At The Movies

Two ultra-violent but compelling dramas

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
One of the best new movies is a little hard to categorize at first sight. “Drive” is an interesting drama about a young stunt car driver (Ryan Gosling) who supplements his income by acting as a getaway driver for assorted heists and other nefarious activity. After moving into a new apartment, he meets a young, seemingly single mother (Carey Mulligan) and spends time with her and her son. But a new job brings multiple complications that affect virtually everybody in his world.  

As a narrative, it’s compelling and well-told, with a tone that seems almost decades-old in its willingness to introduce pauses during action and conversations, almost uncomfortably long pauses at times. This plays like an extreme antidote to the fast-cutting that has become prevalent in current action movies. But it’s also an extremely violent film, with an R rating that seems like it could have been even more restrictive.  

If another film comes to mind in comparison, it might be a classic like “Taxi Driver,” with a similarly focused central character, a romance of sorts, and brutal action scenes. I can’t overstate how violent some scenes are in this movie – it’s very well done and a captivating story, but it’s not for the squeamish.

Point Blank
Directed by Fred Cavayé
Another good movie this week is almost equally violent, albeit in a somewhat less visceral way. “Point Blank” is a classic wrong place, wrong time setup that provides one of the most intriguing kinds of characters in books and film – the reluctant hero. A nurse’s aide with a pregnant wife finds himself tending to a criminal in-patient. That is, until his wife is kidnapped in order to force him to help free the patient/prisoner. But all’s not quite as it seems and the story expands to include multiple competing interests.

The acting and the action are both well done and the film seems both believable and real. It also has some nice touches and details, such as a very brief scene in which two men with guns happen to encounter two security guards transporting bags of cash. The guards obviously think they’re being robbed and throw their arms in the air – and the gunmen run on in search of their quarry. It’s a tiny, unimportant scene in a much larger story, but it’s an example of the neat details that make this far more than just another elaborate chase movie.

The 8 p.m. screening on opening night (Friday, September 16), at the Crest Theatre, will be followed by a Q&A sponsored by the Sacramento French Film Festival.

Two views of epidemic disease

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Aided by an all-star cast (including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne), “Contagion” attempts to present a gritty and relatively no-holds barred depiction of what might happen in the event of a rapidly spreading fatal disease. Made with the cooperation of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it considers both local reactions, affects on individuals and families, as well as quarantine approaches spearheaded by the CDC and World Health Organization. However, it seems to pull its own punches – and whereas it shows rioting and looting in response to stalled food supplies and failed infrastructure, it doesn’t become as violent as one might expect or fear in a circumstance such as this. It might seem out of place, but it could stand to take a lesson or two from a zombie outbreak movie. After all, a coughing, contagious disease carrier isn’t that much less threatening in practice than a brain-eating zombie, especially when the disease itself destroys brains.

Life, Above All
Directed by Oliver Schmitz
Perhaps the better, albeit less polished film about the effects of epidemic disease on a society is “Life, Above All.” Set in South Africa, it tells the story of a family dealing with AIDS within a community that refuses to confront the problem directly. Far from the full-frontal assault on disease depicted in “Contagion,” here we see complete avoidance of the issue, compounded by willful ignorance and a level of shame that causes lies and cover-ups of the cause of death of friends and relatives. Fear of “the bug” is so strong that people would rather turn their backs, exile neighbors, or leave people to die in fields than be around the diseased or be associated with the disease. “Life, Above All” provides a tiny glimpse into a world of lost generations of parents, orphaned children, and last-resort prostitution. It demonstrates that the truth and current circumstances in other countries are just as bleak as fictionalized conjecture about the worst that might happen at home. Some people don’t need to imagine their nightmares.

It’s a busy week: Other film news
The Content, Creation and Distribution (CCD) Expo takes place in Loomis all day/evening on Friday and Saturday this week.  The event is intended to put the spotlight on all digital content (film, books, music, web content, etc.) and the distribution methods and opportunities that exist.  Full details and tickets (free) at

Cameron Crowe, no stranger to the music business as the autobiographical “Almost Famous” proves, has made a documentary commemorating Pearl Jams’s 20 years in the industry.  “Pearl Jam Twenty” plays for one evening only at the Crest Theatre on Tuesday, Sept 20th – details at

For those of you on Team Jacob who can’t wait for the next “Twilight” installment, Sacramento has been selected as 1 of 20 cities screening a special premiere of Taylor Lautner’s new film “Abduction.”  $30 gets you live streaming coverage of the Hollywood premiere, an advance screening of the film, and a commemorative fan package that includes t-shirt and poster.  Check local press for a screening location on Thursday, September 15.

The recent release “Creature” has become the lowest grossing film ever to have been released on more than 1,500 screens.  With per-screen average ticket sales over the weekend of just $220, and with many multiplexes showing it five times per day, it managed to appeal to less than a handful of people per screening across the entire country.

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