FILM REVIEW: THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

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Some movies are so full of impact that you never want to see them again.

Such was the case with director Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 acclaimed indie, Blue Valentine. A meticulously detailed and unfiltered portrait of a dying marriage, the film provided some of the most brutally honest and heartbreaking depictions of falling out of love in contemporary American cinema. Aided by powerhouse performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine made audiences question their own beliefs about love, as the tragic story on the screen ruthlessly broke apart the illusion of marital bliss piece by bloody piece.

In Cianfrance’s follow-up, The Place Beyond The Pines, the director continues to deconstruct the American family—this time by shining a spotlight on the relationships between fathers and sons. A sweeping multi-generational drama that’s split into three acts over the course of fifteen years, The Place Beyond The Pines aims to explore how we’re shaped by the actions—and mainly the sins—of our parents. But unfortunately for Cianfrance, his latest offering is perhaps too ambitious for its own good.

In Blue Valentine, putting the two protagonists’ lives under a microscope allowed for a raw commentary on the impending disaster of settling down with the wrong person. Yet in The Place Beyond The Pines, Cianfrance increased the scale of his story so much that he wasn’t able to focus on the type of intimate details that made his preceding film pack such a powerful punch. Instead, the desire to showcase multiple characters within different generations forces the film to be guided by rushed plot points instead of by organic developments that inform the characters’ choices and provide evidence to bolster Cianfrance’s thesis.

The film opens with the story of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a high-wire motorcycle stunt performer who travels across the country as part of a carnival show. On a stopover in Schenectady, New York, Luke is reacquainted with Romina (Eva Mendes), a woman he had a brief fling with during his stay in the same town the year before. When he discovers that during his absence Romina gave birth to his son, Luke decides to settle down in Schenectady in an attempt to provide for his newfound family.

Yet before he can even figure out how to begin to do this, his fantasy of building a life with Romina and their child is shattered. Romina has a new man who’s been raising baby Jason as his own, and Luke doesn’t even have an income to begin to compete. He’s then taken under the wing of Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an owner of a auto repair shop who also happens to be well versed in how to rob banks.

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It doesn’t take long for Luke and Robin to partner up and combine their motorcycle getaway skills and experiences with felonies to start robbing banks. All of a sudden, Luke can afford to buy Jason a much-needed crib and to make grand promises to Romina. However, his new criminal identity also puts him on the radar of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a cop driven primarily by his desire to move up the ranks.

In a game-changing plot twist that ends part one of the film, Avery takes over as the star of The Place Beyond The Pines’ second act. It’s here that the film starts to stray from its excellent opening chapter and begins to lose focus. The evolution of Avery’s character is choppy: no longer the film’s moral compass, he is transformed into someone who can conveniently turn a blind eye to the corruption around him in order to get the results he wants. And when Avery decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and run for public office, The Place Beyond The Pines becomes a completely different—and far less interesting—film than it was at the beginning.

The movie picks up again a little in act three, when a 15-year-old Jason meets Avery’s son in school and they begin to cope with their daddy issues together. But as the connection between their fathers starts to become clearer, Jason and AJ’s friendship takes an abrupt nasty turn for the worst, as the two boys try desperately to make sense of their circumstances while co-existing.

While The Place Beyond The Pines is a thought-provoking film, its plot is too unconvincing and contradictory to allow its narrative any room to breathe. Cianfrance keeps swapping genre for genre, making the film at times a high-stakes heist movie, a political/crime thriller, a cop procedural, a revenge-driven rite-of-passage, and a family drama. Yet it never fully commits to any one of these forms.

For the most part, the actors in The Place Beyond The Pines serve as the film’s saving grace. Gosling, portraying the bad boy who is too corrupted to ever achieve good in an honest way, churns out another bravado performance that solidifies him as one of the finest actors of his generation. Cooper, who was just nominated for an Academy Award (Silver Linings Playbook), adds a layer of necessary charisma to the complex Avery—a character that likely could have been extremely unlikable in the hands of a less skilled actor. And the quiet desperation and fragile delivery of Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan (who’ll be seen next as Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) makes Jason into a convincingly psychologically stunted young man on the quest to self-discovery.

Unfortunately, the film’s great performances are offset by Eva Mendes, who never seems invested enough to truly understand Romina, and Ray Liotta, who’s crooked cop is a role he’s already played so many times that his effort seems phoned in at best.

For his next film, director Derek Cianfrance should consider returning to the intimate format of Blue Valentine. While simpler on paper, that film ended up having more layers and was far more complex in the way it challenged and resonated with its viewers. The Place Beyond The Pines, on the other hand, relies too heavily on its predictable finish to explain the necessary details that make up the journey. And while it’s certainly a story that’s innovative and bold, the movie has too many plot holes and rushed choices to make its execution merit the same umph as Cianfrance’s previous work.

Decent enough for a Netflix night in, The Place Beyond The Pines is not a movie anyone needs to rush to see.

The Place Beyond The Pines is now playing in select theaters.

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TALKING ‘GLEE’ AND ‘ELECTRA HEART’ WITH MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS

marina-and-the-diamondsAt this point, having your song covered by Glee is an undeniable milestone for contemporary musicians.

The musical dramedy, now in its fourth season, has been known to not only have its own songs dominate the iTunes charts, but to also help boost sales for the original material that inspires it. Take, for instance, Rihanna’s single, “Take A Bow,” which saw an astounding 189% sales increase after it was featured on the show.

Tonight’s episode (which airs on FOX at 9/8c), “Feud,” will include the Glee cast’s interpretation of Marina and the Diamonds’ “How To Be A Heartbreaker.” And for the Welsh singer/songwriter who made the song a hit in the first place, this is a major step in the way of securing global pop superstardom.

Originally released last year, “How To Be A Heartbreaker” acted as the lead single off of the American release of Marina and the Diamond’s (a play on her real name, Marina Diamandis) acclaimed sophomore album, Electra Heart. A #1 record in the UK and Ireland, the album served up some of the finest mainstream pop of the year. Full of radio-friendly hooks and laced with sugary dance beats, Electra Heart was a drastic departure from Marina’s indie pop-meets-New Wave debut, 2010’s The Family Jewels. But the album’s thesis is far more mature and complex than a first listen would suggest.

Currently in between headlining tours, Marina chatted with me about having her song performed on tonight’s Glee, reflected about Electra Heart one year later, detailed a horrifying health condition that nearly shattered her career, and more.

(Marina and the Diamonds’ music video for “How To Be A Heartbreaker”)

ALEX: You’re a solo artist but you go by the moniker, “Marina and The Diamonds.” Who are the diamonds and how did they get this name?

MARINA: Well, I don’t know why when I started – which was back in the olden days of 2005 – I made it Marina and Diamonds as opposed to going with like Mari and the Diamonds or Marina Diamandis. To be honest, I didn’t really have any fans then, and I think I really liked the idea of creating my own world. The “diamonds” were like having a sense of community each time I did gigs. Yeah, so I named it that and it seemed to work. And I feel like that kind of togetherness is definitely something that is very present in the live shows now. I just love seeing a lot of people who are like-minded coming together.

ALEX: The tone of “How To Be A Heartbreaker” is much less serious and it’s lyrically more playful than many of the darker songs found on Electra Heart. Were you in a different creative headspace when you wrote that track?

MARINA: Definitely. I had actually already finished the album when I recorded that, so I was able to kind of better understand what I was trying to do and what I was trying to sum up with Electra Heart. So I think that song’s really good in terms that it does sum up the whole concept – you know, the heart-on-the-cheek and the kind of fixation with love and with love’s little games and with how we all try to stop ourselves from getting hurt, basically. So I decided to focus on that and make it into a rule-by-rule song.

ALEX: Is that what made you decide to make it the lead single off of the American release of Electra Heart?

MARINA: Yeah. I mean for me, it’s probably one of the most important songs. I feel so sorry for the UK releases – and this happened with my last album too – because I always manage to get the track listing and everything right on the American one. But it’s because those are always done two months later! So I can always plan the album and do it in hindsight, whereas the UK versions hold up loads of flaws.

ALEX: What are your thoughts on Glee covering “How To Be A Heartbreaker”?

MARINA: It’s very exciting. It’s quite major for me in terms of like, you know, some kind of mainstream recognition, so I’m thrilled about it. And though I don’t watch it – I’ve never actually watched an episode in my life – I’m very excited to see how they are going to re-enact “How To Be A Heartbreaker.”

ALEX: Does that mean you don’t have a favorite Glee cover from the past?

MARINA: Okay, so I must confess, I have watched the Britney [Spears] ones.

ALEX: Who hasn’t watched those?

MARINA: Yeah, but that’s it. I unfortunately can’t really answer that.

ALEX: Who is Electra Heart?

MARINA: Well, she’s a figment of my imagination. But it’s no one really. It’s no one and everyone. It’s something that people can relate to because it’s a character type; it’s not actually a person.

ALEX: I see. What is your response to the critics who have suggested that creating Electra Heart was just an excuse to make more mainstream music and …

MARINA: Sell out? I say, boo-hoo. I mean, in all honesty, it kind of was. Electra Heart was many different things. On one hand, it was completely authentic – in my eyes anyway. It was an authentic, creative project, which I felt like I executed really well. And then on the other side, it was an excuse to break off and just be able to kind of go into a genre that I don’t really belong to, in order to open myself up to a much bigger audience. I’ve always been very open about my plans and why I do things, so … it was kind of like … it’s weird to say this, but it was kind of like taking the idea of selling out and making it into a pop concept album. But I don’t want to sell it as that because that sounds terrible.

ALEX: No, I think that’s really interesting!

MARINA: I wanted to use that pop model. I wanted to work with Dr. Luke and Stargate, people who are, you know, masters of the pop industry. And I wanted to see how I could work in that framework and if I could – and I think I did.

ALEX: Absolutely. So which song on Electra Heart do you as Marina – not Electra – relate to and/or enjoy the most?

MARINA: I think the ones that are closest to my real identity are “Teen Idle,” “Fear and Loathing,” and “Bubblegum Bitch.” I think I’m most at home when I’m doing kind of suicidal piano ballads, so “Teen Idle” is probably my favorite.

ALEX: You’ve always released music that aims to deconstruct society’s obsession with fame and the glamour of Hollywood. What is it about this topic that fascinates you so much, and has your perspective on it changed since being in the limelight yourself?

MARINA: I think that after this album, my fascination with it is kind of done. Electra Heart kind of allowed me to explore that and to get it out of my system. And as to why I’m interested in it, I’m not really sure. I suppose because it’s such an important thing to our generation. You know, the idea of being someone or being famous. I think we really relate that with success, but also, I think I just like playing with the idea of obsession as being the reason why we think the way we do about things, and if there are two sides to it.

ALEX: Last year around the time of the album’s release, you suffered from a vocal fold hemorrhage. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience and how/if it’s impacted you as an artist?

MARINA: Genuinely, it was absolutely terrible. It’s weird because I actually wasn’t allowed to talk about it after it happened. If I ever wrote a tweet about it and said like, “Oh, my voice is really hurting,” then it would have really affected my insurance. So for example, on the December tour, I actually thought my vocal cords were going to snap. And I was like, there’s something wrong with them, there’s something really wrong. And you can’t really say stuff like that because then if you do have to cancel a tour, your insurance is going to adjust a bit and stuff. It was a terrible year. I lost a shit load of money personally from the cancelations and stuff. And it’s only been in the past month that it’s actually healed. I went to a doctor here in New York and they were like, “Man, you’ve got an injury that no one picks up on. You’ve got a small tear in your vocal cord but you’ve been singing on it for nine months.” And I was just like, “That makes me feel sick.”

ALEX: Oh wow.

MARINA: It was probably was the worst thing that’s ever happened in my professional life.

ALEX: Well, I’m glad that you’re better now. That sounds like it was horrible.

MARINA: I know. Honestly, me too. I don’t want to moan about it, but like, I couldn’t go out anymore cause it hurt so much. Imagine that you can’t even go out for a drink with a friend? It was just really annoying, so I’m glad now that it’s over.

ALEX: Yikes. Well, I’m glad too for your sake.

MARINA: Thank you.

ALEX: In May, you’ll be embarking on a headlining spring tour across North America. What can fans who both have and haven’t already seen you live before expect from these shows?

MARINA: Well, each show’s kind of like a John Waters film. It’s like value kitsch, right? It’s very theatrical. The show hasn’t changed that much, except the venues might be a bit bigger. And the clothing has got a little bit more plastic. It’s the last tour I’m ever going to do for Electra Heart, so it’s really an important one. And I think I’m playing some of the biggest shows of my career, so it’s very exciting for me.

(Marina and the Diamonds’ music video for “State of Dreaming”)

ALEX: Well congratulations! That sounds great. You also just released your gorgeous music video for “State of Dreaming.” Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to film this in black and white and what you think that added to the song?

MARINA: Well, all of my videos – the ones that aren’t pop videos – I just film in one or two takes. So, that video was shot after a shoot that I had done for something else. Nothing’s ever meant to be or planned. I do what I can with what I’m given because I don’t have anybody for that, so I just … yeah, I just do what I can.

ALEX: What was the first album that you ever bought?

MARINA: Do you know a girl band called Alisha’s Attic?

ALEX: No, I’ve never heard of them.

MARINA: Okay, well, I think it was them. You should Google them!

ALEX: I will! So to wrap up, what else do you have planned for 2013?

MARINA: Honestly? Probably just fucking off somewhere and never coming back. Electra Heart is done. I’m looking forward to just living a normal life, and you know, seeing friends, and just being in one place for a while. So I think after this summer, I’ll probably disappear for a while.

ALEX: So you’re going to take a little break before working on a third record?

MARINA: Yeah, definitely.

ALEX: Well that sounds like it’ll be much deserved. Thanks so much, Marina, it was a pleasure speaking with you!

MARINA: Thank you! You too!

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Originally published on PopBytes