Film Thought: My Rating Scale is Optional

Rather than taking up room in a post I decided to write about this matter here.

Whenever I sit down and dissect a film down to all its component parts and how well I feel each facet affected the whole, of course, I can give it a score from one to 10. When I figured out how to write my rating scale, I worded it such that there can be varying degrees of film within each ordinal number but a definite stratification from one number to the next.

However, the nature of the internet is such that sometimes you will just want to scroll an article, or stop reading it after a certain point. That is fine. That is certainly the reader’s prerogative.

Hugo (2011, Paramount)

However, I saw a comment on Twitter that crystallized what I didn’t realize consciously:

If you’re not being forced to assign that grade, why do it? Why incentivize someone to skip your explanation? Why force a reader to fight against human nature to skip to the grade.

Most of the reviews I read that affect my viewing options do not have a number or stars but they stick in my mind based on how the reviewer discussed it.

The Critic

Memorably unfavorable reviews have made it clear to my mind why I would like something. I’d rather be intrigued by what is said about the film rather than a fairly arbitrary number that means different things to different people.

For example, many people would classify a film rated 5/10 as a middle of the road, mediocre film. However, when I rate something as a five I could tend to be quite angry at it because it’s usually a minor slip up that cost it being what I consider to be a good film (6-10).

Furthermore, there are many examples of times wherein I’ve dedicated many words or whole paragraphs of a review to explain “This movie does not work for me because but here are some reasons why you may enjoy it…”

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This is the only image I could think of that matched the keyword “Enjoy.”

Having a hyperlinked number down there tempting eyes to skip explanations that may underscore why they’ll like or dislike a film.

So if I feel a film should have that number at the bottom of the review, I’ll surely add it. However, sometimes it’s caused significant consternation on my part and delayed getting reviews up. No more.

Hope you enjoy the numberless reviews to follow.

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Review- In the Family

It seems to me more often than not, whenever I see a good to great film that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see there’s always at least a decent story to it. Somehow, in the barrage of year-end awards and best of lists, I missed noting the title In the Family, at the tail end of 2011. I guess I didn’t retain or read Slant’s list as carefully as I thought, either that or I hadn’t seen it anywhere near me so it was almost like it had yet to exist. However, that lack of availability kept it alive for this year’s BAMs. Now, oddly enough when I saw this month’s schedule at Theatre N, I saw it, it seemed like a likely view but it didn’t jump out not right away. Then the weekend it’s playing came, and thanks to an abysmal weekend of new summer releases it was the only game in town, so far as I was concerned. However, I was still under-informed. I read the synopsis, seemed good. However, I didn’t immediately note the running time.

In trying to schedule my day, I did. The film runs 2 hours and 49 minutes. I do not have hard and fast rules regarding running-times, as my commendations for Satantango and Berlin Alexanderplatz clearly indicate. Yes, I prefer comedies that run 90 minutes or less when speaking in generalities, that does not mean I’ve never liked one longer. The Avengers is only about 25 minutes shorter and I never heard anyone complain about how long it is. However, I do have to concede that it is a factor. So what I did was I started to read up on it, just a bit. Based on what I saw I wanted to give a go.

With this film, and my prior example, you have two instances that highlight the difference between running time and pace. Anyone can make a film this long, or longer, if they want to, and frequently early assemblies and cuts are. What matters is what you do with the running time you’ve allotted your story. I’ve seen films a third as long as this one that feel twice as long as it actually is. There are films that feel like they will never end and others you wish wouldn’t, and this one is much closer to the latter than the former.

The term deliberate pace is not, in my mind, a polite way of saying slow. There are scenes that don’t cut, but there are scenes that are rather quick, which add to the tone and help the film pace itself. It is by no means the test of endurance that The Turin Horse is, even though that film is shorter.

So preambles aside, the film works beautifully in large part due to the restraints is shows. The film tells the tale of of a custody battle following the death of one partner in a same sex relationship. That’s the film in its simplest terms, now the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Dave (Peter Hermann), Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), Jefferson (Eugene Brell), Joey (Patrick Wang), Paul (Brian Murray), Court Reporter (Marsha Waterbury) in In the Family (In the Family)

The drama in the film is always palpable because the film cloisters its characters. In certain scenes it just allows us to watch a few characters behave and interact, without dialogue but there is still much being said. There’s a lot of film theory banter about simply watching behavior, but like everything in this film it doesn’t push this aspect to the extreme either. There are small, delicate, wonderful scenes like this sprinkled throughout; a fantastic example is Chip (Sebastian Banes, credited in this film as Sebastian Brodziak) getting himself and Joey (Patrick Wang) a drink after the funeral.

Aside from having well-tempered scene lengths, the film also structures itself well and interestingly. There are three flashbacks, which all occur post-mortem. The film begins in medias res, after Cody’s (Trevor St. John) death is where we start to get to know him and miss him as Joey does. There are also I believe four segments of the film that begin in black with some audio coming in to precede the scene, bringing us slowly into the current moment and visually dividing the story (the first occurs at the very beginning with a gorgeously languid fade in).

Dave (Peter Hermann) and Eileen (Kelly McAndrew) in In the Family (In the Family)

The acting in this film is quite nearly impeccable. It can be said that a running time such as this gives the actors more time to develop their character, hone their performance but that would be ignoring the fact that the work still does have to be done. Wang particularly has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the third act, his physicality is a lot of what takes us along but at the end it’s just him, speaking to his family and speaking to us and it’s nothing less than monumental that this “unedited” deposition scene works. It keeps with the cloistered aspect of the film but brings things full circle and is riveting. However, Kelly McAndrew’s reaction shots during this scene are breathtaking also. The real find of the film, however, may be Sebastian Banes. Actors around his age, he plays a character who is six, with as much natural talent and charisma are rare. A few scenes in I was already comparing him favorably to Drew Barrymore.

In the Family
is a revelation in many ways, not only for my story of not really having heard about it and then having it fall into my lap but also for revealing the tremendous budding auteur that is Patrick Wang. It’s a crime how under-seen this film is and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.

10/10

Reviews in the Gray Area 2012

Last year I posted an article of this type as well, you can read it here. Essentially what the Gray Area is with reference to this site are films that were out in 2011 that I could’ve gotten to see and just didn’t get around to. They always exist and it’s usually the awards season wherein I will view a vast majority of them, should others come along the way throughout the year I will add them here but this particular post should be active through the first quarter of the year or so and then gradually grow inert. So while I can’t include these films in either last year’s BAM Awards or this year’s and they remain in the gray that does not mean they do not deserve some sort of attention.

For an indication of what the scores mean please refer to my rating scale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Focus Features)

Had I not read that Thomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed this film I would’ve figured it out at some point and that’s due to the film’s pace and construction. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy story to convey on the screen. It’s the type of film that has to put forth a very difficultly-attained and nearly intangible fascination that is usually the sole purview of spy capers and whodunits wherein you must be simultaneously enthralled by the intrigue of the narrative and rapt by the film such that you can keep pace with it, on a mental level. I specify that pace because the temporal pace of the film is rather interesting. In a film such as this it’s information that’s flying at you tinged with foreboding and a sense of a gyre closing such that the story cannot speed along at a brisk 90 minutes but must unfurl at a more leisurely 120 yet also still have enough incidents within it to hold that bifurcated attention it’s worked to create. The film manages that easily and keeps the pace rather steady and the facts quick in coming. Even when in flashback sequences, which there are many, though the cuts may be quick the information does not overwhelm. That is not to say that a second viewing wouldn’t make the film more enjoyable or that nothing will be missed, I certainly can’t guarantee that as the film does play things close to the vest often but it does easily connect a lot of seemingly disparate incidents such that a vast majority of facts, and how the conclusion that occurs is reached, becomes clear. In the end whatever vagueness the film may have is not something one can find in anyway distasteful as it recalls to me Bergman’s quote:

I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically… I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.

I have always taken that to mean that he wanted people to be moved one way or another by his work and if you’re actively trying to piece this film together and succeeding or failing it won’t bore you to the point of indifference I feel and I think it’s riveting.

9/10

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (20th Century Fox)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, which I believe in, I will say “Yes, I am a Chipmunks fan.” These characters without question are divisive. There is no middle ground it seems you love them or you hate them. Being a fan I was surprised to have liked the first film (just barely) and very sorely disappointed in the second installment. Where I feel things went wrong the second time around wasn’t in the introduction of the Chipettes but in doing so spreading itself too thin amid myriad conventional plot devices. That’s not to say that this installment breaks ground with some unconventional plot machinations, however, it does combine a few old hat techniques creatively and it focuses heavily on the Chipmunks and the Chipettes and on their character. Furthermore, while maybe having fewer musical cues than before it functions more like a musical than the prior two installments seeking emotional veracity in spotting songs rather than literal locales. By having the Chipmunks and Chipettes pushed to extremes and assuming different characteristics than expected this is the first tale of the three that feels fully realized especially since it restrains Dave, who was overly-involved in the first two. It’s also interesting that Cross’ somewhat listless turn is somewhat elevated by his recent ranting.

7/10

Coriolanus

Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.

10/10

Book Review- The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein’s The Film Sense is a book I had never even seen in print anywhere before. I happened to find it when I was in Brazil searching through a rather large bookstore’s film section. You know a bookstore is good when you find many foreign language offerings, and I was able to pick up quite a few film texts in English there.

Sergei Eisenstein is likely the only filmmaker whose work as a theorist is of equal importance. Aside from spear-heading montage as the defining element of film, he wrote extensively about it and it’s all brilliant stuff. His angle in this book is tremendous. In it he seeks to create a “film sense” by drawing on elements of other art forms. Much of the writing actually does have to do with music as he is discussing how incorporating sound and music will co-exist with picture cutting.

There are many brilliant talking points. First, he touches on word and image, which is similar to a touched upon topic in Film Form, here he examines examples of montage in other artforms. Then he talks about synchronization of the senses, which is how film can, will and should play on all our senses, especially given this new development. In a perhaps revolutionary way he also discusses color in literature and in music and relates it to film, even though at this writing color was an abstract concept seen in shades of gray.

The writing flows beautifully and is just brilliant in terms of observation and the sources from which he draws. He illustrates how cinema must be the culmination of all other artforms and draw from them. I will admit it gets a bit dense with the both the in depth musical discussion, as I am more intuitive rather than well-versed there, and a bit with the montage flow diagrams and shots, having seen some of the films helps but the point does usually come across regardless.

Also, this is a rare book where the appendices are not only a must read but brilliant. They include: shot sheets, treatment sections of un-produced works, outlines and a very detailed bibliography for further reading.

All in all this is a fantastic book that is worth seeking out for serious aestheticians, filmmakers and film students. I found it endlessly fascinating such that I made many notes and underlined significantly and considered further analysis of the text but will leave it as this brief recommendation instead.

Rewind Review- Iron Man 2 (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Iron Man 2 is the kind of sequel that has a lot to live up to. It comes on the heels of the wildly successful, aesthetically and financially, film from last year. When seeing this film two things make you wonder: first, did it come too fast, and second, is Shakespeare wrong and is there really something in a name as merely calling the film ‘2’ seems uninspired. What you get in this film is not a bad product but an indifferent one, a film most deserving of the moniker of ‘meh.’

What this film does afford its leading players is a chance to strut their stuff, in spite of the built-in limitations of their characters. For example, Tony Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., didn’t get much deeper or more fully realized in this film but what the material did allow was for Downey to flaunt his considerable talents, both dramatic and comedic. Similarly, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is hysterical and has his high point when be-bopping onto the stage at Stark Expo. He is quite good but he also is only ever established in this film as someone out to get Stark for business reasons. You get the impression there is more behind it but it’s never explored. Last but not least there’s Mickey Rourke who plays Ivan Vanko, again who does huge amounts with such limiting material. There is so much more to Ivan Vanko than the film lets on. However, all the film seeks is to establish what the motive is and not have us fully understand and feel said motive.

Much the same can be said of the all-star supporting cast which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johanssen and Samuel L. Jackson. Each does what they can with minimally arcing storylines, none of which ever gets pronounced or explored enough to truly add significant depth to this film. The love interests are buried until the end, the running of Stark remains a buried but seemingly necessarily evil subplot. Even the political interventions and the possible proliferation of the Iron Man suit never seems like the stakes are high enough and doesn’t add to the tension like it should partially due to timing in the tale and partially due to execution.

Again not to say the film is uninteresting, poorly executed or not entertaining. It is well-done and interesting but not nearly as engaging and entertaining as it could be partially because the stakes seem lowered in this one and almost all subplots seem subjugated and nearly unnecessary encumbrances rather than necessary depth.

In the end, you walk out of this film just feeling like you watched another tale where a few key pieces were moved into place for the next film but you didn’t feel you learned too much about any of these people whom seemed much more alive the last time around.

Similarly, in a film where the stakes of all the ulterior storylines is lowered then it should come as no surprise that the climactic battle is somewhat anticlimactic. It is well-shot, edited and conceived but it’s just not terribly compelling and it could’ve been ratcheted up. The extra suits could’ve been disposed of quicker and it could’ve benefited from a villain monologue in that situation.

The CG in the film doesn’t particularly stand out in one way of another which is almost as high a compliment as you can pay a film in this day and age. So it definitely does not detract from the experience.

With all that said it does bear repeating that this is a good film. Based on its disparate elements it was, of course, not nearly as good as it could have been or as its predecessor. That being said it was well worth the watch and good escapist entertainment.

6/10

Mini-Review Round-Up #2

This is something I’m going to do periodically. Basically, I will employ many means to qualify films for the BAM Awards be it either seeing the film theatrically acquiring a DVD either through purchase or on Netflix. This could lead to an influx of several new titles being seen in a short span of time which would be difficult to write full reviews for. At least this way the film gets some of its deserved attention and you get some notion of my thoughts on them.

If you have questions or comments feel free to respond. I always get back.

As always please refer to My Rating Scale for an indication of what the scores mean and if you’re curious where these films might make a dent in my personal awards please check my BAM Considerations.

The Films

Kaboom

Thomas Dekker in Kaboom (IFC Films)

This is a film by director Greg Araki that can only be described as one of the strangest I’ve yet seen and in both a good and a bad way. The story is a widening gyre that goes from very real and gritty to incredibly outlandish. It’s a movie that has me torn between opposite extremes whereas I love the audaciousness of it I cannot say I liked it because it just went too crazy. The film does feature a very strong performance by Thomas Dekker.

To try to synopsize the film is a slippery slope which would likely lead to me having to explain everything. It’s not a film for a mainstream audience. There’s adult content all throughout so that whole viewer discretion is advised spiel applies to this film on many levels.

5/10

The Way Back

Jim Sturgess in The Way Back (Newmarket Films)

This is a tale about a courageous escape from a Gulag in Siberia during the second World War.

This is a film by acclaimed director Peter Weir, which is certainly not among his best but it is a very interesting and well-wrought tale. The only part that feels rushed is the ending but there’s a creative montage there. The acting is very strong in the film from the likes of Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan. It’s a very human tale that’s shot beautifully.

7/10

On the Shoulders of Giants

The Harlem Rens in On the Shoulders of Giants (Union Productions)

A documentary about the best basketball team you never heard of: the Harlem Rens.

This film has a fascinating subject and some interviews who are able to shine a light on the story of a team who played in the days when professional basketball meant barnstorming, however, the scope of the tale isn’t focused enough and there is a lack of footage of team, which would allow the film to be more visually appealing. I liked learning about the team and there’s great information but it’s not a great film.

6/10

The Fab Five

Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson in The Fab Five (ESPN Films)

A feature-length documentary from ESPN Films that chronicles the five freshmen who changed the landscape of college basketball in the early 90s.

This is a very compelling (as most of ESPN Film’s recent works have been) look at Michigan’s blue chip recruiting class and the cultural and athletic sensation they were and the aftermath of their years in the game. This film garnered a lot of attention due to the controversial comments by Jalen Rose, one of the players and a producer of the film, about Duke. However, the film is bigger and more important than those polarizing comments. Rose’s decision to honestly portray his sentiments at the time and include them in the film are bravura filmmaking. The only part of the film that falls a little short is that the controversy that swirled about the program as the players left was never really foreshadowed and that may have made it more effective.

8/10

Bob Dylan: Revealed

Bob Dylan in Bob Dylan: Revealed (Music Video Distributors)

A documentary that tries to encompass a large part of Bob Dylan’s musical career.

This film is like an instructional on how not to construct a documentary. There’s little to no music in a film a bout a musician, interview subjects dominate entire portions of the film, there is insufficient editing of what they say, there is footage that’s described as we’re seeing it and the scope is gigantic. Ultimately, if the subject, Dylan, wasn’t as interesting as he is I’d have given this the lowest possible score but instead it gets by with a

2/10

I’ve been a little behind so there will be one or two more coming quite soon.

Review- Unknown

Liam Neeson in Unknown (Warner Bros.)

OK, so here comes another one. Unknown is a film that to review properly, in my estimation, requires a few disclaimers:

1) SPOILER ALERT. I feel it’s important to get this one out of the way as soon as possible. I try to avoid it as much as I can but on occasion there will be a film that will leave you with little to no choice in the matter. I haven’t compelled to spill as much of the beans to make my point since I saw Orphan.

2) This is a hazardous film for me to review as a filmmaker. We are all guilty of armchair direction. Meaning we sit there and debate how we might’ve handled shots or the story. Part of my delay in writing this was to get past all the “I would’ve changed that” moments. I think it’s true in any form of criticism. Most notably food, I hate when a critic on a food shows alters the dish so greatly as to change it. Then it’s totally different and you’re not judging what’s on the plate. There are plenty of issues with “what is on the plate” in this story so I’ll leave it at that.

Without much further ado, Unknown.

This is another in a long line of films to have a pretty big twist due to either the fallibility of its protagonists memory or perception of reality. Unlike, say Shutter Island, the film doesn’t hinge entirely on the twist but the twist illuminates other issues.

The twist that Liam Neeson’s character is an assassin who after an accident has started to believe his cover story is his reality. In and of itself that’s a pretty darn good premise, however, in bringing that to fore there are many issues. Now one case of I wish that I will employ in this review is that while the coil is wound tightly you’re not necessarily expecting the criminal underworld to play into it and it’s a more effective story there.

The problem with the execution of the concept is that once the cat is out of the bag there is ample time for you to think back and realize how inconceivably unbelievable some of this film is.

Example: Neeson’s would-be wife, and actual assassin, is dumb enough to let his bag get lost which sets up the inciting incident. If there are crucial documents and information in their luggage why not handle it whenever possible? Secondly, the doctor immediately assumes that he is confused and misremembering things rather than coming to that conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Memory and the functions of the brain are still so mysterious such that it’s difficult to believe that someone’s adverse reaction to trauma can be that easily guessed.

Then there’s this lovely little cliché: everyone Neeson runs into, practically, is in some way involved in this plot and trying to stifle his paranoid rantings. He happens across more people by chance who are involved than those who are not and it’s annoying and hard to swallow.

As a viewer I am one who tends to suspend disbelief rather easily so bear this in mind before I describe the next “I just didn’t buy it” moment. When Neeson is knocked out of the equation he is quickly replaced by his back-up. The problem here is that he is supposedly a noted scientist and no one notices his photo changing on a website, no one has ever seen this man just talked to him and over the course of a single year he’s developed a big reputation as a botanist.

It’s all a bit much. Neeson for the most part does a fine job in this film. He does manage to stick with his American persona without too many chinks in the armor but he’s also not given a great deal to work with. He said “I am Doctor Martin Harris” so many times it was a punchline amongst viewers both during and after the screening.

The bottom line is this: too many films are overly concerned with “fooling the audience” because they fear being too predictable, however, more often than not this has lead to films which are so ridiculously far-fetched they border on being laughable. For an example see the film Shutter. Yes, it’s horror and it’s difficult to be “believable” and original there but there’s a motif revealed at the end which fooled me, yes but also made me laugh when I saw it.

People have no problem with predictability believe it or not. We just want good. If you find me a person who walked in to The King’s Speech who having read the synopsis didn’t know what to expect I have a bridge I need to sell. It’s somewhat predictable nature doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine film. It’s just good we want, not tricks, which are after all for kids.

4/10

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.

6/10