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Posts Tagged ‘Tracy Letts’

Last night I attended Cineworld’s secret screening.  I was delighted by the choice of Le Mans 66, not only did it proved to be a really enjoyable film, but also one I was really interested in. This is not a review of the film but does contain some plot details that may be considered SPOILERS. Le mans 66

When I heard about Ford v Ferrari as it was originally billed (and is still called in other territories) I was excited. I had read about Carroll Shelby as a kid, and seen lot about him on TV.  The only driver to win Le Mans in a Aston Martin. A race he drove in against doctors orders knowing he could die at any time from a heart condition.  I’m pleased to report he survived the race, and lived for another 53 years until the age of 89, but that’s another story. He was the man responsible for the legendry AC Cobra, and the Shelby/Cobra versions of The Ford Mustang.  As this story tells, he was also the man behind Ford’s Le Man winning team, and the development of the GT40, the car that beat Ferrari.  A Le Mans Story only rivalled by the epic Bentley v Mercedes battle of 1930.

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The story started really started with Lee Iacocca (who passed away earlier this year aged 94), the man credited with saving Ford. In a bid to make Ford sporty and sexy (he had already been instrumental in the introduction of the Ford Mustang), Iacocca proposed purchasing Ferrari. A company second to none on the track, but nearing bankruptcy.  We will never know if Enzo Ferrari didn’t want his company owned by Americans, or if he always intended to sell to Fiat, and used the Ford deal to push the price up, or as is alluded to in the film it was a disagreement over total control of his racing team.  The film doesn’t dwell on this, it concentrates on what happened next.  The epic battle to beet Ferrari on the track, more on that to come.  When I heard the title was being changed from Ford v Ferrari to Le Mans ’66 I thought it was a mistake, as the original title was stronger, more evocative.  However, having seen the film, it makes sense.  As the film explains in its one (or possibly two) Basil Exposition moments, Ford were not really at war with Ferrari.  Ford were at war with Chevrolet; Ferrari was a battle they got into along the way.  Chevrolet were beating Ford, in the new key younger marketplace with the Chevelle, and were considered a more desirable and exciting brand thanks to the their success on track with the Corvette.

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All good stories, or at least interesting ones, are about people, not things, and this film is about people.  Not Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, but Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, played Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  What I didn’t expect was how much the film is about Ken Miles, possibly even more that Carroll  Shelby.  I knew a little of Ken Miles going into the movie, I had read about him, again as a kid, pre Internet, so didn’t know that much.  But what I did know, was like me he was from Sutton Coldfield, Then a small town in Warwickshire, now a suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands. Nobody famous comes from Sutton so I was intrigued. The most notable thing I had read about him was the end of the 1966 Le Mans race, that I won’t spoil for those who don’t know.  There are so many movie “inspired” by real events where you find charters are composites, or creations of the film makers, as far as I can tell, the key characters here are all real.

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The film whips along at great pace making you forget the two and half hour runtime.  It also sticks firmly to the most important rule of cinema, show don’t tell! As mentioned, there is very little exposition or explanation.  One such thing is the actual origin of the car.  There is a moment in the film where a prototype is flow from England with no real explanation.  What actually happened: after the Ferrari deal fell through and before Shelby was onboard, Ford looked for a partner company who could help them.  They turned to the home of motorsport England, initially talking to Formula One teams Lotus (already a partner on other projects) and Cooper, but settling on Lola.  Lola had already built the “The Lola Mk6 GT”.  Three Mk6 GT’s were produced, taking many of the ideas Cooper had introduced to F1, most notably the mid mounted engine, and putting them into a V8 GT car.  One of the three cars actually competed at Le Mans in 1963, but crashed out.  The GT40 was developed in England by an American Ford team.  The car competed in various races in 1964 without success, notably retiring from Le Mans after 14 hours without being in contention.  This is where Carroll Shelby came in, and the origin of the car we see in the film.  At this time, Shelby’s Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe had just won its class, and finished fourth overall at the 1964 Le Mans.  His car started life out as the AC Ace, a lightweight British sports car, Shelby turned it into the AC Cobra with a stiffer body and a Ford V8, and for endurance racing a GT/Coupe body.  At the time, the road going version, the AC Cobra 427 was probably the fastest production car in the world. To find out what happened next, you will need to watch the film, and/or the excellent 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War.

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As mentioned, this isn’t a review, but I couldn’t end without a few thoughts.  Director James Mangold may not be the biggest household name, but his career highlights are pretty impressive: Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Logan (2017).  Two of his actors have won Oscars; Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted. I mention this as the cast are all fantastic: Christian Bale (Ken Miles), Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Caitriona Balfe (Mollie Miles), Jon Bernthal (Lee Iacocca), Tracy Letts (Henry Ford II), Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), and a special mention for Josh Lucas who does a great job as the films requisite hissable villain Leo Beebe.  Christian Bale even attempts a hint at a Birmingham accent, while Caitriona Balfe as his wife manages a very convincing one.  As mentioned the film is long, but it never feels that way, the story moves along never dwelling on a moment too long.  There are plenty of moments of tension and drama, and just as many of levity and comedy, largely thanks to Bale and Damon.   The film looks and sounds fantastic with extremely well shot and edited racing scenes that are and totally convincing.

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Going back to my earlier point, this is a film about people, but it is also a sports film, a film about fighting the odds.  This is why it works as a film, and not just a motor racing film.  If like me you are a bit of a nerd for motorsport, you will love it, but you don’t need to know the first thing about cars or racing to enjoy it as a film.

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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