Drive

*This review has been edited once I’d got over my initial raving and put on my serious reviewer’s hat once more, rather than the Ryan Gosling fan club one I’d been wearing earlier. Lesson learned – don’t review films as soon as I come out of the cinema, a little distance benefits everyone…

Story-telling without words fascinates me (there will be a post about this in the near future). The volumes that can be said by the tightening of an expression, the clenching of a fist or the subtle stance of a character is, when employed by skilled hands, so much more effective than mere words. After seeing Drive, there will be no doubt that Ryan Gosling has those skilled hands – building the emotional landscape of the central character – the un-named Driver – without a single extraneous word.

Less the action film I was expecting from the trailer, Drive is a strange mix of genres that is hard to pigeon-hole, but so much more enjoyable for its refusal to play by the rules. The first half plays like a slow-burning noir-drama, charting the Driver’s awakening in response to Carey Mulligan’s Irene – interspersed with bursts of shocking, economic violence and emotion that is all the more searing for the sparsity of expression the Driver displays for much of the film. The second half shifts seamlessly into action more reminiscent of gangster films for his quest for vengeance, and it is testimony to Gosling’s breadth as an actor that he handles the emotional subtlety of the repressed, isolated Driver as convincingly as he does the staccato bursts of aggression and emotion that seem to shock him as much as they do the viewer.

Don’t expect Fast and Furious style car chases. They are in there, but due to the camera angles and their placement within the story, they become tense power plays rather than adrenaline-fuelled races. The Driver instead drives through beautifully rendered neon-lit LA streets – an outlet, one senses, for the inner turmoil that he has no other other way of expressing, and the accuracy of the opening getaway sequence is more thrilling than all the high-speed chases put together.

Drive is a brilliant film. Utterly spellbinding and satisfying in a quiet, understated way. The music (by Cliff Martinez) is almost another character, saying much of what the Driver doesn’t, and blurring the line between simply accompanying the picture and actually telling part of the story. Ryan Gosling is brilliant, and director Nicholas Refn Winding is a genius – deserving of his Best Director award at Cannes this year.

30 Minutes or Less

I jumped onto the Zombieland bandwagon quite late on – I was pretty much the last of the people I know to watch it and appreciate the thrills of Ruben Fleischer’s quick-fire script, plot and mix of ultra violence with laughs that you only feels guilty about for the first couple of seconds.

30 Minutes or Less is also by Fleischer, and also has Jesse Eisenberg at the helm, but for all its similarities, it is a different film. Crime has replaced zombies, and although the central premise may be far-fetched, the cast which includes Nick Swardson, Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, roll with it and whisk you along for the ride.

The film is short, and the plot cracks along at a fair old pace, but as Eisenberg’s pizza delivery guy is on a timer, it doesn’t feel rushed or hurried. Eisenberg’s panic, though familiar, is convincing, and the story packs in enough twists, turns and double-crosses that, even without knowing not to expect by-the-numbers storytelling, there wasn’t a point where it was safe to think you knew how it would end. Even at the end.

McBride’s middle-class loser never really has any re-deeming features, although his side-kick Travis (Swardson) is naive enough to stop the pair turning into comedy villains. Their motivations and methods are comedic, but the characters themselves remain human, even if laughable ones. Likewise Eisenberg’s Nick and Ansari’s Chet react as two regular guys might react to the sudden u-turn in their day, even down to their excitement after the heist, which you know is part relief at having survived.

A fast, fun, thrill of a film that mixes the comedy and violence as ably as Zombieland, and with just as effective results.

 

Troll Hunter

Found-footage style films have evolved almost into a sub-genre of their own; starting with the Blair Witch Project through Cloverfield and the recent Paranormal Activity films. Because they are usually associated with horror, I hadn’t actually seen any film shot in this style, and was a little apprehensive upon going to see Troll Hunter, because well, I knew it was a film – with actors and a director – would it really be able to convince me that this “mockumentary” was real? And would I be able to stand watching the shaky picture of a handheld (well shoulder-held) camera for 90 minutes when a couple of minutes of home videos gives me a headache?

Yes – on both counts.

For about two minutes at the start of the film I was actively aware that I was watching a film pretending to be real, but the pacing of the story was so swift and immersive that I was drawn into it almost immediately, and from then on nothing happened, nothing jarred to pull you out of the film and make you aware that you were watching a film of a film. To all intents and purposes, it looked and felt like students making a documentary that went wrong.

The Troll Hunter himself is a brilliant character. Otto Jespersen plays it perfectly straight-faced, which helps sell the basic unbelievabilty of the film’s premise. The three student film-makers are the audience’s way in – displaying shock, disbelief, grudging acceptance and then an awed terror that absolutely feels real. You can see the light of adventure, as well as of getting the film of his life, in Thomas’s (Glenn Erland Tosterud) eyes.

That the film is in Norwegian, with English subtitles, is one of the best things about it. Not only does it add to its authenticity, but also the film is so utterly Norwegian in its character and location and mythology that listening to the melodic language felt fitting, and maybe helped suspend belief a little – outlandish ideas don’t sound so strange when spoken in a different language.

I would definitely recommend this film to anyone and everyone – it deserved a much wider distribution than it received, and the budding US remake is both a shame and pointless when this original wears it’s cultural identity so proudly on its sleeve.

Fright Night 3D

This film was a lot of fun. Pretty much what I hoped it would from things I’d read/trailers etc – this comedy horror managed to be silly and creepy, often both at the same time, without either feeling out of place.

In the glut of current vampire-media around – Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries and Blood Ties, Fright Night manages not to follow the pack and become a copy or weaker reflection. It is especially refreshing to see a vampire who follows the rules – I’ll not say how but put it this way, Colin Farrell’s Jerry doesn’t sparkle.

Perhaps because of it’s campy, semi-serious tone, as well as the calibre of the actors, Fright Night doesn’t come off as cliched, even though none of the characters are particularly original. Colin Farrell is genuinely predatory as a vampire, and David Tennant gleefully lets loose as “expert” Peter Vincent. Making the transition from supporting roles in the likes of Star Trek (Chekov) and Terminator Salvation (Kyle Reese), Anton Yelchin as Charlie Brewster is Fright Night’s almost-leading man. He captures Brewster’s uneasy maturity and shouldering of his burden, and is convincing in all his motivations.

The only complaint I have about Fright Night, and it’s not even about the film but it’s distribution, is that it was seemingly only released in 3D – certainly nowhere nearby was admitting to screening a 2D version. The 3D was better than a lot of other films I’ve seen in that format, certainly less obtrusive, but being as it seemed mostly to be used for the blood spatter, and a brilliantly sudden death-scene, it felt a bit unnecessary to make us sit through the rest of the film viewing it as if through a fine mesh. I would definitely watch this film again, but I’ll probably wait until it comes out on Blu-ray when I can see it clearly and in 2D, without having to wear two pairs of glasses!