Friday, September 23, 2011

Camera Obscura: Go See "Drive"; Stephen King Talks on TCM

More than two weeks since I wrote a movie post?

Let me fix that right now:

It's nearly impossible to find a unique movie at your local multi-plex, which depends on a constant stream of bland predictability, NameBrand stars, special effects and various combinations of such aspects. But I found one last week which slides around all those elements and stands as one of the best mainstream releases this year (though I am sure many who see it will just leave it feeling uncomfortable for reasons un-expressable).

The movie is "Drive", from Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, and it defies movie conventions while also following them, a rare and brilliant play on the crime thriller (and it's getting top-notch reviews nationwide). Ryan Gosling plays an LA stuntman who also is a getaway driver for hire - a skilled wheelman who barely speaks out loud, yet that enormous restraint creates an enormous tension which, makes the movie a most intense experience. The movie is based on the novel by James Sallis.

His Man With No Name character accidentally engages a very pretty neighbor (played by the beautiful Carey Mulligan) and her young son, and this trio eases into a nearly happy ride, though we know it cannot travel far. Her husband arrives, newly released from jail, but thugs from his criminal past immediately threaten the family and as with many an iconic movie hero from the past, the Driver decides to take action to protect them - it's his only way to express his devotion and concern, an expression soaked in violence.

There is a moment late in the movie when the Driver decides to reveal his desire and he kisses her, a moment of immense tenderness and it is immediately followed by a graphic attack on a villain aiming to hurt her. In his mind, both are expressions of how much he cares for her, and is both touching and terrifying.

The movie has a terrific opening scene, as this movie steers into a sort of homage to movies from the 1980s, complete with a throbbing electronic score. Refn has a solid grasp of American movies, though he never lets go of his European roots. And his visual style here is, as with his other films, is gorgeous and powerful, no wonder he gets comparisons to legendary visual filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Hitchcock and Greenaway. His work on "Drive" earned the Best Director award at the Cannes festival this Spring.

The casting is first rate too - Gosling hides his roaring emotions just at the edges, Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" plays his mentor and friend, a hitch-legged loser who can almost see success, Albert Brooks gets a turn as a vicious mob boss and does it flawlessly, and as I mentioned there's Carey Mulligan. By chance I've seen three of her earlier films this year, and she is a real star in the making. Her big moment will likely be in "The Great Gatsby' as Daisy, out next year - but DO NOT miss her work in "An Education" or "Never Let Me Go".

There's also a wonderful bit where the Driver dons a mask of a "leading man" he has stolen from a movie set - but the mask doesn't really fit and it stands as an excellent metaphor for the film itself.

Refn has been tapped as the director for a "Logan's Run" remake, but his earlier works are must-see movies. I watched his 2009 movie "Valhalla Rising" last week too, and was again mesmerized by his work. The movie is set amid a grim and muddy landscape of Vikings who have begun to see the emerging Christianity movement as a promise of a better life. The main character here too has no name, but is simply called One-Eye (and is played by the very talented Mads Mikkelsen, best known to Americans as Le Chiffre in "Casino Royale"). He plays a slave used for fighting and gambling, is beyond brutal and his captors claim he is from Hell itself. What place does he have in a journey to the Holy Land? The movie is hypnotic and surreal and carefully created.

Refn again depends on setting, camera work, and acting to build a powerful metaphysical story in a brutal world. His other films, "Bronson" and "The Pusher" likewise challenge audiences with stunning storytelling.

Best advice: see "Drive" on the big screen, it's a great experience. (Note: Check out my friend Lee Gardner's interview with Refn here.)


October approaches and so does an army of scary movies, so Turner Classic Movies turns to America's Master of Fear, Stephen King, for a one-on-one interview with King about the movies he loves and those based on his works.

In A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King, which premieres on TCM Monday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m. (ET), Stephen King discusses how he discovered terror at the movie theater. He takes viewers on a journey through many aspects of the horror genre, including vampires, zombies, demons and ghosts. He also examines the fundamental reasons behind moviegoers' incessant craving for being frightened. Along the way, he discusses the movies that have had a real impact on his writing, including Freaks (1932), Cat People (1942), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Changeling (1980).

Good job, TCM!


  1. Anonymous9:51 AM

    I couldn't disagree with you more. While I'm sincerely glad that you enjoyed "Drive", I put it at the top of my Worst Movies Ever List. We thought the glacial pace and long stretches without dialogue were the ultimate in boring and the soundtrack was sleep-inducing at best. We were very disappointed.

  2. Hence my surprise to find a Refn movie playing in local theaters. It is not an action movie, it's far more (or less, depending on what you want a movie to be.)