Archive for the Romance Category

About Last Night

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on February 16, 2014 by Mark Hobin

About Last Night photo starrating-3stars.jpgDavid Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” was sanitized into a 1986 brat pack romance starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore when they were in their early 20s. It was a moderate hit with audiences but David Mamet (and the critics) hated it. Flash forward nearly 3 decades later and the comedy about the divide between men and women has been remade. Director Steve Pink’s update is familiar stuff to anyone who has ever seen at least one romantic comedy in their life. He recycles timeworn ideas but now the location is Los Angeles. The story charts the relationship of two wildly different African-American couples who also happen to be friends. The principals skew closer to the age of 40 this time around. One is genuinely into long term commitment, the other craves instant gratification.  The material is more sexually explicit, but it‘s all because of frank repartee. It’s verbally raunchy, but not graphically so.

The real stars of About Last Night are the sidekicks Bernie and Joan, portrayed by Kevin Hart and Regina Hall. This is the 6th film the two have appeared in together, 7 if you count the upcoming Think Like a Man Too. However this is the first instance where they have been a couple. Note to Hollywood: continue pairing these two up as such.  Kevin Hart is a motor-mouthed comedian with enough energy for 5 romantic comedies. Regina Hall is his sassy match. She seems happier in an argument than at peace. Their characters are in it for the physical act and not about the commitment. They’re lewd, crude and yes hilariously over the top. They stand in stark contrast to actors Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant who play the reticent Danny and Debbie that fall deeply in love. Then they move in together. They’re shy types that develop a sweet intimacy, but they can be sensual too. On one occasion Debbie spends the evening making dinner. In one fell swoop, Danny knocks it all to the floor so they can have sex on the table. I couldn’t help thinking, you just ruined a lot of good food, to say nothing of her time and effort. No mention is made of that. Instead they squabble over things like getting a puppy.  <yawn> On New Year’s Eve, they actually complain about being boring. Only the dullest couple would fight over such a thing.

The narrative is frenzied and haphazard. Danny and Debbie’s relationship goes through unpredictable fluctuations. Danny progresses from nice guy to jerk on New Years Eve. Danny’s anger with staying at home is perplexing because up until that point he had always enjoyed a quiet evening with his girl. Debbie makes another delicious meal for Danny. Then Bernie calls him and they all end up going out instead. More wasted food. They meet up at the club and Danny starts pounding one drink after another at the bar. Who is THIS guy? Bernie and Joan’s behavior doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Joan is constantly getting angry at the drop of a hat, sometimes for reasons that are completely random and unpredicatble.

About Last Night concerns the sexual politics of two couples. The sweet one wants to commit following a one-night stand. The other passionately volatile, are like two moths drawn to a flame. The pace is frantic. The frenetic editing can go from screwball to headache in seconds. One minute of conversation between two people talking is a series of 30 jump cuts back-and-forth between two faces. Relax! It’s OK to linger on a shot for more than 2 seconds.  Director Steve Pink’s movie bears little resemblance to David Mamet’s play or dialogue, but that doesn‘t mean this isn‘t an improvement to the 1986 adaptation. Argumentative Bernie and Joan are fun to watch. Their shouted dialogue is delivered machine gun style at each other in rapid succession without breath. They interact in hilarious fashion and their discussions descend into bickering, often suddenly without warning. They quarrel, often for no good reason other than to provide laughs. They raise this from a clichéd chronicle to an enjoyable romp.

Labor Day

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Labor Day photo starrating-2stars.jpgBack in 2007 Chronicle Books published a paperback entitled Porn for Women. Despite the raunchy sounding title, it was in fact a tongue-in-cheek, PG-rated photo book. The humorous publication featured clean-cut guys washing dishes, doing the laundry, and saying things like “Let me make you some tea and we can talk about it.” Labor Day is kind of pitched to the same audience except that it’s no joke.  It might have been rewritten and worked as a parody, but as a serious romance, it’s just awful. The most stilted fantasy aimed at lonely women since Nights in Rodanthe.

The drama stars Kate Winslet as Adele. Apparently she’s suffering from depression after the breakup of her marriage. She’s extremely forlorn, although her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) does his best to comfort her. He is sweetness personified even giving her a coupon book offering to do all the chores around the house. I will say that his coming-of-age character makes the most sense. The young actor is quite good. Anyway, while shopping in a discount store one day, the twosome are accosted by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict with a bleeding wound on his stomach. He forces the two to take him to their home so he can hide out for awhile.

What happens next is too illogical for words. Within seconds of entering the house Adele is making Frank coffee. “Isn’t it against the law to hide a fugitive?“ her son asks.  So Frank gently ties her to a chair to look as if she has been forced contrary to her will. For some reason, he spares the son. Henry watches on nervously. Then Frank whips up his famous chili and spoon-feeds it to Adele, blowing on each bite so it doesn‘t burn her tongue. As the weekend progresses, manly Frank replaces the oil on her car, changes the filter on the furnace, washes and waxes the kitchen floor and even helps her son understand what a ratchet wrench is and how to throw a baseball. Are you kidding me? However the most ridiculous sequence is an extended cooking demonstration in which Frank teaches mother and son how to bake the perfect peach pie. Each brand name ingredient lovingly framed at camera level ostensibly so the audience can go buy the correct ingredients when they make the recipe at home. Adele mixes the peaches with her hands. Then Frank also puts his hands in the mixture and the two affectionately caress one another. First I thought of the pottery scene in Ghost. Then I rolled my eyes so far back I thought I saw my brain.

The plot is simplistic in the extreme. Lonely divorcée falls in love with an escaped prisoner. He’s pretty benign, but the ominous music misleads the viewer into believing something very evil is imminent. I suppose falling for a murderer isn’t ideal. But then there are several groan-inducing flashbacks that awkwardly persuade us to sympathize with Frank in the most horrendously manipulative way possible. Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult: I’ve adored every single one of Jason Reitman’s other films. I am flabbergasted this was helmed by the same director. Furthermore, he adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel himself. Regardless of how sappy the source material is, he must accept blame for this script. I kept thinking that at some point in the development of this story there would be a twist or surprise that would explain why such a mentally troubled woman would be so comfortable with a convicted felon in the house. No such luck.

The Invisible Woman

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance with tags on January 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Invisible Woman photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBiographical romance spotlights Charles Dickens and his clandestine relationship with English actress Ellen Ternan, or Nelly. By 1857 Charles Dickens had been married to his wife Catherine for over twenty years. They had 10 children together. Dickens meets Nelly, a struggling young actress who is performing in one of his plays, The Frozen Deep. He is 45, she is 18. Immediately taken with the girl, he ever so delicately pursues her in the most gradual way possible. Slow, methodically plotted story truly emphasizes the great lengths that Dickens took to tread lightly in his advances toward the woman. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, this handsomely mounted costume drama is actor Ralph Fiennes directorial follow-up to Coriolanus.

In essence the film is about lust. But it‘s presented in the most carefully articulated way so as not to disturb societal conventions. There aren’t obvious displays of tremendous passion. Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly progresses through glances and things not said, but understood. Despite his best efforts, his attraction to the young woman does not go unnoticed by her mother portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas. Mrs. Frances Ternan regards his intentions with a mixture of cautious uncertainty.  Frances is a small role but the inspired casting choice grants Thomas the opportunity to share the screen with the actor with whom she famously co-starred in 1996’s The English Patient.

For half the movie Nelly and Charles refrain from physically acting upon their desires. She initially rebuffs his advances. At a key juncture, Dickens brings Nelly to friend and author Wilkie Collins’ (Tom Hollander) home, where Collins’ lives in an openly unmarried affair with his mistress Caroline (Michelle Fairley). Nelly is visibly appalled that Dickens would take the liberty to expose her to it. They are clearly falling for each other, however, as their slowly growing emotions are perceptible. They keep their feelings hidden from the public sans overt demonstrations of their love. This isn’t the type of love affair we’re used to seeing, but that is what makes this production unique.

Dickens is a charismatic presence, particularly in Ralph Fiennes’ hands. In public he commands attention. He captivates a crowd in town who swarm around him like a rock star. Privately however, Dickens was surprisingly insecure and shy. Felicity Jones isn’t as acclaimed as her co-star, but she superbly proves herself every bit his match in the title role. She exhibits a wide eyed innocence that gives way to moral turmoil. Together the couple are static vessels externally hiding powerful emotion kept tightly within. The much lauded novelist, comes up decidedly short as a husband. Joanna Scanlan is quite memorable as Dickens’ wife Catherine. She beautifully conveys the heartbreaking realization of her husband’s infidelity in one devastating scene. The visit she pays the ingénue is mortifying. Catherine’s subsequent declaration to Nelly is heartbreakingly pragmatic.

The Invisible Woman details a specific period of a particular time. The 13 year relationship between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is not just a tale of love but of pain and regret as well. Occasionally the focus on this exclusive detail of the author’s life doesn’t always sustain the narrative. But more often than not, the production captures an era when traditional moral attitudes were held dear. Outwardly, Dickens was the passionate defender of home and family. But secretly his heart belonged to another . Even after separating from his wife, he continued to keep his association with Nelly a secret for fear of damaging her reputation. There were rumors, but he consistently maintained in public that Nelly was nothing less than a chaste woman. This endured for the rest of his life until 1870 when he died. These conventions seem archaic to modern audiences, but those social mores made this couple’s guarded behavior necessary. Breaking implied codes of decency would condemn a woman’s standing in the community. The threat forced people at least to maintain the appearance of adhering to accepted societal customs. I can understand why someone wouldn’t appreciate the film’s deliberate pace but that is precisely what I loved about it.

The Princess Bride

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Family, Romance with tags on January 15, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Princess Bride photo starrating-5stars.jpgCinemark theaters’ Classic Series has become an easy way for people to see older films on the big screen. I recently watched 1987’s The Princess Bride. Rob Reiner’s glorious comedy adventure is a delightful tribute to vintage fairy tales of old. Almost 30 years later and the picture has lost none of its luster.

The production captures lightning in a bottle with each actor arguably giving the most memorable performance of their film careers. Mandy Patinkin deserves a lot of credit for his noble Spaniard out to avenge the death of his father. His famous oath: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” is the stuff of movie legend. Wallace Shawn is particularly funny as a delusional criminal genius. Joining the two is André the Giant perfectly cast as, what else, their giant friend Fezzik. The three of them form a wandering outlaw trio with camaraderie to spare. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright perfectly embody the quintessential romantic duo. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are amusing as a forest dwelling troll doctor and his wife. “Have fun stormin’ da castle.”  Even Peter Falk as Grandpa who narrates and Fred Savage as his grandson provide a wonderful framing device through which the story is told. In this way, developments are halted at opportune times where jokes can be inserted for comic effect.

What makes The Princess Bride so enjoyable is Rob Reiner’s ability to send-up traditional fables without descending into acerbity. Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman brilliantly adapts his own 1973 novel of the same name. It gently pokes fun at the sentimentality of fairy tales while still genuinely capitalizing on their innocence. There’s a modern sensibility but it never threatens to contaminate the sincerity of the proceedings. Mandy Patinkin’s declaration is the most well known, but iconic dialogue abounds. “Inconceivable!” The Cliffs of Insanity, the Pit of Despair, the Fire Swamp where the Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.) dwell – each location highlights another hilarious set piece. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer, you’ll thrill to every recognizable line and action spectacle. Its one lone Oscar nomination for Best Original Song is a complete headscratcher today. Although it wasn’t a huge hit in its day ($61.9 million in today’s dollars), the film has since gone on to achieve classic status. I’ll choose long term longevity to instant gratification any day. “As you wish.”

Her

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 21, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Her photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgHer is the work of a perceptive individual. Spike Jonze has 4 films in his directorial repertoire and he has managed to make a statement with each one. Her is perhaps his most accomplished one yet. He not only directs, but for the first time, he is working from a screenplay that he has solely written himself. With all due respect to the cleverness of past collaborator Charlie Kauffman, Jonze should continue to do this. The writing is brilliant.

The setting is Los Angeles. The time is the near future. Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly. He works for a company called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a firm in the business of doing just that, providing moving hand written correspondence for other people. It’s kind of like Hallmark, but to the 10th power. He’s a scribe that’s very good at his job. There’s an irony however. His own existence is far from emotionally perfect. Recently split from his wife (Rooney Mara), he is a broken man. Then one day he purchases some new software for his computer. It’s a highly intuitive, self aware, disembodied voice, “the first artificially intelligent operating system“ that makes today‘s technology seem antiquated by comparison. Initially she begins by merely organizing his emails, but her personality is more than organizational. He has many conversations with her. His dependence deepens.

Her is a curious vision of the world to come, but it’s still refreshingly restrained. The movie should age well. Jonze uses background shots of Shanghai to represent a Los Angeles of the future. The cinematography is soothing blue and grey pastels often disrupted by the color of Phoenix‘s shirt. I liked the high-waisted beltless pants. It’s suitably familiar to be recognizable, but noticeably different to clearly not be of this time. Yet the majority of the action takes place in sterile, serene rooms where people simply converse. This gives the bustling metropolis of LA a peaceful, Zen-like gloss on the surroundings. There is a minor nagging contention that the production is based on nothing more than different rooms with a man talking to a computer. But the elementary scene construction generates undeniable results. it’s a deceptively simple conceit that yields an emotional powerhouse.

As the voice of the OS, Scarlett Johansson is sensitive, yearning and passionate. Her name is Samantha. Her intonations mimic the sound and speech patterns of a human voice, but without the complications that a living human brings. The obvious analogue would be Siri, the personal assistant application for Apple’s iOS. Where the language interface of Siri is a rudimentary version of a talking human, Samantha is an almost sentient entity. This isn’t the sound of a computer, but of an advanced individual with the desire to please. The drama is made up of their conversations. She encourages him to seize life both professionally and romantically. They have an easy familiarity with each other right from the start, Her influence starts to have a profound effect. As their interactions grow more thoughtful, their bond becomes increasingly intimate. They provide a cogent dissertation on the nature of relationships in this ever-evolving digital age. This is the giddy delight of two people getting to know one another.

Her is Spike Jonze’s magnum opus on love. He is gently dissecting our modern computer era. With its heavy reliance on cell phones and the Internet, his vision of the future is just enough like our own to be instantly relatable. But is an attachment to a voice too far fetched? Of course it isn’t really the voice, it’s the fully formed personality that we connect with. As the operating system, Scarlett Johansson expresses herself with a joy and wonder that is positively captivating. The doubt with which people used to regard relationships between people who met online, courts a gradually eroding skepticism. Her illustrates the plausibility for someone to fall in love with a person they’ve never met, better than any work of fiction I’ve ever seen. The script analyzes what constitutes love and makes the case that a passionate connection doesn’t even require a physical body. It relies on making an emotional bond with a person on a spiritual level. What sounds like science fiction on paper, is actually one of the most deeply felt romances of 2013.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Romance with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Blue Is the Warmest Color photo starrating-4stars.jpgAdèle is a girl in secondary school. She yearns for romance, but her desires are complicated by conflicting feelings. Egged on by the inane chatter of her high school friends, Adèle goes out with a good looking schoolboy who is attracted to her. On the way to their date, she spies a young mysterious blue haired woman with her arms around another girl. They lock glances. Adèle and Thomas date briefly and although he is taken with her, she breaks up with him. Adèle later meets Emma, the woman she spied earlier. They embark on a relationship.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was originally titled The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. Somehow that seems more appropriate.  At 3 hours, the movie is like two halves: the original movie and then its sequel pushed together to form two episodes in the life. The first half is what causes two people to fall in love. The second, is what drives them apart. Throughout it all, emotions run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholia and pain. The drama is such a fully realized portrait, that even after the extreme length, you still might be curious what’s next for Adèle. What happens to her in Chapter 3?

At the film’s heart are two stunning performances. Léa Seydoux is Emma. The French actress is recognized for both French (Farewell, My Queen) and American (Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris) productions alike. Adèle is played with uncompromising credibility by newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos. As the star, she anchors the drama with her work. Since she shares the same name as her character and this is her first major role, I am impulsively tempted to conclude she is merely playing herself. Yet even that would require the skills of a great thespian given what she does here. She presents a teenager that is nearly flawless in its honesty. The achievement never translates as acting. She just is.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche allows scenarios to play far beyond a normal duration. In most cases, this is a good thing because it heightens the experience that this is reality. The interactions drift and percolate like authentic dialogue. They deceptively feel improvised because of their utter veracity. Yet the script is too focused to truly believe that. They highlight the process of learning about someone and slowly getting to understand them. As a whole the picture attempts to portray every facet of a relationship. The film has most famously drawn publicity for its lovemaking scenes. A sequence in and of itself can shock sensibilities. Their desire culminates in extended scenes of intimacy that do push accepted boundaries. This is an unedited, unembarrassed and sensual expression. Admittedly, the director does a disservice at making them so graphic. Their explicitness tends to overshadow the sensitivity of the rest of the narrative which depicts their association with a much tender approach.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its highest honor. For the first time ever the prize was also officially bestowed to two actors as well: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. That just shows how intrinsic they are to the success of the picture. It presents a relationship in unexpurgated detail – an unbridled 3 hours. Normally that would be a barrier in engaging the attention, but the plot never seems dull. Director Abdellatif Kechiche lets a scene gradually unfold. The script has a natural rhythm. The conversations take their time in the way genuine people would interact with long pauses and the awkwardness of dialogue that isn’t perfected. That permits a candor that is determined in being explicit with feeling. This has courted controversy for its sexual depictions. It could be argued that they are a physical manifestation of the intimacy we’ve already seen on an intellectual level. The director has nevertheless made a dubious choice which is ultimately a misstep. Evaluated as an overall account, however, those minutes constitute a very small part. Most of the story has a delicate beauty of real life and raw emotion that has rarely been presented so honestly.

White Christmas

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Holiday, Romance with tags on December 4, 2013 by Mark Hobin

White Christmas photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt’s Christmas Eve, 1944. Two entertainers in the army are giving a show to the troops of the 151st Division somewhere in Europe. In the midst of the program, an enemy attack causes a large stone wall to fall toward Bob Wallace. Phil Davis is able to push him out of harm’s way, but not without sustaining a minor injury to his own arm. After the war, Phil uses his good deed to convince Bob to form a singing duo. They make it big in nightclubs, radio and then Broadway where they launch a hit musical. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are the army buddies, Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and Vera-Ellen are the sisters they hire into the act. Everyone has chemistry to spare.

White Christmas is a perennial favorite of the holidays. Of course the title for the movie is from the enduring hit, the best-selling single of all time. Originally written for the 1942 musical Holiday Inn, White Christmas was a belated follow up to that hit movie. This is another excuse to weave a lot of Irving Berlin songs into a simplistic plot. “Blue Skies”, “Snow”, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” They’re all here. The song “Sisters” is particularly entertaining – in 2 different versions sung by both sexes. Bright colorful production is beautifully filmed in the widescreen format VistaVision. White Christmas also spotlights some really splashy dance numbers including “Choreography”, “Abraham” and “Mandy”. The latter of which features dresses and tuxes in such blazing reds and greens, the color is simply bursting from the frame. The spectacle was syrupy sweet when it came out, but feels even more corny today.  A less secure critic might be embarrassed to concede that he actually delights in this sort of hokum. I freely admit I enjoy this film without one iota of shame. There’s a sugar-coated artificiality to the proceedings, but that’s what makes the old fashioned display so heartwarming. There’s a reason why this has endured for 6 decades.

Drinking Buddies

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 2, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Drinking Buddies photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe Mumblecore film movement was kept alive in 2013 with the releases of Frances Ha, Computer Chess and this lo-fi utilitarian rom-com. Drinking Buddies is a four character study of two pairs in relationships. Director Joe Swanberg’s script captures the poetic rhythms of adults trapped in limbo between security and instability.

Chris and Kate are boyfriend and girlfriend. Ditto Luke and Jill. At a party, Chris invites Luke and Jill to join him and Kate for the weekend at his family’s cottage by the lake. Complications develop. One guess what those might be. Apparently writer director Joe Swanberg was inspired by 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. That implies lots of risqué shenanigans but that is far from the case. Someone kisses someone else, but that is the extent of the indiscretions. Most of this observational drama is focused on pleasant unrehearsed conversations. The emotions feel genuine and the developing story is authentic. These are real people with real desires. However it all builds to much ado about nothing. I get it. This chronicle celebrates the journey, not the destination, but even the way the drama unfolds is pretty lethargic. I should film the laughs, tears, arguments and pain amongst my own friends. With the assistance of a great editor, I could probably fashion a more interesting saga. That’s not to say this is a terrible picture. It’s just insignificant.

Drinking Buddies is highlighted by some nuanced acting, but the whole production is underwhelming. Minimalism can be refreshing, but nothingness is distressing. Occasionally the dialogue sounds as if they’re making it all up as they go along. You keep hoping they’re going to say something insightful about relationships, but that revelation never arrives. It sounds genuine and awkward at different times intermittently. I suppose part of the curiosity here is seeing attractive actors like Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston look so utterly disheveled in appearance. They portray hazily defined hipsters that will make your own friends seem like scintillating conversationalists by comparison. Watching this gang have a drink or two is a bit of a provocation. Drinking Buddies suggests alcohol is a motivator to act on one’s true feelings. Watching the mundanity of these proceedings, it’s probably only a matter of time before you’ll start reaching for the bottle.

Enough Said

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on October 9, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Enough Said photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThe late James Gandolfini makes one of his last appearances in director Nicole Holofcener’s rumination on divorced empty nesters looking for love. Eva, a single mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), braces for her daughter’s upcoming departure for college. Albert, a single Dad (James Gandolfini), is likewise coming to terms with his daughter leaving home. Eva spends her days working as a masseuse but dreading her daughter’s impending farewell. She meets Albert (James Gandolfini) – a lovable, funny and like-minded man also facing an empty nest. They bond unexpectedly over their similar circumstances. Then there’s Catherine Keener who plays Eva’s newest client, Marianne. She is a divorced woman whose own dissatisfaction in her previous marriage begins to weigh on Eva in her current relationship.

Director Holofcener is recognized for her tales of modern, professional women. Her 5th effort, Enough Said unsurprisingly features a delightfully gentle performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus. More surprisingly is that it spotlights a meaningful and nuanced role for a man - James Gandolfini.  She is pretty and petite. He is a big bear of a guy. Yet he encompasses a heart larger than his belly. Enough Said evokes a couple other flicks. I hesitate to invoke the name of Marty, one of my favorite films of all time, but there is a vague similarity with that story with respect to James Gandolfini’s character. Conversations form much of the narrative and the script handles the awkward interaction between these two unlikely lovers with a deft skill. There’s a somewhat Woody Allen-ish mood to the proceedings as well. That’s not surprising given that Holofcener’s stepfather produced Woody Allen pictures when she was growing up. The two principals interact frequently and their courtship is disarmingly tender and engaging.

Enough Said is a fairly slight production, a plot that owes a major reveal to sitcom humor and conventions. Nonetheless that should in no way to take away from the thoughtful work from Gandolfini and Louise-Dreyfus. They take a good screenplay and make it great by breathing life into characters that feel as real as anyone you might actually meet.  It’s nice to see people in their 50s represented in movies. The audience who bemoans the lack of non-teen romances needs to check this out. Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus are a delight. Their interactions as a pair will have you believing they really have fallen in love with each other. Both exude a sweetness rarely seen from these actors. I must admit Gandolfini’s passing lends the matters an added level of poignancy, but he is charming regardless. It highlights a depth of sensitivity contrary to which The Sopranos star is normally known – a fitting capper to an esteemed career.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Posted in Crime, Drama, Romance, Western with tags on September 8, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Ain't Them Bodies Saints photo starrating-3stars.jpgFor all its artistry, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is saddled with one of the worst movie titles in recent memory. Watching the film will not shed any light on what that cryptic title means. Apparently director David Lowery misheard the lyrics in an old folk song many years ago but liked the sound of the phrase anyway. They have absolutely no significance other than interesting sounding words to convey a time period. In many ways that’s appropriate because David Lowery’s meditation on a western is more concerned with milieu than meaning anyway.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are engaging. They play a couple kept apart after a getaway gone wrong from a botched robbery.  Bob agrees to take the fall for a violent act for which his wife Ruth is in fact responsible. This then is the emotional chronicle of outlaws whose exalted devotion is made more relevant than what they’ve actually done. Their romance is boiled down to its essence. We learn Ruth is pregnant with their daughter. Bob vows to reunite with his wife, prison sentence be damned. His undying dedication to her is a key theme. That Bob and Ruth love each other is obvious. There is a pure naturalism to their behavior. They express a lot with very few words. Conversation is secondary as the atmosphere is what’s important. Matching them is Ben Foster who plays the deputy who warms up to Ruth oblivious that it was she who indeed shot him. He’s memorable as a third wheel. Keith Carradine also gives a notable performance as their neighbor who has become sort of a father figure to Bob.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a stunningly beautiful picture with a score to match. The drama is set against the backdrop of 1970s Texas Hill Country. However there’s a timelessness that makes this saga feel as if it could’ve happened even further in the past. Their homestead takes on an ethereal beauty far beyond the modest farmhouse where they live in reality. The aura at once recalls depression era photographs of Dorethea Lange or Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”.  But it’s even more hewn from Terrence Malick’s Badlands and to a lesser extent Days of Heaven. David Lowery is unquestionably a director to watch, yet he’s fashioned a film that’s easy to admire but a hard one to truly enjoy. Lowery exploits the neo-western ethos in a way that luxuriates in ambience but at the expense of a strong narrative. If you champion appearances over depth, you‘ll find much to cherish here. The elegant lyricism will charm anyone more captivated by a mood than well-defined storytelling. Its melancholy tone will seduce style mongers into heaven.

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