This movie, starring Ryan Gosling as Driver (you never really learn his name), who drives stunt cars by day, and getaway cars by night, was not at all what I expected.
I was aware going in that it is not a Fast & Furious clone, occupying a place in the movie pantheon that is far more intelligent and nuanced than any other those car-focused movies. What I wasn’t aware of was the degree of violence that suddenly explodes in a movie that is largely made up of brooding, quiet menace, bubbling along quietly till it must find someplace to escape…
… and escape it does with a fury that leaves you breathless, but which, in the context of the movie, makes perfect sense given how well the world the exquisitely drawn characters live in, has been conveyed. It is a world with few mercies, governed as it is by the struggle to survive, and for much of the first part of the movie, punctuated only by the most meagre portions of dialogue. But so beautifully written is it, and finely acted, not just by Gosling, but by Carey Mulligan as Irene, and Bryan Cranston as Shannon, Driver’s close friend and employer, that dialogue seems almost superfluous. An expressive glint in the eyes here, or a weary wordless walk to a front door there, gives a richer understanding of the characters, and their sense of dissatisfaction with the lives they lead than mere words I think could do. Certainly Gosling’s taciturn Driver only speaks when absolutely necessary, but it becomes abundantly clear very quickly who he is, what he values, and in the case of Irene, and her son Benicio, who he loves.
|Ryan Gosling portrayal of Driver is low key in one sense but rich and nuanced in another, and he remains wedded to who he is even to the end, never removing the bomber jacket|
This is a movie for those who like to subsume themselves totally in a world, with characters who live and breathe with a vitality that takes your breath away. This is not to say all of whom are likeable, or make perfect decisions, but you can’t miss them, and they aren’t easily forgotten. So well drawn are these characters that, though much of what they do and say is understated, you find yourselves utterly absorbed in their stories, and heartbroken when everything goes to hell.
The visual style too is distinctive. The colours are subdued, even in the middle of the day, and both the interior and exterior worlds look washed out, which makes the violence, when it arrives, all the more arresting. It was interesting too to see the use of 1980s fonts and pink pastels, and even music evocative of the period.
|Driver slowly, ever so slowly, draws close to the world weary Irene|
This is a movie that brings to life the car-obsessed darkness and glamour (in equal measure) of LA, that speaks of the hopes and dreams, and the end of all of them, of people with very little margin for error, and which conveys a slow burning then virulent intensity, which makes for a movie that is not even remotely what I suspect most people expect when they go in to see it.
And that, trust me, is a very good thing.
MY TAKE : I really want this to be edgy, sophisticated and clever, and a great revival of what was admittedly cheesy but fun pop culture junk food, but instead I fear it could end up going the way of Beverly Hillbillies the movie, or Bewitched the movie. The one thing that may stop that happening is that Drew Barrymore is executive producing, and she was behind the two revival Charlie’s Angels movies that, while they were by no means perfect, had an uber-cool feel and look to them, and if that sensibility is brought tob this show it may rise up above some the cloying lines that found their way into the trailer i.e. when asked if they’re cops, one of them replies “No, we’re Angels”. Here’s hoping the writers can remember that good writing is still required to underpin even the cheesiest of shows.
So now I have seen a full episode, how do I feel? Well. it does have it’s moments. Despite a rather predictable script (again, hardly a surprise since subtext was never an Angels strong suit), the cast valiantly try to inject modern edge and glamour into the show, with the briefings now involving iPads, outing to hip, stylish nightclubs, and a bright, loud soundtrack that screams up-to-the-minute cool. Sadly their valiant efforts can’t make up for a limp script that plays out like a reject from a 1970s script slush pile. Oh look, the baddies can’t shoot! Oh wait, they randomly shoot in the water and fly off in the helicopter pronouncing the Angels dead mere moments before they surface, gasping for air. Oh wow, the baddies are inept at every turn! Oh, and awww they’re a family. How very Hallmark of them.
|One big plus – the new Bosley is gorgeous (not enough though alas to save the show)|
Yes, I know I must sound like the Grinch who stole pop culture fun right now. Surely you know it’s intended to be fluff, lightweight escapist entertainment to delight us, and allow us to put our brains into neutral and just….RELAX. Yes I get that, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and as a person with a demanding job I like nothing better sometimes that eschewing the complexity of HBO and wallowing in simple, escapist viewing. But, and you can tell me you didn’t see this coming, even the simplest fare, to truly have any longevity, must have some substance to it, a backbone of complexity that upholds the frothy confection wrapped ever so deftly around it.
This show, partly from the hands of Steven Spielberg, but also from the very capable creative minds of Brannon Brag and Rene Echevarria (late of the re-incarnated and awesomely good, Battlestar Galactica), came with hype. Great generous lashings of commercial TV hype, which immediately made me fearful that I was dealing with a dud that they were desperately hoping would be embraced because it featured dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs 85 million years in the past.
But after some positive US-based reviews (and yet sadly less than stellar debut ratings; they attracted 9 million viewers which sounds like lots but isn’t even close to blockbuster territory in a country of 300 million people), I gathered my friends close, ordered pizza, chilled the wine, and surrendered to the hype, annoying ads every 10 minutes and all. So what did I find?
Well, quite a lot of good things and some points of worry. But let’s start with the positive stuff first since that will make the mild criticisms not look so bad in comparison. The series premise is that mankind has once again destroyed the Earth, this time in 2149, and the only hope for a restart of civilisation is to send colonists back 85 millions years ago into the heart of the Cretaceous period (thus bypassing any allegations that this is Jurassic Park, the series), on what is fortunately a separate time line, which means that the colonists will not change anything in 2149 (though it could do with more than few tweaks to its bleak dystopian hell). The opening scenes are brilliantly done (filmed in Brisbane according to Jason O’Mara, who plays family patriarch, Jim Shannon, who tweeted this fact last night during the screening, leading a response from me that got retweeted by him – see below at the end of the review – which was very geek cool and had me grinning ear to ear), and you can well understand from watching the decaying world, why everyone, and his asthmatic dog, wants to escape, and get to the verdant green of Terra Nova.
For most people, its the luck of the draw that gets them there. But thanks to Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, who’s work as a highly talented doctor gets her noticed by the right people, (she is played by Shelley Conn), the family are offered the chance to go on a one way trip to salvation. The only snag? Jim is in prison for fathering an illegal third child, who also isn’t invited along for the ride. What to do? Well if you’re Elisabeth, you help engineer your husband’s escape from prison, bribe people to get him into the ultra secret Terra Nova departure building, hide your illegal daughter in a backpack, and then bolt like hell for the wormhole until everyone in the family is safely through. All a little convenient, but so much storytelling rests on too good to be true events so who am I to quibble since I do much the same thing in my novels?
Once safely in Terra Nova, with minimal repercussions, they set about creating a new life in what is styled by the leader of the colony, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (a man I would wager is not too enamoured of democratic representational government becoming part of the way Terra Nova is governed any time soon) as a paradise on earth. Naturally enough, while nothing too awful happens, paradise is cracked from one side to the other, though not in clear sight naturally, and in quick succession, it’s revealed that many members of the Sixth Pilgrimage (each new group of colonists is called a Pilgrimage) have rebelled and set up their own colony, that the Commander’s son has gone rogue and is writing odd equations all across the rocks at a waterfall in a forbidden area that may mean something Important, and a possible hidden agenda for Terra Nova itself (is it really the virtuous road to a new civilisation that it’s portrayed or something darker and more sinister?).
This is all very good and meaty and bodes well for a series that won’t be, I hope, Dinosaur-of-the-Week. Some well played conspiracy angles always help keep viewers intrigued, as long as you don’t do a Lost and become so convoluted that people give up watching in despair. Also the idea that no matter where you go, that humanity will still be itself and right royally screw things up, no matter how much hope is attached to the endeavour, anchors a show in some sort of compelling reality, and keeps you watching through any mawkish moments, of which there a more than a few in any Spielbergian creation.
So, so far so good. Good characters (if a little on the cliched side), high drama, dark threads of less than perfect reality against a backdrop of hope and new starts. The major downside? I fear that the series will eschew gritty dark reality for too much of a family drama focus. The producers have essentially said they have toned down the sci-fi to dial up the family angle, and while this is no great sin in itself, it will be a major drawback if the characters are not given some depth and richness, and the storylines are kept simple with no real ramifications for the Disneyfied characters. My cause for hope though is the aforementioned conspiracy angles, and the 6th pilgrimage which should, if not watered down, lead to some darkness in the sunniness of Terra Nova beguiling new dawn.
So is the hype well merited? Yes for the most part. Its a good solid drama with a fantastical premise, some promised, well flagged, elements of flawed humanity and a tableau on which to draw a rich multi faceted drama. Just watch the twee family moments Mr Spielberg and you will richly deserve any hype that comes your way, even if it is from 85 million years in the past.
|Oliver Platt and Laura Linney as Paul and Cathy Jamison|
|Gabriel Basso as Adam|
|Gabourey Sidibe as Andrea Jackson
But many of the people who should be a source of support end up being very much more than hindrances. Her mentally ill brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) who veers between support and antagonism, his girlfriend, Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon, late of Sex in the City) who styles herself as Cathy’s very best friend but often doesn’t have a clue what’s required to be supportive, and her neighbour, Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), who’s dementia-fuelled acerbic observations of life ultimately lead her to kill herself with a bullet to the brain, which doesn’t end her role in the show at all – she appears thereafter to Cathy as an apparition, usually at the worst possible times.
|John Benjamin Hickey and Cynthia Nixon as Sean Tolkey, Cathy’s brother, and Rebecca respectively|
|Phyllis Somerville as Marlene|
I am a TV junkie.
I could say I have tried 12 step programs, detox units, and literary clubs to wean me off my habit but to no avail, and frankly I am not even slightly disappointed. Mainly because, these days, and it is increasingly so, TV is where all the real visual creativity is happening; it’s where many of the true visionaries are plying their trade and creating TV so powerful, clever or funny that you wonder why the movies, now reduced largely to remaking the same tired, dumb movies over and over, don’t just give up, hand their big screens over to TV, and let us all move in and watch wall to wall true creativity writ large. (Of course trying to clean up in of those cineplex bathrooms would require the patience of a saint, and the dexterity of a gymnast, but you get the idea.)
|Jane Lynch hits the stage at The Emmys after her opening previously filmed piece of liquid crystal fabulousness.|
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7C50iY04M8 (such a fun opening piece!)
So what is any TV junkie worth his or her remote doing tonight? Well they’re glued to their set watched TV’s night of nights unfold. Well, truth be told, as I write this, the Emmys have ended, the red carpet has been trod, surprise guests unleashed (no more so than Charlie Sheen popping up to present Best Actor in a Comedy Series), and Jane Lynch has performed her magic, managing to be oh-so-clever and funny all at the same time, and having a bundle of fun with an opening piece that features hilarious interactions with the cast of Big Bang Theory and Mad Men, among others, all based on the conceit that all the characters in every TV show live in the same building. What follows is not an exhaustive roll call of winners but rather my run down of what matters to me and a few choice photos to make it all visual and pretty (even so, a full list of winners and losers follows at the end of the blog since I am nothing if not a completist…. at times.)
First up, I am thrilled that Jim Parsons aka Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory has won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. He is such a supremely talented actor, and while BBT is a true ensemble relying on all its characters to bring on the laughs, it is Jim Parsons gift for comic timing and nuance that holds it all together, and is the focal point for the show. Well done Jim!
|Oliver and Hal exploring a father and son relationship that grew into being just before it was too late|
|Andy (Goran Visnjic) and Hal enjoy an unusual open relationship that somehow works|
|Anna, Oliver and the adorable Arthur|
This is one hell of a moving inspirational movie!
Its set against the first stirrings of the civil rights era in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi where for over a century black woman have been house slaves then maids (sadly in terms of the treatment meted out to them there was scant difference between the two types of servitude, though the latter one meant they were ostensibly free) to the landed gentry of the town. Everything continues much as it always has until ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), a southern society belle (but worlds apart in attitude and thought from her close friends), returns home from university determined to forge a career as a writer, and decides to write a book about the lives of the maids in the town. She encounters resistance at first until Aibileen (Viola Davis) decides that the only way that true change is going to come is if light is shone into the darkest recesses of Jackson society, starting with the lives of the close knit black community and the impact that white racism has upon them.
It’s a gutsy move, and while Aibileen’s best friend, Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is at first reluctant to join in, she soon does, and eventually so do many other maids leading to a massive outpouring of stories that highlight the great inequities in southern society. In the midst of this book being written and then released, great changes are wrought in Skeeter’s friendships, her relationship with her mother, the lives of the maids themselves, and though just a crack or two at first, in Jackson society itself, through the simple act (thought ultimately there is nothing simple in the act of being brave; these women bare their should and risk much to reveal the truth) of the maids talking about their lives.
I found the movie intensely moving. The courage of these women, treated like less than nothing by their employers who actually thought they weren’t racist, in standing up and being counted was beyond inspirational since it mirrored the lives of so many people during the civil rights era who fought hard to be treated as people of equal worth and standing, which, of course, they were. I always watch movies like this which depict man’s utter inhumanity to man with horror and contempt for the perpetrators, scarcely believing that anyone could treat another as less than human simply because their skin is a different colour, and while knowing it happens, wishing that people could simply look beyond prejudice. The true genius of the book, and now movie, is that it shone a light on this racism simply by allowing these women to tell their stories, to show that their lives are every bit as valid, and intrinsically worthy as anyone else’s.
Thank god for the courage of the few to start change that will affect the many, and thank god for The Help which shows how powerful those sorts of movements can be.