Pop Culture Icons. Movies reviewed: Need For Speed, Bettie Page Reveals All, Alan Partridge
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
They say as long as there’s a familiar name in a movie title people will go. Is that true? This week I’m looking at three diverse movies all based on pop-culture references. There’s an action movie based on a videogame about car racing, a documentary about a 50s pinup model, and a comedy about a (fictional) TV and radio talk show host.
Dir: Scott Waugh
Tobey (Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) is a car lover in tiny Mt Kisco. He runs a repair garage with his mechanic buds and races his beauties on the street. He rebuilds cars for rich collectors. But then his nemesis Dino (Dominic Cooper) who stole his high school sweetheart, comes to town with a proposition: big bucks if he can beat him in a secret, three-car race. Someone ends up dying, and Tobey takes the fall and goes to jail.
Two years later, he’s free again, with the chance to enter a cross country race to California sponsored by an elusive dot-com mogul (Michael Keaton). But he needs help. His old enemy Dino sics the police on him, so he’s racing and being chased. His pals from the garage agree to help him out; they use helicopters, race cars for back-up support, and attempt on-highway tune-ups and gas tank refills. Tobey can’t stop driving, no matter what.
Julia (Imogen Poots), a mythical dream date for race-car-bros, volunteers to help him win. She’s a blonde and beautiful millionairess , who’s also fast-witted and an expert driver who’s not interested in commitment.
This movie is based on a video game, and it’s filled with overt product placement. There’s a baffling five minute ad in the middle of the movie for Ford Mustangs! And it’s loaded with car porn, the camera caressing glowing fuselages and sparkling pistons. The characters toss out lines like “Bro – whoa, look at that red Lambo!” Personally, car brands, street racing, or the video game it was based on, do nothing for me. But I enjoyed it anyway. It’s dumb with a senseless, simplistic plot, but I could still appreciate the excellent race scenes, special effects, blow ups, air-shots and wipeouts, leading to an ultimate finish line.
Dir: Mark Mori
Bettie Page was a 1950s pinup model from Tennessee. An underground star, she was known for her hairstyle — black with bangs — her body, her smiling good looks. Her images shout sex is nothing to be afraid of. She appears in bikinis on Florida beaches, topless in studio, dancing on a stage, holding a whip, in full bondage, and occasionally alongside wild animals. She made 16 mm films with suggestive titles like Teaserama, directed by someone actually named Irving Klaw! And she always appeared to be having a good time.
Then, suddenly, she quits, never to pose again and completely disappears from the public eye.
Flash forward to the 90s – and she shifts from subculture star to pop culture icon. People begin to dress like her, imitate her, or use her image in comic books, T-shirts and tattoos. She’s virtually ubiquitous, and everyone knows who she is. Porn stars, Roller Derby players, even pop stars — like Katie Perry — dress like her, imitate her, and on Halloween, many women (and some men) attempt to become her.
This documentary reveals all. The filmmakers manage to track down Bettie Page (that’s her real name, by the way). She never appears on the screen but her voice tells about what really happened during and after her brush with fame. She’s born again, loses her marbles, gets married three times. And for much of this period she had no idea she was idolized by millions. Through it all she remains open, unapologetic and fascinated by sex. This is an amazing story of the rise, fall and rise again of a pop icon.
Dir: Declan Lowney
Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is an obnoxious, small-town radio personality in Norwich, UK. He’s self-centred and aggressive, but also insecure, obtuse and vengeful. He has an unmistakable fake smile that’s as irritating as it is hilarious.
This character has been on British TV and radio for decades now, as a mock sportscaster, DJ and talk show host. And like any celebrity worth his salt he can talk endlessly about nothing in particular, in a way sure to make a guest squirm.
In this, his first movie, he’s back as an awful radio show host. His station gets taken over by corporate raiders who decide they need a “younger” image. He manages to hold onto his show, but his co-host Pat (Colm Meaney) gets the boot (which is partly Alan Partridge’s fault.) So what happens? Suddenly, the whole station is in lockdown and they’re all Pat’s hostages – except Alan Partridge. The police and special-ops swarm in and they decide, for some reason, that only Alan can negotiate Pat’s surrender. Hilarity ensues.
The plot isn’t really that important – just a format to let Alan Partridge be himself. And that’s all it needs. He is so, so funny. Self-unaware, attention-starved, socially inept and excruciatingly unhip, he has just enough of that radio voice and vapid attitude to make it all seem plausible. You can see his old stuff on youtube, but it’s great to see him featured in a feature length feature. This is a silly, goofy, and really funny movie… especially if you like British TV comedy. Steve Coogan at his best, showing Alan Partridge at his worst.
Betty Page Reveals All and Alan Partridge both open today in Toronto, and Need for Speed opens next Friday; check your local listings. Also on is the great Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son. And the Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective: The Poet of Contamination plays through March. Go to tiff.net for more info.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.