Retro Relapse: Le Mans: The Greatest Race in the World

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

Since 1923, one race has stood above all others as the greatest race in the world: The 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It has now gone on for over 90 years and is inching towards that century mark. It is the most important event in motorsports history. It pits the best car manufacturers in the world, head-to-head, to see who is the best between them. It is a dangerous game of impossible odds, cutthroat competition and bragging rights yet it still exudes more class than any other sporting event in the history of the world.

The only thing that even comes close to the 24 Hours of Le Mans is Formula 1. However, Formula 1 doesn’t race for 24 hours straight, through the elements and into the dark of night on poorly lit and often times wet roads. I can’t think of a sport or a single event with such a level of danger, risk and reward. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a showcase of the immortals behind the wheel. Only the best can hack it and only the best of the best can cross the finish line.

I could spend all day pumping this thing up because it is the most amazing thing that I get to witness year in and year out. This race is great for all the reasons I stated above but it doesn’t seem to click with American audiences. I guess watching ugly billboards go round and round in a circle for four hours is more exciting than seeing Ferraris, Porches, Aston Martins, BMWs, Audis, Mercedes and other beautiful cars weaving in and out of other luxury cars, s-curves and sharp turns for 24 hours. Sorry America, I have to side with the rest of the world on this one.

Additionally, Le Mans brings out the prototypes. The best manufacturers and engineers in the world use all their resources and knowledge to create the absolute best machine they can build in order to compete against one another. For more than a decade, Audi has dominated the sport because they have made cars that make supercars looks like ’82 Datsuns. In the past, manufacturers like Porsche and Ferrari dominated the sport. I’d rather see these majestic beasts of the road zipping by than some Chevrolet eyesore trying to sell me penis pills and Pop Tarts. If you don’t feel the same way, you need to really look at yourself in the mirror. To succeed in Le Mans, you have to be able to do a lot more than turn left at high speeds and talk with a twang.

This weekend, the 24 Hours of Le Mans returns. I will be glued to my television set for 24 hours, actually more than that due to all the pre-race and post-race coverage. Yes, I know that Audi will most assuredly win once again but that’s not the point. I didn’t stop watching Formula 1 when Michael Schumacher won five seasons in a row.

The point is, this is a sport for men. The most dangerous and life-threatening sport in the world. It gives us the best drivers in the best machines on the best race track ever created. It gives one more excitement and awe than some Mike’s Hard Lemonade 900 or whatever the next NASCAR race is called.

Steve McQueen, one of the greatest manly men to ever live, made a racing movie about one event, it was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hell, the film itself was simply called Le Mans.

Any argument one could have against Le Mans being the most badass sporting event of the year is completely and utterly invalid.

NASCAR can keep Tom Cruise.

Film Review: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Release Date: July 7th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Written by: Rudolph Wurlitzer, Will Corry
Music by: Billy James
Cast: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson, Harry Dean Stanton

Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Performance and image, that’s what it’s all about.” – G.T.O.

1969’s Easy Rider really left its mark on people, especially the film industry. It’s pretty apparent that it had an effect on this picture, as far as its tone and narrative. But that’s not a bad thing, as Hollywood really started to evolve around the turn of the ’70s. Films got darker, more personal and much more experimental, as indie filmmakers started to redefine what a motion picture could be.

I also find it interesting that this came out the same year as Vanishing Point, which also features a cool car, a plot full of hopelessness and a gritty realness that wasn’t common in films before this time.

Now this can feel like a slow moving picture but it’s got a lot of energy and a strong spirit. None of these characters are all that likable but there’s something about each of them that is intriguing and lures you into their orbit.

I really think that the glue of the picture is Laurie Bird, who plays a character simply referred to as “The Girl”. She is the object of every man’s desire in this film and it is kind of unsettling, as she is very much a minor and isn’t, in any way, glammed up or all that beautiful. She’s pretty obviously a runaway that sleeps her way to free rides across the country with no real direction in life and no personal aspirations to speak of. But her part in this really puts the other characters into perspective, as they are all vying for her companionship, even though she’s just a ghost that comes into their lives for a brief moment in time, probably because she’s got nothing else to do. And ultimately, she bolts at the end of the story, leaving the men pining over her in her dust.

If anything, this film is a strong character study with understated performances, except in regards to Warren Oates’ G.T.O. Oates was stellar in this as a pathological liar, who gives riders in his car a different backstory every step of this journey. But he provided just about all of the personality in the film, even if he comes off as a middle aged loser running away from a life he failed at.

The plot is pretty lose and not focused but it doesn’t need to be, as we aren’t so much concerned with the beginning and the end of this “race” in the film, so much as we are just peeking into the lives of broken people in an era where America sort of had a dark cloud over it between the Vietnam War, the Nixon presidency, a drug boom and coming out of the Free Love Movement.

This will not be a film that everyone will enjoy and those looking for car action should look elsewhere. Maybe check out the original Gone In 60 Seconds. But for those who enjoy films like Easy Rider and Vanishing Point, they’ll probably also enjoy this.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Easy Rider.

Film Review: Deathsport (1978)

Also known as: Death Race 2050 (Germany)
Release Date: April, 1978
Directed by: Allan Arkus, Roger Corman, Nicholas Niciphor
Written by: Nicholas Niciphor, Donald E. Stewart, Francis Doel
Music by: Andy Stein
Cast: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch

New World Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“As much as I would enjoy killing you here tonight, I will enjoy watching you die more in the Deathsport tomorrow.” – Ankar Moor

Man, despite being a fan of this film’s style, this was a real challenge to get through, even at just 82 minutes.

Maybe part of the problem was that it had three directors. Also, it was trying to capitalize off of the cult classic Death Race 2000 and was intended to be a follow-up to it but switching out cars for motorcycles. It definitely fails at being anything close to the greatness of Death Race 2000 and another similar film also starring Carradine, Cannonball.

I think the biggest reason as to why this doesn’t have the charm and coolness of those other two films, is that this one wasn’t directed by Paul Bartell. And I think that is most apparent in the dryness of this film and it’s complete lack of clever humor and endearing spirit.

Put out by New World and Roger Corman, this was a bargain basement production. But it was also mired in production issues beyond the budgetary constraints.

The film looks cheap. In fact, it looks cheaper than Death Race even though it was made much later in the same decade. But maybe the clusterfuck of a production just didn’t have the wherewithal to get the best bang for the buck, as Paul Bartell did and as Corman usually does.

The acting is really bad, even for New World Pictures standards. Plus, the action sequences are bizarre and riddled with more mistakes than a typical Corman production.

While the film has an interesting visual style that isn’t too dissimilar from Death Race, it has really bizarre weapons, like transparent swords and these handheld spotlight things that vaporize people.

This also has one of the strangest bits from any Corman production. There are two scenes that feature a naked woman dancing around these suspended silver rods. Then the rods start shocking them, as they dance around, yelping in pain as an old fascist dweeb laughs in amusement.

Deathsport was a real disappointment. Granted, I didn’t go into it expecting it to be on the level of the rare gem, Death Race 2000. However, I had hoped that some of that spirit would’ve made it into this film. It didn’t.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and Cannonball.

Film Review: Freejack (1992)

Release Date: January 17th, 1992
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, Dan Gilroy
Based on: Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Banks, David Johansen, Esai Morales, Frankie Faison

Morgan Creek, Warner Bros., 110 Minutes

Review:

“Get the meat.” – Victor Vacendak

Freejack isn’t a good movie but it’s one of those cool ’90s action, sci-fi flicks that just hits the right notes for me. But you probably need to be a fan of these sort of films for this one to resonate.

It has a very Philip K. Dick style to it in plot and visual flourish.

I guess the coolest thing about the movie is that this has a really cool ensemble cast that features two rock and roll legends: Mick Jagger and David Johansen. But it also stars Emilio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Jonathan Banks, Frankie Faison and the seemingly underappreciated Esai Morales.

Estevez stars as a Formula 1 driver that dies in a pretty spectacular crash. However, his body is plucked away just before the moment of death and he wakes up in the future, confused, lost and distraught. He is also being hunted by Mick Jagger and his posse, as Jagger has been tasked with capturing Estevez so that some rich guy can steal his body by uploading his brain into it.

The movie follows Emilio on the run where he finds out that he can’t trust any of his old friends. Overall, the film is action packed, high octane and balls out fun.

The chase sequence with Emilio driving a champagne delivery truck with Jagger following in a SWAT tank is pretty damn good. It’s accented by the great and booming score by Trevor Jones, who also provided good scores for The Last of the Mohicans, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Cliffhanger, From Hell and Dark City.

For me the real highlight was Mick Jagger. The guy looked like he was having a great time filming this movie. Now I don’t know if he actually had fun but he certainly looked to be eating this film up. But the guy has infinite levels of charisma and he was entertaining as hell in this.

Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, felt like he was dialing in his performance. He later went on to bash this film and maybe he had a sour taste for it when he was still making it.

All in all, this was actually better than I remembered. In fact, I wasn’t too enthused to revisit it but I wanted to watch something in this film’s style. I’m just glad that I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the original Total RecallThe 6th Day and Timecop.

Film Review: Master Ninja II (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, George Lazenby, Crystal Bernard

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to serve you.” – nervous waitress

Well, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t just give us one Master Ninja, they had to give us two. They were actually going to do a third one in a later season but it got cut from the production schedule.

Like the previous “film” in this series, this is just two television episodes of the short-lived show The Master, edited together into feature length and sold as a movie.

As these things go, it is horribly paced and doesn’t work all that well. In fact, this has poorer execution than the first chapter in the series.

I think the first film worked better because it was the start of the series and it helped setup everything. It was a jumbled mess of a thing but it seemed more coherent than this one and it also had Demi Moore in it, just before she reached superstardom.

This one has Crystal Bernard and even adds George Lazenby, a former James Bond, to the mix but it’s pretty uninteresting and very mundane.

The high point of the film is the big action climax at the end but that’s still pretty damn mediocre. This show did pull off some solid stunts though, so there’s that. But when your big action sequence is punctuated by a van smashing through a dainty gate in slow motion, you might need to go back to the drawing board and up the octane.

The Master isn’t a great show but it plays better as single episodes, as opposed to trying to convince audiences with short attention spans that these are actual movies.

But hey, There’s some motocross in this one!

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and The Master TV series.

Documentary Review: Dust To Glory (2005)

Release Date: April 1st, 2005 (limited)
Directed by: Dana Brown
Written by: Dana Brown
Music by: Nathan Furst
Cast: Chad McQueen, Mario Andretti, Steve McQueen (archive footage)

BronWa Pictures, Dusted Productions, Gotham Group, 97 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I know that it’s been out for a while but I just watched the documentary film Dust To Glory, which is about the famous Baja 1000 off-road race. For those who don’t know, the race is world-renowned and has been a part of Baja’s culture since 1967.

The film was phenomenally shot and the action really never stopped apart from taking breaks to interview the several subjects of the film. The people and their stories were great and added a lot of depth and history to the majestic race.

The director is Dana Brown who is the son of famous documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown. The elder Brown was known for the films Endless Summer and its sequel, as well as On Any Sunday, which is a motorcycle racing documentary featuring Steve McQueen.

The younger brown does a good job living up to his dad’s reputation and ability to weave together a good story. Dust To Glory is a sort of spiritual successor to On Any Sunday.

Whether you are a fan of off-road racing or not, this film is very accessible and tells a story interesting enough to keep one hooked until the end. There wasn’t a stone left unturned in covering every possible aspect of this race and the people around it. If anything, the film made me want to travel to Mexico to participate or at the very least, go as a spectator and scream my lungs off.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: On Any Sunday and Love the Beast.

Ranking the Top Gear Specials

*Written in 2014.

Top Gear is one of the greatest shows on television. Hell, it is so successful that they’re currently filming the 22nd series, right now.

The dynamic between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May is uncanny. They play off of each other extremely well, each has their own contrasting personality and they each bring something different but great to the show.

Nothing is better though, than seeing these guys go at it in some crazy race or competition. Well, maybe one thing is better. And that thing is when these guys are stuck together in some strange corner of the world and have to fight the elements and challenges ahead.

These are what the Top Gear specials are all about. Taking these three men, making them really uncomfortable and leaving them to sort it all out and reach whatever finish line is at the end of the ordeal.

Here, I have ranked all of the Top Gear specials from my favorite to least favorite. Granted, they are all pretty damned good.

1. The Polar Special (2007)
2. The India Special (2011)
3. The Vietnam Special (2008)
4. The Bolivia Special (2009)
5. The Middle East Special (2010)
6. The Botswana Special (2007)
7. The Africa Special (2013)
8. The Burma Special (2014)
9. The United States Special (2007)
10. The USA Road Trip (2010)
11. The Winter Olympics Special (2006)