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Love the Beast

tn_lovethebeastFrom the cover, LOVE THE BEAST looks like some indie movie starring Eric Bana, Jay Leno and Dr. Phil. What the hell? When did Bana enter Dolph’s co-starring-with-daytime-talk-show-hosts period? Well it’s not that, and it’s not THE COLLISION COURSE: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS. It’s actually a documentary about Bana’s love for the Ford Falcoln Coupe he’s had since he was young, and for the 4-day Targa race across the scenic roads of Tasmania. He directed it and it’s so clearly a labor of love that the enthusiasm is contagious.

Heavily narrated by Bana, but admirably low on talking head interviews, it shows Bana’s dedication over the years to his “beast” (nickname for the car) and his “mates” (Australian for “homeys” or “doggs”). One of his friends thinks it’s hilarious that he still works on that same damn car even though he has money to buy new ones. And it’s true – he might be the only Marvel super hero still driving his high school car. In ’05 though he decided to sink his money into rebuilding the whole thing into a top of the line race car, then raced it in the Targa for the first time since before he was Chopper.

mp_lovethebeastThis is not great filmatism, but it’s pretty good. The photography looks nice, there’s some nice Tasmanian scenery and it’s interesting to see the Sydney Melbourne suburb where he grew up, since it pretty much looks like the U.S. There’s even a couple clips from home movies and of him doing standup. The Targa scenes are cool because he hooked up cameras on and inside the Beast so you really see him race. And SPOILER he ends up wrecking, so if you ever wanted to see Eric Bana in a daze right after destroying something he loves dearly, here’s your chance.

The guest star parts are kind of funny because all the sudden he’s on the couch getting psychoanalyzed by Dr. Phil, no explanation offered. He seems to be sincerely trying to get advice from Dr. Phil. Then there’s the part where he’s visiting what looks like a huge car museum but turns out to be one of Jay Leno’s garages. I don’t think it means to make Leno look bad, but their conversation shows a strong contrast between celebrity car lovers. Leno says he doesn’t race because he’s not athletic and doesn’t want to know how bad he is; Bana dreamt about racing since he was a kid and still did it after becoming very successful as an actor. Leno has hangars full of cars and says he always chooses buying a new building over selling one of the cars; Bana just has the one car he obsesses over. He doesn’t need new buildings, unless maybe he likes to park the car in different places to keep its spirits up, nurture its sense of adventure and give it a sense of a life well lived, which is a definite possiblity.

I bet he talks to his cars. You know how some people think talking to their plants make them grow better? Bana seems like a car talker. But that’s not covered in the movie.

Bana gets across the idea that car people can have a strong emotional (Dr. Phil says spiritual) connection to their car. But he also seems to be questioning his obsession. He fears that taking part in a dangerous race might be immoral since he has a wife and kids now (not to mention they might need him if Ed Norton gets all uppity about playing the Hulk again).

After the wreck he seems lost, and seems to painfully contemplate the tough things people say to him, like Leno’s theory that if he’d done all the work rebuilding the Beast instead of hiring professionals he’d never have crashed it, or some other guy’s claim that muscle cars are crap. He’s at a vulnerable moment where he’s open to all these suggestions and you can see the hurt on his face as he considers them.

I was surprised how genuinely moving this is. There’s a great scene where Bana’s friend tries to buy a guy’s Ford Falcoln to replace the late The Beast. But it means too much to this guy to sell it at any price. He gets tears in his eyes talking about it. His refusal seems to earn the respect of Bana’s friend. There’s also a thread about Bana’s relationship with his dad, and it’s clear that part of Bana’s love of working on cars comes from his dad, and a nostalgia for the bonding they did looking under hoods together. And he can’t understand why his dad still has his beautiful red T-Bird but doesn’t bother to get it running again. If it was Leno he’d probly just buy his dad a new one, but Bana is more sentimental, it has to be the original.

(To be fair to Leno he does say he still has the car he lived in when he moved to L.A. to pursue his dream, and he seems more sincere in this movie than he does on TV. I like Bana better though.)

The movie mostly portrays Bana as a normal guy and doesn’t address his fame much. At one point though he flies back to the U.S. for the premiere of LUCKY YOU, and he seems very uncomfortable and cynical about the whole celebrity thing. He’s walking down the red carpet and you just know he’s not thinking about the movie, he’s thinking about getting back home to be with the remains of his car. I mean how can you really think about this Hollywood shit when a loved one has been hurt?

One note of interest: when word got out that somebody besides Mel Gibson might play Mad Max, many of us immediately thought Bana could do it. Maybe that shows our limited knowledge of Australian actors, but we like the guy so our minds jumped to him. Little did we know that he actually is a skilled high speed driver and even favors the same model Max drove. He explains how he was already obsessed with Ford Falcolns and then the movie came out and blew his mind. Man, they could’ve had him do some of the driving scenes for real! That would’ve been cool. But for some reason they got Bronson instead of Chopper. Must’ve been a clerical error. Oh well.

(note: I reviewed this from an imported Australian DVD. It’s not out in the U.S. yet, but has played some film festivals I believe.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 at 2:42 am and is filed under Documentary, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Love the Beast”

  1. Great review, Vern.

    Talking about Beasts, Paul Naschy passed away yesterday at the age of 75. I was not his biggest fan, but he was a perfect gentleman and a pioneer of Horror Movies in my country.

  2. This is on my top ten of the year easily.

    See, this guy would have been an excellent Max Rockatanski.

  3. Bana was on Top Gear a few weeks ago. He’s going to rebuild the car.

  4. Bana’s a weird dude, by all accounts the guy should be a movie star, but he’d rather take supporting roles and save his starring roles for weird indies. Not a bad thing at all, in fact he probably should be commended for not getting swallowed up by the machine. Just an observation.

  5. Vern is probably the most amazing movie reviewer on all the internet because he can take a movie that looks like nothing more than Eric Bana masturbating about his car that no other human being on the planet could give a shit about and make it seem like an interesting and worthwhile movie to see.

  6. This sounds similar to the BBC Documentary “I’m in Love with My Car.” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase the image of a man fingering his ar’s exhaust pipe.

  7. Bana has fast become one of my favorite actors following Munich and Chopper(thanks for bringing that one to my attention as well). I even thought he was enjoyable enough as the cheating asshole new husband in Funny People. This one wasn’t even on my radar but I may check it out now based on this review.

    I will prolly fast forward through the Leno stuff though, that guy just isn’t funny.

  8. By the way, Tom Hardy has now spoken about FURY ROAD and it sounds like even he has no idea if he’s playing Mad Max.

    http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2009/12/01/exclusive-mad-max-speaks-bronson-star-tom-hardy-on-his-coming-game-changer/

  9. Vern, thye guy who says that muscle cars are crap is none other then famed british car jornalist Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson is the head presenter of the BBC2 car show TOP GEAR in it’s present format since 2002. And his show is just one of the best TV shows there is in the whole world. I’m not saying best TV Car Shows, i said BEST TV SHOWS. The kind of car show that even people who don’t like cars love.

    The show, of course, is helped immensely by Clarkson’s charisma and entertaining personalit,y which is helped and contrasted by his two fellow co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond, also car jornalists. The great thing about TOP GEAR is that though it’s dedicated to the subject of cars, the presenters are also part of the fun of the show,a dn they prove to be better comedians then most professional comedians. The show also put them into situations called challenges which they have to get through, always with hillarious results. One oft eh most famous challengs, which a whole episode was devoted to, was to have Clarkson and May try to reach the North Magnetic Pole in a Toyota Hilux, while Hammond raced them on a dog-pulled sledge. Another famous challenge was a 1500 mile ride throughout Vietnam from south to north in locally bought used beaten up motocicles (which Clarkson positively hates, as he hates all kinds of motorbykes).

    And though this might offend the passion and sensebbilities of many americans and australians, muscle cars, while very impressive machines, they are not very good cars. Which the exception of the original Dodge Challenger. Thing is, a car cannot be considered all too good if it cannot corner at speed. And no muscle car can do that. European and Japanese Sports and Grand Tourismo cars can and do it very well, it’s their badge of honour, but muscles cars can’t. Though i suspect that for americans and australians there is not much of a need to be good at cornering, considering how endlessly straight arrow their roads are.

    Vern, i know that TOP GEAR is not very well known in USA. But if you ever get a change to see it, by hook or by croook, do so, you will love it. Yes, it’s a car show, and i know you don’t give a shit about cars, but as i said before, TOP GEAR is a TV car show that even people who don’t like cars love. I atest to that myself.

  10. Bana was on an TOP GEAR episode the other week, the first of the 14th season, he was the guest star, and he confessed he has rejected roles for big movies because they clashed with his racing schedule. Talk about devotion. I suspect he thinks of himself a car racer first and an actor of big movies second… a far second.

  11. Well , thank you very much , Vern , I didn’t know about this movie , but I will find it . I love car movies and this documentary thing ,in my humble opinion, is perfect for getting a little look inside the minds of the car-obsessed. Like Bana , I too used to work on my beloved car ( the Fiat 500 I talk about from time to time… that I’m going to sell soon , unfortunately) , so I definitely understand the guy , plus I get to see Leno’s collection ( he’s not very popular here in Italy , but every gearhead knows that is the stuff of legends).

  12. Nice review Vern, I caught it earlier in the year and had a lot of fun.

    Quick note it’s the Melbourne suburbs, not Sydney that Bana grew up in.

    Cheers,

    Regs

  13. Stuntcock Mike, indeed. I see you are a fellow fan of TOP GEAR. Good job.

  14. I know the existence of LOVE THE BEAST because Bana “promoted” the movie when he was a guest star at TOP GEAR. They even showed a segment of the movie, when Bana crashes the car. It hurted, it really hurted. I said some harsh (and true) things about muscle cars, but the Ford Falcon is one fascinating piece of automobille magic. It’s the Mad Max car, for christ’s sake!

  15. Great review. I saw this film play to packed houses at Tribeca film festival. Looks like its premiere on Speed Network across US and Canada soon. In Dec from the release i read. Should be good in HD!

  16. Hello Everyone,

    This sounds like a fascinating movie. Bana actually sounds like my brother, who is a car nut.

    And to AsimovLives, I’m can’t dispute what you’re saying about a muscle cars inability to corner, because that’s totally true. But I do disagree with the assertion that they aren’t good cars because of it, they were just designed for a different kind of racing.

    Muscle cars were made for straight-away drag racing (like the end of The Fast and the Furious). They are all torque and horse-power with little regard for steering because it doesn’t come into play in a drag race. For any kind of track racing you’d be better off with something else, definitely. Though, modern muscle cars are pretty good now-a-days when it comes to cornering and stuff like that, but the 50’s – 70’s were not.

    They also weren’t created to be only racing cars. A lot of them were four seater sedans that just happened to have huge engines. Like the Ford Falcon was a four door sedan. They would eventually come out with a coupe version of it, but it still was big enough for a family. Not that that makes up for the lack of cornering, but you have to remember they were going after a larger demographic than a Ferrari or Porsche who are only after racing enthusiasts.

  17. Chris, i assume you are american or australian, because the thing is that there is a lot of sport versions of “normal” everyday cars in Japan and Europe, like the Ford Focus RS, and they not only have a lot of power for their weight, they can go very good speeds, and they can also corner in the process. They are very fast, and they corner too! Meanwhile, muscle cars only go foward.

    The pointher eis that muscle cars cannot only be compared to “born” sport cars like most Ferrari and Porches. The thing is, there’s quite many other car models from many other brands who are common cars with sport versions, many of them quite poerful, and they can do the whole thing, they can spped, and they can corner.

    From the perspective of an european,. and a japanses too i imagine, muscle cars are usless death traps. Let me just say this: if you brough a muscle car to Europe, you would crash at the first corner. Yean, in principle, i find muscle cars funny and interesting. But in practice, bring me any european car. Beside,s eurpean and american cars can have the same power as an amerian car but with a smaller engine and with more reduce consuption. That is something about american cars will never understand, how below and behind they became on engine, direction and suspension on their european and japanese counter-parts. You could even use Ford, comparing the cars it makes for the american market and the european market, and how sophisticated the later are to the former. And it’s in the same company. Who understands this shit?

  18. Aaaaaaaaand…..it’s gone . I sold my old Fiat 500 . I wasn’t using it very much anymore , and I was certain it was the right thing to do , because I needed the money. But after selling it , I immediately remembered all the time I’ve spent working on it . I had to totally rebuild the front , and re-paint it too , with a color that was a little darker than the rest . I was working on manglers at the time, doing maintenance , and the very cool guys working with me were very supportive of my project , giving me tools and help. Good times .

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