The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)

The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)

Directed by: Vincent Marcello. Starring: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi. Runtime: 2h 14 min. Released: July 24, 2020.

I didn’t care for 2018’s The Kissing Booth, and I liked Netflix’s The Kissing Booth 2 even less. In this sequel, Elle Evans (Joey King) deals with a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) after he leaves for Harvard, the stress of senior year and college essays, as well as her feelings for a new classmate named Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez).

Elle also must deal with conflict with her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney). If you’ve forgotten any of these dynamics from the first film, this sequel opens with a few montages to recap everything. In the first film, Elle broke a best friend rule with Lee and dated his older brother. She should be smart enough to learn for the sequel to not break any best friend rules, but naturally, she does break a rule.

That’s the formula for conflict in this franchise as the rule in this film is that they need to apply to the same college (the University of California, Berkeley) so when Noah suggests Elle apply to Harvard, she hides that from Lee. I know what you’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she tell Lee to apply to Harvard, too?” Well, she isn’t smart and for best friends that spend every waking minute together, they both hide things from each other. Lee’s girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young) wants Lee to tell Elle that they need some space, and naturally Lee doesn’t mention it and finds a way around it.

I can recap these annoying scenarios for hours but I’ll move onto the characters. I like Joey King as an actress but I find Elle annoying because she jumps to so many conclusions, like she thinks Noah is cheating on her (granted, the film goes to lengths to provide evidence that he could be). However, Elle jumps to conclusions and voice over narrates to tell us how she feels about it, but never actually talks to the person about it. If these characters actually talked to each other, there would be zero conflict in this film. Seriously, I’m convinced it would turn this 134-minute behemoth into an accessible 90-minute teen rom-com, but no, the filmmakers want to torture anyone who’s not the target audience of girls aged 10-15. If you’re outside that specific demographic, be ready to (likely) say, “Thanks, I hate it.”

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Joel Courtney and Joey King in The Kissing Booth  2. (IMDb)

This film is just a series of subplots, misunderstandings and so much melodrama that it would make a soap opera writer blush. I haven’t even talked about Marco, the new guy that Elle is seeing as they spend time each other trying to win a competition of Dance Dance Mania so Elle can win $50,000 to go to Harvard. It’s curious that The Kissing Booth 2 becomes a dance movie in this aspect as so much of the film is dedicated to the practice and then briefly the competition, which is the only exciting part of the film.

The introduction of this main sub-plot of a video game dance competition feels like a good idea for the core narrative of a Netflix Original, but it feels so out-of-place in a film like this when you’re not expecting it. More frustrating is that this film is called The Kissing Booth 2 and the Booth itself doesn’t show up until 26 minutes left in the film!

Some of the Kissing Booth scenes are fine, like the courtship between a pair of side characters named Ollie (Judd Krok) and Miles (Evan Hengst). Some of the chemistry in this film is sweet, and I liked Joel Courtney and Meganne Young together, though I disliked how their relationship was written. Some of the dialogue was sweet because I like schmaltzy crap, but this film is generally a waste of time.

I cared about the friendship between Elle and Lee in the first film, but I didn’t care here and I surely didn’t care about the romance. I didn’t care about Elle’s struggles or her applying to college. The film’s framed around a college essay question of where she wants to be in five years, and this essay ties some themes together and makes for some decent narration in the final 10 minutes.

It’s safe to say The Kissing Booth 2 is the most ambitious film set around an essay since American History X. Okay, not really, but director Vince Marcello sets so many ducks in a row as the subplots merge together that it’s almost impressive how much they shove into this film. It’s like a train-wreck I was never invested in but couldn’t look away, either. I also couldn’t wait for it to end because watching their first-world problems is exhausting and as a rom-com, there’s a lot of romance but there’s not one solid comedic moment in sight.

Score: 25/100

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Directed by: Dean Craig. Starring: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Freida Pinto. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

Love Wedding Repeat is a meditation on how love revolves around chance and fate – described by occasional narration from The Oracle (Penny Ryder), but it’s realy just a standard and often annoying comedy with romance infused.

Jack (Sam Claflin) is aiming to help his sister Hayley’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) wedding day go on without a hitch, as Jack juggles an angry ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Freida Pinto), a misplaced sleep sedative and the girl that got away, Dina (Oliva Munn), as we see alternate versions of the same day.

The film’s based on the 2012 French film, Plan de table, so the alternate timelines always seemed to be the intention of this film, but the one alternate version feels like a cop-out to stretch this film to feature length. Basically, there are only alternate versions because of the sleeping pill in play because of an uninvited guest, Marc (Jack Farthing), trying to ruin the wedding. We see two main versions of the day play out when at the halfway point it goes into the alternate version.

It feels half-baked as the film tells most of its arc in the first hour and then realizes the character dynamics aren’t that deep and it runs out of ideas, and then gives us the, “Alright, what if someone else took the sedative?” The real shame about all this alternate timeline mumbo jumbo is that they switch to a different version of the day as soon as the film seems to be getting interesting. I was actually excited to see where the film would go, and then they reverse back.

I didn’t find this film well-written by Dean Craig (who also directs), as the scenarios, dialogue and character dynamics all felt weak. We do get a taste at several different outcomes but those possibilities are contained to a montage – making it feel like that multiple timelines episode of TV’s Community – but it all feels like an excuse to make a feature film out of a thin premise. That said, the second half is more tolerable than the first version of the day, as the characters aren’t as annoying. This is especially true for Sidney (Tim Key) who learns to listen in this half. He’s a quirky talkative type whose role seems tailored for James Corden or Ricky Gervais in their heydays.

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Joel Fry, Sam Claflin, Freida Pinto and Jack Farthing in Love Wedding Repeat. (IMDb)

I disliked everything about the first half, as the characters are boring and the comedy is just putting everyone in uncomfortable situations to see their boring reactions, and most of the comedy is played on their over-politeness to stay in these situations. That’s the case at the beginning of the film when Claflin’s Jack and Munn’s Dina have just spent a weekend together in Rome and he’s about to tell her he likes her when a guy from his past stops that from happening and he’s too polite to tell him to bugger off.

Now, the wedding’s three years later where Jack gets a second chance, but this is an annoying comedy where everything goes from fine to bad very quickly. A lot of the uncomfortable situations are born from who you sit beside at a wedding; like when Munn is sat beside Sidney and he barely let’s Jack talk to her. These situations are more uncomfortable for the audience because the scenarios aren’t funny. I did chuckle a couple times during the film, but the laughs are not memorable.

Some of the film’s characters are useless, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda. Freida Pinto is fine, but she’s just there as another obstacle between Jack and Dina. Worse yet is Amanda’s new boyfriend, Chaz (Allan Mustafa), who is so unfunny because the only thing he ever talks about is how he’s insecure about his penis size and that grows tired quickly.

There are so many character dynamics going on that it just disguises that there’s not much happening in this film. Most of the film is just Jack trying to get with Dina and it’s boring, though the brother-sister dynamic between Jack and Hayley works fine.

There are some aspects I liked in the second half of the film as the schmaltz is dialed up between every couple, and some of it hits. The first half just had so much humour that fell flat on its face, but there’s nothing in either half of the film that made me care about what happened with these characters.

Okay, I suppose I liked Hayley well enough that I cared to know if her wedding was ruined or not, but even she feels very one-note, but Eleanor Tomlinson did a good job in the role. Olivia Munn is also fine, and Sam Claflin does his best as a very dull character. Though, there is one very weak aspect of the film that is just the cherry on top. Out of everything that happens, we never even see the wedding itself. We only get Love Repeat. No wedding for you.

Score: 38/100

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Directed by: Elise Duran. Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tyler Hoechlin, Kimiko Glenn. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: September 13, 2019.

This will be a spoiler review so I talk about many plot points. I don’t think it’s worth watching anyway, but consider yourselves warned.

Apparently someone had been keeping Can You Keep a Secret? a secret from me as I had never heard of the film or the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Sophia Kinsella. Truthfully, I wish this film had just stayed a secret.

Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) is a junior marketing executive working for an organic food company called Panda. She meets Jack Harper (Tyler Hoechlin) on an airplane and when the plane hits turbulence, she spills all her personal secrets. The “comedy” ensues when Jack shows up at her work the next day because he’s the CEO of the company.

I’ll start with the somewhat good, and that’s Daddario. She’s fine, but if you put Daddario in a trash can of a film, it’s still a trash can. Okay, I guess there’s not really anything good here if I’m starting with that. Still, I smiled a couple times because I like her as an actress, and Tyler Hoechlin is okay, just boring because of the character.

The film just begins as an unfunny comedy with bad scenarios and switches into a rom-com with bad scenarios. The consistent set-up for jokes is Jack hanging around the workplace, asking Emma a question he already knows the answer to because of her secrets, and smiling as she squirms and tells a lie in front of others.

It’s not as malicious as I’m making it sound, but it isn’t funny. This rinses and repeats until she breaks up with her dull boyfriend Connor (David Ebert) – and then the romance between Daddario and Hoechlin really begins. Connor is a worthless presence here to simply postpone the romantic aspect of the film.

The most unbelievable thing about this film is how long Daddario stays with Connor. She’s unhappy but feels so average that she settles. For the film to believably sell Emma as an average girl, it was a mistake casting Daddario. Average? Not with those eyes. The film also puts Jack on a pedestal of perfection. Soon, we learn that Jack isn’t perfect because he has webbed feet. Really? That’s literally the same thing they do in the 2010 Jay Baruchel comedy She’s Out of My League when Baruchel has Alice Eve on a pedestal and learns she has webbed feet. Are we… Are we really saying Alexandra Daddario is the Jay Baruchel of this scenario?

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Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin in Can You Keep a Secret?

The inferiority feels more like a sub-plot here when it’s the entire premise of League – it’s just not handled well here. We’re just led to believe that Emma is average as Jack goes on a live television interview and the interviewer asks him why he’s going into women’s health and Jack says they want to appeal to the average girl on the street, meaning Emma.

This is where the big conflict happens. We know the entire time Jack, at some point, would share her secrets – I honestly thought he was an author on the plane and would leak her secrets in a book – but the way it all happens feels so unnatural.

I’ll warn again, this is a spoiler review… Anyway, Jack is so in love with Emma that he starts to talk about all the things he loves about her and gets carried away and spills all her darkest secrets. This all happens as everyone at Emma’s workplace watches the interview on TV. He spills the fact that she “loves ABBA but hates jazz” (a big one because Connor loves jazz), “she scans the backs of classics and pretends that she’s read them” (a huge one because she was supposed to read Great Expectations), and the biggest one: “She cries every time she hears Demons by Imagine Dragons.”

The secrets feel mundane, a little embarrassing, sure, but since the secrets feel so small it takes away and stakes from the film. It’s also just convoluted how he goes on this tangent on live TV. Making matters worse is Emma’s workplace is the absolute worst. Everyone’s toxic, even Connor, but the only compassionate people are her friend Omar (Sam Asghari) and her boss Cybil (Laverne Cox), who’s mean for most of the film and then has a change of heart.

A co-worker named Artemis (Kate Easton) is the worst, the ringleader of the random cruelty as after the interview is over, she leads the office in a rendition of Demons by Imagine Dragons so Emma runs out crying. It’s all just terrible writing because it’s hard to believe a workplace would ever be this cruel, and the response is such a strange overreaction to make her feel awful.

I already hated this film for most of it, but romantic comedies get so much worse for me if I don’t buy into the conflict. And boy, the conflict here feels convoluted in every way. When Emma confronts Jack about the secrets spilling, Jack responds, “They asked me that question and it caught me off guard and I panicked.” The question he’s referring to? “Who’s your target market?” Yes, if someone asked me that on live television, I too would panic and spill someone’s every last secret.

I just don’t buy it. The writing’s just consistently awful as nothing really happens in the first hour and then 30 minutes of half-baked conflict is jammed in at the film’s end.

Score: 25/100

The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

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.

Ghost article
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.

Match Point article
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.

Match Point articlee
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