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Nicolas Winding Refn on “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s jacket, and his “Logan’s Run” remake

Nicolas Winding Refn on “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s jacket, and his “Logan’s Run” remake (photo)

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I’ve interviewed a lot of directors. Nicolas Winding Refn is the first I’ve ever spoken to who actively solicited negative feedback about his movie. As we were wrapping up our conversation about his new film “Drive,” he pressed me to tell him something I didn’t like about it. You’ll see what I said, along with his great response, at the end of our interview. I just appreciated talking to a director who takes criticism, even negative criticism, seriously.

Or maybe Refn knew he’s got a really good movie on his hands and there wasn’t much to complain about. He would be right, too. “Drive” is a superb film, a successful blend of action and romance, violence and beauty, high and low art. Ryan Gosling stars as Driver, a part-time mechanic and stuntman who moonlights as a wheelman. He takes a shine to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), but she has a secret she’s not telling him, and he’s getting in over his head with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and some of his unsavory underworld associates (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks, wonderfully surprising as a pragmatic mobster).

The film draws on all sorts of older inspirations — John Hughes movies, Japanese samurai films, 70s crime fiction — and combines them in a refreshingly new way. As Refn famously described in front of a packed house at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the whole project began with an awkward meeting between the director and his star. Refn was sick and high on flu medication. He doesn’t have a driver’s license — more on that in a bit — so Gosling drove him back to his hotel. When REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” came on the car stereo, Refn burst into tears and song simultaneously. Somehow, Gosling understood: this was what their movie was about. A partnership was born.

So I started with the somehow: how did the Danish-born director of foreign indies like the “Pusher” trilogy, “Bronson,” and “Valhalla Rising” know this was the right project to make as his first Hollywood movie? After that, we tackled all sorts of topics about “Drive,” including Refn’s chronological shooting method, his vision for Gosling’s costume, even his unusual choice of opening credits fonts, before we wrapped things up by briefly discussing his upcoming project with Gosling, a remake of “Logan’s Run.”

Remaking beloved science-fiction classics? Good thing the guy’s cool with negative criticism.

So I’ve read the story of your first meeting with Ryan Gosling when you were high on flu meds, crying, and singing REO Speedwagon. But what was it about this project that made it the one for you guys to collaborate on?

It wasn’t this project. It was basically that during the course of that drive home, when I was singing REO Speedwagon and crying [laughs], I saw an emotion that I could make a movie out about.

What emotion was that?

I told Ryan, “We’re going to do a movie about a man who drives around in a car at night listening to pop music because that’s his emotional relief.” He was like “Cool, let’s do it.” And that’s how the film got started. After that, I looked at the material, and I wanted to change a whole lot. Then I read the book, and I wanted to infuse much more from the book.

Can you give me some specific examples of things you changed?

Everything about it. Eliminating Driver’s past, casting Carey Mulligan instead of a Latino actress because that’s what the character is in the book, condensing the script by 25 pages, the elevator scene, the ending. So many things. It’s hard; every detail added up to a complete transformation.

I also read that you’ve failed your driving test eight times.

[laughs] Yeah.

First of all, how is it possible to fail eight times? Did you screw up a specific thing, like parallel parking?

I don’t even know what that is.

You don’t even know what that is? Maybe that’s part of the problem.

I just failed, failed, failed.

When you can’t drive, does that have any impact on the way you make a movie called “Drive” about a guy who drives a lot?

No, because I wasn’t making a movie about cars. I was making a movie about a man who owns a car.

There are some really cool driving sequences in the movie, though. How much control do you have over those? Do you design them or do you leave that to the stunt people?

Well, a good director is not an expert in anything in particular. A good director just knows a little bit about everything. And then he utilizes the various experts around him to help him realize what he wants to do.

So in the case of the driving, you have your experts, but how much direction do you give them? Does the script just say “Chase Sequence” or is it detailed?

It said “Chase Sequence” when I was done with it, because I would constantly
change things. I was shooting in chronological order, and that changed things constantly.

Why chronological order?

It makes it more interesting, seeing what will happen. It makes it more dangerous to perform, and it makes [shooting] more of a discovery process.

The silver jacket with the scorpion on the back that Ryan Gosling wears gets a lot of screen time. How did that become his signature look?

I wanted [Gosling] to wear a white satin jacket that would illuminate him at night. Good actors find their own costumes, so Ryan found a type of jacket that he really liked. And then we had that type of jacket made in satin. And then on top of that we incorporated the scorpion logo on the back.

Who has the jacket now?

I have a jacket, Ryan has a few, and my wife has more. Only the three of us.

Have you ever worn it?

My wife wears it sometimes.

Ryan is playing this figure we’ve seen before, the tough, brooding wheelman. But he does something that very few of these characters do, which is smile. He has this very warm smile that he shows Carey Mulligan’s character.

Absolutely. He is a combination of violence and romance. That was based on Grimms’ fairy tale structure. By day, he was a human being, by night he was a hero. And the movie is about his transformation into this superhero, by bringing his human morals into the hero role, so that he does what he does for the right reasons.

So the scorpion jacket is almost super-heroic.

It’s part of his costume.

Right. For months, I’ve been really intrigued by the posters for this movie with the title written in hot pink script letters. Then I saw the film and realized that’s the font of the opening titles. It’s such an unusual, striking choice. How did you come up with that?

I wanted that kind of font because it’s timeless, in a way. It’s like a hand drawn logo, which is also like old fairy tales. If you look at old fairy tales, they’re always beautifully choreographed and designed.

The violence in the movie reminded me a little of the violence in “Bronson,” where it appears in the sudden explosions after moments of stillness. Both seem to be about the anticipation of violence as much as the violence itself. Is that fair to say?

It sounds fair. I’m a fetish filmmaker; I just make films based on what I want to see.

So you don’t intellectualize it at all?

On the contrary. I fear it.

So are the feelings primarily on the set or in the editing room?

It depends on what you do. Car chases are all about editing. And more physical violence, emotional violence, is more about the performances.

Ryan’s character has these rules that he follows as a wheelman. Do you have have any rules that you follow as a filmmaker? It sounds like following your instincts would be one.

Also: making sure you’re always a little bit out of your depth. That forces you to be more creative. Art thrives on obstacles. The bigger the obstacle, the better the drama.

All right so you have two more movies you’re working on now with Ryan Gosling including a remake of “Logan’s Run.” Why did you want to remake that film?

I’ve always been obsessed with the original. I remember seeing it when I was really little on television. There was something about it that was so hypnotic. This whole disco world that they walk around in was like “Wow!”

Do you plan on making a faithful remake?

No.

A total reimagining?

Well, it would only do it justice. What I have to do is reinvent it. Otherwise, why make it?

Looks like our time’s up. Thanks very much.

Thanks. Did you like the movie?

I did.


What was your favorite part?

Well, I see a lot of action movies. Most are pretty derivative. I appreciated the fact that this looked nothing like the other action movies out there.

What was your least favorite part?

If I’m being totally honest, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more with Carey Mulligan’s character. Maybe that was by design, but after you build up her relationship with Ryan, she doesn’t have much to do in the last third of the film. I really liked her performance and I wanted to see more.

That’s good. Wanting to see more is good. You don’t want someone to say they’ve seen enough.

“Drive” opens this Friday. If you see it, tell us what you think in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bill Hader as Stefon Breaking Character

The Break-Up

Watch Bill Hader and Other SNL Favorites Break Character

Catch Bill Hader on the new season of Documentary Now! premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: NBC/YouTube

Aw, Friday. A day of happy hours that begin at 4PM and “too rotten to miss” movies like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey on IFC’s Rotten Fridays. A truly magical day where the possibilities are endless and the regrets are just around the corner. So as we partake in the pre-weekend, sit back and enjoy another gaggle of funny videos to run out the clock.

From a despondent croissant to unintended giggling on SNL, here are the five best videos of the week.

1. SNL Cast Breaks Up

Saturday Night Live head honcho Lorne Michaels famously decries ad-libbing during the live runs — though with hilarious folks like Will Ferrell and Documentary Now!‘s Bill Hader, there are bound to be some unscripted moments that cause the cast to lose it during a sketch. Some of the greatest SNL moments involve the players or guests breaking character, as this compilation clearly shows. (Fortunately, the shame of ruining the scene has been replaced by video viralbility.)


2. Croissant Man

Pity the breakfast pastry, for its existential ennui is too much for this world. In this short courtesy of the NY Television Festival, our favorite light and flakey morning pal waxes melodramatically to his therapist and compatriots regarding the hopeless, Sartre-level gloom that hangs over every search for Life’s purpose. (Click here to see more great shorts from the NYTVF.)


3. That Time Ray Charles Beat Willie Nelson in Chess

For your guaranteed smile of the day, here’s the tale of a game of chess between crooners Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. Turns out ol’ Ray was a bona fide chess master on par with Bobby Fischer — or maybe he was just good at evening the field by making them play in the dark. As Willie puts it, “He kicked my ass three games in a row!”


4. Why Jump Scares Suck

Ever since primitive man leapt out of a bush to scare his friend, jump scares have been employed as a cheap and easy way to jolt your audience. As YouTuber Jack Nugent explains in the latest Now You See It video, it’s far more difficult to instill a growing sense of dread and suspense than just simply having a cat screech across the foreground of a dimly lit basement.


5. Best Supporting Weirdo

“Here’s to the crazy ones,” Steve Jobs famously said, paying homage to the oddballs and misfits who stand out from the pack and, more often than not, define their surroundings. In this rapid-fire supercut, some of our favorite nutjobs (like Beetlejuice, Cameron Frye and Death) are paid homage for keeping pop culture protagonists on edge and the audience entertained.

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Bill and Ted Bogus Journey Keanu Reeves Alex Winter

Rotten Journey

5 Reasons Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey Is Too Rotten to Miss

Have an excellent time with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey tonight at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

We live in an age of unimaginative sequels. Filmmakers know the easiest way to cash in is to trot out the same plot and characters and hope we don’t notice. Which is why what we need now more than ever is Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, airing tonight at 8P as part of IFC’s Rotten Fridays.

Sure, the 1991 sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (coincidentally airing on IFC tonight at 6P before Bogus Journey) scored a meager 54% on the Rotten Tomatoes. (Even before the “Tomatometer” was a thing, Bogus Journey was the definition of a lackluster sequel.) But its mix of head-scratching craziness (Robots! Aliens! William Sadler as Death!) and solid gags (“You sunk my Battleship!”) have earned the flick a cult following among fans of oddball sequels. Before you tune in tonight, check out some reasons why Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey earns the coveted title of being one of IFC and Rotten Tomatoes’ movies that are “too rotten to miss.”

5. It’s Visually Most Triumphant.

Bogus Journey
Orion Pictures

The first movie may be a classic, but there’s no doubt the look of this scorned sequel took things to a whole other level. Instead of resting on Excellent Adventure‘s laurels, new director Peter Hewitt decided to go for broke creatively, offering up a vivid visual style that highlighted the film’s themes of life, death, failure and regret. While it may not be the popular opinion, there’s no doubt that as pure eye candy Bogus blew the first flick out of the water. Just ask Michael Wilmington, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “Bogus Journey is better than the original: more imaginative, more opulent, wilder and freer, more excitingly visualized.” Righteous review, dude!


4. Evil Bill and Ted Robots? Excellent!

Bogus Journey robots
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Bill and Ted have to be two of the most loveable doofuses to ever grace the silver screen, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that seeing them go full-on bad guy is a real treat. The evil robot clones of Bill and Ted still have their sleepy-eyed, stoner outlook on life — they just also happen to be bad to the bone. This fun twist brings new life to the franchise, another example of how screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon really mixed things up. Plus, they rock!


3. Bill and Ted Go To Hell. Outstanding!

Bogus Journey
Orion Pictures

If Tim Burton ever directed a Freddy Krueger movie, it might end up looking something like Bill and Ted’s journey to Hell. While the sequence is righteously funny — with an unending descent into Hades going from terrifying to boring in the blink of an eye — it also has a dark, nightmarish quality that’s like an M.C Escher painting that knows your deepest, darkest secrets. Alex Winter’s turn as young Bill’s toothless “Granny Preston” wanting a kiss still gives us nightmares.


2. The Grim Reaper is Bodacious.

Bogus Journey
Orion Pictures

William Sadler, who’s played everything from a badass terrorist in Die Hard 2 to a loveable convict in The Shawshank Redemption, kills it as, well, Death. Heavily influence by Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Sadler plays the Grim Reaper as a stoic force of nature who learns to loosen up thanks to some righteous new friends. The scene where Bill and Ted best him in a batch of board games may seem a bit broad at first blush, but what are Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq. supposed to do? Play chess?


1. The Dudes Truly Become Wyld Stallyns.

Bogus Journey Wyld Stallyns
Orion Pictures

One of the few shortcomings from the most unrivaled first film is that we never really get to see the boys become rock legends. Thanks to some time traveling shortcuts — and a 16-month sabbatical of guitar lessons and baby making — Bogus Journey ends with the Wyld Stallyns finally living up to their righteous reputation, ready to make the music that will put an end to war and poverty and align the planets into universal harmony. Also, it’s excellent for dancing.

Catch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey this Friday at 8P on IFC’s Rotten Fridays!

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Bulworth Warren Beatty

Choose or Lose

The Funniest Political Comedies From the ’90s

Documentary Now! tackles '90s politics with "The Bunker," premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

While this election season seems like the greatest source of political comedy ever, it’s got nothing on the ’90s. During the original recipe Clinton Era, there were a large number of films that shined a light on the dark humor of politics.

As we gear up for the September 14th premiere of “The Bunker,” the season premiere episode of Documentary Now! that takes a look back at the tumultuous 1992 Ohio Governor race, let’s flashback to a simpler time when Donald Trump was just a rich guy happy to be in Home Alone 2. It was the time of flannel shirts, Beavis and Butt-head and politicians with their heads up their own butts. Grab some Crystal Pepsi and check out the funniest political comedies of the ’90s.

10. My Fellow Americans (1996)

Legendary actors James Garner and Jack Lemmon play two politically opposite ex-Presidents thrust together in an attempt to prove that the current President (played by Dan Aykroyd) is behind a bribery scandal that Lemmon’s Pres. Kramer is being framed for. My Fellow Americans was supposed to star Lemmon and his Grumpy Old Men costar Walter Matthau, who backed out of the project due to health problems. As great a duo as they were, James Garner seemed like the perfect choice for Pres. Douglas — with his natural Southern charm, his character is like an older Bill Clinton.


9. The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)

The Distinguished Gentleman might be the last movie you would shout out if you were ever on Family Feud and “Eddie Murphy movies” was a category, but it’s still a fun comedy with Eddie bringing the cool factor that made him a huge star in the ’80s. Here Murphy plays a con man who decides to run for a Florida Congressional seat because he shares the same name as the congressman in his district up for re-election who just died of a heart attack. After getting the backing of a Florida seniors organization (the Silver Foxes), Murphy’s appropriately named Thomas Jefferson Johnson runs as the “name you know” and ends up winning. He starts out buying into the idea of “playing the game” in order to get paid by lobbyists but eventually ends up changing his con-man ways. Hey, it’s a ’90s Eddie Murphy comedy. Things tended to work out in Eddie’s favor.


8. Black Sheep (1996)

The second buddy road trip comedy starring Chris Farley and David Spade suffers from being compared to the much funnier Tommy Boy, but there are still some hilarious moments here. Farley, in one of his final roles, plays Mike Donnelly, a well-meaning but goofy mess who manages to repeatedly muck up his brother’s campaign for Governor. Casting Tim Matheson, of Animal House fame, as the smarter and handsomer brother was a great choice and Farley and Spade get into plenty of shenanigans including encountering Gary Busey as a crazed Vietnam Vet. The scene where Farley takes the stage at a “Rock the Vote” concert will have you snorting Crystal Pepsi out of your nose.


7. The American President (1995)

Before he created The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin honed his presidential speech writing skills with the screenplay for The American President, a romantic comedy where Michael Douglas’ single Prez romances Annette Bening’s plucky environmental lobbyist. Directed by rom-com master Rob Reiner, the movie is loaded with sweet and funny moments, like when Pres. Shepherd (Douglas) calls Sydney (Bening) to ask her out the first time and she hangs up thinking it’s a prank call. We even get a sneak peek of President Bartlett, as Martin Sheen turns up as Shepherd’s no-nonsense his Chief-of-Staff. Sorkin claims he wrote the screenplay during a time when he smoked a crack. If that’s the case, every screenwriter should be give that method a try.


6. Wag the Dog (1997)

Before Dustin Hoffman joined Robert De Niro’s “circle of trust” in Meet the Fockers, the legendary actors co-starred in the David Mamet-scripted dark comedy Wag the Dog. You can’t capture the era of ’90s politics better than a film dealing with the cover-up of a Presidential sex scandal. Oddly, the movie actually came out before Monica Lewinsky and her dress entered the minds of Americans. Today, the plot of Wag the Dog might be an episode of Scandal, but if you look back to 1997, it was a biting political satire of what goes on behind-the-scenes of power and politics. De Niro plays D.C. spin-doctor Conrad Bean, who hires a Hollywood producer to stage a fake war in Albania as a distraction to help insure the President’s re-election. In a stellar cast that also includes Anne Heche and Woody Harrelson as a psychotic ex-soldier turned war hero, Hoffman stands out as a Hollywood bigwig who has a strong resemblance to Godfather producer Robert Evans. (Look for Bill Hader’s take on Evans in the new season of Documentary Now!.)


5. Bulworth (1998)

Warren Beatty was born with the looks of a guy who should run for Senate, and in Bulworth he plays a veteran senator who has lost his way and hires a hit man to kill him. Faced with his impending death, Senator Bulworth has an almost religious conversion to honesty and starts railing against the corruption of corporate money in politics. (We imagine Bernie Sanders has this one in his Netflix queue.) Like a lot of ’90s movies comedies, there is a gimmicky scene where Bulworth raps during a speech. Still, the film is so sharply written, the scene is both hilarious and a prescient look at the way white establishment types would go on to co-opt hip-hop culture.


4. Bob Roberts (1992)

If you love a good mockumentary with conservative folk songs (who doesn’t?), Bob Roberts is the movie for you. Tim Robbins wrote, directed and starred in this underrated comedy, which was inspired by a SNL sketch he had appeared in a few years earlier. Bob Roberts is a folk-singing, conservative self-made millionaire running for Congress in Pennsylvania who appears to be 100% All-American. Robbins is great at using his wholesome grin to mask the fact that his character is a drug smuggling tyrant with fits of rage. Look for everyone from Alan Rickman as Roberts’ campaign manager to a young Jack Black (see above) as a scarily enthusiastic fan.


3. Dick (1999)

Before the Watergate scandal informant was revealed, there were plenty of theories over the years as to who “Deep Throat” really was. The 1999 comedy Dick posits a possible alternate history of Nixon’s downfall as it follows two adorably upbeat and politically clueless teenage girls (energetically played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) who randomly become “Tricky” Dick’s dog walkers after ending up meeting him on a White House field trip. Over the course of the rollicking disco-fied comedy the girls come in contact with every player in the infamous White House scandal, including a hilarious Woodward and Bernstein, played by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall fame. (The duo’s ’70s hair alone is worth watching for.) Dan Hedaya is perfectly cast as Nixon, showcasing a softer side of the infamous president after he unwittingly eats some pot cookies. An underrated comedy, Dick is a blast of ’70s fun and a great showcase for its cast of rising stars.


2. Dave (1993)

Dave is a classic everyman-turned-hero story with a winning Kevin Kline as an affable guy who just happens to be a dead-ringer for the leader of the free world. When Pres. Mitchell has a stroke while fooling around with his mistress, his Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) hatches a plan to temporarily have Kline’s Dave fill in for the President. Langella and Kline are great together, and the scene where Dave calls his accountant friend (played by Charles Grodin) to come over to the White House and balance the budget is just one of the sharp ways director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross (Big) poke fun at politics. Look for Sigourney Weaver, reteaming with Reitman after the Ghostbusters movies, as the First Lady who slowly begins to realize something is off about her Husband-in-Chief.


1. Election (1999)

If you think national politics is cutthroat, just wait until you meet high school president candidate Tracy Flick. Tracy, as played by Reese Witherspoon, is like a teenage version of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, but without the likeable personality. Mathew Broderick hits all the right notes as the teacher who starts off being respected but finds his whole life falling apart while overseeing the election. A dark comedy that shows the downside of driven political candidates, Election is a film that remains topical with every new voting season.

Watch MTV’s Tabitha Soren covering the heated 1992 Ohio Governor race below. To find out who wins, catch the season premiere of Documentary Now! September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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