The Review: If they ever come to update the Chinese zodiac, then 2011 might need to be revised from rabbit. With Drive, Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides Of March and (for UK audiences) Blue Valentine, 2011 was undoubtedly the Year Of The Gosling. Having made a moderate name for himself with earlier character pieces such as Half Nelson and Lars And The Real Girl, Gosling seared himself indelibly into the minds of film loving audiences with a year of high quality roles. 2013 sees him reunite with the directors of two of those works, Nicolas Winding Refn later this year and firstly Derek Cianfrance. Where Blue Valentine, Cianfrance’s previous collaboration with Gosling, was an almost claustrophobically intense two hander on the demise of a relationship, Pines sees Cianfrance set his sights more broadly, with a significantly wider range of characters and a much wider narrative scope. But the key differentiator to Gosling’s back catalogue is the introduction of another heartthrob alpha male in the finely chiselled shape of Bradley Cooper.
This isn’t a Scorcese or Mann style story of crime and families; while both relationships and criminal activity make a strong showing, the good and the bad interact in vastly different ways. The story of Gosling’s Luke is the initial focus, as his career as a motorcycle stunt rider for a local sideshow barely pays the bills. When he discovers he’s fathered a child by ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), his attempts to provide a stable financial future lead him to mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) as the two pull off some audacious bank robberies using Luke’s exceptional riding skills. Inevitably, their activities attract the attention of police officer Avery (Cooper), but his run-in with Luke creates its own set of problems. Romina finds herself being drawn into Avery’s world as well, and the two sets of lives become increasingly linked as time passes.
Once again, his collaboration with Cianfrance serves to extract another top-draw performance from Gosling, who’s got the smouldering thing absolutely nailed, but manages to find another variation on his Drive persona with a more flawed, fractured individual whose violent outbursts are significantly less controlled and productive than his scorpion jacket-wearing counterpart. The real revelation is Cooper, who after becoming stuck somewhat in a rut of big budget but empty comedies and action movies builds on the good work he put in for Silver Linings Playbook, allowing real shading in what could have been a simple role. There’s complex characters across the board, and as well as Cooper and Gosling Mendelsohn and Mendes also shine, and the supporting roles are also well filled by Ray Liotta, Harris Yulin and especially Dane De Haan as a more troubled youngster. That Cianfrance works so well with actors should come as no surprise, but his compositional skills also step up a level from Blue Valentine and from a magnificent establishing shot of Gosling walking through the park to ride his bike into the show, to almost any scene where Luke’s on the run on his bike, the first hour or so crackles with bursts of kinetic energy between the character moments.
It’s a shame that what comes later feels just a shade anticlimactic by comparison. Pines is episodic almost to the point of portmanteau, setting up three distinct chapters where characters take on vastly different perspectives in relation to the respective leads and with stories told in subtly different styles. The big problem is in the final chapter: as soon as the title card comes up for it there’s an inevitability to where the story’s headed, but it takes the two leads at that point so long to join the dots to what the audience already knows it verges on the painful, and by the time it has the narrative resolution of the thread that links the episodes is almost an “oh, is that it?” moment. You almost wish that Cianfrance and fellow scripters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder had avoided the attempt at the epic, sweeping scope and kept their focus tight on Gosling and Cooper, possibly even on just one or the other, as the first act had the makings of a classic but the whole isn’t quite the sum of its parts. It’s rare to see a film that clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes that you feel could have benefited from being longer, but another twenty minutes could have given Pines the room it needed to breathe and develop with the scope it set its sights on. But, once again, it’s most likely Gosling’s performance that will live longest in the memory.
Why see it at the cinema: The tight first hour alone is worth making the trip out for, especially any scene where Gosling is tearing it up on his bike.
What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong language, violence and drug use. There’s a lot of the first and a bit of the other two, and this would have been hacked to death to get anything lower.
My cinema experience: A sparse crowd, somewhat understandably as this was a Saturday morning show at Cambridge Cineworld. No noticeable issues with projection, sound or audience.
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: The captive Saturday morning audience were treated to an extended roster of trailers, including one for the Event Cinema Association for events which have all happened already. That resulted in a gap of 29 minutes before the film started, not ideal for a film running to 141 minutes itself.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: Another year, another Will Ferrell comedy. The best of these have been his collaborations with director Adam McKay, although I say that with reservations. Anchorman remains, in this reviewer’s opinion at least, one of the most consistent and funniest comedies of the Noughties, Talladega Nights was great, but Step Brothers was resolutely average, and most of Ferrell’s other comedies in the last few years have been patchy at best. Part of the problem here is over-exposure; Ferrell used up most of his supply of funny man-child shouting idiocy in Anchorman, and ever since the subtle variations on the character have worn increasingly thin.
Much of the enjoyment has come from the supporting characters in these movies, and The Other Guys certainly doesn’t skimp on the other talent. Sharing top billing this time is Mark Wahlberg, who doesn’t have much of a track record as far as comedy is concerned (as long as you exclude the unintentional hilarity of The Happening), but in the same way as John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights, his interplay with Ferrell is one of the highlights and the two form an uneasy partnership that allows both to have moments to shine. Samuel L. Jackson and Duane Johnson are an all too brief highlight at the beginning, and Michael Keaton reminds us why he was so great in the comedies of yesteryear, but on this occasion too few others make an impression.
In terms of the plot itself, there is a curious mix of the slightly serious (Steve Coogan plays a Bernie Madoff-style character almost straight) and the outlandishly humourous (the movie is littered with sub-plots, such as the use of Ferrell’s character’s Prius as a hang-out spot for homeless guys), and takes an awfully long time to feel as if it’s heading anywhere interesting. Not a problem for previous Ferrell / Mckay movies, but there’s more plot attempted here and McKay suggests attempts at more narrative thrust than in previous efforts but somehow allows things to meander a little too much.
The big question, of course, is “Is it funny?”, and the answer is, “To a point.” Wahlberg is great, especially in his reactions to Ferrell’s unlikely wife (Eva Mendes), Ferrell is a little more dialled-down than in his last couple which kind of works, there’s a few cracking set pieces and the way in which our heroes slowly rise to prominence does generate laughs along the way, but there’s few standout moments that are the equivalent of the earlier efforts by Ferrell and McKay, and some of the jokes (Keaton’s inexplicable TLC references) are stretched rather too thin, having not been that funny in the first place. In an odd way, it almost works better as a Lethal Weapon 3-style buddy action comedy, with the emphasis on the action rather than the comedy, but there a feeling of missed opportunity here. Shame.
Why see it at the cinema: McKay actually does at least a comparable job of shooting action as most of this year’s major action movies, so those scenes alone deserve a big screen viewing, and there are a few big belly laughs to share. If you like your statistics, then the end credits will also be worth seeing, as The Other Guys turns into a bizarrely serious Michael Moore film once the names start to roll.
The Score: 6/10
The Pitch: “So many and so various laws are given; so many laws argue so many sins.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost
The Review: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” There is no doubt that New Orleans suffered an awful tragedy both during and after Hurricane Katrina. So the decision by Werner Herzog to remake Bad Lieutenant, using no more than the concept and setting it in a post-Katrina New Orleans may at first seem a little odd. But it’s actually likely to be the most sensible thing in this film, the realism and harshness of the surroundings throwing the rest of the events into even sharper relief, and the sense of desperation and self-advancement taking on relevance, but at no time does the movie feel like it’s taking advantage of the tragedy.
“Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven.” The culture portrayed, though, is one that you can imagine existing both before and after the tragedy, as much of it stems from portrayals of gangs and criminal society that one would find in the Hollywood depiction of any state. Through it all, Nicolas Cage moves like a force of nature, for the first time in years allowed truly off the leash, but with a mania that’s controlled for the large part, crescendoing through the movie with satisfyingly staccato bursts of oddity.
“Still paying, still to owe. Eternal woe!” As the debts stack up and the complications grow, a well picked supporting cast play out in many ways a conventional crime movie. It’s made fairly clear up front who’s good and bad, it’s a case of bringing to justice, but that’s where things become less conventional. Driven by a need to dim his literal pain, Cage’s McDonagh works through drugs, then throws in pretty much every other vice imaginable. This allows Herzog to indulge in some drug-induced surrealism which never dominates, but sets this apart from other otherwise similar fare.
“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” Unlike the Keitel / Ferrara original, Cage suffers for a rare act of charity at the beginning, but his misbehaviour in all but one aspects of his life contrasts with his morality and his need to see justice served in the case he’s pursuing. Only a movie this screwed up would even contemplate giving characters a shot at redemption, but only a movie this screwed up could do it, be entertaining in the process and still manage to retain some ambiguity through to the satisfying conclusion. Recommended for crime-loving surrealists everywhere.
Why see it at the cinema: Iguanas. Just saying.
The Score: 9/10