The Green Hornet (2011)
Dir. Michel Gondry
Michel Gondry’s qualities are more limited than some would have you believe but his understanding of the physical properties of his mise en scène is a virtue that impresses, obvious though it may be. This makes Gondry one of the first natural matches for 3D and The Green Hornet is probably my favourite film in the context of the format (don’t mistake this as meaning it’s my favourite film released in 3D, which would probably be Toy Story 3, but instead for being a film that finally merits the 3D treatment). Gondry is more interested in how depth of field and editing techniques can be naturally woven into the format. A standout sequence features a brilliant use of split screen as news of a bounty on the film’s hero spreads through the criminal underworld. It’s a good film, but more importantly it’s an interesting one and I found myself laughing along with (not at) Rogen at the absurdity of his appearance in the superhero blockbuster.
While Gondry’s style somewhat lends itself to 3D, Rogen’s stereotype is stuck in a world he doesn’t belong, having been previously confined to the flat (but appropriate) staging in the Apatows. It is this nonsensical juxtaposition that gives The Green Hornet an unexpected edge. Seeing Rogen amongst all the tech, all the action, all the effects, and much more serious personalities than he (cue Edward James Olmos & Tom Wilkinson) is odd enough but the third dimension added to the film makes it utterly bizarre. The film reveals the disturbing logic behind studio execs who here have signed on to a project against all logic other than the profit margin guaranteed by the film’s star. It sounds like it should be a disaster but Gondry is too clever for that. Everything in the movie feels like a jab against the powers that be. That’s not to say this is a full-on work of satire, but it is sly and witty. Gondry is interested in undermining the staus quo and even playing with the psyche of the mindless superhero fans. Gondry & Rogen have been given keys to the playhouse and they’re going to have some fun and always on their own terms. This is what makes it work. The authors of the film are delighted by their own fortune to be in such a position and Rogen refuses to transcend his image, instead channeling the disbelief of being a masked hero into his script and performance. As a genuinely fun diversion and a true Hollywood curiosity, The Green Hornet succeeds.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Dir. Derek Cianfrance
While neither quite as raw nor actor-driven as the trailer lead me to expect, Blue Valentine is still a penetrating look at an eternal malady of human nature and the film’s clumsiness can be forgiven for its fervency in committing to accuracy in favour of all else. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are each top artists in their fields and are in top form here even if they’re not given the free range they have been afforded in the past (Half Nelson, Wendy & Lucy). Director Cianfrance initiates a central dynamic at the heart of this collapsing love story right at the outset: the dilemma of independent journeys within a codependent relationship. We observe Gosling and Williams at odds with each other to begin the day and their subsequent routines carried out separately throughout the day. It’s a day like any other but with a small tragedy as its centerpiece. The two-days-in–the-life of this disintegrating couple is juxtaposed with flashbacks to the origins of their relationship, revealing few answers in this contrast but raising many questions. If nothing else, Valentine provides the potential of emotional catharsis and introspection.
Dir. Sofia Coppola
It is rather refreshing to be reminded of the Antonioni quote, “Hollywood is like being nowhere and talking to nobody about nothing” by a Hollywood film, not for its’ leading-by-example but from thematic observation. That Somewhere is made by the daughter of one of the pinnacle Hollywood auteurs makes it especially pointed. It is a major step forward for Sofia Coppola and it helps crystallize the missteps of her breakthrough film, Lost in Translation, for which my initial enthusiasm has dampened since its release. The enduring strong point of that is the affecting presence of Bill Murray, but even that success is marginal when observing how Coppola manages Stephen Dorff in Somewhere, clearly having matured as a director. Blue Valentine is an appropriate week-of-release contemporary as both films convey truthful, dark slices of life. However, Somewhere is the clear superior, and Coppola’s quiet but calculated form makes it one of the stronger films of 2010 (or, the strongest of 2011 thus far, depending on your perspective). The impressive opening shot of the film establishes a car motif, which reprises throughout the film and culminates in a final shot in which the oppressed-and-alienated Dorff transcends his Hollywood restraints and can finally smile at what comes next, much like the auteur herself who has come into her own as a major American filmmaker. They’re both finally going somewhere.