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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Cusack in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

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

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

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

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

Score: 75/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. (IMDb)

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

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

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

Score: 90/100

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.

The Love Witch
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 #19: Say Anything… (1989)

29 Days of Romance, Review #19: Say Anything… (1989)
Say Anything... poster
IMDb

Directed by: Cameron Crowe. Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 14, 1989.

In Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, John Cusack plays the underachieving Lloyd Dobler who falls for the beautiful valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye) the summer before she goes away to school to England on a scholarship. Even with Crowe’s first feature, he still had a precise voice and he shows that with how the film deals with honesty throughout.

It’s also a film that feels very real-world. The romance does not feel sugar coated. There are iconic moments like the stereo scene, but even that scene was not sugar coated. This is my first time seeing this film (okay I’ve said this with almost every review so far this February, so that’s no surprise) and I’d always assumed that the stereo scene was a big plea for her affection and she came out of the house and he swung her around and they kissed, or something.

But this isn’t John Hughes or Nicholas Sparks, so it’s not that kind-of movie, and the cheesy romance fan in me was kind-of bummed that’s not how it happens. Instead, Lloyd just stands there as Diane just turns over in her bed. It’s still a great scene as the shot of Cusack with the stereo over his head playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is an iconic and beautiful shot, and I’ve seen it and homages it to it countless times even before seeing this film.

This wasn’t the type of movie I was expecting, and I think that’s a funny thing: Having expectations for a classic film but Say Anything… surprised the heck out of me. It surprised me because of how deep its story felt and how human its characters felt.

Say Anything article
Ione Skye and John Cusack in Say Anything… (IMDb)

As far as the romance goes, the chemistry between Cusack and Skye is strong and natural and I feel like I say that about every movie couple – especially this month and if I had a shot for every time I’ve put it in a review this month I’d be on my third bottle of tequila – but I mean it about them. Cusack has charm as the bumbling every-man and Skye is great as the valedictorian who doesn’t know how beautiful she is.

A big surprise for me here was seeing Lili Taylor, who I really just know as the matriarch in The Conjuring. It’s funny seeing her so young here and I didn’t even recognize her until the party where Lloyd takes Diane for their first kind-of date. Taylor also has an interesting character as Lloyd’s friend, Corey Flood, who gives relationship and life advice as she simultaneously sings songs about a lost love she knows is not good for her. She’s a strong sidekick.

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John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything… (IMDb)

The aspect of the film where my expectations were met had to do with its comedy – I’d assumed it would be a funny film, and it has a lot of good comedic moments. Truthfully, I can’t remember any of the laughs, but I remember laughing. The one enriching aspect of this film is the fantastic John Mahoney as Diane’s father James, a nice guy we like from the start.

He’s an important figure in Diane’s life and Crowe uses the relationship of Diane and her father and the relationship between Diane and Lloyd to display honesty and dishonesty with equal effectiveness. The pairing of these two relationships was utterly fascinating, and the sub-plot of James being investigated by the IRS leaked into the main storyline. I was still very interested in the romance, but before I knew it I was getting equally as invested with the father-daughter relationship. I think an effective plot like this that feels so naturally in the overall story is why Cameron Crowe is such a great writer and director, and we’ll just give him a pass about Aloha.

Score: 80/100

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.

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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

 

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #15: Footloose (1984)

29 Days of Romance, Review #15: Footloose (1984)

 

Footloose poster
IMDb

Directed by: Herbert Ross. Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow. Runtime: 1h 47 min. Released: February 17, 1984.

I’ll discuss some spoilers in this review, but I feel like I’m the only person who hadn’t seen this.

Released 36 years ago today, I don’t think Footloose has aged well. In the no-fun-town of Bomont, Utah, rock music and dancing has been banned by the town council and Reverend Shaw (John Lithgow) to protect the town’s teens.

Their logic is that they’ll only lead to drugs, alcohol and fornication. A city teenager, Ren (Kevin Bacon), moves to town and shakes things up with his rebellion, while also falling for the local reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer).

Ariel was the biggest problem for me. Her recklessness and rebellion against her reverend father got old fast. She puts her life in danger on two occasions, getting nearly flattened by a semi-truck and then nearly run over by a train. Writing this review, I’m realizing it’s so she can feel how her brother felt when he died (in a car accident) but the scenes are weak without that context.

Rock music and dancing aren’t the problem with this town when teens are reckless like Ariel. Singer plays her fine, and Ariel started to win me over by the end when she stopped needing to get her father’s approval, and I liked the loss of her brother developing Ariel and her father. I found her dull for the most part and didn’t feel any chemistry between her and Kevin Bacon.

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Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow in Footloose. (IMDb)

Before I get to Bacon, Shaw and his wife Vivian (Dianne Wiest) are the best characters here. Lithgow plays his role well and his arc is good, as he feels like he has to carry the weight of the town on his shoulders. Wiest is the highlight as Vivian for me. The scene where she speaks up to Shaw because he doesn’t see the bigger picture is the strongest scene. “You can lift a congregation up so high they have to look down to see heaven,” is a great line. Their scenes are engaging drama.

I had little interest in Ren and Ariel. Kevin Bacon’s fine as Ren, but the teens’ side of things is often uneventful. Until it gets to the point where they plan a secret dance, there was a lot of time killing like Ariel’s abusive boyfriend Chuck Cranston (Jim Youngs) challenging Ren to the ultimate display of masculinity: A classic game of chicken using huge tractors. I think this is what makes it feel like an ‘80s movie because it’s so ridiculous as it plays to “Holding Out For a Hero” by Bonnie Taylor. This is the point that I understood the appeal of Footloose and conceded that it’s simply not for me.

At least after dancing gets unbanned, the displays of masculinity can be dance battles. The screenplay by Dean Pritchford handles Chuck weakly as Ariel starts spending time with Ren and they forget all about Chuck. When they remember he’s a character, they bring him back to beat up Ariel and then bring him back for a fight at the end.

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Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon in Footloose. (IMDb)

The screenplay generally makes a habit of bringing characters into the film and forgetting about them, even with Ariel’s friend Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) who disappears for like 40 minutes. The fact that Ren is given a hard time for being the new kid seems realistic. He deals with the oppression, and the town’s rules, in a healthy way with a workout dance to Moving Pictures’ “Never.”

I’m giving this film a hard time, but I had some fun during this. I liked the scene where Ren, Ariel, Ren’s friend Willard (Chris Penn) and Rusty went to a different town to dance. It was lively when they play the titular song (“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins) and Rusty wanted to dance. This was also the first scene where the teens felt authentic. My main question of this scene is why Ren thinks it’s unbelievable that Willard can’t dance when dancing has been illegal in the town for six years. Speaking of Willard dancing, the montage of him learning to dance is charming.

Some of the dance scenes are fun, but I found most of the drama boring. I felt like a kid at the beginning of the film sleeping in Church. I don’t like the film, but the soundtrack is an absolute classic. Every song on the soundtrack bops and my feet were tapping a lot during this. It’s just a shame that the story never reaches that same greatness.

Score: 50/100

 

 

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #13: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

29 Days of Romance, Review #13: When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
When Harry Met Sally poster
IMDb

Directed by: Rob Reiner. Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher. Runtime: 1h 35 min. Released: July 21, 1989.

When Harry Met Sally… feels like a different breed of romantic comedy and I think that’s why I loved it so much. There’s never that annoying miscommunication or misunderstanding that keeps the couple apart in this and that’s the thing that annoys me the most about romantic comedies. I think this works best for me because it feels refreshing, and I know this came out in 1989, but this is my first time watching it.

Harry and Sally are kept apart because they don’t like each other, after spending a road trip from Chicago to New York together after graduation, and then meeting again five years later. They’re friendlier then but both romantically involved, but when they meet again another five years later they become friends and stay friends throughout because they think sex would ruin their friendship. They’re perfect for each other, but the threat of sex is in the way.

Nora Ephron’s screenplay is just brilliant here and the dialogue makes the comedy flow so well and makes their friendship and chemistry feel so stellar. I think the fact that a lot of the dialogue is based on the friendship between Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal makes it feel even more authentic. Reiner’s direction here is also great.

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Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally… (IMDb)

The observations of relationships and hypothesis that men and women just can’t be friends is portrayed well here and it’s an interesting discussion throughout. Billy Crystal plays the cynical Harry so damn well and he’s effortlessly hilarious. This is somehow the first Meg Ryan film I’ve seen.

Okay, well I’ve seen Anastasia but this is the first time I’ve seen her in a live action film and so this is what I’ve been missing all these years. I fell in love with these characters in general but Meg Ryan is just so endearing here and that classic orgasm scene is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen, and the “I’ll have what she’s having” line is the cherry on top. The pair has to be one of my favourite movie couples, and Crystal and Ryan work flawlessly together.

I don’t know what else to say about this one other than it’s a lighthearted romantic comedy that’s perfect for what it sets out to be, and also has strong supporting performances from the late Carrie Fisher and the late Bruno Kirby. The film just has no shortage of charming moments, especially when Harry and Sally dance on New Year’s and realize it feels right and they could be more than friends but are still spooked that sex would ruin it, and it’s fair because it’s a lovely friendship. But what happens throughout this is just perfect and this is my kind-of romantic comedy.

Score: 100/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #12: Juno (2007)

29 Days of Romance, Review #12: Juno (2007)
Juno poster
IMDb

Directed by: Jason Reitman. Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: December 25, 2007.

For my 29 Days of Romance series, these films are all new watches for me but Juno is really one I’ve always wanted to watch. I’m glad that I found a movie from my watchlist that I liked, because I just loved Juno. (Maybe this is because the romance is secondary. I put it in this series because I could have sworn ‘romance’ was a sub-genre, but apparently it’s just comedy/drama on IMDb… Anyway.)

While I could see why Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris won Best Original Screenplay in its respective Oscar year (2012), I didn’t love it. For the 2008 Oscar year, Diablo Cody’s screenplay for Juno is really deserving of the win. When there’s a line like “they call me a cautionary whale,” that’s a winner.

The film follows the spectacularly offbeat Juno (Ellen Page), a 16-year-old girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. She finds the perfect couple in the PennySaver, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) to adopt her child.

Besides Diablo Cody’s pitch perfect writing that balances funny moments and tear-jerking moments (especially in the third act), this film is also very well-directed by Jason Reitman. The performances he gets from his cast also makes the script shine. Ellen Page gives one of my favourite performances as Juno because the film is my kind-of quirky humour and Page plays it amazingly.

Michael Cera is also great as Paulie Bleeker, the baby’s father. He feels more like a supporting player because this is Juno’s story, and there are points throughout where he’s just not there. I liked the film a lot with him on-screen because the chemistry is good, but any romance is secondary.

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Ellen Page in Juno. (IMDb)

J.K. Simmons is a highlight as Juno’s father Mac MacGuff, and he’s my favourite kind-of movie Dad that cracks offbeat jokes and just seems natural and hilarious without even really trying (like Stanley Tucci in Easy A or Will Forte in Booksmart). Jason Bateman’s solid as Mark and he and Juno develop an interesting friendship throughout and their shared love of music is entertaining. By the way, the film’s soundtrack and indie tunes fits the tone and humour like a damn glove.

Jennifer Garner plays Vanessa very well, anxious that Juno might change her mind in giving them the baby because being a mom is what Vanessa has always wanted. The scene where Vanessa feels Juno’s stomach and feels the baby kick is one of the film’s best moments.

At times, Juno has a moment where she considers if what she is doing is the right thing to do, but the screenplay is never challenging in its subject matter of Juno wanting to keep the child. It’s not addressed as much as it could be, but I think that’s fine. Juno’s a sweet and heartwarming comedy that’s more interested in zingy one-liners, sharp dialogue and orange Tic Tac’s than serious conversation. That doesn’t take away from the entertainment value, but you’re not expecting hard-hitting seriousness when there’s a scene that Juno uses a hamburger phone to call about an abortion.

When the film does get closer to serious, there’s still humour. This scene is at one of Juno’s ultrasounds where the technician judges Juno for her teen pregnancy and is relieved she’s giving it up for adoption, as she doesn’t think she can take care of the child. It leans into that conversation but is also strong in its humour when Juno’s stepmom Bren (Allison Janney) stands up for Juno. It’s one of the best character moments in the film for me and another great supporting performance from Janney. Juno’s friend Leah is also a good presence in this film, played by a strong Olivia Thirlby.

I won’t pretend to know anything about teen pregnancy and if this is a realistic depiction of it, but Juno feels real as a character as she uses humour to deflect her situation. When she is more human and let’s her guard down, Page sells it. Her quirkiness is charming and it’s never obnoxious. We spend the perfect amount of time with Juno and it’s a film I’d already love to revisit.

Score: 90/100