Tag Archives: ryan gosling

First rule of politics: don’t screw the interns (The Ides of March – 2011)

The somber and sorrowful tale of a political prodigy dirtying his hands with the democratic machine and becoming a seasoned, cynical veteran.  An excellent film for those who enjoy drama, politics, and the reinforcement of negative political stereotypes.

Once upon a time…

…in a small suburb outside of a big city, a young man sat and pondered his future.  He saw himself at the present, what resources he had and were available to him, and attempted to plot the course that would best suit him.  A doctor?  An engineer?  Perhaps a school principal.  But why did he want to be these things?  What good is the man who affects only himself?  I want to change things.  So he can change a life.  A group of people.  If he tried hard enough, a generation.  But what if he went larger?  What if he could affect not just one, but many generations?  What if he could not affect only a small group of people, but a country?  Or the world?  So he set his sights higher and, while he’d always look fondly at the lives of healers, inventors, and educators, this young man pointed himself at the throne of the most powerful man in the land.  Just before leaving his home and all of the things he knew to go learn in the central point of political power, he received a number of warnings all with same message: don’t let it corrupt you

Now, while the overwhelming majority of the people he knew were not involved in politics, they all had the same mindset; nothing that enters the political machine leaves it in the same state.  The Ides of March is one of the many films that reinforces that mindset.  But enough of my tale, let’s discuss the film:

For a kid who enjoys politics, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling, this film looked like cinematic ambrosia.  So, perhaps my expectations were a bit high.  But what is young naiveté without hope?

So, after work this morning (side note: yes, I have a job now.  I’m a staff technician at my university library.), I went to the AMC in Georgetown and purchased a ticket for my third Gosling film in two months.  I left happy.  Though that’s not to say this a happy film.  Make no mistake, this play is closer to a tragedy than a comedy.  And a play it is, The Ides of March is the film adaptation of the stage performance, "Farragut North".  But I realize that I’m digressing, I’m supposed to tell you about the quality of the film, not its history.

Beginning with the actors, Clooney and Gosling were excellent in their roles, both playing characters to their strengths.  Clooney makes a political leader unparalleled by anything short of President Bartlett.  Gosling is an idealistic, young campaign leader, not dissimilar to Josh Lyman (yes, I know I should stop making West Wing references).  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character was pretty much as expected, not a departure from the roles in which we imagine him.  My only true grievance with the casting was Paul Giamatti.  Personally, I have no qualms with him and tend to enjoy his films.  However, I feel that his character was underdeveloped and using a high profile actor for the role seemed like overcompensating.

In terms of dialogue, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  Likely a byproduct of having once been a stage play and being about politics, good dialogue is an absolute necessity.  Still, watching Gosling toss around his lines with the suave aloofness we’ve come to expect and then hearing Clooney’s response as the next leader of the free world was greatly entertaining.

Also benefitting from once having been a stage performance, the writing is good.  When I was watching it in the theatre, it seemed to be a bit scattered, creating three or four possible plotlines that could have dominated the film.  However, it takes each of these directions and uses them to further Gosling’s fall into the realm of corrupt politics.  So while it may seem convoluted or unnecessarily busy for such a short film, it makes use of each element as a step in getting to the conclusion.

Altogether, I enjoyed this film.  It was practically made for me, employing some of my favorite actors in a story that’s based upon one of my greatest interests.  Like watching The West Wing with a prettier cast, it certainly made for an enjoyable afternoon.  That said, the film isn’t anything special.  Tales of dirty politics are far from new and neither drama nor tragedy are young.  Still, it’s a good film that will entertain those who go to see it.

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DRIVE (2011)

Continuing this short streak of on-time reviews, I went and saw Drive earlier today.  And, quite honestly, I don’t know if I enjoyed it.  The film is truly different from anything else I’ve seen and would take about three reference films to give you a general idea of what it was like.  But I’ll bypass the name-dropping and just begin my assessment.  (I’ve tried to steer away from the massive paragraphs and instead typed up a bunch of bullet point thoughts when the movie ended.  The short paragraphs below are those bullet points fleshed out, but you might still see some odd bullet syntax.)

THE GOOD

Ryan Gosling’s character (I’m not being lazy, he doesn’t have a name.  In the credits, he’s referred to as Driver.) is one of the most enigmatic machinations I’ve ever seen.  His character is inherently inhuman for the brutality he exacts upon his aggressors and the manic-depressive behavior he exhibits.  And, while I’m so on the fence about him that it hurts, the lack of humanity works in his character.  Because he is a man with no name, he can be more or less than human.  (For anybody who’s read it, this is a bit like Shadow from American Gods)

Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is an interesting character for his considerably more human portrayal, though he gets few precious moments of screen time before being executed to further the plot.  Returning from jail, he’s not the belligerent ex-con, but instead a caring father and family man who wants to repair the frayed ties to the people he loves and put his incarceration behind him.  Unfortunately, he’s not that lucky.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos) are completely static characters, Irene the adulterous wife and Beni the aloof child.  As his father is being injured and subsequently dies, Beni’s demeanor changes little.  Irene’s feelings for Ryan seem to grow immediately following the death of her husband as viewed in the elevator scene and the film’s ending.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a similarly static character.  He never does much to give his character depth, leaving us with a down-and-out auto shop owner who’s hired Gosling (and genuinely likes him) and has ties to the local mob.  While he’s inherently dirty for his ties to the mob and scheduling of Gosling’s "after-hours" activities, you grow fond for him throughout the film and are sad to see him killed.

The main mobsters of this film have received accolades from other critics and not without reason.  Nino (Ron Perlman) is a sort of horrifying ape of a man, who seems a sociopath until he has a conversation with his partner, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), and describes why life as a Jewish mobster is so difficult.  It’s almost endearing.  Still, Albert Brooks has more screen-time and effectively uses it to make something more than a one-dimensional mobster.  He’s a business man with friends who, begrudgingly, has to kill them.  While he seems to be a sociopath for the swiftness with which he kills, it’s business.  Still, it’s evident, on occasion, that his fondness for certain people extends to the way in which he takes care of them (i.e., attempting to be merciful when killing Shannon).

Beyond the odd assortment of characters, the film has an eclectic artistic direction.  There are many scenes in which we only see Gosling’s face and/or torso behind the wheel and the blurred background changing outside the windows.  It’s also a film that seems hell-bent on showing us that it takes place in Los Angeles.  (That last bit made me happy because I got to see shots of my hometown.) The most interesting artistic aspect of this film though, were the scenes resembling live theatre, where the lighting would dim on all players and sets save for the one(s) we’re supposed to focus upon. 

Finally, there’s an odd bit of irony in closing music.  A pop song with the lyrics "a real hero, a real human being" plays as Gosling drives away and the credits begin to roll.  It seems particularly ironic because those are the two things Gosling’s character did not seem to embody.  Gosling is less a hero or human, and more a destructive, though "just" force of nature.  He shows up, with no identity, enacts whatever he must, and leaves without anybody knowing who he is.

THE BAD

Film appears as if it’s 25-30 years old if not for the infrequent cell phone usage and a few cars.  That’s my succinct way of saying that, if they hadn’t shown us shot after shot of Los Angeles hot spots or made references to where everything was (Reseda Blvd, The valley, Echo Park, etc.), this film would have had no discernible time or place setting.  And doing so could have worked for this story, making it less real, and more a definition or attempt to redefine the archetype it was expected to fulfill. 

THE UGLY

Film will likely become notorious for seemingly unnecessary gore.  This film begins with driving and pleasant characters, enwrapped in some sort of intrigue (in this case, criminal acts to further advance their financial status quo).  Then Standard is being attacked by his old prison mates and everything takes a turn for the bloody after a failed heist.  Standard dies at the heist with multiple shot gun blasts to the back.  Then a female accomplice dies at the hide out after she takes a shot gun blast to the head (which we see in slow motion).  Gosling then kills the two assailants who’ve come to the hide out, one with a shot gun and another by ramming a pipe through his stomach/chest/mouth (I can’t remember which, just a lot of blood).  Then we have a series of knife/fork/straight razor based deaths and assaults, all proving a bit taxing on my stomach.  Luckily, I’d not eaten anything prior to viewing this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is not about the characters but about the actions they take out upon each other.  I know that seems a serious generalization and applicable to any film, but that’s what made this film different.  The characters didn’t need names or even backstories to tell the story as it did, it just needed faces and bodies to act out the motions.  The actions said more than words ever could and the film lingers in my mind because it chose not to tell me who I was seeing.

Now, leaving the review and entering the consumer advice (my old writing teacher’s gripe with critics), should you go see this film?  Well, it’s rated R for gore and nudity, so take that into account however you please.  It’s an interesting story that makes me want to read the novel it’s based off of.  So, while I can’t entirely say that I liked it, I do recommend it for others to form their own opinion on what will likely be a polarizing film.

CLEVER, BRILLIANT, HILARIOUS (REVIEW OF CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE)

Hey party people, today has been excellent.  (When I say today, I mean Tuesday.  The issue here is that I don’t sleep.)  I went out with Cate again, saw an excellent film, and some other things I really ought not talk about online.  But what matters here?  The film, of course.  And what, pray tell, was that film?  It was Crazy, Stupid, Love

Now, I know I told you that I was going to review The Guard this week, but I’m afraid that film has been put on a back burner.  With only two weeks until my semi-permanent departure from the West Coast (I’m going back to school in two 13 days), my time has become valuable through rarity and my friends and family are claiming timeslots so quickly that I really should have a secretary to keep track of everything.  So, with all of the crud I’m scheduled to do, and the number of things I’d like to do, The Guard will have to wait for a slow day or until I return to DC.

Now, let’s talk about the film I saw:

THE GOOD

First, this film was brilliant.  It truly was.  After watching a miserable comedy four days ago, this was such a reprieve.  But what was it exactly?  It was a comedy starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julian Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, and several others.  It was a film supported greatly by witty dialogue, well-written characters, and satisfactory cinematography.

Let’s skip the actors and talk about the characters.  The story revolves around a husband and father, Cal (Steve Carell).  At the beginning of the film, his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), tells him that she wants a divorce.  The next hour of the film is Cal meeting Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a professional womanizer, and learning the intricacies of meeting women (a skill he never developed as he married his high school sweetheart).  The second hour comprises of failures brought about by Cal’s womanizing, Cal’s attempts to regain his wife, and Jacob’s growth into a real character (a human being with feelings and a backstory, of sorts).  All the while, Emily is having flings with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), Cal’s 13 year-old son is trying to romance his 17 year-old babysitter, and the babysitter is trying to romance Cal.

Now, the film becomes truly great through its dialogue and writing.  Carell’s character is never stupendous when it comes to being clever, but it’s made up for by Gosling’s and Stone’s characters.  Stone continues to be the clever redhead as she’s been in every other film (it’s okay, I love her), and Gosling plays a lovably mysterious lothario.  Whereas these two characters are the sole sources of wit, the full cast is utilized in the well-written scenes.  While Cal’s transformation from boring father to eligible bachelor is both entertaining and impressive, the best scene comes just before the film’s climax as all the characters meet up in a major plot twist and comedic violence ensues. 

THE BAD

This movie was brilliant.  That said, it was far from perfect.  In this section, we have Cal’s youngest child, Molly (Joey King).  The character had so little written that it only provided two chuckles throughout the film’s duration.  The first was to watch her dance and ignore the plot taking place, and the second was to excuse herself from an awkward situation.  Altogether, the character was about as well-fleshed out as a family pet. 

In addition to the disappointing daughter, I felt that Moore’s character served only to advance the plot or bring in more interesting characters.  She was often either a means to keep Carell on-screen or to bring Kevin Bacon into the light.  Otherwise, her character simply wallows in a poor situation she brought about, making it very hard to pity her.

THE UGLY

Like most comedy films, there are moments where it seems that the writers may have crossed a line in decency or simply played the same joke for too long.  As far as decency goes, the only lines crossed were the ones where a thirteen year old discusses his masturbation habits with his uncomfortable babysitter, and when the babysitter photographs herself naked. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This movie is an excellent and successfully funny comedy.  I wish I’d seen it when it came out.  Regardless, I still recommend that anyone who enjoys romantic comedies, or brilliant dialogue, see it immediately.

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