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

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

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit 2Released: December 13, 2013. Directed by: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Runtime: 161 min.

Many thought “The Hobbit” franchise would have peaked with the first chapter, last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” but that isn’t the case. Some may not find out because this made about $11 million less at the box office in its opening weekend, but box office performance isn’t relevant to the film’s quality. This is a great continuation.

In “An Unexpected Journey,” we left off with the group looking at the Lonely Mountain. The film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) discussing how Thorin should take back his homeland. The conversation turns out to be the time where they first discuss the journey. The dwarven company, along with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarve’s homeland of Erebor from Smaug the Terrible, the flying furnace. Meanwhile they encounter other companies in order to achieve their goal, Bilbo found his “courage” in his encounter with Gollum in the previous film, and they are still being chased by the Orks led by Azog the Defiler.

I think it’s a better film, as well, because it has a better handle on its tone. Last year, some may have been thrown off by its often silly tone; this is a bit more serious. It still has its fair share of comedy, but it isn’t as constant. When it is present, it’s entertaining – and very funny. The adventures of this company is consistent and memorable. A scene where the hobbits are in barrels is directed so well by Peter Jackson. It’s one of the best scenes of the film because it’s so fun, creative and the action is incredible. There’s also a great action scene where they encounter giant spiders that were mentioned in the first installment, and I liked it even more because it made me think of Ronald Weasley say “Can we panic now?” from “Harry Potter 2.” Those are the action scenes I’ll discuss; they’re awesome. Anyway, I also like Peter Jackson knows how to please his fans because there are some familiar characters, here.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears when the dwarves encounter elves and the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s a real treat. He has a lady friend he’s interested in, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); and she acquaints mostly with Kili (Aidan Turner). Evangeline Lilly is completely badass here, and even outshines Legolas occasionally. She’s a great actress portraying a great, noble warrior. I think her character is fascinating when she talks about the Elven beliefs, like saying that starlight is precious and brings hope. She is a character full of wonder, and that is something that makes her entrancing. It also makes the viewer feel full of wonder.

Interestingly enough, she is an original creation for this film – because the film makers felt they needed both a red head, and some female badassery. She certainly kicks ass, and one of my favourite visual sights from the film is the way her auburn hair looks in the sunshine. That’s poetry, folks, am I right? It’s cool that original characters get made for Tolkien’s universe. I love the world J.R.R. Tolkien has created, with all of its mythology, even if some names might be difficult to pronounce or remember.

Anyway, it is also nice to see some dwarves get more chances to shine, and they’re not just another number to the company – we’re actually starting to care about them. So the main dwarves, meaning the ones that get the spotlight shone on the most, are Thorin, Balin and Kili. Thorin seems to be warming up a bit, but he hasn’t lost sight of that badassery. Balin is the voice of reason, which I enjoy. I noticed that Ori (Adam Brown), a dwarf who had a lot of funny lines in the first film, wasn’t used very much in this; another testament that the filmmakers are trying to improve the tone, and try to give everyone a good time whilst watching the film. I’m sure this will be loved by many, because it has good comedy and it’s a fantastic adventure film.

Bilbo has found his bravery within the One ring, but he is evidently changing. (It’s funny to see that men are sometimes obsessed with jewellery, too. Haha!) Martin Freeman is a hysterical source of comedy in occasions where he doesn’t exactly know what to next. It’s simple but effective, and that is a favoured type of comedy. I love Freeman as Bilbo, because he is a little man with much care but a whole lot of bravery that cannot be measured. Gandalf went out on his own in this film when they split up at a forest, which was a bit disappointing to me. The film was switching between the main company, to Gandalf. It is nice that Gandalf isn’t the one saving the day all the time, so Bilbo gets some chances to do so, but it also takes away some of the great presence.

One presence that makes up for that is the villainous Smaug, and oh boy, is he worth the wait. Benedict Cumberbatch uses motion capture animation for his movements, and he moves graciously. He is a scary dragon, and he is a chilling villain. What a beautiful CGI-creature he is, too. The visuals are phenomenal, like the first, as is the New Zealand scenery. I really enjoyed the darker scenery, too, when characters had to go through caves. I guess the only thing left to say is bring on the next film, because I need to see how it ends. Maybe I’ll just go buy the original book that is, what, 75 years old now? Yeah. There’s an idea. I will read the book, but I will still eagerly await the film, because I love Peter Jackson’s direction of these tales.

Score85/100

The World’s End (2013)

The World's EndReleased: August 23, 2013. Directed by: Edgar Wright.  Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman. Runtime: 109 min

Back in 2004, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (director/co-writer, star/co-writer and star, respectively) began their Cornetto trilogy with “Shaun of the Dead,” a satire of zombie flicks. The second in the trilogy came in 2007, called “Hot Fuzz,” a satire of buddy action films. This year, they are back to finish off their trilogy, with “The World’s End,” a satire of apocalyptic and science fiction features.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is the so-called King of his friends group, when they were seniors in high school. Now, they’ve drifted and are all living individual lives. To gain a sense of achievement, he gathers his old friends to finish what they attempted 20 years ago; The Golden Mile, an epic pub crawl across twelve of their hometown pubs. The World’s End is the last pub on their tour, and reaching that pub becomes the least of their worries – as they unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

In King’s friends group is Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Gary’s wingman. Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) are the two buddies who were kept around mostly for comic relief; and Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) was Gary’s rival for women’s affection. Joining the guys on their adventure is Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Gary and Steven constantly fight over.

The main difference between Gary and the rest of his friends is that they have responsibilities, and he is suffering from Peter Pan syndrome, because he hasn’t yet grown up. Gary’s arc is poignant and emotionally captivating, and it also makes this have a great analysis on the difficulty of aging; or in Gary’s case, not aging. He’s the same old Gary, but he is a funny guy; so that isn’t so bad for the audience.

The friendship between Gary and his wingman, Andy, is well-written. It’s heartbreaking in scenes; and possibly the most emotional relationship shared between the two stars. It’s interesting to see the shoe being put on the other foot for Frost in the trilogy. Both of the characters these stars have portrayed, they have had a lot of growing to do – but Frost’s characters have had, arguably, more memorable arcs from an emotional standpoint. They are both the main characters of each of the film, but Frost has played the slackers and Pegg has played characters that actually have ambitions. It’s interesting to see Pegg as the slacker, and Frost as the successful one.

Wright makes a comment through the characters that people’s hometowns don’t change over the years, but those who leave it do, and when they come back it’s really weird because it feels the same, but many can’t pinpoint why it feels different; and why they feel like strangers in a place once so familiar to them. The story is a fun way to embrace that idea, and answer it in a hilarious and creative way. The film is layered with heart, brain and hilarity – and it’ll keep you guessing throughout. The characters all get their chances to shine, whether they be comic relief or completely badass at kicking otherworldly robotic ass.

The special effects are impressive and there are tons of laughs throughout the film. It has a fun satirical edge, and it’s a blast of a science fiction film. It further complements the fact that the Wright-Pegg-Frost is one of the strongest teams in satirical comedy, and that their films are great satires and wickedly fun additions to the genre. With “The World’s End,” Wright brings his signature directing style, and makes an ambitious and worthy end to his trilogy. I really can’t wait to watch this in a marathon with the others.

Score88/100