Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Ryan Gosling”

La La Land

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, December 25th 2016

4 stars, Rated M, 128 mins

People are going gaga for La La Land, and probably the nicest thing about this fact is that it shows that contemporary audiences once again have an appetite for musicals. Huh? That’s right – it’s important you know there are song and dance routines, because that’s not for everyone, but if anyone is going to convert your long-held prejudices, it’s Damien “Whiplash” Chazelle. And if you’re already sold, just jump on board.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are shaping up to be today’s equivalent of Garland and Rooney, this third outing (after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) demonstrating yet again their chemistry and endearing camaraderie. Sebastian is a jazz pianist struggling to turn a dream into reality; Mia is an aspiring actress who serves coffee to actual actresses at one of Hollywood’s major studios. Just as in the MGM musicals of yore, they meet-cute (tick), their initial animosity gradually translates into affection (tick) and they unselfconsciously segue into naturalistic singing and well-rehearsed dancing which is guaranteed to bring a smile to every audience member’s face. The allusions to Singin’ in the Rain are fun to spot, but La La Land’s real charm is in the fact these actors are not indentured musical monkeys from an era 60 years ago, but tangibly real people who give the impression of just being themselves.

la-la-land

Given the eviscerating script and harsh lessons of Whiplash (one of the instant classics of 2014), Chazelle may seem a strange choice to helm a modern-day, feel-good musical. However, the director’s love of jazz is front and centre, and once again his actors stepped up to the “I’ll do this myself” plate, with Gosling playing his own piano numbers, Stone’s breathy voice bringing a naturalistic charm, and the pair doing a damn fine job of mimicking the moves of Reynolds and Kelly in one delightful night-time scene.

As a depiction of Hollywood, the observations are bang-on (the distracted casting directors, the audition waiting room full of clones) but Chazelle masks most of the unpleasant aspects with gorgeous primary-colour-blocked costumes and catchy tunes you’ve never heard before. From the one-shot opening scene in which an unlikely joyous traffic jam turns into a dance routine complete with modern-day touches of parkour and BMXers, through to Stone’s wonderfully powerful closing number, La La Land takes us back to a time when we’d watch movies just to say “now that’s entertainment”.

The Nice Guys

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016

4 1/2 stars

Yep, you read that right. 4 and a half stars for a crime caper comedy set in the 1970s, with a paunchy Russell Crowe and a ditzy Ryan Gosling eating up the cinema screen and causing more hearty laugh-out-louds than any comedy in recent years. And I mean funnier than Deadpool.

The pair play low-grade private investigators hired to solve the case of a murdered porn star, who find themselves fighting for their own lives around the winding roads and flash parties of the Los Angeles hills. Gosling’s loser solo dad, Holland March, is a treat to watch, with Crowe’s iron-fisted bully boy the perfect (smarter) foil. Best of all, these men of society’s underbelly aren’t all about the dames – the film’s love interest is March’s precocious teenage daughter (a sensational break-out performance by Angourie Rice) who becomes an unofficial third wheel on their wobbly, crime-solving bicycle.

Writer-director Shane Black clearly has a golden touch and should be in charge of all funny, clever movies to come out of Tinseltown from now on. It’s little wonder his Hollywood career became established (after he’d blessed the 1980s with his script for Lethal Weapon) during a subsequent production line of rewritten scripts as the studios called upon his panache with witty dialogue and pacy action to save their films. Then, in 2005 he inveigled his way into every film-nerd’s heart with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring a charismatic Robert Downey Jr. (newly sober and signalling the brilliant career that was to follow) and epitomising the fast-paced meta-commentary that has become Black’s calling card.

Black was latterly given the reins to the enjoyable-enough Iron Man 3 but, although somewhat delirious, The Nice Guys is firmly of the Kiss Kiss genre – a send-up of buddy cop movies with the wittiest of dialogue, impeccable acting by two actors we know can do serious (and here just seem to be having a whale of a time) and all the meta-jokes you can handle – without having to resort to Deadpool’s on-the-nose “Hey, look, I was being self-referential!”ness.

Violent, sweary, but above all clever and satisfying, these Guys are more Awesome than Nice.

 

 

The Place Beyond the Pines

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th July 2013

Two years ago we raved about director Derek Cianfrance’s labour of love, the devastatingly exquisite Blue Valentine which he’d taken ten years to make, culminating in one of the best performances you’ll ever see from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Happily, Cianfrance took a fraction of that time to bring us his second feature film and, re-teaming with Gosling and lavishing us with an incredible supporting cast and music by Arvo Pärt and Faith No More’s Mike Patton, his latest output is almost as brilliant.

Gosling plays an imperfectly tattooed, motorcycle stunt rider, still handsome as his knuckles purport, but a drifter whose life lacks purpose until he discovers he fathered a child with ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes, Gosling’s real-life belle). Determined to stick around and prevent his newfound son growing into the fatherless delinquent he became, Luke takes to bank robbery as a way to support his family. However, his choices bring him into tragic contact with Bradley Cooper’s ambitious young cop, and as the story progresses we see how family lines are influenced and fractured by the sins of our fathers.

The principal storyline is as beautifully photographed and told as Blue Valentine, moving apace through an exciting plot as each new character takes centre stage. Cooper is terrific, his moral compass needle swinging wildly as he comes into contact with a stomach-turning Ray Liotta. Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood and Dane DeHaan provide excellent support, glueing together what almost feels like three stories into one long thread.

Despite a few plot contrivances and the long running time, Cianfrance’s latest is luscious, affecting and utterly engrossing.

Gangster Squad

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th January 2013

Gangster Squad is a bit of a mixed bag. You think it’s going to be stuffed to the brim with stolen cash, then discover some of it is actually counterfeit, though there is delight to be found at the occasional diamond rolling round at the bottom.

Set in post-World War Two Los Angeles, a bunch of cops join forces to bring down the city’s chief gangster, Mickey Cohen (a prostheticised Sean Penn, ruthlessly cruel despite looking rather like someone out of Dick Tracy). Jaded by years on the battlefield, the renegade officers shrug off the restrictions of their badges and use all force necessary to fight this latest incarnation of evil. Meanwhile, Cohen uses brute force to extract confessions and penance from hapless henchmen (the opening scene bars no holds in its depiction of someone being drawn and not-quite-quartered).

The all-star cast includes heartthrob du jour Ryan Gosling, playing a much lighter version of his Drive thug with a nonchalant gait and the nerve to seduce Cohen’s girlfriend Grace (Emma Stone, cute as a button but too young to convince as a world-weary moll). Gosling’s morally-flexible cop is one of a motley crew conscripted by Josh Brolin’s honourable sergeant-with-fists-of-steel to help defend the city. Actually, it’s Brolin’s pregnant wife, played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos, who determines who he’ll cast in his band of bad-asses. She needs her man home safely since they are “expecting company”. As clichéd a set-up as that is, Brolin and Enos have an easy chemistry and provide most of the film’s rare moments of quality.

Director Ruben Fleischer made Zombieland, a brilliant pastiche of zombie horror movies that provided hilarity and gross-outs in equal measure. His penchant for stylistic flourishes is somewhat tempered in this 1940s period piece, but the odd slo-mo affectation slips through, feeling slightly out of place in what is otherwise a gorgeously-costumed, lit and photographed evocation of Hollywoodland.

However, the story and dialogue is distinctly undercooked. 1997’s Oscar-winning LA Confidential took a similar tack of having police take the law into their own hands, and did it with far greater grit and panache (catapulting Antipodeans Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe into Hollywoodland for real).

By comparison Gangster Squad suffers from parading one-dimensional characters (what’s someone like Grace doing with a villain like Cohen? Why should we care for her?), while relying on the stereotypically lightweight make-up of its misfit squad: the Mexican (hilariously called Navidad Ramirez), the Negro (as he’d have been at the time), the bespectacled technical nerd, the grizzled old-timer. It’s all fun and games, but frustratingly unsubstantial.

Ultimately all we get is lots of pistol-play, engrossing enough at the time but quickly forgettable. With everything it has going for it, it’s a shame that Gangster Squad wasn’t able to roll out the big guns.

The Ides of March

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th February 2012

Fresh from goofing about in the tear-jerking The Defendants, George Clooney is back, this time directing, co-writing and starring in a political thriller that has you wound as tightly as its characters right until the end.

Clooney plays Democratic Governor Mike Morris, presidential hopeful in the primary stages of his race to the White House.  It’s a two-horse race, and interestingly we don’t see the other horse except in sound-bites on television – because this is Morris’s contest.  We see his campaign office, peopled by bright-eyed young interns, and watch two cynically experienced campaign managers (the typically excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti) play everyone like the strategists they are.

Wisely, however, Clooney doesn’t make it all about his character.  For the centre-piece in this particular battle of chess is the young, smart and idealistic Stephen (Ryan Gosling), Morris’s brilliant communications manager.  Ethically clear-cut – he will only “do anything and say anything” for that which he believes in – Stephen is suddenly embroiled in a series of events that see him questioning his loyalty and priorities.

Clooney loves a political movie, having scored high with Good Night, and Good Luck his black and white, Oscar-nominated 1950s retelling of the McCarthy era.  This story leaps forward sixty years, into a contemporary American tale which has some resonances with politicians we’ve seen come and go in recent years.  But the story is almost arbitrarily “political” – Stephen’s choices, his treatment at the hands of merciless friends and colleagues, and his ensuing predicament could all have happened in any boardroom, TV studio or trading floor.

As with Clooney’s other thoughtful works, The Ides of March isn’t full of rousing action set-pieces, but burns slowly at first, establishing its characters’ motivations and then, one by one, tipping them upside down.  With uniformly superb performances (Evan Rachel Wood’s feisty young intern is a pleasant surprise), perhaps the greatest bittersweet pleasure is in watching Gosling’s Stephen lose his idealistic sheen as the conflict intensifies.  His subsequent trajectory from bishop, to pawn, to rook is gripping.

Coming in at a modest one hour forty, the sudden, seemingly premature ending leaves you wishing (for once) that we could follow Gosling’s journey even further into the depths of what must surely be Stephen’s own personal hell.  Meanwhile, Clooney asserts himself a serious contender for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar next week.

Drive

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 30th October 2011

The moment  Ryan Gosling, toothpick dangling from mouth, straps on his leather driving gloves and takes off to some mysterious destination, you sense this film is going to be one hell of a ride. The bright pink 1980s-style font in the title sequence and a Vangelis-inspired soundtrack are evidence that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to inject more than a little panache into an otherwise derivative crime caper. The fact that Drive seems to derive from the very best of its genre simply makes the comparisons thrilling.

Think Michael Mann directing Tarantino’s True Romance, starring a young Nic Cage lookalike, photographed like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The bright lights of LA pimp out the perfect backdrop for Gosling’s unnamed antihero, who works as a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway-driver-for-hire by night. Frustratingly taciturn, we don’t learn anything about his private world, but his shiny white bomber jacket and nonchalant gait indicate the “Driver” can handle himself. Probably if you were there next to him in real life, Gosling’s steady gaze would come off as creepy – but on celluloid, he’s enthralling.

He becomes gently embroiled in the life of the single mum next door (an unusual, but largely successful, change of scene for Carey Mulligan), whose jailbird husband is played with typical intensity by the very fine Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Body of Lies). Christina Hendricks dons a tracksuit and attitude, and there are great performances from the older thugs, notably Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and movie legend Albert Brooks.

Adapted for the screen by the talented Hossein Amini, whose previous work includes excellent period pieces, Drive feels like a heady return to the best 90s’ crime movies, not afraid to discharge a shotgun, stomp on a head, or stick a fork in someone’s eye. It’s brutal, it’s gruesome and it’s a blast.

Crazy Stupid Love

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 21st August 2011

Having married his soulmate at age 17 and raised three children, Cal (Steve Carell) is an uncommunicative, New Balance-wearing shadow of the man he once thought he was.

When wife Emily (Julianne Moore) requests a divorce, “Cal the Cuckold” finds himself propping up a local bar until ladies’ man Jacob offers him some tips, bemoaning: “I don’t know if I should help you or euthanase you.” Ryan Gosling is something of a poster boy for love stories, from The Notebook to the recent, and far superior, Blue Valentine.

Despite his shallow womanising as Jacob, he really should run a course in Break-Up 101 for every sartorially-challenged male, with his impressive portfolio of chat-up lines and photo-shopped physique. But, of course, he too has an itch that can only be scratched by the elusive Hannah (Emma Stone).

The film unfolds into a love hexagram, with everyone who’s fancied, in turn fancying someone else. As a plot this could be tiresome, but thanks to engaging performances from the whole cast, it’s a happyish ride, with a few tender moments. Cameos from Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei and singer Josh Groban go for laughs, but the core relationships manage to be sexy, as well as cute.

Blue Valentine / Hall Pass

These reviews first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 6th March 2011

Blue Valentine

While both can be affecting, there is a big difference in quality between a clichéd interpretation of true love and one that is authentic.  In his film career, Ryan Gosling has given us both.  The undisputedly successful but arguably trite The Notebook is an example of the former and, with considerable kudos to the Academy Award nominee, Blue Valentine is a supreme illustration of the latter.

Playing a young married father opposite the equally talented (and Oscar-nominated) Michelle Williams, Gosling inhabits his character, all rambling, intense and chain-smoking, to the extent you find yourself completely riveted by this story of a couple whose six-year marriage has reached a turning point.  Williams plays harried mother and reluctant wife with honesty and a complete lack of vanity, never striving to come out “the good guy”, and thus giving us a painfully believable rendition of how real relationships can blossom – and then wilt.

This is clearly a passion project for director Derek Cianfrance who spent 11 years getting the film made, and his commitment to the story he wanted to tell since his parents’ divorce during childhood is evident in the film’s quality.  With a narrative that trips back and forth between the halcyon days of early blooming romance and the couple’s contemporary world of loss and disillusionment, the photography perfectly mirrors the tone – shooting the good old days in free, hand-held, super 16mm film, and the present on fixed-shot digital, full of suffocating close-ups.  While the feeling of dread is often palpable, this is not an out-and-out depressing film (compared perhaps with the similarly well-acted Revolutionary Road).  There are plenty of uplifting moments between father and daughter and Dean and Cindy’s courtship is as charming as any one could wish for, with his shop-front performance of “You Always Hurt the One you Love” one of the highlights.

The actors deserve their award nominations, and the respect garnered by films such as Half Nelson and Brokeback Mountain.  Oozing charisma in the very best, non-manipulative way, they have an on-screen chemistry that leaves you wondering if, regardless of the outcome of their fictional relationship, Gosling and Williams should be a couple in real life.

Hall Pass

And so, from the sublime to the frankly ridiculous.  If you prefer your roms with more com, laced with the obligatory scatological humour of all Farrelly Brothers movies, a smattering of B-grade stars and a pointless police chase, then Hall Pass may be more the date-night movie you’re looking for.

The wives in this film clearly haven’t seen Blue Valentine – because they think their marriages are in crisis, they issue their dopey, girl-ogling husbands (Owen Wilson and Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis) with a “week off marriage”.  The men’s initial reluctance rapidly turns into the enthusiasm which drives every “grass is always greener” fantasy and they embark on a 7-day excursion to make the most of their freedom.

In support, Extras’ Stephen Merchant (really just playing Extras’ Darren) provides some of the big laughs and there is a surprising turn from Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins as a rather odious, advice-giving bachelor.

For a fleeting moment it even seems as though the most of the female characters are being treated with respect, until an unfortunate incident in a hotel bathroom.  Despite coming from the same school as The Hangover, this is the dunce of the class.

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