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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 01
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Superbly acted (Blue Valentine emotionally neutral
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Blue Valentine
Opening January 7


Blue Valentine is one of those movies that I almost don't know how to attack, or even the best way to put my thoughts into any sort of coherent (let alone rational) perspective. The acting on the part of stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling is beyond reproach, as each delivers a performance deserving of all the awards that can be shoveled their way. Co-writer and director Derek Cianfrance stages individual scenes of astonishing power, and the film has more than its share of bracingly visceral emotional moments that left me thunderstruck.

But as a complete motion picture? As a single story from start to finish that had me engaged and eager to see what would happen next? As far as those questions are concerned, I can't say Blue Valentine did a darn thing for me. I sat in the theatre wondering why I should care and, even more importantly, what it was that was keeping me there. It left me cold for large portions of the narrative, and by the time it was over, the story didn't resonate in a way that made its numerous plusses matter in a meaningful way.

In many ways, this saga of a relationship told from both its start and from its finish reminded me of other expertly made downer dramas like Babel or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The difference? In the case of those films, there was something about their individual stories that stuck with me, pieces I found myself mulling over after my initial viewing. They were so phenomenally made and crafted that their individual magnificence is indisputable, and while my wish to experience them again isn't high, I wouldn't look at another viewing as an imposition.

The same cannot be said for Cianfrance's film. Not only do I not have an interest in seeing it a second time, I wasn't at all sure I wanted to be there the first time around. Watching its non-linear narrative of two people falling in and out of love made me so uncomfortable, so disillusioned, I could barely find anything about it I cared for. Not only is the movie itself an emotional train wreck, by the time it reached its inevitable conclusion, it left me feeling like one.

Williams and Gosling play Cindy and Dean, a married couple with a young daughter whom both of them love even if their own relationship is hanging by a thread. Dean hasn't lived up to his potential, taking random jobs as he finds them. But he's a good father who adores his little girl, and while he's nowhere near as romantic as he was when he swept Cindy off her feet, his heart still belongs to her.

She's not quite on the same plateau. Cindy is feeling herself drifting from Dean  his increasingly irrational behavior, his penchant for drinking, and his inability to want more from life has her frustrated. What's worse, he's behaving like an emotional child, not realizing he's putting his own physical and sexual needs above her own and forgetting to treat her with the same respect and maturity he did when they were dating.

There's more going on here, and Cianfrance layers the facets of the pair's beginning and their end in a flip-flop fashion that is supposed to give each portion more significance. As things progressed, I quickly came to the conclusion that there wasn't any there there. The whole movie is nothing more than snippets and moments from a pair of lives I became increasingly disinterested in. Their fate held no significance for me, their destination nothing I felt one way or the other about, and while I was consistently dazzled from technical and performance standpoints, just the opposite was happening from a plot perspective.

I suppose Cianfrance is going for something like Mike Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, or John Cassavetes' Faces. My guess is that he wants to make things so realistic, so natural, so innately personal that viewers, whether they've ever been married or not, can't help but relate.

But the things going on in Blue Valentine had no weight for me, and while the characters themselves were certainly realistically depicted, I couldn't help but want for more. Everything about this one just ended up feeling so matter-of-fact, so uninspired, so forgone and unsurprising, that the decisions Cindy and Dean made weren't ones that resonated. Their saga of love and despair made me feel close to nothing. In the end, Cianfrance has crafted an intriguing, superbly acted enigma, the final product of a relationship tragedy devoid of tears, devoid of emotion, and ultimately sadly devoid of giving me any reason to care.


Unembellished Somewhere a minimalist beauty
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Somewhere
Opening January 7


Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a famous action star who broke his wrist during a drunken night partying in his legendary Hollywood hotel the Chateau Marmont. His 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) visits occasionally, and the two have a good time playing games, going to the skating rink, and lounging by the pool. After his ex-wife up and vanishes, Johnny takes Cleo with him to Europe on a promotional tour for his latest film before getting her to summer camp a few weeks later.

As far as descriptions go, that's pretty much it for writer/director Sophia Coppola's latest, Somewhere. Much like Lost in Translation  maybe even more so  this is strictly an observational exercise, a stripped-down form of filmmaking that Michelangelo Antonioni or Jean-Pierre Melville would have been proud to call their own. Not much happens, not much changes; everyone simply goes through the motions of their lives, figuring things out as they move slowly along.

There is a simple beauty to this form of filmmaking that is undeniable. I was completely captivated  first frame to last, I couldn't take my eyes off of what Coppola was choosing to show me. Everything plays like a snapshot of a life aloof, a life potentially wasted, a life currently in flux, a series of brief vignettes of a father trying to decide who he is and what the next step should be.

All that being so, there is a part of me that wishes there were more in the way of meat on these bones. Marco doesn't really do anything. He smokes. He drinks. He watches happily as a couple of blonde strippers do their routine on portable poles right in the comfy confines of his own bedroom. He drives Cleo around. They play Rock Band, listen to an old man sing a song in the lobby, and make breakfast together. He goes on press junkets. He gets a full workup at a special effects studio to prepare for a future role.

But does anything concrete happen? Does anyone come to any sort of big realizations about their lives and where they want to go from here? No, not really, and the ending is ambiguous. When I said this movie was observational, I wasn't kidding. Coppola wants us to watch and make up our minds as to whether or not Marco's doing anything with his life, giving us no answers and no definitions because doing so would influence us  and that is precisely the one thing she doesn't want to do.

This can be frustrating. There were times I wanted to yell at the screen and force Marco to do something and not just sit there like a sack of potatoes. I wanted Cleo to tell him off, to let him know how his actions make her feel. I wanted someone  anyone  to give him a verbal dressing-down, and the one brief instance that this does indeed happen (by the likes of Michelle Monaghan, no less) is so out of left field it almost didn't register.

But I say, 'So what?' Coppola stages things in an extremely appealing manner, and the film moves from scene to scene with a delectable and mesmerizing grace. The picture is superbly shot by the great Harris Savides (Zodiac), and everything has a minimalist sheen that allows the viewer to disappear inside the images. Both Dorff and Fanning are wonderful, and by the time it was over, I was almost sad to see their story end.

Much like September's The American, this won't be for everyone. Even more so than Anton Corbijn's hit man thriller, the lack of anything of substance for viewers to latch onto can be jarring. But audiences looking for something different  something with intelligence, grace, and nerve, something that allows them to come to their own conclusions and ideas about what's going on  will find much to love about the unembellished character-driven beauty that is Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.


Why I Love You (Phillip Morris is our Amos and Andy
by Mark Segal - Courtesy of the (Philadelphia Gay News

Rarely will you see a film review by me in this space. But I feel a certain responsibility since the media portrayal of Gays was my first campaign back in the early 1970s. This film has hit a sensitive spot that calls for response, and it's so retro it takes us back to the early days of Gay Liberation and what we were fighting against. Meet I Love You Phillip Morris.

By far the worst LGBT film of 2010, let's put this as gently as we can: It's the Amos and Andy film of Gay people. The two (and only) Gay characters are Steven Russell, played by Jim Carrey, who is a con man, and Phillip, played by Ewan McGregor, a big-hearted romantic who is a little short in the brains department. As they stumble from one adventure to another, you can almost hear in the background, 'Feet, don't fail me now.' And in the courtroom, you certainly can imagine, 'Here comes the judge.'

Add to that the mandatory scene of a swishy half-drag Carrey and we have a stereotypical Gay character we have not seen in decades. It's a giant step backward for Gays in cinema. Vito Russo, writer of The Celluloid Closet  the definitive book of the history of Gays in film  is turning over in his grave. Sorry, Vito.

Some of us thought we were beyond such a cheap depiction of our lives. The film tries to get past that by pretending to be a satire, but all the jokes, gags, and set-ups are cliché. Even when the main character comes out, it's what is commonly called by stand-up comedians a 'Gay out,' a phrase coined by David Brenner.

This film plays to the worst stereotypes while pretending to be entertainment. It's disguised as a film for sophisticated individuals in large metropolitan urban cities. The problem is, it is in wide release. One question: Would you want this film to be the first film about Gays people see? Just imagine someone in Mississippi or Alabama watching the swishy thief  and, oh, let's not forget his ex-lover/kept boy who, to add a little sympathy to the story, dies of AIDS.

Yes, this is the perfect film about Gay men your right-wing Christian Republican wants to see. A swishy thief who either dies or ends up in prison. I won't even discuss the depiction of their intimate relationship. There is just so much wrong with this film, it's as if the writer and director were trying way too hard to make John McCain smile.

Are there any redeeming factors? This should answer that question. According to this film, life in prison is pretty good for Gay guys, since we can buy most anything we want and fall in love. Maybe the hidden point is that prison is a place to put Gays  they'll be very happy there, and we're doing them a favor.

A film with Gay characters can still be trash. And that's where this film belongs: in a trash can.

Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media, having recently received the 2010 Columnist of the Year Award from the 2,000-member Suburban Newspapers of America . He can be reached atmark@epgn.com.




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Superbly acted (Blue Valentine emotionally neutral
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Unembellished Somewhere a minimalist beauty
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Why I Love You (Phillip Morris is our Amos and Andy
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