30 September 2011

Three Times: Drive

Three early details that made me an immediate fan:

1. Drive starts with the sequence that first teased all of us on #TeamGosling. While enjoying the anonymous Impala cat and mouse game a thought kept creeping through my irrepressible sports fan head. Gosling repeatedly turns up the volume on the basketball game and it doesn't make sense because no one in the history of the world has been that interested in the outcome of a Clippers/Raptors game! I tried to tell myself that the radio was just reinforcing the passage of time but I remained vexed, distracted by the mental image of a sweat-drenched Chris Kaman. This anxiety only abated when--a ha!--a Staples Center parking lot becomes the key to Gosling's escape (he even puts on a Clips hat to blend in with the crowd, a move so insouciant it dropped this jaw).

2. Where many directors would try to squeeze in as many pieces of back history as possible into the first act, Nicholas Wending Refn layers Gosling's Driver with automotive details. Not only does he go from getaway to stunt to neighborhood driving, he chews a toothpick with grooves like tire tread and sleeps in room 405--his home is a freeway.

3. When introduced to Carey Mulligan and son, I was distracted by all the crap they had on their wrists. Only after the third or fourth time they appeared did I recognize them as Silly Bandz, a realistically low budget collection and subtle talisman of their bond.

Three favorite faces (as studied via Refn's devotion to close ups):

1. Bad Guy Division: Ron Perlman wins for Nino, whose consistently mentioned Jewishness is overshadowed by his more obvious Easter Island moai-ness (with a nod to runner up Albert Brooks and his saurian neck).

2. Diverting Lady Division: While Carey Mulligan is content to stick with the steady-gaze-of-frozen-pain look patented by Michelle Williams, Christina Hendricks lights it up as Blanche, Driver's less-than-reliable partner in crime. Mad Men fans will note her somewhat trashier Cleopatra-eyed glamor in this film but she still stops traffic in a long shot against a pawn shop wall. Her time onscreen ends all too soon at the worst motel I've seen since No Country for Old Men (if not Twentynine Palms). Tangentially, I have to note that Anthony Lane threw a huge spoiler in his Drive review when he mentioned "a crime against nature" that fells a character. In a film featuring Ms. Hendricks, there's exactly one person who's death could be called a crime against nature (but don't worry Anthony--I still want to be you when I grow up (and I don't care about spoilers either)).

3. Matinee Idol Division: Six years after starring in Half Nelson (earning him the much-coveted WTT Best Actor of the Decade award), Ryan Gosling is finally a dominant figure in cinema. He's a hugely appealing movie star, sly-smiling though films as different as Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Drive, with The Ides of March in the wings as further Oscar fodder (it's a better run of form than, say, James Marsden's). He's inspired lyrics as insipid (yet catchy!) as "you have proved to be a real human being and a real hero" and YouTube comments as stirring as "I jerk off with driving gloves now."

Three funniest Carey Mulligan Drive facts:

1. In this film she is mother to a child called "Benicio."

2. Ms. Mulligan is given the only straight up joke in Drive and it's also name-related. Legend has it that when she was introduced to her husband, Standard, she asked him, "Where's the Deluxe version?" Har har har. I actually found this to be one of her more effective moments in the film--the hesitant smile she wears in the retelling speaks to the small humor of the story being eclipsed by the idiocy of her subsequent choices that evening.

3. Irene is employed by Denny's Diner. My least favorite chain restaurant is depicted as a disgusting dead end for all involved! While Irene is (at least) the one millionth weak female role in a Hollywood film, it was good to see Mulligan in something I didn't find completely objectionable (after An Education, Public Enemies and Wall Street 2).

Three things I rolled with as a Refn-Gosling fanboy that others might reasonably contest:

1. I've read several people who claim Refn (a Dane) doesn't "get LA" but I enjoyed the way Drive jumbles up our idea of California on film. I'm indifferent to the helicopter shots of the skyline and zooms into those ubiquitous strip malls but his treatment of nature felt original. At the concrete end of Los Angeles River, Driver, Irene and Benicio enjoy themselves amidst beige and sage eucalyptus trash. We glimpse forlorn palm trees in the rain through less-than-clean apartment windows. And the beach, when it finally appears, is a midnight vision of doom. All things I hadn't exactly seen before.

2. I'm attracted to gratuitous things. For Driver's strip club shakedown of an ill-fated minor mobster there's gratuitous violence AND gratuitous nudity. To watch Gosling swing an angry hammer against a tableau of preening strippers is to not know where to look. A Pollockian blood spatter decorates saline-enhanced breasts and satiny white scorpion jackets alike.

3. For sheer contentiousness, I love that Refn put in the elevator scene (so well set up by recurring, more naturalistic, elevator shots throughout the film). People say, "really, the lighting dims from regular to romantic?" I say, I loved the brightening and darkening of shots in Tom Ford's A Single Man and I love it now. People say, "what's that, like, the longest elevator ride EVAR between five floors?" I say, but we switch to slow-mo mode for the kiss, no? People say, "it's just a cheap contrast between smooching and ass-whooping." I say, Refn's always about the high and low, operatic camerawork and American History X-esque sound effects. It's all out "This.Is.Cinema." grandstanding. Gimme more.

20 September 2011

Real Country Rain

I'll remember my four years in Seattle as an introduction to near constant rain and and what, in the parlance of Crazy Heart at least, might be called "real country" music (note: this preference for "real country" is not totally hard and fast). The most satisfying of my dissatisfying Seatown day jobs involved sitting in a room entering information into spreadsheets while listening to six or seven hours of Pandora radio (to be fair, this job also involved unlimited free caffeinated beverages and daily MarioKart Wii tournaments). While I've crafted rock, hip hop and electronica stations, the country one always gets the most play (despite the algorithm's unquenchable desire to include an hourly John Denver track). Now, as a song by Billy Bob Thornton plays, I give you the Seattlest songs I've thumbed up...

Brandon Rhyder "I Love the Rain"

This one is pretty embarrassing. The absurd personification of a natural phenomenon. The obvious choices in rhyme. The improper use of the subjunctive tense. The presence of actual rain sound effects. For these reasons I first resisted liking the song and waited, in that paradoxical Pandoran way, to hear it again before succumbing to the thumbs up button. I'm still impatient with Brandon but that second verse and the lines "she reminds me of a woman I knew / how she would brood over little things," give me that ideal mixture of nostalgia and regret--the ultimate achievement of any country song. (And this video obviously gets a bonus point for the presence of a wet Gosling.)

Steve Earle "The Rain Came Down"

Steve Earle is a more acceptable real country figure and this song is right in his wheelhouse. Listening to it I can embrace the vague sense of my family's agrarian past while also drumming on my desk. I loved imagining defending my 300-square-foot studio from the Man--"you ain't takin' my land!" This workmanlike tone made Earle playlists the best for washing dishes as well.

Patty Griffin "Rain"


From the number of incorrectly ascribed YouTube versions of this song, apparently Patty Griffin sounds just like Norah Jones. But clearly the animated guitar lady above has red hair and is speaking directly to me about irreconcilable differences. I can't think of a more recursive line for my time in Seattle than "I don't wanna beg you baby / for something maybe you could never give." I just want another chance to live (in a somewhat drier climate).