Mississippi Grind (2015)

Searching for images from the film to put at the top of my review, there’s a lot of the two stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn at the craps table, or playing poker, and it’s true these images have a hint of glamour to them. But that’s not what I think of when I think about Mississippi Grind. It’s a film that lives more in the moments at the bar after the game, as these two sup on a bourbon, get drunk and fantasise about what could be. Because, yes, this is indeed another movie about the faded lustre on the American Dream, which channels a story that touches on the peculiar way that class manifests itself in America via money, the pursuit of it, and more often the lack of it, the difficulty in getting it, and how not having it can ruin your life.

The gambling plays its part in this allegory, but is not depicted as inevitably doomed (though of course that does colour the tension going into a lot of the scenes), but rather as having its ups and downs, as indeed it does in life. And these two guys have their personal ups and downs as they travel the byways of the American heartland, down the Mississippi River and a series of small, faded American gambling towns. For Mendelsohn’s Gerry, you get a sense of a lot more downs, but part of the film is in teasing out exactly what’s behind Reynolds’s mysterious Curtis, who shows up at Gerry’s poker table at the start and is quickly seized on by him as a sort of lucky mascot, into which fantasy Curtis is happy to play for a while. As a marker of his aspirations is his insistence on drinking Woodford Reserve bourbon, both a product placement and something that plays a role in defining their relative paths. Narratively, though, this isn’t tight in the sense we’ve come to expect from US cinema, but has a meandering looseness that harks back to an earlier era (I’ve seen the 1970s mentioned a lot by critics, and that seems fair).

The charm of the film — in a quote that’s recited by the characters a few times — is that it’s about the journey, and in that sense it has a lot of false endings: in a way you can choose whether these guys are successes at life, or losers, and you get the sense that it will continue to go either way for them if they keep at the gambling. But for a couple of hours, it’s an enjoyable amble through some of the less lustrous landmarks of the American Dream at its most capricious.


© A24 Films

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Directors/Writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck | Cinematographer Andrij Parekh | Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds | Length 108 minutes || Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Monday 26 October 2015

Advertisements

Slow West (2015)

It’s always nice to see a movie western, even if it’s not shot in the United States, though I am partial to the New Zealand landscape as someone who grew up there. I would say it seems to me to be pretty distinctive as far as landscapes go, but then this is a film shot through with plenty of style (and stylisation). If some of the still-life framings are reminiscent of Jarmusch’s Dead Man (albeit in colour), a lot of the film’s tone comes closer to the deadpan of the Coen brothers, and is freighted with some of their archness as well. The narrative is based around a one-sided romance of one young Scottish lad, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), for Rose (Caren Pistorius). Rose has left Scotland to go on the run from the law with her father, while Jay pursues her out of love. He is taken in by Silas (Michael Fassbender), who turns out to be a bounty hunter on Rose and her father’s trail. As a film shot in NZ starring Irish, Scottish and Antipodean actors, it’s really strong on that sense of the modern US as a nation of immigrants, though the Native Americans get fairly short shrift (and one overtly comedy sequence of horse rustling gone awry). So even if I don’t wholeheartedly embrace it, there’s enough in the film to suggest interesting work in director John Maclean’s future.


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer John Maclean | Cinematographer Robbie Ryan | Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Caren Pistorius, Ben Mendelsohn | Length 84 minutes || Seen at ICA, London, Tuesday 7 July 2015

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Derek Cianfrance | Writers Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder | Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt | Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn | Length 140 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Thursday 25 April 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Focus Features

I get the feeling that this is a film that’s a bit in love with itself, though I do tend to get that feeling whenever a running time greatly exceeds two hours. Thankfully, the extra investment of time is largely borne out by what’s on screen, with a few caveats that made me feel if anything that maybe a bit of extra time was needed. Maybe it should have been a mini-series. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a film of three distinct acts, the first two separated by a fairly short period of a year or two, the third taking place 15 years later. The central characters are Luke (played by Ryan Gosling) and Avery (played by Bradley Cooper), as well as their respective sons. Riding as a motorcycle stuntman in a travelling carnival show, Luke learns early on that he has a son with Romina (played by Eva Mendes), but when he tries to do what he thinks is the decent thing she resists his advances (she has already moved on), and he gets sucked into criminality. Avery enters the story later as a cop who gets mixed up in their relationship, and 15 years later their sons have to deal with the fallout. That’s really as much as I can say without giving away too much of the plot, but it’s essentially a ‘sins of the fathers’ scenario with added layers of class angst and existential yearning.

Continue reading “The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)”

Adore (aka Two Mothers, aka Perfect Mothers, 2013)

UPDATE: Since the review below was written, this movie has been renamed Adore for the English-speaking market (or Adoration in some places). The title in France was Perfect Mothers. I’ve updated the review’s title to reflect this change.


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW: French Film Week || Director Anne Fontaine | Writer Christopher Hampton (based on the novella The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing) | Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne | Starring Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn | Length 100 minutes | Seen at Gaumont Convention, Paris, Thursday 4 April 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Gaumont

As an Australian/French co-production (and entitled Perfect Mothers when I saw it in Paris), it’s tempting to credit the naturalistic acting style to the former, and the overwrought romantic storyline to the latter, but perhaps it’s unfair to suggest that Australian cinema shies away from dealing with rather twisted affairs of the heart. That certainly isn’t the case here.

The story, just to set it up briefly, deals with the eponymous mothers, Lil (played by Naomi Watts) and Roz (played by Robin Wright), whose entire lives appear to have been spent in each other’s company in the same sleepy seaside Australian town. In the space of the credits sequence, the film skips forward from their adolescence playing in the sea, to their own children (both boys) playing in the sea around the time of the funeral of Lil’s husband, to when their boys are fully grown, all on the same stretch of light-saturated beach. It’s all presented as fairly idyllic — sitting out by the sound of the sea sipping sauvignon blanc in the sunshine — and we never really get much of a sense of the rest of the town (except that there’s an office where Lil works, and a small theatre where Roz’s husband and son work). The point at which it all starts to unravel a bit, and where the (French) title gets its ironic sting, is when it becomes apparent that their respective children have developed romantic attachments towards the other’s mother, and that these feelings are reciprocated.

However one feels about the somewhat incestuous theme of the film, there is real delight to be had in the acting, which feels unforced and fresh. Wright’s Australian accent only occasionally falters, and both she and Watts do really well with the uncomfortable subject matter. It’s to the film’s (and the actors’) credit that it’s the relationship between the two mothers, rather than that with the (rather bland) sons, which anchors the story and feels like the primary interest of the film.

The location is well-chosen too, since it has to be convincing in its hold over the characters. Continue reading “Adore (aka Two Mothers, aka Perfect Mothers, 2013)”