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Friday, 31 August 2012

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
 

Eight great directors try to entice Cody with BMWs.



THE HIRE (2001 - 2002)

In the early days of the realization that the internet could be used as a marketing tool, BMW had a very cool and innovative idea: they would produce a series of short films telling stories centered around their vehicles. These wouldn't be commercials for television, they'd only be available for viewing on BMW's website.

The original plan was to do five films, each to be made by a different director and each of those directors to be one of the most interesting filmmakers in the business. Another such filmmaker, David Fincher (Fight Club), was brought on as the series' executive producer and helped develop the project, but wouldn't direct any of the shorts because he was also working on Panic Room at the time. Each short would be a self-contained story, the only connection between them would be the lead character, The Driver, a man who travels the globe taking jobs that put him behind the wheel of a BMW and often put his life in danger.

The Driver would be played by Clive Owen, and since the producers of the James Bond film series started their search for a new actor to play 007 soon after the BMW shorts hit the internet featuring Owen playing a cool and capable man who makes his way through action sequences in nice cars, The Hire became one of the top references for why some fans thought Owen was a great contender for the role. He's not Bond, but Owen is awesome as The Driver.

The first season of The Hire began on April 26, 2001 and consisted of:



AMBUSH

Directed by John Frankenheimer, whose filmography included 1962's The Manchurian Candidate, I Walk the Line, French Connection II, and Ronin, which features one of the most highly regarded car chase sequences in film, and written by Fincher's Se7en collaborator Andrew Kevin Walker, Ambush finds The Driver cruising along a U.S. highway when a van full of heavily armed men wearing ski masks pulls up beside him. The men demand to be given what The Driver's passenger has in his possession: two million dollars worth of stolen diamonds. The passenger confirms this, but claims that he got the diamonds through customs by swallowing them. These men will kill him and dissect him to get what they want. The Driver can't in good conscience allow that to happen, so a chase full of speed, fancy maneuvers, and gunfire ensues.



CHOSEN

A young Asian child arrives by tugboat at a New York dock, where he's picked up by The Driver, who is to deliver him to a suburban house inhabited by a group of Tibetan monks. As soon as the child is in The Driver's care, they are confronted by carloads of men who have nefarious plans for the little Buddha. The chase around the icy, deserted shipyard is presented as a vehicular ballet, set to the music of composer Mychael Danna, and there is a mystical edge to the story as precognition and a syringe full of a strange, purple liquid play into it. Chosen also includes a rare moment of physical action for The Driver outside of his car.


The child is played by Mason C. Lee, son of the short's director Ang Lee, who was fresh off the Oscar-nominated success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and had just signed on to direct the 2003 Hulk movie. His next project gets a nod in the form of an Incredible Hulk bandage that the child gives to The Driver.



THE FOLLOW

Departing from the action-heavy style of its predecessors, this short is actually a low-key drama that's all about mood. Director Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express) presents the story written by Andrew Kevin Walker in a non-linear fashion. Scenes showing the process of The Driver being hired by an uncredited Forest Whitaker and the actor with jerkish tendencies who he manages, Mickey Rourke playing a character named Mickey, are intercut with The Driver doing the job he is hired to do, which is just follow the actor's beautiful young wife (Brazilian model Adriana Lima) around the city, since Mickey is paranoid that she's been cheating on him.


The scenes of The Driver following the wife are wonderfully shot by cinematographer Harris Savides, accompanied by rather romantic music by Joel Goodman and Jeff Rona, with a voiceover from The Driver explaining the art of how to properly tail someone. The Driver advises that you should never get too close to the person you're following, which isn't just a warning about proximity, but also a rule that he seems to break emotionally as he appears to start caring for the woman.

There have been some issues with The Follow that have limited its availability, it hasn't been included on some of the DVD collections of the shorts and the rumored reason is that it was made explicit in Forest Whitaker's contract that it should only be available online. The problem was worked out for some editions.



STAR

Director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) takes a comedic route with his contribution to the series, casting then-wife Madonna as a world famous superstar singer who bullies and bitches her way into The Driver's car. Her attitude is so horrible that The Driver uses the ride to her destination to teach her a lesson in humility, speeding through traffic, hitting bumps and taking fast turns so that the star, who did not buckle her seatbelt, is tossed around in the backseat like a hateful ragdoll. This is probably one of Elton John's favorite things to watch these days.

Note for Bond fans: Toru Tanaka Jr., son of Goldfinger's Harold "Oddjob" Sakata, appears as one of the singer's bodyguards.



POWDER KEG

There is nothing in this entry directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) to show off the beauty or ability of a BMW vehicle, there just happens to be one in this realistic, deadly serious drama/thriller, shot handheld on extremely grainy Ektachrome 16mm film.

Inspired by real events, the story follows a veteran war photographer (played by Stellan Skarsgård), who witnesses a massacre committed by terrorist forces in a South American country. Severely wounded while fleeing the scene, the photographer is picked up by The Driver, sent to take the man to medical help across the border, which is not an easy task. As they drive through the city streets, the photographer questions the usefulness of his profession and laments how the country they're in is being destroyed in the pursuit of cocaine, every line the yuppies snort of it is a line of blood. Deep, troubling subjects impressively and effectively dealt with in this surprising short.


The Hire was very successful for BMW, the shorts being viewed 11 million times in the first four months, bringing their website two million new registered users and having a hand in a 12% increase in sales, so it was decided that a second batch of shorts would be made.

Ridley and Tony Scott joined as executive producers on the second season, which consisted of:


 

HOSTAGE

John Woo (The Killer, Hard Boiled, Mission: Impossible II) directs the hell out of a story that places The Driver in a race against time and misunderstanding police officers as he attempts to rescue business CEO Linda Delacroix (Kathryn Morris). Delacroix has been kidnapped and held for a five million dollar ransom by a former employee played by Maury Chaykin, who has placed her in the trunk of a car that is sinking into the sea now that high tide has rolled in. The Driver talks to the woman over her cell phone as he desperately tries to reach the location where her signal has been triangulated to before she drowns.

It's a bit of a spoiler, but I have to say - the idea that the lovely Kathryn Morris would use Maury Chaykin for sex is something of a head-scratcher.



TICKER

Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team, The Grey) was a brand new up and comer on the scene when he was hired to write and direct a film in The Hire series, his short being his third directing effort following his $7000 debut Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane and the $7 million Narc. He brought his Narc editor along with him to Ticker, that editor being John Gilroy, who edited this year's The Bourne Legacy.

Carnahan lays out the story in an intriguing manner as The Driver speeds a wounded man (Don Cheadle) with a mysterious briefcase through a remote location, pursued by soldiers and a machine gun-firing helicopter. When the briefcase is hit by a bullet, a strange liquid bubbles and sprays from it, coating the windshield. The Driver panics - "Is it chemical? Is biological?" A digital number display on the case starts ticking down, and whatever is inside of it, the life of a great man depends on it reaching its destination. Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Dennis Haysbert, and F. Murray Abraham show up in cameo roles along the way.

Ticker is dedicated to the memory of the man credited with the story idea, Joe Sweet, the copywriter at the Fallon Worldwide ad agency who had co-created the concept of The Hire. During season one, Sweet had co-written Star with Guy Ritchie and was creative consultant on Powder Keg. Sweet left Fallon in 2001 and wrote, directed, shot, and edited his own movie called How to Kill a Mockingbird (not based on the Harper Lee novel that didn't have "How" in the title), featuring fifty speaking parts and made for $30,000. How to Kill a Mockingbird made its premiere in August of 2002, Sweet celebrated his second wedding anniversary on September 22nd, and tragically died from a blood clot on October 4th, twenty days before The Hire season two started with the internet premiere of Hostage.



BEAT THE DEVIL

November, 1954. James Brown sold his soul to The Devil to gain the abilities that would make him the Godfather of Soul. November, 2002. With the aging process taking its toll on him and his career, Brown wants to re-negotiate the contract. Accompanied to The Devil's Las Vegas apartment by The Driver, Brown suggests a deal, another soul for another fifty years. He's offering The Driver's soul. A wager is made that I'm not quite clear on the rules of, but it involves a drag race from the Vegas strip to a railroad crossing in the desert, The Driver and James Brown vs. The Devil and his driver Bob, played by Danny Trejo. Gary Oldman is The Devil, James Brown is James Brown, and Marilyn Manson makes a cameo appearance as himself.


Director Tony Scott ends this series with a dose of pure insanity, using the short to test out some experimental ideas he had for his next feature, Man on Fire. He said he wanted to make the audience feel like they were on crystal meth while they were watching Beat the Devil and he's pretty successful at achieving that goal. The characters are manic, the editing hyperactive, the camera all over the place, zooming in and out. Speed, sound, and color timing are manipulated, logic is out the window.

Beat the Devil isn't really my bag, but James Brown's line "I traded a sunrise for a sunset" has always stuck with me for some reason.


The Hire was a great concept and the collection of shorts is definitely worth checking out. Watching all eight of the short films in a row makes for a very entertaining hour or so of viewing that holds up to repeat viewings every now and then over the years. I wish that there had been more seasons, but I'm happy with the two that we got.



In 2004 - 2005, Dark Horse published four issues of The Driver's continuing adventures in comic book form. Matt Wagner (Grendel, Mage) wrote issue #1: Scandal, in which The Driver has to keep a Paris Hilton-type safe. Issue #2: Precious Cargo was written by legendary actor Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Running Time, Spider-Man), who put The Driver on the streets of his beloved Detroit, Motor City. Issue #3: Hijacked came from Mark Waid (The Flash, Captain America, Kingdom Come) and the chase he came up with includes The Driver taking his car across rooftops. The comics end with #4: Tycoon and a chase in France, written by Kurt Busiek (Astro City, The Avengers) and Steven Grant (The Punisher).

The short film series has ended, the comic book series has ended, but I believe that The Driver is still out there somewhere...

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