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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Passion Plays

Blue Valentine won a screenplay award in 2006, and the director Derek Cianfrance who also collaborated on the script has been trying with the support of his leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams to get the film made for several years of course. It will be released at the end of the month, and I was able to see at the largest screen #7 at Clearview's Chelsea as part of the Variety Screening Series. I'm not its biggest fan. It's one of those back-and-forth in time films showing the rise and fall of a marriage, not the first time this has been done. In his generous review in Variety, Todd McCarthy mentions "it's difficult to pinpoint what went wrong or if there were roads not taken that could have prevented the sorry outcome," and that to me is the problem. It doesn't seem like there's an arc to the movie, the early in time seems a lot to me like the later in time. When we get to the end, suddenly the marriage isn't working any more and I can't figure out why. There are classic Amerindie film parts of the movie that I like, like how Ryan Gosling works at a real Queens moving company and there's some verisimilitude with that, but at the same time the movie also reeks of the classic Amerindie flatness of form and flatness of life. This is a subject that should reek of passion, but instead it never really erupts until the end. When it does, it erupts brilliantly. There's a kitchen scene between Gosling and Williams where the marriage reaches its end that's full of fireworks and emotion and brilliant acting. Maybe that end only works because of every necessary minute of what came around before that in the film. Williams was an Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain. I haven't seen her in enough to have an opinion, but I'm not in love with her the way I am with an Amy Adams or Anne Hathaway among other young actresses. Ryan Gosling has talent, and I've liked him in various things, but I think he's squandering his career. He's at his best when he's in a Hollywood movie where he's forced to be radiant and good-looking and a screen star (The Notebook, Fracture, not the best movies but Gosling is always watchable in them), but he can't shake his indie roots in The Believer or The Slaughter Rule. Which weren't bad, I've fond memories of seeing Slaughter Rule at the now-gone Two Boots Pioneer Theatre in the East Village especially. But now when he's in an indie film, especially one like this which is so aggressively indie in its tone and approach and its everything, he becomes a black hole. He collapses in himself until there's nothing there. He has a Golden Globe nomination for his troubles, so does Williams, but I see these sorts of roles as a dead end. There are 152 other actors who could probably have done this role, and he should've been doing something else instead. Maybe he could be a star, maybe it's just wishful thinking, but too many more movies like this and he'll be doing them the rest of his life.

Frankie and Alice is a passion play for Halle Berry, who tried for ten years to make this film about a real-life multiple personality story set in 1970s LA and reeking of the time and place. We're very purposely shown a theatre marquees playing The Sting, and the cars and the clothes and everything are all totally there. The film is named for two of the multiple personalities Berry plays, quite excellently. Stellan Skarsgard is in his best Good Will Hunting mode giving the primary support as the doctor who treats her. This is a rental, an HBO movie, something like that. Berry's performance is excellent (she too is a Golden Globe nominee), the film is well made, but it strikes a lot of familiar notes and doesn't have quite enough big screen oomph to it. It has a 2009 copyright date on it, and it's been on the shelf for a year for a reason. This was screened at the Crosby St. Hotel which has as wonderful 85 seat theatre with a decent size screen, better than a lot of the art houses in New York City. If I ever decide to host a screening I shall have to keep it in mind.

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