With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never quite manages to recount a story that grabs hold of the audience. It's a stunningly gorgeous film packed with strong, earthy performances from a starry cast playing against type. But there's no momentum at all to the narrative, which is packed with random symbolism that never quite resolves into anything either meaningful or emotionally engaging.
Lost River is a decaying, abandoned city on the edge of a lake created by damming up a river and flooding another town. In what's left of their neighbourhood, Billy (Christina Hendricks) lives in her family home with her sons: a toddler and a teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who helps support the household by scavenging for copper in the vacant buildings nearby. But he's encroaching on the turf of self-proclaimed gangster Bully (Matt Smith), who is intent on exacting vicious revenge. Meanwhile, next-door neighbour Rat (Ronan) is caring for her delusional granny (Barbara Steele) and trying to help Bones. And when the new bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) turns down Billy's cry for help, she takes a job at his seedy underworld nightclub alongside Cat (Eva Mendes).
Aside from some blood-soaked cabaret, what goes on in this nightclub remains rather mysterious, as Billy finds higher-paying work in the purple-hued basement fetish rooms. But then everything in this film is enigmatic, as Gosling deliberately refuses to connect the dots. This gives the film an intriguing David Lynch-style tone, although it lacks Lynch's eerie resonance. There's also a touch of John Waters-style trashiness and Terrence Malick-style natural beauty, plus the clear influence of Gosling's heavily stylised past directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives) and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Monday and The Place Beyond the Pines). In other words, almost everything in this film feels like a reference to another movie, but it's expertly assembled to look fabulous from start to finish, with some seriously striking sequences along the way.
Continue reading: Lost River Review
It's taken a long time for this stage musical to make it to the big screen, and while director Rob Marshall once again fails to give the story a sharp focus (see also Chicago and Nine), he at least lets the music and characters shine. Originally staged on Broadway in 1987, this musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is a gleeful mash-up of fairy tales that continues on past the "happily ever after", eventually turning rather dark and emotional.
Once upon a time, there was a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who learn that they can't have children because the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door has cursed them. She offers to break the spell if they collect a cow, a cape, a slipper and a lock of hair. Meanwhile, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) annoys his mother (Tracey Ullman) by selling the family cow for a handful of "magic" beans; Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) dodges a leery Wolf (Johnny Depp) following her through the woods; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) sneaks to the festival to meet the Prince (Chris Pine) against the wishes of her nasty stepmum (Christine Baranski); and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) defies her mother by letting her hair down for a Prince (Billy Magnussen). After knotting together, each plot strand resolves happily. Until the next day.
This is very much a story of two halves, with the sharp, snappy, hilarious first act contrasting strongly against the rather disturbingly grim and grisly second act, as everyone's story unravels to reveal each character's deep neediness. What makes this show so clever is the way it undermines the usual fairy-tale happiness of most stories, cautioning that this artifice is actually a problem for children. While the songs are all clever and thoroughly engaging, none of them is particularly hummable on first listen, but each is packed with witty wordplay and serious subtext that gets under the skin.
Continue reading: Into the Woods Review
Ryan Gosling may produce, direct and star in the Busby Berkeley biopic for Warner Bros.
Ryan Gosling Could Produce, Direct and Star in the Busby Berkeley Biopic
The studio has already optioned Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak for an adaptation to be produced by Gosling and Marc Platt, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The pair have previously worked together on the 2011 crime thriller Drive.
Continue reading: Ryan Gosling: Hey Girl, Let's Make A Busby Berkeley Biopic
The fact that this magical romance has been retitled A New York Winter's Tale in the UK tells you what the filmmakers think of the audience: we can't be trusted to get anything on our own. Writer-director Akiva Goldsman lays everything on so thickly that there's nothing left for us to discover here. And he botches the tone by constantly shifting between whimsical fantasy and brutal violence. Sure, the manipulative filmmaking does create some emotional moments, but inadvertent giggles are more likely.
It's mainly set in 1916, where young orphan Peter (Farrell) is running from his relentlessly nasty former boss Pearly (Crowe), a gangster angry that Peter isn't as vicious as he is. Then Peter finds a mystical white horse that miraculously rescues him and leads him to the dying socialite Beverly (Brown Findlay). As they fall deeply in love, Peter believes he can create a miracle to save Beverly from the end stages of consumption. And Pearly is determined to stop him. But nearly a century later, Peter is still wandering around Manhattan in a daze, trying to figure out who he is and why he's still there. He gets assistance from a journalist (Connelly), who helps him make sense of his true destiny.
Yes, this is essentially a modern-day fairy tale packed with supernatural touches. But Goldsman never quite figures out what the centre of the story is, losing the strands of both the epic romance and the intensely violent vengeance thriller. Meanwhile, he condescends to the audience at every turn, deploying overwrought camera whooshing, frilly costumes, dense sets and swirly effects while a violin-intensive musical score tells us whether each a scene should be wondrous or scary. At the centre of this, Farrell somehow manages to hold his character together engagingly, even convincing us that Peter is around 25 years old (Farrell's actually 38).
Continue reading: Winter's Tale Review
What looks like a rather standard buddy action comedy is elevated by a smarter-than-normal script, skilful direction and surprisingly offhanded chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg. In addition to the usual action chaos, the film lets big issues gurgle under the surface while refusing to play it safe. For example, the villain here is the US government, rather than some cliched foreign nutcase.
It's set on the US-Mexico border, where smooth operator Bobby (Washington) is working with fast-talking Stig (Wahlberg) to make a deal with the drug kingpin Papi Greco (Olmos). When they decide to rob a local bank to get his attention, the whole situation blows up in their faces. Not only does it emerge that both are undercover federal agents (Bobby with the DEA and Stig with Navy Intelligence), but their bosses (Burke and Marsden, respectively) are unwilling to protect them. Even Bobby's colleague-girlfriend (Patton) can't really help. And now they're being chased by everyone, including Papi and a swaggering killer (Paxton) with connections to the CIA.
The rather crazy plot demands that we pay attention as each of these factions is brought into focus, and it's refreshing to see a big movie that never abandons its own internal logic. Everything does indeed fit together into a larger picture, and since Bobby and Stig are alone in trying to figure it out, we happily go with them. Washington and Wahlberg are having a lot of fun with these characters as they jostle against each other in various displays of messy bravado. Opposite them, Patton has a thankless sexy-female role, but Olmos is quietly fierce, and Paxton steals every scene as a cocky, sneering villain who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
Continue reading: 2 Guns Review