Woke Up This Morning, Black Snake Moved In on Monday Movies.
#Drive is a great sci-fi flick. Ryan Gosling shines as a robot who squashes zombies to feed on a juice-like substance inside them. Bravo!
–@RayLikesYou (Ray Olson)
Drive has been hailed as an existential crime flick. Ryan Gosling plays The Driver. No name, just The Driver. He’s an Everyman, a cipher. There are a number of problems with this:
The Ryan Gosling problem. Gosling has a touch of the young DeNiro — he’s in on a joke you’re not, because he’s smarter than you and gets a certain movement in the cosmos (or the city) that you don’t. In Half Nelson, he uses this to great effect as a crack-addict schoolteacher, suggesting that he knows what a train wreck his life is becoming, is watching it as a rubbernecking commuter might. He’s Laurie Anderson’s Walter Benjamin’s Paul Klee’s Angel of History holding a bucket of popcorn. But in Drive there’s only blankness behind the smirk. It’s an attitude that requires a tiny bit of heat, even a low-watt bulb.
The Albert Brooks problem. If Brooks didn’t hand in such a perfectly inhabited performance as the knife-happy Jewish gangster, Gosling’s flatness would make more sense. But everything about Brooks is particular in a way that feels sprung from a character; next to him, everything The Driver does seems mannered and accidental.
The “Killing an Arab” problem. The Driver befriends a young mother who lives in his apartment building. She’s played by Carey Mulligan (An Education, where she was excellent), who, like Gosling, is white. Her son is Latino. Her husband Standard, whose return from jail precipitates the movie’s action, is Latino. The apartment building overlooks L.A.’s MacArthur Park, a neighborhood long central to the city’s Latin American immigrant experience and recently subject to cosmopolitan settlement of a different order. Mulligan is pretty in a manner that doesn’t hint at deprivation; there’s a story to be told about how this girl ended up in this place, but she’s denied all particulars, while Standard is very clearly an L.A. Latino (his welcome-home party is well observed). In this triangle, not only does whiteness signify the blankness that allows projection and existential significance, but the plot works to quickly eliminate the only thing keeping the two leads apart, which in this case is the unfortunately ethnic husband. (The existential-white-hero problem is compounded by the writing of Brooks’ character and his partner played by Ron Perlman. They are a pair of Jewish gangsters who resent being condescended to by the Italian mob. So Drive is not even consistent with its whiteness as non-ethnicity. The problem is further compounded by Carey Mulligan.)
The headstomping problem. This isn’t that big a problem, because I covered my eyes for it.
Still, it’s pretty enjoyable; the elements of 80′s pastiche (Miami Vice, Risky Business) are stylish and fun, and the songs, seemingly by French robots are goofily endearing. I endorse this review.
Black Snake Moan is the one where Samuel Jackson chains Christina Ricci to his radiator in order to heal her of her massive sluttitudinousness. When this movie came out, I was stopped in my tracks from seeing it by a Great Wall of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that physically blocked me out of the theater. I’m confident that there is a language in which the title was translated into the equivalent of Black Man’s Cock Will Make You Cum Out Loud, because, right? (Sorry, Netnanny.)
As it turns out, the movie sets up a fucked-up situation and then humanizes it persuasively. Lazarus (Jackson) is an old bluesman. Through him, the blues emerges as a folk religion. Rae (Ricci, whose big-eyed weirdness gradually emerges from behind her sexbot-skinny physique) suffers fits of nymphomania that appear for all the world like demonic possession, but are gradually revealed as a symptom of sexual abuse. Once she’s Laz’s captive, her sexuality falls away; Laz’s gaze is so determinedly paternal and non-sexual that the movie’s gaze seems to follow suit. The one departure from that is especially gratifying because it restores her sex life joyfully, allowing Rae to dance erotically in a nightclub without a return of her nymphomania. It’s a simple, smart dismantling of the virgin-whore complex. Justin Timberlake, soft and confused, plays her National Guardsman boyfriend; the movie allows them to wind up a pair of sweet, human sad-sacks together and doesn’t even require them to take redemptive revenge for all their sufferings.
The movie isn’t quite as defensible against the charge of Magical Negroism, but it’s more Threat Level Yellow than full-on DEFCON-Bagger-Vance. I found Lazarus’s character believable through all the cornpone bluesman business. (Friday’s confession today: I am white.) Yes, he was a walking blues song. But Black Snake Moan makes a pretty good case for both the reality, and the surreality, of the blues.
[Previous text: Monday Movies’ reviews of Drive and Black Snake Moan will be appearing later than usual today, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t kick off the week with your own reviews. What did you see? How did you like it?
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