Archive for February, 2011

Movie Review: This is one “Blue Valentine” I wish was red

Posted in Drama, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2011 by judsonw

Is it possible to fall out of love? This is a question that is both asked and seemingly answered in the heartbreaking romance “Blue Valentine.” The film, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple at the end of their destructive marriage, is finally being released across the country after its extremely well-received debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Gosling is Dean, a charming but dim high school drop out who meets the girl of his dreams while helping out at a moving company. That girl is Cindy (Williams), a pre-med college student stuck living with her dysfunctional parents, all the while trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Love doesn’t strike instantly, but the two form a deep connection once certain solemn events bring them closer together. Their love is contagious, which makes the eventual dissolution of their relationship all the more painful.

What makes director Derek Cianfrance’s feature debut so unique and memorable is the way it is conveyed. Instead of portraying Dean and Cindy’s growing apart chronologically, the film shifts back and forth in time during the several years they are together. In one scene, Cindy can’t stand to look at Dean as he carries their young daughter. In the next, the two blissfully perform a song and dance number with a ukulele in the early morning hours outside a bridal shop in Brooklyn. The juxtaposition of the different stages of the relationship is so startling that it is hard to believe the same couple is being depicted on screen. While the film flashes back to happier times, the present day married Dean and Cindy try to convalesce their relationship on a weekend night in a sex motel. The scenes that ensue in this setting are almost unbearable to watch as something that is so rarely presented in mainstream movies is on display: raw human emotion. The flashbacks to the couple’s happier moments offer glimmers of hope to an otherwise disheartening story.

This concurrence of the characters’ pre-marital courtship and post-marriage doldrums is evidenced even more so from Cianfrance’s use of different cameras for each stage of the relationship. All the pre-marriage scenes were filmed using Super 16mm cameras while all the post-marriage scenes were filmed using Red One digital cameras. While this change in style shifts the mood of each scene, it also gives off the impression of two different movies occurring concurrently.

“Blue Valentine” would not be nearly as successful without the captivating and deep performances from Gosling and Williams. The two make up the film’s emotional core, and their unusual veracity makes it easy to forget that these are actors depicting characters. The believability of the couple may be thanks to Gosling and Williams’ utter dedication to their roles. Before filming took place, the actors staged out arguments in a shared home, living on the budgets that their respective characters would encompass. These transformations led to a chemistry between the two, while not always positive, that was further strengthened by improvised dialogue during the majority of the movie’s runtime.

“Blue Valentine” is by no means an enjoyable or easy film to watch. It portrays something many of us are familiar with: the complex and sometimes heartrending process of falling in and out of love. But it also shows the pure delight and blissful times that process brings.

A-

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Movie Review: “The Green Hornet” would be nothing without Kato

Posted in Action, Comedy, Movie Review with tags , , , , on February 13, 2011 by judsonw

2011 seems to be the year of the superhero at the movies, albeit about lesser-known names like Thor and Green Lantern. First up on the block is “The Green Hornet,” based on the American pulp hero from radio shows and serialized dramas from the 1930s through the 1960s. Funnyman Seth Rogen shed 30 pounds to don the mask of the Green Hornet, but the real test is whether he was able to shed his reputation as an immature “man child” to become an action hero. Rogen plays Britt Reid, a spoiled party boy who lives off the fortune of his father, the publisher of Los Angeles’ “The Daily Sentinel.” When Britt’s father suddenly dies from a bee sting, he finds himself as the new publisher for a newspaper he doesn’t even care about. He finally meets his father’s longtime assistant, Kato (Jay Chou), and the two quickly form a bond when Britt decides to start a new career fighting crime as the Green Hornet.

“The Green Hornet” is unlike any superhero film in recent memory. Directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), it’s filmed with an interesting kinetic visual style, and the fight scenes feature exciting choreography that manages to be both fast and slow paced simultaneously. Many of these exciting fight scenes spotlight the martial arts expert Kato, which leads to the highlight of the film: Kato-vision. Kato-vision occurs when time slows down as Kato’s heart starts pumping during a fight. As if in slow motion, Kato spots the elements and details he’s going to use to his advantage and the results are spectacular. The scenes featuring Kato-vision are the only moments in the film when the 3-D is used to its full advantage, with fists and pieces of glass flying off the screen. Otherwise, the 3-D up conversion is nothing to write home about. At some points in the film I would take off my 3-D glasses and notice no difference on the screen than when I had them on.

At one point in the movie Kato says “the Green Hornet would be nothing without me.” The same could be said for the film, as well. Rogen and Chou have decent chemistry but Kato is truly the star of “The Green Hornet.” It’s the rare case of the sidekick overshadowing the hero, but it’s true. Kato designs all of Britt’s weapons, constructs his “Black Beauty” car, takes out all the bad guys with his bare hands and acts as a surrogate brother to Britt. Though Chou’s Chinese accent is sometimes hard to interpret, he comes across as charming and surprisingly funny. As for that “Black Beauty” car, it would be appropriate to call it the other star of the film. Complete with machine gun doors, bulletproof windows, indestructible tires, a flame thrower, ejectable seats, a record player and even a fax machine, it’s the coolest automobile to grace the big screen since the Batmobile made its debut in “Batman Begins.”

Every superhero movie has some sort of villain, and Christoph Waltz channels his inner evil from “Inglourious Basterds” to take on the role of the self-conscious and unfortunately named Chudnofsky. The head of L.A.’s crime syndicate, Chudnofsky comes across as laughable with his undying attempts to “be scary.” At one point he even claims to have “decapitated real people.” The tone of the movie is very similar to the 2008 action comedy “Pineapple Express.” There are violent action scenes and some deep themes, but it’s all wrapped up in a comedy. The film has its funny moments but other attempts at humor miss their mark by a long shot.

While “The Green Hornet” is a surprisingly fun take on a classic hero, the film is far from perfect. The pace slows down when the story shifts away from Britt and Kato and onto L.A.’s criminals. The final conflict between Britt and a new villain proves unsatisfying and anticlimactic. Cameron Diaz also brings close to nothing to her role as Britt’s secretary. She seems to be in the movie to simply act as part of a love triangle that causes a rift between the two friends. The biggest problem with “The Green Hornet,” however, is the character of Britt Reid. Rogen does a fine enough job with the character, but he merely has close to no character development throughout the film. He’s an unlikeable, immature spoiled brat, and he is essentially the same person at the end of the film as he was in the beginning. Britt is a hard hero to root for, which may explain why Kato is the one shining beacon in the movie.

With all that being said, “The Green Hornet” pleasantly surprised me. The combination of exhilarating fight scenes, nifty gadgets and funny characters make it a fun 2-hour diversion at the cinema.

B-