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Feature


When her bank loan comes due and her home is threatened, a single mother of two named Billy (Christina Hendricks) is forced into taking a job at an underworld burlesque show. Meanwhile, her teenage son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), strips abandoned houses of scrap copper and evades a local gang leader and hoodlum named Bully (Matt Smith).

 Lost River
Once a Mouseketeer with fellow future heartthrobs Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling’s Hollywood career moved from mainstream teen angst machine, to romantic leading man, but he didn’t become really interesting until more recently, when he devoted himself to a series of evocative and challenging independent features. His enduring popularity might be attributed to his awesome abs and status as an internet meme superstar, but I’d like to think that his appearances in unusual movies is at least a small part of it.

Now, Gosling is using all of that goodwill to fuel his own evocative and challenging movie. His feature debut, Lost River, is a form over function near-nightmare that very much informed by his work with other, visually aggressive filmmakers. Though he takes many cues from many movies in this odd, indefinable genre medley, his major inspirations seem to have been Derek Cianfrance ( Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines) and Nicolas Winding Refn ( Drive and Only God Forgives). From Cianfrance, he borrows raw hyperrealism and, from Refn, he borrows garish neon lighting and steadfast camera work. Gosling also does a decent impression of the slightly fish-eyed ‘child’s eye view’ aesthetic that Terrance Malick utilized for Tree of Life (the same one Zach Snyder failed to integrate into Man of Steel) and, during the club scenes (where one of the waitresses is wearing a modified version of a skull helmet from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns), he pays homage to baroque Italian horror masters Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

 Lost River
The look is jumbled and weird, but it’s also handsome (at times, stunning) enough to very nearly achieve the pseudo-fairytale motifs he appears to be chasing. Gosling’s script – the main source of critical disdain – is made to serve the strange imagery and tone. In this respect, it is pretty weak and nonsensical. It is at its weakest when it expresses social meaning via direct exposition (something about the plight of lower-class suburbanites as Detroit crumbles under the weight of the modern economic collapse and/or institutionalized misogyny). The further we’re taken away from real-world contrivances, the better and more affecting the material is. Gosling veers closely to pure surrealism with the poetically cut montages of industrial destruction, colourful Grand Guignol tableaus, and impromptu song and dance scenes from actor Ben Mendelsohn, which makes any return to structured storytelling sort of a disappointment.

The cast is a highlight, topped by Christina Hendricks, who really deserves to take the leap to major Hollywood star, now that Mad Men has come to an end. Gosling’s script forces her to wrestle with some really bland dialogue (what isn’t improvised), but also gives her a chance to exhibit a range of subtle emotions and responses. She and Eva Mendes double as beautiful canvasses for those aforementioned Grand Guignol tableaus, while Saoirse Ronan appears as her now trademarked tortured youth wise beyond her years. Iain De Caestecker, a Scottish actor best known for playing Agent Fitz on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Matt Smith, a British actor best known for playing the Doctor on Doctor Who for four years, are cast way against type as a troubled All-American youth on the cusp of manhood and an insane, white trash super villain, respectively. However, I’m personally most excited by a brief appearance from scream queen extraordinaire Barbara Steele. She’s only on screen for a couple of minutes, but her appearance helps connect Lost River to the Mario Bava movies Gosling is paying homage to.

 Lost River

Video


Lost River was shot using a mix of 35mm and Red Epic digital HD. The difference in the footage seems obvious most of the time, almost as if Gosling’s film-based Cianfrance influences are battling his digital Refn influences from scene to scene. Generally speaking, colour and texture are key above detail and clarity. The film-based footage is beautifully over-saturated, to the point that the strongest hues – usually reds, lavenders, greens, and Hendricks’ orange hair – bleed and bloom out of the otherwise sharp edges. The texture of fine film grain permeates until it feels like another character in the film and the deep, rich blacks support the shapes and details that would be lost in the grain and bloom. The nighttime images that are shot on film tend to turn blobby and brown, so the most expressive dark shots are often made dynamic via glowing digital photography that smoothes-out texture and blends softly into the jet black backdrops. There are no extras on the disc, giving this 95-minute movie plenty of space to avoid compression artefacts. Any minor banding and edge enhancement is probably found in the original footage.

 Lost River

Audio


Lost River is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound. The sound design is stylish, featuring an immersive experience based on the specific ‘real world’ on-screen imagery. Machinery clangs and rattles with an at times overwhelming directional force and the spooky underwater scenes bubble and waft throughout the rear channels. Dialogue-driven scenes are drier with mostly centered incidental noise, while other sequences are completely dependent on the musical score. For that score, Gosling turned to Johnny Jewel, who supplied ominous, yet poppy soundtracks for Refn’s Bronson and Drive. This score sometimes meets the melancholy ‘80s electronica standard of the Refn films, but also has an eerie lullaby-meets-industrial-noise quality that fits the film’s tone and disappears into the machine noise.

Extras


There are literally no extras on this disc. Not even trailers for other Warner Bros. releases.

 Lost River

Overall


Lost River isn’t a good movie, but it’s more interesting than most bad movies. Viewers that are capable/willing of overlooking the narrative shortcomings, specifically the lack of a compelling story, should enjoy first time director Ryan Gosling’s strange and sometimes beautiful visual components. Warner Bros.’s Blu-ray looks great, reveling in the differences between the digital and film-based footage, and sounds very good, but features zip on the extras front.

 Lost River
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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