Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Release Date: August 31st, 2016 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media, Imposter Pictures, Gilbert Films, Marc Platt Productions, 128 Minutes

lalalandReview:

Everyone and their mom loves this film. Especially their mom. To be blunt, I thought it was shit. Not just shit, actually. I thought it was the sort of self-obsessed showbiz nostalgia masturbatory flick that the industry insiders and all the committees who vote on awards will go nuts for.

But to be honest, I hate musicals. So while I may have some bias there, I really tried to give this a shot. I mean, I’m usually pretty happy with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and I’m not so closed minded that I haven’t discovered musicals that are actually worth a damn.

La La Land is beyond dull. The characters are minimalist caricatures of cookie cutter lovers in a showbiz movie. There isn’t enough meat on the bones to really sink your teeth into. I didn’t care about these characters at all and frankly, they were both kind of self-absorbed and unlikable. Also, half of their problems could have been resolved easily if they owned cell phones. I mean, who the hell communicates or doesn’t communicate like its the 1930s. Actually, they own cell phones but they are just conveniently used to propel their showbiz careers and to not communicate with one another.

Apart from the dullness of the characters, the story is also pretty bland. Showbiz girl likes showbiz guy, careers take off, shit falls apart. But I guess this is all people want from these sorts of movies. But jokes on you, no happy ending! I guess that is what makes La La Land a shocking and surprising risk taking masterpiece within the genre.

The dialogue is also bad. For a good example of how poorly this movie is written, just go to the scene where Ryan Gosling attempts to explain jazz to Emma Stone.

There is some good though. I enjoyed the cinematography, as far as the use of colors and lighting. Some of the musical numbers looked good in a visual sense.

The songs weren’t great or memorable though. Emma Stone has a passable voice but it isn’t anything exceptional. Ryan Gosling is a bit better but he doesn’t get the spotlight in the same way that Stone does.

It is strange to me that this movie is winning all the big awards. But it really shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, critics and Hollywood big wigs love these showbiz pictures. They’re like a two hour advertisement about how cool and great they are. And if you don’t like it or don’t get it, well that’s just because you’re not in the industry.

Therefore, I can only assume that La La Land is going to dominate at the Academy Awards. These awards shows are nothing but bullshit industry politics, a lavish display of self-importance and insider circle jerks. La La Land is the perfect golden goose to circle jerk around.

Documentary Review: My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014)

Release Date: July 17th, 2014
Directed by: Liv Corfixen
Music by: Cliff Martinez

58 Minutes

my_life_nicolas_winding_refnReview:

Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the best younger directors out there. He’s got a slew of films now but he’s still a younger breed of filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan.

Some films have been near perfect and a few have missed their mark. One such film that missed the mark a bit was Only God Forgives. This documentary follows Refn during the process of directing that film.

This is an enlightening view into a director’s life at his most stressful and most creative. Refn has no reservations in showing his struggles and expressing his concerns and doubts throughout the filmmaking process. It also shows how he directs, organizes his projects and leads his cast and staff. Only God Forgives is a film where Refn had trouble trying to execute his vision.

My favorite parts about the film, other than being a real human story, are seeing how Refn directs action and how he changes things on a whim when he’s standing in the middle of a set and seeing how everything flows.

Ryan Gosling is also very prominent in this documentary, being that he is Refn’s star, regular collaborator and good friend. The film also showcases Refn’s working relationship with the great Kristin Scott Thomas and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm.

This is a short documentary, less than an hour. It is certainly worth a watch if you are a fan of filmmaking or Refn’s work. And ladies, you can just stare into the magical doe-like eyes of the Gosling.

This was streaming on Netflix, I’m not sure if it still is.

Film Review: Lost River (2014)

Release Date: May 20th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ryan Gosling
Written by: Ryan Gosling
Music by: Johnny Jewel
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Barbara Steele

Bold Films, Marc Platt Productions, Phantasma, Warner Bros. Pictures, 95 Minutes

lost-riverReview:

Ryan Gosling was never an actor I cared for either way. He did some decent indy films but was mostly associated with romance flicks and being a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. He was a guy that was just kind of there and not really on my radar.

Then he starred in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and I was pretty intrigued by him. No, not like all those ladies who swoon over The Notebook but because there was just something about his presence in that film, despite him being a very quiet character.

He went on to do some other really interesting films and also worked with Refn again in the polarizing Only God Forgives. So when, shortly after seeing that movie, I heard that Gosling was writing and directing something, I was pretty intrigued. I’d had hoped that some of what he learned working with the accomplished Refn, would rub off.

Initially, Lost River was met with a lot of negative reviews. It was kind of off-putting when I saw the critical response to the film, after it was shown at Cannes. However, Refn’s Only God Forgives was lambasted by many and I liked that film regardless of the critical consensus. I also don’t take critics responses too seriously and some of the best films, historically speaking, were trashed when they first came out.

While I really liked Gosling’s Lost River, I don’t see it as being a historically important film. That is, unless Gosling goes on to make some really amazing films and this one goes on to be remembered as his first in a line of visual stunning and trippy pictures.

Lost River is kind of an homage of Refn’s visual style, which Gosling probably became comfortable with mimicking after being immersed in it while filming two visually alluring films. It also has a sort of David Lynch bizarreness to it.

One thing that must be pointed out, is that the music was great. Johnny Jewel developed a really good score for this picture and it blended well, weaving in and out of this well-balanced mixture of darkness and vibrant colors.

The acting in the picture is solid but the characters, although relatable, don’t at all feel fleshed out enough. I thought Matt Smith, most famous for being the bow-tie-wearing eleventh Doctor in the Doctor Who franchise, was pretty stellar as the unstable, creepy and appropriately named Bully. He was just an evil and extremely violent force of nature that had a very threatening and terrifying presence every time he was on-screen. Saoirse Ronan and Iain De Caestecker did a pretty fine job with their roles too. However, as much as I have always loved Christina Hendricks, her character felt the flattest, even though she had some of the most interesting material in the film.

Lost River is a pretty uncomfortable movie that reflects some really dark parts of life but it also never dismisses hope or a way out for its characters. It is beautiful to look at and it is interesting enough to keep you engaged for an hour and a half.

The critics can obviously say what they want, but for a directorial debut, Ryan Gosling gave us a real human story with a good message that was visually fulfilling. While this didn’t knock the ball out of the park, it was pretty deep in the outfield. For a debut film, there aren’t very many directors that can say that.