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Entries in Romance (20)

Wednesday
Nov242010

Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs is a movie that goes to show how important casting is. Without the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the film would fall into obscurity never to be heard from again. Their natural charisma and good looks take an otherwise formulaic romantic comedy and make it transcendent.

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a fast talking, womanizing salesman at a local electronics store. After being caught having sex with the boss’s girlfriend in the backroom, he is fired and ends up grabbing a job as a pharmaceutical rep at Pfizer right before the company had its breakthrough with Viagra in 1998. As a way to work his drugs into the doctor’s office, he bribes his way into an internship with Dr. Knight, played by Hank Azaria. There he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful 26 year old with Parkinson’s disease, but when he tries to pick her up, as he has countless women before, she calls him out for the game he’s playing. It turns out she can play it too and, despite agreeing to keep their relationship at the casual sex level, Jamie starts to fall for her.

Love & Other Drugs, like most romantic comedies, is predictable. While the smooth dialogue felt fresh, the plot turns did not. You’ll see where the movie is heading from the get go, having mapped it all out in your head well before it ends, but it’s still believable. Their relationship may unfold in a typical fashion, but it’s sweet and you’ll feel the appropriate range of emotions—sadness, happiness, depression, loneliness, fear—because the actors are that good at bringing them forth.

Also like most romantic comedies, Love & Other Drugs is full of contrivances that lead to misunderstandings and arguments that otherwise would have never occurred. Prior to one late scene, Jamie had never questioned the hardships that may come in the future from being with a woman who has Parkinson’s disease. It isn’t until a man at a random Parkinson’s convention details them to him in as grisly a fashion as possible that he starts to wonder.

There are also some romantic comedy clichés, including a late movie race to catch up to a loved one that is followed by a long, overemotional speech, but there’s something about it that works. It takes about half the movie for the sweetness to role in, but when it does it never lets up and it will grab hold of you. To sit here and tell you I didn’t choke up at certain moments in the movie would be a lie. It affected me despite its trifecta of romantic comedy downfalls.

With a supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, the aforementioned Hank Azaria and a hilarious performance by Josh Gad as Jamie’s brother, there isn’t a moment where charm isn’t seeping through, but this is still Gyllenhaal’s and Hathaway’s movie. They are in the spotlight and despite noble attempts from its talented supporting cast, it’s never stolen from them. Gyllenhaal is warm and funny while Hathaway is radiant. Their chemistry is magnificent.

While Love & Other Drugs can’t be considered one of the best of the year, it can be considered one of the best in its respective genre. It hits similar pratfalls as its romantic comedy brethren, but it’s funny and heartfelt and in a year lacking movies with similar traits, that is all I could ask for.

Love & Other Drugs receives 4/5

Friday
Nov052010

Monsters

Monsters is an extraordinary accomplishment for one reason. It showcases effects that would be astonishing in a multi-million dollar budgeted film, but does it with much less, hovering somewhere around the $100,000 range, well above the reported $15,000 (a number debunked by a recent interview I participated in with the director of the film, Gareth Edwards). But regardless of its cost, Monsters is a tremendous cinematic achievement, at least on a technical level.

Years ago, NASA sent a probe into space to study what they thought may be alien life. Upon reentry, it broke apart and scattered over Mexico. Soon after, new forms of life began to appear. The creatures, seemingly hostile to humans, were quarantined off in what was dubbed “The Infected Zone,” which is roughly half the country. Photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is one of the unlucky few in the area. He has been sent there to escort his boss’s daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able) back to America, but after some chance occurrences strip them of their ticket home, they are forced to trek their way through “The Infected Zone” where the creatures dwell.

While that synopsis (and its ominous title) may make Monsters sound like a horror movie, it’s not. Like the best George Romero films, Monsters isn’t about the creatures. They merely exist as an outside factor in a story that is largely centered around humans. This is a tale of survival and connection. In fact, it’s more a love story than anything else and you’ll watch intently as Andrew and Samantha grow closer and closer throughout their journey. The bond they form as they wander through a ruined land covered with corpses, both human and otherwise, is touching to watch.

But despite all this talk of monsters, very few actually exist within the film, at least visually. This works much in the same way as Jaws, in that it keeps the monsters hidden as much as possible. It builds the mystery and suspense with only brief glimpses before completely unveiling them towards the climax. However, it works differently here. The feeling of awe and fright you’ll feel initially will be overcome by another emotion, one I hesitate to mention for fear of ruining anything. It’s this smart reversal of the expected that makes Monsters so fresh.

In fact, the most powerful moments in the movie don’t include the monsters at all. It’s the quiet moments that hit the hardest, like a scene over halfway through where the two protagonists, after going through some horrific experiences, climb an old Aztec structure and peer across the landscape where they can see the American border. Emotionally, Monsters works on every level and much of that credit is due to the two leads, who are quite convincing in their roles. While not exactly newcomers (both have had experience in other movies and television shows), they work well together and show considerable talent and chemistry together.

If it must be boiled down to one thing, Monsters is about the struggle of living. That struggle means dealing and coping with things beyond your control. This ideology exists with all living things and, filmically, does not limit itself only to the human characters. As Andrew and Samantha roam the wasteland on their way back to America, they learn new things about themselves as well as the creatures oozing around them. You’ll learn right along with them and by the end, you may be asking yourself who the true monsters really are.

Monsters receives 4/5

Friday
Sep032010

Going the Distance

Summertime and the holiday season are the two biggest times of the year for cinema. Not only are they the most profitable for Hollywood, they also receive the most high profile films. Big budget blockbusters, hilarious ensemble comedies and dramatic Oscar contenders all seem to show up during those points in the year. The areas in between, despite having the occasional winner, are usually laden with garbage—bad romantic comedies, lame horror movies and the like (the latter of which The Last Exorcism can attest to). Well, this week’s romantic comedy, Going the Distance, is one of those occasional winners. Its execution is awkward and its existence slight, but there’s a bit of charm and a few decent laughs to keep you interested.

Justin Long plays Garrett, an outgoing young guy who hates his job at a local New York record company. In a hilarious, true-to-life opening, his girlfriend breaks up with him for not buying her a gift on her birthday, despite telling him she didn’t want anything. Supposedly, the statement was intended for him to realize how much he wants to get a gift for her. But no dice, he doesn’t and the relationship ends. At a bar one night, he meets Erin, played nicely by Drew Barrymore, at a Centipede arcade machine. It turns out she’s the elusive ERL who has dominated the leaderboards for the last few months. The two connect and end up back at Garrett’s place, but then Erin explains to him that she’s an intern at the New York Sentinel and is only in town for another few weeks. Although they agree early on not to take the relationship further than random hangouts and hookups, it nevertheless blossoms and they decide to attempt a long distance relationship, Garrett in New York and Erin in California.

There’s something wonderful about Drew Barrymore. She’s the perfect every girl, someone you can believe would be walking around the streets of the Big Apple. She is adorable, bubbly and charming with a sort of sexiness that doesn’t overshadow her personality. Cast her opposite real life on again, off again boyfriend Justin Long and you have a chemistry that feels authentic.

Even more important than that, however, is the humor and there are a few great jokes here. There aren’t many movies that can pull off a Triumph of the Will reference, but Going the Distance somehow does. That funny line precedes the funniest scene of the movie: phone sex gone wrong. But for every one of those instances, there’s another where the joke falls completely flat or is stretched too long, including an absurdly unfunny sight gag involving a tanning machine and run on jokes about defecating with the door open.

What the movie unfortunately lacks is an emotional evolution of the characters. Think back to some of the greatest romantic comedies of all time like It Happened One Night or When Harry Met Sally. Those wonderful films began with the two main characters at a quarrel, not particularly liking each other, but as the movie went on they gradually realized the romantic feelings that were there. Going the Distance has no such arc. The characters love each other at the beginning and they love each other at the end. So what the film instead resorts to is a continual loop, one character flying out to visit the other, going back home and then wondering if they can keep it up being so far apart. It wears thin by the end.

Going the Distance has many problems and it falls far short of being memorable. I suspect in a month or so, I’ll have forgotten about it entirely, but the leads are likable and the supporting cast beautifully supports them, providing a much needed comedic break between the sometimes eye rolling dramatics. It’s worth a look, but only once and never again.

Going the Distance receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jul302010

Charlie St. Cloud

I hate to see a good actor stuck in an abysmal movie. It’s happened throughout cinema history: someone deserving of much more working with material that is utterly unsalvageable. That person may even give a good performance, but the failures of the movie are so prevalent that his vigor and passion gets lost. Such is the case with the unbearable Charlie St. Cloud. Despite the bad rap he gets due to his roles in the High School Musical films, Zac Efron is a good actor and has shown that he has the talent to be a major star for many years to come, as evidenced by his roles in 17 Again and Me and Orson Welles. But his latest cinematic foray is a schmaltzy, confused and laughable film that easily earns a spot on my worst of the year list.

Efron plays the title character Charlie. He has just graduated high school and has a full ride to Stanford in the Fall for his athletic passion in competitive yacht racing. His younger brother Sam, played by Charlie Tahan, is his wingman and sticks with him through thick and thin. They have a strong bond, but one night while babysitting Sam, Charlie gets in a car wreck that leaves his life in the balance and, unfortunately, kills Sam. However, he dies for a short period of time before being revived and can now see dead people, including his now deceased brother. Shortly before the wreck, he promised to practice baseball with Sam every day until he left for school and because of his newfound ability, he plans on keeping that promise, but a pretty girl named Tess, played by Amanda Crew puts a kink in those plans.

Charlie St. Cloud doesn’t so much have a narrative arc as it does go through a sequence of Hallmark greeting cards. It begins with “Best Brother,” followed by “Missing You” and is capped off with “I Love You and Will Never Forget You.” Instead of progressing from scene to scene, it feels like it's reading the front of a card before opening to the inside where the emotional punch lies.

But the problem is that none of those punches work. For instance, it’s hard to find sympathy in your heart for poor Sam and his grieving brother because the film never gives you that chance. It accelerates through the prologue where Sam is killed off and buried. Before this terrible incident even sinks in, Sam is standing back in front of Charlie throwing the ball around as if nothing ever happened. You don’t miss him the way Charlie does because he never seems to be gone.

So what you’re instead left with are cheesy scenes between the two that fail to elicit goose bumps, much less tears. Stacked on top of that is Tess and Charlie's ridiculous romance that has a twist that was interesting 11 years ago in The Sixth Sense, but now feels outdated, followed by what can only be described as re-twist that doesn’t follow the film’s established rules. Toss in the paramedic prophet with cancer and you have a movie desperate to sadden the audience by any means necessary, no matter how manipulative or contrived.

What’s funny, however, is that Charlie St. Cloud meanders in search of a genre. It tries to be sincere, but instead comes off as just plain creepy. You already have a troubled kid seeing dead people, but the blue tint aesthetic coupled with textbook horror scenes, like a chase through a foggy cemetery, plague the tone of the movie and send it spiraling into dark and unsettling territory when it should be honest and sweet.

I exaggerate not when I say I despised Charlie St. Cloud. My mind raced with thoughts of hatred and condemnation throughout its runtime. It’s clumsy, inconsistent and has so many problems I’ve only begun to touch the surface. If I delved into my tiniest quibbles, including what I can only deduce as a nonsensical hybrid of necrophilia and self pleasure, I fear I may further exhaust myself and after watching this dreck, I’m exhausted enough.

Charlie St. Cloud receives 0/5

Wednesday
Jun302010

Eclipse

It’s safe to say that The Twilight Saga has become a cultural phenomenon. The film series has emerged as one of the most successful ever created, breaking box office records and garnering a massive amount of fans in the process. Too bad popularity doesn’t define quality. The third installment in the franchise, Eclipse, is easily the best. With that said, it’s still not good.

The movie begins where New Moon left off. The love triangle between human Bella (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) rages on. Bella and Edward are in love and she desires to be changed into a vampire, but Edward refuses unless one condition is met: she must marry him. Otherwise, he wants her to remain human and keep her soul intact. Jacob also loves her and has a feeling she loves him back, but won’t admit it. He and his kind are also in a feud with Edward and his family, each thinking the other one is dangerous, but when Bella’s life is put on the line, they bond together to protect her despite their conflicting emotions.

I’ll say this for Eclipse. It tries. Due to Edward and Bella being separated throughout the majority of the film, New Moon was too overcome with its annoying teenage angst and lustful brooding to say anything relevant. Here they are together and seemingly happy. She wants to be changed into a vampire, but is trying to cope with the idea of losing her family. She is weighing the value of love and what type of consequences she will face should she get her wish. The movie asks how important love is and how far you’ll go to be with someone else.

Or at least it would like to think so. Eclipse wants to be more adult, but it’s weighed down by a script with dialogue that feels like it was written by a high school girl who thinks she knows what love is, but really doesn’t. While New Moon felt like an overemotional soap opera, Eclipse is more like a teen drama that correlates love with cheesy idyllic descriptions that seem to be ripped from the diary of a newly broken hearted 14 year old.

The rest of the film is largely the same as its predecessors, only slightly better. It’s a bit darker, most likely due to director David Slade’s experience with more disturbing material like 30 Days of Night and the terrific Hard Candy, yet he still introduces characters through ridiculous, laughable shots that feel more like fan service to show off the hunks in the picture than actual filmmaking. The action is better, again due to Slade’s past experiences, but its violence is toned down to fit its PG-13 rating and its CGI effects, particularly on the werewolves, look awful. The acting still stinks and, better still, the upper nudity of the male body is still exploited to gratuitous effect.

The only true enjoyment to be had in the Twilight films comes from listening to and watching the audience reaction to what happens onscreen. I find it hard to take this tripe seriously, but you’d think the oxygen was being sucked out of the room hearing the gasps from its adoring fans. When somebody got hurt, they shrieked in fear and when somebody gave a speech on love, regardless of how inane and manufactured it may have been, they cried. It almost makes me wonder what they would do if they actually saw a movie that was worthy of those emotions.

Now, I have no problem with the female population latching onto this series. The men have their Rambos and the women have their Twilights, but it’s time to step out from the clouds and look at these movies for what they truly are. If you liked the first two, I suspect you’ll enjoy this one, but liking something and arguing it as quality are two different things. Eclipse may be a step in the right direction for the franchise, but at this point, I fear “good” is an adjective that will never be used to describe it.

Eclipse receives 2/5

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