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The Place Beyond the Pines - Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Robert Clohessy

The Place Beyond the Pines: a trilogy of stories surrounding a cop, a robber, and their kids. Firstly, the casting director should be put down; nobody here is doing anything new. Gosling (complete with gratuitous torso shot) is a lovable-but-flawed boyfriend, Cooper is a smart and ambitious over-achever, DeHaan as a creepy weirdo kid and Liotta as a bent cop, Mendelsohn as a petty low-life criminal – fuck me sideways, it’s like a cast made of characters from other films. While the three plot threads are connected, they are more akin to three completely separate stories. It has a painfully Indie/Arthouse slant to it; this means it’s OK to have excruciatingly long cuts of people riding bikes and cars down roads, and to casually drop in to the lives of ‘everyday people’. And once the ’15 years later’ title appears you know exactly where this is heading, so to take another 40 minutes feels rather greedy. More generally, it’s also hard keeping up with where you are on a timeline – sure, it’s chronological but one scene will jump a day, others weeks, some months with no indication. Over the 17 or so years all we as the audience get is all of the melodrama – in a film that is nothing like the bank-job / heist / action film the trailer suggests. I genuinely don’t understand the hype surrounding director Derek Cianfrance, but he got one thing right – calling this ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ – which tells you everything you need to know about it – too long, very vague, and painstaikingly tedious. By the last act, it felt more like the NeverEnding Story.

Score: 3/10

Blue Valentine: full-circle relationship drama focusing on a young all-American couple. This one’s independent to the core: indie Soundtrack, lo-fi visuals, handheld camcorder / shaky vibe – R-Gos even busts out a ukulele for a serenade at one point, in a scene that’s sweet enough to give you diabetes, or cringe-worthily comparable to dental work – depending on your stance.  If there ever was a film aimed specifically at Noah and the Whale / Modest Mouse fans… this is it. The story itself is uncompromisingly banal, refusing to go anywhere, and with the indie style, it feels more like a fly-on-the-wall than drama in parts. Chronologically shuffled, it bounds between timeframes, making the mood warm and fuzzy, then ice cold, then fuzzy again… Despite a dull, mumbly script Gosling and Williams are the only aspects that kept me watching; they clock in some serious dramatic mileage through the convincing everyman/everywoman relationship scenarios. Overall, this is a tough one to rate: Blue Valentine wants to be rooted in the real world, yet it’s cast two beautiful Hollywood stars; it wants to be crushingly realistic  yet has a rose-tinted cinematic romanticism outlook. Rarely does a film hang so heavily, or rely so much on two people, and in this case, two solid performances couldn’t make this special.

Score: 4.5/10

Crazy, Stupid, Love.: ensemble rom-com loosely following a couple’s divorce and the subsequent mid-life crises. This is a film of two halves: the front end is brilliant, Ryan Gosling in particular is on top form as the no-nonsense, face-slapping, tough-love female guru – and his relationship with Carell is very watchable. For me, the second half was much quieter and a bit more predictable, falling back on a bog-standard personal journey and ‘gratifying’ wrap-up – although the climactic scene at the house is wildly entertaining, and quite clever. The film also shoots itself in the foot by having about 4 endings, it seems to just go on and on. The humour catches you off-guard, usually big budget/big cast comedies are given terrible, watered-down scripts, but there’s more than enough laughs on the table here. Carell has a strangely Jim-Carey-lite-like watchable presence, however he can’t really hold his own when it comes to the more emosh scenes. Crazy Stupid Love exceeds expectations as far as a comedy goes, however the second half of the movie lets it down and drags it out.

Score: 6.5/10

Ides of March: a brief glimpse behind the cameras and curtains of American politics as an idealist media mogul and presidential candidate get dragged through the dirt on a campaign trail. This has a serious political-thriller script and so many (old and new) big actors involved – which is why it’s unfortunately one of the dampest squibs of the year. The plot is strong, and a good insight into modern politics and politicians… but they’re somewhat of an easy target these days. There’s some great acting on display… but you’re still left wanting more screen time from the likes of Hoffman, Giamatti and Clooney. The direction’s good… but it’s nowhere near as slick or smart as direction of a political film needs to be. With all of these ‘buts’ The Ides of March is definitely weaker than it should be – sorely missing that additional thump that makes good films great, and political stories engaging.

Score: 6.5/10

Drive: Follows a professional stunt driver (moonlighting getaway driver) as he makes a unique connection with his neighbour, and her criminal husband. This is a fascinating mix of raw drama and the most brutal violence you’ll see all year. Gosling is phenomenal; with so few lines (but when he speaks, he means it) this could have gone pear-shaped but his entire body tells so much more about the methodical, isolated driver character than any script could. The rest of the cast do well to keep up, except Ron Perlman, who is, as always, categorically pants – at least he’s consistent! What’s most apparent is that the film’s meticulously put together; tension levels are unbearable in parts (opening 15 will blow you away), music’s memorable and used effectively, general ambience is great, and it’s stylishly filmed yet maintains a painfully indie vibe – you couldn’t really ask for more in a film. Hopefully, this will have a bigger longer life in DVD players than the two-weeks it appears to be getting in most cinemas.

Score: 8.5/10