3 posts categorized "cars"


Thornton's 'Car' gets flat, tired

Billy Bob Thornton, left, and Kevin Bacon as conflicted brothers. (Anchor Bay Films)
Leave it to Billy Bob Thornton, perhaps the quirkiest of the quirky when it comes to actors and filmmakers, to assemble a notable group of A-list or former A-list actors to slog through an idea that Thornton says was in his head “for quite some time.” 

Rational reasoning, and, I’m guessing, a good number of movie studio decision makers would vote to leave this idea of a family patriarch obsessed with visiting gruesome car crashes on the highway outside of a small town in Thornton’s head.

Not Billy Bob, though.  After all, this is the guy who has portrayed everything from a fiddle-playing Davy Crockett (The Alamo) to implement-wielding, lovable killer Karl Childers (Sling Blade).

There’s nothing wrong with bringing odd or even severely flawed characters to the screen.  The problem with Jayne Mansfield’s Car, co-written by Thornton and former collaborator Tom Epperson (One False Move), co-starring Thornton and directed by Thornton, is that the paper-thin plot stalls in neutral much of the time.

Set in small-town Alabama in 1969 while this country’s hippie movement embraced free love at the same time the USA was divided over the Vietnam War, Jayne Mansfield’s Car spins its creative wheels trying to say something important about families torn apart emotionally yet somehow still bonded together, about fathers and sons and, oddly enough, about the fatal car crash that cut short the life of movie star Jayne Mansfield in 1967.

Thornton’s cast list is impressive.   Oscar winner Robert Duvall, who played Thornton’s conflicted father in Sling Blade, is back as Thornton’s tight-lipped, conflicted dad again here.  Although Thornton, Kevin Bacon and Robert Patrick portray play middle-aged siblings all going a little middle-age crazy, this family dynamic is about as far removed from the old TV sitcom “My Three Sons” as one can imagine.

Bacon takes on the role of Carroll, the aged hippie of the family, and looks more than a little silly in long hair leading a lethargic small-town Vietnam War protest parade.  Patrick, probably forever typecast as robot T-1000 in Terminator 2:  Judgment Day, is Jimbo, tarnished by both his brothers’ reps as World War II heroes.   Skip (Thornton), a pilot in the WWII, bears scars – emotional and otherwise – that have left him stuck in child mode in many ways.

Jayne Mansfield’s Car suffers no lack of grist for the dramatic mill.  And that’s where Thornton and Epperson eventually begin to build at least flickers of decent dramatic fire.  Papa Duvall’s ex, who long ago ran off to England and never returned, has died.  Her widower (John Hurt) and family have accompanied the body back to Alabama for burial.

As Duvall and Hurt, two formidable actors, spar verbally with very little to say to each other, the other members of this oddball household engage in various degrees of flirtation and coupling, dope smoking and generational bonding.

Don’t expect anything as gripping as Sling Blade.  For me, though, Thornton is one of those filmmakers who pushes the envelope fearlessly.    And he has assembled some really good actors and actresses around him.  It’s just that this project lacks the emotional punch – the Thornton kick in the gut, if you will – of some of his earlier work.

As offbeat as Jayne Mansfield’s Car is onscreen, it is almost as odd off.  Thornton’s semi-failed experiment in hard-hitting family melodrama just opened in a few movie houses on Sept. 13 (appropriately enough, Friday the 13th).

Odder still, Jayne Mansfield’s Car parallel parked in several cable and satellite systems’ On Demand queues two weeks prior to the movie-house release.

That’s where you can find it; lurking and bizarrely interesting, like accident victims on the highway just outside the city limits.


MPAA rating:  R (profanity, sexual content, nudity, drug use, bloody images)

Running time:  122 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  2 (out of 4)


Auto parts is 'Transformer' parts again

I'm not even sure if we have a national car czar yet.  But if we do, he or she could learn something from Michael Bay's gear-grinding, eardrum piercing scramble of auto parts titled "Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen."

Get past the idea of battling forces from outer-space that for some laughable reason disguise themselves as Earthly automobiles and there's something to be said for cars that can go from idle to humanoid-like battle monsters in the time it takes rational adults in the audience to mutter, "They've really made a second movie based on inanimate Hasbro toys; excuse me, action figures?"

In the second sequel, which I hear is in the works, the Autobots might want to concentrate more on microwave ovens and High Def TVs.  I mean, you'd think highly intelligent nuts and bolts from a galaxy far, far away sophisticated enough to take control of our surveillance satellites could take a look at the desperate decline of GM stock once in a while.

Oh well, never mind all that.

It's Round 2 of the Autobots vs. the persistently menacing evil Decepticons in "Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen." 
Except for excellent screeching transformation sounds of metal on metal (Anvil should have a tune on the soundtrack), "Transformers 2" is just more of the same.  A lot more of the same.  Two hours and a half of more of the same.

Granted, I'm not exactly this film's target audience.  But from this aisle seat, once we get past one or two battles, there's a sameness in tone and visuals that settles in that feels like a stuck broken record (Pardon me, a stuck CD).  It just keeps playing out the same scenario over and over.

This is a movie that doesn't really need humans, except for occasional comic relief.  Unfortunately, that comes mostly when Mr. Bay is trying his best to get his actors to play it straight. 
Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam, the somewhat nerdy kid who has somehow landed sexpot Mikaela (sexpot Megan Fox) as his true love girlfriend. 
LaBeouf might emerge as a real actor to be reckoned with if he'd swerve out of Hollywood mainstream tent-pole franchises like this and "Indiana Jones." 
Like his naive character, though, he's overshadowed by two opposing powerful forces: fame and movie roles with something called meaningful plots and dialogue.  The dialogue in this one's about as cheesy as "High School Musical" outtakes when the go-bots aren't around.

Sam is off to college in the sequel, leaving Mikaela to pose over a motorcycle seat in her Daisy Duke shorty-shorts.  Bumblebee, the yellow Chevy Camaro/Autobot, is also left behind.  He (it? I have no idea, really) cries his headlights out when Sam explains the "No Car" freshman rule.

The humans, of course, are merely filler most of the time.  The U.S. military is reduced pretty much to spectator status as a war of the worlds plays out on our home turf.  And speaking of battles, my vote for fiercest warrior of all is Michael Bay himself.

The guy is all about excess ("Pearl Harbor") and really not much of a director (except for the original "Bad Boys" in '95).

But Bay sure knows how to play with cinematic toys and toy with movie fans desperate for action-fantasy entertainment.


Drive again and again, they said

Sometimes we forget why we go to the movies, and why other popcorn-munchers do.

If a suspenseful whodunit is your favorite reason to sit in the dark with strangers, or if compelling reality drama is what it takes to get you to crack the cardboard lid on a box of Milk Duds at the movie house, "Fast & Furious" is definitely not for you.

If, on the other hand, you like to see fuel tanker trucks and some high performance street race cars blow up real good, please head to the multiplex auditorium blasting "Fast & Furious" across the big screen.

"That title sounds familiar," my brother said the other day. "Is that an old movie?"

Well, yes and no.

He was thinking of "The Fast and the Furious," the illegal street-race actioner that first kicked the tires on this high-octane action franchise back in 2001. This one's titled "Fast & Furious," and it's both.

Two sequels have burnt rubber across movie screens since. No. 4, and who can blame the movie studio for not wanting everyone to realize this is the third sequel, reunites the first film's two male leads, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.

As far as story goes, the first adventure and this one draw highest marks. Both fall loosely into the Cain and Abel mold, although the lines are blurred when it comes to which one is righteous.

Ex-con Dominic (Diesel) is the clinched-fist criminal with a shaved head the audience loves. Brian (Walker), an undercover cop in the first thrill ride, is a wild card FBI agent here. They have an odd love/hate relationship that keeps playing out over and over.

Brian is sworn to uphold the law, but he'd really rather be out racing juiced-up rides. Who wouldn't? In all four "Fast and/& Furious" flicks so far, the revving engines never fail to attract gorgeous, slender fender lizards who swivel their hips to the hip-hop music. Some of them, like Gisele (newcomer Gal Gadot), are more than a little curious about Dom's junk in the trunk away from the chrome-chassis thrill rides.

Dom, hiding from the law for years way south of the border in Panama, is lured back to L.A. when someone very close to him dies suddenly.

Mexican drug runners seem to blame, so Dom infiltrates the gang, which just happens to be looking for "real" drivers to speed loads of heroin across the Mexican desert, through tunnels that would make Indiana Jones weep and onto U.S. soil.

If you're surprised that Brian, going undercover again, infiltrates the same gang, maybe you don't go to the movies often enough.

It's good to see Diesel ("Babylon A.D.," "The Pacifier") and Walker ("Flags of Our Fathers") revving up the engines side by side again. If this franchise continues, these two guys need to be in them. They just sort of slip an action clutch when the dynamic is missing.

I don't think that'll be a problem. The end of this one turns out to be a cliff-hanger setting up No. 5.

Make no mistake, this is a B-action flick, so the cliff-hanger brought a sly smile to my face just about the time it did to Diesel's. For what it is, though, director Justin Lin ("The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" in '06) cranks up the action, the music and the show piece autos just about right for its action-craving target audience.