The Old EVIL Scorpion and the Frog Tale in “Drive” reviewed! (Second Sight / Screener)



“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A solitary mechanic and movie stunt driver offers his services as a getaway driver for illicit odd jobs.  He falls for his single parenting neighbor and as the two begin their romantic affair, her ex-con lover returns from prison to reintegrate back into her and their son’s life.   When ex-con trouble brews an inescapable situation involving ruthless gangsters calling in their favor for prison protection, the stunt driver involves himself with his moonlighting work but when things go terribly wrong and he becomes a target, everyone he knows and cares for are threatened by the mobsters.  War is waged in the fast lane between the mysterious stunt driver and Los Angeles most feared gangsters for the sake of an innocent mother and her child caught in the middle.

Around 2010-2011, when I first heard of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” starring “The Notebook” and “Lars and the Real Girl’s” Ryan Gosling, I thought to myself, why would I watch this quirky comedy-romance actor drive around in a run-of-the-mill stunt car action film?  Immediately, I wrote off the film penned by “The Four Feathers’” screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose now penning the stories and teleplays of a little Disney+ streaming series you may have heard of called “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I now admit it, as painful to my pride as it is, that I was so ignorantly wrong about Refn’s “Drive” that has turned out to be a cult hit present day and a really good and exceptional crime-drama that’s subtle on the dialogue, high on the graphic violence, and all-around superb performances.  The script is the filmic adaptation based off American author James Sallis’s novel of the same title, keeping the neo-noir intact under of guise of muscle car predilection, and is a produced by Gigi Pritzker and Chris Ranta of Oddlot Entertainment (“Buried Alive”), Jonathan Oakes and Gary Michael Walters of Bold Films (“The Neon Demon”), Marc Platt of Marc Platt Productions (“Wanted”), and Motel Movies (“Blue Valentine”). 

To be upfront, Ryan Gosling has never been a go-to movie star for me, personally, so there might have been some psychogenic bias blocker keeping me away from the film over the last decade.  However, over the years, my pallet has grown in diversity and in tastes, chiefly because of influences in my life, and so curiosity got the better of me in wanting to explore the story of and the craft of Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.”  The way Gosling portrays the lead, known only as either the Driver or Kid, heavily relies on expression with minimal dialogue and lets all his emotions be poured through his eyes and body language as well as his actions in an anti-charismatic sense that, in a good way, leaves the character unassuming but still confident.  Watching Gosling’s methodical flow through the role and while having a little knowledge of the neurodivergence, it’s not difficult to see that the principal character comes off as a person somewhere on the autism spectrum and doing some post-credits research, I’m not the only one who had the same thought.  Unsociable, quiet, lack of facial expression, and obsessed with routine, especially when moonlighting as a criminal getaway driver with a set of very specific conditions, are just some examples of his behavior that point in the autism direction.  When the driver meets beautiful single parent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Shame”), that is when we start seeing him deviate from his isolation, from his routine, and become more complex with what was previously a non-existent life, but of course as life blossoms into something new and safe, gangster obstacles rear their ugly head and the criminal in him is forced out for a head on collision.  “Ex Machina’s” Oscar Issacs is the first hurdle as the recently release ex-con dragged back into unscrupulous dealings with unsavory organized crime that climb the latter to “Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman and “Taxi Driver’s” Albert Brooks, business partners who oversee the West Coast turf. Perlman is a natural tough guy, as we’ve seen in countless works stretching over numerous decades and I would have never pictured “The In-Laws” and “Finding Nemo” Albert Brooks to be the minatory type but he does in fact have a dark-twinkle in his eye and can extract the false sense of security out of people before he jabs a fork in their eye and slits their throat…wrist….guts….yeah, his character loves to knife others. The all-star cast rounds out with Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”) as the Driver’s mob-connected boss-friend-agent and Christina Hendricks (“The Neon Demon”) in a lowkey accomplice role that makes a gruesome, unforgettable impact.

Speaking of “The Neon Demon,” a more recent Nicholas Winding Refn film, you’ll begin to absorb the Denmark-born filmmaker’s stylistic motifs between the two films involving lingering shots, graphic violence, and the integration of electro-pop tracks into an eclectic soundtrack. Many of the scenes convey an emotion through dialogue-less scenes and the soundtrack to contrast actions speak louder than words. However, there is one radical theory of mine that I believe has a firm foundation is that everything from point A to point Z in the story is all in the Driver’s fantasy world. I know “Drive” is a movie and the need to suspend belief is important but only to an extent and depending on the quality derived from the filmmaker. Refn’s a good filmmaker, we know this, but everything the Driver experiences pitches upon pure imagination when the truth is stretched to be in his favor for the length of the feature. First example – the Driver slams into the side of another car head on, but the headlights, front bumper, and ventilation grille are all clearly intact. Second example – a tense-elevator scene involving the Driver, Irene, and a mobster assigned to take the Driver out takes an improbable turn when the Driver turns to Irene, both bathed in the sudden appearance of a spotlight, and they kiss passionately for quite a while. The moment become the perfect opportunity for the goon to blow away his target. Instead, he lets them kiss and then a close-quarter fight ensues shortly after. Third example but not last – the Driver is nearly an unstoppable force with no background to who he really is or why he is in Los Angeles, but he fights like a hardened criminal and knows how to play the organized crime game, never really have bad hand in his deck of cards, and even is given an ambiguous “Shane” ending. So, I ask again, is the beautiful girl, the ripe for the picking off gangsters, and the prodigious skillset all in his head?

I’ve clearly misjudged Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to be pretty-boy, stock-story, waste of time. Though I’m still not convinced about Ryan Gosling’s acting, like a Supreme Court Judge nowadays, I’m overturning my naive judgement and calling “Drive” a true modern day cult film hiding in plain sight, receiving new life from Second Sight films with an UK limited edition 4K UHF/Blu-ray release as well as a standard 4K and Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, this review covers only a BD-R screener so commenting on the true quality of the image and audio will not be recorded, but release specs include a new 4K master produced by the original post-production company with Refn’s approval, the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR graded by the film’s original colorist, audio options include a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and the 4K UHD are region free while the Blu-rays are region locked encoded on region B. Standard bonus features include a new exclusive commentary by director Nicolas Winding Ren and The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, a feature length conversation with Refn, editor Mat Newman, and composer Cliff Martinez reminiscing about their sudden post-theatrical career success with “Drive” when the film saw more success on video, Gutting a Getaway – a new interview with Mat Newman, and 3 Point Turns – a new video essay by Leigh Singer. The limited-edition contents include a premium box set with new Driver Scorpion artwork by AllCity, a 240-page hardback book with new essays by various authors, an exclusive interview with “Drive” author James Sallis hosted by Matthew Thrift, original storyboards, stills, behind-the-scenes photos, the original Sallis novel with new AllCity artwork as well, and 7 collectible art cards. What a massive, massive haul for the film that didn’t do great in theaters due to poor financial support by investors who saw the film as a failure. The film has a runtime of 100 minutes and is UK certified 18. Don’t be like me and neglect a chance to see “Drive,” a great piston-pumping and violently beautiful crime-drama paralleled love story that deserves our time, our attention, and everything including the kitchen sink Second Sight Films pumped into the tremendous limited-edition boxset that dropped this week for release!

“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

Be Creative, Be EVIL! “Scare Me” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)

The down on luck Fred and a celebrated Fanny are both horror writers. Well, sort of. You see, Fred is an aspiring horror writer with unpretentious stories acted out by his creativity whereas Fanny is the hot, popular artist who just came out with an acclaimed novel everybody is talking about, even Fred. When their paths cross on a remote, snowy getaway during power outage, they consolidate to one cabin to stave off boredom by telling each other off the cuff scary stories, acting out every minor detail to flesh out the macabre tidbits in order for a good scare. As the night carries on and the stories become more involved, Fred’s night has been a rare highlight in recent days and now that day is on the brink of breaking, Fred has one more emotionally-driven scary story to tell the weary Fanny.

You wanna see something really scary? No, not the line from that wraparound story with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks driving late a night in “The Twilight Zone: The Movie,” but rather really see a scary story come to life before your eyes with enthusiastic performances between two horror writers? Josh Ruben’s “Scare Me” does just that with the filmmakers’ 2020 horror-comedy hit. Ruben, whose latest comedy genre film, “Werewolves Within,” has been a critic success, writes and directs a petite cast packing a powerful punch pitched perfectly more so than this mouthful attempt at an awfully awkward alliteration. “Scare Me” is also produced by Ruben along with Alex Bach and Daniel Powell under a conglomerate of productions companies including Artists First (“Hell Baby”), Last Rodeo Studios (“Save Yourselves!), and Bach and Powell’s Irony Point with Shudder distributing.

Ruben not only writes, directs, and produces his film, he also co-stars as Fred. With this Andy Serkis like looks, motions, and vocal talents, Ruben is a master at amplifying impressions and slapstick from the beginning as Fred using his unrestraint, and probably unstable, imagination to try and write a bestselling horror novel to help him get out of a life funk. Then, their is Aya Cash, who I have personally adored since her villainous role on Prime Video’s “The Boys.” Much like that role’s personality of the super-sadist Storm Front, Cash just dons snarky assertive woman to perfection as she continues the trend by embodying bestselling new age novelist Fanny with such. Fanny downright emancipates…I mean, emasculates…Fred at every chance and at every step along the way despite her warming up to Fred’s kooky lackadaisical first impressions with a side dish of caution for those who yearn for story ideas. Ruben and Cash bounce incredibly well off each other to the point of credibility between the dynamic and the dynamic is far from being a romantic love interest but more so an unlikely best friend; a best friend who constantly proclaims white male privilege whenever the opportunity presents itself. The funnies also keep on coming, especially mixed into the dialogue details, that are sharpened by Ruben and Cash’s timing and delivery telling their individual stories and the reactions each have during them, but then blend into that batter of bust-a-gut with comedian and “Vampires vs. the Bronx” actor Chris Redd, consider your every funny bone in your body rigged for explosion with the trio’s insanely charismatic skits and a musical number about a Devil possessed pop star to die for. Bringing up the rear of the comedic cast is “Key and Peele” writer Rebecca Drysdale.

If you had told me that “Scare Me’s” premise was two writers telling each other scary stories during a power outage, the film would have been near the forgotten bottom of my must-watch list with the inane dancing of “Orgy of the Dead” and the prosaic “Paranormal Activity 4.” After watching the film, all I have to say is this, Mr. Ruben, please accept my heartfelt apology for manifesting one single brain cell of doubt as “Scare Me” is the five-star movie everybody needs to see. I am not worthy. The idea behind the movie is simple, yet novel, that never ceases to peak as Ruben’s film perpetuates a steady incline of sharp-witty dialogue, an involved and spot-on sound design to create the stories’ allusions, and a trope-less ending that fits “Scare Me’s” unique, unbridles nature without being a grandiose end-all finale. Without the punctuating special effects, Ruben definitely curved a workaround with smart dialogue, entertaining writing, and with a cast who couldn’t sell the idea any better. The work lies severely on the shoulders of Cash, Redd, and Ruben and without them, “Scare Me” would probably been acerbically be retitled as “Bore Me” under the breath of many frustrated genre fans. Also, just because there isn’t knock-your-socks-off special effects, that doesn’t mean there was zilch as Fred, Fanny, and Carol (Redd) enact each stories, a slither of their dread-addicted imaginations comes to fruition like window glimpses into their minds and, damn, they can really sell their fear-stroking dark fantasies by telling classic tale spinoffs that could parallel cult favorites, many that were namedropped throughout the 104 minute runtime. “Scare Me” is without a doubt pure love of the genre and a tinseling homage to the macabre.

Better late than never, they say, in viewing Josh Ruben’s bewitching “Scare Me” on UK Blu-ray distributed by Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded BD25 presents the film in 1080p on a streaming platform dictated 2:1 aspect ratio. Aside from the bookend snowy landscapes and exteriors, much of the setting is located inside the compact two story cabin in the woods in which cinematographer Brandon H. Banks breaks into his debut feature with getting the precise angles to reassure and reaffirm Fred and Fanny’s telling of scary stories. As far as visuals go, the digital recording compression seems to hold up on the BD25 while still flaunting a good amount of bonus material and an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. No issues here with the audio with phenomenally clarity in the diversity of sound bites and in dialogue even with Ruben and Cash’s modifying their voices for story characters. There isn’t a lot of actions to hone on and rein in the depth, but with this type of story inside, as aforementioned, a compact cabin, depth won’t make or break the audio report card. Special features include a director and cinematographer commentary, short interviews with the Ruben and Cash that run through their favorites things inside the horror genre, a behind the scenes photo gallery, a Make Cool Shit Podcast, outtakes, and “Feel the Music, Feel the Light” music video. I’m always up for a good tale of Fright and “Scare Me” slashes all the boxes with a traditional layout themed by envy and has a cast that illuminates each and every scene with funnies and fear.