Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year-End Movie Binge: Mini-Reviews

BLUE VALENTINE (dir: Derek Cianfrance)
I really have to stop sticking around for these filmmaker Q&As after movie screenings. Which isn't to say I'm not still a big fan of Blue Valentine. It's a remarkable pas des deux between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, two deeply naturalistic performers who are once again burrowing far into their characters. The miracle is that neither of these two incredibly method-y actors ever feels like they're working -- the courtship scenes are as light and sweet as anything you'll see all year.

My niggling problems are with the writing/direction of Derek Cianfrance -- who does mostly excellent work I should note. But the structure feels a tad too structured for the raggedy story it's telling, and there's more than a hint of holier-than-thou hipsterism in the story, particularly in how, for example, the evil violent ex-boyfriend gets characterized by the fact that he's a baseball-cap-wearing jock? Which all were truly not very big issues in the scope of this bracing, wonderful movie ... until the Q&A with Derek Cianfrance and his nonstop barrage of canned, cute answers (to, admittedly, dumb, self-serving questions), and his "I didn't want the script to be a script you know?" and his Giving Tree tattoo ... okay, it's actually Ryan Gosling's Giving Tree tattoo, but since a) I like Ryan Gosling too much to acknowledge that he's got something as cloyingly ironic as a Giving Tree tattoo, and b) Gosling really seems to be channeling Cianfrance in the movie anyway, I'm crediting that tat to Cianfrance anyway. Summing up: good movie, great performances, maybe directed by a twat. B+

RABBIT HOLE (dir: John Cameron Mitchell)
I keep trying to speak to someone who's seen the stage version of the play, because I have this theory that John Cameron Mitchell did a LOT to shape this into a purely cinematic experience, and he's not getting any credit for it. The film -- dealing with the aftermath as a married couple tries to re-start their lives after their child's death -- never once feels stagebound, and it's done without using any of the flourishes that have characterized JCM's earlier films. The imagery from the comic book, in particular, feels like something that couldn't have been a part of the play but which is possessed of such haunting beauty, it's come to define the film as much (if not more) than Nicole Kidman's acclaimed performance.

Two elements are keeping this from superlative greatness in my mind: 1) I have an Aaron Eckhart problem. Maybe this is all on me. Maybe he's an actor who never fails to show you just how hard he's working to come up JUST short every time. 2) Tammy Blanchard as Kidman's sister is going to goin the 2010 pantheon of white-trash ladies I want to have a beer with (scoot over, Dale Dickey from Winter's Bone and the pretty Ward sister from The Fighter), but her character isn't developed all that well. Also, the last shot of Sandra Oh in the film was either poorly directed or poorly performed and I can't decide which. All this said, the movie has been stuck on my brain for two weeks, so maybe those nagging problems haven't mattered much.

Nicole Kidman's performance is amazing and is the biggest and best reason that the film doesn't wallow in its own subject matter but instead feels it, acknowledges it, is bewildered by it, laughs at it, and generally figures out a way to live with it. Dianne Weist is brilliant, the kind of passive-aggressive mom whose drunken bowling alley self-pity masks hard-won wisdom. B+/A-

THE GHOST WRITER (dir: Roman Polanski)
I appreciate why people like it, I suppose. It's a twisty political thriller and certainly a skillful throwback to '70s-'80s filmmaking aesthetics. It's the go-to movie for people who say "They don't make 'em like they used to anymore!" Me, I'll stay planted in the present, thanks. Part of my problem is that you couldn't pick three actors who hold less interest for me than Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Kim Cattrall. Yes, Polanski threw me a bone by casting Olivia Williams to essentially play Adelle DeWitt in her role as political wife, but much as I love her, she can't carry me through the tedium of watching McGregor bland his way through twists and turns that are alternately obvious and nonsensical (the movie follows the "Only our protagonist is capable of executing a Google search" rule). Stylistically, it's an interesting ride, but a wildly overpraised one. C+


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Joe, I think I'm with all your readers when I say, more reviews! :)
The above review with Sandra talks about what the final should have been, it's a really good read actually.

I love Tammy here, though true her character is not the most developed she just does lovely things with the time she gets.

And on McGregor in The Ghost you like him any ANYTHING? (Not that I can blame you for your reservations because I have feeling general antipathy towards Brosnan prevented me from loving it.

Joe Reid said...

Yeah, unfortunately, with the amount of work that goes into them, these review posts are the ones I least have time for.

Thanks for that Sandra Oh interview, it's a bit more illuminating.

As for McGregor, I loved him in Trainspotting and was awed by him in Velvet Goldmine, but ever since Moulin Rouge he's exhibited a simpering blankness that has completely numbed me to him.

Robert Hamer said...

I would agree that Pierce Brosnan normally isn't an interesting actor, but I thought he was excellent in The Ghost Writer. You weren't surprised by his performance?

Alex said...

In the play, Jason's manuscript is a short story, not a comic book. He and Becca talk a lot about what's in the story, but the comic book is all JCM.

Anonymous said...

You can see more of Tammy Blanchard's performances in a few movies being released in 2011 and 2012.
She has some scenes in Money Ball with Brad Pitt, she plays Mia Sorvino's sister in Union Square, just finished a movie called Certainty and another called
Can't hear the Music.
And in 2011 you will be able to see her on Broadway as Heddy Lemar in How to Succeed in Business with
Daniel Radcliffe.
I am a big fan of Blanchard since her Guiding Light days-

Susan said...

Michelle Williams is a gifted actress , but she truly needs to move away from these excruciatingly vulnerable characters.