The Incredible Shrinking Man

LISTEN – if you’ve been dismissing black and white movies because you think they’re not “sophisticated” enough for your fancy expectations, then this film is your challenge.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 film with all the pizzaz of your precious modern-day blockbusters, but without the help of CGI, which makes it WAY more impressive.

The Incredible Shrinking Man also does something I find especially powerful: it builds visceral empathy for the main character. You literally FEEL his suffering. The basis of the film is sci-fi-of course, but the intensity makes it more of a drama. 

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It all starts when Scott Carey and his wife are vacationing at sea. When his wife goes inside their boat to grab beers, a strange mist passes over, leaving a residue on Scott’s skin. Weeks later, he starts noticing odd changes in his size.

Scott is getting smaller every day, and he decides it’s time to seek professional help.  A team of doctors run endless tests, and finally, a breakthrough occurs. They identify two factors contributing to Scott’s ailment: his exposure to the apparent radiation cloud that passed over him on the boat, and (because his luck isn’t bad enough) his accidental exposure to a powerful insecticide sprayed near his house two weeks later. This combination of radiation and chemicals sparks a condition for which there is no precedent.

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When you forgot your keys and your husband’s late opening the door.

It’s not long before Scott’s story goes public and he and his wife find themselves confined to their home, hiding from reporters and gawking neighbors. Meanwhile, Scott’s team of doctors work feverishly to find an anecdote. Sadly, when they finally discover a serum they think may help, it’s not enough. Scott continues shrinking, now living in a doll house on the floor of what was once his home.

Hashtag depressingggg.

Living in a doll house may sound kind of awesome, but being that small comes with some serious dangers. Cue Scott’s inevitable run-in with the cat, which spurs the turning point of the film.

This movie is surprisingly DARK. From almost being eaten by a cat, to nearly drowning, to fending off a giant spider, the main character is in constant conflict. We watch him teeter between losing his mind and fighting for survival for most of the film. 

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Oh look, it’s my LITERAL NIGHTMARE.

I mean, imagine if you were shrinking. Do you really think your wacky inventor Dad would nuke you with his laser and bring you back? That some rude caterpillar would feed you a psychedelic mushroom to make you normal again? No. You’d be screwed and therefore horrified.

This film accurately captures that anxiety and imagines how a person would react mentally, physically, and emotionally to such a life event. It’s also a testament to the awe and wonder at a universe bigger than us — even us normal-sized, non-shrinking humans.

 

What We Do in the Shadows

Vampires + Reality TV = what? You’ll find out if you watch the comedy/horror mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows (2014). The film was written and directed by two of its stars, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and it has it all: deadpan comedy, relatable roommate squabbles, social rejection, darkness, aggressive artery punctures (which I could do without), a feeling of general creepiness, documentary vibes, and old timey clothing.

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Oh dear, Petyr..

What We Do in the Shadows is set in modern day New Zealand, where four roommate vampires are trying to navigate 21st century life. I say four vampires because technically it is four, but one of the vampires, Petyr, is every child’s nightmare, so he only makes limited appearances. The other three vampires – Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav – are the main subjects of the “documentary”.

This film is bizarre, creative perfection. It must have been pretty amusing to sit in a room and brainstorm all the ways modern life would be inconvenient for vampires. Today’s vampires not only have to deal with the whole ‘drinking blood and staying out of the sun’ thing, but also negotiate the stale day-to-day conflicts of us “regular people”. Arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Who forgot to pay rent. Which friend is trash talking the other one. We’re all just people/immortals trying to find some joy in this crazy world.  

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The vampire roommates struggle with issues us humans would never have to worry about. Not having a reflection, for instance, makes it pretty hard to play “What should I wear tonight?” before you hit the club. And then, even if you do pick something suitable, you can’t actually get into the club unless the bouncer invites you.  

At the beginning of the “documentary” each vampire explains how they became who they are. I don’t want to ruin their backstories, but here are their general personalities:

Deacon: Deacon is described as the “bad boy” of the group. He is a sensual, wild, vampire nazi.

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Vladislav: Vladislav has been around since the medieval times, so he has a more old school mentality about vampiring.

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Viago: Viago is the diva who often appoints himself the leader and mediator of the group.

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How else will you soak up all the blood? Duh.

Although their lives are restricted, the vampires aren’t living in complete isolation. Not only are they interacting with humans like Deacon’s servant Jackie and their friend Stu, but they know other vampires and creatures as well. In fact, there’s a bustling society of vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, and other nonhuman beings running rampant around the city. The “documentary” is filmed as a lead up to the Unholy Masquerade, which is an annual gathering of all these creatures.

If I reveal too much about the plot it may ruin the experience, so instead, I’ll end this post with a few teaser quotes to look forward to when you watch it….

[On why they like virgin blood]
Deacon: I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.

Vladislav: I think of it like this. If you’re going to enjoy a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.


Anton the Werewolf: [to all the werewolves] What are we? We’re… [All, together] We’re Werewolves, not Swear-Wolves.


Stu: [Showing the vampires Google] Anything you want to find you type it in.

Viago: I lost a really nice silk scarf in about 1912.

Deacon: Yes, now Google it.


Nick: Twilight!

Deacon: Shut up, Nick! You’re not Twilight.

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Lars and the Real Girl

Remember all those films where Ryan Gosling plays the deliciously dreamy heartthrob who consumes every woman’s deepest fantasies? Mmyeah, this is nothing like any of those.

In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays Lars Linstrom, an exceedingly awkward man who lives in his brother and sister-in-law’s garage. The majority of Lars’ time is spent trying to avoid human contact and minimize the duration of conversations.

I think Lars’ awkwardness is supposed to be endearing, but it also comes off a little murdery. Lars is like the guy you hear about on the news who committed a heinous crime and all the neighbors comment that he “always kept to himself” and “seemed like a nice guy”. He rocks an unsettling mustache and often sits alone on his bed at night…in the dark…staring down at the floor. If that doesn’t scream SERIAL KILLER, I don’t know what does. And yet, as you watch the movie, you grow to appreciate his strangeness.

MV5BMjA5NzQ0NDg1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjg3NDQ3._V1_Lars’ sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer) tries desperately to get Lars to come and spend time with her and her husband, Gus. Karin is a compassionate, motherly type who has made it her personal mission to help Lars. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in this movie is in the first act where Karin is trying to get Lars to come over for a meal. First, she invites him to breakfast, but he makes the excuse that he has to go to church. So, she says he should come by after church. Not wanting to be rude (and also hoping she’ll go away) Lars reluctantly agrees. But he still doesn’t show up. So when Karin sees him pull in the driveway the next night, she runs out to invite him to dinner. After several pleading exchanges, Karin ends up physically tackling Lars to the ground. It is quite hilarious, but it also shows us how seriously Karin worries about Lars’ isolationism.

Other than being a total weirdo, Lars leads a normal(ish) life. He has an office job where he shares a cubicle with a porn-addicted creeper, and fends off advances from his innocent coworker, Margot, who has a crush on him. One morning, the cubicle creeper shows Lars a website for anatomically correct sex dolls, which is seemingly of little interest to Lars. However, six weeks later, a large package is delivered to the garage. Lars shows up at Karin and Gus’ door to let them know he has a visitor — It’s Bianca, his new “girlfriend” who he “met on the internet”. Karin and Gus are thrilled at the prospect of Lars having a girlfriend, and Lars explains that he needs a favor for his new lady. Bianca is very religious and doesn’t feel comfortable staying in the garage with Lars, so he asks if Karin and Gus will allow her to use their guest bedroom. They agree with an almost giddy enthusiasm. Of course, that’s before they “meet” Bianca and realize the situation they’ll now be forced to navigate. 

To Lars, Bianca is not a doll. She is alive. She has a story and a personality. Their relationship is not based on sex (phew!), but rather on companionship. Lars knows nearly everything about Bianca, and his descriptors give us an idea of who he imagines her to be. Here are a few facts about Bianca (according to Lars):

  • She’s half Brazilian and half Danish
  • She used to be a missionary
  • She doesn’t speak much English
  • She is in a wheelchair
  • She is very religious
  • She’s not superficial
  • She cannot bear children
  • She loves kids3iAw.gif

After recovering from the moment of shock, Karin and Gus immediately start strategizing what to do next. In an ingenious move, Karin suggests taking Bianca to the doctor to make sure she’s “in good health” after her long trip. Unaware that the general practitioner is also a psychologist, Lars agrees to go and hear what the doctor has to say. The savvy psychologist gradually gains Lars’ trust as he returns each week to bring Bianca for “special treatments”.

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Her blood pressure is low, obviously.

The doctor explains to Karin and Gus that Lars is experiencing a delusion. To help him, they will need to play along. Karin and Gus take her advice but worry how the town will react and how they personally will get through it. They meet with the counsel of the local church for additional support.

This is where the film really becomes charming.

The entire town bands together for Lars, with each person generously playing into his delusion and including Bianca in their activities and social functions.

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Bianca gettin’ her hair did. 

Through Bianca’s social engagements, Lars’ relationship with everyone else grows and he starts learning to interact with the people he’s been trying so desperately to avoid. But the closer he edges away from his social anxiety, the more Lars and Bianca drift apart. They start to fight and Lars becomes jealous that Bianca’s regimented social schedule is interfering with their alone time. Slowly but surely, we see a glimmer of change in Lars, and we start to learn about the issues from his past that are making him feel so secluded.

Lars and the Real Girl
is a poignant, clever, and whimsical dramedy that reminds us what being human is truly about. Watch the film to discover how Lars evolves and what ultimately happens between him and Bianca.

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Demolition Man

It’s 1996 Los Angeles and everything is on fire. Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is an apparent “maniac” who’s holding hostages in an old building. Sylvester Stallone (Sergeant John Spartan) enters from the sky to take down all the bad guys and outsmart Phoenix, alone.

Bang bang, karate chop, punch in the spleen – he’s in.

5Now Spartan and Phoenix are face to face and ready to engage in an awkward bout of hero vs. villain banter. Cringe-forward to when Pheonix reveals the whole floor is covered in gasoline and explosive barrels — that’s right, he’s about to blow this place, cartoon style.

Spartan gets both men out in time, but the hostages are lost. Now of course, the only logical thing that could happen would be for Simon Phoenix to be arrested and John Spartan to get the Medal of Honor. Well, this movie isn’t based on logic, so the COMPLETE OPPOSITE happens.

Because the hostages died, John Spartan is convicted of involuntary manslaughter with a sentence of 70 years, which he’ll serve in a cryogenic prison that I guess our 1996 technology was capable of? They stick him in some gooey gelatin and don’t even bother putting him to sleep before they fill the tank, so he has to unpleasantly drown in goo until they freeze him. On the upside, at least his arch nemesis, Phoenix, is also getting gooed.

Now it’s 2032 and Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) is a young police woman obsessed with the violence of 20th century culture and longing for a real crime to happen in her utopian city of San Angeles – the San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles hybrid city.

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But it’s not a utopia for everyone. Edgar Friendly (played by Denis Leary) and his small posse of  WaterWorld people are living off the grid and trying to feed their starving families from beneath the streets. Edgar and his sewer friends become an important piece of the story later.

Aside from the starving people, San Angeles also features:

  • No spicy food
  • No physical contact
  • No chocolate
  • No caffeine
  • No alcohol
  • No kissing
  • No swearing
  • “Alternative” sex only
  • ….It’s hell.

2.gifBack at the prison, the warden awakens inmates from their cryogenic sleep for parole hearings. This day is like any other, except the criminal being awakened is none other than the notorious Simon Phoenix. Clever Phoenix magically releases himself from captivity and, instead of trying to start fresh, he begins wreaking havoc. Something is different about him though, and as the story unfolds we learn what it is, and why.

Anyway, Huxley and her police crew are dumbfounded by Simon’s crimes, and after a truly pathetic attempt to apprehend him, they decide they need another 20th century barbarian to do it for them. Cue John Spartan. Fresh from the freezer, Spartan’s a stone cold fox in Huxley’s eyes, but he’s too busy realizing his entire family is dead to notice her admiration. How rude.

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Let me pause here a moment and ask a valid question: Who thought Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone would have chemistry together? What casting team honestly got together and said, “You know what duo would really turn up the heat in this film? Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock. Yes…I definitely see that being an actual thing that should happen.” I’m just not feeling it. But the combination is painfully delightful, so it fits in well with how I’d describe the rest of this film.

The casting team really took it next-level with their supporting actor choices as well: Rob Schneider, Glenn Shadix (Otho in Beetlejuice), and Benjamin Bratt, to name a few. Benjamin Bratt: the costar Sandra Bullock actually had chemistry with seven years later in Miss Congeniality.

Throughout the rest of the movie, Spartan works to defy modern society and help the incapable police track down Phoenix. Along the way, we discover the true story of the underground people, learn why Simon Phoenix is on a killing spree, and watch John Spartan grapple for personal redemption.

Demolition Man is a fun, futuristic action film filled with great one liners, rat burgers, Frida Kahlo lookalikes, sea shells, overalls, and many other random and concerning wonders.

The last scene is a TREASURE.

Even though I spent most of my time writing about how awkward and weird this film is, it is that very ridiculousness that makes Demolition Man a must-see. 

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Hell or Utopia?! I can’t decide!

 

The Swan Princess

The Swan Princess is a Sony Pictures film, so if you haven’t seen it, that’s probably why. Don’t be a Disney racist — give this movie a chance. It’s not perfect, but it is entertaining.

CalmDiscreteAmericancurl-max-1mbAs you might imagine, it’s about a princess (Odette) who gets turned into a swan. Basically, her Dad (the King) pisses off a sorcerer named Lord Rothbart, who is portrayed by Mr. Ghoul himself, Jack Palance.

Lord Rothbart is banished for black magic when Princess Odette is a baby. Meanwhile, the King (who is widowed) and a widowed Queen from another village decide they’re going to bring their children together every summer until they fall in love. It’s a little pushy, but it all seems to work out once teenage hormones are in full rage.

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And? What else? There’s more to her than a rockin’ bod you goon.

Just when it seems Prince Derek might seal the deal, he somehow manages to fuck it up with a misogynistic comment. In full #MeToo mode, Odette tells him to shove it and heads back to her kingdom with her King Dad.

Shit gets dark real fast.

Lord Rothbart returns with some voodoo sorcery, kidnaps Odette, and murders her Dad and his knights. Then, to really rub salt in the wound, he keeps Odette at his shanty-ass castle and puts a spell on her that turns her into a swan. Each night, when the moon hits the lake, she turns back into a woman. But each morning when the sun rises, she returns to swan form. Odette will remain trapped at Lord Rothbart’s until she agrees to marry him, or until she kisses her true love and he makes a “vow of everlasting love” in front of the world.

In the tradition of most animated children’s films, Odette befriends some animals along the way — a chill turtle named Speed, a clever bird named Puffin, and a combative frog named Jean-Bob. Jean-Bob is voiced by the legendary John Cleese and is therefore the funniest character in the film. giphy

Derek isn’t convinced Odette is dead, so he starts training Rocky-style to get her back.  As far as animated princes go, Prince Derek doesn’t rank too far down the totem pole. His mullet-esque hair could use some help, but he makes up for it with a pair of exceptional thigh-high boots and a great singing voice.

The musical numbers in this animated film are quite nice. The songs No More Mr. Nice Guy, For Longer than Forever, and This is My Idea stand out as particular favorites.

In between these delightful musical numbers, the clever Prince Derek forges his way through the forest and eventually finds Odette.

No, this is not the end of the movie.

Odette is still under her swan spell, and she explains the predicament to Derek. They decide to meet the next night at Derek’s castle so he can make the vow of everlasting love to break the spell.

Sounds easy, right? WELL IT’S NOT. Watch the film to find out how their simple plan gets sidetracked, with a race against time to save the lovers’ relationship, and their lives.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

If you haven’t seen the original 1990 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’m not sure how you’ve made it this far. Even worse, if you haven’t seen the original  but HAVE seen the unacceptable 2014 Megan Fox version, I am undoubtedly judging you.

Jim Henson puppeteered the pants off this movie. Other names associated with the film include Elias Koteas (bad guy in Shooter and cop on Chicago PD)  as the ever-epic Casey Jones, and Sam Rockwell as a degenerate teenager. Perhaps the strangest casting choice for this film was Splinter, the wise, radioactive rat/father raising the turtles. He is played by none other than Kevin Clash, the man behind the iconic voice of Elmo. Splinter’s voice is not even close to Elmo, so, congratulations to that guy on his vocal range.

And — I didn’t know this until I looked it up — the guy who voices Shredder (hilariously over-the-top villain) was a random voiceover in several children’s films including Oliver and Company, The Lion King, Nightmare Before Christmas, and something called Casual Sex?, which is not a children’s film, but I just really want to know about that question mark.

The Story: April O’Neil is a feisty New York reporter asking the tough questions about crime. But one night while leaving the TV station, not even her hard-hitting eyebrows can save her. A team of teenage criminals attacks her, prompting the ever-vigilant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to karate chop those bad guys into submission. Unfortunately, one of the turtles, Rafael, loses his sai (a giant fighting fork) in the process.  This is April’s first clue to the existence of the Ninja Turtles.

Shredder may be a bad guy, but he’s a well-informed bad guy. When he turns on the news and hears April asking too many questions about recent crimes, he orders she be silenced. His hit on April’s life brings the turtles back into her world, giving her a chance to learn about their past.

April and her new turtle posse work to uncover the crime ring destroying their city, finding a few friends along the way. 

Casey Jones, a fellow vigilante and 100% non-turtle, comes into the picture as a smart-mouth adversary who eventually joins the crew to deliver JUSTICE.

If you have absolutely zero idea about this film, I suppose I should take a moment to describe each of the turtles. The four turtle brothers were named by Splinter. As a deep mind and spiritual rat-soul, Splinter named each of the turtles after a revered Renaissance thinker or artist:

1ade153a-8e3a-4294-b889-87bb07dc7cac.jpgRafael – Rafael wears red. He’s the angriest, most aggressive of the turtles. Rafael has some rage issues but he genuinely cares about his family. His weapon of choice is the Sai, a pronged pair of Asian weapons/forks.

 

Leonardo – Leonardo is the ying to Rafael’s yang. Instead of being reactionary and hot blooded, Leonardo is calm and logical. Leonardo wears blue, because he’s chill. He rocks two long sticks for his weapon, which he keeps crossed over his back so he can look like a badass when he pulls them from his shell-holster.  

 

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Michelangelo, causing trouble again.

Michelangelo – Michelangelo is every teenage boy you ever met. All he wants to do is eat pizza and make wisecracks. Michelangelo wears orange because he’s INTENSE. His weaponry is all about the nunchucks. A fun weapon for a fun guy!

 

Donatello – Donatello is a balance between the personalities of the other three Turtles. While he is sensitive like Leonardo, he’s a bit more practical. He shares the wit and humor of Michelangelo, but is more understated. He speaks his mind, but with controlled intensity, unlike Rafael. Donatello wears purple, the color of royalty, and he uses one stick as his weapon, because he doesn’t NEED more than one, ok! teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles.jpg

I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, because I do love them all, but if I had to pick ONE turtle, I’d say Donatello is my choice. I appreciate his level-headed but passionate and charismatic nature.

There’s an underground hangout in TMNT where all the rowdy teenagers go to kick it. Every time I watch it, even as an adult, I wish the place was real. Even the song playing over the loudspeaker is gangster. Of course, I would never have been edgy enough to hang out in such an establishment as a high schooler, but I can pretend. It has an indoor skate park, a bunch of video games, blaring music, and all the children are smoking cigars. It’s amazing.

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Joey just loves his Cohibas.

Shredder has a very Darth Vader vibe going on, even saying at one point “I am your father” to the misfit boys who follow him. It makes sense that his secret hangout is so fancy because he clearly understands style. He wears a sparkly, red onesie with a full-on metal face mask and spiked metal shoulder pads that makes Prince look like an amateur. 

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It must be difficult to fight with a garbage can on your face.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made early enough in the 90s that is still rides the coattails of the 80s — oversized hair, questionable adult innuendos, lack of technology making life 5,000% harder, and hip hop music. This is not just a mutant-turtle kids movie, it’s a family classic. You need to stop what you’re doing and watch this movie or you’ll be dead in seven days. I’m just kidding, you’ll be fine, but seriously, see this.

T-U-R-T-L-E POWER!

Death Race

As the title blatantly states, Death Race is about a race…to the death. The movie is set in a hypothetical 2012 where a spike in unemployment and rise in crime result in an overflow of the prison system. So, naturally, the powers-that-be decide to go “America” on it by privatizing the prisons to run them for profit. The director (Paul W. S. Anderson) shot the film as a prequel to the 1975 film Death Race 2000 starring Sylvester Stallone. 

So, how do these for-profit prisons make the profit?

At first, they use throwback Gladiator fights. But, when the desensitized population grows weary of the archaic sport, the talking heads realize they need to change things up. Hence, they initiate paid Web streams of the inmates racing each other in jacked-up, armor-clad, explosive cars. They call it DEATH RACE.

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Ain’t no race like a backwards race.

Why would the inmates risk their lives for this?  Well, you can only drink so much toilet-water-vodka before your liver bleeds. But, the other reason is probably because any driver who wins five races earns his freedom.

Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, a hardworking welder with a wife and baby who’s just trying to live his life. One fateful day, Jensen gets laid off and returns home to tell his wife the news. While he washes up in the other room, an intruder murders his wife, steals his baby, and renders him unconscious. Jensen wakes to a bloody knife in his hands and a team of police above him. He is now part of the prison system, and if he ever wants to see his baby daughter again, he’ll have to drive his way out.

It isn’t long before Jensen realizes who framed him for his wife’s murder. It’s Hennessey, the warden, slash president, slash pancake-faced witch of the prison. Her race ratings, which were dependent on a fan-favorite driver named Frankenstein, are in jeopardy. “Frank” recently died in a fiery crash, but luckily for Hennessey, he was so disfigured from OTHER fiery crashes, that he always wore a mask to cover his hideous face. This makes him easy to replace. Not wanting to lose her main money maker, Hennessey blackmails Jensen to pose as Frank in the upcoming race. Frank was one race away from his freedom, so if Jensen can complete one race for her, she’ll let him go free and give him his baby daughter back. But, in typical villain fashion, the game is secretly rigged against Jensen.

Apparently, Jensen has some background in car racing, which they casually breeze over to give at least some context to why Hennessey chose him, but we never really get the full story on that. 

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Jensen now finds himself deep in the underground world of prison racing. He and his pit crew must make sure “Frank’s” car is supercharged with as much smoke, oil, machine guns, steel shields, bullet proof glass, and napalm to barrel through all the other drivers. Yes, napalm. This movie is not messing around with the explosives. Meanwhile, the prison ships in some female inmates to serve as the eye candy co-pilots. 

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I’m not going to try to convince you that Death Race is some sort of Academy Award nominee. Especially by today’s standards, the sexist and homophobic undertones are a little much, but I’ll be damned if it’s not entertaining. It has all the major components of a great action film:

  • Insane cars
  • Flamethrowers
  • Punching
  • Body tattoos
  • Aggressive rock and rap music
  • Male co-stars with masculinity issues
  • Objectification of every woman
  • Overly exaggerated explosions
  • Machine guns that are way too large NOT to be compensating for something
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Muscle Tower flaunting his Sharpie tattoos.

Death Race is a delightfully virile thrill ride with a couple of surprises along the way. Jason Statham’s dry humor and fierce staredowns are at it again, maintaining his persona of a likeable, sarcastic, muscle tower. 

I’m pretty sure they made a plethora of sequels to this movie, but I never saw them. Once you’ve seen the Death Race, no other race will do.