DEREK CIANFRANCE’S THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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After his emotionally bruising, Cassavettes-esque debut Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance delivered the ambitious crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines, which he co-wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, a unique and sprawling narrative that concentrates on a variety of subjects and themes: Fathers and son, husbands and wives, the criminal life, family dynamics, politics, law enforcement, and above all else – hard earned feelings. Everyone in this movie FEELS something strong – it’s one of Cianfrance’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller – his ability to convey how his characters are feeling. This is a multi-strand effort that spans generations, constantly reaching for the same cinematic breadth and scope of something like Michael Cimino’s epic masterpiece The Deer Hunter. And while The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t quite reach those immortal heights, it’s still a finely textured and multilayered piece of work that begs reconsideration after it was passed off in March of 2013 as a hard to classify in-betweener by a seemingly reluctant studio.

Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, super greasy Ben Mendelsohn(!), Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan, and Rose Byrne all delivered terrific performances in this upstate NY set drama that focuses on the consequences of various choices made by the wide swath of characters. Gosling is a career criminal who learns that he has fathered a child with an ex-girlfriend, played by the sultry Mendes, and what’s asked of him as an actor plays well to his strengths as a performer. Gosling excels when portraying insular men of action, the quiet type given to sudden fits of explosive rage, and here he’s given a juicy role that takes some unexpected turns, and I loved how he wasn’t afraid to be unsympathetic. Cooper, a good cop and stand-up family man who also happens to have political aspirations, is the kind of guy who is always trying to do the correct thing. And when he intersects with Gosling, their lives changes in ways that neither man could ever expect.

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There’s a BIG WOW! moment about half way through The Place Beyond the Pines, and I dare not spoil it, but it’s at this point that the film shifts gears, flashes forward some years, and you’re introduced to the children of the various adult characters that have previously been established. It’s a bold, possibly jarring transition but Cianfrance handles it gracefully, allowing the film to progress at a leisurely but never flagging pace; he never confuses detail for bloat. He also, wisely, studs the film with visceral bits of action (the various robberies that Gosling commits and the subsequent getaways are the very definition of thrilling) that are shot with a breathtaking immediacy by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, Shame). Cianfrance is extremely strong with his visuals, but he’s just as attuned to his words, so the film has a sense of macho poetry to some of its interludes. Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, and Rose Byrne all offer up strong supporting performances, while the somber score by Mike Patton kept the mood appropriately downbeat.

Smartly, The Place Beyond the Pines ends on a moment of introspection rather than clichéd violent bombast, which easily could have occurred if the film were the creation of a less mature voice. However, if I had one complaint about the film, it’s that I wished it were even longer. I wanted more time with these characters, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a three hour (or longer) cut lives somewhere in a vault. At two and a half hours, the film feels complete, if a bit rushed towards the end, and because Cianfrance is aiming SO large and big with this story, I wanted more time for everything to breathe and expand. In any case, this is a tragically underrated movie, one that slipped by a large swath of the movie-going population, but a film that’s rich and serious and novelistic and incredibly solid at the core.

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JOHN CROWLEY’S BROOKLYN — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Brooklyn is a delightful film that had me crying pretty much all throughout. It’s heartfelt, it’s poignant, it’s sentimental (in the best possible way), and it features a performance of exquisite care and radiance by Saoirse Ronan, who in film after film has impressed, but here, genuinely dazzles. And completely steals your heart. And did I mention make you cry? From the very first scene, I was wrapped up in this honest, believable, thoroughly universal tale of home, family, love, and unknown opportunities. Yes, the filmmakers have told a romanticized version of the Irish/Italian immigrant experience in NYC circa 1950, but there’s a certain clarity to the message, and a touching sense of nobility to the narrative that reinforces the themes at every turn. Directed with grace and class by John Crowley (Boy A and Intermission, two very gritty and underrated films) and sensitively written by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) who adapted Colm Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn centers on Eilis (Ronan), who leaves her mother and sister back in Cavan for a new start in New York. She has a leg up, as a kindly priest (the magnificent scene stealer Jim Broadbent) has helped to arrange a room at a boarding house and a department store job, but her life changes when she meets the potential love of her life, a young Italian named Tony, whose parents had come to the states in search of a better life for their family. There’s an excellent scene at the dinner table where you get to meet Tony’s family, and rather than becoming a cheap stereotype, the moment feels beautifully played by all parties. Brooklyn is a movie about the importance and longing for family, how it defines many of us, and how it can shape us in ways we can’t predict. The movie was captured in creamy, sometimes gauzy tones by cinematographer Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, Laurence Anyways), while the elegant score by Michael Brook (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fighter) never ladles the schmaltz on too thick.

Throw in some drama back at home or Eilis, a budding romance, and the blossoming of her own sense of purpose and individualism, and you’re left with a warm and engaging film that hits all the proper notes you’d expect. Crowley knows exactly how long to hold on Ronan’s face in key moments, wisely holding on his actress’s expressive and pretty face, but also finding the uniqueness in her as a person that helps to separate her from her contemporaries. After some startlingly excellent work in diverse films like Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones, How I Live Now, and The Way Back, this is a further reminder of her skills as a young actress, and offers a fantastic pairing of actress with material. Emory Cohen shines as Tony, the young Italian plumber from a big family who falls in love with Eilis, giving off irrepressible humor and spirit as a man who feels as if life is an endless stream of possibility, especially when he’s living it with the woman that he loves. After being featured in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, his performance here is even more relaxed and sturdy, and you really root for the character. Domnhall Gleeson adds another feather in his cap from 2015 after his superb work in Ex-Machina and The Revenant with a stop for some ruffled-nose-fun in The Force Awakens, getting another juicy supporting role, and never allowing his character to become the cliché that it so could have been. And that’s the thing about the story to Brooklyn – it never gets too complicated or unnecessarily stuffed – this is Eilis’ story and the Ronan show all the way, with the filmmakers wisely zeroing in on the character and letting it take center stage. Ronan totally deserved her recent Best Actress nomination, as it’s a performance that signals a major step up for her as an artist. And it’s a large step up for Crowley, who on a $10 million budget made a film that feels at least twice as expensive, with a smart sense of pacing and tone; I’m anxious to see what’s next for him as a director.

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AGI’S BIUTIFUL — A REVIEW BY NLC

 

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Biutiful is pure cinema, extremely artsy and personal (so by that definition people liked to call it pretentious…), and a further reminder of how filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is interested in pushing the form and crafting films of intense emotional and visceral impact. This 2010 Spanish language film was met with passionate embrace from a handful of critics, and star Javier Bardem would win Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (which was the first time the Academy recognized an entirely Spanish language performance in this category). The film would also receive a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and would serve as Inarritu’s follow up to Babel. Bardem plays a terminally ill career criminal named Uxbal, who cons his way through Barcelona’s seedy, underground sweatshop world, a place filled with darkness hanging around every corner, with back alley deceit a major highlight. But Uxbal has a conscience, and understands the plight of the impoverished workers that make up this hellish environment.

He’s also a devoted family man, in love with his wife to an alarming degree, and as the film traces his final days of life on Earth, we watch as a man tries to put all of the messy strands of his life together, all the while knowing he’ll most likely be incomplete in all his goals. There’s a ghostly spiritual angle to this film as well, which were the portions that rubbed some people the wrong way, but Inarritu has always been intoxicated by a sense of the ethereal in all of his films, it’s just here he took it literally, with results that were, for me, rather intoxicating. Rodrigo Prieto’s gritty yet extraordinarily beautiful cinematography makes tremendous art out of a ton of despair and suffering, offering the viewer boldly designed visual compositions which are as searing as Bardem’s tour de force performance. Gustavo Santaolalla’s mournful score sets the appropriate mood, and it’s interesting to note that the film was co-written by two of the men who Inarritu would script Birdman with (Armando Bo, Jr. and Nicolas Giacobone); in retrospect the two films feels VERY connected on both an aesthetic and thematic level. The great Stephen Mirrione handled the fluid and graceful editing, cutting a picture that doubles back on itself, and uses expressive visual language to communicate mood and feeling. Seek this out if you’ve not seen it.

PTS Presents NICK AND FRANK’S BEST OF 2015

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We returned to form with our first new recording together since the newest addition to Nick’s family, and the STAR WARS overload that Frank has been overwhelmed by.  We go over our top ten films of the year, top five directors, actors, actresses, supporting actors, supporting actresses, screenplays, cinematographers, score, ensemble and television shows.  We were both very excited to do this, and we hope you enjoy!

DAVID GORDON GREEN’S JOE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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David Gordon Green is one of my favorite filmmakers. Impossible to pin down, he’s dipped his hands into a multitude of genres, going big with some, small with most, and always delivering something unique. He’s been extremely prolific, releasing almost a movie per year, and in some instances, more than one film in a 12 month period; he’s busy and I like it that way, because there’s always something different, edgy, and different about his films. He’s an idiosyncratic filmmaker clearly inspired by 70’s filmmaking, and the more I see of Hal Ashby’s work, there’s almost a modern Ashby sensibility to some of DGG’s output, as he’s always been interested in character and mood and atmosphere and people just as much as he’s been in plot. In his dark, slow burn drama Joe, Nicolas Cage went down and dirty and extra deep and DGG went small town and very mean with the nasty little film. This is a really tough but oddly rewarding movie, filled with low lives and drunkards and raw emotional and physical violence, telling a bruising story about a young boy dealing with a dangerous father, and how the kid crosses paths with a mysterious drifter (Cage) who may or may not be able to change his life for the better. Thanks to Tim Orr’s gritty cinematography, Joe has a very authentic atmosphere, and it’ll make you feel like a shower is necessary afterwards. Tye Sheridan impresses yet again; this kid has a serious streak going. Gary Poulter gives one of the scariest, most unpredictable performances of an alcoholic in a long time. But it’s the Cage show all the way in Joe, and this movie is a further reminder that he can still bring it when he’s interested in working with quality filmmakers on hefty material. He’s invested in the character, and so becomes the audience, and by the finale, the film hits moments of reflection and catharsis that are both unexpected and well earned.

A chat with John Dahl – An interview by Nate Hill

I’m incredibly excited to bring you my latest interview, with veteran director John Dahl. John has a staggering resume, having helmed episodes of television shows including Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan, Justified, Kingdom, House Of Cards, Jessica Jones, The Affair, Californication, Outlander, The Bridge, The Strain, Dexter, Arrow, Homeland, Shameless, Caprica, True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and more. He has also directed some amazing films, including Joy Ride, Rounders, The Last Seduction, Kill Me Again and Red Rock West. It was an honour to speak with him and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Nate: Growing up, what was it about film that attracted you, and how did you discover that you wanted to pursue it? Were there any filmmakers you admired or have inspired your work?
John: I always love going to see movies but then I remember seeing a “behind the scenes” preview of Jeremiah Johnson. They were pushing the camera on dolly track, it was the first time I’d seen anything like that. It started me think about how films were made. Then there was A Clockwork Orange. I was an art student and I loved the production design of the film and the use of Beethoven. Again it occurred to the that someone had to make everything that was in front of the camera. This film has really stuck with me as one of my favorites. As for influences; Kubrick, Coppola, Hitchcock, Spielberg, David Lynch & the Coen Brothers.

Nate: You have spent one portion of you career making feature films, and a more recent section has been centered on episodic TV. How do you find that the two differ? In film school we were told that they get directors for shows who are kind of like ‘guns for hire’, who will be efficient and carry the overall tone of the show without changing it too much. Did you find with any of the shows that you worked on (Ray Donovan, Hannibal, Justified etc) that you were rigidly set within the parameters of the show, or were you able to give them your own style, even a little, at all?
John: In any endeavor I’ve know there was always a practical side to me. From playing in bands, making artwork and certainly in writing and directing. While studying cinema in college I was curious as to how directors got their starts. This is when I came upon Roger Corman and his low budget approach. I noticed that both Jonathon Demme and Martin Scorsese got started with him. At this writing Corman has 409 producing credits and 56 directing credits. Are they all great? No, however If every movie I watched was as good as The Godfather or Rocky I probably never would have left Montana. Corman was a window into how films could be made and how one could grow through time and experience. Supposedly he shot Little Shop Of Horrors in 48 hours. My first professional directing experiences were doing music videos in the 80’s. This was a great playground to learn about lens, lighting, editing and how to work with a budget and a professional crew. I directed about 30 music videos when I got the opportunity to direct my first film. I’ve never worked on a project where money and time were not a factor, in the 8 movies that I’ve done and almost 90 episodes of television. The process is pretty much the same as I can tell – yes when you direct a film you are more in control of the process until you show it to the studio and start testing it. Then you have to respond to the audiences, producers and studio desires to hopefully recoup their investment. When you make television the studio and producers are involved every step of the way. It’s a group effort rather than an individual one. I can’t help but bring my sensibilities to the work I do – so far it hasn’t been a problem because when I’m doing someones tv show I’m trying to figure out how I can make it as great as possible with the time, money and talent available. I see filmmaking as the art of what is possible.

Nate: Rounders: for some reason, feels like the most personal film of you career. Silly for me to say, I know, since I’ve never met you, but it’s such a focused, distilled style and seems like all efforts involved were purely concentrated upon making this something really cool. How was you experience on this film?
John: Rounders what a terrific experience for me. I never really saw myself as much of a writer. I wrote so that I could create opportunities to direct. After four movies I was finally handed a movie and it was Rounders – pretty much the way you see it on screen. I saw it as a sports movie, the sport was gambling, not baseball or golf but a game of chance in which if you study, work hard you would succeed. Miramax supported the project, they liked the script, the cast – everything went fairly smooth. Interesting that you would say it my most personal film. I would probably say Red Rock West would be my most personal film – but to each their own.

Nate: Joy Ride: a colossally fun film. How was your experience making this one? I’m very curious about Ted Levine. On the dvd there test clips for Rusty Nail auditions with both Levine, Eric Roberts and a guy called Stephen Shellan. Were you in control of who nailed the role? Did you get to work a lot with Ted in the recording process?
John: Ted did a great job on the film although he was not my first choice. I pitched the ending of the film to the studio, building on the idea that the movie had to have a suspenseful ending – not more surprise which JJ Abrams was big on. I set up the idea that if Rusty Nail had Venna and the cops were coming to the rescue, if Venna was in jeopardy by say a “shotgun to the head” it would be more exciting – kind of the way Silence Of The Lambs ended. That may have been the take away for JJ – Buffalo Bill thus Ted Levine.

Nate: Red Rock West: Classic desert noir. How was the experience? One thing with your films that always is consistent and incredibly memorable performances from your actors. Particularly Dennis Hopper (Lyle From Dallas haha) and JT Walsh, who was a family friend of my parents. What was it like working with them? This is a Segway into my next question:
John: They say 90% of directing is casting the right actor. I agree. I’ve been blessed to work with remarkable actors. My approach is simple, I try to get great actors, set up the scene and get out of their way.

Nate: Working with actors: how do you approach the working relationship between actor and director? How has that process evolved for you over time and what have you learned from it?
John: I try to say as little as possible. I trust that they’ve done their homework and want to be great in any role they play. I’m there to guide them. Help them do their best work. As long as they end up going where I’m trying to take them — I give them full license to find the role.

Nate: The Last Seduction: I’m very curious about what it was like working with Linda Fiorentino, who is a favorite of mine.
John: Linda was fantastic. It was clear from the moment she entered the room that she was perfect to play that part. She pretty much cast herself, all we had to do is get out of her way and let her be Bridget Gregory.

Nate: You have written both Red Rock West and Kill Me Again. How do you find working with a director with your own material as opposed to other projects where you are dealing with a script crafted by someone else?
John: I like working with a writer – gives me someone to bounce ideas off of – it allows you to challenge the material – make sure you have the best version possible when you start shooting and even while you are shooting. I’ve often thought that the people with the most skin in the game are the director, writer and actors – those 3 jobs live or die each time they make something.

Nate: Are you hooked on tv now, or will we see some more films from you at some point in the future?
John: I like television. I’ve been able to work on great shows with fantastic writing. I don’t see a big difference between the two – if the material is good, I’ll do it. Do I still want to do features? Yes, I just need a great script. 
Nate: Thank you so much for your time John, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, and keep up the great work!

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