REVIEW: Blue Valentine

20 01 2011

Blue Valentine” is a story about a couple told in two different parts: how they come together and ultimately how they fall apart.  Like the yin and the yang, they complement each other to create a picture of broken marriage with vivid and heartbreaking color.  Writer and director Derek Cianfrance uses the broken narrative to provide the story with a harrowing sense of perspective as we observe what once sparked attraction between the two fuels repulsion six years later.

The movie opens on a scene of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) six years into their marriage, and no screaming match or fight is necessary to show that their relationship is crumbling.  With the demands of their daughter, the hassle of a lost pet, and the tension between their disparate jobs, the strain in their love is perfectly illustrated by their body language towards each other.

Cold, cruel, and distant they have grown – and Cianfrance doesn’t indulge us by telling where and when it all went south.  Is what we observe with the dog simply the straw that broke the camel’s back?  Was it having a child?  Or did their love gently erode over time?  “Blue Valentine” doesn’t offer us an easy answer, leaving it up to the audience to discuss in the theater lobby and the parking lot.

However, the question I asked wasn’t what caused them to fall out of love; I wondered if they were ever in love in the first place.  Strategically interspersed among their separation are flashbacks of Dean’s courtship of Cindy, which came as she was losing a dear relative and trying to shed an abusive father and boyfriend.  Perhaps it was just a perfect storm of circumstances that brought them together, not love.  And again, there’s no easy answer to that, which makes the heavy “Blue Valentine” land a little softer.

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“Blue Valentine” Poll Results

20 01 2011

Nobody, baby, but you and me…

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the stars of “Blue Valentine,” both missed out on Golden Globe wins and BAFTA nominations.  But will both, one, or neither get Oscar nominations?  Perhaps it’s time to check the poll!

There were five voters in the poll, and none of them thought that Ryan Gosling alone would get nominated or that neither of them would get nominated.  However, 40% thought Williams alone would receive a nomination.  In my opinion, she was the better of the two, and I’d much rather see her get nominated than her co-star.

60% of voters thought that both would get nominated.  I think what could end up hurting “Blue Valentine” in the end is that it’s like a combo deal: you can’t nominated one without the other.  I feel like it’s more likely to see both left off than one put on.  Williams has a better shot than Gosling at a nomination, but I feel like her fifth slot is ripe for a surprise nominee like Hailee Steinfeld, Noomi Rapace, or Julianne Moore (!).

Random Factoid #506

16 12 2010

I’ve written plenty on the baffling MPAA ratings system on this site (and offsite as well: it was the topic of my 8th grade social issues research paper).  For example, in Random Factoid #310, I wrote about the ridiculous descriptors they use in their ratings like “bullying” or “a brief instance of smoking.”  In Random Factoid #389, I criticized their campaign to get cigarettes out of movies while they let the promotion of violence run wild.  In Random Factoid #441, I attacked their need to point out male nudity to audiences but turn a blind eye to female nudity.

And back when “Blue Valentine” was still rated NC-17, I advocated the abolition of the rating altogether in Random Factoid #437.  Here was my modest proposal for the alternative:

“The R rating carries with it the assumption that moviegoers under 17 can’t buy their own ticket; someone has to buy it for them.  By barring people from certain movies, the MPAA either takes over the role of the parent and claims they know best OR they acknowledge that the R rating is too weak.  Why not strengthen the protection around R-rated movies as an alternative?  Crack down on lazy theaters that don’t enforce R ratings tough enough, and that should keep the people who don’t have permission to see R-rated movies out of them.”

But there’s only so much an 18-year-old amateur blogger from Houston can do.  However, there is a whole lot a certain legendary critic from Chicago can.  Roger Ebert can’t speak anymore, but darned if he isn’t one of the most vocal critics of the current system of movie ratings set in place by the MPAA.  He argues that “there are only two meaningful ratings: R and not-R.”

To a certain extent I agree – at least from where I’m sitting at my age.  I’m very glad to be able to see any movie I want at the theater with my ID, and now I want every movie to cater to me.  I don’t want movies to be watered down so kids five years younger than me can go see them without having to drag mommy or daddy with them to the theater.  For example, my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened for “The Social Network” when I found out that it was rated PG-13 and not R (but all the reviews convinced me not to despair).

Ebert says that the ratings have to change because we have changed as a society, and that the ratings system need to reflect the reality that tolerance levels have changed drastically.  Here’s his proposed system:

“Perhaps only three categories are needed: ‘G,’ for young audiences,’T’ for teenagers, and ‘A’ for adults. These categories would be not be keyed to specific content but would reflect the board’s considered advice about a film’s gestalt and intended audience. At a time when literally any content can find its way into most American homes, what’s the point of singling out theatrical films? It’s time to admit we’ve lost our innocence.”

While I like his suggestion, I think the audience and content ratings would need to be separated for business’ sake.  A movie with adult content can still be a hit with teenagers (for the quintessential example, look no further than “Black Swan“), but if it isn’t rated “T” in Ebert’s system, why would this age group want to see it?

Oscar Moment: “Blue Valentine”

19 11 2010

You’ve probably heard about “Blue Valentine” for all the wrong reasons, particularly because of the absurd NC-17 rating it received at the hands of the violence-loving but genophobic (that’s the fear of sex) ratings boards of the MPAA.  Harvey Weinstein lawyered up and is now going to stare down the ridiculous organization until they renege on the rating that has led all other movies to final ruin.

Why is the movie NC-17, for all those curious out there wondering?  Because it dared to give an honest portrayal of a relationship in its most devastating moments.  The movie has gained a reputation over the past year, after playing at Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto, for being a brutal watch but incredibly powerful because it dares to not fall into Hollywood schmaltz.  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it when he first saw the movie at Cannes, the movie’s tagline should be “don’t see it with someone you love.”

The reviews so far have been fantastic, and they have been consistently rolling in as the film plays a new festival.  Kris Tapley of In Contention wrote in October that he “found it to be a delicate and truthful examination of a relationship in crisis.”  Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly raved:

“No movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine. A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss …”

The movie is a promising debut for writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and if the critics really show their love for the movie through their year-end awards, I think he could be rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  Best Director this year will be packed full of some fan favorites reaching their peak (Fincher, maybe Nolan and Aronofsky), and the choice newcomer of 2010 will probably be Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech.”

But I get the sense that the reward for “Blue Valentine” will come through its actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  It is their movie, and most reviews I read state that Cianfrance largely steps out of the way and lets them create the art.  According to Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, this movie is the culmination of a whole lot of work and passion from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams:

“… Director Derek Cianfrance has been meticulously working on this film for a good ten years.  He brought it to Michelle Williams back in 2003, and a few years later they brough in Ryan Gosling.  The idea was to wait until the two of them were old enough to be believable in the part.  Since the film takes place in different moments in time, the actors had to take a hiatus and change themselves physically before coming back to film the later scenes of the couple.”

Cianfrance went to great measures to get the most authentic performances possible out of his actors.  Gosling and Williams largely lived their roles during filming, and Cianfrance captured as much of it as possible.  Praise has been pouring out for the two stars, ranging from “the performances of their careers” (Stone) to “pitch-perfect” and “gold” (Tapley).  Gosling and Williams, who both recently turned 30, are tremendously respected for their ages as can be seen through their previous nominations.  Both face difficult fields, but I think they can do it simply because “Blue Valentine” appears to fly because they knock it out of the park.

And then there’s the big question of them all: what about Best Picture?  For starters, it’s already racked up one nomination on the road to glory.  The Gotham Independent Film Awards recognized “Blue Valentine” as one of the five best independent movies of the year, along with other hopefuls like “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  This group picked last year’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker,” as their favorite and nominated “A Serious Man,” a 2009 Best Picture nominee, as well.  The Gotham Awards are hardly a reliable indicator for Oscar tastes, though, with a Best Picture nominee popping up every once in a while.

So who knows?  The publicity from the ratings drama isn’t hurting, but with the film’s release set for December 31, it will have very little time to find an audience, making it the “obscure indie” pick that the expanded field might be phasing out.



What To Look Forward To in … December 2010

15 11 2010

Hard to believe we are rapidly approaching the last month of 2010!  Enjoy the movies now, because soon Hollywood will be offering us its scraps.  We have an interesting December slate peppered with Oscar contenders and blockbusters, so it makes for an interesting mix.  Let’s get started at our look!

December 3

I’ve already seen “Black Swan” (mwahaha), and you need to see it.  Not for the faint at heart, I must warn.

FINALLY opening after being shuffled from preview post to preview post is “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the racy comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as lovers.  It’s changed release dates so many times, in fact, that I’m not going to write anything about it just in case I jinx it.  Also opening is “The Warrior’s Way,” which looks to potentially play “Norbit” for Geoffrey Rush’s Oscar chances.  And “All Good Things” looks like a jumbled mess that might be worth checking out on video if for no other reason than to see Kristen Wiig’s first major dramatic turn.  If you really need a Christmas movie, check out no-name distributor Freestyle’s release of “The Nutcracker” in 3D with Dakota Fanning’s sister and Nathan Lane!

Also in limited release is a documentary on Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan, called “Bhutto.”  I think she would be a fascinating subject, and I sure hope it comes to Houston.

December 10

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” looks to undo the disastrous effects of Disneyfication on C.S. Lewis’ classic series.  After “Prince Caspian,” the series needs a strong recovery.  Here’s to hoping the venture with Fox can do it.

As for “The Tourist,” I like anything with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  This could be a totally formulaic thriller, but it’s Christmas and I have time to see whatever.

For all those interested in having Julia Taymor’s bad trips mess with their mind, “The Tempest” opens in limited release this Friday.  The weekend also brings us “The Company Men” with Ben Affleck, which tackles the issue of unemployment in America.  Unfortunately, the zeitgeist movie market has pretty much been cornered with “The Social Network,” so it’s going to take a backseat.  “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden” also heads your way in limited release, yet even with the big name expatriate author out in front, this still doesn’t excite me in the slightest.

Oh, and opening limited this weekend and wide December 17 is a little movie called “The Fighter.”  It just stars a few no-names like Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.  It’s kind of got some minor buzz, so it could be worth checking out.  (Note the sarcasm.)

December 17

How Do You Know” is my top mainstream pick for December.  The combination of the light dramedy of James L. Brooks with stars like Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson is just endlessly appealing to me.

I feel like the jury is still out on what will become of “Tron: Legacy.”  It’s sure going to be a visual effects phenomenon worth my IMAX money, but is it going to be any good?  Quality doesn’t seem to shine through the numerous trailers.  Maybe it’s some ’80s child thing I don’t get.

I’ve also seen “Rabbit Hole,” and it is more than worth your time and money in the busy Oscar bait season.  Nicole Kidman is astounding.  Also in the indie spectrum, Kevin Spacey stars in the late George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” a story of big influence on Capitol Hill.  Expect the two-time Oscar winner to hit out of the park as usual.

In case your family was looking to fill the void that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” left in the holiday season, Warner Bros. has quite a treat in store for you with “Yogi Bear!”

December 22

As for big name, sure-fire Oscar bait, it doesn’t get much better than the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit.”  It’s the perfect holiday movie that is totally not for the holiday season.

For more shoddy kids’ entertainment, you could also check out “Gulliver’s Travels” if you think that a non-animated Jack Black still has the capability to be funny.  I don’t think he does, to be honest.  As for “Little Fockers,” I don’t want to ruin whatever jokes the movie has up its sleeve by watching the trailer.  Who knows, there could be few to be had.

In limited release, moody hipster Sofia Coppola has a new movie, “Somewhere,” to totally disrupt the mood of your holiday season.  There’s also Gwenyth Paltrow in “Crazy Heart” — I mean, “Country Strong.”  More on that when it opens wide in January.

I’ve been hearing good things all year about “The Illusionist,” an animated movie about a magician, NOT the Edward Norton starrer from 2006.  It obviously won’t be making Houston in 2010, but I hope I get to catch it some time before it hits Netflix.

December 29/31

The year closes with three awards-type movies: the depressing “Biutiful,” the Mike Leigh unfunny comedy “Another Year,” and the intense NC-17 “Blue Valentine.”  I’ll see all three, but the only one I’ll be rushing the box office for is the latter, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

So, what are YOU looking forward to in December?  I’m tightening up the poll this month to save some space by eliminating some of the less popular titles that never get votes.

Random Factoid #437

8 10 2010

I’m entering my last week of being 17, and I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing R-rated movies hassle-free.  Surprisingly, it hasn’t even entered my mind that I could go see and an NC-17 movie if I so desired.  In fact, I probably would have gone through my entire seventeenth year without thinking about it had it not been for Time reminding me that NC-17 turned 20 this week.  Happy birthday!

The rating is now a kiss of death for business, and a step forward in censorship became a step backwards in effectiveness.  Here’s an excerpt from the article on the meaning of NC-17:

On a teenager’s life timeline, the 17th birthday is pointlessly wedged between sweet 16th and legalizing 18th celebrations. While it affords no adolescent soirees or lottery tickets, the middle milestone does impact Friday nights at the movies. Twenty years ago on Oct. 5, “Henry & June” hit theaters as the first film to hold an NC-17 rating. Unlike an R-rated flick that would force a parent to be your date, there is no wiggle room with these titles — moviegoers under age 17 are not permitted in the audience. But how come this particular Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating is so young? And why is it not commonplace to hear that baritone “rated NC-17” voice bookend movie trailers at the theater or on television?

What better way to celebrate an anniversary than giving a totally unnecessary NC-17 rating?  “Blue Valentine” got slapped with a harsh NC-17 rating today, which is completely ludicrous according to The Los Angeles Times.

Derek Cianfrance’s movie shows plenty of harrowing moments of a couple arguing and brutalizing each each other psychologically. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s hardly graphic or hardcore in any conventional sense of the term; it’s emotional brutality and explictness, nothing more. There was no scene we could find in the film’s extended version that would merit something stronger than an R.

And certainly if the movie was cut down from its earlier versions it wouldn’t include more offending material. (There’s also an irony in that the company was shortening the movie to make it more commercial, but then got slapped with an NC-17 anyway.)

I don’t really even see the need for the rating anymore with the ease of piracy and the ease of sneaking into a movie.  I am NOT advocating these measures by any means, but it is a harsh reality that the people rating movies need to acknowledge.  If a robber wants to break into a house, an alarm system really won’t deter him; the same goes for moviegoers.  If someone wants to see a movie, they will find a way to see it.

The R rating carries with it the assumption that moviegoers under 17 can’t buy their own ticket; someone has to buy it for them.  By barring people from certain movies, the MPAA either takes over the role of the parent and claims they know best OR they acknowledge that the R rating is too weak.  Why not strengthen the protection around R-rated movies as an alternative?  Crack down on lazy theaters that don’t enforce R ratings tough enough, and that should keep the people who don’t have permission to see R-rated movies out of them.

Sigh.  Things won’t change, though.  You can read my dissertation … em, eighth grade research paper … on how flawed the MPAA is if you so desire.