So once again we have survived.

Only God Forgives

tn_onlygodforgivesFor ONLY GOD FORGIVES, the latest from writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE, VALHALLA RISING, etc.), Ryan Gosling trained in Thai boxing to play a quiet American running a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. That lady who sued DRIVE for not being like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is gonna have to sue this one for not being like BLOODSPORT.

Or for not being like DRIVE, for that matter! This is not a commercial movie at all. It’s all mood and ambience. Slow, deliberate camera moves down hallways, precise, Kubrickian compositions, men introduced standing in poses rather than walking into rooms, not alot of dialogue, credits in Thai. It doesn’t explain much and leaves alot of weirdness lying around to either interpret, enjoy as surrealism, or get frustrated by. Of course I like to read a little symbolism into some of it, but I think it also works taken literally. This is a foreign, dangerous world that people like us wouldn’t understand. Not just because it’s Bangkok, either. The Bangkok you live in is just a sugar coated topping.

The gym that Julian (Gosling) runs actually doesn’t look that sketchy at a glance. There are kids training with pads and fighting in a ring with a referee. They’re not fighting to the death or anything. There aren’t even torches on the wall, it’s like a legitimate athletics facility. But the camera looks closer, watches the people in the crowd, sees them sneakily passing money from one to another. In a dark back room Julian and his older brother Billy (Tom Burke, DRAGONHEART: A NEW BEGINNING) are involved in some kind of nefarious dealings. I think they’re recruiting some of their young athletes to do illegal shit for them. Not cool.

mp_onlygodforgivesOh, you know what else is not cool? What Billy does to a prostitute. This family is involved in the drug trade, not the sex trade, but they seem to enjoy those services alot. I don’t know if they have a deal worked out between the two businesses, they could give each other discounts or put them on a list for freebies or whatever. Anyway, Billy is a really, really bad customer, he would get alot of negative feedback if this was ebay, because he comes in drunk one night and leaves a young woman dead, and that’s what starts the whole mess that this movie is about.

You know how people are, so you might think the rest of Bangkok wouldn’t give two shits about a dead prostitute. That’s why killers get away with this shit. Luckily (?) there’s a cop who cares a whole lot. And not like your standard run-of-the-mill cop care. His name is Inspector Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm, who’s also gonna be in NINJA II) and he’s not a guy who investigates crimes. This is a guy who comes to people who are in the wrong, he pulls out his sword, and if he’s feeling merciful he only chops off a limb and lets them live. Most of the time he doesn’t feel merciful.

Chang gets the dead prostitute’s dad and makes him beat Billy to death. Before long the family is sending hitmen after the dad, and Chang is sending cops after the hitmen, and the family is sending other guys after the cops…

It’s a war between two sides, one fighting for family, the other for law and morality. But both are total savages. Of the two sides, I would argue that Chang is the more justified one. His victims were a rapist-murderer, a man who sold his daughter into prostitution, various people involved in massacring police officers… the other side is just after revenge for the death of the rapist/murderer from their family. So he’s closer to being the hero, but he’s easily the biggest psycho in the movie. He mutilates people and then goes to sing bland karaoke in a little club for about a dozen of his fellow officers, who watch expressionlessly.

It’s a different type of revenge movie because right from the drop you’re thinking I can’t really get behind avenging this particular person. Even his own brother feels that way. So you don’t have any righteous excuses for enjoying all this brutality.

It really earns that great title. Just about the only non-horrible people in the movie are the little girl, who says to leave people alone and work things out by talking (but she’s probly just talking about a conflict between her dolls), and the poor, gorgeous “entertainer” Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) who Julian pays to masturbate in front of him and to pretend to be his girlfriend at a dysfunctional dinner with his mom (Kristin Scott Thomas, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON). She barely says anything but sits in for the audience by looking disgusted at the horrible things mom says.

I had no idea it was Thomas playing the bleach blond, trashy crime queen. I’ve seen her look compared to Donatella Versace, but she made me think of Hulk Hogan’s wife when he was on that reality show. She gets most of the laughs in the movie as not necessarily the worst person but definitely the most hatable. She’s evil in larger than life ways but also mundane ones, like being a total bitch to the innocent woman behind the desk at her fancy hotel. Even if she hadn’t started taking out hits and talking about her sons’ dick sizes I still would’ve hated her.

Gosling’s character isn’t that far of from what he did in DRIVE, leaning against walls with his short sleeves rolled up, trying to look badass, barely talking, his face seemingly dead to emotion but sometimes revealing that something is broken, and that he’s still a child in some ways, even though he’s prone to sudden explosions of ultra-violence. But he’s great again. Always good to see actors that understand the value of shutting the fuck up.

still_onlygodforgives

Chang is an instant classic villain, if he is a villain. He’s old and small and looks tired and I absolutely believe that he could and would disembowel me. When he duels Gosling and beats the shit out of him I believe that too. I don’t care if Gosling’s been working out, this is a guy who transcends working out. This is not a guy who drinks protein shakes. This is a guy who eats your babies:

still_onlygodforgives2

There are so many strange, memorable bits: the weird little cross-eyed kid sitting in a chair watching an intense interrogation, making us uncomfortable because we don’t know what’s gonna happen to him, we don’t know what he’s gonna see, we don’t know why he’s there, we don’t want to be staring at him. Also, the fight between Julian and Chang, which takes place on cement, Julian wearing dress shoes without good traction. He had plenty of time to take off his vest and tie, but he didn’t. I love the scene where Chang crucifies a thug in the middle of a club where a dozen or more dressed up ladies sit with their eyes closed, as instructed. Their long fake eyelashes don’t even twitch at his screams of agony. I feel like maybe they’ve done this a few times.

The score by Cliff Martinez is outstanding. It alternates between very dramatic low tones and percussion and gentle ambient sounds, almost like bells blowing in the wind from another room in a Buddhist temple. Also, some electro shit in one part. But I think most of it would work really well on a normal b-action type martial arts movie. They should start ripping it off, I bet it would work really well with some of those.

I think this is a great movie, the kind where the more I write about it the more I think “oh shit, I have to go see this again.” But I think that all normal people and plenty of others will hate it. I’ve heard the phrase “all style and no substance” thrown around. I disagree. It left plenty of things in my brain to chew on, and that’s substance. But I also don’t think all movies really need to have substance, or that very many movies really have anything very deep to say anyway. It’s just that in this movie the style is so undeniable that it overwhelms some people. It’s not that it’s not enough substance for them, it’s that it’s too much style. Please, sir, your style is making me uncomfortable. Tone it down.

But to me, some of the best movie experiences come from undiluted filmatism like this. Using images and sounds to communicate feelings that words really can’t.

Not that there’s anything wrong with not liking it. It’s clearly not for everybody. Despite the pulpy content, the style leans toward the more abstract end of the Arthouse Badass spectrum. But not all the way. It pushes the limits of the control, for sure. Early on there’s some non-literal dream imagery type stuff, and I thought it was gonna go beyond the black rainbow, or it was gonna rise Valhalla a little bit, but mostly it stays within the realm of the regular slow and quiet and atmospheric. I thought alot about Johnny To and Jim Jarmusch. One J name that did not occur to me was Jodorowsky, but the first credit at the end is a dedication to him. I don’t really see an obvious reason why other than that he’s awesome and all movies should be dedicated to him.

To put it in Refn terms it’s not as weird as the end of VALHALLA RISING, but weirder than the beginning. I was very glad I saw it in a theater because I might not appreciate it as much with all the distractions available at home. This is the kind of movie you gotta crawl inside of.

I love DRIVE, and I love hearing Refn talk about it, but also the stuff he claims he was trying to put in there sounds ridiculous. With that one he kept saying it was a fairy tale and also talking about it as a commentary on super heroes. I didn’t see or want to see any of that. I haven’t read too much on ONLY GOD FORGIVES yet, but I did see a quote where he said the idea was “a thriller produced as a western, all in the Far East, and with a modern cowboy hero.” And this time that’s kinda how I saw it! There is some UNFORGIVEN in there with the prostitute slasher and the psycho lawman who goes too far and the anti-hero who has some morals but not a full checklist of them.

As of now this is the year’s very best Danish-French co-production filmed in Thailand that is dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky and has an American former Mickey Mouse Club star, and I will be surprised if it doesn’t at least make it into the top 5 of those at the end of the year.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 at 2:48 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

135 Responses to “Only God Forgives”

  1. It might be because I know Refn is a huge fan of Charles Bronson, but I always see his movies as modern versions of the old Bronson movies. They’re not nescessarily something Charlie would have acted in, but his spirit rests over the projects. And what’s not to like about that?

  2. The part that felt the most “pretentious artsy bullshit” to me was the ending. Based on this and “Drive”, Refn seems to not want to give any concrete stopping point for his heroes, just to let them trail off like non-humans and then hastily change the subject to something else. Also…didn’t you find Gosling’s inexplicable mood swing outside the restaurant with his “girlfriend” a little silly? I know now why his recent characters have been so brooding and quiet – when the guy raises his voice he loses all power and badass credibility.

  3. I love Refn’s work, he’s one of the most distinctive contemporary filmakers and his control of mood and atmosphere is incredible. I was already looking forward to this but now I cannot wait after this review. If it’s anything like Fear X which it’s being compared too then I will not be disappointed.

  4. I saw it a few days ago and cant stop thinking about the film.
    I liked it very much, even though it is very non-cathartic (i usually prefer some catharsis).

    regarding the Jodorowsky credit: i didnt get this either, but a friend of mine reminded me that there was some arm-chopping in Santa Sangre. maybe thats at least some straw…

  5. Distinctive is not always a mark of quality. Bay is distinctive. I’m not saying this is anything like the poop of Transformers, but I think there’s a tendency I. Young men who watch a lot of movies to accept something like this at face value for just being violent, weird and by an acclaimed director.

  6. I’m not saying every movie has to be naturalistic, but come on, man…even the way the characters (all of them) move in this movie is painfully weird-for-weirdness-sake…they all seem like they’re in a trance, performing some kind of interpretive dance cycle.

  7. I’m hardly young Patrick, and I haven’t yet seen this film. Bay may be distictive, but his control over anything but helicopters is non-existant.

  8. Well said, Dirk. Age is just a number (:

  9. This felt a lot like HEY GUYS I JUST READ SOPHOCLES AND I HAVE SOME IDEAS: THE REFN MOVIE EXPERIENCE, and the world could have gone without the gruesome shot of that one guy’s sliced rib cage, but I dug this.

    Refn didn’t have anyone he trusted with a [dia/mono]logueistical character moment, a la Nino (Ron Perlman)’s heartfelt explication of his bitterness at being a picked-on Jew in DRIVE, so he said “Fuck dialogue!” and reverted back to his VALHALLA RISING style. Nothing wrong with that at all.

    Some of the editing here is identical to the fade-overlap-*buuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrmmmm*-sound style of DRIVE’s visual & sound editing choices, and ONLY GOD FORGIVES features yet another blade fetishist (recall Albert Brooks’s meticulously cared for collection of exotic tools of artery dissection in DRIVE) as well as a cast of annoyingly unrepentant criminal lowlifes (a la PUSHER) that would be considered grimy rednecks if not for the Asian-Euro-ness of their fashion choices & dialects, but it still feels like a singular, unique film experience.

    And that’s impressive, to be able to borrow from oneself, to eschew words as much as possible, to borrow from an ancient story (Oedipus Rex) that was the foundation for a psychological movement (Freudianism) that is growing more defunct in the scientific-philosophical community by the minute, and still deliver something memorable on its own merits.

  10. * Spoilers ahead… *

    Interesting review, I really liked the movie too. I actually saw it as a meditation on evil, even bordering on a religious tale. The movie’s theme is ‘Only god forgives… time to meet the devil’. Only the devil, in other words, is strong enough to really punish people if they’ve done something wrong. Unlike God, the devil does not forgive people and has an old-testament-type sense of absolute justice and absolute punishment. He is so strict that he almost becomes immoral again. Chang represents the devil, something hinted at when some police-officers ask the Gosling-character if he ‘knows who he (Chang) is’ and by the crucificion-scene in the club. It also explains his super-worldly skills and his immediate sense – in the beginning of the movie – that the Gosling-character is not the guy they are looking for at that moment. In a world as perverted as the Thai underworld in which the movie is set, only the devil can set things straight: the forgiveness of god has already failed.

    I saw the Gosling-character as someone constantly trying not to become evil, not to become seduced, torn apart by his surroundings: he only WATCHES his ‘girlfriend’ in the club, never touches her, and is plagued by hallucinations of his hands being cut off, tempted as he is to really do something with her. When he touches her at the end, he gives in to evil, to lust, and eventually loses his hands.

    At the other end of the Gosling-character’s ‘moral spectrum’ is his mother, who he wants to please but who is evil through and through, praising his brother’s actions by saying he must have had a reason for raping and killing the prostitute etc. He wants to please his mother, but also wants to stay ‘good’ or ‘pure’. The scene where he sticks his hand in her womb may represent his longing to become part of her again and be freed from the corrupt world in which he lives – earlier in the movie, she tells him she thought of aborting him when she was pregnant of him. It may also represent him acknowledging that he came from evil and can therefore not deny it anymore.

    The weird dress-scene outside the restaurant may represent his need to please his mother – he tells his ‘girlfriend’ she has to wear the dress for the dinner with his mom, but they both fail to please her when she immediately senses the girl is a prostitute – hence his outburst afterwards, even though his ‘girlfriend’ has done nothing wrong.

    During the whole movie, the Gosling-character floats in a sort of moral limbo, tempted by both sides, trying to do and be good, but in the end he succumbs and meets the devil.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it all, and certainly the movie has some weird and unexplainable scenes, but I definitely thought there was this religious symbolism going on in there.

  11. The only really interesting thing to me about this movie is how Gosling’s character was both a coward and a badass at the same time. Can’t remember the last time I saw that type of contrast within one main character.

  12. I didn’t think Gosling’s character was a badass at all. He’s a spineless, impotent, mentally unstable guy who’s been damaged by his crazy mother. She treats him like a dog. It’s implied that she sexually abused him and made him kill his own father. The big “Wanna fight?” SHOWDOWN with Thai Robot Cop turns out to be a humiliating ass kicking.

    I thought the movie was all about punishment. Both brothers *want* to be punished. The older brother with the bigger dick says “Time to meet the devil” before he kills a 16 year old and just sits there and waits to be punished. I didn’t think Gosling was being “plagued” by visions of getting his hands cut off, I think he was fantasizing about it. He starts having these visions while watching a woman masturbate. He wants to be punished for killing his father with his bare hands.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about fucked up Gosling finally finding the perfect Thai Robot Angel of Death to punish him for his sins.

  13. Broddie should see John Woo’s Dolph Lundgren *is* BLACKJACK.

    Or not. I didn’t like it at all except for a couple action set pieces, but Vern seemed to enjoy it unreservedly, and it sorta meets the criterion of badass/coward.

    Though a trauma-originated phobia maybe isn’t the same thing as cowardice. The lead guy in De Palma’s BODY DOUBLE has a courageous badass streak in him, but he’s also debilitated into a murmuring, useless little wimp once his claustrophobia kicks in; it’s a psych condition, not cowardice, but it has the same effect on his would-be heroism.

    Clarice Starling is a total badass, but she also allows herself to be very vulnerable, reverting to & sharing childhood memories that make her Lecter’s patient & psych-toy-thing, crying about her daddy. And she’s clearly as scared as any human’s ever been scared during the dark finale, but she’s also a great agent/trainee, so she presses on like a boss.

    I like what wadew & M are saying here. My American eyes didn’t quite catch all this stuff on my first viewing. Y’all must be Portuguese or something. Very insightful.

  14. Hmm, Kristin Scott Thomas, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON. I could have sworn I’d seen her somewhere else.

  15. Is it okay to laugh at Kristen Scott Thomas’ opening zingers at that horrible dinner? Another problem I have with this kind of movie is the kind of enforced austerity at the screenings…I feel like people stifle the urge to react in an unvarnished way to what they are seeing because they’re afraid it’ll puncture the museum atmosphere of the theater. I drove 2 hours to see this from Atlanta to Athens, I love movies, and this was pretty silly (but also gorgeous in moments and intriguing all the while).

  16. At the screening I saw they had a pre-show Q&A with Refn, conducted over Skpe. He addressed the Jodorowsky dedication, but I can’t remember exactly what he said – I think the dedication was because they are close friends and he admires him.

    He also talked a bit about the symbolism in the movie, specifically the equation of sex and violence, saying that he wanted to explore the idea of the punching fist being like sexual penetration. Seeing this sort of literally presented on the screen in one scene ended up making me groan (internally) – seemed kind of obvious and contrived when spelled out in advance.

    One thing he said that I liked was a quote from one of his friends (possibly Jodorowsky, I can’t remember), who, after seeing the movie, said that “if Drive is like cocaine, Only God Forgives is like acid”.

  17. In my theater people laughed at some of those lines at the dinner, as well as her awful “he must’ve had a reason” comment. I feel confident those are supposed to be funny, though. I’m not sure if you’re saying they’re not.

  18. Yeah, I think it takes a bit of the punch out of the movie when the big thematic climax of the film is something middle schoolers are taught when they read Lord of the Flies.

    I didn’t buy Kristin Scott Thomas as the malevolent force that a lot of reviews have pegged her as; she seemed amoral but oddly passive-aggressive. And I guess I’m in the small minority on this, but I thought Thomas was pretty wooden (though maybe it was just a side-effect of the hyper-stylization of the film).

    > Only the devil, in other words, is strong enough to really punish people if they’ve done something wrong. Unlike God, the devil does not forgive people and has an old-testament-type sense of absolute justice and absolute punishment. He is so strict that he almost becomes immoral again. Chang represents the devil, something hinted at when some police-officers ask the Gosling-character if he ‘knows who he (Chang) is’ and by the crucificion-scene in the club.

    Chang doesn’t punish the guy with the disabled son, does he? He seems more into teaching lessons on parenting than on enforcing justice / morality.

    I liked this movie quite a bit; I wish it had done more to earn its stuffy, self-important tone, but Chang is an awesome enough character to automatically make it great and memorable.

  19. I hate it when people use the phrase “style over substance”, there’s so much shit these days without style, so what’s wrong with an abundance of it? it’s not a negative if you ask me

  20. I pretty much hated Only God Forgives on sight, but in the past few days I’ve been having a lot of fun dissecting it with its defenders; picking up nuances that the other didn’t notice, etc. I still think the film was nothing but excessive cinematic masturbation populated with despicable characters and garnished with gratuitous violence, but it LOOKED great and the soundtrack was awesome. If I squint hard enough I can see what everyone liked about it. I think it’s a fun movie to pick apart after the fact, but watching it is a completely polar opposite experience.

  21. ‘I thought it was gonna go beyond the black rainbow’

    YES! I have been using that expression since the second I saw Beyond the Black Rainbow. No one has any idea what I’m talking about, but, as far as my using expressions no one understands goes, the people in my life tend to get what I mean by that. I liked the movie just fine, but the title has been a great boon in terms of describing weirdness.

  22. wadew – The way they guy tried to fight his way out of his own personal version of hell (Bangkok) was very bad ass. Despite the character himself being an unsympathetic piece of shit in the end.

    Mouth – Damn how could I forget BLACKJACK and it’s infamous juxtaposition. I always meant to check out BODY DOUBLE. Will see if I could stream it on Netflix this weekend with your insight in mind.

  23. RJH – “if Drive is like cocaine, Only God Forgives is like acid”.

    Damn considering how much this movie depends on the presence of vibrant colors (particularly red) to tell it’s story that’s actually a pretty accurate assertion.

  24. Patrick N what are you talking about, ryan gosling’s screeching bank robber voice was the highlight of place beyond the pines

  25. Vern – I did think it was funny, I was just referring to the awkwardness of being surrounded by people who treat some cinema like seance – if the jokes don’t have a fat underline its inappropriate to laugh.

    Parker Barnes – I loved Place Beyond the Pines, I was not expecting something so epic and cinematically ambitious but also intimate and painfully human.

    Jack Burton – Couldn’t have said it better.

  26. Hey Vern, longtime reader, first time commenter. I’d rate this as the worst of Refn’s films. Throughout the movie I was confused about what was supposed to be real and what was Gosling’s character’s imagination. Remember that part near the beginning during the “girlfriend” masturbation scene that intercut with a hand being sliced off – foreshadowing we realize later. Halfway through the film I was wondering if the hallway scenes bathed in red light took place in his head. I still don’t know.

    I have 2 other nitpicks. First, didn’t the composer directly lift his own score from Drive? I mean the music from the scene in Drive where Driver kisses his lady friend in the elevator – I swear it was the same in this movie in a couple scenes. Second, the “bad guy” removes his sword from behind his back when he dispenses justice, but he clearly doesn’t have it with him in any other shot in the movie.

  27. “But to me, some of the best movie experiences come from undiluted filmatism like this. Using images and sounds to communicate feelings that words really can’t.”

    Word the fuck up Vern, to me this is the whole fucking point and I never understood why people seem to get a stick up their ass when movies are even movier than usual.

    I don’t have a whole lot of substantial thoughts on the film but I was overjoyed to hear mention of Beyond the Mothafuckin Rainbow, you had to be there I guess but I swear I drew this comparison just now on the way home from the picture before I read your thoughts. In a positive way. Both films I sort of had to resign myself to some slower more ambient stuff at first, but become instant favorites in immediate retrospect.

    Blacky Green – Of COURSE he pulls his sword out of thin air (although in all fairness it’s a small blade, could be under his shirt). It was one of my favorite details, how dare this be called a complaint? Welcome to the discussions dude!

  28. I have become quite a fan of Nicholas Winding Refn thanks to his movies VALHALLA RISING, BRONSON, DRIVE and the PUSHER trilogy. I’m quite eager to see ONLY GOD FORBIDS for that reasons.

    “That lady who sued DRIVE for not being like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”

    I still can’t believe that actually happened. Sometimes real life can be even strange then the most surreal thing Refn can put in his movies.

    One of Vern’s coments, about the movie not going beyond the back rainbow, makes me wonder if he has watched that film. If so, i would love to read his review. It has a quote after the end credits from Bukaroo Banzai.

  29. renfield, i agree with your coments and i’m very happy to see a fellow fan of the crazy wonderful movie Beyond The Black Rainbow. I’d love to read Vern’s coments and thoughs about that film, and given his love for Jodorowski, i suspect he might have enjoyed it. The movie was directed by the son of Georgous P. Cosmatos, so there’s that connection to 80s action cinema, and it has a final quote from Bukaroo Banzai.

  30. Ancient Romans, i do know what you are talking about, and Beyond The Balck Rainbow has become one of my all time favorite movies. Whenever i feel the blues and just want to watch a movie, i often pop up BTBR, the movie has become something of confort film food for me.

  31. Mouth, that was quite a thesis you did above. I enjoyed it. From a fellow fan of VALHALLA RISING, salutations.

  32. I am desperate to see this film, but probably will not have the chance to see it until the weekend. It is at the top of my must see list with Johnnie To’s DRUG WAR. Even when Refn’s films don’t 100% work for me (VALHALLA RISING) the power of his visuals makes for stunning cinema.

    I also really enjoyed BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, and would be interested in hearing Vern’s thoughts on the film.

  33. Well the nearest place this plays to me is 50 miles away. I think I’ll wait for the rental.

  34. Thanks for the review. I had heard so much negative shit about this, except a quasi-positive review from Peter Travers in ROLLING STONE, that I just wasn’t sure about it. The trailer looked fucking bad ass, but then people were saying that it’s nothing like the trailer, even fans of DRIVE were mostly in the negative. Without Roger Ebert, Vern your my most trusted source.

  35. Yeah I’m not really sure why the film has been so thoroughly rejected by Thee Olde Establyshment. Aggregate review scores are the damnedest things…

    Refn makes a few weird tripped out art films: “How INTERESTING, how BIZARRE!”
    Refn makes Drive: Everybody rejoices that he got the weird shit under control and gave us an “actual movie”.
    Refn goes back to the weird shit, slightly: “Oh hell no Mr., you already used up your weird shit passes!”

    It’s not like the film is as alienatingly abstract as Valhalla, which was well received.

  36. Didn’t Valhalla Rising come about due to his desire to make a film entirely in slow motion? I know it’s not, but I have read a couple of comments elsewhere that say this is almost like that with the way people move within the frame and the camera glides. Damn I am so looking forward to this. I might just make that drive myself this weekend.

  37. I think I just don’t like Refn’s style. I find his movies to be painfully boring. I don’t think we’d even be talking about him if Gosling wasn’t so capable of making it seem like there’s something behind the silence. I don’t usually have a problem with deliberate pacing and a “slow burn” (Kubrick is probably my favorite director), but Refn just seems to make bad movies which also happen to be slow. That’s just my own opinion, though. I am happy that enough people like his stuff that he gets to keep making new ones. Unique film makers are always welcome, even if their movies aren’t my thing.

  38. I didn’t like it but I love that Refn just doesn’t give a fuck.

  39. I actually saw this as a typical cop-on-the-edge-gets-pushed-too-far movie, only made from the point-of-view of one of the minor villains.

    Sort of like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for the Excessive Force crowd. So, in the same way that Hamlet from the perspective of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a frightening and confusing puzzle, an action hero from the perspective of a second-tier villain must seem like some kind of terrifying godlike force of nature.

  40. DirkD13, you are correct Refn did say he originally wanted to shoot all of VR in slow mo.

    Dtroyt, I can’t say I really like all of Refn’s films, but except for some extremely slow parts of VR I have always been engaged by Refn’s compositions, use of color, and visual story telling. Even if some of the attempted symbolism in his work is lost on me I appreciate the power of his imagery. It can be striking to look at, like a piece of fine art.

  41. Charles, I can see that. I’ve definitely seen some pretty shots in his movies. I guess they just don’t “click” with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I rewatch something of his when I’m in a specific mood, and suddenly become a total fanboy of his work. Until then, I guess he’s just not for me. It’s sort of a bummer because I want to like his films, but it hasn’t happened yet. Oh well. Like I said, I’m glad he’s out there doing his thing regardless of whether I think he succeeds or not.

  42. Dtroyt, my posiiton os the opposite of yours, i think, i have been engaged by Refn’s work right when i was watching his first movie i ever saw, which is also his most surreal, VALHALLA RISING. That movie made me not only fall inlove with the film proper but also want to know more of this interesting new filmmaker. It was as if somebody was making the movies i wanted to watch and as antidote to the usual Hollywood big blockbluster dreck. In the first 5 days after i watched VAr for the first time i watched it 6 times. The first time i watched it, i rewatched it right away because i just wanted to recheck what the hell i just saw. Instant love.

    Refn for me is one of my favorite directors working today, and any new movie of his is very welcome news.

  43. Charles, i fully agree with you except on one thing, for me VALHALLA RISING works 100% and i wouldn’t want that movie in any other way.

  44. Eddie Lummox-

    “I actually saw this as a typical cop-on-the-edge-gets-pushed-too-far movie, only made from the point-of-view of one of the minor villains.”

    I’m down. There’s all sorts of lone-stoic-badass imagery associated with Chang, like the way he ritualistically handles his weapon as he leaves his house (though not without a gesture of recognition towards That For Which We Fight ie his daughter, or maybe his granddaughter whom he cares for after the unspeakable deeds that claimed his actual daughter’s life or [insert vengeance backstory/pretext here]). Of course it’s Chang’s sword whose shape constitutes one of the film’s primary icons, opening image, etc.

  45. I have seen Bronson, Valhalla, Drive and now this one and I’ve hated all of them. Just fucking hated them. I realize all the smart people tend to like this guy’s movies and I feel a little ashamed that I’m not in that fraternity. Fuck it, though…I like what I like and I sure don’t like this guy’s style at ALL.

  46. CaptainTass, to be fair, Refn’s movies don’t try to court the audiences, they are there and they are defiant to the audiences, daring the audience to like them or move on. THe audiences came to them, not them to the audiences.
    So i understand if you can’t grok then, they are not movies for everybody’s tastes.
    But those who enjoy them absoluly love them like their own blood. For those who do, they are mindblowingly awesome! For those who do, they can’t get enoughot them. I’m one of them.
    I feel lucky to be one of them. But i can understand who wouldn’t.
    To say some people don’t get Refn’s movies is, contrary to how often the expression is used, not an admition of stupidity, because this movies are not made to be acessible.
    Refn’s movies are not like INCEPTION (a film i adore) which is a very smart and clever movie but designed to be understood by everybody as long you pay atention, Refn’s movies are not to be understood or liked by everybody by design, they are hard to get movies who filter the viewhip.
    This doesn’t mean they are snobish movies, but that they know the type of audience that wants and digs them. And i can’t fault them for that, at least they know what they are, which is more then i can say about most other movies.
    I love this kind of cinematic courage that is such a wonderful contrast and antidote to the usual cinematic cowardice we see in Hollywood big studios so often to the point of nausia.

  47. I keep forgetting that Refn did Bronson, which I did like. (Although I do think that it’s very similar to but not as good as Chopper). So, there’s that!

    Also, I am glad that Refn’s work connects for Asimov and some of the rest of you. I mean that with sincerity. I want him to keep doing his thing. I’m sure at some point one of his movies will really work for me and I’ll revisit his whole catalog and realize I like his work better than I thought.

    Even though it’s a remake that shouldn’t get made, and even though they made an interesting choice in having Spike Lee direct it, I kind of think that Refn should’ve been the guy to take on Oldboy.

  48. I think that Spike Lee is a better choice for Oldboy, which I would prefer to be more grounded and not come off as an otherworldly fantasy. The original Oldboy (and of course we all want the remake to duplicate everything we liked about the original…) had flourishes of otherworldliness but that’s what made them special, seeing them rise out of something grounded and human. Ie the scene where he’s flat on his back, in the middle of a fight with these punk kids, and he savors a drag on his cigarette, or the fact that they both hallucinate insects. I think creating a real and authentic feeling atmosphere and then dipping your toes into sur- and magic-realism is something Spike Lee does exceptionally well and I was pretty overjoyed when I found out he was remaking Oldboy. Let Refn revive the Akira remake instead.

  49. Spike Lee’s choice to be the director of OLDBOY is so left-field it might actually work.

    Dtroyt, thank you for your words. I dobelieve one day you will look Refn’s movies in retorspective and appreciate them and maybe even fall inlove with them. For some, th best way to get into his filmmography is to start from the begining, with the Pusher movies. Right now Refn has a highly stylized style (no pun intended), so maybe if begining with his first moive, which are more down to earth type, can do the trick.

  50. Yesterday i had the oportunity to watch ONLY GOD FORGIVES.
    Mr VErn’s review is very spot on on the movie, that i don’t thinki can’t add too much of my own.
    I’d like to add one thing, however, to what had been said.
    Many have seen Chang as the true hero of the movie, equating him to those revenge characters of many action movies, specialy made in the 70s and 80s. A poster above said the movie is like seeing one of those stories but from the perspective of a small thug who in those movies would be a periferal character, 0ne of those the vengeful hero would always confront before reaching the final top bad guy. It is a valid interpretation and provides the movie with an added layer level element that’s very welcome.
    The movie itself seems to sugest that Chang is the eponomous god of the title. He is the only character that seems to show forgiveness, but at a high price. Only god forgives is about him, then. There’s some hints to this in the way the movie presents him, an unbelievable badass no one can even touch, and the utter respectful and in awe treatment his underling cops show to him.

    My own interpretation is that this is a movie about monsters. With the exception of the character of Mai the prostitute, every character in this movie are monsters in himan shape, and Chang is one of those, if not the most. In the way the character is played by the actor, the mesmerizing Vithaya Pansringarm, as somebody always in an visible effort to control his destructive urges, who he channels to his vigilante and punishing actions. The only things that seem to sooth his barely conceiled anger is his attitude toward his very demiure wife, his child who he plays with going along with her naive play games, and his karaoke seesions in his favorite bar, where he sing silly pop love songs for his fellow cops as audience.
    But in the end, it’s hard to say there are any good guys in this filmn, save for Mai.

    Also of note, it’s quite funny and interesting to see how the movie subverts the usual scene where the hero and the villain (who’s who in this movie?) have a fight, and play completly contrary to what’s expected.

    It’s a realy great movie, but many will not like it, even if they liked Refn’s previous movies. But for me, this movie just keeps proving he is a filmmaker much of his onw, he is his own man, with his own signature style, and he’s one of the most original and interesting filmmakers working today, he is the real deal. This movie again reminded me why i enjoy his movies so much and him as a director. Can’t wait for his next film.
    And for those who can’t stand Lars Von Trier, in their native Denmark Refn is notorious for being Trier’s arch-enemy.

  51. The manager of the small theater I viewed this film at spoke before the film started. He said a lot of people hated the film and offered a refund to anyone who couldn’t make it past the first fifteen minutes, though he also said he liked it and encouraged everyone to stick it out. Only one person left.

    The visuals were top notch but the score is what really did it for me. The scene where Chang executes his wouldbe assassin in front of the young boy is scored like a horror movie, with that deep, sinister bass pulse adding so much tension to an already tense moment. Great stuff.

  52. dethtrout, and how about that electronic track that plays before the fight between Chang and Julian? That also deserves special mention.

  53. Absolutely, asimovlives.

  54. Not sure what to say about this movie. I’ve seen most of Refn’s other movies and I like that he really just seems to be trying to make art with his movies. Just like any artist, not all his art is good. This is an interesting experiment. Gosling called it a “silent movie”, and even though there is some dialogue it is basically a silent movie where expression is more important than anything that is actually said. The problem for me is it really doesn’t go anywhere you wouldn’t expect it to go. If you see the movie as a revenge tale starring the Chang character then everything that happens is what you would expect to happen. It really just felt like a revenge tale told from the perspective of the other side. It would be like watching Once Upon A Time In The West and following Henry Fonda’s character while Charles Bronson just shows up in a few scenes killing his men. It’s an interesting take which makes the person seeking revenge look like a total monster, but Chang is really just the same as any “hero” in a revenge tale. He’s avenging the death of a young girl because he has a young girl of his own. He’s seeks revenge against the father who allowed her to go into prostitution and the family of the gangster who killed her. It’s an interesting movie, but not a good one.

  55. I really enjoyed this film, but I’m also a fan of Refn. I don’t think he has much to say, or at least there’s not much of a “message” to his movies, but the actual experience of watching his films are always emotionally affecting. Almost like Malick, who sometimes has something to say (and in the case of Tree of Life has a message I fucking deplore and think is destructive), in that it’s more about emotional responses to the actual act of viewing the film.

    As someone who digs Refn but loathes Tarantino and thinks that Nolan is the most bland and insipid film maker of the last decade, I sympathize with those who don’t enjoy Refn but who are then lectured about why “it’s okay they don’t like it, because you don’t get it”. Sorry, guys! Defending or attacking Refn is like arguing about musical genres, paintings, or what foods taste better.

    Chitown, I like your comparison to Once Upon A Time In The West (one of my absolute favorites) but that comparison only makes me like Only G-d Forgives more.

  56. Casey, but i love Refn, Tarantino and Nolan and consider them to be some of the most talented filmmakers today, sitting at the top of the crop.
    Each in their own way are inovative and unusual talents who pick up usual genre fare and elevates them to higher levels then it’s usual to see in mainstream cinema.
    I find them to complement each other, and if i was a filmmaker i would want a bit of each in me, among other filmmakers who i also admire.
    I realy can’t understand how one can like one of them and not the others as well. I’m glad they all exist and are making movies, cinema would be far more boring without any of them or each of them.
    i guess i’m an happier cinephile.

  57. Casey, what was the destructive message in Tree of Life? I did some research and found that you had positive things to say about the film in the comments section of Vern’s review. I’m, like, drooling with curiosity now….

  58. I would guess the “destructive message” in TREE OF LIFE would be the lionization of the stern father figure. Common theme in 1950s-era culture – father is a distant asshole more interested in laying down rules than showing love for his male children.

    This kind of story often has him cracking at some point to show that he was actually just a big softie all along, or perhaps he has a heartfelt monologue about how his own dad whipped his ass on a regular basis, so at least him just being a jerk is progress in the right direction. I believe there was some of this in TREE OF LIFE but the overall theme is pretty stereotypical “strict unfeeling father and passive nurturing mother”.

    However, I would argue that the movie is not supportive of this setup – the two boys obviously feared but loved / loathed their father and this was destructive to them both psychologically. There is a lot of pain inflicted on them by their father and there is not a lot of the apologetic stance that is so often taken that a strict upbringing is needed (almost exclusively with boys) to set them on the right path and prepare them for the world, so the asshole father is justified in the end. At the same time the movie doesn’t demonize the father either. These things tend to go one way or the other – the father is strict but fair and produces some good boys in the end that he can be proud of, or he is an alcoholic drunk who beats everybody in sight so you are goaded into hating him along with his sons. TREE OF LIFE hit it kind of down the middle, which doesn’t really make for an especially great story but it feels real and it’s very affecting to many people.

    So who knows, maybe there’s some other destructive message in there that he was talking about. Dinosaurs.

  59. Another question: why is everybody calling it karaoke? How do you know he’s not just singing … performing like? And why don’t you guys think his singing is as badass as I do?

  60. I considered that there isn’t a screen with the lyrics. But I think there are some versions of karaoke where you have to actually know the song without help. I don’t know, it seems more informal than him being a singer at the club. And it’s to a pre-recorded instrumental track.

    Those songs are on the soundtrack CD, by the way.

  61. asimov, I’m able to like Refn and dislike Tarantino and Nolan because I am smarter than you. Simple, really.

    renfield, I like Tree of Life. I was emotionally affected by Tree of Life and really dig a lot of it (which is rare as Malick leaves me cold more times than not). But, thinking about it (and it is a film I’ve found myself thinking about) I start coming away with thinking about how the mother and father compare. The father is beaten down by life and feels like he’s being stolen from and exploited so he rages at that. The mother bears a lot of the brunt of the father’s anger, and her reaction is largely to just be okay with it and to find peace within herself or something? Basically, it seems to extol the virtues of passivity to the outside world and that finding internal peace is what’s important. I, personally, would rather not come to terms with thousands of people dying in Bangladesh factories making clothing for us and would rather do something about it, but I also think I can still be a good dude to my wife and family at the same time.

    But, I’m a Jewish leftist who believes firmly that bad things only happen when good people let them, and that we are all responsible for a lot of the evil shit that goes on in the world. So there’s a good chance I’m the only one that feels this way about Tree of Life.

    Anyway, I really dug Only G-d Forgives. I’m glad there isn’t much of a message to it, and I’m thankful that Refn can do exploitation based genre pictures for the art theater crowd without trying to make it about something.

  62. I don’t even understand anyone who thinks you will like everything from any one filmmaker. I like Tarantino, but I hate Death Proof and so does he. I like Nolan and so far he hasn’t let me down but Dark Knight Rises was on the mediocre side. I like Refn and this movie has merit but I’ll stick with Valhalla Rising, Drive, and The Pusher series. I didn’t like Bronson either but thought Tom Hardy was great. Great filmmakers will always make a few movies that aren’t loved by everyone because they don’t play it safe. I won’t be loving Only God Forgives anytime soon but I hope he and Ryan Gosling keep up their collaboration.

  63. I think we got Refned. That’s what it should be called when we expect one thing (like the Drive of thai kickboxing movies) and he does something else. Let’s get that started.

  64. Speaking of Gosling, I saw GANGSTER SQUAD finally. Man its kinda fucked up that Josh Brolin seems to be the sort of guy to be put down on Earth to do westerns and film noir/gangster films, and his entry for each genre with this and JONAH HEX are a waste of time.

    Imagine THE UNTOUCHABLES (which to be honest I’m not that big of a fan of) but take away every memorable, nice bit you liked from it. The score? DeNiro teaching about the merit of baseball? That dude getting dropped from the building? Take away all that, you get GANGSTER SQUAD.

  65. Sean Penn was fun as a Dick Tracy villain. Nice to see him lightening up for a change. The cast was solid. Even if they didn’t have a lot to do, the characters were nicely delineated, something most ensemble movies can’t be bothered with. Everybody got a couple of decent tough guy lines. I liked the twist on the disapproving wife character. Instead of complaining all the time, distracting her man when he needs to be focused, she actually helps him do his job. Novel. The fight in the whorehouse was probably the action highlight. Really sold Brolin as this lantern-jawed wrecking machine. As a whole, though, I was expecting the movie to be a lot more violent and stylish. That credits sequence in ZOMBIELAND really had my hopes up for some slow-mo grand guignol that GANGSTER SQUAD just couldn’t deliver. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t much, either. This coming from a guy with an UNTOUCHABLES poster on his wall.

  66. Mr. M – See I disagree on Penn. He’s not given one memorable moment. Imagine him being given an awesome scene.

    You’re right about the wife, I liked that touch. But you’re too generous with the other characters given lukewarm moments. You set up a guy’s knife throwing talent and you toss it aside randomly in one fight? I also found it odd how the movie makes a big point of how Gosling’s character “knows the lay of the land.” Yet after he joins, I don’t remember them exploiting this supposed knowledge.

    SPEED RACER is 100x the movie GS is.

  67. I can’t really disagree with any of that. It was all quite passable but never exceptional. The only character who I felt really paid off was Robert Patrick as Sam Elliot. Other than that your numbers check out.

  68. I wouldn’t be shocked if Sam Elliot was the first choice but he passed on it or something happened because I thought the same thing you did.

    Anyway I didn’t meant to kinda come off as an asshole in that last post of mine, but GANGSTER SQUAD and then 2 GUNS on top of each other, great casts wasted in bland as fuck films….that sorta annoyed me. Sorry.

  69. I was surprised how much I liked GANGSTER SQUAD. I was worried it would be another important historical movie but it was pure over the top action, kind of a B movie with an A list cast. Good fun.

  70. Casey, was that called for?

  71. Chitown – “I don’t even understand anyone who thinks you will like everything from any one filmmaker.”

    I don’t quite get that either.

    “I like Tarantino, but I hate Death Proof and so does he.”

    I didn’t know that. I like him a little more now that I see even he recognizes a turd when he’s responsible for it. That movie was so wack funnily enough I haven’t watched any new Tarantino movie since. Still got all the love in the world for his first 3 movies and the KILL BILL dualogy though.

    “I like Nolan and so far he hasn’t let me down but Dark Knight Rises was on the mediocre side.”

    TBH I don’t see the big deal with the guy. His style comes across as so sanitized to me and it always seems like he’s always trying to overcompensate in his movies. For that reason TDKR was borderline garbage in my eyes. BATMAN BEGINS grinds my gears too and I can’t stand INCEPTION. INSOMNIA is also kinda boring and not as compelling as it’s foreign counterpart. At the same time I like (not love) MEMENTO and really enjoy THE PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT so yeah I won’t completely give up on him all the way either. Though I don’t think I’ll blindly go watch his movies at the cinema like I’ve been doing for years anymore. Those days are gone.

  72. lol @ sanitized I meant to type “sterile”.

  73. I think he’s referring to the thing where Tarantino ranked DEATH PROOF as his lowest movie. I don’t think he ever said it was bad. And I agree with him.

  74. I…. really fucking love Death Proof. It’s not a film, it’s the second half of a film. Grindhouse is the film. Death Proof is just a part of it. It’s the perfect comedown from Planet Terror’s lunacy. It has the scene where she has her feet up and it’s raining and the water is running down her leg. It romanticizes the compact disc. You sit there wondering what the fuck it’s about until the bad guy literally smiles at the audience. It culminates in one of the last decade’s very best action sequences.

    Grindhouse was a definitive experience for me as a filmgoer, but over the years it’s become apparent that few people shared it with me.

  75. yup, Grindhouse was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in a movie theater too, in fact even though I own the blu ray I’m hesitant to watch it again, simply because I know it’s gonna be so much fun to see it again I’m saving it like a fine wine, for when the time’s right

    and it was ALWAYS meant to be one movie, I think the Weinsteins fucked up big time with the dvd release and I think that unfairly hurt the film’s legacy (although it was still a very influential movie, setting the standard “Grindhouse aesthetic” for other movies and living on with Machete), I can imagine being underwhelmed if you just saw Death Proof or Planet Terror by themselves without the trailers and other stuff, it’s butchering it

  76. I saw it the way it was intended to be watched in theaters. DEATH PROOF was just a total buzzkill after the adrenaline rush provided by PLANET TERROR outside of Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman,

  77. For me, DEATH PROOF’s equal parts cathartic, hilarious, and adorable finale more than makes up for its languors. It’s easily Tarantino’s worst movie, but I’ll take his worst over most directors’ best.

  78. I’ll say this for Death Proof- When I get home from the pub on a friday night with a greasy kebab, I’m more likely to put that movie on than anything else in QT’s filmography.
    It’s in pretty heavy rotation at my place.

  79. Knox Harrington

    August 4th, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I still can’t understand why there seems to be this air of apology surrounding Death Proof. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that movie. It’s fucking brilliant. The pacing, the build-up, the dialogue, the action, the actors, that epic final act… Everything about that movie just works for me. Its intentions and execution are absolutely pure and perfect.

    Tarantino is one of the few directors who has no “worst film”, in my opinion. I love every single one of them; and it’s never happened that I found myself not being in the mood for any of them. I can watch any Tarantino movie, any time, anywhere. Guess I’m lucky that way.

  80. I never saw a Quention Tarantino movie that i didn’t enjoyed.
    I never saw a Christopher Nolan movie that i didn’t enjoyed.
    I never saw a Nicolas Winding Refn movie i didn’t enjoyed.
    And i’m supposed to be the cranky pants here who doesn’t know how to have fun!
    The arguments you guys use above for your disastifectation with some or all of the movies of the aforementioned filmmakers or the filmmakers themselves look strange to me. I respect your opinions, i just don’t understand them, they are utterly alien to me.
    To me, to think this filmmakers are top talent and to love and/or like their movies is a matter of course. I love cinema because filmmakers like them and their movies exists. They are the filmmakers and movies that remind me why i love cinema so much.
    I also don’t understand the accusations of sterility in Nolan’s films. His movies are cerebral, yes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t emotions to them, which they have. His movies always connect emotionally to me. And of those, Inception was probably the one with the most emotional impact to me.
    I guess i could say his movies connect to me. And so does the movies of Nicolas Wining Refn, for similiar reasons. Yeah.

  81. Calling Nolan’s films cerebral makes me sad :(

    I think Broddie is right on Nolan. Nolan is competent and makes movies that look and feel like they should be “film” but he’s yet to do anything that approaches anything substantial or weighty. To be fair, the only movie of his I hate is Inception and his Batman movies are OK, if a little boring and aware of proud of how fascist they are. I’d be a lot more forgiving if he could shoot an action scene.

    I actually like Death Proof okay. I don’t hate it and it never overstays its welcome. I never find myself doing dismissive wanking motions when I watch it, at least, and I can’t say the same for any of his other movies except maybe Reservoir Dogs.

    I like Refn. His movies have an emotional affect on me while also saying nothing, and that’s totally okay.

    Speaking of movies and film, I’m watching Dredd. How the fuck did we get three self serious Batman movies with shitty action and we probably won’t get a sequel to Dredd? Like, Dredd knows it is set in a horribly fascist world, but plays it straight and lets us know how evil that all is without beating our heads about it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t get anymore Nolan films since we won’t get a Dredd sequel, but boy it’d be nice if we could maybe get both.

  82. The original Paul

    August 4th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Here’s my problem with “Death Proof”. It’s my only problem, but it’s a big problem. I don’t care about the first group of girls, at all. They annoy me. That whole long scene in the bar is probably Tarantino’s absolute worst bar/restaurant scene (and I’ve seen every single one of ’em). I just don’t care for the characters at all. Stuntman Mike is great, true, but the rest… it was kinda boring. I’d like to analyze exactly why this is, but I honestly couldn’t tell you. On a purely subjective level I just didn’t feel that the stakes were there. You know how the first scene in “Pulp Fiction” has so much tension because you know from the start that these two guys are going to do something awful, but we’re just waiting for them to do it while they chat about irrelevant stuff? The bar scene never had that quality, for me.

    But then the second group of girls turns up… and HELL does this movie turn on the heat. The moment Zoe Bell and her friends showed up, this film absolutely gripped me and never let me go. The stakes are high, the characters are memorable, and I absolutely love that we never find out what happens to the cheerleader.

    So anybody who watched the first part of this movie and thought it was bad… stick around for the ending. Seriously.

  83. God, it seems like every time Nolan comes up on this forum everybody feels compelled to chime in and call him ‘overrated’. It’s okay guys. Public/nerd opinion has already turned against him. No need to swing those pickaxes at his pedestal anymore.

    I agree with Paul (?!) that the first bar scene in DEATH PROOF lacks the spark and tension of similar scenes in QT’s other films. It made that whole stretch pretty interminable. Made up for it in the end, though. It’s definitely Tarantino’s least ambitious film (as he himself admits), but I don’t think that makes it bad by any means.

  84. I don’t find Nolan cerebral at all. If anything I find him to be too on the nose with his penchant for useless exposition. He gives the audience answers to questions they didn’t even feel like asking in the first place. There is no room left for interpretation. Doesn’t even feel like art to me. Art is cerebral Nolan is not. Nolan just follows the basis of superior 1970’s era filmmaking and dials it up by 40 pulses.

  85. Paul – You’re right on there. If Death Proof was just about the second set of girls it’d be a lot more entertaining too bad half of it is focused on the most obnoxious set of b movie girls ever. To his credit it did give the movie a boring b movie grindhouse feel so it was true to the spirit of this project but it doesn’t make it any less boring though.

  86. Casey, there might be a Dredd sequel after all.
    And Dredd wouldn’t exist like it is without Nolan’s Batman movies. Nolan’s work and style gave the comic book movies a template to make them in non-campy ways, of which Dredd is one of the sons and heir.
    Nolan’s movies are cerebral in that it’s obvious there is an intelligence at work behind those movies, and Nolan makes efforts to have all his movies to be smart and smarter then the usual blockbuster crop. And slowly he’s influencing some filmmakers to raise the game, to treat genres which one were only seen as campy to give them the seriousness they deserve. Filmmakers like Nolan proves that there is no excuse for bad filmmaking using the genre as excuse. There are no bad genres, only bad filmmakers.
    And Nolan is not just competent, he’s excidling talented, he’s one of the few filmmakers out there i envious of his talent, together with others like Refn. Of the recnt crop of filmmkaers, this two are the ones i’m most in awe of their talent as filmmakers.

  87. The original Paul, the way i see it, the first group of girls are supposed to be anoying. They are the type of girls that in a horror movie you wouldn’t give a crap they died. They are vain, self-centered, shallow, dumb, uneducated, devoided of personality other them anything revolving about their love lives, the only thing that distinguishes them is they are pretty, but in a vaccous plastic barbie girl fashion. Their function to the story is to be contrasted with the second group, who are a far more interesting bunch with real personalities other then their love lives.
    It’s deliberate. Basically, the first group of girls are the usual horror movie cannon fooder you can’t be bothered with other then to see them as victims of creative carnage, while the second bunch are mad of final girls types, the type of characters you really want them to survive and turn the tables on the killer of the story.
    And besides the movie features long sceens with a Dodge Challenger shown in all it’s glory and it makes many references to the great movie Vanishing Point, so what’s not to love about that?

  88. Broddie, if Inception hadn’t no exposition, then people would burn the theaters because they couldn’t understand anything about the movie. The movie needs that much exposition beause it selts a lot of complex rules about it’s own universe. It’s a neessity of the story.
    And contrary to what Mr Robert McKee says, exposition is just one of the many narrative devices a storyteller can use, it can be either well used or badly used, but to put it as an evil thing outright is absurd, and unfortunatly many people are drinking that kool-aid unquestionably as if it’s an article of faith. If a story needs exposition to be effective and undersdable, so be it, it’s what you do with it that counts. Inception does it well.
    And the geekdom turning on Nolan is a sad thing to behold. The geekdom is proving to be more fickle then fashionistas valley girls.

  89. I agree with As to a certain extent. I don’t find the first group of girls all that annoying (except for Jungle Julia, who’s supposed to be a bad person) but they are all somewhat superficial and self-absorbed. This doesn’t mean they “deserve” to die, but it does mean that they’re not equipped to deal with a life-or-death situation when it arises. It’s like what John Carpenter said when defending HALLOWEEN against charges that the girls who had sex or drank alcohol were punished for it. They didn’t die because because they were sinners, they died because they weren’t paying attention. In DEATH PROOF, you had one group of girls who were out getting drunk and trying to get laid. They were distracted and thus easy pickins. You had another who were not only sober but were just as into cars as the villain and thus were able to fight him on his own terms. You had to have the first group to contrast the second.

    Could Tarantino have made the first group of girls a little less annoying? Possibly, but would it have been realistic? All drunk people seem pretty obnoxious when you’re not one of them. The case could be made that their segment went on too long, but it’s churlish to complain when the payoff is so rich.

  90. Asimov – My problems with INCEPTION were beyond the exposition. I’ve covered my issues with it years ago in Vern’s review of the movie here. I haven’t seen it ever since so I can’t even be bothered to recall everything that sat wrong with me while watching that turd.

    Being shocked at movie geeks on the net turning on Nolan (something I personally have yet to see BTW but am not surprised about) is like being shocked at the fact that RuPaul has a penis. That cynicism and fickleness is the nature of most internet movie geeks. It’s why I avoid movie fan websites outside of this one. This is like the most sensible film fan community left on the net. Mostly because we’re all pretty open minded and indiscriminate here. Doesn’t matter if the movie is oscar bait or full blown straight to dvd c list exploitation we give everything a fair chance and that’s very admirable. You really don’t see that from other “real hardcore movie fans” on the internet.

    I think Singer’s first 2 X-MEN movies deserve way more credit for what you’re crediting Nolan’s Batman with. All Nolan did was simply bring back the SUPERMAN THE MOVIE template and he admits it himself & the funny thing is Raimi has already brought that back anyway with SPIDER-MAN 4 years earlier. I don’t even like the X-MEN movies but I give credit where it’s due. Before X-MEN and X2 superhero movies had been written off as toy commercials by movie fans like yourself who probably don’t even read comic books. Singer brought back credibility and started the whole “grounded superhero” fad.

    When it comes to DEATH PROOF even the second crop of girls sucked. Rosario Dawson always tends to annoy me though so I guess I’m biased there but her character was corny as shit and just as boring as the drunk sorority sluts from the first half. I can’t even recall if Mary Winstead’s character served any real purpose. I can’t even remember who else was in that group with them outside of Uma’s stunt double.

    So only Zoe Bell was cool & the only final girl type in my eyes. She’s the only one I wanted to see survive out of the second crop and not surprisingly she gets the best segment of the entire movie which amounted to about 25 minutes of a movie that was over 2 hours long. I had to put up with being dragged through the mud for almost 2 hours before the movie finally became alive to me. Then by the end anyway it becomes even more hilarious because anything Stuntman Mike did before that sequence was negated due to his nature of being a full blown pussy. I’m sorry but that movie was just a big fat mess in my eyes. Josh Brolin getting stabbed in the face with a syringe >>>> that bullshit.

  91. I’m not fickle. I never really cared for Nolan.

    And exposition is fine, but let’s not get carried away and excuse how horrible and clunky exposition was in Inception. People were using Ellen Page’s need for exposition as proof that the world wasn’t fully aware and changed by the dream thing, but I point to it as Nolan being a bad film maker. I’m extra harsh on Nolan because he does the absolute worst thing in science fiction or fantasy: Set up a magical premise with rules and then try to expect me to give a shit when the entire movie is based around breaking one of the rules that the writers created for this fantasy.

    I’m not old enough to have seen the first Superman movie when it came out, but wasn’t its marketing slogan something like, “You’ll believe a man can fly” or something? I get that, we live in the real world and here’s someone breaking real world rules. Was Inception’s tag line “You’ll believe a man can enter the dreams of another man where he can’t insert ideas into that man’s head, he can only take ideas, since he only has Read Only Access and not Write Access but then you’ll believe that he can in fact actually write ideas into the brain of the person he snuck into the dreams of anyhow, also you can enter dreams within dreams and it totally makes sense.”

    Maybe if I cared about anyone in the film it would be different.

    Sorry, Vern, to keep doing this. But, I really enjoyed Only G-d Forgives for what it was. I’m glad Refn is making films that seem to alienate people who want straight up action films and those that want art house film with lots of meaning and subtext. I sometimes feel like Refn is making movies for a tiny slice of people, and that’s pretty great.

  92. If anything the bulk of this thread along with this review made me want to watch ONLY GOD FORGIVES one more time before it leaves the multiplex. I hope it hasn’t already been replaced by 6 screenings of SMURFS 2 or whatever.

  93. The original Paul

    August 5th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Asimov:

    “The original Paul, the way i see it, the first group of girls are supposed to be anoying. They are the type of girls that in a horror movie you wouldn’t give a crap they died. They are vain, self-centered, shallow, dumb, uneducated, devoided of personality other them anything revolving about their love lives, the only thing that distinguishes them is they are pretty, but in a vaccous plastic barbie girl fashion. Their function to the story is to be contrasted with the second group, who are a far more interesting bunch with real personalities other then their love lives.
    It’s deliberate. Basically, the first group of girls are the usual horror movie cannon fooder you can’t be bothered with other then to see them as victims of creative carnage, while the second bunch are mad of final girls types, the type of characters you really want them to survive and turn the tables on the killer of the story.”

    I can see that. But it’s basically a nice way of saying that the first half of “Death Proof” is all setup for the second half. I’m more of a “series of escalating payoffs” kinda guy. There are some great movies that are mostly setup, but that’s because they manage to sustain tension from the start, despite the lack of early payoff. “Death Proof” didn’t manage that for me.

    I still kinda love it though. And I still love “Inception” even though I think there are very valid criticisms that can be levelled at it regarding both the level of exposition and a couple of odd structural choices within the movie (not introducing the concept of “limbo” earlier, for example). All I can say is that none of that spoiled the movie for me in the slightest.

    We seem to have got a long way from N W Refn here. I’d like to see “Only God Forgives” but it’s not even on at the arts cinemas around here.

  94. I can’t quite agree with you guys on exposition. I think exposition can be damn dangerous and completely jeopardise repeat viewings.

    I never really bought into that general writer’s class idea that voice-over narration should be avoided at all costs. Voice-over can be used to wonderful effect (like in Sunset Boulevard) or, more likely, become an uninspiring and lazy storytelling crutch. But it can work. It’s tricky, but it is doable.

    Exposition, on the other hand, is a far more hazardous option. I think it’s so much more dangerous because it so often seems unavoidable. You end up telling yourself it’s impossible to engage your audience in your high concept tale without explaining the rules to them. But this is the art of filmmaking we’re talking about. There are so many creative aspects of this incredible craft at your disposal. You can use images and sound and motion and editing and performance to convey ideas that could never be told with words. It’s tough for screenwriters, because when you’re writing you think that all you have is dialogue and description. So it becomes easy to rely on them too much and too often, but I seriously believe that having a character explain what’s going on to your viewers should be the very last resort. And even then, it’s questionable.

    I think we’ve become much too tolerant to exposition because there are far too many shitty scripts being produced. Just because Hollywood thinks we should be spoonfed doesn’t mean we have to swallow it. Lazy filmmaking is for punks.

  95. I’m with you, Knox. Voice overs or scrolling text at the beginning can be fine. It’s good enough for Star Wars and Unforgiven. Exposition during the film can be good if done in an interesting way (Starship Troopers does this very well, and the first twenty minutes of Speed Racer are just perfect, but even both of those show us and don’t really tell us).

  96. Knox Harrington

    August 5th, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    What’s cool about the first half of Death Proof is how it doesn’t feel like any kind of traditional set-up at all. It’s not plot-heavy or burdened with endless introductions like the first half of most films leading up to such an epic payoff would be. It’s a hangout movie that kinda coincidentally turns into a roller coaster ride.

    Tarantino really is the master of unconventional story structure. Every single film of his has a different and unique story design, and every single one works like a charm. He’s one talented writer.

  97. Do you not see the contradiction in saying that it is questionable whether exposition should ever be used in movies and then turning around and praising Tarantino’s writing?

    The problem with the knee-jerk “Show, don’t tell” reactions so many people on the Internet seem to enjoy is that they ignore the many, many instances where telling makes for better cinema than showing. Unless you think the gold watch sequence in PULP FICTION would be improved by flashing back to the prison camp rather than to Walken’s story. Or that INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS would be improved by removing Pitt’s speech explaining the Basterds’ mission. Or the Mike Meyers scene explaining Fassbender’s mission. Or the part in DEATH PROOF where Stuntman Mike talks about his past as a stuntman. Or the Broomhilda story in DJANGO UNCHAINED. And if you do think these movies would be improved by removing the “telling” parts I’d love to see your fan edit of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.

    The problem isn’t exposition. It’s bad exposition.

  98. Jake speaks truth. Exposition is not the devil. Exposition is a part of daily life. Every time you tell somebody what you did today, or tell a story from your past, or somebody asks you what you do for a living, you are delivering exposition. It’s a basic tool of the trade and the art of narrative would be lost without it. Th backlash against is one of those kneejerk reactions that partially informed amateurs like to throw around because they’ve never actually tried to tell a fucking story.

  99. I think Jake and Mr Majestyk might not be quite fair here. All the exposition you listed, Jake, are of characters speaking about themselves which lets us better understand their motives and who they are. Not to mention that some of those scenes were at least done in ways that were engaging and interesting.

    That’s way different than exposition that just exists to inform the audience of what the rules of the movie are, as we are seeing the rules explained to us through a proxy who seems bewildered and clueless. I watch a lot of lectures online and in person, and one of my favorites were David Harvey’s million part series on Karl Marx’s Capital. It’s really good stuff, but I wouldn’t want him to show up and explain to me Marxist criticisms of capitalism and that is why things are so bad for the people in Elysium while Matt Damon punches Jodie Foster.

  100. Only the Stuntman Mike example is of a character talking about themselves for characterization purposes. Walken does talk about himself but that isn’t the point of the scene. I would argue that gold watch scene is actually closer to what you are describing negatively. A person in the know (Walken) explains to an audience surrogate (young Willis) a plot point (the sentimental value of the watch). The way it is shot he is even literally talking directly to the audience. Yes, that scene functions partly as characterization for Willis but it takes the form of the bad exposition you describe.

    Same with BASTERDS. Where a person in the know (Myers) explains to an audience surrogate (Fassbender) their plan for the climax of the movie (barbecue!).

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your post but it seems to me you are just saying that good exposition is different from bad exposition. I agree. But I must admit I do want to see the version of ELYSIUM where some guy tries to interject his thoughts on the nature of capitalism during the climactic fight. “Excuse me, guys, but if you’ll just take a look at this chart I think you will better understand why you are so at odds with each other.”

  101. I’m a big fan of the first half of DEATH PROOF. It is, as mentioned above, a great hang-out movie, and Tarantino captures the vibe of a night out amongst a regular group of girls perfectly. It doesn’t excel through clear “momentum”, so much as friends just talking and drinking, wondering who will get laid. But there’s an uncertain sense of terror hanging over everything.

    The film then turns into a campy CHARLIE’S ANGELS remake of itself, although the car chase is pretty thrilling. I know most people only like the second half. It’s been a struggle to become comfortable with my minority DEATH PROOF opinion, but I’m doing okay.

    And yes, verbal exposition in movies can be very cinematic, although many times it is not.

  102. The original Paul

    August 6th, 2013 at 11:56 am

    “Murder on the Orient Express” is one-third exposition (the last third of the film is basically one man explaining everything, followed by one brilliant murder scene.) And it’s still bloody good.

    Exposition is a tool like anything else. It can be used or mis-used. And when it is used, not everyone’s gonna like it.

  103. Knox Harrington

    August 6th, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t think we’re really disagreeing on anything here, Jake. It’s not like I’m suggesting all dialogue and verbal storytelling should be avoided in film. That would be absurd, especially with filmmakers like Tarantino and Mamet where conversation itself is often the primary action and the very point of a scene.

    I’m just against the kind of lazy filmmaking that uses expository dialogue as a crutch. I always compare it to using Kryptonite in a Superman story. Sure, there are Superman stories where the use of Kryptonite can really add something to the tale, but 9 out of 10 times it’s just a half-assed way of creating a stock obstacle for our hero.

    I still maintain that we’ve become far too forgiving when it comes to this kind of thing.

  104. The original Paul

    August 6th, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Knox – well, ANYTHING can be used as a crutch. We’ve got enough of them here – shakycam, murky blue filters in horror movies, Tom Cruise’s hair, etc. I guess the question is, is the thing in question used more for the purposes of good cinematic or narrative effect, or has it become “that thing that you do”, regardless of whether it’s warranted from a cinematic / narrative standpoint?

    Take shakycam or the dreaded blue filter. I think most people here would agree that those things are, on the whole, really really bad for action and horror movies respectively. Tom Cruise’s hair is no different; we all have many, many cautionary tales of how that’s ruined our favorite movies. And let’s not even mention my personal bugbear for many years, the dramatic slow-motion shot (although, curiously, now that it’s gone out of fashion and is used much more sparingly, it seems to be applied only where it’s genuinely justified.) Seriously though, I saw “Fellowship of the Ring” years ago when it first came out, and I’m not sure that Sean Bean isn’t STILL being shot in the chest with arrows as I write this.

    But exposition? That’s a bit more difficult. Partly because there’s obviously a little debate about what actually constitutes “exposition”. I would argue, for example, that for the vast majority of my biggest disappointment of 2012 – whose name contains the B-word and will therefore not be spoken in this forum – there’s nothing BUT exposition. Honestly, I can’t think of another film that breaks the “show don’t tell” rule any worse than that one does. Practically every major character motivation is given to the audience by somebody speaking awkwardly at a convenient audience-surrogate. Instead of, y’know, actually SHOWING us this stuff. Hence we’re told, constantly, that Bruce trusts Miranda Tate, but we’re never shown why he does or why WE should. We’re told that Robin is a great detective but we never see any example of it. We’re told that Catwoman is a worthy “love interest” and a good person, but we’re never given any reason to believe it. I could go on and on. My point being, to me, ALL of this is exposition. Would it count as such by Casey’s definition here? Or Jake’s?

    Or take “Inception”, which I love. Now I’d argue that here’s a film that MOSTLY uses exposition successfully; however there’s one big exception to that, and to me it’s the biggest flaw of the film. That’s in its treatment of “limbo”. Not only does the whole concept of “limbo” go against what we’ve been told before (if you kill yourself in a dream, you wake up), but – more importantly – it’s introduced at entirely the wrong point of the film! When “limbo” is first explained, the heist has already started, the tension has begun to mount, and a time-specific threat has been introduced (in the form of the projections). The absolute last thing you do at this point is stop to explain an entirely new concept to the audience-surrogate character. You can argue whether you like the use of exposition in “Inception” – and obviously a lot of people here don’t – but this one use of it is, to me, a bad decision, not because it IS exposition, but because of the context of the scene and the timing of the reveal.

    So now, not only do we have to define exposition, but we have to define BAD exposition? Knox has said it’s when it becomes a “crutch” – in other words, it’s to do with WHY the exposition is used. In principle I’d agree, but there surely has to be more to it than that, unless you want to spend every scene of a movie second-guessing its creators’ intentions? I would say it’s to do with HOW it’s used, and how it affects the “flow” of the movie. The audience has to be prepared for it and the mood of the scene has to be right. Throw in a bunch of exposition during a climactic fight scene or a big heist and you run the risk of breaking the flow and losing your audience. But even that doesn’t cover it. What about scenes like, for example, Christopher Walken’s monologue in “Pulp Fiction”, as mentioned above? A scene that I used to hate – this was the one scene I used to fast-forward through when I owned “Pulp Fiction” on VHS? I think an argument could be made that it stops the movie dead, and for not very good reasons. I don’t think that there’s anything important there that couldn’t be done without “exposition”, but to use that of a criticism of the movie really misses the whole point. The “important” stuff isn’t why the movie succeeds; it’s the unimportant stuff, like two hitmen discussing foot massages and burger joints on their way to kill somebody. Nonetheless, for me, Walken’s monologue is still not as strong a part of the film as, say, the introductory scene. Does that make it “bad exposition”?

    What about the awful “Superman” monologue in “Kill Bill vol. 2”? A scene so pointless, so horrifically self-indulgent, so mine-numbingly bad, that it actually spoils the rest of the movie for me – because I know, even through the parts of the movie that I enjoy, that THAT scene is coming along to stop the movie dead and suck the life out of it? Does that count as exposition? It’s not as if anything is added to our understanding of the movie’s universe or of these characters (except that the world’s greatest assassin, a man who trained with the greatest martial artist in the world, apparently considers the knowledge he picked up as a comic book geek to be of sufficient importance to waste seven hours or so of our time with. Yeah…) Does it count as “exposition” if nothing is actually exposed?

    I would argue that, no, it doesn’t. And the same is true of Walken’s speech. Neither of these two scenes are exposition because they’re not really conveying important information to the viewer. Did we NEED to know exactly why Bruce values the watch so much? Not particularly. Likewise, did we need to know that Bill is a comi-ah, stuff it, I think I’ve made my position clear on that one.

    Summarising all of this:
    1) Exposition is when important information about story or characters is told to the movie viewer by a trusted character in the form of dialogue (or occasionally text. “Star Wars” opening, anyone?)
    2) Bad exposition comes in two forms: when presenting the information AS exposition, instead of using visual cues or cinematography, has a negative effect on the movie through audience understanding or mood; or when the exposition is presented at the wrong time, context, or mood, and therefore weakens the film’s “flow”.

    So now that we’ve got definitions of both “exposition” and “bad exposition”… how much of the former is really the latter in today’s movies?

    I honestly can’t answer that one. I mean, “Before Midnight”, one of my favorite films of the year so far, is ALL dialogue, but almost no exposition. We’re not being told who the characters are or what’s happening to them; we’re being shown it in their interactions between one another, a large part of which is dialogue. A subtle but important distinction. “Warm Bodies”, another movie that I really liked, contained a heck of a lot of exposition – a lot of it is the main character literally telling the audience what is going on through narration – but it’s not ALL exposition. A lot of what happens onscreen is shown to us as well as – even during – the exposition parts.

    But honestly… when has anybody ever criticised a film for not using enough exposition?

    My opinion, just based on what I’ve seen, is that it’s overused. It has legitimate uses, but the mood and timing of the scene have to be right, and it can’t be used as a substitute for *showing* the audience something that they need to feel. Clearly those two things are being ignored a lot right now. Is it a “crutch” for bad writing? Maybe… I think it just comes down to how and when it’s used.

  105. “But I also don’t think all movies really need to have substance, or that very many movies really have anything very deep to say anyway.”

    Fucking. A. Been trying to tell people this for years.

  106. The trailer for The Counselor is out, and it looks like a Ridley Scott movie. Which is fine, if that’s your thing, but I’m not a fan and am starting to think his record is getting really bad. But, that’s another conversation.

    I like Refn. I love Cormac McCarthy. I think Refn should direct a Cormac McCarthy adaptation. I think it could be really good.

  107. Casey – TBH I don’t care how disappointing PROMETHEUS was. Ridley excels at character driven flicks (word to MATCHSTICK MEN, THELMA & LOUISE, BLACK HAWK DOWN, GLADIATOR & hell even GI JANE). Only time he really failed at that in my view was AMERICAN GANGSTER & A GOOD YEAR. To top it off the cast is amazing and it’s the first original script ever written by Cormac McCarthy. Based on that latter fact alone they got my money but it does help that the trailer is pretty well put together too.

  108. The original Paul

    August 8th, 2013 at 4:25 am

    Dan – I’ll give you half of that. Not all movies need something deep to say. But ALL movies need to have substance. I’ve seen plenty of movies without what you would call “substance” and I’ve hated nearly all of them. I don’t care whether the movie is about giant robot fights or strangers meeting on a train and falling in love, if the movie doesn’t have characters I can relate to or a story that interests me, I’m not going to like it.

  109. The original Paul

    August 8th, 2013 at 4:28 am

    And if “substance” didn’t matter, everyone would think “Reloaded” was better than “The Matrix”. To put it mildly, most of them don’t.

  110. That’s fair, Broddie. I liked Matchstick Men and Black Hawk Down, but Robin Hood, American Gangster, Body of Lies, and Prometheus were all stinkers. I’m okay with Hannibal and Gladiator, but a lot of his other movies just do absolutely nothing for me. He seems to be just terribly mediocre with a few hills and valleys.

  111. Jareth Cutestory

    August 8th, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Paul: Just curious: have you seen SUNSET BLVD? The Billy Wilder movie, not the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

  112. Paul,

    I don’t think the MATRIX comparison is apt, because the style in the sequels isn’t particularly impressive.

    Overall, I have to disagree. I am completely willing to overlook deemphasized plot and characterization in favor of powerful style. I loved this one, love kung fu movies (which only sometimes have good plot and characters), BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a recent favorite, etc etc. Plots and characters just aren’t really crucial to what those films are doing and how they succeed.

    Or, maybe to put it another way, sometimes style IS substance, and that’s not a bad thing.

  113. The original Paul

    August 8th, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Jareth – it’s been on my “to watch” list since forever, I’ve just never gotten around to it. I’ve heard so much about the movie so I’d love to see it at some point, I just haven’t done so yet. Some day…

    Dan – you think the action scenes in “Reloaded” didn’t have style? Some of the kung-fu was damn-near balletic. Didn’t stop it from being slow, meaningless and boring though. To be fair to “Reloaded”, the freeway chase at least looked great, and there was at least one fantastic “oh shit” moment – the part where Morpheus suddenly found himself facing an agent on top of a giant truck – where, for maybe the only time in the entire movie, I felt some kind of urgency about it. Unfortunately the makers of “Reloaded” could never leave things good and simple when they could make them bad and overcomplicated, so the result is that you still have to watch the scene with the pointless dumbass albino Rastafarians who come in to fuck up a perfectly good action scene. (“We are very angry! Yes we are!” Prats.)

    I think style can absolutely coincide with substance though. And I would argue that in the best kung fu movies, the fights are themselves character-driven, or tell you about the characters involved, or both. To use an oldie but a goodie, look at when Luke Skywalker’s whaling on Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi” – and then the deep regret on his face (played perfectly by Mark Hamill, by the way) when he realises that he let his anger take over momentarily. Stylish? Yes. Substance? HELL yes. Or look at pretty much any of the fights in “Enter the Dragon”, Roper vs Bolo excepted. Is there a single one that doesn’t in some way add substance to the movie? Don’t think so. Even something so highly-choreographed as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” managed to grab me because the emotional stakes of each battle were so damn clear to me. I absolutely bought into it.

  114. I’m not saying action scenes CAN’T have character or plot aspects, just that it’s not always necessary. The first half of FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (a fave of mine) is basically a bunch of faceless bad guys slaughtering a bunch of undeveloped characters. The plot moves forward, yes, but there’s very little character development during any of it. But who cares? It’s stylish and exciting, with a lot of inventive ideas and cool choreography. I love the way it looks and feels.

    And yeah, I don’t particularly care for most of the style and action in RELOADED. A lot of ugly looking special effects and over-use of slomo. Honestly, although I’ve enjoyed some of their work, I’m not a huge fan of the Wachowski’s visual style (BOUND excluded) and I don’t think a lot of it has held up very well. But I’m likely in the minority with that opinion.

  115. Paul — Seems like your complaint with the MATRIX sequels is not that they lack substance, but they lack execution. It’s not like the Freeway chase has any more content than anything else, it’s just that it’s a better constructed, more interesting sequence which is allowed to grow a little bit. Had the whole movie been as good as that, I doubt anyone would have minded the long-winded exposition.

  116. The original Paul

    August 9th, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Subtlety – I’d agree with that in terms of the films overall. I think that they had substance (although I think “Reloaded” in particular completely missed the point of the first film and made some awful, awful decisions as a result.) If we’re talking about the kung fu scenes in particular, though, I just found them pointless and boring. I’ve seen far cheaper or worse-choreographed scenes in other films and TV shows that managed to be many times more interesting. Which is surprising, since the original “Matrix”‘s action scenes, or most of them at least, were both impressive to watch AND fitted the film really well.

    And I wouldn’t put “Revolution” in the same basket as “Reloaded”. I enjoyed “Revolution” although I didn’t think it was anything close to the original in terms of quality.

    Dan – that’s fair enough. I think, though, that “Five Element Ninjas” probably had the intangible quality of “tension”, which sounds similar to (for example) “The Raid”. And I thought “The Raid” was great. It also didn’t have a lot of “plotting” or character development, but it didn’t need it.

  117. Casey, it’s called ON LY GOD FORGIVES. And no, you will not meet the wrath of god just because you write god fully. the secret name of god is not god, so you are in the clear. you can write god, even if it existed it wouldn’t mind if you did.

  118. The original Paul, i hopwe you have the oportunity soon to watch ONLY GOD FORGIVES. I can’t promise you will like it. I liked it a lot, but i can understand why so many will feel alienated by it.

  119. The original Paul

    August 11th, 2013 at 5:21 am

    Asimov – I don’t know. I haven’t even been to the cinema for almost three weeks now – not since seeing “The World’s End”, in fact – mostly because this year, in the case of most “love it or feel alienated by it” type movies, I’ve not loved them. A lot of people I trust have said: If you liked “Drive”, avoid “Only God Forgives”. And I really liked “Drive”.

    Honestly I think I need a break from the movies for a bit. I saw “Ip Man” for the first time the other day – disappointingly not a film about the MPAA’s superhero mascot – and while it was good and (especially during the first third) occasionally great, there’s a massive transition and loads of both story and character development that happens in what is essentially a two-minute Mandarin version of the Star Wars opening titles. In the middle of the movie. Maybe this would’ve bothered me less last year, I don’t know. I particularly loved the character of Donnie Yen’s wife in the first part of the movie, and she’s all but gone later on, so… yeah. I kinda want to give it credit for even ATTEMPTING something like that, but I don’t think it quite pulls it off.

    Anyway this wasn’t a case of coming into a film with a negative attitude, because I honestly thought I’d love “Ip Man”. Maybe my expectations were too high, I don’t know. From what I’ve read, I was almost expecting “Ip Man” to be a better Donnie Yen film than “Kill Zone”, which to me is straight-up laughable (very, very little is better than “Kill Zone”, and “IP Man” certainly isn’t any exception.) Again, I don’t know, I thought it was good as a whole, I just didn’t think that the genre-switch worked. If you do something like that, you absolutely have to make damn sure that the second part of the movie is as good or better than the first part. And to me “Ip Man” didn’t manage that. Again, I get exactly what it was trying to do. I like the idea of putting characters from a period kung-fu drama into the situation that these ones find themselves in. I just would’ve found it more interesting if I’d have known exactly how they got there.

    Anyway I’m honestly not sure if this is me being too cynical, or what. I don’t think it’s just me because I saw two films in a row that I absolutely loved (“Before Midnight” and “Much Ado about Nothing”) before “Now you See Me” came along to end the streak of films that I actually enjoyed (that was the latest in a long list of films this year that had a nice idea but frustratingly bad execution). So it’s not just a case of me hating everything that comes along, it just feels as if the flaws in various movies are annoying me more than they otherwise would whereas the good points are appealing to me less. Heck, “The World’s End” is basically classic bodyshock horror (my absolute favorite genre of film) and I couldn’t even get excited about THAT.

    Anyway, it’s time to take a break and come back fresh after a few weeks or months movie-free, I think.

  120. I understand you.
    Well, my recent break from going to the movies is due to recouvering from spinal surgery, dorsal hernias, so i kinda envy your malaise, because at least your preventing of going to the movies is not physical.
    More and more i am finding myself sympathetic to the type of movies where people get very divided about it, like GOD ONLY FORGIVES,and often times i find myself on the supporters side. Hell, even a blockbuster movie like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, which is supposed to have universal appeal became a deeply divisive movie, and i found myself on it’s eager supporters side. In fact, the movies i find myself on the bashing side are the ones that are tripe but have universal or nearly universal acceptance kind, like the Abrams Trek movies.

  121. Holy shit asmiov, sorry to hear that. Is your recovery going okay?

  122. Look at this VFX breakdown from the movie, especially if you don’t believe my “You think CGI looks bad, because all the good stuff is invisible” argument.
    http://vimeo.com/75900695

  123. Thank you CJ for the fascinating video

  124. Just watched MY LIFE DIRECTED BY NICOLAS WINDING REFN, the doc his wife made during the making of this. It’s no HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE, though it manages to feel more personal and intimate because his better half is shooting the whole thing as well.

  125. I have seen that too. He made the PUSHER sequels in order to get out of his financial difficulties, not because of any artistic reasons. But it shows he can produce really strong movies when up against the wall. I really like them.

  126. No I was thinking of that other documentary from years ago. My bad.

  127. I’ll have to check that one out, presumably after I see the PUSHER movies. This one is on Netflix.

  128. The first PUSHER was one of the most un watchable movies I’ve ever seen. It had all of Refn’s lethargy but none of his visual panache. If you enjoy watching pasty, unlikable people walk from one ugly room to another, PUSHER is the movie for you.

  129. I like the PUSHER movies. And Majestyk, you can’t deny that the finger cutting scene from the first one is strong stuff.

  130. Don’t remember it. I could have been watching a Dutch test pattern for two hours for all the impact the movie had on me.

  131. *Danish

  132. Favorite dialogue so far:

    Gosling: “Billy raped and killed a 16-year-old girl.”
    Scott Thomas: “I’m sure he had his reasons.”

  133. Still not sure what to make of this one. As a watching experience, I’d liken it to that Scarlett Johansson flick Under the Skin from a few years ago. It’s on some hypnotic, images-over-words ish for sure. It’s more of an ink blot, a set of capitvating images, sparsely drawn characters, and ambiguous scenes. The principal characters captivate our interest, and we want to know more about their motives and backstories, but Refn deliberately withholds. Any of them could easily be the lead in a spin-off or prequel film–they are loners, each capable of horrific things, each operating according to a personal code that transcends social norms or group morality. Each is entirely resolute and assured in his or her decisions and never expresses regret. Each is entirely consistent in his or her behavior. I think this one will reward multiple watches. It’s definitely out there, though, pushing “show, don’t tell” near the breaking point. Yeah, I think I dig it.

  134. I can definitely see UNDER THE SKIN as a companion to this. Sparse and ambiguous absolutely, but there is an element of terror that pierces through at critical points which definitely kept my attention.

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