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Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

Ten Word or Less Review – God might forgive this crap.  Maybe.

This is what happens when you let a talented guy make whatever the fuck he wants without question.  Sometimes it’s as if filmmakers with unique perspective and genuine skill, when left unchecked, will set out to make a film guaranteed to be loathed and hated by the audience who has elevated them to their respected position.  After Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese made the New York, New York, a wretched musical drama that had Robert DeNiro looking like he wanted punch Liza Minnelli in the face for three hours.  Steven Spielberg followed up Close Encounters with 1941, a film that ran on the assumption that lots of noise was funny.  In all fairness neither guy likely had audience alienation in mind with their respective efforts.  But I’m not sure about Nicholas Winding Refn.  He isn’t in the same rarefied class of those filmmakers but his last effort, Drive, was instantly granted cult status among film nerds.  With it’s smooth groove soundtrack and hip vibe of McQueen styled machoism, Drive became an instant part of modern film worship over night and many assumed Refn was a new golden boy.  So it was with extreme enthusiasm that people anticipated Only God Forgives and it was with muted glee that Refn looks to have spit blood into the face of his audience.   Only God Forgives is a fiasco of overindulged bullshit that no one could make with any other purpose other than to test the patience and morals the poor assholes watching.

For Only God Forgives, Refn sets his sights on the neon hive of perversion and illicitness that is Bangkok.  He drops Gosling into his misguided story about revenge and parenting gone awry as a lure for the audience.   Gosling character has a scumbag of a brother who kills a 16 year old prostitute, though he really was hoping to kill a 14 year old.  Even in Bangkok you can’t get everything all the time.  No one told Refn that no one wants to watch a revenge tale established around the demise of someone we’re happy to see dead.  The quixotic and cold-hearted police investigator in charge of the crime lets the dead girl’s father beat the brother to death with a club.  Then to amend that act of retribution, the investigator cuts off the father’s arm.  Don’t complain about J-Town cops so much people.  Then Gosling’s Lady Macbeth of a mother shows up.  She’s played by Kristin Scott Thomas and if they still used actual film she’d literally be trying to remove it from the camera and eat it with her bare hands, shoveling mouthfuls into her makeup caked face.  Her schemes at vengeance, which ensnare her surviving son, are thwarted by the coldly psychopathic Bangkok policeman.  He comes across like a Bangkok bred Terminator with a sword strapped to his back, though oddly enough we never notice it there.  It appears almost at will like some kind of disappearing/reappearing third arm.  Dispassionately dispatching one person and then another and another and another, Only God Forgives follows this guy as he dolls out death with a blank stare on his face.  When it’s over most of the cast is dead or missing a limb and then karaoke is sung.  The End.

Forgives plays like a 90 minute psychopathic fever dream.  Refn shoots every scene in over-saturated, neon colors which practically bleed off the screen.  It’s supposed to be hypnotic and beautiful but it mostly just gives you a headache.  The film has so much amped up red that after a while I started to pray for the onset of color blindness.  Refn’s thread bare story is told with heavy-handed symbolism and stoic gestures at every turn.  It’s biggest issue, among many, is that it’s intensely one note in nature.  The dreamscape atmosphere never subsides for a minute, eventually becoming mundane.  Even David Lynch knew to break up the odd with a grounded scene at one turn or another.  What’s here is a droning and dull story punctuated by fits of bloodletting and murder.  And poor Gosling gets drug down into it willingly.

Gosling is playing a white piece of paper posing as a person.  His mother calls him a drug dealer but we never see him actually deal drugs.  He hangs out in a boxing arena but he’s not a fighter.  Or at least not a good one.  What he is is a hollow statue.  I can understand Gosling’s desire to take a break from acting after a film such as this.  His character has been written as nothing more than an empty vessel to signify impotence and inaction in the wake of twisted maternal issues.  The wave of admiring man crushes and female desires he inspired in Drive have been amputated completely.  Gosling’s character frequently visits an attractive Bangkok call girl that he passively watches but never lays a finger on.  He seems to work in the fight field but when he goes toe to toe with psycho cop he gets his ass whupped.  His venomous mother degrades his existence and he sits there like a wide-eyed, unresponsive lump of unchanneled tension.  His dialogue is sparse and his facial expression a constant, locked in void.  Refn looks to have directed him to be as remote and emotionless as possible at every moment, creating not a character, but a shell that absorbs physical and emotional abuse.  It’s a stunning piece of non-performance.  Scott Thomas is the only other performer to note.  She says outlandish and gross statements meant to provoke shock, basically flirting with turning into Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.  Hers is a disingenuous performance right down to her bad blonde locks.  It’s attention grabbing to be sure but it’s also ridiculous and silly.

The worst thing about Only God Forgives is that, despite everything I’ve said about it, there isn’t much special in how bad it is.  It’s unabashedly lousy, dumb and boring but at the end of the day it’s just a crummy art house flick that no one will remember for long.  I doubt even Refn and Gosling are going to strive to recall things about this one at the end of their day.  The only thing really special about it is that everyone went in expecting a lot and what we got for our expectations was a lot of neon lights, severed arms and blood.  And one more reason to hate karaoke.  I won’t write off Refn though.  After New York, New York Scorsese made Raging Bull.  In the wake of 1941 Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If someone tells Refn that there’s no future in bloody, neon soaked nihilism, there may be hope for him yet.

Only God Forgives


Ten Word or Less Review – Three below average movies for the price of one.

After seeing Blue Valentine I had no doubt that Derek Cianfrance was going to go to be a director of considerable talent and ambition.  That poised, destructive relationship drama hit the kind of cords that few films about marriage dare glance at or utter under their voice.  But that confidence and ability have to be questioned after experiencing The Place Beyond the Pines.  On the surface it looks and feels like the kind of ambitious, layered drama Clint Eastwood could make and win Oscars for the effort.  But in Cianfrance’s hands the story becomes unwieldy, unending and every single character is, to be blunt, a tactless dummy that fails to think five minutes beyond their actions.

The story of Pines is indeed a sprawling one.  To make it concise as possible, which is not possible, we meet Luke (Gosling), a carnie motorcycle stunt man who finds out he’s got a newborn son via Eva Mendes.  He decides he wants to stick around and be a dad but Mendes has hooked up with a new fellow who is taking care of her and the kid.  He’s a very nice, giving fellow who doesn’t deserve the shafting around he gets.  To support them, as riding a motorcycle in a ball doesn’t pay the bills outside the circus, Gosling starts robbing banks.  This doesn’t go well.  The story then jumps over to Bradley Cooper’s rookie police officer.  He’s shot while pursing Gosling’s bank robber.  He becomes riddled with guilt and worry about Gosling’s son and begins to distance himself from his own.  He also discovers that many of his fellow officers are crooked assholes who are up to no end of foulness.  Cooper decides to rat them out.  This doesn’t go well.  Next we jump to 15 years later.  The sons of Cooper and Gosling are now in high school together.  Gosling’s son (Dane DeHaan) has become a shaggy stoner while Cooper’s boy (Emory Cohen) has warped into J-Woww from Jersey Shore.  They form an unlikely friendship, mostly because DeHaan can score drugs, and DeHaan gradually unravels the dark past about their fathers.  This doesn’t go well.

All of this sprawl equates to three movies worth of narrative with gradually diminishing results for each one.  Gosling’s segment is concise and skilled and even though you’re with characters whose motivations and actions seem poorly thought out, Cianfrance builds and directs his story with conviction and suspense.  There’s even a Suicide song on the soundtrack!  But this sensation of the poorly thought out character never goes away and gradually eats away at the foundation.  Each lengthy part of the story keeps getting caught up in the thoughtless, implausible and stupid actions of it’s inhabitants.  Mendes has a nice, responsible fellow who takes care of her, loves her son who and doesn’t care that he isn’t his.  She repays him by looking Gosling up, essentially trying back door him and ruin their lives.  Gosling knows that he’s not welcome in this guys house.  So he goes in and starts building a baby crib while they’re out.  I give you one guess as to what happens when they come home and find him in the house.  Bradley Cooper decides to turn in his fellow cops for being crooked and then has the audacity to be shocked when his superiors don’t want to know about it.  Hasn’t this asshole ever watched a cop drama?  Dane DeHaan’s character has clearly grown up in a loving home with good parents, so it makes little dramatic sense for him to get hung up on the fate of a father he never knew and who was nothing more than a motorcycle riding bank robber.  Every story element has some kind of senseless character element embedded in it which becomes more and more of a struggle to deal with.  By the time you’ve reached it’s merciful end, you’re ready to wash you hands of these people and be done with the whole thing.

Those of you in the crowd expecting to see another searing performance by smoldering hunk of the moment Ryan Gosling will in fact get that, for 45 minutes.  I like Gosling and he’s fine here but he’s sticking to his wheelhouse.  The quiet, dangerous pretty boy that women swoon over, Hey Girl, is what he’s best at and that’s what he’s doing.  We do learn an unfortunate fact about Gosling though.  The man can’t scream for his life.  Cooper is fine in his part but he’s one of the biggest victims of the screenplay’s inability to instill any sense of reasoning in any of it’s characters.  Eva Mendes is here so that the male characters can thrust money at her in shallow attempts to alleviate themselves of guilt.  Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen play a stoner and a grease ball a little too well.  You don’t want to spend any time with either of them and by the time the movie reaches their story, you’re already worn down to the nub.

The real person to point the finger at for this mess is Cianfrance.  It’s his screenplay that fails the movie.  He knows how to shoot a movie to be sure.  Pines looks fantastic, giving a beauty and integrity to Schenectady, New York that a lesser filmmaker may not have found.  But with every turn of his story he losses the audience a little bit more.  A judicious story editor would have hopefully talked him into scaling things back.  The whole ’15 years later’ sequence feels needless and anti-climactic.  Way too late in the game to introduce a whole new story arch with unlikable characters.  And a helpful soul should have told him that Cooper’s segment peddles way too many cop drama cliches.  If Cooper’s character hasn’t seen any then Cianfrance surely has.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a big disappointment from a talented individual.  It shows ambition and a willingness to put a lot in front of an audience and trust in their abilities to deal with it.  But since it’s so hamfisted in places and feels like a run on sentence by the time its done, one has to ignore those virtues and deal with the fact that this movie is ass numbing by the time its over.