Comments on watching and making films.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Ryan Gosling has had, at first glance, a fairly privileged career. Rarely seeming to do any "paycheck" films, of which, I'm sure, he could get all that he wanted too, he seems to have spent his career carefully picking his roles and going with the things that interest him. I've found, in enjoying pretty much everything I've seen him in, that by trusting him, I'm trusting in his taste of films, as well. Starring in Nicolas Winding Refn's new film Drive, Gosling continues to make great choices and bring his talents to really well made, or, at the least, enjoyable films.

Gosling plays an anonymous stunt driver for Hollywood, who moonlights as a heist driver. One day, he meets his down the hall neighbor, Irene, played by Carrey Mulligan, and her little boy Benicio (Kaden Leos). He quickly seems to fall in love with Irene, who he spends some time with, very innocently, before learning that her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is being released from prison. When Standard is beaten by some people he owes money too, Gosling's driver offers to help Standard with a pawn shop heist that the thugs want him to pull to pay them back. When the robbery goes wrong, however, leaving Standard dead, it puts everyone in the driver's life in danger, while he seeks vengeance from those who set him up.

Refn's films (or the one's I've seen so far) seem to lean towards the stylized, and Drive is no different. It's obvious that Refn is drawing heavily from late 70's and, especially 80's cinema, with his anti-music video style editing and electro-pop soundtrack. Drive feels like it could have been made by Michael Mann, circa Miami Vice or Manhunter. Gosling is in top notch acting form. He barely say's anything throughout the entire film, yet manages to convey an endless array of emotions via his face, a trait, I think, is generally only shared by some of the best actors. For someone to carry a whole movie, and barely speak, that's talent. Carrey Mulligan is the same, though, like pretty much all of the other characters, she is in a relatively small amount of the film.

In fact, that was probably the most surprising thing about Drive was how all of the other characters come off as secondary, and their importance, at times, seems diminished because of lack of screen time, even though characters like Irene and Bernie Rose (a gangster played by Albert Brooks in a very interesting casting choice by Refn), are absolutely crucial to the film. Drive really is about Gosling's driver. The entire film is about this one moment in HIS life, and Refn seems to want to make sure that we are not cluttered with back story or parallel action. There are very few scenes without Gosling, and only enough to push the plot forward. A risk taken on Refn's part, I think, but one I think he succeeded at, because, as an audience member, I was with the driver all the way. I was the driver.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Steven Soderbergh recently announced that he will be leaving filmmaking (at least temporarily) to concentrate on painting. After seeing Contagion, and taking into consideration some of his recent work, it might be good for Soderbergh to take a little break, before he ends up becoming the Neil Young of the film world, releasing everything he can, even if it's mediocre.

Contagion is an ensemble piece that focuses around one specific thing - a new disease that pops up, which, over time, claims millions of lives, and the fight to stop it. To try and explain how each of the leads (people like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, and more) is connected would take longer than I care to give it. Much like Traffic (another of Soderbergh's ensemble pieces), the interconnectivity of the characters can be inconsequential at times, but there's so many of them, trying to explain it would be tedious and confusing.

What's my gripe about Contagion? Well, put simply, a lot happens with nothing really happening. Bad things happen to all of the main players, but they're handled with such distance that it's hard to not just feel like your simply observing something unfolding in front of you, devoid of any emotional connection to the characters. Like The Girlfriend Experience, Contagion comes off almost like a documentary, but it's still a docu directors job to find some way for an audience member to have some sort of emotional connection to the people it's showing, whether positive or negative. In Contagion, I didn't feel either way. It was just a bunch of stuff that happened. I didn't feel fear. There wasn't any "thriller" aspect to the film, as some reviewers have alluded to. As I said before, it just came off as a bunch of stuff that happened.

You're going to kill me for saying this - It's not that it's a bad film, it just never seems to climax at any point. Honestly, I would still give it a B-. I don't know if that's because I look at Soderbergh's work through rose colored glasses, or whether their really is just enough there to have something redeeming happening. I'd like to see it again, see if a second viewing (now that all of the hype has been drained out of me) would fair better, but, it won't be in the theater.

One more quick note - I feel like Soderbergh is getting really lazy with his cinematography, as well. Half of the film looked like it was shot on a 5D. Not to bash 5D's (I shot PHX on one), but when you have a Red Epic at your disposal, and a real budget, don't just jack up your ISO. Light the scene. Shooting in "natural" light above 800 or so starts to really make the image look like crap. I know he's really been into available light shooting, ever since he fell in love with the Red One, but, seriously, you have the resources. Light it.