Archive for the Romance Category

One Fine Morning

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 15, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s biggest box office success ($4.97 million worldwide) was the 2016 release Things to Come starring Isabelle Huppert. Hansen-Løve has always been more of a critic’s darling. Despite her many accolades on the festival circuit, it may surprise some that this is her eighth feature. The filmmaker’s approach is understated, naturalistic, and deeply personal. Her latest fits well within her oeuvre.

One Fine Morning is an account of a widowed mother named Sandra, played by Lea Seydoux. Sandra is a busy gal. She raises a preteen daughter while attending to a sick father (Pascal Greggory). Georg suffers from a neurodegenerative disorder that causes vision and memory loss, so he often gets disoriented. During this period, Sandra also reconnects with a friend she hasn’t seen in a while named Clément (Melvil Poupaud).

The chronicle is an engaging character study of a woman increasingly overwhelmed by life. She balances motherhood, working as a translator, and trying to make the right decisions for her dad. Georg is becoming less and less of the person she remembers. Socializing with a male friend from her past reawakens feelings she had long since suppressed. The approach is very French, mixing sweet, tender family interactions of the aging patriarch with explicit love scenes showcasing her affair.

The French New Wave is a significant influence on Mia Hansen-Løve. Directors François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol are an inspiration. The performances, especially Léa Seydoux, are quite good. I felt her sadness, so the actress made an impression. The same goes for actor Pascal Greggory who — as her elderly father — effectively coveys an academic, losing his cognitive abilities as the film progresses. He is the heart of the tale. I’m not sure I connected with the melancholy rhythm of the story. The narrative thrust is a like a leisurely-paced stroll without a destination. The ambivalent ending conveys the emotional power of a shrug. “Life happens. Accept it.” However, the portrait does feel authentic and natural. I appreciated that.

One Fine Morning is available to rent on digital streaming (Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Redbox, Google Play, YouTube, ROW8, Vudu, etc.)


Bones and All

Posted in Drama, Horror, Romance with tags on December 1, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

According to the press materials. Bones and All is a tender tale of first love. Maren is a young woman learning to survive on the margins of society. Lee is a disenfranchised drifter. An unforgiving world cannot accept them. These youths drive off together on a “liberating” odyssey where they come to terms with who they are. You may ask, “Who are they?” because the official synopsis hides a salient reality. They’re cannibals! The title refers to the ultimate level: eating the entire human.

So that’s a weird concept. Remember the Fine Young Cannibals? The British band got its name from a movie starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. A literal interpretation would be a perfect title for this film too. This romantic cannibal road picture is a parable about star-crossed loves who cannot resist devouring people. Based on cultural references, I’d say the year is about 1983. Maren (Taylor Russell) is a teen coping with her true nature. She wants what anyone wants, to be loved. However, Maren’s preferences have forced her into a shameful exile. She didn’t choose to be this way. After her father (André Holland) abandons Maren, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), and the two go off on a journey together. Each geographic location gracelessly announced by the official state abbreviation in bold white letters across the screen.

These are morally reprehensible individuals. This duo is akin to the ones in classics like Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde. Writer David Kajganich (2018’s Suspiria) adapts this edgy drama from Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 young adult novel. The screenplay wants us to embrace their lamentable status as misunderstood loners. Oh, they have their “morals.” Maren attempts to limit her victims to ones who have already died. Lee tries to only kill souls whose deaths won’t affect others. He fails. At a slaughterhouse, Maren and Lee observe that cattle have families too—as if to plead that killing humans is the same as consuming meat. The fact that DeAngelis is vegan bears a mention.

It’s impossible to ignore that these teens do eat innocent people. The movie graphically reminds us of this. Bones and All is directed by Luca Guadagnino, who did the far superior Call Me By Your Name. This is a different kind of love story. I enjoyed the art-house aesthetic. Nuanced performances (when they’re not chowing down on humanity) are shot by Arseni Khachaturant using sentimentalized soft-focus cinematography. A hip indie cast includes Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), André Holland (Moonlight), and Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry)

Nevertheless, the smattering of positives wasn’t enough to overlook the overwhelming negatives. The plot is simplistic and empty, with only intense — no stomach-churning — violence at its core to distinguish it. These cannibals enthusiastically dine on dead bodies. The demise of one poor older woman who fell over and couldn’t get up still haunts me. I’m talking Grand Guignol. Feast your eyes on close-ups of mouths tearing into her flesh and pulling out chucks. Yes, body tissue will be mutilated and devoured in a bloody fashion. Some may find more to like if they can see past the blood and gore into the metaphor the screenplay is trying to push. I couldn’t get past the idea that this is simply a saga about bad people doing things I don’t want to watch.


Three Thousand Years of Longing

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on August 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disappointment, thy name is Three Thousand Years of Longing. Director George Miller’s film had all the ingredients to be one of my favorites of the summer. The auteur is the orchestrator behind the beloved Mad Max franchise. Additionally, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are two of our era’s most unique actors. The juxtaposition of these two introspective personalities could only produce sparks, right? Somehow the chasm between idea and execution was vast.

Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) recounts a narrative of her life which she will render as a fantasy. She is a scholar of mythology. While in Istanbul to deliver a talk, she discovers a glass bottle in an antique shop. A fellow professor (Erdil Yasaroglu) suggests another item. Yet she is fascinated by the object, so he purchases it for her. While cleaning the bottle in her quarters, she unleashes a djinn (Idris Elba) from the lamp. The genie has the power to grant three wishes, but Alithea is skeptical. Despite his offer, she clings tightly to the mantra “Be careful what you wish for.”

The foundation sets the stage for the djinn to recount four separate yarns. The result should’ve been a thrilling journey. Unfortunately, the picture is a lethargic story about telling meandering stories. The spirit regales us with tales of his life that include queens, princes, and the like. Themes of love and desire untie them all. Yet his reflections fail to maintain interest. It doesn’t help that they’re all conveyed in a hotel room which gives the production an oddly claustrophobic feel. The CGI-enhanced depictions have their moments. Some elements hint at the excitement of Universal’s costumed adventure epics made in the 1940s, like Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. However, the reflective interactions between Swinton and Elba dazzle far more than the special effects.

George Miller has fashioned a somber fable about discourse, or more specifically — two people talking in a restrictive space while wearing plush white terry cloth bathrobes provided by the establishment. Mad Max Fury Road is one of the most exciting action movies of the last decade. Some would say ever. It’s been seven years since Miller’s previous outing, so expectations were admittedly elevated. This passive meditation couldn’t be more different. Even the director himself dubbed his work “anti-Mad Max.” Respect for attempting a project made for personal reasons and not commercial success. The supernatural romance had a $60 million budget and made $2.9 million in its opening weekend. The only magic I experienced in this mystical tribute to storytelling was as a soporiferous drug that worked its spell on me as I struggled to stay awake.



Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on July 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Psst!! Do you want to know a secret? The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is — instead of what you think it should be. This simple advice can be extrapolated to movie reviews too. Film adaptations based on a famous novel are often subjected to rigid preconceived demands. Persuasion is based on the work published in 1817 by Jane Austen. It was the last thing she wrote, and while not as famous as Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, the volume does have a maturity not found in her earlier texts.

Persuasion is a work about manners. A polite demeanor can be a facade for moral shortcomings. As such, the nuances of the time period are challenging to convey to a modern audience. Oh, but this reconstruction tries. Dakota Johnson stars as Anne Elliot, and Cosmo Jarvis portrays Captain Wentworth. Both are single and unattached. They were once engaged in the distant past, but Anne was encouraged by family and friends to end the relationship. They meet again after a seven-year separation, setting the scene for a second chance at love.

The story is set around a series of clumsy encounters. Anne and Frederick are clearly smitten, but their interactions are awkward. Director Carrie Cracknell affirms period detail and costumes, but not Jane Austen’s language. The dialogue — in a screenplay adapted by Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow — has been gently updated. “It’s often said if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.” Critics savaged this update for its modern sensibilities. Yet I did not find the expressions irksome. The reinvention of the language is subtle. I am forgiving of such things. Full disclosure. I have not read the book, so I do not have a slavish devotion to the original text.

Yet the saga — as presented here — is not compelling. Anne is frequently seen glugging back wine or breaking the fourth wall. She often looks directly into the camera to signal when she finds a character’s behavior preposterous. That approach might be endearing coming from Jim Halpert on the TV series The Office, but it doesn’t serve a 19th-century heroine in a Jane Austin novel. Furthermore, the erratic fluctuations of the characters’ desires make no sense. When potential suitor William Elliott (Henry Golding) capriciously redirects his flirtations to another woman at the end, it’s a baffling development that demands an explanation. I found the story entertaining in parts. Dakota Johnson — a high point in nearly every production — is an absolute delight. The overall chronicle, however, is less captivating.


The Worst Person in the World

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on February 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Actress Renate Reinsve is Julie, a beautiful, witty, and capricious young woman. She is unsure of what she wants to do with her life. When we are first introduced, she is a medical student in Oslo. Then she chooses to pursue psychology. After looking at some photos she has taken with her cell phone, she decides to become a photographer. Later she takes a job in a bookstore to support herself.

On the social front, she is in a serious relationship with boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). He is a successful comic-book artist. Aksel wants to have a child and start a family. She is not ready. Then one night, Julie crashes a random party while walking home and meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a coffee barista. They form a connection. Her life is further complicated. The Worst Person in the World is like a rom-com filtered through the dark lens of existentialism. The ironic title could more charitably be christened “Four Years in the Life of a Free-spirited Woman.” Despite her obvious shortcomings, the film celebrates this impulsive individual. She is confident and self-possessed. The description isn’t literal, but a rather sarcastic comment on how the main character feels. Julie isn’t bad per se, merely directionless.

Julie will surely resonate with a population of Millennials who are approaching middle age. An ever-increasing segment of aimless society struggles with the so-called requirements of becoming an adult. That is, to succeed professionally, find a spouse, settle down, and have children. The drama is a tale of reality but occasionally injected with bursts of fantasy. At one point, Julie puts her commitment with Aksel on “pause” in the middle of a discussion. Time literally stands still while she sprints across town to see her lover Eivind. People, cars, and bikes are all frozen as she runs past. The trek represents a betrayal to her boyfriend. Yet this cinematic manifestation of her inner desires is a spellbinding presentation.

At the heart of the portrait is a captivating performance by Renate Reinsve. She won the Best Actress Award at Cannes in July 2021. Julie captures the audience’s attention with wit and charm. Despite this, she is a desultory and indecisive soul. Director Joachim Trier’s latest follows his earlier works Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011), melodramas set in Norway’s capital city. Now in retrospect, Trier has begun referring to this trio of films as his “Oslo trilogy.” The chronicle is divided into 12 chapters including a prologue and epilogue. The bit of organization is amusing given the protagonist’s complete avoidance of structure. This increasingly whimsical character is a personality defined by her relationships. Unfortunately, Julie remains just as frustratingly vague at the beginning as she does in the end. There is no development to her identity. That may effectively emulate real life, but it isn’t a satisfying resolution to a movie. Nevertheless, Renate Reinsve is very good in the role. Julie had my sympathy.



Posted in Drama, Music, Musical, Romance with tags on January 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding people who make the blanket proclamation, “I hate musicals.” How can someone write off an entire artistic discipline? It’s akin to dismissing all Westerns or horror movies. Their reasons inevitably vary, but it’s often based on the artificiality of it all and no enthusiasm for the songs. To them I say, you haven’t seen the right one. But as I sat watching Cyrano, I sympathized with those people.

It’s a tale as old as the 19th century. That’s when poet Edmond Rostand wrote a play that ultimately outgrew the fame of the actual man who inspired it. It barely needs recounting but I’ll oblige. Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a cadet in the French army. He’s both a talented fighter and an expressive wordsmith. He carries the torch for his longtime friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Although his short stature (it’s his nose in the novel) gives him a lack of confidence. A foppish duke (Ben Mendelsohn unrecognizable under pounds of makeup and a big white wig) also has designs of marriage on Roxanne. She has eyes for neither. Her attention is captivated by a soldier named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who returns the same affection. However Christian is inarticulate and Roxanne demands to be wooed with eloquent words and letters. A mere “I love you” isn’t going to cut it. When Roxanne admits having feelings for Christian to her lifelong friend, Cyrano secretly decides to assist by ghostwriting the letters that Christian will send to Roxanne. They come from the heart.

Let’s start with the good. Actor Peter Dinklage is captivating and the #1 reason to see yet another adaptation of this work. This version is penned by Erica Schmidt who is married to the star. Dinklage and co-star Haley Bennett were part of the original stage production. When Cyrano hears Roxanne has something to confess, he assumes it is her love for him. His dejected expression perfectly captures heartbreak when she doesn’t return his feelings. His crooning is less mellifluous. Peter Dinklage’s bass-baritone is reminiscent of Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies. In fact, all of the singing is — quite frankly — mediocre with Haley Bennet being a notable exception. She is the only vocalist with a dulcet tone. I appreciated her ability. Nevertheless, this is a perfect segue into what didn’t work.

Music is the foundation for any great musical. “Well, duh!” The show features songs by twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the indie rock band The National and lyrics by Matt Berninger (also of The National) and his wife, Carin Besser. Sadly, Cyrano lacks memorable tunes. One forgettable ballad follows another. I’m usually humming the melodies after a production. I cannot recall a single one. They’re pleasant I suppose, but dull — like dialogue recited with a singsong delivery. I’d say more but I can’t discuss them with specificity. Oh, I do remember one where Christian sings the reprise, “I’d give anything for someone to say…” but that’s only because of the choreography by Jeff and Rick Kuperman. The soldiers flamboyantly prance about with overly affected gestures as they fence. It is a sight.

I have an issue with the original text. Cyrano de Bergerac is a bummer of a story. The titular character pines for a woman oblivious to his love. Here the poor guy is pouring out his soul and she’s completely distracted. Her heart has been duped by — let’s face it — a handsome face. She wouldn’t be the first, but is she worthy of his admiration? I think not. I wish Cyrano would just move on. So sad. Meanwhile, her growing frustration with Christian’s clumsy vocabulary adds self-righteousness to her obnoxious qualities. Roxanne’s ongoing fascination with Christian becomes even more superficial. I’ve never found Roxanne to be deserving of praise. Viewers are rewarded for enduring her behavior with a complete downer of a resolution. It casts a pall on the entire saga.

Even when mounted well, the developments of the narrative are difficult to embrace. The 1897 play by Edmond Rostand has been adapted numerous times, most famously as a 1950 film starring José Ferrer who won an Oscar, and as a 1990 French picture with Gérard Depardieu (he was Oscar-nominated). Roxanne — the 1987 modernization with Steve Martin — sidestepped the letdown by substituting a happy ending. Erica Schmidt’s Cyrano was originally a stage musical. I’ll give her credit for trying something new. Unfortunately, the songs don’t enhance the production. Peter Dinklage’s performance kept me somewhat engaged. This leads me to assert it would have been better as a straight-ahead drama. And yet there are so many of those. Did we really need another?


Licorice Pizza

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Never underestimate the power of a simple story exquisitely told by a passionate filmmaker. The year is 1973 and the setting is the San Fernando Valley. Gary Valentine is a 15-year-old teen but with the confidence of a man twice that age. Actor Cooper Hoffman is the son of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s got personality to spare. It’s school picture day at his Tarzana high school and he’s smitten by the photographer’s assistant, 25-year-old Alana Kane. Actress Alana Haim is memorable in her feature film debut. In real life, Alana is a musician in the pop/rock band Haim. Her familial group also includes her two older sisters, Este and Danielle who play her siblings in this movie.

Gary and Alana are an odd couple romance. She’s the yin to his yang. I wouldn’t say they exactly hit it off. He flirts and she fends off his persistent verbal advances. He’s a decade her junior after all. I’ll concede their age difference seems inappropriate. However, they look about the same age and she still lives at home so they seem compatible on a maturity level. His persistence pays off. She agrees to meet him for dinner at this bar/restaurant where he’s a regular. Thus begins a fascinating relationship with many ups and downs.

Gary is a hustler that gets by on sheer determination. His mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) works for an advertising company that Gary created. He’ll start a water bed company and open a pinball palace during the chronicle. Gary boasts he’s an actor. At first, it sounds like something he simply made up to impress Alana, but we soon discover it’s the truth.

Licorice Pizza is a brilliant movie that flawlessly weaves reality with fiction into a compelling tale. The character is based on Gary Goetzman, a Hollywood producer who was a former child actor. Goetzman’s presence in the comedy Yours, Mine and Ours inspires a most delightful production number. In a personal appearance, Gary performs on stage with a shrewish star named Lucille Dolittle — a thinly disguised portrayal of Lucille Ball. In a year where Being the Ricardos exists, who knew the funniest depiction of the comedienne would come from Christine Ebersole? That’s not the only tie to the real world. Sean Penn portrays a highly fictionalized version of William Holden, Bradley Cooper hams it up as hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters and Benny Safdie is Joel Wachs, an LA politician running for mayor.

This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth feature and his fifth to be set largely in California’s San Fernando Valley, where he’s lived most of his life. It’s a place the director knows well. The title refers to a bygone chain of record stores in southern California. The Glendale-based business flourished in the 1970s. The words “Licorice Pizza” are never uttered or referenced but its aura informs the narrative. Cherry-picked tunes are catchy selections you haven’t heard a million times. They perfectly convey the laid-back ambiance: “Stumblin’ In” by Chris Norman and Suzi Quatro, “Peace Frog” by The Doors, “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and “Life On Mars?” by David Bowie are just a few. The music truly enhances the mood.

I love a director that has done his homework. Licorice Pizza is an engaging dive into the early 70s aesthetic. This is an auteur working at full capacity and the results are an absolute joy. The finely tuned ensemble piece highlights a series of captivating vignettes. On the surface, it’s a meandering saga with a lackadaisical plot. Yet the journey back in time is perfectly realized. I was amazed at the detail. Honestly, the portrait is so convincing, I question whether Anderson used a time machine to film this picture. In a word, it’s immersive.


The Power of the Dog

Posted in Drama, Romance, Western with tags on December 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The “power of the dog” can be those physical and psychological forces that come to destroy us. Jane Campion’s latest is a western of sorts, but given the output of the iconoclastic director, you know this won’t be a straightforward actioner with cowboys and gunfights. She’s helming a feature film for the first time in 12 years. The New Zealand filmmaker’s last was Bright Star (2009), but she is best known for The Piano (1993). Her current feature is a character-based drama that she adapted from a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage. Call it an anti-western.

This tale set in the 1920s concerns the Burbank brothers. Ranchers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) live together on their parents’ sprawling ranch in Montana. Phil is a spiteful man consumed by personal demons. Unloveable and seemingly incapable of love. He is a bully, dominating others before he can be dominated. On the other hand, George is considerably more civilized: quiet and polite. He still affects the air of a gentleman. To put it more simply, George takes baths. Phil doesn’t bathe. Despite being less intellectually inclined than Phil, George handles the paperwork of the ranch as the businessman.

The languid story begins to take shape at the Red Mill restaurant. During a cattle drive, they stop at the establishment run by a fragile widow named Rose (Kirsten Dunst). Soon after meeting, George reveals that he and Rose have married. Their relationship will prove to be a thorn in Phil’s side. Phil’s bitter dislike of Rose festers over time. His behavior has a detrimental effect on her well-being. She also has a son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a frail teen the oppressive Phil insults. These interactions will weigh on his mother.

A sample of one antagonism that really got under my skin. When Phil and Peter first meet, the boy is waiting tables at the restaurant. Phil is a patron. The intricate paper flowers Peter has created adorn the tables. We’ve seen the care he puts into making each one. The exquisitely made decorations embody delicacy and beauty. “I wonder what little lady made these,” Phil taunts. He casually sets one afire to light his cigarette in front of its creator. The callous act is the gleeful destruction of hard work, and it’s unnerving in a way that’s hard to explain. The sinister gesture perfectly clarifies his outlook more than pages of words ever could.

The Power of the Dog is an impressive ensemble piece concerning individuals with ambiguous motives. Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee all contribute memorable performances. But it’s the nuanced achievement from Benedict Cumberbatch as the tragic figure at the center of it all that unites the chronicle. He exposes the compelling depths of the human psyche within this multi-faceted soul. The narrative can be seen from more than one point of view. The aching void of loneliness has reduced Phil to a hateful shell. George is trying to eke out a happy life in a savage frontier. Meanwhile, Peter wants to save his mother’s descent into alcoholism brought on by a pernicious presence in her home. The three form a triad that engages the viewer. These are impressively complicated personalities. For example, Peter is capable of creating exquisite centerpieces from paper, but can also unemotionally dissect a cute bunny rabbit in his desire to become a surgeon.

The Power of the Dog is an unrelenting depiction of sadness. The saga can be difficult to embrace. However, there is so much to appreciate here. Cinematographer Ari Wegner (True History Of The Kelly Gang) beautifully highlights the visual sweep of the American West. The expansive vistas evoke the work of legendary directors John Ford and George Stevens. Johnny Greenwood’s (Phantom Thread) uneasy score is the aural manifestation of impending danger. The methodic pace of the gradually unfolding account builds. I kept second-guessing the intentions of the characters at every turn until the very end. The narrative takes quite a while to get started but things get pretty intense in the final 30 minutes. The ending is a shocker that will undoubtedly inspire conversation. I’m still thinking about these people and their motivations. Our contempt and disdain are elicited throughout the picture. Yet these people have humanity which means sometimes our gut reactions may not be justified. Jane Campion’s meticulous portrait ends in tragedy. Where the tragedy truly lies, however, is open to interpretation.


The French Dispatch

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on November 2, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Over the last quarter-century, Wes Anderson has built up an impressive oeuvre. Ever since he debuted with Bottle Rocket in 1996, he has consistently released a new feature on average every 2 to 3 years. That’s downright prolific for an auteur. From the superlative (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom) to the merely tolerable (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) — if you’re familiar with the director’s aesthetic, you know his style is instantly recognizable. Fastidiously produced productions featuring a large cast with a lot of care that goes into the construction. Each piece is a thoughtfully manicured diorama of minutiae. Every shot is the manifestation of perfectly placed objects in a dollhouse. His movies can be a little difficult to embrace for the unconverted. They’re so twee. This one is no different. Yet I am a devotee and so I relish them all. The French Dispatch doesn’t rank among his very best, but I did admire the effort that went into making it.

A Wes Anderson release is nothing if not precious. At times the degree of whimsy almost verges into a parody of his technique. It’s set in a fictional French town called “Ennui-sur-Blasé.” Both “ennui” and “blasé” of course are fancy words for similar things. The saga begins as a tale about a newspaper staffed by a team of American expatriates living in France. The paper itself is loosely based on the New Yorker magazine. As it begins, it’s about the journalists writing articles. The account frames this in a vignette about “cycling reporter” Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson). From there, he recounts an anthology of three columns each told by separate individuals: art impresario J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), and food writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).

The chronicle grows even more convoluted. For you see, those three stores then become a framing device for introducing the proper stories. The first is about an art dealer (Adrien Brody) and a jailed painter (Benicio Del Toro) who uses a female prison guard (Léa Seydoux ) as a model. The second concerns a group of young activists (Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri), and the third is about a celebrated chef (Stephen Park) who solves a kidnapping plot for a police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric). The narrative configuration becomes something of a Russian Matryoshka doll — those wooden figurines of decreasing size placed inside one another.

The French Dispatch has a romantic affection for Europe, the past, literary pursuits, and quirky details. Like all of the director’s compositions, the piece is filled with meticulous production design amusing sight gags, and dry dialogue. It’s inspired by actual people and events. If you get the references you’ll adore it more. There are so many performances and every actor has a scant amount of screen time. Tilda Swinton sporting big hair and a sophisticated accent while addressing a crowd in an auditorium was a favorite.

Wes Anderson has a fondness for historical happenings and personalities. He weaves that enthusiasm into the fabric of the film. As we delve deeper, the story is influenced by a multitude of real-life people. Those with a knowledge of luminaries like Joseph Mitchell, Rosamund Bernier, Lord Duveen, and James Baldwin will be at an advantage, It isn’t necessary to share his artistic passions. However, it will certainly give you a greater appreciation for Anderson’s indulgences. Other than Baldwin, I was unaware of these tangible connections. I still enjoyed the whimsical nature, but I have always been a fan. File this under the heading “Your mileage may vary.”


Malcolm & Marie

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 11, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Movies put the fun in dysfunctional. The simple act of an argument between a couple can be an interesting acting exercise. In 1962 Edward Albee published and produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the stage. Ernest Lehman adapted it into a landmark picture that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It won 5 Academy Awards and set a slew of Oscar records in the process. I guess it isn’t surprising that other writers might draw inspiration from it. Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play God of Carnage is an example. Malcolm & Marie is another, even down to the black and white cinematography. Yet appearances can be deceiving. That was good. This is not.

A filmmaker (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a well received movie premiere. Malcolm is ecstatic about his impending fame. What should be a joyous occasion turns sour when Marie brings up the fact that he forgot to thank her in his acceptance speech. From this seed of a beginning sets off over 100-minutes of bickering that grows increasingly tiresome. An all-night debate could be an opportunity to explore some thought-provoking themes. No such luck. Sam Levinson is satisfied watching a couple of privileged, self-involved, narcissists argue in circles. Like the loquacious equivalent of a cat playing with a ball of yarn, Levinson’s script is content to merely banter random topics back and forth without arriving at an apparent resolution to any of them. Malcolm & Marie is a cacophonous explosion of words in deference to a supremely empty experience.

The conversation begins with the common courtesy expected in a relationship but moves on to introduce a litany of aimless thoughts only to discard them so he can advance new ones. Levinson utilizes John David Washington as a device. In one diatribe, Malcolm bemoans the ignorance of a “white lady critic from the LA Times”. If I understand this monologue correctly, he means to assert that black art cannot ever be clearly understood by a white person. Sam the writer and director — who also happens to be the son of successful filmmaker Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man) — is also white. This begs the question: does Levinson mean to impugn his own writing? If so, he might be onto something here.

Malcolm & Marie is a hollow interaction. The screenplay is the problem. The lack of purpose to this nonsense is highlighted by a peculiar idiosyncrasy that kept shining through. Writer Sam Levinson is inordinately preoccupied with obscenities, particularly the F-word. I’ve watched many profanity-laced films in my time: The Wolf of Wall Street and Uncut Gems have achieved a modern zenith. Yet, in their favor, they each detailed a world that was less than savory. In contrast, this is the depiction of two attractive people ostensibly in love. Never have I have ever heard a release drop F-bombs in such a short amount of time without any justifiable reason. It’s almost comical as if he recently learned a new vocabulary word and wanted to use it as much as possible. His fascination with it is positively jejune. Wikipedia places this at #23 amongst all films ever to frequently use the word. Pulp Fiction is #30 for comparison. Granted #22 is high but it actually feels a lot worse. It’s an overall mood, but I now consider this the nadir of foul language in my own cinematic experience. Regardless, I’m not about to suffer through this again to confirm whether it should rank higher. I’ll trust Wikipedia.

Much like the movie, this review is a rant. Malcolm & Marie may be tedious but it’s not all bad. It features stylish black and white cinematography by Marcell Rév. Although star Zendaya spends most of the time in various states of undress so visually it evokes a glossy but suggestive Calvin Klein underwear ad. Sam Levinson has worked with the actress before on the HBO drama series Euphoria. This was a side project when production shut down because of COVID. Their familiarity with each other brings out a believable performance. Her achievement here is emotionally authentic. Still, it doesn’t make the liaison depicted in this account any less disgusting. Malcolm and Marie need to stop talking and go to bed immediately. Sleep it off and then break up in the morning. They shouldn’t be together and audiences shouldn’t be subjected to their nasty quarrel.