Drive

YEAR: 2011

WRITER: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn

BUDGET: $15,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $21,417,373 (as of September 25th, 2011)

i'll admit that i haven't been as frequent a visitor to the local cineplexes this year as i was, say, last year. i say that because that might help explain why it has taken till now to find a film that has definite "top 10 of the year" potential. sure, anything is possible - and i do plan on catching up on movies i missed via the dvd route, but if Drive doesn't make my "best of the year" list this year i will be very surprised.

ryan gosling plays a nameless hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire. he is a man without a past (at least not a past that we are ever told about). he is quiet and a loner. and then he meets his neighbor, carey mulligan, and her son. a bond begins to grow and when her husband gets out of jail and an event occurs that could threaten carey and her son, the driver must take matters into his own hands to protect them.

if the story and the characters sound simple and archetypal, that's cause they are. this is a "super hero" story. and it's funny (not funny ha ha, funny interesting) because just a day or so after i wrote this discussion i heard an interview with the director nicolas winding refn, in which he called the film a super hero story and a fairy tale.

while i get what he was saying about the "fairy tale" i personally kept coming back to the "super hero" thing. and even Unbreakable. now, while Drive doesn't take the same ode to comic books approach that Unbreakable does, both films are playing in that obvious and archetypal playground and doing it really well.

both films are genuine and earnest about it also. they aren't doing the ironic, winking or self-referential regular-guy-turns-super-hero thing like Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or Super (all films that i like by the way).

i didn't think of it till a few days after i saw the film, but as the whole super hero thing and Unbreakable connection continued to play in my head another moment stuck out. in Drive's final act, as he goes after one of the bad men, he does so wearing this full prosthetic, pull-over face that he had used for some driving scene in a movie he was working on. you with me here? a MASK of course! this "ah ha" moment lead back to unbreakable and the poncho/CAPE that bruce willis is wearing when he finally realizes his climactic hero moment.

it's funny (again, not ha ha!) cause in the interview winding refn talks about his love for john hughes and such films from the 80s that were able to pull of corny and sweet. now, i wasn't thinking john hughes or pretty woman or any such films watching Drive. But it is impossible to miss the 80s reverence in the film. from the bright pink and cursive writing of the credits to the casio keyboard pop music of the soundtrack. ya, it is a little corny at times but winding refn knows it and owns it and is able to make it work.

if i was going to make any director comparisons it would have been michael mann. but not for the Miami Vice-like music and pink writing (actually, doing some web surfing made me realize that Miami Vice didn't have the cursive writing, but GTA: Vice City did - which is an ode to the 80s and Miami Vice so it counts right?). the mann comparison is most evident in how the film is able to capture l.a. at night and winding refn's use of quiet and his ability, one minute, to slow the pace of the film within an action movie and then, the next minute, create intense action and/or tension.

Drive is a film that, not only rises above the "action" genre, but above most other films you will probably see this year.

Wrecked

YEAR: 2011

WRITER: Christopher Dodd

DIRECTOR: Michael Greenspan

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $4,821

 

Adrien Brody is a man who awakens to find himself in the passenger seat of a wrecked car at the bottom of a steep cliff. his leg is injured and there is a dead guy in the back seat.... it sounds like one of those brain teaser questions. you know the ones with answers like, "the doctor is his mother" or "he was standing on a block of ice.".... so, what happened? well, that's what we are going to find out over the course of the movie.

what i really liked about the film was how simple it is. the movie is basically brody and the forest. there are some flashbacks/flashes, but mostly we are in the present, in the woods crawling around as brody makes his way about trying to figure out who he is, what happened and just trying to survive.

before we even get to the crawling/limping around in the wood though we are in the car with him and we are there for awhile. the director michael greenspan and the screenwriter christopher dodd (i assume it was part of the script) make a pretty ballsy decision to spend the first 30 minutes of the film in the car with pretty much one solitary character.

while you might expect five or ten minutes like this, just to set up the character and the situation, 30 minutes is really taking a chance - and it is a chance that really pays off. i didn't even realize it was half an hour before he got out of the car until i went back after and checked the time. it really feels that it is as long as is has to be. and not as long, or should i say short, as they assume our attention span is these days.

to trust himself, the script, brody's ability to carry it and to not speed things up for a short-attention span audience i gotta give greenspan a nod to, what i like to call, some big cojones film making (check out my discussions of Hunger and Greenberg for definitions of "big cojones film making").

the end of the film does present us with answers and a bit of a twist on our assumptions, but not so much so that it feels ridiculous or forced. which is another way in which i meant the film is simple. amnesia/who-am-i films often feel the need to present us with this big elaborate story that the main character slowly figures out over the course of the movie with a bunch of twists and turns.

not to say that is always a bad thing, but in the context of this slow and quiet, basically one-man-play, it works so much better the way they did it. Wrecked isn't Unknown. and i appreciate the restraint. it makes the "ah ha" moment at the end of the film completely satisfying.

The Fast And Furious Series

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: 2001, BUDGET: $38,000,000, GROSS: $144,533,925

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS: 2003, BUDGET: $76,000,000, GROSS: $127,154,901

TOKYO DRIFT: 2006, BUDGET: $40,000,000, GROSS: $62,514,415

FAST AND FURIOUS: 2009, BUDGET: $85,000,000, GROSS: $155,064,265

FAST FIVE: 2011, BUDGET: $125,000,000, GROSS: $186,165,450 (as of May 22nd, 2011)

WRITERS:

1) Ken Li (magazine article "Racer X"), Gary Scott Thompson (screen story), Gary Scott Thompson & Erik Bergquist & David Ayer (screenplay)

2) Gary Scott Thompson (characters), Michael Brandt & Derek Haas & Gary Scott Thompson (story), Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (screenplay)

3) Chris Morgan

4) Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters)

5) Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters)

DIRECTORS:

1) Rob Cohen / 2) John Singleton / 3,4,5) Justin Lin

 

LET US BEGIN

i had seen The Fast And the Furious in the theatre when it came out and i had liked it. i thought it was a fun, summer car/action movie and i remember seeing ebert and roeper on The Tonight Show at the time arguing about the film (roeper wasn't impressed and ebert argued that it was, and i'm obviously paraphrasing here, a fun summer action/car movie).

but that was it. i hadn't seen any of the sequels that followed and hadn't been that interested in seeing them - until the trailer for the fourth film a couple years ago. i thought that the trailer was pretty cool. but, given that i hadn't seen the two previous films, i had to watch those before checking out number four (i have a bit of a problem/obsession with the need  to watch things in order). needless to say, i didn't get around to watching 2 Fast 2 Furious or Tokyo Drift at the time, so i never got to see Fast & Furious 4. but then a few months ago i started seeing the trailers for Fast Five...

and those looked even cooler than the ones for the fourth film. so, this time i went and got my hands on the first four films leading up to checking out Fast Five when it came out a month ago. and this is what i saw...

 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

watching this one again years later, i will say that it basically holds up. it is by no means a great movie. but it is a fun time with cool cars and, now having seen all five films, it is the second best of the series. what also surprised me a little, after seeing all the films, is how important vin deisel is to the franchise.

as i rewatched The Fast And The Furious i was struck by the dichotomy of the thoughts i was having. the fact was that, while mr. diesel was not giving a great performance, he was definitely carrying the film and a strong presence on screen (and i don't think it is only because he is a big guy). he was the leader of the crew and the leader of the film... and his value to the films and the franchise was only made more evident as i went on to watch the next couple films in the series...

 

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS

although he really has never come close to matching what he did with his first film, Boys In The Hood, i keep being at least a little curious to see what john singleton does (although less and less so as he keeps disappointing). and 2 Fast 2 Furious did nothing to improve his post-Boys In The Hood track record... this thing is awful! the film feels forced – and this is something that i noticed not only in this one, but in all three of the middle films in the series.

look, we all know that these films are about the cars and the driving and the action therein – and that’s cool. but just don’t make it so obvious that you don’t care about anything else. at least make it look like you tried to have an original thought and write a good script. instead this film and the two that followed are all generic stories fitted into the Fast & Furious universe with excuses for car action that don’t always feel plausible.

In 2 Fast 2 Furious, walker’s character is caught by the cops and brought back in to go undercover. He brings in an old friend, tyrese, and you got yourself a buddy action movie. the cars come into play cause they go undercover as drivers and we even get a big car action sequence as the criminal boss man sends all his potential drivers out to retrieve a package in order to test their skills. okay, ill give it to them. the car stuff is plausible here. but that doesn’t save the film from being predictable, and poorly written. some of the dialogue and plot points felt so over used and obvious.

i heard that the studio had also commissioned a script for a scenario in which vin deisel returned for the second film. i wonder if that one was any better?

 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT

Tokyo Drift is kind of the odd man out of the franchise. not only do neither of the series stars appear in the film (vin deisel has a 30 second uncredited cameo at the end, but that’s it), but there is no story connection to any of the other movies. in fact, chronologically, this movie actually takes place after the fifth film and probably any sequels that will come in the future (there is no way to know this, but for the fact that a character that appears in the fourth and fifth films actually dies near the end of the third one).

what you have here, with Tokyo Drift, is your standard “fish out of water” story: kid from the states is kicked out of so many schools that his mother sends him to japan to live with his dad (who of course was never there for him growing up). he has to adjust to a new country, and a new culture and a new kind of fast driving – drifting. and of course there is a girl and fighting over her, etc... did you see the Karate Kid remake with jaden smith? well, think of Tokyo Drift as the Karate Kid remake, just with fast cars and the yakuza instead of karate and an evil sensei! it is still better than the second film though!

as for car action: i will say that the use of the drifting as the driving style was a nice change of pace from the previous two films. these drivers are incredible and watching them drift around tight corners and along mountain roads is very cool. however, remember earlier when i mentioned how the films felt like excuses for the car action? well, the climax of Tokyo Drift is the most laughable example of this.

in said climax, the main character proposes a race to the yakuza boss. he will race his nephew and the loser must leave the country. the yakuza boss, angry at his nephew, agrees and tells his nephew to race! it makes no sense and isn't believable at all, but hey, they had to get a big car climax (like all the films have) and this was he best they could come up with!

 

FAST AND FURIOUS

for this one they went with a "revenge" storyline. vin deisel is back and on the hunt for the man who killed his girlfriend (michelle rodriguez) and nothing/no one will stop him (think Taken and Edge Of Darkness and about 100 other movies). paul walker is also back and hunting down the same guy for the fbi (cause we all know that the fbi regularly hires cops who, in the past, have aided in the escape of criminals they were undercover to apprehend).

of course the big drug guy just happens to be looking for drivers to traffic his heroin across the mexico-usa border and will select his final driver from the winners of a street race. this films excuse for car action harkens back to the second film and how that bad guy needed drivers and tested them out via a car action sequence as well. so, although it is plausible, the originality factor is zero - maybe it was meant as an homage? well i guess in a way it actually was, because it is almost as bad a film as he second one.

it is nice to have vin and paul back together again and mr. deisel does bring a weight to the film that is missing in the previous two. but it just really wasn't good. in fact, it is actually pretty boring between action sequences.

 

FAST FIVE

given how the series had been going and given how disappointing the fourth film had been, i was maybe not expecting as much from Fast Five as i had been before seeing the previous films leading up to it. but, this one turned out to be a good flick and the best of the series.

for this one they went with a "heist" movie premise and the classic "one last job then we're out" story - but unlike the other generic story lines of the previous three films, this one worked. it was like they actually put a little thought into this one

they brought back all the main characters from the previous four films, which was fun to see. the heist planning and executing (two things that are very important in the heist movie genre) were exciting and well done. casting dwayne johnson as the counter point to vin deisel on the other side of the law was a great choice also - and their big fight scene was great (so much better then the boring fight between the two wrestlers in The Expendables). and finally, the must-have climactic car action sequence in Fast Five is by far the best in the entire series.

this is a really good summer car/action movie - and as the previous three films proved - those aren't as easy to make as you might think. after three weak films, the franchise had fallen into a rut, but Fast Five has pulled them right out of it.

 

FAST AND FURIOUS 6?

everything about the fifth film seemed to suggest it was the going to be the last one. they brought back all the characters from the previous films. the heist in the film is supposed to be "their last one." even the credits at the end of the movie show images from the various characters over the course of the series as if to wrap things up. it all pointed to an end - until halfway through the closing credits. i won't tell you what happens, but let's just say that as i left the theatre a sixth film seemed very likely (and i have since read that it is pretty much a certainty). and i wouldn't be surprised if more are to come after that. let's just hope we don't have to wait another three films before we get a good one again!

2011 Oscar Predictions

 

WILL WIN are in bold

DID WIN are  big

MY SCORE: 18/24

despite anne hathaway's efforts and enthusiasm, the 2011 academy awards will go down as one of the worst i have ever seen. not because of who won or lost, but i'm talking the show itself.

besides the funny put-the-hosts-in-the-movies opening, there was barely a laugh or moment of excitement to be found (except when i won the pool i was in of course). the remixed songs was fun and the bob hope part was nice (although, seeing billy crystal out there to introduce it just made it more obvious what a great host he was and how anne and james just couldn't match up). but other than that the show was pretty dull.

as for my predictions: i did ok this year. 18/24 isn't bad and i did get 2/3 in the shorts categories which is where many pools are often won or lost. however, there were a few categories that, looking back, i'm not sure what i was thinking. i think i got a little too into the idea that The King's Speech wave would sweep up other categories that i missed, the now-obvious, Alice In Wonderland in art direction and costume design. and those of you who listened to the prediction episode of the podcast know how close i was to going with the winners in editing, documentary feature and foreign film (but, alas i didn't). so 18/24 it is. one better than last year and my second best showing since i started doing the podcast. how did you all do?

 

BEST PICTURE
The King's Speech
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The Fighter

 

 BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams , The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Christian Bale , The Fighter
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo , The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

BEST ACTRESS
Natalie Portman , Black Swan
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Nicole Kidman , Rabbit Hole
Michelle Williams , Blue Valentine

BEST ACTOR
Javier Bardem , Biutiful
Jeff Bridges , True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth , The King's Speech
James Franco , 127 Hours

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Another Year , Mike Leigh
The Fighter , Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington
Inception , Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right , Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech , David Seidler

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
127 Hours , Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network , Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 , Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
True Grit , Joel and Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone , Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Biutiful
Dogtooth
In a Better World
Incendies
Outside the Law

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Inception
The King's Speech
True Grit

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
Black Swan
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Gasland
Inside Job
Restrepo
Waste Land

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan
Pamela Martin, The Fighter
Tariq Anwar, The King's Speech
Jon Harris, 127 Hours
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, The Social Network

ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP
Adrien Morot, Barney's Version
Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng, The Way Back
Rick Baker and Dave Elsey, The Wolfman

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon
Hans Zimmer, Inception
Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Coming Home” from Country Strong, Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from Tangled, Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from 127 Hours, Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING
Inception
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit
Unstoppable

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
Inception
The King’s Speech
Salt
The Social Network
True Grit

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Hereafter
Inception
Iron Man 2

Micmacs (Micmacs A Tire-Larigot)

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

BUDGET: €27,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $1,260,917 (USA)

 

few directors take full advantage of the medium in which they work like jean-pierre jeunet. one of the premier directors around, jeunet is one of those film makers for me, whose name on a film is reason enough to go see it. and Micmacs is yet another example of him at the top of his game.

when he was a boy, bazil's father was killed by a landmine in morocco and years later by a completely random turn of events he himself was shot by a stray bullet. he survived but lost his job and ended up on the street - there are some brilliant scenes during this part of the film that harken back to classic silent film and both the scenes and the performance by dany boon (bazil) would make buster keaton and charlie chaplin proud.

while on the streets he meets an eccentric junk yard dealers who take him into their "family" (you got a contortionist, an ex convict, a math genius, a human cannonball, etc... you get the idea). one day, by complete chance, he stumbles upon the two weapons manufacturers that built the landmines that killed his dad and the bullets that hit him. with the help of his friends he begins an intricate plan to destroy them both...

while there are obviously many ways this story could be told. but, imagine it in the hands of the director of Delicatessen and Amelie. well, it is even better then you imagined. Jeunet is at the top of his game and the film is a brilliantly conceived and accomplished dark comedy/quirky/fable that is more than just a feast for your eyes. i have talked about this idea before, but it bears repeating in the context of this film...

unlike other film makers who can create a great visual experience, jeunet is able to bring all the pieces together to make great films. the characters and the script and the complete originality had me engaged and excited watching this film - it had my eyes and ears glued to the screen.

i was excited by every scene and i was excited to see where the film would take me... and speaking of the visual style: it isn't a gimmick here. it encompasses the characters and the story and the way the story is told. it all works together perfectly.

The Crook (Le Voyou)

 get The Crook

YEAR: 1970

WRITER: Claude LeLouch

DIRECTOR: Claude LeLouch

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: ?

although i am a movie fanatic there are a bunch of films and directors whose movies i have just never seen.  this isn't the time to get into the list of movies i am ashamed to say i haven't seen (at some point in the future that list will get posted), but needless to say that when it comes to directors, claude lelouch would be on it.  that is until a few days ago when i watched The Crook. 

i know most people would probably start with lelouch's palm d'or winning, A Man And A Women, but i wasn't looking for a lelouch film.  i was just wandering through the aisle of movies at my local video store, as i tend to do, when i just happened to see The Crook sitting on the shelf.  something about it caught my eye and i took it home: i was in the mood for a crime/thriller, and given that it was a lelouch film i could go ahead and kill two birds with one stone.

the point of all that is to say that i really liked this movie.  it is such a smart crime film with intelligence, wit, humor and a style that has become all too common today in the way many hip film makers attempt to tell their stories.  i know i'm being vague here, but this is a film that provides a much more exciting experience for the viewer if you know as little as possible going in. the confusion that comes at a point, and the excitement of figuring out what is going on without lelouch ever telling you, is part of the joy of watching the film (and might even make you go back and watch certain parts again to see what actually happened).  i would not be surprised if directors such as tarantino quoted The Crook as an influence on his film making.

The film stars jean-louis trintingnant (who also starred in A Man And A Women) as a man who has escaped from a french prison.  he returns to paris to retrieve the money that he had hid away prior to getting sent to jail, and contact his former fiancee who is now remarried.  ok, thats all you are getting.

The Crook is the first claude lelouch film i have ever seen, but based on this experience it will definitely not be the last.

Croupier

 get Croupier

Year: 1998

Writer: Paul Mayersberg

Director: Mike Hodges

Budget: ?

Gross: $6,198,916

clive owen is one of my favorite actors and Croupier was the film that brought him to prominence and put him on the road to stardom (and would have made him james bond if he had wanted it).  the film is a small british crime drama from director mike hodges, who 27 years previous had made the critically acclaimed Get Carter.

Croupier is the story of jack manfred, an aspiring writer who takes a job at a local casino in order to make money.  he decides that there is a great novel there and uses the casino and its employees and patrons as characters in his novel, which he narrates for us throughout the film. 

unlike many crime dramas that rely on the twists to keep the audience interested.  in Croupier the interesting characters and the unforeseen ways in which they interact and evolve and the directions the story takes are just as important as the big 'twist' moments. now, i might also be saying that because the big 'twist' at the end is the one thing that didn't completely work for me in this movie.

i had seen Croupier many years ago, but i had been very tired and hadn't really appreciated it.  it was one that i had always wanted to see again, which i did just a few days ago.  the interesting thing is that one of the main reasons i had wanted to watch it again was because the ending had made no sense to me at the time.  i had chalked it up to being half asleep and such, but having watched it again (this time wide awake) i have to say that the ending still left me quite puzzled.

the difference is that today i understand what my problem with it is.  the conclusion i came to after having slept on it and thought about for a few days is that it ended to quickly.  the film has a wonderful pace and takes us through the story with a great tone and sense of style, but then when we get to the end it all just happens in about 10 minutes (or at least it feels like that), and it left me a little empty.

not that i want a neat ending with everything explained perfectly (i mean my favorite film of last year was Brick), but here it just all seemed to happen too fast. things are moving along great and then we get to the introduction of a possible casino robbery and then bam! we see a couple big 'twist revelations' and it's all over.

What i found interesting was checking out some forums and discussions about the film after i finished it and seeing the variety of theories that people had for what actually happened.  there were some that fell in with what i was thinking, and others that had never even crossed my mind (good and bad). 

what hodges and writer mayersberg have done is create a film that isn't just a build-up to the 'twist'.  Croupier is a quality film and although, for me the ending caused it to fall short of being a great one, it was good enough that my disappointment with the last 10% of the film was not enough to completely ruin the other 90% - although it is one that had 100% potential.