The Place Beyond the Pines

It’s like Blue Valentine meets Drive on a motorbike. Only this time Ryan Gosling is lighting up the screen creating a tumultuous relationship with Eva Mendes instead of Michelle Williams. I’ll admit, my interest is super-peaked about this film, especially considering how quietly superb Blue Valentine was, but if this is anything more like Drive, I’m going to be forced to put Gosling in a new category of cinema called “pretentious drama.” Plus, you can already tell by the trailer, he’s probably gonna have to die at the end.

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Drive

According to the trailer, “critics are raving ‘Drive is the coolest movie,'” but I think I’m a pretty good judge of cool movies and let me tell you Drive ain’t all that. First, let’s take the terrible pacing. Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are notorious for being slim on dialogue and long on stylized takes, but it’s poorly utilized here. What makes the pacing even worse though, and truly emphasizes it, is the music. Synthy, repetitive, indie pop is literally plugged in like the editors just sat there and went, “Ok, well I don’t feel like trying to cut this song to the actual film, so I’ll just slap the whole track in there and make people sit through a couple five minute, boring, slow motion music videos.”


The song at the end of the film, called “A Real Hero,” by a band called College is especially terrible, and even worse, distracting from the great ending. You see, the film has a fantastic story and even better acting, and honestly, Refn’s style-over-substance-cinema wouldn’t be so bad if it were just employed appropriately. This film needs a new editor bad. The lyrics which constantly repeat “He’s a real human being, and a real hero,” are just flat out laughable when put to the serious images during the final scenes of the film. It’s literally the worst pairing of score and movie I’ve ever witnessed. Sitting in my movie theater seat, finding myself actually fidgeting and thinking, “Yes, I get it, he’s a real human being and a real hero. Can we go now?” is not the way I saw myself finishing this movie.

According to Refn, and many critics I guess, he thinks the music speaks for the film in this case. But that would be so much better realized if he just didn’t pick a song that is literally explaining to us that Mr. Ryan Gosling is a real human being (during the day), and a real hero (by night). It’s like the laziest filmmaker move ever. Instead of trusting your audience to get what the film is about on their own, you just tell it to them in some ambiguous, cheesy, Urban Outfitters muzak, by a band that no one will ever make an effort to drive to a store and buy an album from. This unnecessary explanation and use of the song’s lyrics to explain the story however, makes absolutely no sense when you watch the movie, because by night Gosling’s character is aiding and abetting criminals and evading the police while simultaneously endangering anyone else who is on the street at the same time as him. He is most certainly no hero.

Here’s the bottom line: wait till it’s available on DVD/Blu-ray, then kill the score (God, I hope the DVD offers that option), or mute the film at the beginning and end only. Now you’ve got yourself one hell of a movie.

Here’s the song. If you listen to it long enough, it will likely make you want to drive full speed into a wall.

I’ve actually previously reviewed two of Refn’s other films Bronson and Valhalla Rising, and while Valhalla didn’t score many points for me (even though it looked gorgeous), Bronson was enjoyable albeit forgettable. Refn will probably become big(ger) news now, but before Gosling, he was maybe more of an acquired taste for the typical filmgoer. What could really make him stand out and get noticed by larger audiences though (more than the addition of a star like Gosling to his cast), is someone to help him hone his work to finer, sharper point. Conceptual, highly visual and visceral films are great, and even though Drive doesn’t appear nearly as visually striking and rich as his previous work, it’s alright because it also boasts such a rich story. The problem is, Refn doesn’t seem comfortable telling a story without the use of some style or technique picked up from whatever training he’s had. If he’d stop relying on other cinematic elements to do his storytelling work for him, but still employ those cinematic elements, he would be the next Oliver Stone or Tarantino.

What to Watch in October

October appears to be the month of Hollywood uninspired remakes and throwbacks. Why is it so acceptable in the megabucks film industry to be unoriginal? Anyway, this installment of my “What to Watch” series shows you just how few amazing films are pumping out of the studios these days. Strikethroughs are strongly discouraged viewing.

October 7, 2011

Dirty Girl by Abe Sylvia. An interesting cast rounds out this indie-feeling teen road movie/comedy which was helmed by a former-Cats-dancer-turned-UCLA Film School Grad. I say give it a chance. With tinges of Raising Arizona and Easy A it appears to have a nice balance of comedy and drama.

The Ides of March by George Clooney. Political intrigue Clooney style looks to be light on the politics and heavy on the intrigue. Clooney’s smart-man genre has both stood out and fallen through the cracks in the past, but I’m looking forward to this one. The addition of the of-late, ever-present Ryan Gosling certainly can’t hurt either.

Real Steel by Shawn Levy. So the brilliant movie concept here was to make a film based on that game with the boxing robots 10-year old’s used to play in the 80s? Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Something or Other. What actually bothers me more though is that I’m fairly certain this idea has already been put to celluloid by Spielberg, Scott and/or Cameron at some point in the past 30 years. And while Michael Bay is my favorite summer movie director of the lot, I’m pretty sure any Transformers flick will overshadow this thing to a middle schooler.

Texas Killing Fields by Ami Canaan Mann. Is it wrong to wish you were related to a famous filmmaker? That seems to give a number of young filmmakers in recent years the power to write and direct and actually find backing for their projects. Oddly enough though their projects are many times not nearly as great as someone unrelated to a hit director. So this run-of-the-mill crime drama doesn’t really stand out, but the trailer is relatively taut and looks like it will fit right in between two more movies on Cinemax on a Friday night.

Toast by S. J. Clarkson. Standard British coming-of-age drama with Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore. Nothing to get to excited about, but it’s bound to be endearing.

The Way by Emilio Estevez. Ok, so we’re back to classic Hollywood nepotism in our October lineup. This time in a film starring Martin Sheen and directed by none other than Emilio Estevez! Interestingly though, even for a real life father and son to play off each other in the film, their acting almost comes across a little subpar. Check out the trailer, it almost feels like their conversation is scripted, when even if it was, you’d think they’d play off each other a little better. Anyway, it’s a cute, typical looking journey film, but nothing career defining.

October 14, 2011

The Big Year by David Frankel. Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as comedic trio in a film about competitive bird watching? Yeah… I’m not really feeling it either. Sounds like a fun rental though!

Footloose by Craig Brewer. It pains me greatly to say that the stellar Brewer, coming off creating some of the best neo-exploitation films of the past ten years, would stoop to the level of a remake – already. In the realm of cult classic dance movies of the 80s, you’d not expect to see Footloose cropping up ahead of that other one… but, alas, here it comes. So kick off your Sunday shoes and get comfy.

The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodóvar. There’s no way I would miss any new film by this Spanish auteur, but this one just looks gloriously dark, creepy and quite apropos for October. Antonio Banderas, working with Almodóvar for the first time since their last disturbing work together (the 1990 NC-17er Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), plays a sociopath/plastic surgeon who experiments on women he holds captive in his mansion. And, if you like this film, definitely check out the amazing short by filmmaker Sébastien Rossignol, Le Miroir.

The Thing by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Watch the red band trailer here. Ok, I admit, I’m kind of a 70s and 80s trashy film nerd, so yeah I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and while it disheartens me to see that it’s being remade (like everything else lately), I’m a little excited underneath it all to see it in maybe a slicker, gorier version than before. I’ll have to go a little hypocrite here, and say I appreciate the facelift on this schlocky horror gem.

October 21, 2011

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey by Constance Marks. I really dig personal journey and inspiration documentaries like this, so I may be a little biased here, but I would recommend giving this film a shot.

Father of Invention by Trent Cooper. 2010 holdover and weak comedy about a Kevin Spacey character who is released form white collar prison life and has to shack up with his daughter and work at a Hollywood-type Walmart. Pass.

Margin Call by J. C. Chandor. High drama in the banking and investment world seems to be a theme of a lot of films lately (no surprise), this one is run of the mill and sports a 50/50 cast. This seems a genre better suited to the likes of Oliver Stone and/or David Mamet.

Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. There’s a new Olsen girl in town! Her name’s Elizabeth. From the looks of it, she’s not interested in following in the footsteps of her sisters oeuvre, and instead has debuted her acting career in this indie Sundance word-of-mouther about the titular, multi-personaed girl who is part of a religious cult. See? Now here’s that originality I’ve been looking for!

Paranormal Activity 3 by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. The first was relatively captivating, but two sequels since then? Paranormal stuff is better viewed on basic cable when it comes on without knowing after an Anthony Bourdain marathon.

Revenge of the Electric Car by Chris Paine. I can only hope this film makes some waves.

The Three Musketeers by Paul W.S. Anderson. Another unnecessary remake of a perfectly suitable classic. The story is one of those that really looks better in classic film form anyway, so upgrading this one seems a little gratuitous. On the other hand, Paul W.S. Anderson has been known to do some pretty decent action flicks, and the obvious addition of Milla Jovovich is more than welcomed.

October 28, 2011

Anonymous by Roland Emmerich. Summer movie maven Emmerich slows it down for the Fall and tries out Shakespeare instead of catastrophe. Same premise, of course: he wants to turn The Bard on its head (sort of like humanity). Yes, this film is of the position that Shakespeare did not actually write his world-renown plays, and that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford did. Pleasantly surprised; this appears to be a step up for Emmerich. Rhys Ifans’ and David Thewlis are always great, too.

In Time by Andrew Niccol. No stranger to this sub-genre, director Niccol creates a future where humans are genetically engineered and designed to die at the ripe old age of 25. In the cliched future-film/suspense genre there’s always one individual who breaks away from the mold and goes on the run, chased by whatever futuristic armed and uniformed drones the screenwriter has come up with – and, while this film doesn’t really look any different (despite the unique life-span concept), it does have the gorgeous Olivia Wilde playing a (…wait for it) mom. Commence dirty acronyms… now.

Johnny English Reborn by Oliver Parker. The inimitable Roman Atkinson dusts off the 007-parody character Johnny English and gives it another try after almost a decade.

Like Crazy by Drake Doremus. Director Doremus is a Sundance veteran now, but as I’ve said many times on this blog, don’t see a movie just because it played Sundance. Do, however, see Like Crazy because it’s heartfelt, realistic, humorous and painful all in one – and for me – it’s hits home all too much (but that’s for another blog, another day). This is solid work and great indication of what’s to come from this fledgling filmmaker.

The Rum Diary by Bruce Robinson. Okay, well you’ve got three things to consider here: 1.) Hunter S. Thompson; 2.) Bruce Robinson; 3.) Johnny Depp. Add them all together and you’ve got a winning combination in my mind, however I haven’t seen the film yet, but if Robinson’s cult classics How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Withnail & I are any indication, this film will be witty, effervescent, and full of colorful characters.

Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh. In a film “presented by” Jane Campion you can expect the material to be pretty raw and jolting, but Leigh’s film has the eerie, off-kilter presence of Dogtooth and the concept and tone of Eyes Wide Shut. Not to be confused with the children’s story, this is very adult-oriented material. A young college student (Emily Browning) takes a job as a “sleeping beauty” in a venue where men pay to watch her as she sleeps.

What to Watch in September

It’s a tough cinematic world out there, but I care about the readers of this blog and only want them to spend their hard earned dollars on the good films, so here’s a (sorta) completist’s guide to the 2011 Fall Season of films – starting with September. My plan is, around the middle of each month, to post the next month’s domestic (limited and wide) film releases – while of course providing my own two cents on it. The indicators should be pretty clear: if it’s got a line through it, it does not have my recommendation. That said, give it a chance if it comes on cable someday.

September 2

  • Apollo 18 by Gonzalo López-Gallego. Watch it and think about how we’ll never get to go to space again. Which is ok I guess since there’s monsters up there.
  • Seven Days in Utopia by Matt Russell. Looks like a cross between Doc Hollywood and Tin Cup.
  • Shark Night 3D by who cares. It’s sharks in 3D.

September 9

  • Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star by Tom Brady. Nick Swardson plays the socially-outcasted son of two adult pornstars.
  • Contagion by Steven Soderbergh. Eh. Pretty sure I saw this almost 10 years ago, but it was called Outbreak.
  • Warrior by Gavin O’Connor. Looks like a possibly edgier, indier version of The Fighter, although the MMA thing is getting old.

September 16

  • Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan – there’s no way I’m missing this.
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It by Douglas McGrath. A classier comedy for the SITC set?
  • The Lion King 3D by Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff. So The Lion King is getting not only a Blu-ray upgrade, but a limited theatrical release in 3D!? Oh Disney, your vaults are so leaky!
  • Restless by Gus Van Sant. The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.
  • Straw Dogs by Rod Lurie. This is one of the most painful films for me to list here. In general, I loathe most remakes of anything, but especially a remake of a film that was absolutely perfect to begin with. Peckinpah would roll over in his grave if he knew someone bastardized his (possibly) best – and most controversial – work to make an easy sale to the teenage torture-porn audiences who should just be left to their Final Destinations and $5 popcorn. Haven’t seen the 1971 version of this film with Dustin Hoffman? Try and get your hands on that first and check out my review of it here.
  • The Whale by Suzanne Chisholm. Endearing doc which looks like a cross between Free Willy and The Cove.

September 20

  • Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe. A cineaste’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll filmmaker (ok, along with maybe Pennebaker and Scorsese) pulls together a new rock doc on the 90s other Top 40 grunge band, Pearl Jam. You know, the ones who instead of making kids want to do drugs and commit suicide, made them want to surf and stand up to bullies? Apparently, they’ve been around for 20 years now. Problem is, if I go see this, I’m just going to feel fucking old. PS. The soundtrack is released on this day as well, and it includes 30 pages of liner notes from Crowe himself.

September 23

  • Abduction by John Singleton. Decent looking action suspense flick which fits neatly into the fringes of the summer blockbusters. Nothing you haven’t seen before story-wise, but a chance to see Team Jacob’s (Lautner’s) acting ability in something other than stilted-werewolf-lover-boy for once.
  • Dolphin Tale by Charles Martin Smith. Another Free Willy in September comes you (and your children’s way)! This one looks more like a good tearjerker for the adolescents and their moms than The Whale, but at least this one will probably have the prospect of ending on a high note.
  • The Double by Michael Brandt. Political intrigue and the usual pairing of a retired CIA Operative and a younger FBI agent to help heighten the tension and provide something mid-life crisis moviegoers can sink their teeth into. Think Hollywood Homicide in… Detroit?
  • Killer Elite by Gary McKendry. Standard issue action flick, but one with a cast that I admit I’m intrigued to see play off each other: Statham, De Niro and Clive Owen (with a ridiculous Magnum P.I. throwback mustache). The updated version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the trailer is not adding any points though.
  • Machine Gun Preacher by Marc Forster. First of all, I’ll watch anything by Marc Forster. He has a sensibility to rooting out the most unique films which appeal to both the marketing people and the critics. It’s a beautiful thing. This one stars Gerard Butler as a (I think) a real life reformed drug addict/biker who finds religion and makes it his life’s devotion to help the children of impoverished and brutalized Africa. The poster, however, looks a little goofy.
  • Moneyball by Bennett Miller. Hollywood takes a shot at revitalizing the sport of baseball by bringing in Brad Pitt and the only character Jonah Hill seems to ever play anymore – the bright, young, employee with fresh ideas on an old line of work. Looks a little too Any Given Sunday via Jerry Maguire for me though.
  • Red State by Kevin Smith. Holy crap. I’ve been waiting for this movie since 2008. What else can I say?
  • Weekend by Andrew Haigh. British indie romance about a gay couple who do pretty much nothing exciting looking for an entire weekend. Touted as an “Audience Winner” at SXSW this year – don’t let that get your hopes up. A good percentage of what they program is geared towards one specific type of hipster audience and most of the films are either pretentious or ridiculous or both. Example: MacGruber. This one looks a bit like Medicine for Melancholy only not with a black, hetero couple in the States.

September 30

  • 50/50 by Jonathan Levine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite young male leads and playing off another of my favorites – Anna Kendrick – makes this made-for-hipsters dramedy all that much more enticing. 
  • Courageous by Alex Kendrick. Overwrought drama about four law enforcement officers.
  • Dream House by Jim Sheridan. Rock solid lineup of actors, with the always-solid directing of Sheridan (ok ok, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a joke) makes this a no-brainer. Additionally, this will be Sheridan’s first stab at helming a horror flick!
  • Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan. Anna Paquin plays a woman who witnesses a bus accident which turns out to change her life. Honestly, this could be hit or miss. I’ve grown used to Paquin as a mind-reading vampire lover, so it may be a hard transition for me in this real-world-rooted drama, but then a film produced by the trio of Minghella, Pollack and Scott Rudin can’t be all bad.
  • Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. This film looks just plain awesome. Michael Shannon is always great as the tight-lipped, emotionally-repressed characters he exudes, but the austerity and manipulation of the dramatic elements in this film make it no question as to why it garnered praise at Cannes, Sundance and other fests. Be sure to give it a shot if you see anything in September.
  • What’s Your Number? by Mark Mylod. Anna Faris churns out another romantic comedy where she gets to trip, fall and look goofy. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Dead Man’s Bones Tours!

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my excitement for the debut LP from the elementary school/musical theater/horror show project the actors’ Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields are working on called Dead Man’s Bones. I even made little joke about how maybe they’ll go on tour just in time for Halloween and play some elementary school cafeterias! (Ok, I don’t think I used the word “cafeteria,” technically).

Anyway, I got my wish. Sort of. While Zach & Ryan are not exactly playing schools, they are playing gigs in October, backed by local children’s choirs from each city of the performance. (I am all over the NYC one…)

10-14 Cambridge, MA – Brattle Theatre
10-15 New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge
10-16 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church Sanctuary
10-17 Washington, DC – Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
10-19 Montreal, Quebec – Le National
10-20 Toronto, Ontario – The Music Gallery
10-21 Chicago, IL – Schubas (early show)
10-21 Chicago, IL – Schubas (late show)
10-23 Seattle, WA – The Triple Door
10-24 Vancouver, British Columbia – Venue
10-25 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
10-27 San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
10-30 Los Angeles, CA – The Regent

In other Dead Man’s Bones news, they also have a promo video for themselves now. It employs the technology of hypnotism, so be warned. The album drops October 6th on Anti- Records.

Half Nelson in a Cemetary: Dead Man’s Bones

Recognizable actor Ryan Gosling and (not-so) recognizable actor Zach Shields claim they don’t know how to play all the instruments heard on their debut album from their debut band Dead Man’s Bones (featuring The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir). If that’s true, who cares. The couple songs they’ve already dropped, which have been floating around the internet, are pretty darn good.

You can download the first cut from the album here, or you can watch the video for it below. Called “In the Room Where You Sleep,” it’s a pretty great first cut, with a Cash-channeling Gosling and an almost Randy Newman-esque piano backed by the perfectly imperfect choral stylings of a children’s choir (co-founded by Flea).


The debut album, which appears to only have the first of the two songs shown above on it, drops from Anti- Records on October 6th with the tracklist as follows:

01 Intro
02 Dead Hearts
03 In the Room Where You Sleep
04 Buried in Water
05 My Body’s a Zombie for You
06 Pa Pa Power
07 Young & Tragic
08 Paper Ships
09 Lose Your Soul
10 Werewolf Heart
11 Dead Man’s Bones
12 Flowers Grow Out of My Grave

Here’s to hoping there’s a tour in the near future – maybe at some local elementary schools – maybe on Halloween!