Archive for Joan Allen

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Detroit engineer Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges) has been interested in building cars since childhood. During World War II he designed an armored car for the military and made money building gun turrets for airplanes in a small shop next to his home in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Tucker is supported by his large, extended family, including wife Vera (Joan Allen) and eldest son Preston Jr (Christian Slater).

As the war winds down, Tucker has a dream of finally building the “car of the future.” The “Tucker Torpedo” will feature revolutionary safety designs including disc brakes, seat belts, a pop out windshield, and head lights which swivel when you turn. Tucker hires young designer Alex Tremulis (Elias Koteas) to help with the design and enlists New York financier Abe Karatz (Martin Landau), to arrange financial support. Raising the money through a stock issue, Tucker and Karatz acquire the enormous Dodge Chicago Plant to begin manufacturing.

Launching “the car of tomorrow” in a spectacular way, the Tucker Corporation is met with enthusiasm from shareholders and the general public. However, the Tucker company board of directors, unsure of his ability to overcome the technical and financial obstacles ahead, send Tucker off on a publicity campaign, and attempt to take complete control of the company. At the same time, Tucker faces animosity from the Big Three and the authorities led by Michigan Senator Homer S. Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges).

While the manufacturing of the Tucker Torpedo continues, Tucker is confronted with allegations of stock fraud. Ferguson’s investigation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), causes Karatz, once convicted of bank fraud, to resign, fearful that his criminal record will prejudice the hearings. Yellow journalism starts ruining Tucker’s public image even though the ultimate courtroom battle is resolved when he parades his entire production run of 51 Tucker Torpedoes, proving that he has reached production status.

After giving a speech to the jurors on how capitalism in the United States is harmed by efforts of large corporations against small entrepreneurs like himself, Tucker is acquitted on all charges. Nevertheless, his company falls into bankruptcy and Preston Tucker succumbs to a heart attack seven years later, never able to realize his dream of producing a state-of-the-art automobile.

REVIEW :

I think I’m one of a handful of people who actually remember Tucker: The Man and His Dream. When this film was released it did ok business, but was still considered a flop. As such, it never had the chance to gain a cult audience, so now it just exists without any real rabid fanbases supporting it.

What is this about?

Unimpressed with the cars being built following World War II, Preston Tucker dreams of building a more stylish car. But even with the help of his business-savvy wife and mechanic son, Tucker faces roadblocks — mainly from the auto industry itself.

What did I like?

Faithful. With biopics, it is very hard to stick with the original story, because you want to change bits and pieces in a way to make it more interesting for audiences. The director made a valiant effort to not change anything with picture and the few changes that were made were minor, the biggest being that instead of 4 yrs, it takes place over the course of 1 year. There are other small changes made, but none that made a big difference, as far as I’m concerned.

Cast. Very rarely does one come across a film that has such a perfect cast. Highlighted by the star Jeff Bridges, who manages to capture the 40s essence needs to pull this off. In certain scenes, it almost seems as if he’s trying to imitate Kevin Costner’s mannerisms and such from The Untouchables.

There was a time. Anyone that follows this blog or knows me in person will attest that I’m huge fan of this era. There is just something about the way things were done back then. Couple that with some great jazz playing on the radio, and a look at a couple of full service gas stations. Really makes one nostalgic, even I was taken aback by it all.

What didn’t I like?

Price isn’t right. Martin Landau gives a nice performance as financier Abe Kravitz, but his look threw me off. With the moustache they put on him. he resembled Vincent Price. It is possible, yet unlikely, that they wanted Price for this role. Perhaps the real Kravitz resembles Price is the reasoning for that. I really can’t tell you, but I kept expecting him to go to some kind of lab and create monsters and give and evil laugh.

Hughes. Now, fans of Quantum Leap will recognize Dean Stockwell, who plays Howard Hughes. The way that sequence played out was quite odd. Hughes was a bit of an enigmatic figure, to be sure, but they ratchet the mysterious part of his persona to 10. I can live with that, but the creepy music they play behind him almost make the audience think something bad is about to happen.

Politics. Some things never change. Politicians stick their grubby little hands in and basically put Tucker out of business. That is a damn shame! When did politicians go from serving the people to serving the dollar? These days you can throw in throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their way, but I won’t go into all that. The powers that be see Tucker as a threat because his ideas actually work and will make things better (and cheaper). One must wonder how many others have suffered the same fate, if not worse.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream is one of those films that not many people know about. Truthfully, the same can be said about the man, Preston Tucker, but it is a great thing that someone wet through the trouble to inform the public about someone who was so influential to the automobile industry. Here’s something else, the Tucker Tornado still has a futuristic look some 70 yrs later. There was an article on Yahoo.com a week or so ago about a real life version of the car Homer designed in an early episode of The Simpsons. I just realized that the debut scenes are very similar. At any rate, I highly recommend this film. It is a very entertaining biopic about a figure that many of us don’t know about. Check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

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The Crucible

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Early morning in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts. All of the young village girls meet in the woods with an African American slave from Barbados named Tituba. Tituba begins a ritual and the girls call out the names of men they wish to marry. One girl, named Abigail, does something different. Instead of calling for the man she loves, named John Proctor, she kills a chicken, and drinks the blood, and wishes for Proctor’s wife to die. The girls begin to dance (one of them even runs naked) and run through the woods and suddenly are surprised when Abigail’s uncle, Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison) come to them. As the girls scream and run away, Parris’ daughter, Betty, falls over unconscious.

Back at Parris’ house, Betty will not awaken, nor will Ruth, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Putnam, who was also dancing. This strikes Mrs. Putnam hard as she has had seven other children before Ruth who died at childbirth. As well as the Putnams, the Parris house is also visited by Giles Corey, who is concerned about how his wife constantly reads books, Rebecca Nurse, who suspects that the children are just acting their sicknesses, and John Proctor. While alone outside with Proctor, Abigail strikes up a conversation with him, revealing that when she worked at his home previously, they had had an affair. Now Abigail still loves Proctor, but he feels that he made a mistake and leaves her. The Putnams and Reverend Parris believe that Betty and Ruth are demonically possessed, so they call from another town the Reverend Hale, who examines Betty, then gathers together the other girls who danced. To save themselves from punishment, Abigail claims that Tituba was working with the devil the entire time. The attention then turns to Tituba who insists on her innocence. When no one believes her, she confesses (after being whipped mercilessly and threatened with death if she did notconfess) and then she and all the other girls, including Betty, begin naming other women whom they “saw” with the devil. Soon, old drunks, people who curse others, and those who do so much as look funnily at others are accused as witches. Of those accused, three were Rebecca Nurse (accused by the Putnams for the supernatural murder of Mrs. Putnam’s babies), Martha Corey (for supernaturally cursing a man so that all the pigs he bought would die), and Elizabeth Proctor, John’s wife (accused by Abigail of using a doll to supernaturally give her a stab wound in the stomach).

John, determined not to give his lover in to “vengeance” insists that his servant, Mary Warren, one of the “affected” girls, testify in court that the witchcraft was faked. Although Mary Warren is frightened of Abigail, she eventually agrees. In the court, Francis Nurse gives a list of names of people who vouch for Martha, Rebecca, and Elizabeth’s character. The judges responded by ordering the arrest of every person on the list so they could be brought in for questioning. Giles Corey insists that when Ruth Putnam accused Rebecca Nurse, Mr. Putnam was heard to tell his daughter that she had won him a “fine gift of land” (the Nurses’ property was coveted by the Putnam family). Corey refuses to give the name of the person who heard this remark, however, as he knows that they will be arrested. The judges order Corey’s arrest for refusing to give the name. Meanwhile, Mary Warren insists that she only thought she saw spirits, which was why she screamed and fainted at the trials. John is told that Elizabeth is pregnant and will be spared from death until the baby is born, but he insists on charging the girls of false witness.

The other girls are called in and asked if they were lying about the witchcraft. Abigail pretends that Mary Warren is bewitching them with an icy breeze and begins to pray to God for help. Proctor angrily tells the court that Abigail is a whore, who accused Elizabeth to get rid of her in order to be able to marry him. Elizabeth is called in to see if the accusation is true, however, she does not know that John confessed and lies that the affair never took place, to protect his name. Reverend Hale, who believes now that the girls are lying, attempts to convince the court that Abigail is false, however the girls pretend that Mary Warren supernaturally began to attack them in the form of a yellow bird. The girls run from the courthouse, to a pond and jump in to escape from the “bird”.

To save herself from being hanged as a witch, Mary Warren accuses John of forcing her to upset the court and free Elizabeth. John angrily yells that “God is dead!” and is arrested as a warlock. Reverend Hale angrily quits the court. John, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Martha, and the other accused witches are excommunicated and seventeen are hanged.

On the day before John is to be hanged, Abigail attempts to convince the court that Hale’s wife is also a witch, but this ploy backfires on her because the judges believe that a reverend’s wife is too clean to be possessed by Satan. Abigail and another one of the girls steal Reverend Parris’s money to catch a ship to flee to Barbados, and Abigail asks John to go with her, telling him she never wished any of this on him. He refuses, telling her they will meet again in Hell.

On the eve of John, Martha, and Rebecca’s hanging, Parris fears that their execution will cause riots in Salem, as the three are very well-respected citizens. The judges refuse to postpone the executions, but allow John to meet with Elizabeth, to see if she could make her husband “confess”, convincing Martha and Rebecca to “confess” in the process. Martha and Rebecca refuse to “damn themselves”, but John agrees to. After signing the confession, however, he takes it from the judges, saying that there is no reason for it to be needed, as they saw him sign it and know he confessed. The judges insist that it must be hung up to prove his innocence and John angrily tears the confession, determined to keep his name pure. He is taken away with Martha and Rebecca to be hanged, as Hale and Parris plead with him to change his mind. The three are lead onto a platform where the crowd watches and have nooses tied around their necks. Before being hanged, they recite the Lord’s Prayer, with John, as the last one hanged, finishes it (but is unable to say Amen) as he is thrown from the scaffold, breaking his neck instantly

REVIEW:

In high school, we were assigned this play to read. Admittedly, I never got around to reading it, and faked my way through the corresponding assignments. A few days ago, I actually picked up the sam play and read it and figured it was about time I checked out the film version as well.

When it comes to adaptations, this has to go down as one of the more accurate ones. That could be because Arthur Miller wrote it himself. Anytime you have the play’s original author chipping in on a project based on his/her work, it is guaranteed to be good because they’ll know the way things should be done. Miller wrote a powerful screenplay for this film.

Daniel Day-Lewis has become quite the accomplished actor since this film, but he still turns out a great, stirring, emotional performance as John Proctor. You can really feel the torment and conflict goign through him for the first half of the film, followed by the pain and torture he goes through in the last half of the film. Not many actors have that kid of range, at least they can’t do it all in the same film.

Winona Ryder tries to be a serious actress, but just doesn’t cut it. Her character, Abigail, has the entire town wrapped around her finger with her acting, but Miss Ryder doesn’t capture the essence of the character and comes off as stiff and unbelievable. The good thing about her portrayal is that she did capture the bitchiness of Abigail as she seems to be running the town.

The rest of the cast is brilliant, especially Joan Allen, who plays Elizabeth Proctor and the actor who played Judge Danforth to life…his name escapes me at the moment, though. Both of these indiviuals outshone the rest of the cast, and may even have taken som of the spotlight from the leads.

Acting wise, this film is a clinic on what you should do. Film wise it is great, but not memorable…at least from my point of view. This is the kind of film critics love, bu audiences tend to ignore, myself included. I can’t say that I blame anyone for not getting into this. I mean, there is a nice long section where I found myself nodding off hoping they would hurry and end it. That’s not a knock against the film, as much as it is just they put too much in here. Still, it isn’t a bad film and worth a viewing.

4 out of 5 stars

Pleasantville

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Although David (Tobey Maguire) and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are twins, they lead dramatically different high school social lives. Jennifer is concerned mainly with her appearance, relationships and popularity, while David has few friends and cannot even drum up the courage to talk to a girl on whom he has a crush. He spends most of his spare time on the couch, watching television. Jennifer, on the other hand, is more assertive and at the beginning of the film makes a date with Mark Davis, one of the most popular boys in school.

Their mother (Jane Kaczmarek) leaves Jennifer and David alone at home while she heads out of town for a rendezvous with her boyfriend (who is later revealed to be nine years younger than she is). The twins begin to fight over the use of the downstairs TV; Jennifer wants to watch an MTV concert with Mark, while David needs the TV in order to watch a marathon of his favorite show, Pleasantville.

Pleasantville is a black-and-white ’50s sitcom (a crossover of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best) that centers around the idyllic Parker family — George (William H. Macy), his wife Betty (Joan Allen), and their two children, Bud and Mary Sue. David is an expert on every episode and wants to watch the marathon so he can win a trivia contest. During the fight between David and Jennifer, the remote control breaks and the TV cannot be turned on manually. A mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up uninvited, and quizzes David on Pleasantville before giving him a strange-looking, futuristic remote control. The repairman leaves, and David and Jennifer promptly resume fighting. However, through some mechanism of the remote control, they are transported into the television, ending up in the Parkers’ black and white Pleasantville living room. David tries to reason with the repairman (who communicates with him through the Parkers’ TV set) but succeeds only in chasing him away. David and Jennifer must now pretend they are, respectively, Bud and Mary Sue Parker.

Breakfast in the Parker house is promptly served by stay-at-home mother Betty, and consists of generous servings of bacon, eggs, waffles, pancakes, ham, honey, sausage, and other fatty foods. Jennifer is disgusted at the thought of eating so much “animal fat.” On the way to school, the pair watch as a group of firemen rescue a cat out of a tree, and Jennifer meets Skip (Paul Walker), the captain of the basketball team and her soon-to-be boyfriend. David tells her that they must stay “in character,” she must make small-talk with her three monochrome friends and not disrupt the lives of the Pleasantville citizens, who do not notice any physical differences between the old Bud and Mary Sue and David and Jennifer. In order to keep the plot in line, Mary Sue agrees to go on a date with Skip, although the two have very different ideas of what a date constitutes.

The date between Skip and Mary Sue turns out to be the first catalyst for change in the town. Skip has no knowledge of sex until Mary Sue introduces him to it. The plot of the traditional show is further thrown out of sequence when Bud’s boss Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), who runs the soda shop, becomes dissatisfied with his boring, mundane life, confiding in Bud that the only time of the year during which he is happy is Christmas, due to the fact that he gets to paint something new every December 3rd for the Christmas mural in his shop’s window. Bud initially attempts to convince him to carry on, saying that even if Mr. Johnson does not like his job, he should still do it anyway, but David soon realizes his error and gives Mr. Johnson an art book, encouraging his true passion.

Meanwhile, Skip tells the other boys about sex, and soon the teenagers begin to experiment, leading to a sort of sexual revolution. Betty is curious (leading to a sex talk between Betty and Mary Sue) and, knowing that her husband would never do any of the things Mary Sue describes, engages in masturbation while bathing. As she climaxes, a tree outside on the Parkers’ lawn spontaneously combusts.

Bud, realizing the firemen have no other experience than fetching cats out of trees for neighbors, teaches them how to put out fires and is awarded a medal. He is thus noticed by a beautiful cheerleader named Margaret (Marley Shelton), who bakes him oatmeal cookies — cookies she was supposed to bake for a boy named Whitey (David Tom). Bud’s act of heroism has inadvertently changed the storyline, but he seizes the moment and asks Margaret out for a date. When the TV repairman returns and berates him for altering the show so much, Bud turns off the TV, relinquishing his ability to go home in the process.

Pleasantville soon begins changing at a rapid pace. Double beds become available in stores, colored paints available to buy, students engage in sexual displays in public, and Pleasantville’s beleaguered wives become tired of their household duties and begin to think, causing their husbands to reel in shock at their behavior. Meanwhile, things about the town which have changed from the original plotline begin to develop full and vibrant colors, rather than remaining black and white. The mayor, Big Bob (J.T Walsh) notices these changes and becomes concerned. He recruits George Parker, as a respected citizen, to the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce to help normalize the town again, along with groups of other citizens who remain black and white. At this point, Betty has become “colored” as well and is afraid that George will hate her. Bud helps her to conceal the color with her old make-up, which is still black and white.

People in Pleasantville begin to explore hidden abilities and revel in their new freedoms. Mr. Johnson begins to paint, while Betty finds that housework no longer interests her. The basketball team loses their first game (previously, not only had they never lost, but they had never missed any shots), while students begin visiting the public library and reading books recommended by Mary Sue and Bud. Ironically, Mary Sue/Jennifer, who had never shown any interest in school, finds she likes reading so much that she rejects Skip in favor of a book by D. H. Lawrence, and finds her own color.

Gradually, more objects begin turning multicolor, including flowers and the faces of people who have experienced bursts of passion or change. The only people who remain unchanged are the town fathers, led by Mayor Big Bob who sees the changes as eating away at the moral values of Pleasantville. Certain youths, such as Skip and Whitey and their friends, also remain unaffected. They resolve to do something about their increasingly distant wives and disaffected youths. A town meeting is called. Betty falls in love with Mr. Johnson and leaves George for him, no longer wishing to hide her colored face.

Behavior similar to Nazism, as well as racial segregation and subsequent rioting similar to that of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, soon reach Pleasantville, touched off by a nude painting of Betty on the window of Mr. Johnson’s soda shop; the window is smashed with a park bench, and the soda shop is destroyed, piles of books are burned, and anyone who is “colored” is harassed in the streets. Bud earns his color by defending Betty from a gang of thugs led by Whitey.

He begins to grow from a quiet loner into a strong leader, advocating resistance to the new “Pleasantville Code of Conduct”, a list of regulations preventing people from visiting the library and Lovers’ Lane, playing loud music, or using paint colors other than black, white, or gray.

In protest against the mundane Pleasantville outlook, Bud and Mr. Johnson paint a colorful mural on a brick wall, depicting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, winged books rising from piles of burning literature, men and women dancing together to rock music, and other things relevant to the changes in their world. For this they forced to spend the night in a jail cell. Bud is visited then by George, who wonders why Betty has changed, after he reveals he hasn’t eaten in a very long time because he doesn’t know how to cook. Bud simply replies that “people change,” to which George wonders aloud if they couldn’t just change back to the way things were.

Bud and Mr. Johnson are brought to trial in front of the entire town, with the monochrome citizens on the ground floor as witneses, segregated from the “colored” residents who are made to sit on a balcony as democratic voters.

George gains his color when, in the courtroom, he cries for the loss of his wife after Bud helps him realize the truth about what he actually misses (Betty herself, not the tasks she performs). Mr. Johnson is repentant and tries to haggle with the Mayor, but Bud speaks out, finally arousing enough anger and indignation in Big Bob that the Mayor himself becomes colored as well.

With this, the entire town becomes colored — and the people of Pleasantville are finally introduced to the rest of the world. Televisions at the television repair shop now display full-colored images of various scenic vistas around the world, such as the Pyramids at Giza and the Eiffel Tower, and Main Street, which had previously been a circuit that led back to its beginning again, now leads away to other streets, and ultimately to other towns and cities as well.

Jennifer chooses to stay behind in this alternate world, planning to go to university out of town as Mary Sue Parker. David returns using the remote control and finds his mother crying in the kitchen, distraught over her predictable, middle-aged life and her failed relationship with her junior lover. She complains to him that her life was not supposed to run this undesirable course.

David replies, saying, “It’s not supposed to be anything.”

The movie ends with a cut back to Jennifer/Mary Sue, reading a book to a sweetheart on the university steps, and with a shot of Betty and George, reunited; however, when Betty turns to look at her husband, it is Mr. Johnson who appears in his place.

REVIEW:

I’m nearly as big a fan of old black and white TV as David is in this film. Don’t judge me! You can’t sit there and tell me that shows that were made back there are not infinitely superior, original, and more entertaining than the sex driven, reality crap, and cop/crime dram clones that are on the air today.

Having said that, I really relate to Tobey Maguire’s character since I know pretty much all there is to know about I Love Lucy.Not exactly the same thing, but you get the idea. Tobey does a good job of portraying the character development of David from the beginning to end.

It may be the fact that I don’t watch too many of Reese Witherspoon’s films, or it could be the clothes, but she seemed quite a bit more “blessed” in the films than in others. Bust size aside, she makes one of the most dramatic changes of the film. In the beginning she is a slut, who I would wager is barely hanging on in her classes. By film’s end, she’s off to college. Now that’s a turnaround, and all it took was some time in the past.

Don Knotts, who we all remember from The Andy Griffith Show,shows up here and there as the strange TV repairman that gave the twins the remote control that allowed them to be transported to Pleanstville. In typical Knotts fashion, he is and excitable bundle of nerves. If I have an issue with this character, though, it is that he never explains the remote or who he is. I understand that part of it has to do with the mystery, but you would think after he came back from his hissy fit or after things started going awry in town, he would have said something, but maybe that’s just me.

Joan Allen and William H. Macy turn in great performances as the Parker parents. Allen has a memorable masturbation scene that sets a tree aflame!

Jeff Daniels seems to relish roles that have his playing a less than intellectual superior. As Bill Johnson, he is Bud/David’s boss, and is hopelessly in love with Joan Allen, not to mention he loves to paint and has no clue how to run his own store without Bud. As the film goes on, though, he becomes one of the most lovable characters.

I really like the themes that this film addressed, racism, closed mindedness, oppression, segregation. On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about their saying that things have to change for the sake of change. I’m all for change, don’t get me wrong, but if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. I’m sure there were people in Pleasantville who were perfectly happy with their perfect little town. I would have been one of those people. Sadly, places like this are long gone and replaced with crime ridden metropolis’.

This is one of those films that will make you think without you even realizing it. The story is extremely well written and impressive. Can you believe someone had an original thought and came up with this? *GASP* Each of the characters is very well acted out. The colors and contrast are astounding, and this is just an overall great film.

4 out of 5 stars

Death Race

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

By 2012 the economy of the United States has fallen into disaster, unemployment, and crime are on the rise, and private corporations run most prisons across the nation for profit. The movie focuses on the Terminal Island Prison, which broadcasts “Death Race” to the world via a popular paysite on the Internet. Death Race is not only a race to the finish line, but a battle pitting driver against driver for survival.

The film begins by showing a race near its end between Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) and a famous masked driver known as Frankenstein (David Carradine in a voice-over cameo appearance), who is accompanied by a female navigator. During the race, Frankenstein’s car’s defensive systems stop working and he orders his navigator to “drop the tombstone”, a 6 inch steel plate in the rear of the car; dropping it disconnects it from the car, tumbling it towards Joe. Joe’s Dodge Ram is heavily damaged but he manages to destroy Frankenstein’s car since, with the tombstone gone, the car’s fuel tank is exposed. Frankenstein’s navigator ejects, leaving him to race alone to the finish line. Joe fires a volley of rocket-propelled grenades toward Frankenstein’s car, which is blown over the finish line in a flaming inferno leaving Frankenstein critically wounded, or dead.

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for his wife’s murder on the same day that the steel mill he works at closes; the murderer is actually a masked intruder that points a finger-gun at Ames as he leaves. Ames is sent to prison where he immediately makes enemies by fighting with a white supremacist gang, led by Pachenko (Max Ryan). He is taken to Hennessey (Joan Allen) who tells him that those men will kill him without her help. Thus he is coerced by the warden to become the new driver of Frankenstein’s 2005 Ford Mustang. The warden tells Ames that she knows about his baby daughter left in foster care. She also states that prisoners are freed upon winning five Death Races, but since he will take on the mask of the legendary Frankenstein, who had 4 wins at the time of his death, he will only need to win one race.

The races are broken into three stages: Stages 1 and 2 are races in which the driver must merely survive, and Stage 3 the driver must win the race in order for it to count toward his freedom. The track’s features [devices that activate either defensive or offensive weapons] are controlled by the prison warden and can be enabled or disabled at her command.

Ames meets his pit crew, Coach (Ian McShane) his crew chief who has been eligible for parole for three years. “Gunner” (Jacob Vargas) the mechanic for his car, and “Lists” (Frederick Koehler), who has background info on all the drivers. Lists tells Ames about the other drivers, including Hector Grimm (Robert LaSardo) AKA “The Grimm Reaper”, described as ‘a clinical psychopath and mass murderer’; Travis Colt (Justin Mader) an ex-NASCAR driver trying to regain his fame; 14K (Robin Shou) a tenth generation Triad and considered to be the smartest in the prison because he’s the only one with a degree from MIT. Ames also learns that Pachenko is the driver for the gang he fought with earlier and that no one knows just how many people Pachenko’s killed off the track.

Just before the Stage 1 Race, Ames is introduced to his navigator, Case (Natalie Martinez), who was also the previous Frankenstein’s navigator. During the race, Ames sees Pachenko make the same hand gesture as the intruder that killed his wife. Driver Siad is killed when his car is impaled on a device known as a ‘Deathhead’ and exploded as the Deathhead descends back into its slot. Travis Colt is killed when, after Ames’ car’s defensive systems fail, he uses the navigator’s ejector seat to launch a napalm canister toward Colt’s Jaguar XJS, after which Case ignites the napalm with a cigarette lighter. Grimm is killed after crawling from his wrecked Chrysler 300 when Machine Gun Joe’s Gatling gun decapitates him while Joe is traveling at high speeds. Ames finishes last after taking a hard hit from Machine Gun Joe.

Ames learns he is part of a plot to keep the legend of Frankenstein alive solely for the personal profit of warden Hennessey. He confronts Hennessey about the driver he believes is responsible for his wife’s death, but instead of acting on this information she shows him pictures of his daughter living with foster parents, asking him if he thinks he could provide for his child better than they could. Furious, he takes one of the pictures and leaves. The night before Stage 2 of the race he makes a trip to the Pachenko’s team’s pit to confront him. He is then ambushed by Pachenko but is helped by Lists who stabs Pachenko in the back with a pen, allowing Ames to retaliate, but his revenge is thwarted by head prison guard Ulrich (Jason Clarke) who tells both men to ‘save it for the race’.

Ames goes into Stage 2 of the race and immediately questions his navigator Case on her intentions, threatening to eject her into the ceiling of a tunnel if she does not answer truthfully. She tells him she was ordered to sabotage the previous Frankenstein’s defense weapons so he would not win his freedom, promised that she would earn her own. Ames realizes he is not meant to survive the Death Race at all, but is meant to die so another “Frankenstein” can be brought into the prison and his purpose is ‘just to make it exciting’. He realizes that one way or another Hennessey will sabotage any driver that gets close to winning five races and will allow no one to leave the contest alive. He causes Pachenko’s Buick Riviera to crash and roll, allowing him another opportunity for revenge. Pachenko crawls away from the car wreck, pleading with Ames and saying that Hennessey made him kill. Ames replies that “She’s next” and snaps Pachenko’s neck. Five drivers remain until 14K, Carson, and Riggins are killed by ‘the Dreadnought’, the warden’s secret weapon, (an 18 wheel tank truck filled with assorted weapons) that had been secretly in production for months. Ames and Machine Gun Joe collaborate to destroy the Dreadnought using one of the Deathheads and finish Stage 2. Realizing that Ames knows what’s going on, Hennessey orders Ulrich to plant an explosive under Ames’ car before Stage 3 of the Death Race to ensure that Ames does not cross the finish line alive. However, Ames devises his own scheme when Coach shows him a video of Grimm’s death, highlighting that Grimm’s car collided with a particular billboard in the earlier race. Ames then meets with Joe, who now suspects him to be “Frankenstein” and tells Joe that Joe and Frankenstein should talk.

The Stage 3 Race begins with only two drivers remaining: “Frankenstein” and Machine Gun Joe. The race begins, and Ames soon takes the lead but the warden rigs the track to benefit Joe to Ames’ disadvantage. Throughout the entire lap, Joe stays on Ames’ tail, hammering him with bullets; Ames drops the ‘tombstone’ again, but Joe dodges it without taking damage. As they near the beginning of the second lap, Joe preps newly added missiles and fires an RPG in Ames’ direction, seemingly with the intent to kill him. However, they miss the car and instead hit the billboard at the first turn of the track. It is shown that the Ames saw a pathway to the bridge leading off the island behind the destroyed billboard in the video he and his crew reviewed previously.

Ames and Joe escape onto the bridge, pursued by police cruisers and helicopters. As the police close in on the two cars, Ames releases his exposed fuel tank, causing it to explode and stop the pursuing cars. (Gunner had equipped Ames with an extra half-gallon tank for his escape). Hennessey then orders that the explosive under Ames’ car be set off, but nothing happens because Coach had found, removed, and deactivated the bomb prior to the start of the race, proclaiming “nobody fucks with my car.” Escaping past the bridge, Joe and Ames separate, and Hennessey orders the helicopters to focus on ‘Frankenstein’, but he switches seats with Case when she tells him that Hennessey had already signed her release papers, and that she ‘owed one’ to the old Frankenstein. He bails out of the car without being seen, making the helicopters believe he is still inside. Joe meets up with Ames and they board a train to escape, lamenting on Hennessey’s continued existence. Soon, Ames’ Mustang is stopped and Case, posing as Frankenstein, is apprehended.

Later, Hennessey exults in the high ratings and revenue and the supposed apprehension of ‘Frankenstein’. Ulrich then hands her a present sent to her for the record number of viewers subscribing to the Death Race. However, the explosive that was put on the Frankenstein car is inside the box and Coach detonates it remotely, stating directly into the camera, “I love this game.”

Six months later, Ames and Joe are shown working on a car in a junkyard in Mexico, when Case unexpectedly arrives. The two men are happy to see her, and Case hugs Ames, and he shows her his baby daughter. The movie closes with Ames explaining that even though he knows he’s far from being the best parent in the world, no one could love his child more than he could.

REVIEW:

I’ll admit that when I saw the trailer for this film over the summer, I didn’t know what to think, so I stayed away from it in the theater. I just finished watching it on DVD and I have to say, I was impressed.

I’m not too familiar with Jason Statham’s work. I know he’s been in a lot of action films, such as The Trainsporter franchise, but this is the first film I’ve actually watched with him in it. Taking into consideration that he doesn’t really need to do anything other than look pissed for most of the movie, he works perfectly in this role. Not to mention, the dude has a body I only could only wish for.

Joan Allen is positively bitchy as the warden. A far cry from her role as the mother in Pleasantville.

Tyrese Gibson, while not a mainstream actor, holds his own as Machine Gun Joe. His acting chops are getting as good as his modeling skills were at one time.

Natalie Martinez adds a nice bit of eye candy to the screen. As much as I hate to say that’s all she was good for, it’s true. Her role as the navigator isn’t much more than glorified pin-up girl riding shotgun.

Make no mistake, this movie screams adrenaline and testosterone and nothing else. If you’re not a fan of blood, sweat, cars, action, and blowing stuff up, then stay away from this film. However, if you are, then you will love it. I know I did!

4 out of 5 stars