Reviews

'Blue Valentine': You Always Hurt the Ones You Love

Ultimately, Blue Valentine isn’t something you merely watch: it’s something that you feel. Even though it proves to be one hell of a devastating experience, it’s worth the pain.


Blue Valentine

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Rated: R
UK Release Date: 2011-05-09
US Release Date: 2011-05-10

It’s a scene that’s as weird as it is eerily fitting. It’s dusk at a park, and Cindy (Michelle Williams) gets on one of those old-school metallic merry-go-rounds. Shortly thereafter, Dean (Ryan Gosling) starts to spin it, the camera mounted inside the merry-go-round so all we see is Cindy holding on as Dean spins by in flashes. This goes on for a moment, Cindy initially laughing, before she has to get off, feeling sick.

Dean follows her, and asks if she needs to throw up. He then asks if she’d feel better if he saw him throw up. He sticks his finger down his throat and does so, which Cindy seems at least somewhat mildly amused by. He then asks Cindy if she’d feel better if he stuck his finger down her throat. She agrees, and he tries. She retracts and coughs a bit, but nothing turns up. They do this again. And again. Then, as they head back to the fences that outline the park, they kiss, timidly at first and then very passionately.

This, in essence, sums up the symbiotic relationship of Cindy and Dean, and it’s not even in the movie.

Blue Valentine is the second full-length feature from Derek Cianfrance, who spent a majority of his career doing TV documentaries. As such, he knows the importance of capturing a genuine moment, and the more you watch the bonus material on the DVD for Blue Valentine, the more you realize just how well these moments of honest discovery pay off.

The film follows the courtship and demise of the Dean and Cindy’s relationship, and it's hauntingly, frighteningly affecting, due to these honest moments. In the “Making of Blue Valentine“ featurette, Cianfrance notes how he asked each actor what their character’s “talent” would be. For Gosling, he thought Dean could play ukulele, and for Williams, she thought that Cindy was good at tap-dancing. Cianfrance told the actors to keep these aspects secret to themselves, and during an all-night shoot wherein the characters were essentially on a first date, instructed them that as soon as they got in front of the bridal shop, they’d ask if the other person had any talents.

The very real, fun, and honest song-and-dance moment that emerges -- and was used prominently in the trailer -- feels gloriously real. It's this kind of emotional honesty that ultimately drives the film, which makes the humorous moments all the more humorous and the devastating scenes all the more ugly and brutal.

As the story jumps towards the end of their relationship (it mixes up its chronology a lot, sometimes even jarringly so), there are some painful moments that hurt just because said moments could’ve only emerged from characters that had not only lived with each other, but were genuinely sick of each other. At one point, in a desperate move to reignite some passion and spend just one night away from their daughter Frankie, the couple check into a fantasy hotel suite with a gaudy sci-fi “theme” to it. Dean immediately loves the rotating bed while Cindy immediately checks to see where the bar is.

The evening has moments of forced passion, and ultimately comes to a grinding halt when, right as they’re about to have sex, Dean is asking Cindy if she wants him to hit her and, feeling like she’s at the bottom of the barrel, asks him to, which he stubbornly refuses and proceeds to verbally antagonize her about it, saying he won’t do it ‘cos he loves her too much. She goes into the bathroom and begins crying against a big fake metal door, vaguely hearing Dean’s voice through the door. It’s haunting.

Credit should be given to both actors for truly going all-out on this film, delivering evocative, powerful performances. Gosling has played loverboys and burnouts, but never someone so pig-headed as Dean. His character is sweet, charming, and talented, but always says what’s on his mind, and acts immediately on what he says. During an early courtship scene on a bus, Cindy marvels at his ability to both flatter and insult someone at the exact same time, and that sums up Dean perfectly.

Cindy, meanwhile, is smart and playful, but tends to drift off on occasional whims. After spurning the continuing advances of a cocky college wrestler following a session of graphic sex, she one day gets home and plays her messages, wherein he promises that he is going to seriously injure her husband. Her response to the speaker-shattering message? She lies in bed and laughs. Even as this guy threatens physical harm to her husband, she can’t help but find the situation genuinely humorous. Does this paint her character as somewhat insensitive? Certainly, but when, at the tail end of her relationship with Dean, she begins to dread his presence more than she looks forward to it, a threat like may very well inspire inappropriate giggles.

It’s moments like these -- as weird as they are slightly introverted -- that regardless feel very weird. It may be easy for some to write these characters off as introverted to an almost cruel degree, but the reason why we ultimately identify with them is because their actions are very human, which, in turn, can be very cruel. No one said Blue Valentine was easy to watch, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly worthwhile.

Although the special features on the DVD are pretty basic, it’s the quality of these extras that make them worthwhile. The deleted scenes -- like the park vomit scene -- are quite evocative, but it is understood why they were cut (they are pretty darn long). The “Making Of” featurette is very insightful (save for the moments where Williams and Gosling prattle on about how great the other is), but it’s the commentary that is a wonder to behold. Although a commentary with the writer/director and co-editor may sound like a slog, it’s actually rich with detail, as Cianfrance guides us through every scene and major decision he makes, while co-editor Jim Helton lets us know about how scenes were constructed, which scenes were cut, and which takes were used, which for a movie wherein the director would want to spend around seven hours filming a late-night courtship, proves to be far more interesting than it sounds.

Between filming the “courtship” and “demise” portions of the film, Cianfrance initially wanted to simulate the six years between those portions by literally waiting six years before revisiting the material. The film’s financiers disagreed, and so it was compromised that Gosling and Williams would spend a month living in a house together with their “daughter” Frankie (played well by the young Faith Wladyka). What Cianfrance learned later was that during this time, the “family” made some home movies, one of which is on the DVD: a short “film” about a unicorn (Williams) that takes Frankie and her sick stuffed dog to the musical animal doctor (Gosling) for healing. What’s amazing is that even during this short, as Dean is setting up multiple takes to refilm his character asking questions of the increasingly-confused Frankie, a sense of distance can be felt (note the looks Williams flashes at Gosling during this).

Keep in mind, this home movie was made without any idea it’d be included in the film, and the actors were all completely in character during it -- and this was fun for them. It’s a hell of a thing to view as a DVD extra, and it’s this kind of dedication to the material that ultimately makes Dean and Cindy resonate in the way that they do. Ultimately, Blue Valentine isn’t something you merely watch: it’s something that you have to feel, and even though it proves to be one hell of a devastating experience, it’s worth the pain. Movies haven’t been this affecting in a good while ...

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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