Wednesday, January 26, 2011


After viewing Alamar last week, one question was stuck at the front of my mind. As I began writing tonight, it seemed natural that I should use the question to frame a discussion of the film. And, if I knew that everyone who might read this post had already seen the film, that question is exactly where I would start. But I've got a feeling that relatively few people have seen Alamar, and I firmly believe that I would be doing anyone who hasn't a disservice by raising the question ahead of time.

So... where does that leave me? Well, it obviously leaves me without my planned jumping-off point. But Alamar is a far more dynamic film than one limited question could do justice.

Alamar explores the relationship between father and son as well as the relationship between man and nature. It contrasts an urban European lifestyle with a rural North American lifestyle and subsequently intermingles two vastly different cultures. Alamar is beautiful. And yes, by that I mean that the photography is beautiful, but I also mean that the story and tone are beautiful. The film is beautifully paced, for crying out loud! Honest to god, Alamar is cut in such a way that the 'space' between scenes just feels perfect. And there is a serendipity inherent to this film that--no joke--seems borderline magical. (I realize how hyperbolic that last statement sounds, but I truly mean it.)

What's the movie about, you ask? The movie is about a 5-year old boy named Natan. Natan's parents separated three years after Natan's birth, due primarily to the fact that they come from two diverse walks of life--dad Jorge is a Mexican who lives and fishes off the Carribean coast, mom Roberta is an Italian on the verge of moving home to bustling Rome. Before traveling to the other side of the world to live with his mother in Italy, Natan spends several weeks in Banco Chinchorro with his father and grandfather, learning to fish, living off the sea, immersed in nature.

And that's pretty much it. Beyond this basic premise lies very little story, if any. Alamar is not a popcorn movie. If you're looking for a traditional plot structure and conventionally drawn characters, you'll be disappointed.

Alamar is--with all due respect to I Am Love--the most beautiful movie released in Seattle last year, one of the most extraordinary documentary-style films I've seen, and will undoubtedly rank among my Top Ten films of 2010 (that list coming very soon to a blog near you).

A week on, I still can't get Alamar out of my head. It would be impossible for me to recommend it too highly. Please, dear readers, see it soon.

[PS: If you see Alamar and want to know what my 'big question' about the film is/was, and maybe even would like to discuss it, let me know.]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blue Valentine

Two years and a few days ago I saw a film called Revolutionary Road at the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. I had been looking forward to seeing the movie for quite some time but had put it off because: a)I was living in Savannah, GA at the time and Savannah--for no good reason at all--is devoid of the sort of movie theatres which release interesting films in a timely manner, and b)I was almost positive that I'd be able to see the movie free-of-charge at the E Street. Much to my delight, the latter came to pass. But much to my dismay, the film fell far short of my (probably too high) expectations. Perhaps Sam Mendes wasn't up to the task of making this movie, perhaps two fine actors--DiCaprio & Winslet--weren't quite fine enough to fully bring their characters to life, or perhaps the story (adapted from what I am told is a great novel by Richard Yates) simply wasn't meant for the cinema.

What does Revolutionary Road have to do with Blue Valentine, you ask? Well, from where I was sitting when I watched it last week, Blue Valentine looked a whole lot like a Revolutionary Road for the aging hipster set. A man and a woman who seem to genuinely love one another get married too soon, and for the wrong reason(s). They do their best to keep their hopes and dreams alive and in sight, but nonetheless wind up settling down in the suburbs and working nondescript jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, inevitably, their 'let's hold this together, we've got our child to think of' lifestyle becomes too much to bear and the first thing to be crushed under its formidable weight is the love this man and this woman once felt for one another. ... All the same pieces of the same puzzle are in play, albeit in a slightly different time and slightly different place. (And, though I'm sure this goes without saying, these circumstances remain heartbreaking.)

What sets Blue Valentine apart from Revolutionary Road is that Blue Valentine explores this emotionally devastating territory with brutal honesty whereas Revolutionary Road felt praticed and scripted and... well, just off.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance wisely juggles time and space in telling Dean and Cindy's backstory; by intercutting flashbacks of happy, hopeful beginnings with their hopeless present-day predicament, he grants the viewer a respite from the sort of relentless emotional battering which defines Revolutionary Road.

Cianfrance hasn't made a perfect film, of course. There are instances in which the tone of a given scene doesn't quite match that of the scenes surrounding it, and in these instances the cinematic illusion is briefly but definitely broken. It's always disappointing to become deeply invested in a film's characters only to be jarred back to reality by the abrupt realization that, "Oh, yeah. We're sitting in a darkened room watching moving pictures. These people aren't real."

But despite its occasional flaws, Blue Valentine packs a serious and resounding emotional punch. The film is defined by its actors' performances, and Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are painfully believeable as Dean and Cindy. In theory, Blue Valentine is Derek Cianfrance's film, but I simply cannot imagine it being the same with anyone other than Gosling and Williams in these roles.

Blue Valentine is the movie I had hoped Revolutionary Road would be. In nearly every area that Revolutionary Road fell flat, Blue Valentine stands strong. While I am quite glad to put a two-year old disappointment to rest, I am also a bit worried about myself... Why on earth would I want so badly for a film to be this heartbreakingly painful?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Perfect Getaway

Whenever I'm out of Seattle and away from the near-endless supply of filmic entertainment available from the Seattle Public Library and Scarecrow Video, I make a point of reactivating my usually latent Netflix account. Maintaining a Netflix account that I hardly use is sort of silly, I admit, but I find it comforting to know that a massive DVD catalog is readily available should I choose to relocate for a month or two.

Last June I traveled to Georgia to visit my sister, who is good enough to put a roof over the head of a sizable HD television as well as it's close pal, the Blu-ray player. Naturally, one of my first orders of business was to reactivate the Netflix account and set its default format to Blu-ray. Knowing my time in GA was limited, the obvious next step was to move as many seemingly decent films available on Blu-ray to the top of my queue. One of those 'seemingly decent films' turned out to be A Perfect Getaway. (I don't know exactly what possessed me to think this movie looked decent, but I think I gave it a chance based on the fact that I like Steve Zahn. Anyway, I can't come up with another, better reason.)

Fast-forward to January 2011. I had suspended my account but forgotten when it was set to automatically reactivate (Netflix only allows you to suspend your account for three months at a time, at the end of which it will reactivate automatically should you fail to log on and prolong the suspension. Some real Columbia Record Club-style bullshit.) I come to find out at the end of the holidays--via an unexpected charge on my bank account, of course--hey, I'm a Netflix subscriber again! I decide to make the best of it and start rejuggling my queue in order to get some new movies I wasn't able to see in theatres, but not before the two DVDs at the top are shipped my way, one of which is A Perfect Getaway. I'm less than psyched about this turn of events since it doesn't look nearly as 'decent' as it once did, but the movie has already been delivered and I'll be goddamned if I don't watch it.

Which brings me--mercifully, I know--to my... well, review would be a huge overstatement, so let's just call them thoughts:
...To start simply, this movie is bad. You can sort of tell it's going to be bad based on the premise and the DVD menu, so this isn't really news.
...Badness aside, the movie rebounds remarkably at about the halfway point. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich (and by Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich I mean the characters portrayed by these actors, characters whose names I've already forgotten) are on their honeymoon in Hawaii. They've just arrived in Kauai from Oahu and are troubled to learn that some fellow honeymooners were just murdered in Honolulu. It comes to light that the suspected killers are a young couple, so all the other young couples our protagonists come across from then on are immediately suspect. From there, things get pretty wacky and over-the-top, but in a sort of fun way. "Are these punky newlyweds capable of murder?!" "Or are this mega-commando and his former meat-cutter of a girlfriend the more likely maniacs?" "Holy shit, we're gonna die! And we only just started this wonderful life together!"
...This movie actually gets pretty exciting/amusing once it puts the cinema references aside (Steve Zahn's character is a newly-minted screenwriter so we get to hear all about how film plots work... exciting) and starts getting into actual plot twists. It's all absurdly ridiculous, of course, but for the purposes of absurd ridiculousness, you could do a lot worse than A Perfect Getaway.
...One last thing: the aforementioned mega-commando is played to great effect by Timothy Olyphant. Seriously... shades of old-school, Aliens-era Bill Paxton. Good stuff.

Coming soon... More thoughts(!): Blue Valentine! Alamar! Etc! Yay.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Starts slow. Real slow.
Primarily pretty pictures.
Truly beautiful father-daughter relationship.
Gorgeous girls galore.
Los Angeles light looks great on film. (Washington Winter-gloom antidote?)
Black Ferrari.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Over-the-top horrorart cinema.
Better than The Wrestler.
So many mirrors!