Only God Forgives

July 23, 2013

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Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival only to be greeted by a chorus of boos is not unusual, nor is it necessarily any real indicator of quality.  Still, the reviews from the less throaty audience members – in this case, critics – have tended to be pretty savage ever since May.  Now that it has been released properly, this has eased a little bit, with a small corner of defenders and a healthy number of “s’alright” shrugs.  Savage outcries about ultra-gory pomposity are understandable, and I imagine on a different day and in a different mood, I’d be somewhere closer to them.  As it stands, I think Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives is just successful enough in certain areas to overcome its many shortfalls.  So help me, I really enjoyed watching it.

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Derek Cianfrance’s previous film – and the only of his I have seen – was Blue Valentine, a somewhat inelegant but certainly affecting (really trying to avoid “raw” here) two-hander about the blossoming and breakdown of a relationship.  What it lacked in visual interest (grainy, handheld, American Indie by-the-numbers) it made up for with pacing and, of course, performances.  That picture worked through incredible acting, and it had to, as there wasn’t much else to rely on.  It was an exercise in reactions, movement, and glances.  It was a picture of big emotions because of its small proportions.  His follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, takes a different tack, although one suspects he was hoping to work within the same emotional model.  It’s a sprawling, 140-minute saga, with a triptych structure that unfortunately makes it feel like it is going on for a lot longer than it’s already lengthy running time.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have learned a lesson from his last film, then, and realized that Big Emotions don’t necessarily need a Big Story.  Read the rest of this entry »

Drive

September 23, 2011

Caution:  Spoilers Abound

Reading snippets of interviews and press releases for Drive, I found a number of references by star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn to John Hughes, specifically Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles.  These were perplexing remarks knowing what little I did about the film, but as I watched the film, I slowly found them quite instructive.  Perhaps not for the reasons they intended, I’ll admit, but instructive all the same.  Trying to analyze the similarities in a straightforward way, I couldn’t find any connection beyond a simple love story and romantic synth-pop heavy soundtrack, but even those elements weren’t terribly Hughes-like in any specific way.  It dawned on me, however, during certain sequences between Ryan Gosling’s Driver (as is so often with characters of this type, he’s never given a name) and Carey Mulligan’s Irene, the next-door neighbour with whom he makes a connection.  It was the feeling of these scenes that reminded me of Hughes.  Not in a direct way, mind, but in the way that I watched Hughes’ movies as an adolescent, all filled with a simplistic, romantic notion that came about through a combination of my total lack of understanding of how real relationships might function and beautiful, heart-on-its-sleeve emotional synthpop.  Therein lays, I think, the key to coming to understanding not only the Driver, but also the larger perspective of the film as a whole.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love.

August 4, 2011

If given the choice between seeing a mediocre action film and a mediocre romantic comedy, nine times out of ten I’ll pick the latter.  Both can be terrible, but while the former will probably be a boring dirge through mindlessness, the rom-com has the ability to transcend the rigid demands of the genre through occasional subversion of societal expectations, a few witty scenes, and perhaps most commonly, some good performances that can truly elevate the middling material.  After all, these films are mostly about dialogue and character interaction, and the general simplicity of the filmmaking (no elaborate special effects sequences, less time devoted to making something ‘awesome’) allows for the actors to find rhythms and beats that give a scene much more punch than it should have.  This is not to say that a majority of Hollywood rom-coms aren’t absolutely dreadful – they are – but there’s more of a chance there will be something to make the time spent watching them not totally intolerable.  Read the rest of this entry »