Archives for posts with tag: romance

Did you see Mamma Mia and hate it? Don’t see this. Did you see Mamma Mia and sort of like it? For sure see this, it’s better. If you loved Mamma Mia in its original flavor, you will go bananas for this.

Donna (Meryl Streep) has died, unexplainedly, but probably because Meryl didn’t have a lot of time to spend on this movie. And also so people can look sad. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has restored the hotel, and it’s lovely, but Sky (Dominic Cooper) is in New York and might want to stay there because career or bagels or something. It storms like crazy the night before the grand opening OH NO.

Running along with this is flashbacks of Donna’s (Lily James) earlier life, where–in utter defiance of probability–she manages not to know which of Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Josh Dylan), or Harry (Hugh Skinner) is Sophie’s father and does not seem like an irresponsible tramp. This is partly because Lily James’s smile is slightly infectious and also because all of them are crazy hot and catch her at reasonable emotional states for jumping into bed with people. Richard Curtis has managed this well. They’re pretty good young Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth, respectively, although I could ask for slightly more differentiation between the non-blondes.

BUT. The best part is her young Christine Baranski (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Julie Walters (Alexa Davies). They’re hilarious and adorable and good matches, but still have their own personalities. They dress horribly and give slightly bad advice (as they will again when they are older) but are so cheekily supportive it’s hard to be angry. Also the constant gags with the youth of the flashbacks and the age of the original cast are wonderful.MV5BMjEwMTM3OTI1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDk5NTY0NTM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpg

ALSO CHER.

This movie knew exactly who would see it, and catered to that mercilessly, but it was also so gleeful. I could not stop smiling. I look forward to drinking a bottle and a half of rosé and singing along to it in the future.

Stray observations:

  • Andy Garcia jumped on this bandwagon and if you think about it for a split second it’s extremely obvious why but the payoff is so good.
  • Wait for the credits sequence. It’s way better than the first one.
  • We get “Waterloo” AND “Fernando” and I could not be happier.

Director: Ol Parker
Rating: PG-13
Length: 114 minutes
Score: 5/5 and also unrateable

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Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.

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This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

Ugh. Ugh.

Iris (Kate Winslet) works in publishing in England and is in love with a fancy author, Jasper (Rufus Sewell, and no, the names don’t get less precious). He is not in love with her but he does enjoy keeping her around. She needs a change.

MV5BMTI1MDk4MzA2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQ3NDc3._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Amanda (Cameron Diaz) makes movie trailers in Los Angeles, and her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) both is running around on her and thinks she’s bad at sex. She is unable to cry. She also needs a change.

They swap houses over Christmas, back in a time when the internet was fairly new and this seemed interesting and strange. Amanda goes to stay in Iris’s ludicrously adorable country cottage, where she is (not) hilariously bad at driving on the left. She nearly runs down several people. It is contemptible. Iris goes to stay in Amanda’s enormous automated house, where she is amazed by the pool and cannot figure out how to work the gate. So, yes. Both of these women are literally stupid.

Fortunately, of course, there are men. Graham (Jude Law) is Iris’s brother, and stumbles drunkenly to the cottage. He is mostly delightful, and for some reason falls heavily for Amanda. He is a widower with small children, wears sensible spectacles, and cries a lot. Miles (Miles! seriously!) (Jack Black) is around Amanda’s old house and he helps Iris out of her sad repressed self. He has some help from a bunch of elderly Jewish screenwriters (principally Eli Wallach), who teach Iris about having feelings and also Chanukah.

It’s Nancy Meyers, so the interiors are gorgeous. They are the best thing about this movie. Seriously, you have to watch Kate Winslet jump in the air and shout “yippee!” or something. She seems no more convinced than you are.

Director: Nancy Meyers
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 2/5

Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is a talent-booker for a nationally syndicated television talk show that for some reason desires to book, on the one hand, Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro, and, on the other, a batty old lady with theories about male infidelity.  Her boss, Diane (Ellen Barkin), speaks in smug clichés and sits with one foot tucked up under her. On TV. In a skirt. At her job as a hot-shot talk show host.

MV5BNWIwMGYzOGYtMDY2Yy00NDk5LWI5MTItMDI2YzExMzI4ZDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDY4Mjk@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Also working on the show is Eddie (Hugh Jackman), who wears black Levis and mock turtlenecks and too much hair gel but apparently gets all the ladies. It was 2001. And, to be fair, he still looked like Hugh Jackman. And then there is Ray (Greg Kinnear), who is sensitive and has glasses and a girlfriend but they’re having problems. So Jane falls hard and digs her diaphragm out of a shoebox, in a touchingly hilarious moment.

Of course Ray goes back to his girlfriend. And, instead of drinking heavily or eating all the ice cream or something else hackneyed but cathartic, Jane dances on the career implosion tightrope! She decides, having read an article about how bulls don’t like to mate with the same cow twice, that this is why Ray left her, and she creates an entire fake person whose research is about this “new cow theory.” And then, because fact-checking was not a thing, she manages to fool the world into believing this woman is real, and she gets booked on her own show! It is insane.

But, otherwise, the movie is cute. It has annoying voiceovers, sure, and annoying intertitles, sure, presumably because Tony Goldwyn was trying to be Richard Curtis, but I’ll allow it. And this is because the other stuff is nice. Jane’s best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei), is nutty but supportive in classic Marisa Tomei fashion. They pass the Bechdel test. And Jane’s sister (Catherine Dent) is trying to get pregnant, and she and her husband (Peter Friedman) are an unsubtle but still pleasant contrast to Jane’s wackiness.

Stray observations:

  • Fashion was terrible. Jane deliberately wears a tank top and some kind of sport…skirt? Like, basketball shorts, but a miniskirt. And she has a coat that resembles nothing so much as a silk dressing gown.
  • Seriously. Jane thinks they can book Fidel Castro. But this is a show that does not do the very simple digging that will reveal that the new cow theoretician does not exist. Ah, 2001, and careers in movies.

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Rating: PG-13
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 3/5

Do you think that Chris Evans is cute and charming enough that you want to watch a version of Before Sunrise that he directed and in which he stars? Because then you should watch this, but probably for no other reason.

Brooke (Alice Eve) is an art dealer in Manhattan possibly cheating on her husband, and her handbag is stolen, so all she has is her phone and a train ticket. She misses the last train. Nick (Evans) is in town for a band audition, but is busking in Grand Central to avoid running into an ex at a party. He is bad at paying credit card bills. They spend all night having various misadventures trying to get Brooke back to Boston.

They’re both attractive, but they talk about their feelings a lot and it’s irritating. And, frankly, it’s evident that the facet of this movie that involved the most thought was stranding them. In 2014, it’s tricky to be truly stranded, between phones and credit cards, MV5BOTMxNzE0NjY4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjIxNjIzNjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_and the film does a lot of work to make sure you know they’ve tried everything. If only the writing had involved that much effort.

And I hope it doesn’t bother you that we are asked to believe that somebody spends a night in a hotel with Chris Evans and doesn’t sleep with him.

Director: Chris Evans
Rating: PG-13
Length: 95 minutes
Score: 2/5

I’m going to be unfair to this movie, because I’ve read the novel by Irène Némirovsky, which is brilliant. Suite Française was written during the war, before Némirovsky was murdered by the Nazis, and, though unfinished, it has a much broader and clearer vision of humanity than the film does. It follows, among others, a middle-class family whose son is away at the fighting as they flee Paris, an aging bon-vivant who sticks to his champagne amid the German bombs, an absolutely awful matron of late middle age who values her silver more than people, and a young married lady in the country in whose house an officer of the Wehrmacht is billeted.

MV5BMTczMjg3MzQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDYyNzY4NDE@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_The movie, naturally, concentrates on the last grouping, because there’s the most smooching in it. Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) is unhappily married; luckily her husband is a POW, but unluckily her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) is around to be unpleasant to her. When the Germans invade, Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) is put up in their house. He is polite, has a nice dog, and can play the piano. Lucile lacks a personality entirely.

Meanwhile, the mayor, Viscount Montmort (Lambert Wilson) and his wife (Harriet Walter) are trying to accommodate themselves to reality; a horrible German officer (Tom Schilling) is billeted on a farm belonging to the Labaries (Sam Riley and Ruth Wilson), which ends about as well as you’d think; a Jewish woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) and her daughter are…there.

This movie is stupid and melodramatic. You don’t need to add pathos to the Nazi invasion of France, or insulting inanities to Némirovsky’s novel. I suppose that, once one has hired the extremely handsome Mr. Schoenaerts, one feels he ought to be on screen, but every other story in the novel is more interesting than Lucile’s and Bruno’s, and less well-trodden.

Director: Saul Dibb
Rating: around PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 2/5

“Spunky, badly-dressed woman teaches well-heeled man how to feel” is my least favorite genre of film, because for some reason I’m not sure it’s better to run roughshod over other people’s lives even if you do it with a smile and dumb tights.

This one is even worse than usual.

In a MV5BMTQ2NjE4NDE2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwNDE5NzE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_twist of fate, posh banker Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) wisely doesn’t take his motorcycle to work in the rain, and is hit by someone else and paralyzed. He moves back in with his parents in a tiny town, and of course his girlfriend leaves him for his best friend. He lets himself get scruffy and gets his kicks by doing a “My Left Foot” bit to unsuspecting strangers. You suspect he may have been kind of a douche all along.

His mother Camilla (Janet McTeer) is at her wits’ end, and hires as a companion a local young woman, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). She has just lost her job in a café, where she is relentlessly sweet to the little old ladies who eat there. Her family is short on money, but she has an inexhaustible supply of perfectly coordinated, whimsically bright outfits, including innumerably flashy pairs of Mary Janes. Naturally, despite her humble background and her father’s unemployment and her sister’s single motherhood, she approaches all problems with boundless, uncomprehending optimism. Her boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis, of Neville Longbottom + puberty = surprise fame) is a runner, and cartoonishly dense, of course.

Well, you know how this goes. Will’s parents (Charles Dance is his father) don’t know how to cope with their son’s pain and despair, because they’re rich and don’t know how to love, and are willing to take him to Dignitas after a period of adjustment. Lou, though–she and her good attitude can work wonders! Between that blind glee and the broad shoulders of the Australian physio Nate (Stephen Peacocke), they paint the town red. They even go to the ex-girlfriend’s wedding together, and have a great time. Joanna Lumley is there, for thirty seconds.

But here’s the kicker: even working-class sincerity and butterfly hair clips might not cure paraplegia. And it’s really not appealing to watch Lou lecture Will about how selfish he is when she refuses to listen to him, ever. It’s gross, in fact.

Also: women? You can have a personality and even be generous and caring while still having a grasp of reality and maybe owning a grey dress or a black pair of shoes.

Director: Thea Sharrock
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 1/5

MV5BNjM1M2Y3NWUtOWM1MS00YjUzLThiNmEtNjdiMTZmMzg3NTY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_An ancestral curse gives Penelope (Christina Ricci) a pig face, and she therefore struggles to find love. Especially because, by the terms of the curse, it is assumed (particularly by her mother, played by the inimitable Catherine O’Hara) that she must marry a rich man. So she needs someone from old money, still rich, who doesn’t mind the pig face. Tricky.

People are bigger assholes than you’d expect, though. The deformity is pretty mild (especially on Christina Ricci, where it’s a bit…on the nose*), and she comes with a lot of money. You’d figure someone would be happy to cope, even if Penelope weren’t fairly interesting and nice, which, of course, she is. Also Richard E. Grant is her dad, which is a 10/10, dad-wise. But Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) is cartoonishly appalled by her face, and he runs off to a reporter (Peter Dinklage) who’s been trying to get a glimpse of Penelope for years.  The usual shenanigans lead to a mistaken identity gambit in which Edward and the reporter hire Max (James McAvoy) to pretend to court Penelope.

It’s cute. It’s not careful, or especially clever, or particularly original, but it’s cute.

Stray observations:

  • Nigel Havers is in this movie.
  • Reese Witherspoon is also there, to teach Penelope a little sass.
  • Ostensibly, Penelope takes place in the States. But it is very obviously filmed in England, and nearly everyone in it is British.

Director: Mark Palansky
Rating: PG or so
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 3/5

* I am so, so sorry.

This movie is both painfully earnest and technically bad. It’s like somebody tried to make The Young Victoria from the other side of empire but had never heard anyone have a conversation or seen a movie. The pacing is atrocious, the dialogue is heavy on exposition and light on verisimilitude, and the message clocks you in the face.

Now, lack of subtlety would be all right if it weren’t incoherent and a little insulting. Admittedly few people are particularly familiar with the circumstances around the annexation of Hawai’i. Clunky speeches and cartoonishly evil nutcases are not the answer. Historical movies exist, even movies about colonial shenanigans. Take cues from a good one; they don’t have to consist entirely of awkward monologues. And if you want to emphasize Ka’iulani’s political boldness, spend less time on her romantic life.

The storyline, such as it is, is fairly classic. Hawai’i is facing American domination, and the young princess (Q’Orianka Kilcher) finds herself being educated in England with MV5BMTY2NDcwNjM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE4ODE0Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_a friend of her father’s, Theophilus Davies (Julian Glover, who presumably had poker debts). He has a son, Clive (Shaun Evans), and a daughter, Alice (Tamzin Merchant). Clive serves the excellent purpose of falling in love with Ka’iulani, standing up for her to comically stilted snobs, and then funking it when life gets tricky. Alice is there as a contrast to everyone else in England, who is horrible. Letters come at the most opportune of moments, people find their voices just when they’re about to be shouted down, Ka’iulani is so candid and kindly that people just don’t know how to deal with her… It’s like a storybook written by a moron. A sincere, well-meaning moron.

The cast does its best with the material, but that isn’t a lot. So much is left on the table–Ka’iulani died less than a year after the annexation, presumably of heartbreak. Why not include that, for real emotional weight, rather than the silly teenage soppiness? Why not spend more time with her splendid aunt, the Queen (Leo Anderson Akana)? Why not address how she’s spent most of the film away from Hawai’i, and how that might be complicated?

Director: Marc Forby
Rating: PG
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 1/5

MV5BMTUwNjUxMTM4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODExMDQzMTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_If you ever worried about how a ten-year-old orphan gets cruelly cursed forever for being an honestly rather mild type of brat, the new live-action adaptation of Beauty & the Beast somewhat mitigates the problem. Time stands still for him, so he is grown when the curse falls, and no more grown when it ends. But now he has an explicitly unhappy childhood, and is, one feels, more to be pitied than censured.

On the whole, the plot holes of the animated movie are filled–the alarmingly various weather, the mysteriously unknown castle some twenty minutes away from the village, Mrs. Potts’s age… Few are added, amazingly, though Belle (Emma Watson) becomes less practical in matters of dress for visual effect and spends a surprising amount of time in her underwear. Gaston (Luke Evans) has a backstory now, and slides gracefully from amusingly vacuous to really quite evil. Mr. Evans commits completely to the part; he’s great.

The casting generally is strong. Lefou (Josh Gad) is having the most fun, and has the most material, but everyone else–Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) and her husband the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), and the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)–is also enjoyably jolly. Their houseware-persons are well-executed, although Lumière was slightly too mechanical for my tastes, particularly about the knees. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is easier to take seriously than in the cartoon, which may surprise you.

Visuals are stupendous, although they did the annoying Disney thing of having a building that is made entirely of staircases and bridges for no discernible reason. The yellow dress does not disappoint. The big finish of the Beast (Dan Stevens) will, I think, age badly. But for now the capture technology and the humanity of his admittedly striking eyes works excellently well, and they took care with the eye-lines, so he and Belle speak and interact plausibly.

I wanted not to enjoy this movie, just so I could be dismissively smug, but it was delightful. The new songs are nice, the slightly elevated jokes are a joy, and the people have somewhere between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half dimensions.

Stray observations:

  • The lyric “I can feel a change in me” while modulating begs to be heard “I can feel a change in key.”
  • The owner of the bookshop is turned into a priest, Père Robert (Ray Fearon), and he is handsome and humane and disappears pointlessly. I was certain he would be helpful in escaping, but he just…wasn’t there.
  • Some of them are in Greek!
  • Super glad everything is fixed just in time for, I assume, everyone to be beheaded in about a decade.
  • Dan Stevens should only ever wear blues between sky and Prussian.

Director: Bill Condon
Rating: PG
Length: 129 minutes
Score: 4/5