Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Gosling’

Seven years after his debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), and only two after the international success of Whiplash (2014), Chazelle writes and directs yet another story where film and music are indissolubly tied together, and sets it in a colourful Los Angeles, the city of stars filled with people who dream of becoming someone they are not.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a thirty-something-year-old piano bar player obsessed with jazz, but forced to play the same repetitive tunes before crowds of vaguely interested customers. Mia (Stone) a girl about the same age who works as a waitress but dreams of becoming an actress. We meet both in a scene that mimics the beginning of Fellini’s 8 and ½. It’s Los Angeles, it’s rush hour, and cars are stuck in traffic. The only way people can escape the jam is dreaming, and dream they do: a jammed bridge turns into a carnival where drivers leave their seats, jump, dance and play around their vehicles. It’s a brilliant choreography, and a faithful summary of what the rest of the movie will be: explosive, vibrant and delightful. The camera follows the drivers-turned-dancers and the whole take feels like a wave of energy and colours that lingers long after the dream ends and people return to their seats.

Stuck amongst them are Sebastian and Amy. They meet when she fails to start her car, they honk and insult each other, then they meet again, they flirt, begin to go out, fall in love. It’s a standard love story, and yet it isn’t: Chazelle divides it into four seasons, and the love unfolds like the weather: it sprouts, blossoms, grows old, fades away. But the director seems to fall in love with them as much as they do with each other, and this is what gives to La La Land the sense of delicacy and empathy which makes it stand out as a love story that not only works – it sticks with you.

Amy and Sebastian’s romance is scattered with moments of sadness, joy, explosive choreographies and tip-tap moves. They are both romantic, and try to find their place in worlds where being so is almost looked down upon. We see Amy coming in and out of auditions where she gets repeatedly humiliated, and there is a scene where Sebastian is told jazz is dying because of nostalgic people like him are killing it.

Chazelle is, implicitly, just as romantic as the two of them. He chose to direct a movie that speaks of an art form which its own performers claim to be decaying, jazz, and did it through a medium which hardly many people would have used, a musical. Yet the experiment works. La La Land is as a film that is danced just as much as it is sung, and the choreographies, as well as the duo’s contagious energy and chemistry, add rhythm to the film as if crescendos in a musical piece.

In a sea where everyone plays the same thing, Chazelle has managed to sing his own melody, the same way Sebastian and Amy tried to create their own. The warm applause La La Land received at the end of his premiere at Venice’s 73rd Film Festival is a deserved prelude to the awards the film will hopefully receive in the days and months to come.

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Cannes was not kind to Only God Forgives. Yet, Nicolas Winding Refn is not a director who requests niceties. He has facetiously called himself a pornographer, which is not literally true; however in Only God Forgives he allows his camera to linger on dialogue empty scenes so long, that it might seem invasive and gratuitous. While this film might provoke some viewers to recoil, it is a bold, stylish and strangely meditative thriller, which speaks with figurative brilliance about the loss of sexual innocence and the violence of the adult world.

Literally speaking though, Only God Forgives takes place in Bangkok, Thailand. A stoic Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an US expat, boxing club owner and drug smuggler. Julian’s brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered by gangsters, after he murdered a sixteen-year-old prostitute. The gangsters are advised by the devilishly God-like swordsman Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm.) Billy’s death ushers in the arrival of their mother Crystal (played brilliantly by a nauseating Kristin Scott Thomas), who arrives from the US to see Billy’s body. Crystal and Chang initiate a whirlwind of violence, stemming from her monstrous, sexualised angst and his brutal discipline.

At its heart Only God Forgives is a deeply Oedipal film about two men dealing with their mother’s sexual depravity; a depravity that may stem from the violent death of her husband. Crystal claims to have had a particularly “special” relationship with deceased son Billy (in one memorable scene she describes his penis as “enormous”) and yet Julian seems sidelined, impotent, and childlike (hence Gosling’s ruthlessly low-key performance.) Like his mother, Billy was also sexually deviant; his ultimate fantasy involved abusing minors. Julian seems traumatised by his own family, as well as his failings to impress and satisfy his mother (and the prostitute he pays to see regularly,) so he trades his sexuality for his fists.

Visually Refn has created a unique orientalism, with which to locate the story. Shooting on the streets of Bangkok, as well in sets dressed to look like ornate brothels and grandiose boxing rings, Refn depicts a hellish, womb-like dreamscape. Shifts from location to location are not handled with clarity, but rather the viewer floats through the film (with the help of Cliff Martinez’s absorbing score) gradually being drawn in, or maybe repelled. Refn’s nightmarish visuals have frequently been compared to Gaspar Noé and David Lynch, but in terms of shooting style there is more in common with Takeshi Kitano’s violent minimalism. Side-on tracking shots recall ones from Refn’s own Bronson, but may actually be inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s transgressive masterpiece The Holy Mountain.

Refn dedicates this film to Alejandro Jodorowsky and has described Only God Forgives as his “Jodorowsky film.” As with Jodorowsky’s films, Only God Forgives sets itself up as a challenge. It is a film that asks the viewer to dissolve completely into the subtext, rather than take each scene literally. Refn assembles scenes that comment on his Oedipal themes, rather than compel the narrative with plot. Ultimately the film discourages rational thought, asking for the viewer to metaphorically connect its ideas (male genitals are equated with fists, weapons serve to bring impotence & innocence, wounds are orifices for penetration, adults destroy innocence); this occurs in a manner like Jodorowsky’s rejection of logic, inspired by Buddhist koans.

By coupling its psychosexual themes and meditative style (and some rousing karaoke numbers from Chang), Only God Forgives finally betrays a tragic hilarity. As Julian propositions Chang with the words “wanna fight?” Chang looks judgingly at his crotch. This moment is protracted as if to summarise the film’s ideas about sex and violence and yet it also revels in the absurdity of Refn’s filmmaking. Only God Forgives may appear a challenging ninety minutes, but it is a bold stab at a different kind of storytelling, not without moments of Refn’s roughish showmanship.

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They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

– Philip Larkin

With blunt simplicity, the esteemed British poet sums up generation after generation of family life. In his latest film, The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance takes Larkin’s verse to heart. The writer-director’s breakthrough film Blue Valentine established him as a film maker with a grip on the heart strings, preying on the uncertainties and paranoia of a flailing relationship. It was an unusual film in that it spanned across a large time frame, detailing the highs and lows of a marriage in uncompromising detail. There was more in common with the character driven films of ’70’s Hollywood that Bob Rafelson and John Cassavetes used to make.

While Blue Valentine flourished in its intimacy, here Cianfrance is working with a much bigger canvas and the strokes are much broader. The film essentially revolves around three sections, focusing on the divergent fortunes of two families whose lives seep in and out of one another. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a tearaway stunt motorcyclist performing around the country. When one of his flings with Romina (Eva Mendes) results in a child, Luke takes it upon himself to settle down in Schenectady, New York and try to provide for his new son. Finding his skill set limited, Luke is persuaded by petty criminal Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to use his driving experience to rob the local banks.

Meanwhile, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a young rookie officer eager to make his mark on the world. His background in law and a dedication to his young family makes him an anomaly in a corrupt police department, thus beginning his struggle to maintain a clear conscience in the face of amoral practice. A chance encounter with Luke’s reckless bank robber leads the two on a mammoth saga that spans the generations. The Place Beyond The Pines is an ambitious, richly layered film that excels both as a crime saga and a family drama.

Gosling, the go to heart throb of indie cinema, gives a typically commanding performance as Luke. He seems to have mastered the ‘cocky young player with the damaged soul’ to perfection. While his role is relatively short, he casts a shadow over the rest of the film that leaves the audience looking back toward him for answers. Bradley Cooper is nuanced and heartfelt, conveying the inner angst of someone fighting against the system and his own inner demons. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Mendelsohn’s needy loner and Ray Liotta’s calculating officer.

Cianfrance again opts for an almost documentary like aesthetic, the shaky camera work mirroring the rawness of the characters emotions. He also proves himself as an able director of action; the motorcycle scenes are filmed with a blistering ferocity and tension. Alternative icon Mike Patton delivers an affecting, offbeat score, relying on melancholic, echoing piano notes and ominous guitar interludes to maintain the ambience. Elsewhere an achingly beautiful Ennio Morricone piece elevates scenes of catharsis to an almost religious fervour.

The Place Beyond The Pines is not a perfect film; the final section lacks the gravitas as the two that went before it, and is a little too neat its climax. If the film had previously established the cyclical effects of a damaged upbringing, then the third act makes it all too literal. However, its sprawling, ambitious scope is admirable and invigorating, the characters vivid and human and the narrative conflicts juicy and engaging. Cianfrance achieves a great juggling act of realistic personal drama and operatic crime thrills. Now Cianfrance has established himself at this level, it’s exciting to see where he will go next.

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The scene is post war 1940s, a lush Hollywood noir back drop. Gangster Mob-boss Micky Cohen (Sean Penn) is pushing his own drug and prostitution rackets, moving away from his Chicago peers, and trying to create his own LA Empire. Enter Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), the shining moral compass of this story. Despite being a man of compelling action, O’Mara is aware how ineffective his low level arrests have on this gangster empire.

His superior, Chief Parker (Nick Note), approaches the Sergeant with a proposition: wage an unsanctioned guerrilla war on these gangsters from the shadows. And like that O’Mara begins recruiting his rag tag unofficial police team: a gunslinger, his apprentice, a knife welding beat cop, an ex-military communications expert, and fellow college and charmer Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). From here the gang conduct tactical raids on Cohen’s organisation.

So far, this all sounds reminiscent of a film we’ve seen a hundred times before, correct? And you know what, it is. It’s a very obvious recipe that the filmmakers are following. The content is like an action film check list, including an unfortunate amount of  ‘Zack-Snyder-slowmo and an idealistically tidy ending. But despite Gangster Squad’s formulaic make-up, it’s still worthwhile because what is done is done well. As long as you are under no illusions about the nature of this beast it’s an enjoyable ride.

The performances are resplendently colourful with Sean Penn painting a merciless picture of vicious cruelty and Ryan Gosling delivering the usual cool charisma. Brolin does what he can with very little to work with and his noir-like narration helps us empathise. The one performance I was particularly surprised by was Emma Stone’s; this modern, sassy, and verbose actress successfully slowing it down for the sexy subtleties of a femme fatale.

The real strength of the film however is the way that it knows its audience. We now seem caught in this ubiquitous plight of 12A compromises, each film appealing to the widest market possible. This film is violent, gory and remorseless about it. In the opening scene we witness a gangster tortured and ripped apart between two cars.  Gangster Squad is unequivocally an adult film for those with a taste for stylized violence.

Gangster Squad isn’t going to win any Oscars, nor is it going to break cinematic bounties. But it’s fun and exciting, like Hollywood used to make, a solid action film for the boys (and girls).  If you want guts, balls and blood Gangster Squad shoots you square in the face.

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1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

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Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

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In the UK 2011 has been quite a year for Ryan Gosling. Blue Valentine was released on the 14th of January, and then in September we saw the release of Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love. By late October The Ides of March hit the cinema screens, making it pretty hard to deny that 2011 is the Year of Ryan Gosling. Not only has Gosling dominated our screens by number of releases, but it is the quality of the films he has been involved in that really makes the difference. Drive was a directorial tour-de-force by Nicholas Winding Refn, which brought out the badass in Gosling. Blue Valentine was a raw and honest portrayal of the fate of a romance without the necessary maintenance. Crazy, Stupid, Love portrayed another failed relationship; this time Gosling took on the role of ladies man/dating coach, to hilarious effect.

This brings us to The Ides of March, a classy political thriller and George Clooney’s fourth feature as director. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, an idealistic Junior Campaign Manager for the Democrat’s presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is convinced that Morris is the one man in America who can make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, stating “I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it, but I have to believe in the cause.” And he does believe in the cause, until he meets a young intern called Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and discovers something equivalent to his worst nightmares. From here all hell breaks loose, both within the campaign and within Meyers’ own system of values.

It is here that Ryan Gosling shows us the kind of rounded performance he is capable of. Having convinced us of Meyers’ integrity and idealism, Gosling soon makes the transition to a revenge driven individualist. Unlike Drive where Gosling internalised nearly every emotion, The Ides of March shows him reaching for more raw emotions; in this sense the film has more in common with Blue Valentine. The Ides of March sees Gosling playing wildly divergent character traits within the same character, to utterly convincing effect. With this film Ryan Gosling seems to have skilfully established himself as an actor of some authority, not just ‘one to watch’.

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