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.

Film Review: The Blob (1958)

Release Date: September 12th, 1958
Directed by: Irvin Yeaworth
Written by: Kay Linaker, Theodore Simonson
Music by: Ralph Carmichael, Burt Bacharach
Cast: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland

Fairview Productions, Tonylyn Productions, Valley Forge Films, Paramount Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[after throwing acid on the Blob] Doctor, nothing will stop it!” – Kate, the nurse

If that Burt Bacharach theme in the opening credits doesn’t lure you in, you’ve got no musical soul.

Beyond that, this film rests on the shoulders of Steve McQueen, who was pretty young here but still the coolest guy in the room by far. He is a juvenile delinquent but not really. He just falls victim to the prejudices of a cop that hates the youth and his girlfriend’s judgmental father. Sure, he races a car backwards but that’s what cool people do. Regardless, he saved the damn town and was the hero of the movie.

The threat in this picture is a blob. Yes, an actual blob. But that should have been apparent by the title of the film.

Are blobs scary? Well, not really. But a lot of people get killed by this murderous Jello mold, which keeps growing, kill after kill. When we first meet the monster, it is a tiny little jelly ball that hatches from a small meteor. It attaches itself to a curious old guy in the woods and devours him in the local doctor’s office. It then eats the nurse, the doctor and eventually tries to eat the people inside of the small town’s movie theater. In the finale, the blob is big enough to engulf an entire diner.

At first glance, this may seem like typical ’50s sci-fi schlock. However, there is just something strangely magical about The Blob. It is a really good looking film for what it is. Considering it was produced on the cheap by an indie studio, the final product is impressive. It had the look of a major studio horror picture and even then, the special effects were maybe even better. Sure, an actual blob is probably cheap to make but the way that it moves and is shot, is more dynamic than what one would expect for the time.

The colors of this film are hypnotic and it just enhances the overall experience. This would not have been the same movie had it been presented in black and white.

The movie is short and straight to the point. It isn’t close to being the best picture of its time but it is solid and holds up as well as it can. Sure, it looks and feels dated, it’s 1950s science fiction, but it looks better than similar films from its day.

The Blob is a motion picture that’s better than it should be and that’s probably why it has stood the test of time and is still beloved by a lot of people. It also spawned a fairly okay remake in the late ’80s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The 1988 remake, as well as Them! and the original versions of The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Documentary Review: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Release Date: May 16th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Written by: Gabriel Clarke
Music by: Jim Copperthwaite
Cast: Steve McQueen (archive footage), Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, Louise Edlind

Content Media, McQueen Racing, Pit Lane Productions, 102 Minutes

Review:

Le Mans is my favorite movie about auto racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a classic with fantastic action and a true sense of realism unlike anything ever filmed on the subject before it. It feels like a documentary accented by the presence of Steve McQueen.

The story behind the film is more intriguing, however.

This was Steve McQueen’s dream project, as it focused on his biggest love: motorsports. More specifically, it focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the biggest annual motorsports event in the world, which pits all the top auto manufacturers against each other with the best drivers in the world, gunning for bragging rights and world supremacy, at least until the following year.

McQueen was at the point in his career where he could be attached to anything and any studio would just write a check. However, due to creative problems, production issues, falling behind and the immense undertaking that this film became, the project turned into a nightmare for all involved. McQueen’s vision was his vision, whether or not the people brought on to help him realize it, understood what they were doing or not.

This documentary also analyzes McQueen’s personal life, its ups and downs and how all that played into his attitude and his handling of creating this dream. Le Mans was an arduous task that had to be finished but McQueen’s personal demons didn’t make it any easier.

In the end, the film got made, it didn’t do so well upon release but has grown to cult status among car and racing aficionados. It’s an amazing film for a lot of reasons and this documentary shows you why.

Plus, it’s always a treat to watch McQueen’s Le Mans footage. This also has a lot of behind the scenes stuff mixed in.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The film Le Mans, as well as other documentaries about the Le Mans race, most notably the Audi produced ones Truth In 24 I and II.

Film Review: Le Mans (1971)

Release Date: June 23rd, 1971
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Written by: Harry Kleiner
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Steve McQueen, Siegfried Rauch, Elga Andersen, Louise Edlind

Cinema Center Films, National General Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

Upon its release in 1971, Le Mans was pretty much a big box office failure. Regardless of that, it was a big passion project for Steve McQueen and it was a film that had exceptional challenges in trying to make. In the almost fifty years since it came out, however, it has grown to be a beloved and well-respected movie.

The film is really a time capsule, especially for racing aficionados, as it truly gives an insider’s perspective of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from a bygone era. Today, the endurance race still exists but it has changed drastically. This shows the sporting event when it was more pure. It also displays iconic historical supercars in all their high speed glory.

While this is a fictional motion picture, it really plays like a documentary with small breaks in it where some acting takes place. The film might not resonate with many, as it sacrifices dialogue and story to showcase this amazing annual event in all its intensity.

When it comes to the story though, it is still pretty good and it is more emotional and introspective than something that needs a complex narrative or a lot of dialogue to keep things moving. McQueen’s character arrives to Le Mans, France in his Porsche and sees a woman buying flowers. Through flashbacks, we come to know that she is the widow of a driver that died in a crash in the previous Le Mans event. McQueen’s character feels responsible for his death and the public generally blame him, as does the widow. As the film goes on, he and the widow keep running into each other. There is an attraction there but still an awkwardness. McQueen crashes in the race and the widow’s concern for him becomes more apparent as her feelings grow. McQueen goes back into the race and he finishes it, unscathed and as he walks towards the widow, we are left wondering what will happen between them. It is actually a pretty poetic story and the way that it was executed, with minimal dialogue is pretty profound and really shows the acting talent of both Steve McQueen and Elga Andersen.

Ultimately, this is a very unorthodox film in how it presents itself. The story on the track is what takes center stage but the emotional bond between the two main characters and the film’s minimalist approach to that portion of the story is somewhat beguiling. There is a lot to be explored with these two characters but most of that is left to the viewer’s speculation and interpretation.

I love the 24 Hours of Le Mans event. In fact, it is my favorite annual sporting event. I also love old school supercars, especially Ferrari, which are the cars driven by our hero’s rival team. Therefore, I have a soft spot for this motion picture. Its documentary feel and its authentic grittiness is something that isn’t easily created in the CGI heavy films of today. Were this picture made in 2017, the vast majority of it would be shot in front of a green screen. McQueen went out to the real race, got in a car, took to the track and let the crew film him and the real racers. The action you see, for the most part, is all real.

I love Le Mans. I get why a lot of people might not have the same affinity for it as I do but it is still an incredibly unique picture and something that just wouldn’t be replicated today, in the same way.