Blue Valentine (2011, Derek Cianfrance) – Review

Every now and then you see ‘one of those’ films.  The kind that properly gets to you, that jumps out the screen and slaps you in the face.  The kind that leaves you staring at the credits for 5 minutes after it has ended, cuts through all the superfluous nonsense and reminds you what a powerful medium film can be.  ‘Blue Valentine’ is ‘one of those’ films.

It was a labour of love for writer and director Derek Cianfrance.  Partly based on personal experience it took him 12 years and 67 drafts to knock into shape.  Watching the final result it’s vividly apparent that this is a story close to his heart.

Dean and Cindy have been married for 7 years and between them have raised a daughter.   We join them with their marriage coming apart, the magic is seemingly long gone and the final few sparks from their young love are petering out before us.  But between the present day scenes of their faltering marriage the film takes us back to their meeting and falling in love, where there are some genuinely touching and tender moments to warm the heart.  For removal worker Dean it’s love at first sight.  For Cindy, a student and aspiring doctor, Deans infectious charm and spontaneity are too much to resist.  We see them opening up to each other about their lives, sharing stupid laughs and in a memorable scene dancing together in the doorway of a cut price wedding shop.


The split time-frame used by Cianfrance is extremely effective.  From watching the young head-over-heels couple dancing in the street, we cut back to the present day and the dim neon light of a seedy themed sex hotel, a last gasp attempt to inject some passion.  It’s not going well.  The cut is a powerful moment that intensifies both strands of their story, suddenly the bygone highs seem higher and the lows of the present day are even more heart-wrenching.  Deans charm has deserted him, his hair is doing likewise and his potential is unfulfilled.  He loves his job as a decorator, he can have a beer at 8 in the morning and get away with it.  Cindy wants more.  Williams is outstanding in capturing the anxiety and frustration of a woman who feels trapped and empty in a dying marriage.  Her Oscar nomination was fully deserved.  Gosling, who missed out on a nomination, is equally impressive.

Falling in love and falling out of love, both have been explored hundreds of times over the years, but ‘Blue Valentine’ feels like an original take on the subject.  The saying goes that every good story needs a beginning, middle and end, but ‘Blue Valentine’ makes do with just two of the three.  It weaves together the romantic beginnings and the desperate end, leaving the audience to mull over what went wrong in between.  What happened in those 6 years?

A couple of posts ago I prematurely mentioned that ’Warrior’ was my favourite of all the films I’d seen this year.  Well, it has just been surpassed.  ‘Blue Valentine’ is a thoughtfully constructed and incredibly well acted film.  An emotionally draining portrait of a love turned sour, told with an uncompromising realism…. Just don’t watch it on a first-date.



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Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller) – Review

Ahhh Baseball…. Anyone for a game of futuristic cricket with imaginary, subjectively placed stumps and lots of spitting? 

In 2002 the Oakland A’s went on a record breaking 20 game winning streak.  Having been stripped of their star players in the off-season and shackled by a relatively small budget it was a remarkable run.  Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote) and penned by not one but two Oscar winning writers, Steven Zaillian (Schindlers List) and the red hot Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), ‘Moneyball’ follows the ups and downs of the A’s season and the personal journey of their General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt).

Being British my experience of Baseball has been limited to watching the occasional game on holiday and playing rounders with a tennis racket at primary school (where I would regularly hit timely home-runs and make telling contributions from a variety of positions in the field).   I’m therefore completely ill-equipped to make any comment on the accuracy of the storytelling and portrayal of real life events and characters.  All I can say is that as a massive sport fan, I was in my element.  It’s an amazing sporting story that is vividly brought back to life. Continue reading

Argo (2012, Ben Affleck) – Review

Ben Affleck has made a transition. After two promising releases in ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’, he was touted as one of the best young directors in Hollywood, he had potential.  With the release of ‘Argo’, his most complete work yet, he has announced himself as one of the foremost American directors working today.

‘Argo’ is the story of a leftfield CIA operation to extract 6 American diplomats from Iran, after they had escaped the US embassy during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.  Affleck takes on the role of Tony Mendez, the CIA operative tasked with masterminding the rescue of the US diplomats, who are now fugitives in Iran and secretly seeking refuge at the house of a Canadian ambassador. Continue reading

The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese) – Review

Here at last was Scorsese’s first collaboration with another Hollywood heavyweight, Jack Nicholson. Both the director and the star made quite a splash on American movies during the ‘70s and between them have garnered a huge amount of Academy Award nominations. So does this remake of the excellent Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs, deserve to be up there with the best of their work? Hell yes. Continue reading

The Terminator (1984, James Cameron) – Review

The Terminator, the film that launched the careers of Arnie and James Cameron, and one of those films that i was always a little embarrassed to admit i had never seen.  I’ve heard it described as being one of the greatest of all time, so i thought it was about time.

In the near future the planet is ruled by machines and supercomputers intent on wiping out mankind, but a human uprising led by an inspirational fighter named John Connor is threatening their power.  The machines, in an attempt to alter history, send a cyborg Terminator back in time to try and kill John’s mother Sarah Connor before she can give birth to their future tormentor.  But the humans send back a fighter of their own, Kyle Reese, with the mission to protect Sarah from the Terminator, and ensure John Connors existence in the future. Continue reading

City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund) – Review

City of God is a truly rousing piece of cinema. Based entirely in the criminal underworld of the favelas of Brazil, the film shows the struggle between the gangs, corrupt police, drug dealers and the innocent people trapped between them.

Paolo Lins wrote his novel by researching the gang wars of the Cidade de Deus (City of God), a downbeat housing project where all the poor and homeless were punted by the government. The novel was a sprawling 600 page epic that covered multiple characters and a decade worth of true stories. And so director Fernando Mierelles certainly had his worked cut out for him once he and screenwriter Braulio Mantovani decided to converge the tale to the big screen. The director auditioned over 2000 local youngsters to play a part in the film and through a series of workshops leading up to the filming of the production he has carved out some wonderful performances from the amateurs. Continue reading

Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch) – Review

A hellish take on the other side of Hollywood, the place where dreams go to wither and die.

The film opens with a failed murder attempt and violent car crash on Mulholland Drive.  The intended target, a beautiful brunette (Linda Garling), is the only survivor of the crash.  She stumbles away from the wreckage with a purse full of $100 bills, but no memory of who she is, where she was going or what has happened.  Back on the streets of Hollywood she befriends Betty (Naomi Watts), a lively if naive blonde who has just arrived in L.A with stars in her eyes and dreams of becoming a famous actress.  The crash survivor adopts the name Rita from an old ‘Gilda’ poster and together, using clues from her handbag, they attempt to discover her identity and what happened on the night of the crash.  After a couple of successful auditions Betty’s acting career seems to be going incredibly well, but as she works with Rita to uncover her identity, she is immersed into the dark, seedy underbelly of Hollywood.

Mulholland Drive isn’t set in the sunny Hollywood, the place where dreams are made and the magic of the movies spills over into the streets.  Oh no, it’s set in the brutal, twisted Hollywood, the place where dreams are shattered and corruption is rampant.
Continue reading

Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh) – Review

So Thor, the Norse god of lightning, thunder and Oak trees (look it up) who was remodelled and repackaged by Marvel in the 1960s, has become the latest of their characters to get his very own big screen production.

Chris Hemsworth stars as the brave, strong and annoyingly arrogant Norse warrior, who as the preferred son of the current king Odin (Hopkins), is set to become the king of Asgard.  The realm of Asgard has been at war with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim for generations, and when they attempt a daring raid on Asgard on the day of Thor’s inauguration, he is persuaded by his manipulative brother Loki to go against his father’s wishes and launch a counter-attack on the Frost Giants.  As punishment for his reckless actions, Thor is stripped of his powers and banished from the realm by his father, plummeting to Earth.  He would have to end up in America wouldn’t he?  Continue reading

Sideways (2004, Alexander Payne) – Review

Alexander Payne directs this near perfect portrait of middle aged disappointment, regret, friendship and new beginnings.

Miles, ( Giamatti) a recently divorced, struggling author with a passion for wine heads off with his old college mate Jack on a wine tasting road-trip.  Miles is depressive, insecure, balding and struggling to come to terms with the fact that in his forties, he still hasn’t managed to make a success out of his career or love life.  He also drinks a lot and at times we’re left to contemplate whether his passion for wine is hiding a darker truth.  Jack, despite his stalled acting career, is an outgoing free spirit, with craggy good looks, a positive outlook and crass sense of humour.  They’re unlikely best friends, but their relationship is surprisingly touching.   On their jaunt into wine country Miles is hoping to have some quality bonding time with his old friend and send him off into married life by introducing him to the sophisticated art of wine tasting.  They’ll drink a selection of fine wines, eat gourmet locally raised food and play golf.  Jack, who is getting married the following week, is aiming to get laid, get Miles laid and drink Merlot. Continue reading

The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) – Review

Between his celebrated and sprawling gangster epics The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Francis Ford Coppola released The Conversation. A small scale, tense and slow-burning thriller, it’s the work of a director at the top of his game.

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a leading freelance surveillance expert and private investigator, is hired by the director of an anonymous corporation.  For Caul it’s just another job, $15,000 to track a young couple and record a conversation between them.  He doesn’t know the reasons behind the job, and he doesn’t want to.  But as Caul pieces together more and more of the conversation he begins to struggle with his belief that the recordings will result in the murder of the young couple.  As he wrestles with his own conscience, Caul is drawn into a murder conspiracy that leads all the way to the top of the corporate ladder. Continue reading