Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

April 30, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

Though high speed car chases and hot heads filled with adrenaline have often graced the silver screen, it’s not every day that a movie comes out about NASCAR racing – Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise is one, but what else? This much-loved American sport is the central theme of the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The following write-up reveals the plot.

Whether you enjoyed Talladega Nights or not will depend on your personal taste in movies. The movie tells the story of a fairly regular guy, Ricky Bobby (played by Will Ferrell) who rises to the top of his profession, only to plummet to the depths of despair after one bad race. Ricky Bobby lives his life according to the motto: “If you ain’t first, you’re last” – the only ‘words of wisdom’ that his estranged father ever imparted to him.

As a youngster Ricky suffers some trial and error races before shooting to the top at rocket speed. Working with his best friend since childhood, Cal Naughton Jr. (played by John C. Reilly) the two men team-up and work together to ensure that Ricky Bobby wins every single race. Of course winning also brings with it wealth and Ricky Bobby not only becomes rich, he ends up with a very beautiful wife (Leslie Bibb) and two very spoiled children who are never restrained (presumably so as not to inhibit their ‘winning potential’). However one fatal day Ricky Bobby’s life hits a massive speed bump when European race driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) defeats him.

After a somewhat unusual ‘mental breakdown’ on the track, Bobby suffers a short period of denial where he claims to be paralyzed from the waist down. After realizing that he has no excuse, he becomes depressed, feeling that he can never race again. His wife leaves him for his best friend who is only too happy to be able to cross the finish line first for a change and he is left to look after his two hellish children. After getting his mom to sort out his two children, Bobby slowly climbs his way back to the top.

While the story line of Talladega Nights is a bit far fetched, and filled with typical Will Ferrell slap-stick humour, it is an entertaining movie that features some interesting race scenes. It may not be a believable story about NASCAR drivers but it worth the price of admission whether you are a auto racing fan or simply wanting to see another Will Farrell movie.

Motorcycle Movies, Part 2: Easy Rider

September 29, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

By the time Easy Rider was released in 1969, three full years had passed since The Wild Angels hit the nation’s drive-in movie screens. In the sixties, three years was a very long time indeed. The Vietnam War was entering a critical phase and division within the country regarding the war was never more clear-cut. Morally, the pendulum seemed to be swinging back towards the viewpoint of the “under 30” generation. It was in this fevered climate that Easy Rider made its stunning debut. In stark contrast to its progenitor film, The Wild Angels, the motorcycle riders were now portrayed as tragic heroes instead of undisciplined thugs. Perhaps the filmmakers had run out of ways to frighten parents and instead sought to identify with the growing youth market. Regardless, Easy Rider stands today as a quintessential film, a snapshot of America at a pivotal moment in its history when the baton was handed from one generation to another.

It’s noteworthy that this new generation was both in front of the cameras and behind them as well. Peter Fonda, reprising his role as the motorcycle-riding man of few words, produced the film. His co-star Dennis Hopper directed. We see the country and the times through their eyes, and very rarely does America look so beautiful as it does in Easy Rider. The highway scenes are incredible – and unforgettable. That goes for the custom Harley Davidson cycles the two main characters ride as well. Peter Fonda’s ride is especially distinctive, with its American flag gas tank and extra-long front fork. The value of the publicity Harley Davidson received from their bikes being featured in Easy Rider is incalculable. Speaking of value, Easy Rider was made on a very thin $400,000 budget, low even for the times.

Easy Rider is a road film, a biker film, a buddy film and a message film, all rolled into one. Others would follow, hoping to cash in on Easy Rider’s style and image, but the great majority of these were pale imitations. Forget about the rest, and go see the best. If watching Easy Rider doesn’t “get your motor running”, then you’d better check your pulse.

Motorcycle Movies, Part 1: The Wild Angels

September 26, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

In 1966, the widening generation gap was about to split the country wide open. The older generation who had lived through and fought World War II could neither understand nor relate to their freethinking, “flower power” children. As everyone knows, misunderstanding can quickly change to fear, and certain filmmakers played off that fear by creating motorcycle movies like “The Wild Angels”.

The Wild Angels wasn’t a cult film or a fringe independent by any means. By the mid 1960s, producer Samuel Z. Arkoff had already established himself and his company, American International Pictures, as the leading purveyor of youth culture flicks. The “Beach Party” movies with Frankie & Annette and a number of other flicks containing the word “bikini” in their titles were cranked out by Arkoff’s studio. Director Roger Corman, himself no stranger to the “schlock shock” genre, cut his teeth on drive-in delights like 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” and a string of classic frighteners starring the venerable English actor Vincent Price. Arkoff and Corman often worked together on the same film, one forgettable example being 1957’s “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent”. I kid you not.

For The Wild Angels, Roger Corman chose the children of American icons Henry Fonda and Frank Sinatra as his stars, perhaps to accentuate the sharp division between the older and newer generations. Peter Fonda plays the leader of a California Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and Nancy Sinatra plays the part of his girl. Other actors in the film who were little known at the time but later blossomed as mainstream actors and actresses include Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd and Michael J. Pollard. It’s an interesting bit of trivia to note that Dern and Ladd, whose on-set romance would lead to marriage, are the parents of actress Laura Dern.

The film itself is interesting for many reasons, not least the great scenic shots of mid-1960s southern California as Fonda and his gang roar up and down the coastal highways and byways. The powerful soundtrack by Davie Allen and the Arrows was a precursor of a style that would be called Heavy metal in the future. Then there are the bikes… vintage Harleys and other makes long gone from the road. Fans of those mean machines won’t be disappointed by The Wild Angels, and my guess is neither will you!