REVIEW: This Is 40

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This Is 40
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Judd Apatow (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow

Paul Rudd is the only main character in Judd Apatow’s latest movie who isn’t part of the comedy auteur’s actual nuclear family.  The wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Maude and Iris Apatow) are basically playing out better-written scenarios of their lives with a cuter dad.

This makes everything about This Is 40 feel both a little weirder and a little more alive; it’s like making your family relive an awkward Christmas on camera.  Apatow is a keen observer of white upper middle class life, though his considerable success as writer, director and producer over the past few years has made his class standing considerably higher than that.  This movie is his best since his other movie with 40 in the title, albeit much more pensive and mature.

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10 Movies I Changed My Mind About

I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it.  The first Tarantino movie I’d ever seen was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which is a decidedly gorier and altogether more accessible movie for an eighth grader (technically I wasn’t legally “mature enough” for either by the MPAA’s standards), although I was the only one in my grade who seemed to enjoy it.  When I watched Pulp Fiction for a second (and a third and a fourth ad infinitum) viewing, it gripped me like few other movies had before or since.  To this day it is still one of my all-time favorites.

Movies, especially great ones, often change from viewing to viewing, not because they are different but because we are.  Though we now live in an age of Rotten Tomato blurbs and aggregated consensus, a critic’s most valued possession is still their written voice.  With every review now posted quickly and then archived online, conversation on most movies usually peaks quickly when they are first released, and then dissipates just as fast.  The only time afforded to looking back is the annual “Best of the Year” cluster fuck.

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CLASSICS: Broadcast News

Broadcast News
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Written by: James L. Brooks (screenplay)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt and Joan Cusack

From a modern perspective, this monologue by Albert Brooks in the last third of James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News is cringe-inducing, because it became true:

“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women. ”

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REVIEW: Drive

Drive
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks

Violence comes and goes with Ryan Gosling’s unnamed driver.  Like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, there’s no indication where he came from or where he’s going.  However, you get the feeling he’s been traveling place to place causing the same kind of chaos.

Drive doesn’t initially appear to be a movie of such violence.  The almost serene first half is stylistic perfection, with director Nicolas Renf tracking the driver from behind the wheel of a suspenseful, sneaky heist escape (in a Chevy Impala), to a movie set where he flips a car and to his initial meeting with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son.  He stumbles on the mob second hand, when Irene’s unfortunately named husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) needs to pull off a robbery to get some thugs off his back.

From that heist on, Renf holds no prisoners with the blood-letting.  It wouldn’t work if Gosling approached it with the same semi-charmed apathy he gives the character in the first half.  He trembles as the body count stacks up.

What makes Drive a film to remember at the end of 2011 is the moody, gorgeous cinematography and the first-rate score.  The brooding visuals mesh together with the electronic beat of Cliff Martinez’s music to create a neo-noir with an 80s synth rhythm.  Even when Renf and screenwriter Hossein Amini hack and slash these characters to bits, it never feels out of place.

There is a scene fairly early on in the movie where the driver sits with Irene’s son and watches a cartoon about sharks.  He asks the boy how he knows the shark is bad, and the boy says “Because he looks bad.”  This scene is important to understanding not just Gosling’s driver, but the principle villain as well.  While Ron Perlman is all-too at home in the campy role of a crime boss, Albert Brooks seems a little off-beat as a mob kingpin.  He delights in the role, though, going over the top without losing sight of the consequences of all the killing.

Drive is also unique as a noir in that it doesn’t let either of the attractive female characters (Mulligan or Christina Hendricks) expand into a femme fatale or even really expand much at all.  Irene is accustomed to tacking on a smile for her son, and Mulligan is perfect at conveying happiness and sadness with contrasting expressions in her smile and deep, dark eyes.

At the end, though, this is ultimately a man-made world of corruption and violence, and the driver is left to eliminate it to keep Irene and her son safe.  He works as a car repairman for a schmuck with a limp (a terrific Bryan Cranston).  Brooks’ Bernie Ross puts up the money to have the driver race a car for him.  He and Perlman’s Nino are so opposite that their scenes together in the garage and in their front of a pizzaria are one of the few things that detract from the movie’s mood.

You could split Drive down the middle for its nearly bloodless first half and its gory second act, but it also fits together as a convincing whole.  This is because Renf never loses sight of his characters.  Though the villains are undeniably evil, the hero isn’t all that good.  We’re left to root for him because we see him from all angles and see that his heart is ultimately in the right place.  He’s the good shark.

Grade: B+