REVIEW: Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Patty Griffin's eulogistic single "Long Ride Home" enters thought with the lyric, "Forty years go by with someone laying in your bed; Forty years of things you say you wish you'd never said." This film is an exploration of ambiguities that drive us apart - over-comfort and unfounded paranoia surfacing without finite reason in long-term relationships. As such, could it conversely be encouragement for we lovers to avoid taking one another for granted? Griffin's lyric continues, lamenting all too late, "How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?"

What defines us as individual human beings? Ain't that an eternal conundrum. Can the answer fit in a room? Can it be framed for display on your nursing home wall? Certain philosophers might remove pure individuality and place this intangible definition in the hands of the observer. Is it then our job to select the most preferable observer?

These lives... these unexpected lives we didn't ask for... are they lives we deserve? If they persist, do we grow up... or just get older? For better or for worse, the pestilential "Blue Valentine" raises these questions. From there, it is up to us.


ARTICLE: 83rd Academy Awards Predictions

The official nominees are out! This year's slightly less schmaltzy "The Blind Side", "The King's Speech" leads the way with 12 nominations, but who's walking away with little golden men February 27th? Co-hosts Anne "Catwoman" Hathaway and James Franco, who is also nominated for his performance in Danny Boyle's "127 Hours", will help us find out (following, fingers crossed, a lively musical number). This is the part where a clever, politically correct quip is read from a teleprompter, and... the nominees in the most hotly discussed categories are:

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale - "The Fighter"
John Hawkes - "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner - "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo - "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush - "The King's Speech"

The first of the acting categories I suspect will follow suit with last week's Golden Globes, the Supporting Actor win is looking good for Christian Bale. He's deserved the attention for over a decade through dedication that, quite honestly, may be taking a toll on his life expectancy. Were it not for an undersung turn as a PTSD sufferer from South Central in "Harsh Times" I'd say his show-stealing portrayal of Dicky Eklund in "The Fighter" is his finest yet. It's nice to see a nod for John Hawkes and as far as I'm concerned Geoffrey Rush is ever welcome in these affairs, but Bale has this tied up with a shiny bow.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams - "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter - "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo - "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld - "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver - "Animal Kingdom"

"The Fighter" features one of the best ensembles anyone is likely to see this season. For proof, look no further than this category. Against what could be better judgement I'm heading out on a limb to place Amy Adams just ahead of Melissa Leo, who took home the Golden Globe against her co-star in this category. Adams probably deserved a statue for her 2005 breakthrough in "Junebug" and unless she's about to become a Supporting Role version of Kate Winslet (who after six nominations finally won for "The Reader" - at least she's faring better than Peter O'Toole), I say her part in "The Fighter" - easily one of her best yet - stands a good chance.

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem - "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges - "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg - "The Social Network"
Colin Firth - "The King's Speech"
James Franco - "127 Hours"

One must wonder how James Franco might maneuver a win here, as he is of course co-hosting the event. Where his performance is widely lauded as the best aspect of "127 Hours" though, I foresee previous nominee Colin Firth taking the stage. You may insert an obligatory "speech" joke here. For some Javier Bardem love, watch for Mexico's "Biutiful" to take home the prize for Foreign Language Film unless Greece's "Dogtooth" upsets. Last year's winner Jeff Bridges, who may have seen the most successful year of his career in 2010? I won't be surprised if/when "True Grit" wins Roger Deakins a Cinematography trophy. And Jesse Eisenberg... well, his film has little to worry about.

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening - "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman - "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence - "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman - "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams - "Blue Valentine"

This is the easiest pick of the bunch. Last year's Leading Actor winner Jeff Bridges is probably already practicing his delivery of "And the Oscar goes to Natalie Portman". If Portman doesn't bag this, expect a controversy the likes of 1992's Marisa Tomei fiasco. Congratulations, Ms. Portman!

Animated Feature Film
"How to Train Your Dragon" - Chris Sanders & Dean DuBlois
"The Illusionist" - Sylvain Chomet
"Toy Story 3" - Lee Unkrich

Though featuring its typically scant selection of only three nominees, this is one of this year's stronger categories overall. Each film is already widely and dearly beloved. But c'mon, you know it's going to Woody and Buzz!

Documentary (Feature)
Banksy & Jamie D'Cruz - "Exit through the Gift Shop"
Josh Fox & Trish Adlesic - "Gasland"
Charles Ferguson & Audrey Marrs - "Inside Job"
Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger - "Restrepo"
Lucy Walker & Angus Aynsley - "Waste Land"

What a pleasant surprise to see "Exit through the Gift Shop" pull through with a nomination in spite of speculation over its authenticity! Arguably akin to Casey Affleck's mockumentary about Joaquin Phoenix' Andy Kaufman-esque retirement stunt, "I'm Still Here", "Exit through the Gift Shop" transcends the is-it-real-or-not argument. As much as I'd like to see it win, the buzzworthy year-long examination of platoon camaraderie in Afghanistan, "Restrepo", is primed to take home this statue.

Darren Aronofsky - "Black Swan"
David O. Russell - "The Fighter"
Tom Hooper - "The King's Speech"
David Fincher - "The Social Network"
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - "True Grit"

This is David Fincher's year. "The Social Network" got audiences talking (and "liking") as no other. Historically this category's outcome previews the Best Picture victor, but with last-minute rumblings about the just-quirky-and-inspirational-enough "The King's Speech" registering more and more, I could see a pity win sent Tom Hooper's way.

Best Picture
"Black Swan"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The King's Speech"
"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"

From where I'm sitting, "The Social Network" has this baby in the bag, and will likely win Aaron Sorkin a statue for Adapted Screenplay ("The Kids Are All Right", though I may unfortunately disagree, is looking good to pick up Original Screenplay). With one sneaking exception, the remaining contenders may as well be hearing, "That's cute, thanks for trying" (but expect some "Inception" love in the technical categories). Last year "The Hurt Locker" upset big favorite "Avatar" and from a political stance, another upset is not to be expected. The bigger question for me is what star they'll have presenting. Considering recent years who can forget Jack Nicholson's 2006 astonishment when he announced "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain", or in 2010 Tom Hanks' no nonsense, let's-make-this-quick-I-have-after-parties-to-attend delivery?

To see if I'm right or just plain crazy, check out the 83rd Academy Awards live Sunday, February 27th on ABC at 8/5PST, preceded by the Red Carpet show at 6:30/3:30PST.

As published on Icon Magazine's blog.


FILM: With Skyward Eyes (2011)

In Winter Park, FL, early 2008, I filmed a jam session/rehearsal for my Dark Departure buddy and drummer Ryan Stevens' band, With Skyward Eyes. Harley Marcel and Matt Elstone were on guitar. The band played out of a mostly barren loft, the bottom floor of which was used to house a small t-shirt screen-printing operation and occasional raquetball shenanigans (y'know, unwinding). The songs you'll hear are, to my knowledge, the only songs they recorded before breaking up to pursue individual interests.

Ryan remains on the lookout for drumming opportunities while studying environmental science at the University of Central Florida. Harley is now a member of Backstage Romance. Matt is a piercer for a Delaware tattoo studio, and gathering from his MySpace page it would seem we share ink work from the same Winter Park-based artist.

To fit this on Vimeo I had to compress it down to under 500MB, so the video quality isn't quite what it could be (I filmed in HD) but the audio hasn't been touched. Enjoy!


LIST: Important Film-Viewing Experiences of My 2010

Oh-ten. Oh, ten. I suppose it could be said of any year; 2010 was loaded with ups and downs both personal and professional. It could also be said of any year how quickly it flew past. In many ways the year felt non-existent... a Purgatory between the transitions of 2009 and the better times of 2011 (the traditionally promised better times, anyway). I've referred to the time as my "turtle shell mode", in which I'm not braving my mid-twenties but focusing more on quiet endeavors (or moreover being distracted from them and simply wasting time) and the raising of my now almost 13-month-old daughter. My stubborn selfishness still gets the better of me, though. I'm learning. Slowly.

Regarding film, my year was sparsely worth remembering. Well, I did commence development on several long-lingering projects and shoot my most respectable short yet... but momentous film-watching experiences were few. I think, perhaps due to the referenced short's horror/comedy stylings, my admiration for "B" cinema peaked... and while the "B" umbrella shelters a wide collection with a generous handful of diamonds-in-the-rough (perhaps the most notable of which for this list's purposes was Le fatiche di Ercole), moreover it is home to intermittent, inconsistent schlock. Fleeting fun for the so-inclined... and for the last 365 I was so, so inclined. The few momentous experiences were just that, though. I should consider myself lucky for being able to enthusiastically list five great ones.

You'll notice these are 'important' viewings as opposed to 'best'. These are the films I feel made the most positive impacts on me, and they're not necessarily from 2010. They're not even necessarily individual films. Were I to list 'best' you'd be seeing, along with the listed, 1948's The Three Musketeers (starring none other than Gene Kelly in dueling sequences as impressive as his dancing), Black Caesar (which, since my initial viewing early in the year has been duking it out with Coffy for the title of my favorite blaxploitation flick)... and even The Legend of Billie Jean and The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, the latter of which easily holds my record for number of 2010 rewatches. Is this the part where I say "I regret nothing"?

Specific to the year in question... well, of course I haven't seen all the 2010 releases I'd like to, so whatever I compile under that criterium is "unofficial" as of yet. Honestly, with the exception of the film sharing a top spot with this 'important' list, nothing's quite warranted what would be a 10/10 rating from me. What I've got so far anyway includes Brooklyn's Finest, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Sex and the City 2. Yes, you read those titles correctly. Justification? I have reviews for each one.

If you're wondering about the worst, rounding out that list for general views are Funny People, The Lovely Bones, New Moon, Teeth and - in the lastest of last place - Hatchet. As for 2010 releases... from the meager helping I subjected myself to in theaters I'll go with the remakes of Clash of the Titans and A Nightmare on Elm Street as the barrel's bottom.

Enough about these lists I'm not doing. On to the list I am:

Conversations in Rohmer

On March 28th, at 3:10 in the afternoon, I gave in to the urgings of a friend and joined a new film discussion forum. To state it without detail, it took some adjusting from what I was accustomed to in an online community. Most importantly, in spite of my lifelong passion for film, the local canon consisted mainly of titles I hadn't heard of from directors who didn't even ring bells. Had I not been learned of these works through lack of interest? Lack of physical accessibility? What was it? Whatever the case, I was exposed to loads of cinema I'd never considered.

I dipped my toe in with a rental of Chytilová's welcoming Sedmikrásky before leaping into a participation thread about exploring a director from whom you'd never before seen a film. I was paired with fellow poster kiddo in space and we selected the recently deceased Frenchman and master of objectivity Éric Rohmer. Specifically, we went after the latter trio of Rohmer's "Moral Tales" - La collectionneuse, Le genou de Claire and L'amour, l'aprés-midi. At first glance I thought I might be re-realizing why I had unconsciously stayed away from such fare... but was soon proven very wrong as the hypnotizing goodness washed over me. The conversational reviews with kiddo have become some of my most popular here on We Told You What to Dream and the latter film has actually wound up somewhere amongst my all-time favorites and is the second-most rewatched film of my 2010 (behind Superbeasto, of course, because... I mean... Paul Giamatti as Dr. Satan, c'mon).

I have yet to see the third Moral Tale, Ma nuit chez Maud, but have taken in La boulangére de Monceau - a hilarious practical joke - and La carrière de Suzanne - a nicely shot but unfortunately lesser effort (in my opinion, naturally).

This year my two-part resolution is to have better follow-through with recommendations from fellow posters on The Corrierino and explore the community's canon - because if Rohmer is any proof, these folks ain't foolin'.

Hammer's Frankenstein Franchise

For all the horror I watched over the year, the most important undertaking was these five films (yep, five - Netflix running out of the title put a stall on access to Frankenstein & the Monster from Hell and I've no plans to watch the parodic The Horror of Frankenstein, not even for the sake of completism). The best horror films I saw? No, those would be Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein (and I'd be remiss to neglect It's Alive or various versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, primarily 1931's with Frederic March). Those titles inspired, particularly regarding a vanity project of mine entitled "Dr. Fang", but on the inspiration field they didn't match the guiding light of Terence Fisher's installments to this series. Well, Frankenstein Created Woman is an exception there. In spite of its relative popularity I felt was a grave misstep (as was its immediate predecessor, Freddie Francis' The Evil of Frankenstein, but at least that one's creatively shot)... but, keeping with themes, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed resurrects the doctor.

The Rocky Sequels

On a whim one late night I popped Rocky II on Netflix Instant Watch. I had only seen Rocky for the first time about two years prior, but that was on television (full screen, edited down, censored, chopped up by commercials) and I took a lengthy (but important, wink-wink to you-know-who-you-are) phone-call partway through. You know when movies grab you so firmly you can't stop watching no matter what? In recent memory, Once and The Elephant Man fit that bill for me. I can also add Rocky II to that list. I was dead tired, but the Italian Stallion's big sequel wouldn't let me drift off.

I was hooked. I plowed through the series in the next few days, ordered the Blu-Ray box set (at the time discounted on Amazon for something like $26), and rewatched them all again... with the girl I interrupted that very first Rocky experience for, in fact. I'd probably rank the films as such: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky IV, Rocky III, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa. They're all great, though. Well, okay, Rocky Balboa didn't jive with me as well as the others and often felt like a re-hash meant for people who were alive to experience the original phenomenon in theaters. Rocky V is mostly just enjoyable for the fact that John G. Avildsen returned to direct and you can tell through his capturing of the Philadelphia streets. Rocky III really gets dragged down by that awful Hulk Hogan sequence. They're still great, though!

As cliché as it may sound, I was inspired to ratchet up my workout routine by this series. Over the course of just two months I lost over twenty pounds by eating better, supplementing with protein shakes and hitting the gym regularly between sessions on my PS2's consistently sweat-breaking "EyeToy: AntiGrav" game. I fell out of the routine after my ten-day excursion to Vermont to film that movie (during a layover on my way up I was actually lucky enough to visit the famed "Rocky Steps"... and, yes, see the artwork inside the building) and have since gained all the weight back... but maybe I'll pick up a more current video game of the you-are-the-controller variety... and do another Rocky marathon... and then we'll see who the boss of this belly is.

Anyway, along with a temporarily revamped fitness regiment I actually began to give a damn about boxing itself. I watched all kinds of videos on YouTube - classic fights, fight reviews... and especially recent fights involving David Haye. Haye's form fascinated me. I'm still following his road to a showdown with Wladimir Klitschko.

I also checked out a number of non-Rocky boxing films (after marathoning a generous queue-load of other Stallone films including Cobra, Over the Top, Get Carter and Eye See You). I learned that the sport's heroes often have little else to fall back on than their fighting ability. These heroes symbolize modern man's daily struggles on an appealingly primal level. The very best of the films I saw were Ralph Nelson's Requiem for a Heavyweight and John Huston's Fat City.

Le Guerrier silencieux (Valhalla Rising)

Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, the only other film I've seen from the director thus far, didn't exactly impress me. The screenshots I saw from Valhalla Rising looked too sublime to pass on, though. Luck came again in the form of Netflix Instant and I got to see this, the second step on the way to a refreshed approach to film (the first, not nearly as "low-key" step being the next entry on this list). After a year or so in "turtle shell mode" I had become very worn out and uninspired by cinema (which is contradictory to portions of the above entries, I know... but that's how it was). This reminded me how much I do truly love filmmaking. I was returned to the movie lover I was in 2007. Maybe if I persevere with this outlook (I'm doing an okay job so far, I think) I'll return to the movie lover I was in 2005 at twenty years old - a somewhat more innocent time.

For as gorgeous as it is, perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Valhalla Rising is how open to interpretation it is. I've enjoyed several discussions with fellow fans (including good ol' kiddo in space) about our various takes, and none haven't been worth considering yet. Whether a mockery of religion or an obituary to it... whether the protagonist is Odin or just a gnarly Norse warrior... it's an astounding film whatever way.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Okay, this is the last time I'll write at length about this, I promise. For a while, anyway. Honestly, though, I'm not sure what to say that I haven't repeated at least thrice already. Here 'goes...

I hadn't gone this crazy for a movie in a long time. In the first half of the 2000s if I fell in love with something I'd typically watch it every day without tire and plow through any and all special features I could find again and again. Hell, for at least four months I practically had my Vanilla Sky DVD on loop. If I fell asleep to it at night I was always happy to awaken with its ethereal menu music welcoming me to the new day. Once I obtain the Afterlife Blu-Ray you can bet it'll get some serious play on my PS3. In the meantime I've been watching its clips on Flixster, spinning its Tomandandy soundtrack, revisiting and writing up its prequels and... well, I only once returned to theaters for a rewatch. After only two weeks it got replaced by The Guardians of Ga'hoole. For shame (and for the saving of my $13).

This was the first step of my late-year refreshment. It broke down the encircling wall of jadedness. I wrote to producer Martin Moszkowicz to tell him Afterlife made me a born-again movie lover. Is it a perfect film? Hell no. Its exposition is clunky and the whole Claire/Chris subplot adds very little... but in this case, for me, it's almost all about the boundary-shattering eye-candy, for which the 3D is crucial. As you can see above (thanks, Trip), it still looks nice sans 3D... but as I've stated previously, it was truly composed with the third dimension at the forefront as opposed to having been shot normally and just going into "3D mode" for certain set pieces a la Piranha 3D. Three full scenes in particular (an introductory slow-motion downpour in Tokyo, an Æon Flux-esque multi-Milla siege and Ali Larter's moment of glory against the film's big ugly) along with some other moments stand out, but where a die-hard (like me, sure) could probe deeper than is asked and come out with an examination of themes and characters etcetera, there's not much beyond the astonishing-looking ass-kickery.

With regards to the new year of films, Terence Malick's The Tree of Life looks to be the cinematic equivalent of a religious experience... but Afterlife has made me salivate for more 3D from Paul W.S. Anderson, so in a very close second place on my most-anticipated list is his update of Three Musketeers, the production of which I followed through Milla Jovovich's Twitter account. Now, realistically, without a teaser it is difficult to know where to truly place my expectations... but I've no reason to be pessimistic (even if I 've no idea where the carriage craned 50 feet in the air Jovovich was tweeting from has any place in Alexandre Dumas' story).