After successfully saving jazz a couple of years ago, director Damien Chazelle teams up with leading actor Ryan Gosling once again for space drama First Man. Based on James R. Hansen’s biography of the same name, the plot follows the lives of NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) during the 1960s Space Race. When Neil is selected to command the now legendary Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, he seizes the opportunity to make history.
Some directors can attract A-listers thanks to their previous collaborations, their industry reputation or by the way in which they make films. The acclaimed yet divisive Terrence Malick falls into this category and has pulled together Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman to make up possibly the most star-studded cast in recent memory. His latest feature is romantic drama Song to Song, which unfolds against the backdrop of the music scene in Austin, Texas. At the centre of it all is Faye (Mara), a rising musician who embarks on a relationship with fellow performer BV (Gosling) but who is also seeing his manipulative producer Cook (Fassbender); hence a complicated love triangle ensues.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle sweeps us up in classic Hollywood homage with his latest feature La La Land, a musical romance set in modern-day Los Angeles. The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who is at the end of her tether after a run of bad auditions. At a particular low point, she spots Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a down-trodden jazz pianist who performs at a restaurant where nobody cares about him or the music he plays. They are contemporary starving artists pursuing old-fashioned dreams, and when fate strikes they bond over their shared passion and ambitions to get a break in the ‘city of stars’. Seb shrugs off his failure to succeed, saying ‘I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired’, but can the pair hit back at life or are they destined for never-ending rejection?
Shane Black is no stranger to the crime buddy movie genre, having penned the screenplays for the Lethal Weapon films through the late eighties and early nineties. Now, as a director and co-writer alongside Anthony Bagarozzi, he returns to the field for neo-noir comedy ‘The Nice Guys’ starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. When hard-man enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) is hired to rough up private eye Holland March (Gosling), to say they get off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. However, circumstances around the mysterious death of porn star Misty Mountains force them to form an unlikely alliance. Together the mismatched pair aim to track down a missing girl linked with the investigation, leading to an action-packed and hilarious wild-goose-chase through the underbelly of 1970s Los Angeles.
From his breakthrough appearance in Nicholas Sparks’ weepie The Notebook to his brutal turn in ultra-violent thriller Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling has an eclectic back-catalogue that divides audiences and keeps us guessing what he’ll do next. After his foray into directorial work on Lost River, he has turned to comedy in Oscar nominated financial satire The Big Short and detective buddy movie The Nice Guys which hits UK cinemas this month. In the run-up to its release, we count down his five best performances to date.
After the burst of the housing bubble led to a global financial crisis in 2007-2008, the last person you would expect to make a film about it would be Adam McKay, the goofball director known for his work on The Other Guys and the Anchorman movies. However, the comedy filmmaker has applied his mischievous directorial style to The Big Short, a biographical drama based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name, based around four men who saw the collapse happening before anyone else. Boasting one of the most star-studded casts in years including Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, a stocks-and-shares saga is sold as an energetic jest-fest.
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger
UK release: May 2016
When it premiered at Cannes festival last year, Ryan Gosling’s hotly anticipated directorial debut ‘Lost River’ was panned almost unanimously, which, as a fan of him as an actor only made me more intrigued to see it. Since the negative initial reaction, it has been tweaked and tinkered for its cinema release with a little shaved off the running time. The title refers to the environment in which the film takes place, a warped wasteland where the American Dream has gone horribly sour. The intertwining plotlines follow three main characters in struggling single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks), her eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and their neighbour Rat (Saoirse Ronan) as they desperately try to better themselves and their lives, looking for a way out of a decaying habitat with no economic promise. Plucking apparent influences from his pool of experience within the industry, the first-time filmmaker forges his own vision of fractured dreams peppered with fantasy neo-noir elements and striking imagery.
The marketing of the release sprung obvious comparisons to the work Gosling has done with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, and the neon-tinged palette and occasional usage of extreme violence brings that to fruition. However, I feel there is more of relation to his collaborations with Derek Cianfrance in terms of the narrative, like the spiritual cousin of The Place Beyond The Pines if you will. As the story develops and begins to take shape, Billy and Bones take risks to make ends meat and keep their family afloat, and events turn from strange to downright bizarre. Throughout though it remains both visually and audibly interesting, the spellbinding soundtrack from Johnny Jewel providing haunting nostalgia.
The success slips slightly in the core performances of the piece, and I was left wanting a little more from Hendricks and De Caestecker. Perhaps the characters fall victim to drowning in the heavy scenery. Memorable villainous turns come instead from the supporting cast, with Aussie bad boy Ben Mendelsohn steps in with real menace as a sadistic Lynchian-lunatic and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith bellowing expletive-laden chants to mark his turf, viciously taking scissors to those who cross him. The souls that dwell in the utopian-fairytale setting of ‘Lost River’ are radical, often completely unbelievable, but fascinating to be in the company of.
It can be argued that none of Ryan Gosling’s vivid ideas are his own in his first dabble into both writing and directing a motion picture. Conversely, if you’re going to beg, steal and borrow from those that inspire you as an artist, he’s chosen an eclectic bunch, and importantly includes a flavour of the cool guy personality he has an actor to the proceedings. His Hollywood reputation has unfairly preceded him in the infancy of his career in the director’s chair, and his work appears to be getting judged only on its intrepid and admittedly copycat style rather than the subtleties of its substance. Putting this to one side, as a feature debut, ‘Lost River’ is bold, brave and dare I say it, brilliant.
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After the ultra-violent cult success of Drive, the experimental Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has once again paired up with Ryan Gosling for revenge thriller ‘Only God Forgives’, but they have very deliberately steered away from the preconceptions that the winning formula would be repeated. Where their previous collaboration dabbled in art house themes, the latest outing tears down conventions, offering a mesmerising cinematic experience that has severely divided opinions, inducing a chorus of boos from critics when it premiered at Cannes in May but receiving a standing ovation from others. Gosling stars as Julian who runs a Muay Thai boxing club used as a front whilst he peddles drugs behind the scenes. When his older brother Billy is brutally murdered in retaliation to a heinous crime he had committed, their controlling mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) orders Julian to avenge the death of her first born. This leads him to battle with the sword wielding police lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who is the apparent ‘God’ from the title, worshipped by his force as he employs his own merciless brand of law enforcement.
Refn’s trademarks are ever present throughout, exploring masculinity and religion once more, taking influence from his previous pieces but applying it with more ambition. This approach may not be to the taste of the market he appealed to previously, and his directorial stubbornness is admirable. The pacing is incredibly slow with long takes utilised freely and dialogue kept very minimalist, Gosling’s Julian delivering a mere seventeen lines over the ninety minute running time, rendering The Driver a chatterbox in comparison. I found this brooding tempo excitingly unnerving, the intimate lengthy shots of characters walking or staring spliced with moments of eye watering gore, building to a tense crescendo. Cliff Martinez is again the man behind the sound, ditching the synth-pop fairytale score used in Drive for nightmarish tracks complimenting the ominous themes perfectly, and combining harmoniously with the neon backdrop of Bangkok. The rich palette of dark reds and blues is haunting, used heavily to emphasise the sleazy setting and the disturbed psyches of its inhabitants, mulling around in claustrophobic spaces fantasising over obscene fetishes. Criticised for its over indulgence, this is undoubtedly the work of a colourful imagination not adhering to expectations and doing whatever the hell he wants to, which may cause him to suffer for his art, as many have before him.
Ryan Gosling is another artist defying expectation, shaking off the notions of the heartthrob status he had earned after his romantic breakthrough turn in The Notebook, continuing a run of portraying troubled individuals. He’s since played a drug addicted school teacher, a cross-dressing lunatic, a hot tempered bank robber, a murdering stunt driver, yet this is arguably his darkest role yet. With tight lipped Julian, Gosling has no choice but to mainly rely on physical acting and screen presence to present this deeply hurt character in the right way, and for me he succeeds enormously as his glare is seemingly devoid of any conscience but yet somehow also evokes a sense of empathy as his mysterious past is hinted at. We are treated to one high pitched yelp reminiscent on the screams in the robbery scenes in The Place Beyond The Pines, after his prostitute girlfriend Mai (Rhatha Phongam) questions his loyalty to his powerful mother Crystal, who is expertly brought to life by Kristin Scott Thomas. Her evil matriarchal figure offers true terror but also provides a much needed punch of hideously black humour to the sparse script, particularly in an emotionally charged scene where Julian introduces her to Mai. The other main player in the piece is Vithaya Pansringarm taking on the complex, and ironically unforgiving role of Chang. His cold killing is a joy to watch, juxtaposing strangely with his moonlighting as karaoke king, closely studied by his peers. He and Gosling acted out the Tekken-like fight sequence for real, and even that doesn’t end up the way we may think it will, continuing the rebellion against convention and leaving Julian wishing that he had never uttered the words ‘wanna fight?’.
‘Only God Forgives’ is brave filmmaking, and a very daring step into art house which ultimately won’t please everyone. The underdeveloped characters are at times mere pawns in Nicolas Winding Refn’s bold vision. He has said that he ‘always sets out to make movies about women but ends up making movies about violent men’, which begs the question if we will see a more feminine orientated turn next time around, or if his bromance with Ryan Gosling will continue for a possible third sort-of-sequel in what would be an entrancing loose trilogy. He clearly a dedicated member of the fan base, once saying ‘the thing with Ryan is, you can look at him for hours. Very few actors have that. It’s a gift’. His object of desire is in very high demand though after being hotly linked with every role going including Oscar Pistorius, the son of Luke Skywalker and Batman! Whichever way Refn decides to go next, ‘Only God Forgives’ has certainly got the industry talking, and at times arguing while we wait. It is another masterful stroke of unflinching artistic cinema that has taught us to expect the unexpected from the ever impressive auteur.
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Derek Cianfrance previously got the best out of Ryan Gosling with ‘Blue Valentine’ in 2010, and this time around, he’s topped it. ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ spans three generations, following motorbike stuntman Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) and rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) in Schenectady, New York, the English meaning of which gives the film its name. When. travelling loner Luke discovers by chance that he has a young son, he abruptly quits his job to stick around, disillusioned by the concept on settling down and starting a family. In a desperate attempt to provide for his child, he begins a life of crime, robbing banks in a smash and grab but calculated fashion, using the ill gotten gains to buy a cot and gifts for his offspring. A brooding illustration of fatherhood and all that comes with it, fixed in an ambitiously brave structure assisted by standout performances, this quietly intelligent tale hits hard.
Split into three acts, shown chronologically, this approach to filmmaking is certainly admirable, though the cinematic impact of the first act is so strong that I feel it outshines the second and third. Hitchcockian in its camera work, the one take sequences and extreme close ups draw the audience into the story brilliantly, straight from the opening over the shoulder scene of Luke as he enters a spherical cage to join his ‘heartthrobs’ ahead of their death defying travelling fair performance. This provides an instant intimacy with the character, giving a very humanistic insight into his flawed and psyche. To jump from the first act to the second through a tragic twist, the focus shifting from Luke to Avery, is a remarkably bold move, which clashes with the traditional method of storytelling, but unfortunately signifies a slight lull in interest, with the moral dilemma of the young policeman failing to garner quite as much likeability as the rock n’ roll fable it follows. Though it picks up again in the final act, coming fifteen years later, showing the sons of Luke and Avery, and the lives they lead, consequential of the paths their fathers led before them, bringing the beautifully poetic arrangement to its somewhat predictable conclusion. Holes can be picked in the plot, like the sons AJ and Jason coincidentally meeting across a school dinner table and becoming friends when their backgrounds are so contrasting, but it is difficult to be over critical when the overriding messages of class and justice are so powerful, and presented in such an effortlessly stylish way, memorable shots throughout and a subtle soundtrack resonating, tying the trio of tales tightly together.
In a story which offers a brutally realistic take on family, a trait which appears a developing trademark for director Cianfrance, the acting is spot on, wholly doing justice to the rich characters. Gosling, who worked closely in developing the ‘Handsome Luke’ creation, is mesmerising. With shades of his portrayal of ‘the driver’ in crime cult hit ‘Drive’, he is again mysterious and moody, and has another super cool jacket, his damaged persona dripping with magnetism, but here he takes it to another level. The performance is multi-layered, and the character is immediately iconic, with his doodle tattooed physique and platinum blond hair. His onscreen chemistry with love interest Romina (Eva Mendes) is electric, though this is probably helped by the fact they’ve been dating off screen for two years. The other star, dominant in the second part is Bradley Cooper, who also gives a career best piece as the dislikeable Avery Cross. Though Gosling is undoubtedly difficult to follow, Cooper does a professional job. Flimsy and overrated in the past, here he takes a deeply conflicted character, with dividing loyalties and surprisingly carries it off exceptionally. A suitably great supporting cast includes Ben Mendelsohn as bank robbing grease monkey Robin, and Ray Liotta as sleazeball cop Deluca, both heavily involved in pivotal plot devices. Even the two youngsters playing the sons in the closing third do very well, carrying attributes of the roles prior, and showing promise for the future. Dane DeHaan with the recklessness of Luke admittedly impressed more so than Emery Cohen as the cocky rich kid son of Avery and Jennifer, his rap star wannabe attitude seemed off-key and unnecessary, but this fault is with the writing I guess, not with the acting itself. Both hold their own in a tense finale to the father and son epic.
A commendable slice of cinema with a unique storytelling method, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is a thought provoking piece of work, boasting a memorable and intriguing character in daredevil Luke Glanton. Ryan Gosling is the stand out, epitomising cool and continuing his working bond with Cianfrance, now competing with his other director/actor partnership with Nicolas Winding Refn who has worked with him in Drive and Only God Forgives. He announced a break from the silver screen, to sit in the director’s chair for his own project ‘The Lost River’, but with the media tipping him all the roles going, let us all hope he isn’t away for long. ‘If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder’ is the tagline alongside Luke’s rapid path, but with the Gosling fan base ever increasing, his own ride surely won’t be crashing anytime soon.