A Brief Review of Drive My Car
Drive My Car is a movie that most people will not watch. It's a three hour long character drama, and you feel every minute of that run time. Movie goers don’t have an issue with long movies. They won’t be discouraged from seeing a movie like Return of the King or The Wolf of Wall Street because they both have runtimes that exceed the two hour and thirty minute mark. What they will be discouraged by is a slow paced movie that exceeds the two hour and thirty minute mark. That’s a lot tougher for people to swallow. However, a handful of people will watch this movie, a smaller handful will make it to the end, and an even smaller handful ( more like a pinch at this point) will see it for the brilliant and rewarding cinematic experience that it is.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is about a middle aged stage actor named Yusuke Kafuke, who two years after the sudden death of his wife Oto, books a job directing a staged production of Uncle Vanya in the city of Hiroshima. Upon his arrival, the theater company insists that a female chauffeur named Misaki Watari drives him too and from work. Despite his initial objections, the two come to understand each other, and a close relationship forms.
That brief summary represents only a fragment of what the movie is really about, but with a film of this length that's all one can hope to accomplish without over-explaining the entire story. This is a movie that needs to be experienced. No synopsis or plot summary can do it justice. There are no shortcuts.
This is not only the first film I've seen from Hamaguchi, it’s also the first one that made enough noise at film festivals to reach my ears. Needless to say, the experience of watching this movie has prompted me to put his other movies on my radar for future watches. He has what every filmmaker should have. He has complete and total confidence in the film he’s making and how he’s making it. Every frame is shrouded in authorial intent. The presence of the creator is felt for the entire three hours. I have a craving for this kind of directing, and it’s what causes me to gravitate toward the great masters of Japanese Cinema like Kurosawa and Ozu. Whether Hamaguchi will ever join the ranks of those cinematic giants will be unknowable for decades to come, but it’s undeniable that he has the gift of directorial vision that they had. His observational and non-intrusive cinematography is particularly reminiscent of Yasujiru Ozu, who also specialized in slow character dramas about people struggling to cope with the brutal nature of existence.
One of the film's major themes is emotional dissonance. It is a study of how we repress our feelings and ignore unpleasant truths in order to preserve our own perception of our lives. The main character of this film is a deeply unhappy man, but he doesn’t do anything about it. He doesn't want the dynamics of his life to change. He believes that if he ignores the things in his life that cause him internal pain they’ll slowly fade away into oblivion; that they won’t matter unless he makes them matter. He learns in a very traumatic way that is not the case, and the change that he wanted so desperately to avoid is inevitable.
The movie is also very concerned with the profession of acting, specifically about its ability to bring out parts of a person's inner self that they wouldn’t wish to confront otherwise. Throughout the film we hear the same monolog and bits of dialogue spoken multiple times, but each time we’re meant to take away a different meaning. I’ll be honest here and say that the words of Chekov are a bit beyond me at this point in my life, but once I get a chance to watch the film again I'll take the time required to truly understand them, and come to my own conclusion as to why they’re such an important aspect of the film.
That brings me to an important point. This movie needs to be watched more than once. I feel that my experience with it is incomplete because I have not yet gotten to study it as one whole. As a first time viewer I'm forced to take in the film one scene at a time. For my second viewing I'll already have all the surface level information. The sequence of events and key plot points will be pre-loaded in my mind, which will give me a more omniscient viewing experience. My second watch through of a movie is almost always my favorite because of that. It’s easier for me to relax and just let a movie unfold before me when I don’t have to keep up with the plot.
As I said in the beginning, most people won’t even watch this movie once. It’s a challenging film. Most filmmakers try to force an audience to give them their attention, they fill the screen with action and intrigue to keep eyes glued to the screen. This is how most movies should be, but not every movie. Drive My Car is a film that asks the audience to give their attention. It asks that you resist the urge to check your phone or look at your watch to see how much time has gone by. It requires effort on the viewers part, and many will be turned off by that. But there are people out there who will accept this challenge. I think those are the people that Hamaguchi wants to reach and I believe that he will succeed.
Like most people I did not see Nightmare Alley in a theater. I knew it was playing, and I knew I wanted to see it, but I never got around to it. For a while I didn’t consider it to be a loss. I like Del Toro’s films, but I can’t say any of them have left a profound impact on me. I’ve always appreciated them, but they were never really “my thing.” I always felt a level of detachment while viewing them. I can’t name any particular reason for this. I believe the man is a great filmmaker who creates great cinema. It’s not him, it’s my weird brain. I must have some bad wiring going on up there. Putting that aside, Nightmare Alley is a masterpiece. I enjoyed this more than I did The Shape of Water and Pans Labyrinth combined. Everyone (myself included) who skipped this one during its theatrical run has done themselves a great disservice. Thank God it’s getting a second life on streaming, which seems to be the real home for interesting and well made cinema these days.
Bradley Cooper stars in this remake of the 1947 noir classic as Stanton Carlisle, a man who burns down his house after putting a dead body inside, and takes a job with a traveling carnival. There he makes a few important friends, the first two being an alcoholic old man named Pete, and his clairvoyant wife Madame Zeena; and the other being a beautiful performer named Molly, whom he partners with both professionally and intimately. After Stan discovers he has a knack for the whole clairvoyant scam, he and Molly leave the carnival and find success performing psychic acts for the high class people of Buffalo. Hoping to make even more money, he elicits personal information about various people from a mysterious and alluring female psychiatrist named Lilith Ritter, thus making his act even more convincing. It is from there that things start to go too far, and the fate of our leading man starts to take a turn towards the worst.
We’re used to Del Toro movies being populated by monsters, it is accurate to say that's his directorial calling card. However, this movie is a little different from his previous efforts. The themes of greed, deception, and fate are embodied not by nightmarish creatures, but by human beings.
In the beginning of the movie Stanton seems like a likable man. The film's cold opening causes us to feel uncertain about him, but we want to like him and his intentions seem fair. This is one of Bradley Cooper's strengths as a performer. He possesses a natural charisma that's very present in the roles he chooses, but he also has the range to play characters that we as audience members never feel too comfortable with. As a result I became a very active viewer during the films runtime, constantly wondering what bad decision Stanton might make next that would ultimately get him into a deeper hole, which by the films conclusion is more like a bottomless pit of despair and regret.
If I had to single out Nightmare Alley’s greatest achievement (which would be logical given this is a review) I would have to choose the film's tone. It really feels like classic noir! All the iconic elements of the genre are front and center. We have our morally ambiguous leading man, our alluring femme fatale, and a sequence of events that keeps unfolding in the worst ways imaginable. Dan Lausten cinematography, though notably in color, would certainly feel just as moody and atmospheric black and white. In fact, I do believe a black and white cut of the movie exists. I’ll need to check that out!
When writing about this film my mind can’t help but obsess over it’s poor box office returns. Why didn’t such a great movie make money? It’s easy to assign blame to the pandemic, and it’s also quite accurate. However, the pandemic didn’t stop many people from seeing Spiderman No Way Home more than once. I think ultimately the blame has to be put on Disney for releasing this film so closely with the “Web Head’s” new movie. They were literally released theatrically on the same day! December 17th! With that information, the question goes from being, Why did this movie flop, to, How would this movie ever not flop?
Regardless of what the question may be, one thing is certain. Nightmare Alley is the kind of movie that deserves our attention; in fact, I'd go further to say Nightmare Alley is the kind of movie that needs our attention. It is us, the audience members, who decide what movie gets made. Our money, and what we choose to spend it on informs every decision that Hollywood executive and producers make. If we only put a significant amount of cash towards films about a guy swinging around New York city in a bug outfit, then all we’ll get in return is more of that. Many people can live with that, and that's perfectly fine, but I know there are a handful of people like myself who shutter at the idea. I implore these people, as well as myself, to get out of their homes and see movies like Nightmare Alley in a theater. If they can do it for Spiderman, they can do it for art. If they need to have a big screen with surround sound to enjoy a superhero movie, then why not go out of their way to have that for a movie that can offer an incredible experience no matter what it’s watched on? I’m aware it takes effort, I'm aware it costs money, but that is true for most things that are worth doing. I can’t promise that every theater experience you have will be amazing, but I can promise that if you start supporting cinema, you will eventually be rewarded. I can promise that if you take a chance and see a movie that might not be as familiar as the latest Spiderman or Batman adventure, every now and again you’ll have a new and exciting life experience that’s more than worth the price of admission. Every now and again, your senses will be overwhelmed by the magic of the movies. That I can promise with certainty.
It’s the middle of the night. A teenage girl is home alone. Her landline won’t stop ringing. She answers it and is led to believe she is speaking with her mother’s new boyfriend. The conversation starts off awkward, but innocent enough; then takes a turn for the worst when she discovers that the man on the other end is not her mother’s boyfriend, but a stranger who wants to kill her. She locks all the doors in her house, but it's too late. He's been in there with her all along. This is a story that sounds familiar to any horror fan, but even more so to fans of the Scream franchise.
Scream 2022 treds over a lot of familiar territory. A killer is on the loose, all the characters are suspects, the body count is on the rise, and the practice of not answering unknown numbers is as foreign of a concept as theoretical mathematics. However, it would be wrong to call the movie a complete retread. Focus is shifted from the original scream characters to a new cast of fresh faces and, though the actors clearly have talent to bring to the table, the characters themselves leave a lot to be desired. They are either carbon copies of other characters in the series or just disposable stereotypes. Perhaps that's part of the joke, but if it is, I don’t find it amusing. The 1996 classic separated itself from other slashers not just by poking fun at the genre, but by being a better movie than most of the films within that genre. The characters in that movie are so unique and memorable. Their personalities help elevate the comedy because they make jokes and references that are specific to them, rather than just being quips you could put into the mouths of any of the characters and achieve the same effect. I was particularly let down by the new main character, Sam Carpenter, who lacks the strength and competence that Sidney Prescott always displayed. However, her younger sister Tara ( played by Jannea Marie Ortega) was very interesting and enjoyable to watch. She possesses both the vulnerability and resourcefulness that one wishes to see in a “final girl” archetype, and the way she was used in the narrative was delightfully different from how I predicted she would be used; but, going into that would involve spoilers, so I'll steer clear of that.
The previous Scream films, excluding the lackluster third, were scripted by lifelong horror fan Kevin Williamson. He wrote the first entry of the series when he was a broke “wannabe” script writer with just one unproduced black comedy called Killing Mrs. Tingle to his name. The script would go on to be purchased by Dimension films for four hundred thousand dollars, Wes Craven would - after many refusals - eventually agree to direct, and the rest is history. This new movie was written by two individuals, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Vanderbilt penned the script for David Fincher's Zodiac, an excellent crime thriller that's so well written it makes me forgive the man for also having his fingerprints on films like Independence Day: Resurgence and The Amazing Spiderman 2. Those movies had multiple writers throwing things into the pot, and he just happened to be one of them. Busick on the other hand doesn’t have a lot of credits. The only other feature he’s worked on is the 2019 horror comedy Ready or Not, which was directed by the same director duo, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. I don’t know which writer had more input, but I do note that neither of them have the same gift for writing witty and self-referential dialogue that Williamson poses, nor do they even come close to matching the intensity and creativity of the more horrific scenes. They do a fine job with the whodunnit aspect of the film, and the commentary they offer on fan culture and obsession hits all the marks that it has too, but the writing lacks a unique voice. I’m not asking for Sorkin levels of distinction, I just want something that distinguishes itself from other modern day horror films that focus on teens. That wasn’t brought to the table. Meta humor and self awareness is common in the horror genre now, it’s not as fresh as it was in the 90s.
Matt Bettinelli Olpon and Tyler Gillet do bring a new cinematic look to the series. The first three films look very polished and over lit (which this movie itself references) and Olpin and Gillet have a much more handheld and realistic approach to cinematography. This is another element of the film that is both good and bad. On the good side of things, this way of shooting makes the violence in the movie a lot more visceral and true to life. On the bad side, we miss out on the more interesting camera movements and setups that horror legend Wes Craven put together for his intense horror sequences. Craven was known for giving one direction repeatedly to his crew, and that direction was, “more blood!” Olpon and Gillet made this movie as if they would’ve told the makeup and effects department to real it in if they got to unrealistically gory. As a result blood does spill, but not in the over the top way it did in the original movie climax, which required over fifty five gallons of fake blood to be created!
Many have deemed this new Scream film to be the best sequel in the series so far. I’d have to
re-watch it to decide whether I agree with that sentiment or not. What I know now is that Scream 2022 was an enjoyable and nostalgic experience for me, but it has some glaring issues that I just couldn’t ignore. The filmmakers really tried with this movie, and they managed to do some good work, but none of it was enough to distract me from the more problematic elements of the film's overall execution. If your love of the series calls you to the theater to see it, then you’re probably someone who will get enjoyment out of the experience; but, if you're not someone who really enjoys these films, be more intelligent than the characters in it, by not answering the call.