Blue Valentine

The Weinstein Company

Rated R for profanity, nudity, violence and graphic sexuality.

Feel-Bad Flashback Flick Deconstructs Failed Marriage

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) marriage was doomed almost from the start. When they met, she was a promising pre-med student; he was a high school dropout who had to take a dead-end job just to keep a roof over his head. At the time, she was attending a college in rural Pennsylvania while he was eking out a living a world away in Brooklyn.

Their paths crossed quite by coincidence when Dean was assigned by his moving company to help an elderly gentleman (Melvin Jurdem) relocate to a nursing home. On the very same day Cindy was there visiting her ailing grandmother (Jenn Jones). For Dean, it was love at first sight, and when he still couldn’t get her out of his mind a month later, he found an excuse to return to Scranton to try to track her down.

The incurable romantic serendipitously spots the object of his obsession on a bus and wins her heart on the spot by serenading her with a song. He had no idea, however, that she not only already had a hunky boyfriend, Bobby Ontario (Mike Vogel), but that she was pregnant by the popular big man on campus.

Nonetheless, Cindy takes Dean home to meet the parents (John Doman and Maryann Plunkett), and they are obviously underwhelmed by their daughter’s dating a chain-smoking underachiever with not much of a future to speak of. But their obvious disappointment does nothing to discourage the hopelessly-smitten suitor from popping the question that very night.

And when Cindy accepts the proposal, the mismatched pair predictably proceeds to embark on a disastrous six-year relationship marked mostly by incessant arguing and a basic inability to communicate effectively. The real victim here is the baby, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), who didn’t ask to be raised by a dysfunctional couple of loudmouthed.

Thus, “Can this marriage be saved?” is the burning question at the center of Blue Valentine, a flashback flick directed by Derek Cianfrance. Michelle Williams earned an Oscar nomination for her super-realistic performance as a wife increasingly embittered by both motherhood and the burden of being the breadwinner. Co-star Ryan Gosling is just as convincing in his capacity as Dean, a chuckleheaded slacker with lots of shortcomings.

Unfortunately, this much-ballyhooed movie has a fundamental flaw; namely, that it’s no fun to watch. For, regardless of how plausible a picture Blue Valentine might paint, far be it from me to recommend that my readers invest in such a relentlessly-unpleasant experience, no matter how well-acted.

A depressing deconstruction of a marriage that clearly was never meant to be.

Fair (1 star).

Running time: 112 Minutes

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster

Variance Films

Rated R for graphic violence.

Donnie Yen Reprises Role as Kung Fu Fighter

Everybody knows that the late Bruce Lee (Jiang Dai-Yan) was the greatest karate star ever to grace the silver screen. But have you ever wondered who taught him that “expert timing” and how to be “as fast as lightning,” to borrow a couple of phrases from one-hit wonder Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.”

That would be the legendary Yip Kai-Man, a.k.a. Ip Man (Donnie Yen), the proponent of an ancient martial arts discipline known as Wing Chun. Bruce didn’t join Ip’s dojo until 1954, and this installment of the chopsocky franchise ends with a teenage Lee approaching his future sensei for lessons.

So, Ip Man 2 doesn’t revolve around the title character’s forging that historic relationship, but around his opening a Wing Chun school soon after his family’s escape to Hong Kong from Communist China. Still, establishing that business enterprise was easier said than done, given his lack of local street cred, at least until he kicked the butt of a local thug (Huang Xiaoming).

The humbled Wong Leung becomes Ip’s first protégé, and word of the existence of a competing academy eventually reaches the ears of Hong Zhen-Nan (Sammo Hung). This leads to a ballet-like battle between the two martial arts masters, as the action-oriented adventure seizes on any excuse for a skirmish.

However, all the various and sundry Asian adversaries are ultimately willing to bury the hatchet upon the arrival in town of Twister (Darren Shahlavi), the muscle-bound, World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. The Brit behemoth is very dismissive of karate and only becomes cockier after beating a few challengers to a bloody pulp.

Like David and Goliath, it falls to relatively-modest Ip Man to save the face of both Wing Chun and China by defeating the giant foreign interloper in the ring, in a no-holds-barred showdown which serves as the film’s finale. Any martial arts flick is judged by its acrobatic fight sequences, in this case Donnie Yen proves himself a worth protagonist by convincingly and creatively dispensing wave after wave of sacrificial goons.

Bruce Lee lives! (Or at least his mentor does.)

Very Good (3 stars).

In Cantonese, Mandarin and English with subtitles

Running time: 108 Minutes

OPENING THIS WEEK:

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening February 4, 2011

BIG BUDGET FILMS

The Roommate (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, menacing, violence and teen partying). Psychological thriller about a naïve, college freshman (Minka Kelly) who moves into her dorm having no idea that she’s been assigned a roommate (Leighton Meester) with a killer personality. With Billy Zane, Cam Gigandet and Alyson Michalka.

Sanctum (R for profanity, violence and disturbing images). 3-D action thriller set in the South Pacific where a team of divers exploring a series of underwater caves suddenly find themselves in a struggle for survival after becoming trapped by a flash flood. Ensemble cast includes Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield and Alice Parkinson.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

American Grindhouse (Unrated). Film fan documentary chronicling the history of cheesy exploitation flicks from the early days of cinema to the present. Featuring appearances by John Landis, Fred Williamson and Robert Forster.

Cold Weather (Unrated). Mumblecore whodunit, set in Portland, Oregon, and revolving around an aimless, forensics school dropout (Cris Lankenau) who gets a chance to play amateur sleuth when his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) mysteriously disappears. With Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo and Jeb Pearson.

Dressed (Unrated). Inspirational biopic about Nary Manivong, the Laotian-American designer who overcame a challenging childhood marked by poverty and homelessness to realize his dream of launching his own clothing line in New York City during Fashion Week.

How I Ended This Summer (Unrated). Psychological drama set at a weather station on a desolate island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean where a recently-arrived college grad (Grigory Dobrygin) is reluctant to break the bad news that the wife and child his new boss (Sergei Puskepalis) left behind in civilization have just perished in a tragic accident. (In Russian with subtitles.)

Into Eternity (Unrated). Eco-exposé, directed and narrated by Michael Madsen (Celestial Night), calculating the long-term risks associated with the storage of nuclear power plant waste which remains radioactive for 100,000 years. Includes interviews with scientists and government bureaucrats involved with the construction of a repository facility located in Olkiluoto, Finland.

Mooz-Lum (PG-13 for violence and mature themes). Dysfunctional family drama about a devout Muslim-American (Roger Guenveur Smith) who emotionally alienates his wife (Nia Long) and kids (Evan Ross and Kimberley Drummond) by forcing them to follow orthodox religious practices and dress codes. With Danny Glover, Dorian Missick and Summer Bishil.

The Other Woman (R for profanity and sexuality). Natalie Portman stars in the title role of this bittersweet dramedy, based on Ayelet Waldman’s novel Love And Other Impossible Pursuits, about a mistress-turned-trophy wife’s strained relationship with her 8 year-old stepson (Charlie Tahan) in the wake of her husband’s (Scott Cohen) messy divorce from a vindictive witch (Lisa Kudrow).

Waiting For Forever (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and brief profanity). Romance drama about a famous TV actress (Rachel Bilson) who rekindles a friendship with a lifelong admirer (Tom Sturridge) when she returns to her hometown to care for her ailing father (Richard Jenkins). With Blythe Danner, Jaime King and Nikki Blonsky.

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