get one over on the city slickers It is this kind of disparagement that drove many West Virginians to vote for Trump. Maybe that’s something liberal filmmakers should take a look at objectively.

As it is this is as fun a movie as I’ve seen this summer and after a season of bloated blockbusters and over-hyped disappointments it’s a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy a movie that you don’t have to think about but just have fun with. This has the makings of a sleeper hit if it gets marketed right; sadly, that doesn’t appear to have been the case. A lot of moviegoers don’t know much about this movie whose trailer wasn’t much seen in theaters or on television. Hopefully enough will catch on that this is a fun movie that is everything that a summer movie should be. That should be enough to call an audience out of the heat and into the multiplex.

REASONS TO GO: This is the kind of material that is right in Soderbergh’s wheelhouse.  The film is blessed with clever writing and a terrific soundtrack.
REASONS TO STAY: Rural Southerners might find the stereotypes offensive.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some crude comments as well as a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tatum and Keough both co-starred in Magic Mike, also directed by Soderbergh.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/18/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Baby Driver
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

The Final Destination


The Final Destination 3D

Some of the cast hopes this movie won't be the high point of their careers.

(New Line) Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano, Haley Webb, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Stephanie Honore, Lara Grice. Directed by David R. Ellis

The Final Destination film series has made bank on a simple premise which has been repeated over and over again for the first three films of the series. The fourth one, which features no number in the title which might confuse moviegoers or DVD renters with the first film of the series which had the same title minus the “The”, is no different in that sense.

Teenager – in this case Nick O’Bannon (Campo) – gets a premonition of a horrific disaster, this time at a NASCAR race. He urges his companions to leave immediately, causing some consternation and ill feelings. However, all concerned are quickly relieved when the disaster happens exactly as foretold. The survivors are then picked off one by one in a series of increasingly graphic and elaborate “accidents” which have some kind of supernatural assistance. Surviving teens race against time to change the order of the death sequence and stop the carnage.

The whole trick to the movie working is how well the death scenes work and under the stewardship of director Ellis (who previously helmed the second film in the series, as well as Snakes on a Plane) they do most satisfactorily, ranging from a death by air conditioning unit to a death by pool filter (trust me, it works). It’s kind of ghoulish to be seeing a movie to watch a parade of people being turned into hamburger by a variety of means, but at least the filmmakers understand the point; one of the characters is pointedly criticized for going to a racetrack so that he might see a car crash. It’s really the same principle here.

The acting here is fair to middling, and sometimes not even that. The whole point of the movie is to filet whoever is next in line and so I’m fairly sure the producers weren’t worrying about acting chops so much. “I did Hamlet for my local Shakespearean company.” “That’s nice kid, now let’s hear  you scream.”

In all honesty I can’t really differentiate between this and other films in the series all that much. Quite frankly, they all kind of blend together and had I not seen this one recently, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to tell you which execution takes place in which film. I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

So basically, the whole thing is this; if you like the series, you won’t walk away disappointed with the latest one. You might even get your thrill on because this is the first one to be in 3D, so the body parts and sharp pointy objects come flying at you more realistically I suppose. However, be warned if the previous three movies of the series haven’t floated your boat much, neither will this.

WHY RENT THIS: This is more of the same; if you liked the first three films, you’ll like this one.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is more of the same; if you hated the first three films, you’ll hate this one too.

FAMILY VALUES: While there is some sexuality, there is a lot more violence of the sort that has become synonymous with this series. In other words, don’t invite the small fries to sit through this one if you don’t want years of therapy to follow!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in the series not to feature Tony Todd in a supporting role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $186M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Punisher: War Zone

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