Archive for the ‘Ryan Gosling’ Category

Song To Song

27 Mar

Song To Song – directed by Terrence Malick. Romance. 129 minutes Color 2017.
The Story: Boy meets boy, boy meets boy’s girl, boy steals boy’s girl, girl leaves boy for girl, girl goes back to boy and boy, and then just boy.
Roony Mara is the Cleopatra of this fable, which feels like a personal story from the director’s life. Roony Mara? Age cannot wither nor custom stale her infinite monotony. She is the least mysterious, alluring, fatale of female creatures. Why any director casts this sphinx without a secret in major roles of sexual attention by everyone in the cast is not visible to the practiced eye. Or does lackluster have a luster all its own? She orphans everything she plays. A want of fire illuminates her.

She drifts as drift others through multiple and shifting plate-glass palaces and lowly cottages. Their interior furnishings are as empty as their interior lives. These settings wander as characters wander, with no fixed motive, no fixed affiliation, and no fixed income. How the hell are these people earning a living?

At the top of the heap stands a creepy billionaire record producer played by Michael Fassbender. He promises people careers in show-bizness, but he gives them the bizness. And he never unzips his fly for sex, so you know how dissolute he is.

A song-writer of ordinary talent is played by Ryan Gosling, Fassbender’s new best friend and first betrayed (The music business may be a stand-in for Hollywood.) Natalie Portman turns up as a gorgeous waitress also promised a rock-star role. And, in fact, there is Val Kilmer who once played a rock star again playing a rock star, this one in his stout fifties. Cate Blanchette plays Gosling’s rebound. Bérénice Marlohe plays the juicy lesbian. And somewhere lost in all of this is the great Holly Hunter.

Two things might be noticed about Malick’s method.

The first is that his is essentially a silent film method. You have to use an ear phone to hear what little dialogue there is, whereas, in silent film, lots of title cards tell you what it’s about. Here title cards take the form of voice-over.

Malick fell into the voice-over habit with his first film Days Of Heaven, when the little Bronx girl was coaxed into making the story clear by voice-overing it. Voice-over derives from the false notion that film is predominately not a spoken medium. With Song To Song, what you see is not a talkie.

Here we have “The Meaning Of It All” voiced-over, and it’s flaccid and tepid and vapid and vacant. However, unlike silent film, Malick’s words are devoid of humor. And in Song To Song there are no songs.

The second thing is that the acting is improvised. And this is always a mistake. When you make actors improvise a play, you make the actors write a play. Therefore, in an attempt to make things look natural, they look unnatural. In fact, they look hammy.

It’s a hamminess that is the reverse of over-acting. It is the hamminess of under-acting. Desultoriness and inertia emerge on the one hand, and on the other the actors’ choices look actorish. The actors’ choices look not what humans would do or what characters would do, but what actors would do.

Better leave them to act. Particularly with a director at once so icily controlling and lackadaisical as Malick. Indeed, at one dull spot, I noticed an actor listening intently while another actor spoke, and I realized it was Holly Hunter just doing her job.

Despite Malick’s elaborate narrative, Song To Song is rudely simple. He does get her in the end.


La La Land

17 Dec

La La Land – directed and written by Damien Chazelle. Musical Dramedy 128 minutes Color 2016


The Story: A to-be actress and a to-be jazz pianist strive for their callings and their love for one another, both in the big-time.


How joyful it is to have a good old fashioned Hollywood musical to top off the Holidays, not the cherry on the sundae, but the sundae itself!

It may be observed that Ryan Gosling is more of a dancer than Emma Stone is and that Emma Stone is more of a singer than Ryan Gosling is, but put them both together and they spell why bother. They’re easy, they’re difficult, we want them to work it out. And will they?

As they go about their business in Los Angeles, where she is a barista on the Warner’s lot, and he is tinkling out dread pop tunes under the baleful gaze of J.T. Simmons, the piano bar restaurant owner, we are treated to massed production numbers played out around swimming pools and on the tops of stalled rush hour cars.

But there are two greater treats in the picture – three if you count Ryan Gosling ‘s miraculous spectator shoes – which he never takes off as the years roll by – and the first of these is a hill-top dance duet which is a masterpiece of simple choreography in concert with two performers caused to be willing to be in such concert that you leave knowing the story has told us, if they don’t quite know it themselves, that they are in love.

The second of these greater treats is a monologue Emma Stone does as an acting audition for a film. I say not one word more about any of this or these.

The film resembles New York, New York, with Emma Stone in the Lisa Minnelli part and Ryan Gosling in the Robert De Niro part, except that Gosling is more convincing as a musician, and, of course, De Niro is never convincing as A New York Jew, either there or in The Last Tycoon. He was and has remained a New York Lower East Side, Little Italy Italian. So, on the level of acting La La Land is the more satisfying picture.

Ryan Gosling is a cold actor. And I like him for it. It suits the cool, hip flat affect of a jazz person, because they’re a lot of them like that. But I like that quality in him anyhow. It reveals a certain ruthlessness of temperament which does not seek approval. Not too many actors get far as cold actors, but some do, and there are some I like a good deal. Barbara Stanwyck was one. Gosling’s face is a mask that reveals everything. Everything that belongs to his part, and nothing besides. I honor him for it every time.

So, do go to see La La Land. Waiting for the show to start, I nipped in to catch the end of Jackie. Six people were in the multiplex. All I can say of what I saw is that Natalie Portman has misconstrued the role and is not talented enough to play it even had she not misconstrued it, that the authors have misconstrued the picture, and that Billy Crudup is a top-flight talent no matter what. La La Land was mostly full and ended up, having gone through some interesting, and difficult passages, with an audience satisfied.




The Big Short

01 Jan

The Big Short – directed by Adam McKay. Docudrama. 130 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: A group of Wall Street investors, foreseeing the housing market will fail, bet against the market, but when housing fails, they can’t collect because the banks deny the failure.


Two things I don’t understand about this film: one is the sense that this is called an ensemble piece when in fact the four main actors are never or seldom together. And two is that the separation of these separate stories is achieved with over-edited snippets and over-montaged sequences such that none of it can be made out by a normal eye.

Why is this done?

Perhaps to bewilder the audience into believing the reason they can’t understand the complexities of what is at stake is not because they are too stupid but because the flashy montages are causing it. And, by gum, if we are not comfortable with this style of montage anyhow, we must be not hip.

A lot of the film is made with a hand-held camera, which is supposed to grant reality. It doesn’t; it just grants the shaking of a hand-held camera. And, of course, color film almost always denies reality; it is too heightened; it demands too little of the imagination; it is too expected. This would have been a perfect subject for black and white.

So, being an English major, how can I respond to this confetti?

It is beautifully acted. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the snappy, rude investor. Brad Pitt is swell as the retired broker who breaks the bank with the help of John Magaro and Finn Whitrock as tyro investors. Christian Bale, in a great wig, is perfectly cast as the know-it-all pioneer of the trading system. But it is Steve Carell as a disgruntled investor who stands out just a little from the others. He is nominated for several supporting actor awards, which seems quite unjust to me, since he is the moral center of, since he stars, and since he carries the film. All the supporting people are first class, including, Marisa Tomei and, I imagine, Melissa Leo whom I never saw in it at all, so flashed-by were her scenes.

The film is also up for Comedy Awards. It is not a comedy in any sense of the word or life-experience of the audience. The film is about fraud. The award categories claimed for the film are also fraud. Too bad.

Everything the film-maker could do to make the complexities readable was done and then undone. I leave it to you to tell me more about the real estate collapse and if I am missing something or everything. Or perhaps confusion is the only knowledge to be had of the matter.


Lars And The Real Girl

01 Jul

Lars And The Real Girl – directed by Craig Gillespie. Drama. A young man falls for a life-size doll. 106 minutes Color 2007


This piece lacks in pictorial force. The director substitutes histrionic force for it. That is to say we need to see what the actors’ physical bodies are doing, not what their faces are doing, and the reason for that is the female manekin is introduced into their midst as a a living physical being, which brings their body-confidence under attack.  The result is that that, with the exception of Patricia Clarkson, everyone in this piece over-acts, that is to say acts irrelevantly. And this is not a function of the fact that everyone in town comes to accept the doll as an actual personage and behaves well towards her, for the townsfolk themselves do not over-act. But the actors who play the brother, his wife, and the wanna-be girlfriend do. This is not a result of the discomfort natural to the insertion of a manikin as a family fiancée, but simply a permitted miscalculation on the part of the director and of each actor, each of whom over-acts in a different way, the result being that by doing so each one of them distracts from the story, which is being told in a straightforward way as though a manikin as a family member were not unusual at all. What is an actor do with this situation? I’ll tell you what he must do: nothing at all. Don’t act anything. Just stand there and take it in and say your lines. By just saying your lines, you may discover that they do not amount to much in such a situation – and that would have enormous physical carrying power for the story before us, not one single element of which depends upon those characters. They must not “fail to understand him;” they must not “leap over into understanding” him. That is not their job, and the director must not let them take such liberties as to “act” — except this director does not know this. This leaves us with Ryan Gosling, a modest talent, to be sure, but one in this case sufficient to misconstrue the part slightly. Lars relates to the doll lovingly and as a boyfriend would. He is not delusional, and he must not be played that way, so the slight shift Gosling gives in this direction is a misstep, since it is a preset opinion which he walks on with and with which he is stuck throughout the characterization as a formula. He does not play “I am delusional,” mind you, but he does play “naiveté”, a sort of monotonous innocence, to which he adds a small flinch, as though Lars were just slightly brain damaged. Nothing of that sort will work in such a part. The part needs to be played as though there is nothing wrong with this person whatever, and as though he was just an ordinary guy and perfectly normal in buying a life-size doll, falling in love with it, talking to it, and pushing it around town in a wheelchair. But that is not what happens. Or rather, it happens only when Patrician Clarkson is on screen, for that is how she relates to Lars and the doll. And only when she is on screen and when we are watching her and listening to her does Lars become human at all. I feel the piece is rather a missed opportunity. It would be a good idea to remake it one day, with different actors, this time with Gosling in the Clarkson role. For me, my attention was being drawn away to the doll, who seemed more life-like than the humans around her, as though any moment she would breathe, rise from the wheelchair, and kiss him. The potential for life seemed so strong in her, but, alas, in her alone.


The Ides Of March

13 Oct

The Ides Of March – directed and written (with others) by George Clooney. Political Thriller. 101 Minutes Color 2011.


The Story: The office manager of a Presidential campaign learns about life from the great ones above and below him.

* * * *

I wonder if the failure of his performance will put a period to the rise of the career of a truly gifted actor. He is in the role that must carry the film. But the actor’s conception of or preparation for the role, or perhaps his being cast in it in the first place, or perhaps the director’s failure to establish the necessary grounds in the opening scenes, fails the film.

Instead the story and the dialogue have to carry this film. But they are not quite sufficient because they are just the outer story; the inner story is a change, a learning in the main character. None of the other actors can carry the film it; they are all supporting players.

The problem arises with the opening scene and continues with the scene soon after with a reporter. In the first scene he does a lighting stand-in for the presidential contestant, and recites lines of his oncoming speech. He does them listlessly, almost snidely. Then when he speaks to the reporter he avers his great and thorough belief in the candidate. She laughs at him. But he won’t have it. He elaborates his belief.

Okay, so why doesn’t it work? Because the character he plays must believe in what he says, with all his heart. However, the actor presents this character as a man whose heart is not in it. Yet the entire film depends upon his heart becoming re-educated, but since he heart is veiled to begin with, the story is devoid of human interest.

Everything else is quite interesting. All the other actors are in top form: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign manager, Paul Giamatti as the opposition campaign manager, Evan Rachel Wood as a pretty intern, Maria Tomei, particularly as the reporter, Jeffrey Wright as an opportunistic senator, and George Clooney as the candidate.

Marvelously filmed by Phedon Papamichael and scored by Alexandre Desplat, one is held in bafflement as the subtleties of the main actor pass before one’s appreciative eyes. He is beautiful. He is unusual. It is a great leading role in a huge Hollywood picture. Because of him it doesn’t happen. It is a pity.







Blue Valentine

16 Jan

Blue Valentine – directed by Derek Cianfrance – low tragedy: the courtship and collapse of a marriage – 2 hours color 2010,

* * * * *

Is this The Picture Of The Year for me? Probably. The characters created by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams emerge from a matrix in each of them which leads to their mutual defeat. She plays a girl hiding out in full view at the dinner table from the irrational rage of her father. And she marries a man very much like that father, and to protect herself from him she hides in full view. Gosling plays a one-woman man who is unaware that his quick wit hides his pain so successfully that he turns every fault he is accused of against his accuser, and in this no one can outdraw him. Certainly not someone whose default defense is concealment in place. The picture begins with the charming sense of fun he brings to his courtship of her. Their marriage takes place because she is pregnant, but not by him. Yet he goes for it fully. Five or so years later we see he is loving but undisciplined as a father, and as such is unworkable as one. And she is at the end of her tether. Drinking and screwing are his strategies to feed the romantic view he has of his life, his wife, and their child. And she can’t join the game any more but can’t muster the valor to say she won’t. The two characters these two actors unleash on the screen merit the highest praise and attention. For me, this was The Hurt Locker film of the year, not a pretty picture but a great one.


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