Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines - Film Review

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane Dehaan.

the place beyond the pines, ryan gosling, eva mendes, luke glanton

Travelling stuntman Luke Glanton learns he is a father after a brief love affair but with no stable financial prospects to speak of is rejected by ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes). Determined to prove his worth as a father, Luke takes up employment with mechanic and ex-bank robber Robin. Soon Luke picks up where his friend long ago retired, and begins a string of bank heists to provide for his son.

Bradley Cooper is Avery Cross, a local cop keen to live up to the prestige of his father, a respected judge. Struggling to climb the ranks of his career, Avery finds his moment of glory in the films pivotal moment, yet marred by his own dubious morality. When Luke and Avery's paths cross, the encounter sets in motion an emotional story of fathers and sons, morality and redemption.


Although I adored this film beyond anything, it was one that I preferred not to immediately over analyse and critique. I instead ruminated on how seamlessly two separate narratives - one of the wayward stuntman Luke Glanton, pursuing a life of crime for the benefit of his estranged baby son, the other of morally dubious Avery Cross - weaved into the other. With a generational slant to the story, the two drastically different men leave a potentially devastating legacy to their respective sons.

What I loved above all were the beautifully understated performances from the cast. Ryan Gosling's character left a presence which lingered throughout the latter parts of the story, a ghostly remnant hanging over his troubled son, played by a poignantly weary eyed Dane Dehaan. Gosling's scenes with his infant son are tender and bittersweet, at odds with his harder, tattooed exterior. Possessing a fatherly instinct that is effortlessly innate and pure, Luke is still too wayward to provide the stability his son and Romina need. The film's subtle parallels between father and son are subsequently sad and uplifting, hopeful and helpless as we wonder whether history is doomed to repeat itself or whether it can exonerate those chained to its past.

the place beyond the pines, dane dehaan, jason

The Place Beyond The Pines has a voyeuristic style to it, with wide panning, sky high shots coupled with those closely shadowing characters from behind, almost as if the audience is acting as the silent moral conscience of the story. The cinematography is beautiful, with a sense of poignancy and sadness permeating the overarching themes of forgiveness, self acceptance and redemption. Coupled with a beautiful score including Ennio Morricone's Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of those films hard to leave behind, perhaps best encapsulated by this quote from Dehaan - 

"People always say it lingers you know? Like I saw the film last night and it's still sitting right here."

A melancholic tale of dysfunctional family ties and the ambivalence in what can be defined as right and wrong, The Place Beyond The Pines carries a strong sense of fate and melodrama that suitably appeals to the emotions. A stand out offering from director Derek Cianfrance.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Frances Ha - Film Review

Starring: Greta Gerwig

27 year old Francis (Gerwig), an apprentice dancer, is at a loss when best friend Sophie announces plans to move out of their shared apartment. Floating through various living arrangements and piecemeal jobs in the year that follows, Frances becomes increasingly bemused at her lack of prospects compared to those around her. 

 Just as E.M Forster's 'The Longest Journey' quietly found its way into my life with its fortuitous timing (see blog post here), Frances Ha is my cinematic soothsayer equivalent. Millennials and 20-somethings alike would find this utterly relatable for its themes of quarter life restlessness. 

Frances Ha encapsulates the confusion and anxiety felt at the realisation that life is now a competition you had no wish to partake in - especially when it feels like you're losing. Friends who spend every waking moment with you now have plans that for the first time don't include you. Being in your 20s is now considered 'too old', or old enough to by now have a 'suitable job' and second homes.
As a twenty something Londoner, lacking the effortlessly cool apartment and hip neighbourhood to boot, I did feel slightly at a distance to the Manhattan setting and at times irritatingly carefree exploits of the characters. In one of her flippantly nonchalant moods, Frances takes off for a solo weekend in Paris. Bored and alone, the highlight of her Parisian foray is a call from erstwhile friend Sophie, holding out an olive branch to which Frances cannot commit to - being unceremoniously unavailable for flying out of the country on a moment's whim. (How she affords this when much of the film centers around France's financial woes was also to my chagrin). Nevertheless, I did like the whimsical nature of France's decisions, offset to her ever growing realisation that nothing goes to plan.

Her confusion at other people's sense of 'having it together' is both adorable and amusing and perfectly set to a dinner party, where acquaintances are married with second homes in France and express bemusement at Frances attempt to do the 'grown up thing' and ask ironically what their jobs are. This is offset with the more laidback table gatherings with flatmates Lev and Benji, who may not be quite as grown up but still leave Frances incredulous that everyone has it more together than herself. 
Greta Gerwig's performance is less frank and self aware as I anticipated it may be with my initial reservation that Frances Ha would be little more than a feature length episode of HBO's Girls. Instead Gerwig is awkward enough to be relatable, yet not so much to be irritatingly self complacent. With jubilous moments such as Frances running down the street to the score of Bowie's 'Modern Love', the carefree but wry element of Frances Ha is more visible for being shot in black and white.
 Have you seen Frances Ha? What were your thoughts?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas - Book Review

the love of my life, book review, louise douglas, love of my life book 
Synopsis: After the sudden death of husband Luca, Olivia [Liv] finds herself bereft of her companion in life. Spurned by their families for the embarrassment and emotional ramifications of their ill advised union and subsequent elopement, Liv makes the gut wrenching decision to relocate back to where she and Luca first met. The Love of My Life is set to the picturesque beach front town of Watersford, home to Marinella's, the family restaurant and backdrop to Liv and Luca's early life, both together and apart.

With no family or friends to speak of, and only the almost tangible memories of Luca to console herself with, Liv finds solace in the company of the only Marinella who doesn't express disdain at her arrival - Marc, Luca's twin brother. In their desolation and grief, the pair develop a mutual need for one another, both physically and emotionally.
Juggling her grief and guilt whilst enduring the perpetual hostility of her in-laws, Liv begins a job as a research assistant at the local university, working for a taciturn professor on his controversial biography of a Watersford author. The Love of My Life takes us through Liv's past and present, both with and without Luca and her struggle to find her new place in life.


Douglas has taken a straight forward plot, and stock characters (i.e. the death of a spouse, inhospitable in-laws, extra marital affairs) and shaken off the usual literary stereotypes and assumptions one would usually associate with them. For instance, the affair is refrained from being regarded as anything sordid or disrespectful to Luca's memory. Liv expresses guilt and remorse for her actions and her grief is at times all consuming to the point where it isn't a far stretch to feel sympathy at her situation. Isolated and chastised for her decisions, both in the past and present, Liv is almost a social pariah, judged for the indiscretions and mishaps of her youth that have doggedly clung to her reputation as an adult.

As the story progresses, Douglas flicks back and forth through Liv's timeline, alternating between the present, newly widowed state and Liv's younger self.  The narrative is at times melodiously written, which I found myself thinking was quite odd for a first person perspective - it seemed out of keeping with the accessible style of Liv's tone. However as the story reminds you towards the end, it is in fact a written log of Liv's life post-Luca. Upon this realisation, I appreciated Douglas's knack of commenting on the smaller facets of a scene to create a world for her character that we're permitted unfettered access to. I never felt it to be a biased narrative, as although Liv discusses what could easily be perceived as a checkered past (through noone's fault but her own), she has no qualms in accepting her blame where due.

I personally would have preferred a bit more development for the supporting characters. Much of what we have is from Liv's perspective and from her younger self we know that naivety is not always lacking. I was intrigued by Nathalie, Liv's sister-in-law and Marc's wife, who is especially thorny to Liv and her return. Although we are given justification and insight into her motivations and attitude, I would have liked more interaction between her and Liv. 

Have you read The Love of My Life?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn - Book Review

dark places, gillian flynn, book review, gone girlSynopsis:  

Libby Day is the sole survivor of the horrific massacre which claimed the lives of her mother and two elder sisters. Serving a life sentence is older misfit brother Ben Day. A reserved 15 year old, rumoured to have been associated with a satanic 'gang' at the time, Ben has yet to deny his involvement in the murders.

Having lived off the charity and monetary good will of the sympathetic, Libby has forged herself a reclusive (although not a content) existence. With funds depleting, Libby reluctantly agrees to make a 'special appearance' for the 'Kill Club' - a group of unsolved murder 'super fans.' Libby is initially embittered and dismayed to realise that the club is campaigning for Ben's release, believing him to be an innocent scapegoat for the massacre.

In exchange for cash, Libby embarks on a grim trip down memory lane, revisiting those connected to the events surrounding the murders. Already a dubious witness to the crime for being so young and most likely having produced a heavily scripted testimony, Libby pieces together exactly what happened and why.

** This Post Contains Spoilers **

My lasting impressions of Flynn's work is that she establishes and deftly maintains a strong thread of suspense throughout her narratives. As with Gone Girl, 'Dark Places' switches the perspective with each chapter, alternating between present day Libby, a sardonic and far from well adjusted adult, and the past Ben and Patty Day - the family's pallid matriarch - on the fated day in question.

What is admirable in Flynn's storytelling is her ability to run the present and past at parallels. She creates a slow building climb through the past, as it crawls out of cloaked truths simultaneously to Libby's own recent discoveries. She has a tight grip on the narrative, able to scatter events and scraps of information across the two timelines to converge at a watertight conclusion.
Ben possesses burgeoning resentment at what he feels to be the ever humiliating emasculation from living in a dilapidated, female dominated household. Ridiculed by his errant father for being effeminate, and constantly at pains from his mother to appease his sisters, Ben becomes quietly determined to assert his masculinity. Thoughts of 'annihilation', befriending a group of erstwhile drifters, including girlfriend Diondra and friend Trey, both with a penchant for the macabre and bloody, all contribute to the picture of a prime suspect.

When reading 'Dark Places', what stuck in mind was the feeling that Flynn staunchly pushes the point that everything can be explained. In essence, a few coincidences equated with the truth. Incriminating evidence is often neatly explained away, and although this provides the story with some satisfying twists, it sometimes felt these were robbed of impact for being mundane.

As with Gone Girl, I felt that the more obvious conclusion and assumption would have been the most apt. Sometimes I prefer the straight forward explanation as opposed to a plot rife with red herrings. Ultimately, I would have preferred if Ben HAD been guilty to a greater extent than the plot provides. It would have opened a more interesting psychological aspect to his character. Instead I felt the truth of the massacres to fall slightly flat. Although still horrific and haunting, the end seemed to suddenly shift direction in a way that although made sense, was not too endearing.

What I also found disappointing was that Ben's interest in the dark and satanic is never fully explained, even though we have his perspective at our disposal. Flynn seems to glean over Ben's growing attraction to this unsettling preoccupation. Instead, his thoughts are spontaneous and little elaborated on. Even in his incarcerated adult state, Flynn refrains from exploring the effect of Ben's involvement with the satanic in his later years.

 I did thoroughly enjoy Flynn's work but have twice found that the endings fall short of the rest of the plot. I would like to see her provide us with the more anticipated conclusion, leaving the rest of the story to deal with the ramifications.

(Note: I'm thinking a bit of Broadchurch here. There was much debate on why the show lacked the huge 'whodunnit' twist, when instead it was directed towards examining the consequences and emotional ramifications resultant of the crime.)

Have you read Dark Places or other Gillian Flynn novels? What are your thoughts?