Review- Valentine’s Day

Taylor Swift and Jennifer Garner in Valentine's Day (New Line Cinema)

This is a re-post.

Valentine’s Day is decent, expendable funny, romantic fare that could have used some more judicious editing both before and after principal photography to make it a little better.

This is a film chock full of actors who have name recognition, such that several times leading up to and perhaps even during the movie, you are likely to forget one or two names who make up the all-star cast.
In a cast that features Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Kathy Bates, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley Maclaine, Emma Roberts and Julia Roberts to discuss every single individual performance would be redundant and pedantic. Overall the ensemble was good with the exception of Lopez and Alba who were milquetoast and easily replaceable and were seemingly only there for demographic-reaching purposes. If three standouts had to be picked they’d be a little surprising they’d likely be Shirley Maclaine, no surprise; she’s great, Jamie Foxx, it’s been a while since he’s been this funny and sang without taking himself too seriously and lastly, and surprisingly, Taylor Swift her portrayal of a goofy high school airhead was a very necessary antidote to a film full of plotlines where the sky was falling.

The two biggest issues with this film are the similarities in plotlines and the edit. If the film had ended up being tighter perhaps the former would not have been such an issue, however, considering the fact that there were so many couples and stories it’s amazing how many of them had to do with infidelity. There are as many relationship issues as there are people and to boil it all down to that is a little weak. Despite that the plot lines seemed interesting enough, after a certain point the movie doesn’t seem to move quickly enough. Jennifer Garner takes the longest car drive in the world; Biel and Foxx are obviously attracted to each other but they play cat-and-mouse; when Garner and Kutcher get together we see them awkward-talk twice before fixing their kiss. Oddly enough, despite her hilarious performance, and her music aiding the score and feel of the film, Taylor Swift’s character and her boyfriend weren’t completely necessary because they brought no conflict to the film.

Conversely, the film is sewn together by a perceived to be fictitious radio deejay named Romeo Midnight who epitomizes randomness. These voice-over snippets usually accompanied by random acts of Valentine’s Day and PDA’s that have no bearing on the story but just give us an interlude before resuming all the stories.

Even though the film isn’t as tight, or perhaps as interconnected as Love Actually, or as joyous, there are a few very good surprises in the proceedings. There are many, many laughs to be had and a few rare scenes that will tug at your heart strings.

It is a decent addressing of a day in need of a film and it also does the important task of establishing the actual origin of the day, which has been obscured in the Hallmark-ization of America. A good way to spend a few hours and a good date movie.


Monochromatic Monday #2

Now for this week’s installment I will continue with my 31 Days of Oscar theme.

The first film is…

Gaslight (1944)

Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (MGM)

For the record this film won two Academy Awards: one for Ingrid Bergman for Best Actress (her first) and another for Art Design (Black & White). It was nominated for 5 others: Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Boyer), Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury- her first film role at 19), Best Black-and-White Cinematography and Best Screenplay.

This is a film that I had already seen so this is where some films get a real litmus tests. Most films diminish upon a second viewing, some stay the same, others, and this is rare, get better. Gaslight falls into the middle category which is not meant as a slight at all. It is still a tremendously effective piece of work. This is for the most part a chamber drama wherein a villain gets firmly established and he and our heroine face-off throughout the rest of the film.

What differentiates Gaslight somewhat is the amount of psychology that is employed. By the time we the audience realize Gregory (Boyer) is up to no good Paula (Bergman) already doubts herself and her sanity such that we never question why she doesn’t catch on. Boyer plays such a devilish role it’ll make your blood curdle.

This is a film that hinges on subtleties: footsteps in a locked room, the gaslight going down, the odd way the servants sometimes behave around their mistress. The final confrontation between husband and wife is not one of bombast but of anger tinged with lingering doubt. Bergman truly plays many notes in this performance perhaps her best moment is when she confronts her husband and tries to get back at him. The conclusion is marvelous as Joseph Cotten, a man who lies about the periphery of the tale and slowly takes center stage, moves in.

To discuss too many plot details would be to do this film a disservice. You should see it for yourself.

I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)

I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Muni) and Best Sound Recording. Now this film does have a few things going for it aside form one of the most awesome titles in the history of cinema and a couple of major hindrances too.

Paul Muni is absolutely fantastic in this part. He brings to this part a humanity and cynicism that is needed to add an extra dimension to what may otherwise have been just another social issue film of the 1930s. Now one of the more inconsistent pieces of the puzzle is the writing. For example, for the good James Allen (Muni) is a character who is poised to be sort of an American Jean Valjean. He is arrested for being forced, at gunpoint, by a man he just met to assist in a robbery. He tried to flee and is caught. For that five dollars he stole he is sentenced to 10 years on the chain gang.

Some of the negatives of the writing are certain parts of his escape are just too easy after one really close call. The suspense as to whether or not he’ll make it is somewhat drained. Then there’s the biggest issue is when he is found out he willingly goes back. Now granted this sets up a tremendous last line in which you can’t even see Muni saying it as he has drifted back into the darkness but the tragedy which is impending is undermined by this acquiescence because it’s quite clear that the assurance that are being made are false. It’s terribly transparent and the decision happens fast. If he’d given a little thought something that the edit and the screenplay should’ve accounted for on more than one occasion it might’ve been easier to swallow.

The film ends up being not so much an expose as a very tightly would circle that should really pack more punch than it does but it is still very much worth a watch.

Oscar Nominated Short Films, Animated

The Lost Thing (Passion Films)

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend my first ever screening of Oscar Nominated short films. The live action shorts will screen next weekend for more information you can visit the official site.

Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010): Bastien Dubois (France)

While this is a very interesting film in terms of technique narrative-wise its nothing much to write home about. In fact, it plays sort of like a documentary except without disseminating nearly enough information.

Let’s Pollute (2009): Geefwee Boedoe (USA)

This film is truly a hysterical one. It’s in the format of an educational video in which it instructs the audience how to pollute and further degrade the environment. Of course, while you’re laughing the effect is that of reverse psychology and you start thinking about how you can better conserve resources.

The Gruffalo (2009) (TV): Jakob Schuh, Max Lang (UK/Germany)

There are two standout reasons that garnered this film its nomination: the first is the voice cast. There are a lot of recognizable names attached such Helena Bonham Carter and Robbie Coltrane. However, what is even more impressive is the animation. it’s perhaps the most impressive 3D animation I’ve ever seen (it’s not projected as such I’m talking technique). Having said that the story is far to simplistic, repetitive and downright redundant to be as long as it is. It could’ve have used some tightening up.

The Lost Thing (2010): Shaun Tan, Andrew Ruhemann (Australia/UK)

This would be my second choice as winner. It is without question the most subtle of the candidate films. There is some creativity in technique as well as story-telling here, principally in storytelling it tells of odd creatures showing up and no one knows where they belong. There is definitely a non-blatant parallel to humanity drawn which is just great.

Day & Night (2010): Teddy Newton

I have linked above to a full review of this film I was prompted to view upon its release. This screening reiterated my belief that it should win. Not only is it a truly smart idea but it’s classical Disney which is what draws people to Pixar. This film plays like the old free flowing montages Disney was famous for such as those in Alice and Wonderland and Dumbo. While it’s not as subtle as the above film its message may have even more resonance and is not so on the head such that it detracts from the film.

Review- You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

This film will be released on video tomorrow.

Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics)

I, unlike many, will attest to the fact that reports of Woody Allen’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While last year’s reviews for Whatever Works were greatly mixed it does not seem like the kind of film that you can use to illustrate that someone had “lost it.”

In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger you can see why people would say that, however, the way I see it is that you get in the film a pastiche of what’s both great and not so great about Allen. At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical fan who likes the “early, funny movies” it must be stated for the record that this film is a drama before all else.

Moreover, it examines some similar questions as both Whatever Works and Vicky Cristina Barcelona examined. It’s principally about life and love but to paraphrase Allen’s idol Ingmar Bergman “What else is there?” Where the film is somewhat lacking is that it could dig deeper.

What really holds the film back is that fears that were caused by the trailer are realized and it’s the voice over. It is perhaps the worst-delivered most poorly-acted voice over narration that I’ve been privy to listen to. Zak Orth’s delivery could not be be drier if he tried. The only thing that helps this film overcome it is the fact that there’s not a whole lot of it and he’s speaking Allen’s words. Sadly, it also unnecessarily spoon-feeds a relatively simple film and by speaking the film’s conclusion to its hypothesis this renders it more banal than it otherwise would’ve been.

The Bergman reference above is not totally misplaced as this is another examination by Allen of a subject that obsessed Bergman: death. Through these intertwining tales Allen not only examines how we deal with mortality but conversely, of course, with life and what the point to all of it is.

Barring the aforementioned narration the acting is good across the board. The characters are actually a bit less neurotic than Allen’s usual dramatis personnae and feel more like well-rounded, less erudite types. While these characters can come across as more flat it is a tribute to the actors in this film that they breathed life into them.

Another problem the film battled was the edit. The film is a bit too methodical. It never quite gets slow but it could quicken its step through the second and into the third act. True there are four interconnected storylines to resolve but they all end up more or less where we expect them to when we expect them to such that not as much time need be devoted to each to make the point that each segment is trying to make.
While the valid point that sometimes “delusion works better than medicine” is well-made and ties up the film nicely albeit heavy-handedly there is a surprise that develops towards the end that is never really resolved. Now while we can surmise what will happen and the dilemma the character in question is left with it would still have been nice to add a little more closure to that chapter than we get.

Although not a great work and not a minor work, Woody Allen’s films are still vital because he is not overly-concerned with genre or the trappings therein. He through his writing and his cinema is still one of the few American auteurs who is willing to ask real and serious questions with every film he takes on and for that reason his audience should spring eternal and not age with the great cineaste.


Mini-Review- Day & Night

Day and Night (Pixar)

This article is a repost.

As has become standard with Pixar releases they whet the audience’s appetite for Toy Story 3 with its rendition of what is in danger of becoming a lost art form: the animated short. Pixar, however, does more than its share to preserve this artform by not only producing these shorts but proliferating them on television and on DVD. 
The short that preceded Up, called Partly Cloudy was one of the best films of 2009 and Day & Night which precedes Toy Story 3 is even better. 
What you get in this tale is an even more ingenious tale than offered previously but with execution that is of surpassing genius. Day & Night are represented in the tale by specter-like beings with sky-scenes appearing through their seemingly transparent person. 
The fact that they are Day and Night is introduced wordlessly in a temporarily dislocating and fantastic pull out. In fact, the only words uttered in the film are picked up when they pass a radio station and highlights why these two, and thus we also, should get along. 
This short is so good its worth the price of admission and obviously earned itself its own review. Do yourself a favor and show up early to watch Toy Story 3 so you don’t miss it (or watch it on the DVD should you get it).