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.