kv0925: (Gromit Reading)

A bit of explanation is required for this one, and I'll start here: My all-time favorite film is The Shawshank Redemption. See, I was a huge Stephen King fan through my formative adolescent years (and still am, really). One of my favorite King books was Different Seasons, which comprised four novellas (75% of which became movies). But by far my favorite was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. So when I heard around 1993 that they were making it into a movie, I was thrilled. I consider myself one of the few who a) knew what the film was about going into it, and b) saw it in its short and lackluster initial theatrical release. Hell, I probably saw it on opening day, I was that thrilled for it. And I was also not at all disappointed. The film was remarkably faithful to the book, for the most part (for instance, they condensed several successive wardens in the book to a single character in the film--which makes sense, really--and Andy and Red didn't look like they were described in the book), and it was just so beautifully executed. I've seen it dozens of times--I'd say I watch it at least once a year, to refill my Shawshank meter--and it just doesn't get old for me. In the intervening 20 years, the film seems to have migrated from critical acclaim (but popular dismissal) to popular acclaim (but critical dismissal). It's the top-rated film on IMDb, so of course it's now de rigeur to write it off as well-made but schlocky, cliched, heavy-handed, sentimental tripe. If you feel that way, okay, I get it. But it's still my favorite. :) The motifs of justice, hope, friendship, and a bit of revenge have always spoken to me, and I figure always will.

So probably last year I realized that the old prison where it was filmed, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, was within striking distance of Detroit, which I now visit twice a year. I considered visiting it on my fall trip last year, but it closes down for tours between September and April, so instead I made sure to schedule this trip for when it would be open, and I also figured I could maybe have time to visit a couple other filming sites in the area as a sort of Shawshank pilgrimage. So that's the background. Shall we?

Clicky! )
Aaaand that was my adventure last week. No more travel for the foreseeable future, I'm afraid. We were thinking of a family trip in a few weeks to make up for our NYC trip being pushed back, but now I think that's off until some more disposable income arrives. So we'll see.

Thanks for looking, as always!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
One thing I look forward to on my trips is the time to catch up on some movies. Here are a few I fit in these past few trips, with some brief thoughts (plus my rating, using my arbitrary 64-point scale).

The Grey, 2011. Fairly typical Liam Neeson fare, without many likeable characters (and of course this time the villains are the weather and wolves rather than ne'er-do-well humans). Not a bad flick on the whole, beautifully shot. The ambiguous ending was an interesting choice. 48.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this one, but it was different. Again, a visually beautiful film (Roger Deakins remains my favorite DP). A bit slow story-wise, but an interesting slice of history. Good cast, great acting. 39.

John Wick, 2014. I dig revenge flicks. This was a fun watch with a nice high bodycount. Truck-sized holes in the plot, of course, and not very high on the originality scale, but still a good ride. 47.

Lone Survivor, 2013. I've not seen many modern war movies, but this one was impressive. It tells the true tale of a team of 4 Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan. The mission goes badly wrong, of course, and the title already gives away how many make it out alive. But there's a good twist near the end, which makes it a little more heartwarming than expected. If you like war movies in general, I would recommend it. The credits feature photos of the real men portrayed in the film, which was a nice touch. 56.

Taken 3, 2014. Since I dig revenge flicks, I loved the first Taken film. The second one was not as good, but still pretty decent. This one is definitely the worst of the lot, with a lot of going-through-the-motions feel and some overly-frenetic editing on the action set pieces. Neeson is clearly getting too old for this shit, as the trope goes. Still pretty fun, though. 44.

The Raid 2: Berandal, 2014. I enjoyed the first Raid film from 2011, which was a very straightforward action flick about a squad of cops storming the apartment building stronghold of the Bad Guys. Brutal, bloody, nonstop. The sequel tries to cobble together a far more ambitious plot, with the hero cop from the first film betrayed by his crooked superiors and forced to assimilate into an organized crime family whose psychotic and ambitious son is scheming to overthrow his father and orchestrate a war with other crime syndicates. It's all a bit much, and more than fits comfortably into the story. But we're here for the fight scenes, which definitely deliver. 42.

Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014. I'd obviously heard lots of good about this film, notably the soundtrack, which I did find to be a very nice touch. I enjoyed the story and the characters, and I could tell that everyone had a blast making the film, which I always appreciate. I will look forward to the upcoming sequel. 52.

Maniac Cop, 1988. I'm not even sure how this one ended up on my radar, maybe it's because it features Bruce Campbell or had some connection to some other film I like. Anyway, it was a fairly typical '80s horror film, with the twist that the killer seems to be a police officer. But is he really? Cheesy to the max, but I enjoyed it. And there were two sequels to look forward to! 37.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 1974. I've been meaning to watch some Sam Peckinpah films, really I've seen very little of his stuff though I know he was a huge influence on Tarantino and surely many others. As do most movies made in the era, this one reeked of the 70s, even though it was set in Mexico. Fairly enjoyable, though much of the violence and nudity seemed gratuitous and the ending was kinda ridiculous. I guess all of that is a Peckinpah thing, though. (Side note: I didn't realize going in that the lead was Warren Oates, who played police captain Braddock in Blue Thunder, which was a favorite flick of mine as a kid. That one was actually released after he was killed by a sudden heart attack in 1982.) 38.

Little Boy, 2015. I had a free evening in Bakersfield so I figured I'd catch a movie at the theater. This was the only one that appealed, as it appeared to be a whimsical and magical story set during WWII, all of which seemed up my alley. I didn't realize it's actually one of the recent spate of faith-based films, though thankfully it wasn't TOO heavy-handed with that stuff. Overall it was a good story, though the kid playing the title role left much to be desired, the story was definitely thin, and relied on a bit of bait-and-switch at the end to ensure the required happy ending. I enjoyed it well enough, but can't really recommend it. 35.

All Is Lost, 2013. This was a hell of a film, very impressive. In case it slipped below your radar, it features Robert Redford (playing an unnamed character credited only as Our Man) as a man sailing his small sailboat alone across the Indian Ocean when it's struck and crippled by a drifting cargo container full of tennis shoes. From there it quickly becomes a struggle for survival, of course, though one with a fairly deliberate pace as Our Man squares off against the sea. As a one-man show with almost no spoken dialogue at all (apparently the script was only 32 pages long), it's a sort of dramatic tour de force for Redford, who apparently even did most of his own stunt work (at 77 years of age, no less!). It was a stunning film all the way through (even if it did maybe botch the occasional technical detail), and I very much enjoyed it. 57.

Speaking of Roger Deakins, I'd been wanting to re-watch No Country For Old Men, so I'm in the middle of that presently. Good stuff.

I'm also feeling like I should take a moment to document my 64-point scale, for future reference. Basically:
<20: Dreck, of varying production value.
20s: Not a complete waste of time, but not much redeeming quality either.
30s: Enjoyable, worth seeing, but not worth multiple viewings.
40s: Quality stuff. Not necessarily worth seeking out for re-watching, but the sort of thing you'd not flip away from while channel surfing.
50s: Outstanding filmmaking, with solid writing, great performances, and high production values. Deserving of re-watching on purpose.
60s: Stellar stuff. The cream of the crop, timeless classics, desert-island fare.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
I recently posted my review of Tarantino's Django Unchained, and from there I went back to Inglourious Basterds, which I also hadn't seen, and regarded that fact as something of a crime since I consider myself a fan of QT's work. So I actually started it a couple weeks back, but just finally got the chance to finish it during my quiet time at home earlier this week--thanks to those of you who suggested I take that opportunity. :)

So on to the Basterds. I found this film to be somewhat reminiscent of Pulp Fiction in that it wove together several converging storylines and sets of characters, jumping around between the stories with a sort of 'chapter' setup. It didn't have as much of the time-jumping PF did so well, but on the whole I thought the setup was similar. Those characters include:

• The titular Basterds, a squad of (mostly) American soldiers, all Jews bent on exacting gruesome vengeance on whatever Nazi Germans they can get their hands on. Their leader is Lt. Aldo Raine (in a somewhat over-stylized performance by Brad Pitt), a rough-hewn, strong-jawed good ol' boy from Tennessee. The Basterds famously and brutally slaughter and scalp Nazis, always leaving one alive (and with a swastika carved into their forehead) to tell the tale.
• Hans Landa (a rather smarmy Christoph Waltz, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role, as he would also for QT's Django Unchained), an officer in the German SS famous for his ability to find hiding Jews.
• Emmanuelle Mimieux (played with grit by Melanie Laurent), owner of a small Parisian cinema. She's actually a French Jew in hiding--in the early days of the war, her family's hiding spot was rooted out by Hans Landa, and the rest of her family was slaughtered by his men.
• Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), a young German soldier who becomes a German war hero after single-handedly shooting scores of American soldiers from his sniper roost in a tower. He meets and becomes infatuated with Emmanuelle, who hates Germans and wants nothing to do with him.
• Bridget von Hammersmark (a lovely Diane Kruger), a famous German film actress who also happens to be a double-agent for the Allies.

As the plot unfolds, we learn that Zoller is starring in a propaganda film about his heroic exploits, and he persuades Goebbels to hold the film's premiere at Emmanuelle's cinema. Emmanuelle sees this as an opportunity to exact her long-awaited vengeance against as many Nazis as she can squeeze into her theater. Meanwhile, Bridget von Hammersmark is working with the Allies to arrange for a few of the Basterds to attend the premiere, where they'll use explosives to take out the Nazi leadership in attendance. The stakes get even higher when it appears Der Führer himself will be in attendance. But will all go to plan? And will too many would-be assassins get in each others' way?

I find it's a little difficult to review this film without spoiling it, but let's just say that the end incorporates a large dose of history-revising fantasy, which might make or break the film for some folks. For me, I must say, it broke it a bit. It was a good ride, but the realism incorporated all along the way, such as it is, is tossed out the window at the climax, and for me it left a slightly bitter taste. All film is fantasy to an extent, of course, and liberties are taken with historical accuracy in every film. But in this case it's an extreme liberty which changes history entirely, and that was just tough to swallow for me. Even if it is damn satisfying to watch. :)

Otherwise, it's a solid film--well-written, well-acted, and beautifully filmed. In a Tarantino film we expect violence, of course, and here we are not disappointed. I could, I will say, have done without the scalping, because eww. But the Basterds are gleeful in their righteous vengeance against all things (and persons) Nazi, and it's fun to watch. I'd note also that in his quest for general accuracy, much of the film's dialogue takes place in French and German. It's realistic, of course, but it's a choice to be noted in case you don't like subtitles.

So my verdict.. Inglourious Basterds is a solid film, fun to watch, and deserves a good spot in Tarantino's oeuvre, but his choice to make it a historical fantasy sours it a bit in my book. I'd give it a 47 on my 64-point scale.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
The LEGO Movie
I took the older two girls to see this last Friday evening, since we're all big LEGO fans. It was even enough to interest Hermione, who generally says she would rather wait for a movie to be available to watch at home rather than go to the theater to see it. At least Hallie enjoys going to the theater! Anyway, I'd heard really good things about the movie, and I was not disappointed. I think the pacing was a little uneven in places, but the animation was generally excellent, the voice acting was solid, and the writing was very good. The plot is clever, revolving around President Business, who somehow rules all the various themed worlds of LEGO but is against change and non-conformity, hence his evil plan to use something called the KRAGL (which I don't think I'm spoiling too much to reveal it's KRAzy GLue) to freeze all the LEGO worlds into the configuration he deems perfect. Meanwhile, the Master Builders are after the Piece of Resistance, the only thing that can stop the KRAGL. Enter Emmet, a typical construction worker from LEGO City who finds the Piece of Resistance and finds himself labeled The Special, subject of prophecy and legend. Can he overcome the curse of empty-headed conformity to become a Master Builder and save the world? Lots of laughs, lots of action, a touch of pathos, plenty of jokes aimed at the adults in the audience, essentially everything I want in an animated flick--plus LEGO! Worth seeing again for sure, just to watch for more details and in-jokes!
Verdict: 55 on my 64-point scale.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Watched/read a few things lately that I wanted to note and review, but maybe not so in-depth. So:

Leon: The Professional
This has been on my to-watch list for ages--actually I'm sort of amazed I never watched it since it dates back to 1994! It's a Luc Besson film about Leon, a somewhat enigmatic and solitary hitman in New York City. He finds himself suddenly drawn together with Mathilda, Leon's precocious 12-year-old neighbor whose family is slaughtered as a result of a drug deal gone bad. In search of revenge for her family, Mathilda enlists Leon's help as they become fascinated by and attached to each other. It's a violent film for its day, but the violence is almost incidental to the story, which is by turns touching and disturbing--but mostly touching, as Mathilda and Leon alike struggle with their unfamiliar emotions. It's not a happy film, ultimately, but it's a darn good one. Jean Reno is very solid as Leon and Gary Oldman gives a stunning turn as the psychopathic DEA agent Stansfield, but there are almost no words to describe Natalie Portman's performance as Mathilda, especially considering her tender age of 12 at the time (part of her audition is here. Absolutely amazing.
Verdict: 58 on my 64-point scale.

I was actually turned on to this film by reading a Reddit AMA with its star, Will Forte, who seemed like a good guy. The film is a major spoof on the militarized one-man-army/unlikely-buddies types of action film, with a nod in substance and title to 80s tv show MacGyver. MacGruber is a highly-decorated, almost legandary special operative who has been in retirement and seclusion since the love of his life was brutally murdered at their wedding. He returns to action when his arch-nemesis, Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer in a fun role) pops back up bent on destroying DC with a nuke. There are laughs aplenty, but most of them rely on sheer ridiculousness and/or that old standby of toilet humor. Think Hot Shots!, but not as subtle. Ha! Go into this with an open mind and low expectations and you'll probably enjoy it if your tolerance for crudity is high. If not, give it a miss. :)
Verdict: 37 on my 64-point scale.

Horns by Joe Hill
I think I mentioned I was reading this one--Joe Hill is one of Stephen King's sons who is forging his own reputation as an author of horror, and I'd wanted to check him out, so when I saw this book on sale at the Dollar Tree I snapped up a copy. Horns is the story of Ig, a young man who wakes up one morning having sprouted a set of devil-like horns. He discovers as he interacts with people that the horns compel them to confess their deepest sins and darkest desires, and can even influence their behavior. With the help and curse of the horns, Ig finds himself unravelling the murder of his girlfriend Merrin, an unsolved crime for which Ig himself received the circumstantial blame. The story starts strong with Ig discovering the horns and their terrible power, and from there Hill does a fine job interweaving the story with flashbacks of Ig as he meets Merrin and befriends a boy named Lee. Twists and turns ensue, and even once the truth becomes known to Ig the resolution remains unclear until it arrives. Overall a good read, and I'm definitely interested in reading Hill's other novels. Sidenote: Horns is in production as a feature film starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe as Ig.
Verdict: 48 on my 64-point scale.
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Oh look, another review from me! I should say upfront that I've long been a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work. Maybe not the man himself--he sorta strikes me as an obnoxious and self-absorbed man-child, but the guy is clearly a savant when it comes to absorbing film and synthesizing it into his own stuff. Reservoir Dogs was a revelation. Pulp Fiction remains one of the greatest things ever committed to celluloid, as far as I'm concerned. His work after those two was a little more hit-and-miss, and I hadn't seen either of his last two films, so I finally got to Django and am currently watching Inglourious Basterds.

So anyway, Django Unchained. As the title implies, the film revolves around Django (played with conviction by Jamie Foxx), a negro slave in the antebellum American South. He is sought out by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant dentist-turned-bounty-hunter, who wants Django's help in identifying some fugitives he's pursuing. During the commission of the job, he becomes intrigued by Django and essentially takes him on as his apprentice, promising to help Django locate his lost wife--after an escape attempt, she and Django were recaptured, branded as runaways, and sold off separately. They track her to the Mississippi plantation of Calvin Candie (brilliantly and smarmily portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio), where Dr. Schultz and Django pretend to be interested in the gladiatorial "sport" of mandingo, in which slaves are trained and forced to fight unarmed battles to the death for the amusement of their owners. Candie's elderly house-slave Stephen (in a nasty turn by Samuel L. Jackson) sees through the ruse, forcing Django into battle with Candie and his men.

This is essentially Tarantino's twist on the spaghetti Western of the 1960s, as also implied by the title (presumably after the Django films of 1966-72). That said, it is a splendidly-lensed piece of work, taking excellent advantage of the western and southern scenery--live oaks draped with Spanish moss abound, and the towns and plantations are atmospheric. The director of photography was Robert Richardson, who has worked on Tarantino's last few films as well as Martin Scorsese's stunningly-beautiful Hugo, so no surprise that it's a visually spectacular film.

It's also a very violent film, as one expects from Tarantino. There's a brutal mandingo fight, there's a slave torn apart by dogs, there's a torture scene or two, and of course there are gunfights galore, all filmed with no shortage of blood splashing and gushing here, there, and everywhere. Some of it is gratuitous, to be sure, but not as much as you'd get in the torture-porn horror film genre. And the story, punctuated as it is with brutality, is still a good one, and populated with a diverse and fascinating set of characters.

Conclusion: well worth the watch, especially if you're a Tarantino fan. It's a good ride of a film, with a good mix of pathos, humor, and the good old ultra-violence. I give it a 54 on my 64-point rating scale.

The Mist.

Feb. 1st, 2014 09:05 am
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
It's a REALLY foggy morning here, which reminds me that I'd meant to jot down another movie review: The Mist, from 2007.

It's based on a Stephen King novella by the same name, which I've read 2 or 3 times over the years and always very much enjoyed. The story revolves around a man named David Drayton, who lives with his wife and young son on a lake somewhere in Maine. After an intense and damaging thunderstorm rolls through one night, the Draytons wake up to downed trees and power lines, and a dense mist approaching from across the lake. David takes his son and their neighbor (Norton, a big-city lawyer with whom there's tension from a prior property dispute) into town to get some provisions. While they're at the grocery store, the mist rolls in and shrouds the town. A man runs into the grocery store, bloody and screaming, to warn them that there are THINGS in the Mist, THINGS that dragged off his friend.

And from there the movie becomes something of a political allegory, with differing factions: those who believe the situation is exactly as it appears and those who don't; those who want to venture out into the mist and those who don't; those who feel this is all the wrath of a vengeful God and those who don't want to be sacrificed, thankyouverymuch. Throw in the various creepy-crawly things populating the mist, and it's an interesting combination of monsters, both without and within.

The film is written and directed by Frank Darabont, who has made a pretty good career out of producing excellent adaptations of Stephen King stories: namely The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both of which I consider favorite films. The Mist has a much different feel, partly because it's more typical King horror fare than the others, and partly because of the filming style. In this one Darabont goes with a much more photojournalistic style, lots of handheld cameras with jump cuts and quick zooms. Similarly, the dialogue has a more mundane and unpolished tone, the things small-town Mainers might actually say to each other when trapped in a supermarket by unknown circumstances. It's not as bad as the wooden nonsense that filled Shyamalan's The Happening, but it definitely has a ham-handed feel at times. Similarly, the broad strokes used to paint some of the characters make them pretty one-dimensional too, like William Sadler as the truck-driving redneck type full of aw-shucks bravado until the situation is graphically made clear to him, or Marcia Gay Harden as the fire-and-brimstone evangelical who credits an angry God for the chaos and converts several in the store to her way of thinking through her sermonizing. On the other hand, Thomas Jane in the lead does a fine job, as does Laurie Holden as the young woman he befriends and Toby Jones as Ollie the store clerk. I was also impressed by Alexa Davalos as Sally the checkout girl, and had to rack my brain for a few minutes to figure out where I knew her from. The answer is Mob City, a television series currently underway about the mafia in L.A. in the 1940s or so--another Darabont-helmed project. He's pretty big on reusing his favorite character actors, is Frank Darabont. :)

As a horror film, it doesn't utilize too many tacky horror tricks--the jump scares are few, and there's blood and guts but not over-the-top. In the novella the monsters of the mist are often left somewhat amorphous; in the movie they felt the need to give them a bit more form and substance, and it's pretty well-done, though I'd have to say some of the CGI looks a bit cheesy and dated even for 2007. Not too distracting, though.

Again not wanting to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it, but the ending of this film differs from the novella, and is a bit of a gut punch. As I understand it, Stephen King himself liked the movie ending better and said he wished he'd thought of it. I had to give the end of the novella a quick re-read to remind myself how it ended, and it actually did hint at the ending Darabont chose, but from there became much more ambiguous and unresolved. There's a resolution in the film, but maybe not the one we wanted. How's that for a tease?

So anyway, to sum up I'd say The Mist is somewhat uneven in terms of style, dialogue and characterization, and really not up to the best of Frank Darabont's oeuvre--but still a pretty good ride for what it is, and I would say it does justice to King's novella. I give it a 44 on my arbitrary 64-point scale.


Jan. 27th, 2014 04:51 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Next up in my very-infrequent series of media reviews is 2003's Oldeuboi (Oldboy). Let me say, first off, that (as Count Rugen berated Inigo Montoya) I have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, so revenge/justice flicks tend to go over well with me. I'm sure that's a big part of the reason why my all-time favorite film remains The Shawshank Redemption. I think there's just so much INjustice in the world, and so rarely do we see true-life stories about the real villains getting their just deserts, that a movie that does so well really appeals to me. Plus there's the notion that I am so very far removed from badassery personally that I like to live vicariously through someone who has the intellectual, emotional and practical ability to create their own justice when all else fails. Taken? Yes please.

So anyway, all that's to say that I went into Oldeuboi knowing almost nothing about it, aside from the fact that it's part of director Chan-wook Park's so-called Vengeance Trilogy, and that it's very well-regarded. So I was looking forward to a good, straightforward vengeance flick, right? Yeah, not so much.

I definitely see where the high regard and cult-classic status comes from--it's a very well-made, atmospheric, and intriguing film, with quite a twist. And as such, it's hard to explain much of the plot without spoiling it, but I'll try. We open the film with Oh Dae-su, drunk and belligerent, clearly on a downward spiral as a husband and father, and generally making a fool of himself in a police station. Shortly after being released, Dae-su disappears from the street, and wakes up imprisoned in what appears to be a shabby hotel room. There he stays for 15 years, with only the television as his companion. Through the television he learns that his wife has been murdered, and that he is the prime suspect. Over time he trains himself to fight, mostly by punching the walls until his knuckles become callused, and he also begins trying to break through his wall to the outside, at which he eventually succeeds--or is allowed to succeed. In short order, he meets Mi-do, an attractive young woman working at a sushi restaurant whom he recognizes from his television. They form a quick attachment and become lovers, and begin their detective work by visiting every restaurant in town until Dae-su recognizes the food he was given during his captivity. That clue leads them to Woo-jin Lee, the mastermind of Dae-su's imprisonment, who gives Dae-su 5 days to unravel the mystery. If he does so, Woo-jin will kill himself. If he fails, Mi-do will be killed instead. And as Dae-su unravels the mystery, we suddenly find that the revenge film we're watching is not the revenge film we thought we were watching.

And that says enough, I think. I should note that there is definitely violence in this film, some of it fairly brutal and graphic torture-style stuff that I sort of fast-forwarded through because eww. There's one sex scene that's somewhat intense as well. But the acting and characterizations are superb, the cinematography is remarkable (with a nod to the iconic corridor fight scene), and it's a great film that deserves its accolades. As is often the case with successful foreign films, there's an American remake starring Josh Brolin (as Joe Doucett.. Oh Dae-su, Joe Doucett, you see what they did there?) and Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley), directed by Spike Lee. I may have to give that one a watch to see how badly they mangled the original, because I can't imagine they improved upon it.

Regardless, I give Oldeuboi a 57 on my somewhat-arbitrary 64-point scale.


Nov. 15th, 2013 05:12 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
I know, I've been a bad LJ citizen lately, sparse on the posts and comments. Sorry!

And I'm just wrapping up my workweek, but I thought I'd type up a quick review of the movie I finished last night, 2011's Drive with Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks.

I think this film was suggested to me by a blog I occasionally follow, dedicated mainly to Richard Stark's Parker novels. They occasionally recommend other books and movies that draw parallels to the world of those books, and Drive was one of those suggestions. The main character, never given a name beyond 'Kid' and credited as 'Driver', is a quiet, rather enigmatic fellow. Apparently quite gifted behind the wheel, he's an auto mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver by day, and moonlights as a driver for professional criminals who need to make a clean getaway from robberies and whatnot. He lives in a small, run-down apartment, where his neighbor down the hall is Irene, a young woman living alone with her son while her husband is in prison. Driver makes a connection with her and her son, so when the husband is released from prison with a dark shadow still over his head, Driver offers to help him get out from under it by serving as the driver for one last robbery. It goes wrong with a double-cross and a bag full of mob cash, and Driver finds himself in the middle of a tangled web involving himself and everyone he's connected to.

Enough plot--it's nothing new, but handled well enough and with a few nice twists and surprises. The director, Nicolas Winding Refn (selected for the project by Ryan Gosling, apparently) brings an interesting style to the film, not least through his musical choices--a few electronic pop tunes that were recorded in the 2000s but which hearken back to the 1980s and add a distinctive feel to the scenes they accompany. I actually found the music a bit jarring at first, since it's so different from most movie soundtracks, but it did grow on me. The performances are solid, especially Carey Mulligan as the sweet-but-strong Irene and Gosling as the mostly stone-faced Driver of very few words. Most of their relationship is portrayed wordlessly, but they make it work. Similarly, even though Driver himself emotes little and says even less, and displays quite the penchant for brutal violence as the film progresses, it's never in doubt that his heart is in the right place, and he's doing the things he does to protect both himself and the people he cares for. Bryan Cranston takes a nice turn as Driver's boss and friend. The weakest characters are the assorted gangsters in the film, who are fairly one-dimensional.

I should mention the violence: there is a decent amount, and it is fairly intense. It's actually rather shocking when the first bloody death occurs, since there's been no hint of that sort of violence up to that moment. That said, the violence and even the automotive action scenes are handled with a great deal of efficiency--they are short and no-nonsense, without the extravagances of too many angles and slow-motion. Refn also does not shy away from blood and gore, so be warned about that.

Finally, the ending did feel quite unresolved to me--I'm sure that was intentional, and call me shallow, but I would have liked to see a bit more resolution.

Overall, not a bad flick, though definitely not the flick I was expecting. I'd give it a 47 on my arbitrary 64-point scale, would watch again.

Time to go home! Have a good weekend, people!

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