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“Films from the Apocalypse” by Victor Bonacore

GATW Guest Writer

April 5th, 2012

Fuck the Oscars. Last month we were subjected to the 84th annual Academy Awards, which I now watch strictly for nostalgia reasons. As a kid, I would tape record it off TV, cutting out the commercials and re-watching it over and over daily. I would go see every film that was nominated in the theater, knew every category, and had my picks down to a science. I was obsessed with it, every aspect of it. Jack Nicholson was the first "movie star" I was obsessed with, so the chance to see him make his yearly cameo was just a thrill to me. Now it seems it’s just my way of seeing my favorite actor depressingly age into his golden years. I watch it with frustration, boredom, confusion, and embarrassment as Billy Crystal makes an unfunny fool of himself with flat jokes and stupid musical numbers.

It was great to see Dick Smith be honored with lifetime achievement and THE MUPPETS win an Oscar. PARADISE LOST 3 was up for best documentary. I figured it was a sure win, I mean it’s the final installment to the series that has literally saved someone from death row. It didn't win.

All I could think while watching it was how out of touch with mainstream cinema I must be. I hadn't seen any of the films in the best picture category. The names of filmmakers I admire like Scorsese and Woody Allen had films nominated, but I didn't know much about their new films either.

Maybe this is me just being ignorant and jaded but those years of being excited over the Oscars were long gone. As I grew up I found a constant excitement and a new obsession in the horror & exploitation film. And because I had two older sisters that were part of the 1990s NYC punk and underground film scene, I was exposed to underground film pretty early on. My sister Tia had worked with Cinema of Transgression filmmakers Richard Kern & Tommy Turner and my other sister was a friend of the late G.G. Allin. I was raised on that shit.

As a low budget filmmaker myself and someone that still shoots on 16mm and super 8mm in a digital world, I have stayed invested in and supportive of the underground film. My life revolves around it and I'm dedicated to those underground films, lost VHS gems, and micro-budget artists and directors who deserve more attention.

But there was one film I saw in 2011 that really struck a chord with me. I thought it was completely worthy of an Oscar while still being cool. This film was DRIVE. I had read articles about how it was snubbed at the Oscars. So, I thought Gordon and the Whale would be a perfect platform to talk about what I figure to be the best "mainstream" film of last year.

I rented DRIVE out of a recommendation from my friend Johnnie Jordan. He called me on tour from San Francisco just to tell me to go see this film. Months later I had rented it with my girlfriend but had to leave half-way through to meet friends in the city. And I kid you not, the second I meet up with my friends who had just come from KIMS Video Store, one of them had just bought a brand new copy of DRIVE. It was meant to be, I was supposed to watch this movie today! Into the night and many bong hits later I discovered my new obsession of 2011 - a modern day, Los Angeles version of TAXI DRIVER.

This film rejuvenated my faith in the fact that mainstream films could be cool again. But not cool enough for The Academy, I guess. I mean these are the people that still think Billy Crystal is funny. So fuck them.

DRIVE follows a character known to everyone as "Driver". He's is a stunt car driver by day and a getaway driver at night. He lives a life of solitude, until he's thrown into a deadly world of killers and gangsters and he has to become a one man force to protect the woman he is in love with.

What director Nicholas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling have created is one of the great Anti-Heroes to appear on screen in a long time. Ryan Gosling, who I've liked since I first saw him in THE BELIEVER as a Jewish Nazi Skinhead, always puts in a solid "Oscar" worthy performance. But his character in DRIVE in on another level, it's beyond the fucking Oscars. It's subtle but tough, quiet
and clever - a combination of Travis Bickle and Donnie Darko, he is the stunt man character that Tarantino wished he could have written for DEATH PROOF. This character is deep has real substance.

From the second the opening film credits appear on screen in bright pink letters overlaying the city of Los Angeles, with an electronic song playing in the background, you know you’re in for a pretty wild ride.

It starts slow but it's not boring. This movie literally drives. It continues at this calm pace and then starts switching gears into an explosive old school bloody revenge film. All the characters you meet are interesting. From the Jewish Gangsters, the down on his luck boss, the love interest, her jailbird husband, and an ugly underground of assorted criminals. There's great use of slow motion, slow dissolves and this montage scene that seems super cheesy at first but it takes itself seriously and pulls you right into this guy’s heart.

I didn't know what to think of DRIVE from the trailers, it almost looked like another FAST AND THE FURIOUS spin off, but in fact it's the anti-FAST AND FURIOUS. It has fast cars, explosions and a good looking lead, but you can't compare FAST AND THE FURIOUS to TAXI DRIVER ...

DRIVE almost plays as a companion piece to TAXI DRIVER. There are all these parallels between the characters. They’re both socially awkward loners living in big cities who drive dangerously for money. They don’t live by society’s laws; they live by their own code of right and wrong. So when the chance arrives to do the right thing, they find purpose. They fall in love and find a reason to be the hero. And they do it with such a confidence and focus that you have to admire the character purely for his nobleness. But beyond even the performances, the overall similarities to TAXI DRIVER are there.

There is a scene in DRIVE where Gosling's character is sitting in a diner by himself as he's approached by a man who recognizes him from a past job. As he begins to start talking about a new job, "Driver" cuts him off with a violent threat and an unflinching stare down until the man leaves. This gives you a glimpse into this guy’s dark past that continues to follow him. Reminding me so much of the scene in TAXI DRIVER when De Niro is doing push-ups and you can see this nasty fucking scar on his back. Scorsese never shows it again, but you know he went through something in Vietnam to get that.

There is even a moment in DRIVE that matches the famous shot of De Niro showing up at the mayor rally with a new Mohawk and signature marines jacket. It's the part of the film when you know the guy is gone, he's crossed over into another place and he aint coming back. Nobody is going to stop him, like how "Driver" continues his mission weaving in and out of public places in broad daylight sporting his retro driving jacket decorated with other people’s blood.

But if not the coolest link of all to TAXI DRIVER is Albert fucking BROOKS. Not only does he appear in both films but on two completely different sides of the spectrum. In TAXI DRIVER, he’s the smart ass, nerdy political campaigner, but in DRIVE he plays a Jewish gangster with a fetish for knives and a cold, cold heart. He's got a calmness to him that perfectly balances his partner played by the great character actor Ron Perlman. Perlman perfectly plays the flashy, loud Jewish gangster from NY.

While the references to TAXI DRIVER, whether intentional or not, are fun, this film has way more to offer than that. It stands on its own two feet, has balls, style and grace, and it’s rewarding to see that in a mainstream film.

The soundtrack is awesomely fitting, mostly '80s influenced electronic, the body count is high, it’s gory and as of right now it's officially my new favorite film to get stoned too.

My heroes don't wear capes, they wear cool jackets.

OK, now back to the underground.

Take it sleazy, xoxo

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