Archive for the Romance Category

The Theory of Everything

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance with tags on November 20, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Theory of Everything photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe Theory of Everything is a Stephen Hawking biopic. But more specifically, it is the story of Stephen Hawking as it pertains to his relationship with Jane Wilde, who became his wife. As such it is based on her memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. This makes the tale more than just a mere biography of the scientific genius. It is that to be sure, but the chronicle is also a romantic drama. This is a most unique approach to the profile of a man more famous for being an astrophysicist and cosmologist than for whom he fell in love with. The method humanizes the man in a way that is altogether unexpected.

Most of us know Stephen Hawking after he was stricken with ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the motor neuron disease that causes muscle weakness and impacts physical function. The brain however remains unaffected. But the production starts well before he was stricken with that ailment. In the introductory scenes Redmayne suggests a socially shy but intellectually confident young man. It is the 1960s and Hawking is pursuing a doctorate in physics at Cambridge. Felicity Jones is stirring as Jane Wilde, the language arts major (medieval Spanish poetry) he meets while there. As the presentation juggles Stephen’s work and illness, she is the romantic connection that unites the two intensifying the already emotional thread throughout his life. An early conversation between Jane and Stephen’s father warning her that she might not be prepared for what is to come is particularly affecting. Director James Marsh inserts beautiful montages that glow with the warmth of people in love. These extravagantly shot interludes could have become glossy affectations. Yet inserted amongst the events taking place on screen, they help to highlight the passage of time and make the film’s visceral high points resonate more clearly.

Any discussion of The Theory of Everything must focus on the lead, Eddie Redmayne. Up until now, best known for playing Marius in the cinematic version of Les Misérables. Granted he was extremely good in that, but somehow I would never felt him qualified to play this part. Oh how wrong I would’ve been. Somehow Eddie Redmayne, who had never suggested a visual similarity to Stephen Hawking before, completely inhabits the role. There have been many many great performances at the movies, but a significantly smaller number where the actor chosen for the part so perfectly resembles the individual in speech, behavior and physicality that you indeed forget you’re watching an actor. Ben Kingsley as Gandhi comes to mind. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is another.

If one is to judge a movie by the way it makes us feel, by the emotion that it elicits, then The Theory of Everything has got to be considered an unqualified success. After the disease takes hold, Stephen Hawking embarks on a transformation whereby the deliberate degradation of his body manifests itself. Slowly, painfully, we watch as this brilliant man succumbs to the affects of this disorder. Actor Eddie Redmayne bends his frame in ways that look as if he truly is suffering from the actual condition. At no time does the performance every feel exploitative,. Nor does his achievement ever read like he is showing off. Redmayne simply is, progressively contorting his body while battling the increasing difficulty with which he is able to speak. Gradually that ability disappears as well. The effect is heartbreaking and yet it is a testament to the strength of will that Hawking had to summon in order to overcome his disability. It is a flawless triumph that celebrates the man’s success with respect and dignity.

Gigi

Posted in Comedy, Musical, Romance with tags on August 30, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Gigi photo starrating-4stars.jpgHistorically August has never been the month for which studios save movies with boffo box office potential. Imagine my surprise when Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released on August 1st, turned out to be the biggest hit of the year so far. And it deserved to be because it’s a terrific film to boot. That accounts for the fact that the movie has largely dominated the entire month. Ok so there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles too but that was awful. Seeking some counter programming was the impetus behind my decision to see a revival of Gigi at The Stanford Theatre. It was the palate cleansing sorbet in a month of mostly bitter tasting selections.

The MGM musical won a then unprecedented 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture for 1958. It held a short-lived record until Ben-Hur won 11 the very next year. In addition to Gigi, lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe were responsible for creating Camelot, Brigadoon and perhaps most famously, My Fair Lady. Gigi pales in comparison to that similar smash hit also thematically built around a Cinderella transformation. Gigi isn’t my favorite musical, but it’s still entertaining.

Gigi is based on the 1944 novella of the same name by Colette. Rich and attractive millionaire Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jordan) is bored with the superficial lifestyle of the upper class in Parisian society. The year is 1900 and he’d prefer to hang out with the former mistress (Hermoine Gingold) of his uncle (Maurice Chevalier). Gaston calls her Mamita. Madame Alvarez is also grandmother to the carefree Gigi, with whom he enjoys hanging out with as well. She is currently a young girl but on the verge of becoming a woman. Madame Alvarez encourages Gigi to spend time with her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) to educate Gigi in the ways of becoming a courtesan, that is a wealthy man’s mistress. Important skills like walking elegantly, how to choose a cigar, and pouring coffee in the proper fashion, are part of the lesson plan. How long before Gaston notices this tomboy of a girl has matured into a beautiful young woman?

Director Vincente Minnelli fills the screen with so much color and pageantry, the eyes can barely contain it all. There’s a magnificence to the presentation that seems to have spared no expense in recreating the French fashions. Cecil Beaton’s production design, costumes and scenery is the ultimate. It is sumptuous. There’s such an old fashioned grandeur that relies so heavily on sets and wardrobe that it is kind of fascinating. Even for 1958, Gigi was a bit of a throwback to an earlier time. It was the last great MGM musical of Hollywood’s golden age, although Minnelli would direct Bells are Ringing in 1960 and that’s pretty wonderful too.

The cast is captivating. My favorites are Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold. They are an absolute delight, particularly in their witty duet, “”I Remember It Well”. Other song highlights are “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “Gigi”. Leslie Caron is a spirited vision as the title character. No one conveys indignant exasperation like suave Louie Jourdan. The script is rather funny too. Isabel Jeans as the highly strung Aunt Alicia delivers some of the best lines with perfect timing and intonation during her tutelage. Classic lines abound. “A topaz? Among my jewels? Are you mad?” “Bad table manners, my dear Gigi, have broken up more households than infidelity.” “Wait for the first-class jewels, Gigi. Hold on to your ideals.” The social mores and customs are amusingly dated, but that’s really the point now isn’t it? Let’s just say, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

08-24-14

What If

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on August 20, 2014 by Mark Hobin

What If photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgCan men and women be “just friends“? That’s the age old question that What If address within its well worn story structure, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) becomes infatuated with Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party only to discover that she already has a boyfriend at the very end of their evening together. Chantry maintains she loves her current beau but would like to remain friends. Wallace agrees. Things don’t go as planned.

What If isn’t wholly generic but it isn’t particularly innovative either. Surprisingly, Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) isn’t made out to be a complete jerk. You could imagine the two of them getting married and living a happy life. Although Ben’s first interaction with Wallace is rude and it causes the audience to dislike Ben right from the start, despite his sincere devotion to Chantry. What If does indeed have moments of relaxed whimsy. Radcliffe and Kazan are charming up to a point and they generate enough chemistry to sustain interesting discussions. They share a scene in a diner and a conversation about a disgusting sandwich known as Fool’s Gold was something I had never heard before. More often than not, however, these offhand fragments feel like the carefully orchestrated fabrications of a writer. The twee stretches outweigh the periods of genuine honest emotion.

Chantry’s latent attraction becomes frustrating. In spite of her exhortations that she doesn’t want a romantic relationship, her actions speak otherwise. Upon their first meeting, Chantry flirts conspicuously with Wallace at the party. It’s shocking when she abruptly reveals she is already spoken for when he drops her off. They spent an entire evening together. She couldn’t mention this earlier? Their accidental meeting at a revival showing of The Princess Bride is another mixed signal flirtatious conversation as well. Chantry is a complex woman and she remains a compelling individual, but her behavior develops into this cat-and-mouse game where she seems to express an attraction towards Wallace, then gets indignant when he responds. Then there is her exceptionally bizarre reaction late in the narrative. Her amorous feelings prompts a grand declaration of love from him. Her subsequent response renders her character a most confounding object of befuddlement.

What If is all about when men and women enter the “friend” zone. The picture frequently recalls the far superior When Harry Met Sally both in subject matter and alliances. Wallace and Chantry embark on a platonic relationship. She opens up to her sister Dalia (Megan Park) for advice. He confides in his buddy Allan (Adam Driver). Allan also happens to be Chantry’s cousin. More quirkiness. The production was originally titled The F Word when it was released at the 2013 Toronto film festival in September. That the filmmakers ditched that significantly more zesty title for a humdrum one, actually belies the movie’s true heart. What If is pleasant enough but the slightness of the story ultimately relegates this affair to little more than passable time filler.

08-17-14

Magic in the Moonlight

Posted in Comedy, Romance on August 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Magic in the Moonlight photo starrating-2stars.jpgWoody Allen has been making films for close to 50 years, so it goes without saying that his productions run the gamut from masterpieces (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Crimes and Misdemeanors) to instantly forgettable (September, Anything Else). I’m sorry to report that Magic in the Moonlight sits firmly in the latter category. Even the best of us can have an off day, but I still find it fascinating that a filmmaker can immediately follow up a work of art like Blue Jasmine with an offering that is flawed at such a rudimentary level.

As is often the case with his fumbles, Woody starts out with an interesting idea. At the behest of his fellow illusionist colleague, Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is invited to the mansion of the Catledge family on the French Riviera to debunk an ethereal young woman named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who claims to be a psychic. The family is apparently beguiled by this attractive twenty-something. British Stanley is a celebrated magician who performs in disguise as a Chinese conjuror named Wei Ling Soo. With the exception of the friend who invites him, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), no one at the estate is aware of Stanley’s other persona. This then will allow him to observe the clairvoyant and ostensibly expose her as a fraud.

For half the movie, the director has our attention. Colin Firth is enjoyable as this cranky cynic looking to demystify an inscrutable but charming visionary. They banter back and forth. The mood is light, the scenery is pretty and the 1920s milieu is enchanting. As they spend time together, Sophie is able to discern personal details about Stanley’s life and even those of his aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). Incidentally her minor role was my favorite part. At this juncture, Stanley begins to seriously question his deep-rooted rationalism. Then he decides he has feelings for this girl. Sorry. Nope. Not buying it.

These realizations are a complete betrayal of Colin Firth’s character. That this lifelong curmudgeon would all of sudden, fall head over heals in love with a woman he had regarded as a charlatan is a bunch of hooey. Add to this the unsavory fact that he is old enough to be her grandfather and it adds another layer of ick. Who’s Helena Bonham Carter’s love interest going to be in her next film….Justin Bieber? Because their age difference is exactly the same. Everything up until this point is decent.  However the story falls apart from there. Then a plot twist is added and the reveal is like deflating a hot air balloon as it rapidly descends back to earth. From then on there is absolutely nowhere for the narrative to go. His comment on faith is by now a Woody Allen cliché. Magic in the Moonlight isn’t the worst Woody Allen film, but it’s 238,855 miles away from being the best.

08-06-14

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on August 10, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Hundred-Foot Journey photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgDirector Lasse Hallström has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for light romantic dramas that aim to please a mass audience. His Chocolat is a particularly relevant example as it closely resembles his latest work. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a comfy well worn mélange made of simple ingredients.  An Indian family new to France is currently looking for a place to live. They had a restaurant in Mumbai but on election night it was set on fire, killing their mother in the ensuing fracas. The remaining clan escapes those horrible conditions for Europe. After a series of failed starts the group is driving through the French countryside. All of sudden their van conveniently breaks down in the picturesque little village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. They meet Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a young local woman who’s stunning and the same age as their middle son Hassan (Manish Dayal) who also happens to be handsome. She takes them to her place and provides a bountiful meal full of locally grown fruits and vegetables all lovingly captured in colorful detail. In the morning, after the van has been repaired, Papa (Om Puri) discovers an old abandoned restaurant and decides to buy it. Wouldn’t you know, it’s right across the street from Le Saule Pleureur – Madame Mallory‘s (Helen Mirren) highly acclaimed Michelin star restaurant. More coincidence.

The actors go a long way into making the trite anecdotes seem a lot more weighty. Helen Mirren plays the snooty Madame Mallory. She starts out as a tough-as-nails disciplinarian. Naturally she’s really just a lovable old softie deep down, which should surprise absolutely no one watching this. Strict patriarch (Om Puri) opens up his Indian restaurant Maison Mumbai on the other side of the road. The 100-feet refers to the distance between the two establishments, This prompts a war of one-upmanship. Cue the inevitable culture clash as it’s France vs. India. Puri is an accomplished actor that holds his own in every scene with the equally talented but more critically applauded Mirren. The two of them are an MVP team of brilliant actors schooling the rest of the cast. They make this material seem fresh. I found their interaction to be rather amusing. For three-fourths of the movie the screenplay mines a familiar rhythm that is comforting. The final quarter devolves into a rushed, overly plotted narrative that goes off in a bizarre direction as our protagonist Hassan finds success. It almost looks like the story will go off the rails but then it suddenly gets steered back on course. The drama ultimately ends exactly like you always expected everything to turn out. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I should fault the film for remaining totally predicable or applaud it for being consistent. I guess I’ll go with the second choice.

Anyone who has ever seen a romantic drama will know precisely how this will all play out. The Hundred-Foot Journey is deliberately calculated, button pushing entertainment as manipulative as they come. The thing is, it’s very well done. It’s highlighted by seductive cinematography. The performances are engaging. So you have to ask yourself, am I going to fight this script because it appeals to the lowest common sentimental denominator or shall I sit back, relax and simply enjoy the beautifully photographed ride? I choose the latter.  The production is a pleasant diversion, but it exploits every emotional beat that you expect. Destiny, serendipity and happenstance are the ingredients in a recipe that dictates the storyline. It’s all very precious. There are no surprises or innovation and yet the contrivance goes down rather smoothly. The confection is sweet, akin to a custard filled pastry liberally sprinkled with a lot of sugar and no nutritional value. Its appeal relies on very obvious charms. Let’s just say that I enjoyed the film, but kind of embarrassed to admit that I did.

08-10-14

The Immigrant

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on June 11, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Immigrant photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt’s 1921. Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) sail to New York from their native Poland. They’re escaping their bleak homeland in search of a fresh start. Unfortunately Magda is quarantined at Ellis Island because of suspected lung disease. Meanwhile Ewa is almost deported due to an “incident” on the boat ride over. Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) notices her ability to speak English and bribes an officer to let her go. Bruno runs a burlesque show and he hires Ewa to do the sewing. From that point on, their lives intertwine and they will never be the same. Bruno also manages a side business where he arranges, shall we say, appointments with the female performers in the show. Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician who performs at the burlesque house, becomes infatuated with Ewa. Could he be her knight in shining armor? But he also makes waves. This triggers a dark jealous streak in Bruno whose fondness for Ewa has grown over time.

Director James Gray (The Yards, We Own the Night) has such a way with these character based dramas. The Immigrant is another fine example. The screenplay details the wants and needs of dissimilar people at odds with one another. James Gray and co-writer Ric Menello previously worked together in 2008 on Two Lovers. The Immigrant is the saga of what three disparate people must do in order to survive. The drama is so affecting. Ewa is that most exquisite of personalities. Seemingly plain and unkempt but with genuine allure, both physically and emotionally. Her beauty shines through. She needs to raise money to get her sister out of the infirmary on Ellis Island. It isn’t long before she succumbs to doing things she’d rather not do. The script reflects upon her moral struggle. How far is she willing to compromise her virtue in exchange for a noble goal? The idea is handled in a fascinating yet respectful way.

Marion Cotillard portrays such sincere yearning. If she is the heart of The Immigrant then Joaquin Phoenix is the soul. In their 4th picture together Director James Gray extracts another brilliant performance from his frequent collaborator. Phoenix is riveting as the morally troublesome Bruno. His behavior includes distasteful business ventures. Yet there is a positive nuance to this mortal that gently persuades the audience to forgive him. His elemental desire to do the best thing for Ewa underlies a palpable tragedy. Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) complicates matters for him considerably. They both pursue Ewa.

The Immigrant is a beautifully realized period film that presents a knotty tangle of ethical decisions. It’s rather understated and probably why director James Gray’s work charms critics over mainstream audiences. The three protagonists are fully realized creations that captivate. What superficially appears like a love triangle is actually much deeper and morally complex. Gray has a talent for extracting raw emotion. Additionally, the production has a nice feel for time and place. Costumes and cinematography superbly add to the historical detail. The filmmaker grew up in New York City and it’s a place he returns to again and again in his movies. This is a story that upholds the promise of America, but doesn’t deny the cold harsh reality.

06-04-14

The Fault in Our Stars

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on June 8, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Fault in Our Stars photo starrating-4stars.jpgDespite her protestations, a sixteen-year-old girl is forced to attend a support group. Hazel suffers from stage IV thyroid cancer and her parents have determined she is depressed. That emotion would most certainly be a reasonable one, but melancholy would probably be a more apt description of her state of mind. One day seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters walks into the group. He used to play basketball before he was fitted for a prosthetic leg. Though he is a bone cancer survivor, he is merely there to encourage his friend Isaac (Nat Wolff).

In support group Gus worries about “oblivion” – that is not being remembered – after he has passed on. Hazel is an acerbic pragmatist.  She feels his fear is unimportant and tells him to get over it. Their little exchange is cute and it lights the spark for a friendship. Possibly more. While some advancements in the narrative can be predicted, others are rather unexpected. For example, they each recommend their favorite book to one another. Her chosen novel leads to an encounter with its reclusive author (Willem Dafoe). It is just one of several fascinating developments.

On the surface, one might view The Fault in Our Stars as just another chronicle of star-crossed lovers. The thought-provoking title was inspired from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius says to Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Here the title has apparently the exact opposite meaning, that our stars, or destiny, can be cruel through no fault of our own. While the drama concerns the ups and downs of suffering from an illness, it actually has a much more philosophical appeal as a tale that captures the awkwardness of adolescence.

John Green’s 2012 teen lit best seller The Fault in Our Stars is faithfully adapted by Scott Eric Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. They are the talented writing team behind young adult successes (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. Fault is another shining example of the genre. The saga is ambitious for the depth of feeling explored within their relationship. The screenwriters have a nice facility for extracting genuine emotion that doesn’t ever seem forced or overwrought. Gus and Hazel‘s exchanges are funny, intelligent, and insightful. But what truly separates an account that tackles a subject as inherently manipulative as cancer, is the sincerity of the performances.

Shailene Woodley (Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (Gus) are an extraordinary team. At times Augustus seems too good to be true. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Hazel asks. Augustus half smiles “Because you’re beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people.” Cue the biggest contented “Aw!” from my mostly female audience. To be fair, that corny dialogue is taken directly from the book. Gus pontificates in soliloquies. His undeniable charisma sometimes drifts into ersatz charm. Occasionally the cuteness quotient beaks the scale and the preciousness seems like it might derail the production. It never does though. The two remain an engaging pair. Their effortless rapport details passion, doubt, and insecurity. The way their relationship unfolds is particularly affecting. The couple exudes a substantial amount of chemistry together that is, pardon the pun, “faultless”. It is organic and natural. Their considerable heart is a rarity these days. That is what separates this from other romantic dramas of the past. Equally touching as the bond between Jenny and Oliver from Love Story. Perhaps even more so. I always felt Jenny was a bit caustic for my tastes anyway. Hazel and Gus are a memorable twosome. The Fault in Our Stars is a love story for the ages.

06-07-14

The Lunchbox

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Lunchbox photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA lonely housewife lovingly cooks a spectacular lunch for her husband at work. Regrettably he has lost interest in her and her attempt is meant to rekindle a spark. The feast is accidentally delivered to an accountant who regularly has his order made by a local restaurant. After her husband comes home, he offers no reaction to the delectable lunch and she realizes he never even received the meal that she prepared. However she’s intrigued that the metal tins have come back completely empty. This inspires a correspondence with the stranger via messages passed back and forth in the containers.

The Lunchbox is dependable comfort food that still manages to be a little unconventional. Our tale takes place in Mumbai, India.  We’re introduced to their historically reliable delivery system where a network of 5,000 dabbawalas deliver lunches to office workers so they can eat a home cooked meal.  The picturesque culture adds a uniqueness to the story at hand.  Actor Irrfan Khan (The Amazing Spider-Man, Life of Pi) is Saajan, a withdrawn widower and actress Nimrat Kaur is Ila, the lonesome woman with whom he converses through notes. They’re two yearning souls and they engage our emotions. In this age of social networking and email, the quaint reliance on handwritten notes is rather poetic.  Their interaction touches the heart. The emotion feels fresh and innovative despite the fact that the narrative concept really isn’t. This subject has been done before. Most famously with The Shop Around the Corner which in turn was the basis for You’ve Got Mail.   It’s worth mentioning the supporting players as well. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, his replacement at work that Saajan must train. Shaikh’s passion for learning is infectious. There’s also Ila’s hilarious friendship with her never seen, but loudly heard upstairs neighbor.  Ila affectionately calls the woman “Auntie” and her advice is good as gold.

For a movie that relies heavily on the seductive qualities of food, The Lunchbox rarely dwells on the culinary delights prepared. It’s hard not to think the filmmakers missed a golden opportunity to seduce the audience with the wonders of Indian cuisine. After all, in this parable food speaks louder than words ever could. What we do get is a nice romance that unfolds in a very delicate and deliberate manner. Ila is melancholy but radiant. Saajan is a stoic sourpuss. Both mature as a result of knowing each other. There’s real drama in their interaction. At times it’s so subtle and precious, we have to fill in the blanks as to what people are feeling. This translates into what they ultimately do. I won’t spoil the conclusion, but it’s as if the screenwriters think a tidy resolution is too predictable. Still, there’s a lot to love, particularly the sensitive relationship that evolves among the principals. It’s just that the desultory ending is a serious letdown after such a promising buildup. I found it frustratingly unsatisfying. The finish left me hungry for more.

05-28-14

Only Lovers Left Alive

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on April 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Only Lovers Left Alive photo starrating-3stars.jpgFirstly, if you’re already an aficionado of director Jim Jarmusch, then stop reading and just go see Only Lovers Left Alive right now. He has been a filmmaking pioneer in American cinema. His trippy movies have always been a bit of an acquired taste but there is no denying that Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989) were influential movies that shaped the independent film movement of the 1980s. The much more accessible Broken Flowers (2005) is the closest thing he’s ever had to a hit, but he’s never really been about that anyway. The Limits of Control (2009), his most recent work until now, was his least well received. Only Lovers Left Alive is a return to form and should be crack to anyone who is a fan of the auteur’s work.

Adam is a comparatively young 500 year old vampire musician who composes music, looks like a rock star and lounges around looking fabulous. Tilda Swinton is his spouse. A brilliant vampire scholar with pale skin, wears silk scarves and sports a shock of white hair that look like dreadlocks. She is a somewhat more mature 3,000 years old. Together they lament the presence of zombies, their pejorative for normal humans. Heavily populated LA is “zombie central” which is probably why they hang out in an abandoned old shell of city like Detroit. These two are a rather sensitive pair getting all their high quality blood from sources that don’t involve killing humans. He from a hematologist played by Jeffrey Wright at a local blood bank and she from her friend Christopher Marlow (John Hurt). Yes the same English dramatist who was a peer of Shakespeare (and apparently not a friend). Adam and Eve are a tormented two that love art, music and all the correct things that hipsters are supposed to like. That includes classic R&B records on vinyl and reading manuscripts in book form.  Oh and they sip their superior hemoglobin like sherry from cut glass crystal stemware.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make for a striking pair. As the principal duo they have sort of an androgynous charisma that almost sells the picture on sheer mood. They’re detached, emotionally aloof and too-cool-for-you. Just the look of them standing in a dark corner of a Detroit music club with sunglasses is kind of amusing. For me the whole production gets a real shot in the arm when Eve’s undisciplined sister shows up. As played by Mia Wasikowska she is a young free spirit, slightly goofy and wears polka-dot leggings. She’s got personality to spare and still finds humans attractive, particularly to boys her own age in the music industry (Anton Yelchin). That proves to be a bit of a problem later. Once her story arc is over, she leaves and it’s back to moping around and feeling depressed. Adam and Eve represent the rare intellectual with an unquenchable passion for the categories of music, literature and science that hipsters find admirable. You see the “only lovers” in the title are for the beauty of art not sex. They’re tortured individuals. If you share Adam and Eve’s point of view, this film will be catnip to your sensibilities. It’s beautifully written and has an evocative mood. But as they repeatedly bemoan the lack of culture in contemporary society their sulking personalities dangerously straddle the line between suffering…and insufferable.

04-27-14

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.

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