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!

Don’t be Afraid of an Unstoppable EVIL Killer on Your Fishing Trip. Do be Afraid of the Very Pregnant Wife You Left to Go on that Fishing Trip! “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” reviewed! (101 Films / Blu-ray)

Now On Bluray from 101 Films – “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It!”

Dastan is about to be a new father, but he is over his head with debt and can no longer withstand the verbal abuse of his headstrong, ready-to-pop wife, Zhanna.  When an opportunity opens up go fishing with his best friends Murat and Arman, he whisks away before she can sink her nagging teeth into him again and tries to enjoy the relaxation of catching fish by floating down the river.  That’s until he and his friends stumble upon an execution by a crime boss and his goons.  Frantically trying to escape, they run into a strange man with a burnt face living out in the wilderness.  The three friends and the gangsters are targeted by the maniacal, murderous stranger with an apparent unkillable survival instinct and supernatural abilities. 

Who would have thought one of the best action-comedy horrors would have come out of Kazakhstan and come to think of it, this 2021 Yernar Nurgaliyev film “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” is probably the only Kazakhstan film come across this desk.  Natively titled “Zhanym, ty ne poverish,” Nurgaliyev’s genre blending zany is bursting with dark comedy, gore, and a framework that tests the sturdiness of friendships as well as the clear-cut recognition for the things you have in life because the world isn’t always greener on the other side.  In fact, the world is actually dusty and partway arid in an isolated Kazakhstan landscape that resides with antisocial individuals – mob transgressions, deranged psychopaths, and even those who just want to get away from their wives.  The regular comedy helming Nurgaliyev cowrites the script with first time screenwriters Zhandos Aibassov and Daniyar Soltanbayev under Art Dealers productions in association with the international action company, Nomad Stunts, that delivers the film’s amazing fight choreography.

An ensemble cast of character actors construct a living, breathing dark comedy worth the time and effort. Plenty of unsuspecting twists and turns keep the preposterous party going beginning with an opening of a very black and white passive aggressive quarrel involving principal character Daston (Daniar Alshinov, “A Dark, Dark Man”) who, from this male reviewer’s perspective, takes a relentless verbal whip in emasculation. Alshinov expresses so clearly the biting-tongue frustration in a hilarious montage of on rage’s edge with wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) dishing out the third degree on all his husbandry failures. Avoiding his wife’s warpath behavior, aggravated by being on the verge of giving birth at any time, Daston’s quickly sneaks in his desires and hightails it on a last getaway before he becomes a father or dies of incessant verbal abuse, whichever comes first. Community school officer Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) and sex-toy dealer Arman (Azamat Marklenov) finally are able to steal away Daston in a little time for themselves. The acting trio leading up to the fishing spot are naturally conversive that gives into their characters longstanding friendship with quippy jabs at each other and overselling their less-than-satisfactory positions in life, but not until the friends stumble haplessly while floating down the river into being witnesses of a murder by low-end horse gangsters and run into a stoic one-eyed, burnt face bald man intent on spilling blood for vengeance because the gang killed his dog does Daston and his friends need to go to Hell and back to realize how special their friendship means to each other. “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” is a bro movie (and I mean the characters say bro a lot) with an orchestrated series of unfortunate, yet very funny, gruesome events to resolidify a tattered friendship and to reexamine life. The film costars Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhanyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov, Kadirgali Kobentay, and Gauhar Sagingalieva.

Nurgaliyev develops a physical comedy based around a plan gone awry collision course between four groups destined to intertwine in battle royal.  “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” lands the slapstick one, two, three combination of action, comedy, and notes of horror well outside infantility and outdated material in a smartly laid path of events unfolding to a brawling showdown of those left standing.  I believe the imbalance between physicality and the humorless, if not slightly bothersome, subtitled dialogue stems from the lost in translation.  Subtitles can only convey a literal account of the Kazakhstani reflection and regionalism mayhem often blown to unrecognizable smithereens during a crude translation, but being a foreign film with grossly simplified subtitles shouldn’t be a cause for total write off as there’s much to enjoy from the funneling, concentrated, ever-twisting storyline to the outrageous action stuffed tightly in cramped houses to the perfectly spectacular blend of practical and CGI violence and gore fabricated nearly seamlessly by special effects duo Juliya Levitskaya and Elde Shibanov. Heads role, jaws detached, and plenty of eviscerating shotgun blasts crest above as the cherry on top of the Dastan and his friends’ misadventure through Kazakhstan countryside in a story that’s as ruthless as “Deliverance” and as magnetically dark and eccentric as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”

101 Films brings what is called an “insane, violent, and hilarious” fun from Kazakhstan (and we couldn’t agree more) to a UK Blu-ray home video. The region B, high definition, 1080p Blu-ray features a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio of the short 74-minute film, certified UK 15 for strong gory injury detail, violence, threat, and language. Image quality is quite good of rendering mostly the grassy desert-like Kazakhstan landscape and the framing prompts greatly what to expect through either Azamat Dulatov’s harness cam strapped to the actors for closeup reactions or perfectly timed pan when needed to express off-center comedy. What’s really sensational about the film is the localized soundtrack. Nurgaliyev doesn’t buy, beg, borrow, or steal popular westernized tracks to broaden his film’s release and, instead, the soundtrack has a plethoric range of native music from lounge pop to hip hop. The Kazakhstani PCM stereo has more than enough ample timbre and offers a suitable range and depth despite being a dual channel. There are no dub tracks (in case you were wondering) and the English subtitles are forced (for those of few who don’t like to read during the film). Though bonus features would have been nice to root into and explore more of the behind-the-scenes aspect of the country’s film industry, the only bonus material on this 101 Films’ release is the theatrical trailer. As far as fiasco films go, “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It” ranks high this side of the 21st century as a humorous, violent, and perspective redirecting genre-bending film that needs be in everyone with a black sense of taste’s library.

Now On Bluray from 101 Films – “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It!”

Evil Messes With the Wrong Family! “Pickings” review!


Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.

“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.

Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.

“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.

Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.