Archive for the Cars! Category

DRIVE

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Art Movies, Cars!, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Highly Stylized Films, The Mob, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on September 19, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DRIVE (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: A silver Chevy Impala parked on the street. MICHAEL ARRUDA is at the wheel. Two thugs sit in the back seat.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (to thugs): You have five minutes. Everything that happens within that five minutes, I’m yours. After that, you’re on your own. Now go.

(Thugs put on bright red hats, grab their pizza boxes, and dash out of the car. They each race to a separate house.)

MA (to camera): Now, that’s what I call an efficient pizza delivery service! If these guys don’t make it back to the car within five minutes, they walk home, without pay, tips included. And if they give me any grief (flashes gun) they go home in a body bag, or if we’re out of bags, a giant pizza box. Either way, they’re not going home happy, since they’ll be dead.

(Another car, this one a big, black Cadillac pulls next to the Chevy Impala. L.L. SOARES is at the wheel, and two even bigger THUGS sit in the back seat of this car as well.)

L.L. SOARES (to his THUGS): Okay, you have— two minutes.

THUG # 1: Two? You said five before?

LS: Well, I changed my mind. Hey, you dummies going to sit there and argue, or are you going to do the job? The clock’s ticking,

(THUGS move to exit the car, but find the doors are locked.)

THUGS: What the—?

LS: You didn’t think I was going to make this easy on you, did you? Hey, if you work for me, you gotta earn it!

THUG # 2: Earn it? We can’t get out of the car!

LS: Two big strong apes like you, and you can’t get out of a car? I don’t think you guys are the real deal. Maybe you ought to go into accounting. (Pulls out a huge magnum and aims it at thugs): Can you get out of the car now?

(THUGS kick open doors and jump out of car. They race onto the lawn and tackle the pizza delivery thugs, sending pizza and dollar bills flying everywhere. The four thugs begin to kick the living daylights out of each other.)

MA (rolls down window and addresses LS): Two minutes? You always have to try to one-up me, don’t you?

LS: Not only that, my guys have been instructed to steal your pizzas and deliver them. So we don’t even have to spend money on pizza dough. No overhead.

MA: You realize, this means war!

LS: Bring it on, Pizza Boy!

MA: That’s Pizza MAN to you!

LS: No, PIZZA MAN is a bad Bill Maher movie from 1991.

(MA steps on gas, and the Chevy peels out , racing onto the road, and at the same time, LS steps on his gas pedal, and suddenly both cars are racing down the road at incredible speeds.)

MA (to LS): Hey! While we’re driving, this might be a good time to review this week’s movie, DRIVE (2011).

LS: Sure. Why don’t you go first? I don’t want to crash. (Barely misses running over a pedestrian)

MA: What? You can’t drive and review a movie at the same time?

LS: I can do better than that! (LS is suddenly driving, texting, and talking on a cell phone all at the same time.)

MA: Show off! Anyway, today we’re reviewing DRIVE, the new action thriller starring Ryan Gosling.

Gosling plays a character known simply as The Driver, which reminded me immediately of a 1970s movie, THE DRIVER (1978) in which Ryan O’Neal also played a character named The Driver who also drove getaway cars, but the thing I remember most—and liked the most— in that movie was Bruce Dern being cast against type as The Detective, the guy who’s out to catch The Driver.

LS: Maybe Dern stood out because Ryan O’Neal was never much of an actor. I know Ryan Gosling could act circles around him.

MA: Anyway, back to this Driver. Gosling’s Driver drives getaway cars when he’s not working as a stunt driver in the movies or as a mechanic at a local garage for his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston).

LS: Where does he find the time?

MA: In the film’s stylish pre-credit sequence, we learn exactly how The Driver operates. He gives his associates five minutes to pull off the job, and if they make it back to him in five minutes, he’ll drive them, and if they don’t, he’s gone. And once he drives, he’s one cool cucumber, and, as his friend Shannon describes him, he’s never seen anyone as gifted behind the wheel.

When he’s not working, The Driver can’t help but notice his very cute neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy, who live in the apartment next to him. They become friends, and soon they start spending lots of time together, and it’s obvious that The Driver and Irene have feelings for each other, even though she’s married, and her husband’s in prison. When her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home from prison, he finds that he can’t shake his past, and suddenly his family’s life is threatened if he doesn’t do another job. The Driver offers to help Standard pull off the job in order to protect Irene and her son.

Meanwhile, The Driver’s buddy and employer Shannon makes a deal with a local “businessman”(read “loan shark”) named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks, in a deliciously dark performance) to borrow money from Rose in order to pay for a race car to be driven by The Driver. Rose and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman) are cold-hearted, brutal men who don’t take anything very lightly.

These two storylines cross when Standard’s robbery attempt goes wrong, and The Driver suddenly finds himself having to take on Rose and Nino in order to protect Irene and her son, as well as himself.

LS: Don’t look now, but here come the police!

(Two black and white police cars are suddenly behind them in high speed pursuit.)

MA: This is what I’m talking about! (Steps on gas and car speeds up even faster. LS accelerates his car as well.)

Anyway, I liked DRIVE a lot. While I called this one an action thriller, it’s really not in the traditional sense of the term. It doesn’t have massive explosions, elaborate gun battles, and beefed up heroes running around kicking the crap out of the bad guys. This one is much more stylish and subtle than all that, and I found it better for it.

The exciting pre-credit sequence captures the feel of this movie right away. The Driver is a man of few words, and he operates as if he’s an extension of the car. There’s something quiet about these scenes. You feel as if you’re inside the car with him, as you hear the engine sounds from the inside rather than the outside.

As a man of few words, The Driver doesn’t do a whole lot of talking with Irene, yet they share strong chemistry, and their relationship works. I believed in their feelings for each other. Granted, a lot of the time spent in the movie on their relationship is slow-paced, but the entire film has a deliberate pace, and so this didn’t bother me all that much.

LS: Gosling is so good that he speaks volumes with very few words. Despite the fact that The Driver is so taciturn, he communicates just fine. Although, you do wonder sometimes what is going through that mind of his. Which makes it all the more unpredictable.

MA: Once The Driver offers to help Standard, and things don’t go as planned, the movie takes off and never looks back, hitting high hear and remaining there. There are some really intense scenes, including a really cool car chase scene, as you would expect, and also some suspenseful fight scenes. The movie also becomes more brutally graphic as it goes along, building more and more tension all the way to its ending, which I found satisfying.

LS (licks lips): Oh yeah, the violence is great in this one.

MA: I really enjoyed the way Nicolas Winding Refn directed this one. I thought it was stylish from start to finish. The car chase scenes were well done, and the violence was sufficiently disturbing but not gratuitous.

I thought the screenplay by Hossein Arnin, based on a book by James Sallis, was excellent, as it also contributed to the style of this movie. The dialogue isn’t the standard action movie dialogue, and these characters aren’t stock action movie characters either. When Standard first meets The Driver, and confronts him about spending time with his wife and son while he was in prison, a lesser movie would have had Standard threaten The Driver, saying something like “stay away from my wife,” but he doesn’t. Yet, you still know he’s uncomfortable and unhappy about the relationship, just by the way he looks.

LS: The guy who wrote the original book, James Sallis, is a really good writer whose style seems cinematic by itself. I’m not surprised it translated so well to the screen. I’m just glad that there was a decent screenwriter who didn’t screw it up.

MA: When Standard is roughed up by some thugs, and The Driver asks him who did this to him, Standard replies, “Why? What are you going to do? Beat them up for me?” Which made me chuckle because I was thinking the same thing. There was something very refreshing about this script.

I also liked that the story was unpredictable. I wasn’t really sure where this story was going or what was going to happen and this remained true all the way down to the film’s final scene. That doesn’t happen very often.

LS: There’s a lot about this movie that isn’t business as usual. Another example is the relationship between The Driver and Irene. Not once do we see them in a hot and heavy sex scene, yet we completely buy that they love each other. Normally this would piss me off, because I think there’s a real Puritanical streak in modern Hollywood movies, but here it actually works. For some reason, you don’t need to see them in the sack to know they really want each other. They yearn for each other.

VOICE FROM ABOVE: This is the police! Pull over! (A police helicopter flies above them).

MA (sticks head out window): Sorry, we can’t pull over. We’re reviewing a movie!

VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Who do you guys think you are? Cinema Knife Fighters?

LS (sticking head out window): In the flesh! Now go get bent so we can finish our review of this movie!

VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Oh, well in that case, drive on. Just remember to wear your seatbelts.

MA: Yeah, yeah.

I enjoyed the characters, especially The Driver. I liked the fact that The Driver, as efficiently cool and tough as he was, wasn’t some Sylvester Stallone superguy hero who simply beats the crap out of the bad guys without breaking a sweat. With those types of characters, you know they’re going to come out on top. The Driver was different. He was vulnerable, and so you weren’t sitting there EXPECTING him to blow all the bad guys away. You weren’t so sure, and this worked to the film’s advantage. I thought Ryan Gosling did an excellent job creating this quiet heroic character.

LS: There’s something about existential heroes and fast cars. My favorite action film of last year was FASTER, where Duane “The Rock” Johnson played an amped-up, no-nonsense guy who gets revenge with very few words, and a fast car to get him there. DRIVE is like the smarter version of that movie in some ways. Hell, all of the acting here is top-notch, but Gosling owns the camera every time he’s onscreen.

I’ve been aware of Gosling ever since his mesmerizing performance as a neo-Nazi in 2001’s THE BELIEVER. He was also pretty great as a crack-addicted teacher in HALF-NELSON (2006). He’s an exceptional young actor who is capable of great intensity. DRIVE might just be his best movie yet. The fact that he is able to do so much with so little dialogue is amazing. I can’t praise this guy enough.

MA: But a movie is only as good as its villain, and Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose is every bit as good as he appeared to be in the previews. He’s one cold-hearted son of a bitch. I loved Brooks in this role. He’s GOODFELLAS scary, and he’d make Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci proud. He actually reminded me of someone else in this movie, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Even now I’m baffled. At times, his performance reminded me of Rod Steiger, but I don’t think that’s who I was thinking of. Anyway, there are lots of good parts about DRIVE, but the best part is Brooks’ performance. It’s Oscar-worthy.

LS: Well, I think Gosling is just as good and his role is just as Oscar-worthy, but it’s a very different performance. Brooks stands out because he is playing against type, and doing a terrific job at it. Remember, Brooks started as a comedian, directing and starring in movies like REAL LIFE (1979) and MODERN ROMANCE (1981). Heck, I remember when he was starting out making short, funny movies for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the early days of that show. But he has come into his own as a dramatic actor. There’s a real likability to Brooks, and he plays off that here perfectly, as a man who seems to be your friend one minute and then turns deadly at the drop of a hat. He really is perfect in this role.

MA: Ron Perlman is also excellent as Rose’s partner Nino, but he’s not as good as Brooks. I enjoyed Carey Mulligan as Irene. She’s good looking, sure, but her quiet performance made her the perfect match for The Driver.

LS: I think Perlman is underrated here. He turns in another great performance. But he’s playing the kind of gangster who is violent and intimidating and who is the exact opposite of Albert Brooks’ character. That’s why their scenes together are so good. Perlman’s Nino is a musclehead who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is. But he defers to Brooks’s Bernie Rose. Why? Nino appears to be the more threatening bad guy. But Brooks is even scarier, and he sells it. And part of why that works so well is because he has Perlman to play off of. The two have perfect chemistry as the bad guys here.

MA: Hmm, sounds like two other guys we know.

LS: Who?

MA (chuckles): Never mind.

LS: I also really liked Carey Mulligan as Irene. She got a lot of attention from her role in the 2009 film, AN EDUCATION, but it wasn’t a fluke. She’s a really good actress and is perfectly cast here. Like you said, she’s also cute as hell.

Hell, even the kid, Kaden Leos as Benecio, is really good here, and I rarely like child actors.

MA: That’s an understatement. You hate child actors! You’d rather eat them for breakfast than watch them in a movie!

LS: That’s not true at all. I never eat children— for breakfast.

MA: Bryan Cranston does a fine job as The Driver’s friend and employer Shannon. Cranston was just in CONTAGION, and he was very good in that too.

LS: I don’t care about CONTAGION. If you want to see Cranston at his best, just watch the amazing AMC show BREAKING BAD, where he’ll dazzle you every Sunday night as a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook. This guy has come a long way from playing the goofy dad on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.

MA: And as Irene’s husband Standard, Oscar Isaac, who we saw earlier this year in SUCKER PUNCH (2011) does a nice job. He makes the guy a real person, not just an ordinary ex-convict cliché.

LS: Yeah, Oscar Isaac is good here, too. And don’t forget Christina Hendricks ( who plays the uber-sexy Joan on another AMC series, MAD MEN) as Blanche, a woman who is forced to go along with Standard on his little “mission.” It’s a small role, but Hendricks does a fine job trying to be less glamorous as usual (but hell, glamor is in this lady’s genes) as a woman without many options in her life.

I think the casting here is a big part of why the movie is so good at what it does. With a less-talented cast, DRIVE wouldn’t be half as much fun.

MA: Yep, DRIVE is the real deal. It’s a slick production that is as smooth and polished as a freshly waxed Thunderbird. It draws its audience in immediately, and then moves along with a quiet efficiency on all cylinders, taking them on one fulfilling thrill ride. I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Oh yeah, well I give it four knives. What do you think of that? I loved this movie, and it’s easily one of the best movies we’ve seen this year.

MA: Always trying to one-up me!

What’s sad about this is I saw DRIVE in a theater that was practically empty. I hope people go out and see this one.

(MA and LS suddenly realize they are headed straight for a cliff. They both jump out of their cars at exactly the right moment before the vehicles hurtle to their destruction)

LS (brushes himself off): Well, that was fun.

MA (gets up): Sure was. Now, what?

LS: How about a pizza?

MA: Sounds good. (Pulls out his cell phone). Hello? Guys, you there? Listen, I’m by the cliffs. I want that pizza. You have five minutes.

LS (Pulls out his cell phone): Okay, dummies, listen up. In two minutes—-.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DRIVE ~three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DRIVE ~four knives.

FAST FIVE

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cars!, Fast Cars, John Harvey Reviews, Sequels with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by knifefighter

FAST FIVE Is Good for Cheap Thrills and Not Much Else
Movie Review by John Harvey


When I told people that I was going to review the fifth installment in the THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, FAST FIVE, a friend emailed me a video clip from The Onion website titled “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of FAST FIVE.’”

If you’re not in the mood to read this review, then watch that 2.5 minute clip (link at the bottom of this review). Though satirical, it’s also 100% spot-on regarding the level of film craft in FAST FIVE.

Starting in 2001, this franchise never aspired to be anything more than eye-candy for teenage boys (hence the PG-13 rating). It is utterly without art, but perfectly crafted for its target demographic. Every installment (including FAST FIVE) focuses almost entirely on car chases, over-the-top fights, and girls in tight clothes. All this tenuously held together by the most fragile gossamer wisps of something that only resembles storytelling if you drink half a bottle of whiskey and squint really hard.

Directed by Justin Lin, FAST FIVE kicks off with former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) rescuing Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) from a prison bus in a three-car, one-bus action sequence that is entirely devoid of common sense and respect for basic physics, and also sets the tone for all of the action that will follow. They split up and meet in Rio de Janeiro, where they quickly take a job stealing three DEA-confiscated cars from a moving train. Predictably, the job goes horribly wrong, DEA agents die, and our heroes find themselves on the #$%& list of drug dealer and corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). How could this possibly get worse?  Well, the DEA is none too happy about their dead agents, so they send hulking DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of uber spec-ops soldiers to apprehend Dom and O’Connor.

So, the most logical and sensible thing for Dom and O’Connor to do is get the hell out of Brazil while the getting is good. Oh wait, this is FAST FIVE. Hence, what they actually do is invite all of their friends from the previous four films to Rio to carry out a wildly elaborate heist and steal $100 million of Reyes’s drug money from a massive vault housed in a police station. Wackiness ensues …

I’ll admit that some of the chase and fight scenes had fun elements. And it was a kick watching Diesel and Johnson face off as a bald immovable force versus a bald unstoppable object. Also, to be perfectly honest … I’ve got nothing against hot women in tight clothes. But the plot holes in this film are large enough to accommodate a fleet of 1970 Dodge Chargers. Even worse, whenever our heroes are in “trouble,” the filmmaker resorts to cheap tricks and shell games to accomplish miraculous escapes that are really just lazy cheats. And the acting? Cardboard and undercooked all around. Though, I will point out that you can hand Dwayne Johnson the most corny, clunky line of dialogue and he’ll at least make its delivery entertaining. But these are predictable flaws that I knew would be present just by watching FAST FIVE‘s film trailer.

Ultimately, the thing that made this film essentially unpleasant for me was its complete lack of morality. FAST FIVE is set in a video-game world where both the good guys and the bad guys fire automatic weapons in densely packed neighborhoods, drive cars through throngs of pedestrians, and wipe out dozens of everyday drivers in the course of wild car chases. You ultimately realize that EVERYONE in this film is self-centered to the core and a slave to naked greed and brute force. Despite the occasional ham-handed soliloquy by Dom about family and freedom, the truth about this film is that it contains no actual heroes or “good guys.”

Yeah, I get it. It’s a visceral action flick and not a David Mamet drama. But I have the same problem with FAST FIVE as I do with several horror franchises where violence is framed as the only protagonist worth rooting for. It’s shoddy, lazy, and distasteful film craft.

All that said, once you get to the end of FAST FIVE, the average audience member will assume that this is Dom and O’Connor’s last caper and we will never be bothered again by another effortlessly vapid attempt at filmmaking (at least in this series).

Depressingly, there’s a post-credits scene that indicates that this franchise is far from dead. For me, this was the unhappiest of endings.

FAST FIVE
Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, and Dwayne Johnson
Run Time: 130 minutes
Rating: PG-13

The Onion’s “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of ‘Fast Five:”  http://www.theonion.com/video/today-now-interviews-the-5yearold-screenwriter-of,20188/

– END –

© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for February 2011

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Cars!, Coming Attractions, Horror, Nicolas Cage Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT
THE SUPER EXCITING COMING ATTRACTIONS COLUMN: February 2011
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The interior of an apartment. MICHAEL ARRUDA is interviewing a prospective roommate.)

MA: Okay, just a few more questions. Have you ever killed a roommate’s girlfriend or boyfriend out of jealousy?

ROOMMATE: No.

MA: Ever become obsessed with your roommate to the point where you dressed exactly like your roommate, even changing the color of your hair?

ROOMMATE: No.

MA: Ever throw a dog out a window?

ROOMMATE: No, I can’t say that I have.

(L.L. SOARES enters the room.)

LS (to roommate): Are you an alien from another world?

(A spot on the ROOMMATE’s arm begins to glow red.)

LS: I thought so. Don’t worry. We don’t discriminate based on planetary origin.

MA: I guess that concludes our interview. We’ll call you in a few days with our decision.

ROOMMATE: Am I close to being considered?

MA (checks clipboard): Let’s see, on our list, you’re number— 4. That’s not bad.

(ROOMMATE frowns, storms away.)

LS: Take it easy on the way home, bub. Don’t drive angry now!

MA: Other than being an alien from outer space, he was a pretty normal guy. He’d make a decent roommate.

LS: Speak for yourself. I don’t want normal. My money’s on the guy who can recite the HOSTEL screenplays by heart.

MA: You mean the one who eats hearts?

LS: What was wrong with him?

MA: He eats hearts. Anyway, we have time to think about this later. Now it’s time to begin our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for February.

LS: So it is!

MA: Kicking off February, we’ll be reviewing the new thriller THE ROOMMATE (2011) on the weekend of February 4. This one looks like a remake of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) which was a decent little thriller from the early 90s starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. My guess is you really liked this one since there was LOTS of nudity in the movie. My memory of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE is that it was an OK thriller that started off better than it finished, as its third act deteriorated into some overdone knife-wielding melodrama.

LS: Actually, I thought SINGLE WHITE FEMALE was just so-so when I saw it. It was incredibly predictable. Even though I think director Barbet Schroeder is a genius. It was one of his lesser efforts.

MA: The previews for THE ROOMMATE actually look pretty good, other than the fact that it looks exactly like SINGLE WHITE FEMALE.

LS: Well, one cool thing is that it stars the very hot Minka Kelly, who plays Lyla Garrity on one of my favorite TV shows, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I want to see it for that reason alone. And of course, Leighton Meester from GOSSIP GIRL is her roommate. I don’t watch GOSSIP GIRL, but the trailer looked interesting at least. But you’re absolutely right. This one looks like a remake of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE with slightly younger characters. So it might be awful. I hope not.

On February 11 we’ll be reviewing a DVD release—because there are no horror or genre films of interest in theaters that weekend. This time it’s THE HILLS RUN RED.

I’ve been wanting to see this one for a while now, mainly because the screenwriters include one of my favorite horror writers, David J. Schow, who was also one of the screenwriters of THE CROW (along with another great writer, John Shirley). This movie introduces us to a killer called Babyface, because he wears a baby mask. I don’t know much else about it, but I’m hoping, with Schow involved, it will be above-average for this sort of thing.

MA: Sounds promising.

The weekend of February 18, we’ll be reviewing I AM NUMBER FOUR, a movie that looks like it will either be really cool or really stupid. It’s the story of a teenager who’s an alien, or at least I think he’s an alien based on the trailer, and he’s being hunted down by beings who want to kill him. There were nine of his race, and they’re being killed in order.  So far, three have been killed, and our alien teen is number 4 on the list, thus you get the movie’s title, and of course this also means that he’ s next in line to die.

The film has a very stylish trailer, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing it. Hopefully, it won’t be like the recent Wes Craven teenage horror films, which were awful, (CURSED and MY SOUL TO TAKE) nor like the TWILIGHT movies which have given new meaning to the word “boredom.” It’s being produced by Michael Bay, so if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably not going to be very good, most likely one of those movies that looks good but with a story that isn’t developed.

LS: Yeah, if Michael Bay is involved, that’s a bad sign. To me, this one looked like yet another X-MEN rip-off, with teenagers who have superpowers. They’re just aliens instead of mutants in this one. I hope it’s better than it looks.

MA: Anyway, Timothy Olyphant is in it, playing one of the adults, and he was the lead in last year’s THE CRAZIES, and he was excellent in that movie, so this counts for something, I guess.

LS: I hope so. And if you’re a fan of Timothy Olyphant, don’t forget to check out his new series on the FX channel, JUSTIFIED. The first season of that show was just terrific, and it’s based on characters created by the great Elmore Leonard. As you know I’m a big Olyphant fan, since his days in the HBO series DEADWOOD.

MA: The screenplay for I AM NUMBER FOUR was written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who were two of the six writers given credit for working on the screenplay for SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), which I liked, and they both wrote THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008), which I didn’t like.

LS: SPIDER-MAN 2 was maybe the best of the SPIDER-MAN movies so far – but that’s only because of Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. I’m not a SPIDER-MAN fan, and I hated the new MUMMY franchise. So I don’t have too much hope for this one.

We’ll be reviewing DRIVE ANGRY 3D on February 25- yet another action film starring Nicolas Cage! I think you already know my reaction to this one. I’m a big Cage fan, but he’s in way too much crap. So it could go either way.

MA: The trailer for DRIVE ANGRY 3D actually looks pretty good, like it’s going to be a fun mindless action movie, in spite of Nicholas Cage. It’s also Rated R, so you’ll probably love it!

LS: It all depends on the script for this one. It sounds like a violent revenge drama, though, so maybe it will be decent. I hope so.

MA: It’s written and directed by the same folks who wrote and directed MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D (2009), a film I remember you liking more than me.

LS: Yeah, I liked that one, and I thought it used the 3D effects pretty well.

MA: But it still looks like fun, a testosterone-packed flick, complete with fast cars, hot women, big guns, and demons. Who could ask for anything more?

LS: And Nicolas Cage! Sounds like a winning formula to me.

We’ll also have plenty of reviews by our CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT writing staff, including a review of SANCTUM 3D, which comes out on February 4, by Dan Keohane, and a review of the Liam Neeson thriller UNKNOWN, coming out on February 18, by John Harvey.

(There is a knock at the door.)

MA: Must be the next prospective roommate. (Opens the door.)

(Standing in the doorway are NICHOLAS CAGE and RON PERLMAN dressed in their medieval garb from SEASON OF THE WITCH.)

CAGE: We hear you guys are looking for roommates?

MA: Actually, we’re not. We’re interviewing on behalf of some friends of ours.

PERLMAN: Friends?

LS: Yeah, we have a picture of them right here. (shows them a photo of HELLBOY and Cage dressed in his DRIVE ANGRY get-up.)

CAGE: They look—.

MA: Familiar?

LS: Looks like a match made in Hell, to me. Come on in. Let’s do this interview.

(The men enter, and as MA closes the door, he addresses audience.)

MA: This won’t take long. We’ll be back at the movies and back at you with some new reviews real soon.

(Closes door.)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE MECHANIC (2011)

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cars!, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Hit Men, Remakes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MECHANIC (2011)
by L.L. Soares and (special guest) John Harvey

(The Scene: The interior of a fancy house. A glittering home entertainment center lines one wall. There is a pristine phonograph on one shelf, and a row of vinyl albums in their sleeves. JOHN D. HARVEY gets up from the couch and goes over to the phonograph. He pulls a vinyl LP off the shelf. It’s Black Flag’s classic album “Slip It In.” LL SOARES enters the room)

JH: Hey, someone’s got good taste. But shouldn’t this be Schubert’s “Trio in E-flat (Opus 100)”?

LS: No, because we don’t play hit men in movies, like Jason Statham. We’re just two aging, bald, surly punks that review movies. And don’t ever touch my stereo again.

JH: Why not? I wasn’t going to break anything.

LS: Because it’s in the script. Besides, like I said, we’ve got a movie to review.

JH: Really? I thought you were going to pay me a load of money to take out Michael Arruda.

LS: No … well, maybe. But it’s funny you bring that up because the movie we’re reviewing today is the new Jason Statham thriller, THE MECHANIC.

JH (opening a can of Guinness): Excellent!

LS: Take a seat and I’ll start this one off.

JH (sitting down): Lead on, MacDuff.

LS: In THE MECHANIC, Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a high-end hit man working for a shady organization. He’s known for doing his kills in elaborate ways that often look like accidents. The movie begins with such a kill – Statham’s Bishop drowns a Brazilian drug lord in his own swimming pool, then escapes without being detected by an army of bodyguards.

JH: Hold on. We should point out that this movie is a remake of Charles Bronson’s 1972 film, also called THE MECHANIC. Maybe not one of Bronson’s absolute best movies, but still pretty good. And this is one of the few times where I’m okay with a remake. The 1972 version has fallen off of most people’s radar screens. So, it’s ripe for a present-day upgrade and I’d like to think that the original version will get some extra attention from modern viewers.

LS: Actually, a big reason why I wanted to review this one with you is because I’m a huge Bronson fan and I wanted to see how the remake stacks up. I didn’t expect much. The trailers for this one made it look like an out-and-out action movie without the cerebral qualities and gravitas of the original film. However, the remake turns out to be just as contemplative and thought-provoking, and sticks much closer to the original film’s plot than I expected.

JH: I agree to a point. I assumed that the writers and director would jettison the vast majority of the original film’s plot. They actually kept the plot relatively faithful to the original, but I think the tone is different in this modern version. Anyway, you were telling us about story in the 2011 version.

LS: Right. Bishop is troubled to find out his next assignment is to kill Harry McKenna (played by the great Donald Sutherland), Arthur’s mentor and friend. Bishop is so troubled that he requests a meeting with the guy in charge, Dean (Tony Goldwyn), to find out what this is all about. Dean informs Bishop that McKenna has double-crossed their clandestine organization and needs to be taken out quickly and cleanly. If Bishop won’t do it, then someone else will.

Bishop agrees to do it.

At McKenna’s funeral, Bishop runs in to Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), who he hasn’t seen in a while. Their relationship is friendly, but there’s an underlying tension, too. Steve was always a disappointment to his father; constantly getting into trouble, always a bit of a hot head, while Bishop was Harry’s confidante and more like a chosen son to him. There’s an obvious sense of jealousy about this on Steve’s part.

Steve knows that his father was involved in some shady business and that Bishop was involved in it, too. His life is going nowhere, so Steve tells Bishop he wants to be part of something. He wants in.

Bishop hesitates, but he’s feeling guilty over having killed a man he thought of as a surrogate father, and also feels that he owes Steve something. So, he begins to train the younger man to be a “mechanic” (an insider’s term for a hit man).

The organization he works for isn’t happy to hear about this, and tries to convince Arthur that taking on an apprentice (especially the son of a previous target) is frowned upon. Bishop responds by doing pretty much what he wants and continues to train the young McKenna.

That’s pretty much the story in a nutshell.

JH: (There’s about six empty cans of Guinness at his feet). So … you’ve got Jameson’s somewhere in this place, right?

LS: What are you trying to do? Get blitzed? I’ve a lot of guns and cool gadgets in this place, but no dialysis machine.

JH: I’m just trying to add a little authenticity. Jameson’s was Steve McKenna’s drink of choice in THE MECHANIC. Apparently, he could polish off pints of the stuff and still kick ass and convince pretty girls to have rough sex in dirty alleys. Which is to say, if you go to see THE MECHANIC, don’t expect a lot of solid logic or realism. While this movie isn’t nearly as over-the-top as Statham’s CRANK films, it’s still not designed to be taken too seriously. So, if you can let go and enjoy a suspense/action film without a lot of connective tissue between the plot points, then THE MECHANIC is right up your alley.

LS: Good point about the Jameson’s. But we’re out. You drank that earlier today, don’t you remember?

JH: Honestly but predictably … no. But the good news is that I always keep a few bottles in the back of the Jetta.

LS (sighs): Statham is always good in movies like this. He’s probably the best action hero we have these days. He has the coolness and physicality to make it believable.

JH: I also like Statham in these roles. I’ll be really disappointed if he goes off and starts making goofy PG-rated family films (I’m looking at you, Dwayne Johnson). Although, I think I preferred Bronson’s take on Arthur Bishop better. Bronson’s Bishop was more cut-throat and emotionally null, while at the same time he had an undertone that was both sad and desperate. Statham’s portrayal is more polished and almost heroic (even though he’s, you know, a paid murderer). Regardless, Statham’s performance here is solid and fun to watch.

LS: I agree about Bronson. There was a kind of cold but sad quality about him that was uniquely his own. I prefer his version of Bishop, but I like Statham well enough here.

In this version, the wild card is Ben Foster as Steve. He actually makes the part very interesting, because he doesn’t play it as just some troubled guy looking for redemption. There’s a reason he was estranged from his father, and we learn this in the first assignment that Bishop lets Steve do by himself. You see, Steve McKenna is a bit of a psycho.

His first assignment is to gain the trust of a rival mechanic named Burke (Jeff Chase) and kill him. The guy is a huge mountain of a man and has a predilection for young guys, so it doesn’t take long for Steve to get friendly with him. But Bishop gives him something to slip into the man’s drink to kill him quietly and cleanly. Instead Steve decides not to do it that way, and lets the man take him back to his house – presumably for sex – and things get pretty bloody.

This scene, which is very intense, makes it clear that Foster’s character is a complete lunatic and he’s probably not to be trusted in a tight situation. But, for some bizarre reason, Statham doesn’t cut him loose. Their relationship gets even closer, and Bishop takes Steve on his next big assignment, to take out a creepy cult leader named Vaughn (John McConnell).

JH: I became so much more interested in this movie when I saw that Ben Foster was in it. He’s one of those supporting actors that deftly steals scenes from A-List actors. Check out 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) if you want proof. To your point, nobody plays an unhinged sociopath like Ben Foster. He brings a real sense of hair-trigger menace to the film. Besides, my least favorite part of the original THE MECHANIC was Jan-Michael Vincent’s performance as Steve McKenna. Sorry, the man’s acting fills me with ‘meh.’ I know he’s probably going to show up flying AIRWOLF (1984) and fire a sidewinder missile up my nether regions, but that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Ben Foster brought a lot to this movie.

LS: Yeah. In the original, Jan-Michael Vincent played a kind of bored, rich hippie who wanted some excitement in his life, which is why he latches on to Bronson’s character. Being solitary most of his life, Bronson seems to relish the chance to teach someone his craft, and to have a close friend finally in a business that doesn’t encourage that. I think Vincent was fine in the original. But Ben Foster takes the character to a completely new level in the remake. He’s much more complex, intense, and unpredictable in his motives. This is simply because Ben Foster could act rings about Jan-Michael Vincent. As for your point about Foster stealing movies away from lead actors, you could argue that Foster’s character outshines Statham’s in this movie, as his is the performance to watch.

The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game, as the organization Bishop works for decides that he has become a liability by taking on this loose cannon of a protégé. And there’s always the chance that Steve could find out the truth about who killed his father.

All in all, I thought this movie worked. Not all of the decisions are completely rational (but that’s okay), especially why Bishop feels the need to keep Steve around, although guilt plays a part, as does (maybe) a kind of attraction. Bishop is not a man who normally has close relationships with anyone. Even the woman we see him spend a night with, who appears to be his girlfriend, turns out to be just a hooker (the hauntingly attractive Mini Arden) playing a part. So, his reasons for latching onto the Steve are complex.

JH: That’s really the weakest component of both versions of this movie. Even in the forgiving plot environment of an action film, I could never fully buy in to the partnership between Bishop and McKenna. It doesn’t cripple the film, but it’s a scratch you can’t quite itch.

LS: I agree. I never fully understood what Statham got from the relationship with Foster. In the original film, there’s a stronger homoerotic tone between Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent. It’s subtle, but it’s there. This aspect isn’t as clear in the remake. Maybe Statham just wanted someone to hang out with after years of being a loner?

Simon West directs the new version, and he does a fine job at the helm (Michael Winner directed the original). I also thought the acting in the new one was very good all around. From the main characters to smaller parts by actors like Donald Sutherland and Tony Goldwyn (both excellent when they’re onscreen).

I also thought the soundtrack was great. Mark Isham did the original score, and just about all of the music used in the movie is very effective.

THE MECHANIC is rated R, and it’s for a reason. The violence is harsh and bloody. These men are not afraid to get their hands dirty to get a job done (although Bishop prefers a “clean kill” if he can do it). There were several times in this movie where I felt a kind of existential chill that reminded me of the feel of the original THE MECHANIC. A 1970s kind of vibe, which is something that appeals to me. It does not hold back on its punches and it isn’t afraid to dabble in the psychology of its characters.

Toward the end, it gets a bit ludicrous, when Foster and Statham take over the streets of New York with a truck and a bus to get revenge on organization boss Dean (where are all the cops?) and there are just a few too many double-crosses and explosions as we hurtle toward the end credits. But despite some leaps of logic that seemed pretty farfetched, the overall movie grabbed me and kept me riveted throughout. I give this one three knives.

So what’s your verdict, John?

JH (listing visibly in his chair while surrounded by piles of Guinness cans and not a few empty Jameson’s bottles): Hokay … so there may be such a thing as a little too much authenticity. Anywho, I think we’re on the same track with this movie. Though, I don’t think that this modern version is as psychological as the 1972 version. And, even though the modern version is more graphically violent, I think that the 1972 movie was more grim and gritty.

But, you know, Statham’s action films tend to be slick, hip, and cool. It’s fun stuff and overall, I liked it and had fun. Though I will point out that the 2011 version of THE MECHANIC makes one major departure from the original towards the end of the movie. This is a spoiler-free review, so I’ll say no more. But this major departure did make me sigh and slump in the chair. Even with that, I’d agree that this is a three-knife movie.

LS: I think I know what you’re referring to. But yeah, the movie left me with a good aftertaste anyway. I had a good time with this one.

Speaking of taste, you owe me a fridge worth of Guinness. I’d take it out of your pay, but we don’t get paid for this. Movie criticism, it turns out, isn’t as lucrative as being paid assassins.

JH (grins sheepishly): Yeah. I’m sort of like an exorcist; I remove all the spirits from the house.

Anyway, wanna listen to that Black Flag record now?

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares and John D. Harvey
LL Soares gives THE MECHANIC 3 knives

John Harvey gives THE MECHANIC 3 knives

VANISHING POINT

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Cars!, Classic Films, Spirit of the 70s, Zen with tags , , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by knifefighter

(Seeing FASTER last week got me thinking about other cool movies where cars were prevalent. One of the best was VANISHING POINT. Here’s a short review I did a few years back ~ LLS)

VANISHING POINT (1971)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

In DEATH PROOF, Quentin Tarantino’s half of the double-feature movie GRINDHOUSE (2007), some of the characters talk about how the 1971 movie VANISHING POINT was one of the best car movies ever. So I figured if Tarantino likes it that much, I should check it out.

I was never much into car movies in the 70s. I remember seeing a few good ones like DIRTY MARY & CRAZY LARRY (1974) at the drive-in as a kid (man, do I miss drive-ins). But for the most part, when I thought of car movies back then, what came to mind were flicks like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) and shows like THE DUKES OF HAZARD (1979 – 1985) both of which I hated.

But there is a whole genre of films about cars that are very cool. From Monte Hellman’s TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971) to the classic car chase in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (also 1971 – what a great year for cars in movies!), there have been some really great ones.

VANISHING POINT is one of the best. The plot is pretty simple. Barry Newman plays a mysterious guy named Kowalski (we never learn his first name). He was a solider in Vietnam. He was a cop. And then he just dropped out of society. All Kowalski seems to care about is racing. He races motorcyles, he races cars. His drug of choice, not surprisingly, is speed (both the pills and the forward momentum).

Kowalski drives a white Dodge Challenger (yep, just like the one they take for a “test drive” in GRINDHOUSE) from Denver to San Francisco. He has three days to get there, but he decides to do it in 14 hours. Unfortunately, the cops decide to throw a monkey wrench in his plans and chase him. They’re wasting their time, though, because he won’t stop and he won’t pull over. So they increase the number of cop cars. And a high speed chase turns into a statement about one man’s freedom to drive on the open road.

Kowalski meets some people along the way including an old prospector type who gathers rattlesnakes (Dean Jagger) and some hippies who help him out of a bind (one of them is a blonde chick who rides around naked on a motorcyle, played by Gilda Texter). And there’s also Cleavon Little as Super Soul, a blind DJ who plays some great soul tunes and also, ironically enough, who acts as Kowalski’s eyes as he listens to the police scanner and gives Kowalski tips on the radio about how to avoid them.

This movie has a real ’70s vibe to it (which makes sense, considering when it was made), and a minimalistic existential/zen tone. In other words, it’s my kinda movie. And if it sounds like something you’d dig, then you’d best check it out.

© Copyright 2007 by L.L. Soares