The Truth About Cars » Movie Reviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 12 Apr 2014 23:33:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Movie Reviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/product-reviews/movie-reviews/ TTAC Exclusive: The Sunday Morning Drive – An Audi R8, 40 Sportbikes and the Pacific Coast Highway: A Short Film by Ole Schell http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/ttac-exclusive-the-sunday-morning-drive-an-audi-r8-40-sportbikes-and-the-pacific-coast-highway-a-short-film-by-ole-schell/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/ttac-exclusive-the-sunday-morning-drive-an-audi-r8-40-sportbikes-and-the-pacific-coast-highway-a-short-film-by-ole-schell/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793073

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Let’s face it, most of what you read at car related sites, just like you do at sites for other interests, industries and hobbies, talks about the same usual topics. In the case of car enthusiast sites, the same cars, the same commercials, the same companies. Maybe that’s why it’s exciting when I’m ranging far afield of the automotive realm on the web and I come across something that I’m pretty sure will be of interest to TTAC readers and it also happens to be something that you probably haven’t seen anyplace else. In this case I was doing my rounds of some of the non-automotive sites I link to from Cars In Depth and I came across a brand new short dramatic film called The Sunday Morning Drive about a beautiful woman in a 430 horsepower Audi R8 racing more than 3 dozen sportbikes up a winding and treacherous 14 mile stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway.

Was  I correct about it being of interest to you?

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Ole Schell directs films and documentaries, and is based in New York City. His dad’s a writer, his mom’s a photographer and he grew up in an artists’ colony in northern California and later San Francisco. A graduate of NYU’s film school, he started out making documentaries including Picture Me: A Model’s Diary, Win In China (about entrepreneurs in China), and most recently Lil Buck Goes to China, about a Memphis hip hop dancer traveling to China to perform onstage with Meryl Streep and Yo Yo Ma. He and his work have been featured in many major publications, on major television and radio networks and have been distributed theatrically, on cable television and as an on-demand video. Picture Me won the best picture award at the Milan International Film Festival and it has been screened or broadcast in over 25 countries.

Schell told me that he’s always “loved cars”. In addition to his documentary and dramatic films, he’s also directed commercials including a spot for Wrightspeed featuring a turbine-electric powered truck racing a helicopter on the Bonneville Salt Flats, an aircraft stunt ad working with Sony Creative for Goulian Aerosports, and other commercials for brands big enough that they don’t need me to give them free publicity. His next film will be on a bit deeper subject, a man who survived the Burundi genocide. In the future he hopes to do “bigger and better projects in the automotive and motor-sports space.”

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Combining his interest in cars, aircraft, and a desire to get his feet wet shooting in 3D, Schell dreamed up The Sunday Morning Drive about a fictional annual motorcycle road race on California’s Pacific Coast Highway that allows a high performance car to compete. Since it’s fiction, Schell got his friend, Australia based supermodel Kasia Grabowski (link almost safe for work), to play the driver. Schell didn’t have a large budget to work with but through careful planning and networking he was able to produce a polished product complete with aerial footage.

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While I didn’t bother plugging all of Schell’s commercial customers, he’s graciously allowing TTAC to be the first automotive site to review the film so I will point out that all of the filming was done with either GoPro’s Hero 2 or Sony TD20 video cameras. The TD20 shoots 3d natively, and for the GoPros Schell used GoPro’s own 3D kit for the Hero 2 (the camera company recently introduced a 3D kit for the newer Hero 3 cameras), and, I believe Al Cauldullo’s “Superhero” 3D rig. GoPro kicked in some technical help with their 3D rigs, associate producer, Peter Paris Mars and his sportbike buddies provided the two-wheelers, and post production was done with Sony software and the assistance of Sony Creative and 3D consultant Al Cauldullo. By the way, if our Editor in Chief can tell his fans they’re welcome to send him presents like guitars, I will say that I have no objection if someone likes my writing and/or photography enough to give me a Superhero and two Hero 3s. Alternatively, I’ll be happy to review those products, in case Al and the folks at GoPro are reading this, hint, hint.

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Now that the credits are out of the way, what do I think of the movie? Well, the plot is indeed fictional, since I’m not sure [spoiler alert, or is that a trigger warning?] that a car could actually pass all those bikes on such a tight, winding public road. The voiceovers for the airplane spotters are kind of cheesy (deliberately so, I believe, but then, as it is written, so is Cleavon Little’s radio announcer in Vanishing Point), and somehow Ms. Grabowski ends up losing her racing suit in favor of a nicely modeled blue bikini, so it’s not like we’re talking Shakespeare here. It’s a demo film and it’s certainly entertaining enough automotively that I don’t think you’ll find the 8 minutes or so a waste of time. A great, fast car, a pretty lady and one of the world’s great roads. What’s not to like?

Click here to view the embedded video.

How’s the 3D? Pretty good for the most part and some of the shots are pretty damn good. Particularly the low angle shots from the bikes, the car and the edge of the road are very effective, as are the shots from the wing of the airplane, capturing it, the racers and the cliffside road. There are a small number of 3D anomalies. Like Schell says, “3D post [prodution] is hard!”. It took about a year and working with 3D pros in five cities in the U.S. and Asia to edit down the eight and a half minute film. Nothing’s going to make your eyes bleed, but in a couple of spots I noticed some motion blur and once or twice something’s a bit too close to the cameras for your brain to resolve the extreme parallax. However, considering that Schell was working with what are consumer cameras, not James Cameron level 3D rigs, as I said, the results in 3D are pretty damn good. Fast, horizontally moving objects are one of the more rigorous tests of left-right synchronization and The Sunday Morning Drive captured that well.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I’ve embedded the 2D version at the top of the post and it’s cool to watch. I expect that now that we’ve posted it, The Sunday Morning Drive will start showing up on other car sites in the mono version. but I would recommend that you watch it in 3D if you can. The YouTube 3D player is compatible with any form of 3D you’d have at home, either with a 3D monitor, a 3D tv set to which you can port your computer or otherwise access the web, or with cheap anaglyph glasses. If you’re adept at the “cross eye” method, you can even watch in 3D without using any glasses at all. Speaking of 3D glasses, Schell and his associates have hooked up with IngriDahl, a company that sells a variety of 3D glasses formats in a variety of fashionable styles to put on a contest to win free 3D glasses. If you don’t care about style, I’ll send the first two dozen people who email me at free3dglasses@rokemneedlearts.com a pair of cheap red/blue (properly they’re red/cyan, but we won’t quibble about Pantone shades) glasses courtesy of Cars In Depth if you mail me the proverbial SASE.

With the advent of the internet, a number of car companies have started producing both long from versions of their broadcast commercials as well as short films. Audi comes to mind most quickly in that regard,but they’re not the only company. Also, 3D displays have started sprouting up at the major auto shows. In previous years, both Mercedes-Benz and Toyota’s Scion brand have put up polarized 3D flat screens in their booths and given out plastic framed 3D glasses that show attendees could take home and use at the movie theater when watching stereo films. At this year’s Detroit and Chicago shows, the video racing sim in the Honda booth used a head mounted 3D display. Nissan let you “build” one of their concept cars using a virtual reality HMD, which might have used the guts of an Oculus Rift unit. Just this week, when I visited the SAE World Congress, in Ford’s booth you could ride along as Ken Block drifts his rally car, and since the Oculus Rift goggles they used can do motion tracking, you could look around yourself in the virtual realm. Facebook just bought Oculus Rift for 2 billion dollars, seeing opportunities for virtual 3D beyond the gaming world. I won’t be surprised if Ford isn’t the only car company using VR with Oculus Rift headsets at next year’s auto shows.

Someone has to produce and direct those long form commercials and short films. Someone has to create the content for those auto show 3D displays, and while car companies are indeed major advertisers with substantial budgets, they’re not going to just turn some artiste loose with lots of money. That’s going to be up to people like stereographer Neal Nathanson and filmmakers like Schell. I think that Ole Schell’s done a good job at demonstrating that one can create engaging 3D video content at a professional level while still keeping within a realistic budget.

I’m looking forward to seeing Schell’s work in the future. He’s excited about the results with The Sunday Morning Drive and I’m sure that it won’t be the last time that he works with cars or with 3D (or with cars and 3D).

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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A Pretty Good New Movie About A Great Motorsports Rivalry, No, Not That One http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/a-pretty-good-new-movie-about-a-great-motorsports-rivalry-no-not-that-one/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/a-pretty-good-new-movie-about-a-great-motorsports-rivalry-no-not-that-one/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 12:43:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499490

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You may have heard that there’s a movie about car racing coming out. For dramatic tension it’s based on the real life story of two drivers, competing when the sport was very dangerous, whose relationship went from rivalry to respect to a deep friendship. Actually, there are two movies like that coming out. You’re probably more familiar with director Ron Howard’s $100 million F1 epic, Rush, which opens on Sept. 20th and centers on the competition between Niki Lauda and the late James Hunt. Made for about one tenth of that, and opening Sept. 9th is Snake and Mongoo$e, about drag racers Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen. Snake and Mongoo$e had its worldwide premiere last weekend in conjunction with Reno’s Hot August Nights cruise festivities that included a Barrett-Jackson car auction. With a million and a half car lovers congregating this weekend on Woodward for the Dream Cruise, the producers decided to have a Detroit premiere as well, and the film will be screened at the Palladium in Birmingham all weekend long.

I knew about the film and had seen the trailer. Yesterday, I saw in one of the Detroit dailies that there was going to be a local premiere and that one of the film’s producers was the wife of the CEO of Event Services International. One of the things that ESI does is press fleet management, they’re the nice folks who drop off press cars, freshly washed, detailed and with a full tank of fuel on my driveway. The people I’ve dealt with at ESI have been great so I called up the local office and they put me in touch with the woman doing publicity for the film, Shari McCullough Arfons, who has a connection to drag racing herself since she’s married to the son of Art Arfons, of Green Monster jet car fame. Shari graciously arranged for me to get passes to the premiere so that you could read this review and if you’re in Detroit for the Dream Cruise maybe stop over at the Palladium and check it out.

McEwen and Prudhomme were competitors in the California drag racing scene going back to the late 1950s. Prudhomme worked in the family body and paint shop while McEwen came from a wealthier background. Prudhomme had been using the nickname “Snake” for a while and after McEwen beat him in an important race, Tom started using the nickname “Mongoose”, apparently at the suggestion of his chief mechanic who read the Jungle Book when he was a child. By the time they reached the top level of NHRA racing, though, both of them were struggling to make racing pay for itself. Sponsorship was minimal and often on the local level for a few hundred dollars. Race winnings barely paid the bills.

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The men have very different personalities. Prudhomme is quiet while McEwen is outgoing. Prudhomme preferred to focus on racing, while McEwen had a better sense of public relations. For example, while Prudhomme team wore t-shirts with his snake logo, McEwen sold t-shirts with his rodent on them. It took him a while but eventually McEwen convinced Prudhomme that by working together as business partners they could make a lot more money than they did as competitors in NHRA. They started a barnstorming tour of match races, with guaranteed money up front. By then, the late 1960s, Prudhomme had won NHRA titles and McEwen was a top competitor so they were a big draw and could command the fees they demanded.

Both men were married and McEwen and his wife had three sons. Once, after returning from an out of town race, he noticed his sons playing with some new toy cars called Hot Wheels, billed by Mattel as the fastest cars in the world. I don’t know if the proverbial light bulb went on but McEwen had what has to be one of the great marketing ideas of the last half century, though it’s really a variation on “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”. In this case, the buyers were young boys and their parents and the cars being bought would be Hot Wheels versions of funny cars that McEwen and Prudhomme actually raced. It was a brilliant stroke of cross-promotion, with the racers and race cars selling die-cast models and the die-cast models making new fans to come out to the race track and watch the real cars race.

Considering this all took place over 40 years ago, it was a fairly sophisticated marketing brew with other companies than Mattel, like Chrysler, involved. Prudhomme’s car carried a yellow Plymouth Baracuda body and McEwen’s a red Plymouth Duster. A Hot Wheels designer, a racing fan himself, helped design the cars’ and their transporters’ graphics.

It was a great idea. The two drivers made money from the sponsorship, which also allowed them to build cars that were competitive in NHRA funny car and top fuel categories. They made appearance money from their match races, and trackside merchandise, and of course Mattel made lots of money, selling millions of cars and racing sets.

All good things come to an end and after three years, Mattel ended it’s sponsorship and the two ended their business partnership but the die had been cast both in the business of motorsports and in their intertwined personal lives. The promotional materials for the movie stress how groundbreaking their deal with Mattel was. It wasn’t just that the money was good, it was the fact that it was part of a large marketing scheme, that a major corporation was making racing part of their business. The picayune historian in me says that’s a bit of an exaggeration, since by then Jim Hall had made plenty of deals to license his Chaparral to model companies like Cox and Colin Chapman also had arranged some big money sponsorship from a tobacco company for Lotus, but to be fair to the producers of the movie, none of those deals were as comprehensive or as mutually beneficial as the Snake, Mongoo$e and Mattel.

The names Snake and Mongoo$e and Prudhomme and McEwen are well known to a generation of drag racing fans and a younger generation of Hot Wheels fans. Their competition, which lasted over two decades, is considered by many to be drag racing’s greatest rivalry, the Gatti-Ward of the quarter mile.

Cross-promotion is a fact of life in Hollywood today. I don’t know how much product placement was actually involved in the making of the movie but included in the movie’s press kit is a press release from Cam2. Cam2 oil was one of Prudhomme’s sponsors and their logo would normally appear in the film so that deal does make sense. Thinking about some of the logos in the movies, it occurs to me that the two racers were pioneers in another regard. After the Mattel deal was over and they dissolved their team, Wildlife Racing, they started looking for other big sponsors. McEwen first got the United States Navy to sign up. Prudhomme responded by getting the Army logo on his cars. The U.S. Army still sponsors a NHRA team. It’s possible those sponsorship deals with McEwen and Prudhomme were the first time American armed forces services sponsored motorsports teams.

The movie starts and ends in 1978, at the NHRA nationals in Indianapolis, with the two going head to head for a title. Ron Howard is spending a lot of money with some very pricey vintage racers along with special effects to make Rush realistic. The producers and director of Snake and Mongoo$e went in a different direction, using mostly archival footage when showing on track action. That footage is rather seamlessly integrated into the film, though watching on a modern digital 4K cinema screen, it’s sometimes a little visually jarring to go from the grainy film or raster-lined tv footage to the high definition material. Access to the archival film was no doubt made easy by the fact that the movie is being presented and distributed by Rhino Films in connection with the NHRA. With digital processing, the old racing footage looks better than it ever has, even if it isn’t in high def.

Dramatically, Snake and Mongoo$e actually turned out to be better than I expected. Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, but then all sports movies are. The acting was fine. Nobody’s going to win any Oscars but the characters were believable. Jesse Williams, of Gray’s Anatomy, plays Prudhomme and he has a remarkable resemblance to Prudhomme himself. He seems to catch Prudhommes taciturn manner well. Richard Blake plays McEwen and shows a little range, since the real life McEwen had to deal with the death of his son Jaime. The real life McEwen and Prudhomme do have cameos in the film, as do other racing figures like Wally Parks. Prudhomme and McEwen also participated in the production, and were on set frequently. Blake spent weeks before filming with McEwen, going to locations and explaining what really went down. Linda Vaughn’s and Pam Hardy’s busts also make cameos in some of the archival footage. ER’s Noah Wyle plays the Mattel executive, Art Spear, who saw the wisdom of McEwen’s plan. Spear later would reduce and then end the sponsorship because they thought sales of the Hot Wheels versions of the Snake and Mongoo$e’s cars had peaked. Ashley Hinshaw plays Lynn Prudhomme and Kim Shaw plays Judy McEwen. Tim Blake Nelson plays, mostly to comedic effect, a composite track/tv announcer with a period perfect mustache and sideburns. Fred Dryer has a character role as McEwen’s gruff longtime racing engineer. The film was written by automotive writer Alan Paradise, inspired by a documentary he had worked on for Mattel celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Snake and Mongoo$e Hot Wheels cars. It was directed by Wayne Holloway.

To be honest, I expected something along the lines of a made for tv or straight to dvd movie, but it was much better than I expected. Not great art, but the characters were engaging, the motorsports side was authentic, the business and marketing history portrayed in the film continues to impact the way racing is promoted and sponsored today and the story arc kept my interest. If the film falls down it’s where it fleshes out the characters and their family lives. The way the strain on McEwen’s marriage brought on by his constant travelling (and philandering) was portrayed seemed a bit by the numbers. Juxtaposing the birth of the Prudhommes’ first child with McEwen and his estranged wife’s grief as also a bit heavy handed. Those were true life events. Sometimes life itself is melodramatic. Also, not only were their families part of the story, there have to be characters and events that resonate with women. My guess is that the casting of Williams, Blake and Wyle has something to do with that as well.

In any case, I enjoyed Snake and Mongoo$e and would certainly recommend it to any car enthusiast. If I came across it on cable tv I’d watch it all the way through. Everything looked authentic and at the heart, like screenwriter Paradise says, it’s a great story about two men. It’d make a great double feature with Ron Howard’s Rush, well, if they still did things like double features.

There is one big difference between the two movies. Unless you’re exceedingly sensitive about bad words or smoking, if you have kids you can take the whole family to see Snake and Mongoo$e. It’s rated PG-13 for “smoking throughout and some language”, according to filmratings.com. Prudhomme was a heavy smoker. McEwen liked pretty girls, and there are quite a few in the film, but there are no sex scenes or skin. The raciest it gets is when Judy McEwen gives Tom a warm kiss when he gets home from one of the racers’ tours. Howard’s Rush, on the other hand, is rated R. James Hunt drank, did drugs, and had a lot of sex with a lot of women. If you have kids, you might want to leave them with the sitter for the second feature.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Baby, I’m So Gone: Wagonmasters, a Documentary About Station Wagons and the People Who Love Them http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/baby-im-so-gone-wagonmasters-a-documentary-about-station-wagons-and-the-people-who-love-them/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/baby-im-so-gone-wagonmasters-a-documentary-about-station-wagons-and-the-people-who-love-them/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:32:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=470625

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Lately, in no small part due to Michael Moore, the “documentary” film has become the carborundum upon which filmmakers from a variety of perspectives have ground their own axes and then proceeded to chop down the subject of their films. It’s nice, then, to see a documentary made that exhibits some affection for the subject. Wagonmasters, a film made by Chris Zaluski and Sam Smartt as part of their work for MFAs from Wake Forest University’s Documentary Film Program, looks at the great American station wagon with affection. Wistful affection for the now disappeared suburban icon of Americana, but affection nonetheless.

Once, about a fifth of all cars bought in the US were station wagons. Originally commercial or “professional” vehicles that served the hospitality industry as depot hacks, longroofs became known as station wagons before World War Two, when affluent people bought them and used them to get themselves, their families and their luggage to and from train stations, hence the name. Many of these cars had rear bodies made of wood, a luxury touch, what we now call woodies, which is why so many wagons from the mid 1950s on continued to use fake wood of varying quality even into the minivan era.

After WWII, with the baby boom and move to suburbia, station wagons became the quintessential family car. Large enough to carry everyone in the family, and their luggage, on the family road trips so popular on the then new Interstate highway system, and stylish, practical and powerful enough to appeal to both mom and dad. More often than not it was mom’s car, but since dad did most of the driving on trips, it had to suit his desires as well.

So how did wagons disappear from American roads? It was the aforementioned minivan that more or less killed them off, but it was the 1973 oil crisis that mortally wounded them. All that steel and glass adds weight and a wagon will invariably get worse mileage than a comparable sedan.

Using footage of wagon collectors and their own words (and of course footage of their cars being driven and shown), interviews with automotive historians, period photos, advertisements and home movies, Zaluski and Smartt put changing attitudes towards the station wagon within the context of changing American culture. One wagon enthusiast is a Vietnam vet with a Bronze Star. Another drives a Volvo 245 that’s covered with affirmations of peace from famous world leaders. The directors’ choice of music, with the Drive By Truckers‘ Sweet Annette running during the title sequence and opening credits plus other music, mostly by The Bayonets, is meant to convey a sense of timeless Americana.

The film was made with the obvious cooperation of a couple of station wagon enthusiast organizations, the American Station Wagon Owners Association and the International Station Wagon Club, and it was shot on location across the United States and Canada. As many wagons as there once were, the fraternity and sorority of wagon enthusiasts is not large. If most enthusiasts favor two door coupes over four door sedans, one can understand how wagons appeal to a select group of car guys and gals. The wagon world is indeed a small world. About a quarter of the way through the 40 minute film, we’re introduced to Tracy “DJ Munchy” Caldwell, a Detroiter with a very clean 1985 Ford Crown Vic LTD wagon, what I believe is the second youngest car featured in the movie (the youngest being a Buick Roadmaster “bubble” wagon from the mid ’90s). The Crown Vic looked familiar so I checked my archive and realized that I’ve seen Munchy’s LTD at a local car show and photographed it myself.

It may be a small world and while not everyone strives to avoid being a “nonentity”, as one Ford Falcon wagon owner describes his automotive noncomformity, many car enthusiasts do have a warm spot in their hearts for longroofs. While Munchy’s LTD wagon is getting prepared for a car show at his friend’s detailing shop, his friend bemoans how he has a fully customized Camaro but Munchy’s stock looking wagon (the high wattage sound system is cleverly hidden in the storage compartment for the third row seat in the way back)  takes home the show trophies.

Many of the wagons in the film are of the $30,000 restoration on a car worth $10,000 variety, but some wagon enthusiasts love them to pieces, literally. A sequence in the movie shows that sturdy old body on frame station wagons are highly prized by demolition derby racers. At the other end of the spectrum is the owner of a Dodge Coronet Crestwood station wagon that he fully restored after his parents passed away. Sitting in the rear facing far back seat, he shows where he played with his Hot Wheels cars as a child. For you pedants, the GTO station wagon that appears in the opening credits is a one-of-none custom, a Tempest based Pontiac Safari wagon that’s been turned into a quasi clone of the GTO, which was never available in a wagon body style.

It’s a charming little movie. It’s smartly edited, with a snappy pace and an obvious sense of humor without some hip ironic distancing from the subject, all while treating the topic of the station wagon in American life seriously. If you’re at all a car enthusiast I can’t imagine you not enjoying this film. Actually, even if you hate station wagons but have an appreciation for American culture you’ll find it worthwhile. It’s hard to watch these somewhat quirky car enthusiasts and the quirky objects of their affection without a warm smile.

The directors hope to promote the documentary with more film festival screenings and there’s the possibility of a television broadcast in 2013, so the DVD won’t be released until sometime later next year. If you’re interested, you can sign for updates at the movie’s website (www.wagonmastersthemovie.com) or with a like at their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheWagonMasterFilmMakers).

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Movie Review: Senna http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/movie-review-senna/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/movie-review-senna/#comments Thu, 21 Jul 2011 20:13:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=403809

I was just a pre-licensed car nut when the July 1994 issue of Car and Driver passed along the news of Ayrton Senna’s death. Brock Yates’ column in that issue said, “In a sad way, Ayrton Senna’s death dignifies motor racing…He did not die in vain, but rather he made the ultimate sacrifice in seeking his own personally mandated pinnacle of achievement. Tragically, ironically, he may serve his chosen profession more in death than life.” This meant nothing to me at the time. But it means something now.

Fresh from the Audience Award for Best Documentary (World Cinema) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is director Asif Kapadia’s Senna. Senna differs most notably from most docs in that there are no cutaway interviews–i.e., no talking heads that are a staple of the genre. Footage gathered from 15,000 hours of film, video, and YouTube (much of it from Formula 1′s closely guarded film archive) immerses the viewer in Senna’s late-80s, early-90s life of racing in the prestigious, political and pretentious world of Formula 1 racing.

Much has been made about Senna’s hard racing, but this film presents the softer side of Senna. We see him with his family. We see him charming television reporters. We see him helping underprivileged children. In fact, the portrayal of his relationship with rival Prost makes Senna out to be the guy who just wants to win, while Prost revels in the glitz, politics and good ol’ boys club atmosphere fostered by F1 officials. The Senna we see is quiet, studious, upstanding and spiritual.

The real treat for the audience is the access to Ecclestone’s vast library of film and video from years of Formula 1 activity. The pre-race driver’s meetings, tête-à-têtes with Ron Dennis and Frank Williams and catty interactions with Alain Prost are all there in their intimate glory. The exchanges with FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre expose the politics and egos of the sport. During the pre-race meeting before the 1991 German Grand Prix, Senna and Balestre butt heads over tires lining a chicane. When a desperate Balestre, losing the room, angrily presents the opportunity for a vote, Senna’s side wins. With the proletariat drivers rising up against the Balestre Bourgeoisie, it’s an “enemy’s enemy is my friend” dichotomy–and it’s riveting.

Another gem is Senna and McLaren boss Ron Dennis discussing how to handle the split before Senna races his last race with the team. Dennis says that he wants an amicable and professional split. Senna agrees and offers that he would have done it even without mention. Eagle-eyed hindsight lets the audience know that this is one of their final conversations. The F1 camera crew really pulled a CBS-not-1984-Big Brother act and gave us a moment better than any teary camera confessional. You can see the respect that these two professionals have for each other, knowing an era is over but not that it would be one of their last conversations together.

One the downside, the opportunity to use the F1 footage is the great strength and the great weakness. I want to see Ron Dennis recalling conversations with Senna. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the voiceover is just the mailbox. We miss so much not hearing from Senna’s sister Viviane, friend and F1 doctor “Professor” Sid Watkins, Dennis, Williams and even Prost. We miss their faces tell us about the man they remember, loved, hated, respected, cheered and/or cheated. It was a conscious choice by director Kapadia to rely solely on the footage, so he deserves credit for trying something new. Whatever; just sayin’.

Any racing fan owes himself the chance to experience Senna’s career through the eyes of the world he lived in. The people that have been paying attention to Senna are not necessarily racing fans, though. I’ve been to the Sundance Festival a couple of times, and if the snooty, Hollywood Prius-driving greenies can love a movie like Senna, then more than a few of the Best and Brightest should, too.

Senna is out in limited release August 12; wider release starting August 19. A screener copy of the film was provided for this review.

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