I saw a film that I liked so much I'm writing about it. How about that.

In the hands of a Brett Ratner or a Louis Letterier, and headlined by a go-to low-budget action star, Drive would be just another in the endless pile of merely competent, brainless action thrillers populating many a casual moviewatchers' DVD shelves. Fortunately this is one of those occasions where straight-up B movie fodder is transformed by a bunch of talented individuals into something rather more special, thoughtful, and very possibly timeless. Like getting Scorsese to direct Cape Fear or The Departed... still very much a genre piece, but gaining that particular edge that lifts it higher than any reasonable expectation.

Ryan Gosling plays the never-named 'Driver'. A classic existentialist movie character, a man of few words (at an outside guess I'd say he has less than 50 lines in the film), and ice cool self-confidence - the kind borne out of being extremely capable in his particular line of work, and very sure of his world. Working as a mechanic and stunt driver for the movies, and moonlighting as a getaway driver for hire, he's living the spartan, focused lifestyle of the single-minded professional. He's Léon, or Le Samourai's Jef Costello. That is, until he meets and becomes friendly with a new neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. Parallel to this is a local crime boss (Albert Brooks), who is fronting the money to start a legitimate racing team with Driver's garage boss and confidant (Bryan Cranston). The plot won't be spoiled in any way here, but needless to say things don't quite continue on this pleasant track.

I think I actually prefer the first half of the film. There's a real tenderness and honesty to the growing friendship / possible relationship that builds not only between Mulligan and Gosling, but also Gosling and the boy. Clearly Driver has come from a murky past, but he's transformed by the pair. Although stoic and often silent, he's perfectly capable of being warm and charming in a genuine way. He even seems to acknowledge to himself that becoming close to these people is a kind of inevitability, something that's beyond control in his finely-structured existence. I found the lengthy set-up of these characters captivating, which of course earns the film every ounce of investment it needs for its subsequent trajectory.

There's a particular defining moment, a simple dialogue exchange that that makes you realise there's something much darker bubbling under this cool surface. It comes out of nowhere and it stood my hair on end. When Driver ultimately has to resort to violence he does so with absolute fearlessness and brutality, but the work done in the first half of the film keeps us with him.

Although it has a standard noirish B-movie plotline, it's the little choices it makes in individual scenes that I love. The overarching story is full of well-worn tropes, but in the moment to moment stuff it confounds expectations every time. A lifetime of film watching has loaded me with a smug self-confidence in second-guessing, but Drive really does its own thing. I don't mean the details of the story... I mean the things it decides to show, or how to show them. How you'd expect a clichéd character to behave, versus how they actually do in this film. How you'd expect an action scene to go down, or a car chase. I found it really refreshing.

Drive feels like a movie that Michael Mann or William Friedkin would have made in the 80s (and really the only thing that betrays its contemporary setting is its car models and the use of mobile phones). It's incredibly stylish, but also meaty. LA is shot with searing brightness during the day and given a warm glow at night, favourably comparable to To Live and Die In LA, Heat, or Collateral. Great 'city' movies. The full widescreen frame is never wasted and there are some truly beautiful compositions and visual moments. But the visual slickness is easily matched by a clutch of excellent performances and an emotional core. It also has a killer synth soundtrack (another thing that could place it bang in the 80s).

Sometimes you're watching a new movie and you know it's going to be one of those that's going to cement a spot in that often-maligned category of cult classic. One of those relatively low-key movies that just endures - the kind that people light up about when you remind them it exists ten, twenty years down the line.

It's cool, to put it simply. It's a really goddamned cool movie.

The more things change...

Flicking through issue one of Edge magazine, from 1993. A handful of 'visionaries' predict the near future:

"In about five years CD-ROM is going to absorb entertainment, education and information. There's a growing palate of what I call enabling technology, which allows the consumer to think of himself as the artist." - Peter Gabriel

Bang on, really. This very blog is a prime example of someone using enabling technology to broadcast every tired little thought he has to the world.

"Games aren't going to be played by the 13 year-old shut away in his room; they're going to be connective, interactive. I forsee a day when you go to a movie theatre, there's about 300 people there, and between you, you all play the movie. From your seats, you control what happens. The technology is here today..." - Mark Lewis (then president of Electronic Arts)

OK, people play games together over the internets, but individually they're mostly still 13 year-old boys (mentally or physically) shut away in their rooms. And I think he was predicting Heavy Rain, which is probably as good a story as you're going to get with 300 writers.

"Within a few years from now, we'll start to see cable and satellite direct broadcast games where you select from a menu of games and it'll constantly download new parts of the game into your machine while you're playing." - Jez San

Jez is right on the money here. Perhaps only just starting with streaming content from the likes of OnLive and Blizzard, but Steam and console download services fit the bill for online browsing and purchasing.

"Telephone and cable companies will lay the information super highway and it will be one of the greatest technological developments of the 20th century. but someone will still have to fill up the highway. It won't be a new entertainment form, but a more sophisticated version of what exists now." - George Lucas

Pull over, I'm going to be sick.

...And from the reviews section, the concluding lines from the review of Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES:

"There's one thing bad about it; if the best cart around is a compilation of old eight-bit games, it doesn't say much about the standard of new games, does it?"

Oh snap.

Bergmarathon: Dollar

Ingrid Bergman is my favourite 'Classic Hollywood' actress, but it occurred to me there are a bunch of films from her pre-Hollywood days that I haven't seen. I've decided to rectify this by making my way through her career (as much as I can) and offering up my usual half-baked thoughts.

Dollar (1938) Gustaf Molander

A fast-talking drama/comedy of manners, Dollar concerns the relationships of a trio of wealthy Swedish couples. The hook is that everyone in this setup seems to lust after someone other than their own spouse, and quite openly. While nothing untoward actually appears to have happened there's still a great deal of flirting and jealousy creating tensions within the group. Everything comes to a head when they find themselves under the harsh gaze of an American millionairess while on a skiing trip.

I really enjoyed this film a lot. It's brisk at 74 minutes, and the snappy dialogue and general vitality of the performers keeps things rattling along. Although everyone on show gets a decent amount of screen time Bergman is clearly the center of attention, playing a somewhat bitchy role with obvious relish. Elsa Burnett gets the bulk of the comedy, playing the overbearing and meddlesome American (referred to as Ms. Dollar for her wealth). Ultimately it's a story about being open and honest with your feelings and there is a genuine romantic heart to the film, with everything being resolved happily in the end.