The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Place Beyond the Pines

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne and Bruce Greenwood

Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder

Directed and Derek Cianfrance

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The first publicity stills for Ryan Gosling’s new vehicle (sorry) The Place Beyond the Pines worried me because just like everyone, I thought that the teardrop tattoo and the bleached hair has temporarily ruined Gosling the male ideal. This look was even worse than the two movies where he looked like Jason Lee – those movies being Lars and the Real Girl and Blue Valentine. But he surprisingly never looked better, his face glowing and more symmetrical. Gosling’s character, Luke Glanton, dominates the first act of this triptych. His performance is captured by most suitable hands, with director Derek Cianfrance’s lo-fi aesthetic combined with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s fluorescent, brutal artistry. Mike Patton’s haunting Lynchian score also enforces this aura that Luke is this impossible phantom, a character more important that Luke himself realizes.

Luke is a motorcycle stuntman famous within the circus crowd. He discovers that he has a child with a Cuban-American Schenectady native named Romina (Mendes). At first pride sets in but instead of regular employable skills, one of his colleagues (Mendelsohn) suggests that his abilities has the makings with that of a bank robber. Gosling’s finest moments are in these scenes, his voice squeaking to suggest that he’s not perfect at this gig. The movie also promises this crime to affect generations and that it does.

For some of the audience who are looking for more facets in this story, we can chew and bite on its depiction of Luke’s family as well as Avery Cross (Cooper), the man who has to stop Luke’s robbing spree. Families, after all, seems to be the theme of choice for Cianfrance, who is becoming one of our generation’s prominent tragedists. His earlier movie Blue Valentine portrays a rocky marriage. This new movie, however, uses a bigger canvas to show more elements that help families break apart.

Luke’s family is a diverse one, with Romina married to a man named Kofi, Romina bearing two children from different fathers. On the other hand, Avery deals with his ex-politician father, a wayward son named AJ (Cohen, the movie’s second MVP) and a wife named Jennifer (Byrne) who wants him to quit the force after the catastrophic fallout of his involvement with Luke’s case. Cianfrance’s delicate wisdom in co-writing this script is clear by showing both the families’ diversity and dysfunction without necessarily showing the connections within both.

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That said, as thrilling and magnificently shot as Gosling and his scenes are, I feel like I’m the only crazy person who thinks that Cianfrance sets Luke’s story arc in stone. While watching the movie, my questions instead were about the other two sections of this triptych. What will Avery do after the fallout of Luke’s case? What kind of relationship will AJ have with another boy named Jason (DeHaan), the latter having his own past to deal with? I’m thus more interested in the slow burn of the other two sections because anything can happen in those scenes, those scenes belong to one heart-pumping movie.

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TIFF 2012 – The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, Emory Cohen, and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (PBtP) attracted me with its all-star cast and the hint that it may be the unofficial sequel to last year’s wildly successful Drive. I’m only joking about the sequel business, but if I accidentally refer to PBtP as Drive 2: Ride, then please forgive me. Everyone is obsessed with The Gos lately, and for good reason, but the rest of the cast solidified this as a must see movie at TIFF this year. I’m often guarded when I see movies with a mega-cast, but considering that PBtP was helmed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the movie was well over two hours in length, I was hoping that this would not be a case of style over substance. While not a perfect movie, I’m very happy to say that PBtP may be the best thing I have seen at TIFF so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-generational story about identity, inheritance, the sins of fathers, and life in general. Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who works as little more than a side-show performer at a travelling carnival. His work is dangerous and he has long ago been hardened by it; his lean body etched with tattoos and covered by tattered clothing. The last time he found himself in the small town the carnival is currently passing through he had a one night fling with a cute young waitress (Mendes), however on this occasion the same waitress seems rather cold, as she harbours a bit of information that is about to change his world. Cooper on the other hand is a young police officer whose role on the street is causing a lot of tension at home. To go into further detail would ruin the experience at the cinema. Characters are fleshed out, important life decisions are made, and paths cross.

As I’ve said, PBtP is not perfect, but there are so many compelling elements that it’s hard not to be very excited discussing this movie. The performances are absolutely top-notch, nearly across the board. Gosling channels some of the same energy that made his Driver so compelling, but he adds a layer of self-doubt and fear which makes his character in PBtP much more accessible and identifiable for viewers. Mendes doesn’t have as much screen time as many of the other lead characters, but when she’s onscreen we see a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic of the characters she normally plays. Mendes has definitely added an interesting dimension to her career with this performance. The young guys, DeHaan and Cohen have an amazing dynamic  throughout the latter part of the movie. It’s hard to believe that they have not acted together before (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also, the supporting actors, particularly Greenwood and Mendelsohn turn in very strong performances. Despite very limited screen time, I don’t think Greenwood has ever been better. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory at best. His performance is inconsistent, as he’s great onscreen when the situations aren’t that serious, but when things get emotional it feels like he doesn’t have the repertoire to deliver a convincing scene, tear, or emotional line. This becomes even more obvious next to Gosling’s wonderful performance.

The script and direction by Cianfrance are equally as good as the high level performances. PBtP is a multi-generational story, and as such there are gaps of time that we traverse in seconds to catch up with the story. When this happens in a movie it can feel like rebooting your computer – a necessary amount of waiting must be done to get back to business. Thankfully these ‘reboots’ in PBtP fly by, and even though we find ourselves in a new storyline, it always turns out to be a very intriguing one, almost immediately. If I had to say something critical about the writing and directing I would say that PBtP does not tug on the heartstrings as masterfully as the filmmakers may have liked. Certain scenes at the end which should have been very powerful, especially considering how much time we had spent with the characters, but they end up feeling a little flat. Despite my emotional detachment from certain characters and outcomes I was not intellectually detached. The various storylines had me intrigued throughout and the ending was certainly satisfying, although definitely not a tearjerker. When I look back on the experience as a whole, I would be hard pressed to think of a better movie I have seen at TIFF so far this year. The Place Beyond the Pines is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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Donovan’s Echo DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Donovan’s Echo DVD Review

Starring Danny Glover, Bruce Greenwood, Natasha Calis, and Sonja Bennett

Written by Jim Cliffe and Melody Krieger

Directed by Jim Cliffe

Out this week, an exclusive release from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada, is the Canadian production Donovan’s Echo. After a run on the festival circuit that included stops in Calgary and Edmonton, Donovan’s Echo, the Danny Glover semi-supernatural thriller is now available to take home. But is it something you need to buy, rent or pass on?

Set in 1994, Donovan Matheson (Glover) returns home after a 30 year absence to discover events from his past are replaying out with astonishing accuracy. Plagued by the idea of déjà vu, Donovan is convinced his young neighbour Maggie (Calis) and her mother Sarah (Bennett) will be killed on the 30th anniversary of his own wife and daughter’s death. Struggling to unlock the pattern, Donovan tries to convince his brother-in-law, Deputy Police Chief Finnley (Bruce Greenwood), to help prevent a similar tragedy but to no avail. When the facts don’t add up, Donovan’s sanity is questioned and he ends up scaring Maggie and Sarah with his wild antics. But as Finnley digs deeper will he find that Donovan is right and save the girls in time?

Sadly, Donovan’s Echo is a lot more like bad TV melodrama than sci-fi thrill ride. The script is predictable for the most part, with most of the more important parts of the narrative spelled out bluntly so that the audience isn’t confused. I really would have liked a little mystery/confusion, but instead Donovan’s plays it strictly by the numbers. The performances are fine, Glover is solid when not overselling it towards the end, but all of them have done better work before, with Calis currently doing excellent work in The Possession in theaters now. Greenwood is good here but the script has him spouting lines that simply feel awkward. The ending plays out exactly as you would expect, with the suspect in question being obvious from the beginning, and tacks on a goofy “present day” sequence that is laughably bad. Director Cliffe’s script may have been flawed but his eye for detail behind the camera is solid as the setting is quite splendidly realized throughout the film.

The DVD contains little additional material as we get a short behind the scenes featurette, a theatrical trailer and a Director/Producer commentary track. The behind the scenes featurette does little to sell me any more on the film. The disc does seem to have a different audio level between the film presentation and the featurette, but I was seeing this on a test disc and it may be corrected before the final authoring.

In the end Donovan’s Echo didn’t win me over completely but there was enough for me to stick with it through the entire film. Though not enough to allow me to give any more than a mild non-recommend, Donovan’s could be a decent inoffensive rental on a hot September night.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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