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).

Love Actually, article1
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

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. BanksReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley. Runtime: 125 min.

Many might fear that a biography film made by Disney might feel too Disney, like the way they handle their sports films – a bit cheesy but still entertaining. (It’s great that director John Lee Hancock didn’t make this as cheesy as he did with “The Rookie.”) With “Saving Mr. Banks,” it never feels like that. This follows the behind  the scenes story of how P.L. Travers’ (portrayed by Emma Thompson) novel “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a film by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She reflects on her difficult childhood while speaking her mind about everything she doesn’t like, much to the writers’, and especially Walt Disney’s dismay.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining bio pic featuring some fantastic performances. It also gives Travers’ “Mary Poppins” a lot of layers that I hadn’t previously known, and it makes me want to rewatch it, because I haven’t seen it for a long time. Emma Thompson portrays Travers, an uptight but funny character. She is a realistic thinker who believes children should be prepared for the hardships of life; it makes the viewer question what might have traumatized her. It gets shown throughout in flashback form, but more on that in a bit.

She’s a delicate character who should lighten up a bit, but is very well portrayed by Thompson. I find it interesting how it’s hard for Travers to give up rights to Mary Poppins, because she wants the characters in the film to be portrayed well. It’s more difficult to share something when you care so deeply for it. One more thing on Thompson’s performance: I enjoy that she gets to play the authour of “Mary Poppins”, while she had previously portrayed Nanny McPhee in “Nanny McPhee” and its sequel “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” and McPhee is also a magical nanny – so it’s a similar character to Poppins. She also wrote the screenplays for those two films, so that’s kinda cool. (The first “Nanny McPhee” is the only one worth seeing.)

Travers reflects upon her childhood throughout the film. Little Pamela (a.k.a. Ginty) is portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, who’s really good. It seems child actresses are much more consistently better than child actors, if you ask me. She is moved to a new town in Australia with her family where her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) has a great imagination and he teaches Ginty to dream big, but he can be a bit too irresponsible with everything else – especially in the workplace; but he’s a good father figure because he’d do anything for his daughter. Farrell’s performance is memorable, especially when occurences happen that he doesn’t have much control over. Ruth Wilson portrays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do throughout. Pam’s little sister is cute, but there isn’t much of a relationship expressed between the two of them.

Flashbacks in films don’t bother me, but in this film – it makes the plot a complicated in scenes for a bio pic, because of all of its symbolism and all of the parallels that are drawn. This is also more profound than one’s average bio pic, so that makes up for it. It’s thought-provoking because there are themes of forgiveness and the fact that when someone suffers, there are other people in the world going through a similar type of suffering. It teaches to not live in the past, as well. But however Travers has grown up, it’s made her very stubborn. Walt Disney does his best to put up with that. Tom Hanks is quite charming as Disney, a character who doesn’t want to fall back on his promise to his daughters to bring Poppins to the big screen.

He’ll probably still receive the Oscar nomination for his work in “Captain Phillips,” however, because that character showed a bit more emotional range. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (who play the Sherman brothers who work on the music and lyrics), and Bradley Whitford (as co-scripter Don DeGradi) play supporting roles in the writing department. Their singing and dancing is entertaining. There’s one scene where they sing a song, while Colin Farrell rhythmically says a speech, and it skips between the two time periods. It’s very cool. Paul Giamatti also gets a role as Travers’ driver, and he gets some layers a bit later on in the film, in heartwarming ways. Suffice to say, it’s quite the cast and an enjoyable film. It’s a good thing I liked this, too, because I’d like the cool poster on my wall.

Score83/100

100th Review: Brave (2012)

Brave

Release Date: June 22, 2012

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell

Stars (voices): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Change your fate.

Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Considering that this took six years under works, one would think this would be a little better. The story is just lacking, and it isn’t enough to be entertaining throughout the whole 93 minutes. Where it lacks in story; it makes up in message, characters and laughs.

Merida is the first female protagonist of a Pixar film, and she’s a promising first attempt. She is headstrong and very ambitious. She feels that her fate is carved in stone, but she wishes to alter it somehow. When she does try to change it, however, it comes with drastic consequences. When she gives her even more headstrong mother a potion (in the form of a cake), made for her by a witch shop owner, Merida has no idea her mother will turn into a bear, the very animal her father hunts. This situation causes many problems, like her father and castle guests sent on a wild bear hunt, but also causes Merida and her mother’s relationship to prosper. With this situation, they are able to see life through the other person’s eyes. Also, the father is a great character, he is quite funny. The voicework from everyone involved is pretty great, everyone has funny moments and they offer jokes that are great for all ages. Merida’s three brothers are pretty cute; not anything special, they’re just cute. They’re practically mute, so they’re just there to lighten the mood a little.

The message is pretty great – honour your parents and communicate well with them, and cherish family. It’s a message all children should learn and hold dear, because family is a great support system. Though, this message isn’t anything a child’s parents can’t teach them.

The sequences of archery and other action sequences are quite great, but some scenes can get somewhat frightening for younger viewers (maybe anyone under the age of 4 or 5).

I’ve seen many better stories in animated features. The whole ‘undo a curse’ premise feels quite reminiscent of Shrek. Sure, this is quite original, but Shrek did come to mind while watching this. Maybe it felt reminiscent of Shrek because Shrek has a Scottish accent… Anyway, back to the story. The pacing is decent, but it isn’t a story that works well enough to fill ninety minutes. This is Pixar’s first period piece, and even though the story isn’t superb, the mythology was intriguing. Regardless of the story, the animation is very beautiful. It is some of the finest I’ve ever seen, and some of the finest animation of the year. The Scottish scenery is really beautiful and it really complements the animation. Also, it really portrays Scotland as a beautiful place, and it portrays its people as beautiful. Some may seem like lumberjacks, but they seem so cheery – it’s hard not to like them. All the Scottish accents in the film are sort of contagious, and when one quotes or explains the film, it’s hard not to talk in that dialect.

Brave offers some great characters, some fine animation, and a very mediocre story. Compared to great Pixar stories like Toy Story or Monsters, Inc., it pales in comparison. Brave does a great job of mixing beautiful animation with great Scottish scenery, and it makes for an experience that is worth checking out. It might not win Best Animated Feature of the Year (my “money’s” on Wreck-It Ralph), but it certainly deserves a nomination.

70/100