Review: Drive

I was lucky enough to attend a VERY advanced screening of Drive this week.  It was pretty early in the morning so it was one of those “this better be worth it” moments but boy am I glad I dragged myself out of bed for it.

Drive is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year which is saying something as I’ve not watched a whole lot this year and the films I have seen have been good ones.

Based on a novel, the premise is straightforward enough – a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver becomes unwittingly involved in a heist that goes badly wrong in a bid to help out a neighbor.  He is played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling who up until recently I hadn’t really paid attention to especially since he kind of dropped off the radar for a bit post-The Notebook fame.  After watching his performance in this film though, he is definitely one to look out for.  You certainly see a completely different side to his acting abilities here, as he plays a much darker character.

Although simple in premise and linear in storytelling style, visually the film is “exciting” because it is executed with so much thought and skill.  Everything just made sense and had it’s purpose; pacing was definitely a key element that drove the film and I felt Nicolas Winding Refn, the director nailed it.  One of my favorite scenes was the opening sequence where you follow Gosling’s character like an invisible passenger on a routine job in the getaway car.  Very cat-and-mouse-esque – the build up throughout the sequence was excellent, so much nail-biting tension!!  Just like the robbers in the backseat, you are taken along on this ride and as he is feverishly trying to evade the police you are kept at the edge of your seat; will he escape, will he get caught?  I thought the cuts between the interior and exterior of the car were well timed and added to the intensity and the suspense of the “chase”.

Gosling’s character – who is unnamed – doesn’t speak much throughout the film.  You get the impression that he is more of a spectator in life.  He only speaks when spoken to and you get this sense that he is a troubled person with a tainted past.  This requires a lot of restraint in an actor’s performance which I felt Gosling did remarkably.  In my opinion, the mark of a really good actor is someone who is able to still bring forward their character’s story and personality even with the absence of dialogue.  There are many scenes in this film where he doesn’t say much, or anything, but you still know exactly what is going on, or what he is feeling, because Gosling manages to skillfully convey so much through subtle nuances in his face and body language.   I remember this scene between him and the neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan) – it was dead silent between the two of them for a good 30+ seconds and although it looked deceivingly like the pair were not putting in any effort acting-wise, they managed to perfectly create that awkward tense silence between two strangers just getting to know each other.  The shot was taken over Mulligan’s shoulder so you don’t see her face, just Gosling’s; the expression he had on his face was priceless; very subtle but completely relatable to anyone who has ever been in this situation before (Lord knows I have!) – so awkward but so perfect for that exact moment in the film.

Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame makes a guest appearance in the film – a nice touch.  If you’re used to seeing her as the sexy and always-well-put-together Joan Holloway, you are in for a surprise as she plays a VERY different character in this film.

I don’t really want to say much more because I feel I will not do it justice.  All I will say to conclude is this: Drive is a rather ugly story but told beautifully.  Not beautiful visually but beautiful cinematically.  It’s edgy, disturbing and entertaining all in one.  Ryan Gosling plays a very interesting “more than meets the eye” character – an unlikely hero –  narrative pull aside, I feel Gosling’s character is a significant factor to what makes the film so intriguing.  If you appreciate a good suspense thriller and can stomach a good amount of violence, you need to see this film when it opens in cinemas in November.

Whimsical Banana rates Drive:  5/5 tasty bananas!

Yes I’m still alive, call off the search party

Crikey time has really flown this last wee while, can’t believe I haven’t blogged for about 2 months!  I honestly don’t know who reads this – if any *sob* – but if there are, firstly THANK YOU, you’re awesome, and secondly apologies for the unplanned hiatus.  It’s been a crazy past couple of months but things look to be winding down now so thought I’d better breathe some life back in to this baby!  Whoever that has taken the time and interest in hearing what I have to say here, please do leave a comment so I know I’m not crazy and just talking to myself!

So, mid last month for 2 weeks I gave my good ol’ PS3 a much-needed rest *cough* from L.A. Noire *cough* and went back to my “first love” and that is movies!  It was that time again – the annual New Zealand International Film Festival.  I’ve been faithfully attending the NZIFF for as long as I can remember and I have to say that this year’s lineup was exceptionally good.  Normally I would inevitably end up making a couple of bad choices but this year everything I went to see was fantastic.

I watched a whole bunch and have a lot to say about most of them but it will take forever to pen them all down here so I’m going to attempt to give  a brief (I know, right – crazy talk) overall review of what I thought of each one here.

The Tree of Life

I am still undecided as to whether I liked it or not.  It certainly was very pretty, very “zen”.  But also very depressing, in parts, I found.  Very interesting perspective on the meaning of life and also creation of the universe.  The non-liner narrative made it hard to follow at times but overall I felt the story intertwined with the formation of the world was masterfully executed.  Thought the casting was spot on, was pleasantly surprised by Brad Pitt’s performance.  Best part – the sudden and brief appearance of dinosaurs.  While it kinda made sense it was also a very “WTF” moment, hah.

Medianeras

Absolutely loved this one.  Reminded me a lot of The Science of Sleep.  Quirky, charming and very whimsical.  The humor is definitely attributed to the excellent writing but also I feel was largely brought to life by the very well cast two main leads who played their characters so seamlessly.  They are both wonderfully weird and by the end of the film you can’t help but “fall in love” with them.  I’ve always had this strange desire to go visit Buenos Aires and I liked how this film cast a very different, “architectural” light on this Argentinian city.  The film succeeds brilliantly in conveying that feeling of isolation and loneliness when living alone in a thriving city but yet strangely you don’t feel depressed when watching it.  I loved how the director plays around with the notion of fate and chance, and how random encounters can lead to something that could change your life.

The Trip

Thoroughly enjoyed this one!!  A follow-up to A Cock and Bull Story, this British comedy sees Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reprise their “roles” and in this one they go on a restaurant trip around Northern England.  Talk about a dream trip aye, can’t think of a better thing to do on a road trip!  The food looked simply to die for, albeit some were a little too poncey for my liking, but perhaps what was even more delicious than the food was the chemistry between Steve and Rob.  Loved the banter between them, I almost felt like I was an invisible guest at their table, which I believe was the point.  Funniest bits were when they were trying to top each other doing Michael Caine impersonations.

Romantics Anonymous

This film made me want to devour a whole box of artisan chocolates after.  This French romantic comedy is every bit as charming as the title suggests.  Like Medianeras, the two main leads are perfectly cast; the comical and awkward chemistry between them was so palpable it was equally awkward to watch but yet you just can’t help but get sucked in, and before you know it, you have invested in these two characters and you hope they see it through to the end.  This film is so much more than your average “rom com” – it is superbly written, well cast, funny and cute as hell.  You may not need to bring tissues but I would recommend chocolates!

Arrietty

Studio Ghibli film.  Need I say more?  If you loved My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, you will definitely enjoy Arrietty.  The world is colorful, has loads of character and things are never as they first seem – what Studio Ghibli fans such as myself know to expect from and why we love these films.  It takes you on a journey; one that makes you delve into your imagination, return to those flights of fancy which you had when you were a child.  The beauty of Studio Ghibli films though is that if you peel back the surface and really look deep into the story that is being told you will find that there is a lesson that is being taught, a “moral of the story” – and this is why I believe these Japanese “cartoons” appeal to adults too.

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt

Being a self-professed foodie, it is no surprise that I got drawn to this doco which tracked the early career of uber talented but very controversial chef, Paul Liebrandt.  It is note-worthy to mention too that the film was made by a Kiwi director which I thought was both surprising and interesting.  The food that Paul Liebrandt puts up is nothing short of a work of art.  I’ve seen a lot of beautiful plating but honestly nothing comes close to what he does – absolutely stunning.  It’s no surprise that he is the youngest chef to receive 3 stars from the NY times (he was 24).  As with most too-talented-for their-own-good chefs, Paul Liebrandt has a certain arrogance about him, but what I found refreshing was that it wasn’t because he was actually an arrogant person (quite the opposite actually), but moreover it stemmed from his immense passion for food, and pride in his cooking.  Each dish he plates up is done with so much love, care and precision.  He is also very personable, funny and incredibly candid which made it very enjoyable to watch.  A definite must-see for anyone who loves food and has an interest in the restaurant industry but be warned – your mouth WILL water from start to finish.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

From a doco about a controversial chef we come to a doco made by a controversial filmmaker.  Morgan Spurlock – you either love him or hate him.  Most dislike him but I actually do admire his work in the sense that he is opinionated, he makes films to make/prove a bold statement and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.  That does take some balls no matter how you look at it and I respect him for that.  I actually really enjoyed this doco.  I do have a vested interest in the subject because I did study advertising so a lot of the humor and irony I thoroughly enjoyed and had a good laugh at.  Overall it was put together extremely well in my humble opinion and I left wanting to try a POM so badly!  I have since managed to find one and boy they are TASTY…and bloody expensive!

The Future

Probably my least favorite and the strangest film I saw at the NZIFF this year.  To be honest the thing that drew me to the film was that it was narrated by a cat!  Unfortunately you never see this cat and I sorta got put off by the fact that it had abnormally large paws!  The premise of the film is interesting enough, however there isn’t much to like about the two main characters which made it hard to engage and invest in the story.  They are mildly interesting and in some parts funny but overall I found them to be dull as dishwater.  Once you’ve watched the film though, you can appreciate the character arc and somewhat understand what the film was trying to achieve.  If I were to summarize: It’s quite a pessimistic perspective on love and relationships, the second half of the film got really weird, and the ending is extremely depressing.

The Guard

I think this was my favorite film of the NZIFF season.  The Guard is a black Irish comedy starring the amazing Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody!) and Don Cheadle.  It was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh whose brother wrote and directed In Bruges which I think is interesting because in some ways the two films are quite similar.  Gleeson plays an unorthodox and obnoxious cop and boy does he play it to a tee.  The setting and backdrop of the story is pretty dark and sinister so Gleeson’s subversive – not to mention incredibly racist – sense of humor balances the mood of the film very well, in my opinion.  When Cheadle makes his appearance, you can immediately see why he was cast – him and Gleeson play off each other extremely well.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone, although you would have to have watched quite a lot of British comedy to fully enjoy and appreciate it.

A Cat in Paris

This film had “Cat” in the title – how could I not go for it?!  Feline aside, I actually really enjoyed this one.  On paper it ticks all the boxes of things I like in films – it’s French, it’s animated, it’s a mystery story, and of course, THERE IS A CAT.  The animation was very interesting; I don’t know any animation jargon so I’ll attempt to describe: it had a handpainted “water color” look to it and the world was made to look the furthest from reality, i.e. the cat is green, the human characters have abnormally long noses and do not appear to have any limbs.  It is very similar both in terms of story and look to The Illusionist, another French animated film which featured at last year’s NZIFF.  Overall I liked the premise of the story (the cat is a child’s pet by day, a thief’s sidekick by night) and it’s always refreshing watching an animated film that isn’t Japanese or American.

Melancholia

I was a tad hesitant about this film and almost didn’t go see it (thanks Michelle!), mostly due to the traumatizing experience that was Lars von Trier’s previous feature, Antichrist.  *shudder*  Like my first NZIFF film, I am still undecided as to whether I liked this or not.  Similarly it was pretty in parts and I thought the choice of score was apt and well-placed, but the pacing really bothered me.  It didn’t need to be that long and dreary, I don’t think.  I suppose this is where the name comes into play; the film certainly achieved an extremely melancholic state: bleak, gloomy and despondent.  Kirsten Dunst’s performance was average, she played the part well enough but then again how hard is it to just sit there and look morose for 136 minutes?  The ending was rather grand, and that was probably the best part.  However this may be because the film had ended.

So there you go, my thoughts on the films that I watched at the NZIFF this year!  I missed out on two in my to-see list because I was lazy, and a few more because the timing clashed with others, but overall I’m pleased with what I ended up watching.  Bring on next year!