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Movie of the Week: The Ides of March

There was a lot riding on the movie of the week this week.  First it represented a critical tiebreaker in the 2011 Ryan Gosling competition.  I loved Crazy Stupid Love and he was funny and charming in it, despite the presence of his nasaly, quasi-Brooklyn, Marlon-Brando-in-The-Godfather-despite-being-only-30-years-old-voice.  Then came Drive, the critically-acclaimed, artistic piece of sh*t.  It had a great opening sequence and then was as if someone took the movie Faster starring The Rock, reduced the muscles, kept the minimal dialogue and plot and added a European director with a love of himself.  So The Ides of March would be the final vote in a split decision loss or victory for Ryan Gosling’s 2011.

No less important was the movie for George Clooney.  For me George Clooney, as I have said many times before, is the high school quarterback that does math club and a capella.  Girls love him, guys can’t hate him because he is good at football, but the losers really love him because he is the rare cool kid who uses some of his cool capital to do activities with them, rather than bully them.  Hollywood is largely the math club and a capella group.  They love that Clooney has not squandered his Ocean’s 11 mass appeal on starring in only big blockbusters, but he has passion projects and intellectual works and other giant bags of over-indulgent boring films.  Loved Clooney in Out of Sight, loved him in Oceans 11 and really enjoyed, more recently, Up In The Air.  These were football films for Clooney.  Sleek, cool and fun to watch (and Up In The Air had a dose of math club in it too).  But in between those movies were a heavy load of self-important crap.

Good Night and Good Luck – overrated and boring, but the fact that the cool kid was doing them required the geeks to support it, or risk losing Clooney to football entirely.

Syriana – not bad, never should have won an Oscar (he grew a beard – what is this a comedy festival or the Oscars) and the film was adequate.

And then there was Michael Clayton, his biggest critical success, which was the most average of corporate thrillers (it cannot hold the jock of Michael Mann’s The Insider, for example, but garnered the equivalent nominations and praise 11 years apart).

And this is without mentioning one of the worst film’s of 2010 The American which was all Clooney all the time and terrible, but somehow escaped with mediocre reviews instead of Bucky Larson reviews.

Together Clooney and Gosling seemed very poised to enter the “J-L Debonair Overrated Hall of Fame” joining current inductees Colin Firth and the television show Mad Men.

So Gosling Brando and Clooney Christ had a lot to deliver with The Ides of March.  And in my opinion, they did.

I think it is an Oscar contender, but what do I know.

This movie is a brisk and tight 100 minute experience (its sharpness is probably due to the fact that it is based on a play, Farragut North).  Unlike Moneyball, for example, I could not complain of any fat needing to be trimmed.  The cast is strong, with the four main characters played by Gosling, Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.  Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood handle the remainder and between those seven actors you have some serious chops carrying the film.

It follows an Obama-esque candidate (Clooney – all white, not half-white) on the campaign trail, specifically their fight to win the critical Ohio delegates for the Democratic nomination.  Gosling is the whiz kid, who probably has an Ivy League pedigree, based on his position and yet still sounds like a mush-mouthed Brooklynite.  Don Corleone-ing aside, Gosling is quite strong as the character that undergoes the most development throughout the film, from idealistic whiz kid to hardened, cynical political operative.  The whole cast is great  and I could not ask for much more from a movie.  It is lean, well cast, well acted with a story and themes that are very current.

Final Grade – A

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Movie of the Week: Drive

This week’s movie of the week is another sneak preview provided by the New York Times’ Film Club.  So me and my old, liberal, hardcopy-of-newspaper reading Jewish friends sat down for the Ryan Gosling action vehicle Drive.  The movie co-starred Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Sons of Anarchy’s Ron Perlman and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks so not one, not two, but three television transitions to film depend on Gosling (granted Perlman has already found some success as Hellboy).  To sum up this movie, those three should not quit their day jobs (both because they are great on their television shows and because this movie is not going to make them movie stars).  Like a girl’s first period this movie is bloody, confusing and messy.

First off Ryan Gosling is having a tremendous year.  He has been an indie film darling, but between nailing Eva Mendes, and starring in Crazy Stupid Love this Summer and The Ides of March with George Clooney next month he is officially making the move from indie star to possible A-list Hollywood leading man in 2011.  Drive was meant to be an action vehicle for him to show some versatility I am guessing, though it looks more like it was a relaxing paycheck where he could take a break from actually acting.

This is his expression for 70% of the movie. The other 30% he is smirking awkwardly.

Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway car driver.  Seems like an intriguing character.  Unfortunately none of the character is developed.  He is a mystery man in terms of his origins and what drives him (pun intended), but we simultaneously know so many other facts about him that it feels peculiar to not know why he is the man that he is.  I think they were aiming for man of mystery cool with Gosling’s character, but he ends up just seeming like someone with poor social and verbal skills.  The opening scene of the film is the highlight and raised the bar for what I expected from the movie.  However, it falls short for the next 90 minutes.

Gosling lives next door to a mom whose criminal husband (not a bad guy criminal, but more of a looking-for-a-second-chance criminal) has just been released from prison.  Of course Gosling has a whole week before the husband returns to become a surrogate father figure and a platonic husband figure to the woman, played by Carrie Mulligan.

Well, once the husband returns our hero must help him do a job in order to keep his wife and son safe.  That is when the movie, both for the characters and the audience, goes off the rails.  It becomes an incredibly violent bloodfest.  Gosling is a stone-cold killer, which is never explained how or why he became like this (not even a suggested hint), and every gun shot or stomping if offered in incredibly grotesque visuals.

If I was going to describe the music of the film, as well as the motif, I would say imagine the techno-synth atrocities that made up the songs of Scarface with Al Pacino.  Now imagine Adele were singing those songs.  Pretty interesting.  It is like poetic, terrible sounding music, which is exactly how I would describe the movie in general.  There is definite effort by the director (partly through excessive slow motion) to make an artistic action movie, but it just isn’t as good as it could have been.  Fortunately everyone in the project has other, bigger things to fall back on.

Final Grade – C+