First Man (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Here is a celebration of mankind-defining achievement capable of avoiding a minefield of clichés embedded in the marrow of the movies. There is not one inspirational speech, no slow motion of men in space suits walking toward the camera, not even a single image, however brief, of worried-looking faces on Earth as Neil A. Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr. (Corey Stoll), and Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) land the Apollo Lunar Module on the moon on July 20, 1969. There is documentary and highly dramatized—commercialized—biographical dramas, and in between lies Damien Chazelle’s technically focused and occasionally affecting “First Man,” more interested in getting as close as possible to what was rather than providing yet another masturbation of American heroism.
Chazelle is back to the precision he exercised in the excellent “Whiplash.” Here, the tone is, like the central figure we follow, Neil Armstrong, quite cold and impersonal. A standard dramatic parabola is not utilized, nor does it need to. Traversing such a path would have opened the door for the expected beats and trappings of the genre. Instead, we follow crucial events in Armstrong’s personal life and professional career between 1962 and 1969, initially as a test pilot and finally as an astronaut who made history. And yet—just because the tone is unsentimental does not mean that it is not first and foremost a human story.
It makes the point of the numerous invaluable sacrifices just so we can go to the moon: millions of taxpayer money, countless hours and tremendous effort put forth by those working in NASA, and, most importantly, irreplaceable human lives lost due to accidents. Watching the picture, I could not help but feel angry—not at the film but at the uninformed or downright ignorant individuals who insist that the 1969 moon landing is a sham. Josh Singer’s sharp and perceptive screenplay broaches the subject of perspective, that it is important for us to reach the moon so that, we, as a species, can gain a new or different way of looking at ourselves, everything around us, and beyond. Before seeing the film, I found that conspiracy theorists who deny the fact that we ever walked on the moon are laughable. After seeing the film, I just felt sorry for them. It made me wish I knew a way to open their minds to both facts and possibilities.
Gosling is in top form as a man who has grown accustomed to hiding his emotions. A case can be made that this characteristic makes Armstrong a great leader, especially in desperate situations when lives are on the line, but this same trait prevents him from being a husband and father who is consistently warm and inviting. Particularly strong about Gosling’s performance is not the character’s lack of apparent emotions (which is agonizing when his wife, played by the equally effective Claire Foy, yearns for him to open up and communicate) but in the way the actor attempts to hide the character’s inner turmoil for the sake of the big picture, of achieving a particular goal so monumental, attaining it would mean a chance for us to try and reach for the next great objective. Gosling disappears into the role; watching him deliver such a calculated performance is such a joy. I admired that he does not attempt to mimic the way Armstrong speaks or Armstrong’s most minute mannerisms and yet he remains thoroughly convincing.
The film, too, provides a terrific aural experience. Spacecrafts with glamorous interiors are nowhere to be found here. In fact, they are so cramped most of the time that being inside one is like having to move around in a coffin. Notice how often close-ups are used when a transport is about to take off or suspended in air as it undergoes gymnastics. Being so close to a person’s face underscores the abundance of noise, especially of metal screeching due to sudden movements, various pressures, and sudden temperature changes. Being inside the spacecraft does, on the one hand, provide a sense of wonder. On the other is a horrifying experience filled with uncertainty; when one alarm goes off, it seems that every other thing that can go wrong does eventually. To say that it is a miracle that we got to the moon in 1969 is not an understatement. Our will to get there, I think, made all the difference.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
To follow up one of the most influential science-fiction pictures is no easy feat, but director Denis Villeneuve is able to meet and surpass the best qualities of “Blade Runner.” Notice how movies within the genre often forget that ideas should come first. After all, the goal of sci-fi paves the way for conversations involving humanity’s place in time, on this planet, and beyond. And so many of these films, often standard and disappointing, end up being filled with empty action, generic explosions, and senseless violence—filler masquerading as entertainment. “Blade Runner 2049” shines exactly because it offers a more cerebral experience.
The plot is filled with small but beautiful details best discovered for oneself. Instead, I offer to describe the elements which make the film so enthralling as the hypnotic plot unfolds. Perhaps most noticeable is its use of score—and at times the decision not to use anything but complete silence. We are so used to hearing a signal when an important plot development is about to be revealed. While there are moments when do hear the booming and bone-chilling score, particularly as the camera glides over futuristic lived-in metropolis, take note of instances when K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD, discovers bizarre coincidences that force him to question his own identity.
This strategy works because when there is a close-up, there is no music that distracts from the surprise, terror, and confusion the cop undergoes during a pivotal moment. Although the character is supposed to be professional, calm, and collected, tight facial shots with no distraction allows us appreciate Gosling’s ability to communicate paragraphs only with minuscule changes in his facial expressions. In a way, the picture is not only for the intellectual hoping for philosophical questions but also for the emotionally intelligent.
There is a variety of landscapes shown—from metropolis filled with towers blanketed in mist, communities living amongst garbage, to sun-scorched deserts as far as the eye can see—all of them beautiful in their own way even though some of them may be unappealing. Of course, the story spends most of the time in the dark, brooding, often rainy Los Angeles, but there are plenty of details worth appreciating if one chooses to look closer.
Look in the background and notice extreme fashion; how advertisements are colorful, comedic, and hyperbolic; how looks on people’s faces suggest an overwhelming unhappiness with their existence. In addition, we wonder whether a person we are looking at is a human or replicant, the latter being bioengineered humans who are created to obey at all costs, almost like slaves, yet critical to the former’s survival. And if a person is indeed a replicant, is he or she an older model that must be “retired” by a Blade Runner? The environment is alive and buzzing with energy. Imaginative viewers will not be bored.
“What does it mean to be human?” is perhaps the most important question “Blade Runner 2049” takes from its predecessor and continues to explore. Revelations in the latter half force us not only to consider what the protagonist is going through emotionally and psychologically but also rethink previous scenes presented an hour or two prior. Credit goes to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green for creating material that is smart, rich with implications, and worth exploring, debating over.
Finally, notice how the picture ends. Clearly, there is room for further discoveries and yet we feel in our bones that this chapter is complete. Considerably less elegant films fumble and tend to do one of two things: end before before the journey of the protagonist is complete or shamelessly setting up a sequel without tying up the biggest, most glaring strands. Here is a picture that understands the spirit of sci-fi, what it is and what it can achieve.
Nice Guys, The (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Action-comedy “The Nice Guys,” co-written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, is inspired by classic 1970s detective pictures but one that fails to provide inspiration. What results is a moderately watchable but occasionally predictable film spearheaded by charismatic co-stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling who have good fun in their roles.
At first it appears as though the plot revolves around a dead pornographic actress named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), whose vehicle crashed into and through a house during the first scene, but those with extensive experience with detective films, especially the great noir works of the 1940s, are likely to recognize that is merely a misdirect. This is a common problem that plagues the picture: familiar elements are exactly as they are and so there is rarely, if ever, anything surprising. One of the main targets of the material is audiences who enjoy detective stories. It fails to satiate because it offers nothing new.
Crowe and Gosling do share some chemistry, but Healy and March are written as one-note. Although they are never boring because the experienced thespians are able to tap into different notes of an otherwise standard dialogue, it would have been electric if the script were as smart or as colorful as those portraying the detectives. Gosling plays the more volatile of the pair and is able to deliver a few laughs, but Crowe is equally strong as the straight man.
There are three action sequences and they are evenly dispersed throughout the film’s near two-hour running time. I enjoyed and appreciated that each one offers a distinct feel, energy, and pace. They are executed with vision and we feel the joy of those involved. Perhaps these are the best scenes in the movie, hands down the most thrilling. What it is missing, however, is a truly memorable and/or sinister villain. Matt Bomer plays one of the formidable assassins but the character is not written deeply enough to be compelling.
A breakout star of the film is Angourie Rice who plays Gosling’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter. Rice is a name and face to watch out for because she commands the charm, wit, and presence of Reese Witherspoon from Robert Mulligan’s “The Man in the Moon.” Just about every time Rice is on screen, she lights it up. She makes slower scenes come alive. A lesser performer might have turned the character into someone annoying but she grounds Holly in such a way that the audience would want to be her friend.
Directed by Shane Black, “The Nice Guys” offers a decent time but not a good time. If the script had been tweaked a little more in order to provide more surprising details regarding the underbelly of politics, world of pornography, and the sleuthing business, it might have turned into an example to be imitated in the future rather than simply resting on being a goofy imitation.
La La Land (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” asks a former classmate (John Legend) who has since found commercial success in the music business to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of owning his own bar one day. Although “La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is neither a revolutionary nor a traditional musical, it offers a highly watchable escapist romp and delivers a few welcome surprises especially in terms of what it wishes to say about reaching one’s career goals.
The film emits exuberance and the love for song and dance right from its opening sequence. A smile was drawn on my face because it dares to show a real Los Angeles—not simply when it comes to the level of traffic, the noise, and the heat that settles on motor vehicles but also in terms of the level of diversity we see on screen.
Mainstream pictures tend to show a version of Los Angeles that it still too bland and whitewashed in this day and age so it is most refreshing that a reality of various skin colors, body types, and hair textures are captured from the get-go despite the genre being a musical with fantastic elements. This first scene, clearly influenced by a memorable scene in the classic musical “Fame,” makes quite a powerful statement and it is something that I expect from an independent feature film, not a mainstream work with well-known stars—a most welcome surprise.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling share effortless chemistry, the former playing a barista on the lot of a movie studio. Mia, like thousands of men and women in LA, dreams of becoming a movie or television performer. Stone and Gosling have a certain rapport that is endearing—even the moments between dialogue command a certain tactile bond that works beautifully in both comedic and dramatic scenes. The two may not have the strongest voices to carry a musical but this should not be counted against them because they should be actors first and singers second.
Despite the actors’ excellent chemistry, the middle section is most problematic. Notice that when life-changing events are not front and center, the pacing slows dramatically to the point of plateau. The material is divided into five sections: winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter once again. Spring and summer is the blossoming of Mia and Sebastian’s romantic relationship which should be just as powerful—if not more—than the major life events that attempt to derail them from the paths they have set for themselves especially because these potential changes challenge them as a pair.
For instance, a most uninspiring scene, egregious in content and execution, involves Mia talking about her past, her hopes, and her dreams to a man she is beginning to like on a romantic level. What should have been a defining moment is shot instead like a throwaway scene—camera from a distance, two people walking in a shot together, not one closeup is employed. Not to mention Mia’s story is so ordinary, she might as well not have said anything because smart audiences have already made assumptions—correct ones at that—about her past and where she hopes to go. I grew bored of the character’s lack of interest in her own life and the lack of energy in making someone else be interested in her life. My sentiment lasted till the next season. Chazelle ought to have rewritten the scene.
“La La Land” is at its most compelling when it hones in on the sacrifices one must make in order to reach one’s dream—or at times settling for a version of one’s dream. It asks us to consider the following: if we choose to sacrifice bits of who we are in order to get a little closer to our goals, by the time we reach these goals, can it still be considered as a success when our core values have been inevitably changed by such sacrifices? Not a philosophical film by any means, the ideas are there if one chooses to ponder. And for those who would rather not think too deeply, there is colorful and toe-tapping entertainment to be enjoyed.
Place Beyond the Pines, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Though Romina (Eva Mendes) wishes to hide the fact that she and Luke (Ryan Gosling) conceived a child from their one night stand a year ago, the truth has a way of being discovered eventually. Luke wants to be a good father to his son and so he decides to quit his job as a traveling state fair stuntman. However, since his current source of income is not enough for him to live on as well as to give lavishly to his son, he and a friend (Ben Mendelsohn) decide to rob banks.
“The Place Beyond the Pines,” directed by Derek Cianfrance, is a mood piece, placing emphasis on delayed responses and meaningful looks, and it is entertaining to a degree because it is able to focus on the importance of fatherhood. The story is divided into three arcs, beginning with the stuntman’s storyline, and it is not short on ambition. Having said that, the middle section, especially important because it is the connective tissue between past and present, is consistently problematic and underwhelming.
The middle portion focuses on the guilt experienced by Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop on his first year on the job, as well as the corruption within the police force. While the director is able to communicate the rookie cop’s anguish, there is not enough attention paid on Avery’s relationship with his father. The latter thinks that his son can and should be doing more with his life considering that Avery has a law degree and passed the bar. Having that relationship serve a side dish is a significant miscalculation. As a result, it diminishes the power of the first and third arcs, Luke’s love for his baby boy and Avery’s son befriending Luke’s, respectively, with both teenage boys (Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan) not having constant father figures in their lives.
It is a shame because the film is well-acted. Though Gosling’s taciturn performance does not break new ground, he allows his character to be accessible to us by not always acting so glum. Appropriately, Gosling’s best scenes are of Luke interacting with his son. Cooper, like Gosling, radiates a charm but a darkness just underneath it. I believed his character to be someone so ambitious, he would be willing to throw anyone under the bus. Both men want to achieve a status: Luke being a good dad and Avery being in power. Luke may be the one robbing banks but Avery, arguably, is the hungrier animal.
The picture recoups some of its intrigue during the third arc. There is a good level of tension because we know the boys’ connection but they do not. It is only a matter of time until one or both of them uncovers what binds them.
Based on the screenplay by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is disappointing not because it is incapable of being great. On the contrary, it so close to telling a dramatic yet entertaining story but it falls short because the bridge between the setup and the payoff is not fully defined.
Big Short, The (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, “The Big Short” offers a witty, funny, intelligent, consistently shocking, and educational experience about the global financial crisis in 2007-2008 and the persons, mostly hedge fund managers, who are able to see through the fog and bet against the housing market before the bubble burst. Although there are numerous fiscal terms and acronyms that might as well have been in hieroglyphics or alien language, the screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay ensures that the information can be digested by laymen.
Explanations are often done through humor using cameos. Particularly memorable is the appearance of Selena Gomez and Dr. Richard Thaler, an economist, as they explain the term “synthetic C.D.O.” (collateralized debt obligations) at a blackjack table in Las Vegas. Notice that as information is slowly broken down, the initially amusing scenario at the table quickly turns horrifying. The volatile energy of the film maintains the forward momentum of the material and so, despite the business talk, not once does it get stale or boring. On the contrary, by the end of the picture, I wanted to know more about how things worked in that realm.
Performances are top-notch all around. Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a man who has an eye for details and numbers despite having one glass eye. He creates a character who is very intelligent and socially awkward but not one who is inaccessible. Accessibility is absolutely necessary because there are a handful of moments when we must feel the pressure he feels as his clients and co-workers begin to express their anger and frustrations on top of his own.
Ryan Gosling, who plays a trader named Jared Vennett, creates yet another charismatic, smooth talker—which is not all that different from some of his other roles. However, Gosling is so entertaining, full of verve, and so quick on his feet that we tend to overlook the familiar and look forward to how his character will respond to increasingly stressful situations.
But the best performance in the film belongs to Steve Carell, a hot-tempered hedge fund manager who begins to question the lack of morality in his line of work. Most memorable is his breakdown in a Las Vegas restaurant as he comes face-to-face with a businessman named Mr. Chau (Byron Mann) who is very proud of the fact that he is a cheat, to say the least. With every close-up employed, the tension is amplified to the point where it is almost unbearable to stay on that table. Mr. Chau is an excellent symbol of capitalist greed and it is the correct decision have him in one scene only.
“The Big Short” takes an insular topic and makes it relatively easy to understand using simple language and analogies. Equally important, it is able to summon the anger from the viewers so that we are more mindful of not only the next potential housing bubble on the horizon but also where we put our money and where we sign our names.
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Liv Corfixen, wife of the man who made the critically acclaimed “Drive,” takes control of the camera and documents the creative process of her husband’s work while shooting “Only God Forgives” for six months in Bangkok, Thailand.
“My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” is a documentary that is unnecessary, unfocused, and not completely engaging. What I liked about it, however, is that it shows some of the trials of being in charge of a movie. That is, being a director is not exactly a glamorous job. It is full of stresses which involve finances, having only a limited time to shoot certain scenes depending on location, and there is always a concern about whether the final product would be received well by critics and audiences.
Director Corfixen is a passive director in that she fails to ask her subject the difficult questions. For example, Refn emphasizes that he does not want to make the same movie as “Drive” and so he tries to make a less commercial picture as a follow-up. As the director of this documentary, it is Corfixen’s responsibility to drill the subject with questions about expectations, his definition of success, or what makes a great film despite criticisms or acclaim. It is most frustrating that Corfixen always treats Refn as her husband first and as a subject second—if at all. Thus, why make the documentary at all?
We get some behind-the-scenes look of “Only God Forgives” which is neat at times because it is a chance to see how Refn works with equipments, the crew, and actors. But there is not enough of these. There are more scenes shot in the hotel which would not have been a problem if Refn had something interesting to say on a consistent basis. There is a lot of laying about in bed and shots of the children running around or playing. Once in a while we observe Refn about to break due to the stress of having to put the film together. Prior to day one of shooting, he admits to not having an idea what the movie is really about.
The saving grace of this documentary is Ryan Gosling. There is something about him that just commands attention. He doesn’t need to say anything—which actually says a lot. There is a funny bit about Refn explaining to his lead the parallels between violence and sex. Gosling looks at the camera every time there is an opportunity for a dirty joke. This film ought to have more playful moments like that—fluctuations to prevent the audience from falling asleep. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky also makes an appearance.
Bottom line: the documentary is supposed to be about Refn. Although Gosling and Jodorowsky appearing in the film is fun, I did not feel as though I got to know Refn as a person or a director in a substantial way. Based on this, the film falls short.
Ides of March, The (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic thirty-year-old campaign manager, working right below a powerful senior campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is hired to help Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) win the state of Ohio and secure a presidential nomination.
Recognizing Stephen’s suave confidence and talent for spinning stories, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the opposition’s senior campaign manager, gives him a call and suggests they meet in private: Tom wants to offer Stephen a job, one that he should accept because Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) is ready to give them his endorsement which means a certain victory for Senator Pullman (Michael Mantrell) and a loss for Governor Morris.
Based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, “The Ides of March” is not so much about the politics but the figureheads, seemingly impersonal and cold, that oil the machine. The center of the ruckus is Stephen and how circumstances force to open his eyes and how he learns to play dirty in order to have a career in a field that he is very passionate about.
Gosling is quite impressive in portraying Stephen, a man of ambition, drive, and a specific set of ideals. The film often reaches a creative zenith when Gosling must spar against acting titans like Giamatti and Hoffman—chameleon-like and fluid in portraying every nuance of emotion and intention. It is a tricky role because Gosling must find a way to come off as somewhat submissive due to his character’s comparable lack of experience in politics yet dangerous enough to pose as a real threat, both as an unstable ally and enemy as well as an eventual blackmailer since he has invested so much in the campaign.
Directed by George Clooney, the tension tightens when the behind-the-scenes drama is intercut with Morris’ speeches about how he intends on steering the country toward progress. While Morris’ supporters eat up his every word, there is a growing sense of unease as things start to go wrong in the campaign—slowly at first then like a landslide in strength and speed.
Although the dueling campaigns are both liberal in stance, the picture is a critique about politics as a whole. While it may seem glamorous and important, especially with all the press conferences and media coverages, the film reminds us that, at the end of the day, being a senator, a governor, a campaign manager, or an intern is still a job. And like certain jobs, the workplace can be a competitive environment where betrayal is like the common cold: it can happen to anybody and reactions to the infection tend to vary. Just because Stephen is smart, charismatic, and hardworking, it does not make him immune to the sickness.
Based on the screenplay by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, “The Ides of March,” equipped with excellent monologues, may be interpreted as having a cynical message. Regardless, I found it fascinating—which surprised me because politics is not something that captures my interest as readily as, say, science or the movies. Experiencing the film is like closely observing a tight chess match. Some moves are easily foreseen but it has enough genuine surprises meant to inspire contemplation.
Only God Forgives (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Two brothers run a fight club in Thailand which functions as a cover for the family drug business. After killing a sixteen-year-old prostitute, Billy (Tom Burke) gets beaten to death by the girl’s father. Having received the news of her eldest son’s death, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) flies in and is enraged when she learns that although Julian (Ryan Gosling) had the chance to avenge his brother, he had failed to take the man’s life. Not realizing the complexity of the situation, Crystal commands her men to punish everyone responsible.
No one can take away the fact that “Only God Forgives,” written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is beautifully photographed, often bathed in a cascade of blues and reds, and there is thought put behind how or when a camera should move in order to underline the manic intensity of an increasingly messy and violent plot. However, the film is, for the most part, a sort of a poetic dirge—eyebrow-raising at its best and somnolent at its worst.
The clash of stoic and hyperbolic acting works. Gosling embodies the former and Thomas the latter; the twisted mother-son relationship is one that I found to be somewhat fascinating. Because Crystal is such a harpy, truly despicable from the moment we meet her checking into a hotel, one wonders if she is the reason Julian has so many issues. On the other hand, because Julian, a full-grown adult, fails to speak his mind when his mother has crossed a line, mistaking subservience for respect, the cycle continues. Their relationship is one that cannot be fixed or untangled because, even though they are complete opposites in many ways, the two are so intractable.
But the picture is not so much a character study. Rather, it is an experiment of mood reflected by the soundtrack and images that are inspired, shocking, trashy, and arresting. In the closing credits, Refn dedicates his work to Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of “Santa sangre,” which so happens to be about a boy who grew up to have serious issues with his mother. Parallels are abound, hands being chopped off among them, and because I loved that film, it was wonderful seeing a director being blatantly inspired by it.
The main difference between “Santa sangre” and “Only God Forgives” is that the former commands control with its images, feelings, and plot during its entire duration. With the latter, I caught myself vacillating between being genuinely interested and not caring. The middle section is a trial to sit through when one craves to be shown something new. Another parallel involves both pictures containing almost dream-like sequences. However, Refn’s work brings up questions that are really not that worth answering.
I believe the picture has artistic merit. I found about half of its content to be quite daring and in some scenes I found myself wishing that more directors were willing to take a chance as Refn does here. Not all of them work but the wonderful thing about movies that push to make a creative leap is that they demand to be seen more than once.
★★★★ / ★★★★
The man with the scorpion jacket had three part-time jobs, not one of which fully described his isolated existence in the City of Angels. By day, he was a stuntman for action movies and a car mechanic for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the man who gave him a job when he didn’t have any. By night, he was a getaway driver for criminals who needed the money for their own reasons. Driver (Ryan Gosling) only had one rule when it came to the heists: his clients had exactly five minutes to ransack the place and get back into the car. Whatever happened within the five-minute window, he was on their side no matter what. However, once the allotted time ran out, he was just another person in the street who kept his head down. “Drive,” based on a novel by James Sallis and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, was similar to Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s “No Country for Old Men,” despite sporting vastly different milieus, for its control of visual style to highlight the bubbling disposition of a seemingly unemotional and reticent protagonist, punctuated use of violence, and sublime characterization through critical decision-making. When Driver met Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos), her son, who lived a couple of steps from his apartment, something inside him couldn’t help but be drawn to them. Driver and Irene eventually got closer through small gestures but what they had was more friendship than romance. Driver hoped to change that. On the way to a dinner date, Irene revealed that her husband (Oscar Isaac) was about to be released from prison. As they pulled over to a stoplight, the emanated red light covered Driver’s face. Though he remained emotionless, as if the husband’s presence was no real threat to what he, Irene, and Benicio could have, the red, acting like a black light, revealed what he attempted to cover up. The return of the husband could’ve taken the picture on a cheaply maddening route by allowing Driver and Standard to become rivals, sneering at each other and testing one another’s masculinity when Irene wasn’t looking. There was none of such sitcom-like set-up. Their relationship, as tenuous as it was, surprised me because Standard seemed to really appreciate what Driver had done for his family. And he should. But his freedom had a price which thrusted the film into bloody violence. Although the violence was mesmerizing, almost having a poetic lyricism feel to it, there was an understated sadness in having to inflict pain on others for the sake for information and, if necessary, take their lives. Hossein Amini’s screenplay was admirably paradoxical. Although Driver’s motivation was to protect Irene and her son from crooks, it seemed that with each kill, he grew further from his dream of being with them rather than toward. Thus, the violence, though necessary, did not feel at all glamorous. The violence was ugly and Gosling’s angelic face, coldly calculating at times, provided an excellent contrasting template. Lastly, I admired the film’s elegance in connecting every character. Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), Shannon’s longtime pal, and Nino (Ron Perlman) were allowed to shine in the latter half. Unlike the masked bandits that hired Driver at night, their motivations were more than just about money. Like Driver, they fought for what they considered to be very important to them. And that made them as lethal as scorpions.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) were deciding what to order in a restaurant. Cal wanted crème brûlée. Emily wanted a divorce. Top to it off, she admitted that she had slept with one of her co-workers (Kevin Bacon). Almost immediately, Cal moved out of the house while his kids, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Molly (Joey Kind), stayed with their mother. Having no one to talk to about how he felt about the separation and how quickly it happened, Cal went to a bar to meet women. Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a posh womanizer, saw something in Cal that made him want to help the sad sack, starting with his wardrobe. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” written by Dan Fogelman, could have been an enjoyable romantic comedy if it had been severely trimmed. With a running time of almost two hours, the fat was heavy and uninteresting. The weakest portion of the film was its core. That is, the dissolution of Emily and Cal’s marriage. It was difficult for me to care about their separation for two reasons. 1) We didn’t yet know them when the news was thrown on our lap and 2) The sad parts, just when they were about to hit their peaks, were interrupted by comedy. For instance, while on the way home as Emily attempted to explain why she wanted a divorce, Cal decided to exit the car while it was moving. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t laugh. I just felt sorry for him because he wasn’t equipped in terms of how to properly the digest the information he was given. He would rather jump out of the car than deal with the problem. What kept the project afloat were the energetic supporting characters. They were the ones who consistently made me laugh. Robbie, a thirteen-year-old, had a gigantic crush on Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), his seventeen-year-old babysitter. His public proclamations of his feelings toward her were downright embarrassing but sweet. Jessica wasn’t able to reciprocate due to their age difference and, more interestingly, she lusted over Cal, who was probably three times her age. I also loved watching the scenes between Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student, and Jacob. They shared intense chemistry so their scenes, which ranged from silly to sexy, felt effortless. It made me wish that the center of the movie was young love and how crazy, stupid, silly, naive it all was. While Cal’s wardrobe make-over and various attempts to get women into bed were necessary elements so that Cal would eventually realize his value as a father, as a husband, and as a man, they took up too much time. I wanted to know more about Emily and how her decision affected who she was as a strong woman with a career and as a mother. It wasn’t the actors’ fault. They did the most with what they were given. The problem was the script. It was reluctant to really delve into the pain of separation so it settled with spoon-feeding us so-called funny skit-like scenarios that not only did not flow together, they also consistently crossed the line between simple coincidences and forceful twists. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” will appeal to those who like their comedies very light and cutesy. And that’s okay. But for those who like to watch characters who make decisions that make sense, they should keep walking.