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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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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Swimming To Cambodia Spalding Gray

Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Rocky IV Stallone Lundgren

Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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