Tag Archives: Ben Mendelsohn

Lost River (2015)

19 Apr

Heartthrob/meme generator Ryan Gosling makes his first debut into the world of directing with Lost River.  Starring Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes and Matt SmithLost River tells a story of a poverty-stricken family trying to scrounge up enough dough to keep mortgage on the family home alive in an increasingly destructive city.

A mirror to modern day Detroit (where the film was actually shot), the once prosperous city of Lost River has turned into a surreal wasteland due to economic collapse. Desperate to keep her family from leaving, Billy (Christina Hendricks) takes a job offer from the mysterious Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), while her son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) hunts for copper and other abandoned items of value in the desolated neighborhood. Meanwhile, Bully (Matt Smith), the self-proclaimed “King of Lost River” becomes rattled at the thought of Bones taking what now belongs to him, and the two forces start a violent fight for control of the area.

Stylistically, Lost River takes its influences from a variety of sources. It’s obvious that Gosling has seen his share of David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Nicholas Winding Refn and Harmony Korine, and he is trying hard to emulate them all at once here. Mostly it works on the surface, but beneath the slow-moving (and beautifully shot) images of a decaying suburb lies a film that somehow feels thematically hollow. Lost River is a hodgepodge of ideas and emotions, none of which get fully developed, making the film a classic exercise in style over substance.  However, Gosling seems to know what he is doing, and technically the film is a marvel considering it’s his first array into the directors chair.

Bottom Line: While most viewers will find Lost River either too pretentious or too diluted, I thought there was just enough visually brooding sophistication to keep me happy. That and Ben Mendelsohn’s dancing.

Screenshot 2015-04-18 22.53.46

 

Rating 6/10 

Film Recipe: Every single Nicholas Winding Refn movie ever + Every single David Lynch movie ever + Cosmopolis (2012) + The Warriors (1979) 

Slow West (2015 Sundance)

9 Feb

A 19th century western set in the great nation of New Zealand? Sure, why not? Slow West tells the story of Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Rose (Karen Pistorius), two lovers separated by tragic circumstances. Jay, a proper british aristocrat decides he will journey solo out west in order to be reunited with his true soulmate. What he doesn’t know is that he isn’t the only one looking for Rose, as she is wanted by the law and has a large bounty on her head.  Michael Fassbender plays Silas, a lone wolf frontiersman who agrees to help escort Jay to California – for a price of course. Along the way the duo runs into thier fair share of obstacles, treacherous characters and drunken adventures.

It’s a small-scale indie film, but there is still a quality to Slow West that makes it feel like a full blown epic. We see our heros traverse a wide array of terrain that only New Zealand can offer – from harsh desert landscapes to wheat fields so picturesque they’re surreal – and every frame is shot in vivid detail from cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Philomena, Fish Tank).  Fassbender is great as always, and he totally dissolves into his machismo mountain-man character. Smit-McPhee is different. Playing the brooding and plain-faced adolescent, he never is quite expressive enough to convincingly play the part; you get a sense Smit-McPhee was cast more for his eye candy appeal than his dramatic chops. Thankfully, most of the film he keeps to himself and lets Fassbender do all the talking.

In the way of narrative, Slow West is fairly simple film that borrows heavily on various genre influences. You get an adventurous touch of Sergio Leone mixed in with the revenge tendencies of Tarantino, peppered with some Coen-esc dark comedy.  These elements work great individually, but as a sum total of its parts, Slow West should be more impressive than it actually is. At a tidy 84 minutes, however, there isn’t much to be complain about, and the film’s latter half far outshines its monotonous first.

Bottom Line: Though it falls short of the epic masterpiece it’s pretenses would suggest, Slow West still provides a wonderful journey for audiences and a much-needed revision to the western genre.

slowwest

Rating: 7/10 

Similar to: True Grit (2010), The Assassination of Jesse James (2007),  Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) 

Mississippi Grind (2015 Sundance)

8 Feb

Director Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) hits the fast-paced world of gambling with his latest Sundance Film Festival entry Mississippi Grind. Set at various casinos up and down the Mississippi River, the film follows Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), a longtime gambling addict, and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a fellow gambler.  Gerry, (who is long overdue on his payments and owes money to half his friends and family) plays the poker game as a last-effort resort to make his payments. Curtis is just in it for the fun, or as he says “I like meeting gamblers”. The two form a tight friendship and decide to enter a high profile tournament in New Orleans.

It becomes clear early on that Gerry needs to win big and will either be coming back home as a winner or not at all. His technique involves playing a CD with hundreds of audio tips (“…number 85 – A player with a furrowed brow indicates disappointment. He or she might be holding a bad hand…”) in his car as the two journey together. Curtis on the other hand, has enough money, but is just a traveler by nature, never staying in one town for two long. According to him, the journey is more important than the destination.

Most of Mississippi Grind takes the form of a road movie, with Curtis and Gerry meeting a colorful assortment of characters and playing a series of small-time games together as they make their way down south.  Heartbeat Ryan Reynolds gives a solid performance, but it is really Ben Mendelsohn who steals the show. Mendelsohn, who has long been underrated character actor, totally dissolves into his character and shows the many mannerisms of a gambling addict. To such a person, every little thing becomes something to bet against (at one point, Gerry impulsively bets $1000 on whether or not the next person walking out of the restroom will have glasses on) and their only way of coping with life’s stresses is to constantly be winning.

Watching these two characters on screen is incredibly satisfying, but their chemistry is sadly restrained by the simple story. The atmosphere is there, the acting is there, the music is fantastic – but what this film is missing is a narrative dramatic enough to match the performances. We never really get a sense of how much this poker tournament means to each character, and it feels like they are just onscreen to fill time and space.  Without much of a purpose or a need to be there, the film just feels like an unnecessary road trip.  It has its moments for sure (the final 15 minutes is quite incredible) but as a whole, Mississippi Grind just isn’t compelling enough to merit much other than a simple bromance between two gambling addicts.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: The Gambler (1974), Hard Eight (1996), Sideways (2004) 

Animal Kingdom (2010)

7 Aug

With an ensemble cast of Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Guy Pearce, and stellar screenwriting and direction by Daivid Michod,  Animal Kingdom is a terribly underrated indie gem which stands out as one of the best films to emerge from Australia in recent times.  Part coming-of-age story, part crime-thriller, the film documents the life of a 17-year-old boy who is trying to fit in to an elusive but colorful family with a criminal past.

After the sudden death of a particular family member, the Cody family decides to take up arms and start a vendetta with the local law enforcement. What unfolds is an unpredictable and captivating series of events that set a new standard for the domestic crime drama. Animal Kingdom’s greatest strength is in it’s rich characterization. Though Jacki Weaver got the Oscar nomination, Ben Medelsohn gives the performance of his career, creating the elusive and multilayered “Pope” Cody.

While it lacks the depth of films like The Godfather or City of GodI thoroughly enjoyed this film and director David Michod really knows how to create effective tension that drives the story without missing a beat.

Rating: 8/10

Similar to: L.A. Confidential, Training Day, The Town