The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

A stuntman, struggling to provide for his family. A cop, grappling with corruption in his unit. A teenager, haunted by the death of his father. These men are flawed, but they all want to do the right thing. And each, in his own way, is trapped in the town of Schenectady, or The Place Beyond The Pines.

The best way to describe this movie is “artsy.” And when I say that, I mean it in both the best, and worst, ways possible. It’s artsy in a good way because it’s narrative and scenes are uniquely structured, with whole sequences being done in single, unbroken takes, and the storyline unfolding in a non-Aristotelian manner. The acting is also very subdued ad naturalistic, as it tends to be in lower budget indie films. It’s artsy in a bad way in that the pacing is very slow, the naturalistic acting sometimes comes off as garbled and incomprehensible, and the unconventional camerawork sometimes drains tension from scenes. For instance, the storyline involving Ryan Gosling’s stuntman character features many chases, and these scenes are almost all done in long, unbroken takes. Now, on the one hand, being able to see everything in your action scene is great. Too many action films rely on quick cutting and shaky cam to cover up the fact that the actors can’t pull off stunts and fight scenes. But when every scene in your movie is edited in the same, slow, ponderous manner, regardless of what the scene actually is, that’s a bad thing. You don’t want to shoot a chase the same way that you shoot a conversation in a diner. And Place Beyond The Pines does that. There are many points where quick cutting could have been used to great effect, such as to cut down extraneous seconds of footage, to show how anxious and jumpy a character is feeling, or simply to keep the audience engaged. The reason why we have cutting in films, particularly in dialogue scenes, is to keep the audience’s eyes moving. If everything is happening at the same speed, in the same frame, we get bored. Place Beyond The Pines has action a plenty, but that action is shot and edited in such a way that our eyes stop moving, and we lose interest. Combine this with the movie’s length, it’s about 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and you’ve got a film that’s not for everyone.

Nevertheless,Place Beyond the Pine’s unique narrative structure, strong performances, and surprisingly star-studded cast–including Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali and Dane DeHaan–do make it worth watching. If you don’t like slow pacing, and long run times, maybe watch something else. But if you’re okay with that, give it a look. You’ll probably like it.

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La La Land (2016)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

What can I say about La La Land, the modern musical that’s won the hearts of millions? Well, I could tell you that it’s entertaining, optimistic, and very impressive when you consider all the work that went into crafting certain sequences. But I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my overall dislike for the picture, and how I honestly have no desire to ever see it again.

Hate me yet? Good. Because I’m not done.

Now before I go on, I just want you to know that I don’t despise this movie. I recognize how good the acting, cinematography and dialogue are. I’m not trying to say that I think this is a bad film. I’m saying, it’s not a movie I enjoyed. You all might, and I’m happy if you do. But, for me, this isn’t a film I think I’ll ever revisit.

Now, with all that said, La La Land tells the story of two struggling artists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who meet and fall in love in LA. And that’s really it. It’s just a movie about two people trying to get by, and their relationship. Theres no big super villain plot. The world is not at stake. There’s not even a real sense that if they were to break up, they’d be all that unhappy. And, spoilers, they do break up by the end, and are just fine. This honestly was one of the main reasons I didn’t care for this picture, the fact that it never got me invested. I never got the sense that something was at stake in this picture. If the characters broke up, I knew that they’d be fine, because the movie shows them being fine. If they got fired from their jobs, I knew they’d find other, better ones, because the movie shows them doing that. I never once believed that Emma Stone would end up selling herself just to stay alive, or that Ryan Gosling would hang himself if he couldn’t start his own jazz club. Now I’m not trying to say that the movie had to go that dark. I’m saying, at least in other Musicals, like Oliver and Miss Saigon, both of which I’ve acted in, there are real stakes. The threat of death, poverty and trauma is ever present in them. You know that these characters could, and probably will, die, or have something bad happen to them if they don’t act right. And that gets you to care more about the story. In La La Land, you know that both these characters have back up plans if they’re musical or theatrical careers go south. And while I, as an artist, don’t want anyone to give up on their dreams, as a spectator, I kept asking myself, “why should I care about you? You’ll be fine, either way. Where are the stakes?”

Another thing that bugged me about this movie was how overly nostalgic it was. Now before any of you call me a hypocrite, I had the same problem with Stranger Things, one of my favorite new shows. In that series, the creators show off their deep love for the 1980s, while never once commenting on the negative aspects of that time period. Similarly, La La Land acts as a huge love letter to both Jazz music and classic Hollywood, even going so far as to recreate whole sequences from movies like An American In Paris. And while these recreations are impressive, as are all the dance and musical numbers in this film, I found myself asking, at multiple points, “what is this doing for your story? I get that you love jazz, and old movies, but that’s not enough to support a plot. When are things with consequences going to happen?” Nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, and I honestly think there was too much of it in this picture.

But, in the end, I know that audiences won’t care about either of those things. Because this movie has made tons of money, and won even more awards. It’s actually set a record for the movie with the most Oscar nominations in history. Clearly, this film has spoken to a lot of people, and that’s fine. I’m glad that they enjoy it. I just didn’t. So, if you want to see it, go ahead. More power to you. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and you want there to be stakes in your film, don’t. It’s up to you.

The Nice Guys

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

The Nice Guys is one of those movies that, when you watch it, is easy to follow and makes sense, but when you actually try to describe it to other people, becomes convoluted and impossible to describe. Basically, it’s a noir film, with elements of comedy and action thrown in, which takes place in the 70s. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are two, down on their luck Private investigators, who come together on a case involving the death of a porn star, a big auto manufacturer, and a government official’s radical activist daughter. (Well, actually, Ryan Gosling is a private investigator. Russell Crowe is just a thug people hire to beat up guys who are bothering them). But that’s not important. What is important is the fact that they join forces, and embark on a funny, memorable adventure, with some great acting and good dialogue.

This movie really lets its two leads shine in their respective roles, with Gosling being the alcoholic comic relief, and Crowe being more of the tough straight man. Both characters are likable. Both are well-rounded. And the actors work well with each other. The girl who plays Gosling’s daughter is also really good. She’s funny, active, smart and just an all around engaging character. And like I said, the dialogue in this film is great. Now when I say that, I don’t mean it’s super witty and quick , like what you see in Tarantino and Sorkin scripts. Those writers never have their characters say “uh” or “um’,” get confused, back track, or trail off. There’s a constant back and forth of fully formed, cleverly-written sentences in their scripts. And I like that. But it’s not very realistic. In real life, people don’t always have perfectly prepared rebuttals for everything. They do back track. They do trail off midway through sentences when they realize that things don’t make sense. As such, real conversations don’t flow as smoothly. The dialogue in The Nice Guys is much less smooth and witty than in Tarantino scripts, and much closer to real life, with characters taking pauses, making mistakes and trailing off midway through sentences. A perfect example of this is a scene where Gosling and Crowe go into a bar, and shake down the bar tender for information. After Crowe smashes the dude in the face, he says, “now we can do this the easy way, or… we’re doing it the easy way right now.” That pause and reformulation of the sentence made what could have been a lame and predictable line into something clever and funny. The film is full of stuff like that, mistakes and seemingly random acts and occurrences, which work together to create a funny, memorable experience.

Yet,as much as I liked the picture, I did still have some problems with it. There’s a lot of voice over in this film, and I just never like to see that in movies. I understand that voice overs and internal monologues are staples of the noir genre, and that voice over can actually be funny and engaging, like in Adaptation and American Psycho. But here,I didn’t think it was necessary. Granted, this is more of a personal taste thing, and I recognize that other people might not have the same problem with it as me,but still. I also feel like Gosling’s character is a bit too much of an idiot and alcoholic in certain scenes, to the point where I don’t buy him being a successful detective. There’s a whole sequence where he and Crowe go to a party and investigate, and he gets totally shit faced. He’s so hammered that he can’t walk straight and literally stumbles across some evidence. No one that far gone could function as a successful PI. There’s also another thing that happens with him, and which the filmmakers were smart enough to poke fun at in the script, which just pushes the limit of believability too far. That is the fact that he gets shot, punched, dropped out of tall buildings and onto hard objects, and otherwise injured so many times that I can’t believe he’s not dead. If they’d made him a bit more competent, and didn’t throw him out of windows quite so often, I think the film would have been a bit more believable.

Still, I really enjoyed The Nice Guys, and would recommend it to you all. It’s more accessible than something like Arrival, and it’s less annoyingly desperate for an Oscar than something like Jackie or Loving. If you like well made, well acted genre fair with quick pacing and a sense of humor, this ones for you.

The Big Short

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And why is anyone going to see this movie? Seriously. Why is any person in their right mind forking over their hard-earned cash to pay to see a movie about racist, sexist, foul-mouthed rich guys who got even richer when the economy collapsed and millions of people lost their homes and jobs? Yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what this film is about. It’s the true story of a group of Wall Street brokers and hedge fund managers who predicted that the economy was going to collapse back in 2008, and, rather than try to warn the government, or the thousands of people who stood to lose the most, just did some tricky buying and selling, and got super rich when everything went down the tubes. I HATE this movie. For several reasons!

For starters, the characters are all assholes. To give you an idea of how disgusting these people–the “good guys” of this movie–are, in one scene, Ryan Gosling is trying to convince Steve Carrell that the Housing Market is going to crash. When Steve Carrell asks how he can be sure, if his math is accurate, Ryan Gosling points to his numbers guy, an Asian-American man named Zhang, and says, “look at my numbers guy! Look at his face; his eyes! He doesn’t speak fucking English! He came in first place in a national Math competition in China! Yeah, I’m fucking sure my fucking math is right!” And as if their racial stereotyping isn’t bad enough, there’s a scene later on in the movie where two hedge fund managers, Charlie and Danny, realize that, by betting against the Housing Market, they’ve become super rich, and begin to celebrate. They’re so selfish and self-absorbed that they have to be reminded that, in order for them to get rich, millions of people have to lose their jobs, and their homes, and possibly even their lives. But do Charlie and Danny give a shit? Nope!

The second thing that bothers me about this movie is the cinematography. My god is it ugly! Virtually every shot in this film is taken from a hand-held camera, so all the images are shaky. And as if that’s not annoying enough, there’s also hardly any moments where the camera itself isn’t panning, zooming, tilting, or just making your eyes bleed with its sickening motion. Why don’t directors use steadicams, tripods, or wide shots anymore? Those things are all great! Filmmakers, you don’t need to set yourselves apart from other people by shoving cameras up your actors noses and jiggling them at every conceivable second.

The third thing I hated about this movie is the fact that it’s BORING, and unbelievably CONFUSING! It’s boring because there’s no rising action, and no climax. The economy is shown collapsing at about the halfway point, so it’s not like you can say that’s the climax. And the whole movie is just rich white guys in suits talking to each other. How riveting! Except no, no that isn’t riveting! Stuff needs to happen in a movie for audiences to be invested. Even The Wolf Of Wall Street, a movie about brokers that I really didn’t like, understood that. There, at least, the filmmakers showed the characters doing drugs, riding boats through storms, and lots of other crazy stuff that can be described as interesting. The Big Short doesn’t have any of those things. It’s just rich, racist, sexist assholes spewing financial jargon at each other. And though the filmmakers do try to make this all a little less confusing by having cut-aways to people like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez, where they try to explain the terms, these cut-aways ultimately prove to be distracting, and just make things even more confusing.

The only things I can honestly say I like about this movie are Steve Carrell, and the soundtrack. Steve Carrell’s character is one of the few nice, likable people in the whole movie, though he does get a little annoying at points. And the soundtrack features lots of songs from the early 2000s that I really love, like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” But, beyond these two things, there’s nothing in this film that I like. This is a 5 out of 10. I’m honestly quite shocked that this movie about selfish, racist assholes has an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and The Flowers Of War, a heartbreaking movie about sacrifice and redemption in The Rape Of Nanking, has a mere 42% approval rating. Guys, if you want to see a well-made, underrated picture with beautiful visuals, great performances, and well-rounded, likable characters who grow and mature as the story progresses, watch The Flowers Of War. As for this garbage, don’t give it a second thought.

Love, Hate, And Vengeance: An Analysis Of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

I won’t lie, the first time I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, it really pissed me off. It wasn’t just the frequent use of racial slurs, and protracted, highly gory torture scenes that bothered me. It was, well, everything. The one-dimensional characters, bizarre dream sequences, unsatisfying ending, and heavily implied incestuous relationship between the main character and his mother all added up to an utterly unpleasant viewing experience. The first time I saw it, I sympathized 100% with the half of the audience at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival who either walked out or booed when this movie was shown. To put it bluntly, I hated it, and told myself that I would never watch, or even speak of, it again.

And yet, as much as I despised the picture, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was like a tiny piece of gum stuck to my trousers–try as I might, it just wouldn’t go away. And the longer I thought about the movie, the more I came to appreciate it. I was drawn to it, particularly to its vibrant colors, haunting visuals, narrative subtlety and strong mythological undertones. With every mental revisitation, I uncovered something new to appreciate until, without realizing, I found myself liking–yes, liking–it. It’s not that I’d forgotten about all my old complaints, if anything, my newfound appreciation for the picture made me pick at those aspects I didn’t like more, but at least now I had some good with which to balance the bad. I could finally understand why, when it was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, half the audience, the half that wasn’t booing it, gave it a standing ovation. I had stumbled upon one of those rare pieces of cinema which left it’s spectators with absolutely no middle ground. Either you loved it, or you hated it with a passion so great, so burning, as to melt the ice caps.

But what is Only God Forgives? What, in the end, does this divisive piece of cinema really boil down to?

Thematically, it boils down to a story of a broken man wanting to take vengeance on God for making him suffer so greatly, but, in doing so, finding redemption. Literally, though, it’s the story of Julian, an American ex-pat living in Bangkok. He owns a Muy THai club, but it’s quickly revealed that that’s just a front for a drug-smuggling operation. Julian doesn’t talk much, and his interactions with other people are pretty much limited to his sessions with Mai, a prostitute who he seems to have some feelings for, and his conversations with Billy, his brother, who’s a sadistic pervert. How sadistic and perverse is he? Well, at the start of the movie, he rapes and kills a thirteen-year-old girl. Yeah. Charming. Don’t worry, though. We don’t have to deal with him for long, because he is quickly apprehended by the Thai police, and the mysterious Inspector Chang is brought in to investigate the matter. Upon seeing what Billy has done, Chang allows the girl’s father to beat him, but he ends up getting killed in the process. Chang, however, doesn’t care about Billy’s death. What he does care about is the fact that the girl’s father knew that she was a sex worker, and did nothing to stop it. For this, he cuts off the man’s forearm and leaves.

Upon hearing of Billy’s death, Julian tracks down the father and confronts him about why he killed his brother. When he learns that the man was simply avenging his daughter, however, he decides to let him go. Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal, arrives in Bangkok to identify the body. She demands that Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses—believing that the man had some justification for seeking retribution for the killing of his daughter—infuriating her. Julian has several visions of meeting Chang in a dark room, where Chang cuts Julian’s hands off.

Julian brings Mai to meet Crystal, posing as his girlfriend. Crystal sees through the ruse, hurls insults at Mai, and demeans Julian, pronouncing him sexually inferior to his dead brother. Julian humbly accepts all of Crystal’s abuse, but afterward turns on Mai, viciously humiliating her, then regretting it. At Crystal’s request, one of the fighters at Julian’s boxing club assassinates the man who killed Billy. Later, the police arrive at Julian’s club, but Chang concludes that Julian is not the father’s killer. Julian recognizes Chang from his visions and follows him from the boxing club, but Chang seems to disappear into thin air.

After learning that Chang was involved in Billy’s death, Crystal meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang’s assassination. Three gunmen on motorbike are sent to kill Chang at a restaurant with machine guns, and two of Chang’s men are killed in the shoot-out. Chang kills two of the gunmen, follows the third on foot, and beats him with a frying pan. The gunman leads Chang to his boss, Li Po, who is feeding his young crippled son. Chang then kills the third gunman, but spares Li Po after seeing him show affection for his son. Li Po points Chang to Byron, who ordered the hit. Chang finds Byron in a club and tortures him to get answers. Byron reveals the reasoning behind the hit, but refuses to give a name. Chang continues to torture Byron.

Julian confronts Chang and, after challenging him, they fight on the bare concrete floor of Julian’s boxing venue. Chang, an experienced boxer, easily beats Julian, who does not land any blows. Afterwards, Crystal tells Julian that Chang has figured out she ordered the hit on him. Fearfully, she pleads with Julian to kill Chang to protect her, the same way she asked Julian to kill his own father for her. She promises that after Julian kills Chang, they will go back home and she will be a true mother to him.

Julian shoots the guard outside Chang’s home, and he and his associate Charlie Ling enter Chang’s house, intent on ambushing him when he returns. Charlie informs Julian that he was instructed to execute Chang’s entire family. Charlie murders the nanny of Chang’s daughter as she enters the home, but Julian shoots Charlie before he can kill Chang’s young daughter.

Chang and a police officer visit Crystal. She blames everything on Julian, and Chang cuts her throat. Julian returns to the hotel and finds his mother’s corpse. In silence, he approaches her body and cuts open her abdomen. Julian slowly places his hand inside of the wound. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian stands in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian’s hands with his sword. The final scene returns to Chang singing at a karaoke bar with an audience of attentive police officers.

Now, if you’re anything like me, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “What the hell? What did all that mean? Did that mean anything? Why did I just sit through that movie? Why do I feel so confused?” Well, if you are feeling that way, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal to. I certainly did when I first saw this movie. But, unlike me, you all have someone who can explain this bizarre picture to you–who can help you get through all the confusion. And, if you’ll do me the great pleasure of reading onward, I shall strive to do both.

Now, as I stated earlier, I believe that this movie is about faith, about a man’s struggle’s with God given all that has happened to him. There are several reasons why I view the film this way. Firstly, the character of Inspector Chang. He is truly divine. Seriously! Never once in this film does anyone hit him, shoot him, or hurt him in anyway, which suggests that he’s invulnerable. In addition, there are several scenes in this movie where he just seems to teleport around. One minute he’s in one place, and then, in another, he’s somewhere totally different. On top of this, he appears to be the utmost authority in the land, passing judgment and dealing out punishment with total impunity, in much the same way that God does. But perhaps the greatest reasin why I see him as God is that, in an interview with the press, Vithaya Pansringram, the actor who played him, stated that Winding Refn directed his sequences with the following sentence, “You are God in this world.” So, yeah, it’s clear that we have a divine figure in this film, and that Chang is it.

The second reason why I view this movie as a damaged man’s struggle with the divine is the character of Julian. When you watch him, it is clear that he is just a broken shell. His quietness, his violent outbursts, the fact that he can’t actually have sex–yeah, whenever he goes to see Mai, he just sits there and watches her touch herself–all indicate that he’s not completely sane, and that he’s suffering greatly. And yet, there is still some hope fort him. He feels guilt after exploding at Mai. He refuses to kill Chang’s young daughter, and the man who murdered Billly. This all indicates that he does still possess some semblance of a moral compass, and the fact that he keeps following Chang, and has visions about him, suggests that maybe, like the prodigal son, he is looking for some forgiveness, some divine guidance. This, I think, is why the title of the movie is Only God Forgives–because it is about someone looking to be forgiven for his crimes.

“But how,” you might ask, “does Chang forgive Julian? I mean, doesn’t he cut off his hands?” Well, if you really analyze the film, you come to realize that that is actually a form of forgiveness.

See, hands are a recurring motif in the movie. Chang cuts off several people’s hands, Julian has a vision in which he sees himself washing blood off them, he has his hands tied whenever he visits Mai, Crystal says he killed his father with his bare hands, etc. Hands represent people’s guilt in this world. For most characters, having their hands cut off is a form of punishment, but for Julian, it is a kind of relief. See, it is highly implied that he was forced into having an incestuous relationship with his Mother, and that she then used this relationship to gain power over him and get him to do things for her, like kill his own father. This is all suggested by the fact that Crystal talks about the size of his penis, gropes his behind, and says to him, “if you do this for me, we can go back home, and I’ll be a true mother to you.” Julian’s stoicism, impotence, violent temper, and the fact that he keeps hallucinating that there is blood on his hands all indicates that he is traumatized by his past deeds, and that he wants to rid himself of them. So, when Julian lets Chang cut off his hands at the end of the movie, it is an act of catharsis. It is Julian finally being able to rid himself of the past. This is all indicated by the fact that Julian and Chang smile when they meet for the last time, as though this is a good thing, a form of therapy.

So, there you have it. Only God Forgives, a surreal, violent, racist, and utterly nonsensical crime thriller is actually a touching character study about a broken man looking for divine forgiveness. It’s excessive bloodshed and strange dialogue might not appeal to everyone, but the saturated neon color scheme, the gorgeous cinematography, and most of all, the themes, are what make it truly unique, and, in my opinion, worthy of an 8 out of 10. I honestly believe that this will be a picture that, down the line, film students and cinephiles will analyze and talk about. It’s beautiful, brutal, and brimming with life and subtext. And who wouldn’t want to see a film like that?

So, Why Is Drive Nicolas Winding Refn’s Most Popular Movie?

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

For years, whenever I heard the name Drive, all I could ask myself was “why?” Why did Nicolas Winding Refn, a director infamous for making morbid movies with ultra-masculine main characters, choose a pretty boy pansy like Ryan Gosling to be his lead? Why was Drive, an incredibly formulaic neo-noir crime thriller, met with such critical acclaim and box office boom? And finally, why was this, out of all of Winding Refn’s projects, the most successful? I mean, seriously, what’s so special about it? What aspect of this film is so daring, so visionary, as to catapult its director from an obscure art-house risk-taker to a Hollywood A-lister? Why didn’t any of Refn’s earlier successes, like Bronson or The Pusher Trilogy, hit it big as well? For that matter, why didn’t Valhalla Rising? I mean, after all, it’s an incredibly well-crafted surrealist nightmare of a movie. Shouldn’t something like that also garner critical recognition?

Well, having finally taken the time to sit down and watch Drive, all I can say in response to those earlier questions is, “because that’s what makes it awesome.” Yes, Drive‘s story is incredibly formulaic, yes, Ryan Gosling is not your typical tough guy, and yes, there are other Winding Refn films that are both more original and more thought provoking. Even so, Drive is still a well-paced, well-acted, visually-striking work of art that’s definitely worth taking the time to watch. A solid 8.5 in my opinion. And you know what’s really weird? Many of the movie’s faults actually worked to its advantage. How? Well, perhaps I should take a step bak and explain a few things.

You see, as hard as each individual might try to keep his or herself free from the chains of classification, everyone inevitably has a niche, something that they’re both good at and interested in. This truth holds particular weight among artists, especially filmmakers. As hard as they might try to keep us, the audience, guessing,we can’t help but notice certain motifs in their work. People who go into an M Night Shyamalan movie, for instance, do so with the expectation of seeing a story with a weird twist ending. Similarly, audiences have since come to accept the lurid bloodshed, 70s style soundtracks, and snappy dialogue of Tarantino pictures to be trademarks. Nicolas Winding Refn is likewise no exception to the directorial rule of niches. Several of his films share a number of strikingly similar characteristics, including a dark, brooding tone, a conspicuous lack of dialogue, a saturated color scheme and, of course, a gratuitous amount of graphic violence. Now, when I say “graphic violence,” I’m not referring to over-the-top, Quentin Tarantino-type cartoonish violence, or even the semi-pornographic stuff you might expect to see in an Eli Roth or Wes Craven film. I’m talking Mads Mikkelsen disemboweling a guy with his bare hands violence. I’m talking Ryan Gosling crushing a dude’s face with the heel of his shoe violence. I’m talking Vithaya Pansringarm impaling a person to a chair with a pair of chopsticks and then gouging out his eyes violence. And yet, despite all the carnage that unfolds before the camera in his films, Nicolas Winding Refn’s pictures are anything but torture porn. Many of his projects possess extremely profound moral or philosophical messages, usually having to do with religion or sexuality, and many more have strong mythological undertones. The characters in his films are less believable, flesh and blood individuals as they are archetypes or embodiments of various concepts he’s trying to get across. Tom Hardy’s character in Bronson, for instance, is a representation of the raw, animalistic impulses and desires that dwell within each of us, while Vithaya Pansringarm in Only God Forgives symbolizes the blind, merciless and unstoppable force of justice.

But what, you might be wondering, does all this talk of niches have to do with the success of Drive? Well, I’ll tell you. Drive is one of the only films which Nicolas Winding Refn chose to do in a manner that was unfamiliar to him. Instead of writing and directing an original screenplay, he chose to adapt a pre-existing novel. Instead of producing a picture with little to no dialogue, he made a movie with lots and lots of it. Instead of casting little known actors whom he felt could convey the themes he wanted, he decided to go with mainstream Hollywood stars. And finally, rather than make an original, thought-provoking movie with an underlying message, he decided to give us a piece of predictable, processed entertainment. Seriously! The whole story boils down to, stuntman-slash-getaway driver tries to help single mother, hyjinx ensues. It’s your basic crook finds redemption by helping others plot that we’ve seen so many times before–with Han Solo in Star Wars, Danny Archer in Blood Diamond, Wikus van der Merwe in District 9–that I’m kind of surprised people still want to watch it. But, back to my original point, when Nicolas Winding Refn decided to direct Drive, he also decided not to make a Nicolas Winding Refn picture. Oh sure, the movie still had some of his fingerprints on it–the main character is highly stoic, there’s a lot of onscreen violence, and most of the images have a surreal color scheme–but the heart of his work wasn’t present. As a result, the movie was more approachable to audiences and more comprehensible to critics. Basically, Drive was successful because it had a recognizable face in the lead, because it was incredibly easy to follow, and because there was nothing profound about it whatsoever, proving, once again, my theory that the principle that governs all American cinema is pulp crap = pure cash.

That’s what I think, anyway. If you disagree, don’t hesitate to say so. Alright, goodbye everybody. I hope you all enjoyed your spring breaks. This is Nathan Liu, signing off.