Tag Archives: Nicolas Winding Refn

#byNWR Presents TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG. Reviewed; Part I.

Too Old to Die Young
Miles Teller as Martin Jones in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

Amazon Studios has just unleashed a juggernaut, Nicolas Winding Refn’s TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG as a new exclusive to their streaming platform. The series, which runs ten episodes wherein more than not have a feature-length runtime, is moody and stylized, and quite frankly might be the first series that one cannot simply binge. It is not that it is bad; on the contrary. Refn has developed a show that is so dense and exhilarating that some viewers might need to take a break between episodes and get back into the routine of the normalcy of their respective lives because TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is not just dark, it is pitch black.

Much like his previous two pictures, ONLY GOD FORGIVES and THE NEON DEMON, Refn has become a fierce auteur, channeling other filmmakers like David Lynch and Michael Mann, but mostly carving out his own niche within arthouse filmmaking.

Too Old to Die Young William Baldwin
William Baldwin as Theo in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

The first five episodes of the series build a world of degradation and debauchery. There are few likable characters, and the ones that are likable are fundamentally likable for the wrong reasons. The plot is loosely strung together by central events that the characters weave in and out of. Much like TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, the viewer just has to put their trust in Reft and co-creature Ed Brubaker and enjoy the ride that is wonderfully accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score.

The series is anything but formulaic, including its center characters. Miles Teller is Martin Jones, a police officer whose partner is killed in the opening scene of the pilot. He’s also a hitman for a gang, as well as dating a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose father is a beautifully coked out and wealthy investor, William Baldwin.

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Miles Teller, TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

It absolutely, positively cannot be understated; William Baldwin gives the finest performance of his career. His introduction scene is one where he’s sitting across from Teller. Not really interrogating him, or yelling at him for being a thirty-year-old policeman who is illegally dating his daughter; he is establishing his dominance over his daughter’s older suiter through intense stares and clearing his sinuses that have surely are from an obscene amount of cocaine he did.

The four episodes that follow introduce us to new characters. The second episode is solely focused on the killer of Teller’s partner from the pilot. He’s in Mexico with his Uncle, a Cartel head. The third episode introduces us to Jena Malone who is a caseworker by day and an energy healer who connects with the parents of victims of sex abuse. She sends out a one-eyed John Hawkes who is an off the radar former g-man who is dying. They are lovers, pretty sure.

The worldbuilding is mesmerizingly intense. Themes of murder, deviant sex, self-discovery, and vengeance are all prominent parts of each episode, creating an environment that is apathetic on itself, where our “heroes” of Teller, Malone, and Hawkes are trying to restore the balance in a world that has become total darkness. Halfway through the series, the pendulum swings to and fro the motivations of the characters, leaving so much to be discovered and desired. Amazon Studios deserves all the credit in the world for having the balls to back a project such as this. Regardless of the ambiguity and self-indulgence of Refn, one thing is for certain; TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is a work of beauty and everlasting art.

 

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is based on the violent true life exploits of Britain’s famed criminal Charles Bronson, jailed for decades on purpose and loving it. These type of films usually have a dutiful, glossy biopic mechanism to them, but Refn is ever the extreme stylistic boundary pusher and the way he directs seems as if we’re actually in the hectic subconscious of the protagonist as opposed to looking in from the outside. It’s hazy, hallucinatory, weird, unpredictable and soaked in the feverish neon that has become the Danish maverick’s calling card. Then there’s the performance by Tom Hardy, which defies both description and classification. He doesn’t so much act as he does exist, like an element or a primal instinct, playing Bronson filled to the brim with cheeky aggression, animalistic behaviour, a galaxy of idiosyncratic mannerisms and the likability to keep us entranced through what, upon reflection, is actually a really fucked up and disturbing story. Bronson, born Michael Petersen, was busted barely out of his teens for terrifically botching an attempted post office robbery, chucked in the pen where he’d have been out in four years or so with ‘good behaviour.’ Well. Let’s just say that the good behaviour part isn’t in either his nature or his plan. He loves conflict, fights the guards any chance he gets, incites riots and makes life hell for the British correctional force. That’s basically the film, but the straightforward story only exists to serve a surreal tapestry of episodic, atmospheric interludes where the plot isn’t so much unfolding in a literate manner as it is taking a backseat to Bronson’s unconventional, self aware telling of his own story. There’s editing and colour timing that’s so saturated, so bizarre and out there you feel like the whole thing exists as a dream, resplendent with oddball character interactions, delirious, thumping soundtrack choices and the kind of mood-scape that sucks you right the fuck in. Refn doesn’t try and provide any answers to the psychological nature of a guy like Charles either, and that’s a wise move. It’s interesting to look at the third act in which his behaviour seems to take a turn for the better with the arrival of a helpful shrink/mentor only to have him gleefully fake everyone out and start causing shit again. It’s seemingly arbitrary and his antics don’t hand a purpose, frankly outlined by Refn as storyteller, and not historian. It’s about Charles, and this is *his* story, told by this whipped up, warped version of himself that’s personified by Hardy in what can arguably be called the performance that put him on the map, and whatever your gut reaction to a piece of cinema this provocative and strange, there’s no debate over what a galvanizing, brilliantly concocted sensory experience it is.

-Nate Hill

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising: A Review by Nate Hill 

I would hazard a statement and say that Valhalla Rising is Nicolas Winding Refn’s most inaccessible film, to wider audiences. Despite the bleak, impenetrable horror of Fear X and the repulsive, Freudian filth of Only God Forgives, there’s just something so bare and primordial about Valhalla, a skeletal narrative that serves as a haunted shell for a story that is essentially the ‘anti story’, an acrid, backwards battle poem existing in a vacuum of space where genre tropes should be at play, and are mournfully absent. A lot of films set in ancient times just feel the need to give the proceedings a modern flourish, adding humour, bravery and many elements we identify with and are used to seeing. The reality is those times were probably not like that at all, and resembled a level of anthropological alienation that would confuse us. Refn casts exactly that kind of cloak over his film here, bringing us a dark, hollow world where primitive despair swirls about in the mists of the British Isles and the ocean far beyond. Refn is first and foremost concerned with his protagonists, striving to make them unique and challenging. The meek, confused griever playing detective (John Turturro in Fear X), the lonely, pent up vigilante (Ryan Gosling in Drive) and the bawdy, childish, anarchic brawling bull in a China shop (Tom Hardy in Bronson) were endlessly fascinating, but here he takes it a step further into the overgrown netherworld of the human psyhe. His outlet of exploration is a mute, feral Scandinavian warrior, simply called One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), who is ready to inflict throat ripping, bone snapping carnage at the drop of a hat. This isn’t someone who kills for his own gain or goals though, and it’s in that characteristic that One Eye is different from every other lead in Refn’s tales. All the rest were forceful, extremely aware beings who were out to achieve clear cut goals, even if one of them was just to create as much self destructive chaos as possible. One Eye is a slave, someone’s property, and lays down the carnage hammer only when instructed to by his Saxon owners. This unfolds in a jarring opening act that you’ll need a strong stomach to fight through. The violence is scarily realistic and lands with the same sickening thud that skulls make when Mikkelsen bashes them on the jagged outcroppings of rocks which populate this austere terrain. As two warring clans squabble about who deserves sovereignty over One Eye’s terrifying talents, circumstances lead to his departure from the moors of Britain, on a boat captained by a Scottish warlord (the exceptional Gary Lewis) and with the companionship of a mysterious young boy (Maarten Stevenson). The boat drifts in a lilting trance for miles on end, seemingly headed nowhere, and it’s here that Refn let’s both his characters and audience off the leash and sends us headlong into the crushing blackness of a narrative that is maddeningly impossible to decipher. To try and think it out is to fail right off the bat; One must let this type of story wash over you and discern it’s meaning using the unconscious modes of thought that human beings have sadly forgotten amidst a flurry of science, reason and technology. The voyage across this sea is one out of time, out of mind and beyond rationality, and the land that lays at the far end of the crimson sunrise is one even more foreboding and secretive than the rocks they left behind. Encounters with a strange tribe, moody passages of time where One Eye seems to drift between dimensions of thought and animalistic contemplation, dimly perceived exchanges of dialogue that seem lost and misplaced among the pressing gloom, it all flows by like the fog on the water, making sense as an element existing in it’s place in nature, but unable to be reconciled by our minds, which always need to have the safety net of a “why” to break the great fall of the unknown. Sometimes there’s no explaining, no categorizing, because to do so is arrogant. Sometimes it’s just naked perception and acceptance, if you can bring yourself to that place. Refn can, and what’s more, he can create such feelings, which is what makes him so important as an artist. He understands the uncharted places on the territory of human experience, waiting to be mapped out like the strange new world One Eye and the boy visit, a world which may as well be a different planet to their eyes. It’s in this inaccessibility that he gives us what, although is certainly not his most enjoyable or commercially viable film, is definitely the one that says the most, if you possess and are willing to use the tools necessary to experience it. Difficult. Psychological. Troubling. Hypnotic. Beautiful. Masterpiece.

Nicolas Wind Refn’s THE NEON DEMON – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

Nicolas Winding Refn’s cinematic progression is something to be marveled at.  With his latest film, THE NEON DEMON, he pushes every boundary imaginable, creating a film with so much impending doom that it will make the most unflappable cinephile become seemingly uncomfortable as his tale of vanity and debauchery comes to a brilliant conclusion.

Refn has reached the top tier brotherhood of self indulgent filmmakers featuring Lars von Trier, Terrence Malick, and Bob Fosse.  Making his own films, without having to concede anything to anyone, allowing his own unique kaleidoscope of artistic vision to wash over the screen.

This film is fantastic, and it is Refn’s best film to date.  His unbound storytelling is wrapped tautly by Natasha Brier’s fluid cinematography, a perfect ensemble, and one of the best film scores of all time composed by Cliff Martinez.

Refn’s cinematic world is dark and dangerous, vicious and surreal.  He monumentally cashed in on DRIVE, allowing himself the freedom to make the films that he wants to make, pushing the boundaries of cinema to new heights.  With THE NEON DEMON he forgoes star power and box office anchors, and makes a film so twisted it becomes incredibly serene in a way that would make Stanley Kubrick proud.

Every single actor and crew member deserves all the accolades in the world for their accomplishments on this film.  One could spend an entire essay talking about each actor in this film. 

Elle Fanning.  Wow.  She absolutely commands every frame of this film.  Keanu Reeves completely shakes his on screen persona in a scummy and sleazy hard supporting role that will leave you wanting more.  Desmond Harrington FINALLY got his role.  He is silent, gaunt, and cathartic in his few scenes; showing off his previously untapped potential.

Refn’s latter day films are not for the People.  They aren’t made for the average Friday night moviegoer, they aren’t made for art house cinephiles.  They are made because he has his own story to tell. 

In an age where great cinematic story’s are told in a novelization over the medium of television; I don’t know how this film got made, or how it got a wide cinematic release – but we should all celebrate the fact that it did.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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DRIVE is a film that could have easily been made by Michael Mann in the height of his 80’s neo noir phase. It would have starred William Petersen, Robert Prosky, Tom Noonan, Dennis Farina – the seminal Mann players. Tangerine Dream would have composed a remarkable score. But it wasn’t, and that’s what makes this film an undeniable masterpiece. It was made by Nicolas Winding Refn, with Ryan Gosling transforming himself into a top tier actor, and Cliff Martinez providing a hypnotic score in the year 2011.

There are many aspects of the film to marvel over. The vibrant neon color scheme, the stoicism and deep introspective turn from Gosling, Refn’s tranquil direction. Career pivoting performances from Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston. There is such a fertile quality to this film that sets the tone for this decade’s cinematic landscape.

DRIVE kiss

Gosling, who has been remarkable since DRIVE, is perfect in this film. His dialogue is minimal, as are his physical actions. His performance is commanded through his eyes. He’s always watching, always internal, he is slowly calculating everything.

The forbidden love between Gosling and Carey Mulligan is handled with such sensibility and grace by Refn. It is never overplayed, and at no point in the film does it become generic. The purity of their relationship splashes off the screen and leaves impending doom on the viewer.

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Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks are phenomenal in the film. Cranston completely shakes his comedic shtick as well as the trajectory of Walter White. He’s likable, due to his casting, but overall he’s smarmy and pathetic. Neck tattoos, chain smoking, hobbling around the frame looking for his next get rich quick deal.

Brooks, who was completely robbed of an Academy Award nomination, is a fascinating antagonist. Yes, he’s the monster, but he’s also genuine. He doesn’t want to do what he does, but his back is against the wall due to the unraveling of the plot. As the viewer, we like him, even when he’s pulling an eyeball from a guy’s head with a fork. Because the guy he’s doing it to had it coming.

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Refn struck gold with this film, and by making a mainstream-ish film, he was able to gather the clout to make whatever he wanted in the future, no questions asked. ONLY GOD FORGIVES and the much anticipated NEON DEMON are complete validations. Refn has a progression that is akin to post TREE OF LIFE Malick; with each new film, he’s not only challenging the audience, but himself as an artist. DRIVE is one of the finest films of this decade, and it only grows more poignant and incredible as time passes.

Nicholas Winding Refn’s Fear X: A review by Nate Hill

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Before Nicholas Winding Refn blew up into the big time with intense, stylish stuff like Bronson, Drive and Valhalla Rising, and after he made his bloody emergence into cinema with Pusher, he made another film that no one seems to remember or even even like all that much. It’s easy to see why Fear X wasn’t that well received or remembered: it’s choppy and confusing, even by Refn’s terms, and doesn’t pull it’s third act into a cohesive resolution, instead favoring a disconcertingly surreal descent into subconscious, abstract imagery, which we all know (the careers of Lynch and others are examples) is an aesthetic not always absorbed by the most open of minds when it comes to the masses. Now that we got that out of the way, here’s my take. I adore the film. It’s a skitchy Midwestern nightmare that starts of gently gnawing at the fringes of your perception with a sense of dread that’s intangible in its possibility, an outcome as vast and unknowable as the desolate prairie setting that calls to mind the fear and degradation of Fargo without an ounce of its good humour, black or otherwise. John Turturro inhabits this setting with a twitchy, anxious aura, suggesting a haunted mindscape beneath those famous curls. And well he should be haunted, considering his wife recently disappeared without a trace. For him, not knowing what happened is worse than any kind of grisly answer, for its a sick hollowness that chokes out any room for him to grieve. He works by day as a mall security guard, busting shoplifters and scanning snowy surveillance screens to distract himself. Then, his co-worker (Stephen Eric Mcintyre) hands him a videotape that may contain answers and be the first breadcrumb in a trail leading to his wife’s killer, and possibly his solace. In a lot of films and shows like these, the protagonist ventures to a small town with sordid secrets simmering just beneath the crust of the cheerful looking pie held by the pretty waitress at the local diner. Some artists find their own groove without riffing on other’s work too much, and some fall flat-footed into derivitive motions. Refn is bold yet subtle in his direction once Turturro arrives in the town, and casts a deceptively innocuous  yet insidiously creepy spell over the proceedings. It’s essentially where the film really exits utero and manifests, the danger before that was only glimpsed on the horizon now a very real possibility, like waking up from a bad dream into a worse reality. Turturro is met with cold stares and grim greetings, especially by a deputy who becomes predatory upon seeing part of the clues he has brought with him, vaguely tied to a local resident. From there he is led to a suspicious Sheriff (James Remar), and the sheriff’s wife (Deborah Kara Unger). Remar may have been involved in his wife’s death, and he plays with the curtain of his performance wonderfully, pulling it back ever so slightly in scenes with Unger (some of his best work) and stirring up confusion while menacing Turturro. It’s an unheralded best from him and a rare occasion where he gets to be subtle and eerie, as opposed to his usual brash, cocky characters. Unger is similar to Remar in the sense that she has made a point over the course of her career in picking obscure, challenging and unique roles to play. In playing a couple here they feel kind of star-crossed just by the nature of their careers, fed by their smoldering  chemistry. The film proceeds like any thriller would, with only intangible hints at the weirdness to come, until the last half of the third act, where it abandons logic completely and dives headlong into a dreamlike abyss of surreality, without a readily discernable warning or narrative signpost. Is Turturro unstable? Or is it Remar? Or are events just taking a turn fpr the supernatural as a result of the town messing with people’s psyches, a la The Shining? We will never know, and honestly I doubt Refn did, or ever will either. It’s him in the sandbox, free from logic or consequence, and hate it with all your might if you wish, but you can’t deny it’s a psychologically galvanizing experience that toys with your perception  and spooks to the core. The film deals with themes of not knowing, and open ended tragedy masked by confusion and spiraling ‘what ifs’. Perhaps Refn implemented all the metaphysical hoo-hah as an extreme metaphor for Turturro’s consciousness, fractured and torn by the absence of resolution to the point of madness. Or maybe Refn just likes making weird shit. That’s the eternal debate with artists like him and Lynch: do they have some plan, a secret marauders map to the strangeness that they present to us on screen which only they are privy too, or are they simply making it up as they go along, hurling paint at the canvas until they are satisfied with the result, regardless of comprehending it? We’ll never know, and that for me is the beauty of it. With Fear X Refn crafts a polarizing thriller that is the very proto – example of ‘love it or hate it’. It’s definitely not for everyone. But love it or hate it, there’s no escaping it’s power.

NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S BRONSON — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Bronson was the film that brought director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Tom Hardy into my cinematic sights, and since then, I’ve followed both artists with intense fervor and anticipation. This film is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and even if it blends elements from other films within its framework, the overall originality of the entire endeavor is wild to watch unfold. The film uses a highly stylized structure consisting of surrealistic performance art, abrupt flashbacks, and jarring tonal shifts which makes sense given the extremely heightened aesthetic. Hardy stars as real life British convict Charlie Bronson, aka, The Most Violent British Criminal Ever, a man given to massive fits of rage and stunning moments of primal, animalistic physical violence. The film is a crazy, bloody, kinky kaleidoscope of his oversized life, showing him in an out of the slammer, trying to adjust to the outside world, falling in love, getting mixed up with a variety of wacky side characters, and always spinning back on Bronson’s violent tendencies in almost every situation that he faced. Hardy is extraordinary, giving quite literally one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any actor in any film. This is a forcefully bizarre movie, and he carries the entire thing, appearing in almost every scene, and letting it all hang out (literally and metaphorically), giving a ferocious performance of astonishing energy and personal chaos. His character is so unpredictable and so unstable that the viewer is constantly left to wonder what will happen next. All of the supporting performances are stellar and help contribute to the zany mood of the entire piece.

And then there’s the eccentric, eclectic soundtrack, featuring numerous classical opera pieces, as well as stuff from The Pet Shop Boys, Doris Day, and David Cassidy, all of which adds to the dense sonic layers of the soundtrack. I love how Refn brilliant subverts your expectations at almost every turn with this perverse movie. He knows you’ve seen other prison films and biopics, and I love how he defiantly refuses to play anything safe in this movie, which is probably the best overall piece of work in his already sensational career. He downplays the customary visual language of this particular genre, going for something more aggressively stylish and baroque than usual, and I love how he’s constantly undermining the inherent masculinity of Bronson as a character and the thugs that he encountered. The way Refn views his psychologically complex lead character suggests that he’s both in awe of Bronson, and totally in fear of him. Macho posturing is elegantly skewered all throughout, with the interesting layer of homosexual social commentary thrown in to spice things up, and also demonstrating the interesting duality to Bronson’s unique persona. Refn is constantly provoking his audience with every film he makes, always throwing multiple layers at you, and it seems to be his M.O. as a filmmaker to challenge whatever genre he’s working in, and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.

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