Scenic Drive

Image design by C. A. Ramirez

1. I, Robot (2004)

Director: Alex Proyas ( The Crow, Dark City)

Writer: Jeff Vintar ( The Hot Zone: Anthrax, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within)

Writer: Akiva Goldsman ( A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man)

“When Does a Personality Simulation Become the Bitter Moat of a Soul?”

Dr. Landing’s “Ghost in the Machine” monologue is easily one of the best parts of this Will Smith science fiction adventure. Heavily inspired by Isaac Asimov’s 1950 short-story mash-up of the same title, I, Robot delivers a scene that catalyzes deep thoughts towards the nature of artificial intelligence. It inspires the audience to imagine a world where conscience and the nature of the human soul were manufactured by human minds, nearly by mistake. This sentiment is hammered into the audience as Will Smith’s character passes by rows of shipping containers containing the obsolete robots. The derelict robots seek out the light and are shown grouped together despite never having these behavioral protocols deliberately programmed. This kind of thought-provoking imagery is what fuels great science fiction movies to ascend into Andromeda.

2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Director: Quentin Tarantino ( Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds)

Writer: Quentin Tarantino ( True Romance, The Hateful Eight)

“Mr. White’s Got a Secret”

Not long after Mr. White drags a bloodied Mr. Orange into the warehouse, Mr. Pink storms inside. Steve Buscemi is a powerhouse, and if it weren’t for Harvey Keitel’s equally remarkable performance, the entire scene would easily have been stolen by him. While Mr. White and Mr. Pink debate on how best to help the gut-shot Mr. Orange, the camera holds on Harvey Keitel. A masterfully slow close-up on Mr. White ensues, and it is one of Keitel’s best performances. Mr. Orange rants and raves, oblivious to the mental tug-of-war going on inside Mr. White’s head as he wonders whether or not to tell Mr. Pink the truth. Tarantino has a host of these kinds of moments throughout all of his films, but his debut is legendary because of the stellar cast and his unique style of directing and writing. This is truly a crime-drama masterpiece.

3. Marathon Man (1976)

Director: John Schlesinger ( Midnight Cowboy, Eye for an Eye)

Writer: William Goldman ( The Starfish, Madame Sousatzka)

“Is it Safe?”

A trip to the dentist will never be the same for you once you see this Dustin Hoffman thriller. Failing to spoil too much, Hoffman’s character is tortured by a Nazi (Lawrence Olivier) and kept in captivity unless he tells them everything, he knows about a diamond stash in New York. Unfortunately for Hoffman, he doesn’t know anything and endures some shocking dentistry practices as a result. Halfway through the movie, Hoffman’s character is “rescued” by Janeway (William Devane), and the audience can’t help but feel relief. Janeway kills two of the Nazi’s cohorts and throws Hoffman in the back of a car. They escape as Janeway explains who the Dentist really is and why he wants to know if his diamond stash is free from surveillance of the authorities. The audience is swept up in the whirl-wind with Hoffman, and it makes this scene absolutely tense. The relief you feel when this scene comes around is rejuvenating. Schlesinger and Goldman produced a masterful sequence that saves you from the deviled dentist only to turn it on its head. Janeway can’t get any information out of Hoffman, so he drives him right back to the Nazi’s lockup. The two cohorts Janeway “killed” are alive and waiting to take Hoffman back to confinement. The entire scene splits apart your mind as you discover the dentist is a crazed Nazi looking to secure his wealth, that Janeway is working with them, and that the rescue was entirely staged. Janeway used blanks in his gun and a knife with a retractable blade to make Hoffman’s rescue look legitimate. It is one of the greatest examples of a slow-burning 180 that drives the stakes and character motivations right into the heart of the audience. Bliss.

4. Red Dragon (2003)

Director: Brett Ratner ( Rush Hour, Tower Heist)

Writer: Ted Tally ( The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Strong)

“Sweet Breads”

My love of highly-intelligent socio-paths with a penchant for unique foods started with The Silence of the Lambs and culminated with Red Dragon. There is something so wonderfully unsettling about an educated man leading a double-life as a serial killer and blue-blooded aristocrat. Displeased with the performance of a woodwind player of a symphony, Hannibal Lecter kills and serves him to his peers in the orchestra during his yearly dinner party. Will Graham shows up after the guest and dinner plates have been cleared, and we learn he and Lecter have been working on a profile for his latest serial killer. Hitchcock would be proud as this scene serves as the veritable “bomb under the table”, developing pitch-perfect tension between the audience, Graham, and Lecter. We know Lecter is a psycho, but Graham does not. It may be simple tension at first, but it is turned up to eleven when Lecter leaves Graham alone in his study. Graham’s attention turns to a large copy of LaRousse Gastronomique. Graham opens it and sees a bookmark holding a place over a section where Lecter left a hand-written note, “sweet breads”. Graham finally realizes what we have known the whole time, but it’s too late. The two engage in a struggle that leaves Lecter shot and Graham in intensive care; and that’s just the opening of this great epic.

5. Avatar (2010)

Director: James Cameron ( Aliens, True Lies)

Writer: James Cameron ( The Abyss, Titanic)

“Mask On!”

Every movie needs a villain, but the best has you fear, respect, and envy them. Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is one of the greatest examples of this kind of villain. Strong as an Ox, determined, and intelligent, the Colonel is probably the heaviest soldier in Cameron’s universe, right next to Sgt. Apone (Al Mathews). We get glimpses of what Colonel Quaritch is all about from the movie’s first few scenes. It isn’t until we see him in action that the audience is actually shown what he is capable of doing. Colonel Quaritch is no slouch and is not just in command for the pay; he lives, eats, and breathes the military lifestyle. This realization comes when Jake (actor’s name) and his Avatar team are broken out of the brig, and the Colonel catches wind of the escape. Not losing a beat, the Colonel grabs a rifle from an MP, screams, “Mask On!”, and kicks the door open. The toxic Pandoran atmosphere streams into the HQ building as the Colonel calmly holds his breath while shooting at the fleeing transport ship. The realism in this scene is outstanding. The gestures used by the personnel to announce a gas attack are the same used by the military, and the way the Colonel shoots is realistic as well. He fires his rifle until it’s empty and checks the chamber to see if it’s a malfunction or empty. Then he immediately drops his rifle and pulls out his handgun. All of this takes place in a second, and we are shown that the Colonel is just as proficient a warrior as any of the Na’vi, if not more ruthless. I love seeing a bit of modern flair in a futuristic sci-fi setting, especially when it manifests itself in a villain you couldn’t knock down with a sledgehammer.

Originally published at on February 9, 2022.



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