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Entries in Romance (20)

Thursday
Oct312013

About Time

We all wish we could go back in time. Remember that time you said something stupid and hurt someone’s feelings? Or that time you stumbled over your words while talking to the prettiest girl you’ve ever met? Or when tragedy struck a friend or family member? What if you could go back and do it all again, changing those moments for the better? That’s the premise behind “About Time,” the latest film from Richard Curtis, the writer and director of 2003’s romance hit, “Love Actually.” What’s explored here isn’t exactly new ground, but the way it’s handled is positively exquisite. If 2009’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is an example of how not to tackle similar themes, “About Time” is the exact opposite. It nails it to a degree few films that explore life and love do, making it one of the best and most emotionally affecting movies of the year.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) has just turned 21. Aside from the expectations the monumental birthday brings, his life seems pretty normal, but his father (Bill Nighy) is about to change it drastically. It turns out that all men in his family have had an extraordinary ability. They can actually go back in time. All it takes is a dark, secluded room and some concentration and they can be whisked off to any place they’re thinking of, with a couple caveats: they can’t go forward in time, only back, and they can only revisit places they’ve already been and change events they’ve already experienced. This unique ability gives the otherwise timid and introverted Tim a chance to try new things without consequence. Eventually, he ends up in London working a boring job at a law firm, but one night, he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and he immediately falls in love.

The story that follows is one of both utter joy and inescapable sadness. It’s one that explores the craziness of life and the hopelessness that one finds when they realize that some things simply can’t be changed. Even with this power, Tim finds that when one thing is fixed, another is broken. It’s a movie that acknowledges that life is messy and it sometimes isn’t going to play out the way you want it to, but it also stops to see its beauty. Throughout his time twisting journey, Tim realizes that happiness isn’t in fixing life’s stumbles, but in embracing them. But perhaps more than anything, he learns that the true key to happiness is simply in living and not taking for granted this wonderful and magical ride we’ve all been granted, in noticing the little things and not letting precious moments pass you by.

While these life lessons are hardly revelatory, they’re handled with the utmost care, turning what could easily be an overdose of cheese into something that’s truly beautiful and easy to embrace and understand. All but those who have led the easiest of lives will be able to connect to the raw emotion presented here. Much of this success comes from the technical expertise in its crafting. “About Time” is a beautiful film to watch, with one of its few downsides being an unnecessarily shaky camera. The camera is so uncomfortable wonky at times that it’s difficult to even see the emotion on the character’s faces, particularly in an early scene when Tim’s walking home after meeting Mary, his elation barely registering because of it. While such shakiness can add to a more hectic movie, it doesn’t fit this film’s generally calm demeanor.

But what really makes “About Time” work is its performances. Bill Nighy is as charming as ever and Domhnall Gleeson proves his chops after working in side roles in films like “Dredd” and “Harry Potter,” but it’s the lovely Rachel McAdams that really shines here. She’s one of the most likable and beautiful actresses working today, but she is normalized here. Her hair is occasionally off kilter, her dresses a bit nerdy and her overall beauty is toned down, but it’s her charisma that makes it work. When Tim runs into his first love, who by all accounts is a much prettier and physically desirable woman, one night in London and she invites him to her place, he turns her down and rushes back home to Mary. There’s an unexplainable connection he feels with her, but we get it. McAdams creates in Mary the girl all guys want to bring home to their parents.

“About Time” is admittedly a little rough around the edges, particularly in its clumsy handling of its numerous side characters like Tim’s perpetually unhappy playwright friend, Harry, played by the criminally underused Tom Hollander, but those rough edges are minor when compared to the joy that encompasses them. This film is relatable to anyone who has ever made a mistake they wish they could fix, anyone who stumbled over their words when trying to explain to their crush how much they cared for them and anyone who has lived through life’s sad inevitabilities. “About Time” may be too sentimental for some to handle, but the romantically inclined won’t want to miss it.

About Time receives 4.5/5

Friday
May312013

Before Midnight

Rarely in the world of cinema does a romance come along and touch you in a way that can’t be explained. Rarely does one relate to you or your ideas of a perfect love while still remaining grounded enough to avoid the fairy tale expectations society has associated with it. Director Richard Linklater’s enchanting 1995 film, “Before Sunrise,” managed to do just that. It was a simple film, one where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend the night together strolling around Vienna and sharing stories about their lives, but it was nonetheless wonderful. The two characters connect not just on a physical level, but on intellectual, spiritual and emotional levels as well. The movie portrayed the type of magical night we all wish we could have, even if it is fleeting.

Such was the case with Jesse and Celine and when sunrise came, Jesse had to leave, the film ending on an ambiguous note that kept the viewer wondering if they would ever see each other again. That question was answered in 2004 with the blissful follow-up, “Before Sunset,” and again, the film ended on a hopeful, but not exactly final, note. Now another nine years have passed and we have “Before Midnight,” and it’s almost as good as its predecessors. Considering that it’s following two of the greatest romances ever put to screen, that’s really saying something.

The beginning of the film confirms it. Jesse and Celine are together now and have two beautiful twin girls. Jesse has moved to Europe, leaving his 13 year old son, who has just hopped a plane to head back to the states, behind. They’re in Greece for a quick getaway and, thanks to some friends who agree to watch the twins, they have the entire night to themselves. However, it has been nearly two decades since they first met and one since they decided to be with each other, so that fairy tale romance has long since passed. Their lives are more complicated and Jesse pangs to be with his son, especially during this time of his life where he’ll be discovering his sexuality and meeting girls. As he puts it, in another four years, he’ll have graduated high school and the chance to connect will be gone. He’ll be an adult. Celine, on the other hand, has a wonderful opportunity with a potential government job and doesn’t want to move to America, despite her love for Jesse’s son. Naturally, this leads to argument.

If the previous two movies explored the love that can form between two people, “Before Midnight” is about the potential destruction of it. It answers the question that cynics wonder and romantics try to avoid at the end of a romance: what happens after the movie ends? Over time and in real life, the bond that was so strong before begins to weaken and it’s only natural for someone to wonder if they really love this person anymore. This movie explores that in-depth and, though it isn’t always pleasant, it’s always truthful. The pent-up frustration Jesse and Celine have been carrying around all come bubbling to the surface and hurtful things are said, things that threaten to end a relationship that looked so perfect all those years ago.

But hidden within the fighting are philosophical themes that contemplate life, love, the inescapableness of time and the finite nature of all things. Jesse and Celine both realize that they’re getting old, perhaps closer to their deaths than their births, and such a notion puts things into perspective. Have they lived their lives the best they can? Have they done all they can to care for their children? Are they really happy with each other or has their attempt to recapture the feeling they felt that night in Vienna all those years ago fooled themselves into thinking they are? Much like the previous movies, there’s no clear answer (only another sequel will be able to shed some light), ending with a scene that feels hopeful, but not definite.

All of this is done with an exquisite sense of direction, one that refuses to overcomplicate things and decides to keep it simple despite its non-simplistic themes. Much like the previous movies, Linklater more often than not settles on long takes, effectively placing the viewer in the scene with the characters. It doesn’t cut back and forth in the typical filmic shot reverse shot based on who’s talking, but rather places them both on camera, allowing them to play off each other in a seemingly less scripted way, whether they be walking down the road or driving in the car. These long takes only work with actors that can pull them off and both Hawke and Delpy do so with aplomb. Although they’ve only worked with each other across the three movies for what couldn’t be more than a couple months, it nevertheless feels like they’ve been in each other’s minds and lives for the two decades these movies span.

It may sound strange to hear, but it’s no exaggeration to hail this romance trilogy as one of the best ever. To give that statement some context, this film doesn’t quite live up to the standards of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” yet it’s still likely to be one of the best of the year. “Before Midnight” is nothing less than a majestic, ethereal treat.

Before Midnight receives 4.5/5

Friday
Apr202012

The Lucky One

I’ve never read a Nicholas Sparks novel, so I can’t speak for their quality. For all I know, they’re wonderfully written sweeping romances that even the most jaded lover would embrace. His prose could be beautiful, describing in perfect detail the characters in his stories, their settings and the events they go through. I honestly don’t know, but as a simple storyteller, Sparks lacks creativity. Having seen every one of his book-to-film adaptations, from 1999’s Message in a Bottle to this week’s The Lucky One, I can say without a doubt the man doesn’t know how to craft a story. All he does is take the same basic formula, repackage it with a new traumatic event or life ending illness and crap it out onto the page, or in this case, the screen, for public consumption. He had some luck with the solid (yet still overrated) romance, The Notebook, but when you’re seven movies in and only one can legitimately be called good, it’s time to stop.

The Lucky One follows Logan (Zac Efron), a US Marine who has served three tours in Iraq. While on his last tour of duty, he spots a picture of a beautiful woman named Beth (Taylor Schilling) on the ground a few feet away from where he’s standing. His intrigue gets the best of him, so he walks over to pick it up. Just as he reaches the picture, a missile detonates behind him. The picture saved his life. When he gets back to the states, he decides to seek the girl in the photo out. He finds her in North Carolina, but doesn’t know how to explain to her what happened and why he has traveled so far from his home state of Colorado to see her. So instead, he takes a job she and her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) are offering training dogs. Eventually, a romance sparks, but his secret can’t be kept hidden forever and it will threaten their happiness, especially if Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), can do anything about it.

Nicholas Sparks is not a romance writer. He’s a schmaltz writer, a hack hiding behind the guise of a hopeless romantic. His stories rarely earn their tears through good writing and interesting characters, but rather through manipulation. Sparks has an affinity for putting his characters through the wringer so his easily seduced literary and movie going demographic will feel something other than ambivalence. It’s not enough for the characters to have terrible things happen to them within the current setting of the story; he has to give them tragic pasts as well. When Beth says at one point that both her parents died in a car crash when she was young, the thought that comes to mind isn’t of sympathy or sadness, but rather of cynicism: “Of course they did.”

If you’ve seen the other movies based on Sparks’ books, this should come as no surprise, nor should the predictably overblown ending. Anyone can take someone else’s material, change a few things around and call it an original concept, but Sparks does it to himself. He’s a lazy storyteller without an original thought in his head, but that’s only offensive in the figurative sense. His recent trend of trivializing important world events and issues to fit his romantic upchucks is far worse. Similar to how Dear John used the tragedy of 9/11, The Lucky One uses the Iraq war and the post traumatic stress disorder many of our soldiers are diagnosed with after returning home to segue into fluffy romantic nonsense. At certain points in the movie, you see Logan jump in fear as he hears a loud bang or gunfire coming from the television as some kids play some video games. Later, his nephew wakes him from his slumber and he immediately slams the kid down on the bed and begins to choke him. What happens to many of those who return from war is a serious matter and is worthy of serious dramatic consideration, but using it as a means to sucker in easily emotionalized viewers is not only clumsy storytelling, but also disrespectful to the reality of such a thing.

The rest of The Lucky One fares about as one might expect: forced dramatic scenarios brought on by heightened caricatures, numerous montages set to the backdrop of a sappy sweet melody and lots of distant staring, one person emotionally longing for the other. In just about every way possible, The Lucky One is redundant, both of Sparks’ other stories and of the romance genre in general. It brings nothing new to the table, instead relying on the same contrived narrative procedures that fans of this tripe inexplicably eat up. If you’re one of those people, The Lucky One will do its job, but all others should steer clear.

The Lucky One receives 1/5

Friday
Mar092012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’m pretty sure Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the most boring movie title I’ve ever read. Going into it, you can’t help but hope it’s not one of those titles that’s spot on like Snakes on a Plane or Zombie Strippers. You hope it’s a metaphor for something else that is perhaps a bit interesting, but it’s not. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, at its core, about salmon fishing in the Yemen, yet it’s not boring. It’s actually kind of heartfelt. It’s certainly no perfect movie and not good enough to be considered a surprising gem, but the performances are grand and its story is life-affirming. It won’t blow you away, but it’s worth a look.

The film follows Fred (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert who is approached one day by Harriet (Emily Blunt), a consultant whose boyfriend has just gone off to fight in the war. Along with a visionary Sheikh (Amr Waked), she wants to start a project that will bring the sport of fly fishing to the Afghanistan desert. To do this, they need a lot of money, manpower and even more luck, considering the area’s aridity is unfit for such a project. So with the backing of the British government that is looking to shed some positivity on foreign relations, they embark on a plan that only has a minor chance of success.

When taken as a whole, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is underwhelming. Looking back on it reveals many narrative problems and contrivances. But in the moment, individual scenes work brilliantly and it makes you feel good about what the people onscreen are trying to do. Despite its flaws, it’s inspirational to watch these people from all different backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal. Such diversity is absent in most films and although such a simple fact certainly doesn’t make this movie anything special, it’s worth noting all the same.

What Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does best is develop relationships. Although it does rely too heavily on soapy, feel good dramatic tricks at times, you come to care about everyone you’re watching. McGregor and Blunt, two terrific performers in their own right, craft a believable relationship that blossoms over time. At first, they’re at odds, Blunt ever the optimist that they can pull the project off and McGregor a cynical man who thinks it has no shot, but eventually they spur a friendship. McGregor’s character begins to find hope and passion for the project, which brings the two together in a sweet and charming way. Unfortunately, as is expected with nearly any movie these days, a man and woman can’t simply be friends and a romance sparks between the two. This is precisely where the film begins to go downhill, not only due to the fact that it’s not unlike every other movie romance you’ve ever seen, but also because this inevitably leads to forced drama late in the movie after a surprise plot twist involving Blunt’s boyfriend.

The events that transpire in the film are grounded and simple—this is not a fast paced movie, to be sure—except for perhaps a couple of remarkably silly moments, including one where Fred saves the Sheikh’s life by swinging his fishing reel towards an oncoming attacker and hooking him, forcing the gunshot to stray off course. It’s moments like these that make the film so hard to love. To hear that many didn’t like it much at all would even be understandable, but what can I say? It worked for me. It made me laugh, it moved me and it ended. In the end, that’s what we go to the movies for and despite its problems, that’s why Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is recommendable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen receives 3.5/5

Friday
Feb102012

The Vow

The Vow plays just like a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. Two characters fall in love, but are then torn apart by a terrible event. That idyllic love is shattered and needs to be rebuilt, but there are numerous factors prohibiting that from happening. Even the ending, albeit in a less manipulative way, seems like something a sap like him would dream up. The only thing it’s missing is an actual Nicholas Sparks writing credit. It’s not surprising then that early word of mouth has been good among fans of movies like The Notebook. The stories are identical—a man tries to help the woman he loves reclaim her memory so she will love him again—and it features the same passion that this demographic loves. It’s not quite as good as The Notebook, but it’s better than every other Sparks adaptation (if that means anything at this point). It’s no prize winner, but The Vow is a serviceable romance for the upcoming Valentine’s Day crowd.

Leo (Channing Tatum) is married to Paige (Rachel McAdams). They love each other dearly, but one night, a truck rear ends them and Paige is thrown through the windshield. After waking up from a weeks long coma, Paige doesn’t remember anything in her recent life, including Leo. Her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) show up to comfort her, hoping to reclaim her love after years of separation for unknown reasons, but Leo insists Paige stay with him. He needs to remind her how much she loves him because he simply can’t live without her.

Yes, it’s true that The Vow is yet another sappy, ridiculous romance movie that occasionally manipulates viewer emotions with contrivances and silly screenplay love talk, but it has its heart in the right place and it doesn’t pound you over the head with prophetic nonsense about the value of love and how it can save a life, ad nauseam. It’s simply about a man who loves his wife unconditionally and will do anything to get her back. It’s a respectable road to take in a cinematic world where love is unrealistically portrayed with impulsive exaggeration, creating a false view of it for females everywhere.

But where The Vow shines is in the chemistry of the two leads, which comes as a surprise given Channing Tatum’s poor track record in romance films (or any other films, for that matter), but he’s good here and creates a sympathetic character. Any man in the audience need only think how awful it would be to be in his shoes to understand his feelings, even if we’ve never personally felt them before. A lot of this is, of course, due to Rachel McAdams who is once again radiant. She’s so lovely and warm that it would seem insane for Leo to not go to the great lengths he does to win her over again. Her amiable screen presence lends credibility to the tale at hand and does more than enough to make up for the film’s flaws, of which there are many.

Despite likable leads and a love story that doesn’t get too gushy, it’s hard not to criticize just how dumb this movie can be. The characters, though played well, aren’t the brightest people in the world and you’ll stare in amazement as they ignore important information and end up in preposterous situations. Take for instance when Paige first wakes up. The doctor is hopeful that she’ll regain her memory, but doing that means getting back into her daily routine. The sooner she gets back to her normal life the better, but Leo doesn’t help her do that. He simply takes her home and finds it to be sufficient. Sure, he explains that the first thing she does in the morning is make coffee and check her emails, but that’s hardly an effort at all on his part. Instead, he heads off to work while she’s stuck in a place she doesn’t remember and feels uncomfortable in.

Once at this point, the screenplay starts to treat Paige like she lost her intelligence rather than just her memory. Despite not remembering anything, including where she is, she ventures outside (without a cell phone), turns a few corners and gets herself lost. It’s a scene that exists solely so she can call her mother to pick her up, beginning a string of events that couldn’t be more manufactured if you tried to make them so. The writers seem to have profound disrespect for the characters they’re writing about, but the performances pull it through.

The Vow doesn't reinvent the romance genre, but it at least tries, which is more than can be said for most other romances these days. I’m sure some guys will bicker and pout to their girlfriends in an attempt to get something in return after being forced to sit through it this Valentine’s Day, probably to decent success, but what the ladies won’t realize is that the guys secretly liked it.

The Vow receives 2.5/5