My first thought a few moments after seeing Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born: Isn’t it so cool that one of the most poignant scenes in cinema this year is shared between Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott, two artists who couldn’t be more far flung from each other or born of different backgrounds within the industries. That’s a testament to the eclectic cast Cooper has rallied for this absolute fucking diamond of a film and as assured a director’s debut as ever. Filled with many more poignant scenes, instant classic songs, heartbreak that will have you bawling, beautiful direction, believable characters, naturalistic free flowing writing and at least three mega Oscar worthy performances, this is the best film of the year so far and will no doubt sweep said awards.
This story dates back a few versions to the 50’s, but Cooper makes the story seem so fresh and organic that one can hardly even call it a remake, especially when you consider how much brand new, totally inspired music composed and sang live. Cooper is Jackson Maine, an Eddie Vedder-esque rocker who discovers and falls in love with Lady Gaga’s Ally, a young waitress with the voice of an angel and a firebrand of a personality. While her star is on the rise with songwriting, performance and poise, Jack’s is falling from the heavens of fame due to alcoholism and drug addiction, fast approaching the nadir and eventual exodus of his career. Cooper and Gaga have chemistry that fills up every frame until it leaps off the screen, a warm, conflicted and symbiotic relationship blossoms, is put to the rest and weathers a very heavy storm as Jack drifts in a sea of his demons, struggling to hold on. They both give the kind of immersive performances that some actors strive their whole career towards; watching the film I believed that here was Ally and Jackson onscreen, two fully formed, human characters and not simply Cooper and Gaga in their respective roles. Their voices are magic too, especially in an earth shattering duet of one of Ally’s original compositions, a gorgeous tune that practically demands the Oscar for original song.
Cooper has carefully chosen his supporting cast and the result is some moving, interesting work from a troupe who are all cast refreshingly against type. I can’t speak highly enough of Sam Elliott’s work here as Jack’s older brother Bobby, a stormy yet compassionate fellow, this film gives the quintessential cowboy something to actually do with his role, the result being the best, most vulnerable work I’ve ever seen from the guy. Andrew Dice Clay is resurrected to play Ally’s father and brings both warmth and jovial comic relief, Dave Chapelle has a brief but very sweet bit as Jack’s friend and voice of reason. Even the smaller roles are brought to life well, from Greg Grunberg as Jack’s trusty driver to character actor Ron Rifkin, excellent as a kindly rehab counsellor.
Cooper should be proud of his work onscreen, and prouder still of that behind the camera. There is no showboating, no gimmickry, no bells and whistles or arbitration in his direction here, he’s crafted a passionate, heartbreaking, streamlined and beautifully character driven piece of work, full to the brim with love, music, conflict and ideas without seeming overstuffed or cacophonous. Coasting on the heights of the original music, sailing through the rivers of torment and turmoil between the two characters and walking the paths they walk through their relationship, Cooper’s eye captures this tale adeptly, doing things with the camera that seem fresh and different but never taking us out of the story. This is a film that will no doubt go down in history and, despite being one of several iterations, become a classic in cinema for generations to come.
For a film in its fourth incarnation, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is an endearing and remarkable film that contains every familiar trope, cliché, and prepackaged plot narrative possible. It embraces exactly what it is, it is self-aware with both subtle and tongue and cheek nods to previous versions as well as to the rich ensemble of actors who bring their own homages to their own roles. The film is a triumphant spectacle; it is visually stunning by being shot and crafted with command authority and passion. The musical scenes, which were filmed with live singing, only add to the powerhouse of the film that ushers in urgency to its melodramatic plot. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a beautiful showboat of cinematic achievement.
The film is stocked with a wonderful ensemble who richly detail their respective characters. Bradley Cooper is the best he has ever been as the washed-up country auteur (not stadium popstar) who is hell-bent on destroying his life with pills and alcohol, as he is rapidly approaching the twilight of his career. He is in limbo between burning out and fading away. Lady Gaga is a marvel in her most mature screen performance to date. While watching her performance, it is insane to think that there hasn’t been a filmmaker prior to Cooper that has tapped into her raw talent and beauty on screen. Sure, her metamorphosis as a live performer is one thing, but her screen presence is something completely different; it is a sight to behold.
Aside from the two showstopping lead performances, Sam Elliot and Andrew Dice Clay are respective counterparts to Cooper and Gaga. Elliot is the older brother who is Cooper’s handler, and the Diceman is Gaga’s father. Both bring their own on-screen gravitas to the picture, Elliot commands the screen in sobering moments as Cooper’s firm-handed father figure while Andrew Dice Clay is the affable and warmly supportive father of Gaga, offering quite a few appropriately humorous moments to the film. Elliot gives one of the finest and most vulnerable performances of his career, while Clay is consistently becoming a formidable supporting player since his scene-stealing performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
For all the conventionality to the film, it is rather perplexing with its unorthodox self-awareness of the casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle (who gives a very sweet and touching performance). The musical performances feel genuine. They are photographed with a sense of urgency and emotion by cinematographer Matthew Libatigue (who also shot Sony’s Venom which bested A Star is Born opening weekend at the box office).
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is so grandiose, that he has poised himself to be the next Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Robert Redford, having the ability to direct himself while creating a magnificent film that will remain relevant for decades to come. When the awards season dust settles, there more than likely will not be a more nominated film, and could very well sweep all the major awards. Regardless of Oscar buzz and cultural momentum, A Star is Born will stand the test of cinematic time and be remembered as a film that is filled with boundless love and passion.
The films of Paul Kyriazi hold a special place in my cinema-viewing adventures throughout the years. I, naturally, encountered them during the heady days of the era of VHS – I still have my copies in that format of Paul’s work. Then, not unlike Terrence Malick, Paul disappeared, and I lamented his absence having come to admire his film-making style and diversity.
So, rejoice I did, when I learned that he had returned to the director’s chair. Eagerly I sat down to watch Forbidden Power – and I was not disappointed. With his new film, Paul returns with his unique voice, his visual dexterity and his great command of unfolding an exciting thriller that doesn’t release its grip on you till it’s time to fade to black.
Fascinated by his study in the field of personal empowerment, Paul takes us on a journey where the achieving of super-human abilities is contracted via sexual intercourse. The character at the center of the story is a mysterious and provocative woman – who seemingly hypnotizes her partners with a type of mystical persuasion. The character we follow, after his eerie yet passion-fueled encounter with the female antagonist, wakes to find her vanished, but also having left behind for him a gift of sorts.
In this superhero-movie-saturated age we find ourselves, it was refreshing to witness a different spin on the getting of super-powers. Our hero, just like in any superhero origin story, has a delightful time discovering the extent of his new-found abilities. But, as it is with the coming of great power, there comes along with it, great responsibility.
Thus we go along on the adventure, and soon discover that plot is deeper than one might first imagine. I’ve no intention of spoiling it for you here, because I want you to see the movie. What it will say is – this is well crafted film-making that you can definitely become immersed in.
It was a true honor for this fan, not only to talk to Paul, but also to two of the film’s stars – the stunning and talented Nazanin Nuri and the man, the legend, Harry Mok (another exceptional, multi-talented performer whom I too, like Paul, encountered first in the heyday of home video).
I encourage you to seek out Forbidden Power, if you are a fan of Kyriazi cinema or not. I promise you, you will not be disappointed…
At age 8, I see The Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on Disneyland TV and decided to become a movie director. Age 16, I start filming 20 minute action stories using my father’s 8mm camera. Age 18, my father bought me a used Bolex camera. I film a 30 min color action movie titled Trapped and it wins the Berkeley Film Festival. I start taking karate to be like James Bond. My Sensei introduces me to samurai movies. Seeing that action with great film techniques of the Japanese directors, moves me into martial arts movies, even before the TV show Kung Fu. I transferred to San Francisco State University making more 20 minute karate stories and placing 3rd in the next Berkeley Film Festival. I graduate with a BA in film. I join the Air Force movie department and film space launches for NASA. I take leave to film my first feature Drawn Swords in 35mm black & white Techniscope. It’s about 3 samurai going to England to enter a fencing tournament. I use all my cash and credit cards, loans, and refinancing my car. I get out of the Air Force and return to San Francisco unable to sell my movie. I promise myself if I get another break I will make a color movie that is so commercial the distributors will have to buy it. I meet karate tournament fighter Ron Marchini who has me re-edit and sell his Philippine produced movie Murder in the Orient. Ron then hired me to write and direct Death Machines. To be commercial, we come up with a story of 3 karate killers (white, black, Asian) to cover all markets. Then we add a cop/gangster plot, big fight scenes in a karate dojo, bar, and police station, and we actually blew up a piper cub airplane. The completed movie is immediately picked up by Crown International Pictures with big advertising. It opened in 50 theaters in LA making it a #14 top grosser. However, I still can’t raise the money to produce my own movie, so I direct a sequence for Sesame Street. I pick up a copy of The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind by Anthony Norvel. I take his classes for three months in LA, then return to the San Francisco. In 10 days I raise the money to produce and direct Weapons of Death. The panavision film plays all over the USA breaking a house record in a New York theater. I next produce and direct Ninja Busters. This was followed by the cops and gangsters story One Way Out. Next came writing and directing Omega Cop starring: Adam ‘Batman’ West, Troy Donahue, and Stuart Whitman. An actress from Weapons of Death hires me to produce a travelogue in Phuket, Thailand, Thailand Adventure proving you never know what contact will end up getting you movie work. I write two novels in hopes of getting them produced as movies. When many people ask me “How do you survive as a freelance?” I write How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle. In 2003, I produce In the West – a 90 minute travel production for Japan. Appearance by Pat Morita. In 2005, I produce my novel Rock Star Rising as an audio-book narrated by Rod Taylor, performed by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Robert Culp, James Darren, and Kevin McCarthy. It has full effects and music, making it an “audio movie” of sorts. In 2006, I direct the largest production in audio-book history, McKnight’s Memory. Narrated by Frank Sinatra Jr, it stars Robert Culp, Nancy Kwan, Don Stroud, Henry Silva, Alan Young, David Hedison, and Edd Kookie Byrnes. In 2007, I Direct Edd Byrnes’ My Casino Caper audio-book. It’s Edd’s memoir of being stalked for his 3 million dollar Las Vegas win. With Alan Young, Henry Silva, and David Hedison playing themselves, recreating the incident that happened in 1977. Michael Callen plays the part of criminal that stalked Edd. In 2008, I direct Barbara Leigh’s The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine audio-book. Her memoir of being a top model involved with Elvis, Steve McQueen and MGM president Jim Aubrey. Joe Esposito introduces it and plays himself in the dramatizations. In 2012, I update & expand the James Bond Lifestyle on Kindle, Nook, iTunes & Kobo. In 2013, I write & produce – 3 Wild Thrillers – Three fiction stories on Kindle that includes the audio-book. In 2014, I produce The Mexican Swimmer, a 3 hour audio-book performed by Julian Scott Urena. I also write Wicked Players, a story of gambling and survival in wild Las Vegas
I always imagined moving to New York City, before even really knowing what that meant. As a child, I spoke gibberish, pretending to be American, and constantly begged my family to travel to New York. Somehow, without having ever seen any of it in person, I was fascinated by the skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty, and the opportunity New York City had to offer. For as long as I can remember, I had this recurring dream, where I was swimming for so long, exhausted and not sure where I was going, until finally I’d look up and realize I’d swam all the way to New York City. I’d wake up screaming, “I made it! I made it!” I finally left everything in Switzerland behind and made my way to US as an Au Pair. In 2012, with just two suitcases, I moved to San Francisco and lived with a host family. After a year in the states, I began to feel comfortable communicating and expressing myself in English. I extended my job for another year and moved to Long Island, New York. After working for two years as an Au Pair, I was ready to pursue my dream. I moved to New York City and signed up for ESL classes to master my English. As fate would have it, I stumbled upon The William Esper Studio, an acting school that changed my life forever. I was honored to be accepted in Bill Esper’s acting class and enrolled in the two year full-time program. As cheesy as it sounds, acting found me! As I studied the art and spent time learning the craft in my classes, I increasingly realized that my entire journey led me to what I really love. Acting is my calling and all I want to do in my life. At the end of my first year of acting school, I spent the summer of 2016 in Switzerland. I wrote and starred in my first short film entitled “Where Am I”. The film was very well received at the Wellington Film Festival with an honorable mention as it won the “Best Narration” category. I graduated from The William Esper Studio in summer 2017 and was right away cast as the lead – playing Veronica Hawthorn – in Paul Kyriazi’s feature film “Forbidden Power”. After we were done shooting “Forbidden Power” in Seattle I traveled to Utah to film an experimental short film that I wrote, produced and starred in. That untitled short film is in the editing phase and expected to be released in 2018
Harry Mok’s career in the entertainment industry is attributed to his well-known expertise in the martial arts field. His career began as an actor and stuntman, performing and or starring in such films as Rambo II, Uncommon Valor, TC 2000, Talons of the Eagle, Femme Fontaine, For Life or Death, College Kickboxers, The Vineyard, Tiger Claws II, Ninja Busters, and more. In 1987, Harry produced and wrote his first feature film, The Vineyard, which was released by New World Pictures. Shortly after, he began producing, creating, and designing action games for Atari/Time Warner Interactive. During this period, Harry invented a new filming technology, a 180 degree five camera blue/green screen system that would revolutionize digitization of 2D characters. He filed a patent for this technology. In August of 2005 Harry was honored with induction into the prestigious GSKA Black Belt Hall of Fame. In January 2007, he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame. He is currently based in Northern California. He is one of the founders of 10+ Entertainment and is currently involved with producing a new reality show, New Hollywood Stars.
James Gunn doesn’t quite surpass the first Guardians film with his followup, but there is more than enough to love from a sequel that stands monumentally taller than any other Marvel film (save for the first).
Gunn is such a remarkable auteur; his use of seminal popular music, blended with his not only perfect casting of genre actors but knowing how to use them, is what keeps this Guardians film from being a rehash of the first.
The story, while at times has too many plot points running at once, stands on its own, and is not reliant upon any other arc within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is incredibly refreshing. The film is about Star-Lord and his father Ego, played by Kurt Russell who turns in yet another fantastic performance.
Guardians 2 does use a few conventional gimmicks: the token Stan Lee cameo that has worn out its effectiveness sixteen movies ago, and an opening scene with a CGI de-age character which actually works well. Aside from that, and a second act that drags its feet slightly, the film is a lot of fun and you’ll be smiling and laughing through the entire film. Heck, you may even tear up during a few moments.
What’s very disappointing about this film, is the incredible missed opportunity of reuniting onscreen Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone. Call me shallow, but that’s a moment a lot of us were hoping for going into this film, knowing the kind of genre respect and sensibilities that Gunn has as a filmmaker, it is kind of a shock that this didn’t happen.
Speaking of Stallone, seeing him in a film like this is an absolute joy. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film, he’s mainly being setup for an expanded role in future Marvel films, but you can tell he’s having a lot of fun. Towards the beginning of the film, he shares a scene with Michael Rooker, and anyone who loves CLIFFHANGER will stand up and fist pump in the theatre.
Perhaps the best, and most effective part of the film isn’t the special effects (which are brilliant), or the genre actor cameos (which is even more brilliant), but a scene between Star-Lord and his Ego, as they discuss The Looking Glass’ hit song, BRANDY. It’s a very sweet and emotional moment between a father and son and showcases the star power that Russell brings to the role.
There are a plethora of scene stealing moments. The opening scene, the opening credits, the musical numbers, Baby Groot, Awesome Mix Tape Vol. 2, Michael Rooker – like I said, this film may not be as good as the first, but it’s an awesome experience and do yourself a favor and run the theatre to go see it.
What’s almost hard to understand is how Marvel allows Gunn to make non-templated films that are a part of the MCU, yet really have nothing to do with any of these silly “phases”. The two Guardians films are different, they don’t fit inside of Marvel’s box of conventionality. They take place within a world where Gunn has the absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, and that in itself is a feat that is a cause for celebration, and very much leaves you looking forward to the next Guardians film.
James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, I’m happy to report, blows the first film right out of the water. There’s a subversive, wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour running through both films, as well as a boundlessly creative and colourful canvas of ideas both big and small, coalescing into something just this side of chaos. Picture a stick of dynamite; Volume one is the fuse, fizzling terrifically as it gets off to a great start. In many franchises, by the time the first film uses up the wick and reaches the stick, it’s sequel, the energy is lost and we end up with a dud of a follow-up. Not this baby. Volume two is the stick of dynamite, exploding gloriously across our screens in fits of dazzling imagination, humour that doesn’t quit for a nanosecond and the heart to back it up. Volume one dipped its toe in the water and showed us the roots of what a great space opera might look like, and volume two plunges in to give us just that. We rejoin with the merry band of misfits who now know each other a little better, are more comfortable working as a unit, and blast off into a tale of space battles, living planets and perpetual banter. Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, equipped with a brand new eight track collection of vintage pop songs, is still searching for his real dad when he kind of finds him by accident in the form of Ego, a powerful celestial being slyly played by Kurt Russell. Joining him are the gang we know and love, broccoli hued babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana), deadpan Drax (Dave Bautista outdoes himself in the comic relief department, a true highlight) Rocket (Bradley Cooper, excellent), scowling smurfette Nebula (Karen Gillian), adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, collecting a mortgage-eclipsing paycheque for literally doing nothing) and antihero Yondu (Michael Rooker). Rooker gets far, far more to do here than he did the second time around, becoming a fleshed out character with a terrific arc and a whole pile of scenes, a strong asset to the film. The villain here is way more compelling than Lee Pace’s silly space vampire in Volume One, and I won’t spoil anything but there’s more than a few surprises. Kurt Russell’s living planet is pure delicious eye candy, a vista to rival anything in Star Wars, Mass Effect or similar worlds, detailed and lovingly rendered. As per usual there are cameos, but surprisingly it’s more than the obligatory laundry list of Where’s Waldo fellow Marvel appearances. There are truly inspired name drops here and a few genre titans who show up, none of whom I’ll give away except Sylvester Stallone. He’s given an unassuming supporting role that he plays solidly without tongue in cheek or any hint of a gimmick, just an enjoyable little addition to the cast. James Gunn is a cinematic punk, cracking prudence right in the jaw, throwing caution to the wind and tirelessly churning out the kind of fresh, funny and irreverent films we want to see, scrappy crowd pleasers that people will actually remember, which lord knows is what Marvel needs to shake up their sometimes complacent, too comfortable aesthetic. The soundtrack is obviously a winner, and any film that uses Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain as its main cue has pretty much already won me over. This will probably be the cornerstone of summer blockbuster season, it’s just too much fun and has everything you’d want, with the dial cranked just past what we got the first time around in the best way possible. I am Groot.
I’ll say this right off the bat . . . if you don’t have fun watching his movie then there is something wrong with you. GOTG was always going to be a tough act to follow. I admit I am not a devotee of the Marvel cinematic universe as it stands; but Guardians is the exception.
From the get-go the music is perfectly placed. I read another review last night before seeing the film that compared Gunn’s music choices to Tarantino’s, and I have to say that comment is dead on as we begin our story with some very nicely done de-aging, and the set-up to what appears to be a beautiful love story.
Right when my son turned to me in the theatre and asked, “Are you sure this is Guardians of the Galaxy?” We find ourselves years later and we’re back with the family guarding the galaxy against a giant, undulating space monster which filters into a super-cool credit sequence.
Then we are off the Planet Goldfinger where the locals are not unlike the locals in my home town – you have to watch what you say ‘cause they’re easily offended. Nebula is back with a vengeance and the crew take her and leave, unfortunately, they manage to piss the Goldfingerlings off before that happens.
Cue the big space battle. Rocket and Quill are measuring, Drax is matter-of-facting, Nebula is impatient to eat something that aint ripe yet, Gamora is the only adult in the room and Groot is living dangerously by not wearing his seatbelt.
Just when all hope seems lost they are aided by a mysterious stranger and his pet Mantis. Hey, that dude looks like Jack Burton. Turns out Big Daddy has a giant Ego and a whole planet to himself. But remember children, remember the last guy who used the line, “I am your father!”
So the team splits up, The Junk-Panda, The Twig and the She-borg get embroiled in a mutiny while Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax jump to Ego’s utopia. Hercules was a son of a God and so, as it turns out, is Peter Quill. If you build it, he will come – so Peter and Big Daddy play catch.
You’re saying, “Hey you haven’t mentioned Yondu.” That’s ‘cause Yondu is the real heart in this movie. And really, that is what Vol. 2 is all about – heart. James Gunn has again crafted a movie that is visually, musically and splendidly comedic across the board – but what turns out to be the guy’s real strength is infusing an awful lot of heart and soul into these characters. It’s an old school talent from back in the days when movies used to be good. The secret being . . . you give a shit about the characters, you want them to win. You can’t make a movie like that with your mind, but you can with your heart, and Vol. 2 has a big one.
So, like I said about the “I am your father line,” well turns out that Daddy Quill aint that wholesome. This leads to a thrilling, break-neck climax that still has time for luck, for laughs, for the unknown – right before tears and glory.
Vol. 2’s rich palette explodes off the screen, especially if you see it in 3D. The score lifts and throttles with the great themes set up in the first film. There are fun running gags of which Taserface is one of my favourites; it brought to mind Mel Brook’s Men in Tights and the ‘Mervin’ Sheriff of Rottingham scene. Also, like one reviewer I read said, I kinda wish Tango and Cash could have had a brief meeting, for no other purpose but to have it in there for nostalgic purposes. It was cool to see them both in a movie together, and if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, it will be great to see Sly back in these kinds of movies. I loved Demolition Man and, get ready to burn me, Judge Dredd (1995).
If you don’t have fun watching this movie there is something wrong with you, because it is a whole lot of fun and it was a delight to watch it with my son, even if the only true highlight for him was hearing someone say the word ‘penis’ in a movie. Both cast and crew have crafted and excellent sequel here. I cannot honestly say that it is a sequel that betters the original, but it is a good, strong follow-up to a film that surprised audiences as well as the powers that be.
Like any good sequel this film had to be the first film and more than the first film. It does succeed and I can easily see how it scored a perfect 100 during the test screening process, as it has all the elements come together in the right place, at the right time – action, laughs, light and darkness.
The guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet has come a long way. Some have greatness thrust upon them, some are born to it, but James Gunn has, without question, achieved it. I watched his little gem Slither again recently. You get shades of what he would go on to do with GOTG in that film which is at once shocking, funny and touching all thrown into the mix.
Vol. 2 is great and I, like with the first Guardians, will watch it again and await its Blu Ray release. I think Vol. 3 will be the true challenge for Mr. Gunn now, but, with the success he has garnered, he has earned the right to do it his way. Really, I think I am more eager to see where he goes after he’s done guarding the galaxy.
As the opening title, “A film by Derek Cianfrance”, dissipates, a breath is drawn followed by the clinking of an angel knife as Ryan Gosling’s Luke Glanton menacingly opens and closes it, his abs glowing in the dimly lit room, his body battered with tattoos as the sounds of people, rides and games emit from outside his small trailer. He’s told it’s showtime by an outside authority, jamming the knife overhand into a wall before picking up his shirt and red jacket and slipping out the door, putting them both on as he traverses the crowd until he reaches a large tent boasting The Globe Of Death. He walks with the swagger of James Dean as he enters the tent to cheers and cries of excitement from fans alike as he and two fellow riders known only as The Heart Throbs gear up on their motorcycles and glide into the deadly spherical cage. Engines roar and fans scream as Handsome Luke and The Heart Throbs dizzyingly ride their motorcycles loop de loop until the screen fades to Luke signing autographs. And to think, that was all done in one take.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully brooding, tragic, heartbreakingly powerful, and ambitious genre film about fathers and sons, legacy, and consequences. Luke Glanton (Gosling), a daredevil carnival motorcycle rider finds out former fling Romina (Eva Mendes), a local waitress and fan of Luke’s skills, recently had their son, Jason after their last fling. Much to her surprise, he quits his job in the hopes that he can concoct a relationship with the infant and her too, even though she has a new, responsible man in her life by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali, in an understated role).
Luke is irresponsible, impulsive, tattooed all to hell and prone to outbursts of violence. Things only get complicated once he meets Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), a grubby mechanic who hires him after witnessing his outstanding skills on the motorcycle. He suggests that Luke rob banks, Robin himself having robbed banks years earlier, and Luke, in need of quick cash to support his son, opts to do just that. As time marches on the risks get higher and the cash comes thicker during riveting, manic heists and intense and stunningly realistic getaways; until Robin suddenly balks, leaving Luke to sloppily rob a bank and subsequently get chased across town on his motorcycle. The breathtaking chase leads Luke to a violent confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young police officer and son of a well respected judge.
After his confrontation with Luke, Avery begins to question his actions during the encounter as fellow officers headed by Pete Deluca (the always intimidating Ray Liotta, in full-on bad cop mode) engage in thuggish, corrupt behaviour which begins to take its toll on Avery and his family life as the father to a newborn son and husband to a fearful wife.
Skip ahead 15 years and Avery is running for public office, as his and Luke’s respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) begin a tumultuous and troubling friendship. I have to stop there, as any more details about the film will surely spoil what is undoubtedly a surprising film.
Luke’s story takes up the first 45-60 minutes, and is the best of the three stories in this triptych film; a deep, emotional roller-coaster that follows Luke as he struggles to provide for his newborn son. The heists are crisp, increasingly sloppy and volatile, brimming with an underlying intensity and fiery rawness. When he robs, he angrily squeals and shrieks his commands, grabbing the closest person to him as leverage until he has the money. When he rides, it’s as if you’re right there with him; the roar of the engine thundering through the air as he speeds down twisting roads into Robin’s cube truck.
Ryan Gosling as the violent, troubled Luke Glanton is mesmerizing, delivering his best performance since 2010’s Blue Valentine (which marked his first collaboration with this film’s director Derek Cianfrance), and surely one for the Oscar nomination list. He doesn’t say much which draws comparison to his eerie role as The Driver in 2011’s Drive, his eyes and facial expressions exuding Luke’s restrained and ominous personality in the same brooding manner as he did in Drive. He also has a vehicular skill, this time motorcycles and not cars, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Where Driver felt like a caricature, or a fantastical vigilante ripped from a ludicrous dream, Luke feels, and very much so is, a genuine, authentic and honest portrayal of a man struggling to leave a strong imprint in his son’s life while dealing with his own inner, violent demons. He holds honest intentions, but is far too explosive and violent for the life he quietly yearns for.
Eva Mendes is at her quiet best here as Romina, giving an heartfelt and touching portrayal of a mother trying to do what’s right for her son, which may or may not always be the best of decisions. Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly fame) yet again find a rhythm for playing the greasy, twitchy mechanic and Luke’s only friend Robin. His ability to slip into these scuzzy roles is fantastic, as he once again delivers a magnetic performance.
The second story that follows Avery post-Luke encounter runs for about the same length as the first section, as does the last section. The film seamlessly weaves between the sections, pausing only for a moment with a black screen as if to let us breathe before it catapults us into Avery’s battle for survival in the world of policing. The story presents itself much like a cop film from the ‘70’s, something the likes of William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola would have sunk their teeth deep into. Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this act, quickly taking the reins of the film as the torch gets passed along, proving once again that most audiences have underestimated his acting prowess in the past despite the complexity of his most recent roles. Ray Liotta as Pete Deluca, a corrupt veteran officer, is at his menacing best, and Rose Byrne (Jennifer, Avery’s wife), Harris Yulin (as Avery’s judge father Al) and Bruce Greenwood as slippery lawyer Bill Killcullen all deliver with quiet, small roles with actions that echo a lifetime.
I won’t go too deep into the final act, but I will say that Dane DeHaan is one to watch, one-upping his co-star Emory Cohen as Luke’s estranged son Jason, matching pound for pound the intensity delivered by the more seasoned actors in the film. Emory is convincing as the drug-addled interpretation of MTV styled behaviour infused into Avery’s son A.J.
The latter two stories following Avery post-confrontation, and later their respective sons, are thoroughly engaging, edgy and potent, but are intentionally not as electrifying as Luke’s daredevil lifestyle portion of the film. Luke’s story is one electric scene after another, each as haunting and memorable as the last until his story ends, when the film slows down to give us a deep insight into the lives of police officers and their family, and the ramifications of the violence and corrupt actions committed in the first story; each scene for the 140 minute running time never failing to captivate your eyes and mind. Despite how well acted the last two chapters of the film are, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed by them both after the volatile, quick paced first act.
This is a powerhouse, haunting, Shakespeare-esque cinematic experience of a lifetime. Derek Cianfrance, the director behind Blue Valentine and the largely unseen Brother Tied gives us his best film here, an honest tale of fathers and sons, violence and its impacts, actions and their consequences. He gets the absolute most of of his actors, no matter how big or small the role, with relative ease it seems. As stated in several dozen interviews, many of the scenes are genuine, featuring real actions from his actors during rehearsals, or spontaneous behaviours from them as filing was occurring, which helps push the realistic, honest and authentic nature of this film to greater heights. The violence is quick and bloody, but never stylized or gimmicky, instead remaining true to the speed and ferocity of real violence one would see in a Sunday night instalment of World’s Wildest Police Chases, which Derek himself said inspired the realism of this film. Mike Patton’s thrilling score greatly enhances each scene, never becoming overbearing or underused.
While Blue Valentine was a small scaled romantic tragedy, The Place Beyond The Pines is on a much larger playing field as it spans its 15 plus years, giving us a sweeping genre epic that stands an equal among similar father-son consequential films such as The Godfather. Derek Cianfrance once again shows us he’s a masterclass in filmmaking, delivering what will surely be the year’s best dramatic film. This is filmmaking from the pelvis by Cianfrance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go until the final, heartbreaking frames contrasted with Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’; this, is one hell of a film, and among the best of its year of release. As this epic tale of fathers, sons, and consequences rides off into the morning sunrise, its grip will loosen just enough to leave you breathless in its powerful wake.