Click HERE to join The Screening Room Podcast, where we hash out our thoughts on Blade Runner 2049, The Mountain Between Us, and what’s new in home entertainment – The Survivalist, A Ghost Story, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Goon 2.
No gigawatts necessary. With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve returns us to the hulking, rain-streaked metropolis of another generation’s LA. We ride with K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner charged, as always, with tracking down rogue replicants and retiring them.
Things get more complicated this time around.
Gosling’s the perfect choice to play dutiful sad sack LAPD blade runner K. Few actors can be simultaneously expressionless and expressive, but Gosling’s blank slate face and long distance stare seem to say something mournful, defeated and rebellious without giving anything away.
It’s no spoiler to mention that Harrison Ford returns. He’s a welcome presence, and not simply for nostalgia. The film toys with the “is he or isn’t he?” debate that has raged for 35 years, and gives the veteran ample opportunity to contribute.
God complexes, sentience and existence, clones – Ridley Scott saw his own longtime preoccupations playing out in Philip K. Dick’s prose and now, with returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and new teammate Michael Green (Logan), Villeneuve gets his chance.
Their take is engrossing, satisfying and impressive, though the group stumbles over a few of their ideas—particularly those that consider the female in this particular universe.
As enamored of the original as we are, Villeneuve weaves intoxicating threads and callbacks throughout—most welcome is Hans Zimmer’s periodic moaning and sighing echoes of Vangelis’s original score.
In fact, the echoes from the Ridley Scott (now executive producing) ‘82 classic almost threaten to overrun the film. There are plenty of differences, though.
Villeneuve carves out a much larger corner of author Phillip K. Dick’s universe—not quite taking us off-world, but far beyond the teeming streets, towering buildings and oppressive rain of Scott’s retro-futuristic noir. The expansive story fills the screen with breathtaking frames and immediately iconic imagery, thanks in large part to acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the top of his game.
Few if any have delivered the kind of crumbling, dilapidating futurescape Ridley Scott gave us with his original. But between the stunning visual experience and meticulous sound design, Blade Runner 2049 offers an immersive experience perfectly suited to its fantasy.
Picking at ideas of love among the soulless, of souls among the manmade, of unicorns versus sheep, Villeneuve channels Dick by way of Scott as well as a bit of James Cameron and more than a little Spike Jonze. There’s even a splash of Dickens in there.
Sounds like a hot mess, but damn if it doesn’t work.
What an utterly glorious piece of filmmaking La La Land is.
Have you ever smiled for two hours straight? From the opening sequence – a dazzling song and dance number in the middle of an L.A. traffic jam that’s skillfully edited to resemble one long shot – writer/director Damien Chazelle plants a wide one on your face with his unabashed mash note to old Hollywood, old jazz, and young love.
Nostalgia? That’s hard to get right.
“That’s the point!”
So says Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a frustrated jazz pianist whose dinner music gig will soon be gone if he doesn’t stick to the approved playlist. He meets struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and the cutest couple in town contest ends quickly.
Like a beautiful bookend to Chazelle’s thrilling Whiplash, La La Land is again steeped in music and starry-eyed dreamers, but trades cynicism for an unfailing belief in the power of those dreams. It’s easy to say “they don’t make movies this any more,” and that’s right – they don’t, because doing so means risking all that comes from putting such a heart on such a sleeve.
It could have gone Gangster Squad wrong, but Chazelle’s instincts here are so spot-on, every tactical choice adds a layer to the magic. The Cinemascope framing and extended takes prove a fertile playground for the film’s vibrant colors, relevant backdrops, catchy tunes and snappy dance steps. Who needs 3D to create a world so tactile and dizzying? Not Chazelle.
But as much as La La Land has its head in the clouds, it’s grounded by a bittersweet reality, with wonderful lead performances that showcase the heartbreak often awaiting those that choose this life.
Gosling (displaying some impressive keyboard chops) makes Sebastian a natural charmer who’s “letting life hit me ’til it gets tired,” and trying to stay true to his old school ambitions. When a well-paying gig with a pop-leaning band comes calling (the publicity photo shoot is a scream), Gosling underplays Sebastian’s sell-out frustrations but never the resonance.
And good as Gosling is, Stone is luminous. She takes Mia from the plucky Doris-Day-next-door enduring a string embarrassing auditions to a nuanced young woman facing the realities of what her dream demands, and Stone has us at hello. This film has everything going for it, yet it still rests on Stone’s ability to find the perfect blend of wonder and authenticity. She does not disappoint.
Let’s not kid ourselves, real life in 2016 has hit many of us ’til we’re more than tired, we’re damned depressed. This type of joyful jolt to the senses is long overdue.
Take two hours of La La Land and call me in the morning.
Tell me you’ve seen any of the countless trailers for Shane Black’s new action comedy The Nice Guys. Funny! I haven’t had such high expectations for a new film yet this year.
Ever since Black announced his presence with authority, penning ‘87’s iconic buddy cop action flick Lethal Weapon, he’s been one to watch. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his directorial debut, suggested he might even be keeping his best stuff for himself. But after a while, his tics and tendencies grow tiresome.
The Long Kiss Goodnight, anyone?
And though his newest effort absolutely revisits most of the filmmaker’s by-now obvious predilections, his craftsmanship and casting have never been better.
Hey girl, guess what – Ryan Gosling is a hoot! No, no, I didn’t say he’s hot (as that goes without saying). He’s a hoot. And if you found his scene-stealing performance in last year’s gem The Big Short a refreshing and joyous change of pace for the award-bedecked actor, you will surely enjoy this masterpiece of comic timing and physicality.
Gosling plays Holland March, an alcoholic PI with questionable parenting skills who reluctantly teams up with muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). What begins as a low-rent missing persons case snowballs into an enormous conspiracy involving porn, the government, and the all-powerful auto industry. (It is 1977, after all.)
Aah, 1977 – when everybody smoked, ogled women, and found alcoholism a laugh riot. Black puts this time machine quality to excellent use in a film that would have felt stale and rote during his Eighties heyday, but today it serves as an endlessly entertaining riff on all that was so wrong and so right about the Seventies.
A brightly lit (if smog-choked) Southern California noir-turned-buddy-action comedy, The Nice Guys does a surprisingly good job at finding its tone. All the lurid, twisty plot fodder could easily weigh the film down in gritty drama, but Shane’s heart is in the budding, unsanitized bromance.
Gosling’s impeccable hilarity is custom-made for Black’s machine gun fire dialog, but Crowe also manages to get comfortable in the script, allowing both the conversation and action to breathe and take shape. The pair’s chemistry is a joy to watch, and is aided immeasurably by Angourie Rice’s flinty, intelligent turn as March’s disappointed daughter, Holly.
Ultimately, the twists and surprises don’t amount to much. The Nice Guys is a shiny Shane Black toy that begs to be played with now, even if it’s forgotten later. Kind of like the Seventies.
Earlier this year, Adam McKay won the Hollywood Film Awards Breakthrough Directing trophy. Adam McKay – director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys – broke through just this year? How can that be?
If you think you know Adam McKay, you haven’t seen The Big Short.
With the help of just about every A-lister in Hollywood – including Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale – he tackles the oft addressed yet rarely entertaining topic of America’s housing collapse. What he seeks to do, in as enjoyable a way as possible, is illuminate the truth of the whole sordid mess. And as his film points out in one of its appropriate screen titles: Truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry.
McKay cross cuts the stories of four different groups of outsiders who foresaw the housing collapse, learned of the unimaginable corruption that weakened the housing market in the first place, and took advantage.
Obviously McKay is known for comedy, and though this is at its heart a drama, the director’s conspicuous outrage as well as his biting comic sensibilities fuel the film, propelling it in a way that has been lacking in any other movie on the topic.
McKay knows this is dry stuff. He addresses that fact head on, stopping periodically to help you understand key terms and ideas with cut-aways. Margot Robbie sits in a bubble bath to define a term, or Selena Gomez uses black jack as a metaphor to explain another. It’s a cheeky, clever approach, but one that rings with a healthy sense of cynicism. He’s begging: Please, you guys, this is very important stuff! Pay attention! Get pissed!
Christian Bale excels as the socially awkward Dr. Michael Burry, the hedge fund investor who first notices the weakness in the US housing market. It’s not a showy performance, but one whisper-close to comedy. Pitt’s is an understated but needed presence – the film’s conscience, more or less. Meanwhile Steve Carell and Gosling again team up nicely as a couple of driven misfits reluctantly fond of one another.
McKay makes no one a hero – including the film’s heroes – and underscores the entire effort with sympathy for the abused working class victim of the eventual, global financial collapse.
Yes, it’s tough material, and even with McKay’s bag of tricks, he can’t always keep the content both clear and lively. But he makes a valiant attempt, one that proves he is more than just a funny guy. He’s a breakthrough.
Today we pay tribute to the most fabulous movies that no one saw in 2013. If you, too, missed them, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some were hard to find, some had such short runs that if you blinked, you missed them in theaters. But here’s your chance to make amends. Seek these out as part of your new year’s resolution to watch something awesome. They are sometimes bloody, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always intriguing, fresh and memorable. We give you the most tragically underseen films of 2013.
5. Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to Drive offers a nightmarish, polarizing vision of the revenge thriller. The near-silent Ryan Gosling leads a cast of misfits and miscreants (and worse) through a bloody piece of nastiness in Bangkok. It’s a visual, aural feat of wonder creating a dreamlike hellscape. The one-dimensional characters and lurid story guarantee you will either love it or hate it, but you will not forget it easily.
4. Much Ado about Nothing
Joss Whedon proves he can do basically anything as he spins the Bard’s classic comedy. Giving Shakespeare a modern-day treatment trips up many great filmmakers, but Whedon takes it in stride, employing a game cast to create a playful, satisfying romp.
The forever underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols follows up his bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter with this Huck Finn style tale. Matthew McConaughey excels as the man-child fugitive befriending a couple river rats interested in adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.
2. Fruitvale Station
Ryan Coogler’s impressive feature debut offers a powerful and superbly acted account of the tragic death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. Michael B. Jordan’s revelatory lead performance deserves to be in the Oscar conversation.
1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
No one saw this movie, which is a tragedy given all the film has to offer. The aching romantic drama boasts exceptional performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster as well as understated writing and exquisite photography. It’s an overlooked gem of rare beauty – one worth finding.
Usually we take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a great new release, then pair that with an older film with similarities. But today is so stocked with great new releases, we’ve chosen to just recommend a couple of those. (Check out our Halloween Countdown for another new release recommendation: The Conjuring.) Aside from a theme of sketchy parenting, these two films could not have less in common. Still, both are well worth your time.
The Way, Way Back was one of the summer’s most enjoyable flicks – a nostalgic but smart look at the painful and awkward transitions of adolescence. Sam Rockwell owns the film as Bill Murray-esque mentor to self-conscious teen Duncan (a very believable Liam James), a boy stuck on a summer vacation with his mom (Toni Collette) and her tool boyfriend (Steve Carell, playing marvelously against type). Fresh, funny and surprisingly honest, it’s that rare coming of age tale that hits on all cylinders.
Only God Forgives, on the other hand, is Nicolas Winding Refn’s dreamlike trip through hell itself. Set in Bangkok, the tale that unspools is a slow-moving nightmare in red, a visual spectacle of family dysfunction and vengeance of the most vulgar and unseemly sort. Ryan Gosling smolders, Kristin Scott Thomas stuns, and Visaya Pansringarm sings karaoke, but they all have a lot of blood on their hands. You may not enjoy it, but you will be amazed.
Usually Tuesday is the day we recommend a new DVD release, and pair that with a backlist title you might also enjoy. But since there are three excellent films being released today, we decided to just stick with new releases and highly recommend each of the following.
Mud: Matthew McConaughey continues to impress in writer/director Jeff Nichols’s follow up to the brilliant Take Shelter. McConaughey plays a romantic fugitive befriended by two young boys. It’s a lyrical, bittersweet coming of age tale and an astonishing piece of storytelling.
The Place Beyond the Pines: Derek Cianfrance’s multigenerational story of fathers, sons, and unintended consequences a cast whose performances are even better than their looks. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes are all terrific in this twisty crime thriller.
To the Wonder: Terrence Malick returns to the screen with a cinematic poem to relationships, faith, isolation and love. Abstract, challenging, lyrical and gorgeous, Malick’s latest is a rumination on spiritual fulfillment.
Writer/director/Dane Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to the magnificent Drive drops viewers in a Bangkok straight out of Dante’s imagination for a revenge thriller like few others. It’s Only God Forgives, and love it or hate it, you will be amazed.
Julian (Ryan Gosling) finds himself obliged to avenge his brother’s murder. Problem is, his brother was a very nasty man. But Julian’s mom wants vengeance, and Julian’s mom (Kristin Scott Thomas, as you have never seen her) is much, much worse.
It’s a slight premise. What’s more, the characters are profoundly one-dimensional, the dialogue is borderline nonexistent, and what verbiage there is will hardly stick with you. Plus, Winding Refn’s pacing makes the slow boil of Drive look like a madcap romp – all of which feeds into the trancelike quality that makes the film so unusual.
Only God Forgives is a nightmare in red. The tale unspools as if you are inside a dream, saturated in colors and patterns and flowing into ever darker and more awful areas of Julian’s mind.
The filmmaker channels Lynch and Kubrick, but crafts something undeniably his own. Few directors are so bold with color, and he’s an absolute madman with score. For this, his ninth film, he strips away the more traditional elements of storytelling to rely on the image to affect us. Given the vulgar themes and percussive violence, it may not be an image you want, but it is never less than mesmerizing to look at – every shot a brutally gorgeous image.
Gosling’s strong, silent smolder is on high in this one, but it’s the always formidable Kristin Scott Thomas and her unsavory cruelty who steals the picture. It’s unlike anything she’s done in the past, perhaps because it’s unlike any other part out there. And a bad mom will fuck you up, I’ll tell you what.
These are bad people, all of them, with nasty business to attend to. Awash in righteous indignation, defilement and spoiled masculinity, the film is little more than a dream sequence of death. The battle is not good versus evil, though, because Officer Chang’s (Vithaya Pansringarm) tidy, tight-lipped sadism shows no moral justification.
Only God Forgives is not a film for the squeamish, the impatient, or the sleepy – as the deep and hearty snores from the seats behind me attest. Too bad, because they missed one wallop of a movie.
Sure, The Place Beyond the Pines is a bank robber movie starring three weirdly attractive A-listers (Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper). But this layered, complex film about men and the sins they pass on hopes to be a lot more than that.
What co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has crafted is a generational drama about fathers, sons and consequences.
The Place Beyond the Pines tells its story in three parts. Each part introduces us to a new, young male lead as he makes a life-altering decision. Their individual tales are aided immeasurably by great supporting turns from Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn (making a name for himself playing the guy our hero would be better off not knowing), but Cianfrance’s interest is in the young men – their choices, how they were affected by their fathers, and how they will affect their sons.
Act 1 follows Gosling’s stunt motorcyclist Luke as he tries to claim the family he didn’t know he had. We move to Cooper’s rookie cop in the second act, who walks the compromised line between justice and ambition. Act 3 brings us full circle.
Cianfrance’s lens casts a bittersweet small town spell, and his actors – an exceptional Gosling in particular – develop fully formed, flawed, compelling characters. The filmmaker’s smart script and patient camera give the talent the time and content they need to mine the depths of each character. Unfortunately, this borderline Greek tragedy just loses steam.
Whether Parts 2 and 3 feel like middling efforts because Gosling’s smolder is missing or because Cianfrance’s interest lies elsewhere is hard to tell. Taken on their own, the second and third acts amount to a solid family drama; compared with the livewire of Act 1, though, they let you down just a bit.
It feels like Cianfrance just bit off more than he could chew, but it’s hard to knock him for ambition. Pines veers as wildly as Handsome Luke’s motorcycle, and it doesn’t always find its way back. Cianfrance tries too hard, covers too much, but he does it with such passion and such cinematic skill that he can be forgiven.