Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hoshi o ou kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices) (2011)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up.

I realize I've never actually reviewed any of his films on here, but know that I really love and respect the films of Makoto Shinkai. He's a terrific animator and visionary artist, and I like how his works are all kind of sad and tinged with longing. It gets to me. His latest feature, Children Who Chase Lost Voices (aka Journey to Agartha) is a bit of a change for him in that it is mostly high fantasy, and works much more in the Miyazaki vein than his other films, but it still retains some of his signature as a storyteller and artist. The plot revolves around Asuna, a hardworking preteen loner who briefly befriends a mysterious stranger. She discovers he is from a mythical land known as Agartha, a kind of underworld where all the old gods fled after people stopped believing in them, along with some human groups who followed them. Asuna unintentionally breaks into their world with her grieving teacher, who hopes to resurrect his dead wife with the land's power. He and Asuna move through Agartha, generally unwelcome among the locals but managing to pick up a couple of friends (and several terrifying enemies). Asuna is unsure of her ultimate goal, but feels it is important that she somehow find closure for both recent and long-ago losses.

It can't be avoided: this movie feels derivative of Miyazaki. Its imagery, its setting, its overall story and characters- they can all be easily related back to the influential Ghibli director. And I'll admit that was a little frustrating, coming from a filmmaker like Shinkai whom I associate with individuality and experimentation. It is also, however, in keeping with his general themes and mood, though aimed at a younger audience than his earlier films. Amidst the fantastical visuals and mythological creatures, the film dwells thoughtfully on issues of mortality and loss, and it is clear that Shinkai is using this somewhat over-familiar concept and unreal setting to underscore the realities of his characters. Their situation is unreal, but their resolution born out of grief feels true. Moving along at an easygoing pace, Shinkai develops their stories gradually while peppering in action sequences and memorably surreal surprises. For the most part, though, I think he just really wanted to paint the sky. There are a lot of lingering shots of breathtakingly gorgeous day- and night-time vistas here, and it just blows my mind how beautiful it all is and how soft and inviting and detailed Shinkai makes his worlds. It's the kind of film you can drink up and keep within you for a bit, instead of just watch.

Admittedly I didn't all-out love this film, it's overlong and just didn't have the spark of originality I was hoping for. I've seen some people calling it a rip-off, but I don't think that's fair. It's more just influenced by Miyazaki and they are both pulling from similar mythological/cultural sources. Overall it is a beautiful film, but the plotting is a little clunky at parts and a few narrative points didn't quite come together (like, where did Asuna's dad get the crystal key thing?). I do think it's an interesting addition to Shinkai's filmography, mostly because with Miyazaki's retirement there's some question as to how that void in critically-acclaimed, family-friendly fantasy anime will be filled, and I hadn't really considered him a candidate for that area. But he can obviously do it, and still add his own adult themes and visual flair. I'm definitely interested to see how his work advances, and will be revisiting his earlier films soon.


Pair This Movie With: A like-minded Miyazaki would be good, especially Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, or Nausicaa. Alternatively there's always room for more Shinkai, like The Place as Promised in Our Early Days or 5 Centimeters Per Second.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Seen: In 3D at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

Thor is never something I've had Big Opinions about but I like all those Marvel movies so I go to see them, you know? This time around the big guy (Chris Hemsworth) is hanging out in space or whatever, fighting aliens and sucking up to his benevolent dictator dad and pining for his brilliant earthbound girlfriend, Jane (Natalie Portman). Through the wonders of science she discovers a portal to other worlds and accidentally absorbs a destructive energy that makes her a target for a host of evil elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who holds an old grudge against Asgard. Thor brings Jane to Asgard as Malekith is gearing up for war, planning to reclaim this mystery power from her. There's lots of fighting and whizzing around in space. Also Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is really tortured.

This is the kind of movie that I know I enjoyed as I was watching it, it's just mindless humor and action and I appreciated that about it. Just before heading out to the theater I'd received some bad news about my MA thesis and I was kind of freaking out, so a "shutting my brain off"-type of movie was actually just what I needed. In retrospect, while I don't think it's a bad film, Thor: The Dark World doesn't really hold up as well upon further consideration. It just didn't bring anything new to the table, aside from some interesting developments with Loki, so it's ultimately forgettable. The general conflict isn't particularly gripping, the character arcs are static, and the direction is competent but un-extraordinary. I liked that Jane Foster was given an important role in the overall plot, but she barely had any agency within that story so it wasn't exactly satisfying.

There are some fun action scenes, but the final showdown felt anticlimactic. The best part was when Idris Elba single-handedly took down an enemy spaceship. Like, remember that? That was so awesome. But! Not enough Sif, she had one fight in the opening battle scene and then a couple of dramatic stares and that was it! Wtf? Also not enough Darcy, but I guess that's just because I want to gaze at the drop-dead gorgeous Kat Dennings all day (though not enough to watch the uncomfortably racist Two Broke Girls). For me the major highlight was Loki. I'm not one of those people who is obsessed with his character, though I think Tom Hiddleston is a very good actor and has been so fun to watch in the role. But something about his broken-but-still-haughty demeanor and crafty personal revenge mission made me want the entire movie to be about him. He's just more interesting than Thor, who is funnier and more compelling when working in a group as opposed to the title character. Admittedly, the film spread itself out among various characters but their many individual stories made the movie as a whole feel disjointed.

An enjoyable enough film, fun to a point and with a strong cast that makes up for the less-than-impressive direction and script. That's about it I guess. Loved the Benecio Del Toro bit, though.


Pair This Movie With: I guess the first Thor makes the most sense, or The Avengers.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Walker (1987)

Seen: On Criterion dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Miles found this at his work and we were all ready for another Alex Cox movie to fall in love with since Repo Man is basically constantly on a loop at our house. Walker sounded rigoddamndiculous and I was intrigued by the premise alone. Based on a real-life figure, the film stars Ed Harris as William Walker, a doctor/lawyer/adventurer who acted as a "filibuster" in the mid-19th century, going into South American regions and attempting to set up American colonies. He is hired by opportunistic Cornelius Vanderbildt (Peter Boyle) to bring order to Nicaragua so that the wealthy tycoon can control their major trade route. Conquering local soldiers with a small army of mercenaries, Walker eventually installs himself as dictator and rules for almost two years. He becomes more and more irrational in his rule, killing on a whim and attempting to institute slavery, until eventually the people revolt against him and he finds himself burning down his own capitol city.

I don't think I'll ever fully process this movie, I mean I don't know what the hell is happening. It's like this bizarre satire and it's kinda funny and kinda serious and generally fucked up. It wears its unreality on its sleeve, throwing in blatant anachronisms left and right and never dwelling on its own inconsistencies. This gives it an underlying humor, a sense of the ridiculous that encourages the audience to laugh at this larger-than-life, delusional figure. The thing is, though, this was a real person, and he was AWFUL. Most of this movie is just watching a terrible man do terrible things, and I was shocked to read how much of the story was actually true. Though told in this wacky manner, the big plot points were basically all correct. The film's surreal and disjointed approach is actually fitting, a way to filter the atrocities of this period and make them easier to swallow. Of course the whole film is meant to be a commentary on Reagan-era imperialism, but that too is a historical period to me (as opposed to a lived one).

I don't know, I think I liked this movie? But maybe I didn't? It's definitely entertaining, and it's so weird you just have to keep watching. And it is funny. The cast is amazing- including Rene Auberjonois, Sy Richardson, Peter Boyle, and the always-delightful Gerrit Graham. Marlee Matlin plays the best character, but she's only in one scene. She is also one of two women in the whole movie. The score is fantastic, composed by Joe Strummer just after The Clash broke up. He's also in the film, somewhere, but I'll admit I didn't spot him. There are so many white dudes with beards hanging out in large groups that it was tough to really pick people out. ANYWAY Walker is a strange time, but I guess that's what makes it worth it, even if it was hard to watch sometimes because everything was the worst. I know Alex Cox is definitely not condoning the acts of William Walker, but just showing the fucked up world he created during his short time in Nicaragua is enough to make me queasy.


Pair This Movie With: I've heard some comparisons to Dead Man, which I haven't seen in a long time but remember liking.


Friday, November 15, 2013

High Noon (1952)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

I wanted to (shockingly) take a break from horror and Miles was in the mood for a western, so catching High Noon on netflix seemed like a good plan. The iconic film stars Gary Cooper as a marshal celebrating both his marriage to beautiful Quaker, Amy (Grace Kelly), and his pending retirement from law enforcement. His new idyll is shattered almost immediately when word comes that a murderer the marshal had arrested years ago has been released, and is due to arrive by noon. Though encouraged to leave town, the marshal feels he must take responsibility for the impending carnage and attempts to corral together a posse to defend against him and his gang of criminals. Most of the townsfolk either ignore his plight, plead for him to leave town, or actively hope for his death.

Thoughtfully paced (with constant ticking clocks to remind us of the impending titular hour), and beautifully shot, High Noon is basically a "thinking man's" western. It relies more on character development, suggestive backstory, and narrative tension to create interest, with very little action until the big shoot out at the end. The stark black and white cinematography and exaggerated framing reinforce the drama, but it's the cast and characterization that truly stand out to me. You've got a baby-faced Lloyd Bridges and a silent Lee Van Cleef, a sad Lon Chaney, Jr and an unexpectedly secretly badass Grace Kelly. And of course, Gary Cooper, stoic and stalwart, almost a caricature of heroic masculinity but sympathetic nonetheless. BUT REALLY the actual star is Katy Jurado, and I am OBSESSED with her and her character, Helen Ramírez. She's outspoken and level-headed, as well as compassionate and proud. A hard-working businesswoman who fought to earn a living as an independent Mexican woman in a frontier town, she is looked down on by some for her love affairs but never allows herself to be victimized or shamed. For the most part she avoided the "fiery Latina" stereotype so prevalent in films (even today), and I have immense respect for both the character and actress.
With a plot that gets bleaker and bleaker as it progresses, High Noon somehow manages to be incredibly entertaining while also realistically depressing. Nothing good happens in this movie, not really, even though it might have a "happy" ending in that the good guy gets the bad guy. But really it's a sad revelation of a broken justice system, a cowardly populace, and a confused romance. There isn't much to root for here, neither the marshal's inflated sense of purpose or the town's self-protecting attitude. Personally I was dreaming of a future spin-off with Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly running off and starting a store together in another frontier town, it would be both a hilarious female-centric comedy and a study of complex culture clashes. This is what the public wants, nay, NEEDS!


Pair This Movie With: I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would be a good double feature, probably. I haven't seen it in a while.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Wicker Man (1973)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

It was hard for me to believe that something as ridiculous and terrible as The Wicker Man remake came out of what many considered to be a top-notch horror film, but nevertheless I had high hopes for the original Wicker Man. Set entirely on a remote Scottish island, the film follows police detective Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the small island community of Summerisle to be a weird, weird place, where everyone is constantly getting naked for no reason and singing all the time and committing blasphemy or whatever, plus they all lie blatantly about the missing girl. Within a few days Sgt Howie is no further along in his investigation and essentially trapped there, gradually becoming convinced the islanders are planning a human sacrifice as part of their May Day pagan rituals.

This film is pretty bizarre, mostly in how it merges various genre elements into a somewhat mis-matched whole, but for the most part it works as an oddball thriller. It is very much a product of its time, a blatant commentary on the danger of cults when they had a much stronger presence in the mainstream consciousness. It is a dark but almost quaint story today, with Howie's exaggerated morality and blustering religious outrage making him a ridiculous figure, and certainly not a sympathetic one. He's also not a very good detective, never stopping to ponder why a letter was sent to him about a missing girl whose mother denies her existence. What makes The Wicker Man stand out is its memorably strange imagery and nihilistic plotting, and the charismatic performance of Christopher Lee as the devious Lord Summerisle. Also the music, since this is almost a musical and that was just not expected! Folksy tunes and ancient ballads and such.

This is an example of expectations vs reality, a common problem I experience when viewing acclaimed films. This is billed as a horror movie, and I was excited to see yet another highly-recommended horror film I'd missed, but I honestly don't see what makes this horror. It's not just that it's not scary, but it doesn't try to be scary. I viewed it as a straight mystery/thriller with some surreal visuals but no supernatural or slasher or other horror-type elements. I kept expecting something scary or truly horrific to happen and so I was kind of underwhelmed, but maybe I'm just not shocked by an asshole being burned alive by hippie pagans. It didn't bother me. Also I know there are different versions of this movie and I don't think I saw the full cut, it's whatever netflix sent me. Anyway I did like The Wicker Man, but I to sort of had to change how I was watching it when I realized it wasn't what I'd anticipated. It's a wonderfully eccentric film and I loved how unapologetic it was in its weirdness. Howie has no idea what's going on, and I didn't have much of a better idea, but for the most part the movie didn't really care anyway.


Pair This Movie With: Umm another movie about cults, I guess? I haven't seen too many, but can recommend Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and Suspiria.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cronos (1993)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

Way back in October 2011 I took a trip to Toronto for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and it remains one of my absolute favorite vacations because everything was fun and everyone was AWESOME. I feel like the Toronto film blogger/writer community is collectively enticing the rest of us to move there, and it's totally working. While there I got to see Guillermo del Toro speak at the TIFF Lightbox, and he sort of tracked his whole career through film clips and anecdotes, and I learned a bit about the two I'd never seen: Cronos and Mimic. Ever since catching a glimpse of a mysterious older man licking blood off the floor of a sparkling white marble bathroom, I knew Cronos should be a priority. Yet somehow it took me until now to see it, thanks to the Brattle's del Toro retrospective. The film concerns an antiques dealer and loving grandfather, Jesús (Federico Lippi), who stumbles upon a device that can give its user immortality, but with the unfortunate side effect of bloodlust. A sickly American millionaire (Claudio Brook) and his antagonistic nephew (Ron Perlman) have been seeking the device for years, and will stop at nothing to claim it from Jesús, who's been using it despite not fully understanding its capabilities.

Del Toro's first feature film, Cronos is an impressive indicator of the filmmaker's strong storytelling skills and visual innovation already in play. (It also reveals his interest in steampunky clockwork at an earlier juncture than I thought!) With stark, meticulous shots and a script that relies more on its premise's implications for its horror than outright scares, the film is a dark but entertaining venture. I loved Ron Perlman's performance, playing a comedic but grossly violent character who resents his abusive uncle but does his bidding anyway, presumably out of greed for the sick man's money. He's obsessed with getting a nose job, but he keeps getting punched and his nose just gets worse. He adds a nice dose of humor in an otherwise strictly dramatic film, and played well against Federico Luppi's confused desperation. There is a streak of melodrama running throughout the story, highlighted by the intense visuals and emotional story, but the actors keep things grounded enough to not overwhelm the audience. There's an unfortunately sappy element in Jesús's wordless granddaughter, who was very cute but so obvious in her status as a plot device.

I loved the blood and guts, the extreme color contrasts, the weirdness, the grubby mortician, the dancing, the subverted religious imagery, and, of course, the vampirism. It's at times off-putting in its pacing, and I can't quite get over the eye-rolling sentimentality with the granddaughter, but all in all it's a seriously strong debut from del Toro. Its themes of aging, sickness, and immortality seem out of place in the writing of a twentysomething filmmaker, but he handles them adeptly and maturely, and set the stage for the fantastical and moving films to come.


Pair This Movie With: We all know my favorite weird, dark vampire movie is Thirst, and I will always recommend that over almost any other movie in general, really. Other good pairings would be The Devil's Backbone, del Toro's dramatic ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War, or Phase IV, which came to mind with all the weird bug stuff in Cronos.


Friday, November 8, 2013

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part II

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm. But first! Read Part I!

We're getting into the very wee hours of the morning now, and there's always this hump I have to climb over where I'll be drifting off but then I'll get my second wind. For this line-up I was dozing a bit during the fourth film, but woke up and was fine for the fifth and sixth. The fact that it was FREEZING in the theater probably helped me stay awake, but also made me uncomfortable! The seventh and final film, Brain Damage, was one I really wanted to see and I was totally awake for it, but I started freaking out about homework and a freelance project I had to finish and decided to check out early. But Brain Damage just arrived from netflix so I'll be watching it soon! Anyway read on for the last films I DID watch at the Horrorthon, it's an interesting mix.

4 13 Ghosts (1960)
This is a great example of the ridiculous gimmicks William Castle would get up to with his films, introducing "Illusion-O," a use of 3D that revealed ghostly images when seen through a red lens and hid them when seen through the blue. Instead of the original visor-type of viewer we had red/blue glasses, so it was kind of annoying to look through one eye during all the Illusion-O moments, but I have to say the effect did look really eerie as the three-dimensional red ghosts moved through a 2D black and white space, I dug it. Unfortunately the movie itself is kind of dull, or at least it was for a sleepy audience in the early morning. I definitely nodded off a few times but got the general idea of the story (family inherits a wacky relative's mansion, discovers he was a weirdo who collected ghosts, are subsequently haunted by them). I appreciated the at-times weird visuals (wtf was with that headless lion tamer? And the mustachioed chef ghost?) and the self-aware characters, but the little boy was irritating and the whole subplot about the hidden money and the duplicitous attorney was just whatever.

5 Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetery) (1981)
I woke up for the Fulci, which is good because last time they showed a Fulci at one of these things I slept through most of it. In learning my own horror tastes I'm realizing that I really like the idea of a haunted house movie, so I think that's why I was more engaged by The House by the Cemetery than The Gates of Hell. Focusing on a family that moves into a creepy New England mansion haunted by the experiments of its previous tenant, "Dr Freudstein," it's half a hilariously bad movie, half a creepily good one. So there were a lot of emotions going on between the outrageously-dubbed child, stilted acting, melodramatic zooms, and genuinely spooky ghosts and wonderfully gory kills and freaky monster men and whatnot. Also what the FUCK was up with that doll-face babysitter? I fell asleep for like 5 minutes and maybe I missed her reveal, because she definitely had a mystery but I could not figure out what it was. She was helping Dr Freudstein sort of but then she got killed? And she reminded the mom of a doll? Or something? Maybe it was never explained.

6 Near Dark (1987)
I saw this years ago at the Somerville Theatre Horror Marathon when they had a "From Dusk to Dawn" vampire night, and I remembered really liking it but wasn't too clear on the details. Look back on what I wrote then I think my feelings are basically the same- overall I'd say it's a fun movie but the female lead is weak and the happy ending feels like cheating. That being said, Near Dark is just cool, I mean Bigelow is so good at making characters seem cool, you know? You've got an assholey Bill Paxton chewing all the scenery, smoking-hot couple Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henricksen, and a cowboy Adrian Pasdar, and everything's just so slick and stylish. Also something I don't think I put together last time: Adrian Pasdar's character is turned basically as punishment for being pushy and sexually demanding on his date with Jenny Wright (he won't drive her home until she kisses him, even though she seems anxious to get home), and the rest of the movie is hell for him, so that's appropriate.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part I

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm.

Oh hey, it's that time of year again! Every year the lovely Coolidge Corner Theatre hosts a wild all-night horror marathon complete with live music, a costume contest, and lots of long-haired nerds. This year I was again joined by the magnificent Katie and her horror-loving beau, and together we took in several spooky classics. Also for the first time I participated in the costume contest! I forget to get a full photo but here's a selfie from when I tested out my costume at a party, I was of course Dr Herbert West from Re-Animator, The Perfect Movie. I was a little bummed that this year there weren't any video compilations from the Whore Church but it looks like they were premiering new stuff in Austin that weekend so I guess that's why. We still got some fun trailers between films. Anyway, read on for the first three films!

1 Psycho (1960)
I hadn't seen this film since maybe high school (?) so it was neat to revisit it on a big screen, as I remembered all the main points but was still surprised by some of the details. It's a strangely-paced film, ostensibly a crime drama about a woman's choice to steal money from her job, but really it's about this unstable killer with whom she happens to cross paths. Hitchcock gradually shifts the focus and the perspective from her story to his story, and so the plot moves kind of weirdly but it all works thanks to the unsettling script, strong cast, and instantly-iconic camerawork. I love love Anthony Perkins here, he's amazingly adept at switching between affable charmer and sinister sociopath, and it's totally believable. Janet Leigh rocks some old-timey brassieres, a few cars are destroyed, and several people are murdered. Best of all I got to make a hilarious joke about Bernard Herrmann's wonderful score, pretending like I thought it was stolen from Re-Animator. Everyone likes this joke.

2 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
I saw this at the Horrorthon in 2011 so I was actually disappointed that they would show it again so soon- One thing I've liked about these events is that I'm always introduced to lots of awesome new-to-me films, but this year I'd already seen 3 of the 7 films being shown. Anyway, it's still a good movie! Like Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is loosely inspired by Ed Gein, but much more visceral and gory in its horror. It's got some serious scares, and an impressively resilient final girl. I mostly love all the freaky stuff with Leatherface's family- like it starts off as this rural slasher but it gets SO weird as we really go further into this house and meet the inhabitants. The blood-sucking grandfather left the strongest impression on me this time, I didn't remember how gross and creepy he was.

3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
OH MAN OH MAN. I'd been putting this one off for a while because I found the premise so scary (he gets you in your dreams? That's fucking terrifying!), but I'm so glad I was basically forced to watch it here because I looooooved it. This movie is such a great combination of 80s ridiculousness, honestly frightening ideas, and amazing effects. I loved the characters, especially doofy Johnny Depp and the lovely Heather Langenkamp in the lead, whose wonderfully resolute character I really admired. And obviously Robert Englund as Freddie Krueger is fantastic, a truly memorable villain that I hear just gets snarkier and snarkier as the films go on, so I definitely plan on checking out some of the sequels. This one is pretty perfect all by itself though, gory and fun and chock-full of big hair, with a dreamlike atmosphere well-attuned to the subject matter. Nice score, too. There's a reason it made my recent horror list!

Ok check back next time for Part II of the Horrorthon, which I mostly stayed awake for!


Monday, November 4, 2013

The Cannonball Run (1981)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

We were pretty down about Hal Needham's passing. His movies are always lots of fun and I love his respect for and dedication to stuntpeople. I remembered that I'd never actually seen The Cannonball Run so that felt like an ok way to celebrate his career. The film tracks the events surrounding a cross-country road race that attracts all manner of speed demons and goofballs, all with their own ideas about how to evade the police as they speed down numerous interstate highways. Sexy lady friends (and lovers? Probably?) Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman) use their looks to avoid speeding tickets, bickering racers JJ (Burt Reynolds) and Victor (Dom DeLuise) drive an ambulance complete with a phony doctor (Jack Elam), Seymour (Roger Moore) unleashes strange spy gadgets in the manner of James Bond, and sleazy pals Blake (Dean Martin) and Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis, Jr) disguise themselves as priests to fool any suspicious cops. A lot, and I mean A LOT of hijinks ensue as this huge group of famous people races to the finish.

This is a really very silly movie, like, Mel Brooks level of silly. Appearances from Dom DeLuise and George Furth certainly aid the comparison. As you may know, I'm kind of a Mel Brooks fanatic so I mean this as a high compliment. It's got outdated jokes, ridiculous sight gags, more wacky characters than you can shake a stick at, and a fair amount of nonsensical activity, all of which I love! I spent most of the movie oscillating between who I wanted to win because I liked almost everyone, but ultimately rooted for the misandrist lady team who took advantage of lascivious cops. I gotta say, I was very taken in by Sammy Davis, Jr and Dean Martin, though, whose rude humor and old man DGAF-ery was oddly charming. DeLuise can be overbearing, but having Reynolds there to balance things out helped ground them as the core racing team. Most of all, THE STUNTS. It's Hal Needham, I expect high-flying car action and unexpected levels of destruction and boy did I get it. There's even a fantastic fight scene involving Jackie Chan! Because yes, Jackie Chan is in this movie!

Which brings me to some of the negative aspects of the film. While I appreciated its fairly diverse cast, some of the racial stereotyping is so antiquated it's just jarring. Jackie Chan plays a Japanese racer who doesn't speak English (but seems to be speaking Chinese some of the time) whose car has outlandish technology. I love Chan, and it's awesome he got to show off his martial arts skills in the big fight scene, but the entire comedy of his character is a stereotype and it just doesn't work. Jamie Farr's role as a car-obsessed Arab sheik is similar, although his character is so ridiculous it worked a bit better because it didn't really rely on stereotypes as much (at least not ones I know) but was more of a general caricature of a really rich foreigner. Of course, treatment of women isn't much better, as Farrah Fawcett's charcter is kidnapped and drugged by the supposed "good guys," who are never even punished for it. But honestly, the whole movie (though inspired by a real guy) exists in this completely exaggerated parallel universe where nothing really makes sense and everything is goofy as hell, so it's not like I was ruminating on the script's exploration of race and gender. I was mostly just tickled pink by how much FUN I was having. Thanks, Hal Needham, I'll never forget you.


Pair This Movie With: Of course my first thought was Death Race 2000, the absolute best road race movie. For other 70's fast car flicks there's Smokey and the Bandit (another Needham/Reynolds team-up) and Grand Theft Auto.