RIORI Presents Installment #189: Damian Chazelle’s “First Man” (2018)



The Players…

Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, with Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Shea Wigham, Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas.


The Basics…

This film fictionalizes the account about how Neil Armstrong overcame the trials and tribulations of being the first astronaut—the first human—to ever set foot on the Moon.

That’s it. Short and sweet. You’re welcome.


The Rant…

I’ve noticed this resurgence of Flat Earth societies on social media, which is where I go for “the truth” if you dig. These yo-yos proffering some pseudo-science to disprove facts the ancient Greeks figured out long before any Karen had it out with any exasperated manager. I’ve since learned that the ancient Babylonians realized the Earth is round based on simple astronomy (EG: how the sun and moon move across the sky). This conspiracy theory has bubbled up again en masse within the past four years, coincidently enough. It’s rough to be a YouTube subscriber and not see all these posts regarding science versus erroneous empirical evidence. I’ve watched a view channels, and those trying to disprove our amazing planet is nothing more than a D&D-esque platform for humanity to play upon. Never mind the other planets are round, or the moon of the sun even. Nope. God’s just been f*cking with our sense of time and motion for thousands of years. Sure. You ever heard of Occam’s Razor?

Huh? What’s that? You haven’t? Did never catch a screening of Zemekis’ Contact? That movie was based on a novel by uber-astronomer Carl Sagan, who is still held in high esteem in some circles. His book was a feasible, scientifically minded s/f story about how aliens may want to communicate with us. Long story short the movie posited two scenarios. Either astronaut Jodie Foster actually contacted some extra-terrestrial signal or the whole mission was just one big, expensive, international hoax for yuk-yuks. Occam’s Razor says that the simplest answer tends to be the correct one. Either Jodie heard something or John Hurt spent an obscene amount of cash to make Earth’s population look like a bunch of rubes with he mother of all practical jokes. Made you look! Regarding the Flat Earth theory either the firmly established laws of time, space, gravity, general relativity are wrong or Kyle with his Twitter feed and has streamed way too many classic eps of The Outer Limits is correct ignoring basic psychics your average junior in high school understands. Noodle that.

I have a point coming up regarding Flat Earth myopia, and it’s a simple, Occam kind of inquiry. Say these yahoos are correct and we’ve been living on a God’s snooker table for millennia. My response to that theory is thus:

“So?”

These would-be kindergarten Keplers are so very insistent, if not in a frothing frenzy to prove that our planet is planar one must ask: So what? What’s your point? What do you get out of that?

*crickets*

Humans are an advantageous species. We look for ways to overcome obstacles in the most expedient fashion. Hell, take the COVID vaccines. I’m not some shill for Merck, but I’m pretty sure vaccines take some time to be developed. My mother told me about the polio epidemic in the 50s and how quick Salk made his vaccine available, despite some resistance. Kinda like now (BTW, we presently have not one but two viable vaccines for corona developed within a year, yet Africa has been dying of AIDS going on 40 years. Hmm). We want quick solutions to problems, and like Occam, we want the simplest, most efficient solution.

Solving the COVID crisis is not even in the same league as the Flat Earth theory, but it’s akin to it based on scientific, empirical truth upset the whole “So what?” argument. We know the outcome of effective vaccines (EG: less death, fewer masks and an unencumbered opportunity to go to a movie theatre again). We know the benefit. So what’s the benefit of a flat planet? What does this swift, direct and totally fallacy do to help the true believers? Haven’t seen that on YouTube yet, but I’m willing to wager a small sum that such videos exist. I’d like to meet those folks and sell them this historic bridge in Brooklyn for a dollar. A Canadian dollar. Don’t get nervous.

The best evidence I know of to firmly debunk this silly, unscientific, shut-the-hell-up-already Flat Earth theory can be laid at the feet of—no big surprise—NASA.

Let’s set the way-back machine to July of 1969. The intrepid crew of Apollo XI set down on the moon, the first time in history humanity was off-world. While astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were doing geological surveys and taking selfies, command module pilot Michale Collins was in lunar orbit, waiting for his buddies to finish up their day at the dirty beach. History was made and our daring spacefarers made it back to Mother Earth intact, with no small help from the seasoned pilot Collins.

I feel that Collins got the short shrift in NASA history. No, he didn’t make and giant leap for whomever. He was a space valet driver if you think about it, but he was the most seasoned pilot in NASA, cutting his conning teeth back in the Gemini program where young astros were learning the physics of outer space HALO.

One of the highlights of Collins’ career as an astronaut was essentially writing the rulebook for space docking procedures. Hey, all those capsules and satellites and excursion modules had no computer guidance, and they had to fit together somehow. Early NASA flights were seldom self-contained like the ISS is today. Lotta Lego action back in the Gemini program. That’s where Collins had made his bones.

Back in 1966, Collins and company were practicing docking maneuvers during the Gemini X program. The goal was to dock a space capsule with an “Agena Target Docking Vehicle.” Essentially a satellite to—you guessed it—practice docking maneuvers. At the rendezvous point, Collins took this photograph as he approached the Agena (photo courtesy of NASA):

Slow down there. What’s that I spy with my little eye in the background? Looks like Earth, curvature and all. This snap was taken in 1966, before Neil and friends made it to the moon. This was high orbit. I see clouds and the ocean and a hurricane forming and perhaps Argentina and a distinct curved horizon. Pool tables aren’t curvy.

Which leads us to the other conspiracy theory, the bastard stepchild of the Flat Earth myth: NASA faked the moon landings. Now here come the other witless True Believers. Those who claimed the moon landing was a total sham. Again, why? What favor does it give you dingdongs? Stanley Kubrick made up that mock set so LBJ could thumb his nose at the Soviet Federal Space Agency? I view this mentality akin to pranking a stranger with a dozen delivered pizzas. Sure, it could’ve been made a hoax with a big deal Hollywood budget and an isolated soundstage at Area 51. A lot of these would be skeptics claim that the actual film director Kubrick was commissioned to stage the hoax with his expert eye and nifty special effects created by wiz-kid Douglas Trumbull that made their s/f epic 2001: A Space Odyssey such a visual tour de force. Of course it could be done! And it was!

To what end I ask?

Yes, the visuals in 2001 are striking—even 50 odd years later—at least from the tech angle. However all those heavenly bodies in the film, from the moon landing to our intrepid astronauts jetting out to Jupiter are against obvious matte paintings. Very good matte paintings mind you—for the time—but the original story told that Bowman, Poole and HAL were heading off to Saturn to search for intelligent life, not Jupiter. Why the switch? F/X wizard Trumbull nixed the Saturn voyage because he couldn’t create an accurate looking Saturn. This was reflected by how Jupiter in the final cut looked like a cotton candy Chupa-Chup. A very good cotton candy Chupa-Chup, but still just a matte painting.

Wait. To compare here’s a photo from an Earth-based observatory of Jupiter courtesy of NASA back in 1967 (read the log entry), a year before 2001 debuted:


Now here’s a shot of “Jupiter” from 2001, released in 1968:

So let’s get this straight: Kubrick faked the moon landings, despite the film tech at the time was slightly less sophisticated than NASA’s bag of tricks. 2001 dropped a year before the Eagle landed, yet Trumbull was unable to make Saturn look like Saturn, but create Jupiter as a photograph of a photograph of Jupiter. You doubters can go along with debating the film’s feasibility (like a a bow and arrow could  overpower an AK-47 in the wrong hands), but you’ll argue against two dead master filmmakers who admitted their limitations making the ultimate, scientifically accurate s/f movie they couldn’t reproduce with a NASA-sized budget, leaving Lyndon kicking a foot against his Fresca machine.

That’s the trouble with conspiracy theories: they technically can’t be disproven. With every shred of doubt comes a sliver of evidence to the contrary that only invites another theory refuting the evidence. It’s all paradox. It’s all Schrödinger’s Cat. These fallacies just encourage the theorists that they are right, the Universe is wrong and in the end it leads to nothing. Nothing save some self-righteous dolt with a YouTube channel established firmly to be an anthropological buzzkill. So what if the Earth is flat? So what if the moon landing was faked? To what end?

Mostly justifying insecurity, paranoia, the warm fuzzy you have knowing “the truth,” as well it is as bad as you think and, yes, They are out to get you. Now, here’s your sandwich board, scrawl THE END IS NIGH on it, take this bell and go stand on that street corner. Some like-minded nabob may strike up a conversation.

Sigh.

Regrouping, chances are you not familiar with Michael Collins and his story. But you all know who Neil Armstrong was. His story was about being the first man on the moon. He brought back this postcard for all Mankind:



The Story…

Hello? Did you not read The Basics above? Short and sweet?


The Breakdown…

Before we commence with the usual folderol I’d like to share a whimsical story about Neil Armstrong. Not about the man, per se, but the idea of the man and what he inspires.

In college I played sax in the marching band. My then girlfriend played baritone horn. The thing looked like an oversized bugle, but with valves, and bell angled at the audience and you had to carry it like a sack of groceries. They gave off a pleasant, sonorous sound in harmony with the tubas. Every year at band camp, to break the ice and generate morale for the freshmen, the upperclassmen would design a tee shirt to wear during practice. My girl once laid some trivia on me that back in his schooldays Neil Armstrong played in marching band, and played the baritone horn! Upon dropping this science she asked me for my opinion (for some weird reason. I played sax. I already had my John Coltrane’s Crescent album art emblazoned on my tee) as to how maybe incorporate this Armstrong story into a baritone tee. My answer was simple: you ever see online one of those huge, round screens Pink Floyd used to use in their live shows? Superimpose the moon on one with a caption that read, “SUMB Baritones. Still first in space.”

It didn’t happen, but it would’ve been neat. I’d’ve bought one.

Anyway, most folks in modern history lionize Neil Armstrong as the “greatest astronaut ever.” He wasn’t. No one astronaut in the Apollo flight plan were. Those guys were all aces, quick on their feet, able to multitask, savvy in engineering and able to deliver the goods when the “real science” needed churning out down on Earth. Armstrong was a solid engineer and a crack pilot. These days, you want a sortie on the ISS you better carry multiple diplomas earned from universities in New England and/or California. Or even the UK. These days the scientists surf on sine waves more than they can tolerate altitude sickness and subsist on Gerber’s for a few days. These days its all tech and numbers. Back then it was a gamble with gravity. No, Armstrong wasn’t the greatest astronaut, but come Apollo XI, he was the most qualified to command the mission, and he got the job done. The proof is on Betamax somewhere, I think.

Ahem.

*raps pointer on chalkboard*

For our fourth of seven movies in a series that revolve around historical fiction/biopics this week we have First Man. Since I’m an amateur astronomer and have always been nuts about space travel I couldn’t wait to see the film. I’d naturally been drawn to the story (doy) about how Neil Armstrong became…well, Neil Armstrong. First man on the Moon. Awesome! Shots of early NASA history! Behind the scenes of Neil’s homelife against his job…his mission! Why wasn’t this film made sooner?

There are reasons.

First was one of those long gestating projects in ol’ Hollyweird. Not quite in Development Hell, but pretty close. A lot of gears had to turn for the film to grind into being, and timing—as they claim—is everything. So much so that a bit of serendipity was at play back around, oh, 20 plus years ago.

Acclaimed actor/director Clint Eastwood had just wrapped up his NASA dramedy Space Cowboys. Fun flick BTW, a lilted take on the Mercury program meets Geritol. In 2003 author James R Hansen released the official bio of Neil Armstrong titled First Man: The Life Of Neil Armstrong. Clint opted the book for the film rights in 2005. As things went, Eastwood dropped the project (as well as starring in the movie) and First went adrift for awhile. Until Universal and DreamWorks took up the baton, and then assembling a crew to make First happen that was ragtag but proved fruitful. A lot of movies under production work this way, often with success. The original Lion King happened in a ramshackle fashion. It took decades for Forrest Gump spring from page to screen. Even One Flew Over The Cuckoos’ Nest was optioned by Kirk Douglas (who wished to star as McMurphy) only to have son Michael Douglas merely finance it. Sh*t happens, then it fertilizes.

First became a reality piecemeal. Director Chazelle got a lot of applause for his La La Land and rewarded with the Best Director Oscar back in 2016. With that clout La La star Gosling came along for the ride, even though Emma Stone—whom I would enjoy touching—got the Best Actress ho-ha (and IMHO would’ve made a pretty good Janet Armstrong with First). It’s odd how a story like Armstrong’s took so long to tell, at least on the big screen. Not to mention how First technically didn’t stall at the Seventh Level. It’s kinda a nod to how Armstrong gradually rose in the ranks from test pilot to Gemini to Apollo to the moon. Good stuff takes time, and patience is rewarded. All that and it doesn’t hurt that Dirty Harry made the first move, punk.

Chazelle knows how to rope you in. Man‘s cold open sure got my attention, you better believe it. He showed that in NASA the stakes are always high. Over the moon, so to speak (let me have that one, okay?). We’re focusing on the early space program and the people behind it. In our minds we know that those first daring men risked life and limb in the name of exploration, science and informing Khrushchev to get bent. In the film however, everything, everything is dire. There’s a scene where Janet Armstrong explains that she’s used to funerals. That pretty much sums First up. Risk, risk and more risk. From Armstrong’s daughter Karen to death spirals to onboard fires after watching this I could only marvel at how young NASA managed to succeed more than fail back during the Space Race. This was frontier territory. The risks were indeed great, but also relentless. I could mention great tension, but I’d rather say I wasn’t going to the bathroom for two-and-a-half hours watching First. And I know how to tap a pause button.

Which you may have to do watching Man. There are a lot of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details, allusions, foreshadowing, Easter eggs and a lot of other nice touches that one could have learned in basic 7th grade language arts. The cold open is good place as any to set the tone for the movie, despite it being a tad misleading as well as winking, but in a polite way. As the NASA works out the kinks for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, the camera focus gradually gets less grainy. The use of a Steadicam in the first act made for great visual tension, if not visceral terms. I prayed both were cut back for the second. And they were. As this little technique clears up, we realize we have two plots diverge but never really break. We had Neil’s mission and Janet at home with the kids. Frontline against homefront. The camera work there is at “home” things are jagged, like watching an old ep of NYPD Blue. When Neil’s “at work” everything is much smoother Even as we may know a chunk of NASA’s historical record, sure space exploration a “purely scientific endeavor” (quotes mine), but there was always an undercurrent of competition with the Soviets. More like a pissing contest. I doubt that the astronauts and their wives attending yet another funeral were ignorant of those in the cat’s bird seat in DC not paying for the services.

Noise seemed to be a prominent force here, or the absence of it. We all know that there is no sound in the vacuum of outer space (or now you do), and director Chazelle using this nugget of astronomy to create a character from it. No shocker when Armstrong and Aldrin touched down and ventured out of the Eagle there would be jarring silence. However, silence was the enemy for several scenes in the movie. Silence. The not knowing. Every time something went adrift in the film was like immediate foreshadowing well into crisis. Deafening silence. Without such a distraction you had to believe your eyes as to what the hell was going on. Sensory deprivation was a very clever way to hook the audience in. We were dealing with extremes through all those early NASA days. Everything was dire. Every bolt secured, a coffin. Why not make the movie audience chew on their finger and toenails to get hooked on Neil and company’s exploits in scientific uncertainty?

That being said, fear is another potent draw in First. Gosling as Armstrong, no matter how qualified for the job is a walking contradiction. Seasoned pilot and later seasoned astronaut. Loving family who is always waiting for the space boots to drop. Duty to God and Country despite both failed his REDACTED. Many scenes in First had this air of, “Please, not again.” It’s not surprising that danger lurked around every corner of the Space Race, but I felt another funeral was always looming. An undercurrent. Sure, space exploration was paramount, but what about the folks Earthside that weren’t risking their lives but lived through potential loss vicariously thanks to the proud NASA goals? In a word: Who? The “who” is what created the finest tension in the film. The off-world exploits were damned fine, but what about the people the astronauts should come home to? In one piece if any? Remember, none of this is real, yet all of this is real. Perhaps in some obtuse way, but you are damn observant when you sprout gooseflesh as I did watching First. Many times.

I was totally mesmerized come act three. I had held Neil’s hand for over two hours. I felt every minor victory and every pronounced shiver. As Chazelle was a skilled director, throughout all that tumult—all those minor ups and major downs—if there were any solid truth in it, I got why Armstrong had to get to the Moon. Not for science, quite not for NASA and surely not for taking a whiz on the Soviets. For closure.

What’s out there? Something lost? Someone? REDACTED?

First is both a harrowing and joyous film. Shakespearean in execution and Steinbeck in structure. First is a many-headed hydra. It makes you uncomfortable, then engaged, then uncomfortable being engaged until elation comes without warning. Thank the even comedy and tragedy and appreciative understanding that Armstrong had made it to the moon well before this biopic hit theaters.  The film requires an easy concentration. There is a lot to digest, but it goes down easy with Chazelle confidently at the helm. He’s very clever with First. It’s tricky to balance art with commerce with La-La Land, but on the whole he succeed. if only in a modest way.

It’s too bad First ended up here at RIORI. It truly is.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? By all means rent it. First is—in two word words—a success. Short and sweet.


The Musings…

  • “It’ll be an adventure.”
  • Gosling’s haircut is ridiculous and absolutely perfect. It was an era of discovery and very bad haircuts.
  • “Jiminy?” Well, when you wish upon a star and all that.
  • I enjoyed Gosling’s vocal affect.
  • “Now look at all the crayons!”
  • Oh God, Karen’s bed.
  • “I married Neil because I wanted a normal life.”
  • The Gemini VIII scene was worth the admission price alone.
  • “If I had a choice I’d take more fuel.”
  • Why were foot pedals for freezers abandoned? Kinda like tap toe hi-beams?
  • “I’m done.”
  • Here’s some cool trivia: The glass that NASA used for their craft’s windows? Pyrex. No cool super-polymers back then. Found that clever.
  • And yes, I’ve seen Silent Running. Trumbull’s Saturn then was no less convincing.
  • “You’re Dad’s going to the Moon.”

The Next Time…

Get up! Get On Up! Get up! Get On Up! Stay on the scene! Get On Up! Like a sex machine! Get On Up!


RIORI Redux: Nicolas W Refn’s “Drive” Revisited


Image


The Players…

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.


The Story…

Hollywood stuntman by day, getaway driver by night. Our man is the go-to guy, the all-purpose wheelman to get you the hell out of Dodge. No connections, and that’s how he likes it. It is, until his solitary life is disrupted by his cute neighbor and her young son. He quickly learns that, hey, maybe starting a friendship ain’t so bad after all. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison hell bent on a family reunion, whether mommy wants it or not. This reminds our man why it’s better to stay disconnected.


The Rant (2013)

In keeping up the general gist of this blog, I’m rambling through various recent movies of dubious reputation or had been lacking in box office mojo. Here’s the thing though: I already knew Drive was a noteworthy picture a few years ago, and had tallied up some relatively decent cheddar at the multiplex to boot—for a minor film. Of course, despite what Hollywood thinks, just cuz a movie makes a few ripples doesn’t mean it was any good. How else does that explain Rob Schneider having a career?

It’s was the critics’ responses to Drive that tweaked me, or at least what they didn’t say. The general public were up and down. The critics were all over the map. For example, good ol’ reliable Rotten Tomatoes gave Drive 93% while the audience gave it an average 78%. IMBD users, 7.9/10. Metascore, 78/100. Seems few can agree to disagree here.

Help is on the way.

That’s what I’m here for: to help people. Really. Or at least not to have you waste your hard-earned (or stolen) cash on the next stream. Well, that and give me a forum to spout my half-baked opinions about movies, shaking a fist into the air, railing like an angry shepherd under the black, starry sky, cursing Hollywood for inflicting the likes of Grown-Ups 2 and another useless remake/reboot because the folks in Tinsel Town are under the impression that we’re either all stupid, drooling inbreds or have memories the likes of retarded goldfish, slothfully dragging our popcorn-addled carcasses to the omegaplex devoid of any independent thought. Entertain us, o heathen warlords of the silver screen after our almighty, slippery ducat. Aye, there be yer zombie apocalypse.

Where was I? Right. Help. Here we go…

First and foremost, Drive is an homage to 80’s style thrillers, right down to the synth heavy score. To Live And Die in L.A. immediately comes to mind. From the metallic blue of the L.A. skyline to it’s sepia toned daytime desert climes. The pacing is as tight as the car chases. And the acting as wooden as the Sequoia National Forest. This pseudo-noir flick makes for neat cat and mouse antics through the City of Angels, but that novelty runs out of gas (ha!) pretty damned quick. Gosling’s performance as the Driver. Ugh. Where to begin? Is his portrayal supposed to be so stiff? I know he’s supposed to be this icy, introverted tough guy, but comes across as flat as the L.A. freeway and he never seems to blink. And when he does show emotion—a smile here, a tear there—it comes across as just plain creepy. Carey Mulligan is just vapid wallpaper. Why was Hendricks in this movie, other than to get offed? Her role was very pointless and was no more than a glorified cameo.

Cranston is criminally underused here and just comes off as some kind of caricature. The old mentor schtick doesn’t usually improve with age, and his staggering about the set came across as comical without being funny. On the bright side, Brooks and Perlman are just as amusing as ever, especially Brooks in a wiseguy role. However Brooks is so unconvincing as a killer mobster (even when does kill and do mobster things), that it’s unintentionally funny. I have a soft spot for Ron Perlman, so it’s tough to say rotten things about his acting, even though he was kinda goofy. Sorry.

You can’t talk about this movie without commenting on its violence. There’s a lot of it, and, yeah, it’s gratuitous. It’s also boring. You get numb to the Driver’s antics real quick. He’s not a fun date. And the motel scene; when did he become Rambo? What was that pledge earlier in the film that “I don’t use a gun”? Oops. He uses sharp implements and shoes a lot too. Cold-blooded and unconvincing.

Harsh, you say? Tough, My review. Nyah, nyah, nyah. I still haven’t figured out the disparity between the critics and the audience. I’m part of the audience here, not a professional critic. Let’s just put it this way: I didn’t fall for Drive‘s alleged art house pretensions. It was just a poorly acted, violent, rip-off of other motor n’ mobster movies that came before it, mostly in the cocaine-fueled 80’s. Kinda like the soundtrack.


Rant Redux (2019)

Okay. I’ll admit it. I was too harsh. I think I was too eager to gnash my teeth and get all Lewis Black on this film for two reasons: 1) I was all too quick to latch on, remora-like, to the inconsistencies in the plot and trumpet about them, and: 2) a neophyte to blogging I wanted to make a stink so readers would “notice me” by trashing a noteworthy film. In simpler terms, I was a snot and strutted about, Mr Movie Know-It-All, openly pissed about no being allowed at the cool kids table at lunch in 7th grade. Wah.

Before I go on with this stroll down memory lane I feel it proper to give a shout out to the “silent partner” in the creation of RIORI, one Jordan Harms. I told about the inspiration for this blog in Vol 3’s installment about Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. Back then Jordan was hot to trot to see said film as how much he loved the director’s District 9. The day after he caught the movie I asked him about it. He shrugged. It was okay. Meh. He looked let down. That’s when I asked no one the apocryphal question, “There oughta be a website out there that warns about mediocre movies.” Boing. And here we are.

There’e more to that than that. I’ve understood that to truly enjoy another’s company, you gotta be down with their quirks. If you can get beyond others’ fears, concerns, ideologies and tastes no matter how warped you can find a cool friend amongst all their personal bouts with life. Another aspect of getting to know a person is sort of a silent matter; you don’t wanna bring it up in casual conversation because it it ultimately private and others Just. Won’t. Get it. And I ain’t talking sexual preferences or who your fave X-Man is. Sometimes that’s one and the same. Eeyew.

Jordan had a condition to compartmentalize social interactions to quick, smart conversations that overarched the need for him to hit the head. Often. A lot. Like go off the grid a lot. In and out of the kitchen was he, returning with a look of satori on his face; he had just realized something. Like a lot of us he did his best thinking in the bathroom, and would often return to work with a pithy thought or two to share. The man always had something on is mind. I liked that.

Once he laid it out thus: what makes a movie mediocre? Well, bad reviews for one, but that’s always subjective. Lousy acting? Sure, but sometime a good story can make lame acting tolerable. And the story? Of course, but one can run the acting thing in reverse. And there’s always the return on investment: the box office takeaway. That’s a key thing there, the almighty ducats. This became one of the Five Pillars of The Standard. If a movie walked away breaking even or scratched a surface then something mediocre was afoot. Just because most American audiences are dumb they’re not dumb. They knew when they get ripped off. I highlighted that on the start page. Jordan and I couldn’t ignore that factor, so I looked up Box Office Mojo and The Numbers to do the math for some movies’ budgets against what they actually earned.

That being said, smaller indie pictures don’t nestle easily into Avengers: Endgame territory. Budgets for smaller films tend to be modest, and if such an indie film catches fire, well the spread between the budget and the takeaway can be like David and Goliath, minus the head injuries. At least the literal ones.

Drive was such a film that caught fire. Kinda. We’re dealing with low numbers into not so low numbers, but all with critical praise, name actors and a hook that I completely missed with my first viewing. In fact, I got it after I send the disc back to Netflix (no, this caveman still doesn’t have streaming on his TV and I refuse to watch a movie on my iMac. It feels like homework). I had already written the installment above and posted it begrudgingly because I didn’t…I was lazy. Jordan was the one who suggested Drive, and was rather dismayed I didn’t like it. He told me so on Facebook, and if you can’t believe that then, well.

In hindsight the installment for Drive was sour grapes. I nitpicked. I groaned. I panned. And I totally missed the point until a day later after the post was in the can. I base the revelation after the time I caught The Blair Witch Project in theaters. Sure, the movie was spooky and weird but didn’t really stir the blood. The most I can say about that was dissecting the movie with my pals at the cafe across the street from the only theater in town that showed the darn thing. We mostly didn’t get it, but it sure was different.

It was only a day later, sitting on the edge of my bed before sleep (no, really) that I got it. There was a plot point about the Blair Witch allegedly making her potential victims to stand in the corner, like a bad pupil would. So when in the very last scene REDACTED. I froze, replaying the scene in my mind. Holeee sh*t. I got it. A day late and ten dollars short but I got it.

That’s kinda the delayed reaction I had from watching Drive. Understood there was a lot of melodrama and excessive violence that I carped about. I also bitched about other things that I did not immediately get a la Blair Witch. I even quacked about it in the original rant, rather snarky for my usual custom. I called Drive “pseudo-noir flick.” I was almost right. Drive is “neo-noir,” a good enough phrase to contain the style of a modern take of the 1980’s style thrillers. That stuff about To Live And Die In LA was not a swipe. Not now anyway. Drive takes its hints from half-forgotten 80s “classics” like Die In LA, as well as ThiefNight Hawks and Manhunter. Products of their time given a shave and a massage for the 21st Century with Drive.

Christ, I was so caviling. So smug. Look, I know it was just a movie critique, but it is the duty of the critic to broadcast their truth in an unbiased way at the outset. I think since it was Jordan’s recommendation I had a bias at the beginning to like it, so not to offend his bathroom wisdom. I guess I overanalyzed things. I finally figured out that with all its flaws, just go with it. We’re aiming for atmosphere here, not philosophy.

My biggest carp with Drive was the acting. I called it wooden. It was. But I later understood why: Drive is a tribute to the plastic nature of the 80s flicks and their artifice. If the only true drama laid out by flicks such as To Live And Die In LA as front-and-center a drug dealer getting a shotgun blast to the groin, you really couldn’t care less about how the actor screamed and screamed. The violence Gosling dispenses is a head nod, not a high five. The stereotypes, like Albert Brooks heavy Bernie work because the entire cast are ciphers channelling the soiled glam and glitz of those skeezy neo-noir flicks from the Reagan administration. Via such hamminess, it’s a love letter. I got it. I get that now, end of the bed or no.

I owe an apology to the bathroom sage Jordan. I credit him for helping to establish The Standard, and relent the crap I spewed about Drive out of spite. Hey, it was my third installment. Sue me. Again. My lawyer’s on retainer.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overruled: Rent it. I learned you must be in the right mindset to dig a film like Drive. In 2013 I was defiantly in the wrong mindset. And high. Did I mention that?


Next Installment…

We take an Uber around Midnight In Paris again. Woody Allen was the first esteemed filmmaker I tackled, and I hope I did a good job. I think I did. I also think I was a blowhard that farted pretension and took the edge off with metaphysical bumper cars.

Get it?


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 77: Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” (2006)



The Players…

Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps, with Anthony Mackie, Tina Holmes, Jay O Sanders, Deborah Rush and Denis O’Hare.


The Story…

Dan is a teacher and an addict. Drey is one of his students, streetwise and fragile. After Drey finds “Teach” feeding his habit in the girls’ locker room, she unwittingly becomes a conduit for a life-changing lesson.

Rather, it might be something simpler that that. Maybe they both just need a friend.


The Rant…

Okay, for starters: the last installment about Todd Phillips’ Starsky & Hutch sendup was not my best work. I know this. I apologize. I was late and it was tired. Still, the flick was pretty funny. Good time waster. Saturday night and no place to go? Crack a sixer, stream Hutch and giggle some. Lather rinse repeat.

This time out we’re gonna get a bit down. Set the controls for the heart of the navel.

I’m gonna break an unofficial rule here at RIORI, if only for this week’s scratching post. Apart from the weekly victim’s poster shot, there’s never been any graphics here for any installment. This was intentional. Partly because of the out of control JPG feces smeared virtually all across the blogosphere. I often find such pixelation run riot nothing more than a distraction to divert attention away from the writing. And its content. And its merit. And maybe the sh*t had precious little of either so dopey whiz-bang would have to do to get your attention. Hell, that’s easier than actually have to read something. We get bubblegum instead. Regarding all the non-hits I get here I figure that’s a safe assumption. Chew chew chew spit.

RIORI was established as a soapbox to preach the crimes/merits of mediocre films. Never said in The Standard that the blog proper had to show sh*t. That’s the movie’s job. I’m just some hack that’s pretty okay with words. I have no place (nor the talent) to splat sum purty pictures all up in this joint. Still feel too many, if any tears your winnowing attention span from the meat I butcher here. Now get off Snapchat.

Now then.

I’m making an exception this time out. Felt for some whacked out reason that a particular picture well-illustrated the feel of this week’s film. Call it an acid test, and avoid the brown stuff.

So, quick quiz. Anyone out there recognize the picture below? Show of hands:

Wrong. It’s Edward Hopper’s signature piece Nighthawks. He cut it back in 1942 as WW2 was raging overseas. New York was less raging late at night, as indicated by the plaintive faces of the diner’s patrons. Such a scene could’ve gone down anywhere with anyone. Lots of folks claim that that’s the painting’s appeal. It’s a lonely looking, isolated piece, and who hasn’t ever felt alone and isolated? If you say not me, you’re boring and a liar. Which is why you own an XBox One.

According to Hopper’s wife, Edward would write a sort of “bible,” as in Hollywood, not Nazareth. This kind of bible is in essence a script to how he would approach his next project, all players present and at the ready. Hopper was a scenarist as well as a painter, and Nighthawks definitely tells a story, probably (or in spite of) what the painting outright illustrates.

Back in the day, Hopper explained his muse for Nighthawks was the notion of being alone in a crowd. Like in a fishbowl. NYC was and is the most densely populated place in the US of A. Kinda hard to be alone in the crowded belly of that beast. Still, no matter how swollen the population of any gotham may be, there are always those pockets of humanity who don’t (or necessarily want to) feel part of the usual hustle. Some folks just feel outside of it all, by circumstance or choice. All alone in a crowd.

Besides the obvious story stewing within Hopper’s masterpiece of fedoras and coffee cups, there’s a lot of subtle, masked details that reinforce being alone in a crowd. And forget the image takes place at night. That’s a truism. I read about these tips and tricks from an article on MentalFloss, and if you can’t trust those geeks, who can you trust? Not me, that’s for damn sure. Keep reading.

First off, consider the diner’s the blinding lights. Hopper tweaked with a veritable infinite palate of colors and kinds of paint to recreate the blaring glare of the then new fluorescent lights. Ever been in a dressing room? Those bastards reveal everything. I think the damned things add five inches to your waistband faster than binging on fried Oreos basted in fried hot dogs. Those beasts are called “rippers” BTW, which do just that to your arteries. In short, that glare spotlights our diners, which maybe they just don’t want being alone, or maybe it’s just what they need. You be the judge.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Right. The painting.

Everybody is slouching, most notably the server. There are only three reasons in one’s miserable life when you slouch: lower back pain (and you can imagine how much that server demands Tramadol),  resignation to the weight life has placed on one’s shoulders, and sharing a secret. I think all three (well, maybe not the snapping white truss candidate) are in effect with Nighthawks, and all of that screams being alone. And not being particularly keen about that on all fronts. Again, resignation to the all of it all.

(I know. Settle down. I’m being pretty sedate and dull-edged so far this time out. To paraphrase the immortal Bill Hicks: “Don’t worry. There’s dick jokes on the way. I’m a professional.” Now quit yawning; I’m being calculating here, and it’s pertient to the movie. Dick.)

The last, most telling detail in the picture is this (I missed it for years. All hail MentalFloss): there’s no door to the diner. And I own a print of this painting, like every tortured writer does. Mandate (my copy is hanging in the guest bathroom). No entrance, no exit. It’s all plate glass, another new invention back in 1942. Recall what I mentioned about a fishbowl? Here you are. Are our nighthawks isolated, cut off from the dark, late night world or are they imprisoned with their chosen loneliness? Unsure on both fronts, and that I feel is the painting’s hook. It might be what draws your attention. Is the diner a haven or a prison? I’m gonna bet on red.

Where am I going with all this trainspotting (look it up, beyond the Scottish smack metaphors for choosing life)? It’s sometimes being alone is necessary for mental survival. You find yourself alone for myriad reasons. You got dumped. You get lost. There’s that whole Stephen King Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon dire sitch. All such things force you to have to rely on your wits, which all too often turn inwards. Either that or dwell on your solitude (hence the XBox snag earlier). It may be uncomfortable, but it usually and ultimately results in some sort of psychical detox. Hang with no one but yourself for a while and you’re gonna come to some conclusion about the whole life, the universe and everything. Here’s hoping.

The flipside, however is this, loneliness’ brother in Mensa: aloneness, which might have been what Hopper was trying to illustrate (so to speak). There’s a difference between being alone and aloneness. A big difference. The best explanation of the divide between the two came from esteemed, cranky futurist writer Harlan Ellison. I’m going to paraphrase to avoid possible litigation. Being alone is seldom a choice. It’s circumstantial, and you’re usually a victim of it. Reactive.

Aloneness is proactive. Ellison cited choosing to make a small meal just for his own pleasure (and palate) a fine definition. I choose to eat alone. Could get a dinner date if I wanted to. I just don’t want to. I’ll take a swim in my own fishbowl, thank you. You can go f*ck off and call Papa John’s. I got a hankering for paella, and I don’t wanna share. Nope.

But like with Nighthawks’ aloneness—if this what was Hopper was driving at—it can be a double-edged sword. It can trap you. The XBox thing again (I’ll stop now). Too much time chosen to be alone—cut off—morphs into being alone, koo koo JJ Abrams device not withstanding. How’s that? Well, inviting deliberate antisocial behavior for one; getting trapped in a cycle of behaving like a doosh to serve its own ends will seldom get you on any Senior Superlative lists. Finding yourself blowing off your buddies one too many times, well-dedicated to said trainspotting (not choosing life, Renton. Look it up already) with leveling up your Hunewrl ace avatar on Phantasy Star Blue (blogger’s hand held high).

Or trickle towards aberrant behavior, the self-destructive kind. Be it via too many nights with the…PS4 or sitting in bed reading one too many James Patterson potboilers in rapid succession and/or find yourself abusing yourself in a motel room, tired of waiting for that tardy call girl and couldn’t afford Spectravision. Pretty lonely place is they still have Spectravision. Tawdry stuff like that. Could happen to us all. Where’s a late night, 24 hour diner when you need one? At least they have other people and hash browns.

If the aloneness goes terribly awry, you could always get messed up with substance abuse. Not such a far cry is you think about it. OD on selected solitude for too long, you need an out. Stimulus. Refire those cylinders double-quick. Most drug tales mention the need to “get out.” No matter what opium den you’re on the nod in, surrounded by a bevy of well-used puke buckets, drug abuse is a surefire way to justify, if not “earn” that aloneness. Never fear, you’re not alone here. Wreck invites wreck. I should know.

Confession time, and maybe a bunch of you yahoos out there smelled something. I am a recovering addict, and was quite alone—by “choice”—with my pills, my liquor and my Sega Dreamcast. It was a long time back; I’m feeling better now. But that kind of aloneness the denizens of Hopper’s masterwork would probably opt out of.

That’s enough for now.

Abrupt? Sure, but it’s a good way to avoid graphics. Quit chewing on the bubblegum. The actual outside world can get too loud. Might be a good idea to seek out some anti-haven, like a late night diner to hang with strangers with a lot on their minds, too. And don’t sweat none. Just read the synopsis and I’ll meet you on the other side.

Just breathe, have another mugful against that comfortable night, and find some escape where you can…


Dan Dunne (Gosling) is an excellent history teacher. Vibrant, engaging and gets through to his inner city class with humor and passion. Most of his jaded students are down with his lessons and pull okay grades. The rest? Well, Mr Dunne sure is funny, so we’ll hang back and hang around. Guy’s got a weird energy.

It’s unfortunate that Mr Dunne’s passion for teaching is fueled by more than sh*tty teachers’ lounge coffee.

Mr Dunne is also the girls’ basketball coach. One of his star players is the quiet, surly Drey (Epps), also one of his history pupils. Drey is whip-smart, but sodden with the trials of having divorced/absentee dad Frank (Mackie) who may or may not be dealing drugs. It is what it might, and Drey hates feeling the pressure of what that “might” might mean.

“Teach” is a self-declared expert in that field. After a winning b-ball game, Dan “celebrates” the victory with some well-earned drags from a crack pipe. Things do not got well. As he nearly OD’s Drey comes looking for a decent stall to take a leak. She finds Teach squirming, ill and a far cry from the dynamic history teacher taken for granted. He looks scary, and Drey is rightfully scared.

They exchange stares, and a silent deal is struck. Drey will keep Teach’s addiction secret, and he’ll give her the proper attention and respect.

After he clears up first, of course…


So yeah, we got another character study on our hands here. Been running rampant lately.

I might have brought this up before, but there is a madness to my method when I pick the weekly flick and kneel before the guillotine. Beyond The Standard’s standards, my selections are bookended in a pattern. Drama then comedy, heavy against light, rumination and later some farting. Yin and yang. Circle of life, Simba.

So yeah, mentioned this in the Scott Pilgrim vs The World installment. To keep it simple, I was strung out and rudderless. No job, no prospects, and struggling to detox on my own. Wasn’t easy; no insurance to afford rehab. Began re-frequenting my old comic shop as a lark. The cranky owner sensed something and offered me a job. First one I had in years.

And now to not keep it simple. Make sure your seats are in the full, upright position.

Oh yeah, the following, rambling diatribe would’ve been better attached to the rant proper above. But my imp of the perverse screeched pishaw and insisted I trick the readers into your subtle-as-neon segue pairing real, personal strife against fake, well-acted strife courtesy of Ryan “Mickey Mouse Club” Gosling.

Ahem.

Here’s how getting dry goes. For the first 2 days after keeping the bottle corked, you get all anxious. A pattern is being altered. The thing about drinking is that it is on a very strict schedule, if you’re a pro. It’s kind of like a workout. A shot at 9 AM. A few cocktails at lunch, between noon and one (two if you got nowhere else to go, and you don’t). Happy hour kicks at five. Or if you want to be left alone for the later hours (when whiskey and DreamCast wait patiently) around 8. Then you wake up with an angry, black ball of pain behind your eyes, ready to get back on that horse.

Day 3 is when the trembling starts. Your nerves and muscles don’t know what to do with themselves. Sweats are common, smelling of residual booze once trapped in your pores. Hello, they’ve unleashed the Kraken. You stink of piss, and not just from your crotch, either. This is nature’s detox. What the liver couldn’t take anymore (it’s more akin to air being slowly released from a balloon) is now pissing out of you pale skin. Needless to say, it’s unpleasant.

Pills? Pills are different. They know no schedule. If one exists, it’s based on…whenever. My choice was Valium. Want the world to go away in a hazy shade of winter? There you go. Everything goes numb. Takes a few drinks to get all empty-headed; give it an hour maybe. One Valium and where did the last 5 hours go? Who gives a f*ck? All the voices become an echo. All the images have afterimages. You feel like warm caramel. Thank you sir may i have another…

Kicking against the pricks, as Nick Cave quoted. Trying to tame an unruly animal. That’s what addiction’s all about. First you get high to feel good, then you keep getting high to not feel bad. Push and pull, and despite what Hollywood may make you believe (e.g.: The Man With The Golden Arm, Requiem For A Dream, and [of course] Trainspotting), getting high is decidedly not a social affair. Addiction is usually a solitary affair. Even Renton had monologues.

No. Addictions are private things. Even in a crowd, kinda like that Hopper picture. Alone in some crowd. Even though the lines, trips, binges and whatever else you rub into your belly can waffle between closed doors or beer busts, you are always alone. Your needs, your fix, your complete understanding all these other creeps have no idea what you’re on about let alone what you’re onit’s always a private affair.

(There’s this film thing coming on down the line. Dick jokes, remember?)

Quick tale from my time in AA, which I sanely quit after 6 months. Wait. Quit? Six? “Sanely?” Yep. Drumroll.

I spent 6 months in the program, trying to dry out and get some insight. Neither happened. Here’s why: I joined up as an addict with other addicts. Had to clean up my act. That’s what I told my eventual sponsor, at any rate. Last time he called me was April of this year. I joined up in the winter of 2014. Alone in some crowd me, I guess.

I bailed after that scant half year for 2 reasons. One, it was depressing. Addicts talking about their addiction which had become their new addiction. I could not bear an hour of sad drunk stories by three different, ostensibly now cheery recovering alcoholics (which would never fail to bring up an endless recovery, like it was some damned vision quest) drying out their laundry for a bunch of strangers (anonymous, remember?) of their failings thanks to John Barleycorn. Oh, and forsaking the Bible. Did I mention that Bible bit? Nope.

Let me tell you this, thine padawan: month after month after spilling the beans that hit the floor 5, 10, eighty years ago does not invite therapy. It does the opposite: an hour of whining with no practical advice (save from example to not butt chug beers in parochial school) is just that, whining. All those poor sods who testified were alone. In a crowd. Of strangers who hopefully took away something. Like a rash of the psyche. Now let’s hold hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Too bad if you’re Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Native American, for f*ck’s sake.

I told you that hot mess to tell you this tepid mess. The second thing. There was one and only one AA meeting that offered some good advice. Came from a old man, lived alone, no one else to talk with save his fellow nighthawks. His words stuck with me, and although I still hit the bottle (mostly when I get all wordsmith-y here at RIORI), it’s in kind amounts. And when I enjoy my beer, the man’s simple soliloquy echoes in my brain.

“Every time I wanna reach for the bottle, I pick up a book instead. Never knew how much was there to learn out there.”

THAT’S GOOD ADVICE!

And I took it, if only as durable yeoman’s work. Sh*t, it was the only bit of non-self righteous advice I ever got from that monkey house. Those 2 sentences served me a lot better than, “…And when I rammed that third school bus of kids, y’know, the one that runs at 3 AM…” (applause and hold hands). So I went home and picked up a book or two, found them heavy and decided to get back into writing again instead.

Healthy BS, right? Sure it is. Never curled up nice and stinky in the girls’ bathroom of some dumpy high school mainlining scotch into my c*ck, right? Hail Columbia.

There was a movie in here somewhere, right?

*looks down the neck of a spent Sam Adams*

Nope. Not there. Now here. And rewind.

Half Nelson is yet another character study. I say that so drab possibly due to watching way too many character study dramas here at RIORI. Again, The Standard said nothing about genres, and it seems when it comes to possible mediocrity in drama character studies are the default. Come to think of it, most dramas are character studies, just less naked than comedies or slasher flicks. For films like Nelson it’s a slow wind up before the pitch.

Nelson takes its time. From the get-go you understand that Dan is just a part to play. It’s as if he wakes up, curses the clock, rubs his gums and dons a cape to be ultra-teacher-man, a force he’s fully invested in since the truth is pretty f*cking lame. Dan’s real reality is that he walks around in a narcotic fog most of the time, fooling himself he’s a dynamite teacher (and according to the scenes in the classroom, he is). He’s just not invested in it. His job is merely hang time between the next fix and self-loathing. That being said, Gosling as scuzzy here—an endearing rapscallion, really. He’s not overtly malicious—is far better than the scuzzy Driver in Drive (Installment 2, volume 1). Two opposing animals, but violence is still violence, whether by crowbar or crackpipe.

Nelson creeps. It sometimes gives you the creeps, but not in some Freddy Kruger kind of way. There is no outright horror, just a slow descent into doom. We learn quick that Dan is doomed. Feels doomed rather, and is passively crying out for help. So passive in fact that his demeanor yells “do not touch me. Please.” The chat he has with his former lover in the park, how she found her new man in REDACTED results on bleak congrats and a whirlwind take on that’s not his thing. Of course she cries a little. It’s kind of expected. And Dan expects it. And later retreats to his hovel to be alone again, the madding crowd of life at bay.

That’s telling. Addiction makes you numb to yourself. I know. You read the other sh*t above, right? Surprise, it’s pertinent here for Nelson. It has the creeps, but this movie is ultimately less creepy than dire. It’s like Rickie Lee Jones’ first album. Disarming in its frankness. We’re talking “warts and all” here. Even though Dan comes across a decent person, you can tell “Teach” is a veneer. The cokefiend always reigns supreme.

Like the scene where Drey accidentally witnesses her role model writhing in drug sickness. Let me tell you: Epps was a revelation. She’s adept at being equally hard and soft. BTW, do you know what a “drey” is? A squirrel’s nest, where the skittish creatures may call home, atop the trees and away from the possible dangers on the streets. Unsure if the scenarists were aiming for such a metaphor, but Epps is equally skittish and concerned with Dan, the most reliable father figure she’s ever known. But she also knows it’s all just a skein; Dan is broken inside. So is she, and better at hiding it with school, b’ball and ignoring her real Dad who might be some pusher. Chuck E’s in love supreme.

Let’s talk more about young Ms Epps. Never have I seen such a pouty face express such distress and hope so well. Epps is diminutive, a tomboy and clearly is bearing a shield against her world. Her Drey was intense, so much so that she borders on unpleasant. But don’t confuse unpleasant with being uninteresting. Gosling may have been the lead, but Epps was the star. Her performance as the just-barely-holding-it-together, feigned-tough-as-nails girl from the streets was just as fragile and empathetic as Gosling’s, but digesting her struggles made Dunne’s addiction weak in comparison. Oh, you’re addicted to blow? At least you can afford blow. And my daddy might be your connection, you liar you. Yeah, like that.

It’s not all scorn and sullen with Drey, though. Despite she discovers Dan is an addict she doesn’t shun the guy. He’s Teach first, and has been the only decent male role model she’s know for a time. This may sound kinda weird but after the whole “busted” scene Epps not only warms up to Gosling but sorta becomes his life coach. Think about it: your kid’s teacher spends upwards to 6 hours a day in close proximity with your child, hopefully imparting knowledge and cultivating a skillset that’ll get said kid through life. This is low-rent parenting, to be sure, but still the teacher is in charge of your son/daughter/antelope for one quarter of the day. He/she should be a pillar of strength, both educated and moral. Dan is one half, and Drey takes up the reigns for the other. That being said, an argument could be made that Dan is passively using people to find a center. Drey may be, too. Some sort of reverse Lolita complex at the fringes here. Or maybe it’s just ships in the night. Like trawler against dinghy, but still who knows? How they interact with one another, naked makes for delicious tension as well as the hook. You want—need to know where their story is going. I did.

I sense a certain reaching for elegance in Nelson. Yeah, it’s gritty. Often filthy. Still hope nips at the corners, like some Shar Pei demanding a yapping b’room break at her choice tree. Direct elegance regarding one of the best stories ever written about such codes: cold and hot, yin and yang, good and evil. That stuff again.

Robert L Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde.

Stop, stop, stop. Slow down and quit chewing on the carpet. I ain’t making outright comparisons, nor implying writer/director Fleck lifted his sh*t from this tale twice told ten times. No. That filth and hope dynamic? Aye, there’s the rub. It’s a good rule to follow in a dramatic character study that you need some solid foils. Despite Stevenson’s book having the two foils as one, it nailed the notion of black and white being inseparable. That being said, we got some heavy-handed stereotyping going on here with Nelson, but it’s well-crafted. Strung-out white guy with a decent education that granted his decent job, his own place, no reason to shave and miles of coke at the ready. But his own place is a rathole, he re-wears his shirts based on how bad the pits stink and his bookshelf is choked with books he read ages ago, with no new editions on anything.

And snort.

Drey lives in a solid apartment where the laundry gets done, albeit in “the projects” (a throwaway term these days in movies concerning black people. Might as well use the phrase “in exile”). She has an absentee mom due to her grueling work schedule, but she always finds the time to make the time. Sure, the cooking may suck, and the dirty dishes require a cold chisel to get them approaching clean. Drey has a mild shield against all of this domestic crap (which in turn might be the ultimate mystical crap), her casual father, Frank. And how keen is a name like that towards Drey’s odd family dynamic? It’s not too many lollipops; that’s done the most damage. It’s the overbearing uncertainty of everything. Consider the dinner scene dichotomy. But overall Drey knows she can rely on Teach.

Hope vs despair. Who’s gonna win? Neither, and that’s where our quandary. Nelson is a film about being alone, by choice or by defense and smeared across a tricky social spectrum. Yet, it really ain’t all that tricky to divine.

I know I’ve been rather cagey in picking Nelson apart. Apart from the Nighthawks/Jekyll And Hyde/addiction stories, my take on the movie is that despite its tropes, in encompasses all the jazz I’ve been waxing poetic for for the past jillion paragraphs. You can kind of see where it’s going, but it doesn’t. Nelson is sneaky. It’s creepy, dire and plays on your expectations like a well-conducted orchestra. It manages to transcend its trappings thanks to the honest, unlikely chemistry between Dan and Drey. After all, “Daniel” is Hebrew for “God is my judge” and “Drey” (short for Andrea) is derived from the Greek word for “warrior.” Yeah, I actively looked that up. We got a tale in duality here; better honor it with pointed symbolism.

And Nelson is pointed. All the angular, myriad yet tired devices used here are used well. Well-crafted, like I said, but still derivative. Don’t make me remind you again about the blues. The strengths of this film lie squarely on the shoulders of our leads. If almost loathe to admit that here with Nelson dang, Gosling can act. It’s mostly thanks to Epps, though. I’m quite the fan now, even though this was her ostensible film debut. She carried herself with iron and grace. Beyond all the heavy-handed shame and squalor, Epps’ performance guides the Finding Forrester-esque plotline towards the divine.

Am I overselling this? Maybe, and don’t whine. Considering how some geeks dissect the first Star Wars trilogy against the prequels against The Force Awakens, my woolgathering is tame. But on the whole a solid story is a solid story, regardless of its trappings. This may have been yet another character study, but the characters made it work.

As well as the atmosphere which wore the cloak of selective solitude, nasty duality and clinging to non-life. Nelson isn’t necessarily a dark film, but it sure is grey. We do get elements of light here and there, but they are short and ultimately fleeting with shadows creeping at the corners. It’s all a good thing. Despite itself.

Now it’s time to hit a meeting, then a diner, then my navel and finally a fresh bottle.

I have another movie to screen. I need to get alone.

And I don’t own an XBox.


Dick joke…

Guy goes to a plastic surgeon. Complains that his penis is too small and is rather insecure about this. Doctor recommends a radical procedure. Take the tissue from a baby elephant’s trunk—won’t hurt the elephant, won’t hurt you—and implant the tissue into your penis. Success rate is high, you’ll be twice the man you were. Literally.

Guy opts for the procedure and it’s a success. He’s feeling so confident about his new manhood that he asks that cute co-worker girl on a date. She accepts.

So they’re at this posh restaurant, drinking and laughing. The server sets down a basket of breads on the table and walks away. The moment he leaves the guy’s dick springs up from under the table, grabs a roll and yanks it below decks.

Guy is red with embarrassment. The girl is bemused.

“Hey,” she says, “Do you think you could do that again?”

Through tight lips the guy says, “Um, I’m not sure. I don’t think my ass could handle another roll.”

Rimshot. Groans. Small bow.


Stray Observations…

  • That wobbly Homocide-esque camera work is distracting. Maybe for a reason?
  • “I hate…” Palm wipe.
  • Gosling has all but mastered the art of being distant here.
  • “Is that gum in your mouth?” Teachers.
  • That tic, the collar sniff.
  • “You shoulda seen the wall.”
  • Right on the nose. Sorry.
  • “One thing doesn’t make a man.”
  • Trainspotting: engaging in an activity one thinks is important, but is in reality a waste of time.
  • “You have a good night.”

Next Installment…

Keanu Reeves is John Constantine, Hellblazer. Con man and occult detective, keeping the forces of evil at bay for just the right price.

Whoa.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 3: Nicolas W Refn’s “Drive” (2011)


Image


The Players…

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.


The Story…

Hollywood stuntman by day, getaway driver by night. Our man is the go-to guy, the all-purpose wheelman to get you the hell out of Dodge. No connections, and that’s how he likes it. It is, until his solitary life is disrupted by his cute neighbor and her young son. He quickly learns that, hey, maybe starting a friendship ain’t so bad after all. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison hell bent on a family reunion, whether mommy wants it or not. This reminds our man why it’s better to stay disconnected.


The Rant…

In keeping up the general gist of this blog, I’m rambling through various recent movies of dubious reputation or had been lacking in box office mojo. Here’s the thing though: I already knew Drive was a noteworthy picture a few years ago, and had tallied up some relatively decent cheddar at the multiplex to boot—for a minor film. Of course, despite what Hollywood thinks, just cuz a movie makes a few ripples doesn’t mean it was any good. How else does that explain Rob Schneider having a career?

It’s was the critics’ responses to Drive that tweaked me, or at least what they didn’t say. The general public were up and down. The critics were all over the map. For example, good ol’ reliable Rotten Tomatoes gave Drive 93% while the audience gave it an average 78%. IMBD users, 7.9/10. Metascore, 78/100. Seems few can agree to disagree here.

Help is on the way.

That’s what I’m here for: to help people. Really. Or at least not to have you waste your hard-earned (or stolen) cash on the next stream. Well, that and give me a forum to spout my half-baked opinions about movies, shaking a fist into the air, railing like an angry shepherd under the black, starry sky, cursing Hollywood for inflicting the likes of Grown-Ups 2 and another useless remake/reboot because the folks in Tinsel Town are under the impression that we’re either all stupid, drooling inbreds or have memories the likes of retarded goldfish, slothfully dragging our popcorn-addled carcasses to the omegaplex devoid of any independent thought. Entertain us, o heathen warlords of the silver screen after our almighty, slippery ducat. Aye, there be yer zombie apocalypse.

Where was I? Right. Help. Here we go…


First and foremost, Drive is an homage to 80’s style thrillers, right down to the synth heavy score. To Live And Die in L.A. immediately comes to mind. From the metallic blue of the L.A. skyline to it’s sepia toned daytime desert climes. The pacing is as tight as the car chases. And the acting as wooden as the Sequoia National Forest. This pseudo-noir flick makes for neat cat and mouse antics through the City of Angels, but that novelty runs out of gas (ha!) pretty damned quick. Gosling’s performance as the Driver. Ugh. Where to begin? Is his portrayal supposed to be so stiff? I know he’s supposed to be this icy, introverted tough guy, but comes across as flat as the L.A. freeway and he never seems to blink. And when he does show emotion—a smile here, a tear there—it comes across as just plain creepy. Carey Mulligan is just vapid wallpaper. Why was Hendricks in this movie, other than to get offed? Her role was very pointless and was no more than a glorified cameo.

Cranston is criminally underused here and just comes off as some kind of caricature. The old mentor schtick doesn’t usually improve with age, and his staggering about the set came across as comical without being funny. On the bright side, Brooks and Perlman are just as amusing as ever, especially Brooks in a wiseguy role. However Brooks is so unconvincing as a killer mobster (even when does kill and do mobster things), that it’s unintentionally funny. I have a soft spot for Ron Perlman, so it’s tough to say rotten things about his acting, even though he was kinda goofy. Sorry.

You can’t talk about this movie without commenting on its violence. There’s a lot of it, and, yeah, it’s gratuitous. It’s also boring. You get numb to the Driver’s antics real quick. He’s not a fun date. And the motel scene; when did he become Rambo? What was that pledge earlier in the film that “I don’t use a gun”? Oops. He uses sharp implements and shoes a lot too. Cold-blooded and unconvincing.

Harsh, you say? Tough, My review. Nyah, nyah, nyah. I still haven’t figured out the disparity between the critics and the audience. I’m part of the audience here, not a professional critic. Let’s just put it this way: I didn’t fall for Drive‘s alleged art house pretensions. It was just a poorly acted, violent, rip-off of other motor n’ mobster movies that came before it, mostly in the cocaine-fueled 80’s. Kinda like the soundtrack.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. All the hype surrounding this flick was for naught. It suffers a weak case of the Tarantinos and the acting is lifeless at best, downright insulting at worse. And way too needlessly violent for my tastes. I kept looking at the time, waiting for it to end. Again, sorry.


Stray Observations…

  • Saw that slap coming.
  • Was it me, when Perlman gets his comeuppance, or does the Driver look and act like Michael Myers from the Halloween movies?
  • I got the scorpion symbolism, all right? I know the story of the scorpion and the frog, okay? So dippy.

Next Installment…

We go for a stroll with Owen Wilson at Midnight In Paris.