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 #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 #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

29 Days of Romance, Review #20: The Love Witch (2016)

29 Days of Romance, Review #20: The Love Witch (2016)

 

The Love Witch poster
(IMDb)

Directed by: Anna Biller. Starring: Samantha Robinson, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise. Runtime: 2h. Released: November 11, 2016.

In The Love Witch, a modern-day witch, Elaine (Samantha Robinson), uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, with deadly consequences. Elaine is alluring enough on her own that she doesn’t need love potions, but she uses them anyway. This is an sexy, erotic horror where she fulfills men’s deepest fantasies after drugging them and doing a strip tease. Their love eventually becomes very overpowering. It’s like a cautionary tale for these fantasies.

Writer, director and producer Anna Biller’s film is also a feminist horror film and satire about gender norms, where after Elaine doses men with her love potion, she talks about how they become too clingy and emotional, as we see when one of her mates, Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), cries through the night hollering Elaine’s name.

What Biller says about love is interesting, especially during a scene featuring two contrasting voice-over narrations from the male and female perspective. Elaine talks about showering your counterpart with love and affection, and a detective named Griff (Gian Keys) narrates that the more love showered upon you, the less you care.

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Samantha Robinson in The Love Witch. (IMDb)

The aspect with the detective is the closest the film gets to a story-line. There’s not much here in terms of plot, and the film starts to drag 90 minutes in. This is a part of my 29 Days of Romance marathon because it’s horror and romance, and I love horror, but I don’t like style-over-substance films. Unfortunately, this is style-over-substance in the second half but I like a lot about this film.

There is great humour here, and Samantha Robinson is brilliant. The film’s an ode to 1970’s and 1980’s horror and the dialogue is stiff on purpose. The performance and writing are brilliant once I realized it’s bad on purpose, and the biggest hint for this is how she delivers “poor baby” when men talk about their emotions. It’s a tongue-in-cheek performance, like she’s starring in her own sitcom with her own personal laugh-track.

Robinson seems like a naturally good actress so the fact that she plays it like a 80’s slasher with terrible line delivery is impressive. It seems like a harder challenge for a good actress to just be bad and Robinson sells it as the fascinating Elaine. All the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a 70’s porno and they might as well be. It’s hard to judge the acting when they’re all so awful – and since it’s the point, it’s incredibly well-acted.

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Samantha Robinson in The Love Witch. (IMDb)

It’s all in the name of satire, but part of me wishes I could see Samantha Robinson be great in a film where she’s allowed to be great. The charm and comedy of the unnatural dialogue also starts to feel dull in the second half. I think the reason this is great is because it’s gorgeous. It’s a technicolor ode to films like Suspiria, and it’s a love letter to films of that era, even if this is never particularly frightening as horror. It’s filmed in a beautiful 35m, and the look of the film is so authentic it could have been in theatres at the same time as Friday the 13th in the May of 1980. Instead, it’s a 2016 film and more impressive for it.

It has a great visual style (with cinematography by M. David Mullen) with a great use of colours.  The costumes are also stunning and I love the shot of Elaine in the pink hat. Anna Biller is the writer/director/producer, but she wears many colourful hats here as she also does the music, editing, production design, art direction, set direction and costume design. She does all of these jobs perfectly, though I think the film could be shorter and this lacks story. I find aesthetic can only take a film so far, but its vintage look and Robinson’s performance is what makes this spellbinding. If a film could be great for the strength of its aesthetic, it’s this one.

Score: 65/100

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #18: Jerry Maguire (1996)

29 Days of Romance, Review #18: Jerry Maguire (1996)

 

Jerry Maguire poster
IMDb

Directed by: Cameron Crowe. Starring: Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger, Cuba Gooding Jr. Runtime: 2h 19 min. Released: December 13, 1996.

The titular Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports agent on top of the world, working for a huge sports agency called Sports Management International (SMI). When one of his clients sustains his fourth concussion, Jerry only cares about getting him back out there so he can make more money. It’s an industry that puts the business first – not the interest of the players.

He has a moral epiphany and writes a mission statement that calls for less clients and less profit so the client can be cared for. Since this industry is all about the money, he’s fired and colleague Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) poaches all but one of Maguire’s clients, leaving Jerry with only Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.). With that, Jerry starting his own company and bringing his former secretary, Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger) along for the ride.

Jerry Maguire turns out to be an inspirational story about standing up for what you believe in, even if that means jeopardizing your entire career. It’s great watching Jerry go from someone cynical to someone that opens up throughout the film. His fear of being alone is also something that’s well-developed throughout.

Helping make him a better person is Dorothy, a single mom to Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki in his feature debut) and the chemistry in this trio is really charming. Zellweger is fantastic in her role, as is Cruise, and the acting is one of the strongest aspects of Jerry Maguire in a film chock-full of them. By the way, the romantic chemistry here is steamy, especially in one scene on a porch.

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Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire. (IMDb)

Cuba Gooding Jr. is phenomenal, too, in his Oscar-winning role as Tidwell, a hot-headed wide receiver who just wants to get paid as he repeatedly says the film’s most famous line, “Show me the money!” He plays the persona of cocky NFL wide receiver well while being hilarious and consistently engaging.

I don’t find him cocky to a point of obnoxiousness because he always has a point, and he’s trying to get his money because he’s a great player. He has an attitude problem, and he’s hungry for attention throughout the film because he doesn’t feel like he ever gets his due. He also wants his money because of the reality that he’s getting older and he only has so many years left to nab a big contract so he can set he and his family up for life. Regina King is also a highlight as his wife, Marcee. There’s a point where he seems to get injured, and the tension in this scene is palpable and frankly scary because you root for Ray.

The chemistry is great between Cruise and Zellweger – and her joy is really endearing and heartwarming throughout – but the friendship between Jerry and Ray is something special to watch. It’s an honest, great friendship and we see that something this personal isn’t commonplace in the agent-to-client dynamic.

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Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. (IMDb)

The relationship is like this because Ray is Jerry’s last client and that’s what makes him fight so hard, but the fight is realistic and passionate, desperate even, and it grows into an authentic friendship bigger than being shown the money. I also love the sports side of this film and learning more about the agency side of sports, and how it ticks, is fascinating to me.

The other shining aspect of this film is Cameron Crowe’s flawless direction and amazing writing. The scenes are consistently interesting and the pacing is strong. The only time he ever gets in his own way is during the big romantic drama moment and in Jerry’s big plea, there’s a dramatic zoom and he says, “We live in a cynical, cynical world.” That took me out of the moment slightly because it just didn’t seem to fit within the monologue, but it didn’t take me out of it too much because I knew this was the big moment where Dorothy says, “You had me at ‘hello.’”

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Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire. (IMDb)

It’s an iconic scene and the writing really is great when there are two of the best movie quotes in this. I just loved this film and I’m glad I finally watched it. Tom Cruise is great as Maguire, and the supporting cast is just stellar, Bonnie Hunt included as Dorothy’s sister. I really thought Renée Zellweger was the heart of this film. Jonathan Lipnicki is also adorable as her son, and just about everything he says is funny. I’ll leave you with this: Did you know the human head weights eight pounds?

Score: 100/100

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually poster
IMDb

Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Emma Thompson. Runtime: 2h 15 min. Released: November 14, 2003 (original US release date).

Love Actually follows the lives of eight different couples dealing with their love lives in various ways in loosely interrelated tales set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

This is a Christmas classic that I haven’t seen until now, and it’s probably weird to review a Christmas movie in mid-February, but it’s a romance film, too, so I’m doing it anyway. Thankfully this is a film that I loved (I’m thankful for that because yesterday’s Across the Universe was a doozy).

Richard Curtis’ writing and great direction handles all the tales well and for the most part, they all feel like they have balance. They’re all connected in some way and that makes the world building more interesting, though you’ll need a map to remember how each person and each couple relates to each other. I also couldn’t list the couples and their stories without looking at the cast list.

Love Actually article
Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually. (IMDb)

What works best about Love Actually is that it’s just a feel-good Christmas movie about love and taking risks around the holiday season. Some sub-plots are problematic, like the voyeuristic Mark (Andrew Lincoln), who’s in love with best friend Peter’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new wife Juliet (Keira Knightley). While you should take risks for love around Christmas, this whole sub-plot is the weakest of them all. Ejiofor is a great actor who gets very little to do here, and the only scene of worth in their tale is the “All You Need is Love” bit at their wedding.

The pacing in Love Actually is generally strong, but I think this is the only tale that I could justify taking out of the film so we can spend more time with the better characters. The only other tale I could try to make an argument for editing out is Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall), who can’t find love and think his problem is the fact that he’s just so basic in England, so he sets out for America to find a love there. I could make an argument for taking it out because it’s one-note, but there are also a couple of good belly laughs and cameos here and has some smart humour from Richard Curtis.

Otherwise, everyone else’s story feels justified here. I really liked the tale with Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz) as I thought the language barrier was handled in a very creative way. Him staying in a cabin and their romance blossoming the way it does feels like it does a Nicholas Sparks movie better than Nicholas Sparks.

I loved the tale with the Prime Minster (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), because that’s funny from the start and these two tales seem to get the most screen time. Their romance was also just generally engaging.  I really loved Emma Thompson’s character in this one, Karen, who is a main connector of some of these tales as she’s dealing with her husband Harry (Alan Rickman).

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Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant in Love Actually. (IMDb)

I don’t mean to be boring just listing each tale and saying what I like about them, but it’s hard to talk about the charming Love Actually without going through its romances. It’s interesting how it depicts non-romances too, like a singer Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) who’s trying to be the No. 1 Holiday song with his new release “Christmas Is All Around,” which is super catchy. His tale is hilarious and it’s a lot about his friendship with his manager Joe (Gregor Fisher). The film also has a smart tale about young love with Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who’s trying to get the attention of a girl at his school. His father Daniel (Liam Neeson) has also just recently lost his wife, so that’s an enriching part of his character.

That’s the thing with Love Actually, these characters all feel well-developed in their own ways and for the most part, they’re all likable. Rowan Atkinson is a notable scene-stealer as Rufus, a jewelry salesman, and I would have loved to have known more about him. My expectations were met with this film because it made me laugh a lot and I cried, too.

There’s one couple here that I’ve never heard anyone talk about and that’s the romance between John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page). They’re stand-ins for a porn film – so if people only see this on TV that’s why they don’t talk about it – and their awkward dialogue during their “scenes” are really funny. Love Actually is just generally funny, too, and I feel like it’s solid Christmas entertainment that could be viewed outside of the Christmas season, because it’s just about love, happiness and family and that’s nice year-round.

Score: 80/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #16: Across the Universe (2007)

29 Days of Romance, Review #16: Across the Universe (2007)

 

Across the Universe poster
IMDb

Directed by: Julie Taymor. Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson. Runtime: 2h 13 min. Released: October 9, 2007.

So far in my 29 Days of Romance series, I haven’t liked Footloose, Midnight in Paris or Blue Valentine but Across the Universe just takes the cake in films I didn’t like.

It’s a romance set in the 1960s between an artist from Liverpool, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and upper-class American, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). If their names didn’t give it away, the story is set to the music of The Beatles, as it uses the Vietnam War and anti-war protests as the background for the story.

The film’s first 40 minutes had wonderful music sequences. “It Won’t Be Long” with Evan Rachel Wood was simple but effective, and both “I’ve Just Seen a Face” set at a bowling alley and Prudence’s (T.V. Carpio) singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were all fantastic and had a strong visual style. Still, the structure of the film had problems at the start as it feels disjointed introducing its characters.

This problem was most prominent at the start of a double funeral to the tune of “Let it Be” as it depicts the 1967 Detroit Riots where one of our main characters, Jo-Jo (Martin Luther), a guitarist, has a son who dies in the riots. It just feels like a random scene as the son starts singing during the carnage. It’s a bad way to introduce the character who then moves to New York and starts singing with Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and meets the rest of the characters.

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Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

To this point, there was some high fantasy and style during some of the musical sequences, but it felt charming and grounded, never distracting from the scene. However, director Julie Taymor abandoned that when this jumped the shark and changed into something else. Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s friend who introduces the pair, goes to the enlisting office because he’s being forced to enlist after dropping out of Princeton.

He’s met with an animated Uncle Sam singing “I Want You” and a group of nightmarish soldiers who look like a mix between the toy green soldiers and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove. Seriously, their chins are straight out of a horror film. The visual style is interesting, but this was just too bizarre for me. Then there was an acid-trip kind-of scene where Bono shows up as Dr. Robert to sing “I Am the Walrus,” and the music in this scene is the final highlight of the film.

The characters go on a bus with him where they eventually meet Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), who looks like he’s in a cult with these blue people, creatures that look like they just escaped from Fegan Floop’s TV show in Spy Kids and went to something much weirder. I didn’t know I was in store for something so weird with this film and thought it would be a musical with fantasy elements, but I was not ready for bizarre this became.

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Eddie Izzard and Fegan Floop’s rejects in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

With its bizarre style and hallucinogenic scenes, it was surprising they never played “Yellow Submarine” and maddening they didn’t play “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” until the end credits. The storytelling became a mess and I thought it lost all sense of plot as it became music video after music video, each trying to be stranger than the last. The songs seemed to usually fit its themes, though for “Strawberry Fields” it’s a weak transition where Jude simply looks at a bowl of strawberries, sings, pins them on a canvas and calls it art. It’s a stylish montage that I despised, and I don’t use that word lightly. I really dislike style-over-substance kind-of films, and for 80 minutes, this just abandoned substance.

The romance between Jude and Lucy is dull as Lucy fights for the cause in the anti-war movement and Jude works on his art. They just show how boring and one-note they are. Across the Universe felt disjointed as it introduced its characters, and since there was so much going on, it seemed like these characters were interesting (and Prudence truly is interesting as a lesbian who could not express her love for anyone). But when it focuses squarely on Jude and Lucy when every other major character is sidelined, they showed that their substance was simply a mirage.

I started hating this and wanted the spirit of the first 40 minutes back. As for the acting, Jim Sturgess can’t lip sync but he’s fine in the real acting, and Evan Rachel Wood is generally very good. Her singing is pretty, but the singing is unremarkable elsewhere. I love the Beatles but hated this story, and I just started shouting song recommendations at my TV. By the time it got to “Hey Jude” or even the titular “Across the Universe,” I was fed up with this.

Score: 40/100