Lost River Movie Review 0 25


In the credits to his directorial debut Lost River, Ryan Gosling thanks the likes of Terrence Malick, Nicholas Winding Refn, Derek Cianfrance, David Lynch, Dario Argento and Guillermo del Toro. Some of those he’s worked with, others he’s admired from afar but all influences he wears proudly – too proudly – on his sleeve.

In what plays like a maddening hodgepodge of ideas and styles done better in other films, Lost River focuses on a dreamlike, Detroit-esque wasteland of a city where houses are crumbling, unemployment is high and the seedy underbelly of the city is somehow a viable solution to urgent problems.

Bones (a role Gosling might have played 10 years ago but is instead played by rising Scottish star Iain De Caestecker) spends his days scouring abandoned houses looking for scrap metal to sell; his mother (Christina Hendricks), is a part-time waitress struggling to keep her childhood home from the bank and so agrees to do some questionable things for money, leading her to see a seedier side to her supposedly helpful bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn); “Rat” (Saoirse Ronan) is the girl next door who looks after her grandma; and then there’s Bully (former Doctor Who, Matt Smith), the shaven-headed antagonist of the peace who drives around the city in an open top car proclaiming his dominance.

The trouble with Lost River is that Gosling is never quite sure what type of film he’s trying to make, or rather he wants to make every type of film at once. Is it a post-apocalyptic thriller where gangs run rampant and the hero is supposed to rise up against them? Is it a family drama about a mother trying to keep a roof over their heads? Is it a coming-of-age romance? A stylish crime movie that illuminates a seedy underbelly that would otherwise be hidden were it not for the desolation around the characters? It simply tries to be too many things at once and since Gosling is not (yet?) a strong enough director to make that scattered approach work, it ends up not really working at all.

The film has two real saving graces, the first of which is the lush visual style which marries handheld Malickian ethereality with dark shadows offset by the Drive-esque neon pink lighting that adorns Rat’s attic room or the sordid club in which the film’s most nightmarish, Lynchian scenes take place. The second is the cast who give strong performances and elevate characters that, on the page, are more thinly drawn and frankly rather bewildering archetypes than fully fledged characters. De Caestacker is particularly good as the determined Bones, while Mendelsohn puts in another unsettlingly intense performance to his already overflowing list as the bank manager with a dark heart.

It’s not the terrible film the boos at Cannes would suggest but Gosling’s debut should be filed under “nice try,” functioning like a sort of upmarket student film that has rearranged the furniture in other directors’ houses. There’s an interesting movie in there somewhere that occasionally peeks its head out from behind the oh-so-stylish curtains but is prevented from doing so by an overall self-indulgent, confused and confusing narrative that just doesn’t hang together. Gosling shows a certain kind of promise and I’m sure he’ll make a great movie one day as a director. This just isn’t it.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 353

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 380

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10