Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

The Spectacular Now

Movie Review #730


Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter an Michael H. Weber. (Novel: Tim Thorp.) Produced by Michelle Krumm, Andrew Lauren, Shawn Levy, and Tom McNulty for 21 Laps and Global Produce, presented by ALP. Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013. Distributed by A24 in limited release on August 2, 2013; and in wide release on September 13, 2013. Rated R: alcohol use, language and some sexuality – all involving teens. Runs 95 minutes.

A great movie is either too complex to put into words or simple enough to put into few words. Though if we narrow down “The Spectacular Now” to “boy meets girl,” it seems inaccurate. That’s the description of some of the most tasteless romances and, as “The Spectacular Now” pleasantly reminds, some of the most beautiful.

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are greatly in control of this dramedy. Their relationship is set up on conversation, not circumstance. Think of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise”. It’s much like that, except there’s more focus on establishing depth in the story, particularly during the final third, where the movie takes its chance to subvert our expectations. Though in getting to this end, character is a factor of equal pertinence; these are simple, familiar characters that are compelling because we know them, not of them. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have reprised the same paradox they introduced in their 2009 romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer”: that the story and characters are completely familiar, yet something feels extremely unconventional. Better yet, what exactly is unconventional isn’t quite so obvious as it was in their earlier nonlinear script.

“The Spectacular Now” is pretty, witty, and bright. Its celebration of “the now” is convincing, enthralling, and optimistic–even in moments of pure tragedy. It’s a dialogue-fueled, springtiming escapade with such freedom and vibrancy, that it may as well be set in the summer.


The Bodyguard

Movie Review #725


Directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Lawrence Kasdan. Produced by Kevin Costner, Lawrence Kasdan, and Jim Wilson for Kasdan Pictures, Tig Productions, and Warner Bros. Starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Cameo: Debbie Reynolds. Distributed by Warner Bros. in wide release on November 25, 1992. Rated R: language. Runs 129 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

“I Will Always Love You” is at the heart of this movie. It’s first performed by John Doe (the stage name of John Duchac), while Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston are seen discussing it. Whitney’s character refers to it as a “cowboy song” and points out the melancholia in the lyrics. Something written for her character to be an interesting analysis, but I can’t quite call it an agreeable one. As you might guess, the song is also performed at the very close of the film, by Whitney herself. And that finale feels so unforgettably powerful, but only for one reason. It’s not really the scene itself that has any power. It’s just that song. Whitney’s earth-shattering voice makes a better movie out of “The Bodyguard”, and while it’s all a pretty likable flick, it’s hard not to feel that a song sung with such passion and conviction, not to mention a cover version that vastly exceeds the original artist’s recording, deserved a more poignant movie.

“The Bodyguard” had so much room for potential, but in all, it really isn’t a bad movie. It’s utter trash, which is why it’s so much fun to watch. And again, it’s nothing special at all without Whitney’s music. A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t really like the soundtrack (because there isn’t a human being that creepeth upon the land who hath not heard it yet), then don’t watch the movie. Your enjoyment of R&B music is pretty much what weighs the film as trash or treasure. The story plays out like a two-hour special edition episode of a television crime procedural. We learn that the victim is Rachel Marron (Whitney) and her bodyguard is Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner). Marron famous, to put it in simplest terms. Farmer is apparently great at the job, since he worked as a Secret Service agent for a number of years, though he made his sudden retirement and went to live in the mountains after Reagan was shot. Farmer wasn’t there, he was just afraid his reputation would be ruined. Anyway, Marron isn’t told as immediately as she wishes, but she’s being stalked by one of her fans. So “The Bodyguard” is mostly about that. It’s also about Marron’s inability to to adequately respect the bodyguard without having sex with him. It makes for a really entertaining but eventually really cheesy story, especially when you know from the moment they look at each other that they’re going to fall in love.

The execution of the premise is with limited fuel. By the subplot, when Frank and Rachel travel to the mountains, I began to lose interest in the film. Fortunately it picks up by the end, but this is pretty surprising considering how much fun I was having at any moment prior. The character development is rather amusing. Frank does so much to protect Rachel, and yet he’s so assertive and defensive of himself, insisting he only do what’s in his job description. Just help the poor woman out, will ya? Or don’t, and deliver a completely hilarious line like, “I’m here to keep you alive, not help you shop.” The script fails even when trying to deliver the “movie within a movie” technique. Of all movies, Whitney and Costner go and see “Seven Samurai” on their first date. Yes, the 1950′s, black-and-white, Japanese samurai epic that exceeds three hours. I mean, I liked the movie, and apparently so did Whitney’s character, but to think that that was Costner’s character’s sixty-second time seeing the movie!? No offense to Akira Kurosawa, but I’d be sick of the film before I’d seen it seven times!

Kevin Costner might be the only one who suffers from the screenplay. His performance is just so good! Then again, the way he takes his role so seriously makes every “whoops” in Lawrence Kasdan’s (“The Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) script stand out even more. Whitney’s character just downright confuses me, and it has nothing to do with her delivery, aside from the fact that she just isn’t convincing in the role of an Oscar winner. But where the logic is most lacking in her character is that I can’t imagine any celebrity has such vast amounts of time on his or her hands, especially if they’re singing on tour. “The Bodyguard” is one of the paramount definitions of the word “cheesy.” Think of the Tejano pop star Selena having James Bond protecting her every second of the day. That’s a pretty accurate image of what you’d find in this flick.

Tomorrow’s Review

Need for Speed


Movie Review #723


Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Scenario, adaptation and dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapted from: the comic book “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” by Julie Maroh. Produced by Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Vincent Maraval for Quat’sous Films and Wild Bunch, in partnership with CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, and RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, and France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, and Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013. Distributed by Wild Bunch and Sundance Selects (subtitled) in limited release on October 25, 2013. Also released in France and Belgium on October 9, 2013; and in Spain on October 25, 2013. Rated NC-17: explicit sexual content. Runs 179 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

Story is as much an epidemic for the romance epic as the black death was for Europe. This isn’t a matter of having a story, just a matter of having too much story. Look at the best of the genre. “Gone with the Wind”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Reds”. All three being spectacular films, but they could’ve grabbed even more of our emotions if there wasn’t so much concern over the political ordeals the characters were dealing with. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a different and (arguably) improved romance. In all its three hours, not once is politics a concern, and why should it be when we’re engrossed in its love story?

In other words, it’s all about character, and the dynamics of the picture are that character controls story. We begin with a fifteen-year-old Adèle. She is pressured into going out with a guy in her class, but nothing really works out between the two of them. While she’s on a date with him, she notices someone else: a blue-haired, young woman who she finds rather attractive. Later on, after calling her relationship with her boyfriend off, the underage Adèle visits a bar and finds the blue-haired woman once again. They quickly fall in love, and over the years, their relationship transforms from a life-changing experience to a longlasting passion.

What makes the movie so dynamic is that it’s absolutely honest. It doesn’t embrace the struggles that Adèle faces, namely being a lesbian despite what her friends think of this. It scratches the surface with that, but once Adèle can accept what she believes over what those around her believe, this becomes a story about love. What’s best about this is that the casting is brilliant. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux command their performances perfectly. Their relationship is entirely believable, however, due to the fact that they’re unfamiliar faces: Seydoux had almost unnoticeable roles in Midnight in Paris and Inception; Exarchopoulos makes her debut here.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a modern classic. The cinematography makes for a wonder to behold, particularly during its closeups. Just take a look at that shot on the poster. That entire scene is unforgettable. The French title for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2 (The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 and 2). An accurate title, given that the movie can be evenly divided: chapter one being a coming-of-age film, and chapter two being a full-blown romance. The two chapters do seem to flow into one another as one film, but even if considered two separate films, any part of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” signifies a masterpiece.

POSTSCRIPT: Before you take up my recommendation, I ask (for the sake of not receiving complaints) that you keep the fast-forward button handy or be fully prepared for anything that should show up onscreen. The NC-17 is quite accurate.

Tomorrow’s Review



Blue Is the Warmest Color

Movie Review #723


Warning: French review ahead, so stay tuned, anyone who doesn’t speak the language. English transliteration comes tomorrow.

Realisé par Abdellatif Kechiche. Scénario, adaptation et dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapté du bande-dessinée «Le bleu est une couleur chaude» par Julie Maroh. Produit par Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, et Vincent Maraval pour Quat’sous Films et Wild Bunch, en association avec CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, et RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, et France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, et Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Avait pour vedettes Léa Seydoux et Adèle Exarchopoulos. Débuté en Cannes Film Festival le 23 mai 2013. Distribué par Wild Bunch et Sundance Selects (avec sous-titres) en distribution limitée le 25 octobre 2013. Aussi distribué en France et en Belgium le 9 octobre 2013; et en Espagne le 25 octobre 2013. Raté NC-17 par l’MPAA: contenu sexuel évident. Courrant par 179 minutes.

Intrigue est épidémie pour le film au grand amour aussi que la «mort noir» était pour Europe. Ceci n’est pas une affaire d’avoir une intrigue, mais c’est juste une affaire d’avoir trop de cette intrigue. Regard le crème de la crème au genre. «Gone with the Wind», «Doctor Zhivago», et «Reds». Chaque de le trois est un film spectaculeur, mais ils pouvait saisir plus que les émotions de l’audience, si il n’y avait pas beaucoup d’intrigue de la politique. «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est un film d’amour qui est très différent film d’amour. En tous les trois hours de lui, rien fait partie de l’intrigue sauf l’amour des caractères principaux. Et ça, c’est parfait, pour on s’interesse à cet amour.

En autres mots, le film, il est tout de caractère, et dans ce film, caractère contrôle l’intrigue. On commence avec l’introduction d’Adèle, qui a quinze ans. Elle est tenté de sortir avec un mec dans sa classe, mais rien vraiment marche entre lui et elle. Pendant que elle est au rendez-vous avec son petit-ami, elle remarque une autre personne: une femme jeune avec cheveux bleus qui elle trouve assez belle. Plus tard, après elle se brisait avec son petit-ami, Adèle rend visite à un bar et trouve le femme aux cheveux bleus encore. Elles rapidement se tombe en amour, et eventuellement, leur accord est devenu une passion éternel.

Le film est très dynamique parce qu’il est absolument honeste. Il n’embrasse pas les difficultés qu’Adèle passe, particulairement d’être une lesbienne malgré que ses amis croient de cela. Il gratte sur ça, mais la momente qu’Adèle peux accepter qu’elle croit plutôt que les peuples autour d’elle croient, ce film devient une histoire d’amour. Lequel est le meilleur de ça, c’est que le casting est fantastique. Adèle Exarchopoulos et Léa Seydoux dominent leurs rôles parfaitement. Leur accord est entièrement crédible, toutefois, à cause du fait qu’ils sont acteurs inconnu: Seydoux a eu presque rôles à peine visible en «Midnight in Paris» et «Inception»; Exarchopoulos fait sa début là.

«Blue Is the Warmest Color» est une classique moderne. Le cinématographie émerveille, spécifiquement pendant ses gros plans. Simplement jeter un coup d’œil ce photo de l’affiche. Cette scène entière est inoubliable. Le titre en France pour «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2. Un titre précis, donné que le film peut être divisé également: chapitre un d’être un film sur le passage à l’âge adulte, et chapitre deux d’être un film d’amour complètement. Les deux chapitres faisent s’infiltrer dans l’un l’autre comme un film; même si considéré deux films séparés, n’importe quel pièce de «Blue Is the Warmest Color» signifie un chef d’œuvre.

Tomorrow’s Review

Blue Is the Warmest Color [English-language review]


The English Patient

Movie Review #713


Miramax Films presents…

Copyright Owners: Tiger Moth Productions

Distributor: Miramax Films
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Langues: English – German – Italian – Arabic

Directed by Anthony Minghella. Produced by Saul Zaentz. Novel by Michael Ondaatje.  Screenplay by Anthony Minghella.

Rated R by the MPAA – sexual material; infrequent violence; infrequent profanity. Runs 2 hours, 42 minutes. First shown in Italy in October 1996. Premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 6, 1996; and in New York City, New York on November 12, 1996. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 1996. Wide release in the USA on December 6, 1996; and in the UK on March 14, 1997.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Also starring Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Whately, Torri Higginson, Raymond Coulthard, Philip Whitchurch, and Lee Ross. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Matthew Ferguson, Jason Done, Roger Morlidge, Simon Sherlock, Dominic Mafham, and Gregor Truter.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

If “The English Patient” didn’t work for you, I can understand that. I can stand hearing that it’s “boring,” because there is a camp that finds the movie absolutely agonizing. All it means is that they weren’t the audience for which Anthony Minghella had written and directed his monument.

What I won’t stand to hear is that the movie is “bad.” The script is quixotically written, absolutely poignant; a wonder to behold, as if what became of it was anything otherwise. Everything here comes from the nonlinear context of Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel, but the stories told in flashbacks is so beautifully paralleled with those told in the present that the sequencing of events doesn’t seem to matter. “The English Patient” is composed of several characters and stories that aren’t exactly explained in the beginning, and by the end they’re the creators of their own catharsis. But in getting there, it doesn’t tie together. It flows together.

“The English Patient” is an exquisite composition, marked by riveting performances from Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. I couldn’t help wanting more of Colin Firth, or the astonishing then-newcomer to American cinema, Juliette Binoche. Not unlike other epics, it deserves to be seen with theatrical treatment, or not at all. Certain scenes give the movie emotional enhancements that feel overwhelmingly three-dimensional. Cinematography, music, and sound editing just keep improving throughout, but the “Silent Night” scene is the most incredible use of all three since the parade scene in “The Godfather Part II”.

It kills me to point out mistakes here, but when it rains, it pours. In his earliest “old scenes,” a closeup of Ralph Fiennes’s hand reveals an obvious latex glove for the “wrinkles” effect.” Plane scenes are peppered throughout the movie, and each one is as fake as anything. I was even able to catch an actual “error,” actually: a man entering a cave in one scene bumps his head into the wall, and the “wall” moves as if it were a hollow set piece. Maybe this wasn’t so obvious upon the film’s release, eighteen years in the past, but in all, I can only be glad that so much of the film does stand the test of time. “The English Patient” elaborates for nearly three hours, during which there isn’t really anything that fails to entertain, or to keep it from flying by. It is the marvelous epic that results when another director envisions “Casablanca”.

Tomorrow’s Review

The Armstrong Lie


Movie Review #710


Charles Chaplin Productions

Distributor: United Artists (1931 release) – United Artists (1950 re-release)
Country: USA
Languages: English (intertitles)

Directed by Charles Chaplin. Produced by Charles Chaplin (uncredited). Written by Charles Chaplin. Uncredited writers: Harry Clive, Harry Crocker.

Passed by the National Board of Review. Later rated G by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 27 minutes. Limited release in Los Angeles, California on January 30, 1931; in New York City, New York on February 6, 1931; and in London on February 27, 1931. Wide release in the USA on March 7, 1931. Re-released in the USA on April 8, 1950.

Starring Virginia Cherrill and Charlie Chaplin. Also starring Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia, and Hank Mann.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

Charlie Chaplin made “City Lights” during the blooming Sound Era as if to say, “I’m not yet done with silent movies.” It’s a pretty big leap of faith, but it succeeds, mainly because Chaplin is wholeheartedly dedicated to the movie. He spends the entirety of this pantomime doing what he does best—at his best. Slapstick with pathos, that would be.

The term pièce de résistance describes it perfectly. The literal French translation is “resistance piece,” and if “City Lights” isn’t, then few films actually are. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “the most important or remarkable feature.” Once upon a time, I swore he couldn’t get any better than “The Kid”. But where that was a standing masterpiece, what we have here is the push over the cliff. Modest, but effective and exciting.

“City Lights” is clever to the point at which smiles are rarely without guarantee. “The Tramp” returns to star in this feature, as simpleminded and kindhearted as he ever has been. The movie beautifully envisions the romance between him and a blind woman. The Tramp is desperate to make money for this young woman, so that she can pay her rent and consult a doctor in Vienna who can perhaps cure her blindness. Fortunately, there’s a millionaire who’s willing to help. Unfortunately, this is a suicidal, drunken millionaire, so he’s often less than willing to help.

Any movie with the Tramp is a fish out of water comedy, but “City Lights” might as well be the standard by which that genre should be judged. It’s purely entertaining. I feel as if the title was meant as a joke Chaplin was knocking on the audience. The leading lady in this movie is blind. She can’t see city lights, and she has never seen city lights. Ergo, he who hasn’t seen “City Lights” is (cinematically) blind. Maybe I’m reading too far into the title, but at the very least, it works.

Tomorrow’s Review

The Bourne Identity


Movie Review #709


Les Films Impéria
Les Productions Georges de Beauregard
Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie

Distributor: Films Around the World (subtitled 1961 release) – The Criterion Collection (2007 & 2014) – Rialto Pictures (2010 re-release) – Janus Films
Country: France
Spoken Languages: French – English

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Produced by Georges de Beauregard. Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard (uncredited). Story: François Truffaut.

Released unrated by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 30 minutes. Wide release in France on March 16, 1960; and in the USA on February 7, 1961. Re-release in the USA on April 21, 2000. Restored version premiered at TCM Classic Film Festival on April 23, 2010. Same version earned limited release on May 28, 2010. Same version earned wide release in France on June 23, 2010.

Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Also starring Daniel Boulanger, Henri-Jacques Huet, Roger Hanin, Van Doude, Claude Mansard, Liliane David, Michel Fabre, Jean-Pierre Melville, Richard Balducci, André S. Labarthe, François Moreuil, and Liliane Robin. Also featuring a cameo appearance by Jean-Luc Godard as the Snitch.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

“À bout de souffle” is all we need to know that director Jean-Luc Godard is nothing less than an artist. His movie is spectacular. Extraordinary. You truly can’t find another ‘60s movie with such style. Inventive cinematography, jump cuts galore. Music cues—one of several irresistible elements. Hither and thither, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The film is much like a David Lynch film, if that’s your cup of tea. The acting is here and there, but their efforts, as well, make for an offbeat delight. An excellent movie…with an unforgettable finale.

Tomorrow’s Review

City Lights


À bout de souffle

Movie Review #709


Les Films Impéria
Les Productions Georges de Beauregard
Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie

Distributeur: Films Around the World (1961 distribution avec des sous-titres) – The Criterion Collection (2007 et 2014) – Rialto Pictures (2010 distribution encore) – Janus Films
Pays d’origine: France
Langues: français – anglais

Réalisé par Jean-Luc Godard. Produit par Georges de Beauregard. Scénario: Jean-Luc Godard (non crédité). Histoire: François Truffaut.

Distribué non raté par l’MPAA. Court 1 heure, 30 minutes. Grande distribution au France le 16 mars 1960; et aux États-Unis le 7 février 1961. Distribution encore aux États-Unis le 21 avril 2000. Distribution très limitée de la version revisité à TCM Classic Film Festival le 23 avril 2010. Même version en distribution limitée aux États-Unis le 28 mai 2010. Même version en grande distribution au France le 23 juin 2010.

Avec le casting Jean-Paul Belmondo et Jean Seberg. Aussi avec le casting Daniel Boulanger, Henri-Jacques Huet, Roger Hanin, Van Doude, Claude Mansard, Liliane David, Michel Fabre, Jean-Pierre Melville, Richard Balducci, André S. Labarthe, François Moreuil, et Liliane Robin. Aussi avec un performance bref de Jean-Luc Godard en rôle du Snitch.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

«À bout de souffle» est tout que on a besoin de savoir que de réalisateur Jean-Luc Godard est simplement une artiste. Ce film est spectaculaire. Extraordinaire. On vraiment ne peut pas trouver un autre film avec tels façons en 1960s. De la cinématographie inventive, beaucoup des coupes sèches. Des signals de la musique—un de beaucoup des éléments irrésistibles. De temps en temps, c’est difficile décider ce qui se passe. C’est comme beaucoup un film de David Lynch, si ça c’est ta tasse de thé. Les performances des acteurs sont ici et là-bas, mais leurs efforts, aussi, construit un délice décalé. Un très bon film…avec une scène finale inoubliable.

Coming Reviews

À bout de souffle [English-language review]
The Armstrong Lie
The Bourne Identity
City Lights
The English Patient
Short Film Smorgasbord Vol. 1



Movie Review #708

Of interest – This is my longest review yet.  Word count: 1,168.


A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production…

…an Orion Pictures Release…

Orion Pictures Corporation

Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Robert Greenhut. Written by Woody Allen.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – sexual material, infrequent profanity. Approved by the Production Code Administration (certificate #30686). Runs 1 hour, 42 minutes. Limited release in Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York on December 25, 1990.

Starring Mia Farrow and Joe Mantegna. Also starring William Hurt, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Matt Williamson, Julie Kavner, Billy Taylor, Holland Taylor, Michael-Vaughn Sullivan, Robin Bartlett, Linda Wallem, Gina Gallagher, Patience Moore, Kim Chan, Diane Cheng, Keye Luke, Lynda Bridges, Anthony Cortino, Judy Davis, Cybill Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Katja Schumann, Vanessa Thomas, Blythe Danner, Gwen Verdon, Patrick O’Neal, Kristy Graves, Laurie Nayber, Rachel Miner, Amy Louise Barret, Caroline Aaron, Alexi Henry, James Tobac, Bernadette Peters, Elle Macpherson, Ira Wheeler, Lisa Marie, Diane Salinger, Alfred Cherry, David Spielberg, and Bob Balaban. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mary Stein.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

Not counting any television movies or short films, Woody Allen has directed forty-four movies, of which I’ve seen twenty-two. This is what I’ve come to. Let me delineate the four basic “eras,” if you will, that Allen’s filmography can be broken down into. Everything from “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) to “Sleeper” (1973) is an entry into the Slapstick Era. That period of time is followed closely by the First Soap Era, which runs from “Love and Death” (1975) all the way into “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989). That’s where the next age comes in: the New & Inventive Era, which tracks from “Alice” (1990) into “Hollywood Ending” (2002). Then the old traditions pick right back up again with the Second Soap Era, which spans from “Anything Else” (2003) up to “Blue Jasmine” (2013) and more than likely through Woody’s upcoming release, this year’s “Magic in the Moonlight”.

Just writing this on a legal pad, I can feel a mess of both nodding and blank stares. No, I haven’t lost my mind, and yes, for those who get sort of what I’m pinpointing here, I do know it doesn’t match up film for film. If it did, then “Zelig” (1983) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011) would have both been released during the New & Inventive Era, and “Husbands and Wives” (1992) and, perhaps, “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) would belong in one of the two Soap Eras. Just bear with me, anyway; it’s a rough sketch.

Moving on now, I think the one I need to clear up a little bit is the New & Inventive. What exactly do I mean by “new and inventive”? Well, it’s simple, actually. From 1990 to 2002, Woody Allen was trying to restart his career with homemade jumper cables. That’s to say that he was putting every love story he’d made, every wild farce with his name on it, all that behind him and start from scratch. As far as what was released during these twelve years, you don’t need to look at anything more than the IMDb plot descriptions to figure out that the man was departing from “same old, same old” romances and trying to plunge himself into new stories.

Sometimes he was met with praise. Other times, his newness only made for a cheesy movie with regretful aftertaste.

Frankly, I can’t put my finger on why Allen continued after “Alice” (1990), his first movie during the New & Inventive Era. I can’t put my finger on why he even thought it was a good idea after that first attempt. I just can’t put my finger on it, and when I try and use the identical digit on my opposing hand, no dice. I’ll give Woody credit for being new. Hell, I’ll give him an upwards thumbnail for being inventive. I’ll keep that thumb up for the outfit worn by the title character, the music, and the homage to Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” that apparently permeates every crack and crevasse of this flick. But the fantasy twist evokes such eye rolling! Even if I loved anything and everything Woody Allen did make “Alice” an unexpectedly kooky film, there’s still room for shame. Yes, the visual movie magic contributes, but is there any getting by the fact that this is a most banal excuse to showcase those special effects?

As much as I love Mia Farrow, there’s nothing better than Mia Farrow in a Woody Allen movie. There’s one exception, of course, and that’s right here, folks. She just overacts and pops so much cornball into her performance that she could easily outpop the average popcorn machine. This has worked for her multiple times in Woody’s movies, though. If only the script were more clever, her caricature might’ve been a home run.

It’s a dangerous question, to ask how Alice changes the script itself by being its leading heroine. This women does two things–just two–and you can tell me whether that’s a work of sexism or poor character development.

One. She talks. And talks, and talks, talks, chats, flaps her gums, her lips, whatever. Talks, speaks, lets words, sentences, phrases fly out sa bouche. And then, after she’s had a moment’s break, she gets goin’ again. Talk, talk, talk some more. I think Meredith Willson wrote a song specifically about this woman in The Music Man. The lyrics, of course, denote the act of talking in a rather thorough fashion.

Two. Alice complains. She’s neurotic, but so are at least half of Woody Allen’s protagonists. He loves his neurotics, but Alice’s complaints are just too dry and unfunny for us to love. I was ripping hairs from my head when she was just complaining and complaining about that damn backache of hers. She repeats herself when she complains. Oh and guess what, Alice, I have two stainless steel rods holding my back together and straightening it to prevent scoliosis from turning me into Quasimodo. How do ya like them apples? You think that’s any fun? Do you hear me complaining about some silly backache?

Oh and by the way, she repeats herself when she complains. I feel like I’ve said that already, but I kid you not. She really does repeat herself when she complains. (Should I say it again?)

I digress.

I often would characterize Woody Allen as a screenwriter of situation, in which case the events and happenstances are fleshed out for the screen more than anything else. Some of his best, however comes when he writes character to a higher degree than situation. “Annie Hall”, “Zelig”, “Match Point”, and “Blue Jasmine” all succeed thanks to the personalities that feature. Whereas “Alice” is in desperate need of character development. Once we have a reason to be interested in the main character, which we certainly do, we need a reason not to lose interest. (Oops!)

The lead role is not a followup to the same-titled TV series, or the originating movie in which Ellen Burstyn played a woman named Alice, for those who have gotten this far into my review and are still wondering. Instead, the protagonist is more of a free-spirited naïf living out Alice in Wonderland. Make no mistake, Alice’s sister’s name is Dorothy, and she probably lives inside her daydreams of the Merry Old Land of Oz. It’s basically “Amélie”, except “Amélie” is a newer movie, its fantasy elements are far less exaggerated, and it’s a much better slice of entertainment. “Alice” is funny, hither and thither. At the very least, it does try. When it’s too lazy to do just that, it recycles old jokes. My all-time favorite one-liner from any Woody Allen comedy has always been from “Manhattan”: “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.” Yep, that one’s butchered in this movie. “Alice” is a semi-complete disappointment. Clearly, there was potential for a good movie here. It just didn’t happen. Woody Allen has spent every cinematic effort since 1966 playing different variations around the same minor key. “Alice” has a flavorful array of notes, but it lacks the chords that would have made that melody appealing.

Tomorrow’s Review

À bout de souffle


The Wrestler

Movie Review #703

This review is dedicated to my first cousin, Bryan, who is a wrestler.


Wild Bunch
Protozoa Pictures
Saturn Films
Top Rope

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: USA – France
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin. Written by Robert Siegel.

Rated R by the MPAA – violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity, infrequent drug material. Runs 1 hour, 49 minutes. Premiered in New York City, New York on December 8, 2008; and in Los Angeles, California on December 16, 2008. Limited release in the USA on December 17, 2008. Wide release in the USA on January 30, 2009; and in France on February 18, 2009.

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Also starring Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller, Dylan Summers, Tommy Farra, Mike Miller, John D’Leo, Ajay Naidu, Gregg Bello, Ron Killing, and Giovanni Roselli. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Ryan Lynn, Andrew Anderson, Austin Aries, Blue Meanie, Nicky Benz, Brolly, Lamar Braxton Porter, Claudio Castignoli, Cobian, Doc Daniels, Bobby Dempsey, Billy Dream, Rob Eckis, Nate Hatred, Havoc, DJ Hyde, Inferno, Joker, Judas, Kid U.S.A., LA Smooth, Toa Mairie, Kevin Matthews, Devon Moore, Pete Nixon, Paul E. Normous, Papadon, Sabian, Jay Santana, Sugga, Larry Sweeney, and Whacks; and uncredited cameo appearances from Michael Marino, Robert Oppel, Emanuel Yarbrough, and John Zandig.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“The Wrestler” is an imperfect but intense drama. Its muscles are as strong as they could ever be, built up by its heavy meditation on the main character’s soul-in-action. Wrestling is a drug for Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke). The eighties was his heyday as a pro wrestler, and after two decades of withdrawal, he’s brought his body back to fight.

Battered. Tattered. Torn.

It’s as if instantaneously that this man is sucked into the glory of wrestling once more; to himself, Randy swears he’ll never give up wrestling again. Twenty years, he realizes, would have been no different for him if he was on hiatus or asleep. But with his beaten body, he’s prone to damage, not just the pain he so relishes. Things just won’t feel right for him when he suffers a heart attack, and is forced to put aside wrestling for good.

Darren Aronofsky directed and produced “The Wrestler”, and much like anything else in his canon (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Fountain”, “Black Swan”, the soon-to-be-released “Noah”), the movie is extremely bleak. He’s using the same setup he began with in 1998, which is that a character with an obsession will end up in the hell of self-destruction if he doesn’t restrain himself. This journey from purgatory is an engaging one, if a bit too bleak. I say this only because the tone works against the tale. The story is a thorough slice of life, but it often gets caught up in the art of depressing its audience. Our interest in the movie just isn’t in the gloom, but in the tragic hero who is surrounded by this gloom.

The drama is everything and nothing a sports movie. Perhaps someone who avidly watches pro wrestling would enjoy this more than myself, or perhaps that has nothing to do with it. The drama was written by Robert Spiegel, who formerly wrote–get this–news satire for The Onion. It’s nearly impossible to tell, and in fact, the most over-the-top sights only enhance the living, breathing quality of the movie. Despite how much worse it could have gotten, scenes when staple guns and ladders enter the ring are not easy to watch.

It goes without saying that with a less genuine centerpiece, “The Wrestler” wouldn’t work as the movie it was positioned to be. Mickey Rourke gives this hero lungs and a heartbeat. His understated, powerhouse delivery channels the interesting role to a point that lands not too far from a description as real. The whole movie is superbly acted, with him in the unmistakable lead. (Evan Rachel Wood, in her riveting performance, would classify as a runner-up.)

In an Aronofsky movie, it’s that very last moment that counts. What “The Wrestler” offered in this case was underwhelming. He doesn’t than depict or even suggest the character’s self-destruction this time. Between the last shot, the long pause before the credits, and the solemn entrance of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” (a great song that creates an overly sudden contrast with any of several preceding hair band songs), Aronofsky suggests the ambiguity of either self-destruction or life continuing as-is. The finale is new, but it feels decidedly underwhelming.

That’s half of my thoughts on the ending. Everything before is fantastic, and perhaps the closing half hour is the best half hour one could extract from the movie. Rourke’s numero uno in this movie makes for a gripping finishing act, to the point where that extended final scene had me shaken.

Tomorrow’s Review

Winter’s Bone


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