Two-Lane Blacktop 1971 *****

two-lane-blacktop-vintage-movie-poster-original-40x60-2989Having a car seems like a full time job in Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, a road movie that sits neatly in the slipstream of Easy Rider and Vanishing Point. The subject is a cross-country road race, and the film was one of the inspirations for the Cannonball Run race. But we’re not talking celebrity cameos and car crashes here, and although we see several illegal car races, this isn’t franchise material either, although Fast and Furious Presents; Two Lane Blacktop is a title that potentially intrigues. Singer James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson are two men who race their souped-up jalopy in one small-town after another; they soon pick up a girl, and get into a rivalry with GTO (Warren Oates). How GTO got his dazzling yellow sports car is never fully explained; the truth is not in him, and yet an odd friendship develops from their rivalry. All the characters are ciphers; as in Walter Hill’s The Driver, they are named for their function; Girl, Driver, Mechanic. GTO functions much like Jack Nicholson’s character in Easy Rider, an emblem of a lifestyle that the protagonists still can’t help but reject, even if he’s still pretty counter-culture. A downbeat line about the life-cycle of cicadas nails the film’s sociological ideas pretty succinctly, and the studied naturalism is something of a joy. Two Lane Blacktop has been tough to find and locate over the last fifty years, but it’s really worth the effort. Wikipedia’s plot summary says, “The film ends abruptly’ but that’s something of a dry understatement; it ends as it begins, in an unconventional style that’s rarely been bettered.

 

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Driven 2018 *****

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History has probably judged John DeLorean harshly; by 2019’s standards of corrupt behaviour, he looks like he had an integrity that today’s business leaders lack. Most industrialists, faced with a loss-making plant going bankrupt, automatically drain the pension fund into their personal accounts and set sail on the nearest yacht with a bevy of idiot models. DeLorean’s response was to try and save his Northern Ireland plant, and the workers’ jobs, by engineering a massive cocaine deal; not good behaviour, but it’s hard to argue that the great man didn’t put himself on the line big time to keep the dream alive. The delayed release of Nick Hamm’s drama on the subject doesn’t suggest good things, but it’s more likely that that comedy/drama tone has flummoxed bean-counters; Jason Sudeikis plays Jim Hoffman, a dubious character who finds himself living next-door to DeLorean, played with charisma levels set to overload by Lee Pace. DeLorean dreams of making a wonder car; ‘Your flying car doesn’t fly,’ someone unhelpfully points out, and Hamm’s film makes a point of exposing DeLorean as a fraud, but also refashions him as a hero. This is a Great Gatsby for the 1980’s, with Jim as a venal Nick Carraway, swept to the side-lines in the wake of DeLorean’s passage. ‘You’re not a bad man, you’re just an idiot,’ says Jim’s wife Ellen (Judy Greer), and Sudeikis correctly plays Jim broadly as a buffoon. Meanwhile, Pace does a phenomenal job of bringing DeLorean to life, railing about the detail of business copyrights, sulking about losing Ping Pong matches and generally being the man-child that most men aspire to be. The famous car is largely left off-screen, apart for a perfect, wry coda; Driven is a very entertaining film that should find a big audience on streaming; Back to The Future fans, petrol-heads and true-crime aficionados will find plenty here to draw them in, not lead Pace’s mesmerising performance.

https://www.amazon.com/Driven-Jason-Sudeikis/dp/B07VY9VY1T/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=driven&qid=1566234502&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw *** 2019

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There’s never been a Fast & Furious film that wasn’t likeable in some way; there have been genuine rewards those hardly souls who gathered round the flaming dumpster fire of 2 Fast 2 Furious, complete with it’s interactive DVD opening, allowing you to join the story has various characters. For the record, the best are probably the decidedly untypically small-scale Tokyo Drift and the epic Rio Heist, but there’s decent action scenes in them all. These are old-fashioned popcorn movies, self-contained, drawing in fading stars like magnets, leavened with crude humour and stereotypes, topped off with doses of sentiment about family; this latest has a speech about how machines are not important that’s about as hypocritical as Rocky IV’s focus on Russian technology vs spartan American training techniques; ie the picture is completely inverted.

Fast and Furious is largely about the toys, but there need to be men to drive them, and with Paul Walker’s demise, these men must be bald and middle aged. Vin Diesel presumably has other things to do, so The Rock and Jason Stratham are drafted in to fuel the testosterone. Both have charisma and a great comic touch, but Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t make much of these natural resources, nor do much with Idris Elba’s superhuman villain. Taking the family theme from the last few Fast movies, the focus is on Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirkby) who has injected herself with some kind of plague virus that might end all human life. Hobbs and Shaw put aside their differences to save her, turning to Hobbs’s mother and brother in Samoa. The climax involves a clutch of vehicles attached to a helicopter over a cliff-edge; in the days of CGI screen-work, there’s no sense of danger involved, just excess. Other set pieces, on the side of a London building, a chase around the streets of Glasgow (doubling for London), a disused factory in Moscow, are impressive without offering anything unique.

Ryan Reynolds, presumably as a favour to director Deadpool director David Leitch, gets dragged into the ongoing action, as does Helen Mirren. It would be nice to think that a few of Hobbs and Shaw’s audience might feel inspired to see Mirren’s earlier work, like Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man or Age of Consent. She’s here, one supposes, as a sop to older audiences dragged along by their kids, and puts on a ridiculous accent as some kind of gangster fairy godmother. She’s having a laugh, which is probably the only thing to do in such ridiculous circumstances.

Getaway 2015 ****

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“If one person enjoys this movie, then I’ve done my job’ is a cliché for spurned artists; there’s so little love around for Courtney Solomon’s car chase thriller than admirers may well feel that they’re in a minority of one. The public stayed away, the critics were savage, and yet Getaway is a real guilty pleasure. The concept is simple; Ethan Hawke is ex-racing car driver called Brent Magna, trapped in a Die Hard-lite scenario; a mysterious voice (Jon Voight) gives him a series of automotive tasks to complete with the life of his kidnapped wife at stake. Magna ends up stealing a Shelby Super Snake Mustang complete with horrified owner (Selena Gomez), and together they attempt to wriggle out of the trap. Shot in Bulgaria, Getaway avoids CGI in favour of practical race and chase stunts, and there’s plenty of bang for your buck. There’s slumming stars (including perfect B-movie support from Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Paul Freeman and the permanently fabulous Bruce Payne), jazzy, over-cranked action, a ninety-minute running time and a silly but pleasing story; when the Fast and Furious films are getting increasingly bloated and less fun than they should be, Getaway offers cheap but undeniable thrills for the world’s carmageddon junkies.

 

Framing John DeLorean 2019 ****

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The title is an interesting one; we know who John DeLorean was, or at least we may have some ideas. Don Argott and Sheena M Joyce have constructed a documentary that aims to ‘frame’ him; are they suggesting that the various crimes that John DeLorean was accused of constituted a frame job? That’s not what their film is about; there’s very little in the way of conspiracy theory or speculation here, just a journey through the key facts of the car moguls rise and fall from grace. This well-constructed doc also has a narrative frame in that it features reconstructions featuring Alec Baldwin as DeLorean, and we also get to see off-cuts showing rehearsals and the actor in make-up, discussing his role. With Back to the Future’s Bob Gale amongst those testifying to the number of potential films which might be made about the subject, Framing John DeLorean is one of the the first out of the gate, but unlikely to be the last.

Like Preston Tucker, DeLorean was a man with a dream, to innovate in the expensive world of car production, and to take on the big boys in the corporate world. Setting up a huge plant in Ireland in the 1980’s, DeLorean was not short of enemies; the key moment comes when he stops dealing with Margaret Thatcher and Jim Prior (the latter interviewed here) and started dealing with Colombian cocaine traffikers. DeLorean managed to move a massive consignment of coke in order to provide finance for his company, and jobs for many workers who had no other options, and he brazenly paid for it in worthless share certificates. If he’d pulled that deception off, it would have been one for the memoirs, a Danny Ocean-style masterstroke that beat the system, but the deal had been set up by a narc and public ignominy followed. Even after DeLorean was found innocent of drug-dealing in the courts, it took a separate scandal to bring him down involving the embezzling of funds. Other public figures have got away with far more; it’s clear that someone had it in for DeLorean. In retrospect, DeLorean’s mistake seems to be not that he stole money or dealt with drugs cartels, but that he accepted public ie government rather than private money; that lack of business savvy seems to have been the real reason for the scrutiny that led to his downfall. Americans often imaging UK government funding to be free money, when the truth is that it’s often the most expensive kind, as DeLorean found to his cost.

Framing John DeLorean is an entertaining, informative documentary with strong source material and plenty to draw the viewer in, not least the sight of the car immortalised by Back To The Future. The sight of thousands of the cars lying unsold in Irish car-parks, or driven en masse to ferries for US import is surreal, as is a glimpse of a red DeLorean; even if it didn’t actually drive terribly well, the car was beautiful to look at. Like the man who created it, the DeLorean had style to burn, and this artful documentary captures the essence of the man and the machine.

Framing John DeLorean, available on Amazon Video and ITunes in the UK from 29th July

In the US…

https://www.amazon.com/Framing-John-DeLorean-Alec-Baldwin/dp/B07SN62Y5K

 

The Cannonball Run 1 and 2 1981, 1984 ***

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Of course, purists don’t count 1989’s Speed Zone as part of the franchise; only the two Hal Needham films really belong to the world of the cannonballer. Following on from the mid 1970’s cross-country car-chase boom that included Cannonball, Carquake, Grand Theft Auto, The Gumball Rally and more, The Cannonball Run films essentially lifted Burt Reynolds and his good ol’ boy character from the Smokey and the Bandit films and put him amongst a packed, all-star cast for various motorised shenanigans. There’s actually precious little in the way of stunts or action, and the key members of the cast don’t have much to do; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr waltz around the edges looking frail and unenthused, and the mugging comedy is more likely to come from old-stagers like Charles Nelson Reilly or Jack Elam as it was from top-billed Roger Moore or Frank Sinatra. The latter’s appearance in Cannonball Run II, which features no actual interaction with cast members and appears to have been shot in a different time-zone, is something of a low-point, and the way the cameos are shoe-horned into both films disrupts any narrative tension. But the Cannonball Run films are more interesting in 2019 as a repository of ancient gags and comic turns, from Don Knotts and Tim Conway to Jim Nabors and Doug McClure, The dated jokes about middle-Eastern politics via Jamie Farr’s The Sheik is particularly groan-worthy, but the unfunny antics of Dom DeLuise are a crash-crash all by themselves; the twist is that his rapport with Reynolds, with both seeming to be in a state of severe intoxication, features extensively in the credits/bloopers at the end of the film, and generates more laughs than the scripted material could in a million years.

The Ghoul 1975 ***

the-ghoul-1975-largeBack in the 1980’s, the BBC’s late night horror double bills on Saturdays used to pull in substantial ratings; a black and white primer followed by a full-on colour horror film from the 70’s. The Ghoul was one of the featured films, and pops up now on Amazon Prime like a wine that’s been wasting in the cellar for forty years. The second film of Tyburn Film productions, it reteams Hammer veteran director Freddie Francis and star Peter Cushing, but the attitude and method is quite different from the Kensington Gore methods of the British studio. Instead, The Ghoul mines a strangely esoteric brand of horror fiction, with allusions to India via Gwen Watford as Ayah, the housekeeper to Cushing’s retired minister Dr Lawrence. It’s implied that Lawrence’s son was converted to cannibalism during a trip to Asia, and when a foursome of 1920’s flappers break down during a London to Brighton road race, the son (Don Henderson) is out for blood and more. The Ghoul is a glacially slow horror film, and the pay-off (Henderson in a tunic) must be one of the least exciting ever. But Cushing and John Hurt as his servant Bill both strike sparks, and The Ghoul is a more literate film than it’s benighted reputation suggests.