Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Thursday Review: Drive + GI Joe

Today I'll first be reviewing the Ryan Gosling film "Drive" which was in theaters last fall but which I haven't gotten around to seeing on DVD until mid-April.  For a while I'd forgotten it even existed and then there was a "short wait" at Blockbuster and it wasn't on Netflix yet, so it took a while to get.

Welcome to the first-ever Thursday Review where I review something:  a book, movie, TV show, comic book, or whatever.  I do lots of customer reviews on Amazon, some of which I've archived on my book reviews site and my movie reviews site.

Anyway, I think this is another of those movies that some people won't like because they have a false expectation of it.  They might think from the overall premise that it's like those "Transporter" movies or "The Fast and the Furious" or some such thing that's pretty much wall-to-wall action with little in terms of character development or anything.

Instead, "Drive" is a slower-paced movie that spends a lot of time establishing the Driver--he doesn't get an actual name, like the main characters in "Layer Cake" or "The Ghost Writer" for instance.  It starts by showing his secret job of driving the getaway vehicle for some guys robbing someplace.  He has a very particular method in that he gives the criminals exactly five minutes, he doesn't go in with them, and he doesn't carry a gun.  In that way he hopes to eliminate the possibility of getting caught and if he does then he might get an easier sentence for not carrying a weapon or being all that involved.

Later we see him at one of his day jobs, driving a stunt car for some movie.  After that at the grocery store he sees one of his neighbors, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her kid.  Their car breaks down in the parking lot, so he fixes it for them.  Later she invites him to her apartment and the next day brings her car to the garage where he works as his other day job.  Since her car is going to be in the shop for a while, he gives her a ride back to her apartment, though they take a little detour along the way as he drives her along one of the aqueducts you might remember from "Terminator 2" or "Grease" and other movies and then to a lake or something.  It seems like they're going to fall madly in love and all that.  There's just one problem...her husband is being released from jail.

You might think the husband is going to be an abusive jerk or something, but he's actually a pretty good guy.  And besides being an ex-con he's got a much bigger problem in some gangsters wanting money from him.  So now the Driver finds himself in the last place he wanted to be, getting involved in someone else's personal problems, which in turn creates a lot of problems for him.

I thought it was a good movie, despite that for a film called "Drive" there's not tons of driving in it.  Though I've never liked car chases all that much.  I think in large part it's because there's so little for the actors to do during those scenes so all you get are shots of them looking kind of bored as they're driving.  And these days with computers, cars can do all sorts of things they never could in real life so it feels a little phony.

I thought the movie did a good job of not falling into all the old cliches.  In a lot of these kind of movies the criminal (usually an assassin) starts developing a conscience and then has to do one last job before being out of the business.  The Driver may have developed a conscience to some extent but I don't think he really wanted out of the business.  I think he would prefer to go on driving.

Anyway, I think it kind of ties into what I said on Wednesday about expectations.  If you had the expectation this would be "Transporter 4" or "Fast and Furious 6" then you're probably not going to like it as much.  I didn't have such expectations so I enjoyed it.

Now let's talk about how expectations change when nostalgia enters into the equation.

That's the cue to segue into talking about GI Joe cartoons from the '80s.  If you followed the Grumpy Bulldog Blog, you might remember my misguided quest to buy the entire series that was nearly stymied by an idiot seller on EBay.  I finally got the DVDs from Amazon in late March.  It took a while to watch them all because there are 105 episodes of the series if you count the first two miniseries.

I found that just like when I recently watched "Superfriends" and "Transformers" on DVD I didn't hate the show even though I knew it was completely idiotic.  Also the animation is OK, but there are quite a few slip-ups if you're watching closely like someone being miscolored or someone in the background who shouldn't be there, like in one episode where Scarlett was supposed to be taken hostage aboard a space station but in a background shot at GI Joe headquarters on Earth there she is! (Which was something I intentionally did in this version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" my sisters and I made using action figures for my youngest sister's Spanish class.  I put a miniature Quasimodo in the crowd, along with Darth Vader, Tigatron, and a couple other weird toys who should not have been in 18th Century France.)  Perhaps the best two episodes were written by a guy I had a brief Twitter feud with (or at least he had the same name) that involved a few Joes going to a parallel universe where Cobra ruled the world and at the end three extraneous characters (Steeler, Grunt, and Clutch) stay behind to help the Baroness (who wasn't evil in that universe) to rebuild GI Joe.

Anyway, so nostalgia can be pretty powerful.  Contrast that to when I bought the Series 2 GI Joe DVDs from 1989.  I hadn't even heard of these until I was looking around on Amazon and I thought, "What the hell."  Not having the benefit of nostalgia, these episodes were pretty lame.  Plus the animation was even worse because they'd switched studios after GI Joe:  The Movie flopped.  And you didn't have any sexual tension at all, except in the first episode when Destro dumps the Baroness for Zarana.

Something that I really noticed in that show was how characters kept coming and going.  The first five episodes of that series feature mostly the "Slaughter's Marauders" and "Python Patrol" toys from 1989.  But then after that they introduce a whole new group of characters from the 1990 toys.  And then to make it more confusing, like halfway through the season they throw in some 1991 toys!

Which actually got me spending hours on this site, Yo where there's a pretty complete archive of not only the old toys, but also the comics, TV episodes, and even toy commercials.  Now here's a fun fact for you authors out there:  Stephen King designed one of the worst GI Joe toys ever!  He designed the Cobra guy named Crystal Ball, whose main weapon was a big shield-type thing that would hypnotize people.  I remember when my brother and I went to the toy store there'd always be plenty of Crystal Ball and of course eventually he wound up rotting on the clearance rack.  Bravo, Mr. King!  A bonus fun fact is that the character of Sneak Peek, who had this big periscope thing, was modeled on King's son, who was a big fan of the toys.  Now you know...and knowing is half the battle!

Anyway, it always kind of bugged me when in GI Joe and Transformers they would just have characters show up at random and often shove older characters aside.  A few would get an origin story but most would simply appear out of nowhere.  In the first episode of Season 2 of GI Joe there's basically a whole new crop of characters who are brought in with no explanation.  It's like something from 1984:  we have always been at war with Eurasia; these characters have always been around.  What was pretty obvious was that most of the new characters did pretty much the same things as the old characters.  Like before you had Snow Job as the arctic warfare guy, then you have Iceberg who's an arctic warfare guy, so they pretty much do the same thing.  Or you had Gung Ho who was the Marine guy and then you have Leatherneck who is also a Marine guy.  Or you had Torpedo who was a diver and then you have Wet Suit who's also a diver.  Or you had Scarlett who was an intelligence chick and then you have Lady Jaye who's an intelligence chick.  There are plenty more examples:  Breaker vs. Dial Tone, Doc vs. Lifeline, Flash vs. Sci-Fi, Wild Bill vs. Lift Ticket, Ace vs. Slipstream, Duke vs. General Hawk.  So it was kind of like Hasbro ran out of ideas by 1985 and then just kept repeating them only dressing the new character up a bit differently.  Though by the late 80s they sometimes didn't even bother with that and just recolored an existing figure or vehicle.

If you want to take a point out of all that rambling, what happens a lot in a series is that you get low on new ideas so you basically start rehashing old ones.  I'm sure you can think of some examples of your own.  It does happen even in my Scarlet Knight series to some extent.  But hey, there are only so many ideas, right?

Since I mentioned it, here were in my opinion some of the most worthless GI Joe characters:
  1. Crystal Ball (already talked about him)
  2. Road Pig:  he was a big fat guy whose weapon was a cinder-block on a stick.  Awesome.
  3. Chuckles:  he was a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who came with a pistol.  Oooh.  In the 1987 GI Joe movie they showed him but didn't bother giving him lines.
  4. Gung Ho (in dress blues):  He was a Marine in dress blue uniform who came with a ceremonial sword.  The hell am I gonna do with that?
  5. The Fridge:  Remember former Chicago Bears player William "The Refrigerator" Perry?  They made an action figure of him.  Why?  I don't know.  They also made a figure of WWF wrestler Sergeant Slaughter but at least he had a tank to drive.
Tomorrow is the first-ever guest post from Briane Pagel of The Best of Everything!


  1. I watched a lot of G.I. Joe in the 80s but, for the life of me, I can't remember episodes where they went to a parallel universe. Now I'm rather disappointed in myself.

  2. Interesting read, but I think I'm too old for most of this. When I was a kid The Fantastic Four was my favorite comic. I was curious to see the movie when it came out. Boy, did I feel foolish--it was really lame.

  3. I never really got into the G.I. Joe craze. I did watch the first movie and thought it was okay. I'll see number two when it comes out, probably at a matinee.

    1. I bet you watched the movie just for beefcake shots of Channing Tatum. Though in this one you get the Rock too, so there you go. Also Bruce Willis...gross.

  4. RE: "Drive." I think the title had a double meaning -- The Driver was trying to get out of that life he had, I think; he saw the race car as a way out.

    What I thought was best about that movie was that EVERYTHING he tried to do to escape a life of crime led him back to crime. When he meets Carey Mulligan and that seems hopeful, he not only realizes she's got this ex-con husband coming back but then gets roped further into the criminal world -- so his agent/mechanic boss has crime ties, he has crime ties, the love of his life (?) has crime ties.

    RE: GIJoe. Wasn't it weird that the guys stayed in costume all the time? That's peculiar to animated series, especially. And I wonder why? I know why superheroes always wear their costumes to fight crime but why would a GI Joe ALWAYS wear his wetsuit?

    And why do animated characters wear the same clothes (almsot?) all the time? Would we not recognize Homer Simpson if he wore black pants? I know it's for ease of drawing but how hard is it to draw a different shirt?

    These were great reviews. They really got me thinking. Mostly about how in the gritty reboot of GI Joe, Road Pig and Crystal Ball ought to be the focal points. Kind of like "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" only with GI Joe. There's a recipe for millions.

    ALSO: Glad to see you've admitted upfront all of your novels are rehashes of the same plot.

    1. Part of it with GI JOE was probably that the action figure only came in one suit (except the old 60s doll) so you wouldn't want to confuse kids by having the characters in multiple outfits or else they might think that would be in the stores too. There was one episode where Flint goes on vacation and puts on civilian clothes...except he still wears his beret, which seems to defeat the purpose.

  5. I saw Drive a few months ago and liked it. I agree it was mis marketed. It's a shame that pretty good movie could get so many dislikes because of the way is was sold to the audience.

    I never liked GI Joe that much. I thought the movie form a couple of year's ago was horrid. One of my least favorites in a while. I'm not too thrilled to see another one.

  6. I'm gonna try to not get wrapped up in what I want to say and just keep this short (because I'm still trying to catch up):

    I loved G I Joe and Transformers when I was a kid. I was actually just thinking about this this morning when I was out walking the dog. I think the attraction for me was that the characters (as toys) all had backgrounds. You got their little cards that told who they were and what they did and all of that, and I thought that was really cool. For -that- reason, I watched the cartoons. I loved the characters.

    When my kids were old enough, I bought the season 1 DVDs of GI Joe for them to watch. Oh my gosh, it was so bad. I mean, it was so bad to the point where I wondered what I could have been thinking when I was a kid. Absolutely no nostalgic attraction once I sat down and tried to watch it with them. It was just gone, and I couldn't sit through it. It made me sad, actually.

    And you probably know this, but the reason for the constantly changing characters is that the cartoon became just the marketing tool for Hasbro to sell the toys. They had to introduce the new characters so the kids would want to go buy them. It's what lead to the cancellation of the comic book, which, at one point, was the best selling comic book. Even better selling than X-Men. Then Hasbro came in and started telling Marvel that they had to introduce X number of new characters per issue of the comic, and the stories suffered because the writers couldn't figure out a reason to have so many new characters all the time, so the comic quit selling and ended up cancelled.

    1. Yeah and what was terrible is if you were a fan of a certain old character, like Spirit in GI JOE for instance, he was featured pretty well in the second miniseries and then not much after that, so you were SOL if he was one of your favorites. Though some of the core characters like Duke or Scarlett or Snake-Eyes would still be around.

      At least in GI JOE: The Movie they learned from the mistake in Transformers: The Movie which crassly disposed of the old characters by killing them off. Honestly I think the death of Optimus Prime was more traumatizing that year than the death of my grandpa.

  7. Drive is by the director of Tom Hardy's Bronson, so I'll eventually see it.

    Some of those worthless G.I. Joe characters are redeemed by IDW's Cobra comic book. In fact, any and everything in that series is redeemed instantly. It is an excellent reading experience.



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