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Our five favorite movie wheelmen

Our five favorite movie wheelmen (photo)

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I don’t know how much real world demand there is for wheelmen, but it’s a burgeoning field in the movies. It seems like there’s someone always in the movies who needs a dangerous package transported or a steady-nerved getaway driver for a heist. That’s certainly true this week, thanks to a movie featuring a new, and excellent movie wheelman: Ryan Gosling‘s Driver from Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Drive.”

In honor of Gosling’s hammer-wielding, tire-squealing performance, we decided this was the perfect time to pick our five favorite wheelmen in movie history. Our qualifications for potential candidates were simple. They had to make their living as a driver — so car thieves were out. They had to be willing to take dirty or illegal jobs — so professional truckers were gone too. And they couldn’t actually participate in the heists themselves. As Gosling’s Driver says, “I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun. I drive.”

Damn right. And so do these guys.


Lucas Doolin
From “Thunder Road” (1958)

Directed by Arthur Ripley
Preferred Ride: Custom 1950 Ford

“How rough do you want it?” a racketeer asks independent moonshiner Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) as he tries to intimidate him into joining his syndicate. Now, Lucas Doolin is played by Robert Mitchum, so the answer should be obvious: plenty rough. Mitchum’s response? A karate chop to the neck. Doolin is a great wheelman, unflappable and resourceful. When a guy tries to run him off the road, he takes the cigarette dangling ever so suavely from his lips and flicks it in the other driver’s face, blinding him and sending him careening into a canyon. His car’s cool too, a tricked out 1950 Ford with enough gadgets to make James Bond jealous. It’s got detachable bumpers, oil slicks, enough horsepower to plow through roadblocks, and lots of room for moonshine. Things don’t work out too well for Doolin in the end — things rarely do for movie wheelmen — but caught between the racketeers and the revenuers (i.e. the U.S. Treasury Department looking to put a halt to untaxed backwoods’ moonshining) he never yields to the pressure, much less to pedestrians in the crosswalk.


Frank Martin
From “The Transporter” (2002)
Directed by Corey Yuen
Preferred Ride: BMW E38 (Audi A8 in the two sequels)

Professional transporter Frank Martin (Jason Statham) has so many rules. Rule number one: never change the deal. Rule number two: no names. Rule number three: never open the package. Really, the only rules Frank doesn’t acknowledge are the rules of physics; when this guy gets behind the wheel, cars do magical things. Movie wheelmen always seem to have codes to protect them from their own dark impulses. They establish guidelines to live by so they can sleep at night telling themselves they’re not doing anything wrong. The great part about Frank is he has rules, but he always breaks them. For three consecutive movies, Frank opened the package, or learned the names of his employers, and it always ended up getting him into trouble. Awesome, gravity-defying trouble.


The Driver
From “The Driver” (1978)

Directed by Walter Hill
Preferred Ride: Late model Ford LTD

Walter Hill’s “The Driver” is one of the most efficient action movies ever made. Everything about it is stripped down to the bare essentials; Hill is like a chef who’s been dared to make a delicious meal with the fewest ingredients possible. The title seems plain, but it’s the only title that would fit a film in which nothing and no one is named; not the city where it’s set, nor the hero who prowls its streets as the ultimate getaway man. He’s simply called The Driver, and he’s played by Ryan O’Neal. Time and again he slips through the fingers of The Detective (Bruce Dern), who decides to blackmail a couple of crooks into hiring The Driver for a job that’s really a set-up. The Driver is awesome because from almost frame one of the film, he is trapped: by late partners, by crooked cops, and by bad luck. But no matter how bad things get, he never flinches, and he always finds an escape; no wonder he’s the best wheelman in the business. Because there’s so little dialogue, especially from The Driver himself, we’re constantly stuck behind the action, always guessing his next move. But the man never fails to surprise us. Like Gosling’s Driver, he has a reputation for not carrying guns, and in the movie’s best scene we find out why.


Kowalski
From “Vanishing Point” (1971)
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Preferred Ride: Dodge Challenger

“Vanishing Point” begins at its story’s chronological end, with a bleary-eyed wheelman named Kowalski (Barrry Newman) driving full-speed toward a police roadblock. The rest of the film takes place in flashback, which is appropriate for the story of a man who can’t stop living in the past. Kowalski delivers cars, and though his latest package, a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, isn’t due in San Francisco until Monday, he vows to get it there by Saturday afternoon. Exactly what made Kowalski such a determined, zonked out speed-freak is left ambiguous, but the snippets we see of jobs and loves lost point to an accumulation of assorted tragedies that ultimately became too tough to bear. Likewise the accumulation of time since “Vanishing Point”‘s 1971 premiere has only enhanced the impact of Kowalski’s existential plight. Today the image of a world-weary driver running out of road suggests so many things: the end of the myth of the American West, the failure of the political idealism of the 1960s, and the last gasps of the cinema’s New Hollywood years. Plus there’s Kowalski himself, this tragic figure who’s addicted to speed and doesn’t know why. Maybe he’s just trying to stay ahead of the ghosts.


The Bandit
From “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977)
Directed by Hal Needham
Preferred Ride: Pontiac Trans Am

A lot of these wheelmen are strong, silent types. They’re all business because that’s what driving is for them: a business. The Bandit (Burt Reynolds), on the other hand, drives for the thrill, gleefully accepting an impossible bet to haul bootleg beer from Texas to Georgia specifically because it’s impossible. Nothing fazes him, not a hitchhiking runaway bride (Sally Field) who tries to steal his beloved Trans Am, not even a chance lunch counter meeting with the man hot on his tail, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). As Field puts it, Bandit just has a “lyrical way of cutting through the bullshit.” And not to get too lyrical or bullshitty on you myself, but I do think there’s something almost primordial about the Bandit’s appeal. Cars represents a lot more than a means of transportation in this country: they’re a symbol of freedom. The Bandit, a perfect figure of pure escapist fantasy, is the only guy on this list who really seems to get that. And that’s what the Bandit’s ride and his carefree attitude represent. When he’s behind the wheel of that Trans Am, he’s free.


Who’s your favorite movie wheelman? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.