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Past: Tense

Blue Valentine's excruciating, deconstructive brilliance


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JUST GO WITH IT. Adam Sandler teams up with long-time collaborator director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy) in a rom-com co-starring Jennifer Aniston. Sandler plays a bachelor plastic surgeon whose method of bedding girls is to pretend to be unhappily married. When he meets a schoolteacher who seems to be "the one" (Brooklyn Decker) his deception leads to creating a pretend wife (Aniston) and borrowing her family. 110m. Rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

THE EAGLE. Scottish director Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, The Last King of Scotland) based his historic tale on the novel The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. Channing Tatum plays a Roman officer in second-century Britain who travels north to Scotland searching for the truth about the disappearance of his father and the other members of the lost Ninth Spanish Legion. 114m. Rated PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images. Opening at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER. Valentine for prepubescent girls who idolize teen heartthrob/music icon Justin Bieber. Director Jon Chu (Step Up 2, Step Up 3D) traces the epic life history of the 16-going-on-17 superstar from pre-teen YouTube phenomenon to the top of the charts. Rated G. Opens Friday at the Fortuna (in 3-D) and Mill Creek (2-D).

GNOMEO AND JULIET. The Bard's classic romance gets a 3-D kid comedy garden gnome makeover with Shrek 2 co-director Kelly Asbury at the helm. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt voice gnomes Gnomeo and Juliet, owned by feuding neighbors. Sir Michael Caine and Dame Maggie Smith add further voice talent. Rated G. Opening at the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek in 2-D. 

Arcata Theatre Lounge pre-V-D feature for Friday is Paul Thomas Anderson's dark take on love and sex in the adult film industry, Boogie Nights, with Mark Wahlberg as porn star Dirk Diggler working for director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). Julianne Moore shows up as the mothering Amber Waves; Heather Graham as sex-on-wheels Rollergirl.

Sunday at ATL it's the Zucker Bros' disaster film spoof-o-rama Airplane! with a cast including Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
For Val-Day proper ATL has Baz Luhrmann's modern dress, slightly abridged version of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as star-crossed lovers from rival business families in Verona Beach. Eat pasta while you watch.

Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night has a pair of classic Japanese monster movies: Gamera vs. Viras (aka Destroy All Planets) with Gamera the fire-breathing turtle wreaking havoc in Tokyo. That's paired with Warning from Space, wherein aliens who look like Mummenschanz star creatures arrive to let us know a runaway planet is headed for Earth.

Filmmaker Franklin Lopez' kinetic diatribe END:CIV is inspired by eco-warrior Derrick Jensen's Endgame series and his proposal that the solution to environmental degradation and the urge for war is to end civilization itself. Screened Tuesday at 6:30 in HSU's BSS Room 162. 

-- Bob Doran 


BLUE VALENTINE. In the late 1990s, thanks to a neighbor who noticed that his papers weren't being taken in, my father was found collapsed on the floor in the bedroom in his Florida home. Subsequently, against his will, he was moved to a care facility near my sister in Maryland.  My sister's husband and I inherited the task of flying to Florida, packing up or dumping my father's stuff, and moving it by U-Haul to Maryland where most of it ended up in my sister's garage as our father's room could only accommodate a few items. Our only instructions from my dad were, "Throw everything away." I can remember finding photographs from his past, including some of my biological mother who died in 1945. For me, it was mostly a dimly remembered past, a past my father apparently wanted to ditch altogether.

I mention this personal story because the scene that affected me the most in Blue Valentine, an excruciatingly effective film overall, was the one where Dean (Ryan Gosling), working for a moving company, has to pack up the possessions of an elderly man being moved to a nursing home. Of the three movers, only Dean seems to feel any empathy for the situation and, before the man arrives at the home, he unpacks some of his things and arranges them on shelves and the walls, trying to create some sense of home for a man who, as it transpires, doesn't live much longer.

It may seem odd that this is the scene I should focus on in a film that centers on the dissolution of a relationship, but in fact the scene is a key to the story. In addition to delineating Dean's character, it also shows the impossibility of holding onto the past, a truth that Dean cannot accept.

Blue Valentine is the story of Dean and Cindy (Michelle Williams), whose complex relationship is explored with a narrative strategy that begins with its bitter ending, while periodically flashing back to images of how it began. But there is absolutely no sentimentality generated by this strategy. Instead, it serves to focus the viewer more sharply on the blackness that has overtaken their love.

But even the start of their romance was not without its problems. Cindy becomes pregnant thanks to her former boyfriend's selfish carelessness, and Dean is subsequently beat up by that boyfriend. Romantic beginnings tend to paper over potential fatal future problems. Here, the middle of their story is left out and viewers need to decipher for themselves how love was transformed to the bitterness we see at the relationship's end.

Directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, the film uses lingering close-ups and medium shots to force the viewer to participate in the action; there is no easy escape from the film's intensity. Williams, deservedly, has gotten a lot of positive comment for her remarkable performance, including an Academy Award nomination, but Gosling's performance is equally effective even though the Academy voters overlooked it.

Blue Valentine, a sort of deconstruction of traditional Valentines, not only shows the impossibility of holding onto the past, it demonstrates the hopelessness of trying to use the past to fix the present. I think my dad realized that as well. This is independent filmmaking at its best, which means that it's filmmaking at its best. I'm only sorry that the projection at the Minor didn't do the film justice (the end credits were unreadable). Rated R on appeal for strong graphic sexual content, language and a beating. 112m. At the Minor. 

SANCTUM. Sanctum is an Australian/American co-production that is based on co-writer Andrew Wight's experience of barely surviving an underwater expedition to explore a series of caves in Queensland, Australia, where the film was shot. Unfortunately, the primary experience for this viewer (I saw the 2-D version) was that of tedium.

The film focuses on five people who become trapped when heavy rain from a cyclone floods a cave they are exploring and they are forced to try to find another way out through unexplored caves. Even if viewers do not know about the actual story, the whole thing seems completely predictable. There is an attempt to give the survival film some substance by making it into a story of how a father and son come to know each other, but that aspect is so superficial it provides no real dimension, as the flashes to memories and imaginings did for 127 Hours, nor is any of the acting in a league with that of James Franco.

I'll say one thing though: The dialogue is so artless that I could imagine it being said in real life. Whether that is intentional I leave to the viewer. Rated R for language, some violence and disturbing images. 115m. At the Broadway and Fortuna (3-D), and Mill Creek (2-D). 

THE ROOMMATE. There are certain film genres where, apparently, fans just can't get enough of the same thing. The Hollywood romantic comedy is one such genre, as is the arrested development dick flick. Perhaps no genre has such rigid plot lines as the roommate-from-hell version of the horror genre. The Roommate is not the worst example of the genre, but it is certainly one of the blander, with a soundtrack to match.

Aspiring fashion designer Sara (Minka Kelly, so good as Lyla in "Friday Night Lights") and psycho rich girl Rebecca (Leighton Meester, Country Strong) perform the obligatory pas de deux here along with pop music, PG-13 sex, a lecherous professor (Billy Zane) and a lot of menacing behavior, but only one actual stabbing. Rent 1992's Single White Female for a much better example of the genre. Rated PG-13 for a little discreet sex and some violence. 93m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

-- Charlie Myers


BLACK SWAN. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis compete for the top spot in the New York City ballet's production of Swan Lake. Sounds innocent enough, right? Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway.

THE FIGHTER. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale put aside sibling rivalry so they can train for an historic boxing title bout. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway. 

THE GREEN HORNET. Charlie says: "It is surely the worst superhero movie ever." Rated PG-13. 119m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

THE KING'S SPEECH. Based on the true story of the Queen of England's dad and his remarkable friendship with a maverick Australian speech therapist. Colin Firth can taste that Oscar. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Mill Creek. 

THE MECHANIC. Jason Statham channels Charles Bronson in revengeful killer/mentor mode. Rated R. 92m. At the Broadway. 

NO STRINGS ATTACHED. Let's have sex. Rated R. 108m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek. 

TANGLED. Disney checks the Rapunzel box off its "fairy tales to animate" list with its latest kid-seducing CGI release. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway. 

TRUE GRIT. The Dude conjures The Duke in the Coen Brother's latest. You decide who's Grittiest. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway, Fortuna Mill Creek and the Garberville. 

YOGI BEAR. Mr. Ranger is not going to like this. And neither will you. Rated PG. 83m. At the Broadway.


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