Vehicular Review Roundup

Get in Vehicle 19 to go for a Drive with The Driver in today’s roundup, featuring:

  • The Driver (1978)
  • Drive (2011)
  • Vehicle 19 (2013)


    The Driver
    (1978)

    2017 #101
    Walter Hill | 92 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA & UK / English | 15 / PG

    The Driver

    Walter Hill’s stripped-back neo-noir car chase thriller stars Ryan O’Neal as The Driver, a getaway man for hire and the best at what he does. Out to get him is Bruce Dern as The Detective, who’ll go to any lengths to catch him — including illegal ones. Almost cornered, the Driver enlists the help of The Player (Isabelle Adjani) to thwart the Detective.

    The film’s influence on the likes of Baby Driver and Drive is clear (Nicolas Winding Refn claims not to have seen it before making his film, but it must’ve been seen by someone somewhere down the line, whether that’s original novelist James Sallis or screenwriter Hossein Amini, because the DNA is right there). Both those later efforts burnished and perfected the formula in different ways, but the original has a gritty, low-rent charm of its own. The archetypal characters and straightforward noir plot are delightful almost because of their simplicity, while the few action scenes are handled with the panache, not of a slick blockbuster, but of a filmmaker who knows how to create something effective even within his limitations.

    The Driver maybe doesn’t transcend those to the level of being a classic, but, for fans of the genres it crosses, it’s deservingly a cult favourite.

    4 out of 5

    Drive
    (2011)

    2017 #106
    Nicolas Winding Refn | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    Drive

    Iconoclastic Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had made noteworthy films before Drive, but it felt like this was where he really hit home. It stars Ryan Gosling as a mechanic and part-time movie stunt driver who also moonlights as a getaway man, but when he tries to help out his attractive neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her husband (Oscar Isaac) he gets embroiled in a crime with deadly consequences.

    It’s a noir storyline with a familiar shape, but as with many of the best examples of that not-quite-a-genre it’s the stylish filmmaking that elevates the material. Refn was influenced by the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville and Sergio Leone to take a very American genre and give it a European influence, and the result is a movie that’s as much about its mood and feel as it is the intricacies of plot or character. Despite the title and theme it’s not even a car chase movie, really, though the handful of well-created driving sequences do pack a greater punch thanks to their scarcity.

    5 out of 5

    Drive was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2017 project.

    Vehicle 19
    (2013)

    2017 #151
    Mukunda Michael Dewil | 82 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / R

    Vehicle 19

    One of the last films Paul Walker completed before his untimely death, Vehicle 19 sees the Fast & Furious star doing what he will always be remembered for: driving a car, sometimes fast. Here he’s Michael Woods, a recent parolee who arrives in Johannesburg intending to reunite with his partner. Unfortunately he picks up the wrong rental car and finds himself the subject of a manhunt, because in the car is evidence relating to a political conspiracy. Unfortunately for the bad guys who want said evidence, Michael is, like, an honourable chap — and also a criminal, so he totally knows how to drive a car like he’s escaping a crime. The main conceit is: the whole film’s shot from within the car.

    Yep, that’s why I watched it. I wish I hadn’t. Vehicle 19 is a deeply stupid movie. Like, Michael’s phone is all-important — it’s the only way he can contact other people; later, it contains vital evidence — but when he notices the battery is low he does nothing about it, despite having a charger in his bag, until the battery literally runs out mid-call. And that’s just one of innumerable nonsensical contrivances throughout the film.

    It lacks pace, and therefore lacks tension. Michael just pootles around the city from the very start. Apparently everywhere is reachable within 20 minutes, or Michael — who’s never been to this city before — thinks it is. Whenever he asks for directions, everywhere he’s going is either just a block away or down the road, third right. At one point the police say they just received a call to 911. From what I can tell, the emergency number in South Africa is not 911. And I could probably go on — the film is absolutely littered with things that just don’t quite hang together.

    Fast and/or furious

    It can’t satisfy as a dumb action flick either. I presume it was a low-budget production with ambitions beyond its scale in the chase scenes. Understandably, the trailer foregrounds these to help sell the movie. Unfortunately for the film, it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch: the clips in the trailer are near-as-dammit the entirety of the film’s action. These sequences are few, far between, short, and, even then, poorly staged. The problem isn’t that they’re all limited to only being seen from within the car (the opening sequence of The Driver does exactly that to marvellous effect, for example), it’s that they lack both adrenaline and plausibility. For example, at one point Michael manages to make the chasing car flip over, but I watched that bit three times to try to decipher it and I still have absolutely no idea how he’s supposed to have done it. Oh, and then the car explodes. And Michael and his passenger seem to react like “oh, that’s that then” and just drive on.

    They’ve got the right idea, though: if you’re thinking of watching Vehicle 19, no, just drive on. Or just put Drive on — it’s a totally different movie, but at least it’s a good one.

    1 out of 5

    Vehicle 19 featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

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  • The Lost in Time, Like Tears in Rain, Monthly Update for October 2017

    This month includes three shorts and two feature films in the Blade Runner universe, one of them a contender for Film of the Year. Now I just need to dig out the old computer game…


    #129 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
    #130 Public Access (1993)
    #130a Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (2017)
    #130b 2036: Nexus Dawn (2017)
    #130c 2048: Nowhere to Run (2017)
    #131 Perfect Sense (2011)
    #132 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
    #133 The Straight Story (1999)
    #134 Manchester by the Sea (2016)
    #135 Assassin’s Creed 3D (2016)
    #136 Frost/Nixon (2008)
    #137 Vixen (2017)
    #138 What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
    #139 Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)
    #140 Train to Busan (2016), aka Busanhaeng
    #141 Silence (2016)
    #142 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
    #143 Rurouni Kenshin (2012), aka Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins
    #144 The Heat (2013)
    #145 Moon (2009)
    #146 RocknRolla (2008)
    #147 In the Loop (2009)
    #148 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
    #149 Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno (2014), aka Rurōni Kenshin: Kyôto taika-hen
    #150 The Exorcist (1973)
    #151 Vehicle 19 (2013)
    Blade Runner 2049

    Train to Busan

    Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno

    .


    • With 23 new feature films watched this month, October becomes the best month of 2017 so far, beating the 20 of March.
    • It smashes the October average (12.78), raising it over one whole film in the process (to 13.8). It’s not the highest October ever, but October 2015 is my highest-ever month, so, you know.
    • It also surpasses the average for 2017 to date (14.2; now 15.1) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (13.83; now 14.58).
    • Reaching #151 means 2017 is already my third best year. I’d have to reach #196 for second place, which I’m not on track to do. But come the end of the year I’ll factor in the Rewatchathon too, and that may say differently…
    • This month’s Blindspot film: it was Halloween, so I saved the film still advertised as “the scariest of all time” for October — William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. S’not that scary. S’good, though.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: with Duncan Jones’ new film coming to Netflix sometime this year, I finally got round to the movie that made his name (and his Twitter name in particular), Moon.



    The 29th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    There were a fair few films I enjoyed a lot this month — indeed, when I’m finally done reviewing them, there could be as many as nine five-star ratings handed out (that’d be 39% of this month’s films, well above my average of 16.7%). In most months that’d make this a very tough choice, but after only a little consideration it’s clear that the winner has to be Blade Runner 2049.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Conversely, there were a few clangers too — again, several I’d be happy to give this dishonour to. The most egregious of them all was Vehicle 19, a thriller whose high concept was right up my alley, but was so poorly realised that I’ll be giving it a very low score indeed.

    Film I Most Often Forgot to Review This Month
    I watched Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows partly so I could review it the day his Thor sequel hit UK cinemas… but I forgot. Then I discovered it was going to be on BBC Two last Sunday night… but that was only 55 minutes before it was due to start. I guess next I’ll aim to tie my review to Thor 3 coming out in the US… but I’ll probably forget.

    Most Surprisingly Popular Review of the Month
    My most-read post for the past two months in a row is The Past Fortnight on TV #22. Is that because of The Defenders? The Game of Thrones finale? The long-awaited return of Agent Cooper to Twin Peaks? Well, I’m sure they all helped, but my stats say the highest number of referrals from IMDb (far higher than anything else in that post) came from Designated Survivor. Who’d’ve thunk it?

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Reviews of new cinema releases almost always do well, and so two of them duked it out for the top spot this month: Blade Runner 2049, which sat clear for most of the month, and Thor: Ragnarok, which took a run at it in the last week. With 24 hours to go it was still a tight race: they were separated by fewer hits than Thor had typically been getting in a day. But in the end the Marvel movie didn’t get anywhere near that many yesterday, leaving Blade Runner 2049 this month’s victor.



    I always thought that the next time I watched Blade Runner it would be to finally see the original theatrical version. That’ll have to wait for another day: because I was rewatching it the night before 2049, it seemed most appropriate to choose the ‘official’ final version.

    #36 Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)
    #37 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
    #38 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
    #39 Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
    #40 The Reckless Moment (1949)

    I’ve got a long list of things to consider rewatching for this project, but that’s frequently going ignored in favour of where my whims take me. So, after randomly alighting on Wayne’s World last month, I fancied carrying on through Mike Myers’ oeuvre, thus all three Austin Powers flicks are here (with my short Letterboxd comments on each linked to above). It’ll be Shrek next. (That was a joke, but, actually, it is something I’ve been planning to rewatch…)

    Finally, film noir The Reckless Moment. I first watched it over a decade ago (and reviewed it here) and have been meaning to revisit it for a lot of that time because I thought I’d been unfair to it. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s got a lot of good stuff — the cast, the direction, the concept — but parts of it are rushed or underemphasised. Although it’s not all it could be, I feel like something will keep drawing me back to it. Not any time soon — that’s not in my nature — but someday. Maybe, ironically, some of the appeal lies in the imperfections.


    As 2017 hurtles towards 2018, the big screen offers up a death on a train, a marmalade-loving bear, and a league of justice. Feel free to guess which is the only one of those I’m likely to bother going to the cinema for.