This week in film features two absolute stinkers in Straw Dogs and Restless and would be a depressing week at the cinema were it not for the fact that the remarkable Drive will also be flickering in front of audiences. While it’s always nice when a selection of intriguing movies open on the same weekend, you really on need one stellar entry to make the week worthwhile.
Provided you don’t mind seeing a little blood splattered around on the big screen, Drive is something that absolutely demands to be seen by anyone who claims to love movies. The other major releases this week are completely disposable, but who cares? As long as one great movie is playing, they can have a much crap screening in the theaters surrounding it as they want.
The Good: Drive
It’s not every week that I get to recommend a movie that I feel like everyone with a pulse should enjoy at least a little bit, but it’s also not every week that a movie as incredible as Drive hits screens. This simple crime tale of a stuntman by day and wheelman by night caught in an unfortunately violent circumstance with the mob is the kind of thriller that you’ll wish could be released every week.
The story is simple, but not clichéd. It’s just streamlined down tot he most basic genre elements and those elements are heightened to arty and dramatic effect by the underrated director Nicolas Winding Refn (a Danish master of the crime movie who made the remarkable Bronson and The Pusher Trilogy that were unjustly ignored in North America).
This is Refn’s first Hollywood project and he provides all the necessary thrills with a detached European cool and an amazing soundtrack that you’ll want to pump through the shaking speakers of your shitbox for a high speed ride home from the theater.
On paper Drive is little more than a simple genre movie, but it’s executed in such a unique way that it feels like something more. Quiet dialogue scenes are shot in a way that feels eerily unnerving, while some graphic bursts of violence are presented as chillingly mundane. Refn crafts his film in such a unique and unpredictable way that you’ll never know exactly what to expect.
He’s also aided by a remarkable cast led by Ryan Gosling (offering a silent hero pitched somewhere between the understated cool of Steve McQueen and the quiet psychosis of Charles Bronson) and the incandescent Carey Mulligan. They play the requisite boy 'n’ girl and do it well, but as with any crime movie the best roles come from the bad guys and Drive’s surprising heavy is comedian Albert Brooks (who offers no jokes, just disturbingly calm knife murders).
Brooks is incredible and unlike anything you’ve seen him in before. Expect awards buzz to surround Brooks and almost every one else involved in the film. Seriously, it’s that good. For once, it’s okay to believe the hype.
The Bad: Straw Dogs
Since this week brings one movie that somehow manages to reinvent a tired genre and make it feel new again, I guess it’s only fair that we get a shitty remake offering the exact opposite experience as well. Why anyone in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to remake Sam Peckinpah’s rape/revenge classic Straw Dogs is beyond me, but sadly it happened and now we all have to deal with it.
The original film succeeded off of the volatile spirit of the Vietnam era and the cracked vision of a director who wanted to bring genuine ugly violence into Hollywood rather than the sanitized shoot 'em ups the studio system was known for at the time.
It’s a masterpiece from a very specific time and place that needs to be viewed in the proper context of its era and director’s career to properly appreciate. Yet for some reason we now get a glossy remake devoid of any historical significance, reducing the masterpiece of agitation cinema to the exploitative trash critics always unfairly dismissed it as.
The new version of Straw Dogs features the same story. A dork and his beautiful wife move to her rural hometown and the locals get all jealous that Scrawny McSmartypants is nailing their local beauty. They start messing with the nerd and then rape his wife, leading the passive geek into an explosion of vengeance-fueled violent rage that is secretly hidden inside every man, no matter how outwardly passive.
To give you an idea of how badly the new movie screws up the original’s intelligent concept, take a look at the central casting. Dustin Hoffman was a completely believable social reject who was shockingly pushed over the edge in the first movie. His naturally nebbish appearance made the bloody climax that more unexpected.
In the new version James Marsden takes on Hoffman’s role. The man who played Cyclops and was a frontrunner for Superman is clearly an action hero ready to take off his glasses and kick ass from the first scene. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t even understand the point of the original movie and just wanted to make a quick buck off of the iconic title.
Don’t fall for the trap. It’ll only convince Hollywood to make more idiotic remakes and if we embrace an unnecessary re-hash of Straw Dogs, remakes of other indelible '70s classics like Taxi Driver can’t be far behind. Not seeing this movie is practically a public service. Make your decision responsibly.
The Restless: Restless
Gus Van Sant is one of those directors who either makes a wonderfully abstract art movie or mainstream trash, with nothing in between. The guy is willing to take risks and fall on his face, but sometimes the failures are so bad that you feel embarrassed for him as an audience member.
After all, we’re talking about a guy who followed up the Oscar-winning success
of Good Will Hunting with the disastrous
remake of Psycho. You just never
know what you’re going to get when Van Sant steps behind a camera.
Sadly the director’s would-be Harold And Maude dark comedy Restless falls more into the crap section of Van Sant’s career. The movie was supposed to be released last fall for an awards push, but was pulled at the last minute after embarrassing trailers earned cynical snickers rather than knowing laughs of recognition.
I’ll bet the studio wishes that they didn’t have to release this semi-dark comedy about a boy, a girl, and the boy’s imaginary Japanese pilot friend at all. Certainly you’ll wish that you hadn’t seen if you make the mistake of buying a ticket. The title of Restless is appropriate. It’s really only worth attending if you’re suffering from insomniaAlso released this week: Stay Cool (a successful author returns to his hometown to reignite an old flame and learn some life lessons between gentle laughs...ugh), I Don’t Know How She Does It (Sarah Jessica Parker plays a successful middle-aged lady who just doesn’t know how to juggle this work 'n’ family thing - gotta be tough), The Treasure Hunter (this weeks requisite dose of Asian action theatrics).