TBT: The Italian Job (2003)

new-tbt-logo

Okay, so as we all know by now, this upcoming weekend is a doozy. First, the release of Don Jon, the brand-new film that’s directed, written by and starring the multi-faceted Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Secondly, and with all due respect to JGL, more importantly, Ron Howard’s new biopic, Rush, finally gets the green light to be released before worldwide audiences. All September long I have been taking some (brief) trips back in time by revisiting some flicks that feature cars and/or racing in some major way. Ranging from the slapstick/comedic to the more atmospheric and dramatic, this month’s entries have been a ton of fun to compose, and it has really helped to build some momentum as we head into the next Howard masterpiece (fingers AND toes crossed here, peeps). So with the appropriate formalities behind us, let’s dive into the fourth and final entry in this month’s TBT thread. 

Today’s food for thought: The Italian Job.

the_italian_job_2003_9

Release: May 30, 2003 

[Theater]

That the Italian Job remake would involve Mini Coopers was a concept I at first was slow to respond to. I felt that the cars were silly-looking in a movie, though this was probably another ill-begotten impression I had acquired as an angst-riddled, pimply teen in high school. I also had no idea what to look for in movies then, either. Sixteen-year-old me, the fool.

The more I think back on it now, the cooler this movie seems and the more those tiny but speedy little shopping carts seem like characters themselves. They’re certainly crucial to the story.

Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) heads up a team of master thieves to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs after being robbed at gunpoint and left for dead by a traitorous inside man. After the most recent job has gone without a hitch, the gang — John (Donald Sutherland), Handsome Rob (Jason Statham, repping probably the best character name he’s ever been given), Lyle (Seth Green), Left Ear (Mos Def) and Steve (Edward Norton) are en route to split the $35 million they just lifted from a safe in Venice into their own personal shares when they are betrayed suddenly by Steve, who’s been apparently waiting a long time for this moment.

Thanks to some unfortunate developments, Charlie has to crawl back to old acquaintances for help in his new mission to retrieve the gold from Steve, and enlists the help of expert safe cracker Stella (Charlize Theron), who happens to be John’s daughter. A tried-and-true, formulaic plot has her character reject the offer at first, but as sure as eggs are eggs she eventually comes around. Also predictably, the rest of the gang doesn’t exactly take kindly to the presence of a woman on the job, and despite her obvious beauty she finds it difficult to fit in immediately.

When the gang finally seem to be functioning like a tight-knit unit once again, they make their first moves on Steve, who is living luxuriously in a heavily-guarded estate in the Los Angeles area, and appears to have accrued a number of items that some of his former colleagues had said they were looking to buy once they had the money. Indeed, Ed Norton manages to pull off the highly dislikable role of Steve Frezelli with ease. He’s a sniveling, hot-tempered man who doesn’t appear all that intimidating right from the get-go.

In essence, he’s the perfect villain here — the quintessential action-movie bad-guy-as-Benedict-Arnold — a man who is on par with the rest of the cast in terms of having the same kind of intuition, the same levels of emotion and a shared personal history to make the showdown(s) more compelling than it/they rightfully should be. This remake, which comes nearly 35 years after the classic Michael Caine version, certainly ups the ante with respect to the violence and other suggestive themes (for those who are unaware, the 1969 movie is rated G), but it  still maintains a fun, energetic atmosphere that gives this new version a reason to exist.

The Italian Job dances around familiar themes and despite a lot of high-tech gadgetry and thoughtful planning, this plot’s combination isn’t exactly a tough one to crack, though it’s easily digestible and the film overall is a total blast. The ensemble cast convinces us they are at least having one. It’s reflected in their respective roles with the way everyone gels as a group as they turn the tables against Steve and his henchmen. Wahlberg and Theron make for a highly likable pairing, and his crew — particularly Mos Def and his dog phobia — succeed in bringing forth the laughs.

With several memorable car chase sequences — who doesn’t want to take their Mini Cooper down a flight of stairs? — this film makes for a nice exit from the ‘Movies that Really Move’ theme this month. It’s a constant reminder of my needing to seek out the original, as well. I maintain a healthy skepticism of every remake ever done (Robocop, let’s see if you can be an exception) so I’m fully expecting the enjoyment level to increase greatly when I sit back and experience the material upon which this highly-amiable adventure is based.

italiano-1

3-5Recommendation: A fast-paced and decidedly more Americanized heist film, F. Gary Gray’s version may not be the superior one, but it’s both a good example of a remake treated with respect and is simultaneously a riveting little outing that’s filled with entertaining characters and some fun in Mini Coopers. And Ed Norton is always great to watch. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 104 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.madmovieman.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

new-tbt-logo

For installment numero trés in our ‘Movies that Really Move’ segment on TBT, let’s switch up the genres and go to comedy, having spent some time with some solid entries into drama last week with Speed, and the week before with Days of ThunderThis movie speaks for itself and needs very little introduction, but I will say this: today’s entry is probably my second or third favorite Will Ferrell film. Although he doesn’t do anything substantially different from his other goofy roles, what he chooses as his subject matter here is perfect. Making light of the NASCAR circuit is always a good time. (Leave it to Ferrell to find nothing at all sacred, I know.) Even still, I thought this to be a relatively intelligent film compared to some other ridiculous full-length-feature SNL skits that he’s put out for public consumption. It’s by no means an award-contender, but hey, if you ain’t first, you can be second, third; hell. . . .you can even be fifth, right? 

Today’s food for thought: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

fart

Release: August 4, 2006

[DVD]

DF-15134 Ð Will Ferrell stars in Columbia PicturesÕ comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover S.M.P.S.P. Copyright: (c) 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH One LLC. All rights reserved.

The above photo shows a visibly distressed Ricky Bobby, as he attempts to free himself of the medical limitations placed upon him and his job as a top NASCAR racer, after a scuffle in a bar resulted in him getting his arm broken. (This was upon his request, mind you.) He attempts to cut through the cast to prove he’s ready, both physically and mentally, to take on the challenge posed by the presence of a new driver on the track — a Formula One driver who has just made the transition to the sport of left-turns.

Ricky could have surrendered to this new threat peaceably and told the guy what he wanted to hear in that bar that fateful night (something about crêpes), but no; his ego was simply too huge, and instead he gets his arm broken over a pool table. This moment is one of a select few that epitomizes the selfishness of Ferrell’s rowdy southern driver personality.

Ricky Bobby is the best there is, and he knows it. A considerable portion of the first half of the film shows him touting the fact he’s untouchable. Bobby, along with long-time race partner and Wonderbread teammate Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), have it made in NASCAR. An unstoppable duo of talented racers, Ricky is that guy whose dad never allowed him to accept anything less than the No. 1 position. It is from his father (Gary Cole) he’s had this impression that in life “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” and hence, his seemingly perfect track record. As his partner, Cal sits by and quietly accepts taking second place to Ricky’s fame and fortunes, never wanting to cause disruption in the relationship.

It is when this newcomer, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), puts his foot to the pedal that a rift begins to slowly form in Ricky and Cal’s friendship; a clash of the egos that escalates once Ricky gets involved in a bad crash during a race and loses his confidence. (One of my favorite moments is his psychotic breakdown in which he yells out for help from Tom Cruise — now, I’m wondering, is that a shout-out to Days of Thunder or just a random, funny throw-away line?) Ricky soon discovers his name is slowly being forgotten now that his teammate has suddenly got a chance at the limelight. Aaaaaaand cue the unsportsmanlike conduct.

Talladega Nights comfortably leans on the same Adam McKay-Will Ferrell formula that has propelled both careers since their days on Anchorman (McKay’s debut film, and arguably one of Ferrell’s most successful full-length feature adaptations of his SNL slapstick to date). However, Talladega Nights proves that the formula is working reasonably well. In order to enjoy said films or if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re going to enjoy a particular Ferrell film, the process is really quite simple.

Plug in the ridiculous cast of characters; a plot that first shows the lead roles to be some sort of supremely confident, talented individual, but as time goes on their unwillingness to change or adapt to new situations proves problematic; then sit back and watch as Ferrell’s character (and any other central character close to him) tries to figure out how to best adapt, while getting the girl at the same time. Time and again, these have all proven to be the nuts and bolts of the McKay-Ferrell comedy vehicle. Nothing out of the ordinary with Talladega Nights in this regard.

However, being bolstered by memorable supporting performances from an always-hilarious Gary Cole as Ricky’s awful father, and similarly the zany mother-figure in Jane Lynch’s Lucy Bobby, Talladega Nights is stronger competition than one might expect, especially given how ruthlessly self-centered Ricky Bobby first appears. The fierce spirit of competition readily invites Ferrell’s sense of humor, as well, and this helps fuel the film’s staying power just a tad.

shake-and-bake-this-bitch

3-0Recommendation: For Ferrell fans, it’s a must. Though this film is more or less relegated to the crowd-pleasing versions of his shtick, there are many good laughs here and there and its all in the name of good, simple fun. And it’s probably the second most-quoted film of his, behind Anchorman, of course.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dogomovies.com; http://www.imdb.com; http://www.quotesgram.com 

TBT: Speed (1994)

new-tbt-logo

So as we move further into September, I may as well come up with a name for this batch of TBT posts. Let’s go ahead and call this month something pretty cheesy, say something like: ‘Movies that Really Move.’ I’ve wrestled with a bunch of different names for these throwbacks, and so far that’s the one description which I feel suits this particular theme the best — films that feature car chases, races and fast paces. We started off with a look at Days of Thunder, an excellent film based around NASCAR racing and starring the world’s most endearing scientologist, Mr. Tom Cruise. This week, we jump forward another four years and examine one of the all-time best adrenaline flicks ever made. Part-car-chase movie and part-psychological-thriller, the throwback of today does indeed have a sequel, but we are all going to just ignore that fact since A) the quality of the sequel is enough to make me shudder just thinking about it, and B) we can only focus on one product at a time, fortunately. 

Today’s food for thought: Speed

speed-movie-pictures-4511

Release: June 10, 1994

[VHS]

A bus filled with random strangers must maintain at least 50 miles per hour as it tears through the greater Los Angeles area, otherwise an unseen terrorist hits the detonation button for the bomb he’s strapped to the underside of the vehicle. Keanu Reeves, an L.A.P.D. S.W.A.T. team member, comes to the aid of an interim bus driver (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to steer the bus without slowing down and killing everyone on board.

Just before this film debuted all the way back in the mid-90s, I can only imagine the amount of sneering and chuckling the title must have garnered from its critics. I can’t say definitely what the atmosphere was like surrounding the release — I was 8 years old at the time. What the film then turned out to be — an instant classic, one which set the standard for many action-thriller films to come (even if said standard has rarely ever been reached or surpassed since) — was probably hardly what anyone expected at first. How can such a simplistic plot yield such an incredibly entertaining ride?

I may not be speaking for anyone else, but each time I watch this movie I feel as though I’m binging on adrenaline.

Directed by Jan de Bont, Speed is fast, intelligent and well-acted. It is arguably his best effort to date, and likely the best he might ever put out. His direction takes full advantage of the chaos one might expect to be present in a story that pits the good guys against a determined and well-prepared villain (played by none other than Dennis Hopper — we miss you, Dennis). On one level, there’s the terror that comes along with blasting down busy roads at 50-plus-miles an hour; on the next, the bomber can see everything that is going on, and part of the trick of his game is that if he sees anyone escaping the situation he’ll blow the bus by remote detonation. The third  level is a little more psychological. Even though the motivation for Howard Payne (Hopper)’s plan isn’t the most unique — as a former member of the L.A.P.D. himself, all Payne wanted was his retirement benefits. The more Jack Traven (Reeves) deals with the situation and with the man behind it, he realizes how intelligent his rival is, and that he knows the ins-and-outs of the city as well as anyone. Not to mention, he’s simply nuts. . . principally the reason he was let go from the force. Given all of this, the film possesses a rare level of excitement that a great many films seem to not bother investing the time into developing. (Are you listening, Getaway?)

SPEEDY CAPTIONS

In this edition of TBT let’s do things a little differently. Included below are five of the best still images from the classic film that came out almost 20 years ago. The idea here is for you, my adrenaline-junkie readers, to provide your most creative captions for these photos in twenty words or fewer. I will stand back and watch the chaos unfold — only chiming in in the comment section following YOUR GREAT CAPTIONS (let’s try to keep them PG-13). This should be a really fun and challenging way to go back and look at one of the most incredible action-thrillers ever made. Let the captioning begin….

ss-100119-dennis-hopper-1994-speed-ss_full

Caption A: _______________________

speed_1994_blu_ray_movie_review_full

Caption B: __________________

Caption C: _________________

Speed-jeff-daniels-14982411-720-480

Caption D: ____________________

628x471

Caption E: __________________

That does it for TBT this week. Thanks for reading and participating peeps! Hopefully it was as fun for you as it was for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. And of course, me.

4-0Recommendation: Speed is quite simply a classic. My recommendation would be one simple suggestion: watch it again….because I don’t think it’s possible for someone to not have seen this film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanpop.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Days of Thunder (1990)

new-tbt-logo

Welcome to September’s edition of TBT! Though I wasn’t wild about trying to theme out this particular thread over the course of even something as short as a month, seeing as though I have a slight issue with consistency and all. . .I feel there’s a very good reason to try it out for this month. Given that on September 27, the latest Ron Howard picture, Rush,  is set to drop, I figured this would be a good time to take a look at some badass car movies. Initially I was going to try to restrict the theme simply to racing movies, but since yours truly has pretty limited racing film experience, I broadened the theme to include any really cool movie involving high speed cars, car chases, and yes, race sequences. Whether the film is character-driven as it dives into famous racer profiles (as Rush will here in a couple of weeks; and boy, do I hope this film proves to be the bounce-back Howard needs after his latest outing, The Dilemma. . . ) or whether the film just happens to show some ludicrous albeit highly entertaining car stunts throughout, this is the month to get your adrenaline fix as we throw it back to some older films involving automobiles. Enjoy! 

Today’s food for thought: Days of Thunder

Tom-Cruise-As-Cole-Trickle-In-Days-Of-Thunder-Movie-The-Cover-NASCAR-

Release: June 27, 1990

[DVD]

A very young, moody Tom Cruise dons the racing gloves and other appropriately goofy garb required of NASCAR drivers as he steps into the role of Cole Trickle, an extremely talented but emotionally unstable young driver who finds himself putting his foot back on the gas pedal following some events that likely could have sidelined him in the NASCAR world for the rest of his career. Fortunately, this is a movie and so his character will end up getting his perhaps all-too-easily-earned shot at redemption at some point or another.

Being the first of a series of three back-to-back films to star Nicole Kidman alongside Tom Cruise (the other two being Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut), Days of Thunder is a riveting action film which may not exactly be the most accurate portrayal of life in the NASCAR circuit but what it may lack in certain factual consistency it makes up for with its passionate storytelling and energetic, high-intensity race scenes.

There’s something about Days of Thunder and the way the late Tony Scott managed to capture the rambunctious, unpredictable and often grimy, filthy nature of the culture surrounding stock car racing. It is not tonally the most consistent film ever created, nor is it always as compelling as it ought to be, however there’s enough of a tinge of sentimentality in the capturing of sunset on race day, a nostalgic youth in the performances delivered by Cruise, Kidman and the intimidating veteran racer Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) that elevates the overall production.

Returning to this film is always a treat, given the solid cast and moments of terror and fear experienced on the track at high speeds. Indeed, one may not remember all that much from this film other than a couple of significant developments in the final race scene, Tom Cruise’s smile and Nicole Kidman’s accent when she gets mad (“Get out of the cahhh, Cole!”), but the few images and memories that one manages to keep from that first viewing are likely to be fond.

Cole Trickle (a character based on real-life NASCAR driver Tim Richmond, who died much too young at the age of 34 after he contracted AIDS) is an extremely gifted open-wheel driver who gets picked up by dealership tycoon Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, playing a fictionalized version of Rick Hendrick). Daland also convinces a retired car builder and former crew chief, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to come out of hiding and get things rolling for the newbie. Things, of course, do not go soundly at first as Cole is not used to both the size of the cars and the speed of the tracks he’s on, not to mention he’s frequently finding himself a target of intimidation by one Rowdy Burns. After multiple failed races that typically resulted in blown engines, it becomes clear to Harry that he needs to really get to specifics with Cole as the kid is not at all familiar even with some terminology used at the track and in the pit. Needless to say, Cole undergoes rigorous training and soon emerges as a very dangerous racer indeed. His first victory over Rowdy ignited a fierce rivalry, and ultimately foreshadows a tragedy looming in the near future. This is where the film turns to something a bit more compelling.

Cole Trickle (a character based on real-life NASCAR driver Tim Richmond, who died much too young at the age of 34 after he contracted AIDS) is an extremely gifted open-wheel driver who gets picked up by dealership tycoon Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, playing a fictionalized version of Rick Hendrick). Daland also convinces a retired car builder and former crew chief, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to come out of hiding and get things rolling for the newbie. Things, of course, do not go soundly at first as Cole is not used to both the size of the cars and the speed of the tracks he’s on, not to mention he’s frequently finding himself a target of intimidation by one Rowdy Burns. After multiple failed races that typically resulted in blown engines, it becomes clear to Harry that he needs to really get to specifics with Cole as the kid is not at all familiar even with some terminology used at the track and in the pit. Needless to say, Cole undergoes rigorous training and soon emerges as a very dangerous racer indeed. His first victory over Rowdy ignited a fierce rivalry, and ultimately foreshadows a tragedy looming in the near future. This is where the film turns to something a bit more compelling.

During the Firecracker 400 race in Daytona, a massive wreck occurs and sweeps up both Rowdy and Cole who both sustain injuries — though Cole comes out with far less serious ones. Rowdy’s future all of a sudden is in jeopardy (at least in terms of performing on the track) since the attending doctor (cue the red-headed Australian actress) says he is suffering severe head trauma. While both racers have to take some time off, some interesting developments occur both on and off the track. Cole starts seeing this brilliant doctor for more than just the routine check-up, and soon their relationship blossoms. Meanwhile, another racer is brought onto the team to fill in for the still-recuperating Cole, a smug, arrogant driver named Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes) who’s only goal is to make everyone forget about Cole Trickle.

His confidence shaken, Cole finds himself struggling to make sense out of his own life and in particular, his career choice since all he wants to do is get back into his car and win. . . win big. But with the added perspective of his newfound romantic interest, perhaps there’s more to life than driving around in circles all day hoping to not get into another life-threatening wreck (you have to remember, this film was set/made during a time when safety protocol wasn’t quite up to the standards set today). To make matters worse, Cole finds himself fired from the team by Daland, after he and Russ get into an altercation following an illegal move made by Russ in pit lane. It would seem Cole is out of the scene and out of a job. Cue your typical ‘hero-seeks-consolation-from-jaded-mentor’ scene.

Cole seeks out Harry, who, after being humiliated at the race track in the wake of the fight, has isolated himself once again to his secluded farmhouse and is not exactly pleased to see Cole trying to make a return to racing — much less, ask for him to be involved. Of course, Harry caves — but will the team be the same ever again?

There are moments throughout the film that may induce some yawns, but in general the atmosphere created by Scott’s decidedly Southern film is thoroughly enjoyable and provides yet another different role for Tom Cruise — the man who seemingly has now seen and done it all. Duvall is reliably heartwarming as Cole’s mentor, friend and coworker, and perhaps this movie might not have been so inspiring had it lacked presence from a man of his stature. Kidman is, well. . . I don’t really like Kidman at all and continually find her annoying and repelling. Here, she’s more neutral even though at times her reasons to protect Cole and certainly her emotional flare-ups are questionably fleeting and unconvincing. She was brought in more for a foil for our protagonist to have second-thoughts about himself, more so than the romantic interest. It’s quite easy to see through her character. However, she’s the weakest link and the rest of the cast turn in solid work.

I touched on it at the beginning of the previous paragraph, but the fact that this is an atmospheric film needs to be emphasized more. As is true for many sporting events, going to races has the added bonus of one feeling like they’re contributing to some larger idea; the closer you get to sit to the track, the more you feel a part of the race, a part of the culture. The more you feel involved in a general sense. In that way, this film is quite impressive in detailing both spectacle and circumstance surrounding any given race (a few of the highlights include the Darlington “Lady in Black” Raceway and the Daytona 500). These aspects are what make it a truly enjoyable watch, a staple of the ’90s. In fact, I’d venture to argue that most of the enjoyment resides in these aspects, and not simply in the fact that the feature boasts one of America’s most popular big-screen performers. We’ll keep that between us, though, because I’m not sure how Tom Cruise’s ego would take that news. . .

days-of-chunder

3-5Recommendation: This likely isn’t THE definitive racing movie, but it likely could be (for now) the definitive race movie based around NASCAR events. Its hardly a true story, though elements from real-life events were loosely referenced throughout. Any fan of the sport of racing in general should have passed the checkered flag by now but if you’re circling the last lap in getting around to this film, don’t worry about your position in this race. What matters is whether or not you cross the finish line at all. Days of Thunder is well worth the effort and time required to seek it out.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 107 mins.

Where were you when this film came out? 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.idolosol.com; http://www.motorsportsretro.com