“The Debt”–Did We See the Same Movie?

In this remake of a popular 2007 Israeli movie, the genre label “espionage thriller” is an understatement.   The movie opens in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad agents Rachel and Stefan (married to each other but now divorced.)  Then “The Debt” moves quickly and chillingly between the 1960’s and 1997, in search for the Surgeon of Birkenau, a doppelganger for Mengele, the infamous Nazi general who masterminded the medical butchery of the Holocaust.

Helen Mirren, playing the courageous Mossad operative Rachel Singer, appears in 1997 for a book-signing celebrating her Mossad exploits retold by  her daughter Sara, who has eulogized her mother in a biography that recounts the heroic capture and slaying of Dieter Vogel,  Surgeon of Birkenau.  This is no typical role for Mirren but she is stunning as the sixty-something action hero in this testosterone-drenched gritty film.  That alone makes this film a groundbreaking example for future roles for actresses of Mirren’s stature and caliber.

The story requires two sets of actors–three actors in their twenties who play the youthful Mossad agents of the 1960’s and the three who play the same agents in their sixties almost thirty years later (1997).  Sam Worthington (as young David) and Marton Csokas (as young Stefan), share an apartment with Rachel as well as romantic inclinations. Jessica Chastain (as young Rachel) is particularly outstanding since the majority of the film holds together centered on Rachel’s heroism.

It is true that the past leads to the present, and each flashback brings new interpretations of events, but regardless of the mixed and negative reviews some of you may read, the mystery behind the Mossad agents and Vogel are clearly laid out. In 1966, three Mossad agents – Stephan (Marton Csokas), David (Sam Worthington), and Rachel (Jessica Chastain) – are brought together in East Berlin for a secret mission: capture Nazi war criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the “Butcher of Birkenau,” and deliver him to Israel for public trial. Nearly 30 years later, these three gather once again to go back into the field after decades of retirement.

The gynecological scenes with the venomous Vogel in which Rachel has her legs in stirrups on the examination table are chilling.  They recall the fear of dentists that “Marathon Man” evoked or the terror of getting into a shower that “Psycho” elicited, but with much more subtlety. In a sneering scene that will be imprinted on the viewer’s brain for a very, very long time, two of the most horrific, unforgivable sentences ever uttered in a movie ring out cruelly from Vogel’s vicious mouth. These excruciating scenes are followed by others. Rachel spoon-feeding the bound Vogel is nausea-inducing in intensity and cunning.   These scenes are not for the faint of heart!

The ending is brilliant, if panned by some critics (not all).  I thought the plot surprised at every turn, keeping me guessing until the very end. What critics could find lame about this movie’s ending  flies in the face of reason to me.  I have not seen a movie about the Holocaust as riveting as this one except for “Sophie’s Choice”,  “Schindler’s List”, and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” but “The Debt” can’t be categorized in the same genre as these movies either.  “The Debt” is also much more than an espionage thriller like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.

I can’t believe critics who panned this movie saw the same film I did!  [Warning:  this movie can snap and stretch the nerves of the viewer.]

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4 Replies to ““The Debt”–Did We See the Same Movie?”

  1. Everything you have said about this movie is what I would have said if I could write as well as you.
    I too was rivited during the last scenes that kept coming up with surprises – the camera work was what made it all work so well. Since I didn’t get any movie reviews before the movie I didn’t know that this movie was panned.

  2. I haven’t seen the remake of the Debt but did see the Israeli version and it was fabulous…After reading your review I shall have to see it and soon…I would urge people to also see the Israeli version and Wonder why the Israelis felt the need to bring those bastards to a trial instead of just killing them…Perhaps the Israelis have now learned the futile lessons of bringing killers back for trials and adopted the tactic of using Hit squads…cheaper, safer and the same result…

  3. Well, you’ve certainly made me want to see the movie. But I don’t think I can bear it all alone. I’ll have to pick up someone to go with me.

“The Fighter”–A Knockout

The 2010 blockbuster and critics’ darling, “The Fighter”, won Academy Awards for best supporting actor (an astounding Christian Bale) and best supporting actress (the masterful Melissa Leo).  However, I hate boxing movies, especially the tawdry “doormat turned boxing champion” variety we have seen in movies like “Rocky”.  This movie, however, is more in the genre of “Raging Bull” or “Million Dollar Baby”, movies in which “boxing” is a metaphor for the volatility of punches that life can throw to anyone, especially the underdog.

This time around the story is about Irish American Micky Ward, an actual boxing hero in working-class Boston during the 1990’s.  Mark Wahlberg, who both directs and plays the role of Micky Ward, has said he was inspired by the local fighter and determined to tell his story on the silver screen.  And the story is a remarkable one.

There are actually two stories in one:  Micky’s story as the welterweight boxer who dreams of  the championship, and the story of his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (spellbindingly played by Christian Bale),  who  could have been a champion but checked out of the competition because of  a fierce drug habit that none of his family can deal with.

Dicky’s story dominates during the first half of “The Fighter”.  Balding, skeletal, and nearly toothless, Dicky brags incessantly of his championship fighting, particularly against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978, and dreams of a comeback while training Micky for upcoming fights in the bowels of the boxing league. Dicky’s self-deception is so profound — and so impervious to reality — that he fails to recognize who he really has become.  Christian Bale justifiably won the best supporting actor’s role for his scene-stealing performance.   The impeccable supporting cast includes Melissa Leo as the heartbreaking, shrewish mother and Amy Adams as Dicky’s feisty girlfriend.  Without Mark Wahlberg’s  understated acting, which  is the foundation for Christian Bale’s, the latter would have seemed over-the-top or  overreaching.

The story in the second half of the film now shifts to Micky’s ordeal as he slugs his way to the top, in spite of his dysfunctional family and his mother’s lack of interest in his success.  Melissa Leo plays the mother with a wickedness in which the unrecognized damage she has done to her younger son creeps into her face with horror and unflinching sorrow as she finally realizes what she has done to him (and to Dicky). It’s like viewing the scene of an accident.

“The Fighter” appeals to the viewer on several levels.  It is a boxing film, but doesn’t need to be.  It is a film that taps into the narcissistic archetypal mother whose impact on her children is grotesque.  And most of all, it is a story of choices we all face–some at the expense of those we love–in order to move on to another stage in life.  The everyman underdog’s desperation sometimes requires stripping delusions of what family can and cannot do for you. We can understand why both his mother and half-brother imprison Micky and why he can’t turn his back on his brother. “What passion doesn’t blind, it opens the eyes and mind.”  For Micky that isn’t possible until his girlfriend (played in an elusively simple way by the talented Amy Adams) reveals the true dynamics of his family.

The film is not without its shortcomings, but I think all boxing films are prey to these flaws, even while telling a story based on fact. For one, the scenes of the family clan that includes seven young sisters to Micky and Dicky, do not integrate well and sometimes verge on the melodramatic and unbelievable, truth or not.   Still, every scene between the two brothers is riveting and hints at the exculpatory. The love that they feel for each other, even when they realize its destructive nature, is palpable and desolate.  The not-so-simple lesson they both learn is that, even if you run away from your family, they are always with you.

 

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3 Replies to ““The Fighter”–A Knockout”

  1. This was a well crafted movie about triumph over adversity, about a working class hero who defies the odds for one shot at glory. Wahlberg’s non-performance, next to Bale’s who was the loudest caricature in their family tree, was brilliant. You reminded me of the moment of mother’s recognition of her wrong-doing and that moment was indeed like witnessing the scene of an accident. Boxing films are never easy to watch, it’s such a brutal demanding sport; but in comparison this film was flintier and more complex than Rocky and it would not get the final knock-out to Raging Bull nor Million Dollar Baby, however this film is one I could watch again and again.

    (Why is it that all these dysfunctional families are working class, Irish Catholic from Boston? Perhaps grist for a later discussion. :-))

Lolo Restaurant–What’s not to like?

  A few weeks ago we dined at a very small Mexican/Spanish fusion restaurant–Lolo (3234 22nd Street, San Francisco)– that had an innovative menu of succulent morsels, aka tapas, that even foodies like us could find nothing to criticize.  This tiny, dark restaurant with cramped tables seating no more than 45 people had friendly service and a quirky, humorous decor–one wall is filled with hanging spoons.

The key for us whenever we order a lot of small plates–appetizers, soups and salads–is to test the chef’s skills.  So, a tapas restaurant is our idea of culinary nirvana!  Lolo’s is a study in transformations! Nothing on the menu is what it seemed–a pleasant surprise to say the very least!

We had about eight different dishes for the four of us. Although tapas are small plates, sometimes it isn’t easy to share a particular menu item four ways.  So, we asked and our waiter guided us in the right direction every time without fail.

We began with a fabulous salad of roasted beets with a dollop of feta mousse and pickled rings of red onions.  We followed that with a double order of ground lamb sliders, double order of crab tostadas with chorizo, leeks, and aioli with avocado puree,  tuna tacon–seared tuna, shellfish aioli, avocado, and roasted tomatillo sauce, and an extraordinary, thinly sliced octopus tiradito–chili flakes, sea salt, and aioli –that tasted like a slightly spicy ceviche.

Our final courses were the heaviest:  double orders of gorditas– blue corn masa pockets filled with braised short ribs, roasted three chile sauce, and pickled onions–and carnitas–shredded pork shoulder with organic blue corn tortillas and roasted tomatillo sauce with guacamole and pickled onions

To top off this fabulous feast we ordered two plates of “taco tropical”, spice-dusted panko-crusted fried shrimp in a jicama, sliced paper-thin instead of a tortilla.  The jicama is marinated in lime juice overnight to make it pliable for bending like a tortilla.  For us this dish is the star turn on the menu, although not highlighted as such.  Go to Lolo’s website —www.lolosf.com— under the “Videos” tab to see the YouTube clip revealing the creation of  this dish and the testimonial by the chef from Specchio who is so addicted to this taco tropical that he visits Lolo every week for his fix!  We probably would not have ordered this dish, if I hadn’t seen it being made on YouTube.  Don’t deprive yourself of this treat–calling this “comfort food” does not do the dish justice!

A word of advice–this restaurant is a sleeper but hardly a secret  to  locals in the know.  Without a reservation, you’ll have to wait.  And, you shouldn’t linger…after all, others are waiting patiently to experience the same mouth-watering delights!

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Picasso–Multiple Images of the Master

Opening on June 11 and closing on October 9, the deYoung Museum in San Francisco continues to host an exhibition of more than 100 masterpieces of  Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) from Paris’s world-renowned Musée National Picasso. The Bay Area exhibition is made possible only because of the Musée’s temporary closing for extensive remodeling.  I have seen the collection in Paris, of which there are more than 5000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and collages, an almost overwhelming experience.   About two percent of that collection is now on view at the deYoung, demonstrating some but not all of the wide range of artistic styles and forms that Picasso mastered.  Missing are some of my personal favorites:  linocuts, woodcuts, and ceramics.  But the exhibit has much to offer.

The pieces, arranged chronologically, are presented in nine galleries covering every period of his career. Celestina (1904), from the artist’s Blue Period, is perhaps his most somber (certainly his most depressing) work:  a portrait of a one-eyed prostitute modeled after an actual madam in Barcelona.  The missing eye looks more like a dense cataract and the gender of the figure is ambiguous.  Other more familiar paintings and sculptures are displayed:  Portrait of Dora Maar (1937), six Surrealist bronze heads of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter; the bronze Goat (1950); the six life-size bronze Bathers (1956); and the late self-portrait The Matador (1970).   One painting that fascinated me the most, however, is less known:  Massacre in Korea (1951), inspired by Goya, is a painting protesting the US involvement in the Korean War.  It reminded me of Jose Orozco’s furious murals depicting the Spanish invasion of Mexico.  US military personnel are shown in Darth Vader-like helmets with the Korean people reminiscent in style and emotion of Orozco’s Mexican villagers.  His bronze sculptures of individual men and women standing in rows are haunting.  The famous “Head of a Bull”, a minimalist sculpture of a bicycle seat with handlebars, has been made a focal point in Gallery 7.

Not to be missed is the complimentary guide for the show.   Co-written by the Seattle Art Museum and the deYoung,  this brilliant analysis of the painted feelings of Picasso is a study of his  infatuation with each of his lovers.  We learn how each of Picasso’s lovers transformed his artful composition of the woman’s figure. His early Cubist years were with mistress Fernande Olivier, his surrealist period with lover Marie-Therese Walter, his political transformation during the Spanish Civil War inspired by Dora Maar and his last two decades of playful experimentation and ceramics were with Jacqueline Roque.

Each of his artistic periods shifted dramatically in accordance with the lover muse with whom he was enthralled.  I can now imagine the rejuvenation of his art–from periods of seriousness (Blue), voluptuousness (Rose, Expressionist, Cubist), political courage (Surrealism), and playfulness through the eyes of Picasso as lover.  Picasso always claimed his erotic life was the stimulus for his creativity and expressiveness.  “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”, is famously quoted but looking at Picasso’s portraits of his lovers tells all.

Go to http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/exhibitions/picasso-masterpieces-mus-e-national-picasso-paris for more information.  Three other San Francisco exhibits are also Picasso-related–“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stores” at the Contemoporary Jewish Museum (closing September 6) www.thecjm.org,  “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde” at the San Francisco MOMA (closing September 6) www.sfmoma.org, “Picasso’s Ceramics” at the Legion of Honor in the Bowles Porcelain Gallery (closing December 1), www.legionofhonor.org.

 

 

 

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5 Replies to “Picasso–Multiple Images of the Master”

  1. Diana: We took the train from Portland up to Seattle so that we could see the Picasso Exhibit. It was an amazing exhibit. You’ve described it beautifully. Even though only a select number of pieces are in the exhibit, I think that helps to sharpen our understanding of an artist as we don’t get lost in the maze of “so many.”

  2. Diana: I’ve been thinking about taking Andromeda to see the rare exhibit for a while. After reading your beautiful summary, I can’t wait to take her to see the art pieces.

  3. Diana!
    Thanks for sharing…I haven’t seen the Massacre of Korea painting yet! I had no idea about this piece and find personal interest since my parents are from there. I am definitely going to check it out in the next few weeks :).
    Stephanie

  4. I wish your blog had been posted before my daughter and I visited the exhibit! However, we were both fascinated to see so many “non-famous” works of Picasso’s that really demonstrate his evolution as an artist (and a lover, as you so adroitly express). I also appreciated how the museum projected Picasso quotes in each room. Brilliant exhibit!

  5. Thanks for the great summary! I will be going to see this tomorrow night and will look for the guide you mentioned about his lovers’ influences.

Perbacco Ristorante– “Good Times”

On our visit to San Francisco last weekend we decided to dine at Perbacco ristorante and bar, specialists in Northern Italian cuisine with a focus on the luxurious and lush regional cooking of Piedmont. Loosely translated from the Italian as something like “wow” or “good times”, Perbacco did not disappoint. We had a sumptuous food extravaganza of traditional dishes presented stylishly with perfection in seasonings and freshness of ingredients.

The space is large and elegant, a perfect choice for any special occasion or just a treat. For us it was our anniversary and we wanted an unusual menu. Perbacco’s menu changes daily–just what we wanted to challenge our palates. As major foodies who take lots and lots of photos of food wherever we vacation, we are not easy to please.

We ordered a lot of food. Our first appetizer was a pesce crudo (the Italian equivalent of sushi)–an Australian hiramasa (Japanese word for the yellowtail kingfish) on paper-thin slices of peach with a charred padron pepper sauce drizzled over it. The second appetizer was vitello tonnato: slow-roasted veal tenderloin with a lemon/albacore tuna sauce on a bed of capers and arugula. Both were works of edible art, delectable with every bite, created from produce, fish, and meats which themselves are natural wonders.

For our main course, we decided to share three unusual pastas: fusilli pepati, agnoli di coniglio and tajarin. Fusilli pepati is hand-rolled seven-pepper duck-egg pasta (like tagliatelli) with duck liver infused with the slightest hint of dark cherry. Agnoli di coniglio is a triangle-shaped pasta (like large tortellini but with the texture of ravioli), stuffed with roasted rabbit in a wine sauce. And last but not least was the tajarin, handcut tagliatelli in a pork sugo with porcini mushrooms. All three pastas were presented on a special plate subdivided into discrete sections. Because the pastas are quite filling, we shared an heirloom tomato salad with charred Tropea onions, basil, anise hyssop, and ricotta. An extremely generous salad to share–a feast of purple/green, red, yellow, green, and orange tomatoes. I think the only color missing was blue!

The New York Times columnist Mark Bittman also seems to be a huge fan of chef Steffan Terje’s pastas, calling the tajarin’s sauce ” the kind of sauce you sop up greedily and dream about later.”

This five-year old restaurant was still packed at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, when we were about halfway through our dinner. The crowd is primarily young but diners were of every age in the spectrum.

We are definitely going back to this sensational Italian restaurant, 2011 recipient of the Birra Moretti Best Authentic Italian Restaurant in North America. Reserve a table, enjoy a fine bottle of wine–we loved the orange (yes, orange) 2009 Catarrato, a very dry Sicilian wine by Girgis. The imagination of the chef and the friendliness of the wait staff make this dining experience a delectable and sensuous delight!

Perbacco is located at 230 California Street (415) 955-0663. For more information, go to their website at http://www.perbaccosf.com and read about the owners at http://www.sfgate.com.

Absolutely heavenly!! If you think I am exaggerating, check out “Pasta Porn: 101 0f America’s Most Delicious Noodle Dishes” at http://newyork.grubstreet.com.

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3 Replies to “Perbacco Ristorante– “Good Times””

  1. Sounds wonderful, but where are all the pictures you said you like to take of delicious food? I’m a very visual pewrson – I sometimes will eat with my eyes, especially when someone that writes as well as you serves such a delicious meal – just reading about it is not as satisfying as seeing photos!

  2. Both your comments about the museum exhibits and the ristorante were excellent. I surely will try the latter and I enjoyed the former some weeks ago. Maybe I’ll go up there again soon.
    By the way, I also saw the exhibit of the total Picasso work at the Grand Palais in Paris soon after his death and France’s inheritance of those many works. I found that exhibit extremely tiring, but this one was very agreeable. Nice Blog. Joanne

“The Fall” — A Mind-Bending Marvel

The visual splendor and breathtaking imagination of “The Fall” made me actually dream of some of the scenes, an experience I rarely have. Reality and fantasy blur into a magical realism that so dazzles the eyes, it suggests a psychedelic otherworldly, perhaps drug-induced journey. This movie is a magical, mystery tour–“The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen” meets “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”.

“The Fall” (2008) is two movies in one–and I don’t mean the story within a story that grounds the mind-blowing imagery. I mean the visual story: the sumptuous fantasy world of 1920’s Los Angeles. Filmed in Fiji, Bali, Brazil, India, South Africa, and thirteen other countries, I could have viewed this movie on “mute” and still have loved it! Captivating scenes of a butterfly-shaped island; a warrior shot so full of arrows he falls backwards on them like a bed of nails; an Escher-like staircase to nowhere; costumes with lotus-shaped headdresses and fan-shaped veils; russet-colored mountains with Crest-toothpaste aquamarine skies I thought were colorized; faces that melt into the mountainside, with faint, lingering shadows of eyes.

Genius for the understatement works its magic from the opening scene and continues through close-ups of a little girl’s hands, her vulnerability and innocence revealed by soft, seemingly boneless fingers. Footage of a massive elephant swimming in the ocean, with the cameramen shooting from underneath causes cognitive dissonance. The elephant had to be “animatronic”, not a living, breathing mastodon-sized pachyderm. But I was so wrong. Astounding, mind-boggling scenes trick both the eye and the mind.

But there is also an epic story to tell. Languishing in a hospital, stuntman Roy Walker (played by newcomer Lee Pace) is grievously injured from jumping off a bridge onto a horse far below. Not only is his body broken, but also his heart. To entertain the little girl Alexandra (the unforgettable Catinca Untaru, a six-year old with a soft whisper of a Romanian accent), Roy tells a fantastical tale of heroes, warriors, and a princess in scenes conjuring “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights”. However, his ulterior motive is not to entertain a little girl in a body cast, but to coax her to steal morphine so he can “sleep”. A free-fall feast for the eyes, Roy’s drug-induced stupor is recreated by the stunning imagery of the tale-within-the-tale. Alexandra’s imagination becomes the catalyst for Roy’s story, and her purity and innocence ultimately overpower him. Roy is her perfect storyteller, she is his perfect listener, and together they imagine a new world–one of beauty and art…and heal.

Catinca Untaru is the heart and soul of this movie! She is so natural as the wide-eyed innocent child, I thought her dialogue was unscripted. Only the out-takes convinced me otherwise. Colin Watkinson, the cinematographer, in some sense shares the director role with Tarsem Singh because his portraits of art in motion are a parallel universe as addicting as the morphine that Roy craves. “The Fall” is, above all, visual storytelling. Without Wilkinson’s evocative visual effects, the narrative would not have flourished.

Unfortunately, due to delayed and poor distribution, “The Fall” did not reach the wider audience it deserves. With less than $4 million worldwide in gross receipts, this is a gross injustice! Treat yourself to this cinematic work of art and relish in its marvel and splendor!

View the trailer

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6 Replies to ““The Fall” — A Mind-Bending Marvel”

  1. Ok Diana,

    I try not to blog on more than two glasses of vino…safe so far.
    I loved the movie and your review. My son & niece have seen the movie numerous times, and I was lucky enough to see the movie twice in the theater. The Fall is great on the “big screen”. I actually own it now, also. I have to disagree with you about watching it on mute, because I was so impressed with the sound! Sometimes I find myself overlooking the sound in movies, but this one made me aware of how much it adds to the movie. I read a review awhile back about the little girl’s acting not being realistic…hogwash! Having six children, I couldn’t believe how “unscripted” she was, totally authentic.
    This was a very beautiful movie that I’ll be watching many more times.

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this movie, it is one of my favorites. There are passages in the film which need no narrative or characters, they are simply art in motion…a man gliding through water…the mazes you mentioned…you know I am a visually oriented person and I am transported when I see such beauty!
    Now you must find Ori Gersht, a photographer who is showing at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art…that is all I will say about that!

  3. I can’t wait to order this movie for my very visual, right-brained daughter! It’ll be so much fun for me, Ms. left-brained Virgo, to watch it with her, in her new little San Diego cottage. Thank you , Diana, for giving us what I know will be a memorable evening together!

“Blue Valentine” –Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

This critically acclaimed Sundance 2010 darling features Michelle Williams (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and Ryan Gosling in a Generation X’s portrait of a marriage from hell reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ classic, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”.

Blue Valentine’s story is simple and straightforward. A young nurse, Cindy Heller (Williams) lives with an abusive father, an adrift mother, and cares for her ailing grandmother. She has endured a violent relationship with a high school boyfriend and has given up her dream to become a doctor. She meets Dean (Gosling) at her grandmother’s assisted living center and they end up rushing into marriage, knowing next to nothing about each other. They are both excruciatingly wounded and searching for an escape. Soon after her young daughter, Frankie, is born, they begin to lose their way.

From the opening scene in which Dean plays with spilled oatmeal, licking it off the kitchen table with his five-year old daughter, we are acutely aware that he is stunted…not quite an adult, but a playmate that his daughter adores. Tellingly, he is siding with his child at the expense of the mother who has wearily thrown together a breakfast for them. With flashbacks between the romantic years and the desperate ones, “Blue Valentine” takes us on a journey of their rapidly accelerating heartbreak.

Not altogether a misfit, Dean is a young high school dropout, working for a New York City moving company and later as a house painter. He is a kind, keen observer, especially toward the elderly and the beloved family dog. Dean’s also a drunk. He tries to make a living, but mostly enjoys being with Cindy and their daughter, his only meaningful goals in life. But he gets it so wrong!

Cindy is trying to keep their family on more firm ground financially. She’s still attractive to other men and Dean can’t contain his jealousy. In the hope of rekindling their sexual life, Dean brings Cindy to a motel with a kitschy, pseudo-sci-fi decor, but there is no intimacy. Their marriage has collapsed in on itself and the sting in their relationship is visceral.

A previous scene, in which Gosling sings “You Always Hurt the One You Love” and Williams dances, foreshadows the wrenching pain to come. Bravely, they both struggle to keep their relationship together in spite of their own best interests. While Dean desperately desires to hold on to his family, his only keystone, he doesn’t know how and neither does Cindy.

Marriages are difficult, precarious, and stressful, and each has its own rhythms and secrets. Not even a deep knowledge of each other can guarantee a long and happy marriage. “Blue Valentine” sometimes succeeds in taking us to this far more honest – and less comfortable – place. One partner’s “best” may simply not be “good enough”.

The wounded and defensive natures of both main characters are powerfully portrayed: Gosling, when his anger is unleashed,–the self-protecting male fighting for what is “his”,–and Williams for the abandonment of her dreams. But these performances do not save this film. Even though their relationship feels real, the story needed to be more specific.

“Blue Valentine” ultimately misses the mark for not revealing both Cindy and Dean’s background. What happened to them in their pre-adulthood years? Why does neither of them have a safety net? These are two young people, tattered and torn, lunging for love as if they were gasping for air. I wanted to know why.

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4 Replies to ““Blue Valentine” –Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”

  1. Blue Valentine takes us down relationship road, full of sweet and bitter moments…
    The characters strengths, weaknesses and dreams exposed within the context of a relationship and pressures of life…As our number one film reviewer states, it left us wanting for more… Having said that, I would recommend people see it…

  2. Diana, I very much liked your review. Though I didn’t see it and probably would not.
    The premise of pre-marriage and post-marriage emotions just didn’t entice me enough…
    Now “The rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a different story. 🙂

  3. Well, Diana, your review was far better than the movie. I watched it with my 87 year old mother who said it was dumb and the worst movie she has ever seen. (had to laugh at that)

    Most times I find myself siding with the women in movies similar to this one, but not this time. I was first bothered by Cindy’s lack of interest in making her daughter’s breakfast. Then she continued to show an emotional disconnect to everything.

    It’s slow moving and rather disconnected … kinda like “Cindy”.

  4. Hi Diana,
    I’m a friend of Sharon’s and watched “Blue Valentine” with her and her 87 year old Mother. It had to be one of the most “Unfulfilling” movies I’ve ever seen – dragged on and suddenly, just when you’re
    waiting for a little excitement (and I don’t mean the sexual kind – saw enough of that..LOL) POOF! It ended! Left us looking at each other and wanting to sing….”Is that all there is…..” LOL….
    Maria

Bridal Shower Anyone?–Do you know what a “laminated list” is?

We hosted a bridal shower last weekend for our daughter Maya and 20 of her young friends. Bridal showers aren’t what they used to be…dreary events with most of your mother’s friends, not yours. They might not be the equivalent of a bachelorette party for wildness, but I learned new vocabulary, which I am not likely to forget!

On a beautifully warm but overcast day, for a mid-afternoon lunch on the deck, we prepared a whole salmon two different ways: one with a spicy paprika rub, one half grilled with cucumber slices. Grilled squid with a spicy sriracha-laced dipping sauce and sardines with horseradish sauce were two of many appetizers. A recipe theme for the shower centered on the seven deadly sins (for those of you who don’t know–they are gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, lust, pride and wrath–but the last has no place on such a happy occasion.) Each of Maya’s friends received a cookbook of the recipes, “Sinfully Delicious Recipes” to take home as a party favor.

After present-opening, playing the usual games of “how well do you know your fiancé” complete with accompanying video of the fiancé answering the same questions, the question rose about the “laminated list”. We went around the room: “How many are on your laminated list?” I can play along too. When it came to my turn, I smiled: “One hundred”.

Maya’s face fell, shocked, utterly disgusted. “Ew, how gross”, she sighed as she walked away to get another cupcake on the cupcake tower one of her bridesmaids had brought. All her friends had said “four” or “five”. I was thinking of “The One Hundred Foods You Should Eat at SF Restaurants Before You Die”, a list I swore I saw on our daughter’s refrigerator door, neatly attached with a sushi magnet. Boy, was I wrong!

This is what I found out about the meaning of “Laminated List”. I learned that a laminated list, sometimes called a freebie list, is a short list –usually no more than five–of celebrities (actors, athletes, definitely NOT friends) who are so attractive that your fiancé, partner, or significant other would give you a “hall pass” if the opportunity arose to have sex with them. The origin for the concept appeared on the hugely popular TV series “Friends”, which we all watched religiously back in the day…but I had completely forgotten about Ross, Rachel, and Chandler’s conversation about their lists. For those of you curious to watch the episode from Netflix, I googled and found out it is in season 3, “The One with Frank Jr.” Ross decides to laminate his list so it is unchangeable and then attaches it to his refrigerator door. (At least I got that part right!) Hmm, how many would I put on my list?

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6 Replies to “Bridal Shower Anyone?–Do you know what a “laminated list” is?”

  1. You had John and me curious about the “laminated list”, so I had to read your blog ASAP. You certainly got a lol from me as I read “I can play along, too” – although I had no idea what a laminated list was, I knew you had gotten yourself in trouble, especially with Maya’s comment, “Ew, how gross,” was revealed. Actually, I can’t imagine why it would be gross – at our age, being able to imagine having that many “partners” is quite a feat!
    Once again, you have made me laugh out loud. “You are the BEST!”

  2. You West Coasters are so hip! I’m not sure anyone in Milwaukee has a true laminated list, unless it involves their favorite beer, cheese, or Packers player! Given all the movies you’ve seen, Diana, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your list approached 100…and I loved your shower menu…5 stars!

  3. Why only 100…
    Are we so limited in our fantasies?
    We guess that is the difference between the 60s generation
    and the alphabet generations… E & E

  4. You throw a damn good shower Diana, and I think we can all agree that Maya’s #1 choice for her Laminated List is truely worthy – John Hamm, you are my #1 too.

“Game of Thrones” — “Rome” Meets “Lord of the Rings”

Depending upon the viewer’s tolerance for over-the-top nudity and gratuitous violence (albeit infrequently), this Emmy-nominated HBO series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss can be a guilty pleasure. An entrancing, seductive ten-episode TV miniseries, “Game of Thrones” is a compelling, carefully crafted drama about a mythical, magical medieval world.

Nicknamed the American Tolkien, George R.R. Martin has authored the best-selling fantasy epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. “Game of Thrones” is based on the first book in the series. Episode One opens with one of the most harrowing and genuinely cold-blooded scenes I can remember ever watching, especially for a fantasy drama. Amputated arms and legs are strewn across a stark, snowy forest glen, filmed overhead with slow, gliding camera movements. A man wanders from his two friends to discover the carnage but when the three men return, the body parts have vanished.

As is true for many sci-fi and fantasy novels, I needed an organization chart and a family tree for each of the main characters and his or her families–in this case seven kingdoms or clans struggling for the Iron Throne of Westeros, a medieval world facing an impending forty-year winter.

I don’t know if it was an intentional casting move to feature Sean Bean as a main character in “Game of Thrones” based on his previous role in “Lord of the Rings”, but the comparison between the two epics is obvious. In both epics all main characters are outliers. In “Game of Thrones” one character is a sole survivor of a family massacre, one is a bastard, one part dragon, one a girl who wishes she were a boy, to name only a few.

Some of the subplots are convoluted too, only to pull this viewer into its recesses. For example, one princess is forced to marry a king of a “barbaric” tribe but she is determined to understand her husband’s culture and eventually…and contentedly… fits into his society. The rape and pillage, not even subtly associated with Attila the Hun, allows the viewer not only to sympathize with the princess but also with her husband–no mean feat!

Arguments can be made that this series reduces some characters to racist or misogynist stereotypes. However, if the viewer focuses on the handful of intricately drawn portraits, especially those of the dwarf (Peter Dinklage) and the heir to the Stark clan (Sean Bean), moral ambivalence about the world they fight to preserve yet wish to transcend is clearly maintained.

I have never been a “Dungeons and Dragons”, Tolkien, or “Watership Down” fan but this fantasy miniseries feels more like an epic history of mythological proportions, analogous to the retelling of the generational conflicts, political intrigue and betrayal in the “Rome” miniseries, also from HBO (2005). All the requisite blockbuster devices of bloody battle scenes, nudity, political corruption, and even humor are present in each episode. However, the superb writing, mostly noteworthy acting, and stunning cinematography contribute to the tremendous appeal of “Game of Thrones”. Like “Rome” or “Dexter”, there may not be a socially redeeming, “intellectual” component, but the story is addicting and highly spell-binding. This is no “Mildred Pierce”, also a strong Emmy contender (see my last blog post) yet the white snow and dark shadows of this story made “Game of Thrones” a winner for me!

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“Mildred Pierce”–Definitely NOT “Mommy Dearest”

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” King Lear bemoans in the famous Shakespearean scene. And so does Mildred Pierce as the mother who must suffer the unbearable pain of loving her decidedly unlovable elder daughter Veda. “Mildred Pierce”, the five-part HBO miniseries based on a 1941 book by James M. Cain, is a remake of the Academy Award-winning 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford (of Mommy Dearest fame) and turns Mommy Dearest upside down. Nominated for a record 21 Emmy awards, Kate Winslet mesmerizes in the title role.

After divorcing her philandering husband, Mildred learns to develop her self-worth first through waitressing, slowly understanding and appreciating what the working class woman must endure. Her older daughter, Veda, however, venomously taunts her mother about their lack of money, their reduced social status, and living in Glendale instead of a tonier part of Los Angeles. Veda even assumes a British accent to fantasize about the life she thinks she deserves, not the life she is living.

Mildred is vehemently blind to the sacrifices she is making for her two daughters, forgiving the unforgivable. Desperate to maintain her home and her daughters’ future, her only marketable skill seems to be making pies. I had to suspend my disbelief that Mildred Pierce could be so successful owning and managing three upscale restaurants during the Depression.

The mother-daughter relationship is the heart of this series, with deep wounds on both sides. Mildred encourages the arrogance and self-entitlement in Veda, even against her better judgment. There is a hint that Mildred believes some of the accusations her daughter makes and is ashamed. Veda is angry and resentful, but we are not quite aware of how ugly her sense of abandonment is nor how lonely she must have been. Veda’s mind is irreparably sinister and damaged and Mildred never quite grasps the daughter’s true nature.

Mildred lacks common sense too. Blind to her own neediness, she falls for the slacker, Monty (smarmily portrayed by Guy Pearce), a man of great wealth who seems to enjoy playing polo and drinking, but not much else. Soon Mildred’s life starts spiraling downward in assuming a more lavish lifestyle to please Monty and Veda, now a young and promising singer (played chillingly by Evan Rachel Wood).

Director Todd Haynes explores Depression-era economic hardship and the pettiness of married life, with scathing scenes reminiscent of the intimate detail he brought to the superb “Far From Heaven.” Here he again captures the mood and time of a given period with intricate details and faithful attention to the nuances of life’s options for those of a given social class. After a very slow-paced start we have come to expect from a Masterpiece Theater miniseries or other BBC costume dramas, “Mildred Pierce” becomes increasingly riveting. There are a few unfortunate lapses in dialogue that jerk you into wondering what the writers could possibly have been thinking. For example, “Want to get stinko anyone?”

Winslet underplays the role, allowing the subtleties of her transformation to surface slowly, resulting in startling and powerful responses to acts of betrayal from those she loves so blindly. Evan Rachel Wood is every bit Kate Winslet’s match in scene after scene in their snake-fanged relationship.

This HBO series enters virtually uninhabited territory, the disintegration of a fundamental relationship–between mother and daughter–into one of terror and agony. Far from the commercial blockbuster theatrics we are exposed to over and over again, “Mildred Pierce” deals with the unmentionable and incomprehensible. I loved it!

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2 Replies to ““Mildred Pierce”–Definitely NOT “Mommy Dearest””

  1. I think your descriptions of the characters – especially Mildred, Veda and Monty – are a bit misleading. The only thing you accuse Mildred of is blindness toward Veda and Monty, while ignoring some of her other major faults. And in Episode 5, Monty himself became a victim of Mildred’s manipulations to get Veda back into her life.

“I Love You Phillip Morris”– “Catch Me If You Can” With a Gay Twist

Let me start by saying I wanted to really love this movie starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. I was sitting on the fence on this one but no more.

This oddball movie is loosely based upon an improbable but true story of a gay conman/grifter, Steve Russell, who continually breaks the law to impress his young lover, Phillip Morris, in a small Texas community. “I Love You Phillip Morris” opens with Russell (Jim Carrey) on a hospital gurney, near death. Up until now he has led a life of pretense –a married policeman whose wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), is a sweet, caring church-going spouse. But his near-death experience has made Russell realize he’s going to live life as an openly gay man who no longer sneaks out on Debbie at night. His newfound gay lifestyle involves lavish and luxurious habits, which he cannot afford on a policeman’s salary so he turns to a world of crime. Sent to the Texas State Penitentiary where he meets the love of his life, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), Russell begins an outrageous con to free both of them.

Every time Ewan McGregor is onscreen, this viewer lit up at his performance. While Jim Carrey somehow always reminds you that he is first and foremost Jim Carrey, that does not hold true for McGregor who plays the love interest with subtle charm and none of the usual swishy, exploitative cinematic portrayals of gay men. Carrey sometimes feels to me as if he is satirizing Russell, instead of seeing his tortured nature. In one of the most moving scenes in the story, Morris confronts Russell who has implicated him in his crimes: “How does someone who doesn’t exist go on existing?” Morris doesn’t know him, because the chameleonic Russell seemingly has no core.

Even though the main character is a narcissistic sociopathic scam artist, I think he could still have been lovable as was Leonardo di Caprio’s character in “Catch Me If You Can.” But I found the story not persuasive as fiction, let alone truth, because the larcenous self-inventing Steve Russell is so hard to understand, let alone feel compassion for. Russell seems to be stunted, but his perpetual emotional postponement, even in the face of the man he loves, is never underscored. To see a more convincing portrayal of the gay man’s situation, I would go see “A Single Man” hands down!

Good actors, some over-the-top homosexual erotic scenes but a movie that ultimately doesn’t realize its potential. Too bad–could have been concomitantly hilarious and touching in almost every way!

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“Rabbit Hole”–A Parallel Universe

Nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play and a 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Rabbit Hole” was released as a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart about six months ago (December 2010). This movie takes familiar territory and creates a classic.

Astutely named, “rabbit hole” refers to a bizarre or difficult state or situation. What gut-wrenching, reality-changing universe can be more brutal and painful than the death of a loved one? A metaphor for adventure into the unknown, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, there is no clear set of rules for a world turned upside down by grief . In a labyrinth of guilt, self-recrimination, tightly controlled rage and estrangement from oneself, there seems to be no escape.

The storyline is every parent’s nightmare–the death of a child. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) struggle furiously with the deepest of wounds after the death of their 4-year-old son, Danny. The once happily married couple finds themselves displaced. Their marriage on the verge of a nervous breakdown, in a house still infused with death. Where Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie finds comfort. Their souls are dissolving and dangerously off track.

Becca’s loving but unintentionally inept mother (Dianne Wiest) has also experienced the death of a son and unsuccessfully offers comfort and advice but Becca reflexively refuses. Weekly support group therapy only increases Becca’s inability to heal. Howie finds solace in Gaby, a fellow therapy attendee (played with compassion by Sandra Oh) while Becca stalks a teenager who has written and illustrated a comic book, entitled “Rabbit Hole”, about a parallel universe where Becca believes “somewhere out there I’m having a good time.”

This cinematic character study redirects our sympathies at every turn. Never mordant, though painful, this taxonomy of grief taps a reservoir of feelings common to anyone who has experienced the reality-shifting vacuum left by a death in the family. Anyone who has ever gone through the possessions of a deceased family member or close friend understands instantly the crispness in tone of voice, the touch of the clothing, and the memory of smell portrayed in several of this film’s most memorable scenes. Without flinching, the cast makes it clear that the wound beneath the surface never really stops hurting, but heals by degrees.

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4 Replies to ““Rabbit Hole”–A Parallel Universe”

  1. A friend sent me this comment via personal email and I would like to share it with you:
    “I thought your review was to the point, very informative and had much feeling wrapped around the comments.
    Having experienced a severe loss, it is too hard to read about it, never mind seeing the movie.
    Reading your review made me feel some of the old feelings. I used to feel like Alice falling down the dark hole, never ending…I never knew about “rabbit hole” till now.
    Thanks for the review; it was written with much heart and compassion.”

  2. As I have not heard of this film I’m not sure if it would have register as something to see, but I agree with your friend’s comments. Somethings cannot be revisited.