Category Archives: Romance

The Wachowski’s offer us happy pills once more

A few nights ago Cloud Atlas blew my mind into smithereens as multitudinous as the stars. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts.

All I know is that, yes it may be a bit messy at times, but it’s a beautiful, glorious mess that you have to lose yourself in. I had this immense, exultant rush after seeing it, like I was on drugs. It’s a bold, ballsy drug by Tom and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, spanning six time periods from 1849 through to Neo Seoul, 2144 and further to 106 winters after “The Fall”. The Wachowski’s took care of the future periods while Tykwer directed the classical parts.

The source material, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, deserves a lot of credit as the ideas of interconnectedness and fate are all his. That’s one half of the puzzle. But committing it to the screen, the attempt alone and then the feat of executing it so well, deserves equal praise if not more. Because the different stories (up to a point) don’t feel all that original, but the sheer scope of it and how it all fits together, along with the actors’ performances, superb make-up and beautiful awe-inspiring visuals, really bring it home. It takes this monumental idea about life, everything, the eternal narrative of humankind, and gives it a physical form. That’s the big achievement, being able to present this idea the way they’ve done.

Watching Cloud Atlas recalled another divisive pop culture phenomenon of the previous decade. Cloud Atlas feels like the movie the creators of Lost would’ve made in their prime. And much like Lost, some of the storylines/flashbacks don’t completely hold up, but the overall result (at least for a lot of seasons where Lost is concerned) is still incredibly satisfying.

Certainly everything does not hold up. For example, I could’ve done without seeing Hugo Weaving as a burly nurse or Halle Berry running around San Francisco as a jive journalist on the trace of something big. And Tom Hanks’ cockney gangster will go down as one of the most ridiculous career choices of his or any of his peers’ career. But then that error is brief, thankfully, and Hanks more than makes up for it in two other powerful performances as the deceitful, unsavoury Doctor Goose and tribesman of the future, Zachry. Each actor plays on average about five or six characters, after all, so they can afford the odd slip-up.

Hanks’ gangster Dermot Hoggins can also be forgiven, because his hot-headedness triggers one of the more unusual plot strands for a film where almost nothing seems out of place. Jim Broadbent is Timothy Cavendish, the publisher of Hoggins’ autobiography. And once the book turns out to be a hit, Hoggins sends his cronies to collect more money that he thinks he’s now owed. This sends Cavendish fleeing into the arms of his brother who, after having had enough of bailing him out, tricks him into booking into an old age home. Here begins a humorous jailbreak plot involving Cavendish and a few other geriatric “inmates” that is completely incongruous in its comedy and levity, but which just works remarkably well. Broadbent is excellent, his face wrung constantly into a crazed look of confusion and dismay. The actor then also balances out this foolish role by turning out a solid performance as the cruel composer Vyvyan Ayrs to boot.

Other stand-outs are Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae and James D’Arcy, who put in great performances all over but especially in the Neo Seoul storyline, another one of the best with some terrific action packed in.

So, it moves quickly and it can be confusing – they even invented a new dialect for the future which is at times quite hard to follow but which should also be saluted – but what ties it all together is the unifying theme of freedom. The movie depicts how our striving for liberty never lessens as new obstacles appear and old ones re-emerge. And simultaneously the film (and book, I suppose) frees up its characters in space and time by letting all the stories flow into each other. Cuts between scenes based in different time-periods are made frequently and flippantly to blur their distinctions. This feels like several movies, but the directors force us to view it as one which just happens to be told over a vast expanse of time. On a whole new cinematic level, space and time are illusions that limit storytelling no more. It might not be your bag of chips, but if you go in for that kind of thing, it’ll free your mind for a little while…

Plus it’s got Hugh Grant looking like this.

The top ten movies of the last ten years! imo

A highly subjective list, but let’s go…

Road to Perdition (2002)

A moody, brooding mobster movie trying really hard to find something worthy of salvation in its characters. It’s a beautiful look at the 30’s period and father and son relationships, with gorgeous cinematography too.

 

Gangs of New York (2002)

Marty Scorsese’s epic history lesson. I don’t even know how accurate it is, but it’s a gripping look at the cinematic staple that is New York while the Civil War is going on in the background. And it has one of the best Daniel Day-Lewis performances as Bill the Butcher.

 

Lost in Translation (2003)

A beautiful depiction of two wandering, weary souls finding each other, doubly disorienting because of the warped Tokyo setting. It’s an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that works out perfectly.

 

No Country for Old Men (2007)

This movie! Once the credits start rolling, you’re glued to your seat, stunned. Not quite sure what just happened. It has one of the best villains in Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem. It’s total nihilism with the only decent guy to hold on to, with a faltering grip, being Tommy Lee Jones’ Ed Tom Bell. Brilliant in its hopelessness.

 

The Hurt Locker (2008)

A great take on the war movie. Jeremy Renner’s Sergeant James isn’t fighting anyone’s war and the movie doesn’t advocate one way or the other. It’s all about the danger rush and it’s one hell of a thrill-ride. Plus, y’know, Kathryn Bigelow.

 

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

I doubt you’ll find this one in many top 10 lists. But it’s a great story of unrequited love told in the most original, creative and fun way in a while. It’s also a loud critique on romantic comedies and their delusions.

 

Funny People (2009)

One of the best comedies to come out in years! It’s genuinely funny, but finds its comedy in really dark and honest subject matter. Oh and it humanises Adam Sandler in a poignant look at life, wasted opportunities and the inability to change.

 

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Rollicking. But really stylish and clever. It quite literally changed history.

 

Inception (2010)

Monumental entertainment. Forget Batman, this is Nolan’s best movie. It’s one of those movies that started with a mysterious viral campaign and rode the hype-wave all the way to the bank, deservingly so. Its pure escapism embodies what cinema is all about.

 

Never Let Me Go (2010)

A stunning allegory about the meaning of life. And pretty much in the end it tells us it means nothing. Getting there is heart-wrenching and oddly life-affirming. Garfield, Mulligan and Knightley will melt your heart in an undercover sci-fi that moves me like no other.

WHAT DID I MISS?

The production of Noah’s Flood has been cancelled due to potential flooding – Moonrise Kingdom review

Well, there really is very little not to love about Moonrise Kingdom, the first live action movie from director Wes Anderson in the five long years since Darjeeling Limited. It’s an affecting, sweet love story with charm to spare and it’s all very Andersonian as always. Firstly, it’s really funny, and there are some beautiful images captured on screen, some sweet editing as per usch and also great use of sound, especially in the percussion family. Oh, and a narrator that is a favourite as character and device.

Moonrise Kingdom offers a very endearing view on childhood as a time of adventure and freedom. In our lead characters, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), we have two very unhappy and troubled children. Sam is an orphan, “emotionally disturbed” and unwanted by his foster parents, while Suzy has fits of uncontrollable rage and has her parents baffled as to how to treat her. Together they find sanctuary from their despair by way of love, as one evening during a church production of Noye’s Fludde (or Noah’s Flood) Sam wanders into the girls’ dressing room to find Suzy dressed as a raven and striking like a miniature Lana del Rey, might I add.

They proceed to plot an escape from their respectively unbearable lives by running away together. Hot in pursuit are the khaki scouts from whom Sam has absconded, led by Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward in a winningly boyish and lovable performance and Bruce Willis’ in an impressive,  free-of-flash turn as the quietly tragic policeman Captain Sharp. And also Suzy’s concerned parents played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand, who only realise by nightfall that she’s flown the coop also occupied by three little brothers.

We follow Sam and Suzy at a zippy tempo further and further into the woods and it’s cute to see how the whole situation turns into a scouting exercise, both for the assailants/rescue party (comically, the children themselves seem to be conflicted about this) and for Sam, the finest scout of them all. The picture is grainy and slighty desaturated in autumnal colours giving it a nostalgic feel to match the 1965 setting. And the movie takes on the rhythms of a survival-style documentary, with the children delivering their lines in an unpracticed yet natural style. Gilman and especially Hayward acquit themselves wonderfully.

They finally make it to a beach and declare it their land, a symbolic gesture of making their own way in life away from the constraints imposed by the adults. They even rename it for the occasion. Here they go from friendship to young love, discovering such joys as french kissing and heavy petting. This came as a bit of a surprise for me, but it’s appropriate I guess, it’s a time of exploration both geographically and emotionally/personally. But this doesn’t last. This land they’ve settled is a false paradise. While they hide away in their tent, Suzy’s dad illustrates how flimsy this fantasy of theirs is by simply lifting the tent and leaving them exposed.

The fantasy part of the movie picks up at this point, and at times the movie is very reminiscent of Anderson’s previous stop motion effort, The Fantastic Mr Fox. There’s fantastical explosions, lightning strikes and at one point a daring jump by Edward Norton is shown to be ridiculous as he makes it with considerable ease.

The biggest element of the fantasy though is that we have kids playing at being adult. This serves up some hilarious melodrama and moments of gravity. For example, “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about” or “Was he a good dog? Who’s to say?” or, my favourite, Suzy’s little brother admonishing her with, “You’re a traitor to this family!” And what this is saying is that, for all their wanting to rid themselves of the idiotic adults and be together, they cannot escape becoming adults themselves.

And what waits for them is greater unhappiness. The adults in the movie have little clue of what they’re doing and not only are they unhappy but they also don’t even have love. I wish Bill Murray could’ve had a bigger role in the movie, but he still gets two of the best lines. One: “I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” It was funny in the trailer and still funny in the movie. But it actually underpins a deep sadness of a man who is lost in his marriage, only staying together for the kids without a way of dealing with his anguish. This brings me to the second: “I wish the roof would blow off and I’d be sucked into space.” The adults can’t just run away. That’s just something we try when we’re little. They’re stuck with their misery.

But maybe there is hope to hold on to. The flood comes but life returns to the Earth afterwards and maybe for Sam and Suzy things will be different. We want things for them to be different. A strong theme throughout the movie is of predicting the future and how (unless you’re the narrator) there’s just no way of doing that. And still we are left with the joy and innocence and outright fun of this movie, and that frozen moment in time on the beach.

 

 

The Five-Year Engagement… but I can’t forget Sarah Marshall

The Five-Year Engagement sees director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel teaming up for the second time after the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And subconsciously I found myself making comparisons all the way through. It’s almost impossible not to, as again Segel is in a similar doting romantic mode, with generous helpings of his naked ass thrown in too.

It has Sarah Marshall’s spirit, but this sophomore collaboration feels more grown-up. Where Sarah Marshall was about a relationship falling apart and moving on, Engagement looks at what it takes, the stupid things that are done, to keep two people together. After the movie starts with Tom proposing to Violet, played by Emily Blunt, we see him make a huge sacrifice by giving up his career as a chef and following Violet to the University of Michigan to let her go after her dreams. And you can just hear the patrons of the cinema talking among themselves… “she’s so selfish… i know!” But seriously, she’s pretty bitchy about the whole thing.

In Michigan there are no fancy restaurants and instead Tom loses his way professionally in a sandwich shop where he remains unchallenged and unfulfilled. Where Peter in Sarah Marshall was going nowhere, Segel revisits that man-child state that he’s so fascinated with, only this time Tom regresses due to being deeply unhappy.  And oh does he waste away spectacularly. He eventually resigns himself completely to the Michigan country way of life to great comedic effect. This transformation into a bearded, large poncho-sweater wearing outdoorsman is probably the highlight of the film.

Segel’s once again surrounded himself with great comedy actors everywhere you look. Forming part of his Michigan tribe are Brian Posehn as Tarquin and the scene-stealing Chris Parnell as stay-at-home dad who knits, Bill. Emily Blunt meanwhile has Mindy Kalling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as university colleagues. Rhys Ifans never dissapoints either.

Then there’s great support from Chris Pratt, who proves to be very funny as best friend Alex and, minus her questionable British accent, forms a great partnership with Alison Brie’s Suzie as the pair who effortlessly and unintentionally achieve what the lead characters are having such a hard time with.

As for the leads, Segel is great – dry and subtle, but also able to go large when he needs to – but I have a real problem with Emily Blunt. She’s fine, but I just can’t get over the fact that she has progressed so much higher than her station which really ought to be solid supporting roles like the one of Emily in The Devil Wears Prada which she’s famous for. I don’t always believe in the relationship, at least not when it’s going well, no matter how hard they try to convince you with their meet scene at a New Year’s party. Segel has joked in the past that he has tricked everyone by making them believe he has any talent, but I think it’s in fact Ms Blunt who has done exactly that.

But despite my personal issues with Emily Blunt, she didn’t ruin the picture. And her character is just idiotic enough to make my feelings toward her work out for the best. Pacing is another issue, as it does feel rather long and threatens to almost take the five years in the title literally. But there can be no rush to let the situation develop, that’s understandable, and along the way there’s some great humour, set-pieces and finely observed stuff in there. And many grandparents passing away, just to temper it all and position it toward the serious and real. The deaths also serve to create nice urgency and also allude to the decay and deterioration of their relationship.

It’s a nice script that does well on screen with several great elements just missing out on coming together seamlessly and forming a whole of true quality like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s every bit as enjoyable though with a pleasing, neat ending that’ll still have you believing in love, just love of a more rational hue.

My one hour and forty-three with Marilyn

Hey all, sorry I skipped a review last week, I know my loyal readership are probably still hurting from that. But worry not, this week I’m back and I’m bringing some class with me. That can only mean it’s British. But don’t worry, it’s not all high and dry, they have the f-word there too.

So, My Week With Marilyn tells the unlikely true story of a young man, Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) forcing his way into the movie business with sheer determination only to have the world’s biggest star, the inimitable (but wait, I’ll get to that) Marilyn Monroe, arrive in England to shoot a movie with Laurence Olivier as soon as he’s succeeded in doing so.

The movie opens with Michelle Williams acting as Marilyn in a movie and bewitching British audiences with Colin among them. And in the same way she transfixes the boy, Williams proceeds to light up the screen all the way through. As soon as the curtain lifts you are witness to a truly dazzling performance from an extremely talented actress. Of all the Dawson’s Creek kids I guess we should have had our money on her all along. I mean, she was always even more serious than the rest.

Not only is she completely transformed into Marilyn Monroe in appearance and little idiosyncrasies, but once she gets going “on-screen” she has the same exotic, enchanting appeal of the actual Monroe. She is fun and flirtatious in Monroe’s good moments, but she also shines when her pill-addled character doesn’t.

And where Williams spearheads the movie to create a pleasing timewarping feel, the picture follows suit by being presented in a wonderful grainy texture that makes it resemble old film footage of a real Monroe visit. It really is quite lovely to take in.

Then there is the support. Kenneth Branagh, for one, is just fantastic. Much like the weirdo behind me, who once or twice raised his voice during the screening, I wanted to shout out: “More of this, Kenneth, less of Thor!!!” He is tremendously entertaining as serious thespian Laurence Olivier whose patience is tested to the brink by Ms Monroe. Redmayne is sufficiently enthusiastic, overawed, smitten and heartbroken as and when required, while Dame Judy Dench and even Emma Watson do a fine job too, even though they’re just there to colour in the edges.

This movie is about Marilyn and what a complicated, troubled yet incredibly gifted young woman she was. And also how screwed up her idea of love was. I mean, this is no place for someone as “young and innocent” as Colin to get involved in. So subsequently it’s also a bittersweet romance, a little one-sided, a little unrequited, of the besotted boy who would do anything to help someone who is tragically beyond helping. She would peak with her next film, the timeless Some Like It Hot, and after that make only two more movies before passing away from an overdose at age 36.

The whole thing, despite feeling slow at times, is a whirlwind affair and, while having left a lasting impression on the boy, its effect will probably wear off in audience members not long after leaving the cinema. On occasion the romance and the damaged aspect of Monroe can become somewhat cloying, but the movie is a softly handled, sumptuous and charming study of what will forever remain a fascinating figure of the silver-screen. And someone give Williams the Oscar, Meryl already has two.

It’s Valentine’s Day

And so this dreaded day is upon us again. Obviously it isn’t dreaded by everyone and, in fact, I’m sure I would love the damn day. If only it came a bit later. Maybe 24 Feb? Because I honestly feel it’s too early in the year, so I never have my sh*t together enough to actually have a date. Yeah, I could get a girlfriend in ten days.

But anyway, don’t let V-day drag you down. Why not stay in with a some of the finest examples of love and variations thereupon that cinema can muster? I’m a huge believer in romance. And love. Even the cheesy stuff. As my movie taste can attest to.

Here are some great Valentine’s Day choices:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Edward Scissorhands

When Harry Met Sally

Annie Hall

(it’s come to my attention that Annie Hall should be in the depressing aisle, but having not seen it in a while, I remember it being quite sweet. And it’s Woody Allen, c’mon)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Juno

Ten Things I Hate About You

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet

Lost in Translation

Say Anything

LATE ENTRY: Groundhog Day (he cheats by having eternity to make her fall in love with him, but it’s brilliant)

And if you’re in a depressed mood and looking to feel worse (or better, can’t always predict the effect these things will have):

500 Days of Summer (for some depression lite)

Closer (wouldn’t be my first choice, but everyone’s horrible to each other)

Revolutionary Road (some more horrible-ness)

Never Let Me Go (here we go, this stuff will break you…)

Blue Valentine (and then for the final, gorgeous blow, have a go at the two in this.)