Posts Tagged ‘ryan gosling’

I know, I know — at this point there’s pretty much nothing about director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 that hasn’t already been said, but here I am anyway, chiming in with my two cents’ worth long after whatever admittedly slight amount of relevance my opinion might have to prospective viewers has long since left the building. Still, I wanna talk about it anyway, and there’s a good reason for that :

I was, you see, a skeptic when it came to this flick. I was less impressed with Arrival than I was apparently meant to be, I saw no actual need for this sequel, and unlike its celluloid progenitor it’s not based on anything Philip K. Dick actually wrote, so — at most, I was figuring it would be alright. Hopefully it wouldn’t detract from the legacy of the original. But no way did I figure it would prove itself to be actually necessary.

Happily, I was wrong on all counts. Blade Runner 2049 is pretty goddamn awesome stuff.

Ryan Gosling’s a great casting choice as protagonist “K,” for one thing : he’s just basically doing what he always does, true, but what he always does is perfect for this flick, and besides, that’s always been the case with Harrison Ford, too. Both actors have a distinctly limited range (especially Ford), but when a project arises that fits that range to the proverbial “K” — sorry, “T” — then hey, they’re in business. In Blade Runner 2049, they’re both firmly in business.

There’s some reasonably good fleshing out of the dystopian future first shown in the original on offer here, too — “K” is shown to have a “relationship” with an AI operating system named Joi (played by Ana de Armas); the day-to-day work life of the Blade Runners is extrapolated on in greater detail, complete with workplace politics (and Robin Wright for a boss); the predatory capitalism we’re all too depressingly familiar with today is revealed to have reached a peak with the rise of Niander Wallace (a suitably creepy Jared Leto) to the top of the empire left in shambles by the now-late Dr. Tyrell; the economics of feeding an overpopulated world — as well as its off-world colonies — plays very nearly a central role in the plot. All this is both fascinating and logically consistent with what we know from before.

And while we’re on the subject of consistency, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish certainly carry over the aesthetics of Jordan Cronenweth and Vangelis, respectively. You’d honestly think this film was made by the same people as the first, and only a year or two later. I believe that “seamless” is the term we’re looking for.

And yet, on its own, that fealty wouldn’t be enough to recommend it (even with an awesome cameo from Edward James Olmos going in its favor), and might even be considered a “strike” against it if it showed no unique storytelling ambition in its own right — fortunately for us all, that’s hardly the case here, as Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher (who is a carry-over from the first flick) and Michael Green concoct a genuinely intriguing mystery, complete with a couple of big red herrings, and make a pretty gutsy call by definitively answering (probably to the consternation of some, but whatever) one of the major points of fan conjecture that has festered over the years in regards to the true nature of Rick Deckard’s identity. All told, then, this is a movie — and, specifically, a screenplay — that’s certainly determined to live up to pre-set expectations, yet just as certainly unwilling to be downright confined by them.

There’s no Rutger Hauer-esque main “bad guy” here, it’s true (although Dave Bautista gives it a solid shot in the early going), but there’s plenty else to keep you on the edge of your seat and fully involved from the opening to the closing bell, both aesthetically and conceptually. Blade Runner 2049 is, then, something truly unique in the big-budget sequel game — a natural extension of what has come before, but one that seeks to build on it not by going bigger and louder, but broader and deeper.

If the other Ryan Gosling starring vehicle showing these days is an exercise in uniquely-constructed cinematic hodge-podge that results in a uniquely singular directorial vision, the other, director/co-star George Clooney’s The Ides Of March, is pretty much a straightforward character-driven thriller in the Alan J. Pakula vein (if not nearly as good as Pakula’s top-tier efforts), and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with our guy George’s latest foray into the political underbelly, it’s nowhere near as gripping as, say Michael Clayton or Syriana, even though it’s essentially cut from the same cloth.

To briefly summarize : Gosling stars as young-political-consultant-on-the-rise Stephen Myers, the number-two guy (to Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the presidential campaign of apparent Obama-esque idealist Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). When the canny manager of a rival campaign (Paul Giamatti) asks for, and gets, a meeting with Myers on the eve of the crucial Ohio primary (the movie takes place, and was largely shot in, Clooney’s hometown of Cincinnati) it sows seeds of mistrust within the campaign when said meeting is ratted out (or is it?) by an intrepid political reporter portrayed by Marisa Tomei. But that’s nothing compared to the dynamite personal-life scandal about Morris that Myers uncovers via his lady-love campaign intern ( played by Evan Rachel Wood — as an aside, top-dog political consultants — as well as occasionally the candidates themselves — are for soem reason stupidly, and notoriously, dismissive of the age-old, but still quite wise, adage about not shitting where they eat).

Soon, Myers is sitting on top of a powder keg that could either blow the campaign wide open — or be used as leverage to get him exactly what he wants vis-a-vis his career ambitions. Which will he choose — fulfilling his goals, or saving his soul? Can he somehow do both?

Well, of course not — that would make the whole thing a lot less Shakespearian, wouldn’t it? And The Bard’s influence is never too far from the forefront here, right down to the title itself. That being said, old Bill did it a whole lot better, and while The Ides Of March is a competently-realized enough effort, it never really rises above the “this thing will be on TBS on Saturday afternoon a year from now” feeling that hangs over it from the outset.

One thing it certainly has in common with Drive is that Clooney, like Nicolas Winding Refn, seems to have really found his footing as an actor’s director. The story here is pretty cut-and-dried stuff (and the “scandal” at the heart of the story is nothing today’s jaded electorate will find all that terribly shocking, thus negating some of the movie’s potential effectiveness), and Gosling especially really carries the day, especially at the end, where his choice is clearly made, but never vocalized, yet we leave the theater confident that we just fucking know how he’s gonna play this thing out. But any similarities between the two films certainly end there. The Ides Of March is as pedestrian as Drive  is visionary, and that’s as far as I’ll go with the comparisons between the two since pitting one against the other just because they happen to both feature the same lead actor doesn’t make any sense given that the filmmakers are trying to achieve two completely different things. It has to be said that one achieves its aims a lot more completely than the other, though (whoops, I said the comparisons were over with — so sue me).

Clooney’s love of the political arena is certainly the driving animus behind this flick, but if you’re as bored with the whole horse-race aspect of today’s presidential politics as the average voter/viewer, and not a full-time C-SPAN junkie, then you’re just not as likely as George himself to find this material all that gripping, sorry. Maybe three  years ago this whole movie would have hit home a lot more, but now that we’ve all been sold out to Wall Street and the various captains of industry by the guy who promised us “hope” and “change”(a move less surprising to some of us than others), the idea that a purportedly visionary idealist trying to plant himself into 1600 Pennsylvania avenue isn’t all that he seems just doesn’t seem all that surprising.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the message Clooney is trying to get across here, nor, again, is it at all poorly executed. But the origins of the Oscar buzz around this movie are a serious mystery to me. there’s nothing going on here we haven’t seen done before, and better. I can’t say I actively disliked this film in any way, shape, or form, but it just sort of happens. It’s got drama, tension, and intrigue enough to keep you interested as it rolls along, but there’s nothng about it that will stick especially permanently in your memory afterward.

In short, there’s no need to beware The Ides Of March — but there’s no reason to go out of your way to see it, either.

We’ve just got to face it, folks — Ryan Gosling is everywhere these days. Well, okay, maybe not everywhere, but he is in two of the most talked-about films currently playing in theaters, so let’s take a look at each, shall we?

Truth be told, bad-ass Dane Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a movie I meant to review a few weeks back when it first came out, but a vacation, and then lots of catch-up at the day job, prevented me from doing so. Honestly, though, it’s just as well because now I can comment not only on the film itself, but also on some of the absolutely ludicrous backlash it’s generated, most notably from a Michigan woman who is suing the filmmakers for not delivering the Fast And Furious-type garbage action flick she was expecting, and has thrown in some absolutely unfounded charges of anti-semitism (that we won’t even do the courtesy of examining) just for good measure. In short, while most critics, and most of the Hollywood self-appointed elite, are absolutely drooling over this flick, a small but for some reason extremely vocal minority of moviegoers hate this thing with a passion bordering on the pathological.

Why? Good fucking question, because for once, the critical establishment has it absolutely right — Drive is nothing less than a modern masterpiece. Heady praise, to be sure, but damn if this film hasn’t earned it. Refn is known for his grittiness, whether he’s looking at the life of one of Britain’s most notorious criminals in Bronson, or demystifying (and consequently re-mystifying — trust me, if you see it you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about) the traditional Viking warrior saga in Valhalla Rising, and Drive , while as stylistically different to those two films as they are to each other, is no exception — this is one movie that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty.

Despite a heroically liberal amount of — uhhhmmm — “borrowing” from early-80s action thrillers of the Michael Mann and William Friedkin variety (Manhunter and To Live And Die In L.A. being the two films this one is most often compared to, and not without good reason) and 70s exploitation fare (listen closely for the insertion of Riz Ortolani’s spellbinding theme from Goodbye, Uncle Tom about 2/3 of the way through the film), it’s Refn’s skill as an actor’s director, rather than his admittedly flashy visual and tonal homages, that carries the day here. His casting, though unorthodox, is spot-on, and, dare I say it, even visionary. Not many people would have the guts to cast Albert Brooks as a psycho mobster, and fewer directors still could actually make it work, but by kicking back and trusting his actors, Refn allows them to do what they do best and the result is more than one Oscar-worthy performance (even if Brooks is getting most of the accolades, the Academy shouldn’t look past Gosling and Bryan Cranston, either).

The story is deceptively simple — Gosling stars as a character known only as “Driver,” a part-time Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights at a garage and also as a wheelman for stick-up artists. His gigs in that less savory line of work are generally arranged for him by his boos, Shannon (Cranston), and while he tries his best to come off a working-class Steve McQueen, in truth Driver longs for some kind of stability and some people to care for. He thinks he may have found that type of set-up with his rather fetching new neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan) and her young son, but when neighbor-lady’s husband (portrayed by Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, any hopes of a romance on Driver’s part are dashed, but he still clings to the sense of normalcy and belonging this less-than-traditional family brings out in him, to the extent that he offers to (he thinks) help out when hubby gets in deep to some guys he knew from the inside who want him to pay off his “debt” by ripping off a pawn shop.

Needless to say, things don’t go well (and look for Christina Hendricks in a role about as far removed from the glitz and glamor of Mad Men as you’re going to find as a low-rent femme-less-than-fatale accomplice in this doomed caper), and soon Driver finds himself up shit creek with a couple of Shelly’s more unscrupulous friends, sleazebag mobster Bernie Rose (Brooks) and his underling Nino (Ron Perlman), who had some pretty direct ties to the whole affair and now want the money back to save their own asses. At this point the desperation amongst all the principal characters is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and Driver decides there’s only one way out — and not necessarily for himself. It’s the safety of his girl next door and her little boy that weighs first and foremost on his mind, and he’s willing to sacrifice everything and everyone including possibly even himself, to insure it.

A bloodbath of absolutely epic proportions ensues, that serves to change Driver’s lady-almost-love’s perceptions of him irrevocably for the worse even as he’s trying to save her, and before we can even blink we’ve gone headlong from gritty street drama into classical tragedy without even batting an eye. Not too many directors can pull this sleight-of-hand off so apparently effortlessly (Tarantino, for instance, to whom Refn is also being compared, certainly couldn’t, simply because subtlety just isn’t in his repertoire — and for all the blood and thunder that the last act of Drive has on offer, it’s still subtlety, especially in terms of the nuanced performances he coaxes out of his actors, that is the most deadly arrow in Refn’s quiver).

And it’s that last act that’s really at the heart of much of the backlash against this film. Yes, it’s deceptively marketed, but shit, this film is seriously hard to categorize. Part arthouse film, part exploitation flick (not that the line between the two need necessarily be a bright red demarcation — remember, a lot of “arsty” European flicks were marketed as grindhouse fare stateside in the 1970s), part character study, and part Greek tragedy, Drive, while not especially original per se in and of itself, nevertheless combines all of these disparate elements into a seamless whole that maybe by all rights shouldn’t work but does anyway and will not only stand the test of time but be more fully appreciated, this armchair critic strongly suspects, as the years go on (again, not unlike Manhunter and To Live And Die In L.A., which were hardly box office juggernauts in their day). It’s a heady and sometimes even disorientating mix to be sure, but for connoisseurs of cinema that’s equal parts heart, brains, and balls, it’s absolutely must-see viewing.