What movie was that...?

31 January 2011

Blue Valentine

directed by Derek Cianfrance

It’s a hipster fantasy come true. A train wreck of a relationship. Ryan Gosling singing. A soundtrack by Grizzly Bear. Sidewalk tap dancing. Ryan Gosling saying “rad.” I would have hated it if I didn’t love it so much. Derek Cianfrance, serving up a painful slice of life in the form of a romantic deterioration, seeks to lay it all out on the metaphorical table. Blue Valentine is a labor of emotion, and the evidence of it permeates every frame. Michelle Williams is a wonder as Cindy, who falls for Dean (a solid Ryan Gosling), the Rocky Balboa slash Jim Stark love child who sings like a bruised angel and claims death is for suckers. The feel good film of the year it is not, but for me it resonates and taps an ache I’ve long felt. I could feel the humidity level rise in the auditorium almost instantly (Get it? From the tears?), but I got the impression that more than a few women weeping around me were mourning the loss of Gosling’s hairline (it was only makeup, people!).
I feel compelled to take this opportunity to make my desperate plea to Mr. Baz Luhrmann. For the love of God, Mr. L, listen to the advice of the universe and do not, I repeat, DO NOT film your version of The Great Gatsby in 3D. I have made my peace with the fact that Baz will be directing an over the top, overly emotional version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s monumental novel, but I need to make my recommendations for casting (like all good, self important film geeks). The role of Daisy needs to be played by Rachel McAdams, no question. Casey Affleck, Mark Ruffalo or Joseph Gordon Levitt would be great Nicks, and the part of Gatsby could only be played by one person, Ryan Gosling, and I will explain why: Gosling is the only actor who possesses the necessary qualities to play Gatsby: he’s the right age, and Nick (Fitzgerald’s narrator) described Gatsby’s smile as having the power to blot out the rest of the world, to make you feel like the warm little glow around which the universe cleaves. Sounds like Gosling to me. Bradley Cooper would make a great Tom Buchanan, and the role would actually give him an opportunity to flex his acting chops. Personally, I would love to see Tom Hardy as Tom (he has really blossomed into an amazing talent). Jordan Baker has to be played by Ellen Page. I mean, come on, who else could it be? If Jordan Ladd was just a little better of an actress, she would make a great Myrtle Wilson, and for some reason I see George as being older than her, like Elias Koteas or Michael Shannon. If I am going to get ultra delusional and really plot my dream scenario, I would give the project to someone who really understands the complexities of “civility”. Someone like Sam Mendes or Robert Altman (yes, I do know that he died), or even Wes Anderson or Alfonso Cuaron as the wild cards who would swing for the fences.
So there you have it folks. What would your dream line up for The Great Gatsby look like?

29 January 2011

The Green Hornet

directed by Michel Gondry

Though not without its charm, Michel Gondry’s newest film is about as bland as you can get. But the surprise here is Seth Rogan, who once again pens a script that made me chuckle more than once, kicking some ass like a kegged up frat boy at an Of Montreal concert. He’s clumsy, he’s sloppy, but he’s a charming bruiser who breathed life into a lesser known, lesser appreciated super hero at a time when the Downey Jr. Tony Stark stylings make for a much more compelling and fun icon. Poor Brandon Routh and his stoicly stoic Superman of a few years ago. If only he’d just assholed it up a bit, we’d be on the second sequel by now. Gondry scores a few points for his badass handling of Reid’s first act of heroism (which was immediately preceded by his grand act of vandalism, btw), which is also the sequence when the limber and liquid Kato (played with a blue ribbon effort by Jay Chou) swoops to Reid’s rescue for the first time (certainly not the last, either). And who is going to sit here and tell me that they are going to pass up a chance to see Christoph Waltz have a bit of fun, and his blank face expressions are as hilarious as they are chilling, That’s a bingo, Mr. W.

28 January 2011

The King's Speech

directed by Tom Hooper

Any other year, I wouldn’t be too thrilled about Tom Hooper’s film, The King’s Speech, garnering as much praise and as many award noms as it has, but this is not any other year. The film is a fine film, to be sure, but is it as dazzling as A Serious Man? No. As gut punchingly magnetic as There Will Be Blood? No. As breathtaking as A Single Man? Sadly, I don’t think anything will ever be, but Hooper’s film about the Duke of York finding his voice is well directed, well written, and very well acted. And for one of those damned “period” films (ugh, I cringe just uttering the term. How I loathe them), The King’s Speech simply shines. Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter are excellent as the royal couple, while Geoffrey Rush somehow manages yet another fresh performance out of the “teacher” archetype. How he can still do that to me after all these years is a small wonder. Those of you looking for something provocative need to look somewhere else, but a film that a film lover (me), a Robert Ludlum fan (my dad) and a 90 year old grandmother (mine) can all sit down and really, thoroughly enjoy is a treat, no matter how you slice it. The cinematography and the art direction were out of sight, and anyone with a wallpaper fetish will do well feast their eyes (your eyes will thank you, I promise). The King’s Speech was great, and it came out at just the right time to reap its rewards. 

06 January 2011

True Grit

directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

It’s about American as you can get. A classic Western tale re-imagined by Joel and Ethan Coen, complete with some of the finest performances you are sure to see this year, but True Grit has something that many Coen films do not possess: an ending that, like it or not, is as nice and neat a package as you will find, Coenwise. Now, to say that the film is the stronger for it would be a deceit, and as much as I wanted to drink it all in, I found myself wishing the film had ended about 20 minutes before it actually did. The Coens certainly aren’t ones to pander, or cave, or even ironically give in to popular pleading, so I’m not sure what to make of this out of character and deflatingly pedestrian dénouement. Maybe they were trying something new. But man, oh man, Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin were out of sight in small roles that asked for quite a bit from these fine actors. Brolin must have spent the time he was out of the Hollywood limelight to hone his skills, much the way Bruce Wayne did between pages 1 and 2 of Batman, issue 1, returning to film as an unrivaled master of the craft. Barry Pepper has always been a tragically underrated talent, for even his most mediocre and forgettable films feature amazingly strong and subtle talent on his part. I heart you, Mr. P. And Brolin, you had me at “No dead bodies for Da Da.” Jeff Bridges is superb, per usual, but the film’s warm glow resides in the stern, stubborn and stupendous talent of Hailee Steinfeld, who comes out on top in nearly every scene. Is True Grit a classic? I don’t think so, and when measured by typical Coen standards, the film falls short. But that doesn’t make it a hell of a film and well worth the watch. And Mr. Damon, I haven’t forgotten about how excellent you were, either. Those of you with a Roger Deakins fetish will do well to feast your eyes on yet another film he photographs like a champ (though there were a few shots near the end that I wasn’t particularly keen on), and Carter Burwell’s score is badass as all get out. Go see it, already, fans of Westerns, Coens, and all things great. You won’t be disappointed.