By Bret Dorman
It’s Oscar Season. The nominees are out. The show is almost upon us. And you know what is coming…
The Ranting. The Raving. The Rage.
Every year the Academy decides to either flat out ignore what I think should be nominated or if we at least agree on nominations it is only a tease, and what I think are clearly the winners end up going home empty handed. Isn’t it clear to them by now that if it were a matter of opinion, we could agree to disagree all day. But it’s not. There are obvious ‘Best’s of the year and I obviously know what they all are! C’Mon!
But at least I still have my sanctuary… Music Box Theatre’s Midnight Movies. They know me so well. And this weekend they are bringing back two of the best of 2011 for one last spin. Sure Drive and Bridesmaids were nominated for a couple of Oscars (collectively), but even better than Oscar nominations is true fan appreciation.
DRIVE Story: The unnamed car mechanic/stunt driver/getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) starts an innocent relationship with his next door neighbor (Carey Mullagin) even though she is married to an ex-con (Oscar Isaac). Meanwhile, his employer Shannon (Brian Cranston) is involved with LA Mobsters Bernie Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Everything runs smoothly until there’s just a minor bump in the road, which causes everything to spin out of control. Also, I am legally obligated now to say this movie is not the action packed romp akin to other car movies like Fast Five.
Wisely, Director Nicolas Winding Refn took Hosseinn Armini’s screen play (based off the James Sallis book) and boiled it down to its bare essentials. We’ve seen the basic story elements before. Charming protagonist with a mysterious (aka troubled) past, woman torn between two men, a double cross, and complete and total revenge. So why should we watch this version? One word: Style.Drive is slick. Driver speaks only when he has something to say. Shannon says too much. Bernie speaks with a deliciously evil undertone and Nino speaks before he thinks. The story takes its time developing relations and moods, before the centerpiece, a heist gone wrong tightens all the strings and brings everyone together. The story remains relatively simple (if not for a few spectacular coincidences) but the repercussions resound loudly.
For most of the movie Driver is in control. He has surrounded himself with cars and car related jobs and removed all temptations of ‘violence’ from his life. Even the opening chase highlights how he does not participate in ‘the action’, he only drives. And when he is in control and the chase is planned, even with a couple of minor escalations the getaway goes smoothly. Yet when push comes to shove, Driver explodes. With the same brutal force and efficiency he shows behind the wheel. Driver is not afraid to shoot, fight, or kill, he is more afraid of how good at it he is. And when the lives of Irene and her son Benicio are in danger, He doesn’t struggle to unleash the fury, he struggles to try and restrain it.The opening cat and mouse chase, the diner scene where Driver stares down a would be client with a ferocious animal like territorial gaze, and Driver’s donning of the ‘Hero Mask’ set to the song ‘Oh My Love’ are all worthy of discussion, but the one scene that I can not mention with including the word “Transcendental” in front of it is… The Transcendental Elevator Scene. Driver knows this is the last time Irene will see him as a hero even though he is doing his best to protect her. The scene ratchets from blissfully romantic to ultra-ULTRA-violent faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo S goes from 0 to 60.
BRIDESMAIDS Story: Annie (Kristen Wiig) is her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) maid of honor. But a bunch of bad stuff happens to her while the imposing new ‘best friend’ Helen (Rose Byrne) is basically great at everything. The two compete for being most liked (aka the best). Also, Tim Heidecker is the groom to be and doesn’t say one word (Hollywood needs more speaking parts for Tim Heideckers)! Here in Chicago, we may be a little more privileged when it comes to comedy seeing as we have such hot spots like iO, Second City, and Annoyance and even lesser known great venues like Studio Be (Potential Boyfriends & Gang every Tuesday night 10pm, $5, BYOB). So it’s great to see the things being taught and displayed at these places that consistently churn out Comedy Gold being used in feature length comedy movies! I’m not a huge Judd Apatow fan but he is good at making heart-felt dramedies that have such strong performances people refer to them just a good comedies.
In Bridesmaids, there’s plenty of drama and emotions to go around as Annie struggles with he own personal love life (having to chose between the neglectful but super good looking John Hamm and the goofy but endearing Chris O’Dowd) and business failures. Add to that the pressure of losing her best friend to another lady who seems at first to be all too perfect and you have a sappy wedding drama. Throw in a bit of violent tennis, bad Brazillian food, explosive diarrhea, a bit of verbal sparring with a tween, a chocolate fondue catfight, and the strong presence of Melissa McCarthy’s all out craziness and you have a gross out, crude comedy. Leaving Bridesmaids smack dab in the middle of emotionally engaging and freaking funny.A lot of people have singled out Melissa McCarthy’s (Oscar Nominated!) performance as a ‘scene stealer’ but its just one of many performances that make this movie enjoyable. All the ladies do their best, some with more screen time than others (Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper). But to me it’s the flight scene that shows Kristen Wiig’s bravado as a comedic actress that guarantees her a spot in with the heavy hitters. She ranges from jealous to sneering to high to crazy and never misses a beat in between. Plus it subverts the whole “Hangover did it” Las Vegas trip.
Why You Must See Them At Midnight: If you haven’t seen them in theaters, you must. I own Drive on DVD and I can vouch it’s not nearly as good as when you see it on the silver screen. Bridesmaids on the other hand I’ve only seen once, but I am 99.9% sure that its better with a crowd than home with a couple.
Drive (Friday only) may start out as a bit of a quiet, slow burn for the Midnight Crowd, but the seedy underworld of the LA Mob has never looked so slick, even as the death count rises. Bridesmaids (Friday and Saturday) on the other hand is a fast paced romp that slows down to let you catch your breath, and in the process maybe lose a tear or two. Props to Music Box Theatre for shining the Midnight Spotlight on two of the better films of 2011.