Need for Speed (2014)

Currently the Rotten Tomatoes rating for Need for Speed is 23% (57% audience score). I can understand why it wasn’t a critical success, but I’m definitely on the side of the audience here.

Watch this movie if…

  • …you like car racing movies.
  • …you like practical special effects (rather than CGI).
  • …you don’t mind a ridiculous premise.
  • …you like happy endings and don’t mind a predictable plot.

Do NOT watch this movie if…

  • …you are tired of The Fast and the Furious franchise.
  • …you hate tropes and are hoping for some literary merit.
  • …your attention span is less than 130 minutes.
  • …you are a pedantic gearhead.

Personally, I don’t mind stories whose plots I can predict. After all, I’ve been trying to become an expert on plot by watching and summarizing movies. What bugs me is when I can predict the dialogue, and this movie didn’t have that problem. A commercially successful movie plot has to have certain elements, but there’s no excuse for stale dialogue. If the characters are going to say something obvious, they may as well say nothing at all.

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Need for Speed (2014)

XKCD Unpopular Positive Opinion Challenge: Speed Racer (2008)

When I saw the Unpopular positive opinion challenge on xkcd, I scrolled through my movie log and looked up a few scattered titles to see what their scores were on Rotten Tomatoes.

The challenge is to find a movie that…

  • you genuinely like (not “so bad it’s good”)
  • came out in your adult life post-2000, and
  • is rated below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes

I didn’t find many low-rated movies that I strongly disagree about. The exception is Speed Racer (2008).

Continue reading XKCD Unpopular Positive Opinion Challenge: Speed Racer (2008)

Superfast! (2015)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies. Some are Disney while others are deadly; some are comedies while others are merely laughable; some are wacky Wachowski one-offs while others are furiously approaching double digits.

The irony? I don’t drive.

The worst I’ve seen in the wake of the fabulously successful Fast and Furious franchise was undoubtedly the shoestring-budget direct-to-DVD production 200mph (2011). If any movie about a car wreck could be called a train wreck, that was it.

On the other hand, I didn’t expect to like Death Race, but it was great! The sequel was also pretty good, though the second sequel wasn’t.

Due to my hit-and-miss nature of my past experience with car movies, my expectations for this parody/spoof were extremely non-specific. I didn’t know Superfast! was, like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, et al., written and directed by the much derided team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I had no interest in any of their other movies and didn’t see them.

All of which is to say that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed Superfast!, but I did, perhaps because the filmmakers’ humor was new to me, even if it’s stupid and old and tired to most everyone else.

Anyway, even if it was a bad movie, it wasn’t as bad as 200mph.

See below for some links to reviews as well as a plot summary (with SPOILERS) in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Superfast! (2015)

Cars 3 (2017)

I was wondering what the core idea would be for this movie. Cars 2 took the racers around the world. Where would Lightning McQueen go next? What was bigger and better?

The moviemakers obviously had a very different idea. They didn’t go bigger and better, they went deeper. The second sequel to Cars is about the passage of time and the passing of the torch; it’s about generations past and future, and the changing roles we play in our lives.

The settings include a gorgeous montage of roadside scenery across the US, plus nostalgic vignettes of a fictional sleepy town thought to be located somewhere in the Carolina mountains.

It was sad, it was happy, it was very American… and it was good.

Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)

Herbie befriends a thieving street urchin in Mexico and gets his new owners in trouble when he smuggles the boy aboard a cruise ship and breaks loose in the cargo hold. Some treasure hunters searching for hidden Inca gold must recover stolen film that the boy accidentally transferred from one stolen wallet to another.

I like the car’s tricks, and his friendship with the orphan is suitably heartwarming, but the other characters and plot are nothing special. Moreover, poor Herbie keeps getting more and more decrepit-looking throughout the movie. They patch him up at the end, but we never get to see him race!

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

Nearly ruining his driver’s chance to qualify for the Trans-France Race, Herbie falls in love with another race car in Paris, one driven by a woman who resents discrimination against female racers. Meanwhile, Herbie is being chased by two bumbling diamond thieves, who have hidden a fist-sized gem in Herbie’s gas tank.

There’s a fight scene in the Alps that reminds me of the one in Speed Racer, though this one involves fewer people than that one; the diamond thieves have brought a helicopter to intercept Herbie and they hold the driver and his mechanic at gunpoint to try to get the diamond back. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking…

Herbie Rides Again (1974)

In this sequel to The Love Bug, the characters are totally different, except the car himself. The settings overlap, though: Herbie’s owner, a delightful little old lady played by Helen Hays (who I recognize from the Disney movie Candleshoe), still lives in the same house in San Francisco.

The plot revolves around whether the house (what the Chinese call a “nail house”) will be torn down so that an insensitive rich guy named Mr. Hawk can build a huge, H-shaped skyscraper on the site. Everything nearby has already been demolished. In Hollywood, the underdog wins and the wealthy antagonist loses; private property rights are upheld. (In China, sadly, that’s not always how the story goes, though supposedly things are improving.)

In part because the connection to racing is lost, in part because the real-estate developer is so explicitly Machiavellian, and in part because the lead male is pretty dopey, I liked this movie less than the original. That’s normal for sequels, though, and it was still cute.

The Love Bug (1968)

When I was little, I loved movies where stuff moved by itself. I loved animate inanimate objects like Herbie the VW Beetle, talking animals like the cat in The Cat from Outer Space, and people who could do telekinesis, like the siblings in Escape to Witch Mountain. These days I enjoy racing car movies, like the Fast and Furious series, Speed Racer, and even Death Race, despite how bloody it is. The Love Bug is a family comedy that features a racing car that moves by itself. What’s not to love?

I watched it with the audio commentary on this time, so rather than hearing the film’s dialog, I was hearing comments from the three main actors years after the filming.

One thing the commentators pointed out was the matte backgrounds. I tend to think of fake sets as being CGI and very artificial, but movies have been artificial a lot longer than computers have been around. The methods we use to trick the eyes have changed, but the effect is the same. A backdrop created with pixels isn’t necessarily more beautiful or realistic than a backdrop created with paint. The actor who was describing scenes set in foggy San Francisco couldn’t remember, and couldn’t reliably discern, which scenes were filmed on location and which locations had been painted in.

The movie is more impressive if you think about how many of the simple-looking special effects had to be done in real life with physical tools and props, such as the scene on the DVD cover where the car is bouncing across the surface of a pond. They had a plastic car on wires attached to poles on either side of the pond, and they bounced the car on the water. It’s much simpler, and much more complicated, than it looks!

Memorable moments in the movie: Herbie getting drunk on Irish coffee with whipped cream, which I don’t think I understood very well when I was a kid; a phone in a car, which must have been devilishly expensive at the time; diverted race cars zooming through a  mine, and then Herbie getting in an elevator sideways to exit the mine at the top of a hill.

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Can the movie industry please stop putting all the jokes and surprises into the previews? I would have enjoyed F8 much more if I hadn’t seen so much of it already.

It was still a surprise to me, however, when the villain got away, because that sets up another whole movie, and I was expecting this to be the last one, on account of the rather final-sounding name. I’ve now realized they chose the name because this movie is the eighth, and “F8” sounds like “fate” in leetspeak or SMS shorthand or whatever. (Letters? Where we’re going, we don’t need letters!)

In the first act, the villain (a female super-hacker, yay) tries to make it sound like Dom isn’t really loyal to his team, he’s loyal to his sense of adventure, but that interesting ambiguity doesn’t last long. By the time we reach the climax, the villain is a boring cardboard cut-out who just  stands there desperately gnashing her teeth, ranting at underlings on a comm system, and jabbing buttons on a control panel. I felt sorry for her.

Still, the set pieces and humor were wonderful, and although the movie’s reveal during the resolution was pretty far-fetched, I still found it satisfying. The movie lacks plausibility and emotional depth, but it has lots of antics involving bald dudes and cars. Box office receipts indicate that this suffices.

Turbo (2013)

Well, race fans… What to say about Turbo. Not a favorite. Too many characters and subplots. There are comparisons one could draw between this movie and Pixar’s Cars (2006) and the less obviously related Ratatouille (2007), and Disney’s Planes (2013)… but none of those comparisons favor Dreamworks.

Among the Dreamworks disasters, I liked Rise of the Guardians better than Turbo; I vaguely think Sinbad and El Dorado were okay; I haven’t seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman or Penguins of Madagascar.

Turbo’s premise, which is proclaimed insane throughout the movie itself, is that a garden snail from somewhere in California accidentally gains superpowered speed (and miscellaneous other irrelevant attributes of being a car), finds a human sponsor, and goes to compete in the Indianapolis 500 against his childhood idol, a famous French driver. Throw in Samuel L. Jackson, a Latino, grown-up version of the charmingly oblivious fat boy in Up, more antagonists than you can shake a stick at, and a clip from the hit song “Eye of the Tiger” and you’ve got a mess of a movie.

I thought the filmmakers had passed up the world’s most obvious chance ever to make the old “look at that S car go” joke until I noticed that Turbo’s race number is ‘5’, which looks an awful lot like the letter ‘S’. Kudos, guys! I was expecting the joke and you still got me.

Keep reading for more on what didn’t work and why, including SPOILERS. (Ha ha, get it? Spoilers!)

Continue reading Turbo (2013)