Starring:Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

“I drive.”

A stunt driver for the movies by day and a getaway driver for hire by nights, a solitary, nameless man’s life and psyche begin to unravel when he becomes drawn to the woman who lives next door.

Ryan Gosling should be careful. If he doesn’t start making superhero movies soon, people might think he’s an actual actor and everything. Having impressed in a series of indie movies, happily skirting the borders of fame for years, Gosling seems to have finally caught everyone’s eye with this Canne favourite. Which is odd because he has done a lot better.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest has won over many a critic with his stylish, deliberate exercise in cool. And there’s certainly no doubting the panache and gloss of Driver, which is more than accomplished visually. Refn clearly seems to have a particular time and place in cinema on his mind and with its retro soundtrack, sharp L.A. exteriors and central male enigma, Driver is more than a little reminiscent of 1980s Paul Schrader.

However, scratch beneath the surface of Driver and there is very little substance to find. In fact, it turns out to be a slow, pensive character study of a man seemingly without a character. Quite the challenge. The nameless driver is a strangely aimless, taciturn figure, almost to the point of being a vacuum. Occasionally he says something, every now and then he even smiles, but it is only toward the end, when his beguiling relationship with neighbour Irene and her son leads to tragedy, that the driver begins to show not just his true colours, but any colours at all. It’s a long wait.

It’s somewhat difficult to understand who Drive is aimed at. Fans of the usual car-based action movies such as The Fast and the Furious, or indeed the video games which many will find the movie resembling, could be disappointed by the paucity of actual driving scenes, although when they come they are impressively executed. On the flip side, lovers of more cerebral fare may find even their patience tested by the long silences and moments of sombre inactivity.

Ryan prepares for that superhero movie by lifting a car with one hand

Performances are almost all-round excellent, as far as they are allowed to go. Mulligan is quietly affecting as Irene and Cranston stands out as the driver’s boss and sponsor, Shannon. There is also a pleasing turn from Ron Perlman. The usually excellent Gosling, however, has centre stage and underplays it all a little too much. You neither like the driver nor dislike him, neither empathise nor really criticise (except perhaps toward the end when he finally snaps). There is simply nothing to work with in a character this banal. He’s like Rain Main but without the mumbling and amusing facts about air travel.

With some flashes of brilliance, there is an exceptional movie trapped somewhere in Drive but, ironically, drive is exactly what the end result is missing.

Rating – 2 Stars

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Starring:Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko

Directors: The Vicious Brothers

 “I don’t know how much longer we can last. We’re not alone in here anymore.”

Paranormal investigation show, Grave Encounters, is now on its sixth episode and presenter Lance Preston and his team are locking themselves in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital for the night. Expecting the kind of anti-climatic experience which has let the show down so far, the team find quite the opposite.

I’m a big fan of the increasingly prolific ‘found footage’ genre of horror movie. For some reason, its ratio of good to bad is unusually impressive. So I was very much looking forward to Grave Encounters, the debut from writer/director team The Vicious Brothers (who are not brothers and do not have the surname Vicious). Based on those often cheesy TV ghost-hunting shows which have found popularity over recent years, Grave Encounters simply takes the format and demonstrates what would happen if these people actually found something during one of their episodes. The filmmakers also expressed a desire to take a genre that is by nature often restrained to maintain realism and throw something a little more excessive into the mix. In this regard the filmmakers succeed, although not always to the movie’s benefit.

Grave Encounters takes it slow at first, giving us time to get to know Lance Preston, played with an amusing earnestness by Sean Rogerson, and his team of pantomime presenters and technicians as they settle into the impressive location for the night. The problem is that they are so convincing as they kind of people who usually front these shows that they are also, inevitably, rather irritating; all pretentious looks and solemn pronouncements. You are waiting for them to find out what being scared really is, and therefore never completely on their side when things go to hell.

It is when the hospital haunting begins in earnest that Grave Encounters both scales its heights and scrapes its lows. Those who have grown weary of the lack of incident in these types of movies will find much more going on during this one. In fact, the filmmakers seem at great pains to ensure that, if nothing else, their movie will never be accused of being boring. Where most other entries in this genre are content to tickle the back of your neck, Grave Encounters simply slaps you round the head. It is not subtle and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with some very effective frighteners but also a few scares a little too heavily signposted to truly shock. It doesn’t help that one of the main scares appeared in the trailer.

Who ya gonna call? Art students!

There are a few inspired moments amongst the horror movie clichés and classics, particularly in the way that the movie plays with your expectations as morning arrives, very little has happened and you wonder where the movie will go next. However, one thing Grave Encounters can lay solid claim to is the fact that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Once the action kicks off it barely relents and the last forty minutes provide a breathless ride that will have you either jumping, screaming, laughing, or all of the above, depending on how you take to the various shaky-cam assaults which the hospital throws at our not-so-intrepid TV crew.

Grave Encounters is probably not one for the high-brow horror enthusiast. Yes, there is the odd CGI embellishment. Yes, it wants to entertain rather than convince. It’s a bit of a crowd-pleaser with a hit-and-miss, kitchen sink approach that may grate with some. However, watch it on its own terms, don’t take it too seriously and the chances are you’ll have a blast.

Rating – 3 Stars

I just sat and watched an art house horror movie called Antichrist by the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. You may or may not have heard of it, but it gained some notoriety at the Cannes Film Festival this year where it was adored and reviled in equal measure due to its very graphic nature.

It’s the story of a couple (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) whose young son falls from a window and dies, unnoticed by them while they are having sex. They retreat to a cabin in the woods to recover but fear, guilt and resentment lead them to begin systematically torturing each other, first mentally and then physically. All the while the woods around them begin to come alive.

Lars von Trier is not one of my favourite filmmakers by a long shot. I find his movies are usually pretentious, self-important and plodding and Antichrist isn’t much different. It’s not your average Cineplex popcorn seller, with scenes of close-up penetrative sex and genital mutilation among other things, but it is deeply unsettling, haunting and one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a long time. Not one for the shelf, but a good movie nonetheless.

So, after watching a movie like this I like to go and read some reviews; see what the rest of the world thought. I prefer to read the bulk of movie reviews after the event. One stop I always find enjoyable is my old friend The Daily Mail. For those of you who don’t know, The Daily Mail is a British newspaper. It is a bastion of Victorian values and insane Conservatism and either gives me a good chuckle or sends me into a foaming rage, depending on the topic. I simply had to know what The Daily Mail film reviewer thought about Antichrist.

This is what I found. It’s long, and much like the films of Lars von Trier, it’s pretentious, self-important and plodding. But it is well worth the read!


What DOES it take for a film to get banned these days?

By Christopher Hart

As censors approve a movie that plumbs grotesque new depths of sexual explicitness and violence, one critic (who prides himself on being broad-minded) despairs…

A film which plumbs new depths of sexual explicitness, excruciating violence and degradation has just been passed as fit for general consumption by the British Board of Film Classification. They have given the film an 18 certificate. As we all know, this is meaningless nowadays in the age of the DVD because sooner or later, thanks to the gross irresponsibility of some parents, any film that is given general release will be seen by children.

You do not need to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (which is released later this week) to know how revolting it is. I haven’t seen it myself, nor shall I – and I speak as a broad-minded arts critic, strongly libertarian in tendency. But merely reading about Antichrist is stomach-turning, and enough to form a judgment. As Ernest Hemingway said of obscenity in a justifiably disgusting image, you don’t need to eat a whole bowl of scabs to know they’re scabs.

Here is the ‘plot’ of Antichrist, with apologies in advance. But since this is coming to a cinema near you soon – and then a DVD, a website and a late-night TV channel – you might want know about it. A couple are having sex. Graphically close-up. While they are doing so, their toddler falls to his death from a balcony. The husband and wife go to stay in a log cabin to recover from their grief. There, horrors the likes of which I have never witnessed unfold in graphic detail. Eventually, the husband strangles her and escapes through the woods, where he is surrounded by hundreds of children with blurred faces. The end.

Now the anonymous moral guardians of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), in their infinite wisdom, have passed this foul film for general consumption. Another bizarre but typical judgment from this panel of experts whose names we don’t even know (and so we don’t even know if they are parents). We do know that its president, Sir Quentin Thomas, gets £28,000 for 25 days’ work a year. Nice job if you can get it. In a jaded and degraded culture, Antichrist is presumably intended to shock. In fact, it doesn’t shock, it merely nauseates.

It doesn’t shock or surprise me in the slightest that Europe now produces such pieces of sick, pretentious trash, fully confirming our jihadist enemies’ view of us as a society in the last stages of corruption and decay. It doesn’t surprise me that Antichrist was heavily subsidised by the Danish Film Institute to the tune of 1.5 million euros.

I tried to find out more from the Institute, but to my small surprise they disdained to reply. But you can be sure that they in turn are funded by the EU and so by my taxes – and yours. How do you feel about that? If not shocked, then weary, furious, disgusted? Well you can complain all you like, but no one is listening. Our arts mandarins, along with the rest of our lofty liberal elite, don’t work like that. Their job is to take our money and spend it on such fashionable torture porn – sorry, art – not ask us our opinion.

Since sex and violence are both intrinsic parts of human experience, art and literature will necessarily contain both. There are few more horrific moments on the English stage than in King Lear, when the Duke of Cornwall gouges out the aged Gloucester’s eyes. I must have seen the scene 20 times and it never fails to appal. But although superficially similar to the atrocities of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, it differs in every significant respect. Shakespeare is dramatising the tragic universe we inhabit, human evil at its worst, and the hidden moral process by which Cornwall will eventually be punished for his cruelty.

The world of Antichrist, by contrast, is blatantly amoral, without any sense of justice or retribution whatever. Its mingling of sex and violence, the cheapest and nastiest trick in the book, is usually one which the BBFC pounces on in a straight horror film. But here they are blinded by their own cultural snobbery, swallowing the lie that Antichrist is Art. Von Trier, the film’s writer and director, naturally scorns as a philistine rabble those who don’t appreciate his rare genius. ‘I don’t think about the audience when I make a film. I don’t care. I make films for myself.’

A pity he doesn’t fund those films for himself too, then. But he cannot be blamed for his atrocities, he explains. ‘It’s the hand of God, I’m afraid. And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure God is the best god in the world.’ Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, who plays the father, is evidently proud of his work in Antichrist too. He believes that all that child death and sexual violence is ‘poetry’, that the film is ‘true and fresh and living’, and dismisses any objections as ‘very conservative.’ In quintessential luvviepseak, he explains: ‘Your responsibility is to the integrity of what you do to yourself.’

Now bearing the stamp of BBFC approval, Antichrist is to be released uncut into our cultural bloodstream. In artistic terms, it is the equivalent of food poisoning. How odd that while government-appointed health czars are so obsessed with anything that might harm the nation’s physical wellbeing – hanging flower baskets, conkers, too much sunshine, not enough sunshine – any concern with the nation’s moral or spiritual well-being has completely vanished. Its approval by the BBFC raises the question: what on earth does it take for a film to be banned nowadays? If the visceral sadism of Von Trier’s film passes muster, surely anything will?

Censorship today seems to have been reduced to the feeble principle that if it doesn’t harm children, then it should be allowed. As soon as it’s released on DVD, Antichrist will harm children anyway, deeply and irrevocably. But when did this principle of protecting only children arise anyway? What about harming adults? If I were to see Antichrist, I don’t believe for a moment that it would incite me into copycat violent behaviour or make me a danger to others. But it would poison my mind and imagination, with explicit, ferocious scenes of sexual violence that would stay with me for ever.

Isn’t that good enough reason to ban it, or at least demand extensive cuts? But have we – that is to say, the hesitant, fumbling, comfortably cushioned, value-free Leftish elite who now govern us – got the guts? I doubt it.

Just remember, he hasn’t actually seen the film but…