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Jason Wallis Are all movies required to be positive and ‘uplifting’?

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, June 24, 2011 8:38 am

No review of “The Green Lantern” this week. I read from a trusted source that the movie is equivalent to a self-serious episode of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” in which Meatwad’s ability to transform himself into a hot dog or an igloo enables him to save the galaxy. That description —combined with the fact that the movie has been universally panned — made my decision to focus on more relevant issues this week pretty easy. Check back next time for a look at “Cars 2” — reportedly the first sub-par Pixar film, but at least it’s gotta be better than “The Green Lantern.”

This week, there are a few things I’d like to clear up before we launch into some recent DVD picks. You will remember that last week we ran out of time to delve into a key question that some News-Sentinel readers attempted to tackle in last week’s Letters to the Editor talkback, with limited success. The question at hand is: What is a film’s obligation to society? Is it required that every film released purports a positive view of society, and “lifts us up” to make us feel better about ourselves, or is it OK for a movie to be more cynical? Is it acceptable for a movie to be “offensive”?

First of all, I would ask, what is “offensive”? Different things offend people in different ways. I could cite “Revolutionary Road” and the PG-13-rated “Million Dollar Baby” as the two most offensive movies I’ve seen in the past decade, and adequately defend my choices, but I doubt most people would agree. Is “offensive,” then, just a code word to denote explicit language and sexual content? If so, then why are these things considered more “offensive” than graphic violence, which most people (parents of young children included) seem to dismiss without a second thought? Not to get all Larry Flynt on you guys, but do you seriously not see the insanity of getting righteously indignant over the “Hangover” movies while at the same time remaining silent about the graphic violence that it becoming ever more normalized in mainstream media?

Of course, these are questions without answers. I bring them up only to illustrate the problems inherent to the “morality police” view of cinema. Not everything can be acceptable to everybody all the time, so if we start boycotting the films we don’t feel are “worthy,” very soon we’ll be left with no movies at all. Think about it: If we were to do away with every film that did not make a concerted effort to be “positive,” where would that leave the entire filmographies of Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky? Or Lars von Trier and P.T. Anderson? Or Sam Peckinpah and Mel Brooks? Or Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, for God’s sake?

If you limit yourself only to movies that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, then you’re missing out on an entire world of filmmaking —a fascinating, gritty and often uproariously hilarious world that the rest of us enjoy without bowing to crippling repression. Think these movies are bad for kids? You’re probably right, although I would say it depends on the kid. But in any case, the world we live in was not designed to cater to children exclusively. If you have a problem with these films, then the answer is to be a freakin’ parent, and either shield your children from adult-oriented films or at least make sure they are systemizing them in a healthy way. The answer is not to target the films themselves, and embark on a windmill-tilting morality crusade that only makes you look foolish.

The best films of 2010 and 2011

Which brings us to two relatively recent films I’ve reviewed before but feel warrant another look: one that is strictly an adults-only affair and will leave your soul feeling decimated, and another, more family-friendly pick that will be making its way to DVD and Blu-ray in a couple weeks.

The first is “Blue Valentine” (now available), which saw a very limited release in theaters late last year, leaving me unable to place it on my year-end Top 10 list. I’ve seen the film twice now, and if I could re-do my list, it would certainly occupy the top spot. It is a film of rare power and emotional truth, examining the disintegration of a marriage via flashback. Whereas most films of this sort will offer up an apparently happy couple and then give the viewer a look back at the pain that will eventually tear them apart, “Blue Valentine” is structured so that the flashbacks function as a sort of “happy” parallel film with a completely different look and feel than the rest of the movie. During these scenes, you could almost mistake “Blue Valentine” for a feel-good romantic comedy.

The other half of the film, set five years after the flashbacks, follows the couple’s last night together, spent in a sleazy theme motel with oppressive blue lighting. They fight and bicker, but more importantly, they consistently fail to relate their feelings and experiences in a constructive way. It is an orgy of pain in which neither person is entirely sure what brought them to this point as a couple. There is no catharsis, but only ruin, and the ever-present shadow of their former lives in which they were hopeful and content, before boredom and a lack of communication caused their relationship to rot from the inside. Stars Ryan Gosling (who should have won an Oscar) and Michelle Williams (who was at least nominated) deserve all the credit in the world for making us care so deeply about people we could never hope to understand, because they are just starting to understand themselves.

If you’re looking for something completely different, with a little more pep (you know, something that will lift you up), you couldn’t do much better than “Rango” (coming July 15). An animated ode to cinema in general and Spaghetti Westerns in particular, the film bursts to life with more energy and panache than a dozen other animated family flicks combined. Charting the adventures of a domesticated gecko (voiced by Johnny Depp) as he is separated from his family and stranded in a drought-ridden near-ghost town, “Rango” is like a dream for meta-obsessed film geeks.

The film functions as an extended riff on both “A Fistful of Dollars” and “Chinatown” (quite boldly, several plot points and the primary villain are lifted straight out of Polanki’s masterpiece), but sprinkled throughout are dozens of shrewd allusions to movies ranging from “Apocalypse Now” to “The Road Warrior.” These allusions are not of the “Scary Movie” variety, but rather are informed by a keen sense of mise-en-scene and a knowledge of how famous images and motifs can be tweaked to become something entirely new and meaningful. Seems like a strange thing to say about a movie featuring a cartoon gecko, but in all honesty, I haven’t had a better time at the movies all year.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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