Category Archives: Star Rating

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine (2010): United States – directed by Derek Cianfrance

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, a scene of violence, and strong sexuality

They don’t make a great deal of movies like this anymore.  Truth is, they rarely did, even back in the day.  Perhaps Ingmar Bergman was the last to tackle subjects like these, in ways like this.  Blue Valentine details a marriage through the course of a couple days, with flashbacks to how it used to be.  One storyline is decidedly more cheerful than the other.

American culture is so intensely trained on how to fall in love, but there are few paragons in life or culture that teach how love changes and how couples can stay in love.  Love at first sight is a popular element of many romantic comedies, and much literature.  But what happens next?  Why does it go so wrongly for so many couples?  Blue Valentine does not answer these questions, and perhaps it shouldn’t.  Instead it observes, quietly, the beauty and joy and love experienced as Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) first meet, and the bitterness, anger, and hardship they endure after six years of marriage.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008): United Kingdom/United States – directed by Mark Herman

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has an immediate obstacle to overcome.  While it might not have been practical to film in German, many other World War II films have at least attempted German accents.  Judgment at Nuremberg even utilizes an effective technique to allow characters to speak in English and the audience to believe they’re speaking German.  Here there is not even an attempt; all the Germans speak British English, very properly.  This is a small complaint, but one that taints the entire film.

At the beginning it is difficult to tell if this is London or Berlin, with small children running around the streets, and fancy state dinners replete with silver and china.  But then the father of the primary family announces a transfer to another post, in the country, and it becomes clear that this is the German side of the war.

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For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls (2010): United States – directed by Tyler Perry

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, domestic violence, sexual content, sexual violence

Tyler Perry’s first foray into straight drama is an interesting mix.  I’m not familiar with “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s seminal choreo-poem often considered a cultural marker.  I do know many African American communities were up in arms when it was announced Perry would be adapting it, and Oprah and other influential people were brought in to consult.  The play, an assortment of poetry expressing the lives of seven African American women, is fluid and impressionistic, I’m told.  It lacks the hard details necessary for a successful translation into film, but this very characteristic made it so powerful on stage.

Perry has worked many of the themes from the poem into a screenplay, adding characters and settings in an attempt to make it real.  His version has nine women whose lives are all interconnected, like a facile version of Magnolia [review here].

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The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right (2010): United States – directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Rated R by the MPAA – contains sexual content, some nudity, strong language, mature themes, California

The Kids Are All Right appears, on the surface, to be a conventional family drama/comedy about an unconventional family.  Normally, if one were to praise a film, he or she might comment with something like, “but it goes so much deeper,” or “but if you look really closely.”  Unfortunately, The Kids Are All Right barely manages to successfully be a conventional film about an unconventional family.

Nick (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been together for many years.  They have two kids, but not together, obviously.  They used the same sperm donor, so the “father” is the same, but Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) have always grown up having two moms.  And they are a perfectly normal, happy family.  Joni has graduated from high school and is about to move on to college.  Laser has a troublesome friend named Clay (Eddie Hassell), but is really more interested in something else.

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Waiting for “Superman”

Waiting for “Superman” (2010): United States – directed by Davis Guggenheim

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

An initial fear when hearing about Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on public education might be that it is one-sided, heavy-handedly liberal, unabashedly Democratic.  It is to the director’s credit that it remains centered, objective, and incisive, as it dissects a system that has evolved nearly to a point of no return.  It is clear something must be done with public schools, but he offers few solutions short of moving entirely to charter schools.  And maybe that’s what’s necessary.

I’m not an expert on public education, and neither is Guggenheim.  What he does is examine the system, and follow five families whose children are directly influenced by their public schools.  The premise is simple, but it rests upon the notion that these children will fail if left in public schools.  They will fail at school, fail at life, and be condemned to an incomplete, unsuccessful life.  To support this assumption he looks at a lot of statistics, using cute, old-school graphics to display pertinent data.

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Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone (2010): United States – directed by Debra Granik

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some language, mature themes, some violent content

There’s a sparseness to Winter’s Bone, and a tone reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [review here].  Winter’s Bone, like certain scenes in Chain Saw, is also very cluttered.  People live in run down homes, surrounded by stuff.  Stuff is scattered across their yards, into the hills and trees surrounding their property.  The inside of each home is even more cluttered with stuff.  The grown-ups stuff consists of disused cars and school buses, and they, too, clutter the earth.

This is the world of Winter’s Bone, one in which there can be silence as the wind whistles through the trees, or gunshots echoing through the hills.  Neither is strange.  It just is.  There’s a code, too, among the people who live in these Ozark hills.  Kin means something, and so does keeping your mouth shut.  Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) understands both of these concepts, and attempts to make the most of one while adhering to the other.

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The Fighter

The Fighter (2010): United States – directed by David O. Russell

Rated R by the MPAA – contains boxing violence, strong language, some sexual content

The Fighter is a passion project, on a number of levels.  Mark Wahlberg stuck with it for years, training on the sets of his other films until financing and a director could be finalized.  Darren Aronofsky, granted an executive producer credit, was attached to direct before moving on to complete Black Swan [review here].  David O. Russell stepped in, and managed to make Wahlberg’s passion project into a worthy film.  And, even if it is simple in its approach and execution, it is rousing, moving, and engaging.

Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward, a boxer with a host of problems.  His recent bouts have been used as stepping stones for other up and coming boxers, and he’s still waiting for his chance.  His brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), and mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), have been his trainer and manager respectively.  They’ve been responsible for all his success, and all his failure.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): United States/United Kingdom – directed by Banksy

Rated R by the MPAA – contains a little strong language

I’m not sure any of Exit Through the Gift Shop is real.  There’s a very good chance it occupies a strange place between the obvious prankery of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and the self-purported veracity of films like Paranormal Activity [review here].  It at first presents itself as an entirely possible documentary about a strange obsessive person, but then blossoms into something so much more that it is likely to be a mixture of performance art and hoax.  If you would rather know nothing about the film, please stop reading, as I will discuss much of it in detail.  The film is worth seeing, as it is one of the most intriguing films of 2010.

Thierry Guetta (if there is such a person), is an obsessive videographer.  After an early childhood trauma he began to videotape every aspect of his life, documenting every minor detail.  He is married, with children, and runs a boutique clothing store in Los Angeles.  He buys bales of clothing with odd designer’s names on them, for $50, then sells each article for $400.  He is able to make $50,000 off of one bale.  This is entirely plausible, particularly in L.A.

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The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech (2010): United Kingdom – directed by Tom Hooper

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some profanity used in a therapeutic context

The story may not be well-known to many Americans; it certainly wasn’t to me.  But it is a fascinating story, and, in some ways, a highly significant one.  A king, without power but beloved by his people, must deliver a stirring address as the nation approaches a war with a neighboring state.  But there is a catch, and a not-inconsequential one: he stammers.

The Duke of York, also known as Bertie (Colin Firth), is the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon).  His elder brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), is a philanderer, albeit an eloquent one.  The Great War is fresh in European memories, and a cad named Hitler is threatening trouble in Easter Europe.  King George V is ailing, and soon a successor must rally Great Britain around the government, lending them the support they will need to wage such a conflict.  But this blasted stammer.

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127 Hours

127 Hours (2010): United States – directed by Danny Boyle

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, some sexual content, one of the single most brutal moments in cinema history

Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) story is fascinating on its own.  Much like Conviction [review here], it might be easy for a filmmaker to coast through the story, but 127 Hours manages to become something much more than just the story of a man forced to undergo extreme hardship to save his life.  It becomes one of the most life-affirming films of the year.

That’s not to say it’s a feel-good movie, or an easy watch.  On the contrary, the joy of life is so profound because of the pain and intense suffering that it takes to get there.  This is the same principle many horror fans cite in defense of the genre.  And 127 Hours, while not a standard horror flick, contains one of the single most graphic, brutal sequences in cinema history.  Worse than the curb stomp in American History X, more painful than the eye slice in Un Chien Andalou, more realistic and visceral than most anything in Cannibal Holocaust.  The only scene I can think of that might come close is a spine tingling stabbing in the Australian horror film Wolf Creek.

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