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Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Pen a “Blue Valentine”

Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Pen a “Blue Valentine” (photo)

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“Blue Valentine” is the story of Cindy and Dean, an ordinary couple who meet, fall in love, get married, have a child and, eventually, split up. And in the hands of director Derek Cianfrance and his exceptional leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, that story is something both intimate and epic and, however you look at it, a genuine heartbreaker. The film juxtaposes the elation of falling in love with the unvarnished moment when that love slips away, worn down by time, disappointment and the weight of a thousand small concerns. I got a chance to talk to Cianfrance, Gosling and Williams at Sundance back in January, where the film premiered. Since then, it was acquired by the Weinstein Company and fought a high-profile battle against an NC-17 rating, eventually emerging triumphant. It’s one of my favorite films of the year.

Why craft both ends of a love story like this? Movies tend to be more interested in the beginnings of them.

Derek Cianfrance: Well, there is a model for love tragedy, and that’s “Romeo and Juliet” — the story of these two young lovers who at the peak of their romance die and their love is preserved for all time. As I was going through my life, I never met anyone who had that good romantic fortune to die at the peak of their life. They had to suffer through, and time became this betrayer. So the story we’ve been told is “Romeo and Juliet,” but the story behind that story, you know?

12302010_derekcianfrance.jpgRyan, Michelle, what was the appeal of this love story with a gap in the middle?

Ryan Gosling: Working with Michelle was a big appeal, working with Derek. I also had been a part of one of those big romantic movies and — this is a long time ago — people would come up to me and tell me that they thought it was romantic, but one guy told me that he was engaged and [his fiancée] broke up with him after that movie because she said to him, “You wouldn’t build a house for me, would you?” He was like, “Well, no, but I don’t know how.” She said, “But if you knew how?” He said, “No, I wouldn’t. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.” She said, “Yeah, it does.” And she called it off.

If you see some of those movies, then you look at your own romance and it doesn’t compare, you think, oh, what I have isn’t love because that’s love. And our hope, I think, in making this movie is that you will recognize your relationship in this, maybe not to this extreme, but on certain levels, and go home and realize that that’s really what it is. We hold ourselves to unreasonable standards, it’s probably why a lot of times we don’t stick it out.

The film is definitely about romance and being romantic, but it also seems like it reverses roles in having the male character be the big romantic and the female character be more concerned with what the practical reality of the relationship and where it’s going is.

DC: One of the things I used to try to tell Michelle and Ryan is that she was the man and he was the woman. That was pretty much the extent of my direction.

12302010_bluevalentine3.jpgDo you agree with Dean when he says “I think men are more romantic than women”?

DC: I don’t know. I was interested in the feminine man and the masculine woman. I don’t think you see a lot of that. The majority of the time movies are from a man’s point of view, and there’s always some kind of adultery that’s going on or whatever — I just never related to it.

RG: I thought it was exciting because was like new ground for a female character that I hadn’t really seen. I mean, I love my character for all of his flaws and I know that guy, I meet him a lot, in myself sometimes too. But [Cindy’s] a great female character and if I was an actress, I would watch and watch and watch this movie.

Michelle Williams: It scared the shit out of me. [laughs] Derek talked me down off the cliff more than once.

What was scary about it?

MW: Just that, inverting the dynamic and doing something there wasn’t like such a model for in current cinema. That isn’t necessarily where people’s empathy extends to. But then I also, in my own mind, reconcile it. I realized somewhere in the middle of the movie, this is two days. It’s two days in their marriage, just two really, really bad days. I thought of it sometimes as… it wasn’t the end of the story, it’s not just the divorce papers the next day. It’s an ongoing fight and maybe it’s the beginning of something real, like when you break new ground in a relationship. Weirdly, this is a lesson I’m learning, you can find more love there.

RG: I think there have been some oddly sexist reactions to the film from females at the festival that I was kind of shocked by.

12302010_bluevalentine4.jpgReally? What kinds of things have you been hearing?

RG: It just seems like there’s this idea that if a woman has a guy that loves her and loves their kid and is faithful, that she should be happy. And there’s no mention of, like — does she love him? Does she love their life? She’s just obligated to stay, she can’t look around at her life and say, this is great, you’re great, but I’m not happy and I don’t know why. I need to figure that out and I can’t do that if you’re here. I got pregnant when I was a kid, I’ve been married now and I’m still figuring out that part of me…

MW: And that you move from your father’s house to your husband’s house and never have a space of your own. All your identity is wrapped up in the way that your father thinks of you, the way that your husband thinks of you — what do you think of you?

RG: And now you’re raising a little girl and she’s learning from your example. What kind of example are you setting?

MW: And we haven’t been able to break the family habits and the cycles. These aren’t people that have access to therapy, so it just feels like a tangle of wires like in her head. But also maybe you’re a hard guy to leave. [laughs] I’m probably not going to get a lot of sympathy from women who are like what?!?

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

Love Must Have a Eulogy: “Blue Valentine,” Reviewed

Love Must Have a Eulogy: “Blue Valentine,” Reviewed (photo)

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This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance is best known as the home of the American indie narrative, the primordial festival ooze from which first emerged the likes of “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and “Clerks” and “The Blair Witch Project.” And while the film landscape has changed, that’s still the reason most attendees make the slog to an expensive snow-covered Utah ski town every year to sit in synagogues and racquet clubs and high school auditoriums that have been temporarily transformed into movie theaters and wait for that flash of talent, of quality, of something new. Not to oversell it, but Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” is as good as the festival got on that front this year, a chronicle of the beginning and the end of a relationship that’s so sharp, smart and explosively emotionally honest it flattens everything else in its path.

Cianfrance has the good fortune and good taste to have as his stars pretty much the two best young actors working today (honestly, who tops them?), Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. They’re Dean and Cindy — he paints houses, she’s a nurse, they’re married, with a daughter and a house in Pennsylvania and a car and a tangible history together that’s begun to bow them down. In the present, we spend two days in their company, as they lose their dog, drop their daughter off at her grandfather’s for the night and head up to a cheesy themed hotel for some too-late alone time. And in the past, which we flicker back to in vivid bursts of 16mm (the present is shot in digital), they’re younger and happier and meet and fall in messy, giddy love.

“Blue Valentine” fits nicely into A.O Scott’s American neo-neo realism — Dean and Cindy loom large because their normalcy is so assiduously realized, all of their smallest details and how those details curl and become brittle over time. Dean is a romantic, better with the big gestures, which is what wins him Cindy’s heart when he’s a mover who’s fallen in love at first sight and she’s a college student dreaming of med school but faced with a mountain-sized life decision. Cindy’s the smart one, poised, for a while, to get past the working class grind that shaped the lives of the people with which she grew up.

01312010_bluevalentine2.jpgTo watch how the years work on these two, how worn down they start to look, how closed off, is something close to physically taxing. “Blue Valentine” may be simultaneously one of the most and least romantic movies I’ve ever seen. It’s an ode to the transcendence that romance lends the prosaic world — Cindy tap dances at the doorway of a closed storefront while Dean plays her a song on the ukulele (confessing to only being able to sing if he can do it in a goofy voice), both utterly enchanted with each other. And it’s about how those prosaic things can accrue, the small complaints (you have to drink a beer at 8am just to be able to go to your job, she says, and he replies that it’s a luxury that he has a job where he can drink a beer at 8am), until one day you turn around and you’re just not in love anymore.

Out of sequence anti-romances have become their own sort of Sundance subgenre — last year saw crowd favorite “(500) Days of Summer” and the less successful “Peter and Vandy.” But there’s an incontestable epic quality to “Blue Valentine” that sets it apart, something helped by the talents of its leads, certainly, but also by its desire to capture the grandness in these ordinary lives. That we should all see such highs and lows.

“Blue Valentine” opens in limited release on December 29th.

Jon Lovitz Bets on “Casino Jack”

Jon Lovitz Bets on “Casino Jack” (photo)

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It’s not unusual to hear that Jon Lovitz is the funniest part of a movie. It’s more so to discover that that movie isn’t a traditional comedy — it’s “Casino Jack,” George Hickenlooper’s caper-like take on the downfall of Jack Abramoff and the director’s last before his death in October at age 47. Lovitz plays Adam Kidan, Abramoff’s partner in a scheme to buy a casino cruise line in Florida. Unlike lobbyists Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey) and his protege Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Kidan is not in the business of self-delusion about his own nature. He’s a former mattress salesman with mob ties who likes strippers, cocaine and frank talk, and in a story in which so many of the figures involved have convinced themselves that their greed somehow works toward the greater good, Lovitz’s character is a breath of fresh air, an unabashed, amusing sleazebag. I got a few minutes to talk to the former SNL member about “documentary film acting,” faith and his stand-up work.

Adam Kidam isn’t as familiar a figure to the public as Jack Abramoff, how close did you feel you had to stick to him as…

…a real guy? I didn’t, because, like you said, there was hardly any stuff. I went on the internet, and there were a couple of pictures and footage of him walking, so I used that. I read the story, a couple quotes of his, everything that happened, but mostly I based it on the script and worked it out with the director, George Hickenlooper. He died, it’s horrible. He really made the movie, and I just — I feel very grateful that he left in all my scenes. You plan a whole character with all the scenes in mind when you read a part, and then you go to the movie and they cut a lot of the scenes, and you’re like “Uh? Now that’s not funny because they cut that, and no one know why I’m doing that…” With this, he left them all in, which I’ve never had before — I was thrilled. I got to make a whole guy.

I did the movie “Happiness” with Todd Solondz, and he was great to work with, but in the script I had three scenes — the first scene, one where I dropped the girl off and a third where I commit suicide. And I go “This is going to be dramatic, what’s more dramatic than that?” And then they kept the first scene and cut the other two. It’s his movie, his story to tell, but I was disappointed that the other two got cut, because then it would have been a character with a beginning, a middle and an end.

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