Monday, April 30, 2012

Drive


Title: Drive
Studio: Bold Films (2011)


Michael and I did a little something different for our joint post series last April and we're serving up a twist again this April. (side note re April: It's also our month for meeting up in person and having awesome good times at the LA Times Festival of Books... but more on that later.) For anyone new to this series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie. But as you'll quickly notice, this month Michael has the book and I'm taking the movie.


I don't review films often and I had lots of jumbled/random thoughts regarding the film so I'm going to do what I do whenever I can't seem to get myself organized for a review: borrow the format of that estimable Canadian blogger, Apprentice Writer. (I shamelessly rip this format off when needs must and AW is so kind as to not mind at all... I think;)

Premise: "A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour"
(you might recognize that as more shameless stealing - this time from IMDb)

Poster: Evokes atmosphere and tone of the film to perfection. Big thumbs up.

Title: Truth in advertising

What Works:
- The chase scenes. I'm pretty partial to car chases anyway but when they are done well it's such a treat and holy damn were they done well.
- Ryan Gosling. So many jokes were made about his lack of dialogue that I was actually pretty surprised he had as many lines as he did. I was expecting a lot of Acting and Making Serious Faces, etc due to all the jokes but it wasn't like that at all. He played a quiet character and he was quiet. It's nice to see understatement allowed to work its magic.
- Bryan Cranston. I can't figure out why I heard so much about Albert Brooks after this movie released but nothing about Cranston. He blew me away! I thought he was the best part of the movie (excepting the car chases) and he nailed that part. I mean, he fucking nailed it! Try to picture other folks acting this sort of role and you'll find that they either can't be truly pathetic and submissive (there's always that angry glare directed at someone's back or a posture that says they still have some fight in them) or that they are so pathetic and submissive that you hate them or laugh at them. Cranston pulled off the nearly impossible: he played a sad, pathetic loser and instead of despising him he made the audience want to cry for him. I rarely root for criminals even when they are the protag, but I wanted his racing scheme to work out so badly that the hardest thing in the movie for me to bear was his inevitable storyline.
- The direction of the violence. This is a graphically violent movie and I've rarely seen graphic violence done so well. This was not a movie that relied on physical traits (think bad teeth) or atmospheric conditions (think ominous music and dingy neighborhoods) to help the audience know when Bad Stuff was about to happen. This was a movie where a clean-cut, handsome guy with a climber's physique could stomp someone's head to a bloody pulp on a bright, sunshiney day. My compliments of the violence aside, you have been warned, the story follows violent people and the camera is not shy.

What Doesn't:
- Ironically, and excepting what I listed above, the direction. I am a firm believer that if you are not directing a stylistic movie (think Moulin Rouge, Kill Bill, From Dusk 'Til Dawn, etc) then I shouldn't notice the directing. The only time I didn't notice the directing was in the car chases and during a violent scene. That is where the director really got it right. Otherwise, I felt like he never wanted me to forget that he was Directing.
- Irene. What a toothless role. Carey Mulligan deserves better.
- Albert Brooks. I'm listing this specifically because I want it to annoy someone so s/he will explain to me exactly what was so great about him in this role. I thought he did a fine job but I didn't think the role presented much of a challenge. I'm ready to be convinced so Brooks backers please share!
- The Driver's motivation. Was it really just that he fell in love with a pretty girl? And why? We learn almost nothing about her, so is the sum total of her appeal her looks and beautiful smile? Was it the kid? My theory on this is spoilerish so highlight if interested: The ending scene and song made me think his other part-time job is helping people out when he takes a fancy to them. During the movie I was thinking his helping of Irene was a one-shot deal and that didn't make a lot of sense to me. But then that last scene made me think that perhaps this is not his first time acting the Semi-Good Samaritan. This is another one that I hope others will share their insight on.

Overall:
Kick-ass car chases, realistic violence, and solid acting make this a film worth watching even if it's not exactly your cup of tea. A few distracting mis-steps keep me from giving it an unqualified recommendation but I still think it's a movie that will send a lot of people home happy.


Don't forget to check out the book review! And here's my favorite quote to enjoy on your way out:

I don't have wheels [slight pause] on my car.


rating: 3 of 5 stars


Coming up next:
The Whistleblower by Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn



Links to previous joint posts: 
The Big Sleep
Persuasion

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Alan Rickman Reel: Die Hard


 My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we've decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that puts us starting with Die Hard (DIE HARD!!!!)

John McClane had other plans.



sgwordy: I’ve heard you claim that Alan Rickman plays the best action villain of all time in Die Hard. After another viewing do you still think so? Why?

Dr Musacha: Definitely. Hollywood tends to write only two types of villains right now, the crazy idiot that would get caught or killed by his own henchmen in no time, and the stone-faced underactor that never shows any emotion. Rickman’s Hans Gruber is brilliant and charismatic, he even cracks a few jokes early in the movie. But beneath the civil exterior there is a cold, calculating person that will not hesitate to use any means to get what he wants. It’s a well-rounded, terrifying package.

sgwordy: Agreed. He’s one of those villains that you know is going to actually shoot, not faff about until he loses control of the situation (exception being the end). It makes him scary and so much more enjoyable than most film baddies.

sgwordy: Would you say that’s because of Alan Rickman or how his character is written or both?

Dr Musacha: Both, the character is well written and credit should go to the writers.  But many of Rickman’s contemporaries (Nicholson, Hopper, etc.) would have resorted to chewing the scenery.

sgwordy: Interesting, would you say that has anything to do with his British accent?

Dr Musacha: [laughs] No, but I thought it was awesome when he faked an American accent.

sgwordy: Just as I thought Gruber’s stupid moment came at the end, the American accent bit was McClane’s stupid moment. His accent was disguised but not his voice.

Dr Musacha: This was Rickman’s feature film debut. Did this feel like someone making his debut?

sgwordy: Definitely not. There are so many throwaway villains whose names no one remembers but everyone knew who Alan Rickman was after this.

Dr Musacha: Do you think it’s more difficult to play a fleshed out villain or hero?

sgwordy: Hero definitely because villains almost always get more layers if they are well-written. Poorly written villains are cardboard cut-outs of stupid.

Dr Musacha: It’ll be interesting to compare his villainous turns to future heroic roles.

sgwordy: Do you sometimes wish that Gruber had lived so it could have been his series?

Dr Musacha: A well conceived villain is more important to the success of a story. You want a good hero so you [the audience] can relate but a great villain raises the stakes and gets the audience invested in the plot. Cartoonish or stupid villains undermine the tension. But no, I don’t wish he had lived because his death scene was so awesome. Plus then poor Alan Rickman might have had to be in that terrible fourth Die Hard movie, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

sgwordy: I would add that a stupid villain undermines the hero because how impressed can you be with a hero who is fighting a stupid villain.

Dr Musacha: Die Hard is still considered a classic in the genre - why do you think it still resonates with people (besides Rickman and Willis)?

sgwordy: I would say because the action serves the plot, rather than vice versa. It’s not action with a plot superimposed.

Dr Musacha: I think you nailed it, and the pacing is key. The film starts with just enough background to get you interested in the characters, then meshes action with plot seamlessly the rest of the way. It’s not bunches of action interspersed with exposition of the villain detailing the plan.

sgwordy: Also, as you said above, a great villain makes a great movie. And McClane is fun, too. The script makes me cringe in parts but it’s also super awesome in parts. Additionally, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a banner film for better opportunities for actors of color but it’s quite noticeable that being a person of color did not mean you were going to be the villain who bought it first or the good guy who gets to die serving the plot.

Dr Musacha: I’d add also that Holly is a great female character. Her part isn’t large but she’s smart, takes a leadership role, and isn’t sitting around waiting anymore than any person might have to do with a gun pointed at her head.


Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha – 9
sgwordy – 8

Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – Tied with McClane
sgwordy – Tied with McClane

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha – 10
sgwordy – 8

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: I’m an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’ve moved up to kidnapping, I think you should be more polite.

sgwordy: We do it the hard way.


Die Hard, the cassette tapes, the computers, the hair!!! Good stuff, y’all!!!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Book Reviews

The latest issue of Sacramento Book Review is out and available for viewing here. More reviews are, of course, available at City Book Review.

No reviews of mine to link to this month but I've got three that'll be coming up next month.

I must be one of about four people who made a goal to read less this year but it's true. I am trying to read less. I am doing ok at that goal but what I've decided I need to add to it is a goal to review fewer books this year, also. I've realized that when one reads less one does not want to waste any reading time and I've felt so little passion for what I've been reviewing this year that it feels like my personal reading time is being imposed on. So, easy to fix: review less and that means if I'm not liking a book it can be tossed aside for another book. Yay, goals!


What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

William Hjortsberg in Electronic Format

Great news for digital book readers! 

William Hjortsberg is now available in electronic format
(Images, author quote, and excerpt provided by Open Road Integrated Media



Last year, I read Hjortsberg for the first time and enjoyed my experience with Falling Angel immensely.

Posted in Jan 2011: This story is like a perfectly served meal; the next course is ready right when you finish with the current and it's always the right temperature. This, coupled with the tone of the book, bump Falling Angel up into more than just a horror or crime story. Even when you can't explain the melancholic, bittersweet turn to Angel's narration you are immediately sucked in to his emotional state while waiting anxiously for the next clue to Favorite's whereabouts.

From this, you can probably guess that I highly recommend this mystery/horror novel.




In Nevermore, real life friends Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini are caught in a murder mystery that seems to defy non-supernatural explanation. From William Hjortsberg about the book:
Most often, story ideas are not born fully formed but come to the imagination in stages. I first learned of the friendship between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while researching a film project for Ray Stark. That would make a great buddy movie, I thought, even as the idea slipped from my mind. A decade later, I found myself toying with the notion once again. What I lacked was a caper. One morning, over coffee, the idea of gruesome serial killings inspired by the thrilling stories of Edgar Allen Poe came to me in a flash. A great caper but somehow not quite enough to light the fuse. Another few years passed and the final eureka moment exploded out of my subconscious while I drove down the beautiful Boulder Valley in Montana. Houdini and Conan Doyle had disagreed over the issue of spiritualism, so why not make Poe’s ghost a character in the novel? With that piece of the puzzle in place the book seemed almost to write itself.


An excerpt from Nevermore is below the cut. Enjoy!