Lost River (2014)

2016 #79
Ryan Gosling | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Lost RiverThe directorial debut of uber-hearththrob movie star Ryan Gosling is not what you might expect someone of that particular adulation to produce. It’s not just that it has a dark heart, but that it’s slow, opaque, perverted, and not easily summarisable.

To try nonetheless: Bones (Iain De Caestecker) lives in a possibly-near-future rundown Detroit, where his mother (Christina Hendricks) is struggling to repay the loan so they can keep their house. A meeting with the bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) leads to him offering her a job at a mysterious nightclub. Meanwhile, Bones salvages copper for cash, which brings him into the orbit of vicious criminal Bully (Matt Smith). Escaping Bully’s clutches, Bones discovers an old road that leads under a lake. He learns from his neighbour, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), that there’s a town under there, which may hold the key to breaking the curse hanging over their town…

If it’s not obvious, there’s definitely some magical realism going on in Lost River. Adult fairytale would be another term for it; there are slices of some form of Gothic, too. To put it another way, it’s definitely Lynchian. Other directors may have been an influence on Gosling as well, but it specifically brought Blue Velvet to mind for me, without in any palpable way being a clone of that movie. Nonetheless, it also engages with some very real present-day issues, like the recession, albeit in an elliptical fashion (despite the plot being about someone under threat of losing their house). Perhaps this is just a convenient way to touch of themes of family, home, and what home means (i.e. more than just a house), as well as the importance or otherwise of escaping that home, or somehow reconstituting it.

Lake lightsIt comes to a very cathartic ending, on multiple levels. I almost didn’t realise I needed that catharsis at the end — I knew I wanted certain characters to get their comeuppance, but the load that seems to lift at the end, with all the different climaxes combined, including parts that might not seem ‘good’… well, it’s almost like Rat is right about Bones’ actions lifting a bad spell.

On a technical level the film is superb, combining fantastic cinematography with evocative costumes, expressive sets, and an effective score. Some of the imagery is the visual equivalent of ambient mood music, as is some of the score (er, literally). That occasionally comes across as self-consciously Arty, therefore, but in the right mood or mindset it works. There are several strong performances as well: Christina Hendricks does understated desperation; Matt Smith is a credible schoolyard bully writ large; Ben Mendelsohn exudes menace as a nightclub-owner-cum-devil-incarnate; and Saoirse Ronan is marvellous in everything.

By giving it a 4, I’m maybe being a tad generous; certainly it’s poor consumer advice, because this is a “not for everyone” film. But if I gave it a 3, I’d be underselling how much I eventually liked it. It’s certainly flawed — slow, slight, maybe pretentious, and Arty. But it also takes us to an intriguing world, toys with some interesting ideas, conveys a few memorable moments, and stuns with consistently arresting visuals. I’ll take that mix over “blandly fine” any day.

4 out of 5

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The Delayed Monthly Update for April 2016

I was away this weekend and didn’t have much time for blogging, and most of what I did have was spent finishing 1999 Week, so that’s why this post is later than normal (and also why I have plenty of your posts & comments still to catch up on!)

(Also-also, if you were wondering where the “top films of 1999” post I promised had got to, I wrote about three-quarters of it before I decided it was rubbish, so I abandoned it. I’m sure I’ve published lots of rubbish on this blog over the years, but never deliberately.)

Anyway, on with what I watched in April…


#68 Of Human Bondage (1934)
#69 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
#70 Cool World (1992)
#71 Warrior (2011)
#72 The Limey (1999)
#73 The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
#74 Election (1999)
#75 The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), aka Wu Lang ba gua gun
#76 Ghosts of Mars (2001)
#77 Caesar Must Die (2012), aka Cesare deve morire
#78 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
#79 Lost River (2014)
#80 The Fighter (2010)
#81 Wuthering Heights (2011)
#82 A Royal Night Out (2015)
#83 Locke (2013)
#84 Maleficent (2014)
#85 Christine (1983)
#86 The Iron Giant (1999)
#87 Badlands (1973)
#88 Pixels (2015)

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  • This is the earliest I’ve ever reached #75 — the previous best was 1st June, last year.
  • Coincidentally, I reached #75 this year on the date that I reached #50 last year (8th April) — which at the time was a record.
  • “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” continues at pace with Brad Bird’s popular animated B-movie homage The Iron Giant. I’ve already reviewed it here.
  • Four films from 1999 this month. We know what that led to.


For the fourth month in a row, I’ve crossed the 20 film boundary. Out of 112 months I’ve been doing this, it’s only the 7th time that’s happened. Expressed another way, it only happens 6.25% of the time; before 2016, it only happened 2.78% of the time (and before 2015, it only happened 1.04% of the time!)

The final number of films this month was actually 21, which is slightly behind the 2016 average — but only slightly, because that was 22.3. It’s now adjusted to a round 22. Conversely, being five films better than April’s previous best, it raises the April average from 8.25 to 9.67.

Predictions are typically futile, though it’s beginning to look like I’ll be away for most of December, which throws an interesting variable in the mix. (I say “interesting” in a relative sense.) Of course, “most” is not “all”, so it likely won’t count for 0 — but will it reach the 10-per-month minimum I’ve been holding steady on for nearly two years now? Well, that’s a discussion for December itself. In the meantime, even if December doesn’t reach 10, my final tally should be in excess of 160 — easily enough to score the second best year ever. If I hew closer to that 22 average, 2016 could wind up passing 250…



Foreign deconstructions of American values, genre revisionism, high camp, one of the greatest Bond films, and paternal revelations — it’s all go in this month’s eight favourites!



The 11th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite an easy choice this month. Films that are made ‘artily’ (for want of a better word) sit on a fine line, for me: too far one way and they tip off into pretentious dullardom, but get it right and they can be utterly fantastic. A couple of films erred on the right side of that line this month, thankfully, but only one really nailed it, and that was The Limey.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Even in a month that includes multiple critically-reviled films (Cool World, Ghosts of Mars, Lost River, Pixels), my pick for this category was really easy — and it’s none of those. This winner’s predecessor wasn’t exactly high art (far from it), but it had something to it — some innovation; some merit in its extremeness. This sequel doesn’t have that. For being almost entirely vacuous and looking cheap as chips, this month’s travesty of cinema is 300: Rise of an Empire.

Most Inexplicably Popular Film of the Month
I’m going to steal a bit from the draft of my forthcoming review to explain this one: “The weirdest thing is, this is the kind of movie I regularly give 4-stars to, while loads of other people give it 3 and I think they’re being a bit harsh but I can see where they’re coming from. Yet somehow Warrior transcends such criticism from people who usually have too much ‘taste’ — they acknowledge it’s terribly clichéd, but then give it a pass on that. Why? Why don’t you give the same leniency to the tonnes of other movies you cruelly rip to shreds for their clichés?” (For more on this theme, see table9mutant’s review.)

Most Critically-Reviled Film of the Month That I Actually Really Enjoyed
As I alluded to above, there are several contenders for this trophy (not Cool World, though — that is rubbish). Leaving aside a couple of sci-fi blockbusters that, while not as bad as many critics made out, are still not really more than “entertaining while they’re on”, the winner here is Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River. Heavily influenced by other filmmakers, certainly, and almost self-consciously elliptical with its pace and storytelling, I nonetheless thought there was a lot to like if you’re open to ‘that kind of film’ (think Lynch).

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Thanks to a retweet by Film4, views for Starman went through the roof (relative to my normal posts, anyway). It wasn’t enough to challenge Harry Potter 1&2 for the most-viewed post of the month overall, but then nothing ever is.


Once upon a time, I made a comment that can be summarised as, “Perhaps one day I could reach #100 in May — ha ha ha ha ha, like that could ever happen!”

Well…