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

Swing Vote


Swing Vote

Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll go fishing for an audience but don't catch anything.

(2008) Comedy (Touchstone) Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Judge Reinhold, Willie Nelson, Mare Winningham, Richard Petty,  Nana Visitor.  Directed by Joshua Michael Stern

We all want our system to work, but the fact of the matter is that few of us believe that it does. However, like the eternal cock-eyed optimists that we are, we hope that it could.

Bud Johnson (Costner) is one of those who don’t really care one way of the other. He works a mind-numbing job at an egg-packing plant and further numbs his mind with alcohol. His cute-as-a-button and smart-as-a-whip daughter Molly (Carroll) is really the adult in the family, putting up with his constant hangovers and dead-drunk slumbers with the patience of a saint.

She is passionate about civics however and is urging her dad to vote in the upcoming Presidential election. As usually is the case with her dad, he messes it up and Molly figures out how to vote for him, a contrivance that backfires when a voting machine error winds up not counting his vote. And when the New Mexico electoral votes prove to be crucial in determining the winner of the election, it turns out that Bud Johnson’s vote in an unlikely turn of events is the deciding vote for the whole enchilada.

Of course this brings out a media feeding frenzy and personal visits from the candidates, the incumbent conservative President Andrew Boone (Grammer) and the liberal challenger Donald Greenleaf (Hopper) visiting, promising Bud the sun and the moon with their obsequious campaign managers (Tucci and Lane, respectively) in tow.

Bud’s main goal is not to be the deciding factor but simply not to embarrass his daughter, which he is doing in a big way. The issues of the campaign trail and the resulting chicanery of the candidates gives way to the need for a father to make his daughter proud.

This is not really a polemic, and it isn’t strictly a comedy despite its categorization as such above. This is more or less a look at the modern American electoral process with elements of a spoof to it and certainly elements of a comedy. That it is marketed as a comedy is a very likely reason the movie floundered in its general release.

It’s certainly not the fault of the actors. Kevin Costner has moved from the dashing leading man phase of his career to the respected character actor phase. He takes the all-American schlub who is ignorant and content to remain that way and gives him charm. Bud Johnson isn’t the kind of neat, tidy character who gets rocked by the world’s blows and stands tall. He’s complicated and terminally weak-willed.

He has a match in young Madeline Carroll, who was so excellent in last fall’s Flipped. There are an awful lot of smarter-than-adult juvenile roles out there that are just plain annoying, but Carroll elevates the role to something special. She has a really intense scene with her mom (Winningham) which explains a lot of why both Bud and Molly are the way they are – it’s one of the best scenes in the movie and is the kind of performance that gets you noticed.

In addition to the impressive cast, there are also celebrity cameos of pundits, politicians, politicos and celebrities. A little bit of that can go a long way and before too long you’re overloaded on the famous faces in the film, which also would have benefitted by a little more editing. I don’t know about you, but I thought the movie would have been perfectly fine with at least half an hour of meaningless subplots lopped out, don’t you think?

If Frank Capra was alive today, this would be the kind of thing he’d be selling. He’d just condense it down into an hour and a half or less whereas this drags on for more than two. Its heart is in the right place though – and as examinations of the American political system go, it’s amazingly candid. I thought it was a bit underrated when it came out and thus I’m pleased to give the movie some love now.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprising amount of pathos mixed in with a terrific performance by Costner.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many famous people cameos, gets distracting. The movie is much too long and would have benefitted from a firmer hand on the editing room.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words but nothing too rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Costner’s second movie with Hopper, the first being Waterworld (1995).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video from the band Modern West which is fronted by Kevin Costner himself.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17.6M on a $21M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Tree of Life