Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quick Takes: The King's Speech, Black Swan, Little Fockers, Blue Valentine

Three heavy-hitters and a throwaway sequel highlight my cinematic viewings this month so far.

The first is Hollywood's Best Picture, The King's Speech (2010), an exquisite drama about a man of enormous power overcoming his greatest adversity. Colin Firth is well-deserving of his Oscar win as a man who hid behind his speech impediment, preventing him from becoming the great, historical figure he was destined to become. Geoffrey Rush (robbed of his own win from an actor who will go on to win many more, I'm sure) is a revelation as the King's trusted therapist. Lionel Logue has his unique and unorthodox practices but he connects with his high-profile client on a most human level. The friendship of these two wildly different men is the heart of the film and is what makes it so special. The King's Speech is a beautiful film, well-loved by a wide audience, and expertly crafted by Tom Hooper (who directed John Adams, the best historical miniseries I've ever seen). You're in good company here.  4/5

One of this year's runners-up for the Oscar is Black Swan (2010), an oddly fascinating psychosexual thriller about a woman's driven need to nab the coveted role in one of ballet's greatest pieces. While I admired the film's performances all around and was thoroughly engrossed by Nina's ordeal, I'm mystified by this film's mainstream embrace. The film already grossed $300 million worldwide and that blows my mind. Not that it's not deserving (we can certainly use more challenging films like this one) but this is in no way, shape or form a run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter thriller. It's actually rather nice to see the public willing to wrap their minds around such heady experiences as this one and walk away from it debating its central mysteries. It's an intelligent adult drama, furiously directed by Darren Aronofsky (now forgiven for The Fountain) and superbly acted by Natalie Portman. There's an urgency in Black Swan, a compulsively watchable film that has no easy answers.  4/5

I stumbled across Little Fockers (2010), the second sequel of the enormously popular franchise that features Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller reaching new lows in their attempts for cheap laughs. Full disclosure: I thought Meet the Parents was cute and harmless while Meet the Fockers entertained me more than I ever thought it would. The addition of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand were strokes of genius; they owned that sequel and made it a pleasure to watch. Little Fockers does not reach that level of hilarity, unfortunately, and I blame the writers for not giving us more Hoffman and Streisand. The back-and-forth "I'm watching you" shtick between Stiller and DeNiro got old after the first movie. Did we really need another round of misunderstandings and dick jokes? I won't lie to you. I did laugh a few times (not necessarily at the jokes but at watching DeNiro make a complete fool of himself) and, yes, I'm hating myself for it. 2.5/5

Blue Valentine (2010) is the best film I have ever seen about the dissolution of a marriage. There are a lot in this genre - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Kramer Vs Kramer, Revolutionary Road, to name a few - but this one is easily the most deeply felt. It takes 6 years for Cindy and Dean's relationship to nosedive, and writer-director Derek Cianfrance somehow managed to give us the full scope of their marriage in just under two hours. Cianfrance and his two actors breathe delicate life into this film, from the hope and promise of a beautiful family to the devastating realization that the family is fatally broken.

It's not exactly a pick-me-up, but Blue Valentine is littered with those small moments of warmth and familiarity of looking back at a time when everything was just effortlessly magical. It's no easy feat to capture true love on film. The flashback sequences that detail the beginnings of their courtship are seamlessly intercut with the darker, isolating moments of their marriage.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are perfect. Their chemistry is palpable, heartfelt and honest. These two are our generation's greatest young actors, and their performances here are among the rawest work of their fascinating careers. If there's one flaw in this film, it's that the supporting characters are a bit too on the nose. Her father and ex-boyfriend, for example, do exactly what the script calls for, and nothing more. They exist solely to serve the needs of our two characters, to flesh out their backgrounds and drive their emotions.

It's a small quibble because Gosling and Williams are larger than life here. They are so grounded and connected (and disconnected) with one another that everything else around them just falls by the wayside. They own this movie.

Simply put, Blue Valentine made my heart swell, soar and race before it effectively and quietly broke it. 5/5


Andrew Green said...

Great reviews!
I love the whole "Quick Takes" concept.

Dave said...

'preciate that, Mr. Green.

Anonymous said...

Love that you gave Blue Valentine 5/5, totally deserves it. A simple, realistic, impactful film.

Dave said...

Thanks @5plitreel -- the more I think about it, the more I love it. Easily one of the year's very best.


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