One of the true gems of 2010, Blue Valentine, writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s heartbreaking debut effort, was mismarketed to within an inch of its life, and also suffered from “second-child syndrome,” which is to say the relative cold shoulder it got from the Weinstein Company’s PR team, which instead (and to considerable success and Oscar glory, it turns out) threw almost all of its weight behind The King’s Speech. A lot of the pre-release buzz on Blue Valentine, meanwhile, had to do with an appeal to the MPAA over a NC-17 rating (it was released rated R), which made the movie seem like some seamy, Joe Eszterhas-type sex flick. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Starring Michelle Williams (Oscar-nominated for her performance) and Ryan Gosling (utterly robbed of a complementary nomination), Cianfrance’s film is a split portrait of young love’s bloom, and its later dissolution. Intimate, and put together with a maturity beyond its makers’ years, the film is painfully honest, and Andrij Parekh’s superb cinematography matches and underscores the movie’s melancholic heartache. The DVD and Blu-ray presentations, meanwhile, (both in 1.66:1 widescreen, the latter in 1080p with a 5.1 DTSHD-MA audio track) each come with a feature-length audio commentary track with Cianfrance and co-editor Jim Helton; a 14-minute making-of featurette, inclusive of interviews with the leads; four deleted scenes; and a four-minute, in-character home movie with Williams and Gosling, who actually lived with one another leading up to the production, in order to create familial bonds that served this amazing story.
Written and directed by Josh Sternfeld, Meskada is a movie that on the surface has a lot of things going for it. OK, some things. By which I really mean Rachel Nichols, I guess. In addition to her warming presence, there’s also, for the ladies, an oft-shirtless Kellan Lutz, of Twilight fame, as well as Nick Stahl and Norman Reedus — basically the holy trinity of recessed- and bleary-eyed knuckle-draggers that so delight girls looking to fill the void in their hearts born of absentee fathers. (These three guys could all be freshly showered and dressed in designer suits, but still look a bit beat-up, boozy, damaged, dangerous and, let’s be honest, reeking of cigarette smoke.) The participation of this recognizable cast (Jonathan Tucker also stars) gives this gritty underclass drama — about the aftermath and investigation of a botched home robbery that leaves a small child dead — a certain moody, invested pull, at least early on. Unfortunately, what could become a very interesting portrait of the paranoia and bitterness that those living in decaying, socioeconomically depressed areas innately feel towards the police and other power structures instead dips into rather rote procedural gamesmanship. The DVD, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby digital 5.1 sound mix, does Sternfeld’s trimmed-down ambitions (whatever they truly might have been) no favors, arriving absent any interviews or other special features, save the movie’s theatrical trailer.
For a much more interesting portrait of white anxiety and despair, meanwhile, check out late filmmaker Garrett Scott’s Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story. An hour-long documentary, the movie centers on the story of Shawn Nelson, a 35-year-old plumber from a rundown, drug-riddled suburb of San Diego, who in 1995 emerged from a 20-foot hole in his background (where he’d been digging for months, convinced there was gold), stole a tank from a nearby National Guard armory, and went of a 25-minute rampage through the city’s streets and freeways, like some deranged videogame predecessor to Grand Theft Auto.
This is no gawking, goosing slice of exploitation, however. Scott intersperses local news coverage of the event, interviews with Nelson’s remaining friends, family and neighbors — a rather wince-inducing collection of burnouts and tweakers, the sorts of folks who wear merchandise secured with Camel Cash and other cigarette pack point programs — and a selection of archived material that provides extensive political and socioeconomic context to the methamphetamine-laden burgh of Clairemont. As with Eugene Jarecki’s provocative segment of the recent doc Freakonomics, this film draws some interesting and startling lines of correlation. The are no on-disc bonus features, but a 12-page insert booklet includes two very good essays by Christian Parenti and Ian Olds, the movie’s editor.
Finally, Father’s Day isn’t too, too far around the corner, and in the coming weeks I’ll be throwing be throwing a spotlight on some off-the-beaten path titles that might make decent gifts. First up is The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. In addition to being a title that would simply never fly in these times, this film evidences the sort of amusing tonal schizophrenia that would get eradicated by the production notes of a half-dozen Hollywood studio suits today. Starring Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed, the film centers on an ex-trail scout and his half-breed Indian partner, who decide to settle accounts with a former colleague (Robert Culp) that cheated them out of some money from a gold mine they were prospecting 15 years ago. Written by Richard Shapiro and directed by Don Taylor, the movie is more fun than good, really — part boozy, strange send-up and part loving homage to westerns of yore. For fans of the grizzled Marvin, however, this little curio is definitely worth checking out, even if the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD has no supplemental features.
Written by: Brent Simon