29 Days of Romance, Review #29: Leap Year (2010)

29 Days of Romance, Review #29: Leap Year (2010)

Leap Year posterDirected by: Anand Tucker. Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: January 8, 2010.

Anna (Amy Adams) has been dating Jeremy (Adam Scott) for your years and still no proposal. Her father (John Lithgow) shows up for two minutes to tell her an Irish tradition that if a woman proposes to a man on Leap Day, he must accept the proposal.

Anna follows Jeremy on his business trip and eventually ends up on a small island called Dingle, far from Dublin. There, she meets Declan (Matthew Goode), who drives her to Dublin for a price. I wish she would have gone to any other island because thus begins one of cinema’s most unbearable road trips.

The road trip is a series of annoying scenarios that prevent them from reaching their destination, and I know that’s how road trip films usually goes, but this one is just annoying. Have a working car? Not anymore, Anna accidentally pushes it down a hill. There’s a train going to Dublin in two hours? You’ll miss it because Declan wants to visit a nearby castle. Nothing annoys me more than convoluted miscommunication or writing in romantic comedies and Leap Year is chock-full of them. It’s why this film is my personalized version of Hell.

Matthew Goode is usually good but he looks completely bored. His character is also unlikable. When Anna gets to his inn, she plugs in her Blackberry charger and predictably cuts to the power to the whole village. “Women!” says Declan frustratingly and he goes upstairs to call her an idiot.

In some films, it works when the characters hate each other in the beginning and grow to love each other (When Harry Met Sally…). This is not one of those films. No matter how many love songs they play or cooking montages with a happy score over it, I didn’t believe for a moment they were falling in love.

Their dynamic is obnoxious as they assume stuff about each other, and a lot of the humour comes from Anna being shallow and wealthy, because she’s a city girl traveling the Irish countryside. As the car goes down the hill, she calls, “My purse is in there!” She’s not that likable, but Declan is one of the biggest movie jerks I’ve seen in some time and we are supposed to like him. Some of what he says to Anna borders on vitriol and they simply move past it.

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Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in Leap Year. (IMDb)

Amy Adams is passable in a film where it’s impossible to have chemistry. I love her but she only got one smile from me in 100 minutes. It manages to make her boring, and do you know how hard that is when she’s so effortlessly charming? She seems to give effort to a screenplay that is truly terrible. It’s more effort than writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont deserve, and Goode is a realist knowing it is utter shit and wades his way through it.

The screenplay misunderstands romance and comedy. The film is unfunny and boring, and to get to any schmaltz you have to go under layers of smut. The romance doesn’t work because the screenplay forces them into romantic situations. They’re forced to pretend to be married since they’re staying under a conservative couple’s roof at a bed and breakfast. They must sleep in the same bed, and there’s a scene that plays out like a cringe kiss cam compilation where they’re pressured into kissing. The comedy is unfunny scenario after unfunny scenario. Director Anand Tucker is also at fault here because he just let this happen.

It’s some of the most convoluted writing I’ve encountered, too. There’s a point where the owner of the bed and breakfast, Frank (Tony Rohr), could have gotten Anna to Dublin easily. It’s a Sunday and he knows she wants to go to Dublin, but there are no trains on Sundays. He doesn’t tell her that his wife Eileen (Maggie McCarthy) is going to Dublin that morning, so when she asks for a ride, Eileen’s already left. It’s baffling he doesn’t think, “Gee, maybe this nice girl would want a ride to Dublin since there are no trains.” The reason he doesn’t offer this is for story reasons because the pair aren’t in love yet. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic to assume the characters have a brain or common courtesy, because there is no evidence of it throughout. I know it’s possible I’m being unfair, and maybe it’s the 30 romantic movies in a month talking, but I truly think this is awful.

If this is not my personal Hell, it’s at the very least a sick joke created by Jigsaw of Saw to torture me. I was expecting him to pop up and ask if I’d like to play a game. Yes, please. I would like to control the characters. Anna goes to the edge of a cliffside at the end of the film and Declan follows. I thought maybe she’d jump – take a leap at love. They do not jump. Let me at them, Jigsaw. I’ll push ‘em.

Score: 12/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #28: Carol (2015)

29 Days of Romance, Review #28: Carol (2015)

Carol posterDirected by: Todd Haynes. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson. Runtime: 1h 58 min. Released: November 20, 2015.

I didn’t fall for Carol as many others have. 30 minutes into the film, I decided to check the Metacritic score because I know whenever I don’t like something that’s great, it at least has an 80 on Metacritic (like 127 Hours which has an 82, or Gravity which has a 96). Carol has a 94 on Metacritic! 24 of the 45 critics gave it a perfect score. I just didn’t see what they saw.

The story is about Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer who falls for a married woman, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett).

The film is set in 1950’s New York and I’ll start there. On Edward Lachman’s 16mm cinematography, this New York is gorgeous and elegant, and we’re transported there convincingly with the help of Todd Haynes’ direction, Sandy Powell’s costume design and Carter Burwell’s score. I can really tell this is immaculately well-made and gorgeous to look at, I just didn’t connect with the characters that much. I love romance but the first half felt hollow to me.

Honestly, it picked up speed when the pair actually take their Christmas road trip to Chicago. The chemistry between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett picks up, their intimate looks turned into something deeper, and their first kiss is a marvellous moment that took my breath away.

The film portrays Carol’s relationship with her husband Harge Aird (a strong Kyle Chandler) realistically and it’s heartbreaking how that develops. This source of conflict is well-written. The way the film portrays homosexuality in the 1950s feels raw and in the moments when she’s persecuted for it, Cate Blanchett is at her best. It’s an age where the character couldn’t be herself. Carol says, “What use am I if I’m living against my own grain?” This is the best part of the screenplay for me – which is written by Phyllis Nagy, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel – and the spot where Carol is her most human. Rooney Mara, too, deserves accolades for her quieter, more subtle performance, and her expressions and glances are where she’s strongest.

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Rooney Mara in Carol. (IMDb)

That’s my main issue with Carol, it’s best in subtle moments and I just wanted more than subtlety and more than intimate glances. I did enjoy much of the second half, but the film moves at a snail’s pace. There are phenomenal moments, but I was bored a lot of this. The characters have strong moments, but they’re also dull and I am just bummed I don’t love this. The characters only feel lively when they go to Chicago. I like Sarah Paulson here as Carol’s friend and ex-lover Abby, she’s interesting and felt like a real person before Carol and Therese did.

I do like the aspect of Therese’s photography. The way she captures Carol during Christmas tree shopping is beautiful. It’s intimate and that aspect of her character is cool, and it’s really the only thing I liked here pre-road trip. Inspiring her photography is Dannie McElroy (John Magaro). The film casts everyone well (kudos Laura Rosenthal), and Magaro always seems at home in period films. The way he talks just feels like he grew up in 1950’s New York.

Jake Lacy has little to do as her boyfriend. He calls her “Terry” and no wonder she falls for Carol because when she says “Therese,” it’s like a knife cutting butter. It sounds right. Therese seems like the type, too, to not tell him that she hates being called Terry, sort-of like how I don’t make a big deal of people calling me Dan instead of Daniel. In that way I related to Therese but never really related enough. I respect the filmmaking here and admire the film. It’s a beautiful love story with a perfect ending. I wish I could fall for it like Carol and Therese fall for each other, but I could not.

Score: 60/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #27: Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

29 Days of Romance, Review #27: Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

 

Blue is the Warmest Colour, poster
IMDb

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche. Runtime: 3h. Released: May 23, 2013 (Cannes).

Some spoilers follow.

I’ve seen debate about the length of films lately, especially with the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocked in at three and a half hours. Personally, I don’t have a problem with seeing a three-hour movie at a theatre, if that running time is justified.

Some of my favourite films are nearing or over three hours: my all-time favourite is The Green Mile (189 min), and two of my favourites from the last 10 years are The Wolf of Wall Street (180 min) and Django Unchained (165 min).

I’m working on watching longer films this year that are on my watchlist, because I know I’m missing out on a lot of great cinema being spooked by runtimes. For my 29 Days of Romance marathon, I watched Blue is the Warmest Colour, a coming-of-age story about a high school junior, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young woman with blue hair, who teaches her about desire, passion, love and loss.

Winner of the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes in 2013, this was the first film to be awarded to actors as well as the director. With what the two main actresses were put through over the five-month shoot, constantly having to do numerous takes until it felt natural enough, it’s well-deserved. Director Abdellatif Kechiche was apparently intensely demanding and that’s why there were so many takes.

The performances are worth it, though, as Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are both excellent. They feel like real people with great chemistry and the film’s portrayal of their relationship is raw and passionate. We’re like a fly on the wall during their sex scenes and it looks like the real deal.

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Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. (IMDb)

I’m a big fan of Seydoux but Exarchopoulos is fantastic, and someone I haven’t seen act until now. She’s in virtually every scene as she explores her own sexuality. It’s Adèle’s story for all of it and she doesn’t meet Emma right away. Before they officially meet, they exchange a glance passing each other on the street. While Adèle explores a relationship with a boy at school, Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), her mind is still on the girl with the blue hair. Some of the rejection Adèle faces in finding herself is heartbreaking. Exarchopoulos makes you feel everything and scenes of rejection hit hard. The rejection is more powerful when it comes from friends because she simply hangs out with Emma.

The best part of Blue is the Warmest Colour is the film’s first half. The way it portrays the initial passion of their relationship and Adèle’s discovery of her own sexuality is pitch-perfect drama. I also love how Emma’s blue hair symbolizes Adèle’s view on passion, love and happiness, and the colour palette in the film in general. It’s brilliant how the film uses the blue. When her hair is blue, the audience is lifted up. When it’s blonde, we’re stomped down and it takes a bit of our heart, too. It’s reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine in a way, as one half is falling in love, the other half is falling apart.

I like raw drama, but when it gets real in the second half, it hurts and the performances are great in these moments. It’s a realistic depiction of relationships, but I think the blame game could have been played a bit better and I generally liked Adèle’s character better. I was emotional for Adèle and not as much for Emma in these moments. Seydoux still plays the character phenomenally, I just connected with Adèle more for reasons that would discuss even more spoilers, so I’ll refrain.

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Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour. (IMDb)

I like this film better than something like Blue Valentine because the conversations are enjoyable. They discuss philosophy and while I don’t know the first thing about philosophy, these two actresses are in top form as we watch their romance grow. Longing glances feel as passionate as the intimate sex scenes, and that’s good acting. By the way, these sex scenes are incredibly NSFW.

Blue is the Warmest Colour just feels like a film of two halves. When the blue is lost, much of my interest was lost, too. I was also more consistently bored with the film in the second half. The conversations are less interesting and the screenplay less engaging (it’s written by director Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix, based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh). The only engaging parts of this last hour is seeing where Adèle’s life is headed, and there’s also one amazing scene between Adèle and Emma. Otherwise, I started to feel the length of the film.

I talked about film length at the beginning of this review and how I don’t mind a long film if it feels justified. There are some scenes here that are less necessary than others, and I think this film could be 150 minutes and still have the same impact. Alas, I’m not the editor and I’d still consider Blue is the Warmest Colour a must-see film, because Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos are so, so good.

Score: 80/100

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #26: Amélie (2001)

29 Days of Romance, Review #26: Amélie (2001)

 

Amelie poster
IMDB

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus. Runtime: 2h 2 min. Released: April 25, 2001 (France).

Amélie Poulain is an innocent and naive woman living in Paris. She abides by her own sense of justice and starts doing random acts of kindness for the people around her.

There’s a charm to the film’s fantastical tale, from the entertaining narration to the amazing score by Yann Tiersen. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments even during the darkest points, like Amélie’s mom being crushed by a suicidal tourist from Quebec.

That’s how the film hooked me, with its quirky nature, visual style and imagination. The imagination and quirkiness very much applies to Amélie herself and Audrey Tautou as our titular character is the highlight. Every time she smiles at the camera, every devilish idea, Tautou is phenomenal.

Amélie and her little acts of kindness are great, especially what inspires her new outlook on life when she gives a small tin of treasures to the boy who lived in her flat 50 years ago. I also love when she sets up Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) and Joseph (Dominique Pinon).

I think my favourite act of kindness isn’t really a kindness at all, but a little bit of revenge for another person. A kind man named Lucien (Jamel Debbouze) is always getting verbally abused by his boss, grouchy grocer Mr. Collignon (Urbain Cancelier). To help with the situation, Amélie changes some things around in his apartment, like switching his toothpaste with foot cream or replacing his slippers with the same pair that is a size too small, and it is delightful comedy. These moments are funniest in a film that thrives on its small moments.

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Audrey Tautou in Amélie. (IMDb)

There’s also a great chemistry with one of her neighbours, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), who observes and pushes Amélie. She is an interesting character because she’s adamant to improve other people’s lives but is scared to put herself out there and improve her own, which is relatable. A lot of the film involves Amelie finding a photo album with reassembled photo booth photographs and meaning to return it to its rightful owner, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz). She puts off meeting him because she’s scared to put herself out there – but Amélie also has a flair for the theatrics.

This makes the romance in Amélie unique because their interaction with each other is limited, but it’s also what gives Amélie such a playful and magical vibe. Watching this film made me feel light as a feather during its fantasy, though my main complaint here is it starts to feel light on actual plot in the second half. There’s still so much beauty and comedy in the randomness of Amélie’s world, and the main performance and supporting players make this spectacular.

The film thrives on the small moments in life, helping others but more importantly, remembering to help yourself. The film is about kindness at its core, and Amélie leads by that example. The film’s a charmer for it.

Score: 80/100

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #25: Ghost (1990)

29 Days of Romance, Review #25: Ghost (1990)
Ghost poster
IMDb

Directed by: Jerry Zucker. Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg. Runtime: 2h 7 min. Released: July 13, 1990.

30 years later, Ghost still has some charm. Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is a successful banker living with artist Molly Jensen (Demi Moore). On the walk home from the theatre one night, they’re mugged and Sam gets killed in the tussle.

They walk down what looks to be the sketchiest, emptiest street in all of New York City, and the way it plays out, it could double as a Batman origins story. Instead, Sam’s a spirit caught in limbo since he has to warn Molly from danger as the mugger, Willie (Rick Aviles), is after her.

There are other villains here, too, but to discuss them would be a spoiler even after 30 years. I’m always that jerk who goes, “No, no, no, spoilers!” when someone talks about a film I haven’t seen, so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say the character’s cliché in motivation. The film reveals the mastermind behind the murder at the one-hour mark, which is smart because the character’s involvement in Sam’s death is predictable 20 minutes in.

The film’s overtly cheesy in parts, especially when Sam the ghost punches at people and it obviously won’t do anything. The writing is also clever in how he’s able to interact with the living, notably when he scares a cat so an intruder flees.

Some of the visuals don’t look amazing nowadays, like when Sam tries to pass through objects, but the visuals are passable for a film made in 1990. There’s one creepy visual that’s a standout and those are the shadow figures that come to take away the spirits that are going to Hell. It’s cheesy in a way but the moans – which are baby cries slowed down and played backwards – are nightmare fuel. If I were a kid and I saw this movie, those cries would stick with me for awhile.

I wasn’t expecting a movie like Ghost to legitimately be creepy in parts, given that it’s that one pottery movie, but it has some creepy moments and delivers on most of its thrills. Some of the scares come from Maurice Jarre’s score, as well.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is schmaltzy and predictable, but it’s solid. It’s a competent murder mystery, even though Sam just stumbles into solving his own murder very quickly. I like the way Rubin deals with other ghosts, though.

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Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. (IMDb)

Sam learns how to use his power from a Subway Ghost (Vincent Schiavelli) so he can interact with the real world. The first appearance of the Subway Ghost is one of the creepiest moments of the film when Schiavelli charges at the screen. It’s an intriguing scene, though I would like to know more about this Subway Ghost. For instance, does he eat fresh? (I’ll show myself out.) Sam does start to have more fun when he learns to control his power, though, as there’s humour and horror in his haunting of Carl (Tony Goldwyn) and others.

As for the romance, Swayze and Moore are solid. Their chemistry is strong and the pottery scene to The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is still sexy and iconic. The romance is felt throughout, even if it’s underwhelming when they’re both alive – besides that pottery scene.

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Demi Moore in Ghost. (IMDb)

Swayze is great in this role and Demi Moore is good. Demi’s a great crier and portrays the grief well, but I don’t think she has a lot to do. She has some great dramatic moments but gets the most to do at the beginning and at the end.

Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg are the best parts about this film. In her Oscar-winning performance, Goldberg plays Oda Mae Brown, a psychic who communicates with the dead. It’s all a parlor trick, but when Sam walks in, she can hear him and that’s how they warn Molly.

In these scenes, the romance is still felt because Sam’s love is in the room with Molly. These scenes are where Moore shines. They convince Molly in intriguing ways to make her believe it’s really Sam in the room, and the scene where the penny goes up the door is one of the film’s coolest moments. Within the romance, the whole “ditto” bit is built smartly throughout and makes for tear-jerking moments.

Sam and Oda Mae have an amazing dynamic, as well. She talks to the air and he follows her, it’s hilarious and their scenes work well. Whenever Whoopi’s on-screen, the film’s magical and brilliant. The film’s underwhelming without her and frankly boring at times. She’s brought back in the third act, though, and it’s all fine again. The film balances romance, creepiness and thrills well, even if it does tend to get melodramatic. I think Ghost works despite all this because of its 1990’s charm. It also works because of Whoopi Goldberg, and she’s the reason this won me over.

Score: 70/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #24: Match Point (2005)

29 Days of Romance, Review #24: Match Point (2005)
Match Point poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: May 12, 2005 (Cannes).

If you want to put me in a bad mood, make me watch a Woody Allen movie. This is my third Woody Allen film (after Irrational Man and Midnight in Paris) and Match Point is the most disappointing because I love thrillers and I should like this, but I do not.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a former tennis pro meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) while teaching tennis. Tom’s part of a wealthy, aristocratic British family and Chris finds his way into their good graces, eventually marrying Tom’s younger sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). To make matters worse, Chris falls in love with Tom’s fiancé, a struggling actress named Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson).

I’ll start at the very beginning of this film and its opening narration. Chris narrates, “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life… It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.”

That is one of the most immediately engrossing opening narrations I’ve come across. It sets up Match Point as a meditation on fate and luck, and Allen never strays from that. I find the history and background of Chris’ character fascinating. At one point, a tennis pro named Henry (Rupert Penry-Jones) tells Chris he’s always admired his game. “A couple of bounces the other way and you might have been able to beat those top seeds,” Henry tells him.

Chris is depicted as a player who didn’t have the luck to be an Andre Agassi of the game. Allen uses the theme of the ball throughout, hammering it in our heads. Some ways feel convoluted, but one way he uses it is smart. The smart way is how it relates to the characters of Chloe and Nola.

When Chris launches into the affair with Nola, she represents the ball bouncing back at him because if Chloe finds out, he’d lose his luxury lifestyle. Chloe represents the ball going forward and him winning, where he can keep his job security and lifestyle. As Chris makes this decision, the ball’s frozen over that net and it can go either way. Watching Match Point is like waiting for that ball to drop, because it moves at a snail pace.

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Jonathan Rhys-Myers in Match Point. (IMDb)

Chris is the reason I don’t like this. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays him well, but he’s a boring asshole. He marries Chloe but obviously only has eyes for Nola from the start. He describes his future wife as a “sweet girl” and “nice person.” He just goes along with it for the lifestyle and the job he gets because of his father-in-law, Alec (a strong Brian Cox).

Scarlett Johansson is great as Nola, but I don’t connect with her character. Matthew Goode is very good but eventually gets sidelined, which is a shame because he’s one of the only characters that feels like a real person. Emily Mortimer is totally solid, too, but the character deserves better.

She turns into a one-note character when she wants to have a baby with Chris, and that’s all she talks about for most of it. The only interesting dialogue in this is the first time she brings it up because it’s funny and she tells him she wants three children. “You can do it, you have a powerful serve.” I’m sure in real-life when there’s frustration in fertility that’s all the conversations are about, and Allen understands this, but when this is their only conversation for two years, it becomes irritating.

Allen’s dialogue is boring and pedestrian throughout. That’s my biggest problem with Woody Allen as a writer, his screenplay has intriguing ideas then his characters spend so much time talking about things that are entirely inconsequential. His writing is simultaneously genius, yet insufferable.

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Scarlett Johansson in Match Point. (IMDb)

I hate a lot of this film with every fibre of my being. The first 20 minutes of this works as they introduce the characters and the dialogue has meaning. From the 21-minute mark to the 85-minute mark, I believe this is one of the dullest films I’ll ever watch. There’s not enough money in the world to make me watch that portion of that film again (okay, someone take me up on this, because I’m broke).

The film takes 85 minutes to get to the thriller portion of it, and it’s engrossing once it gets there. The tension is strong and the writing is smart. I wish the entire runtime had this genius. That’s the tragedy of Match Point, that only 30 minutes of it – the thrilling third act – is genius. The first 20 minutes are fine but the 74 minutes in between? Kill me.

There’s a point where Woody Allen loses me again where Chris utters groan-worthy prose that no one would ever say. “[At least there would be] some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.” That just makes me want to say, “Fuck you, Woody Allen.” It also makes me picture Allen climbing on top of his high horse and showing us the size of his brain. We get it, Woody, you think you’re brilliant but put your brain away, dude. Please.

Score: 40/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #23: Casablanca (1942)

29 Days of Romance, Review #23: Casablanca (1942)
Casablanca poster
IMDb

Casablanca. Directed by: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: November 26, 1942 (New York City).

Casablanca is filled to the brim with some of the greatest movie quotes (“Here’s looking at you, kid,” “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”) but one of my favourite quotes here is one I’ve never seen mentioned, spoken by an uncredited character. While the usual suspects are being rounded up after a pair of German couriers have been killed, a pickpocket (Curt Bois) is surprised to learn that a British couple hasn’t heard what’s going on.

The character, Pickpocketed Englishman (Gerald Oliver Smith) says, “We hear very little, and we understand even less.” Watching the quote back, he’s probably talking about the fact that not everyone in Casablanca, Morocco, speaks English, but I took it as they’re just stupid and that’s why I think this monotone line is very funny.

The story: It’s December 1941 and Casablanca is a temporary stop for transients trying to get out of Europe. The best place to drink and gamble is Rick’s Café, owned by ex-pat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). The story gains speed when his former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his gin join with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).

He’s just escaped from one of Germany’s concentration camps and is trying to return to America. Standing in their way is Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), a Nazi who oversees Casablanca, as well as the prefect of police in Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Reins). Meanwhile, Rick must decide if he wants to help the couple escape French Morocco.

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Dooley Wilson, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. (IMDb)

I’ll start with Rick. This is the first time I’ve seen this, 78 years after its release, but Humphrey Bogart is just so effortlessly cool. Any time he speaks he demands attention with his calm demeanor. He doesn’t want to get involved in his customer’s business but is apt to help if no one makes a big fuss about it. His moral code is clear – but does not want it celebrated. Bogart is incredible and gets a bulk of the famous lines. This is my first Humphrey Bogart film, too, and he is so suave he would have made a great James Bond had he not died at the age of 57 in 1957.

His romance with Ilsa is great and so is their chemistry. It can’t happen in the present, but they’ll always have Paris. Bergman is charming and her fight is passionate, and the way she has to choose between Rick and Laszlo is fascinating, too. She’s a force alongside Bogart.

I love Arthur Edeson’s cinematography in this film, especially the way he captures Bergman. The way her eyes look on 35mm in black and white is just stunning, and I love the one shot where light is reflected in her earrings. As for Laszlo, his character and background is fascinating and Paul Henreid is great, though obviously Bogart and Bergman’s pairing is the true star power here.

I know this isn’t big headline news 78 years later, but I think Casablanca is a perfect film. It’s 102 minutes but the pacing is excellent and it feels like it goes by in a breeze. Every scene matters and the way the letters of transit, which would let Ilsa and Laszlo escape Casablanca, drive the story is flawless. It’s a simple story, but it’s a great one.

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Paul Henreid and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. (IMDb)

The screenplay’s fantastic, written by Julius J. Epstein, Phillip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, and the romantic scenes are made better by Casey Robinson’s uncredited rewrite. The supporting characters like Carl (S.Z. Sakall) and especially Sam (Dooley Wilson) the piano player are excellent.

I think an interesting thing about Casablanca is when Major Strausser asks Rick who he thinks will win the war. This made me realize that I had never seen a World War II film that was filmed during the Second World War, where the outcome (obviously) was not yet decided. It’s a compelling conversation as they don’t who will win or when it will end. There’s not much of a point to this observation – I’m not eloquent like Humphrey Bogart – I just think it’s interesting.

I know this film isn’t billed as “comedy,” but I think it could be. It’s probably not considered comedy because the funny moments are so small. Some of the best moments are when Captain Louis (who is also such a great character) shuts down Rick’s Café on the request of Strauss. Louis uses the establishment’s gambling as an excuse to shut it down and then a guy gives him his winnings and he says, “Oh, thank you!”

I also love the pickpocket in this film, played by Curt Bois. He goes around taking people’s wallets and warns them, “This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere. Everywhere!” It’s better the second time when he says and then bumps into Carl and Carl checks his pockets to make sure he wasn’t robbed. I also love the way the pickpocket says vultures. With scenes like these and other countless small comedic moments that are made funny because of line delivery, I really question why “comedy” isn’t one of Casablanca’s official genres. The film’s charming as hell and funny, too, and I think it should be considered comedy in the same breath as its romance and drama.

Score: 100/100

 

Frozen 2 (2019)

Frozen 2 (2019)

Frozen II posterDirected by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad. Runtime: 1h 43 min. Released: November 22, 2019.

I’m a big fan of the original Frozen and six years later, it’s fun to revisit the characters but it doesn’t work nearly as well. When Elsa (Idina Menzel) starts hearing a mysterious siren voice, she inadvertently awakens an enchanted forest by singing the Oscar-nominated song “Into the Unknown” to it.

Soon, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad) leave the comfort of Arendelle to travel to the autumn-bound enchanted forest and set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.

The heart of the film is Elsa trying to find herself and her origins, and that is well-written. She’s only ever wanted answers for who she is and her journey of self-discovery rings true. The overall plot only works when it’s focused on Elsa.

Idina Menzel’s the star here. Her song “Into the Unknown” is great but “Show Yourself” is the real hidden gem of this film. It’s the most memorable emotional moment in the film and it’s an honest show-stopper, and if I ever re-watch this film, it will be for this sequence alone.

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Idina Menzel in Frozen 2. (IMDb)

Josh Gad still works well as Olaf and his Samantha bit is hilarious. His one solo song “When I Am Older” is fine. The songs are still adequately catchy – you’ll hum a couple of them, if anything – but they aren’t that memorable. Jennifer Lee’s writing is also so concerned with Elsa, Anna gets a boring storyline.

Kristen Bell still brings her A-game but she doesn’t get much to do here. Her voice is pretty during “The Next Right Thing,” but she’s sidelined for most of the first half of the film it’s not that emotionally strong as it should be. She finally gets her chance to shine in the third act, but for the most part she’s limited to trying to tag along with Elsa to protect her, though Elsa needs to do this on her own.

The relationship between Anna and Kristoff is annoying. Kristoff spends the film trying to propose to Anna. He keeps saying the wrong thing, digging himself into a deeper hole, that sends Anna on tangents misunderstanding what he’s saying.

It’s played for comedy but it made me cringe. It’s annoying because it becomes apparent this bit will be the focus of their relationship, as Kristoff’s poor communication turns their story into a bad romantic comedy. Conflict caused by poor communication is a giant pet peeve of mine, and I expect to see it in romantic comedies, but not Frozen 2.

That’s what Kristoff is written as here, a walking miscommunication. At one point, he wanders off to plan an elaborate proposal as the others go on without him. This is where Kristoff sings his solo song “Lost in the Woods” as he fears Anna is leaving him behind. It’s a love ballad that’s filmed like it aired on MTV, a moment of self-parody that doesn’t really work here.

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Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel in Frozen II. (IMDb)

It’s unfortunate a lot of this doesn’t work because there’s a lot of good, even great, things about Frozen 2. The animation’s breathtaking. The visuals make this worth watching even if I don’t love the story, because some of the animation is what I’ll remember best about this. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee also do an awesome job directing the action scenes.

The enchanted forest as a setting is great and it answers questions from the first film in rewarding ways, and the tribe within this forest is very interesting. Also, the elements of nature are handled so creatively here. This whole aspect is smart and well-written, and the only great scenes in this film involve Elsa.

I wish I could have tunnel vision just for Elsa’s story, because everything about it is perfect. Alas, the peripherals and other aspects of the film border on weak, and, as a whole story, the same magic of the first film isn’t here.

Score: 63/100

Note: Apparently 19-year-old me loved the original Frozen (review here), so much I gave it a 97/100. I love the original but man, now that’s a high score.

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity poster
IMDb

Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: March 31, 2000.

This is a review of a classic music film, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, from someone who doesn’t live and breathe music. Music’s everywhere but most of the music I come across, it’s from film. I don’t sit down and listen to music everyday, but I watch movies everyday so I technically do listen to music everyday. Music makes some people focus but when I listen to music I like to listen to lyrics and not do anything else, and I just don’t have time for that. It doesn’t help me focus, it distracts, so I usually just sit in silence when I’m writing.

High Fidelity follows Rob (John Cusack), a record store owner and compulsive list maker who takes us through his top five-breakups, including his current breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle).

I’ve always wanted to get more into music but I’m just usually too lazy to download songs and put them on my phone. But after watching High Fidelity, it’s the kind-of movie that makes vinyl look cool to even someone like me who doesn’t live and breathe music. The soundtrack is absolutely killer and I’ll try and find every song that’s listed in this film which will keep me busy for awhile.

The film is clever as Rob goes through his breakups, analyzing his wrongdoings and why he’s doomed to being single. The screenplay, written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Thornby, has clever insight into relationships as there’s no such thing as perfection, and Rob learns this as he’s stuck over-analyzing the past.

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John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

It’s a unique comedy in that way as he sorts through his past the way he sorts his record collection, and he literally starts to sort it autobiographically and how each record has impacted his life. Rob could literally just tell a story about every record and it would still be fascinating because the writing here is so strong and Rob’s so knowledgeable. The film uses the record store as a parallel for living in the past as the world keeps moving past vinyl.

Jack Black is a highlight as Barry, one of the employees at Rob’s record store Championship Vinyl. He’s obnoxious and hilarious and embodies rock and roll here. It’s signature Jack Black that seemed like a preview of his antics in Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock. He’s the best part of this for me. The other record store employee, Dick (Todd Louiso), is awkward and balances the trio of employees out. I can’t remember any of his jokes, but I like the chemistry of the group as they just shoot the shit and discuss their favourite records.

That’s what a lot of this film is, their banter and it’s entertaining because they’re great together. The best scenes are when they’re just talking, though when Laura’s new boyfriend Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins) comes in and confronts Rob, that’s one of the best scenes in the record store.

The characters get snobby as they judge people for their personal tastes in music and film, and their elitist attitudes are acknowledged but realistic to their characters. They’re still likable because this is definitely how I’d discuss films with my friends if I ever worked with them.

I know that if I ever went into Championship Vinyl they probably wouldn’t sell me anything because I couldn’t tell them my top five favourite bands. In turn, I just wouldn’t sell them anything if they came into my imaginary Blockbuster Video.

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John Cusack in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

Rob is an asshole and that’s something I wasn’t expecting going into this. It’s an unfiltered look at relationships, and I think that’s why Rob tends to get unlikable in his cynicism. John Cusack is great, though, and the dialogue’s clever. His constant fourth wall breaking is also a clever way to tell this story.

I think there’s something missing in the romance with Laura. Iben Hjejle is good, but there’s something missing here and I can’t quite put my finger on it. This might be the point of the film as Rob tries to find the perfect relationship but can’t because a perfect relationship doesn’t exist for him. There’s always something not quite right that he can’t identify. Hence, he accepts his fate and learns to be a better person, and that’s what made me love the last third of this film.

For the record (that’s not supposed to be a pun), I don’t love this as much as I wanted to. I think that’s because I’m not a music guy. Maybe after I know which bands and songs they’re actually listing in their conversations, I could love this because I’d know what they’re talking about.

I think High Fidelity is brilliantly written and acted, and so well-directed by Stephen Frears. There are just parts of this I can’t fall in love with it because I don’t like rock and roll as much as these characters. I think this film accomplishes its job because the cast’s passion for this music makes me want to love rock and roll as much as them.

Score: 75/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #21: Notting Hill (1999)

29 Days of Romance, Review #21: Notting Hill (1999)
Notting Hill poster
IMDb

Directed by: Roger Mitchell. Starring: Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Rhys Ifans.  Runtime: 2h, 4 min. Released: May 28, 1999.

Man, I totally love Notting Hill. Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is the biggest movie star in the world and visits Notting Hill, a small district in West London, where she walks into a travel bookshop owned by William Thacker (Hugh Grant).These two characters are from very different world and the film handles that in intriguing ways.

It’s a romance about love being put off until the timing is right. Anna is an interesting character in how she handles her overwhelming fame, jokingly insecure that people will eventually figure out she can’t act. Roberts plays the persona perfectly, as she tries to be a normal person but she’s unable to be because her face is truly everywhere.

Thacker offers an escape into an everyday normalcy she craves, where there are no flashing cameras everywhere. When the flashing cameras find their way into William’s world, she’s frustrated the worlds collide because it could hurt her image.

It’s a conflict that rings true because of her character and writer Richard Curtis builds these characters well. This is a great romance that is at its best when Roberts and Grant share the screen, though they’re often apart throughout. Their chemistry is so strong and I prefer a film like this over another film I reviewed this month, Pretty Woman, because I like both Anna and William here as characters. I don’t like Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman that much and I think William Thacker feels authentic here.

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Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. (IMDb)

Notting Hill is also much more about Thacker’s world and existence in Notting Hill, where Anna comes in as a glorified, and at first surreal, guest. Anna Scott is this huge movie star and it takes some getting used to for the characters in this much smaller world, and that’s played for comedy, especially when she accompanies William to his sister’s birthday dinner. While at this dinner, Bernie (Hugh Bonneville) doesn’t realize he’s talking to Anna Scott and learns this when they all gossip while she’s gone to the bathroom.

These supporting players help make this film great and the dinner party is one of the best scenes here. The best moment of this scene here is when the worst cook in the world, Max (Tim McInnerny) has cooked them something. Bella (Gina McKee), Max’s wife, asks, “What do you think of the guinea-fowl?” Anna replies, “I’m a vegetarian.” When Max asks how she likes it, she says, “Best guinea-fowl I’ve ever tasted.” Bella looks at Anna like she’s different, and that she could be different for William, too, and be the one to make him happy.

It’s an endearing moment that also shows Anna’s humanity: A big star like that could demand anything, but she does not. She wants to be just another person and the film goes to great lengths that we see that, but not in a convoluted way. The film’s enchanting as it plays Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All” (recorded specifically for the film) and Anna just smiles, basks in the moment, content to enjoy herself and not be the centre of attention.

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Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. (IMDb)

By the time she gets to the famous line, “I’m just a girl… standing in front of a boy… asking him to love her,” we know she wants the life of an everyday person, but this just hits it home. With a scene like this and how charming she is throughout; it also just proves that I’ll fall in love with Julia Roberts all over again every time I watch this. Mind you, Hugh Grant makes this just as great, and I adore this pairing. I’ve only seen this film once, but I can see myself re-watching it often.

By the way, the best supporting star here isn’t even at that dinner and that’s Rhys Ifans as William’s flatmate Spike. He’s a complete dimwit but Ifans plays him perfectly and he is one of the funniest aspects about the film.

The film in general is wonderfully directed by Roger Mitchell, and Richard Curtis’ screenplay is brilliant. After this and Love Actually, he’s one of my favourite writers. He’s also the writer of 2013’s About Time, which is one of my favourite films of the 2010’s. His writing shines even when it’s simple, as there is always charm. The comedy and romance in Notting Hill is just so well-written, making it one of my favourite films from my 29 Days of Romance so far.

Score: 90/100