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Entries in Romance (20)

Friday
Dec232011

The Artist

I know this is said every year by a number of critics and it’s gotten to the point where people roll their eyes when they hear it, but this hasn’t been a great year for movies. If my favorite movie of the year so far, Warrior, had come out last year, it would have been closer to the ten spot on my “Best Of” list than number one. That’s why, coming just before the new year rolls around, I’m delighted to tell you about The Artist, a delightful, enchanting, marvelous, joyous celebration of the magic of movies, of a time when everything was simpler and stories were told without the assistance of words. It’s not just the best movie of the year, it’s now one of my personal favorites and if all is right with the world, it will be the frontrunner in this coming Oscar season.

The Artist takes place in 1927 and follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who is cherished by the world. However, the film industry is about to make a major change; they are about to introduce talking pictures. Like many stars of the day, this departure creates problems for Valentin and he is quickly forgotten. Meanwhile, a beautiful up and comer and former object of affection Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is hitting it big. Although separated for the time being both physically and professionally, Peppy and George might just end up helping each other in more ways than one.

Admittedly, part of The Artist’s appeal comes from the novelty of seeing a black and white silent film in a world of cinema where the most popular franchises involve robots beating up on each other and a silly romance with sparkling vampires and a shirtless hunk who can turn into a werewolf, but that certainly doesn’t detract from how great it really is. Compared side by side with silent film classics like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The General, and City Lights, The Artist fits snugly in with only a couple exceptions.

When Grindhouse came out in 2007, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino crafted a love letter to old grindhouse films, complete with missing footage and degraded reels. They captured the essence of those pictures down to the letter. The Artist too is an ode to a style of film past, the silent film, but it’s far too visually clean to completely evoke the feeling of one. Similarly, an early inclusion of a woman flipping the bird is out-of-place; classic silent films were never so brash. But to complain about clean and technically impressive visuals seems frivolous and that one instance of tactlessness is so minor, it’s hardly worth focusing on.

On the whole, The Artist is a grand recreation of the beginning of film, before it evolved (or some may say, devolved) into CGI explosion fests and 3D spectacles, and the two lead stars are truly wonderful, capturing the grandiose nature of cinema’s classic stars. Jean Dujardin is handsome and clean as the lead man, but it’s Bérénice Bejo who really shines. She has a simple, yet elegant beauty and a smile to die for. When the world falls in love with her in the movie, it’s easy to understand because you’ve already beaten them to the punch.

The Artist is endlessly delightful, to the point where mere words can’t explain it. There isn’t an adjective in the English language that can describe the euphoria one feels while watching it. It’s heavenly, a splendid romance that puts every other movie to be released this year to shame. It may slow down a bit towards the end, but it never bores, and it does it all without the use of spoken word. If you aren’t left with a big stupid smile on your face when the end rolls around, you may need to check your pulse. The Artist is what going to the movies is all about.

The Artist receives 5/5

Friday
Dec092011

New Year's Eve

There are lots of different aspects of a movie that can make or break it. One of the most important is focus. When a movie meanders too much or introduces too many characters or tries to juggle multiple stories in its short runtime, it almost never works. The exception to that rule is 2003’s Love Actually, a delightful, though still certainly flawed romance that now ranks among many people’s must watch love stories. Last year’s Valentine’s Day attempted to recreate that movie’s charm and scraped by on the skin of its teeth. Now that film’s director is attempting to recreate his own recreation with New Year’s Eve, an unwise decision. The small amount of luck he had with Valentine’s Day is all but gone and most of the joy that comes from watching it is due to how bad it gets as it draws nearer to its conclusion. New Year’s Eve takes cheese to an entirely new level.

The film is told through a number of vignettes featuring characters on December 31st, 2011 as they prepare for what the new year will bring. There’s Claire (Hilary Swank), the person in charge of the New York City ball drop, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), an unhappy record company employee who has just quit her job, Paul (Zac Efron), the young delivery boy Ingrid buys for the day to help her meet a list of goals before midnight, Stan (Robert De Niro), an old man dying in the hospital, Aimee (Halle Berry), his nurse, Tess (Jessica Biel), who is close to giving birth but is trying to hold out with her husband Griffin (Seth Meyers) until midnight because the first family to give birth in the new year gets a large cash prize, and Grace (Sarah Paulson) and James Schwab (Til Schweiger), the competing pregnant couple across the hall.

Believe it or not, I haven’t even come close to naming off all the film’s characters. Not mentioned in the above synopsis are Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Carla Gugino, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Ludacris and more. The film leaves no celebrity unturned, even going so far as to give Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, a supporting role. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy playing “spot the celebrity,” but it doesn’t make for the most structured movie. Rather than introducing them organically through the needs of the story, they are introduced just as they are, as celebrities. It becomes distracting.

But in a movie with so little going for it, that hardly matters. As expected with a film that crams so much in a small amount of time, none of the individual stories are given room to breathe. Most are sped through so as not to make the movie five hours long, which gives little time for characterization. The two or three interesting stories are either overshadowed by a dozen other lousy ones or undermined by poor writing, where conflicts are thrown in arbitrarily in a desperate attempt to build emotion by the end, like the scene where Paul stands alone in a room with Ingrid and talks to his pal on the phone about how pathetic she is, as if she can’t hear him while she’s standing a few yards away. Moments like these derail New Year’s Eve from what is already a pretty wobbly track.

But hating the film is not easy. It’s cheery and optimistic, even if that optimism borders on annoyance. It knows its audience and it panders to them. The simplicity of its story is exactly what the people who go to see this will want, so in a strange way, you could almost call it a success. Luckily, however, its simplicity doesn’t carry all the way to its end. There are a few legitimate surprises in store for its viewers, a twist or two that actually manage to create some intrigue as the clock strikes midnight for the characters, even though the film’s window for emotion is long gone by then. Still, getting to those clever twists is a chore. New Year’s Eve is only two hours long, but its gooey amounts of cheese and hilariously awful song numbers will make it feel like you’re watching the whole stupid day unfold.

New Year’s Eve receives 1.5/5

Friday
Nov182011

Breaking Dawn Part 1

The Twilight series is as perplexing a series that has ever come out, not thematically or narratively, but in its popularity. Grown adults, people who should have had the life experience to realize how ridiculous the franchise’s portrayals of love are, flock to the theater with each outing and debate over whether Bella (Kristen Stewart) should end up with Edward (Robert Pattinson) or Jacob (Taylor Lautner). To eavesdrop on one of those debates is simultaneously amusing and sad. One can’t help but laugh at such a trivial conversation, but great romances with true-to-life takes on love are released every year and most are ignored by the general public, yet this tripe rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars. In a society where love is commercialized, I suppose it’s not surprising. We’ve bastardized it, packaged it up and sold it not to the highest bidder, but the youngest, and it has gotten to the point where children are beginning to feel insignificant without the perfect mate by their side; a dangerous notion. It’s fitting then that a movie that begins with talk of putting away childish things would have such a childish outlook on love.

Bella has agreed to marry Edward. As the movie begins, the wedding is approaching. Jacob is none too happy, but he is trying to cope with the news regardless. Though seemingly hesitant, the two follow through on their commitment and while on their honeymoon on a remote island off the shore of Rio de Janeiro, Edward impregnates Bella. Because it’s not a normal human child, she immediately begins showing signs of pregnancy, but she can’t nourish it or herself. It begins to kill her. Back home, they are stuck in Edward’s house with his family. The alpha male in Jacob’s group has learned of Bella’s pregnancy and plans on killing her and the vampire baby, but Jacob refuses to let Bella die and reluctantly joins forces with Edward to protect her.

As one reviewer in the UK suggested, Breaking Dawn Part 1 delivers on the drama and emotional highs we’ve come to expect from the series. In a sense, he’s right, if by drama he means melodrama and the emotion he’s talking about is laughter. With a human/vampire/werewolf love triangle, a half human-half vampire baby and a plot turn that can only be described as bestiality mixed with pedophilia, this is nothing more than a freak show narrative and one can’t help but laugh it. The movie takes itself so seriously, but the soapy acting and stone cold delivery of overly simplistic dialogue is contradictory to its desired tone, managing to provide more laughs a minute than any comedy to be released this year.

In a way, it’s almost kind of enjoyable—laughing is always fun—and those laughs are heightened by downright terrible acting from everyone involved. Pattinson, through movies like Remember Me and Water for Elephants, has proven that he has acting chops, but a performance is only as good as its material and he has nothing to work with here. Lautner, on the other hand, has never proven himself and only strengthens the argument that he’s one of the worst actors working today. He has a pretty face, tight abs, a gorgeous smile and close to no talent. In September’s incompetent thriller, Abduction, he walked into scenes so awkwardly, it looked like he was in the middle of a battle with a particularly itchy hemorrhoid. The same can be said here.

Watching Breaking Dawn Part 1 is like a reminder of what it was like back in grade school. It only alludes to difficult subject matters (despite an explicit romance scene), treating sex the same way a 12 year old boy treats a dirty word, as if the utterance of the word would make the romantically immature characters snicker. It wants to be grown up, but it’s too embarrassed to even say “sex,” much less explore it in a thoughtful manner. This is a movie that literally has nothing going for it and its abrupt ending brought on by the story being split into two parts, similar to the way the last Harry Potter films were handled, only adds to the frustration. Just like Harry Potter, this doesn’t provide a climax, but the difference is that Harry Potter gave us something to care about and look forward to. The ending of Breaking Dawn Part 1 serves only as a depressing reminder that a Part 2 is on the way.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 receives 0/5

Friday
Jul222011

Friends with Benefits

In a cinematic landscape full of poor romantic comedies, Friends with Benefits should be seen as a breath of fresh air. It’s funny, raunchy and it has a big heart, even if it does amount to little more than an amalgamation of those that have come before it, borrowing everything from its central premise (think No Strings Attached) to its most insignificant, said-in-passing plot points (one character moved around a lot as a child when her mother broke up with her boyfriends, like in The Perfect Man). It doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre, that’s for sure, but it works nevertheless because of its witty writing and charismatic leads.

As the film begins, Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who don’t yet know each other, are being dumped by their partners. The reasons behind the break-ups are ridiculous and even a little hurtful, so they both decide they’re done with relationships. At some point later, Dylan, an LA boy, flies out to New York for an interview at GQ Magazine, set up by “headhunter” Jamie and lands the job. Because he’s new to the town, he strikes up a friendship with Jamie, which inevitably leads to physical intimacy. But because of their pasts, they both agree that’s where it should begin and end. They will be friends with benefits, nothing more.

Friends with Benefits is one of those hipster, self-aware movies that seem to be all the rage these days. It references other romantic comedies, the characters watch them and at one point, Jamie even mentions wanting her life to be like one, admitting she approaches relationships based off them. In one hilarious bit, Dylan even ridicules the obligatory upbeat pop songs these films so often have. If one thing can be said about it, Friends with Benefits knows it’s a romantic comedy, but that self-awareness doesn’t go further like it should (it doesn’t spoof the genre the way, say, Scream did to horror); it merely acknowledges the clichés before acting them out. And there are plenty of upbeat pop songs.

So it follows the formula of your typical romantic comedy, which includes the girl-sees-how-good-guy-is-with-family and ailing-family-member-momentarily-overcomes-illness-to-speak-words-of-wisdom scenes, but it works nonetheless because it dares to go places other movies won’t, taking its two talented and good looking stars and allowing them to say and do things that will make even the least prude audience member blush. It’s the type of humor that those with life experience will be able to understand, including a great (and truthful) joke that will speak to the men in the audience who understand how difficult it is to…well, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable typing it here.

Of course, most romantic comedies succeed or fail on the chemistry (or lack thereof) of its two leads. In this regard, Friends with Benefits soars. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are so good together, it seems a shame the two aren’t a couple in real life (though there have been rumors). At times, the film runs the risk of losing us thanks to its egregious product placement of things like the Playstation Move, which sticks out like a sore thumb due to the incandescent wand the characters hold and wave around (giving the placement of T.G.I. Friday’s in the recent Zookeeper a run for its money), but it always manages to win us back. It’s funny, good natured, fun and it includes not one, but two well choreographed flashmob performances. And who doesn’t want to see that?

Friends with Benefits receives 4/5

Friday
Jul012011

Monte Carlo

I don’t see every new movie release. There are multiple screenings each week for a wide variety of films, some of which I am either unable to attend or not interested enough in to make the trip to the screening room. But for some strange reason, I decided to check out the new Selena Gomez film, Monte Carlo. What a mistake that turned out to be. Never have I been so uninterested in a movie to the point where I find it not even worth criticizing. Nothing would please me more than to just forget about it and move on with my life, but because I attended the screening, I am obligated to write a review. So with my apathy in consideration, read on.

Monte Carlo stars Gomez as Grace, a recent high school graduate who has been saving up for years to afford a trip to Paris. She is hoping her trip to the City of Love will take her mundane life and transform it into something magical. So she, along with stepsister Meg, played by Leighton Meester, and best friend Emma, played by Katie Cassidy, hop on a plane and head out. When they arrive, things don’t go as planned and they end up stumbling into a posh hotel where Grace is mistaken for British heiress, Cordelia, also played by Gomez. Although they know they shouldn’t, they put on a ruse and Grace begins to act like Cordelia. Supposedly funny things begin to happen.

It should be said right off the bat that Monte Carlo is a harmless movie. Sure, the three girls don’t face any repercussions for their outrageous actions, but they learn along the way and grow closer to each other as they wander about one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s not going to, in any way, corrupt its target audience, all of whom I suppose will find enjoyment in it, though it’s hard to say because I’m not, and never have been, a 12 year old girl.

What makes the film so lousy is its strict adherence to formula. Its ambitions go no further than crafting a dream world about love for the young ladies in the audience already looking forward to their wedding days. The entire movie, more or less, is about finding love in Paris (and you know all three will find it by the end), but Paris, Je t’aime this isn’t. It’s unrealistic and cheesy, setting up impossible expectations that will undoubtedly crush those young girls when they get older and realize that relationships are a lot more difficult than the movies make them out to be.

Of course, being harmless doesn’t mean it’s any less stupid, and it treats its viewers the same. It’s one of those films that shows us an instantly recognizable landmark, in this case the Eiffel Tower, and then unnecessarily follows it with huge letters in the middle of the screen: “PARIS” it informs us. It’s a movie that tries to wow us with pretty clothes and jewelry rather than through plot development and emotional power. It even attempts to stir up dramatic tension through hilarious overreactions, like early on when Emma’s boyfriend breaks up with her because he doesn’t want her going to Paris for a whole week. Why, you ask? Who cares.

This film is not meant for me, I know that, but I don’t watch movies for others. I watch them as they are, regardless of demographic. My philosophy is just because a movie is meant for a specific audience doesn’t mean other audiences won’t like it (take last year’s delightful Ramona and Beezus, for example), but Monte Carlo is just dreadful. It’s not funny, romantic, or even interesting to look at, despite the lush backdrops the characters find themselves in.

Monte Carlo receives 1/5