Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Fist Fight (dir by Richie Keen)


While I wouldn’t begin to argue that it’s been a great year for movies, there were still some really good movies released in 2017.

Unfortunately, there were also some really bad ones.

Which do you think Fist Fight was?

If you answered really bad, congratulations!

Actually, I don’t think anyone was expecting Fist Fight to be a classic or anything like that.  Basically, the film is about a conflict between two teachers, a conflict that seems destined to end with the event promised by the title.  The two teachers are played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  Of course, in the movie, they have different name but it doesn’t matter.  Neither character has an identity outside of the actor who plays him.  Charlie Day is nerdy and quick to yell.  Ice Cube is tough and intimidating and not the type to back down from a fight.

Now, at the risk of losing all credibility, I’m going to be honest about something.  When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, I thought it might not be as bad as it turned out to be.  Charlie Day is hilarious on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  One of the more appealing things about Ice Cube is his willingness to poke fun at his tough guy image.  More often than not, I tend to like movies about teachers acting like children because, when I was in school, I always suspected that was the way teachers actually behaved when they were safely in the teacher’s lounge.  Charlie Day desperately running around the school, hyperventilating while Ice Cube pops up to remind him that they have a fist fight scheduled?  Seriously, it sounded like it could be funny in a dumb way.

Well, I was wrong.  Fist Fight is one of the most painfully unfunny films that I’ve ever seen.  This is a movie that should have been focused on one thing: the fist fight at the end of the day.  The entire movie should have been Charlie Day preparing for a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win.  Instead, the movie kept getting distracted with unnecessary subplots.  For instance, because it’s the last day before summer, all of the students are pulling pranks on their teachers.  In fact, the entire student body is out-of-control.  But who cares?  We’re here to see Charlie Day try to throw a punch at Ice Cube.  We don’t care about a bunch of obnoxious students pulling pranks that seem like they were directly lifted from a Crown International high school movie.  If we want to see that, we can rewatch The Pom Pom Girls or Joy of Sex.  And if we want to watch a teacher stand up to his students, we can watch Class of 1984.

The film is full of funny people but it never really takes advantage of them.  Actors like Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Christina Hendricks pop up but just as quickly disappear.  Charlie Day does his best but the level of writing never rises to the level of It’s Sunny In Philadelphia.  (I personally would love to see “The Gang Gets In A Fist Fight With Ice Cube.”)  Compared to Fist Fight, even something like Horrible Bosses looks like nuanced and subversive humor.  There’s a lot of screeching in Fist Fight but very little of it is funny.

Playing Catch-Up: The Neon Demon (dir by Nicholas Winding Refn)


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What to say about The Neon Demon?

See, this is a film that you have to be careful about discussing.  From the moment that it premiered at Cannes last year, The Neon Demon was the love-it-or-hate-it film of 2016.

Those of us that loved The Neon Demon really, really loved it.

And those that hated it — well, let’s just say that they really, really hated it.  They complained that The Neon Demon was exploitive.  They found the subject matter to be sordid.  They accused the movie of being both pretentious and ultimately pointless.  The plot made no sense, they complained.  The film was overlong and featured about a handful of false endings.  It almost seemed as if Nicholas Winding Refn was taunting anyone who expected him to make a typical melodrama about life in Hollywood.

All of that is true but, honestly, what were these people expecting?  As a result of the success of Drive, many people have made the mistake of thinking that Nicholas Winding Refn is a mainstream director.  He’s not.  Refn is a provocateur.  He is a director who often dares his audience to walk away.  In The Neon Demon, each false ending challenges the audience’s assumption about how a story — any story — should end.  Some people, I’m sure, would complain that Refn is all style and no substance.  However, The Neon Demon is about a world where one’s worth is determined by their style.  Style is substance.  The world of The Neon Demon may be empty but the film is not.

For all the debate about the film’s deeper themes (or lack of them), The Neon Demon‘s story is a fairly simple and deliberately familiar one.  A teenage runaway comes to Hollywood, finds some success as a model, and discovers that the world of show business is not as romantic as she may have initially believed.  When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she’s posing for her boyfriend and she’s pretending to be dead.  Death, beauty, and sex go hand-in-hand in The Neon Demon.

Jesse’s an interesting character, one who constantly challenges our assumptions.  At first, Jesse seems like a typical innocent.  She’s a virgin who is so introverted that she can barely carry on a conversation.  She lives in a cheap apartment, under the menacing gaze of her sleazy landlord (Keanu Reeves, having fun playing his skeezy character).  She has a boyfriend and on their dates, she tells him about how she’s always dreamed of being a star.  It’s only as the film progresses that you start to realize how little you actually know about Jesse.  That she’s a runway is implied early on.  We never learn what led to her running away.  In fact, we learn next to nothing about who she was before she appeared in Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Jesse is everything that the fashion industry values.  She’s beautiful and, even more importantly, she’s young.  We watch as Jesse goes to a casting call and we’re struck by the blank-look on her face.  We wonder if there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Jesse has hallucinations, seeing a shining triangle and kissing her own reflection.  Someone asks her what it’s like to be desired.  She replies, “It’s everything.”

Jesse befriends Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who lives in a gigantic mansion, overlooking an empty swimming pool.  When Ruby isn’t working in the fashion industry, she works at a morgue, applying makeup to corpses and occasionally engaging in necrophilia.  She makes the dead beautiful so that they can be buried looking their best.  Again, beauty and death are intertwined throughout The Neon Demon.

Ruby has two other friends, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee).  They’re both models, struggling to maintain their careers even as younger models, like Jesse, continue to flood into Los Angeles.  Gigi has had so much cosmetic surgery that none of her original features remain.  Gigi is neurotic and fearful.  Sarah, on the other hand, is confident and sarcastic.  When asked what she did the last time another model screwed her out of a job, Sarah calmly replies, “I ate her.”

Sarah isn’t necessarily joking either.  Without giving too much away, The Neon Demon features, among other things, a character eating an eyeball that another character has just thrown up.  Not surprisingly for a Refn film, there’s a lot of blood in The Neon Demon.  It’s a film that opens with fake blood and ends with very real blood.

Combining the visual sense of Dario Argento with the thematic concerns of Jean Rollin, The Neon Demon is a triumph of pure style.  The visuals are so strong that it’s impossible to look away, even when the film’s themes are deliberately obscure.  The Neon Demon is a surreal journey into the dark side of Hollywood, a mixture of ennui, alienation, decadence, and sacrifice.  It may not always make sense but it’s always fascinating to watch.

Personally, I think The Neon Demon would make a great double feature with La La Land.  Two triumphs of style, two very different views of Los Angeles.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #16: Zoolander 2 (dir by Ben Stiller)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On October 14th, I recorded Zoolander 2 off of Epix.

A sequel to the 2001 cult hit, Zoolander 2 came out earlier this year and got absolutely terrible reviews and quickly vanished from theaters.  Watching the film last night, I could understand why it got such terrible reviews.  Zoolander 2 is not only a terrible movie but it’s also a rather bland one.  Somehow, the blandness is even more offensive than the badness.

Zoolander 2 opens with Justin Bieber getting assassinated and Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) being forced to come out of retirement and discover why pop stars are being targeted.  And, of course, Zoolander can’t do it without the help of Hansel (Owen Wilson)!  Penelope Cruz is in the film as well, playing  Zoolander’s handler and essentially being wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone.

Oh!  And Will Ferrell returns as well.  Ferrell gives a performance that essentially shouts out to the world, “Fuck you, I’m Will Ferrell and no one is going to tell Will Ferrell to tone his shit down!”

Actually, I think everyone in the world is in Zoolander 2.  This is one of those films that is full of cameos from people who probably thought a silly comedy would be good for their image.  For instance, there’s a huge number of journalists who show up playing themselves.  Matt Lauer shows up and I get the feeling that we’re supposed to be happy about that.  There was a reason why people cheered when the sharks ate him in Sharknado 3.

You know who else shows up as himself?  Billy Zane!  And Billy Zane has exactly the right type of attitude for a film like this.  He shows up and he mocks the whole enterprise by giving the Billy Zaniest performance of Billy Zane’s career.  For that matter, Kiefer Sutherland also shows up as himself.  I’m not really sure what Kiefer was doing in the film but he makes sure to deliver all of his lines in that sexy growl of his.  Kiefer knows what we want to hear.

You may notice that I’m not talking about the plot of Zoolander 2.  That’s largely because I couldn’t follow the plot.  This is an incredibly complicated film but it’s not complicated in a funny way.  Instead, it’s complicated in a way that suggests that the film was made up on the spot.  It’s as if the cast said, “We’re all funny!  Just turn on the camera and we’ll make it work!”

The problem with Zoolander 2 is obvious.  The first film pretty much exhausted the comic possibilities of making a spy film about shallow and stupid models.  Don’t get me wrong — the first film did a good job but it’s not like it left any material untapped.  But I would ask you to indulge me as I imagine an alternate reality.

Consider this: Terrence Malick was reportedly a huge fun of Zoolander.

Let’s take just a minute to imagine a world in which Ben Stiller asked Terrence Malick to write and direct Zoolander 2.  And let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Malick agreed!

Just think about it — 4 hours of Zoolander and Hansel staring up at the sky and thinking about nature.  “What is this thing that causes the heart of man to beat?” Zoolander asks.  “Are we nature or has nature become us?” Hansel replies.

That would have been a fun film!

Film Review: Lost River (dir by Ryan Gosling)


Lost River

I had high hopes for Lost River.  Not only is it the directorial debut of one of my favorite actors, Ryan Gosling, but it was also booed at Cannes.  Some of the best and most interesting films ever made have been booed at Cannes.  The reviews that I had read of Lost River indicated that the film was a mess but it was, at the very least, a visually intriguing mess.  I was expecting the film to be pure style over substance but you know what?  I like style.

So, with all that in mind, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Lost River last night and … bleh.  It’s not a terrible film.  You can watch it and feel that Ryan Gosling does have some promise as a director, if not as a writer.  (Along with directing, he also wrote the film’s screenplay.)  There are some nicely surreal images, though almost all of them appear to have been borrowed from other better films and, as a result, even the strangest of images are rather familiar.  (To be truly impressed by Lost River, it helps to have never seen anything directed by Mario Bava, Dario Argento, David Lynch, or Terrence Malick.)  He gets a memorably unhinged performance from the great Ben Mendelsohn but then again, when hasn’t Mendelsohn given a memorably unhinged performance?

Anyway, Lost River takes place in Detroit, presumably because Detroit features a lot of dilapidated neighborhoods that look interesting on film and allow Gosling to pretend that his film is about America urban decay.  Billy (Christina Hendricks) is on the verge of losing her house but, with the help of sleazy bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), Billy gets a job working as a performer at a club.  At the club, she and Cat (Eva Mendes) perform elaborate routines which always end with them pretending to die in some excessively brutal and bloody way.  The club’s largely affluent audience loves it.  Dave loves it so much that he’s inspired to sing a song on stage.  Later on in the film, Dave does an elaborate dance because every independent film has to feature an out-of-nowhere elaborate dance.

Meanwhile, Billy’s son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), is trying to raise money to save the house by stealing copper out of abandoned buildings.  However, this gets him in trouble with Bully (Matt Smith, struggling to speak with an American accent), a psychopath who has declared his section of Detroit to be “Bullytown.”  Bully rides around in a convertible, sitting on a throne that’s been attached to the back seat.  When Bully discovers that Bones has been stealing copper from buildings in Bullytown, Bully declares that Bones must die.

(At some point, you have to wonder if Bully was doomed from the minute that his parents decided to name him Bully.  Maybe if they had named him The Doctor, he could have lived a very different life.)

Living next door to Billy and Bones is Rat (Saorise Ronan, who gives a good performance and deserves better than this role).  Rat is called Rat because she owns a pet rat that’s named Nick.  Got all that?  Rat also lives with her grandmother (Barbara Steele), who never speaks but spends all of her time watching old home movies.  Why would you cast an icon like Barbara Steele and then not allow her to do anything other than sit in a chair and silently stare at a television?

If Lost River was just an exercise in pure style, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.  I would much rather a film be too obscure as opposed to being too obvious.  Unfortunately, while Gosling the director is having a lot of fun being as stylish as he can be, Gosling’s the screenwriter proves himself to be heavy-handed and patronizing.  By setting the film in Detroit and having random characters show up to talk about how America is dying and the poor are getting poorer while the rich get richer, Gosling lets us know that Lost River is meant to be more than just an exercise in technique.

The problem is that, as well-intentioned as Gosling may be, you can’t help but get the feeling that he has absolutely no idea what it’s like to be poor or what it’s like to live in a dying American city.  According to the 2010 census, 82.7% of Detroit’s population is African-American.  If you’re making a movie the deals, no matter how strangely, with what it’s like to be poor and desperate in Detroit, why would you decide to exclusively cast affluent-looking Caucasians in all of the main roles?  The few black characters who appear in Lost River are largely there to either comfort or share wisdom with the main white characters before then quickly moving on, never to be seen again after their minute or so of screen time.  It comes across as being condescending in only the way something written by a wealthy white guy can be.

Lost River is a misfire, an attempt by a filmmaker to try to make a statement about something that he really doesn’t seem to know much about.  Judging from the film’s visuals, Gosling has some promise as a director but, in the future, he should probably try to work with a better screenwriter.  If you don’t listen to the dialogue and just consider the film as an exercise in visuals, it’s mildly diverting.  (That said, even the nonstop parade of surreal images gets boring after a while.)  Lost River is not terrible.  It’s just bleh.

Review: Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn)


Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has made just a handful of films with most staying under the radar of most of the general film-going public. He first caught the attention of indie film fans with his Pusher Trilogy over in Denmark, but he really caught the attention of these fans with his explosive collaboration with Tom Hardy on the Bronson biopic. He would follow that film with the violent existentialist Viking film Valhalla Rising. It would take another major collaboration with another rising star in Ryan Gosling for Winding Refn to finally have his major breakout film which has caught the attention of not just the indie film fans and cineaste crowd, but the general public at-large.

Drive was first screened over at this year’s 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it premiered “in competition” for the Palme d’Or. While the film didn’t win the top prize for best film at Cannes it didn’t garner Nicolas Winding Refn “Best Director” award and his work on this film more than merits such an accolade. The film would begin to screen at other major film festivals before landing at the Toronto International Film Festival before making it’s major public release in North America. Everywhere the film went the consensus reaction to the film has ranged from positive to calls for the film as one of 2011’s best.

So, it would seem most everyone has been quite positive with their reaction to Refn’s Drive. Is this film just another indie arthouse title which the elitist film fans have begun to hype up to levels that would border on cosmic? Or is this film actually as good as it has been talked up to be by such film fans and those of the general public who have seen it? I think the answer lies somewhere in-between.

Drive has been called an action-drama to crime-thriller to film noir and even an existentialist meditation of the film variety. Some have even called it a modern urban fairy tale from the many traditional tropes and themes inherent in fairy tales. The film actually seems to defy genre labels as it’s all those and even more. Nicolas Winding Refn has made a film with so much variety in its cinematic DNA from other classic films and storytelling styles that watching the film once is not enough to find them all.

The film makes a strong statement with it’s introduction of the character who remains nameless but could be called “The Driver” or “The Kid”. Ryan Gosling’s performance in this opening sequence will set the foundation for his character from beginning to end. His driver role is not much for chit-chat and unnecessary talking with those who have hired him to be their expert getaway driver. He’s meticulous with his equipment and intractable when it comes to the rules he has set down for his clients. He would be theirs for the five minutes they need him to drive them away from their criminal acts. Whatever they do before or after those five minutes doesn’t matter to him and he sticks to this rule explicitly. Another rule which he lays down is that he will not be carrying a firearm. These rules have had some audiences bring to mind Jason Statham’s Transporter character and they would not be totally wrong to say so. What Gosling’s driver has over Statham’s is the air of realism to the role. It’s a realism that borders on hyper-reality as the film moves on to it’s climactic conclusion, but real nonetheless. Gosling’s “driver” will not do extensive and elaborate fighting skills the way Statham’s would.

The film would move from it’s powerful introduction and into a much more calm and somewhat serene section as the nameless driver gradually gets to know his next door neighbor in the form of Irene as played by Carey Mulligan. Their relationship will form the core of the film’s narrative and it’s the driver’s growing affection not just for Irene but her young son that would dictate some of the decisions he would make right up to the end of the film. It’s a relationship built not on extensive dialogue banter but mostly on meaningful glances and silent understanding between two characters who seem to have found a kindred kinship between them. It’s this growing relationship between the two and Irene’s son which almost look like a familial unit forming until the return of Irene’s incarcerated and newly-released husband Standard. This is a character played by Oscar Isaac as a man desperate to take full advantage of his last chance at normalcy and redemption, but ultimately doomed to fail.

Standard doesn’t just become the only wrench in the happy life Gosling’s character seems to want to have with Irene and her son. Into the picture also happens to come in is his mentor and business partner Shannon (Bryan Cranston doing a great job as the good-natured, but opportunistic fool character many Shakespearean tragedies always seem to have) and Shannon’s even seedier acquaintances in Hollywood mogul-turned-mob boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a chilling performance) and his more boisterous, but not as smart partner in Nino (Ron Perlman).

The film seems to settle on the low gears for the first hour of the film, but it’s during a botched robbery attempt where the driver becomes embroiled in that Drive finally moves into the high gears and stays there until the very end. Refn’s decision to use the first hour to round out and build the characters in this film definitely pays off in the end. The audience becomes quite clear as to who the players are and what motivates them to do what they do the rest of the film. Even the most secondary and tertiary roles in this film has a part to play. Even Christina Hendricks in the role of a low-level moll to a gang of criminals gets to have her time to shine if just briefly.

Once the narrative shifts from character study to an almost Cronenbergian exercise in violence and brutality does the film finally able to hook in the last few audiences who may have still been iffy about Drive. Not to say that the final 45-minutes of the film was a non-stop action film, but it does move at a consistently higher gear pace than the first hour. We see the driver having to show to the audience that he’s not just an expert wheelman for Hollywood (stunt driver by day) and the criminal underground (getaway driver by night). It serves the film well that Gosling’s character has the barest minimum of lines of dialogue. We see all we need to know about this character through his behavior that brings to mind roles played by such past luminaries as Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.

Most likely it would be in the second half of the film that should satisfy the action junkies. While the action scenes are not of the Michael Bay-type they do show that Refn has a fine grasp of what makes an action scene thrilling. Whether the scene calls for some of the most well-done car chase on film since Frankenheimer showed everyone how to properly do it in Ronin or scenes of sudden brutal violence which calls to mind similar scenes from Cronenberg’s last two films (A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). Both types of action were done efficiently with little to no glamour to gloss over things. The burst of violence actually adds to the mystique of Gosling’s “Man With No Name” role. One particular scene in the apartment elevator where Gosling, Mulligan and a goon sent by the mob makes for one of the best scenes in the film and of 2011.

As much as these scenes of action and violence will be the ones to get the most attention from the general film-going public in the end it’s the excellent screenplay by Hossein Amini of the James Sallis’ novel of the same name which really holds everything together in conjunction with some top-notch performances from everyone involved. The film makes or breaks itself on Gosling’s performance as the driver and he delivers on all cylinders. His performance was quite reminiscent of past performances such as James Caan as Frank in Michael Mann’s Thief, Steve McQueen also as Frank in Bullitt, but in my opinion Gosling’s work in this film brings to mind young Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name” in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy. Both characters were the type to let their actions speak for them and were both full of quiet confidence not to mention restrained violence which would erupt when needed.

Much has been said about Albert Brooks’ turn as the mob boss Bernie Rose. how the role was quite the 180-degrees from people’s perception of the actor who usually did comedic roles. I say that Albert Brooks always had a dark side to his comedic talent. I mean he was and is megamaniacal villain Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons. In all seriousness, Brooks’ as the mob boss was the other pillar which held all the other performances focused. In fact, Gosling’s character and Brook’s Bernie Rose could almost be considered mirror-images of each other. They were characters who had found their place in the world and the role they would play and didn’t struggle against it. Everyone else in the film struggled against their lot in life. It was also these characters who had the bulk of the film’s dialogue.

Drive has been hyped (for some overhyped) since it first premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it’s one of those rare films which has more than earned and surpassed the hype which has preceded it’s general release to the general public. It’s a film which bucks traditional genre labels by combining the themes, ideas and foundations from many different film and storytelling genres. For fans of action there’s enough thrilling action to sate them. For those who are fans of film noir this film definitely carries within it the DNA set down by the film noir of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. For some who wish to watch a film which explore existential themes then Refn’s film has that too. In the end, Drive manages to be a film which caters to so many different audiences without ever pandering to them or dumbing the story down. It’s a film made by a filmmaker who continues to impress and who has made his best film to date.

Drive is a film that is not for everyone, but it’s also a film that everyone should see and experience at least once. It is also one of the year’s best films and, so far, my top film of 2011.

Drive Review


This review is not one filled with spoilers but I’d just warn that one can better understand the points I’m trying to make if they have seen the film. Obviously everything I say below is my own opinion and interpretations of the film and many will disagree. I’m writing this second review because in order to sustain my recent obsession with Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film ‘Drive’, I have been reading a lot of interviews with the director so that I could both  better understand the motivation and ideas surrounding its creation as well as to better appreciate its style and themes so that I can add that onto my already huge admiration and love for the film to better articulate how I felt and express why I think it is the second best film of the year, the first being ‘The Tree of Life’ which was the only other I have seen in 2011 that has caused me to do a second write up like this one and although ‘Drive’ might not be as “deep”, I do believe it is much more complex than some make it out to be and a second viewing caused me to think about it none stop and there are just something’s I need to say.

Since this past weekend when I did see it that second time, the thing that I have come to understand that really caused me to view the entire film in a much different perspective was that my very simple explanation in my other review of it being some sort of character study in the vein of ‘The American’ mixed with ‘Taxi Driver’, though in some ways true, does not even begin to acknowledge the fact that what ‘Drive’ really is, and what Refn decided to create, is a film with a fairy tale archetype guided by an old fable whose themes of love, nature, brutality and heroism shed a new light on the character’s romance and exploits, as well as makes the stories ending that much more emotional.

Refn considers this idea of it being a fairytale to be true, and has said it multiple times, because that is ultimately what he wanted to create. In his words ‘Drive’ is a fairytale set in Los Angeles, whose characters are larger than life figures representing “pure emotion” as he put it; which explains why the love is so pure and the violence is so brutal and there is rarely a middle ground, they are exaggerations of real emotions to add to its fantastical tone.

The first half is the serene and pure story of the innocent young maiden lost in the woods who falls for a “Knight in shining armor”. When evil appears and violates their world of purity and love and threatens the young maiden’s wellbeing, they must be punished by the Knight which brings out a much darker side to the story, in the vein of the Grimm fairytales. The young maiden of course being Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother raising her son alone while her husband is in prison. The Knight she falls for has no name but is referred to as simply the Driver (Ryan Gosling). A quiet and mysterious man who is a mechanic and stuntmen by day and a getaway driver by night. He is lonely and most enjoys being out on the road, but easily falls for the beautiful Irene and her son, who offer a chance to be human and evoke emotions he rarely feels. This simple story of love is interrupted when Standard (Oscar Isaac), Irene’s husband, reappears. Not only does he cause a divide but his past resurfaces which has connections to two dangerous gangsters (Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman). In order to do whatever he can to protect Irene and her son, the Driver offers his services to Standard for a heist. It ultimately goes horribly wrong and the two gangsters look to cover it all up by getting rid of all involved, which includes the Driver and Irene.

From here that much darker side appears as the Driver is forced to fight back and protect the things he cares about. This half of the story is guided by the fable of “The Scorpion and the Frog”, about a scorpion who asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid to do so because he does not want to be stung but the scorpion tells him that if he were to sting the frog they’d both drown, so the frog agrees. Halfway across the scorpion does in fact sting the frog dooming them both and when the frog asks why he did so the scorpion replies that it is in his nature. The idea being for some creatures their behavior is irrepressible and so cannot be controlled no matter what the consequences. For the scorpion his nature was to sting, he does things instinctively and without much thought. When in a situation where this instinctive nature must come to the surface, when cornered or in this case when those people the Driver cares for are threatened, he reverts to that aggressive scorpion nature and stings, hard and violent no matter the consequence which in this case means losing himself or the ones he cares for.

The elevator scene is really that tipping point where the stinger comes out and not surprisingly one of the best scenes in the entire film. It is when he puts his human emotion and love aside in order to fully protect Irene. After he kisses her goodbye he knows he is about to reveal his true nature. After viciously killing the man who had put him into that corner he looks at Irene and knows it is over which is his ‘great sacrifice’, letting the one he loves go in order to protect her, and what makes him a true hero. The elevator door closes and the two are separated for good. He must now do whatever he can to distance himself and all this evil from Irene and her son.

What is interesting about the idea of the Driver as being a hero is the sort of duel personalities he evokes. One could say he is human by day, working a normal job, shopping and falling in love but a “hero” by night, though not helping the right people. When the story really becomes interesting is when he has to blend the two personas to become something more which is why Refn and Gosling have described it as their ‘superhero’ film. He is a man with the capacity to be a “real hero” and it is only when he can bring his human emotion to that more aggressive and skillful side that he does become this sort of superhero-like character. Obviously it is difficult for him. It isn’t a smooth transition and at times he has trouble controlling it, which comes through as he shakes as his anger and adrenaline builds when talking to Nino on the phone and of course when he brutality stomps the life out of one of Nino’s hitmen in the elevator scene mentioned earlier. This is that scorpion nature coming through, this aggressive nature is the key to his power, and why it is most fitting that his ‘custom’ is a jacket with a scorpion logo on the back.

Though his actions seem necessary he still does not want to lose his ‘human’ side and puts on the mask towards the end because he must fully embrace this more aggressive side to get the job done, to quell his emotions and settle the battle raging between both persona’s and essentially become a lifeless and aggressive vessel with one objective. This way he can do what needs to be done, evoke a bit of fear from his target, but cover up and shield his human persona and not completely lose himself. Throughout this he becomes someone we empathizes with, even if his methods seem to be so extreme. The outcome to it all, although somewhat ambiguous, is a fitting and emotional conclusion where some people do in fact live happily ever after.

What makes this all work so effectively is the fact that ‘Drive’ is a film in which things don’t need to be spoken to be said. One where characters express more through silence, short but poignant dialogue and the interactions they have together. Refn brilliantly creates a dreamlike and contemplative exploration of the serene and the hyper violent set within a fairytale like story that happens to be a slow burning character study of the ‘scorpion’ where everything is just below the surface and it all builds up, through a series of quiet and calm moments, only to erupt into brutal violence. Nothing is handed to you, there is no blatant exposition, you don’t always know what is going on in a characters head and it helps create a level of tension and actually requires one to think. This isn’t some sort of mindless action thriller, it’s much more contemplative and complex than one would expect. He polishes it all off with a retro varnish evoking a different time, helping to set it apart from reality and add to its moody atmosphere, but still keeping it grounded enough to feel real and have that emotional punch. Add onto that all of that the fantastic performances: Ryan Gosling’s brilliantly effective and charismatic performance as the Driver, Carey Mulligans charming and sweet portrayal of Irene, Ron Perlman’s brutish and aggressive Nino, Albert Brooks as the ruthless but understandable Bernie, Bryan Cranston as the downtrodden but humorous Shannon, Oscar Isaac as Irene’s husband who needs help to avoid his past; and what you are left with is a masterful, beautiful and complex film. It truly is a modern day fairytale, perfect in every way, and a film that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

SDCC 2011: Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn) Red Band Trailer


One of the films I’ve really been following since last year and can’t wait to see this September is the latest film from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. I’ve loved his work since I first got introduced to his Pusher Trilogy and saw his two most recent work with Bronson and Valhalla Rising. He is following up the latter with what I could only describe as his own take on the neo-noir genre film, Drive.

At San Diego Comic-Con 2011, the latest trailer for Drive was introduced during the FilmDistrict panel which also had Guillermo Del Toro and his upcoming produced horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This latest trailer for Refn’s Drive is of the red band variety but from what I could tell from the trailer it shouldn’t be NSFW.

The trailer really doesn’t delve too much into all the plot points of the film. It does give a sense that the film has been influenced by past genre crime films and some of the classic grindhouse chase films of the 70’s. One thing I’m sure of is that this film’s cast looks to be one of the best for any film being released in 2011: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks just to name a few.

Drive is set for a September 16, 2011 release here in the United States.

Source: IGN