Throw Back Thursday Review: Death Race (2008)

Poster for Death RaceIt has taken a bit of time for the concept of Throw Back Thursdays to sink in, aka #tbt but now that it has, thanks to Rich Paschall who gave us another way of looking at this sometimes annoying new trend, the beginning of The Throw Back Thursday Review has started with Death Race (2008).

This lovingly made reimagining of Roger Corman’s classic, and cult favorite, Death Race 2000 (1975), keeps up with the entertainment factor of the original. David Carradine, who starred as Frankenstein in the first film (along with a heavy-set Sylvester Stallone who played Machine Gun Joe as the winning driver’s main adversary) provides the voice of the first “Frank” in this remake as a huge nod and wink to Corman’s camp classic. Roger adores Paul W.S. Anderson (known for Event Horizon and all but one of the Resident Evil films) whom he discovered when the director made his first film Shopping in 1994 with Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee, Sean Bean, Marianne Faithful and Jason Isaacs.

While Corman’s film dealt with a race taking place out on the road, where members of the public were considered targets by the drivers, the remake (which Anderson says is a prequel to the 1975 film) is a reality TV show brought to the public from inside a high security prison. Overall, the mythos is the same. Frankenstein is the “long-term” winner and crowd pleaser that dies at the beginning of the film. In the original, “Frank” was continually resurrected by faceless drivers as the real one and the subsequent replacements kept getting killed.

In the 2008 version, only one previous Frankenstein exists before Statham’s Jensen Ames puts on the mask. Machine Gun Joe, Statham’s biggest adversary is played by Tyrese Gibson and Ian McShane (Deadwood, Lovejoy) plays Coach; the man in charge of Frank’s pit crew. Joan Hall, the three time Oscar nominated actress from TV’s The Killing, plays Hennessey, the prison governor and the romantic interest in the film is filled by Natalie Martinez (Under the Dome, Secrets and Lies).

Poster for Death Race 2000
Roger Corman’s camp classic…

In this world, Frank must win one more race in order to be given his freedom. In reality the driver would not have gotten pardoned even if he had survived and won his final race. Statham steps in and faces the same opposition from Governor Hennessey who wants high ratings and big payouts for the televised race. Anderson provides action at a good pace and sets up the story well. Statham is brilliant as Jensen Ames/Frankenstein and his supporting cast are all top notch performers who deliver.

The director has admittedly based his “dreadnaught” on the 1981 film Mad Max: The Road Warrior and its petrol truck. Paul is obviously a fan, he even says so in the DVD’s special features, and he also has real respect for Ridley Scott and James Cameron. So much so the cafeteria scene in Death Race borrows a bit from Cameron’s 1986 filmAliens.

In the Cameron film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) slaps a tray of cornbread out of the synthetic human’s (Bishop, played by Lance Henriksen) hand. Pvt. Frost glances up and says, “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.” In Anderson’s feature, Ian McShane (Coach) and his pit crew watch Statham’s character get into a fight with Pachenko and members of his gang. As the fight concludes, Coach says, “I guess he didn’t like the oatmeal either.” In both films scenes immediately preceding the acts of violence have another character complaining about the food; Aliens – cornbread, Death Race – oatmeal.

Aliens scene from film
Frost: “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.”

A very cleverly set up homage to another director and his film. Anderson consistently provides entertaining and action packed films, he can also terrify his audience, Event Horizon for example will give the viewer nightmares. In this 2008 film, he pays respect to Roger Corman’s original dystopian vision and brings his own mark to the world of violence presented in the “future.” I adore the film and its perfect mix of stars.

Speaking of which, Death Race earns a full 5 stars for a number of reasons, but mainly, because I am huge fan of Anderson, Statham, Gibson and McShane. The latter I actually met while working as an extra on Lovejoy in England, what a class act and real star only just surpassed by the chap who played Tinker on the series, Mr. Dudley Sutton, who treated everyone like an old mate.

7 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Last Demo Tape

*Looking over my previous post I was reminded of the last time I submitted a demo tape and the consequences.*

I used to read The Stage newspaper religiously for the job advertisements and auditions that were going. I wasn’t interested in the Stage acting portion of the paper. I had two reasons for not even considering stage work: 1) It had been years since I’d performed live anywhere and 2) The only decent paying jobs were in London and I lived a good hour and forty minutes away.

The Stage did have ads for the telly and for film auditions; they also featured voice-over companies that were “desperate for new blood.” Despite the rather ominous tone of the advert, I rummaged around and found my last ever demo tape.

I generally checked all my “demos” before I sent them out; listening to them from start to finish. For some odd reason I decided to only listen to the intro and not the rest of the tape. Satisfied that all was well, I popped it into a cassette posting envelope and sent it to the company. I enclosed a short CV and a covering letter. With my current lack of response, I did not expect to hear back from them.

And I did not; at least for a long time at any rate.

Coming home from work one day weeks later, I noticed another cassette envelope on the table. It was addressed to me. I opened it and there was my tape and a short letter. The letter went something like this:

Dear Michael,

You sound like an incredibly talented man. I would recommend that the next time you send a demo out, you get it professionally done. When you’ve had a proper tape made, please send it to me. I am sure we’ll be able to find work for you.

Sincerely,

Blah-blah

I went mental. “Nobody,” I shouted, “Nobody sends the tapes back. How insulting is that?” I carried on in that vein for some time. I was furious. Professionally made? What did she think that was? Chopped liver? I’d spent a fortune getting those damn tapes mastered, reproduced, and packaging them for posting all over the place…

I grabbed the offending tape, envelope and letter and tossed them in a drawer in the wall unit. I did not look at them for over a year.

A friend that I’d done some scripting work for and the odd training and promotional videos rang me out of the blue; he’d lost my demo tape and wondered if I had another one as he had a client who was interested. I answered in the negative; I’d sent the last one out last year. Ringing off, I remembered the tape I’d gotten back the year before.

I searched for the damned thing everywhere, until my then wife reminded me about the wall unit.

Found it. I started to ring Phil when I spied the letter that had so offended me. I popped it into the player to see if it was alright. Sure enough 45 seconds into the tape it started messing up; skipping and dragging. It was uselessly buggered up and the only tape out of the entire batch that was.

I ripped the tape out of the machine and flung the damn thing across the room. So the lady from the company was not being rude or capricious, she meant what she said; the quality of the tape was not “professional” at all. And she’d left the door open over a year ago to send in another tape.

I sat down with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. I knew I didn’t have any other tapes left. I’d lost Pat’s number and he’d moved his studio a year or so back and I’d lost the address. Pat wasn’t “in the book” so I had no way of tracing him. I’d misplaced the Master DAT and to this day have no idea where it is. The reel to reel, which just took up space, was relegated to the bin.

As I sat there smoking and drinking coffee, I decided that anything that worked so hard against me was not an obvious career path. Despite my rave reviews from the AFN community (a few of the adverts I did for them won awards) and my doing little projects like fronting videos and training tapes; fate or karma or something really did not want me to succeed in this area.

The last thing I ever did was to read a magazine for the blind onto tapes produced and distributed by the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper. And that voluntary job, like all the rest, ended too soon; future magazines were read by a group of “lovie’s” from the local theatre group.

I decided to concentrate on my acting and signed on with two agents in Norwich for extra work. Suffolk was the location for a lot television programs at that time and I figured I could at least get my mush on the telly screen.

I mean, really; who wanted to set in an air conditioned sound-proof booth with a bottle of water and a script anyway. Who cared if it was “money for old rope?” No one got to see you and you weren’t acting anyway. In what seemed like a good sign, I got a call just one week later from one of my new agents.

I was to be an extra on Lovejoy and the filming location was just about a 45 minute drive away. It paid the princely sum of 75 pounds for a half day’s work and I’d get to meet Ian McShane and the rest of the cast.

Now this was more like it.

The Lovejoy original cast:
Chris Jury
Phyllis Logan
Ian McShane
Dudley Sutton