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#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?

Please excuse the non-blog-orthodox placeholder, and enjoy the comments section! We will return shortly.]


October 10, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | ,


  1. We rewatched Synecdoche, New York last night, which remains one of my all-time favorite movies. I also have Hangover Square out from Netflix — which will apparently be remaining Netflix rather than becomin Quikster — due to a half-hearted recommendation from Brad. Sometimes I just get in the mood for some film noir.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 10, 2011

  2. 10/04/11 – Wandâfuru raifu – Koreeda 1998 6/10
    Heaven is a carefully chosen recollection. Koreeda is starting to annoy me as a “big concept” guy, needing something flashy to get his charachter observations produced
    10/06/11 – Walk Cheerfully – Ozu 1930 7/10
    Lots of visual humor, why the hell was everybody filming in Yokohama in 1930?
    10/07/11 – Salesman – Mayles Brothers 1968 9/10
    Night of the living death of a salesman
    10/08/11 – And Everything Is Going Fine – Soderbergh 2006 9/10
    Soderberg does Spalding Gray on Spalding Gray on…it’s all Mom’s fault
    Somewhere – Coppola 2010 7/10
    You are not a wunderkind anymore, but the pole dancing blonde twins were excellent. What the Dorff character enjoyed was not the erotic but the twins enthusiasm and joy in their work, something he has lost
    10/09/11 – Zigeunerweisen – Seijun Suzuki – 1980 8/10
    Lynch with all the realism taken out

    I keep starting Black Swan and turning it off. It may be an indication of Portman’s achievement that I find the character unbearable.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | October 10, 2011

  3. i confess netflix seems activated my account, maybe i’ll choose the dvd in mail option to continue
    i watched a comedy, a tragedy and a melodrama on mosfilm and lenfilm youtube, thought if BMcM has completed his Japanese cinema project he could switch to the soviet one maybe, pretty many films there have subtitles, many are very soviet and outdated, but many are just the best movies i’ve seen so far and ideologically it should be pretty enjoyable to watch for you i guess

    Comment by read | October 10, 2011

  4. I re-watched X-Men First Class and some of Jurassic Park. The latter was one of many movies that made me decide I will either read the book or watch the movie, not both. But being 18 years removed from my 18-year-old self who was indignant about the changes and incensed over the ridiculous final scene with the T-Rex and the velociraptors, I thought it was a fun enough bit of moviewatching. Watching the raptors figure out door handles, though, reminded me of a bit on the old show, The Critic.

    They did a spoof of Jurassic Park, and the spoof’s raptors find a door is locked, slip a newspaper under the door, work the lock so the keys on the other side fall onto the newspaper, then pull the paper with the keys out so they can use the keys to unlock the door.

    Comment by mattintoledo | October 10, 2011

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