Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure, (Romance)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2011

Summary: Based on the 2005 novel by James Sallis, Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Swift and articulate with hardly a word spoken, Driver (Ryan Gosling) is perfect at his job and in keeping to himselfthat is, until he meets and falls for his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan). Driver, Irene, and Irene’s young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), quickly form a sort of family unit— just in time for Irene’s husband to be released from prison. Although the husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), now intends to live a corruption-free life for the sake of his family, he is quickly sought out to perform a robbery by the criminals he became indebted to in prison. Because the lives of Irene and Benicio are threatened if the Standard refuses to oblige, he agrees to the heist and Driver offers to help. The job goes wrong, however, and everything spirals out of control from there.

Performances: Driver is unswervingly composed, detached from the drama around him, and is exactly the kind of character that many performers tend to overplay. Often times when actors attempt this type of role, the presentation comes across as either robotic or arrogant. Gosling’s performance, however, appears completely natural, which may be due to the fact that he never pushes the “cool guy” aspect too far. Where other actors may have shoved the role into overdrive and turned the character into something laughable, Gosling reins it in and provides the character with genuine and understated self-confidence. Early on in his career, it may have been easy to dismiss Gosling as merely a pretty face, but after witnessing his incredible performances in recent films such as Blue Valentine and Drive, there is no denying this actor’s capabilities and most certain place as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars.

Analysis: Economy is important in this movie and no time was wasted with unessential details. Cutting out extraneous dialogue and unnecessary scene content not only reflects the quickness and urgency of the film’s subject matter, but also demonstrates the director’s trust in his audience. Slow motion is often used to enhance the action portion of a film, but in this case the director uses the device to slow the story down and allow the audience to focus on the important, life changing scenes in the lives of the characters; (the scene in which Irene’s sleeping son is draped over Driver’s shoulder marks a significant change in the relationship between Driver and Irene the director, therefore, slowed the moment down to ensure that it was just as important to the audience as it was to the characters). The director's use of flashbacks keeps the audience immersed in the main parts of the film while simultaneously providing them with the backstory of each scene. When presented in this way, the additional information injects more meaning into the story than if each event was presented in succession.

Drive contains moments of extreme violence which may be off-putting to those who do not appreciate why this aspect of the story was so necessary. The first inklings of romance between Driver and Irene are sweet and simple. From the way they blissfully stare at one other with complete certainty to the meaningful way in which they first lock hands, we see a love that runs deeper than if the two had just jumped into bed together. Add to this the way that Driver cares for Irene’s young son (wanting to share with him new experiences, watching television by his side with childlike enthusiasm) and it reveals a genuine love that Driver had not experienced in his life before this time, (at least the part of his existence that we were privy to). So, maybe it is because of this extreme innocence that extreme violence is not only called for, but seems more than reasonable. Because the director adeptly made the audience feel about Irene and Benicio the way that Driver felt about them, we, too, wanted them protected at any cost. Although we, personally, may not have chosen such excessive ways in which to eradicate these people, we must remember that Driver was a part of a brutal criminal world and was acutely aware of how these people operate therefore, no chances could be taken when dealing with them. In order to defend his “family”, Driver had to revert to a fierce, primitive state and simply do what needed to be done. Hence, the violence is necessary when you consider Driver’s mentality and fundamental need to protect this pure, innocent love from the cruel outside world that would surely destroy it.

Perhaps one of the most obvious and highly anticipated aspects of the film had to do with the music that the director chose. 1970s/1980s European pop music provided a specific mood for the film and served as a sort of narrator, with the songs’ lyrics informing you of exactly what was going on in the story. The director took a chance in doing this, since, just like dialogue that is too “on the nose”, this technique might have resulted in something laughable— if not for the way that the movie was presented in the first place. Filmmakers have recently attempted to recapture ‘80s nostalgia in films, but simply throwing in a gathering of set pieces and outfits from that time period are not enough, so these films do not seem to work. What these movies lack is a grand, almost over the top feeling that must be so intricately woven into the fabric of the film that you don’t even know it’s there. That is what this movie does. Because the story possessed this larger-than-life feeling, it allowed for an exaggerated, heroic vibe that is normally only found and acceptable in ‘80s era films.

Final Wrap: In this stretch of movie history, where almost every new film is either a remake, a sequel, or based on an idea we’ve seen a thousand times, it’s great to see a movie that is actually an original concept. (Yes, the movie reflected on earlier films and characters, but it is still an original movie in its own right.) Even more amazing is when a movie presents familiar situations in a completely new light. For example, audiences have witnessed so many cops and robber car chases on film that we would never expect to actually witness one that is fresh and original, (especially when most filmmakers’ idea of improving on this concept would be to simply create bigger and louder explosions). Nevertheless, the beginning of this movie included a car chase like you’ve never seen before and from those first few minutes audiences knew that this movie was going to be something different.

The mix of original storytelling and unique style, along with a gifted cast and a most talented lead, made this a wonderful film experience and put this movie in a league all its own. Although this independent film was obviously not as widely released and extensively advertised as many of the larger blockbusters, in the long run, this iconic movie is sure to beat out the majority of current releases in going on to become a much loved cult classic.

The Help

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Written and Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone (Skeeter), Viola Davis (Aibileen), Octavia Spencer (Minny), Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 139 minutes
Release Date: August 10, 2011


The Help, based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, is a story about three courageous women who come together to expose the unjust way in which African American housemaids were treated in 1960s era Jackson, Mississippi.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) is a young, aspiring writer who lands her first assignment after returning home to Jackson after attending college. Since the assignment is a cleaning advice column, (a subject that Skeeter knows nothing about), she enlists the help of an expert: African American housemaid, Aibileen (Viola Davis). However, after witnessing the cruel way in which Skeeter’s white, childhood friends speak about and treat their black housemaids, Skeeter realizes that there is a much more important story to be told– that of the lives of the maids working for white households. After much convincing, Skeeter recruits Aibileen to help her in this endeavor and the two women risk job loss, social exile, arrest, and worse in order to secretly meet and record these stories. Despite all of this, Aibileen’s best friend and fellow maid, Minny (Octavia Spencer), soon joins the cause, as do many other maids. What results is a quiet revolt in the form of a collection of writings that turns Jackson’s social structure on its head.

Eventually, this endeavor becomes much more than an assortment of tales exposing the prejudices of a few white households. It transforms into an important movement that has a legitimate chance of facilitating change in Jackson, Mississippi and beyond. The journey also serves to bring change to the individual women involved in the project, imbuing each with a feeling of power over their lives and a renewed sense of hope for the future.


Emma Stone tends to shine in everything that she does and this movie is no exception. She is fresh yet determined, and her sweet and honest performance holds our hearts throughout. (In the scene where Skeeter’s mother reveals the truth about Constantine, the family’s maid, Stone’s performance causes the audience to suffer along with her and want to comfort her, all at the same time). Viola Davis is wonderful as Aibileen, gifted enough to convey both extreme pain and cool indifference with a simple look, and Octavia Spencer’s Minny is comical, merely through her display of straightforward honesty. But perhaps the most memorable performance was the one given by Bryce Dallas Howard as “Hilly”. Hilly is the head of the white, social group in Jackson and makes sure to remind everyone of this. An obviously unhappy person, Hilly scrutinizes every step the housemaids and even her own friends make, waiting for her chance to pounce on any type of defiance. Howard plays the part perfectly. Although Hilly is more of a caricature than a realistic character, you end up disliking her so much (even after you have left the theater), that it is obvious Howard has done a good job in portraying her.


Some audiences may have a problem with the way in which racial issues are depicted– with a bit of sugar coating. We all know that the lives of African Americans were a lot worse than anything this story comes close to touching. However, this is not a gritty drama about the stark reality of African American life during the 60s and it doesn’t claim to be. It is an idealized representation of what actually occurred during that time period and the information is presented in a way that most people can connect with. Sometimes we have to beautify the facts a bit in order to get our meaning across, since the harsh, ugly truth is often so hard to handle that people end up turning away from it, never sticking around to hear the rest of the message. This story may not be as true to life as it could be, but the heart of it is.

The Final Wrap:

This movie effortlessly stirred up deep emotional issues (both positive and negative) and brought you to tears without ever being melodramatic. The realistic, fleshed out characters were portrayed by gifted actresses who drew the audience in and allowed us to experience joy and sorrow along with them. For what it is, the movie was well done and is sure to become a film that people will want to experience again and again.

Super 8

Genre(s): Sci-fi, Action
Written and directed by: J.J. Abrams
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Riley Griffiths (Charles), Kyle Chandler (Jackson Lamb), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), Ryan Lee (Cary)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Release Date: June 10, 2011

This sci-fi adventure from director, J.J. Abrams (Lost) and producer, Steven Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), was one of the most anticipated and secretive summer releases. Speculated to evoke the spirit of classic “Spielbergian” films, this was an enjoyable, humorous, and sometimes touching adventure—but did it live up to all the hype?

*Warning: Spoiler alert

Super 8 is a fast paced tale of a group of kids in Ohio attempting to make a zombie movie (using a Super 8 camera) back in the summer of 1979. While filming one of their scenes on a train platform, the passing train crashes into an oncoming truck and violently derails, sending our kids scrambling from the massive explosions and flying rail cars that result. After hearing the confession of one of their school teachers at the scene and witnessing the commotion that quickly ensues, the children realize that this accident was not an accident at all and marked the start of something much larger. Strange occurrences all over town (such as the disappearance of people, electrical supplies, and the town’s entire dog population) prompt the local sheriff’s office to unsuccessfully question the military, who had moved onto the scene only seconds after the crash. The town is soon caught in the middle of a chaotic war zone and the kids are the only people who have a clue as to what’s actually going on.

The emotional story concentrates mainly on the lead character, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), and the kids’ film actress, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). Joe has lost his mother to an accident at a local factory and now lives with his father, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler); an arrangement that is not quite working. Because Alice and her father also exist in a less than ideal situation, she and Joe instantly become friends, and a link in their pasts serves to further strengthen their bond. Another important connection should have been between Joe and his father, but that relationship never seemed to develop enough for the audience to care about it one way or the other.


The casting was wonderful and all of the kids were entertaining to watch, yet two performances seem to stand out the most. One is that of Ryan Lee as Cary, the adventurous cameraman who wants to blow everything up. His quick comebacks and impeccable timing seem to flow naturally, making the smart-aleck banter between the members of the group appear authentic. The other performance is that of Elle Fanning as Alice. At only thirteen years of age, Fanning possesses a mature quality beyond her years. Although she was required to simply be cute and fresh in most scenes, when she turned on a serious face it made it hard to believe that she was the youngest actor of the group. (Fanning’s breakdown in the scene where Alice and Joe watch one of his home movies was particularly moving and clearly foreshadows a promising acting career for this young performer.)


There were many exciting events in this movie—most notably the train derailment scene. The mix of sound effects and realistic action was mesmerizing and maybe one of the best scenes of its kind on film. However, the quick pace of the movie never seemed let up, which made it feel as though we were running throughout the film, never pausing long enough to take in the emotional weight of a situation nor the intricacies of a relationship.

The attempt to blend the two narratives being presented—the emotional, human story and the science fiction aspect—met with some confusion. Because of this, scenes focusing on the culmination of the two ideas, (such as the melodramatic last scenes of the film), just did not seem to work. There was no real connection between the creature’s life and Joe’s situation, so trying to mesh these two storylines by simply adding a line that Joe recites to the creature during a final scene felt like a last shot effort to fuse everything together.

The Final Wrap:

This film was rumored to be in the vein of a classic Spielberg movie—as being a sort of homage to the great director’s work. However, although many of Spielberg’s ideas were dispersed throughout the movie, the emotional magic that is inherently felt when experiencing a Spielberg film was notably absent from Super 8, (though you could clearly spot where Abrams intentionally attempted to infuse it).

Although Super 8 is not perfection when held up to the light of a classic Spielberg film, what movie is? The film was a highly enjoyable and adventurous tale, and will probably be one of the best releases this summer. You will not walk away from the film feeling emotionally complete, but you will definitely have been entertained. (It’s worth seeing this movie for the train scene, alone- not to mention the amusing interactions between the kids.) For even though its parts did not blend seamlessly together, this movie at least made an earnest attempt at what many filmmakers fail to do with science fiction movies these days, which is to provide an actual story to accompany all of its special effects.