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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.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

fresno

When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

spoils

Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Are modern action movies suffering from a “Dark Knight?”

Are modern action movies suffering from a “Dark Knight?”  (photo)

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We seem to be moving past the craze of people reveling in their newfound ability to reedit movies on their home computers by making entertaining but superficial ten minute compilations into an exciting new world of video-based film criticism. indieWIRE’s Press Play blog is clearly the early vanguard. We previously shared their piece by Matthias Stork examining the use of “chaos cinema” techniques in modern action movies; this afternoon I’m sitting here absolutely enthralled by the first two installments of a three part series by Jim Emerson that delves even deeper into the state of Hollywood action cinema.

Part one is a twenty minute critique of a single chase scene from 2008’s “The Dark Knight” by Christopher Nolan. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Emerson’s piece is a flat-out evisceration. It starts with a quote from “Dark Knight” editor Lee Smith saying that “action…has to be very carefully planned and conceived” and then proceeds to show, shot by shot, the ways in which this particular sequence reflects a lack of planning and conception. Because the scene is cut so frenetically, most of these details are difficult to spot at 24 frames per second. But slowed down, some of the mistakes become glaringly clear; cars appear and disappear from one shot to the next, and one of the most important images in the entire sequence, that of a SWAT van careening off a bridge and into the river, makes absolutely no sense in context. It’s pretty devastating; and I say this as someone who was and is a big fan of “The Dark Knight.” So here’s part one:

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Emerson identifies a lot of problems in this sequence. But there’s always the argument to be made that some of the spatial confusion and visual incoherence was intentional. “The Dark Knight” proceeds at a breathless pace, not just during this scene but throughout the entire movie. A lot of the film’s power comes from the fact that we in the audience are at the mercy of The Joker, whose anarchic desires have infected all of Gotham City, and seemingly the film itself. In other words, The Joker’s disorienting, unsettling presence on the people of Gotham has the same impact on “The Dark Knight”‘s action scenes.

That’s also a valid reason for one of the other Nolan techniques that Emerson rejects: the way he briefly introduces seemingly ordinary Gotham citizens like cops or truck drivers only to immediately serve them up as lambs to the super-villain slaughter. The effect of these shocking, brutal murders is, similarly, to keep us constantly on edge, wondering when and where The Joker will strike next.

Taken one shot at a time, I wholeheartedly agree: many elements of the sequence violate all sorts of rules about visual continuity in cinema, and some of the mistakes and gaffes look shockingly inept. But watched as one continuous whole, the sequence holds together (at least for me) as a gripping, suspenseful chase. It may not be logical, but it is emotional. It is one of the positive examples of Stork’s “chaos cinema.” If The Joker is portrayed as an agent of chaos, why shouldn’t his chase scenes be chaotic?

Emerson’s next piece provides the counter-example to “The Dark Knight”‘s spatial missteps. It’s from Phillip Noyce‘s 2010 spy thriller “Salt.” That’s a movie I — and a lot of people — enjoy a lot less than “The Dark Knight,” but this is a compelling argument why its action scenes are superior on a technical level.

In the Cut, Part II: A Dash of Salt from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Again, Emerson’s argument is very well-reasoned and superbly cut. But I’ll flip what I said about “The Dark Knight;” the scenes in “Salt” are logical but they are, at least for me, not emotional. Noyce may be a more classically skilled action director than Nolan, but there’s no question which film I’d watch if you offered my the choice between “The Dark Knight” and “Salt.” I guess action movies can sometimes be more than the sum of their action. Regardless, I’m still really looking forward to part three of Emerson’s series. More video film criticism please!

What do you think of the action scenes in “The Dark Knight?” Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Christina Hendricks on the Wonder Woman casting talk: “I’d do it in a heartbeat”

christina-hendricks-mad-men

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“Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn has made it clear on several occasions that he’d love to cast “Mad Men” actress Christina Hendricks as the lead in a “Wonder Woman” movie. And though Warner Bros. has yet to give him (or Hendricks) the all-important call, that hasn’t stopped both filmmaker and actress from reiterating their fondness for the character.

During this weekend’s premiere of Hendrick’s new film, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” Vulture got the chance to pick her brain about all the “Wonder Woman” talk, and find out what sort of take she’d like to give the iconic Amazon.

“I grew up on the TV show, and I had Wonder Woman Underoos, and my brother had a Wonder Woman doll,” laughed Hendricks. “And Nicolas said, when we were on set for [‘Drive’], ‘I want you to be Wonder Woman.'”

“I think he is such an extraordinary and exceptional director, that if he asked me to do it, I would do it in a heartbeat,” she continued.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time Hendricks’ name has been mentioned in connection with Wonder Woman. When Joss Whedon was originally planning a “Wonder Woman” movie, Hendricks was one of his favored actresses for the role, too.

“I’d like to think that Joss would have cast me,” said Hendricks. “I’m excited to see what he does with ‘The Avengers.’ Hopefully the stars would align [for ‘Wonder Woman’]. It would be really fun. It would be cool, wouldn’t it? I’d get to kick ass.”

Asked whether Hendricks envisioned her version of Wonder Woman as the modern, flashy version of the character or the metaphor-laden, heroic bondage queen she was initially conceived as by William Moulton Marston, Hendricks played it safe and deferred to Refn.

“I would certainly do what Nicolas wanted to do, and I can only guess what his version would be, but as I grew up with and am now married to a comic book fan, I think it’s important to be true to the original comic books,” she explained. “I should probably start reading them, so that if someone were to ask me [to be in the movie], I would be fully prepared.”

Would you like to see Christina Hendricks as Wonder Woman? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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