Monday, July 30, 2012

3 Reasons Why You Definitely Should (AND Shouldn't) Watch the Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises has already made more than $500 million in worldwide gross in the first week, yet it's being seen as a tad disappointing, perhaps because it ONLY made $500 million in worldwide gross in the first week. That should give you an idea about the kind of expectations people had of this movie. Meanwhile, general public reaction seems range from "It's pretty awesome!" to....actually to be honest I don't really know because If you don't use the words 'awesome' or it's variants when describing TDKR, you sir, are not a person I would like to know. However, even I can see that the movie might not be everybody's thing, so if you haven't seen it yet and are wondering whether it is worth a cut of your multiplex budget , here are 3 reasons why you should definitely watch it, OR, equally definitely, give it a miss.

It's grim with a capital G. Also, a capital R, a capital I and a capital M. Also, all the letters are in bold. And underlined.

Why you shouldn't watch it: I'm pretty sure Christopher Nolan was molested by a man dressed as Batman in his impressionable youth. It's the only reasonable explanation for the sadistic mental and physical torture he puts his protagonist through. A far more accurate title of the movie would be 'The Dark Knight Falls Into A Deep Dark Pit Of  Despair Where He Is Dragged Over The Hot Coals Of Hellish Agony And Unimaginable Pain From Which There Seems To Be No Escape...And Then Rises'. Granted, it makes the 'Rises' bit pretty impressive, but if your idea of a good time is 'The Avengers', stay the fuck away.

Why you should: On the other hand, remember when they tried to make Batman more lighthearted and breezy? We got Bat-nipples and Bat-built-in-skates and Bat-credit-cards and Bat-banter-with-Robin-about -who-gets-the-girl. So perhaps that's not the best way to go with a batman movie. Darkness and despair are integral to the Batman character, and trying to avoid them never works out well.

It's very much Christopher Nolan's Batman

Why You Shouldn't Watch It: Do you like your superheroes to be, you know, super? Do you wan't your villains larger than life? Do you love to see them revel in their power? Well, in the word's of Clint Eastwood in the worst Dirty Harry movie yet, you're shit outta luck. Christopher Nolan doesn't like his superheroes to leap, or even jetpack over tall buildings in a single bound, so Batman doesn't hit any harder or faster than a normal, albeit very skilled and powerful fighter. Nor does it matter that in the comics Bane is a hulking brute who can grow to the size of a largish SUV thanks to a magical toxin called Venom. In Nolanverse, he's the size of a man. A man who can crush skulls with his armpits, yes, but still, basically, a man. Everything's grounded, everything's real and nothing's larger than life.

Why You Should: You know what that also means? Everything's believable. Batman, with all his toys and training, is a man whose body is giving away. No comic book logic can save him here. Things have weight, especially the meaty hands of Bane as they pound poor Bruce Wayne into submission. We all know that in a superhero movie the good buy wins, the bad guy loses and everyone goes home happy. The fact that even this knowledge can't keep you off the edge of your seat is a testament to Nolan's ability as a filmmaker.

It's the sequel to possibly the greatest comic book movie of all time.

Why You Shouldn't Watch It: First thing's first. If you don't believe that The Dark Knight is among the greatest comic book movies of all time, you're wrong. There's no debate, no "it's my personal opinion", no "it doesn't work for me". I could throw statistics and data at you all day long about its 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, about ecstatic reviews from the best critics in the business, but the simple fact is, none of that matters. Your taste in superhero movies is judged by how much you love TDK, not the other way around. And therein lies the problem.

It's tough to follow the best. Unless you are some sort of superhuman non-expector, you are going to walk in with expectations, however, slight, of Nolan outdoing himself. And you will be wrong. There is no outdoing The Dark Knight. It's a good movie, great in parts, but it does not have a Heath Ledger as the joker. The story is clunky at times, and forced in others. And it goes to far with the whole "though shalt smile less than you did at your grandma's funeral" theme.

Why You Should: Because it's not just a sequel to the greatest comic book movie of all time, it's also the end of the saga. Nolan's Batman is not a collection of 3 stand-alone movies like the Spider-Man trilogy. The movies are tied together and without TDKR, TDK is incomplete. It does not take the tale of Bruce Wayne to its natural conclusion, and it does not provide the wonderful closure that this movie does. If you are emotionally invested in Batman, Bruce Wayne, or Nolan's Gotham at all, TDKR is a movie that you need to watch.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I didn't review the TDKR immediately after I saw the movie because then it would have just been a page of "OMG! OMG! OMG! That was so cool!!!!" over and over again. Now that it's been a week and I can think more clearly, I feel I am more equipped to provide an, if not unbiased, then at least a slightly more coherent review. So here it is.

OMG! OMG! OMG! That was so cool!!!!

Sorry, but it had to come out once. As you might have guessed, I enjoyed the movie. It was more emotional that the previous two installments, and on occasions teetered on the edge of melodrama, but didn't quite fall in. The movie begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, with Bruce Wayne living the life of a recluse. Thanks to Batman's catching the Joker and the passing of the Dent Act (named after Harvey Dent, Gotham's alleged white knight from TDK), crime has been all but wiped out of Gotham, leaving behind a Bruce Wayne with no focus and no real reason to live. Unknown to him, his considerable fortune has also been petering out, thanks to unwise business decisions, and he is one stock market crash away from bankruptcy. And then there's Bane.

The antagonist in this movie is one of Batman's newer villains, introduced by writer Chuck Dixon in 1993 for the specific purpose of providing Batman with a foe who was mentally his equal and physically, superior. In the comic books he is portrayed as a hulking beast, twice or thrice the size of a normal human being, face shrouded by a luchadore mask and powered by a mysterious toxin "Venom" that makes him as strong as the writer wishes him to be. Nolanverse has no place for such characters though, so Bane has been scaled down in terms of size, but not ferocity. He is an intelligent brute, frighteningly articulate behind a metal mask that reminds one of a gorilla's fangs. He kills like a gladiator, moves like an animal and talks like a revolutionary. He is not as interesting as the Joker (but then, who is?), but Tom Hardy is hampered by his mask but acts with his eyes and eyebrows, and creates a character who is believable as a tormentor to Batman.

The first act, other than a phenomenal plane hijacking sequence that's in every trailer of the movie, is spent establishing the new characters and subplots, of which there are quite a few. There's Selina Kyle (Anne Hatheway), a cat burglar who is smart, competent and tough, and yet caught in a situation that she can't get out of. There's Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a Wayne Enterprise board member who comes to Bruce Wayne's aid in his time of need. And there's John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), an earnest beat cop who has a secret that will make hardcore Bat-fans sqeal "YES!" at the end of the movie. The several plot lines may be confusing at first but come together brilliantly in a cracker of a finale that features a city plunged in real, honest-to-god civil war, the Batpod, and the requisite new aerial vehicle that looks like the Tumbler grew a set of rotor blades - simply called the bat.

Nolan's flair for cinematography and action choreography are in full display here, with jaw dropping sequences of aerial combat, ground war (with thousands of REAL extras - no CG here), and a fight sequence at the middle of the movie which may be the best I have seen in a long time. Also on display are logical inconsistencies and coincidences that seems to be part and parcel of every Nolan movie (for example, a question arises near the end to which the only logical answer seems to be "He called Superman"). Character's also behave somewhat erratically, although that can be a bit more easily explained by the fact that this is Nolan's Batman, so we cannot expect them to be like their comic book counterparts.

But none of that matter much, especially if you are a fan of Batman. It is a movie that goes to the soul of the character and provides him with an ending that is both satisfying as well as impossible in comic book form. It's not a cheerful movie by any means, in fact, it may be the most grim and humorless of all the Nolan movies, but that's because the stakes are so much higher. Batman get's put through the wringer here like never before, but if he wasn't, it wouldn't make his rise so fantastic to witness. Some people have complained that there's very little Batman in it, and yes, the cape and cowl don't make too many appearances outside of the finale, but Batman is more than that. Batman is a symbol of justice, of heart, and of love for Gotham, which is what the movie is all about. I wouldn't say it's a movie only for the fans, because non-fans should also love it, but being a fan of the character, like I unabashedly am, makes for a deeper, richer, more emotional experience.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

55 Word Fiction: Mirror Image

Got this idea from another blog. Trying it here. The above words are not part of the 55

The same question. Every time, every week. Painful, but I was bound to her, and the truth.

She asked, and I let my mind free, searching for the inevitable answer.

Except this time, it was different.

This time, it was a new face, and a new name.

Snow White.

Oh, shit.

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Warning: There be spoilers

Snow White is a grim, dark, joyless and usually humorless movie. It's not bad per se, and technical elements like the sets, locations and battle scenes are impressive in their own way, but the movie never really gets going until the last 20 odd minutes or so, and when it does, I had yawned one too many times to care. The story is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, and by retelling, I mean it's almost nothing like the original story. That much is obvious; a faithful retread in a big screen adaptation would be disastrous for a story as familiar and as paper thin as the original, but there is no story here either, at least not one to justify the movies 127-minute running time. The fact that this is the director's first crack at a feature film is glaringly obvious. The fact that the movie has three screenwriter credits is baffling.

So here's the story in short. A beautiful but frail queen has a daughter who is pure of heart and Kristen Stewart of beauty, the kind who expresses concern at the broken wings of birds. When not playing Florence Nightingale to actual nightingales, she gambols around with William, son of the local duke. Will they fall in love as adults? One wonders. However, after a particularly harsh winter, the queen dies, and almost simultaneously, an army attacks the kingdom. The army is defeated, but the king is bewitched by the beauty of one of their prisoners, and makes her queen. The queen Ravenna (Charleze Theron) kills the king on the wedding night and opens the castle gates for her creepy brother Finn to come in with an army, slaughter the residents, and initiate a hostile takeover. William and his father, the duke, escapes, but cannot rescue Snow White, who is incarcerated in a tower. Of course, the queen has magical powers, and a magic mirror who she bothers constantly by asking who the fairest of them all is. The creature, who actually comes out of the mirror and stands before the queen, looks like a man with a liquid gold bedsheet over his head. The special effect where it oozes out of the mirror in a slow moving river of gold is impressive.

Anyway, so the queen retains her youth and beauty by feeding on that of other young girls regularly. The kingdom suffers, the people beg on the streets and feed on scraps, and the queen and her brother trade various expository dialogue that go nowhere. Time goes by and one day the mirror tells the queen, who looks like Charleze Theron, no doubt in a fit of temporary insanity, that Snow White, who looks like Kristen Stewart and will soon come of age, will be the fairest of them all. Process this, if you will. But wait! There's a convenient plot point! If the queen consumes Snow White's heart, she will be immortal and forever young. Instead of shattering the mirror into a thousand pieces for holding back crucial information like this for a decade or so, Ravenna asks Finn to bring Snow White to her. Finn, understandably frustrated beyond belief after ten years of watching Charleze Theron disrobe and take milk baths right in front of him but not getting any, uses this opportunity to paw Snow White (Apparently Ravenna had forbidden him to go into her cell), and promptly gets stabbed for his trouble.

Snow White escapes into the dark forest, where few go in. Even the queen's magic is impotent there. Thus, they employ Thor to get Snow White for them. Unfortunately, Thor is tied up with the Marvel movies, so they get the huntsman, who Chris Helmsworth plays EXACTLY like Thor, and is apparently the only one who knows the dark forest. He catches up to Snow White, but is turned by her beauty, her spirit and her heart, and joins her in her quest to reach the Duke's castle. Snow White demonstrates all those qualities by falling down a lot and looking gravely concerned when the Finn and his men catch up to her, which is often.

The primary problem of the movie is that it tries to do too many things at the same time. It's not enough that the queen is evil, she has to be given a tragic backstory. However, because not enough time is devoted to this, it remains half baked, a collection of flashback sequences that flash by too fast, and snippets of a story that vaguely allude to her being used by others.

Snow White, in her travels, stumbles into a number of characters, including, of course, the seven dwarfs (who are actually well known British actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Ray Winstone, converted to dwarfs via CGI and camera tricks). Again, there's too many of them, and thus, they rush by, their perils plucking no emotional chord because we barely spend time with them. Even central characters reveal little character attributes beyond what is strictly necessary. For example, we know the huntsman lost his wife because later it has to be revealed that one of the villains had something to do with it. It's a baffling reveal, and creates a forced connection by resorting to extreme coincidence. But what else? Nothing. The Duke's son shows up to be the love interest, but doesn't have any character traits beyond being the love interest, and while the movie does play with the idea of who Snow White will end up with, it's too scared to answer that question and leaves it hanging. Thus, characters do, feel and reveal exactly and only what is required, and not an iota more.

So other than the locations and CGI, what works here? Charleze Theron. Where rest of the cast, and even the movie itself seems to take material like Snow White being helped in her escape by birds (cos her heart is pure and she fixed the wings of one of them years back, get it?), Theron hams it up and chews so much scenery that she nearly swallows the movie whole. And it works. Where she can grimace, she snarls. Where she can snarl, she screams. Where she can scream, she unhingles her jaw like a snake and yells loud enough to wake the dead. It's over the top, and it's great. It's exactly what the movie needs. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast believes it's playing Shakespeare, and thus dialogue like "You have eyes huntsman, but you can not see! She is the One!" is uttered with gravitas and seriousness.

Snow White isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but it could have been so much more by being a little less. The characters have potential but are never explored fully because there's so much happening. Kristen Stewart is a workmanlike Snow White, but doesn't bring the spark and determination that the character required, which makes her actions in the last 20 minutes so jarring. If you watch this movie, watch it for Charleze Theron. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It was late afternoon when it hit me. And when it hit me, it hit me HARD.
The desire. The craving. The...dare I say it...lust? Whatever name you know it by, I had to have it, and I had to have it now.

A cocktail of revulsion and desire swirled inside, warning me, censoring me, and yet, egging me on. I could see it inside my head, you know. I could see myself. Hell, I could taste it. Feel the soft flesh ripping under my teeth, bones and ligaments tearing, cracking, grinding under the force of my jaws. It was horrible to see myself like that, to realize that I could descend to a state as primal as that; guided wholly by instinct and hunger.
If there was a battle inside of me, it was over before I even knew of its existence. A lone voice of caution and conscience blinked in and out of existence in an instant. I was slave to its demands, hypnotized by the smell and taste of what I was to do. And all for what? For something that I knew would only hurt me...no matter what momentary pleasures it brought.

She slept beside me, innocent of my thoughts. Her breathing even, slow, sensuous. Sweat glistened on her, pooled beneath her eyelids and drenched the pillow under her head. The day was hot and muggy, but that made what I was about to do all the more alluring. How would she react, I wondered? Would she love it as much as I did? Would she want it as much as I did? Only one way to find out...

I leaned close to her, my fingers brushed her shoulder.

She awoke with a start.

"Honey, its really fucking hot. You wanna go to the mall and have lunch at KFC? I have a hankering for fried chicken like you wouldn't BELIEVE."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

147 Dosas and Nothing To Eat

Disclaimer: This is an experience in one particular branch of a chain restaurant, and only with the items we ordered, and in no way reflects the overall quality of the franchise. Or at least I hope it doesn't, because that would mean India has lost its collective taste buds. 

Sure, cooking is an art form, but the one thing that will always separate food from, say, movies or music, is that with them, there are always a few samples that fall in the "so bad it's good" category. With food, there's nothing like that. With food, there's just "so bad it's pretty bad", "so bad it's really, really, really, really bad" and  "so bad that even years later it makes you physically ill to think you ever paid for it". You can probably see where I am going with this.

It's my fault, really. After all, the warning signs were everywhere. The first was outside, where the billboard, about as tasteful as a combination of orange and green can be, boasted of a hundred odd dosas. Impressive at first glance, but there's a reason why Domino's does not have a hundred odd topping combinations even though it theoretically can.

The second was was when we settled into the American diner-style seats (those just SCREAM dosas, don't they?) and I ordered a cold coffee. Service was quick, I'll grant you this. One sip, and I knew why. It was white as Voldermort and thin as clear soup. It was like the server had just heard "cold" and walked away, omitting the "coffee" entirely. It was cold coffee from a fucking vending machine. In a South Indian restaurant. I know that's probably stereotyping, but when I walk into a specialist cuisine restaurant, I want my stereotypes dammit!

The third was when the lassi my wife ordered arrived. Or rather, didn't arrive. And didn't arrive. And didn't arrive some more. I make it faster at home, and I use a spoon. When it finally did, it was like someone had used the salt shaker to mix the curd. Admirable of the staff to watch out for our health like this, and granted, we are a couple that looks like we should really cut down on the sugar intake, but I prefer it when my servers don't take dietary decisions for me. So I sent it back, and then guess what happened? Yep, more waiting. Oh, and remember when I said that the server just heard "cold" and walked away for coffee? Turns out, that time, he was actually paying attention. The lassi wasn't even cold.

The fourth.....you know what. This is depressing. Instead of the fourth warning, let me offer the management and staff of the fine establishment some advice. See, when a couple walks into your restaurant and orders, and I'm being completely hypothetical here, say, a cold coffee, a lassi and a couple of dishes, it's kind of a given that they know each other and hence, would like to eat together. As in, at the same time. Now granted, there may be a bit of confusion about the timing of the drinks and the food as a group. Did the couple want the drinks WITH the food? BEFORE the food? AFTER the food? In little doggy bags to take home??? Oh how will we ever know? So I will give you guys that. I will also accept that somewhere in the deep dark recesses of your kitchen lies a dosa bible that expressly states "thou shalt not do the logical thing that servers in every other establishment does and actually ask the patron when he wants his drinks". But why would you ever think it's ok to serve one drink first, a salted version of the next drink 10 minutes later, the proper version 10 minutes after that, the first dish 15 minutes after that and the other one, again, after a 15 minute gap?

I was feeling experimental, so I had ordered something called a Paneer Crispy Dosa. It was crispy all right. It looked like the crispiest shade of black this side of a house fire. I poked at it gingerly. Oil oozed out like it had been laid by BP. I lifted the crusty lid with all the confidence of a teenage student in a slasher movie and inspected the contents. The "crispy" theme had permeated through and through. Among the shredded, blackened (I assumed from an overdose of sauce and not because it was "crispy". Or at least, I hoped so) vegetables lay slices of....what? Carrots? Potatoes? Paneer? Black chalk? I speared one on my fork with some difficulty and nibbled on it. It tasted very, very crispy. My wife took a bite. Have I mentioned how brave a woman she is? After a couple of chews she proclaimed "Potatoes". I looked at the menu. It listed the basic ingredients of the dishes - invaluably helpful as far as we were concerned. There was no mention of potatoes. By a process of elimination we settled on paneer. We had to. It was right there in black and white, and we had no evidence to the contrary other than the fact that it was like no paneer I had ever tasted.

Suffice to say, I didn't even try what my wife had ordered, an unholy concoction of paneer and mushroom. It had one great advantage over the dosa, in that I could tell which was which. But I still dared not taste. I wanted a brownie. Or at least something sweet. I flagged down the nearest server "Do you have any dessert.", I whispered, in my most apologetic voice. IA menu was flung in my direction, along with a mumbled "Sorry, no ice cream avelable". I have never heard the word "sorry" spoken with such a combination of disdain and disinterest before, and I include the time my sister told me she was sorry I had even been born. I opened the menu and saw a large list of nothing but ice-cream, which basically meant a large list of nothing. The bill was quick to arrive though. That was a relief. Suffice to say, we aren't going back to try the other 147 or whatever-the-number-is dosas. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Killing Time

I feel your every breath, you know? I am perfectly aware that you are stalking me, playing the waiting game. You are waiting for me to slip up, make a mistake, catch me unawares. You want me dead. You wont be satisfied until I am so much ashes and dust, the charred remnants of a body that once held a human being. And you will kill me, I know that too. All my struggling and fighting will come to naught. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe a few years from now. But you will win, and I will lose. You will wipe away my existence like a teardrop on a candle flame.

Funny thing is, I don't want you to win. Defeat is inevitable, and yet, I don't want you to win. It's stupid, isn't it, this struggle against what is meant to be? I mean, I feel your presence in every step, even my body tells me that inch by inch, cell by cell, you are claiming me as your own, and yet I WANT to win. Is this trait exclusive to humans, I wonder? This stupidity of wanting something that could never be? The nerd wants a date with the prettiest girl in college, the orphan wants to be hugged by his parents, the penniless destitute wishes for extravagant dinners and mansions to have them in. But no wish is foolisher than mine. This wish of winning this battle against you. It's tiring me out, and driving me just a little bit insane, and why wouldn't it? I have been fighting this battle for decades now. I look around and see my fellow soldiers and they seem so normal. How the hell are they so normal? Don't they know what's happening to them? Don't they realize what you are doing? Yet, they go about doing their daily chores, and reading their books and watching their films. Do they really believe that any of it MATTERS, or is it just an elaborate ploy to keep their minds of this unwinnable war they have waged against you? And if it is, why am I not taken in? Why am I not being distracted? Why do I teeter on the precipice of madness every night, filled with incandescent rage and yet unable to do anything about it?

So many questions. Will it be better when you finally come? Will I be prepared by then, maybe even ready for whatever you have in store? Or will I struggle until the last ragged breath, struggling to open my eyes one more time, to carry on even when my body won't? Will it be peaceful, or will it be agony? So many questions.

You know, time? It's not life. YOU'RE the real bitch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Neverending Story

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I never died, I just stopped letting you live. Actually, correction, I just never stopped you from letting yourselves die. Across millenia I have existed and endured, borne by the interminable celestial forces that govern us all. I have felt uncountable neutrons and protons, atoms and molecules shape and reshape themselves into larger beings for the briefest flashes of time, to twinkle with the brightness of conscience for but a cosmic moment, and then disintegrate into nothingness; to crumble away and fall into the bottomless, awning crevice of yesterday.

I have seen each shape, each form declare itself the one who will inherit my being, and heard that voice echoed by a thousand more, before being stilled into nothingness. I have felt them all, over moments that lasted millenia, and millenia that flashed by faster than the memory of a dream. I have seen them struggle to understand, and die before they could even begin to.  And when sometimes someone did understand, I have seen others come in and twist and turn and bend and scorch and blacken that understanding into a snarling, squirming bundle of hate; all talons and teeth. And then I have seen them rip into each other in a way baser beings never could. I have seen them spend hours and years thinking about new ways to cause others to disintegrate faster than they would. And I have shuddered as they all found the ways, and they all used the machines.

Yes, I have shuddered. And yet, as the skies blackened, and the waters turned toxic and fell on them from above, and the leaves turned white with pain, I have endured. As the angry fires lay down to sleep because they had nothing else to burn, and the smoke created vortexes of hell on earth, I have endured. And as it all went quiet, and dark and dead, I have endured. I have endured, and I have existed. For I know, someday the black shell will split open, and the atoms and molecules and protons and neutrons will re-assimilate into another little speck of green. And it will turn to the sun, and wave.

And it will all begin again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Review: Drive

Warning, this review contains spoilers

There is a scene in an elevator where the driver (Ryan Gosling) draws the woman he's been falling in love with over the last one and a half hours or so, and proceeds to kiss her. Deeply. Passionately. Less than a minute later he's stomping a man's head into bloody pulp in that same elevator while the woman watches, her face a mask of shock and then, pain.

Drive is that kind of a movie.

The promos have mostly made it out to be an action adventure movie. Fast and furious yes, but less racing stripes and more snarling gangsters. Drive is that movie sometimes, but often, its a love story that exists within itself. The driver (his name is never mentioned) is an urban cowboy, part Clint Eastwood, part Steve McQueen, although there are times when he shows a lot more vulnerability than both. He's a mechanic who hires himself out as a stunt driver. He also hires himself out as a wheelman for small-time criminals sticking up pawnshops and warehouses. He's very good at what he does, and he manages to do be so through a combination of skill, horsepower and an encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Instead of trying to outrun and outgun his pursuers, he ducks into dark alleyways, parking lots and under flyovers with a smooth, serene confidence.

But then again, movies where the hero, operating on the wrong side of the law and yet very good at what they do, are common. What's not common is the love story and the amount of effort put into that story to make it tight and believable. He meets Irene for the first time in the elevator on the way up, and they exchange awkward smiles. The next time, he sees her in the supermarket shopping with her son. Later, he drives her home, her car having broken down. In the elevator, he bonds with her son, Benicio, over a game of who-blinks-first. She invites him in for a glass of water. Her husband is in prison and he's new to the apartment. We get to know little more about their backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the driver's boss Shannon has made a deal with two local mobsters, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). They will put up the money for a race car, and the driver will drive. Shannon is confident of his chances, but the people he deals with are not nice people. That's not a spoiler, it's obvious from the get-go. In a movie filled with small time criminals, they are medium-time; petty, violent, ruthless. One of them is played by Albert Brooks, and the other by Ron Perlman. Ron Perlman has of course, made a career playing tough guys, but Albert Brooks, known mostly for the voices he does for the Simpsons, is shockingly good. He's not slithery and cold, nor is he blustery. He's cruel in the most matter-of-fact way, with more than a hint of regret, but regret never comes before business. The kind of man who would comfort you gently as you bled to death, after he himself had slashed your wrists.

Driver spends a lot of time establishing the romance between the driver and Irene. It's paced slowly and allowed to develop, and while her fingers curling over his while they are on a drive is as physical as it gets (other than the aforementioned kiss, of course), its great to watch two very interesting characters communicate with glances and little gestures. It helps that Gosling and Mulligan are phenomenal actors.
However, the film picks up pace with the return of Irene's husband, Standard, from jail. Initially hostile to the driver character, he becomes friendlier after the driver helps him out. Standard could have been a stock character, and while he largely IS a plot device, the fact that he is played to be a decent human being who is truly regretful of what he has done and wants to change things is what keeps the film from moving into simple black and white territory. However, pretty soon, the film delves into the action and the tone changes completely, with intelligent car chases, shotgun battles, and lots and lots of blood. I didn't have a problem with the gore, but I can see why some people might.

There isn't a lot of suspense to the movie, so it's not a conventional thriller. The basic plot line is pretty easy to predict, but like many great movies, its not about the story, its how the story is told. And by giving us a stoic man-with-no-name hero who nevertheless breaks quite a few conventions about how such people are supposed to behave, and then surrounding him with characters you connect with and feel for, characters that vibrate with life, the movie tells a cracker of a story.