Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Ciaran Hinds, Olivia Hamilton
Adapted from James R. Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, Damien Chazelle’s First Man is faced with two distinct challenges. Firstly, how to build suspense and tension when the audience already knows of the successful outcome of the Apollo mission, and secondly, how to make a contemporary audience appreciate just how audacious and inconceivable an undertaking that mission was back in 1969. By taking a more personal approach to this story, and reinventing the cinematic representation of space travel, it manages to achieve both to great effect. Continue reading
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto
The last few years have seen a number of sequels to long dormant film series: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed, Jurassic World. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is something quite different. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, was not a franchise movie. It was not even a box office success. Blade Runner is a cult classic which earned more mainstream recognition over a period of decades, thanks to various re-cuts and re-releases in the ancillary market (specifically the 1992 Director’s Cut and the 2004 Final Cut). While the film had a very cool neo-noir aesthetic and unique sound thanks to Vangelis’ score, the appeal of Blade Runner is largely the ideas it explores. All of this makes returning to the property 35 years down the track a far more interesting challenge than simply rebooting or reviving a proven franchise. Continue reading
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
The classic movie musical, the kind the big studios churned out in the 1940s and 1950s, is largely a thing of the past. These days movie musicals tend to be layered in irony, knowingly winking at the audience in order to acknowledge the inherent silliness of the form. Movie musicals, like everything else, have become postmodern. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, however, harks back to that bygone era. It is striking in how traditional it is, and in how earnestly it embraces its romantic, nostalgic tone.
Like so many great musicals, at the heart of La La Land is a simple story of boy meets girl. The boy is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a talented jazz pianist who makes a living playing Christmas carols and harmless ditties in restaurants while lamenting the disappearance of the great American art form and dreaming of the day when he can open his own jazz club. The girl is Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring young actress who has moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dreams and now works in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. Continue reading
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DeCosta, Kim Basinger
With screenwriting credits including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Shane Black has built a career on sharp, hard, funny buddy mysteries. The apex came in 2005 with his directorial debut, the criminally under-recognised mystery thriller Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which also marked an important stepping stone in the career resurgence of Robert Downey Jr. A decade later, after a detour into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man 3, Black is back doing what he does best with another hard-boiled buddy-noir, The Nice Guys.
In 1977 Los Angeles, porn star Misty Mountains is killed in a car accident, with some suspecting suicide. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private detective, as well as being a single dad and a drunk. Not above taking advantage of grieving clients, he doesn’t flinch when he is hired to investigate the case by the star’s aunt, who is convinced she has seen her alive since her supposed death. Continue reading
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Brad Pitt
Seeing Adam McKay, the writer-director best known for his comedies with Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers), as the Oscar nominated director of a Best Picture candidate about the housing market crash might seem strange to some. However, it is actually quite a logical extension of his talents. In a previous life McKay was a writer on Michael Moore’s series The Awful Truth and has written pieces for The Huffington Post. And anyone who saw the end credits of his comedy The Other Guys – effectively a PowerPoint lecture on Ponzi schemes and Bernie Madoff – will know this obviously is a subject about which he has strong views.
Based on Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, the film follows a handful of stock traders, all loners and outsiders, who saw the 2008 housing market crash coming and managed to spin it to their advantage. Eccentric, mildly autistic, flip-flop wearing money manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the first to spot that the housing market is being propped up by an increasing number of bad mortgages and is heading towards a cliff. Continue reading
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta
In 2010 Derek Cianfrance announced himself as a rising filmmaker to watch with the critical hit Blue Valentine, an intimate and emotional exploration of the beginning and the end of a marriage. His latest film, the sombre drama The Place Beyond the Pines – which takes its title from the Mohawk Indian name for Schenectady, the location of the films events – is a very ambitious project. The film is an epic, multi-generational morality tale of guilt, responsibility and consequence told in three distinct but interrelated sections.
The first section, and the most engaging of the three, concerns stunt motorcycle rider Luke played by Ryan Gosling. When Luke’s circus pulls into Schenectady, he discovers that he has an infant son in the town from his visit a year earlier. This discovery sparks a paternal instinct in him and, determined to provide for his child, he sets about robbing banks, with his skills on a motorbike provng handy for getting away. Gosling and Cianfrance worked together on Blue Valentine and they appear to bring out the best in each other, as Gosling is engrossing to watch in this role.
In the second section Luke is left behind and our focus turns to young policeman Avery Cross played by Bradley Cooper. A chance encounter with Luke thrusts Cross into the spotlight. An ambitious man, Cross finds himself on a path which will lead all the way to the office of District Attorney, along which his morals are constantly being tested. Bradley Cooper showed in Silver Linings Playbook that he does possess some acting chops and his performance as a conflicted and guilt-ridden man, while not as electric as Goslings, carries the middle section of the film.
Unfortunately Cianfrance’s film loses some momentum with its final section. Set fifteen years later, this section focuses on the sons of Luke and Avery, exploring the ways in which the influences of their fathers’ actions play out in their lives. The storyline becomes messier in this closing section. You feel a narrative shift as what had been an organic story seems to make way for what the filmmaker wants to tell us. With the focus in this closing episode being shared between the two young characters, AJ and Jason, as well as an older Avery in the process of running for District Attorney, it lacks the concentrated focus of the earlier sections.
The Place Beyond the Pines is beautifully shot by Sean Bobbitt and through these four male characters it offers an interesting exploration of masculinity, but ultimately this admirable film doesn’t quite achieve Cianfrance’s lofty ambitions. It appears to be a case of the filmmaker’s reach exceeding his grasp. Some of the lines and narrative connections the film draws just feel a bit too neat. Is the destiny of the two sons as inescapable as the film wants us to believe? Can what the film wants us to accept as fate at times be more appropriately attributed to coincidence? The attempt to engage with the age old concept of the sins of the father being visited upon the son means that what starts out seemingly as a realist story ends up becoming something more akin to classical tragedy.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean